Monday, February 25, 2013

Out Like a Lamb

This winter has kept me trapped inside quite a bit. Things are thawing out, the ice is slowly melting away, the sheep are lambing and I'm able to escape out the back door for a little bit now and again. Tuesday Rosemary was looking lamby, the top of her hips looking a bit peaked and she had the 'mama wiggle'. I managed to get her to follow me to the lambing shed where I got the closed circuit camera plugged back in for the occasion. Randy said she'd be at least another week, but I said I thought she might go Wednesday. We got chores done and I turned the monitor and settled in to watch a night's worth of "Ewe-tube". She had a nice little ewe lamb we named "Thyme" the next day. No intervention required. I just had to help by holding Rosemary still so the baby could get some colostrum as the new mama was so excited about licking the baby she wouldn't allow her to nurse. It didn't take long before they both caught on and everything went like clockwork after that. They did so well, in fact, I turned them out with the rest of the flock the next day.

EmmaLou and SushiMoo love their tent. We had hurricane force winds again and it held fast although it's a bit mishapen now. Sandwiching the tarps between cattle panels didn't hurt. I'm glad EmmaLou had company to ride out this storm with, instead of being alone like last year, when she was so frightened. Having your baby with you tends to bring out the mama bear in us all and makes us braver.

It has been my goal for awhile to  get some kind of gadget on SushiMoo so she cannot nurse. I’ve been wanting to turn her back in with EmmaLouMoo as they did not like being separated much. After multiple failures trying to get a weaning ring in her nose, myself hanging on and Randyman applying, as well as the reverse scenerio, she just slung us around so we gave up on that particular method. I made a few suggestions about how it could be more easily accomplished, but received a condescending snort instead of support for it so I declined. 

Our next attempt was to make a weaning halter, like one I'd seen on the Family Cow forum. It was merely a piece of rubber attached to the halter so she couldn’t get anything in her mouth from above. Randy put it together, but he added nose holes WAAAAY down towards the bottom. In other words, nowhere even close to where her nostrils are. So much for measurements.The two of us got her in the lambing shed and after slinging us around we got the modified halter on her. After bouncing around bucking and shaking her head trying to dislodge it, she went to trying, unsuccessfully, to nurse as Emma kicked at her, trying to refuse her access. Sadly, it would appear that Emma is not preganant again, as Sushi was 'bulling' all day long and Em stood quietly for it, so I guess Benni the bull didn’t get the job done. That is a huge disappointment, but I trust that God knows best. 

A bit later in the day, I noticed Sushi STILL trying to nurse. I walked outside and as I did, I saw Emma ‘let down’ and her milk started flowing everywhere. Sushi moved her halter around until one of the streams went thru the ‘nose hole’ and then pushed the teat thru and grabbed on with her lips. Arrrrrrgggh!

I located one of the weaning rings we had been unsuccessful applying.  It's just a stiff plastic "c" shaped clamp with points on the bottom that theoretically poke her lips and tongue if she tries to nurse, and a wing nut to tighten it a bit so it doesn't easily fall out. It lifts when she eats hay, grain or grass headdown and only applies itself when she pushes on something above her, like an udder.
I boiled some water and tossed it in. After a few minutes, I tucked it into my shirt to keep it warm and with grim determination, headed out to capture the unmanageable Sushi. I cornered her in the lambing shed, got a lead rope on her, dragged her back to the corral, yanked her head through the outside stanchion and tied her head around tightly to one side. I stepped through the bars to the other side and grabbed her head, stuffing the ring in her nose.

Angrily, she pulled back, broke the halter, sat down and managed to pop the ring out. With superhuman strength, normally seen only when lifting cars off of small children and placing weaning rings in calf noses, I captured her, wrassled her back down to the ground with some very unsavory comments and replaced the ring, this time tightening the screw so it would stay in, before letting her regain her feet. The same heifer that tossed Randy and I around like  rag dolls last month, stood astonished at my superhuman strength and tenacity. I replaced her halter after removing the useless ‘mask’ using the only hole left on her halter to fasten it, as she busted off most of the top strap and I turned her out with Emma.

So far so good. I got 2 gallons last nite, so was only down by a gallon and I believe Em was holding up, figuring Sushi was gonna try and score some, with her normal abusive response when none was forthcoming. Not so. Sushi might be hard on her mother, but she doesn’t like to abuse her own lips. She settled for eating hay and grain instead. Score one for me! ..I think.

The morning had been pretty painful, but today painkillers and movement did help. I used my  ‘new’ cheese sink to make a cheddar. It is really quite amazing how much easier things went just having another spot to do this in. As the milk refrigerator is next to the cheese sink, it saved wear and tear on my back skimming the cream there and pouring the resulting skimmed milk into the canning pot. Four gallons later, the jars were in the dishwasher, the sink was full of hot water and the cheese was in production. Because it was not in the middle of everything for a change, it allowed me to clean the kitchen, including mopping the floor. I was also able to put together some dough for sourdough cinnamon rolls, something I  could not do before as you can’t rise bread and make cheese in the same room as the yeast brings a bacteria to the cheese that does not do good things.
A lot was accomplished, the cheese-making went more smoothly than ever before. Only two more months and we shall see if I was more successful or not. Cheddar has been my greatest challenge.

The night brought hurricane force winds and snow. The Maremmas showed up at the backdoor at midnite begging to come in. This isn’t normal for them  so I assumed it must be really ugly out. I was right. Their porch was covered in snow and the wind was coming from a direction that sent it swirling everywhere. Clearly if they weren’t willing to be out in it, likely no predators would either, so I let them in for the rest of the night.

The following day I went to move Em, Sushi, and Up-chuck and check the sheeple whom I had let out earlier with the dogs. Emma’s bag looked strangely empty in one quarter. Sushi looked at me innocently, her weaning ring still in place. Somehow she’d managed, but at least she didn’t get it all. I hoped it was a miserable enough experience she would eventually give it up.I let Up-chuck out the back gate to join Sushi, Emma and the sheeple, minus Rosemary and Thyme who were AWOL. He promptly went over to butt heads with EmmaLou, drawing her wrath, then losing, attacked my sheeple. He literally CHASED them down and tried to crush them with his ugly face. He can’t find his way to the freezer quick enough to suit me.

He wheeled around and charged at Thing1who still doesn’t get around as quickly as the others due to his crooked leg. I jumped in between them waving my arms and growling. Luckily for me, Chuck came to a screeching stop, glared at me and reversed his direction. Sushi must have told him how dangerous I am if I get my back up enough.

I hiked down below the trees. I had seen Bruno race off that direction and out of the pasture and Cletus had gone halfway to keep an eye on things closer to the stock while Bruno dealt with whatever tresspasser happened to be out there. Cletus was gazing to the east, where Bruno had disappeared. I muttered, more to myself than to him, “Where did Rosemary and her lamb go?”

Cletus slowly swiveled his head my direction and made eye contact. Then he turned it  furthur so he was almost looking over his right shoulder.  I stepped out and followed his line of sight, and sure enough, there napping in a dry ditch, was Thyme, with her mama watching over. Amazed, I made eye contact with Cletus again who blinked at me and returned his gaze back to where Bruno had gone.

This sort of thing happens much too often and too consistently to be coincidence. Unnerved I started toward Rosemary.  Suddenly there was a piercing shriek up by the corrals. Perhaps one of the cowdogs had been stepped on, I never found out. At any rate, both Maremmas flashed by me on the way to the rescue, ignoring my commands, entreaties and begging them to come back, as I knew they would. They are guardians, not obedience dogs. No amount of cajoling will take their attention off of their job, if they perceive something needs to be done.  As they reached the top of the pasture I saw them stop and look through the boards. Apparently all was well because they consulted with one another and headed back slowly towards me. I started walking up to the corral, Rosemary following and Cletus went around behind us, Bruno above and to rear of us, following the rest of the flock who followed least that is how it looked. I know better. The dogs instructed them to go back home and that is what they did. It doesn't take long to find out who is really in charge around here. LGD's are so different than herding dogs. They either lead, or quietly ask the stock to go somewhere, never barking, nipping or coercing. Babe the pig worked more like an LGD than a Border Collie.

A pipe broke last nite so there was NO water at the house all day. That meant no coffee, no laundry, no dishes, no cheesemaking, no washing of hands, no watering stock, no boiling 3 minute eggs, no potty, no I took my sorry self outside to do some remodeling. Today, little Annie, who thinks she is a sheep, goes on 'kid watch' as she is 150 days pregnant tomorrow. She's looking pretty close, although she still has some control of her tail, which normally disappears right before kidding. The inside of the lambing shed is kept dry with another 'tent' as the roof still has not been replaced. Annie likes to climb on it and knock it down, even in her advanced stage of gestation, so I unwired and dragged an 8 foot panel inside to wire up so she can't get on the tent. As I was diligently setting Annie up to kid in the shelter, Salty went to the sheep tent and delivered herself a little ram lamb. It wasn't long before I discovered her missing and went to look in there on a hunch. 

Again, a perfect lambing and Salty was a good mama, already letting him nurse. I headed back to get some straw and some iodine to dip his navel, particularly as he was born in about the dirtiest spot she could find. The rest of the sheep saw my armful of straw and decided it might be lunch.  They mobbed me and I set it behind the shelter so they could see it was bedding, as I snuk a flake at a time inside for the baby. Shortly after, they got wise to me and they all headed into the shelter. Poor Salty and her baby were beside themselves. They got separated with sheep all in between them and the older sheep picking on the new guy until there was suddenly  a mighty ROAR. Bruno'd had enough of their ill manners. He ran them all out except for Salty and her new ramlet. I was surprised as I didn't think the dogs would interfere in a sheep-on-sheep altercation, but he did. Relieved, the new mama and baby got back together, he did a little comfort nursing, I attended to his navel and left them be. I opened the main gate so the others could go out to pasture while these two bonded for the day. I think they will be okay with the flock with no need to separate them. Cletus accompanied the main group out and Bruno remained with the newborn. There is only 1 sheep left to lamb now and we are done for the winter.

Meantime, back to Annie. 

I dragged the panel in so she couldn't climb the tent, filled it with clean straw and some feed for her. She was pretty comfy. Water would have to come later, when Randy and the guys got the repairs done. I settled down and was just about to take a shower at 8 that night, when Annie went into action. I went out to attend her, armed with gloves, lube, iodine, etc. in the case she needed help. She delivered an ENORMOUS doe baby practically on her own. She was instantly changed from a mischevious little goat to a loving, nurturing adult in moments. She tenderly cleaned off her baby and without any coaching whatsoever, she helped the baby to nurse. I can tell, she's a keeper and most likely, her little one will be too. Providing something can be done about the horns. Dehorning is not my greatest skill.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hey Hey Hay!

The haystack has been rapidly disappearing and it will be months yet, before there will be feed in the pastures. I made calls but got no answers and finally emailed our boss wife’s folks in Idaho. Her dad is a farmer and I thought maybe they might know of some hay for sale. His wife emailed me back with the number of an ad she saw, so I called and yes, the man had hay. Turns out he knew them so I decided his references were solid.

We hooked up the trailer, stuffed the Maremmas in with the sheep and asked our nephew to feed for us.
At 4 a.m. With Cider and Scottie in the back seat, we headed back to town again.

I've no idea why these two jokers ever want to come with us. They sit in the back all day, never get to go out and play except once on the way there and once on the way back, where there is a station with a Pet Poop area. Scottie sleeps with his head on a pillow, while Cider watches out the windshield every mile of the way. He always gets happy when we are near the poop stop and again when we hit the 36 mile long dirt road to the ranch. He always knows where he is. It's as though he thinks we might leave him somewhere and he needs to know his own way back. THAT's not gonna happen! But dogs are just so low maintenance and easy to please.

We were about 2/3 of the way there when the sun finally started up over the horizon. It was really amazing. Another of those little things we sometimes take for granted, that deserves more attention and leaves us awestruck when we finally take notice. Along the way, I admired the old farmhouses and  fields that quilted the landscape. I love seeing crops and farmland and the old houses are really appealing to me, although they are probably difficult to live in, as most have very small rooms...but so does the house we live in now and we like it well enough. They just have character that new houses lack and I am sorry to see so many in a state of disrepair. It was nice taking the route that kept us away from the freeway, the city, pavement, people, stores and traffic. We’d have to face that later, but not yet.

After almost 4 hours of driving, we called the hayman for directions. We got to the town he was in and couldn’t find the place he mentioned anywhere. He was going to meet us at a burger joint. After wandering for 20 minutes, we pulled over and called again. After painfully topping off our diesel tank, Randy called and the hayman said to go back the way we came and turn at the Shell station. Then go a ways’ down and we’d see Dan’s Burger Den. We took a chance. Turned out the Shell station was actually a Chevron station and Dan's Burgers was actually Todd’s Burger Den. We still managed to find our way there.

Ouch! At these prices I hope there won't be anymore unscheduled trips and we can stick to the 3 month schedule we've been on the past few years.

We followed the hayman to the stack, turning off the road and making a tight u-turn around the ditch bank. If you've ever pulled a goosneck trailer, you know they cut the corners badly. There was a barn just a few feet from the ditch so there was no room to swing wide. We skipped the trailer across the ditch with 2 wheels hanging in the air over the ditch, while I clenched my jaw, closed my eyes and crossed my fingers. Randyman was driving, so of course, we made it.
The hayman was a really nice guy and we had a nice visit while "BamBam", my husband, loaded 4 tons of hay by himself, by hand in the horse trailer. When he was done it was stacked so tight there was hardly room for a credit card in there. 

We called the boss wife’s step mom and she invited us over.

After visiting, getting some new recipes, gifting her with a gallon of EmmaLou's best heavy cream, admiring her Super sized grain mill and coveting a loom she has to make rag rugs, we headed out for lunch. We met up with boss’ wife’s dad, who just must have admired my new knee because he got one just like it. Lunch was wonderful, everything tasted homemade and the people were friendly. We had a great time and they treated us like family. It’s a different culture, that of ranchers and farmers. They exude an easy warmth and good humor rarely experienced in the city and it's just a happy, welcoming feeling. Even though their work is hard and there is often things they cannot control, they lack that nervous tension you find in city life. I imagine heaven will be just like that.

We tore ourselves away, as we had to be back in time to milk EmmaLou. Stopping for dogfood and parts for the new sink, we headed home and arrived at 9 p.m., 17 hours after we started. I was worried Em was in pain and engorged. It was pitch dark and I couldn’t FIND her. Scanning around with the flashlight we found she had gone around through the corral and into the pasture and was waiting at the gate behind where Sushi and Upchuck were. She’s been very lonely since Sushi was weaned. She happily followed me past them and into the milk room. She wasn’t even tight bagged. She also shorted me a whole gallon of milk, giving only 2 gallons instead of the usual 3. I still find it odd and have yet to solve that mystery. I hope she's not trying to dry up as I have 8 months before she freshens, IF she is bred. I haven't yet had her checked.

I let the pups out of the sheep pen so they could patrol, as they had been locked up the night before. They were thrilled to see us again and let their joy be shared. Randy headed to bed, I visited in a chat room with 3  teenager kids I hold dear. Wisdom isn’t confined to the aged and friendship/fellowship doesn’t need to be limited to our contemporaries. After much good conversation, lots of laughter and sharing of some deeply rooted sentiments, we broke up the 'party'.

I awoke that night to a scratching on the door. Thinking it was the Polarbears, I ignored it. They sometimes think they should take their breaks inside, but there are no unions here and in my opinion, that is a good thing. The scratching continued so I looked out to find the porch empty. Again the scratching, and I opened the bedroom door to find Scottie, Randyman’s dog waiting impatiently. He strode his supreme self to the water bucket which he found empty. With a piercing glare, he showed me his disdain and I obediently picked it up and filled it. He drank his fill then kicked the bedroom door open and went back to his favored spot. I closed the door quietly and went back to the chair I’d been sleeping in due to my hip hurting.

Next morning, I woke up and looked outside for the Maremmas. They are usually back by that time and up in their chairs on the porch, napping. Bruno was there, but not Cletus. I opened the door and called for him. I saw his head suddenly sticking out of EmmaLou’s tent, out in the back corral. He’d spent the night bedded down with a milk cow who can’t stand him, but apparently was lonely enough to let him snuggle with her for the night. But he loves her and takes every opportunity to be close to her no matter how many times she rejects him or tries to hurt him.
Reminds me of someone I know and I hope He finds as much enjoyment out of Cletus’ antics as I do. I’m pretty sure He does, as He’s the author of all things, including humor. Faithful to the core, optimistic that all will love him back, Cletus is a superhero.

How can you not love this guy?

For sure, he is a shining star.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


We made an extra trip into town to pick up another freezer. There was no one to milk for me as I have weaned Sushi, for all intents and purposes, so it had to be a quick trip in order for us to get home at night in time to milk EmmaLouMoo. That is an interesting undertaking when 8 hours of the day will be spent just driving to town and back. Still, we managed to get all errands completed, picking up the freezer, livestock feed, a couple of food items we had missed previously, and even made a run to the bank in town to close out an account we haven’t used for several years. It’s pretty inconvenient when its a 4 hour trip one way to the bank.

While loading supplies in the horse trailer, which comes with us every trip, Randyman stepped back, tripped over a spare tire (actually, it was several spare tires. He hoards them) and fell on his keister. I have often accused him of having “Dick Clark Syndrome”. This is a condition in which a person remains ageless for about 90 years, as did the star of the famous American Bandstand of yesteryear. (The problem with this condition is that, eventually, all in one day, the affected person ages rapidly about 50 years, going from zero to old.)
 I was concerned, of course, to see him fall, but when he got back up, looked out the trailer door and asked me what the fender on a pickup truck parked down the way said...and he was trying to sound out the letters....I knew DCS was at work here. There were no letters. It was a 4x4 pick up truck that said “4x4”. 
I am no longer alone, feeling like a solitary, feeble minded, old wind bag. Misery loves company.

We spent more money than I wanted to in fact, our entire monthly paycheck...on the first of the month. The good news is, this is February so we only have to wait another 27 days to get paid again.

Please note the obligatory “we” and “our” as in “our boss”, “our money” etc. (I think it is only fair to mention that it is he who makes the distinction of it being “my” horse, “my sheep”, and so on and so forth, but let me be on record, that I am more than willing to share the workload with him and allow him to help take care of them. Especially on those cold, windy days.) 

We did pick up pretty much all things that we need for now. One more shelter has to be built for SushiMoo as she does NOT like being out in the weather, much like her mother and grandmother. Being 1/2 beefer, I didn’t think she would mind so much, but she is a princess, if ever there was one. Poor “Hurry-Up Chuck” (the mystery steer we are feeding out) has to eat quickly, because Sushi has decided that the nicest, warmest, driest bed should be for her, which is of course, the feeder. If he isn’t done eating, she doesn’t care, she climbs in and flops down for a nap anyway, taking up every square millimeter. I’m a little surprised she doesn’t demand that he give her a pedicure while she is resting. She has that kind of snotty regal attitude.

Miss EmmaLouMoo is nothing, if not sweet and nice. As long as I remember to close the head-catch while she is in the milk room, all goes well. I managed to get the sheeples to follow me into the small area where the dogs eat and vaccinate them while they were in the midst of a feeding frenzy over a rare bucket of grain. They were so busy snarfing up food they hardly noticed when I hit them with the vaccine gun. The timing should be excellent as I see Rosemary and Salty are beginning to make little bags and should be lambing in about a month, while little Annie is becoming quite buxom for such a little goat.

Randy rearranged the two older freezers, so we now have 3 large upright freezers AND the milk fridge crammed in the tiny entry room. Now we will eat more beef. The boss has always supplied beef for the ranch, but it was all in a common location and their family is so large I never felt right using anything but some hamburger and small packages of stew or roasts now and then, in case I left them short on something. We have pretty much lived on chicken and lamb and venison. He had a steer cut and wrapped just for us this year so we bought a third freezer. Our boss is awesome. I love our ranch family.

The freezer is in and I am slowly dragging the meat over and putting it away a basket at a time. I can only handle about 30 lb, so it works out well. I am just using Cider’s old toy basket. Meantime, I got the tallow rendered this morning and the first of 3 batches of lard is on the stove. I rendered some deer tallow a couple of years ago in a very small crockpot and it was no big deal, but I hadn’t done tallow and lard before. The kidney fat from the steer wasn’t a whole lot, surprisingly. I only got about a gallon or so from the suet from one steer and just a couple handfuls of solids. The lard was a lot different. It looked like there was going to be a LOT of rendered lard, but at the end, out of that whole huge stockpot full, only 1 qt was lard and the rest was ‘cracklin’s’. I’ve yet to try the ‘cracklin’s’ but I hear they are pretty tasty. The entire process is pretty easy. We cut the lard up into strips and I run them through the meat grinder attachment on my KitchenAid. Then it all goes into a heavy bottom pot and on the stove to simmer for several hours on the very lowest heat. When it all separates the solids from the liquid I strain the solids out well, package them then pour the remaining liquid lard through cheesecloth into a container or several, and leave it out to cool. By morning it is beautiful, creamy white. If there is a local butcher in your area, the chances are, you can buy some leaf or kidney fat off of them pretty cheap as  a lot of folks these days have no idea they can do this stuff themselves at great savings for a superior product and don't ask for it back when they have their animals processed.


At the same time, I threw meat and soup bones into a pot with extra veggies for beef bone broth, which simmers for a couple of days. I deboned 2 big 7-bone roasts and put them in the crock pot to make meat for beef dip sandwiches, which I will can later. Randyman cut up a chunk of the lard so I  ran that through the grinder and have it rendering on the back burner. I need a bigger stove. It’s almost impossible to put anything else on if there is a large pot and TWO large pots is just not very workable. Another item for the “Covet-budget”. While everything melts down except me, I work on clearing ‘stuff’ off the table and other flat surfaces where things like magazines, tools, bills and gloves all seem to gather. Finding a way to organize here has been my greatest challenge. It’s a small house with no closets, cupboards or shelves and my outside storage is pretty much unaccessible to me, as I can’t open the door to the container, so I’m dependent on Randy to find time to haul stuff out there for me.

While all that was on the stove, I grabbed a gallon and a half of heavy cream I had cultured and dumped it into the churn. The result is several pounds of incredibly delicious butter along with 3 qts of amazing cultured buttermilk which is thick and awesome to make bread or biscuits with, not to mention how good it is for marinating things like chicken in.


I found that my new, inexpensive, large water bath canner fits 5 gallons of milk so it has become my new and favorite cheese pot. I will just add hot water to the sink to bring the temps up and it should work better than my old roaster did. I was never really satisfied with the way that thing worked. My biggest problem at the moment is a decent thermometer.

As I was about to finish up my 4 lb. batch of jack cheese, I received the call from my brother that our father had passed away in the night. Although he was 92 and had not been feeling well, it didn’t seem possible that he could be gone from my life here forever. Reeling from the news, I staggered through the remaining chores and sat down to process it all, knowing Dad would have us continue on with our lives, not wasting any time on grief. It is  just the way he was. Childlike in his joy and appreciation of all things, he was also extremely pragmatic and aware that life is short. To know him, was to know his own 92 years passed much too quickly to suit him, but I am confident he waits for us and I eagerly look forward to seeing him and other lost loved ones in the future.

I will spend the next week staying as busy as possible, trying not to focus on our inconceivable loss, while the Polarbears suffer more clinging from me than is usual. I don’t think they will really mind much. They are probably too tired to notice.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Never Say Goodbye

You were my first love and my hero. You were always bigger than life. When I was small you carried me on your shoulders and I felt safe from the world. Each night I would climb in your lap while my sister had the place of honor at your feet. It wasn’t until I met Jesus, years later, I would understand how significant this was. I just knew I felt loved. You always brought me a glass of water and tucked me in and left the light on until I fell asleep. 

I remember the trips to ‘The Plant’ where you would go up rickety stairs to your office and my brother and I would get free hot chocolate and cookies from the vending machine, then ride the conveyer rollers through the buildings and collect bottle caps. We’d wait at the barber’s and read comic books while you had your hair cut and pick up sandwiches at Galco’s delicatessen for the rest of the family.

You and Grandpa JoJo would sit under the eaves listening to the Dodger game on the radio tipping back the deck chairs and wearing ball caps, while I watched you cheer. You took me to Dodger Double Headers and even when we were down by 6 runs and everyone else had left the stadium, we stayed and you said, “We only need 7 runs this inning. That’s all we need.” That’s the kind of faithfulness you had and you birthed a knowledge in my heart that you were worthy of that same kind of trust and indeed you were. You were always there for me and never gave up.

We went to a store a long way from home and bought snacks, only to realize we didn't pay for the bag of chips in my arms that got overlooked, as we talked and laughed. We drove all the way back to the store and made it right. Almost everywhere we went, people gave you too much change and you always gave it back, because you were a man of character and of honor.

I remember the night you left, when you and Mom divorced. I was sure I would not survive the night, my heart was breaking so painfully, but you kept your promise to always be there when I needed you and you never forgot me, or replaced me. The most important thing was, you didn’t want to go.

You always loved me for who I am and didn’t try to discourage me from the things I really desired. With almost everyone in my life gone, you recognized how badly I needed something to hang onto and something to love, so we went through an endless supply of mice, white rats, raccoons and eventually horses. One Sunday when you came to pick  me up, you let me bring my friend and you sat in the car for hours while we rode rented horses at a stable. After you bought me my own horse, you always bragged about my most recent show results to your friends.

We were partners. We went to Premier movies in Hollywood with a mouse in your pocket, we visited planetariums, museums, tar pits, fancy restaurants, Disneyland, SeaWorld and went school shopping and even took a mouse out to eat at Bob's Big Boy drive in.
You jumped through a million hoops and red tape to get permission to take foster kids, that you did not even know and would never see again, to Disneyland, because you said “Every child should go there at least once in their life and if we don’t take them, they never will”. You taught me compassion for others less fortunate and helped me to understand how very fortunate I myself, really was.

Your heart was for the innocent and you loved kids and animals. You were always delighted over the antics of children, new foals, goats or whatever my pet of the day was and marveled at the intelligence and loyalty of my dogs. You told me to never leave someone with harsh words between us because you may never see them again. Life is fragile and unpredicatable and you didn't want my heart burdened with regret.

As often as I disappointed you, you were always there, cheering me on, encouraging me. Sometimes I failed miserably. I could see the hurt in your eyes, but you told me you would never be ashamed of me. I would always have your approval because of who I am. 

When my first son was born, I used to write you letters as though from him and you made sure I knew you loved that. Everything I ever wrote after that, I have written with your audience in mind. You wanted me to write the book, but I couldn't get it finished. I am glad though, that I was able to send you many of the chapters and if I ever get it finished, it will be for you.

You were my conscience as a child, not because I feared you, but because I knew you loved me and I did not want to disappoint you. I know I disappointed you sometimes anyway, but your arms were still always open.

 You were the only person we knew who would drive a Lincoln Continental on the ranch like it was a truck. I don't know how many times we would pull in the driveway and hear the boys yell out "GRAMPA IS HERE!"
People always meant more than possessions with you, although things were always good for entertainment and you loved seeing people happy.

In all things you always had a sense of humor. You never left a room without making someone laugh or smile first. You taught us how to laugh, how to love, how to be faithful and the importance of good character. You ingrained deeply in me to always do what is 'right', even if it hurts. You always put others first and through the giving of your time and resources to anyone you saw in need, you modeled humility.

Your signature dishes were potato salad, cornmeal mush with polish sausage, and cream cheese garlic dip. I used to marvel at how you used your big chef’s knife to chop up the pickles. I still have it and I still make your potato salad, always thinking about you when I do. The garlic dip, I usually only eat if I want to be alone, because with that on my breath, I surely will be. I have always, always thought of you with a smile when I have any of these.

When I was in a nearly fatal accident, I woke up after days of unconsciousness to find you by my side. You had gone out and gotten a polaroid camera so you could take pictures of my horse, because you knew that she was dear to me and I would want to see her. The pictures and a snoopy dog were on my chest when I woke up. I don't know if I ever told you how much that meant to me. Indeed, my many trips to hospitals when I was young, you were almost sure to be there anytime I opened my eyes.

Gaining my independence at an early age, you allowed me my freedom but remained my safety net, knowing that whenever I got in too deep, I would come running back to you and when my life shattered, the part of me that insured my survival was the part that knew you were there for me.

Even now, a grandmother myself, you still make me feel special, that I am still your little girl. Always smiling, always happy to see me, always wanting to hear my latest accomplishments and exploits as well as those of my children and never leaving Randy out of the equation. You never left out family and for you, everyone you met was family.

I think the reason it was so easy for me to come to know and trust my Heavenly Father, is because of the kind of earthly father you were. You bore so many of His qualities and my sons carry on your legacy of love and fatherhood.

I already miss you terribly Daddy. I am glad you went peacefully to your new and forever home and I am sure the reunion there is joyful, as your life here on earth was. So for the very last time here, I will tell you “I love you”and

I can’t wait to see you again.

"But do not be ignorant, brethren concerning those who have died, lest you mourn like those who have no hope"
1 Thess. 4:13

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Mooooo-velous Monday

I woke up in the middle of the night. There is enough of a moon to cast light outside and snow is falling softly in a silent world. Cletus is cuddled up in the shelter with the sheep while Bruno keeps watch from inside the ‘jump’ barrel. Emma is tucked in her shelter as the snow builds up around it like a fluffy, white blanket. I breathe out and my breath softly drifts away like smoke in the eerie light. It doesn’t feel cold, even on the wooden deck in my bare feet. It feels safe, as if the world is wrapping its arms around me, keeping me from harm. I think about that and decide there IS someone wrapping His arms around me and I am indeed, in good hands. I breathe in the silence and throw my head back. There are no stars in the sky, just the solid, wooly clouds lit up from the reflection of the orb behind them. I raise my hands in gratitude for this life which contains so much beauty to counter the darkness, which will soon be overcome.

Morning finally comes and there is over six inches of new snow. It’s been a cold winter and we don’t have enough hay to feed the animals. I am not sure where we will get more but am praying about that. Yesterday was a pretty good day and I got a lot done. My cheddar cheese is ready to come out of the press and spend a couple days on a draining mat until it develops a little rind on it. Then I can wax it and put it in my little cheese cave, which is nothing more than a small wine refrigerator.

We have 2 lambs in the freezer now. This is the first we have tasted of the little hair sheep, which are strictly a meat animal and it is WONDERFUL! Neither of us can put our finger on it, but the lamb is much more flavorful without being the least bit strong or gamey. It was a good decision to buy these sheep. They should keep us fed for some time to come, barring the purchase of new rams from time to time. At the price of lamb, we could never afford to buy it commercially.

I grabbed a package of loin chops and seasoned them up with rosemary, garlic, kosher salt and olive oil and seared them in a hot pan. These lambs never saw an ounce of grain, they just foraged on whatever they saw in the pastures and there was just the right amount of fat and the meat is very tender. We finally have enough lamb to experiment with some new recipes as well, so I am pretty excited about that.

The boss is bringing home beef for us, so we need to buy a third freezer to fit all the chicken, lamb, beef and other things that enable us to eat well for over 3 months at a time without shopping. Having all the basic ingredients erases any limits I have to fixing any kind of treat for us or for company. It takes up a bit of room, but in the long run it saves us money and we have all fresh, homegrown products, buying only staples and a few other things which slowly get taken off the grocery list as I learn to replace them. I wish the women of a hundred years ago who lived here on the ranch could coach me on just how to do that, as the wagon only went to Winnemucca for supplies once a year, and they fed a ranch full of cowhands and hay crews.

EmmaLou has been a good girl since our milk-room debacle. She gives me a steady 3 gallons a day and about a half gallon or more of that is heavy cream. 

I renewed my mother cultures (although I think I need to buy some new buttermilk culture as this one is very weak). This is something that is easily done so that your cultures are sustainable. I use a lot of cultured buttermilk so to begin with, I buy a little live culture buttermilk from the store, because it is the easiest way to get started. Right now I only keep buttermilk, clabber and yogurt cultures on hand, but I will likely start making mother cultures with different cheese cultures soon, with so much milk on hand and no calves to feed yet. Just sterilize some jars with lids. Pour plain milk in them and put them in a pot with water up to the level of your milk. Be sure to leave room for the addition of the culture afterwards. (ALWAYS put something underneath your jars in the pot so they don't break from direct heat. I just use one of the canners.) 

Simmer them for about 30 minutes or so. This pasteurizes and sterilizes the milk completely so there is no competing bacteria of any kind when you introduce your culture. Once the jars cool down where I can handle them, I put about 1-2 TBL of culture per cup of milk in, mix it with a clean utensil, put your lid on and let it sit out overnight. I write on the jars with a marking pen so I know what is what, then put them in the extra fridge until they are needed. Each month they are renewed, to keep them going indefinitely. So if you use buttermilk for baking and don't want to buy it or use the lemon juice trick which is ok in a pinch, but not like the real thing, you can make a culture and culture your own out of whole milk, should you so desire.

I have been clabbering milk for the dogs and chickens as we have lots more than I can possibly use. They love the clabber and its a high protein food for them.
Clabber can be used as a mesophilic culture to make cheese, sour cream, cream cheese and other products. Mine is made naturally by setting out fresh milk for a couple days until it naturally clabbers. It can take anywhere from 1-6 days. That is the interesting thing about raw milk. If you set pasteurized milk out like that it would rot, stink and run you out of the house. Raw milk becomes other products because it has beneficial bacteria that is working in it. Clabber is a lot like yogurt, but much milder and the further the generation from the original, the better and milder it gets. I love the stuff. It's one of the best probiotics.

I also separated off a gallon and a half of heavy cream to culture for making butter. My churn has a 3 gallon jar, so a gallon and a half is just about right for me to do in a batch.

I made cheddar cheese, which is a very time consuming project. Most of the time is spent just waiting, so I separated the meat and bones from the chicken stock I was making while it sat and did it’s thing.
Cheesemaking would be a lot more fun with someone to talk to. Most of it is waiting. Pour your 3 gallons of milk in a roaster with a thermometer.

Inoculate your cheese with the culture and wait 40 min. Warm it up and add some rennet and wait another 40 minutes and so on and so forth for the day until its time to press, then you have to press and turn, press and turn, yadayadayada, then leave it overnight. There are very small variations in the process to change a cheese from cheddar to jack to other hard cheeses, which I find pretty interesting. My greatest success has been with jack and pepper jack cheeses. My cheddars so far have been a little chalky, although the flavor was good. I'm still working on perfecting hard cheese making. Mozzarella and ricotta are more my style as I am not a patient person and those can be made in an afternoon and used right away. If only, if only, there was some nice person who wanted to come live with us and help me! I think of how productive I could be and how much more fun...but then I am used to doing things alone all my life, so I shouldn't complain. Doing things alone is better than not doing them at all.

Randy has decided that Cinnamon Rolls are a staple now so I will be making cream cheese this week as well.

 I felt he had his cinnamon roll quota this month, as I made them 5 times, I decided I could risk a failure if I had to, from a little change in the recipe. With my new grain mill, I decided to use 100% whole grain hard white wheat in the rolls. Often that makes bread rather heavy and also interferes with rising due to a lower gluten content, but I think the sourdough must add something, because these babies rose beautifully and were soft and fluffy. Randyman gave them a two thumbs up and they are much better tasting and softer than the ones I made with bread flour from the store. That made ME happy. I tried freezing some cinnamon rolls after the first rise and shaping but they didn't rise again for me, so this time I baked them and put unfrosted rolls in the freezer. We'll see how they thaw out and whether or not its worth doing. Otherwise we will  just be forced to eat them all!

This morning I canned 8 jars of chicken stock from the carcasses left over from our meaty chickens. Since I only use a couple of cups at a time I quit putting it in quart jars and started processing it in pints. It made it a LOT easier. I used the new waterbath canner to sterilize the jars and lids since my pressure canner was full of stock. Once I got it emptied into the jars, I quickly washed it and put the jars in to process. Stock is one of those things that has to be pressure canned, but it only has to jiggle for 20 minutes so it isn’t really that big of a deal. I used the re-usable tattler lids and it looks like every one of them sealed. It is true you have to BARELY tighten the rings, just until you feel it catch the thread. I have already saved money on these, using them as much as I do.

A batch of apples got old and soft so into the vinegar pot with them. I need more apple cider vinegar anyway and it’s another non labor intensive process. Lastly, if I have the energy, I will make another Butterbrickle Carmel Pecan Cheesecake. This is another recipe I got off of AR and it's AMAZING! It's even better with homemade ingredients. I have plenty of creamcheese and I have a huge bowl of carmel that didn’t set up the way I wanted, but would be perfect in this dish, so I will have it on hand when Randy’s sis comes up in a couple of weeks. That will make THEM happy, and that is what family is all about.

Icy roads made delivery of one of my medications late which caused me a lot of problems. It happens and I am glad no one was hurt on the road driving, but it made for a very painful January. Today they called and told me this one was going to be late as well because it did not get into our local town in time. I was so happy to see our UPS guy, who is the worlds BEST UPS guy, show up in front of the house late yesterday. It was a 2 hour drive on icy snowy roads, but he came and I got my shot. I gave him hot cinnamon rolls to show my appreciation. I love people like that. It just makes me happy inside and gives me hope when there are people who are just nice because they are nice!

Randyman is supposed to bring home a board and a c-clamp so I can grind up the kidney fat from the steers and lard the butcher donated to me so I can render it all down to make more soap. He likes our soap so he promised he would try to keep me in lard and tallow. It's so good to have things to do. Boredom is a word never used in ranchlife.