Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stori ~ just checking in....

So once again, the frantic Alaskan summer has over ran my blogging. I figure I would do a little multi-tasking and jot down some updates while I eat a quick (read pathetic and easy) supper.

My mare Heidi is coming along quite nicely this summer. Although not completely dog broke, she still gives the occasional buck, she is catching on to her lessons beautifully. At the beginning of the year, I had grandiose plans of shooting off of her in competition by now, reality took over and I'm able to be happy with what we have so far. This past weekend, my son Colt rode her in his first gymkhana. He rode in the lead line class of course, but that was also perfect for her. She's at her best when she has me on the ground leading her way. She did have a little episode of excitement in the second game of clover leaf barrels. She gave a small buck which did end up causing Colt to fall off. It was her first competition and his first buck off. Although it scared him a little bit, he was a little cowboy and climbed right back on (after a juice box of course). This picture caught her buck in action.
A couple weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit an old -and still running- gold mine up in Livengood Alaska. We have a friend who used to mine up there with her then husband who has since passed away. There was
very old buildings that were falling down that she allowed us to dig around in. One of the buildings was an old blacksmith shop that had collapsed and filled with treasures for Marc. It was a really neat trip up there. My dad also came along with Marc and I as well as the kids. Such stories surround places like that.

Twice a week we have been going to mounted shooting practice. It's a great experience for Heidi and my oldest daughter Paige has started riding and competing again. Since she is just 11, she rides in the wrangler division which does not allow her to use guns. She runs the course on her horse for time and pattern accuracy only. A friend of ours has offered Paige the use of their retired shooting horse, Baron. Baron and Paige are a great match. He's 25 years old and such an old hand at most all things. Apart from being afraid of cows (only in Alaska would a horse have the chance of being afraid of the scary unknown cow!) he is an amazing babysitter. He's been helping Paige gain time in the saddle and her confidence back. I have rode a friend's horse, Ace, in the competitions that last couple times and am having a blast at it! The only horse I had the chance to ever shoot off of was my appy Jake, and he fought me the whole way. It sure is a lot funner to shoot off a horse that isn't trying to kill you along the way. I have been riding Heidi at the practices.

We have had an absolute beautiful summer so far. Very dry and extremely hot! Last summer we were plagued by heavy rains all summer and a couple years prior, heavy smoke from large wild fires. Although Alaska has several big fires going on now, we have only had a couple days of smoke bad enough to keep us inside. With temperatures in the mid to upper 80's, the heat has been pretty extreme for us. I don't know if I could handle the real heat in the lower 48 anymore.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Debi: Local Produce

Last summer, our family (well, ok, since I do all the grocery shopping, it was mostly me) decided to limit our produce purchases to local produce during the natural growing season in the midwest. I start this adventure for us in June, when we start receiving weekly boxes of produce from our CSA, Angelic Organics, and I end it after we've used up most of the produce from the last box, usually sometime in November. It's a short chunk of the year, relatively speaking, and we don't have the setup Stori does to preserve food during the winter, but I feel good about doing at least what we do.

Our commitment is very simple: if we can get local produce, we don't buy produce from, say, California. That means summer is a time without bananas and mangoes, and that asparagus, which grows in the spring, doesn't grace our grill in August. Our sources are abundant: the CSA box arrives on Wednesday, with vegetables only, usually enough to last the week and some items into the next; there is a small farmers' market on Wednesday evenings, two blocks from our house, where we buy fruit; and there is a HUGE farmers' market on Saturday mornings in downtown Evanston, another place to buy fruit and things like honey, preserves, fresh bread, flowers, etc. Most of the time, we don't need to buy any produce in between.

Until, of course, the berry monsters invade the house and eat up all the berries in one day.

My daughters are fruit FREAKS. They can eat more fruit than anything else, will absolutely gorge themselves on it. I've seen them polish off half a canteloup in one sitting. Berries are no exception, but I was sure that four pints would get us through the week. No such luck. On Wednesday, we bought a pint of blueberries and a pint of cherries. The blueberries were gone by mid-morning on Thursday. On Saturday, we bought a pint of blueberries and a pint of raspberries. The raspberries were gone by nightfall and the blueberries were gone by mid-day on Sunday. We currently have six cherries in a sad bowl in the fridge. Today's harvest from our one raspberry bush and four little strawberry plants can be seen in the picture to the right.

No farmers' markets until Wednesday.

In dismay, I ran into the local Dominicks grocery store (a Safeway chain here in the Chicago area), hoping they might have berries from Michigan (which is where our local farmers' markets get their berries anyway -- it's only a couple of hours away). I was thrilled to see a huge sign that said "LOCALLY GROWN!" In fact, that sign was on half a dozen large displays of produce. However, when I grabbed for the beautiful carton of strawberries, I recognized the Driscoll's Farm label. Driscoll's is a California company.

I urgently reached for another product under the "LOCALLY GROWN!!!" signage. Blueberries -- also grown in California. Same with watermelon, raspberries, blackberries, and cherries. I found a store employee and asked him about it, and he pointed to a sign with a map of the country, explaining to me that the "LOCALLY GEOWN!!!" signs were only meant to alert customers to the fact that the produce department did sell some items that were locally grown. It was not meant to indicate that the items underneath the sign were locally grown. This week, according to the map, the locally grown products were the blueberries and the scallions.

Except, of course, I noticed that the blueberries were from California. I pointed this out to the employee, and he offered to get his manager. I agreed. The manager came out and explained to me that the corporate headquarters of Safeway requires him to put the "LOCALLY GROWN!!!" signs up, and that the real test of whether something is actually locally grown is to look for the white and green signs above the produce that say, in small letters, "local." He pointed this out on the sign above the scallions. I looked, and it did indeed say "local," except right below it, it also said, "a product of Mexico."

I said, "Define local, please."

The manager stammered, apologized, said it was mislabeled, and that he agreed that the signs were perhaps misleading. He suggested I fill out a comment card that could be sent to corporate HQ in California.

I thought I'd do him one better. Does anyone else out there shop at Safeway stores that label their produce this way? Does anyone else find this demeaning, misleading, annoying, and just plain wrong? I understand that, in economies of scale, produce currently has to be shipped around the country. I just don't want to shop that way when I have an alternative, and being misled by the store about this makes me wonder if I am being misled about other things. Is the "ORGANIC" produce really organic? Is the "LOWFAT" muffin really lowfat? Is the "LETTUCE" really lettuce?

Please visit your local Safeway store and check your produce (unless you live in California, in which case everything is probably local -- though if you see Michigan blueberries, don't tell me; I might scream). If it says "LOCAL" but it isn't -- talk to the manager. Ask about it. Let it become an issue. Let other people overhear you. Hey, Safeway, don't sell local produce; that's your right -- but don't lie about it to your customers. That's your wrong.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stori ~ baby ducks and tear jerking reunions

I cried over a duck family on Sunday. If you ask my husband if I'm generally a bawl baby, he would tell you I (usually but there are exceptions) only cry over two things. 1. If I'm really really mad. 2. stupid sappy movies. I found an exception this weekend.
On Saturday evening my sister in law brought us over a baby wild duck in a bucket. The duckling was maybe a couple days old and we're pretty sure her cat snatched it either off the slough bank, or on while the duck family was grazing on grass. Heather wasn't sure what to do with the duck and she knew we had several duck families in our neck of the slough as well as a chick box. We have 6 baby turkeys and 1 baby chick in a heated chick box in the barn. With a chick feeder and waterer and a warm light bulb, it's baby bird heaven. Hoping, but with no luck, that the momma duck was in the slough, we decided to just put the duckling in the chick box. We could keep it there till we found an adopted duck family or just raise it to adult hood and figure out what after then.

That weekend just happened to be the same day as our big hog roast/bbq we were holding on Sunday. Since we were roasting a whole hog in a rotisserie roaster Marc made, we were both up and busy at 3 a.m. since it takes a long time to cook an entire pig. Well there I was getting ready checking on the progress of the pork, when I look over and see not one, but two duck mommas and babies! One group was a mallard momma, but the other lady was a Wigeon. Wigeons are tiny little birds that sound like barking dogs when they quack. Wigeon momma's babies looked just like our little sleep over guest in the barn. Not really sure what to do, I asked my Dad his opinion on the matter. I was afraid it would be the wrong mother and after I tossed the baby in the water, she would reject him and the baby would ultimately die. Dad told me he thought it would be fine and go ahead.
Off I go running across the yard with a newborn wild duck tucked firmly in my underarm to keep him warm, hoping to catch up with the mother but not to scare her off. I go about 80 feet up stream from her and quietly plop the baby into the water hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. That momma had seen me and had her little brood heading away from me at top baby duck speed. As soon as baby hit the water, he started peeping his little head off. At the first peep, momma duck hit her webbed brakes and spun around. I could almost see the little disbelief on her beaked face. That baby started peeping and swimming towards her and ol momma duck started hauling water towards that baby as fast as she could, gwaaking the whole time. It was a scene from a classic movie. I could almost hear them saying words as they swam to each other. Each baby peep was "Momma!" and each momma gwaak was "Baby!" It was the right mother after all. Once they reached eachother they rushed up and touched beaks, still peeping and gwaaking to one another. The mother frantically checking her baby and all his little body inventory. Baby excitingly telling his tale of an over night sleep over with some strange little yellow turkeys in a warm cave. About this time, all the little brothers and sisters caught up with their mother in this reunion. All in a little group, they surround Lost Baby and all start their own peeping questions. Softly touching beaks and bumping fuzzy chests together in greeting. After a little while, momma gwaaked a calm order and all babies lined up in a row. Momma in the lead and babies following along, off the newly reunited happy family go down the slough. Back on schedule for the day with the eating of bugs and the learning of little duck lessons. It was perfect.

After everything calmed down, I was able to run to the house and get my camera to snap some pics of the happy Wigeon family getting on with their lives after such a horrific event.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Debi: Big City Blessings

Along with the many other things I appreciate about living near a big city like Chicago (the city border is five blocks from my house), I have come to be deeply, deeply grateful for the availability of unparalleled medical care. If you have insurance (and of course, this is a whole other political discussion that makes my blood boil, but we're not writing a political blog here...), you can get excellent care in any number of hospitals. If you are a child, Children's Memorial Hospital, here in Chicago, is one of the best in the country.

We discovered just how specialized the care at that hospital is when our younger daughter was diagnosed at a year old with a serious congenital heart defect. It turned out, after we got the diagnosis and began furiously searching for information, that the two doctors who have done the most research on the condition -- and who perform most of the corrective surgeries for it nationwide -- are here, at Children's Memorial. They did the surgery for our Sammi, and while I have nothing to compare it to, I found the care at the hospital to be just wonderful.

Now, our older daughter, Ronni, has been diagnosed with another congenital defect, this time of the bladder and ureters. She'll require surgery to correct it, and so we had no hesitation in choosing the pediatric urology faculty at the same hospital to guide us through the process. Earlier this week, she had to undergo a scan that we knew would take a long time, involve a lot of waiting and remaining very still, and might, in other circumstances, be quite frightening. The people at Children's Memorial, however, know exactly how to handle this -- and I had some good ideas, too.

That picture above is of Ronni undergoing a DMSA scan. Sitting next to her, holding her hand, is her best friend. That best friend, along with her mom who is one of my best friends, came with us and was allowed to stay in the room during the procedure. The radiology techs have rigged a DVD player to their machinery so that children undergoing their scans can watch a movie while they lie still and wait. Since the scan takes 90 minutes or more, this is a lifesaver. Ronni's best friend was set up in some chairs with some pillows and allowed to lie there with Ronni, watching the movie, holding her hand, keeping her company, the entire time.

The kind of population density around here can be daunting to those who are used to living in the suburbs or, like Stori, in the country...but it is a great comfort to me to know that there is unlimited personal opportunity surrounding me at all times. Meeting friends as dear and as kind as the ones who came with us to the hospital this week, having a hospital this excellent nearby, having the infrastructure to support our easy movement through our days here -- all these things make me feel safe, loved, supported, and cared for in an environment that probably looks like none of those things from the outside. Isn't it glorious how we look at the lives we've built for ourselves? I feel lucky, every day, to live here.

(And, by the way, the test went well. There is no damage to her kidneys, and so, while she'll still need bladder surgery, it is likely to be the last step in our journey. Thank goodness!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stori - a day in the life of

My two oldest kids are not sleeping at home tonight. Well, to be honest, they are not sleeping inside the home tonight. They have (with the help of their dad) pitched a tent and are camping out in the yard. I have a couple mixed feelings about this whole scenario. For the most part, I'm very happy they are doing this. What fun! A little bit of independence and a whole lot of freedom. Although I can see the tent from my living room window, to them, it must feel out in the wild. Paige just turned 11 last week and Colt is not quite 4 years old. They have their footy pajamas and a couple of sleeping bags, as far as they are concerned they are good to go. I had the tent set up in the play yard, which is fenced. Although it is only sheep fencing, I think it is enough to discourage any wandering moose from tripping in the guide lines of the tent. My major concern comes from some of our more un friendly Alaskan neighbors. We have had a pretty big issue of wolves in our area this spring. Although we have seen several sets of prints that came right through our yard/driveway, we think there is too much activity to allow them to come too close to the house. Wolves do not appreciate this much humanity for the most, but have been known to get a little too close for comfort in the past. Last winter a pack realized that pet dogs on chains make very handy ready to eat meals right inside the North Pole city limits. Several people lost their pets to this pack. Why go hunting when there is prey right there unable to escape? Would our little fence around a play yard stop a pack of wolves? No, not if they really wanted in, but it may be just enough to make them nervous about the situation and decide to move on. The second nasty neighbor is bear. We have no shortage of black bear or grizzly in our area. We have never seen one in our yard, but that doesn't count for much. I'm sure they would be more interested in the pen of trapped young pigs we have, or even last year's calf before tearing down a wimpy fence to go poking around in a tent. But that doesn't guarantee that they wouldn't. Needless to say, we will be sleeping with our bedroom window open tonight. I'm sure my two giggled out, mosquito bitten, grown up feeling kids will be getting a lot more sleep than I will tonight.

As I am sitting here typing this, my husband is watching " Ice Road Truckers" on Discovery and commentating the entire time about the haul road they are filming on. This season is all about the road between Fairbanks and the north slope. My husband has traveled this road hundreds of times while running his old trap line. As the show portrays a certain section of road, Marc interjects with " That's right where I got that black bear hanging up stairs" or "That hill is pretty nasty." or my favorite, "Why do they keep saying ice road? There's no damn ice on that road, it's all gravel and pavement." Starting to feel the Discovery Channel is becoming a bit Alaskan Voyeuristic with all the Alaska shows here lately. Geez, until they told us how tough we were for "surviving" here, we just thought we were living our day to day life. Either we are really tough ( read stupid) or the rest of the world is a bunch of weenies. Who will ever really know the truth?

We had to go into town (Fairbanks) today for some supplies. I needed to look for a particular piece of tack for my horse Rusty, we had to go to the commissary for groceries, and of course our regular stop of Home Depot. On the way to town, we seen a cow moose on the side of the road here on the farm road, and on the highway all traffic was stopped to let a moose momma and her brand spanking new baby cross the road heading towards water. I have yet to see a new calf quite that young yet in the time I have lived here. It was so tiny, all legs and joints. Maybe born yesterday, maybe even today. Bouncing along after it's momma, a little bitty red piece of miracle. If only they stayed that cute and harmless! All in all, we seen a total of 6 moose today on our trip to and from town. We haven't seen a single one in the last 2 weeks due to calving season. The cows had all tucked them selves away in their own little chosen nurseries to have their babies. It's funny how nature sets even moose on a timeline. Within a very small 1 to 2 week period, all the baby moose will be born in the entire state. With so many babies, there is no way that the bear and wolves can possibly kill them all. Pretty neat how that all works itself out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Debi: Herbal Malady

I have a little bit of a mint problem.

This house, like many houses in my part of town, has a small, fenced in back yard that includes a garden. The former owners were impeccable gardeners and clearly did a lot of planning so that perennials continued to flower throughout the growing season. They also must have really, REALLY liked mint, and all things mint-like, and all of mint's cousins and uncles and step-brothers. All the pictures above are mint-family-members growing in my garden. There are two more varieties not pictured above, including my favorite, a spearmint which actually grows in the alley outside my yard and, because of a crack under the fence, along the perimeter of my backyard patio.

Two of the mint family members above are actually oregano, which -- who knew? -- is actually a type of mint. One of the oregano brothers here is delicious and makes for great pizza sauce and soup, and the other is bitter and probably should be dug up and treated like a weed. One of the mint varieties above is also a little bitter, but, paired with that purple feathery-looking mint dame in the last picture, makes a wonderful tea. That purple gal is called Anise Hyssop (also a mint! will they never stop?!), a licorice mint that makes that whole area of the garden smell like a candy store.

When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, my mother had an absolutely spectacular garden that she loved dearly, protected from area deer by a tall chicken-wire fence. I remember the wonder of eating sugar snap peas right off the vine, warm from the sun. I remember wrinkling my nose in disgust at the spinach she insisted was wonderful, too. That said, I hated the work of that garden and, when I bought my first home, never planned to do more than plant a pot of tomatoes, maybe. Now that I'm here, and there is mint as far as the eye can see, I can't bear to throw it out. I take care of it, harvest it, dry it, share it with friends, leave bouquets of it on front porches, beg friends to dig up plants for their own gardens. I am my mints' pimp!

Oh, yeah, and did I mention? I've added more to the herbal insanity:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stori - beginnings and happy endings

Today, June 9th, was my daughter Paige's due date to be born. Although she did not actually get here till the 12th of June, I was in moderate labor starting from the 9th. I would suspect that most mothers are like me in the respect of traveling down memory lane with their children's' birth date. Before I had kids, I always thought birthdays were for the person having them. Boy was I wrong! Now I realize my kids' birthdays are special days where I get to relive every minute of that special miracle. A mother can look at the clock on the day (or night before) of a baby's birthday and think to herself, "It was now that I felt the first pain" or "Right now I knew today was the day" "Here's when my water broke" "This is when they laid my own true love on my chest to meet for the first time". All these small moments may seem irrelevant to others, but are so incredibly dear to me. With Colt and Sunni Sue, I get about a 24 hour period of this. Paigee gives me over 4 days of day dreaming. I had one day of happy thoughts with Colt, till he actually got here and threw me into 9 days of hell reliving our nightmare. But Paigee's arrival was for the most part a warm and fuzzy one. The 9th is when I called my parents and told them to get down to Texas NOW!! The 9th was the day the Doc sent me home to pack my things because it was only going to be hours before I was back to deliver her. Although all 3 of my babies were c-section deliveries, I do not feel like I missed out on the whole "real" labor part. I would have cherished having them natural, but nature had other plans for me. So today marks the start of my tender moments with Paigee week. She gets annoyed with me, but has no other choice then to just deal with my emotional over load.
I had a friend mention to me the other day that most of my animal stories on the blog are sad. She was happy to see it all turned out well with Moose coming home. I had to think about this for a minute. I guess the tragedies are just more memorable to me than the sunshiny moments. I know lots of folks that just have hit after hit of bad luck with animals. Since we very rarely experience hard knocks with our furry friends, it may just impact me more than others. So I thought I just might mention a couple success stories on this here old fat farm for my friend. Not all is dark and sad in my world, very little is in fact. So here we go......
This is the second time we have owned this particular horse. The first time was about three years ago. A man held a farm and livestock auction here locally. It has only happened twice and we were pretty deeply involved both times. We bought Rusty from a guy who owns a big trucking company here in town. He had traveled to Missouri and cleaned out the stock on a Quarter Horse ranch that the owner had passed away. Since the man's death, the ranch nor the animals were taken care of. My dad has a very good eye with animals with potential that other people don't always see. We bought Rusty that day with the horse being almost 300 lbs underweight, his feet were overgrown and deformed, and he was completely covered in mange (body lice). I got him home, fed him, bathed him, wormed and deloused him ( this taking several treatments and a lot of elbow grease and used motor oil!) Within a couple months, he was absolutely beautiful. A perfect example of what an athlete should look like. Although his medical issues were fixed, he still had a lot of personality...um....problems. He bit. He kicked. He would not allow you to touch his head. We had Rusty for a full year and that following May, due to my dad's knee problems, we sold him at the next year's auction. He was broke, he was well mannered, he was physically perfect. We sold him for over 3 times what we bought him for. Rusty and I hated each other.
2 years pass. Circumstances lend me looking for another horse to buy. We ran into the guy that bought him from us (who incidentally, we man we bought him from originally) and asked after Rusty. They man told us he had too many horses that weren't getting rode and he would sell him back to us at way below the cost we sold him for. Why not right? Rusty gets delivered back to us, 200 pounds again underweight. Completely dehydrated, feet are once again trashed. He does nothing but eat and drink for the first 2 weeks. If I would try to approach him while he was eating, he would strike out at me with teeth or hooves, a common behavior with horses that don't get enough food. With time and patience and food, and more time and still more patience, and almost 2 months later, Rusty has come into his own. He has come to trust me as a leader and enjoy me as a friend. When I could not catch him at first, he now seeks my attention and affection. He's kind and funny. My family jokes around about him being my big red dog. He follows me around the barn yard like a faithful pet. We do not tie him up when picketing the horses in the pasture, he would not dare leave Heidi who he is so fully bonded to, he can't stand being separated from her. He knickers me at when he sees me approach. He rubs his head on me when we are close enough to touch. He now follows verbal commands as well as Heidi and is really coming along with his riding training. He has gained most all his weight back and shines like a copper penny. He is more comfortable in his little shed than I have ever seen a horse attached to a place. He is home now. Even if he does not work out for the best as far as a saddle horse goes, I don't believe I could sell him for the simple fact that he is happy here. I know how to take care of him in a way he desperately needs and the poor guy needs a break. He is safe here. It's the least I can do for a fellow creature.
~Yellow hen~
The last time we travelled down to Dry Creek was to pick up Sister, my filly that died. While we were down there that day, we also got a new rooster for our flock since our old guy had finally lived out his life. While sacking up the rooster, the chicken guy brings out a hen. Asks if we wanted her for a butcher chicken since she was probably not going to live anyway. She had frostbitten her leg badly enough for the tissue to die and for everything from the knee down to fall off. Chickens are ruthless things. If they catch any sign of weakness in another chicken, they will attack and kill it, and sad to say, eat it if allowed. If a hen gets pecked and bleeds even the tiniest bit, the other hens will kill it if it's not removed and all signs of blood taken care of. So we take her not expecting her live out the night in the hen house. We were pleasantly surprised to find her alive the next morning, and the next, and the next! She may have been crippled but our hen house is set up a bit differently from her previous home in the way that she had places to hide from the rest of the hens here. Not only did this little yellow hen survive, but she thrives! She is able to get around just as good on her gimp foot as all the other chickens. She can hop, one legged, up on the roosts at night and is able to get all the way up into the nest boxes to lay her daily egg. These nest boxes are about 3 foot off the ground! She's a nice little hen, very reliable with her laying, and never aggressive. She'll have a home with us for the rest of her days as comfortable as we can make her.
Here at The Fat Farm, we open our arms to all those that aren't deemed acceptable to others. We accept the skinny, the crippled, the short, and the funny looking. Don't judge us, and we won't judge back.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Debi: Other Things I Shouldn't Take for Granted

Well, I'll be! Stori is writing again! Hooray!

It's been a few years now that we've been friends, and I've come to recognize that, come about May, she disappears into the outdoors for the few glorious months of nice weather in her neck of the woods. The first summer of our friendship, I thought she'd just gotten tired of me, but then when the weather turned, I suddenly started getting instant messages from her again. Now, I'm used to the pattern but wasn't sure how it would bode for our blog. I've been meaning to write to her for the last couple of weeks to ask if we ought to just put a "WENT FISHING" sign up for the summer. I guess she's able to squeeze in a post here and there after all! Glad to see you back, sis!

Things around here have been a bit low for me, I'll admit. That freelance work that had started dropping off a couple of months ago still hasn't picked up, and I've had to start really hustling. While we can pay the bills comfortably on my husband's salary, little luxuries definitely disappear if I'm not bringing in any money. I'm so spoiled; I miss my mochas from the coffeeshop! I think it's less about the mocha itself and more about getting out, seeing people and chatting and feeling like I have some purpose each day. I love our house, but staying in it all day drives me, as my now-seven-year-old-daughter would put it, "cuckoo banana head."

I feel like I've been sitting around waiting for something to happen. Last week I decided to redesign my freelance website, order some new business cards, and start "networking." That means going to meetings of local businesspeople and figuring out how this town fits itself together, like a puzzle, with everyone knowing everyone else and connecting pieces that need each other to be complete. The meeting I attended yesterday included an Equal Opportunity Employment consultant, an accountant, a business coach, the marketing manager for a local coffee roaster, and me. The discussion was interesting -- more interesting than I had expected -- and made me more hopeful that I could use my own business to make a difference for other people, someday. It's hard to explain...but if I am patient, and cultivate more relationships, I think there is hope.

It occurred to me, at one point, that we were all trying to figure out a way to share the pool of money in Evanston -- I know someone who needs an accountant, and the accountant has a client whose brother-in-law is starting a business and could use a coach, and the coach has a friend who needs help with a database, etc. I had this thought in the middle of the meeting that this was a little bit ridiculous; if we all just grew our own food and shared our basic life-sustaining knowledge, we would not need to swap money for first-world-skills all the time. And then I giggled, called myself a pinko, and passed out some more business cards.

Friday, June 5, 2009


I had a couple of eye opening moments today that made me really thankful for my life. These weren't huge life changing things, just small instances that made me reflect on what I'm truly thankful for. In no particular order of importance......and only a very short few in a long list.

~I'm thankful my little dog, Moose, was not killed by wolves two weeks ago like we thought. Marc ran into a guy we know downtown today and they were discussing the wolf problem we have been having out in our area. The guy is trying to be a farmer out here. Marc mentioned how we even lost our little wiener dog to the pack. The man stopped and said, "Do you mean the little red dachshund that has been riding around in my son in law's truck for the last two weeks?" !!!! It was great! Moose had a really bad reaction to some fox tail seeds in his eyes, ended up in the wrong place, and the kid thought he was a lost dog. I guess he put up fliers around town, which we don't go to very often, and an ad in the paper, which we don't get. So Moose came home tonight after living 2 weeks as "Oscar", had surgery on his eyes and head, but was glad to come home to his family.

~I'm thankful for my beautiful home that my husband built with his own hands for us. I take for granted sometimes exactly how amazing our cabin really is. I get to live an experience every day that lots of folks only dream of. Alaska has toughened me in a way I could never imagine. Today I had the chance to view another way of life so different from my own. After the visit, I came home to wrap my home around me like an old soft sweater.

~I'm thankful for my friends- old and new. In the last couple years I am truly lucky to have met some wonderful, beautiful, courageous, crazy women. My strong German friend, Sylvia, who I've come to realize is one of the most down to earth women I have ever known. Caroline, one of the most brilliant people I've ever met, but I suspect dumbs herself down for others' sake. Last, but NEVER least, my Debi. She has opened my eyes to another world that I may never see in person, who has forced me to see the world in a slightly skewed way different from my norm. Because of her, I weigh my preconceived prejudices before I dare speak them. Just because I enjoy my world small, does not mean my children will and it is my responsibility to send them out in the world with an un muddied mind.
I have also had the huge pleasure of getting to fall in love all over again with some friends from another life. Flee, her strength helped carry me through the ugliest time of my life and is still there, a sturdy little rock. Cody Dawn. I never imagined I could ever enjoy her as a person this much. We were kids together, young and stupid. Making snap decisions that we never understood could affect others. Now we have grown up, having kids of our own. I'm glad to have these women back in my life, and will try to work very hard to keep them there this time.
And my constants. My mom. More than a mother, she is my closest confidant. I find I accidentally reveal too much information sometimes. She is the strongest woman I will ever know. Jeanie, such a funny, kind, brave woman who has been kicked in the teeth by life more than any person ever deserves, yet does not allow her personal tragedies to define her. I hope one day, she discovers how highly others think of her.

~I'm thankful for my husband. I would be completely lost without him. Such an amazing, kind, gentle man. So many big ideas in one person. I would love to walk the hallways of his mind opening doors just to see all the things he thinks. My love.

~I'm thankful for my babies. They made me old, but keep my young. Such different personalities in 3 little people, yet they all know their own mind. I just hope I can do them justice as a mother.

~I'm thankful I have been deemed worthy of trust and friendship from a broken and beaten horse that just needed a little luck in life to find some peace. On the same note, every day I am blessed to have the chance to know my mare Heidi. Although I am charge of her training, it is she that has taught me.

~I'm thankful for the battles I have fought and won in my life. Each leaving their own scar, but also making me stronger and turning me into the person I am today. I am also thankful for the battles I have fought and lost. Each one a learning experience. And If I wasn't able to learn from them, they allow me to appreciate the life I get to live now.

~ I'm thankful for the new family I acquired when I married Marc. Although I only got to meet them one time, they each have left a impact on my life.

What are you thankful for?

Friday, May 29, 2009

where does it all go?

It's been over a month since I posted last here. All winter long, I have excess time to fill. My house is clean, laundry is caught up, full elaborate meals are cooked. I go to the gym, I create new recipes, I chat on the computer with my long distance friends. It all gets turned upside down once summer shows it's sunshiny face. My family can barely finish breakfast before we are running outside to enjoy the world!

I have immersed myself into bird watching field guides. Marc cleared several trees from the banks of the slough this last winter, opening up the view. All the years I have lived on this property, I had no idea what kind of vast bird activity we really do have on the slough! Come to found out, we have ducks living in my front yard I have never seen before. I can sit for hours on my front porch with my bird books watching the ducks.

I sold my big Appy horse Jake this spring. He went to a wonderful little new horse family with a horse crazy mom, an adventurous dad, and two teenage boys. I knew he was going to the right home when she asked if it was possible to brush him TOO much. From what I hear, he's very fat and happy and living the high life. Since Jake found a new job, I ended up with a new old project horse, Rusty. We owned Rusty a couple years ago and used him as a my dad's trail horse. He was being horribly neglected at the last place, so back he came to the fat farm. 200 pounds underweight, kicked, cut, dehydrated, and ignored, after only 3 weeks he's looking like a new horse. Ol' Rusty and I have a tentative relationship. He doesn't like me, and I prefer my Heidi. We have some issues to work through, but I have high hopes for this little horse.

We lost our little weenie dog, Moose, to wolves last week. Out of the 3 dachshunds, he was far and above my favorite. He was my little chore buddy. He was always out and about, sniffing around or hunting. The other two dogs spend their days sleeping and finding different places to sleep. Moose just wandered a little too far from the yard one night. We have had a bit of a wolf problem in the neighborhood recently and I guess his adventurous ways finally caught up with him. He will be missed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Debi: Puddle Wonderful

It was supposed to snow here today, but it didn't. We're on our second day of rain, and it's ok...because my hyacinths are blooming.

Stori and I discovered a while back that we both love the poetry of e.e. cummings, and so I present my dramatic interpretation of e.e. cummings' serenade to April showers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Stori: like the old saying goes...

The only constant in life is change. This is the truest sentence that has have been spoken.
My little family had ourselves a pretty busy day and it's only 10 am.

The decision has been finalized that my oldest daughter, Paige, is going to be home schooled starting 6th grade. She will finish her 5th grade year in public school since there is only a month left in the year. We are none too pleased with the way society and kids' views on the world has come about. It's time to bring her back to the right path and hopefully get her pointed back in the right direction.

My youngest daughter, 18 month old Sunni Sue, sat on the potty for the first time this morning. Right after I put her in the bath, she decided she needed to start making business faces at me. Although nothing productive came from it, atop the big potty she went. This is the first step in the long walk of toilet training. My last one in diapers is on her way out of them. I have some mixed feelings about this one.

In the hog farrowing house, the black sow is having her babies right this minute. She is up to 9, and as a first year gilt, we doubt she'll do too many more than that. We have just the last white sow to go for babies this year. This litter is also pretty fun colored, quite a few little black pigs with white feet. I wonder how many my kids will try to name "Socks"?

In the pen next door to the farrowing house, 2 sows will be reaching the end of their lives this morning. My Dad and husband are over there setting up the killing pen as I type this. We will slaughter today, and butcher and process tomorrow. One half of a hog will stay ours, one half is going to a friend for a hog roast being held this summer, and a whole hog will be going to some friends of ours for their yearly supply. After the deed is done, we'll be going over to my brother's place to pick up the weaner pigs we have been holding over there till we had a pen free up. Tomorrow will largely be spent in the shop cutting and wrapping meat. Paige's school teacher requested the hearts to be dissected in class so we'll put storing them in rubbing alcohol till Monday. The hide, heads, and guts will be put into buckets to be saved for Marc's friend to use for bear baiting.

I just have to wonder what the rest of the day will bring us.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stori: the world through his eyes

My son Colt is a little over 3 1/2 years old. He's a big, strapping, strong kid, which is completely surprising considering his slow start in life. With a stubborn personality and a quick wit, he is NEVER boring to be around. The other day we were snuggling in my chair watching cartoons and visiting when I started really listening to what he was saying. His little deep thoughts and big ideas crack me up and make me proud everyday. I thought I would share a few of his philosophies.

Toddler Life Science:

Poodles vs. Puddles~ Poodles are big huge dogs that live in the city with their fancy city hair. Puddles are gross and fun and tadpoles live in them.

"What do tadpoles turn into?"

Tadpoles are little fish that live in puddles. They get bigger and turn into grasshoppers. When they are all growed up, they turn into frogs. That's why frogs are such big jumpers, because they learned how when they were grasshoppers.

~(When I was picking up a dead squirrel I had just shot) "Mom, why are squirrels so stupid?"

"Why do you think squirrels are stupid Colt?" "Well cuz when they are dead, they just lay there and let you pick them up!"

~(Overheard when feeding some carrots and apples to the horses by himself like a big boy) "You guys are really good eaters! Your gonna be really strong eating so many foods! You guys are a guy's best friend."

~(After me telling him to be careful feeding the horse and don't let himself get bit) "I won't Mom! I throw the apple on the ground cuz their teeth are bigger than their eyes and my hand is really small"

~(After riding his trike too far for the 1st time) "Mom, I need to take a break. My shoulders are too hungry to keep going."

Toddler Philosophies:

~(After being told no for something) "Mom, I'm gonna be the mom today and boss you around!"

"Are you gonna cook supper tonight too Colt?"

"No, I"m not tall nuff, you can do that and I'll just tell you your wrong."

~"Colt, keep your hands off the window."

"But Mom! My fingers want to look outside too!"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stori: No lambs here!

Spring does not creep into Alaska on padded cat feet. It's arrival is about as delicate as a fat man doing a cannon ball into a public pool. This is a land of extremes. There are few smooth transitions from one season into the next. We can have a week of -20 below temperatures turn into 40 above in a day, and only get warmer from there. The subtle pale pinks and blues of winter change first into the completely welcome browns of beautiful dirt and mud, then explode into green the day the trees leaf out. This short one to two weeks of Spring is called Breakup. Folks place bets on what day the ice will leave the rivers. You can wake up to bare trees in the morning, and that evening go to bed with the trees in full leaf, that day is called Green up. Snow slides off the roof with the sound of thunder. My little feeder fed birds have gone. The squirrels show up in force, breeding season in full swing. The livestock shed their winter coats in sheets. By the looks of my horse pen, a person would think I have a completely naked pony hidden somewhere.

Out of all these small signs pointing to better days, there are 2 that are my absolute favorite. I got one of this morning. Geese. Alaska is the summer nesting grounds of the Canada Goose. These smart birds only show up when snow is for sure on it's way out. They are our absolute guarantee that Winter is done with for a while. They are the first summer tourist to get here. They are quickly followed by Sand hill Cranes, which are amazing, beautiful birds, but not first in line. I caught site of a thieving squirrel running out of my front lawn this morning. While I was outside "disposing" of the little insulation snatcher, I heard them. Flying overhead was a small flock of geese, honking their arrival. It put me in such a good mood, it would be hard to spoil my day afterwards. The second spring time flag is pussy willows. Those soft furry buds of the willow. Willows are more than abundant. They are the favorite food for moose and snowshoe hares love the bark. They make the best hot dog roasting sticks for open fires, and are the 1st tree to show it's leaf buds. I have already seen a patch along the highway heading into Fairbanks, but none yet on my road. I'll have to take the little ones on an expedition this afternoon. See if we can't pick me a pussy willow bouquet for my kitchen table.

Haul out those sexy rubber boots ladies, Breakup is on the way!

Debi: Rebirth in the City

Spring comes slowly everywhere, I think. Depending on how frustrated you've been with the weather -- and probably none this year more so than Stori! -- the baby steps that bring in spring weather can be excruciating. Here in Evanston, we've had several days over sixty degrees that were then followed with snow, or a week of sub-freezing weather. The slow striptease of green here is enough to fill my back foyer with mountains of clothes. A week's weather can require rain gear one day, light jackets another, then winter coats and mittens, and then back to the light jackets for another day. Never do we check the weather report more often than in March and April.

The nice thing about it is that our walk to school is now conducted at least partially with our heads down, searching for those first signs of flowers. That photo on top is of some fiesty tulips pushing their way through the dead grasses and leaves from last fall. I'm a fits-and-starts gardener, and while I was diligent about raking and pruning for some of the fall, eventually I got so far behind that I just decided to call the fruits of my laziness "compost." The tulips clearly didn't suffer. Our back yard is a beautiful garden left to me by the former owners of our house, who lovingly shaped it, only to leave it to someone who fought yardwork her whole childhood, only grudgingly raking or digging when absolutely ordered to do so.

Now the garden belongs to me, and I feel more inspired by it. I've managed to discover some wonderful herbs growing there -- peppermint, spearmint, anise hyssop, oregano, and chives -- and last summer added basil, thyme, dill, and two ill-fated rosemary plants. I've asked my family to dedicate a day on Mother's Day weekend to planting our annuals, which I mostly put in pots that hang around the fences and porch railings. For now, we're enjoying all the buds, including these that we lovingly admired this weekend as I raked what I ignored last fall:
Our neighbors have beautiful things happening too, but they come and go with the cold. These flowers were glorious on our walk to school one day, but closed up and huddled against the cold on our way home:

It's going to get spectacular around here any day now...I can feel it!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Stori: little girl lost

When Marc and I were in the planning stages of building our cabin, we went to go look at a logging and milling operation at a place called Drycreek. It's a small faith based community about 40 miles south of Delta Junction which is about 70 miles south of us. Talk about self sufficient! It's a group of around 84 people that made the choice to live off the grid, they farm and log their land, raise livestock, gardens, hay, and horses. The use all draft horse teams for chores and are a wonderful group of people. While being faith based, they are NOT pushy about religion at all. In fact you wouldn't even know what the community was about unless you directly asked them. So we take our first trip down to meet with them so Marc could work up plans for house logs, I was barely pregnant with my son and Paige was around 6 years old. I got out of the truck that day and stepped into Stori heaven. All the animals and horses that I could handle. Paige and were walking down the alley way toward a stallion pen, and passing little pens full of new horsey mommas and their babies when I heard Paige giggling. I turned around to see this 5 month old foal just licking the grump right off of Paige's face. She was scraggly, and knobby, and had all this crazy unruly hair sticking out, but I was totally and completely head over heels in love. Marc knew at that point that he was about to spend some money he wasn't planning on. That little ugly filly ended up being my Heidi. One of the best friends I have ever had. We brought her home when she was two weeks shy of her 1st birthday, I was 6 months pregnant with Colt and had no business messing with an unruly yearling. But there we were. I have always believed you can't choose who you fall in love with and she proved it. That was 4 years ago. Heidi will be turning 5 on May 12th and it the epitome of the ugly duckling story. People will stop and stare as we walk by. She is quite possibly one of the most beautiful horses I have ever laid eyes on, and I would say that even if I didn't love her so.

About 2 years into Heidi's and my relationship, I knew I wanted another one just like her. I spoke to Tony, the horse guy at Drycreek and told him my idea. He was planning on breeding Heidi's mom, Sadie, again to Heidi's sire, Rocky. Before conception I laid my money on the table. I told him I didn't care what it was, girl or boy, ugly or dumb, that baby was MINE. Horses are pregnant anywhere from 9 to 11 months. I waited and waited, but no word from Tony. Finally one day we were in Delta Junction picking up grain when I couldn't stand the suspense anymore. I had Marc drive us the additional 40 miles to Drycreek so I could see for myself if Sadie had foaled. Down the maternity aisle I go just to run smack dab into the next love of my life. There she was at Sadie's side. A tiny Heidi replica. She looked just like Heidi did, same markings, same knobby knees, just a little lighter in color. She was a total brat. I tried to touch her and she gives me a little squeal and a kick. I love her. She had been born on June 2nd and was only 2 weeks old. That was June of 08'. I had another year to wait before I could bring her home. I thought about her, planned for her, showed anybody that would stand still the little picture of her I had snapped with my cell phone.

March comes this year and I call Tony again, is she ready yet?? He tells me she has been ready and weaned for several weeks. We were in the middle of a cold snap though and it would be unsafe to try to haul her, had to wait some more. Finally the weather breaks, it's in the 20's - 30's during the day. We make our plans to go down on April 4th. We get down there and I pick her out in the yearling pen immediately. I would know her anywhere. 10 months old, gangly, messy hair, crooked blaze across her face. I have referred to her as "Sister" for so long, it ends up being her name. We load her into the trailer and she is a little bit nervous. Has never been in a horse trailer before. We get going but have to stop for a second, she panics, starts wrestling around, slips and falls. We can't get her back up. She's just a baby, she's a little tiny bit sore, but totally scared and confused. Never fights us. Lays her head in my lap at one point for comfort. We decide to haul her laying down. Very unconventional, but our only choice. We get her home and have to drag her out of the trailer, she won't stand up. Have to end up using a come along to hoist her into a standing position. She can stand and walk! It must just hurt to get from the ground to standing. We walk her into the pen we have ready for her, under the canopy shed. She walks around, slips and falls down again. Can't get up on her own. We rig up a sling that will semi-suspend her from the ceiling of the shed. A front sling behind her front legs and a back one in front of her back legs. The sling doesn't hold her up, it's slack, but is there in case she falls. A horse after a certain size cannot lay down for too long or they end up suffocating themselves with their own body weight. Since she is a very big girl for her age, it would be too dangerous to just let her recuperate laying on the ground. We set her feed, water, and grain up in front of her. She's happy. She's eating, which with a horse, if they are eating, they are fine. She's a totally trusting friendly little fart. Never fights us, or struggles againest the ropes. Let's us do what we need to help her. This is about 7 in the evening. We figure she has just pulled a muscle somewhere and the Vet confirms this diagnosis later. Nobody dies of a pulled muscle. We go out at least every 2 hours and check on her. She whinnies at us when she sees us walk towards her, she whinnies again when we leave. She loves people. Hard to work around her because she forces her head into your arms and lays it there for you to cradle. A snugly little regular baby that just happens to be 500 pounds. The calmness in her is the draft part of her heritage. Her momma, Sadie was Quarter Horse/ Thoroughbred cross. Her daddy, Rocky was Clydesdale/Percheron cross which is all draft horse breed. They Clydesdale is the breed of horse that Budweiser beer uses to pull their wagons in the commercials. Drafts are very calm and kind. We check on her the last time at about 3 am, my Mom checks on her again at 5 am and finds her laying on the ground. The hooks holding her slings slipped and she's on the ground. Not fighting, but very cold. The temperature is only -5 below zero. Dad doesn't think she's going to make it, we cover her in layers of blankets and pillow her head on some rugs to try to bring her body temp up. I sit on the ground beside her and she scrunches over to lay her head in my lap. We stay that way for a couple hours, I stroke her face and talk to her, saying my goodbyes. Dad comes in and tells me to go relieve Marc with the kids so Marc could come help him winch her back. We gotta to see if she past the point of saving in case we have to put her out of her misery. Several hours later, Marc comes in to tell me she's fine! They have her back up on her feet in the sling, she's eating, drinking, pooping....all the things a horse needs to do. We can't believe it! I spend the day with her mostly, making sure she is comfortable, keeping her calm. If I'm not there, she starts shaking. I go in that evening and check with the Vet on his ideas. Yes, a pulled muscle he says. Let's get her on some steroidal anti-inflammatory and some pain meds. Get the swelling down and she'll be just fine. He sees no reason at all she won't pull through this in just a couple days with no lasting effects. Marc races into town to the Vet's office on the other side of Fairbanks, about 50 miles away. We get the meds into her. She seems stronger immediately. Finally starts showing some signs of fight in her. She's walks side to side, strains againest the slings, this is a great sign. She's not weak at all! My dad checks her at about 2 am, my Mom checks her again at around 5 am. I go out at 5:30 to give her her pain meds before Marc has to go to work and I have no one to watch the kids. I find her fighting, covered in frost from sweating. She had fallen asleep at some point and her feet went out from under her. She couldn't get herself to a standing position, her little hooves are turned under. She is stressed and scared and hurting. Has a bloody nose from smacking her face into the hay manger trying to stand up. She's shaking like a leaf. I holler for Marc to come help and luckily he was standing on the porch so he hears me. I go to her head and try to start winching her up higher to lift her up so she can get her feet under her. She's knocking me around trying to put her head in my arms. I grab her face and hug it to my chest to comfort her. She stops fighting the ropes, takes a deep breath and dies in my arms. She was gone by the time Marc gets there.

Horses are very delicate when it comes to stress and pain. They can die from non life threatening injuries because they give in to the stress. She had a pulled muscle and it killed her. I'm so sad, I can't stop crying. How did this happen? What could I have done differently? Such a waste of a beautiful life. So many could have beens gone. My hands are blistered and stiff from straining againest ropes holding her up, my muscles ache from the strain of maneuvering a 500 pound filly around, my feet are sore from the hundred trips back and forth to the barn, my heart is broke from losing this amazing creature. I grieve for this little lost girl in a way that I can't even understand.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Debi: Baby Steps

I have a long, long, LONG way to go before I could even approach Stori's family's ability to be self-sustaining, but among the people around me, I'm definitely on the more hippy-dippy end of things. That photo over there is of my little crock-pot, which I didn't even know was little until I saw someone else's giant slow cooker and they told me theirs was standard size. This one holds about a gallon of liquid, which is just perfect for making vegetable broth.

And vegetable broth, if you didn't know this already, is just perfect for making a house smell amazing.

Backing up a few steps here, I've been a vegetarian for twenty years now. I was a teenager when I decided to stop eating meat, and while there are a whole ton of reasons why I think it's a good idea to stop eating meat, I am NOT an evangelical vegetarian. If you want to know all my reasons, please feel free to ask me when we are not at the table with you and your burger, or my husband and his chicken sandwich, or my in-laws and their ribs. We can talk for hours about it. In the end, it's a choice I defend as strongly as I defend someone's right to think I'm nuts while they eat bacon-wrapped bacon. Eat meat or don't eat meat, it's not my business.

That said, because we are a vegetarian family (David eats meat outside the house), we eat a lot of vegetables. Now don't go saying "duh" to me; lots of vegetarians live on bread and cheese. We, however, eat lots of broccoli and green beans and greens and peas and corn and celery and leeks and potatoes and yams and cook with tons of onions and garlic. And we use lots of fresh and dried herbs from our summer garden or from the farm box we get from Angelic Organics for 20 weeks of the year.

Have you ever looked at a kitchen at the end of preparing a vegetable-based meal? It's a mess. Nubs of things here, skins of things there, shavings and ends and shnibbles and pieces all over the place. If I didn't live on an alley with rodent issues, maybe I'd compost all that stuff, but I can't do that and let my kids play in the yard. For years and years, I threw it all away...until the last year. I read a post on one of my favorite bulletin boards about making your own vegetable broth. Apparently, all I needed to do was save all those shnibbles from my chopping, store them in a bag in my freezer, and when I had enough, dump them in the crock-pot with a bunch of water. Simmer them for a good 24 hours, and you have a wonderful, flavorful broth!

I was skeptical. Onion skins? Potato peels? Broccoli stalks? Eyew. But I was spending lots of money and using lots of fossil fuels on buying canned vegetable broth for our soups, and thought it couldn't hurt to try. After one batch, I was hooked. The broth was delicious -- rich and lovely and dark golden in color, and it freezes perfectly to use later. The house smelled like my mom had been there for a week of someone's cold, making the chicken soup I remembered from my childhood. It turns out that what I loved about chicken soup was the vegetables...the earthy smells of celery, onion, potato.

In fact, the house smells so good that, weeks after our first batch when I was making my second batch, I did have a cold, and the smell that crept through the house as I slept peppered my dreams with memories of soups past. Deep in my sinuses, the feelings of WARM and LOVE and HEALING penetrated, and I smiled in my half-sleep. We may not be able to milk our own cow or plant enough food for a year, but right now my basement freezer has about 4 gallons of broth in it...just enough for a few serious viruses. And that shnibbles bag in the freezer is getting full again!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Stori: things I learned yesterday, bread has feelings too

I come from a long line of cooks and bakers. My Dad would never accept it if someone told him they could not cook. His philosophy was if you can read, you can cook. So since Dad was one of the major people that taught me how to cook, but mostly how to bake, I was never afraid of trying out a new recipe. If I could read it, I could do it. That ideal is basically true except for a few foods that reading has nothing to do with.

Yesterday I got to learn the lesson that you cannot teach someone how to bake a beautiful loaf of bread over the phone.

There is so much more to the art of baking than reading a recipe and following a set grid of guidelines. How much flour do you use? Depends. How humid is it in your house? Is it a rainy day? Do you have a wood stove burning? How hot does the water need to be? Oh, about that hot, maybe finger tingle. What the heck is finger tingle? It's when the water is hot enough that when you stick your finger in it, it makes your skin tingle. Is that an exact temperature? Not really, how cold is your finger to start with?

My Dad taught me how to make my first loaf of bread about 11 years ago. He handed me the recipe, did it once and let me watch, then let me loose. He was there if I had questions, but his answer was usually, "just see what it feels like". "Dad, is this enough flour?" his answer would be, " I don't know, what does it feel like?". I don't know how to teach people how to get the feel for baking. So since my first batch, I have made around 6 loaves about every week or so for the last decade. I have had beautiful bread, I have had the ugliest dough hunks you could imagine. I have played with water temperatures and oven temperatures. I have tried storing my bulk yeast in different ways. I have discovered that yes, different types of flours do matter! I have played with the olive vs. vegetable vs. butter argument. I have battled the using water over milk theory. Sugar over honey. My voyage into the world of traditional hand made bread has evolved to the point that I am now inventing my own recipes. Since white bread destroys my Mom's blood sugar, I needed to come up with a bread that she could eat without sending her into the shakes. Debi has mentioned that recipe before, we call it Mimi bread since that is what the grand kids call my Mom.

Over several years, I have developed the FEEL for bread and any baked goods I have tackled. My friend calls me yesterday with a cooking question. It surprises me every time someone calls for my cooking/baking advice. I'm honored that they may value my opinion, but still surprises every time. So she asks me if it would be ok if she used the lactose free milk in a bread recipe. Her youngest daughter is just about the same age as my Sunni Sue and her baby is lactose intolerant. I tell her I have no idea. We have a milk cow, why would I know how to cook with fake milk? I told her that I use water in my bread, not milk. I had mentioned to her in the past that I do all the family's baking every week, but I don't think she quite believed me till she came by last week to buy some eggs just as I was pulling the last 3 loaves from the oven. She still questioned me then. Asked if those started out as the frozen dough balls you can buy at the store, since they were too pretty to be home made. I tried really hard not to be insulted by this. So me telling her water over milk started the next 5 hours of phone call after phone call. I gave her the recipe and a short list of how to's and do's and don't's and thought that was it. I had forgotten how intimidating a loaf of bread could be when you don't have the feel yet. I walked her through each step, trying to describe the texture of the dough when you have enough flour added, to how foamy the yeast needed to be before adding the flour. We measured bread pans, and discussed oven temperature differences when using glass or metal pans. The final call was what level should her oven racks be? I haven't heard from her yet this morning, I'll probably end up calling to see how it turned out. It would not surprise me that if like my first batch, her's was total crap too. Next time I think it would be simple and fun to tell someone how to make my bread, I hope I remember to invite them to my house first, so they can see feel first hand what it's supposed to feel like. So for those of you with the touch and the grit to bake, here is my bread recipe. I'm going to keep it simple, because if you know how to do it, you will know how to do it, and for those who don't, please feel free to drop by the place here. I'll make us a cuppa coffee and we can talk about our feelings.

Country white bread
(also great for rolls, cinnamon/sticky buns, and bread bowls!)
makes 6 loaves

4 cups hot water
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup sugar
4 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 TBLS yeast
10 to 14 cups bread flour (depends on how much is needed!)

In large bowl, combine first 4 ingredients. Whisk in eggs till foamy. Need water temp to be about 110* or finger tingle, add in yeast. Blend very gently and let dissolve and rest for about 5 minutes. Start stirring in flour. When dough is too hard to stir, dump out on to floured service and start kneading. Keep adding small amounts of flour as needed while kneading. When nice bouncy skin has developed, put back into lightly oiled big bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm, and preferably moist, place till doubled. About an hour. Once doubled dump dough back out and divide into loaf sized chunks, about 1 1/2 lbs each. Shape into loaves working out all the air bubbles and place in lightly oiled loaf pans. Let rise again till doubled. Bake in preheated 380* oven, middle-ish rack, for about 24 minutes. Till tops are golden, pretty, and sounds hollow when thumped. Remove from pans and place on racks to cool. While still warm, brush with melted butter or margarine.

That's about as simple as I can make it, but don't give up if it doesn't work right. It takes time to learn how to be a good baker.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Stori: didja eat yet?

It's only 6:30 in the morning and it's already daylight. It was only a few weeks ago that it wasn't light until 11 in the a.m. Once a season decides to change in Alaska, it doesn't mess around. By this time next month, darkness will no longer be an issue, it will be light 22 hours a day, with the other two hours merely being dusky. From one extreme to another with this place.

So one of the goals of my family is to be as self sufficient as possible. There are many reasons for that goal. A big reason is the fun of it. The thrill in the challenge of knowing we are more than capable of taking care of ourselves. How richly satisfying it is know we have provided almost every part of our food supply our selves. To live as closely as possible to the earth, to leave as small a footprint as possible.
If Alaska is some how cut off from the rest of the US for some horrifying reason, will we be able to sustain ourselves? A lot of people here live like the rest of the lower 48 does. Grocery shopping weekly or daily, relying on outside resources to provide services and products. What if we have another 911? Air travel is cut off, what if they decide to also cut off ocean traffic? There goes our two main modes of transportation in which we get the majority of our food. There is now only once existing dairy farm in Alaska, hard to get enough milk for a state over twice the size of Texas from one small family dairy. When folks are scrambling for canned goods and emptying grocery store shelves, we will be calmly continuing our lives as we have always lived. We are able to survive without grocery stores, or electricity. The fact is, we could become cut off from civilization and although we would experience some small discomforts, we could live quite comfortably and safely for quite some time.
Another reason is health and safety. We know there is no chemicals, hormones, or medicines in the food we produce ourselves. We drink our milk raw, which means it is not pasteurized. We know we do not give Molly, our cow, antibiotics or hormones to increase milk production. We know exactly what food we put into her, therefore we know what food we will get out of her. We are able to produce our own milk, butter, cream products, and cheeses. Our chickens are fed whole foods, and in the summer are free ranged which makes for a much better tasting and healthier egg. Our pork and beef is raised in the same way. Our animals are treated with kindness and respect. Their safety and comfort is a huge priority. They are pastured on our fields with only organic fertilizer used for the best crop of grass. The produce we grow is not treated with chemicals or pesticides. We naturally cure our potatoes before putting them in cold storage to lessen sprouting. Mass produced potatoes are normally treated with a chemical that prevents sprouting. My Dad and I built a cold storage room in the crawl space of his cabin several years. By controlling the temperature and humidity, we are able to keep enough potatoes fresh and usable for a full year. By the time we run out of last years' crop, this season's harvest is ready to dig. We keep any carrots and parsnips fresh for several months by packing them in leaves inside and storing them inside of coolers. This keeps the temperature cool and the humidity and light down. We freeze the wild berries we pick and are able to use them year round also. Besides the beef and pork we raise, we also use moose and sometimes caribou as a huge staple in our diet. Harvesting wild game is a good way to keep costs down and health options up. If a choice is made to eat meat, wild game is a wonderful option. Since we also butcher and process all of our own meat, the cost is kept way down. We cut, wrap, and freeze all we harvest. One moose will feed our family of 7 for more than a year.

With temperatures as extreme as they are in Alaska, it seems as if the summer is used to primary prepare for winter. Summer is when we maintain and improve our homes for warmth. Oil the house logs, insulate, and gather firewood. It is when we plan and grow our gardens not only to eat fresh but to can or freeze for winter food. Early spring is also the time our family butchers the years' supply of pork. Our sow pigs farrow out in January. After raising the piglets for 6 to 8 weeks, they are ready to be weaned and sold. The people that buy these weaner pigs raise them to butcher this fall as butcher hogs. My family learned a long time ago, that if we must eat pork, the best meat is not the butcher hog but the sow. After only having one litter and allowing their milk to dry up and pass one heat cycle, we butcher the sow for our supply. The quantity of meat is way more than what would be taken from a butcher hog. A butcher hog is finished out at around 230 pounds, a first litter sow can weigh around 300 to 500 pounds. So now that our piglets are weaned are being sold off, it's time to start preparing for butcher season. This is my most unfavorite part of our lifestyle but it is what it is.

As spring rushes towards us and with all the excitement and fun it brings, it's the reality that it is really just the season to prepare for the hard stuff that reminds me of where I live.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Debi: City Nudnik

The scene: Sammi is playing with a handful of little dolls. One is the "mommy" and one is the "daughter."

Sammi as Mommy doll: Oh, daughter, you have a lovely dress.

Sammi as Daughter doll: Thank you, Mommy. Who is holding you?

Sammi as Mommy doll: That's Sammi.

Sammi as Daughter doll: Who is Sammi, Mommy?

Sammi as Mommy doll: Oh, Sammi? She's my boss.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Debi: How We Move On

It's interesting that Stori wrote about death in her last blog post, because I've been thinking for a week now about how to explain my strange experience with death last week.

My sister-in-law (David's sister) is married to one of the gentlest people I've ever met. His grandfather passed away just over a week ago, and though David and I had only ever met him once or twice, we went to the funeral just to be supportive of his sister and brother-in-law. This grandfather was well into his 90s, and it was a merciful end to what seemed to be a full life. In our years together, David and I have attended several funerals for people of similar age -- his grandfather, his grandmothers, and other extended family -- and so I thought I was prepared for the experience of celebrating a long life, comforting the grieving family, and looking to the future.

I forgot, however, that I've really only ever been to Jewish funerals.

We are Jewish, and the funeral and mourning experience is fairly proscribed for us. In Jewish tradition, the dead are buried quickly after death, since we don't use any preservative materials. While the immediate family is offered the opportunity to view the body, the casket is never open at the funeral. There is usually a short service in a funeral parlor chapel, and then the graveside service includes giving all attendees the opportunity to watch the casket lowered and then throw several shovels full of dirt into the grave. This is considered to be a great good deed -- known as a "mitzvah" -- and forces those who participate a true moment of closure. After this service, there are several other rituals that take place at the home of the immediate mourning family. There is hand washing outside the house, and the covering of mirrors in the house, and seven official days of mourning, where the family is cared for by the community. The focus for the mourners is on remembering the life of the departed loved one, being inspired by his or her gifts, and settling in to be loved and comforted by others while reality sets in.

Well, that's not how it went down for my brother-in-law's grandfather's funeral.

The service at the funeral parlor was largely the same as others I've attended; a family friend who is a practicing pastor talked about the departed, offered a prayer, and instructed those attending on how to get to the cemetary. That's when things became quite foreign for me. At the graveside service, the pastor began talking about what I can only imagine is what I hear referred to as the "end times." He talked about what would happen when Christ comes back, and how he would bring my brother-in-law's grandfather with him, and that only those who had accepted Christ into their hearts would see Grandpa again. Then the pastor asked all those in attendance to close their eyes and repeat the vow he recited (out loud or in their heads), a vow that he accepted Christ as his savior, that he believed in everything the Bible said, that the only truth in the world was written in the Bible, and that his heart was full of belief that Christ would rise again and bring the dearly departed believers with him. At the end of his vow, he told everyone that if they had said that vow, they would see Grandpa again. If they didn't, then this was truly goodbye forever.

David and I raised our eyebrows at each other from our place at the far back of the crowd. My sister-in-law is Jewish too, and loved her husband's grandfather very much. I was hurt on her behalf, but of course, there's nothing to be gained from saying anything about it to anyone involved. It would be horrible timing anyway, not to mention useless. After the service, everyone went their own way; some family went back to his grandmother's house, but we went out to lunch at a restaurant with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, my mother-in-law, and some friends.

It was such an enlightening day for me, to realize this key difference between the way my tradition views the end of life on earth and the way that -- according to a friend of mine who is a pastor -- the majority Christians perceive it. We say goodbye, throwing the dirt on the grave and giving ourselves a week to really think about it. It's over and done with, then, since we don't have any truly conclusive set of religious beliefs about an afterlife. My brother-in-law's family, if they are believers as their pastors hope, are not really saying goodbye. They have hope that they will be reunited, and I imagine that is deeply comforting as well.

What does this have to do with being a City Mouse? I got to see something totally outside my personal experience last week. My sister-in-law married someone from a family completely different from hers and mine, bringing a new set of traditions and outlooks into the lives of the people around her. In a city/suburb/exurb so diverse and vast, this kind of thing happens a lot. For that, I am grateful.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stori: well at least nobody is dead

Then there's Jake. Meet Big Jake, he is a coming 15 year old Appaloosa gelding horse. He is one of the prettiest appys I have seen, he's called a bay blanket appaloosa which means he has a reddish brown (bay) colored body, black mane and tail with a white patch with brown spots on his rump. Jake is the world's best babysitter with small kids. He taught my oldest daughter Paige how to ride. He'll teach my son Colt how to ride in the next couple years. He has perfected the art of looking completely grouchy at all times, except for when he has his tongue hanging out like a big ol dog after he has eaten a horse cookie. Although he likes folks to think he is a grumpy old man, all it takes to prove otherwise is to hold out your hand for him to lick. As a total package, Big Jake is one heck of a good horse, but nobody is perfect. Like most appys, Jake sees bogeymen behind every bush, he's very spooky. Jake is petrified of blue tarps, earplugs, pig noises, and gunfire. The fear of gunfire is what makes him a pretty pathetic mounted shooting horse. He's very patient with me when it comes to my short comings. He's allowed me to use him to learn how to ride side saddle, and he loves to swim in ponds. There's very few family events that have happened in the last 5 years that Jake hasn't been a big part of. He's not a tool to me, or a piece of equipment, not even a mode of transportation. Jake is my friend. He and Heidi accept me more so than any human has. I love that stupid horse.

Big Jake is a total character, and he almost died tonight. Although they are amazingly beautiful, graceful, intelligent animals, horses have the crappiest plumbing of any creature. Their gut is flawed in a way that allows it to twist itself, impact easily, and are prone to colic. Colic, simplified, is a gas bubble in the intestines. Or as my mom would put it, a fart turned sideways. Some horses never colic their whole lives, others colic at the drop of a hat. I have owned and have been around horses all my life and have never had a horse colic, Jake has done it twice. Colic can kill a horse pretty easy, but it's not the gas that gets em, they die from stress and pain.

We were just sitting down to supper tonight at about 6 when I first noticed him hurting. The majority of the windows in our cabin face out at the barnyard, and this was done on purpose. I find myself watching the animals most the day. I know when they nap, or play. When they move from this patch of sunshine to that part of the pen where the wind can't hit. I know how long Heidi sleeps for and in what position. Jake never lays down. He's a stand up and nap kinda guy, very business like. He was laying down at supper time. I watched him get up, paw at the ground, move aways, lay down again and roll. I thought, uh oh. When he started biting at his side I knew he was starting to colic. That's a sure sign of pain. I called the vet, let him know what was going on, agreed to call back in an hour if it hadn't cleared up. Got some winter gear and prepared myself for a long walk. Walking, or leading, a horse is one of the ways to rid colic, or at least distract the horse from the pain long enough for the gas bubble to pass. If he isn't able to get over it within an hour or so, it's a good idea to get some meds in him. So ol Jake and I got to walking. After a solid hour of trudging through snow past my boots, leading a 1,300 pound horse that only wants to lay down, in 10 degree weather, without any progress getting rid of his pain, it was time to call the vet in. Since we live about 45 miles from the vet clinic, it took the Doc about an hour to get out to us, which made another hour of Jake and I dragging through the snow. Within 15 minutes, 3 injections, and $450 later, Jake is back to his old self. He's better, but tired, I'm exhausted and closer to broke, it was just another day living with animals as an extended part of my family. Although stressful and extremely expensive, I wouldn't miss it for the world.