Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Paper gardening

I'm pleased to report I have a blog post up at Lehman's called Paper Gardening.

Please hop over and read it!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Birthin' another baby

Saturday afternoon as I was starting some early outside chores, I happened to notice little Hickory nursing off Amy.

Let me repeat this: Hickory, who is Sparky's calf, was nursing off Amy, who (at the moment) didn't have a calf.

It's not unusual for calves to "double dip" from other willing cows, but this took on the air of absolute gorging. Greedy Hickory nursed and nursed and nursed, while Amy just stood there and took it.

After a while, Amy laid down, and Hickory still tried to figure out how to get the good stuff.

Then Amy stood up. Then she laid down. Then she gave low moos. And half an hour later, Hickory was still sucking down the milk.

So I clipped Amy's halter to a lead rope, and I tucked her into the barn, which was set with soft bedding and fresh hay. Inside the house, I told Don, "I'm about 75% sure Amy is in early labor."

A couple hours later, near evening, I said, "Since nothing's happening, maybe I'll go ahead and let Amy out of the barn."

"Don't bother," he told me. "You'd just be tucking her back in within an hour."

He was right, but since Amy didn't have any water, I filled a bucket and brought it into her pen; and saw...

She had dropped that calf literally 30 seconds before I walked in. "Not wasting any time!" I gasped, as I dashed into the house to grab my camera (which I had foolishly left behind). "Good call!" said Don, referencing my concern about tucking Amy into the barn in case she was in early labor.

The amniotic sac was still around the baby's head, so Amy got to work removing it.

The weather was chilly but not the bitter, bitter cold we had over the last week (-6F in the mornings), so I'm glad Amy held off until things improved.

I couldn't take many more photos since it was getting so dark in the barn, but I was able to determine Amy's calf was a little boy, and he wobbled to his feet and got his first drink of colostrum (what Hickory didn't suck down first, ha ha) in due time.

Today's weather has been beyond hideous. We've had blizzard conditions: howling wind, blowing snow, drifts closing our driveway and the road, etc. If ever I've been glad to have shelter for the animals, it's days like this. Amy is rather bored, alone in the pen, but at least she and her baby are sheltered from the elements.

Here's the view from the pen. What's not terribly visible are the sheets of sideways-blowing snow. Yowza it's been a wild day.

This little guy (so far unnamed) is Calf #3 out of 5. We can only hope the two remaining cows choose more decent weather to birth their babies...but if not, we'll be vigilant.

Our mutiny against the bounty

Here's my WND column for this weekend, originally titled "Our Mutiny Against the Bounty."

UPDATE: Because some readers are having ongoing issues accessing the WND website, I'll start reprinting my columns here. In case I forget, just give me a kick-in-the-pants reminder.

Why I battle against easy living
Exclusive: Patrice Lewis lauds N.Y. Times piece on 'The Tyranny of Convenience'

Back in 1990, my husband and I were normal.

No really, we were. We were newlyweds living in a rental house in Sacramento. We had two dogs. We commuted on the highway. We each worked 9-to-5 jobs in respectable fields. We went to dinner every Friday night. We bought clothes in department stores. We had get-togethers with friends. We watched television. We walked our dogs around the block. We acted just like everybody else.

But this didn’t mean we liked being normal. Deep down, we wanted to be different. We didn’t want a suburban existence – we wanted to live on a farm. We didn’t want the security of an office job – we wanted to be self-employed. We didn’t want to commute on a highway – we wanted to work at home.

And most of all, we didn’t want to live with regret. We didn’t want to look at each other on our 50th anniversary and say, “If only.” If only we’d moved to the country. If only we’d raised our (future) children on a farm. If only we’d worked for ourselves.

This realization was the end of our normal existence. In 1992 we left our secure well-paying jobs, moved to a different state and embarked on a rural life. We exchanged paved streets for dirt roads. We left financial security for the financial insecurity of a home business.

From then on, our lives have been very, very different than that of our friends. Over the years, this became our new normal – and I forget that not everyone views it the same way.

I didn’t realize this until I started receiving comments from college friends on their yearly Christmas cards. While most of these fine people went on to lead productive and conventional lives as professionals in their fields, living on paved streets, we blundered away in a different direction down a dirt road (literally). During the height of our hard years, it was kind of embarrassing to meet up with these old friends and compare lives. While we struggled, they sailed. While we economized, they indulged. While we patched our old car together with spit and baling twine, they bought new.

And then the Christmas cards started arriving. “How I wish I could live like you,” said a woman, a successful attorney. “I would really love to do what you do,” said a second, a physician. “How I envy you,” said a third, a brilliant man with a Ph.D./M.D. in research biochemistry.

What were these people talking about? We were struggling to make ends meet. We were living in a shack. We were outfitting our kids in thrift store clothes and heating with wood. What was there to envy?

Some asked why we were living this way. Why did we embark on such an unconventional lifestyle? Until a week ago, all I could say is we’ve always fought against the easy suburban existence that seemed our destiny early in our marriage. But I never knew what pushed us, what drove us to embrace such a rugged do-it-yourself lifestyle … until this week.

That’s when I read a brilliant essay in the New York Times by a man named Tim Wu. Entitled “The Tyranny of Convenience,” he outlined why “convenience is the most underestimated and least understood force in the world today.”

“Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable,” writes Wu. “Once you have used a washing machine, laundering clothes by hand seems irrational, even if it might be cheaper.”

We’ve always labored to recapture lost skills because of our concern about what I call “the death of knowledge” – how 5,000 years of skills have been lost in just the last century due to the tyranny of convenience. On our own, we’ve learned home dairying, animal husbandry, food preservation; but it wasn’t until reading Mr. Wu’s essay that I realized we were engaged in a lifelong battle against easy living.

Wu writes:
[W]e err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear. Though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us. It would be perverse to embrace inconvenience as a general rule. But when we let convenience decide everything, we surrender too much. … As task after task becomes easier, the growing expectation of convenience exerts a pressure on everything else to be easy or get left behind. We are spoiled by immediacy and become annoyed by tasks that remain at the old level of effort and time. … Today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destination and no journey. But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place. We are becoming people who care mainly or only about outcomes. We are at risk of making most of our life experiences a series of trolley rides.
So there you have it. For the last 25 years, my husband and I have blundered along, fighting against convenience, learning how to do things through trial and error, and enjoying every (well, almost every) minute. We raised our kids with this quirky disregard for “normalcy” as well. And in every way except financial, our lives have been immeasurably richer because of it.

“However mundane it seems now, convenience, the great liberator of humankind from labor, was a utopian ideal,” writes Wu. “By saving time and eliminating drudgery, it would create the possibility of leisure.”

But the great dark unspoken secret of leisure is this: It’s boring. It’s far better to be busy, especially by working with one’s hands.

Wu notes, “The dream of convenience is premised on the nightmare of physical work. But is physical work always a nightmare? Do we really want to be emancipated from all of it?”

No. That’s why we stubbornly continue to grow a garden, milk our cows, make butter and cheese, earn a living through our woodcraft business, and teach others what we’ve learned. We will continue to mutiny against the bounty, to question what’s “normal,” and shun the tyranny of convenience.

How “convenient” is your life? And what price are you paying?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Two-day meat pie

It was my turn to host our neighborhood potluck last week. I wanted to make something different, and spent a few days noodling around what it should be. In the end, I decided to make a (beef) meat pie. Not terribly creative, perhaps, but it was tasty.

It took two days to make. The first day, I took two chuck roasts and put them in the Crockpot (sometimes called a slow cooker).

Then I peeled and diced five potatoes...

...which I also added to the Crockpot. I also added about a quarter cup of Worcestershire sauce and nothing else.

I let the meat and potatoes cook slowly all day. Then in the evening, I took out the meat...

...and shredded it. Then I put the meat and potatoes in the fridge overnight.

Mr. Darcy got some of the fatty scraps, which he thought was just a splendid idea.

The next day, I started the pie itself. I chopped up two onions...

...then I added peas, carrots, and garlic. Isn't it wonderful how much of this pie comes from homegrown or home-raised ingredients?

Here's the filling mixture, ready for the pie crust. For spices (in addition to garlic), I added salt, thyme, pepper, sage, and mustard powder.

Making the crust.

I made one large (9x13) and one small (9x9) pie.

As it turned out, thanks to the nasty snowy weather outside, only two families made it to the potluck, so I only cooked the smaller pie (and put the larger one in the freezer for a future potluck). I baked the pie in the wood cookstove's oven.

A nice hearty meat pie -- perfect for nasty snowy weather.

Here's the recipe I used:

Meat pies (1 large, 1 small)

Into the crock pot:
2 chuck roasts
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
5 medium potatoes, diced
Simmer all day, then shred meat and refrigerate overnight
Shredded meat + potatoes
Two jars carrots
1 jar peas
2 chopped onions
½ cup water
To taste: garlic, salt, thyme, pepper, sage, mustard powder
6 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups lard
¾ cup water

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Dozens of new ebooks now available!

For quite a while now, Don and I have been working on creating a whole bunch of new ebooks for our Country Living Series. In keeping with those we published originally, these new low-cost ebooks are designed to cover unique aspects of rural living, livestock care, preparedness, simplicity, frugality, and rural businesses. All ebooks are in pdf format.

We've also "bundled" a number of the individual ebooks together to provide more information on broader topics. (Note that a few of the ebooks are repeated in some of the different bundles because they're applicable to more than one category.) The bundles are available for 25 percent below the combined cost of the individual pieces they contain.

Additionally, readers of Rural Revolution can get a further 10 percent discount on their total orders by using the promo code RURAL on the checkout page.

Finally, we're looking for other blog or website owners who would be interested in pitching our library of country knowledge on their sites, either by mentioning it with a link, or by posting an advertisement. If you have such a site and want to participate, contact Don at ruralrevolution@hotmail.com. He will provide you with a unique site-specific discount code that you can give to your readers so that they can have a 10 percent discount as well. Not only will you be providing your readers with a valuable resource, but for each order we receive that uses your code, you (the site owner) will receive a further 10 percent of the sales price. If you're interested, contact Don (ruralrevolution@hotmail.com) for further details on payment options and help with designing an ad for your site.

We're very excited about this project and plan to increase the number of books regularly until we become one of the best resources for self-sufficiency on the internet. Thank you to all my loyal readers for your support over these many years.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day snowstorm

For the last few days, we've had cold, clear, sunny weather.

When we took Mr. Darcy for his walks, he could chase sticks and romp around on bare, snow-free ground.

But all that was about to change, in a big way. We had weather moving in.

We're pretty much perpetually battened down this time of year, of course, though we did lay in a bit more firewood for the occasion.

The biggest advantage during snow dumps like this is -- we don't have to go anywhere. We just stay home. What a blessing.

It was fascinating, yesterday afternoon, to watch the clear blue sky gradually get blotted out by incoming clouds.

Below the high cirrus clouds, everything was thickening up on the horizon.

Even the sunset managed to look vaguely ominous, if picturesque.

When we woke up this morning, Valentine's Day, the world was transformed. Here are some before and after photos.







The new calves, Hickory and Ferdinand, don't mind the snow at all.

(It helps they have a nice cozy barn to curl up in.)

We're keeping a sharp eye on the other cows with regards to calving. I believe Polly is next -- it looks like she's starting to bag up -- and since we're expecting about a week of nasty, unsettled weather, I'll pull her into the barn at the first sign. At least with Jerseys, it's easy to predict imminent birth a few days in advance.

Happy Valentine's Day!