Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I'm Back!

Please follow this link to my very incomplete online portfolio.

After a year+ of familial chaos, I'm ready to write again.  There have been lots of changes.  Hold on to your hats! There's a storm a-comin'!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Faith's Kids: Class of 2012

Gustav and Gypsy, Class of 2012

It’s a Boy!  And a Girl!

I can’t begin to tell you how long I was waiting for those words, or something similar.

 For the past two years, my pretty Nubian goat, Faith, has been a picky breeder.  The first year on the farm (three years ago), she declined the buck’s invitation and gave herself the season off.  I could live with that; after all, she had just arrived at the farm and needed to adjust to life with Toggenburgs, having come from a purely Nubian environment.  I chalked her reticence up to culture shock, and gave her the grace of a year off.

 Last year, in a fit of pique, I decided to return her to her birthplace to be bred by a registered buck for purebred babies.  In October, when the rest of our herd came into heat, we packed her into the backseat of the truck and gave her a lift to see her fella, a beautiful Nubian buck named Jolt Cola.  Well, Faith and Jolt enjoyed each other’s company for nearly a month before they consummated their relationship.  My girl apparently believes in long courtships.  Happily, her month-long date eventually resulted in the most beautiful triplets you’ve ever seen; two girls and a boy, all born toward the end of the three week long March birthing period at the farm.  The fees associated with her breeding and upkeep during that time really stacked up, though the babies were adorable.  She was a terrible mother though, having never experienced the joys of nursing her own babies; the one she had before coming to the farm was taken as a bottle baby.

Fiona and Fauni Dell (Class of 2011, Bottle Babies)

This year, we’re planning on sending Miss Faith to live with a dear friend in Virginia in a month or two; my life circumstances are changing, and I won’t be able to spend as much time on the farm as I did in the past.  She was a mediocre milker last year, and her newest babies were destined to stay on the farm, though last year’s Nubian kids will join her in Virginia.  Since the farm is a dairy farm in addition to being an agricultural education center, we chose to breed her to one of the house bucks, an award winning Toggenburg whose daughters have superior udders.  Well.  Faith had different ideas.

Once again, Miss Faith played hard-to get for nearly a month.  The day before the bucks were removed from the breeding pasture, she finally succumbed to one of the boy’s charms; I suspect her courtship required dinner and dancing before he could be successful.  Miss Faith is the barn diva, after all.  She’s special.  With her Nubian intelligence and charm, she is fully aware of her feminine wiles and powers of persuasion.  Apparently Herve (or George, we’re not sure) was persuasive in his own right, because Faith finally ended up pregnant. 

 Twenty goats delivered before her.  Twins, triplets; the place was overrun with playful kids, milky mommas, and happy visitors.  Faith stayed pregnant.  The last Toggenburg delivered a week ago; Faith was too round to sleep well anymore, groaning when she breathed.  Her knees began to click.  She gave me the stink eye whenever I lifted her tail.  Everyone who came to visit gave her a pep-talk: “What are you waiting for, Faith?  Squeeeeezzzzzeeeee!”  She held out.  A Diva, even gravidly pregnant. 

Yesterday was the first day I milked the goats this year.  The boys had gone to market, a difficult day for everyone, and the new season of milking began.  It was a good feeling though, spending time with my girls again. My body ached from being out of practice, but even so, the warm round bellies and happy munching of grain brought back sweet memories.  I mourned Daisy, who we lost after a difficult delivery.  I brought Faith to the stand for some grain (and practice), even though she wasn’t showing any sign of giving birth.  Another pep-talk ensued.


When I was finished, I had about an hour between milking and the beginning of our monthly board meeting, so I went out for a burger and a beer, and returned to the farm.  No dice.  Faith chewed her cud and smiled like the Mona Lisa.  I went to the meeting.

 A few hours later, on my way out, I stopped by for one last look, and there it was: the first tell-tale mucous.  Kathy checked her out, and proclaimed an imminent birth, so we waited…and waited.  I tried to nap in her guest room.  Couldn’t do it.  Went outside to check on her, and found Julie, another board member, sitting in the birthing stall with her.  I sacked out in the stall awhile; nothing.  Julie and I watched her vulva like nervous aunties.

Finally, at midnight, with my 5:30 am wake-up time looming and Faith looking inscrutable, I gave up and headed home.  Kathy was sleeping next to the baby monitor, and Faith wasn’t cooperating.  I needed to sleep. It was so hard to leave, but I knew she was in the best hands; Kathy is an experienced dairy woman and a human midwife.  Who better to assist the Baroness of the Barn?

 Well, on the way to school this morning, I got the call: a baby boy had been born!  Faith was cleaning him.  All was well.    NURSING?  Miss Faith, the Diva, must have learned a thing or two from her herd-mates.  10 more minutes, and her daughter was born with a little help from Kathy.  The calls kept coming until my first class arrived, and all was well. 

Faith, the Prettiest Girl in the Barn, has found her maternal side; it becomes her.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Welcome Spring!

It may seem a little early, but with the birth of most of our kids, the onset of warm weather, and my first wild-foraged dinner, it surely feels like spring is here!

Mom as Theme Park
About a day or two after birth, the kids begin trying out their equipment; they leap, cavort, dance, and climb.  Mom's back becomes a playground.

Sleepy Twins
Which results in sleepy babies.  Naps are as frequent as play periods for the first week or so.

A Pile of Kids
And everyone cuddles together in a big, warm pile.  The moms enjoy these breaks in nursing.

Sleepy Babies
I never get tired of fuzzy, sleepy, well fed kids!

Spring kids and spring greens come at the same time.  Nature has it all figured out. In the wild, those babies and mommas would benefit from the natural goodness of the greens. They'll be outdoors enjoying spring soon!  In the mean time, I'm enjoying the bounty.

The Easy Gleanings
Today's short walk yielded garlic mustard, chickweed, stinging nettle, dead nettle, mint, wild onion, some oregano that returned to my garden from last year, and dandelion.

Salad Greens
The stinging nettle and some garlic mustard went into the saute pan, but the chickweed and other raw greens were reserved for the salad.

Sauteed Chicken and Nettles
I started by sautéing some clean bacon, which I removed once brown.  Next, I added half of a chicken breast, cut into chunks.  When it was almost done, I added the damp nettles, chopped wild onion, and some garlic mustard.  I cooked until tender, then finished with some slivered preserved lemons, salt and pepper, as well as the bacon pieces.  This made 2 generous servings.

Natural Chopped Salad

The rest of the greens were chopped, then tossed with preserved lemon, golden raisins and a little blue cheese, as well as two or three crumbled bacon pieces.  Dressing wasn't necessary.  This also made two generous servings (and I have leftover garlic mustard!).  

I could just feel the energy returning to my sleepy winter soul after dinner, and when I finally went to bed, I slept with the window open, and more soundly that I have in weeks.  

Nature is good for us.  Body AND soul.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Some Good Recipes: Kale and Whitefish, Stuffed Tomatoes and Wild Mushroom Casseroles

Easy and Nutritious Low Carb Mid Week Meal

1 bunch of organic kale
4 small white fish (I used tilapia) fillets
1/5 pound local smoked bacon (approx.), cut into 1” pieces
1 organic garlic clove, sliced thin
salt and pepper to taste
preserved organic lemon slivers

Wash the kale and remove leaf from the central spine.  Compost the spine or feed it to your goats.  Brown the bacon pieces in a Dutch oven, then remove and reserve.  Add the torn kale leaves and sliced garlic clove to the bacon fat to saute.  Toss until wilted.  Cover the pot, checking often for moisture, until the kale is tender (add water if needed).  When the kale is tender, add some water to the pot, then lay the tilapia fillets on top of the kale.  Cover the pot, and poach the tilapia until it’s tender.  Serve two fillets on a bed of kale, garnished with slivered preserved lemon and crumbled bacon.  Serves 2

       Here's a healthy recipe that worked well for our dinner this week.  The tomatoes were from a greenhouse, of course, but given the season, I think it's a pretty healthy alternative to many other options.

Healthy Stuffed Tomatoes (with optional shrimp)

4 tomatoes, hollowed out, with flesh and juices reserved
¼ pound of cleaned and cooked shrimp
½ cup chopped onions
about ½ cup red quinoa
1 large clove of garlic, minced
red pepper flakes or chopped jalapeno to taste
garlic salt
black pepper
1-2 slices of multi-grain bread, crumbled and toasted
cheddar cheese

Saute the chopped onions in a generous amount of butter, then add the chopped tomato flesh and juice to the pan.  To the bubbling mixture, add minced garlic, garlic salt, thyme, and pepper.  For added kick, add chopped jalapenos or dried red chili pepper. When the tomatoes have released their juices, add a handful of red quinoa to the bubbling pan and cook until the quinoa is tender. Add a small amount of water if necessary.  When the quinoa is tender, add the chopped shrimp (optional) and cook for five minutes, then add multi-grain breadcrumbs (from a slice or two of toasted bread) to thicken the mixture.  Stuff the raw tomato cups with the cooked mixture, then top with cheddar cheese.  Broil until brown, and serve.

Makes 4 servings

Best Wild Mushroom Casseroles

Wild mushrooms (I used frozen bearded tooth and entoloma abortivum)
Garlic clove
Multi-grain breadcrumbs from sliced bread
Garlic Salt and Pepper

Melt some butter in a Dutch oven or a cast iron frying pan, then add a chopped onion.  Saute until the onion is clear, then add the mushrooms (I used about 1.5 cups total, rough-chopped).  Continue to cook until the mushrooms release their juices, then add the clove of garlic, sliced thin.  Cook until the juices are cooked away and the mushrooms and onion just begin to brown; them sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour and about ½ tsp. tarragon.  Add about a cup of cream to the pot and stir over a low heat until the sauce thickens. Add peas and toss gently into the mixture.  Season with garlic salt and pepper to taste. 

Melt some butter and mix it in with the breadcrumbs.  Make enough to cover each of the ramekins.

Spoon the thickened mixture into individual ramekins, then top with the breadcrumb mixture.  Bake at 425 degrees until the breadcrumbs are brown and the filling is bubbling.  Cool slightly before eating.

*Optional: Add some tender chicken, shrimp, scallops or beef strips to the pan with the mushrooms, and saute until finished before proceeding with the recipe.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Where's Waldo, Ummm...Sandy?

My big plans this week focused on one thing: I got to co-present a session at the National Art Education Association in NYC on Friday!  So of course I spent last weekend (the one prior to 3/3 and 3/4) planning, buying my outfit, arranging an outing with a friend, etc.  Exciting!  YAY!  Something positive!

On the home front, Peter, ever the procrastinator, hadn't packed for his trip to Michigan, and had several small projects on the burner, so I essentially fed him and stayed out of his way.  Unfortunately, on Wednesday morning after I left for school, he had a sudden health issue that he left unexamined until I came home and INSISTED that he go to the ER.  I'd rather not discuss it (if you know him or me personally, just pick up a phone or email), but the result was a 3 day stay in the hospital while they ran tests.  After the first few hours, they knew he wasn't in danger, so it was a matter of figuring out the "whys"; still, I was uncomfortable leaving him.  I took off a half day of work on Thursday morning to hear what his doctor had to say, then worked the afternoon.  The next day was my NYC trip, and since he wasn't in any further danger (and the rest of my research group was counting on me) I decided to go. 

It was awesome.  Everything went smoothly and my friend and I ate a brief Thai meal (my favorite!) before we headed find Peter in the living room, packing!  He still wanted to go!  We "debated" the idea, finally settling on a compromise: he felt well enough to follow through on his plans, but I was too worried to say goodbye just I went along.  That's right.  I drove to Michigan this weekend.  And I flew home alone last evening. And I taught today.  And tonight, I'm clearing everything out of my living room so the contractor can fix the ceiling.  Whew!

A Restful Weekend.
Am I happy about leaving him there? No. There's a point at which you have to admit another person's right to their autonomy and put aside your fears, and that's what I was faced with this weekend.  And you move on the best you can.  These long distance jobs do take their toll.  Peter enjoys the variety though, and I can understand why: the people he meets on his journeys are amazing!  He's been having the most awesome multi-cultural experience of his already interesting life.  I actually envy him that. 

So, back to my trip; from home to NYC, then home again for a night; then across the state to Youngstown Ohio, where we had dinner at a truck stop and met some of the nicest truckers you've ever known.  The stories they have to tell!  It was a very interesting supper.  One trucker named Steve told me he'd been driving since he was 20 years old, and was just about to turn 60.  Imagine the places he's seen!  He was a well-worn character who couldn't have weighed much more than 120 pounds, and had a face lined with stories.  He was a truck-driving pirate, the Captain Edward Teague of the Hubbard Truck Stop.

Just Squint.  It'll Come Into Focus.

After a night's rest, we squeezed our generous selves into our little car and drove the last four hours of our trip into Ann Arbor, MI.  We encountered a few flurries on the way, but nothing more, luckily, as we were working with a tight time budget.  We met Peter's new roommates (he'll be eating food from India and Africa during this job, I think.  The house smelled wonderful!), and were left alone to unpack the little he had with him.  I'll ship the rest to him tomorrow.  Then we cried for a few minutes and in no time at all the shuttle driver was there to take me to the Detroit airport.

Detroit to Philly, Philly to Allentown...with all of the required waiting between flights and a taxi ride at the end, and I slept in my bed last night.  Alone. 

So, we put the tears behind us, and each of us embraces our separate reality, with hope and joy.  We savor our lives.  We both do.  It's just so much nicer when we're together.  And of course, I want to mother him...but I can't, so I consciously disengage my mind from those thoughts, and live in the present.  With faith in the divine wisdom of the universe, and all that she holds.

What happened here at home while we were away? Well, we have two angry kitty-cats, though they had ample grub for the two days we were gone.  Grandpa just slept through it, but he was happy to have his head scratched.  And on the farm, this is what happened:

Corrine's Picture of Dawn: Born Yesterday.
My "Words With Friends" buddy said it well: "Things change quickly".  For both the better and worse.  It's up to us to enjoy the ride.

Where Are You, Maaaa?

Maaaaa!  Where are you Maaaaa?
Photo by Kathy
 at Flint Hill Farm
That was the question this weekend.  And I'll answer it this evening!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Welcome Grandpa!

We have a new member of the family.  New for us, anyway!  This poor old man was being ridden by a 4 year old, who pulled his tail when he ate or drank and generally made life hell for him.  Luckily, her mother finally had the sense to attempt to rehome him, but not until he was a dehydrated bag of ancient (18 years old) cat bones.  He has a quiet place to sleep away his geriatric hours now, with plenty of wet food and gentle touches that make him purr.

How forgiving our animals are of our cruelty, and how loving they are; they forget the pain and beg for affection.  This poor boy was born in a basement in Manhattan, where he was found, half starved, eating cardboard after being locked in there alone.  He was rescued and sent to an animal control facility, where some kind soul took him in; they named him "Roach" because of the way he skittered along the walls, hiding from them (we chose a name that rhymes, sort-of.  I hate the name they gave him.)  The poor guy spent several years as an apartment cat in the city, then moved here to Allentown, where he spent his adulthood with his lady and her grown children; not such a bad gig.  A second marriage brought a second family and the aforementioned 4 year old; unfortunately, in his frail state, I'm sure he found it difficult to escape her. He's our second Freecycle cat; Hobie, who came to us several years ago, still lives with us, as does his adopted brother, Gris-Gris (SPCA).  They look like a couple of Sumo wrestlers next to Grandpa, who only weighs 6 pounds. 


After a checkup with our family vet and a can of wet food, Grandpa is sleeping soundly upstairs in our sunroom, where we'll keep him safe from harm.  He can dream his days away, for as long as he has them; this poor old man has found his safe haven at the Eckert-Bourdelle house of geriatric cats.  He deserves a break, and we're seeing to it that he gets one. He reminds me so much of my old girl Buppy, who lived to the ripe old age of 21.  In peace.  I sure do miss her.