Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Wolf and the Coyote

There was a time in my life where people who knew me would have described me as resolute and decisive, quick to form my opinions and stubbornly strong-minded once I chose a direction. I knew what I wanted, and I was clear and deliberate in my efforts to get to my goals. But then I stepped out of the cocoon of my parent's home and ventured into the world. Life took hold of me almost immediately and shook me like a ragdoll in circumstance after circumstance that I could not control. And I was humbled. I was still highly opinionated and still very principled, but I was not nearly as self-confident as I had been in my youth. So entered the next phase of my life ...self-doubt.

I may have had my self-confidence shaken, but my ego and independent streak were intact so I did not allow myself the luxury of not making any decisions ...I simply made them, then reconsidered them, then reconsidered them again and again, until I was satisfied I had played out every scenario and made the best possible decision in every circumstance. Yeoldfurt calls this particular habit of mine 'thinking it to death' and I do believe it was one of the things about me that took him the longest to get used to when we first got married.

I happen to believe that my habit of thinking and re-thinking everything over and over again has saved me (us) from many mistakes over the years. But I also know that, in many instances, it has crippled my ability to make a decision quickly enough for us to take advantage of some good opportunities over the years. That's where Yeoldfurt has been my rescuer.

When I first met Yeoldfurt, he was instinctively the opposite of me in his basic approach to living. He charged at life like a wolf with his eye on a young buck. Sometimes his forge-ahead, consequences-be-damned attitude worked out for him. Other times it caused him a lot of grief and caused a lot of collateral damage to others. But it was all he knew. I guess I was more of a coyote type ...dogged, determined, clever (I like to think) and resourceful ...but ever wary of pitfalls along the way. Sometimes my cautious over-analytical approach worked out to my benefit. But I'm sure it also cost me a lot of opportunities over the years as well.

But, together, Yeoldfurt and I have reached a balance over the years. He has instilled in me a self-confidence that I haven't known since my youth. And I find that the more confidence I have in myself, the more confidence I feel in us. I like to think I've given Yeoldfurt some things too. These days, he listens more patiently than he used to and he's not as quick to assume that a different opinion is necessarily a criticism. I am so grateful for his strength and his decisiveness and I think he has come to appreciate my loyalty and resourcefulness.


Tweaking Recipes

When I was a child, both of my grandmothers were very good cooks in their own rights ...but their approaches to cooking were very different. My mother's mother was very literal. If the recipe called for 1/4 tsp of a certain ingredient and my grandmother did not happen to have that particular ingredient on hand, she could not make the recipe. My mother was a little more adventurous that her mother, but not much ...she would deviate but only when absolutely necessary and not without great trepidation until she knew for a fact the final product was still good.

My other grandmother, my dad's mom, was just the opposite. She could and would follow a recipe but she also relied on her past experience and sense of adventure when she cooked. If she was missing some key ingredient to the recipe, she considered what alternative she might have available and gave it a whirl. My cooking habits lean toward my adventurous grandmother. Some of my best casseroles and desserts were born from the necessity of stretching the groceries and a willingness to experiment with what was available in the cupboard. Tweaking I call it.

One of my earliest adventures in such tweaking of recipes was when I got called at the last minute one afternoon to hostess a meeting that night for members of a committee I was on at my son's school. I needed a quick and easy dessert and decided to make the Velvet Crumb Cake recipe which used to always be on the back of the Bisquick box. I knew it was a simple coffee cake recipe but very tasty, perfect for a quick easy dessert.

The recipe called for 1-1/2 cups Bisquick, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup milk, 2 Tbsps shortening, 1 tsp vanilla and 1 egg. Very simple. I was in a hurry, so I didn't take the time to look through my cupboards before I started. I grabbed a mixing bowl and just started measuring ingredients into it. The Bisquick and sugar and milk were already in the bowl when I discovered I had no shortening ...none. I had no real butter either, only tub margarine. Now I was not only worried about not having a dessert, but was faced with the very real possibility that I had just wasted all of the other ingredients already in the bowl. So I decided to be adventurous. I started looking through my cupboards to see what I did have that might make a reasonable substitute for shortening. And then I saw it ...a big jar of creamy PEANUT BUTTER. It was the same approximate consistency of shortening and having made plenty of peanut butter cookies in my time, I knew it would blend well and bake well. So I substituted 2 Tbsps of peanut butter for the shortening and continued on with the recipe. After the batter was properly mixed and in the baking pan, I put it in the oven and turned my attention to making the topping.

The original Velvet Crumb Cake recipe called for a coconut and brown sugar topping but I decided to be adventurous with the topping as well and continue on with my peanut butter theme. I combined 1-1/2 cup confectioners sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/2 cup peanut butter and beat with an electric mixer until very smooth. The result was a thin peanut buttery glaze which I then drizzled over the now cooled coffee cake. The meeting went well but the cake was the hit of the party. Each of the four ladies at the meeting that night requested the recipe and were really surprised when I told them it was the old standby Velvet Crumb Cake from the Bisquick box, but with peanut butter substituted for the shortening. Since then, I have never been afraid to experiment in the kitchen.

Sometimes I tweak because I don't have a particular ingredient on hand but most times I do it simply to make the recipe better suited to our particular (or should I say our peculiar) tastes. Yeoldfurt really likes it when I tweak.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Before You Go Horse Shopping

I ran across an unusually written ad on Craigslist last week. As a long time horse owner myself, I found it humorous and enlightening at the same time. Read it below and then I'll point out some things.

For Sale-1000 lb breakfast sausage (10 yr old bay mare) - $300 (southeast Nebraska) I have for sale a nice bay mare. She is 10 years old and is half Arab and half paint. She is easy to catch and gentle to work with. Lifts all feet for cleaning. Very pretty perky ears. Tame and leads and loads easily. No biting or nipping. Teeth in good shape. Recently wormed. Bucks like a rodeo bronc. Nice disposition. Good with other horses. Bucked off my daughter and will be turned into sausage if she is not sold. I will not sell her to someone who is not an experienced horse person. Would consider selling her to someone with a bad mother in law. She does not just give a couple bunny hops, she gets good height and leg extension. If you know a good rodeo contractor, let me know. Would make a nice pasture pet like a lot of other horses are, just not in my pasture. She might make someone a nice brood mare. Very gentle to handle. Just bucks like a banshee. Get some PETA buddies together and save this horse from the sausage grinder!

The author of that ad sounds like he might know a thing or two about horses, but it's clear that his purchase of that particular horse was a mistake from the get go. His frustration, however humorously he expresses it, is very apparent and scenario he describes is a good illustration of how much can go wrong when the right person buys the wrong horse.

Being human, most of us get stuck on that passage in Genesis that says God gave us dominion over all the beasts of the field. Trouble is, most of the beasts have never read Genesis. That's where our innate intelligence comes in. We are (most of us) smarter than the average beast, but we also lean toward being egotistical and self-impressed. We forget that God's other creatures (in this case, the horse) don't automatically know we are smarter and therefore expect us to prove it.

Learning to ride and handle a horse is not like learning to drive a stick shift or a motorcycle. Horses are living, thinking beings with personalities and dispositions as varied as the people who choose to own them. Since the average full-grown horses weighs around 1000 pounds, it's really important that the horse and the horse owner are a good match on all levels ...riding ability, skills and yes, even personality.

If you have never owned a horse before, there are some things you should know going in. Horses need more than food and water to remain physically healthy. We keep all our horses barefoot (no shoes) but their feet still need to be trimmed by a qualified farrier every 6 to 8 weeks. The cost ranges from $20 to $40 per horse for a trim, depending on where you live. If you put shoes on the horse, $60 and up. But shoes only last 6 to 8 weeks too and they will have to be pulled or reset. There's a old saying, very simple but very true, "No feet, no horse." What good is a lame horse anyone? So plan on taking good care of your horse's feet.

Some people have their horse's teeth tended to by a vet or even an equine dentist once or twice a year. There are several schools of thought on taking care of a horse's teeth. I've known people that think it's down right neglect not to have a horse's teeth tended to at least once a year at a cost of around $100. They argue that we have our own teeth tended to, why shouldn't our horse? I am at the other end of the spectrum. I adhere to the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' philosophy. I don't have my dogs and cats teeth cleaned either. If any of my animals have a tooth problem, I get it taken care of. But unless and until there is a problem, I don't see the point.

Just like your cats and dogs, horses need annual vaccinations. Rabies is required in some states and advisable (in my opinion) in every state. It's a $10 shot, but in most places it is required to be administered by a licensed veterinarian so if all you got was Rabies, it would end up about $75 including the barn/office call. We also give our horses VEWT (Venezualan East-West Encephalitis plus Tetanus) and West Nile which cost a total of approximately $35 and can be administered by anyone. So if you order the vaccinations in single-dose syringes, you will have invested approximately $50 including overnight shipping ...which is about half what the vet will charge you. There are other vaccinations out there but you will have to weigh the risks and make your own decisions. As far as I know, all 50 states require an annual Coggins test. Blood is drawn and sent off to a lab to determine if a horse is infected with what the old-timers used to call 'Swamp Fever' ...more properly known as Equine Infectious Anemia. There is no vaccine and no cure for this mosquito-borne disease. Once a horse tests positive, they are allowed to be retested ONE TIME and if there is a second positive, the choices are euthanasia or permanent quarantine. The cost of the Coggins is about $20.

Other than that, a horse's basic needs are simple. Water, food, forage (hay or pasture) and room to move around. A run-in shelter, usually a two-sided or three-sided shelter where the horse(s) can come and go at will is nice. If you have woods in your pasture, you really don't have to have a man-made shelter . A horse just needs a place to get out of the more extreme elements. Our place now consists of an 8-acre pasture that is approximately 1/3 wooded. The woods provide a wind break, relief from a hard driving rain in the winter, and shade in the summer. There is a catch pond (not spring-fed, but collects rain water) that they prefer over the troughs for drinking water and open sandy areas where they can enjoy a good roll. We have a smaller (approximately 1 acre) paddock in the front of the house that we use when we want to school a horse or if we have rookies over to ride. It has a few trees, a tiny pond (spring fed because it has water in it even now) and a round pen set up in it. Between those two areas is what we refer to as the side yard. It's a sacrifice area meaning the horses have eaten it down to nothing because it's only about half an acre in size. But it is where we keep the horses at night in order to give the pasture grass a rest. We keep a round bale in there for them at night and one round bale lasts our six horses two weeks. These are big rounds, 5 x 5, approximately 1100 pounds each. Horses are not called hay burners for no reason. A horse quality round bale is running about $85 these days because of the ongoing drought. In addition to providing forage and round bales, we feed our horses a pelleted feed twice a day. The amount we feed them varies according to their individual needs. But we spend about $100/month feeding six horses.

Now, in summary, you can expect to spend approximately $1000 caring for and maintaining one horse for one year. It's pretty obvious that owning a horse is an expensive undertaking and the term 'horse poor' might have some basis in truth! But even with the expenses and the physical labor involved in their care, the rewards of horse ownership are indescribable. Take the time to work out all the details so you can provide proper care for a horse and arrange your schedule so you will have time to invest in a true relationship with a horse. Then, and only then, should you start shopping for a horse.


Time Flies

I remember as a young adult, working full time, raising two kids the work week would amble along and I'd look forward to the weekend with eagerness and anticipation. Eager to be done with the work week, anticipating how I would spend all of my free time on the weekend. Now that I'm an empty-nester, you would think I would have even more free time on the weekend. But it sure doesn't feel that way.

I rise at 5:00 a.m. on weekdays and devote an hour or so to the paperwork end of running a household before I have to get ready for my day job 40 miles away. I leave the house at 7:00am and get home about 6:00pm. By the time I take a few minutes to sit with Yeoldfurt and exchange the details of our days, it's time to start the evening chores. All of the assorted critters expect to be fed and have fresh water, the garden will need water and a few weeds pulled, and then Yeoldfurt himself expects supper at some point too. By the time all that is done and the kitchen is cleaned up, it's usually 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. and I'm whipped. Sometimes I stay up another hour or two but the alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. regardless of whether I've had enough sleep. So, by 9:00 p.m., I'm mentally counting down in my head how much time I have left to snooze. Fortunately for me, I am one of those people that does not require a lot of sleep. I enjoy my sleep as much as anyone, but I can get by on a whole lot less than most people. Six hours a night is my average, but I am still pretty functional on only four.

When my family was younger, I mentally 'spent' the hours of the coming weekend like they were found money. By the time Thursday morning rolled around, I was mulling it over in my head should I spend my days off on the weekend? Should I do this? Would it be more fun to do that? What if I did a little of this and maybe a little of that? How many ways could I slice up the clock? In those days, I would cram as many events and activities and projects into those two days as possible. By Sunday evening, I was usually exhausted and actually looking forward to the predictability of going back to my day job. But these days, I find myself wishing there was a way to slowing the clock on weekends ...down-shifting the hands of time so I could get everything done that has to be done and still have a little time to just relax.

On Fridays, I usually tell Yeoldfurt "the first thing I want to do tomorrow is sleep in!" He smiles agreeably and says, "We won't set the alarm." He's smiling because he knows that after years of getting up at 5:00 a.m. every morning, one or both of us will wake up on our own by 6:00 a.m. anyway, 7:00 a.m. at the latest. That's hardly sleeping in by anyone else's standards, but it feels down right decadent to me and Yeoldfurt.

I try to run all the errands before or after work or on my lunch hours during the week, even the grocery shopping, so that Saturday is as unencumbered as possible. On Sundays, Yeoldfurt holds down the fort while I go to church. If we need things at Walmart, I'll go there before church, and if we need things from the grocery store, I'll go there on my way home. I don't think God minds me multi-tasking enroute. He knows I'm just trying to be a good steward of my time. I'm gone about 3 hours which gives Yeoldfurt ample time to get into mischief but not so much time that he gets bored with his mischief. When I get home, we have lunch and I start in on my domestic chores.

I was always a tomboy when I was a kid and I guess I still am now. I'd rather do yardwork or fencework or pretty much any kind of work instead of housework, but even I have standards in the house. So some things need to be done whether I enjoy doing them or not. Yeoldfurt is always willing to help and sometimes even just does things he sees need doing. But I have never been any good at delegating, so the majority of the housework still falls to me. Changing the sheets, washing the several loads of laundry that pile up through the week, dusting and vacuuming, scrubbing the bathrooms, wiping down the kitchen appliances ...what used to take me two hours takes me twice that long nowadays. Part of it is that I move slower, but I also seem to distract more easily. Every little thing I do seems to lead to doing something else.

The dusting is my least favorite and seems like a losing battle most of the time anyway. It doesn't help that we're in a major drought and the sand outside is the consistency of confectioners sugar. So buckets of it seem to sift into the house in a week's time. Putting the laundry away after it's folded is a close second on my Non-Favorite List. I don't mind folding, even kind of like it. But by the time I've sorted the laundry, washed the laundry, dried the laundry and folded the laundry ... I'm just ready to not deal with the laundry even one more time! Yeoldfurt helps me out there too. I get it all folded and in the baskets and he puts it up for me. What a guy!

As we get older and learn to appreciate the special moments, we tend to place a higher value on time and I think that's why it seems to go by so much faster. For most of our lives, most of us have no idea how long we will be in this world. But each day is a gift and, within each day, every one of us are blessed with exactly the same 24 hours. How we use our time is up to us. May we each be able to unfocus on the passage of time and refocus on the gift of each new day.


Friday, August 7, 2009

What Happened to Happily Ever After?

Maybe it's my Venus roots calling to me, but I'm ready to un-focus on everything that's wrong at the moment and re-focus on some positive things we can do right here and right now. I was reading SciFiChick's blog a few days ago and she called what she had to say a 'rant.' Well, maybe it was, but who of us doesn't feel the same? It does feel like we are on a runaway train. We are doing our best to prep for wherever this rogue train takes us, and we are doing our best to stay informed about the issues and do what we can politically to be heard. But if the future is as bleak as it looks, I don't want to waste all of whatever time I have left dashing my foot against the proverbial stone. I want to devote more time enjoying what I do have and, most importantly, appreciating and spending quality time with who I do have in my life.

I guess that's my rant. I want my 'happily ever after' life back!!!


Salt and Pepper and a Dash of Self-Reliance

Dinner was quick and easy tonight. We had a small pork roast, cooked in the crock pot while I was at work and fresh swiss chard from the garden steamed with garlic, lemon pepper, a little chicken bouillon and about a cup of juice from the pork roast. We shared a baked potato with butter and a little cheese and called it supper.

When we decided last fall that we would put in a garden this year, my only requests were that we plant a raised bed (I've done it both ways and find raised beds to be very efficient and therefore less labor intensive) and that we only plant what we like to eat. Bartering is a great concept but it's not an exact science so I didn't want to spend time, money, energy and water on producing more than we ourselves could or would eat.

It took YOF and me most of a weekend to put together the framework for the raised bed and another day and a half to haul the dirt to fill it. YOF posted some pictures of our handiwork on his blogsite back in June but it sure looks different now. The corn is as tall as it's going to get in this triple-digit heat and will be ready to harvest in a week or two. The pole beans aren't producing yet, but I have high hopes for them. Tonight is our second meal of fresh-picked swiss chard and the cantaloupe is about to over-run its designated section. The tomatoes and bell peppers are probably going to be compost. We planted them too late and it was too hot and I'm just not sure it's worth watering them anymore. But we will plant more in September and have tomatoes to can this fall.

Our neighbor gave us a flat of tomatoes from his garden a couple of weeks ago and I made fresh salsa. I may put up a few jars of salsa this fall too. Carrots, pumpkins, potatoes, lettuce, more swiss chard, onions and garlic on the short list for the fall garden too. I hope to have my canner soon but will be to concentrating my canning efforts on complete meals like stews and soups versus individual fruits and vegetables. If we get to the point of living off what we produce and preserve, I have a feeling that the emphasis will have shifted hard and fast to simple abatement of hunger versus a lot of colorful variety on our plates. Of course, basic nutrition will be more important than ever. But soups and stews made from a variety of our own home-grown, fresh ingredients will likely be more nutritious than the fast food we've all indulged in over the past few decades anyway. Fast food and four and five course meals will quickly become a faded memory. For now, I'll just plan and prepare and occasionally sample the bounty of our efforts.

Even though the chard is the only thing we've harvested so far, it feels really good to be eating out of our garden less than 90 days after we poked the first seeds into the ground. Self-reliance is a wonderful seasoning.


We, the People, Need to Know!

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