Monday, April 29, 2013

Disappointment (mixed with a little fear)

I am not in the mood to do this post, but I feel I owe it to my faithful readers.  Cliff did not come home today.  The doctor wanted to make sure there was no bile escaping into Cliff's belly, so they did another scan.  Guess what?  
The first thing I said was, "So maybe that's why he feels so awful and has no appetite..."  
Doctor said, "Ma'am, he isn't going to have an appetite six weeks from now.  We had to take his gall bladder out a piece at a time because it was bonded to his liver.  If it had been any longer before he had surgery, he would be dead."  
So yes, bile fluid is leaking either from where they put the T-tube or else from some German-named, useless ducts on the bottom of the liver.  Tomorrow some other kind of specialist (gastro-something) will put a stint in the duct, if the problem is at the T-tube, and they will remove the T-tube.  If that isn't where the bile is coming from, he will get a stint in a different spot and keep the tube.  
I am not going into the details, but there are a lot of "ifs" to this procedure.  

Cliff comes home today

He still feels lousy, and has to force himself to eat even the tiniest bit of food, but they've done all they can for him in the hospital.  I suspect just being home will make him feel better.  
He will have two drainage tubes still in place.  He will be removing the little containers from each tube and measuring the fluid contained in them, then disposing of the fluid.  The tube that goes to a bile duct is the tricky one, because he has to be very careful that nothing pulls or tugs on it:  It HAS to stay in place, and he will be left in place for months.  Yes, months.  A nurse is going to instruct us on the care of the tubes before we leave this morning.   
Can you read my apprehension here?  Right now, Cliff doesn't feel like doing anything, but when he feels better, I don't know how well he will follow doctor's orders about physical activity.  I think we may turn the cows in on the hay crop, then sell the bull (we were going to sell him anyhow) and calves this fall and just buy hay for whatever animals we keep.  I know Cliff isn't going to be lifting any small square bales, and because the big baler is so junky, nobody but him can operate it:  He has to get off the tractor for almost every bale and mess with the innards of the thing, which would be awfully risky as far as keeping the tube where it belongs.    
According to THIS ARTICLE, he isn't supposed to lift over ten pounds during this time.  I don't know how well he will follow this rule.  He sure didn't do too well with doctor's instructions on lifting after his open heart surgery, although no harm came from his disobedience at that time.  If he does too much and the T-tube is pulled from the bile duct, a whole different set of doctors would have to go through another procedure that places a stent in the duct.  That is not a desirable alternative, from what I've gathered on the Internet.  
So.  That's the story from where I sit this morning.    

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Surgery tomorrow

Cliff is feeling pretty darned good.  He did the nuclear stress test on the treadmill today and passed with flying colors.  
Tomorrow at 12:30 he will have the Laparoscopic Gallbladder surgery; it will take from thirty minutes to an hour.  Thursday morning he comes home.  
His worst problem now is that he still can only have clear liquids, and he is STARVING.  However, they don't want to run any risk of getting that gallbladder inflamed again, so starve he must.  
This is just a quickie to keep friends updated.   

Saturday, April 20, 2013

More cow tales

This isn't the picture I wanted to take.  Ten minutes earlier, every single cow in my herd was down there with Red-the-bull, the guy in the background at the gate.  They were hoping that somehow, the gate to the clover patch would magically swing open so they could graze the clover.  Three or four days ago, they managed to get the gate open and spent a whole night grazing; I imagine Red was the culprit, since he has a habit of rubbing his head on everything.  He likely rubbed on the gate a little too hard and broke the chain that held it shut.  Cliff replaced the broken chain with a stronger one.
There's only an acre or so in that patch, and if I allowed the cows full access, they would soon have it overgrazed and back to growing only weeds.  My plan is to give them two hours there each morning, then drive them out.  However, it's been so wet that their cloven hooves have already put holes all over the place.  It's going to have to dry out before they are allowed there again.

Jody is the only cow I'm milking at present.  This cow has really surprised me with how much milk she's giving, since she was only producing three gallons daily at the start.  I only milk once daily, after her calf has been away from her for twelve hours, and I now get almost a gallon and a half from two teats.  So she's giving almost three gallons total.  Which means if I were doing twice-a-day milking, she would be giving almost six gallons daily.  Good grief!  No wonder her calf, Jenny, has a diarrhea.  I'm not sure what to do about it.  I guess I could keep her at the barn and milk twice a day instead of once, to limit her intake so she'd only be getting three gallons of milk a day instead of over four.  I'll watch her closely and hope she gets better on her own, but I will intervene if need be.  Meanwhile, Jody is very skinny, because she's putting all her grazing into milk production.
There hasn't been any missing milk since that one time.  I still suspect George, because all of a sudden he is growing and looking much slicker than Gracie, with whom he was raised.  I've seen calves who will watch a cow until catch her calf nursing, and sneak up to the back of the cow and nurse along with the baby.  I once saw a full-grown herd bull do this!  The cow is blissfully unaware that there's a freeloader, conscious only of her baby.  I suppose this would work out fine for me, since Jenny is getting too much milk.  
Wouldn't you know I found a Youtube video?


Cliff has been really, really sick for a couple of days.  Sick to the point of dry-heaving and groaning, so sick he was unable to eat.  
He's pretty much over it as much as I can tell with him sleeping like a baby in the other room.  He's slept all night for the first time in three days.  The doctor and I think perhaps it's gallstones.  The results of the CT scan should tell us whether we're right.  
Cliff isn't that sick very often, but when he is, it's a wakeup call for me, a reminder to appreciate him.  Did you know that the very cows that make me smile and laugh all the time are a burden when Cliff isn't 100%?  The chickens I normally enjoy choring after aren't fun any more.  The fruit trees I check so often in spring, hoping for a large harvest, mean nothing to me, and I couldn't care less about the garden.  I was hopelessly depressed.  
I think about friends and relatives who have lost a husband or other close family member:  They have had to deal with this feeling on a permanent basis and somehow move on, perhaps taking a new path in a different direction, finding joy in life despite their losses.  For the most part, they do, even as they grieve.  
I salute those people.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Maybe I have found the milk thief?

A reader commented that she caught one of her cows drinking her own milk.  I remember hearing my parents say this could happen, but it seemed to me like it would be impossible.  Well, you know, you can find anything on Youtube, and I found a video of a cow drinking her own milk from her own teat.

One thing about it, if Jody is doing this, at least she will have to leave the back teats for me and the calf.  


It's a strange spring we're having.  I guess I should be glad we aren't badly bitten by the motorcycle bug this year, because there have only been a handful of days warm enough to have an enjoyable ride.  Even then, the wind was often so strong it would have ruined a ride.  
We've been had forties and fifties for highs most days.  Tonight's low is predicted at 30.  My peach trees are loaded with blooms, and I'm hoping that won't ruin my peach crop.  All frozen peaches from last year have been consumed.  I'll have to cover three tomato plants and a pepper plant that I set out hoping to get a head start on tomatoes for the table, but it's been so cool, they probably would have done better had I waited.  They are looking somewhat puny.  Tomatoes do not like cold weather, even when it's above freezing.  On the plus side, the little cabbage plants I started in the house and set out in the garden a couple weeks ago are almost dancing, they're so happy!  I've heard reports of people finding morel mushrooms in the area, even as cold as it is.  Morels definitely like wet weather.  
I had a weird thing happen yesterday:  I always put Jody's calf in the barn in the evening, so when Jody comes up in the morning she has a full udder.  I take what I want from the two quarters on the right, and the calf gets the other two teats.  Yesterday the front quarter on her left side was totally empty!  Her calf wasn't with her, so I'm wondering who the culprit is.  Bonnie's calf gets lots of milk from her mother.  I don't think she would go looking for another source at the age of five months.  George and Gracie have been weaned for months, but George has had a habit of sucking Gracie's ears; so I'm wondering if he discovered something better than a calf's ear to suck.  Strange that it should just be one quarter, too.  Normally if a calf starts, they don't stop until every fountain has been exhausted.  I'm guessing that George grabbed on, found it delicious, perhaps while Jody was occupied grazing.  Then perhaps she looked back and said to herself, "That isn't my baby!" and butted him away.  I'll be watching if she comes in again with some of her milk gone.  In the old days, people thought that milk snakes sometimes stole milk from cows.  Just another old wives' tale.  

Adam has a new horse, a gelding.  His other gelding, Tude, has decided to declare war on the newbie, so Adam is keeping him (Newbie) in the lot.  Even then, Tude will spend a lot of time at the fence with ears laid back and teeth bared, trying to reach over the fence and get what he considers to be his rival.  Anyway.  The new horse only has what little grass is in that lot, and my cows insist on spending half their time in there eating HIS grass!  I think I'm going to have to totally lock them out of the lot.  They stay there hoping to get on that small patch of clover, but they are banned from there for awhile.  They broke in and spent a whole night there, leaving huge holes everywhere they stepped.  Oh, did I mention we are getting plenty of rain?  2 1/2 inches since yesterday morning.  

This morning I led them out of there and all the way to the back of the point.  Guess what?  They're back.  Yep, time to lock them outta there.  

See how much grass there is out yonder?  Why, why, why do they insist on eating that horse's only source of food?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Meet my rooster

See the little bitty guy in the corner?  That's him!  When I bought my chicks, I didn't think I needed a rooster.  It would be just another mouth to feed, and roosters don't produce eggs.  
Then I got to remembering how much fun it is to let a hen "set" some eggs and then watch her take care of the babies.  You can't get babies without a baby-daddy, so I put out word I wanted a rooster, which I would put in with my two grown hens until the chicks got bigger. I saw some on Craigslist, but none were nearby, and everybody seemed to want ten dollars for theirs.  Someone offered to give me a banty rooster, but I want the resulting baby chickens to be worth something, either as layers or food-for-the-table; banties are neither.  They are just cute.  
The reason I didn't simply buy another baby chick was that chickens are often cruel and will pick on newcomers.  Mine are four weeks old, and I was afraid a smaller chicken would get pecked to death.  Also, as you can see, the flock is feathering out pretty good and I'm not keeping as much heat on them as a newly-hatched chick would need. 
Yesterday at Orscheln's, I was admiring the baby chicks for sale and saw a sign on one cage reading "Frying Pan Special".  The chickens were male, and seemed to be of assorted ages.  The largest one appeared to be at least two weeks old; I decided to take the plunge.  He is the color of the Buff Orpington chicks.  I hope that's what he is.  
None of the other chickens seemed to even notice that he was a newcomer.  I went to check this morning, and peace still reigned in the brooder-house.  There is one slight concern:  Yesterday when I took him out of the cardboard box we brought him home in and placed him on the floor, he came running at my hand and pecked it several times.  
I've had a mean rooster or two in my time.  Do you suppose he will be aggressive when he's grown?  If so, he will fulfill the title of "Frying Pan Special".

Look, he's about the same size as my banty pullet!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lovely things

The Gala apple tree in the picture was planted in November of 2008, the year we moved to the pasture.  

It appears that I'm going to have blooms from this tree for the first time!  Of course, I don't know whether bees will be able to find a pollinator that will be a good match.  I read that technically, Galas are self-pollinating, but they produce more apples if there is another, different kind of tree around that blooms at the same time.  Once my Fuji starts blooming, next year I hope, I'll have my pollinator.  

By the way, all the trees I planted last November are alive and well.  

   Suzie the Cat, queen of the porch.  

This was a nice surprise:  The first summer we lived back here, I was ordering plants, bushes, and trees like crazy.  Somewhere along the way, a free lilac bush was included in my order.  It's going to bloom this year, unless we get a hard freeze.  I have a dwarf lilac bush in the front yard, but this is the old-fashioned lilac bush.

The tall phlox is up and growing.  I got my start from a neighbor, Marie Perrine, who is long gone now.  She was the great-grandmother of the twins that used to hang around here.  If any of my local friends would like a start of this, it's an easy plant to have around, and it has a pleasant fragrance.  In a year with normal rain, it will bloom for most of the summer.

I was pleasantly surprised this morning when I got on the bathroom scale and weighed 160.0.  I reached my goal!  Tomorrow is our official weigh-in, but if I weigh even one ounce more tomorrow, I am going to write down today's weight!  
My daughter doesn't realize it, but she has inspired me to maintain my weight in the future.  It came from a conversation we had.  
Me:  "The trouble with the Atkins diet is that I've never seen anyone keep the weight off after they're done with it." 
Rachel:  "But have you seen ANYBODY who didn't gain it all back, on ANY kind of diet?"  
I take that as a challenge.  I'm intend to be the one to show the world you don't have to gain back the weight.  Of course, since I'm not on a "diet", it shouldn't be too hard.  Yes, I have said that before.  Just remember, failure isn't final.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Saving money on books

As I perused the website at, I found a book I really wanted.  Unfortunately, I felt it was a little high-priced for a paperback book.  Any time I find myself in this situation, I check on, a division of Ebay.  90% of the time, I'm in luck, as I was with this book.  Unlike Ebay, there's no bidding.  The worst thing about this is that the postage often costs more than the book I'm buying, but I still save lots of money.  
The book is $16.95 new; I got it for $2.96 plus $3.49 shipping.  The seller listed it as being in satisfactory condition, but I would say it's in "like new" condition.  I was pretty lucky, because today there are no copies of this particular book for sale there.  (After doing this entry, I checked and found many copies of the book there for under $4.) is especially helpful if you are looking for an old, out-of-print book.  Those are often the cheapest, because there's no demand for them.  If you are as old as I am, you might remember Gale Storm:  My Little Margie and Oh Suzanna were TV shows in which she starred; she also had a couple of successful recordings.  One time I found out she had written a book in the 80's and I wanted to read it.  Sure enough, there it was on  I see there's a copy of it there right now for 75 cents.  
Just thought I would throw that out there.  It's one of the two best places to save money on books; the other is, which right now has a seller with an old copy of Gale Storm's book for a penny, plus $3.99 shipping.  Not that any of my readers are probably interested in that particular book.    
Maybe everybody already knew about these resources, but it never hurts to pass a little information along.     

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Good grief, I haven't posted since Wednesday?

Well, we've had a busy week.  Running here and there, window-shopping for a pickup truck for Cliff, seeing about a refinance to take advantage of a much lower interest rate, visiting our lawyer (no problems, no divorces, just learning some things).  And I'm still making cheese.  I have another two-pound hunk that will be ready for wax tomorrow morning.  
I mentioned originally that I was going to pasteurize the milk, but I read more closely and found it it was better if I didn't.  Once again in my cheese-making efforts I found something that confused me:  The directions that came with the cheese-making kit I'm using said this:  "Pour the drained curds into a bowl and break them up gently with your fingers into walnut-sized pieces.  Mix in the 1 tablespoon of salt, half a tablespoon at a time."  
That's what I did both times.  Then, looking at the New England Cheese supply website at what should have been the same recipe, I read this:  "Break this curd mass into 1/2-3/4-inch pieces.  Add salt (use 2% of the curd weight in salt).  Add the salt in 3 phases allowing the salt to dissolve between additions.  Stir often enough to keep from matting and this salting should take 30 minutes."  
Well, if that's the right way, I did it wrong, because I didn't spend over five minutes stirring in the salt.  Just think, I have to wait two months to find out if I ruined the cheese.  The entire set of directions and times for pressing was different, too, although I don't see that part making a huge difference.  
I made some buttermilk from culture I bought, too:  For this, I did pasteurize the skim milk, because I wanted to freeze some cubes of it and see if they would work on my next attempt.  If they do, my home-cultured buttermilk will be much cheaper to make.  The directions said I could use one to two quarts of milk with this packet of culture, but that one was best.  So I used one.  Then it said to let it set for twelve to twenty-four hours.  I peeked at it after twelve hours and thought, "I'll give it plenty of time," and left it alone for another twelve.  So I have buttermilk the consistency of yogurt.  But hey, it's buttermilk!  If only biscuits didn't have so many calories I would be making biscuits right now.  Meanwhile I'm eating my buttermilk with a spoon, and it's pretty darned good! 
I want to try making mozzarella cheese, but I have to order citric acid for that.  It's supposed to be one of the easiest cheeses to make.  Ree Drummond gives her instructions HERE.  Looks like fun.

On the weight-loss scene, I'm about a pound away from my goal of 160 pounds, but since I don't plan to do anything differently than I have done since January 1, and I will probably be more active in the spring, maybe I'll lose more weight.  I have no other goals except to maintain the weight loss for once in my life.  
In the garden, the peas are up, onions are up and growing, radish and carrot tops are above-ground, and beets just sprouted.  Spinach looks good, too.  The six cabbages I started in the house are loving the cold weather and doing fine.  I forgot to plant lettuce, can you believe it?  I'm hoping I'll be able to get the tiller in the garden by tomorrow if we don't get more rain (we've received over three inches lately, thank the good Lord).  Maybe I'd be wise to just go out there with a rake and hoe and get it done today, because lettuce needs to be in early.  
So, there you have it.  Consider me "checked-in".

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Great rainy day

We only allow ourselves to eat out once a week.  This morning I woke up wanting biscuits and gravy in the worst way.  A cousin recommended The Big Biscuit in Blue Springs a while back, so I figured this would be the perfect day to eat there, what with the rain and all.  
The food was great and the waitresses were friendly.  

I had the Country Benedict.  Cliff had Jim's Platter and one of my sausages, because I was full.  Even then, I couldn't finish all my food, so I brought some home to the chickens.  

I still keep track of my calories on Sparkpeople, but I didn't want to have to guess how much gravy I had and how many calories were in the sausages.  I hunted through the options on Sparkpeople and found one I figured would have at least as much calories as my breakfast.  Notice that for lunch Cliff and I split a small Blizzard at Dairy Queen.  The reason we split one instead of getting two Mini-Blizzards is that it's cheaper that way.  OK, maybe we both get a bite or two more, also.  It's 4:30 now and I am still not hungry, so if I ate nothing for supper my calorie total would be great.  I'm not going to skip supper, though.

We had an appointment with a lawyer after breakfast.    

Then we went pickup shopping, just for fun.  Cliff has always preferred to drive a pickup, but once the kids were eight and ten years old it was impossible for our family to fit in a truck, so we switched to cars.  Our last two cars have been very economical to drive, and trucks don't get nearly as good gas mileage, but I say if he wants a truck, he should have one.  He is very specific in what he wants:  
Although he's always been a Ford man, he says the newer Fords are ugly.  So now he wants a Chevy.  It has to be white and it has to have cloth seats; we are both sick of leather seats that make us sweat in summer and freeze us in winter.  He wants the extended cab, and he wants four-wheel-drive.  
Cliff shopping for pickups in the rain

We went to a dealer in Blue Springs where Cliff talked to a salesman in the rain about a 2004 pickup for $18,000.  WHAT????  For an old truck like that?
So then we went to Noland Road in Independence, where you can find almost any kind of car dealer you want.  We met a nice saleslady with an Austrian accent who showed us a beautiful 2011 model, and suddenly the 2004 model started sounding better.  The lady said if a pickup is four-wheel-drive, that drives the price up $5,000.
We are in no hurry, so we'll have fun looking.  
I have to tell you, though, that I really did fall in love with that 2011 truck.  But that's just me.  


Judging by the Blogger stats for my blog, on normal days I get anywhere from thirty-five to fifty readers.  However, just let me entitle a post with something like "Feeling weepy" or "Did anyone miss Cliff" and the numbers double.  I'm thinking maybe I'll start using titles like "I found a dead body today" or "Cliff is having an affair" to get my numbers up.  
Not really.  I figure if, on a low-reader day, there are thirty-five people who take time out of their day to read this gibberish, I am pretty lucky.  
It had begun to look like we were in for another year of drought:  I dragged out the soaker hoses and had already used them on the early crops, just to get the seedlings to sprout.  The weather-guessers kept predicting chances of rain last week, but I have become a doubting thomas, and left the hoses in place.  Then we received 1 3/4 inches of blessed rain, and I rolled them all up and put them away.  This morning a thunderstorm rolled through and we got another almost-inch.  
I've moved the chicks to the cabin:  we moved the cattle watering tub out there with them.  I put them out to run around the big house during the day when temperatures are above sixty, and at night or on cold days I gather them up and place them in the watering trough, where there's a light to keep them warm... although it isn't a regular heat-lamp bulb.   The next three days and nights are going to be really cold; it's getting pretty crowded in that tub, and I think perhaps we had better purchase a regular heat lamp bulb and hang it in a corner of their house, doing away with the tub.  
Longtime readers know that I always put out a couple of tomato plants a month earlier than I should, with plans to cover them on cold nights.  This year is no different.  I have three tomato plants and a pepper plant to cover every evening.  

Here's how the latest attempt at cheese is looking today.  I tried wiring all that contraption up in Cliff's absence, but it didn't work so well.  He added the top ten pounds after he got home yesterday evening.  As long as I have Cliff around, this seems like it will work as a cheese press.  

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


First, I'll show you how the last batch is coming along:

It has been sitting at room temperature since Saturday morning.  They said three to six days of this, until you have a nice rind.  Well, I don't know how much rind I'm working toward, but I'm going to wax it tomorrow.  It's supposed to be sitting on a board, but I'm using a paper plate with paper towels under the cheese, and changing the paper towels occasionally.  
My directions say to use calcium chloride before the culture and rennet if the milk makes a weak curd and takes an inordinate amount of time to set.  I didn't know if my milk would have that problem or not, so I used it.  This time, I did not use it and found out it wasn't necessary.  Cliff tells me calcium chloride is the stuff farmers put in tractor tires to keep them from freezing in winter, and that it's some bad stuff!  Also, last time I used liquid rennet made for cheese-making.  This time I used tablet... not the Junket like you buy in the store, though, it's what I bought from the cheese-making place.  I can tell you there is a tremendous difference.  Using the proper kind of rennet, a firmer curd develops in thirty minutes than what I got from the Junket tablets after twelve hours.  So if you venture into cheese-making, spend the bucks and buy the proper stuff.  
As I was at the stage after cutting the curd where I set the pan into a sink full of hot water.  At this point I saw something I don't remember reading last week:  "Place the pot into a sink of hot water and bring the temperature slowly (not more than 2 degrees every five minutes) up to 100 degrees.  The will probably take about 30 minutes.  
See the underlined part?  I'm sure I didn't pay attention to that the other time, so let's hope it didn't ruin that batch.  I'll bet it didn't.  
The next hour or so should be interesting.  I'll be applying the weight to the cheese after it's in the mold.  Cliff was here to help with that before.  

 I can handle this step, which only takes 15 minutes.  
Another modification we made this time is to get the cheese off the surface of the plate when it's being pressed; before, I used paper towels and just wiped off the whey as it collected.  Cliff fixed me up with a way of draining so the curds aren't sitting in the whey.

This is the part I will probably have difficulty with.  If I do, I'll just continue the ten-pounds of pressure until Cliff gets home and then we will add the other ten.

Here's hoping!

Monday, April 08, 2013

My favorite time

It's finally warm enough so that I can go outside and watch the sun come up.  Mornings have always been my favorite time of the day, especially when I can get out and stroll around our property.

Cliff planted clover last fall on a small piece of our property that we haven't used for a long time, so I went to watch the cows enjoying their breakfast.

For several years, the former neighbor kept his horse in this area; in return, he let Cliff use the pole barn you see in the background for storage; he really misses that space, by the way.  He stored implements there, and sometimes a tractor, and any surplus hay.  That neighbor moved away, and we decided we may as well have some good grazing for the cows in that lot.  Cliff walked the fence and found it had been neatly cut in a couple of spots where someone had been riding a four-wheeler through the place.  Can you believe people?  We'll need to keep an eye on the fence in case they decide to do it again.

The cows got their bellies full and started wandering around in the woods, tasting various plants and pieces of brush.

This is George, although we tend to call him "Whitey" more than we do George; if I call him by his name, Cliff will say, "Who?"  He doesn't name the cows around here, and he never knows which one is which.  I want George to eat and grow, since he will supply us with meat for the freezer next fall or winter.

Words can't even express how much I love being outside at daybreak!

Sometimes they make that clover look so tasty I could almost give it a try myself.

At one point while I was watching cows and taking pictures, Jody walked up behind me and started licking my back.  Pay attention and you'll hear the birds singing in the background in this video.  Wait, did I mention how much I love this time of day?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

You can find any old thing on Ebay

That's the blow torch, by his hand.

Cliff has been working on an old blow torch most of the day.  It seems his brother sent it home with him, since it wouldn't work when they needed it the other day.  I was in the shop once and heard Cliff say, "The foot valve isn't working, that's the problem."  
"Hey," says I, wanting to let him know I do sometimes retain information, "the foot valve is what used to go bad on the pump in our well."  
He said yes, but didn't appear to be impressed with my knowledge.   

He fixed the foot valve, but now he's stumped by this part.  
Later I went back to the shop, where he was still fiddling with the gasoline blow torch, although he had fixed the foot valve.  Surely, I thought, he has modern stuff around he can use.  Why does he need that?  It looks ancient.  I asked what the big deal was, and he said sometimes in certain applications when you need to solder something, that kind of blow torch works just right for the job.  
"Why don't you buy another one?"  
"They haven't made these for years," he replied.  
"Remember when you lost  your favorite pocket knife and you said the new ones were no good?  I found an old one on Ebay.  I'll bet I could find one for you."  
So I typed "Gasoline blow torch" in the search feature of Ebay and sure enough, there were several.  Most of them, however, didn't work.  Apparently people collect these things as antiques, whether they work or not.  

Then I found this one.  It works, and the seller is top-rated with 100% satisfaction,  I clicked "buy it now" and it should be on its way by Monday.  

That hasn't stopped him from working on the other one, though.  I guess it's just the challenge that keeps him plugging on.  He hates to lose.

Mornings with Jody and Jenny

I don't have to milk a cow every morning.  Twice a week would keep me and Cliff in a fresh supply, and Jody's calf, Jenny, would take all the milk the rest of the time.  However, I am bottle-feeding Penny.  A sack of milk replacer (baby formula for calves) costs over forty bucks and will last a calf less than a month.  I like to feed baby calves two bottles daily for at least two months, preferably longer.  So, since I'm always up before the crack of dawn anyhow, I decided to save some money and give Penny real milk in the mornings.  Not only am I saving money, but I think calves do better on real milk.  
Let me tell you some amazing things about Jody as a milk cow, although only those who have milked a cow in the past will appreciate these virtues:  
1.  Jody has never once pooped or peed in the barn while I was milking.  If you are milking a cow, you have about a two-second notice before she poops or pees... she humps up her back.  You grab the bucket and get back quickly, because the urine splashes when it hits the floor and you don't want droplets of it on you or, more importantly, in your milk (if that happens, the milk is discarded).  In summer when a cow is eating lots of grass, poop splatters.  Plus when the cow is done evacuating her bowels, there is probably poop where you need to set down the bucket.  I know, this is probably too much information, but I wanted you to understand why I am so happy that Jody doesn't do these things.  
2.  Once Jody takes her place with her head in the stanchion, she holds her body still as a statue.  Not only does she not kick, but she does not move a foot all the time I'm milking her.  Bonnie always gets restless when her feed is gone (she's a fast eater) and starts moving around side to side; it's hard to milk a moving cow.  As you can see, I still put the anti-kick device on Jody.  It isn't necessary, but at my age I don't want to take risks.

     There she is, ready to be milked.  She isn't a huge producer, giving probably three gallons a day total.  I expect after she has her next calf she will give four gallons a day; she isn't even done growing yet.  I milk a half-gallon for Penny every day.  If we need milk, I take another half-gallon for our use.  Once I have my share, I step through the open door you see in the background, reach to the left, and slide open the door to the stall where Jenny has spent the night.  

I don't normally step in and take a picture, so this move surprised her.  

And it's breakfast time for Jenny.  I let her nurse awhile in the barn, then let Jody out of the stanchion and drive them outside.  Jenny is still nursing at this point.   

I go give Penny her bottle and, if I have milk for the house, I go strain that and put it in the refrigerator.  
Then I go out to torment Jenny while she's nursing, because I need her to be gentle.  

Jody's a rather ungainly-looking cow, being part Holstein.  Jenny has a Jersey daddy, so she will be a much prettier cow.  It seems to me she did inherit some of her mother's size, though:  She isn't two months old, and look how tall she is.  

This is Jenny's father, Garth.  

Now I handle Jenny so she will get used to humans touching her.  

I scratch her neck, rub her body, even pat around her eyes.  It's all well and good until I actually hug her neck and put my face against her; then she seems to think I'm trying to capture her.  

She'll back up, look around, and run to the other side of the cow.  Of course, I follow and start doing all the same things again.  Eventually she realizes she isn't getting any milk anyhow, and decides to go someplace where the crazy human will leave her alone.    
This is how I begin my day.  I enjoy every minute of it.  

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Making cheese again

I had just enough success with my earlier cheese-making adventures to make me want to go a little further.  Reading on the Internet, I found that the Junket brand of rennet I was buying in the store left a lot to be desired.  Now, I was skeptical, because I was getting this information from people who were selling the proper kind of rennet.  But after less-than-perfect results more than once... wait, I never had perfect results: I ended up with something like cheddar cheese twice, and the rest of the time I ended up with a hard cheese that was very good for grating over salads.  None of it went to waste, but I wanted some predictable results.  I ordered a few things at and set them aside to wait for the day I would try my luck with them.  
Today was the day.  Setting the curd was much easier today, since I didn't have to buy buttermilk to help it work and I didn't have to let it set overnight; only thirty minutes.  Also, before I had to slowly heat the milk and stir and check temperature over and over and hope I didn't get it too hot (which I can now see that I did, and that's how I ended up with hard cheese instead of cheddar).  
Today I cut the curd when it was ready and, instead of heating it on the stove, I set it in a sink full of hot water for a half hour and stirred it often.  

When the half-hour was up, I left it alone for five minutes so the curds could sink to the bottom.  

Then I drained off the whey.  I was supposed to tie it up and hang it somewhere for an hour, and Cliff helped me rig that up.

He got an old rusty wire, attached it to the cheesecloth bundle, and hooked the other end of the wire over the button that turns the light in my range hood on.  Genius!

This is how it looked coming out of the cheesecloth.  

I had to break it up in walnut-sized pieces and add a tablespoon of non-iodized salt, mixing it in well.
Then it was time to pack it into the mold and apply ten pounds of weight on it.  I was stumped, so once again I asked Cliff what I could use for weight, and how I could get it to stay on the cheese in the mold.  "What about those dumbbells nobody uses," he asked.  "That would be ten pounds."  

The man's a genius, I tell you!  Actually, I decided that was very precarious, so I sat the cheese mold (AKA PVC pipe) inside that tall pan later, just in case.  This step was only for fifteen minutes.  And then a real problem presented itself:  Increase the weight to twenty pounds and leave it for twelve hours!  Once again, Cliff to the rescue:

Genius!  Give Cliff a little baling wire and he can fix anything!  He wired this to the handles, so it seems to be very stable.  
I'm sure I could do an online search and find some ideas on how to make a cheese press.  I could buy them from New England Cheesemaking, but it would cost $150 to $300.  Before I invest that much, I want to know I can make some decent cheese.  

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

I guess I'm healthy

Once a year, when the prescription for my blood pressure pills runs out, I have to go to the doctor where I am asked the same old questions each time and then get some blood drawn.  I've never asked what the blood tests are for, although I do know that blood sugar is one thing they watch for, because I'm not supposed to eat breakfast on the day of the tests.  A couple days after my checkup, the office calls and tells me the results of my blood work are good; they've never been anything but good.
I've never asked what all the tests are for. 
Today I got a bill for $14 from the lab for the costs my insurance didn't cover, and I saw the various tests listed, as well as the costs of each.  So I took the time to Google each test to see what it was supposed to show.
Comprehensive metabolic panel measures blood (glucose) level, electrolyte and fluid balance, and liver function.
Lipid panel measures total cholesterol, HDL, and LDL.  
Thyroid stimulating hormone blood test lets the doctor know if my thyroid is acting as it should.
Complete blood count gives information about my blood cells and platelets.  You can click on any of these links I've included to see more detailed information on the tests.  
I am putting this here mainly for my own benefit, so if I get to wondering in the future what all these tests are, I have only to come to my blog to find the links.  

In the next day or two I'm going to attempt to make cheese strictly according to directions.  I will pasteurize the milk this time, and I'll be using a different sort of rennet.  I got a few supplies (not cheap) from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.  It seems complicated, and knowing myself as I do, I will be surprised if it's a complete success, because I'm lazy and impatient and don't follow directions very well.  But I just have to try it.  Of course Jody's calf, Jenny, might not be thrilled about this, since I am robbing her of more milk that usual in the mornings in order to have enough milk to make cheese.  She won't starve, because there's still a gallon left in the cow for her when I'm done, and then she gets to take all she wants throughout the day until six in the evening.
Cliff and I have enjoyed Jenny immensely:  She's the clown of the bunch, and smarter than your average calf.  She is intensely curious and is liable to go chasing after any dog or cat in her line of sight; sometimes she feels so good she has to run circles around the pasture, just for the pure joy of being alive.  Because she is so smart, she is the most difficult calf I've ever had when it comes to getting her in the stall every evening.  I have to drive her mom into the lot so she will follow, and even once she's in the lot, she knows she's about to be put in jail and does her best to avoid that open stall door.  I get plenty of exercise rounding her up, let me tell you.      

To replace Google Reader

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

If you've been using Google Reader, which will soon be shutting down, this will work well for you.  It seamlessly imports all your Google Reader blogs to Bloglovin.  Thanks to Sonya, of Back Porch Tales, for making me aware of this.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

My critters keep me active

Working with my cows and calves is rewarding or I wouldn't be doing it.  It isn't work, it's fun.  Better still, it's play!  The cows and chickens are hobbies I enjoy, and so is the garden:  I don't make money from my efforts, but I am doing what I love and, in the process, I get some good-quality food.  The day any of these things ceases to be fun, I'll stop.  I am liable to look at my garden in July, see nothing but weeds (or plants killed by drought), and tell Cliff to mow the whole thing.  I've done that before.  I don't have to garden.   
Since I've had the Fitbit counting my steps for me, I've realized how many of those steps are taken as I care for my animals.  I usually have a mile in before breakfast, due to the fact that I walked to the gate to let Jody in, walked to barn and milked the cow, walked to and from the feed containers as I got feed for the cow and cats, walked out of the lot and over to feed Penny her bottle, walked to the shop to feed the ever-growing chickens... you get the picture.  I had no idea that all those small trips would add up to a mile.  So obviously, my hobbies help keep me fit and healthy, and I hadn't even thought of that aspect.  
Before I got the chicks, I saved up newspapers to line the bottom of their home, and that's what I used for the first couple of days.  I was on some website, I think Back Yard Chickens, when I read that someone had chicks coming soon and had their home all ready for them.  She used horse bedding material, which I think is made of pine shavings.  Well now, that was the obvious solution.  After one day on newspapers, my chickens stank to high heaven, and they are in Cliff's man-cave, his shop.  Not good.  We picked up a bag of horse bedding and it works great at keeping odors down.  Today Cliff sucked the dirty bedding out with his shop-vac and we gave the chicks a fresh bed.  They started scratching up a storm when I put them back in their home. 

The Cornish Cross, as you can see, are more than twice the size of the others.  That smallest chick, in the foreground, is the banty.  I'm pretty sure it's a pullet.  I'm going to be looking for a free, or cheap, dual-purpose type rooster this summer.  I like to hear a rooster crow, and I want the option of having eggs for a setting hen to hatch.  What am I going to do with all these chickens?  I have NO idea.  It's a disease as bad as my calf-buying addiction!     
I've been working with six-month-old Gracie and little Penny trying to break them to lead.  Gracie has been a problem child.  She's my balker from day one, and the only way I could keep her moving was to constantly tap her with a cattle prod in my right hand as I tried to lead her with my left.  She's just so dead-headed she would rather balk than cooperate.  I finally figured a way to get her to lead like she ought to:  I take a pan of sweet feed out in the yard somewhere, lead her all around the place, and end up at the pan of feed, which I watch her devour.  Next time I put the pan of feed in a totally different spot, lead her around, and again, end up at the pan of feed.  I move the pan around because I don't want her fighting to go to a certain spot all the time.  Today was the third time I used this method and she already leads like an angel.  Cliff couldn't believe her progress when he saw us in action.  
You can see on my current header what Penny thinks of the halter, but I think she's going to take to it just fine.  The reason I like to be able to lead my milk cows is that it's so much easier to get them from point A to point B if you can just slip a halter on them and lead them.   

Monday, April 01, 2013

Anybody else miss Cliff?

Now that he's on his way home, I'll go ahead and mention that he's been gone since Wednesday morning.  Rather than tell the whole world I was home alone, I opted to say nothing until he headed back from Georgia.  The oldest grandson wanted to go visit his dad, our son, in Georgia.  Heather couldn't get off work to go, so Arick invited Cliff along.  I stayed home to care for baby chickens and calves because somebody's gotta do it.  
I thought I would maybe splurge a few calories while the cat was away, but I ended up staying on my "eating sensibly" plan pretty well until yesterday:  Heather made Easter dinner, so I hitched a ride over there with the daughter.  All I had to make was Oreo Delight, so I had an easy Easter.  I had a good visit with Heather's grandparents, people I have known for forty years but had not seen to chat with in ages.  Her grandpa had open heart surgery several months ago and had the same cardiologist, as well as the same surgeon, that Cliff had.  That gave us PLENTY to talk about, believe me.
The one strange meal I had in Cliff's absence was one that used to be a regular for me when we were gaining weight like prize hogs:  six cups of popcorn with four tablespoons of butter on it as a whole meal... with a Pepsi throwback on the side.  The calories worked out fine in my daily tally, but I might have been a little short on the nutrition that day.  
It was a good time to be a widow for six days, thanks to the weather.  I puttered in the garden, tended the electric fences, and walked as early in the day as I chose, which would be as soon as the sun was up.  Cliff isn't a morning person, so we normally wait until Craigslist has been perused thoroughly, three cups of coffee have been very slowly consumed (you can't imagine how slowly), and mother nature calls.    
A good time was had by all during his absence, except that originally Cliff had told me they were heading home Sunday morning, and that is the information that stuck in my head in spite of the fact that later, he says, he corrected that.  So when I called yesterday asking him if they were on the road yet and he said, "Oh, we're not coming home until tomorrow," my heart sank.  Perhaps that had something to do with my "weepy" entry yesterday (thanks for the kind comments, by the way).  
So yes, I did miss him, even though I didn't realize it until yesterday when I learned his homecoming was delayed. 
The comments on my blog these days are few and far between.  I think there are two reasons for that:  The main one, I believe, is that so many of my readers are on Facebook, and when I share entries there, that's where they comment.  The other is that some people aren't able to comment on the actual blog, which is a shame, but I'm not "techie" enough to figure out the problem.     
Here's something I often wonder about:  A lot of people use word verification on their blog entries to keep the spam away, and that's fine.  But if you are one of those who doesn't allow comments to be posted until you approve them, then why bother with word verification?  You're going to be reading it anyway, why make your readers jump through hoops?  Oh well, that's just a little something to keep my mind busy when there's nothing else to do, I suppose.