Sunday, January 31, 2010

Winter Contentment

So far, it's been an epic winter. 

Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but once again, strictly in the Pollyanna mode...I love it!  I'm going to get the little sled out of the garage, today--the one we used when we lived in the Iditarod district in Alaska to haul our groceries from the Native Store to our log cabin--and go sledding with the dogs!  We have a great hill, and even by myself, it's so much fun!  MM isn't that keen a sledder, preferring dry pants and warm fingers to speeding downhill exhileration.

And yes, it's a little tougher to keep the animals watered and fed with 12 inches of snow on the ground and temperatures in the single digits, but what little price is paid in extra effort is far and away made up for in bartered beauty.

This morning, long before sunrise, I unlatched the door and tiptoed outside to witness the moon in all its full glory, casting spidery shadows of leafless limbs across the unmarred white.  In the distance, I could see two deer silently rummaging through the deep snow in search of a tender nibble.  Not a sound came from anywhere.  It was simply magic.

Later, as dawn emerged, a pink sunrise embraced the diamond-studded landscape.  Cotton, rose-colored clouds billowed up in the west, and the morning came alive as birds began to flit industriously from seed head to seed head in search of breakfast.

Thomas, you remind me:  I've been niggardly.  I haven't grown feed nor have I fed the birds for years, for all intents and purposes creating my own austerity program for them!  After a winter like this, I resolve to plant sunflowers galore this coming garden year--maybe even some millet and buckwheat especially for them (and make sure they don't eat their winter rations in August when everything ripens!)--and to share more than the occasional crumbs of dogfood they've been able to snitch this bleak season.

Being outside this morning and feeding the animals was like being in a Currier and Ives lithograph.  Remember Currier and Ives?  For me, their names evoke a type of idealism, a celebration of rural living, but their subjects went way beyond rural living.  According to Wikipedia, they dubbed themselves "Publishers of Cheap and Popular Prints."  Hugely acclaimed, they produced over 7,500 lithographic prints over a period of 72 years.  Artists whom Currier and Ives engaged, created two to three new images every week for 64 years producing more than a million prints by hand-colored lithography.

I love living in a Currier and Ives moment!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Comment on Commentor

One of my favorite blogs is A Canadian in Italy.  Maybe it's partly because I've lived in Canada and have traveled in Italy, and I love them both!  Maybe, too, it's because we share the same name, Elora, and we met because of an online photography blog (never face to yet!  Can you beat that!  Elora's blog is delightful!  She has a fascinating life in Italy and swings between Vancouver British Columbia and Genoa Italy, as she describes her life between two worlds. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes rewarding...always entertaining.

 As we all reach out to one another, from all corners of the planet, we discover the real heartbeats of the world.  We talk to one another, and we can once again soar with the possibilities.  Do stop by Elora's blog.  She also has a Photo of the Day, so just follow her directions and you'll be rewarded handsomely.

Here We Go Again.....

Are you ready?  Get bundled up.  Dust off the sled! (Sleds are not just for kids!)

On all the surrounding farms, the sound of chainsaws is echoing off the hillsides.  I count at least three, and we'll add ours to the mix shortly as everyone's firewood piles have dwindled precipitously and we're once again looking at lots of SNOW.

We've closed the door to the chicken run and the chickens are snugged in with feed and water, but wondering where their sunrise went. 

We've moved the cows into the close-by pasture and made a covered pile of handy hay bales at the gate. 

We're looking at the possibility of a two-dog night, here, just off the one-lane road, and the weather forecast out of NOAA Weather in Roanoke, gives us "in-the-pink" status...and that ain't good! 

They're calling for four to eight inches of the white stuff on frozen ground.  That means it starts to stick with the first flake.  Temperatures are once again plummeting and there's more to come. 

I'm going with homemade chicken soup tonight using last night's leftovers with a jar of last year's tomatoes added for good measure.  We renewed our library books by phone yesterday, so we're all set in that department.  We have oil lamps to read by should the power fail.  With the woodpile replenished, we can sit snug as two bugs in a rug,  and let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back to the (Future) Land

Did I sound preachy yesterday and the day before? Oh, I hope not!

Maybe it’s my age, but I no longer have many wants. I look around the house and yard, here, just off the one-lane road, and see clothing I no longer wear; items of one kind or another we no longer use or need. So, I’m talking to myself, truly! I believe this is partially what spring cleaning is all about! It’s time for me to send this unused and unwanted “stuff” on to its “second time around” owner. I’m guilty of not doing the same thing I’m advocating: if I am not using it, I need to pass it on (providing it’s fit to use!)

Neither was I advocating ditching a job in favor of taking a fling at self-sufficiency, but rather suggesting we all are exploring continually where we would like to be.

If, on the other hand, one were to find themselves in a situation where an outside job was reduced or eliminated quite suddenly, (not uncommon nowadays) with few prospects for changing the situation any time soon-- maybe it puts a different light on the quest for self-sufficiency. I’ve wondered if the current state of affairs economically in this country wouldn’t spark another so-called “back-to-the-land” movement similar to what we had in the late 1960’s and early ‘70’s. Curiosity led me to Wikipedia and sure enough, there are indications that people are, indeed, once again exploring rural living.  Throughout history, it seems there have been various “back-to-the-land “movements” stretching back to just before the fall of the Roman Empire. These have occurred largely because urban circumstances became intolerable, and people, trying to survive, envisioned a better life for themselves in the hinterlands outside  urbania.

Several have sprouted up in America: people homesteaded during The Great Depression; and, after World War II Veterans returning home sought a “meaningful” life and there was a strong interest in moving to rural circumstances. You might enjoy a book that was well known to me as a child since I lived in the Pacific Northwest, called The Egg and I by Betty McDonald. It’s a hilarious account of going back to the land in the 1940’s. Eventually it became a movie, starring Fred McMurray and Claudette Colbert.

One of the most significant things about the movement of the 60’s and 70’s was the size of it. It was also interesting to me to know that the movement was fueled by “rampant consumerism.”  I was  also surprised to discover that there is now an antonym to Consumerism—a “movement” if you will, called Enoughism.

I found both historical accounts fascinating and was somewhat nostalgic thinking back to my dog-earred copies of the Whole Earth Catalog and Mother Earth News (for whom I wrote a couple of articles.) There are many links in both Wiki entries that are just fun to follow out. Do take the time to browse it. Perhaps most significant is the overview of who “succeeded” at being a back-to-the-lander and the three most critical needs in order to do so. I’ll leave that up to you to discover.

The prospect of finding a small piece of ground for a garden, a milk cow, some chickens-- becomes very attractive, especially to supplement a pared-down income. Remember the old phrase, “I am not my job?” The implication is that you have an identity beyond what you do to earn a few dollars with the idea being that the job may take less of one’s soul to accomplish it, with something left over for tending to the chores and joys at home.

Those who would choose such a route probably won’t ever get to the point of flying off to Alaska in a red float plane to watch jumping whales “anytime you and Susie decide you want to,” but given the right attitude, they’ll probably enjoy life every bit as much if not more.

Have fun with exploring!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Built (Not) to Last

Tools are the absolute cornerstone for a life of self-sufficiency.  Good tools. Dependable tools. 

Thomas's comment yesterday morning on my post (How Much Is Enough?) made me think
 about the piece I put together last weekend for the blog, to publish sometime this week.  I had planned to post it on Thursday, but I just can't hold my blogger-tongue that long.  So, I'll post my back-to-the-land piece after this one.

It's not news, is it, that it's hard to buy "quality" these days.  Hard to find it.  No matter what price you're willing to pay for things, they fall apart prematurely.  They don't work like they're supposed to.  Around the house and outside, I see literally hundreds of small examples that all add up.  It used to be that when you paid a "good" price--a "fair" one--you got "what you paid for." 

Not anymore.

From clothing to tools, to small appliances to furniture, Made in China is emblematic of poor quality and shoddy workmanship.  Here are some examples:

The lining material in the rain suits we purchased from Columbia Sportswear --supposedly a good brand--(Made in China) separated from the rain shell material; the suspenders MM decided to buy (Made in China) had only one snap; the socks I bought--6 pair at a time--(Made in China) disintegrated within about three months; the boots I bought from Southern States (Made in China) have cracked where my foot bends and now leak (so in order to extend their use, I am using plastic grocery bags on my feet inside the boot to keep them dry through the rest of this winter, after which time I will be glad to discard them, but my defiance is manifest in those plastic bags!); I could fill this entire blog with similar failures; everywhere I look, things Made in China are simply junk (and I don't mean sailing ships).  The discard pile of should-have-worked stuff, grows, out here on the one-lane road, in the landfill, and on Main Street.

And don't you just love seeing "Made in China" stamped on everything you buy?  It's difficult to find ANYTHING ANYMORE that is Made in the USA.  It used to be a point of pride!  US quality.  Did you know that the Chinese SAVE 50% of their income?  Americans recently hiked their savings rate to 5%!

Thomas mentioned the real cost, the carbon footprint, of this kind of  "planned obsolescence."  The size of the carbon footprint balloons when we consider shipment from China to here.  We used to have a sewing factory here, about 6 miles away in Thomas's neck of the woods.  Many women (and they were mainly women, with families) in this region worked there for modest wages that supplemented family income.  Sears had a drapery-making facility not far from here that employed a good compliment of people. 

Not anymore.   

Companies save paying taxes by going overseas.  OSHA doesn't exist in China.  EPA doesn't exist in China. 

Did you know--when last I checked-- that 100% of the Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) sold in this country comes from China?  Anybody check China's health inspection process recently? How about honey from China?  Check out the labels in the grocery store on honey.  Where does it come from?  You'll be surprised.  I remember a few months back, (and this could be apochryphal, of course) it was learned that some enterprising merchant over in the Far East was using the exhaust from motor vehicles to dry tea, blowing it across the tea as it lay on a concrete floor!

Aren't you tired of this?  I know I am.  The following suggestion will do nothing to reduce that carbon footprint, but I am desperate.  I've decided to ALWAYS RETURN UNSATISFACTORY PRODUCTS to the point of purchase.  I want to be a problem to that retailer who sold it to me, and I want to be a problem to the Chinese (because it's bound to be Made in China).  If we don't take the time to return these items to the point of purchase, retailers "get away" with dumping shoddy merchandise on us, fully expecting us NOT to BOTHER returning it, and to accept it because we shrug our shoulders, hunker down, declare we don't have time to "fool with it" and continue to be abused with poor quality stuff.  Nope. 

Not anymore.

When a tool breaks out here JOTOLR, we're up a creek without a paddle.  It's absolutely vital to have dependable tools that hold together and perform as promised. And I respect your inquiry into what our ancestors might have done, Thomas; (It's valid and a good way to measure worth.) But I also shudder at the prospect of not having a dependable chain saw! (Our dear old Stihl 064 has been running since 1979!  German engineering!

The promise of quality and continuing service used to be implied. It was a contract of trust between the merchant and the buyer.  For a reasonable length of time, the tool would not fail.  Yes, I do recall my father jokingly referring to Sears, Roebuck (as it was then known) as Swear and Sendback, but by and large Sears and most other merchants then stood behind their labels and even felt BAD about selling something shoddy!  They had a conscience.

Not anymore.

Caveat emptore. That's "buyer beware," but what can you do? There are few choices so being aware doesn't get you anything! 

What I suggest is a lot of trouble.  In fact it's a huge nuisance.  You need to return things.  It's a nuisance largely because others are doing the same thing and the return lines are growing longer!  It's time-consuming, so bring along a good book and a folding chair.  I think you'll be noticed.  It's our only recourse as far as I know. When you don't bother, you're allowing yourself, and others, to be a victim.  If you simply throw the item out and buy a replacement without returning the defective one, you're doubling China's take.

There is no consumer protection agency. 

Not anymore. 

So, what do we have left? 


                                              Let me know what you think!

Commentors and Their Blogs

Good morning!  It seems we are back to snow and cold all the way through Sunday out here just off the one-lane road.  Oh, well.....better days are coming.  Meanwhile concentrate on the color yellow to remind us that there is life beyond winter and enjoy the brief episodes of sunshine as they flit through.

You know, I just realized there's nothing stopping me from doing several posts in one day.  Now isn't that amazing!  I've got lots on my mind this morning, but I'll do it in several shorter posts so you don't all drown in text.  Forgive me, folks...I guess I am first and foremost a writer/photographer.  

So Topic Number One (and this will be the longest):  Commentors.  You have all offered so much wisdom and I thank you!!  We ARE connected and in sharing, we indeed build something beyond ourselves.  I am gradually learning the language, the mechanics and the etiquette of blogging, albeit slowly.  In that regard, I've learned that reciprocity is key.  In that vein, here is a sampling from recent comments:

Debbi, thank you for your insightful comments yesterday.  And yes, healthcare for all must be considered priority in our country.  Take a look at Debbi's blog.  She has a bright and snappy style that will wake you up and get you going, on physical fitness, running, sometimes knitting (she is an incredibly wonderful knitter) and right now, has taken a foray into weight training.  Check out her blog at This morning she has a link to a New York Times article on how weight training improves brain function in "older" (ahem) women.  (Wonder if 40-pound hay bales can be substituted for dumbells..?) The article is well worth a read.  Debbi always has some great comments and a breezy approach that will entertain and educate.

Ruta, thank you for yesterday's exploration of saving money, shopping wisely, and enjoying it all!  Great comment.  My new blog-friend in North Devon UK is a gardener extraordinaire and an outdoor enthusiast, as well. You simply do not want to miss her pictures displaying her photographic artwork featuring her beachcombing and long walks along the Devon shore (and oh-so-pretty shells and geologic formations that will grab your attention.  Makes me long for those tidepools of my youth!) as well as the beauty of her gardens (don't miss the "Pond" post from a couple of days ago.  Ruta takes a look at her world and shares it with us at

If you haven't taken a keystroke stroll over to Old Otter Holler Farm, this is not to be missed at  Thomas has a lot to show you!  His topics are varied as he takes a very analytic but artistic approach to living self-sufficiently and working the land.   His book list, which I am just beginning to tackle, offers tons of wisdom we can all use.  Yesterday he posted a piece on trees, complete with a face!  His way with words is easy on the heart and mind, and the results of his relationship with his piece of the world --Old Otter Holler Farm--is a feast for the eyes.

Now, let's hope my "linking" skills are improving on Blogger, so that colors are displayed to denote a link.  I have been trying to get 'er done, everyone...but without success! Your patience with my learning curve is greatly appreciated! 

I am loving the exchange of information and ideas here.  Doesn't it delight you that we have this kind of outreach power?  We ARE all in this together!  And I don't feel as though we are simply preaching to the choir, either.  All of you reassure me that some of us, at least, are on the right track as we reach out to one another and share. And, I was so "cold-footed" about beginning this blog! Thank you again for being a part of it.  Others out there who have not joined in the discussion, feel free to do so.  We've got lots more to come!

Lastly, one of the things I'm gradually doing is to pay attention to other's blog lists and taking the time to follow them out.  So please continue to add to your blog list as you discover other sources.  In that regard, MM has been subscribing to an interesting blog for quite awhile (I didn't know it!  We each have our own computer with different choices about what we follow online)  that I will mention here.  It's called Steadfast Finances, located at  Sounds a little stiff, doesn't it. But it's not, and it's along the lines of frugality and thriftiness. You might want to check it out at least once.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How Much is Enough?

WARNING- TWBAR:  translated "this will be a rant."  Not a big one.  Just a small one. From time to time, I ask your indulgence while I take out a topic and chew on it publicly.  There are just some things that need to be addressed.  For sticking with me, I'll reward you at the end with a single photo that reminds us why we're here--(thank you Boeing for stealing that phrase).  

So, while I'm getting the soapbox out and dusted off, check out one of my favorite blogs, At Home With the Farmer's Wife.  She has a wonderful "take" on the same theme today, but in a totally different way.  You'll love it--guys, too. Trust me.

And here's a takeaway maxim while I'm getting set up:
Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without.


Let's face it.  We like our stuff.  Stuff and more stuff creates a type of dependency.  In the last couple of decades, shopping went from necessity-based to entertainment (as my mother predicted).  Think for a moment how television, for example, creates the many desires you never knew you had!  All those kitchen tools and foodie things you now just have to have, sporting vacations landing the big one, the lifestyle you aspire to but will probably never attain, consequently you spend your whole life being unhappy...the list goes on!

Maybe it's a senior thing, but when I go into Walmart--even with a specific item or even a list of needed--and I do mean "needed"-- purchases, I am immediately confronted by what seems to be a blinding wall of fluorescent lights, waving signs of specials, television monitors blabbing on about other "specials"...bright colors, lots more people than I'm used to seeing at one time (coming in off the mountain's one-lane road!), and I not only lose my train of thought, but I have trouble remembering at the moment what was on my list and why I even came in, in the first place!  I want to turn right around, walk back out and stay out!  It's as if I've been assaulted. But, it's what "they" have designed.

My solution?  Bury my checkbook deeeeep, grip my list and stare at it until I can re-focus and get past the wall of distractions, question the need for all my intended purchases again, go get them off the shelf --if I'm not led astray by other mind-grabbers on the way, and then get out as fast as I can.

We've all seen countless numbers of broken (or not) and discarded plastic toys strewn about yards as we drive past peoples' homes; the landfill is overwhelmed with them.  Actually, West Virginia is pretty good about recycling other people's unwanted items.  In fact, there used to be a snarky joke going around that went something like this:  "Why do West Virginians use only clear plastic trash bags?  Answer:  So they can window shop more easily.  To which I say, give us a round of applause. 

But I wonder how many people do shop at the secondhand store, not just for kids' things, but for everyone's things.  Do we give things away that we aren't using?  I received TWO LOVELY hand-knitted, wool sweaters recently from a dear friend who had worn them at one time or another, but could no longer use them.  Believe me when I say they delight me far more than any store-bought new ones ever could!

Do we question what things are needs--real needs-- and what things are merely spontaneous desires that may not have even been in our mind prior to walking through the store's doors?  Impulse buying is a killer of bank accounts.

New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof  had an Op-Ed piece last Sunday entitled, "What Could You Live Without?"  It's well worth a read.  Like all good columnists, it gets us thinking.

American consumers have been called "the engine of the world's economy."  It's my belief that we're the "suckers" of the world's economy.  We're the dumb ones that buy, buy, buy!  (Incidentally, I love the Snob Specialists, Nieman Marcus's nickname:  "Needless Markup.")

I don't know about you, but I believe it's time for us to start putting those resources we're giving to China, to work for ourselves, here at home.  Right our own homes. For that to happen, maybe we need to think about circumventing, or ignoring, the heavy-handed drumbeats for rampant consumerism. We don't need all this stuff.  We could probably go years without importing much of anything, before it got to the point of needing.

MM and I just finished watching an old PBS series called Civilization which we found at the library.  The final episode was entitled Heroic Materialism.  Sadly, Lord Kenneth Clark, the producer and narrator of the 13-episode series concluded that today, having gone through religion, nature and now, "heroic materialism" as a focus for living, we haven't yet discovered some other meaningful philosophy to guide our human endeavors. 

Maybe we need to be thinking seriously --not just tokenism--about simplifying, about sustainability, re-using, wearing things out instead of adding to the landfill; not having to have "new," making do with new-to-you.
So we've come full circle:  producing your own food is really no different from working at a day job of some kind and we need to decide how much we really need.  Yes, we all proably need some kind of income that the farm won't provide, but by reducing our wants, concentrating on our needs, and living close to the earth, we begin to take control of what often seems an out-of-control life.  

Duane Elgin (Voluntary Simplicity) sums it up: 

"To build a sustainable future will require dramatic changes in the overall levels and patterns of consumption in developed nations.  To change consumption levels and patterns will require a new consciousness and a new consensus among millions of persons--and this will require dramatic changes in the consumerist messages we give ourselves through the mass media, particuarly television."

We can't keep on destroying.  Isn't it time to begin building a sustainable and peaceful future?  Please give me your however-many sense-worth thoughts.  I'd love to hear from you...

Tomorrow...Back to the (Future) Land...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sucker Holes

In Alaska, where MM and I spent three years teaching school in Native villages, even Anchorage's Chamber of Commerce recognizes the term "sucker hole."  It's the preferred way to spot a tourist.

A sucker hole is when a tiny, almost invisible patch of blue sky (on an otherwise "dismal" landscape) cons tourists into shedding their raingear, as they await the bright prospects implied.  Unfortunately, they are usually premature--if not completely wrong-- in their quest for sun, and find themselves scrambling for that raingear again, as the sneaky deluge descends.

As for MM and me this morning....I guess you would say we're rather like the tourists, so hungry for sunny weather we are.   We took the bait and went outside to feed the animals without raingear, just tempting the weather god to zap us, and guess what....?  That patch of blue sky and fluffy clouds?  It was a sucker hole.

By the way, Hydaburg Alaska, one of the villages where we taught gets somewhere around 155 inches of rain a year.  That's why it's called a "rainforest."

But It Ties You Down...The Cow -- Part 3

Owning a cow is a responsibility (duh!) that one doesn't take on lightly.  As James Herriot of All Creatures Great and Small fame used to say, "You must attend."

But turning things upside down a bit (in the event someone is trying to justify cow ownership), chances are that if you have a job, you're already "tied down."  Just as you regularly show up for work, we, too, take our self-sufficiency "job" seriously out here just off the one-lane road.  We show up for work. 

Yes, it's a job, albeit a lovely one.  But the point is, it's no more "tied down" than having a regular job where you have to drive to somewhere and show up at certain hours, put in your allotted time (for someone else) and work your personal needs and desires around that job. In fact, you probably have a little more control with a cow than you do with an outside job.   Am I being myopic, here?  Tell me if I'm wrong, now...

Mind you, this doesn't address an individual's need for income.  And, Commentor Ruta is right: it's tough, if not impossible, to make a "living" farming in this day and age.  On the other hand, if we take a long look at our real "needs" versus our wants, there's a possibility we can reduce those wants and needs somewhat so that less income would be required. We're not talking austerity, here, either.  Commentor Debbi provided a quote that seems appropriate here:  "Wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants."

Annual vacations with a cow are simply a matter of timing.  Cow gets bred to calve when you'll be home.  Vacation when the cow dries up just prior to having her next calf.  Or put the calf on her full time if the situation at the moment isn't ideal for milking.  Perhaps you'd want to consider milking only once a day at a time that's convenient and give the calf the rest.  Of course, it must be the same time each day, and that means rain or shine. 

And, by all means, buy a cow suited to your needs. If you're going to put the calf on full time, you don't want a cow that would normally give you 3 gallons of milk in the morning and 3 gallons again at night. The calf simply will not be able to consume it all, and you'll wind up with a cow that has a spoiled udder.  You have a choice of breeds to suit your needs, so look for a breed that gives a modest quantity of milk rather than be overwhelmed with what to do with a huge quantity.  Feeding grain, too, pushes the cow toward heavier (and less healthful) milk production.  It's up to the farmer to manage the cow. I mentioned a blogpost or two back, MM and I don't really want to go anywhere or be anywhere else, so vacations for us are not an issue.

For exploring the pros and cons and basic cow husbandry get a copy of Dirk van Loon's book, The Family Cow, available at Amazon online. (at least here in the U. S.--for my over-the-pond readers, please let me know which large bookseller you prefer as a reasonably priced source). This book is a complete primer on family cow management, and it's not only practical, but very "honest."

Finally, if you've not read it, you might want to find yourself a copy of Duane Elgin's book Voluntary Simplicity.  You can buy it from Amazon for as little as one cent.  (that doesn't include shipping nor does the price reflect the value of the book!)  Published originally in 1981 and sub-titled "Toward a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich," Elgin has a knack for going right to the nub: 

We each know where our lives are unnecessarily complicated.  We are all painfully aware of the clutter and pretense that weigh upon us and make our passage through the world more cumbersome and awkward.  To live more simply is to unburden ourselves--to live more lightly, cleanly, aerodynamically.  It is to establish a more direct, unpretentious and unencumbered relationship with all aspects of our lives:  the things that we consume, the work that we do, our relationship with others, our connections with nature and the cosmos and more.

More on simplifying tomorrow..How Much Is Enough?

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Cow -- Part 2

Remember what I alluded to yesterday?  That you could buy "what appeared" to be milk at the grocery store.  First of all, may I be so bold as to declare: it's not real milk. What appears to be milk is really water and reconsituted non-fat dry milk solids.  Fortified with vitamin D.  Take a look at the label next time you buy it.  You'll be amazed as I was when I first discovered the "ingredients" (ingredients?) in milk!

Over the last decade we've all been admonished against drinking anything but store-bought low fat milk.  Scare tactics have discouraged us from even touching anything remotely resembling "raw" milk.  Even the term "raw milk" has a rather odious cast to it.  How about "fresh" milk? The implication nowadays is that consuming dairy products --"raw" and otherwise--is dangerous and threatens good health. We have a sort of Big Pharma sponsored cholesterol mania in this country as television ads pour over us nightly with dire threats of imminent heart attacks interspersed with loss of libido!

For years, margarine has been the recommended "spread" over butter; and a more recent wrinkle, ultra-pasteurization--is sold to us as the ultimate in bacterial elimination, but instead, has managed to kill most of the essential vitamins and minerals in natural milk.  UP accomplishes shelf-life extension; it is not for benefit of ensuring a safe drink.  As the number of dairies has shrunk (and their size grown), their locations are scattered more sparsely across the country than ever before; shelf life becomes a critical element in shipping "milk" to the Krogers, Walmarts, etc. and industry has addressed this issue by compromising nutritional value.

If you'd like to learn more about REAL milk and why it's good for you, the Weston A. Price Foundation   offers a wonderfully thorough commentary on what they term "nutrient-dense" foods.  Visiting their website, one pretty quickly gets a picture of the true benefits of eating unadulterated foods of all kind, including milk. I've taken the liberty here of lifting a paragraph from their rich website:

"Back in the 20's, Americans could buy fresh raw whole milk, real clabber and buttermilk, luscious naturally yellow butter, fresh farm cheeses and cream in various colors and thicknesses.  Today's milk is accused of causing everything from allergies to heart disease to cancer, but when Americans could buy real milk, these diseases were rare.  In fact, a supply of high-quality dairy products was considered vital to American security and the economic well being of the nation."

If someone wants to launch a deeper exploration of milk and what modern agricutlure has done with/to it, check out The Untold Story of Milk by Ron Schmid.  It's available both used and new at Amazon.

Sub-titled Green Pastures, Contented Cows and Raw Dairy Foods the book is a compendium of useful information including discussions about Vitamin D deficiency, which is widespread in this country.  Yes, "store-bought" milk is "fortified" with vitamin D (another ingredient), but according to Schmid, there is strong evidence to suggest that "imitation" vitamin D that is re-introduced to food, is not as well absorbed by the body as is that which is resident in natural, unadulterated foods.  According to the book, vitamin D deficiency is extremely common and adults aged 50-79 who are not getting sufficient amounts of vitamin D in their diets suffer up to four times the incidence of hip fractures than those consuming adequate amounts.  Guess what?  Natural milk from cows and other milk-giving ruminants, contains oodles of vitamin D.  I've sprinkled a few pictures throughout, just to tempt you with the goodies; the photos of strawberry ice cream, a 5-pound round of cheddar, and sunset here on the farm simply gives a small idea of our bounty.  Monday, a little on attitude adjustment. (That should keep you awake all weekend wondering just what I mean!) See you Monday.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Cow - Part 1

Indulge me for a couple of days here as I talk about The Cow.  Some who would otherwise favor all kinds of self-sufficiency precepts, often disdain the prospect of owning a milk cow, even if they had space for it. Strictly my opinion, but they are missing out on something wonderful.  So, let's talk.

First of all, why would anyone in their right mind, in this day and age, (when you can buy what at least appears to pass for milk at the grocery store) even think of keeping a family milk cow?  Are we mad?

Probably.  And yes, we're "tied down;" (kind of...more about that tomorrow) And yes, we have to milk Johni (funny name for a girl!) twice a day, rain or shine most of the year; we have to keep her fed with hay in the winter--hay that we worked hard to put up during the summer (great exercise, especially for two elders!) baling and throwing and loading those bales onto the trailer, hauling them to the barn, bringing them back out as the snow flies; and then there's the fact that we have to DO something with all that milk--every day!  Finally, Johni is big and she is unpredictable, even cranky sometimes, and she can create her own brand of special excitement every now and again.

Nonetheless,  we sure wouldn't want to be without her.

Johni's produce gives us lots of valuable nutrition.  From her lovely ivory-colored milk, rich with cream, I make beautiful yellow butter in my food processor.  It's the only fat we use..for baking, for toast, for baked potatoes; I make cottage cheese (remember Little Miss Muffet, sitting on that tuffet (which is either a mound or footstool), eating her curds and whey? 

Well, we get the curds,  and the dogs, pigs, and chickens get whatever whey (the water-like leftovers from cheesemaking) we can't use; I make cheddar cheese and age it for over a year; I make Mozarella that melts lusciously over homemade pizzas; add to that yogurt which can be flavored with any number of homegrown fruits; and for top-of-the-heap dessert, strawberry or chocolate ice cream.  All of that from an animal that eats grass.  No grain. Just good quality grass.

And by the way it puts a whole new meaning on the phrase a "cold glass of milk" having to dress up like a stuffed chicken, milk buckets in hand, and venture out on a 10-degree F. morning to milk the cow!  Believe it or not, though,  it's exhilerating and fun!

In the next few days I'll share the nutritional considerations, excuses, sources and solutions along with other cow comments.  Hope this will be helpful to those thinking about getting a cow; and at least interesting to others who may never get within petting distance of a cow!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Cloudy Day...

It's a cloudy, foggy, misty day here just off the one-lane road.  And it looks like that's going to be the story for the next several days.  Some might label this kind of weather "gloomy" or "depressing."  Typically Pollyanna, here, I figure life is what you make it, so make it fun!  I love rainy days.  I love the sound of the rain on the roof.  MM (husband), originally from sunny Denver, believes I have webs between my toes and moss on my back!  For me, rainy days are guilt-free inside days and I have lots of "toys" to enjoy. 

I lived in the Pacific Northwest as a child.  There, weather was more often than not less than ideal if one favored a daily dose of sunshine.  My mother was a staunch defender of our marine climate and a firm believer in the half-full theory of living--always looking for a "bright" side.

She had a way of encouraging brightness in me, too, especially in the face of (to me) obvious gloom.  If I complained that it was raining, and that I had nothing to do Mom would let me know that if I was unable to discover something captivating pretty quickly, she would find something for me to do, and I would probably like my own ideas better than hers.

So, I was motivated to dig into my full complement of simple toys, puzzles, and books...never realizing the unlying truth and wisdom of my mother's teaching until later in life.  As it turned out I still love puzzles on a rainy day, my "simple toys" nowadays are an embroidery/sewing machine, a spinning wheel, a lifetime supply of wool for handspinning; a knitting machine, handknitting supplies and yarn, my camera and computer...and, of course,  books.  What a wonderful lesson--creating your own "brightness" when none seems to exist.

West Virginia has beautiful clouds.  So what better way to gain a philosophical perspective about cloudiness and cloudy days than to enjoy some "cloudy" (bright) photos.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sunshine on my shoulder...

Dawn had hinted at a ray of sunshine yesterday, and the day did not disappoint.  With each passing hour, the temperature climbed, until by late afternoon, it was approaching the mid-fifties F.  The creek was in full melt and had come alive.  We had, too, as the January thaw is well underway.

We spent the morning pruning plum trees, and then took a walk to see what we could hear:  the shushing of water down in the valley.  On the way, we passed a vibrant green, moss-covered pile of logs--more like giant sponges--that only a week before had been covered with 18 inches of snow. 

The ground is soggy.  It gives with each step.  The cows sink in at least four inches. Yet, every puddling footprint, regardless of species, promises replenishment of needed water below the surface.  Muddy and squidgy it may be, but gradually, the water will soak in to sustain our gardens and hayfields this coming season and continue building the water table to what might even be above normal this year.

Reaching the creek, the musical burbling and plunking of the water, coursing through the lichen-covered rocks was such a delight!

There's something about moving water that stirs the soul.  Simple, yet magical, beauty.

  Oh, and by the way...I miss John Denver, don't you?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Getting Off the Mountain

Getting Off the Mountain

Last Friday was “town” day for us. Living just off the one lane road, and having been snowbound since before December 18th, you would think we would have been suffering from the proverbial cabin fever.

Actually not. In fact, just the opposite. Going to town once in awhile, is a necessity, not a pleasure. Stuff has no fascination because living “out here” is pure bliss.

On the other hand, we do get to the point of needing a few things we can’t make or didn’t grow. I must also admit, though, to a certain belief in something that a friend noted, long years ago: “If you don’t get off the mountain once in awhile, Elora,” she admonished, “you get funny.”

So part of going to town, is designed to prevent “funniness.”

The best part of going, is that except for library books (vital for keeping us entertained and educated as the blizzard howls outside), we don’t really need all that much. A replacement elbow for the woodstove, some electricians’ tape, a printer cartridge, paper towels (used sparingly) We plan ahead for town trips, saving up our needs and resist impulse buying, doing our part to reduce consumerism to its rightful, but not prominent, place in the GDP.

Certainly, shopping till we’re dropping, isn’t entertainment. Nor is it one of life’s rewards, except when we shop at home. We shop for food by visiting the basement and by browsing the freezer where we find the abundant fruits of our last summer’s labor filling the shelves and offering wonderfully healthful eating all year long. Jars and packages filled with greens...

dried beans....


...and strawberries, plums, apples, peaches, chicken, pork, asparagus, snow peas, green beans, carrots, parsnips, beets and so much more. If truth be told, we eat better than royalty. Best of all, we know where our food came from. We get our milk, butter, and cheese totally fresh and with all the vitamins still intact, right here from our own cow; our eggs—at least most of the winter—are chicken-direct. So, other than a few off-farm necessities, we simply don’t need town very often.

Years ago, we had a system that allowed us to skip going out even for library books. It was called Mail-A-Book and was designed to serve more “remote” regions of the county using the postal service and their near zero postage rates (at the time) for library material distribution and return. Patrons could select, I believe, four books (for each family member) keep them for two weeks and return them by mail.

But long ago, the postal service went the way of becoming a “profit-making” enterprise, (and is now nearly bankrupt, I might add) and these types of book services were deemed “costly” and “inefficient.” So, like most good things which have served rural America, we have no rural “constituency” (translated, no money to pay off the powers that be) for maintaining these kinds of services. But I wonder, since when did a post office have to make a profit?? USPS stands for United States Postal SERVICE. As I recall, though, they went into the retail business, instead, selling Bugs Bunny neckties.

Oh, well. If we still had the Mail-A-Book program, we’d be back to the funniness issue. At least going to the library gets us cleaned up once in awhile! We just don’t spend very much, but at least we stay sane!

Friday, January 15, 2010


...Swiftly flow the days...
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflow'rs
Blossoming even as we gaze

It was in July last year when I decided to sell my flock of nine Leicester Longwool sheep (the lineage of the breed was brought to this country originally by George Washington) and make the switch from one joy, handspinning, to another--photography

Ages ago, I was a photographer, but I had decided--too soon, it turns out--that with my vision diminishing by virtue simply of getting older, I despaired of ever enjoying my inner "eye" again.  But a friend--close to my age--had a digital camera.  Envy set in ferociously.  Best of all...SHE wears glasses. And still she does graphic arts and photography.  I made my plan.

I got an eye exam followed by a pair of progressive, transition lenses, (voila, I could SEE!) and I was on my way!  We are not wealthy, so I needed to trade some assets to get the camera and PhotoShop Elements (the latter of which I wanted in order to "play" with my images.)  I looked around at things I had here on the farm, took some to the flea market and found good homes for the sheep--one of which was at Colonial Williamsburg.  The package was enough to purchase a Canon 450D Rebel Xsi with two lenses and PSE, plus a new desktop computer.

My first photograph was the shot of the sunflower, taken August 19, 2009.  Since then, I've taken close to 1,000 photos.  What pure joy it has been!

If I bring a message of any kind to Just Off the One-Lane Road--but especially to those, like me, already in or approaching the Third Age--it is this:  you now have the TIME.  And, it's time.  We've been on that one-lane road for a good part of our life, never swerving, dedicated to following where it led.  Now, though,  it's time to pull off to the side and breathe.

Follow those yearnings that center around the things you've put aside because you never had the TIME.  Now, you do.  Embrace this wonderful time in your life.  Open the shades and drink in the colors of your dreams.  Pursue them!  Yes, these are tough times economically.  But life need not be expensive, providing you have your health, as I so fortunately do.  Discover the smaller joys in living, the world in minutae.  Perhaps the horizon is closer now, but re-focus a bit, maybe take a macro view, and capture in your mind the images of a full and glorious time of your life.  Then share your vision with others who don't yet see.

So in this Janus month of looking forward and back, I take my cue from Goethe:

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

Have a wonderful weekend!  See you Monday!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Living in the Present Moment

With all this freezing and snowing of late, and the burdens of keeping animals fed and watered, it's tempting to fall into the trap of yearning for spring and summer.  Living in the present moment and finding the rewards therein--now that is the trick! 

The infamous January thaw is licking at our heels and we respond by eagerly diving into seed catalogs.  So far this year we have received at least ten.  And those new garden gloves always do make my hands itch.

We create our lists, praying that winter will soon be over so we can start those little lives on their way to providing us with our annual food supply.  But for the moment in the midst of our euphoric myopia, we're completely oblivious to the dangers that lurk for little seeds.  Thunderstorms can wipe out an entire garden given the right conditions! 


It's a heady, monumental task, planting, transplanting, fertilizing, watering, seeing the brave little shoots through to maturity.


Not to mention the hordes of buggy mouths that hide above and below the soil surface, just waiting to suck the very life out of our toddler-plants and spoil all our plans. We must keep in mind, too, that those pretty little foot tracks in the snow that we've been watching all winter, multiply and turn into dozens of voracious mouths that mow gardens and decimate dreams of grandeur.


Apparently, the number of gardeners has increased tremendously during these harsh economic times.  Fedco and Seed Savers--our reliable sources for non-"engineered" seeds--both say they had legions of new customers last year, the thought being that the Great Recession has inspired a surge of self-sufficiency.

But have patience.  Caress those seed catalogs only so long,  and then get busy and order your seeds right away.  Soon.  The sooner the better because last year, inventories of popular varieties were reduced to zero earlier than anticipated.

And, remember, this is the dreamy side of gardening, when the gardener can conquer anything and produce food for the whole world.  It's a lot more humbling when you realize your failings about mid-July.

So, this is the time to savor the present moment.  Bask in the feeling of complete control, for soon, way past the January thaw, you'll be thinking fondly once again of a snow-covered garden, a lively warm fire in the woodstove, soup bubbling, and lots and lots of time to read...more seed catalogs.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fire and Ice -- Part 2

Then there's the task of keeping the homefires burning brightly amidst this Arctic blast.  Just how brightly varies with the dwindling dimensions of the wood pile.  Each frigid day pares it down more and we add more layers of clothing.  Amazing how one can tolerate 53 degrees in the living room and 49 degrees in the bedroom by donning a couple more wool sweaters and a good wool hat. I have to laugh at the industry-standard of 68 (tropical) degrees, evenly dispersed throughout the house.  Dream on!

We never stop wondering if we put by enough firewood.  Not just any old wood will do.  We need the BTU's of oak and locust, and close by, too, dried over the past summer so the chimney doesn't coat itself with combustible creosote.  And by the way, I'm lucky to have a guy who is still able to pull on that chainsaw starter cord a dozen times without giving up, not to mention sawing with it after it starts, and who also doesn't mind getting up several times a night to feed the fire.

Fire and ice. Not too much fire.  Not too much ice.  Just enough to let you know that you're experiencing winter.  And it's beauty is not to be missed.

Fire and Ice - Part 1

Hi, folks!  It's been tough out here these past few weeks, just off the one-lane road.  My friend from the next holler over commented that since December 18, the temperature has not risen above freezing.  (We may break that cycle today!)  Day before yesterday was the clincher.  The a.m. temperature read ONE degree F. (That's minus 18 C.)!  Unheard of--at least in recent years--for this little corner of the map.

Here on this self-sufficient farm, after a night like that in the single digits, the most glorious sight is a hose with water streaming out the end.  Most times it flows freely.  However, over the past 30 years, there have been a few times when we've opened the outside spigot only to hear a sort of intestinal gurgling from deep within the bowels of the hose indicating no water anytime soon.

That puts an ominous dark shadow over the day, because we know that 20 animals of varying sizes and needs must somehow be moved to the drink, or the drink somehow must be moved to the animals.  Moving our milk cows?  No problem with three Border Collies.  Move a 650-pound sow?  Unthinkable.

Aside from carrying water to the pigs, the destination drink is down at the creek and not surprisingly, also frozen solid which means, you bring along the splitting mall.  Stock tank warmers are the easy answer and oh-so-wonderful as long as the electricity is working.  A hair dryer, too, can sometimes perform miracles and dislodge blockages in an ice-o-lated circumstance...again, providing the electric is on.

But so far so good, this winter--single digits and all.  We've kept the water flowing, and instead, I've had the time to enjoy the artistic side of frozen water down at the creek.

The Launch

OK.  Time's up.  I've stewed over my first post long enough.  So, the idea now is to close my eyes, hold my nose, and jump!

This blog is about two retirees, married 40+ years,  living a self-sufficient life "out here" on a small piece of ground, deep within Appalachia, and Just Off the One-Lane Road.  I'll share our joys and our challenges, with the hope that you will find both information and inspiration.  Even if you're not a retiree, I trust you'll still discover things you can use and enjoy.

Mostly, though, if I bring any message to this blog, it would be to live life fully, whatever your age.  As T. S. Eliot said,
"We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

Initially, my goal was to start this journal to keep my 65-year-old mind polished up.  Admittedly though, as I remarked to a friend who has helped drag me out of the Pleistocene Age and into the unfamiliar realm of wired voices, it has, at times, felt like I was learning to drive a car by trying the heater knob and seat adjustment.

But frustrations aside, I have managed somehow at least, to burst through the doorway and am teetering on the threshhold of a whole new adventure.  I wonder where the road will lead.  Toes curled over the uncurling...Here goes...!

Oh, before I more thing:  my sincere thanks to all of you who have been my mentors, my guides, my friends, my knowledge base--for your gracious and encouraging hand up. It's been so much fun!