Thursday, April 23, 2015

Just eight more days....

Black is on the left and Spring on the right.
When our local farmer decided to no longer offer raw milk, he offered to sell off some family dairy cows and so far we are the only family to take advantage of it.We moved from the city to the woods so it is a lot to absorb not to mention the ice planet Hoth weather we have here. It is a bit crazy. We were hesitant to add animals into the mix until we were able to get ourselves through the winters and not without good reason. Last year was a monster winter with 340 inches and change (that is more than 28 feet) and this year was a bit easier with just 271 inches and change (that is just over 22 and half feet). You can check the local records HERE. To out it in perspective, this cray cray Boston winter netted just 108 inches (see HERE) which is pretty much exactly nine feet. But having made it through two winters without dying makes one a bit bolder, a word which here means less afraid. Not totally unafraid but less so. Gotta give Old Man Winter the props he deserves.

Until now we stuck with the apples orchard which we will be hitting hard this year. Ben and I walked through twenty acres of apple trees this last weekend and they were mostly in good shape. Sadly one was completely crushed by the snow, something that happens here regularly. We have two apple trees this year that are a complete loss. We know that we are going to need to also add some more trees this year, and not just apple. A plum tree by the house is barely making it and the recently added cherry tree is not going to make it.  We had initially planned to start bees in the orchard this year both for the health of the orchard and my second oldest son's love of bees. He has has been helping out the priest at the Orthodox mission with his hives and he loves it. But since needing raw milk is a real and daily issue, we have decided our own hives can wait a year and instead we will invest in a dairy cow.

The 4H leader lives down the road and their family provides our beef. She and her husband (who came from dairy farmers) stopped by to do an initial audit. They walked through and looked at what we had and told us what we would need so that we can be prepared. There is a lot to think about. I mean, food for it, just for starters. That is a huge deal. We will need to hay 3-4 acres for each cow in order to get it through the winters. A cow will eat a bale a day and that is a lot of hay. Then there is the water that they will drink and the twice a day milking and then the, uh, mothering-up of the cow. We do not have a bull so this will involve a class, some shoulder length gloves, and a good bit of courage. Dang.

So, to help us get our muck boots wet, I am taking the teenage boys over to help with the afternoon milking. They need to get comfortable with the cows and the milking machine and the cleaning up before and after so that it won't be a shock to us and the cow when it comes it the first milking in a week.

A week.

Well, a week and a day from this writing. We will get the cow next Friday. Oh my gosh it is getting so dang reeeaaaallll now.  In a week there will be a cow in the north fields. Wow. And maybe a steer. William had a steer that I just could not stop trying to pet. It would tolerate it for a minute, but only a minute, but that did not stop me. We could put it with the cow to keep her from getting lonely seeing as how she came from a herd of twenty and then we could process him next fall. Or this fall if we don't make enough hay. My son wants to make a total of eight acres just to make sure and that is a tall order.

In the meantime, we have to decide between two cows; both are mostly Jersey mixes with easygoing personalities and one has some Holstein markings. The black one is taller and the udder is higher up which keeps it cleaner. Ben thinks that no matter which we get (Black or Spring) we should rename it Io. Because he is awesome. If we get the steer also, Ben thinks we should call it Zeus. How cool would that be?

Sorry for the crappy cell phone photo. It was relatively dark in the milking parlor and I did not bring my good camera to go milk muddy cows. Maybe we are taking the crazy hippie couple moving out to the woods with a pack of children thing too far but in the end, we can literally eat our investment and that is not a bad deal.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cereal for breakfast...

Veronica digging on the bowl of cereal in her lap.
My oldest son refers to store bought breakfast cereal as "baby food" because it is what the kids would eat for breakfast right after our babies were born. For my kids there is this category of foods that include breakfast cereals, Annie's Mac'n'cheese, store bought bread and the like and they all fall into the category of baby food. My kids love baby food because it is a rare treat. Imagine not eating any breakfast cereal except maybe twice a year and then imagine how my kids feel when I buy some. My kids get cereal at Saint Patrick's (the lame Lucky Charms stuff) and at Halloween (the Frakenberry stuff) and it is like I brought home buckets of gold.

Every once in a while, things get really hectic and I shock everyone by getting something processed. I am writing a book, my husband commutes 70 miles round trip a day, I am homeschooling eight kids, not to mention the millions of outside commitments that families with children have. While planning out my weekend, I knew that I wanted an opportunity to outline some material for book and have a lunch date with my husband because my birthday was last week. So when I was out at the Mennonite feed and grocery, I decided to not only get my 50 pounds of Bob's Red Mill rolled oats and their amazing cheese but also some big crinkly bags of breakfast cereal. They have a generic brand and it is $5 for a bag as big as a 25# sack of flour but it is so light that the two year old can lift it. That alone should remind me that it just doesn't hold a lot of nutrition. I was thinking that sometimes I just need to give myself a break. I was thinking that sometimes I work too hard.

You know, all the homemade bread and baked goods and fermenting veggies and probiotic drinks and homemade yogurt and bone broths and the dishes that doing all this make kinda keeps a girl busy. And I homeschool eight kids between kindie and tenth grade and the four year old wants to learn to read. That is a lot. Oh and the book. I have to turn in a finished manuscript on Sophia's birthday, September 1st. Wow, that is close. I am getting tired thinking of it all.

Anyway, on Saturday morning I let the kids have cheap cereal with wholesome raw milk and hot tea with honey while I looked over my notes for my book and lined up the recipes that I need to develop this month. I even let them eat at the coffee table and watch a movie. They loved it. It is like I brought Disney Land to my living room. I thought that maybe I should do that more often.

Only I shouldn't. Oh my gosh. Kids were wild and arguing and not doing chores and then I got three, count them three, one-two-THREE calls from my oldest daughter about completely out of control children who were crying and throwing fits and not clearing the table. Hmm. Wonder would could have gotten into them this morn--my goooosh, it must have been the eighty pounds of sugar each one had in his bowl of generic sugar puffed wheat.

So, I started a ginger bug, started some sourdough bread, and got the bone broth going in the slow cooker. Geez. Somethin' gotta give but it cannot be the food. Seriously, these kids just can't. So I think I am going to try to simplify as much as I can and focus on what totally has to be done. I also need to lean on the kids a bit more. I need to spend weekends writing, that is all there is to it. But I know that I cannot give up on the food. Maybe it was a good thing, though my oldest daughter would be freaked out that I said that. She did not think it was good. But it probably is.

Also, scary but I think good news. We are getting a dairy cow. Yeah. For real. Our raw milk farmer, God bless him, is getting out of the business which is too bad because he can do amazing things in this harsh climate. So we are getting a dairy cow of our very own and I am a bit stressed out thinking about it. We are getting a cream separator and the kids will have no limit on the amount of milk they can drink so, that makes some things easier.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Free range kids...

Today my kids played caveman. Isabel makes the face paint,
Jack chops the pine needles using his newly made tomahawk.
I am not a free range mom. Not because there is something wrong with it but because I don't need to be. I have a mom. I have kids. They play outside because if they didn't, I would be an alcoholic weeping in a corner. Kidding (not kidding). Like other moms, I need a break from them. Like other kids, they probably need a break from me.

There is so much controversy right now over what kids should and should not be allowed to do. Personally, I think that people are overreacting. It is insane, the idea that children who are pre-teen are incapable of going somewhere by themselves and that bystanders would call 911 because they saw children in public by themselves. Did not hear about it? Listen HERE. Let that sink in. Children, unaccompanied, in a park, and they call 911. Fire, murder, robbery, and now kids in a park is the reason that we have 911. I cannot even understand it. My siblings and I would have the source of a million 911 calls all through the 80s if people had responded that way then. I think that the summer months would have kept the cops so busy, they would have needed to hire more officers.

I think of all the times I was left in a car or the times my friends and I have left our kids in the car with no more advice than, "Honk if you need me." Only thing is that now, it can land in you in court defending yourself. Remember that lady who briefly left her son in the car? She wrote HERE about it last summer and I will never forget it. Now when I leave the kids in the car, I make sure that one of the teens gets into the front seat so that it is obvious that there is someone with them so that somebody with a cell phone and an axe to grind doesn't video me walking away from a 15 passenger van full of kids in carseats.


So how is this working out for us? Not well. Apparently kids today cannot even make it in college without their parents calling the president when the kids are feeling the stress. Did you see THIS great Wash Post article about it? I am loving that. My oldest son is in college and honestly, as hard as it was and as many times as I have cried, we have counselled him to work things out. We let go and we have let him fail at times. I do not remind him to do his homework. I do not email his professors or, heaven forbid, call the president. I had cocktails with the president before the welcome banquet while the students babysat younger siblings. That is to this day our only real contact.


Veronica brings more pine needles for Jack to chop for....
whatever reason they are chopping them. I have no idea.

Moving out to the woods like wannabe hippies has the result of removing a lot of the pressure to hover over the kids all the time.  Kids here hunt, fish, skin animals, take care of livestock, swim and basically wonder around by themselves. In the city, I was considered a free range parent, here I am pretty much like everyone else. Almost. Actually, I might be a bit more cautious because hunting season freaks me out. I have no idea why but it really does.

Eli made the craziest axe with a stone he chipped himself.
My kids have free range of the three acres we mow and then the older kids have another maybe twenty acre area that they can go with dog (and sometimes a pellet gun) as long as they can see the house. They can only go into the woods if they are with an adult and stick the bush roads which we use for logging out our winter wood. Before you think that living in the woods is somehow safer, it is and it isn't. No one is going to force them into car, least of all the police, but there are bears, wolves, coyotes, and fisher cats hence the dog and the dog and the pellet gun.

Honestly I am not sure how we came to a place where we need a lifestyle movement dedicated to letting children play by themselves. Since when do we need a reason to let kids play? Moms, you need to protect your sanity. Send them outside. Okay, maybe not. I am not sure that your neighbors will let you. So. There is the rub. You need a break, they need a break, and the neighbors don't give a hoot.

Friday, April 10, 2015

SNAP and snap judgments...

I am heartsick over the ridiculous Kansas proposals to limit purchases using SNAP, the federally funded supplemental nutrition assistance program, and proposed limitations to prevent people from accessing their cash benefits. Haven't heard about the debacle? NPR has some good coverage. Since when did we become a nation of pathetic and pitiless villains worthy of a Dickens novel?

Kansas lawmakers are concerned about how the tax paying public's dollar is being spent by welfare recipients. Acording to NPR, those cash benefits are usually less than $300 a month. Hear that? A month. That's it. Not a week, a month, but even at that rate per week those people are clearly barely scraping by, maybe. It is ridiculous to assume that they are planning cruise vacations so why the rush to ban the use of welfare funds on cruises? This is a non-issue, people. What about swimming in a local pool? Guess what, they want to take that away. I guess pools are only for financially comfortable children, the rabble best just stay on the other side of the fence. How is that not just being nasty? I cannot even imagine how that is a defensible position.

TANF (temporary assistance for needy families) is a federally funded but state dispersed program which provides cash assistance to families in desperate situations. Some Kansas lawmakers want to limit where and how the funds can be accessed and spent, for instance limiting the withdrawals to $25 a day. How the hell can they live on that? They also want to prevent funds from being spent at tattoo parlors, strip clubs, casinos, movie theaters, or on jewelry. So...what are they implying? That the poor are the only ones keeping these places in business? Maybe there is no one out there who is financially comfortable who might have a tattoo, no business men in suits at strip clubs, and that it is not just old people hogging all the slots at the casinos? It is apparently also true that no poor child ever deserves to see a movie.

"Step aside, child, I care not if it is your birthday. These amusements are for your betters. Be off and be grateful for my generous philanthropy in the form of the mighty sum of $300 a month!"

Step back and think about it for a second, that is pretty much what people are saying.

In so far as the food assistance goes, there is a proposal to prevent the poor from buying fish and seafood because clearly, it is too good for them. Apparently a single person once bragged about eating lobster. Okay. Whatever. Once person once ate lobster. Sure. I once ate Chilean Sea Bass. What does that mean? Nothing. Nothing whatsoever. How do you know that the person buying lobster with SNAP did not save up for it? Or do you assume they are not capable of it. A really awesome person on my blog FB said that we have no way of knowing if they lived on ramen noodles for 29 days so that they could have lobster on the 30th day. Another commenter said that she worked in a grocery and never once saw anyone using their benefits for expensive foods like that. I was gratified to see how many people were upset that buying nutritious foods for your children could ever been seen as wrong.

That is not to say that everyone agree with me. One person said that she hates when she sees a cart filled with desserts because "you know they are just going to sell them for cash". I don't know that and unless this person tells you, they don't need know that either. I have no idea what they are doing with those desserts. Even if they do without food so that they can have cash, how do you know what they are doing with that cash? Maybe they are buying toothpaste or diapers or paying the electric bill, all which take cash and none of which can be paid with SNAP and maybe not even the cash assistance, since they want to limit that to $25 a day.

I have said it before (HERE and HERE) and I will say it again, of all the nonsense that the government spends my money on, I will never, never, never regret a single penny spent feeding another human being. Never.

There is this nagging suggestion that the poor deserve nothing that is nice. What if they saved all their benefit pennies for Christmas Dinner and bought one lobster to share? Is that wrong? Is that too good for them? We are becoming a nation of proud and haughty Scrooges who see the poor as infantile dependents who deserve what they get and don't deserve what they cannot. I know it is Easter, but please, read A Christmas Carol again. Read it because you don't want to be that guy who thinks that this is good policy.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How we say things around here...

Gorgeous Keweenaw sky at sunset.
America is a very large, very diverse country. I never cease to be amazed that I can be born and raised in the same country and yet speak and eat so differently from people in other parts of the country. I have what I consider to be no accent, I have that bland journalism kind of spoken English that doesn't really have a place but is just plain American. I could be from anywhere but I happen to be from Colorado. I just use the American terms for things and not the Canadian or British or those of any other English speaking countries. Be that as it may, it doesn't matter if I think that I have no particular way of speaking because clearly I do. Sometimes I have no idea what people here are saying and it is probably 100% my fault.

1. I say soda when I mean carbonated beverage but here they say pop, unless it has ice cream in it and then they call it a soda but I think it really a float. I hear the word pop and I think it is onamonapia or a verb like they are planning to explode something in a small way because, the heck does that even mean?!? I had a car sick kid and I ran into a liquor store hoping for chilled soda and asked for some. He looked at me and told me that I was in a liquor store and that they did not sell ice cream. I looked at him again and said I wanted soda from the refrigerator case so that it would be cold. He told me that ice cream is always cold and he was unaware of any in bottles. I though he was having a stroke. We went rounds and rounds until Ben came in and saved me because I was ready to scream. He asked for pop and got soda because apparently I do not even speak the same language.

2. I have no idea what a party store is. Like, really. In Colorado, that means a store that sells costumes, paper plates, decorations, and party favors. Here, I think it has to do with chips and booze. Also, in the same vein I have no idea what package liquor means because all the booze I buy comes in packages and not in like, bubbles or cloth bags or whatever. But you know, I am cool with what they do here. I just need to learn what that is.

3. I had no idea, until today, that Seven Layer Dip was a thing let alone a thing that some people think is Mexican food. Let me fill you in, it is no more Mexican than the Taco Hell Enchirito. I am not even sure that either are actually food. I am not even sure how you eat it. How does one get all seven layers in one bite of whatever you are dipping? Does one need to do so? Also, why dips? Why do people need to dip things? Eat a plate of food instead standing over a communal bowl. It is better this way, trust me.

4. I was invited to a baby shower and the invitation said "Bring a Dish to Pass". Ok, cool. But first, what does that mean? I mean really? Am I passing it off as something else? Am I passing it around like a game of musical chairs where you eat what you are holding when the music stops? Do we just pass around plates of finger foods and try each one as it passes? Seriously, people, I have no idea what this means. I need to email the hostess, soon to be grandmother, and tell her I am freaking clueless but game for whatever. I is learning to fits in good.

5. I had no idea that not everybody seriously digs real Mexican food. I have the ingrained belief that if your beans suck, your business should be shunned and you should have to resort to apologizing in public in some deeply profound way for the lack of awesome beanage you have subjected people to eating. I brought homemade toastada shells and green chile pulled pork to a potluck and had to not only explain what it was but also how to eat it. Hard core fail. But then again, I have no idea what people here eat yet. I am still figuring it all out because I is learning to fits in good.

6. I am sometimes profoundly and genuinely confused about what is happening around me. I was at a fund raising meeting for the kids and one of the moms said we would be "begging" at the local grocery store. I was confused, I asked what she meant. She looked me dead in the eye and said, "You know, begging."

I looked at her and said, "We will be begging for food?" More than one woman rolled her eyes.

"Yeesss." Everyone nodded knowingly.

"Okay, ladies," I sighed, "I am genuinely confused about this. I have no idea what is going on here. Like, begging?"

Everybody stared at me as she replied. "Yes, BEGGING."

"Uhhhhh. Like, alms for the poor kind of begging?" I was getting desperate and feeling more and more lost.

This is when she started to lose patience, "Like putting people's groceries in begs like beg-boys kind of begging."

"Oh, ho! I get it! BAGGING in BAGS! Okay. Bagging and not begging."

She looked very serious when she looked at me and replied quietly, "I don't hear the difference."

So I sheepishly replied, "Yeah. Um. I am from Colorado. I is learning to fits in good."

7. I use all the letters in words when I speak, for good or for ill. So, there is thing that people do here. The contract words in ways that I think are funny but they don't, obvs. For instance, the word button is pronounced "buh-IN". The town Houghton becomes "Ho-IN". There are no T sounds in either word and the ON sound becomes IN. I pointed this out to someone and said it both ways. She looked very serious when she looked at me and replied quietly, "I don't hear the difference."

So I sheepishly replied, "Yeah. Um. I am from Colorado. I is learning to fits in good."

8. Bakery. Look it up in the dictionary, people. It is a noun meaning a business where foods are baked. This is how I use the word. Here, people mean the baked goods themselves. Here's the thing, that is not technically correct. Sorry but it is the truth and I am compelled to mention it. I tell them that I will not bring a pile of bricks from a business which produces baked goods but rather just the homemade baked goods themselves because baked goods is a phrase that means...things that are good and baked. I have not gained much traction with this. They worry that I have had a stroke. This is not of the helping me to fits in good.

9. Hotdish is a thing. I have learned this recently. When people in the upper Midwest say this, they do not mean that the dish they are passing is hot like, "Watch out, Uncle Bob! The potatoes are in one hot dish!" They mean like, "Behold my hotdish, my one dish supper of lots of combined foods of various kinds which may or may not contain cheese but certainly has many kinds of canned ingredients of all varieties." I do not think I have fully figured this one out yet. It appears to me a nebulous terms full of nuance and subtlety and consequently I am not ever really confident what they hell people mean when they use the term. But I will, darn it, someday I will. I is learning to fits in good.

10. Lastly, even if this means nothing to you, French drain. It is not drain tile. Since when is a pipe a tile? I have no idea what is going on right now. Tiles and bakery and begging and buh-INs and I am...oh, look! Hotdish! Who wants some?
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