Monday, March 31, 2014

Newest in kitchen appliances

Older Daughter called me over to her computer this morning. "Hey mom, how would you like to have this in the kitchen?

I walked over and took a look.

Yikes! Creepy! No thanks, I'll stick with my boring fridge.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bank stability?

We have bank accounts with two separate banks (well, one bank and one credit union).

A couple of years ago, I had errands to run in Spokane, WA. One of those errands was to make a deposit at our bank, of which Spokane has three branches.

Except the branch I normally used had closed. Hmmm. It's inconvenient to drive to one or the other distantly-flung branches, but that's what I have to do now when I'm in Spokane.

This morning, Don had errands to run in Coeur d'Alene. One of those errands was to cash a check at one of the Cd'A branches of this same bank. He just called to inform me that the branch was closed.

Double hmmmm.

I confess it left me concerned about the stability of this particular bank. We've kept our account at this bank because they handle our merchant services account for our business very well, and in all respects we've been satisfied with their service.

But branches closing makes me nervous. I guess we'll be using our credit union more.

Anyone else experiencing stuff like this?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Casting call

In January 2012, I posted a casting call for a production company called TwoFour America that is interested in filming a docu-drama illustrating the American dream of becoming self-sufficient on a homestead. Yesterday I received a follow-up email requesting one more family to fulfill their casting call. I am posting this press release but have no further information. Any questions will need to be directed to the email:


Families who are ready to ditch the rat race and get back to the simple life.

A major cable network is currently looking for strong Moms and Dads who are planning to lead their families in a move to an off-grid dwelling in a remote part of the country.

Is your relationship with your partner suffering because of the pressure of jobs and childcare? Are your kids spending more time on computers than with each other? Are you ready to take a huge step to change that?

If you are preparing to turn in your briefcase for a backpack or your styling tools for a tool belt, this could be the opportunity for you to share your journey!

We want to hear from Moms and Dads who have 2 or more children over the age of 10, who are ready to sell everything and move to a different part of the country.

Please email names and ages of all family members, contact information, photos and a brief description of your story to:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A vegetarian in beef country

An interesting article appeared on SurvivalBlog recently entitled What the Locals Really Think in which a fourth-generation homesteader related how newcomers to his rural area know everything. “I just find it funny because a lot of these folks come here and just do what I've done all my life,” he relates, “and then they squawk about it like a chicken that just laid an egg.”

(Ahem. For those unfamiliar with chickens, when a hen lays an egg, she cackles about it for long minutes after her deed is done. “Look at me! Look at what I’ve done!” It’s quite comical.)

As I start working on our garden this spring, it occurred to me that the best experts on almost any topic are those who have never done it. The people who know the most about gardening have only grown potted tomatoes on their patio. The people who know the most about how to raise kids have never had any. (This is particularly annoying/ tragic when these people are CPS workers.) The people who know the most about caring for cattle derived all their knowledge from watching YouTube videos. We’ve all been at the mercy of those who share with us their most profound wisdom on subjects they have never experienced.

Often newcomers to rural ways feel they must reinvent the wheel when it comes to learning what does and doesn’t work. They prefer to apply their book and video learning to whatever task is at hand – and fail, as often as not – rather than seek out the advice from experienced long-timers who have “been there done that” – sometimes, in the case of the SurvivalBlog article, for four generations.

Please don’t misunderstand, book learning is critical in the initial stages of any task. If someone has not yet had the opportunity to move rural, then book knowledge is often ALL they can acquire until they have a chance to put things into practice.

My gripe isn’t with these types of people. My gripe is with people who think their book knowledge supersedes an experienced homesteader’s real-life experience. In other words, when they become armchair experts.

This SurvivalBlog article was so comical that Don and I both laughed out loud in parts. For example, the newcomer – who has decided that the world is coming to an end and the government is out to get him – decided to give a party for his neighbors to discuss how to handle the apocalypse. In the words of the 4th generation homesteader, “Too often the guy calling the meeting assumes that everyone should, of course, listen to him – the guy who moved in a year ago and is stupid enough to be a vegetarian in beef country.”

If there’s one thing you’ve doubtless learned from this blog, it’s how many times we’ve screwed up when it comes to rural endeavors. The predominant thing we’ve learned over the years is what DOESN’T work. There’s no reason to reinvent the square wheel. (We’ve already tried it. Square wheels don’t work. Except in specialized circumstances.)

Those who are experts in something are experts because they’ve already gone through the square-wheel stage. They’ve learned through trial and error what doesn’t work. I wouldn’t trust my surgeon if his only knowledge came from book-learning; he needs hands-on experience as well. He especially needs to know what doesn’t work. I trust gardeners who have huge and flourishing gardens, not those with a single tomato plant on the patio. I trust livestock breeders with a herd of healthy livestock, not an active account on Farmville. I trust someone with a dozen wonderfully-behaved children, not someone who took college courses in child psychology.

Okay, rant over.

Chuckle du jour

Reader Mike sent this.

Made me laugh.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Blast from the past

Oh wow. My older brother just sent me this photo.

This is my dad, my older brother, and myself in the Summer of 1967. I would have been four, just shy of my fifth birthday. My brother would have been seven.

Talk about a blast from the past!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Nothing to see here, folks; move along

Here's an interesting post over at Thoughts from Frank and Fern entitled No Crisis Here.

"How many troublesome things have you run across lately? They appear to become more numerous each day. The message seems to be hunker down, be ready, it's coming. The harder we try to get things in order, the more obstacles arise in our way. But you know what? That's okay. It just makes us more determined and focused .....because we know it's storming all about us."

A thought-provoking article.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Time-sucking monsters

Here's an interesting diatribe from a feminist named Amanda Marcotte who loathes babies and conservatives in equal measure. (The difference is she's in no position to murder conservatives.)

One of the milder quotes from this post: "This is why, if my birth control fails, I am totally having an abortion. Given the choice between living my life how I please and having my body within my control and the fate of a lentil-sized, brainless embryo that has half a chance of dying on its own anyway, I choose me."

In glancing through the comments following, one in particular caught my eye: "As a pro-lifer, I agree with this column. I think the decision by Amanda Marcotte to make herself the end of her lineage is a wise one. You're leaving this world a better place. Thank you."

I sincerely pray that Ms. Marcotte escapes the doom of motherhood by tying her tubes or some other permanent form of sterilization. Please.

Me, I'll enjoy my time-sucking monsters.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"I'm your child! How can you spare any expense?"

I came across a link to an article published six years ago in the Washington Post entitled Three Kids? You Showoff! Written by Pamela Paul, it discusses the shocking decision a young couple made to have three children, rather than the obligatory maximum of two (by New York City standards).

One of the things I found fascinating in this article is the tangential glimpse of what life is like in large cities. My understanding is that space is often so tight that three children could, indeed, prove to be a hardship (unless you're wealthy enough to afford a spacious townhouse or something).

But it was the implications about the cost associated with child-raising that I found to be such an interesting contrast to the reality of raising kids on a budget. The author writes, "What shocks people, when we tell them, isn't the thought of hauling three kids onto a place for a vacation, or even the idea of coming home every night to a houseful of runny noses and homework assignments. What gets them is the sheer financial audacity. Raising kids today costs a fortune. Last month, the Department of Agriculture estimated that each American child costs an average of $204,060 to house, clothe, educate and entertain until the age of 18."

Amortized over 18 years, this comes to $11,336 per child. Not in anyone's wildest dreams does the average American spend over $11,000 per year per child. (When this figure first came out, my husband did some investigation and learned that the bulk of that figure includes one's mortgage. In other words, for a family of four, one-fourth of the mortgage costs are "assigned" to the child as the cost of raising him. Unrealistic, in my opinion.)

"There's no question that it takes a lot more money to bring up baby nowadays," writes the author. "Many parents would scoff at the Agriculture Department's humble figures. When you get into the nitty-gritty, the price of kids feels more like a million dollars a pop."

Um, no.

Apparently in some places, children have become visible displays of walking wealth. The author writes, "In many major U.S. cities and their suburbs -- especially New York, where I live -- having three or more children has now come to seem like an ostentatious display of good fortune, akin to owning a pied-à-terre in Paris. The family of five has become 'deluxe.' Last year, novelist Molly Jong-Fast mused in the New York Observer, 'Are people having four or five children just because they can? Because they feel that it shows their wealth and status? In a world where the young rich use their $13,000 Birkin bags as diaper bags, one has to wonder.'"

(Anyone here own a $13,000 Birkin bag, whatever that is? Anyone? Hellooo?)

When our girls were young, Don and I were living so far below the poverty level that we were scraping bottom. We were desperately trying to get our woodcraft business viable, and all expenses were examined with a microscope. We squeezed every dollar til it shrieked. We had no choice, unless we wanted to return to the nine-to-five nightmare we'd worked so hard to escape.

We had our children at this juncture because, as a friend so wisely advised, if we waited until we could afford to have kids, we'd never have kids. We were well into our 30s by this point and couldn't wait forever to start our family.

As a result, frugality became the norm in our household, and we've managed to raise our girls up with the love, laughter, and discipline (rather than material excess) that we feel every child needs. We've cultivated their gifts in music, art, and reading. More importantly, we've cultivated their minds and spirits toward a high work ethic, distaste for government charity, a knowledge of their American heritage, and a love of God.

Find that in the aisles of Toys R Us.

But the modern parents this author discusses are crushed by guilt unless they raise their child "right." "And the pressure to do that," notes the author, "even if you're not uber-wealthy, has become overwhelming. From the moment the heartbeat blinks across the sonogram screen, Big Baby starts in with its pleading and conniving: I'm your child! How can you spare any expense? Don't you care?

"For a couple's every conceivable wish or worry, the parenting industry knows the precise formula of guilt, fear, hope, love and desire that will empty the parental wallet," notes Ms. Paul. "Rather than fret about spending too much money, most parents these days are consumed by the anxiety of underspending -- the fear that somewhere, some other parent is offering her baby an educational toy or child-development class that will propel the toddler ahead, and that if you skimp, your child risks losing out and falling behind."

Later in the article, Ms. Paul sensibly points out how Benjamin Franklin didn't have "his vision enhanced by a Stim-Mobile or his sense of spatial relations improved by Baby Einstein Numbers." She points out how the average American child gets "an average of 70 new toys a year yet child development experts agree that the best toys are simple playthings such as blocks, balls and figurines that a child can play with over and over, in new ways."

Seventy new toys a year???!!! On what planet? Our girls were lucky to get toys at Christmas and birthdays. Period. And many of those were homemade or second-hand.

I always find articles like this to be fascinating since it offers a glimpse into a land of spending I've seldom seen. Are these types of parents so caught up in status that they'd never darken the door of thrift stores or even (gasp!) utter the immortal word "No" when their child asked for a toy?

One of the families I admire the most has six children ranging from eight months to 14 years, all crammed into a modest home and all supported by a father's modest salary. (And when I say modest, I mean modest.) Around here, this family is not unusual for the standards by which they raise their large numbers of children.

Whose children do you think are more pleasant? The children who grow up sharing toys, books, rooms, love, fights, and adventures? Or the children who grow up showered with toys, electronics, and the undivided attention of a nanny but not a parent?

It's not expensive to raise children. And to my way of thinking, raising children in modest circumstances (within reason, of course) is healthier than raising them in luxury.

(Seventy toys a year? Sorry, can't get over that.)

"Between diapers and bouncy seats," reports Ms. Paul, "parents can count on spending at least $6,500 on the first year of baby gear alone. 'You walk into Babies R Us, and you're just overwhelmed,' recalls Brooke Houghton, a 35-year-old mom from Chicago who said she ran out of the store in panic after 15 minutes. 'There was just so much equipment I hadn't even considered.'"

It's been a long time since we've been new parents, and at the time our kids were born it wasn't an option to raise them "luxuriously." It wasn't hard to resist the lure of the "parenting industry." We simply couldn't afford it. Yet I think our kids turned out okay.

So tell me -- any parents of younger children out there -- how do YOU resist the "parenting industry"? And is it hard?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Separating Shadow

I've been obsessing about Shadow lately, our little cow who lost her calf last year. She's due to give birth any day now, and above all I didn't want her to have her calf down in the woods amidst the mud, cold, wind, and rain. I want every chance for this calf to live.

Because conditions are so muddy right now, we decided just to let her loose in the driveway and give her free access to the barn, which has not only shelter, but all our hay. (Yeah! Feast!)

We cordoned off a few places we didn't want her going. We didn't want her behind the barn... the chicken coop...

...or of course out the driveway.

Last night we fed everyone in the feed lot, as usual. But this time we locked the herd in overnight. By morning, because they couldn't get to the water tanks in the corral, they were grumpy and thirsty. Everyone wanted to get out of the feed lot and into the corral to drink. But first we needed to separate Shadow, so we all donned boots and shooed everyone out one by one until just Shadow was left. Everyone dashed for the corral where we have the two water tanks.

Shadow made straight for the barn and commenced foraging. Whoo-hoo! Feast!

Then a funny thing happened. All the other cattle disappeared into the woods, foraging on the small amounts of new grass poking through the mud. Shadow continued to gorge in the barn for a couple of hours. Then abruptly she raised her head and realized... she was alone! Gasp!

Suddenly she made a mad dash at full gallop down the driveway, bellowing. Back up the driveway, bellowing. Back down the driveway, bellowing. Et cetera. Frankly we expected her to jump a fence in order to rejoin the others. Gasp! All alone!

But her frantic calls brought the other beasties up from the woods and they all hung around companionably by the fences. Shadow calmed right down. I think she must have thought we'd taken everyone else away or something, and was reassured when they all showed up.

At any rate she settled back down in the barn for the rest of the day, peacefully chewing her cud.

I've been keeping a sharp eye on her tail end, but there are no indications a birth is imminent.

We've been having some violent squalls today, so I'm glad she's in the barn, warm and dry.

We could be in for a long wait before her calf shows up, but that's okay. Shadow has shelter, no mud, plenty of food, and fresh water. Not much more a cow could ask for while waiting for a calf.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dreamwire Designs

A few years ago, some dear friends sent their daughter GG to a boarding school in our region for a couple of years. Because her family lived so far away, and because GG and Older Daughter have been good friends for many years, we were her home away from home during the times she couldn't be with her family for shorter vacations or the occasional weekend when she just needed to get away from school.

GG is all grown up now and has started a business making wire jewelry called Dreamwire Designs.

She's always had a talent with jewelry-making. One year she gave Older Daughter a choker which -- I'm not kidding -- still gets comments everywhere she goes. ("Where did you GET that?") Now she's putting those talents to good use in starting her own business.

She's been playing with some designs from Lord of the Rings. Here's Galadriel's circlet:

And here's Eowyn's circlet:

She also makes earrings, ear cuffs, and chokers, all for extremely reasonable prices. I urge you to take a peek at her talent and support her endeavors.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Can't tell the difference!

I can identify and name all sixteen of our cattle without any effort. They are:

Samson, our bull
Ruby and her calf Alice
Jet and her calf Tarter
Raven and her calf Chester
Polly and her calf Petunia
Matilda and her calf Amy
Victoria and her calf Rosy
Sparky and her calf Dusty

Well, with the last two -- Sparky and Shadow -- I have some trouble because the two of them are almost the same age and virtually identical. They only time I'm absolutely certain who is who is when I see Dusty nursing.

This is Shadow.

This is Sparky.

Normally this isn't a big deal except for one thing: Shadow is due any day now with our first calf of the season. We especially want to keep an eye on Shadow because her calf died last year, the first calf death we've had in fifteen years of raising cattle.

We like to scoot our expectant cows into the corral just before giving birth. We're not always successful, but that's the ideal situation. This way the mothers aren't tucking themselves down into the woods and having their calves in bad weather or subject to predators. But right now it's mud season and our corral is deep in muck.

For purposes of reference, here's my boot, six inches deep.

Can't have a poor calf born in that or it would get stuck.

So our plan is to tuck Shadow into the barn (where Matilda and Amy normally spend the night) and just leave her there for a week or so until she has her calf. But first -- we have to figure out who is Shadow and who is Sparky.

So I went out today and compared the two. Back and forth. I compared and contrasted. Front side and backside.

You might think a cow who is nine months' pregnant wouldn't be hard to identify, but I can assure you it's tough. (In the above photo, Shadow is on the right.) I mean honestly, these ladies could be twins. (They're not.)

After a great deal of looking at both of them, I discovered one minor difference: Shadow has some white hairs scattered across the bridge of her nose.

So when the opportunity arises to tuck Shadow into the barn, be sure we'll be looking for white hairs. And let's hope Sparky doesn't sprout a few in the meantime.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi Day

[This is a re-post of a post from two years ago on, you guessed it, March 14.]

This morning my brother (an engineering nerd, let it be known) emailed to wish me "Happy Pi Day."

Pi, as you know, is the mathematical ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.

While pi is a constant, it's also infinite.


My kids get a kick out of listening to The Pi Song.

For convenience pi is usually shortened to 3.14, hence Pi Day -- March 14 -- get it? Get it?

Yeah I know, that's what I get for growing up in a family of nerds...

UPDATE: Reader Rob sent me this photo of a pi pie. He said, "Hmmm, looks like raspberry... There's a nerd joke in that..."

Not sure what the nerd joke might be, so if anyone knows, feel free to elucidate.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Homemade Tagalongs

We don't have a lot of Girl Scouts around here, so I rarely get to sample Girl Scouts cookies. They're too expensive anyway. But one time our pastor passed us a box of Tagalongs -- cookie, peanut butter, chocolate -- that were delicious.

So it occurred to me the other day -- could these be made at home? A quick internet search revealed a website called Back for Seconds that promised Tagalongs could be made with three ingredients. I decided to give it a try.

I actually ended up using five ingredients: peanut butter, vanilla wafers, chocolate chips, shortening, and corn syrup.

I started with a cup of peanut butter and a quarter-cup of corn syrup...

...which I mixed together to make the peanut butter a bit sweeter.

Then I took a cup of chocolate chips (semi-sweet) and added a heaping tablespoon of shortening (for extra smoothness), which I melted in the microwave.

When melting chocolate chips in the microwave, be careful not to heat it for more than about thirty seconds at a time. After each thirty seconds, give it a good stir, then if necessary pop it in for another thirty seconds. Depending on the strength of your microwave, it probably won't take more than one minute, maybe 90 seconds tops, to have liquified chocolate.

As the chocolate cools and becomes less runny, you may have to re-zap it for another few seconds to keep the chocolate liquidy enough.

At first, I added a dab of peanut butter to each cookie, then dunked the cookie into the chocolate. Doing them one at a time in this way turned out to be too messy.

What I ended up doing was making the cookies assembly-line fashion, where I dabbed a bunch of cookies with peanut butter first, then started dunking in chocolate. Another little trick I learned: when peanut butter is cool, it won't "adhere" to the cookies very well. So I popped the peanut butter in the microwave for about thirty seconds, which warmed it just enough to smear beautifully on the cookies.

Because the peanut butter cooled fairly fast, I worked in batches of about twenty cookies. First I smeared them with peanut butter, then I started dunking them in chocolate.

Using a fork to fish out the cookie allows the extra chocolate to drip off.

Gradually I worked my way through the whole box of vanilla wafers, stopping to re-zap either the chocolate or the peanut butter as necessary.

Then I put them in the freezer for a few hours to cool and harden.

The results were so good that I ended up taking them to our neighborhood potluck, since it was my turn to bring dessert. The cookies should stay refrigerated since the chocolate becomes gooey at room temperature.

What a nice easy (and inexpensive) way to make a delicious cookie!

By the way, this Back for Seconds website has an impressive array of duplicate recipes for popular items. Definitely worth checking out!