Sunday, August 30, 2015

less pain

Over a year ago I started riding a recumbent exercise bike, hoping to burn some calories.  I figured half an hour daily, give or take a day, would be a nice way to fill the gap left when I became unable to walk for exercise.  Recumbent bikes are recommended for folks with bad knees or knee replacement.  

Unfortunately, that old "gotta do it every day for a half-hour" became tiresome and boring and I dropped it completely.

I had noticed when I was riding the bike regularly that my knee pain wasn't as bad.  But I figured it wasn't making enough difference to really motivate me.  

A couple of weeks ago I had a long talk with myself:  "Self," I said, "why don't you just get on the bike for a little while every day and ride as long as you want to?  Forget how many calories you burn and think about the lessened knee pain."  

I figured surely ten minutes wouldn't be much of a grind.  I can play Sudoku on the IPad while I'm riding, and one game, the difficult version, will usually last ten minutes.  

As soon as I got off the bike that first time after fifteen minutes, my knees felt better.  Next day or two there was some soreness from muscles that hadn't been exercised, but then that was gone.  I had previously been taking a couple of Ibuprofen two or three times a week; I realized yesterday I hadn't even thought of taking any pain reliever since starting back up on the bike.

It's hard to rate pain, but I would say my pain is easily 1/3 less than it was.  I find myself walking around outside a lot more than before.  I don't dread getting on the exercise bike because I can get off after five minutes if I want to.  As long as I get on it for a while most days, it seems to be helping.  

In other news, I'm now turning Grace-the-cow dry for two months until she calves.  I'm also weaning the two four-month-old brown calves off Penny and putting the remaining calf, a Holstein, on her after I'm done getting my milk twice a day.  The brown steers have gotten to the point where I couldn't get them off Penny's teats without beating them half to death, so they can just do without.  I'm too old to be fighting three-hundred-pound calves.  I've talked to the dairyman in Higginsville, and he expects to have plenty of bull calves for sale during the month of September, so I may soon wean the Holstein and put a couple of new babies on Penny.

Plans for today include talking to those people near Oak Grove about trading chores occasionally.  I'll be glad to find out how that idea goes over with them after we've met.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Choices and quandaries

Our tractor club will be going on a trip in November.  I really want to be part of this, but I have two milk cows, and their timing in no way jives with the club trip.  I have thought about this until my head hurts, trying to figure out a reasonable solution that doesn't involve selling my cows, and I came up with nothing workable... but there may now be hope, thanks to the mother of the little girl I babysit.

There are some Jersey cows on a little farmstead just north of Oak Grove less that fifteen miles from our house that we have admired often as we drove past the place.  Recently the mother of the child I babysit saw that these people were selling milk, and stopped by to get some (I have since told her if she wants raw milk, she is welcome to some of mine.  After all, the hog gets most of it anyhow.)

She mentioned to them that I was looking for someone with milk cows who would milk for me occasionally, and then I would return the favor if they wanted to get away.  That way all of us would get a break once in awhile.  One of those folks gave her their card, and seemed to be interested in the deal.  

The card has laid here beside my chair for almost a month, because, silly as it sounds, I hate initiating phone calls, especially to strangers.  I kept telling myself we would just stop by and talk to them in person on our way to Oak Grove sometime, but that was just another thing for me to avoid.  

Baby's mamma told me the other day she had stopped by the place again, and the people were wondering why I hadn't contacted them.  That was sufficient motivation for me to spring into action.  OK, "spring into action" may not quite be accurate, since I still procrastinated for three more days.  But yesterday I finally called, and made an appointment to meet them Sunday afternoon and discuss the situation.

I know it's a big "if", but it could work out.  However, the problem still isn't all that simple, thanks to the lousy timing of my cows.  Grace should be due to calve October 27, judging by the last time the bull followed her around.  That's two weeks before the big trip to Kansas.  Of course, maybe the bull followed her after that and I just missed it, although that's doubtful.  BUT!!!!  If that happened, she could end up calving during the less-than-48-hours we would be gone.  Even so, that bull was a very small Jersey, so small I never thought he would be able to climb Mount Gracie and get the job done.  What I'm saying is that if she calves while we're gone, it should be uneventful, as long as we have her penned up securely in the small lot, because chances are the calf will be small.  Although, if you've followed our cattle adventures over the past couple of years, you realize that I can't count on anything.  OK, I'm still willing to take the risk with Grace.  If she calves two weeks or more before the trip, I will get a couple of calves to put with her newborn calf and if she behaves like she did last time, she would be fine to leave.  (Yes, that's another "if" because with animals, just like children, you learn not to count on any certain kind of behavior.) 

But that leaves Penny, who after three months of milking is still giving four-and-a-half gallons of milk daily.  I usually milk out two quarters and let two calves take the other two.  Once in awhile I skip milking her and the calves get it all.  She will still be milking a good amount at the time of the Kansas trip, and the two calves she is nursing need to be weaned now; so she will either (a) need two new calves put on her or (b) be milked twice daily until the middle of January, or a combination of both like I'm doing now.   If I have someone to milk her two or three milkings, she will do fine.

Cliff asked yesterday, "But what if these people we're talking to decide they don't want to milk for you?"

"Then I guess I will sell Penny," I answered.  "I'm seventy years old, and I'm not putting off two-day trips because I'm tied down with cows."  

He just shook his head.  I'm not sure he believes me.  

By the way, if any local folks are reading this and know of someone who might be interested in a trip to Kansas to tour the Agco-Hesston plants, eat in the Amish community of Yoder, and then next day visit the Kansas Underground Salt Museum and mine and then after lunch visit the Hall of Space Museum, there are openings for the bus trip, and you don't have to be a club member to go.  Deadline is September 15.  It's $301 for a couple to go on the trip... I forget the cost for a single person... plus the cost of a one-night stay in a motel.  Yes, I paid last night for our trip, so worst-case scenario, I will have two free tickets to give to someone at the last minute.  

You would love all the people in our tractor club.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

My favorite thing about my mother

My mother was a story-teller.  As far back as I can recall, she told me stories of her childhood and youth that were so real, I could almost have lived them myself.  

She told how she and Uncle Carl, who was the closest of the five siblings to her age, loved to go fishing as children.  They'd ask their parents permission to dig worms and go wet a line in Big Creek, and her dad would say, "All right, you kids go weed two rows each in the garden and then you can go."  

She told how her brothers, every night it seemed, would lay on the day bed in the living room and kick-fight or wrestle until my grandfather would get tired of the ruckus and send them on to bed.  

Every Saturday Grandma used to hitch up the team to the wagon, load up any eggs she had to "trade" and the five kids, and go to Eagleville to "do her tradin'".  They would spend the day there in town and visit her mom's parents, and eat dinner (noon meal) with them.  Seems like beans were served more often than anything else, if I recollect properly.  She recalled how Grandpa would reach out as one of the kids walked past and act as though he was going to "get" them.  She said that when she was small, this scared her.

Mother could tell the whole story of her courtship and honeymoon, sometimes with more intimate details than a daughter wants to hear.  

She told of her family going to Arkansas to visit "Aunt Adie", whose hens ran under the house to lay their eggs; Aunt Adie would lift up a floor board in the living room to get eggs.  While it sounds as though this aunt and her family lived in squalor, they had a Victrola record player that Mother spoke of fondly.  She and the cousins and siblings gathered around and listened to it a lot, and memorized some of the songs.

There was the story of the family driving to South Dakota in their first car.  One of the nights on the way there, they camped near a river where Uncle Leo, the baby, "like to got eaten up by mosquitoes".  They were up in the Black Hills when Sunday rolled around, and stopped to "have church" along the roadside, taking communion and reading a portion from the Bible...  because my mother and her family did NOT believe in missing church!  

I heard how she learned to yodel as she was bringing the milk  cows up to the barn, and how she learned to drive by going out in the pasture and just driving all over the place until she had it figured out.  

After finishing grade school, she worked away from home as a "hired girl", where she cooked and cleaned and did laundry and whatever else needed doing.  I'm sure this is where she picked up an expression that she used throughout her life when there was a large group of hungry people at our table... "It was just like feeding threshers!" she'd exclaim later."  Mother was happiest when she could watch people enthusiastically eating a meal she had cooked.  

I heard about the first miscarriage my mom had:  She and Daddy were at her parents' house.  When it was over, my grandfather buried the tiny child out by the garden.  She always seemed to feel a little guilty about that when she told the story, as though perhaps it should have been put in a graveyard.  

I could probably fill a book with the stories Mother told me; this is only the tip of the iceberg.  In many ways my mom and I were like oil and water, but in this one area of our lives, we were a perfect match:  I've always loved stories, and she loved to tell them.

If the Internet had been around many years sooner, Mother would have been a blogger.  I wonder if I would even be blogging today if I hadn't learned how to tell stories at my mother's knee.  

If you are one of my newer readers, you can read a lot of my mom's stories in her own words:  Click HERE and then click on each link one at a time and you will share in her memories.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Animal behavior (horses)

The folks whose child I babysit keep four horses on our property at present.  Adam has kept 'Tude here for many years, starting back when I still had Blue.  'Tude was Adam's first horse, his dream come true, you might say.  Later, he purchased a mare, Sassy, which made three horses here, counting my own.  Blue, gentle as he was, seemed to be the boss horse while he was alive, and the three animals got along well.  'Tude was always somewhat hard to catch, and he had a tendency to encourage Sassy to run away with him when his owner wanted to ride, but it was nothing Adam couldn't deal with.  Blue always had a lazy streak and didn't bother running with the others.  

These days the horse population changes frequently:  Adam's wife is quite the cowgirl, and always has some horse or other in some stage of breaking or training.  I can never keep up with the names of her animals because they come and go, but at present she has two mares here.  

After Blue died, 'Tude took over as herd boss and decided he was a stallion.  He does everything a stallion would do, short of actually impregnating a female.  He is, evidently, what is known as a proud-cut gelding.  He got even harder to catch, and worse about causing his herd to run when their owners came to tend them.  He became absolutely phobic if he was separated from them in any way, to the point where Adam couldn't ride him away from the herd without him throwing a fit.

We have lately kept the horses out of the lot up by the house because we have had some close calls where they attempted to run out of the gate when it was opened for a tractor to pass through.  Once, three horses actually did escape.  There is nothing much more terrifying than having a herd of horses loose with a would-be stallion trying to keep them from being caught.  We live near a fairly busy road; it was a horrible experience, one I never wish to repeat.  After catching them, we decided to simply keep the gate to the lot shut, which kept them in the big pasture.  However, the cows needed access to that lot in order to get to the barn to be milked.

Horses usually won't pass under anything that is lower than the height of their withers.  So for several years, Cliff has fashioned a way for the gate to remain open wide enough for the cows to pass through, but with a barrier just below the height of a horse's withers, so they can't (or won't) enter.
This has always worked like a charm, although in the past, Sassy once realized it wasn't quite as low as her withers and went through.  The remedy was for Cliff to lower it a little more.  

Adam has recently become very frustrated with 'Tude's attitude (appropriate name, 'Tude) and decided the only remedy that would straighten him out... and also allow he and his wife to catch the other horses more easily... would be to start keeping 'Tude by himself.  So he was moved into the small lot that horses are usually kept out of.  We knew there would be no problem with him trying to escape alone, because his attention is always directed at the rest of the horses.  

'Tude instantly became gentle, a good pet who appreciates his human.  Adam can walk right up to him with a halter and rope visible in his hands and 'Tude lowers his head and allows himself to be haltered and led out to a feed bucket.  It was nothing short of miraculous.  

Isn't it great when everything works?  But... (you knew there would be a but, right?)

One of the mares is pretty small, and she found out it was no problem to walk through the opening left at the pasture gate and spend time with her "stud"; she would stay with him until the others headed out to pasture, then she would join them.  Cliff lowered the barrier.  Even though her withers touched it, she still squeezed right through.  Because that little filly is so small, she can hardly support 'Tude's weight when he "breeds" her when she's in heat.  She's had some problems anyway, and his behaving this way every three weeks could compound those problems.  

We can't really lower the barrier any more because Grace is a tall cow, and she needs to get through at milking time.  We've talked about putting an electric fence at eye level with the filly, but that would make it hard for anyone to get through the gate with a tractor; you'd have to unhook it every time.  

So what I'm doing now is keeping the gate all the way shut.  At milking time I call up the cows, shoo away the horses that are loafing at the gate to be near 'Tude, and let the cows in.  Now that we are all used to the routine, it seems to work:  Tude is a gentleman, the cows get milked, and the other horses have the run of the pasture.  

While we're talking about horse behavior, I should mention the other gelding on the place, Huck.  He's a huge animal, I'm sure well over sixteen hands.  One would think he would be the boss, but he is the meekest of the group.  He's always getting kicked or bitten by the others, even by that tiny little escape-artist mare.  He is at the bottom of the pecking order.

Go figure.

Gigantic Huck is on the left.  Behind him are the two fillies who have him so hen-pecked.

That little filly in the center of the picture is the one who found out she could go under the barrier that has worked for all the other horses, all these years.  She always has her ears up, attentive, looking for some sort of mischief to get into.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Animal behavior

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why animals do what they do.  However, sometimes the animals make me wonder about my own behavior.  

For instance:  Two of the three foster calves that nurse Penny-the-cow, the ones I call the two brownies (after a certain number of named calves, my creativity goes out the window and I call them whatever comes to mind) suck on one another after they leave the cow's udder.  Sometimes they suck faces, and other times they go head-to-tail and nurse where an udder would be, if steers had udders.  A year ago I thought calves who nurse a cow, rather than a bottle, wouldn't suck on one another; that theory has flown out the window.  

In bottle calves, this sucking behavior is so common that in large dairies, the calves are kept separated to prevent it; actually, as long as we are talking about two steer calves, it's harmless.  You don't want a young heifer to be nursed on because it can cause damage to her future udder, but I don't know of any dire consequences in the case of steers.

If I leave the two steer calves alone to serve as pacifiers for one another, they will stop after five or ten minutes, start grazing, and not even think about sucking again until they are put with the cow twelve hours later.  But I don't do this, because years of trying to prevent this behavior just will not allow me to let them get their little suck-fest over and go on their separate ways.

So I chase one into a different pen with the other calves and leave the other in the small pen by himself to get over it, which he does.  This makes absolutely no sense at all; the only thing accomplished is that I take many extra steps that I should be avoiding to spare my knees.


And then there's the hen house.  I think everyone has heard the term "pecking order", which is based on chicken behavior:  A new character introduced into the chicken household is shunned, picked (or pecked) on brutally, and has to run for her life.  Chickens that free range will eventually learn to get along, and there is plenty of room for the innocent newcomer to hide in the big, wide world.  However, chickens confined to a house and pen are at risk of being killed.

Recently a neighbor got rid of her flock, but somehow one hen was overlooked when the buyers came to pick them up.  The neighbor called and asked if I wanted the hen.  I didn't need her, but sure, I'll take a hen that's laying.  I had been letting my chickens out in the evening, but they were ruining too many tomatoes in a garden that has been very stingy with tomatoes this year, so I grounded them and confined them to the house and pen.  I tossed the new Leghorn in with the others.  

As expected, the newcomer was attacked, but not, as I had expected, by the other hens.  As long as the stranger kept some distance from them, the other hens pretty much left her alone.  But the one character in the flock who had the most to gain from a new hen, the rooster, wouldn't leave her alone for a minute.  No, he didn't make mad, passionate love to her, which is what I would have expected from the male of a polygamous species.  I don't know if he figured he needed to assert his authority as leader of the pack or what, but he forced her to take refuge beneath the hen house, where she spent her first couple of days before I took action.  Perhaps things would have eventually worked out, but I had Cliff put an end to the barbaric behavior by killing the rooster.  This was no great loss to me, since there are four young roosters waiting in the wings to fertilize eggs next year, should I want to let the settin' hen raise more babies.  

Well, there you have it, my musing for the week.  It's all I've got today.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Why I like to drink raw milk

On the Homesteading Today message board there is an argument a discussion that's been going on for several days about whether raw milk is safe.  I have to laugh, because both sides have expressed every possible opinion, and yet it goes on.  The most sane comment I've seen on the whole discussion, and one that goes along with how I feel, was this:  "You and I agree that everyone should be allowed to drink the milk from their own cow. Fresher is almost always better. Raw milk for the general public is a bad idea."

Yep, that's my opinion too.  

I do believe the government has exaggerated the dangers of drinking raw milk, but there is the general safety of the whole American public to consider.

E Coli can cause mild diarrhea, or it can kill someone, especially infants and older adults. E Coli is found in manure.  Cows spend a lot of time laying on the ground chewing their cuds, and at some time or other I'm sure they have pooped on every square inch of the pasture.

I wash my cow's udder before I milk.  I have old towels I've torn into strips about two feet long and six inches wide, and I get one end of the strip wet and squirt a small amount of dishwashing soap on it.  I use the wet end to clean the cow's udder and the dry end to dry her off.  If I wanted to be really safe, I would put a little chlorine bleach in there to kill germs, but I don't do that.  Even if I did, a cow is a large animal, and there could be an almost microscopic speck of manure fall off her tail when she's using it for a fly swatter and end up in the milk.  I strain the milk through a paper filter, but you know, that little speck could have dissolved in the milk before I get to the strainer.  I should go on to tell you that most people who sell raw milk use a bucket milking machine, which reduces the problem of foreign things getting into the milk, especially if the udders are washed and sanitized well.

So now that I have totally turned my city readers off, I will explain why I drink raw milk.  

1.  I like it.  Especially the skim milk, which with un-homogenized milk is never totally skim, because you can't use a ladle and get every bit of the cream off the top of t  he milk.  Maybe I should back up and explain that when you milk a cow, the milk and cream are combined together.  As it sits in the jar, the cream, which is lighter than the milk, rises to the top.  After about twenty-four hours you can skim the cream off for butter or to add to your coffee or to make the best mashed potatoes in the world.  Skim milk you buy in the store tastes watered-down.  Skim milk here at home tastes more like 2 % milk from the store, only I think it's better than that.  Some people like to shake up their jar of raw milk every time they are going to pour a glass of milk so the cream and milk are mixed together.  That's OK, but if your cow is a Jersey or Guernsey, some of the cream is so rich and thick that it won't combine well with the milk, so you are liable to end up with a clump of cream in your mouth.  As much as I like cream on my cereal and in my coffee, I don't want a mouthful of pure cream.  If I'm going to drink some milk, it'll be mostly skimmed.

2.  I love Jersey cows, and using the milk and cream gives me an excuse to keep one around.  I really don't even mind hand-milking, although I wish sometimes I could get away for a couple of days.  But that's my choice; either keep a milk cow or two, or travel.  I can't do both.

3.  I have a theory that people living on a farm build up immunities to E Coli and other organisms that cause illness.  So it doesn't scare me.

In that discussion on Homesteading Today, people gave reasons why they think store-bought milk isn't acceptable.  However, there is nothing they can say that will convince me that store  milk isn't more sanitary than raw milk, because it is!  Commercial dairies have milking machines that allow the milk to travel all the way from the udder to a bulk tank, so nothing is going to fall into the milk on the way there.  Before they put the milkers onto the teats, they use a sanitized solution and spray the whole udder, which may be filthy when they begin, but believe me, it's clean when they get done.  That udder has had a complete shower!  And then, of course, that milk is pasteurized, which kills any germs that may have gotten into it.
My only objection to milk from a commercial dairy is that they often give growth hormones to their cows to increase milk production; I wish they wouldn't do that.  As far as the genetically-modified grains in the cows' feed, while I wish I'd never heard of GMO's, that isn't enough to scare me off from buying milk in the store.  Neither is the idea of the hormones, really.  Believe me, we are eating GMO's all the time; you can't get away from them.

If you would like to check the discussion on Homesteading Today, you'll find it HERE, going on for three pages, and it's pretty much just back-and-forth arguing.  You won't find me stating an opinion there, because others have stated my opinion for me.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Do as I say, not as I do (on being poor)

This is a followup on the previous entry.

After telling about our idyllic lives on twenty acres (and then six, and then forty-three acres), I need to take the time for a disclaimer:  If you ever want to have anything, don't follow our examples.  

We never had a dime to put into a savings account.  We didn't do "sweat equity" by doing upkeep on a house.  We were outdoor people.  Who cares if the house is depreciating yearly, as long as we have a place to eat and sleep?  Cliff's area of expertise is not in remodeling, and we never had the money to afford to pay someone else to do it.  And, as I say, that wasn't on our list of priorities.  Live for today!

I only held down jobs for perhaps ten or twelve years altogether of our forty-nine years of marriage, partly because I didn't drive.  Everybody asks, "Why didn't you learn to drive?"  

Because every time I tried to learn, whoever was trying to teach me either made fun of my efforts or got angry and began cussing my ignorance.  That pattern began with a driver's training instructor in high school who derided me in front of the other two students who were in the car with us and ended, I believe, with Cliff's late brother, Warren.  Cliff was somewhere in the middle there.  I don't take verbal abuse well.  

So, how are you going to get a job if you live in the country and don't drive?  I wouldn't have worked outside the home when my kids were small anyway, but I probably would have tried once they started school.  Who knows?  That "should-have, could-have, would-have" cycle really doesn't get you anywhere.

Look around:  If a married couple is going to get anyplace in the world today, they both need to have jobs.

Another gigantic thing we did wrong:  Credit card debt.  It wasn't usually for non-essentials.  When we needed new tires and didn't have the money, we used the credit card, that sort of thing.  And I will confess that we bought a cow or three using those "checks" credit card folks send you to use.  Maybe even a tractor along the line.  I don't know.  It seemed like the thing to do at the time.  We finally kicked that habit about fifteen years ago.  We still use a credit card, but we pay it in full each month. 

I remember hearing a saying years ago that went sort of like this:  If you think your life has no purpose, at least you can be a bad example to others.  I know that isn't exactly how it went, but you get my drift.  

We were lucky.  We were blessed.  We made it through, often without any health insurance.  

Don't do as we did.  But if you should find yourself in that position, be sure to have fun while you're at it. and pay your bills so you can keep your good credit rating.

Being poor

Cliff and I were reminiscing the other day about the early years of our marriage when we were struggling to make a go of things on the twenty acres of rocky soil we called home.  My parents, who knew we wanted to become home-owners, found the property for us through some guy they went to church with.  There was an old four-room house on the place and a hand-dug well to supply water.  The only outbuilding was the shell of a disintegrating shed or barn which we used, I believe, to house one hog before Cliff tore it down.

We had been renting a mobile home on the place in Blue Springs where my parents lived, and had purchased a white-face cow and her first calf from a neighbor by borrowing money from my parents and paying them back five or ten dollars every payday until it was paid for.  Now that I think of it, every purchase we made back then that cost over $50 was usually done with payday loans from my parents.  We were poor.  We always paid them back, it was just a slow process.

Everybody thinks that if you live in the country, have livestock, and garden, you are living more cheaply.  That may be true for some people, but it wasn't for us.  We quickly learned that once you own a place, you are the one responsible for upkeep.  We needed some sort of decent shed or barn, especially after we bought a milk cow from my parents.  The fencing on the place was decrepit, and Suzy the cow took great joy in escaping several times weekly.  Animals know when they are "out", and Suzy, one of the tamest cows I've ever seen, took great delight in kicking up her heels and running when she saw us approaching with a lead rope so we could lead her back to the pasture.

It takes lots of money to build barns and fences, and we had very little money; Cliff would go to work sick because one day off work would set us back for a month, trying to catch up.  Many major purchases were delayed until spring when we would get our income tax refund.  One thing we learned about living in the country was that we couldn't be running to the store every other day:  Oak Grove, a couple of miles away, had a little grocery store, a hardware store, and a gas station or two, but many purchases required a trip to the city.  We soon learned to wait until we had a list and combine those trips.

We were constantly broke, and that's pretty much how we've spent the biggest portion of our lives together. We have more spare cash right now, living on Social Security, than we've ever had in our lives.

As I was going back in my memory to all the struggles we've had, remembering how much joy we got out of our pathetic little lives, it occurred to me that I'm glad we've been poor.  I'm glad we know what it's like to do without a lot of things.  There are people who have had everything handed to them on a silver platter all their lives who don't know the  feeling of accomplishment you get when when that last payment is made on a car, or the thrill, every payday, of getting all the bills paid on time.  There is a certain pride in knowing you may not have much money, but you have a good credit rating!  And we had a lot of laughs and fun along the way, too.

Almost everyone who came up through the Great Depression knew what it was to be poor.  These days, not so many people have had that sort of experience, but Cliff and I remember, even though I realize nothing in our experience compares to the Great Depression.  Oh, the stories my mother told me!

I'm glad my life with Cliff has taken all the twists and turns it has.  I wouldn't take anything for the hard times we've had, and there have been plenty.  As we stroll (limp?) through the twilight of our lives, I know there are bound to be more.  But hard times are nothing new to us. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Wake up, America!

"We Zimbabweans are left shaking our heads, wondering why Americans care more about African animals than about African people.
Don’t tell us what to do with our animals when you allowed your own mountain lions to be hunted to near extinction in the eastern United States. Don’t bemoan the clear-cutting of our forests when you turned yours into concrete jungles.
And please, don’t offer me condolences about Cecil unless you’re also willing to offer me condolences for villagers killed or left hungry by his brethren, by political violence, or by hunger."

Click HERE for the whole article.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Touching the past

This is one of those blog entries I'm doing mainly for myself, to get my memories down before I lose them.  It may be of little interest to others, but it's useful to me.

In my cow-milking stories, I have mentioned that we bought our first milk cow from my parents.  I have not, however, explained how and why they happened to have milk cows.  They weren't farmers, although they were both raised on the farm.  When they met, around 1930, Mother was a "hired girl" doing housework and cooking on a farm, and daddy was a "hired man" doing farm chores and taking care of whatever seasonal work the crops demanded.  But in my childhood, they were always the telephone operators, "Central", in various small communities.  Then modern telephone service was implemented, putting them both out of a job.  Daddy worked as a hired hand at a farm near Eagleville for less than a year, and Mother worked at a dry goods store in town.  I'm pretty sure they were having trouble making ends meet, and that's when they moved to Kansas City, settling first in Harlem.

Daddy worked for Alton Box in North Kansas City, almost from the time we moved.  He was with that company until he retired.  Mother worked in a couple of different factories in "Northtown".  In 1962, Alton Box moved to Blue Springs, Missouri, so my parents sold their house in the Crestview subdivision and bought a house in rural Blue Springs near Adams Dairy.  I rented an apartment in Kansas City and rode the bus to my job at National Bellas Hess.  

The house my parents bought was on a good-sized lot on R.D. Mize Road, and they started gardening again for the first time in many years.  Across the road from them was an old two-story farmhouse on forty or more acres owned by a very rich guy, Mr. Gilkey.  He had bought the place as an investment, anticipating the growth that Blue Springs would eventually experience.  Various renters occupied that house, and the land sat idle.  My parents somehow became acquainted with Mr. Gilkey and got permission to do some gardening over there on his land, in addition to what they did in their yard.  

They got really carried away with the garden.  In addition to the usual green beans, sweet corn, potatoes and tomatoes, they raised popcorn and dry beans and all manner of labor-intensive stuff they hadn't messed with in years.  They found themselves enjoying this activity so much that they sold their house and moved into Mr. Gilkey's rental house!  This gave them access to a barn and a chicken house, and who would want those buildings to go to waste?  Not my parents.  They decided to get back to their roots.  By this time Mother was selling Avon door to door, a job that seemed custom-made for a gregarious woman like her.  It was also a job that gave her time and freedom to do lots of stuff around home, because there weren't any certain hours she had to work.  She was often the top-selling agent in her territory, so it was a good niche for her.

Around that same time, in 1965, my mom's mother died.  I think it was right after that they bought a flock of laying hens from a hatchery, and a couple of bred heifers from an Avon customer.  Mother made butter and canned like crazy and made jams and jellies.  There was an old pear orchard on the Gilkey place, and she made pear honey and pear pies and canned pears.  They bought a pig to take care of the extra milk and garden scraps. 

She even made Lye soap.  I remember one time she did something wrong with it, making the soap, and she said, "Well Mom, I should have listened to you."

It had something to do with the sort of fat she used making the soap, or the quantity, but it's this memory, that very moment, the way she talked to her departed mother, that made me realize that all this old-fashioned stuff she was doing was just a way of feeling close to her mom.  She had a milk cow, like grandma always did (although my dad did most of the milking); she had the chickens.  She was raising things in the garden that she remembered Grandma growing when she was a kid.  She was touching the past.  

This phase didn't last all that long, maybe a couple of years, which is how we ended up with Suzie, the milk cow; also the milk strainer I still use.  By the way, Cliff was the one who was going to milk the cow when we bought her, because I had tried milking Grandma's cow when I visited as a kid, and I couldn't figure it out.  We hadn't had the cow a week before I was doing the milking, but really, it was because I wanted to.  I loved milking.  I still do.  

By this time we had bought our 20 acres south of Oak Grove.  Looking back I realize I had begun touching the past like my mom had.  My favorite place to visit when I was growing up was Grandma's house.  I'd follow her to the barn when she went to milk Patsy.  One of my cousins says Grandma milked outside in the barn lot, and I recall her milking in the barn, with Patsy's head in a stanchion.  Another cousin, who lived right down the road from Grandma, said she sometimes milked outside, sometimes in the barn, so that explains the different memories we have.  Grandma kept chickens, too, and I liked to gather the eggs.  

People who were raised on the farm and were forced to milk cows as children always ask me, "Why would you want to milk a cow?"  

Because I never had to as a kid.  

But seriously, the motley crew of animals around here on this funny-farm we call home, that weedy garden, my recipe for noodles?  All that is just me, touching the past.

Here's an interesting side note:  Mr. Gilkey died decades ago, but that place he owned still sits idle.  It's almost directly behind the Blue Springs Walmart, and by now must be worth millions.  Somebody is still holding that investment and waiting for the right time, I suppose. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

Cliff is building a Donna-carrier

Cliff and I participate together in quite a few tractor club events.  When the club goes on tractor cruises, they take the trolley along, and several wives ride on that.  The trolley is actually a re-purposed livestock trailer with windows and seats put in.

A lot of the men have some sort of carrier on their tractors, some quite fancy, to haul their wives and others behind them in a parade, since the trolley doesn't go on parade drives.  When Cliff takes his big Oliver to a parade, I can ride along right beside him on the tractor.  But there's no place for me to sit on the other tractors.  So he is building a carrier to haul me in.  He will be able to use it with any of our tractors.  This has been his project for a week or more.
I will enter on this end of the carrier, after un-fastening the chain across the entrance.  I don't know if it will be ready for the parade in Odessa this weekend.  If it isn't, I don't think Cliff will participate.  But I'm not pushing him to get it done.  He's retired.  He shouldn't have too many deadlines.  I think he will soon be ready to paint it; he's decided to paint it black, rather than Oliver green or Allis orange, so it will work with any color tractor.

This pickup box will serve as storage for a cooler and chairs and other essentials, and will also be a perch for me.  Cliff is going to somehow attach the boat seat you see sitting on top of it.  We hoped at one time to find an old school bus seat, but we couldn't come up with one.  

Anyhow, this is going to work out nicely, I think.  And now you have seen a Donna-carrier.  I hate to mention this, but it looks quite a bit like hog-carriers I've seen around.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Connecting with the past

Cliff recently read an article in one of his tractor collector magazine that explained how tractor collectors are fewer than they once were; evidently the height of the antique tractor craze is over.  I suppose this is good news for anybody wanting to buy an old, collectible tractor, because the prices are dropping.

The reason the craze is dying out is that the collectors are dying.  If you go to a meeting of our tractor club, you need only take a look around at the group to realize it's an old man's hobby; they are connecting to their youth.  Most of them have restored a tractor like the one Dad or Grandpa had when they were kids.  Cliff's current favorite restoration is the Oliver like the one my cousin had when we were in our twenties:  A few times Cliff helped him work the ground in preparation for planting.  The first time, Gerald put him on a D-19 Allis Chalmers.  It was one of the high points in Cliff's life, and in the 80's, when Cliff could afford it, he bought a worn-out D-17 Allis and fixed the flaws a little at a time.  When her paint became dull, he'd repaint her and put on new decals.  That was one of his dream tractors. 

Later on, Gerald moved up to bigger tractors.  So when Cliff helped him then, he got to plow with a 2255 Oliver, a behemoth similar to the 1855 sitting in our shop.  At that point, Cliff had a new dream tractor, and that's the reason he owns a big green tractor for which we have absolutely no use.

He's connecting to his younger days.  

I suppose that's what most antique collectors are doing, whether it's cars, dolls, handkerchiefs, or old gas pumps:  People tend to look for things that remind them of the happy times of childhood and youth.  The good old days.

Today's tractors are computer driven and mostly plastic, and it's the same with cars.  I see no way they could possibly be restored.  But I'm sure today's generation will find something to collect when they reach retirement age, that makes them hark back to simpler times.  Their first computer maybe?  The first Iphone they owned?  

OK, maybe not.  Perhaps the pictures on their computers will be all they need to remind them of the good old days.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Something I've learned late in life

Since I've had a knee replacement that served me pretty well for two years and has since let me down, I've learned a few things the hard way.  

I went to an ortho doc when the knee started hurting again; he seemed to think my artificial knee was basically sound.  So there's that.  He was willing to do this and that to find out why that knee hurts, but I'm unwilling to go down that road.  It hurts as badly as my other knee, except that the real knee pops often (painfully) when I bend it; I am spared that particular pain with the replacement.

When I've talked with folks who have had a successful replacement who inquire about my own, and I answer them truthfully (hopefully without whining), I sometimes get this:  "Well, I have never had a problem... but then, I did all the exercises just like they told me to."

Implying, of course, that I did not.  But I did do the exercises, and, as I said before, for two years I was trouble-free.  My cousin, Gerald, had surgery about the same time I did, and he hasn't had the best of luck either.  He did the exercises so much, and for so long, that his wife thought he was overdoing it!  He didn't even get two years pain-free.  

You can ask any orthopedic surgeon and he will tell you that one person in ten has less-than-perfect results with replacement surgery.  Just because yours went well, Pearl Pureheart, that doesn't mean it's my fault that my experience is less than perfect.

Here's the lesson:  I have said the same things in the past about people who have had trouble with knee or hip replacements, although I don't think I said the words to their faces.  But I would say to others, "He must not have done the exercises like he was supposed to."  

Holier-than-thou?  Know-it-all?  Yeah, that would be me; what could I possibly know, when I hadn't even had the surgery?  So now when I get that kind of remark I sort of cringe with guilt.  
The same thing goes for people we hear of who have been diagnosed with cancer:  "Oh well, he smoked, you know."  "She does drink a lot of diet soda, that could be the problem."  "Well, we all know how much junk food that family eats."   

Do you really think it helps to place blame for cancer on the person who has it?  Even if there is a grain of truth in your accusations, it's wrong.  Whether you are talking directly to them, or are discussing them with someone else, it's wrong.  Keep your thoughts to yourself.  

It isn't a compassionate attitude.

I have always had a real problem with people who are constantly taking pain pills.  I'm talking about those who, every time you see them, are tossing down ibuprofen or Tylenol, or even prescription meds, like it's candy  They seem to be sick all the time!

And now, guess who seldom goes a day without taking some sort of pain relief, usually ibuprofen, but on really bad days, it's the stronger stuff.  Yeah.  Me.

Life's little lessons are never easy.  

Pigs grow fast

Especially when they get almost two gallons of milk every day.

This is how Stanley looked on June 28, about five weeks ago.  The farmer who sold him to us figured he weighed about 18 pounds.  

I took this picture of Stanley yesterday.  Amazing, right?  I keep saying he weighs at least 50 pounds, but honestly I don't have a clue.  

It's hard to know exactly how to formulate his diet.  You can't just feed a pig corn and expect him to grow well; they need a certain amount of protein to make the corn do what it needs to do.  I know Stanley gets lots of protein from all the milk he drinks, but is it enough?  I still give him some supplemental protein once in awhile.  I must be doing something right, from the looks of him.

Protein is pretty pricey.  Corn, right now, is fairly cheap, all things considered.  So the less protein I have to buy for him, the better.  I suppose I had better keep on milking that cow!