Category Archives: Diary of a Redneck Englishwoman

Sharing….

2.11.18

Where is February going in such a hurry? Here we are, almost half way through the month and what an unseasonably mild month it has been so far, although that may be changing slightly. We have had temperatures in the 50’s and even touched on the 60 degree days with nights so mild the piglets would not even sleep under their heat lamps. Of course that may be changing as Mother Nature might throw a few more cold wintry days our way even yet. Today we are supposed to have snow showers and temperatures predicted to drop down to 19 degrees tonight and falling even lower to 14 degrees by Tuesday night. Better stock the farrowing pens up with more straw today!

Now I feel guilty about the past week and the glorious weather we had that just begged for one to work outside. Instead, I had this strong urge to write so for the most part, stayed inside. Yes, my early life story book has been calling me! So I yielded to the temptation and spent a few days inside, adding to and editing the chapters compiled so far.

This morning, as I sit waiting for my first cup of tea to brew, the fire lit and Darrell still slumbering, let me indulge you my faithful blog followers. Instead of writing of events on the farm, let me share the opening preface to my book and chapter one. Maybe it will give you a glimpse of what is to come…

Introduction…

Sitting in a garden eating an earthworm. That is the first strong recollection of my childhood that I have. Whose garden you may ask? Well I am not exactly certain, one of my many aunts and uncles I have had over the years. It would be nice to know for sure as maybe, just maybe, they were “real” relatives. I think I was around three years old at the time and by piecing stories from the past together it must have been shortly after my father took me away from my mother, left Canada and flew us both back to England, the place where I was born. Fleeting images come to mind of this garden, my trundling around with an empty jam jar, picking bumblebees off the flowers and putting them in the jar, keeping them inside with my chubby little hand. Eating earthworms as if they were strands of spaghetti, my “aunty” cuddling me on her lap and my father always being close by.

I presumably was content, but what turmoil must have been left behind, an ocean away, that moment when my mother realized her little girl was gone. So begins the journey into the early years of my life. As I sit and put my story to page I am sure it will dredge up memories both good and not so good, but then again, no life is perfect and one must endeavour to make the very best of what life has to offer. The old adage “Life is what you make it” is to me a mantra to live by. So dear reader, as I embark on this, my latest venture, sit back in a comfy chair with a nice cup of tea, prop your feet up and wander with me down my memory lane…

Chapter 1 Worcester.

Worcester, a lovely old city in the Midlands area of England, not too far from the bustling industrial center of Birmingham and home of the spectacular Worcester Cathedral and of course, Worcestershire Sauce! This was my first permanent, well somewhat permanent, home in England that I remember as a little girl.

126 Newtown Road. It seems as if no matter how young I was my father always taught me my home address which did indeed turn out to be a good thing when one got lost on ones way home from school! I turned four years old when we lived in Worcester and still to this day have my dear old Teddy, which was my most treasured fourth birthday present. This teddy bear has travelled many, many miles over the years and sits today in our living room, watching me as a write.

The house on Newtown Road has many early memories for me, mainly due to the big garden out the back in which I remember thinking fairies lived at its bottom end where the fruit trees grew. Adjacent to the garden on one side was a big famer’s field where sheep often grazed. This is where I came to learn these creatures are awfully fond of bread, yes bread! Taking stale crusts down to feed them became a common pastime for me. Maybe this is why I have always held a soft spot inside me for sheep. Heading over to the fence with bread crusts in hand, the wooly creatures would come over and nibble the tidbits without hesitation from my extended fingers. Funny how animals know a treat is coming!

This garden was a very special place for a little girl who even then, had a great imagination. The small, tidy lawn behind the house led down to rows and rows of current and gooseberry bushes and beyond a few trees could rightly be called an orchard. Here was where my fairies lived and I loved nothing more than to play amongst the berry bushes and stumpy trees with my imaginary pals. At the very bottom of the garden, a small gate led out onto a lane and another little cottage beyond. I have no idea who the old lady was who lived in that old cottage but she always seemed to have a biscuit or piece of cake for me when I popped in, so I thought she was very special indeed. Looking back I wonder what she thought of this little blond haired child that would show up unannounced on her doorstep.

Worcester was where I began school for the first time, nursery school or, as it would be called in the states, kindergarten. The school was not too far away from where we lived and, in fact, is still there to this day. I could already write my name, read a little and of course knew the alphabet very well thanks to my father’s early teachings. Yet to be going to school! Well that was a new adventure in my life! One of the few pictures I have of myself as a small child shows me sitting in a sundress on a low wall in front of a bank of flowers. Neat and tidy, my hair pinned back from my face with hair slides, I look happy. While we lived in Worcester, my father worked as a millwright in the Metalbox factory, a well-known historic old factory that made tin cans for some of the countries top food manufactures. My goodness but he would often come home with pockets full of some dandy ball bearings that made brilliant marbles to play with! Since he had a daily job in the factory, it fell to the neighbour lady across the street to take me to school, pick me up again afterwards and keep me occupied until my father returned home. It was not too long until she felt I could walk back and forth to school by myself but that homeward journey from school was a daunting thing for a little four year old. I only got lost one time, which was not too bad at all considering. After school got out I would make my way towards home, arriving at the neighbor lady’s house where my task was to sit quietly on her front door step, weather permitting, to wait until my father arrived home from work. I can vividly remember looking anxiously down the road, expecting any moment for him to come striding up the path. Maybe even at that tender age there was a deep-seated fear of being abandoned, of being alone. He was my whole world.

The house in Worcester was quite a lovely one. It was semi-detached, at the end of a long row of similar houses but ours had the pleasure of being next to a farmer’s field Even to this day there is still a swath of green field next door. Lavender bushes grew in abundance in the front garden. I recall the scent sending me off to sleep as my father would place lavender sprigs between the folded sheets in the linen cupboard and buds were often in the pockets of my pajamas. This house holds so many memories for me; maybe because one’s early childhood memories are so poignant to one’s mind. Memories such as where I had great fun playing in “black sand” that ultimately turned out to be chimney soot and where I learned it did not pay to tell fibs. Yes, Worcester was where I told my very first lie. Strange that one should so indelibly remember telling one’s first untruthful statement at such a young age, but the consequences of that very first fib made enough of an impression that to this day I cannot abide untruthfulness.

On the day of “The Lie” it was a gloriously sunny morning and the front door to the house stood wide open letting sunshine fill the hallway. Maybe it was the weekend because my father was home and had been busy putting a fresh coat of paint on the hall walls as well as the trim around the door. I sat on the front step watching him deftly brush a glistening coat on the doorframe, a single sweep of the brush leaving a flawless finish. As he left to head inside the house to fetch something, I was told very firmly to not touch the wet paint! Needless to say, the urge to touch said wet paint must have been quite overwhelming because I did just that very thing … touched the wet paint as soon as he left! When my father returned it was very obvious little fingers had marred the perfectly painted surface of the doorjamb. Yet there I was, sitting quietly on the stoop. He asked me in a very stern voice “Rose Forster, did you touch the wet paint?” to which I of course replied “No daddy”. He asked me again and once more I replied in the negative. “Well who touched the paint then?” he asked. Apparently, without batting an eye I replied, “That lady over there”… pointing to a woman standing at the bus stop just down the road. At this juncture of our conversation, my father set off to the bus stop and goodness knows what he said to the lady, but I knew he must have asked her if she had come to our house and touched the wet paint. As soon as I saw my father returning with a very grim look on his face I knew I was in trouble.

T.R.O.U.B.L.E… a word I knew how to spell right after I knew how to spell my own name! Yes I was in trouble with a capital T. It was made very clear to me in no uncertain terms … emphasized by a stinging bottom and being put to bed early … that telling a fib was not to be tolerated. When my father was angry he was a terrible sight to behold and forever afterwards that lesson stood out in my mind. I sometimes used to wonder if Trouble was my middle name, as I always seemed to be in it! I learned at a very early age the look that came over my father’s face when I was in Trouble and often, no matter how much I cried or tried to explain, it would be of no avail; trouble was trouble. Like the day the chimney sweep came to clean our chimneys in the house.

Now to me there is something very appealing about the scent of coal soot. Honestly! A sort of earthy, musty smell that tickles the taste buds for some uncanny reason. I know, I know, a tad weird but maybe I was lacking in certain minerals because I also used to love licking the mortar between bricks … but let’s save that one for later! Anyway, the chimney sweep came with all his paraphernalia and he fascinated me. This was, I am sure, because a favourite fairy-tale of mine was about little Tom the chimney sweep in the story “The Water Babies” written by Charles Kingsley… I still have a copy of this book by the way. Our chimney sweep of course did not climb up the chimney to clean it like little Tom had to do; instead he used a bristly brush and long rods to do the job. When the chore was done, the soot was placed in a big bag and hauled off leaving the place spic and span clean. Little did I know but the chap dumped it over our garden fence and into the adjacent sheep field! Needless to say it did not take me long to find it and what a gay old time I had playing in this wonderfully soft, deliciously smelling what I thought to be, black sand! Now anyone who has been around soot knows just how insidiously it manages to get into one’s pores and for how long it can remain there! So imagine if you will how a wee young lassie looked when called back to the house for supper. My father found me covered from head to toe in black, grimy soot. Funny, you would think this was definitely a reason to be in trouble with a capital T yet I was neither smacked nor told off, but given a jolly good scrubbing down in the sink! More than once I might add! That was an easy lesson to learn; no matter how dirty one got it was quite fine as it all, as they say, one way or another comes off in the wash.

Our house on Newtown Road was fully furnished. There is a picture of me in my pajamas sitting with my Gollywog in a big comfortable armchair. My fourth birthday, as I mentioned, brought me my Teddy bear who was made by the Wendy Boston Company … eyes guaranteed to never come out … and between him and my Gollywog, many hours were spent in play. Teddy is still with me to this day, a tad bit thread worn in places but of all my worldly possessions it has been Teddy that has resolutely been my faithful companion. He has travelled innumerable times across the Atlantic ocean, lain beside me in hospital beds, received bonks on the head to match mine and sits today in our living room still surveying the world with his dark, wise eyes. When the day came to leave Worcester, Teddy and my Gollywog came along. Golly disappeared somewhere along the way but faithful Teddy stayed by my side through thick and thin.

Later in life, I often wondered if our time in Worcester, where my father headed off to work his shift at the factory and I was taken care of by local ladies, was the catalyst for him to think of owning his first village shop. I know in later years he said how much it bothered him to have to drop his little girl off with a neighbor before heading to work in the morning and then have me go to that same lady after school where I sat on her doorstep until he arrived back home. For many years he would remind me how lucky I was to have a father that would give up so much for me, his little girl. What sacrifices he had made and how hard he worked, all for me. Yes, this was the beginning of the training of a child whose entire world revolved solely around her father, a child that could not move, nor speak, nor eat, nor go to the bathroom without first asking permission. Years would pass before I would come to discover another reason behind his aspiration to become a village shopkeeper and leave the town of Worcester…

 

 

 

 

 

Life… and death…

1.27.18

Well, this has been one of those weeks that if I could start it over again I most likely would! I do not often get down in the dumps, but this past week, gloominess got the better of me. The week started out quite well, our young heifer cow that we call “Heifer”; she is one of Lass’s daughters, popped out a lovely little calf on Sunday. I had gone down to milk Heidi and Lass that morning and saw Heifer laying close by the gate, obviously just going into labour. Thinking she was would take some time since this was her first baby, I fed the sows in the farrowing pen then brought Heidi in for milking followed by Lass. Before Lass was done and ready to go back in the paddock, Heifer had popped out a lovely red calf! Goodness that was quick! Normally first time mums take a little while to get the calf out but not this girl! That calf popped out like greased lightning! Brilliant job! With my as assistance as midwife not required I headed back to the house to take care of my milk and tell Darrell the good news. We now had two little female calves on the ground as Heidi gave us a lovely heifer calf just over a month earlier.

From the kitchen window we were able to keep an eye on the new mum. She cleaned up her baby and before long the wee thing tottered to its feet and found its first breakfast from mum’s full udder. Heidi could not stay away! For a while I thought she was going to try stealing the new baby for once it was on its feet Heidi was right there licking it just as much as Heifer was doing! I obviously would have to pen Heidi up so as to give the new calf a chance to bond well with her own mum but that could wait until after breakfast.

Sylvia, our first sow to farrow, had popped out her piglets a few days earlier and was happily taking care of her new brood of seven. I had been waiting impatiently for her to farrow as according to my records she was past her due date. Finally nest building began and on Thursday afternoon I could squirt a good stream of milk out her teats. The first piglet was born when I nipped to the house for dinner and sadly, his umbilical cord was so tightly wrapped around his neck that the wee thing suffocated. I hate it when I lose a piglet! The others came out slick as a whistle, all whoppers with the exception of one, who actually was normal sized but looked small next to her brothers and sisters. Pigging season has begun!

Sunday afternoon, Spic our second sow due to farrow, started making her nest in earnest. Now Spic makes a glorious nest! I would have preferred her to make it in another part of the farrowing stall instead of right near the door leading to the outside run, but she was determined that was where it needed to be so who was I to decide differently! Late on Monday evening, her piglets started coming and what a spotty bunch they are too! Spic is a Gloucester Old Spot/Yorkshire cross and dad, Samwise Gamgee, is a purebred Gloucester Old Spot. So as the names suggest, spots prevail. 12 lovely piglets later, including one who is red, yes red, and mum was done. It was the start of a very good week! The weather was unseasonable mild for this time of year so no chance of frozen ears and tails like I had last year thank goodness.

Later in the day on Sunday, I noticed Heidi had turned her attention to relentlessly pestering Heifer as opposed to Heifer’s new calf so, wanting to give the new mum some peace and quiet, Heidi was delegated to the smaller holding pen. She was not thrilled with this at all but I figured it would just be for a few days and since it was destined to be the new abode for her calf anyway, she would get used to it. Milk cows can be so demanding at times! In order to get a full udder of milk to myself in the mornings, I normally start separating cow and calf from each other overnight when the calf is about 3 or 4 weeks old but I currently still had Lass’s yearling steer calf in the smaller holding pen where I needed to put Heidi. This meant turning him out in the big paddock with Lass, Willy the bull and Heifer and her baby. I had hoped he would not try to nurse his mum since he was well weaned by now, but nurse her he did and Lass let him! Rather silly to see a steer almost as big as his mum nursing! Drat, he would need to be kicked out into another paddock, as I could not have that! Lass was still giving me milk 14 months into her lactation, albeit only about two gallons a day, but since she was not bred… another long story! … I was still taking some milk from her. Finally, cows were moved, things settled down, piglets were born and all seemed well on the farm.

This state of peace and quiet was very short lived however. Tuesday saw Darrell and I making a dash trip to John Day after all the morning chores completed. On the ride home I became poorly and subsequently spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening in the house. Wednesday I was feeling better although still a little wobbly so decided to forego milking for an opportunity to relax for a bit longer in front of the fire before chores beckoned. As we were feeding the cows and pigs, I noticed Heifer was staying up at the top of the cow paddock under a tree. Normally she would be down like a flash to get her share of hay and a nibble of grain, but not his morning. Going up to check, I found her definitely not feeling her perky self. She let me walk right up and check her ears without even trying to rise. This was not good. Her warm ears told me she was running a temperature and from a discharge at her rear end I could tell she had not passed all her afterbirth, even though nothing was showing. It seems as if an infection was brewing inside her.

Fearing she may have had a second calf inside which had not been born, I hurried to the house to get an OB sleeve and some uterine boluses. Once back at Heifer’s side, I stripped off my coat, donned my long glove and gently inserted my arm to see if I could feel another calf in her uterus. No, there was no calf but she did have quite a bit of retained placenta and nasty fluid. Normally, one just lets the placenta work it’s own way out, let Nature take its course, but Heifer did not have any afterbirth at all hanging from her rear end which usually helps this event along. At one time, it was the practice to manually remove any retained afterbirth but that is not commonly the case today. Relieved to find her uterus empty of a second calf, but knowing she had an infection brewing, I inserted a couple of intrauterine boluses, brought her some hay and gave her a good drink of water. She was still standing to let her calf nurse, which was a good sign. I thought all would be well… little did I know I would find her dead the next morning. Oh blast it!

So now we had just lost an excellent young cow, had an orphan calf and I was still feeling wibbly wobbly. Well we did have two milk cows that were both in milk; I would just graft the calf onto one of them. Lass I knew might be a problem as she is a great cow but not one to allow any strange calf to suckle her. I thought she might be a challenge. Heidi however, had let Heifer nurse her along with her own calf the year previous with no problem at all. This was after I had weaned Heifer from her mum Lass! Also, Heidi had shown great interest in the new calf, licking it and talking to it in that maternal way cows have. Surely she would be happy to adopt this little one. Plodding through the mud I brought the struggling calf away from her deceased mum and installed her in the pen with Heidi. At first, while I kept Heidi occupied with a pan of grain, she let the orphan suckle away. Great! This was going to be easy so I thought! Once the grain was gobbled up, Heidi decided she wanted nothing at all to do with this newcomer! Unless I stood right beside the pair of them, she butted and kicked and made it plain that she was not going to tolerate this hungry wee thing. Obviously this was not going to work. With Lass getting ready to be dried up, well deserved after 14 months of milk production, I really need milk from Heidi for my cheese making and the table. She is a lovely young cow but not the heavy producer her mum Lass is and really cannot provide enough milk for two calves plus give me the milk I need. What a dilemma. I could force Heidi to accept the calf but at the risk of changing her demeanor as an easy to work with dairy cow, something I am loath to do. Heidi’s personality takes more after her Jersey side than her Brown Swiss side. Jersey’s can be sweet as can be but they can also be flighty creatures!

The calf was taken away from Heidi and installed in a section of the farrowing house with a warm straw bed to nestle into. Later that evening I warmed up some milk and brought it down to the calf so it would at least go to bed with a full belly. The next morning, after milking a somewhat nervous Heidi, I brought Lass into the milk house. With her head in the stanchion and a good amount of grain in front of her, the orphan was brought in to suckle. Lass was not happy about this at all! She knows she mustn’t kick, so as long as I stayed at her shoulder scratching and talking to her, she tolerated… barely… the calf nursing away. No, she was not going to be a surrogate mother without a big fuss! So, now there seems only two options for little orphan babe, either we raise her as a bottle baby or find her a new home. The first option did not appeal to me, for as much as I love raising calves, I really do not have the milk to spare nor the time! Darrell offered to become surrogate “mum” and do all the feeding, but that still brings up the milk situation. My next thought was Cheltzy Cox. We have known Cheltzy since she was a wee little girl and watched her grow up into a resourceful young lady. Her penchant for raising orphan calves has given her a growing cowherd. Yes, she would be the perfect mum for this calf! So I reached out to Cheltzy and she drove right over. The deal was made, the orphan placed in the front seat of her truck, she was thrilled to get the heifer and I knew the calf was off to a great home… right across the road!

I guess the week turned out just fine in the end. I am feeling a bit better today. The loss of Heifer still weighs heavy on my mind, we have never had a cow go down that fast. I beat myself up trying to think of what else I could have done for her, she did not have milk fever, no ketosis and no twin inside her. There was not even time to call our vet out from John Day. She was a lovely girl and would have raised a lovely calf and will be missed. Sometimes, when these things happen, it makes you wonder what on earth you are doing, makes you wonder if it is worth all the heartache of losing an animal. But I know as I head down to milk the girls this morning, as I play with the piglets and scratch the sows, there is no other life I would rather have. Hmmm…. maybe I should get another milk cow………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Godspeed Bob…

1.14.18

A little after four in the morning found me heading down to the pig farrowing house in the chilly darkness to check on Sylvia, the first of our sows due to give birth this year. The sliver of new moon has not yet made his appearance so the beam of a torch guided my way. Sylvia saw me coming and came out of her house to greet me with snuffles and grunts, expecting grain even at this time of the morning but happily settling for a scratch behind the ears instead. No piglets yet. As I made my way back to the house, this time with the faint glow of light shining through the kitchen window to guide me, I stopped for a minute and gazed upwards into the star spangled sky above me. I never tire of this sight! The vast blackness, bejeweled by a myriad of twinkling stars, it makes you feel very small. After a few moments of reflection I resume my trek and quietly entered the house. It was warm and toasty, as I had lit a fire in our old cook stove and put the kettle on before I headed out to check on Sylvia. The kettle was singing on the hob, ready to fill my mug for my first cup of tea of the day.

Yesterday, after being gone for a goodly part of the day, Darrell and I returned home in the late afternoon to find the message light blinking away on the answering machine. As groceries were being put away and Darrell lit a fire in the stove, I hit the button and heard the news; one of Darrell’s long time friends had passed away that very afternoon. Darrell and I listened again to the message for a moment before Darrell went and sank down in his armchair. We had expected it would not be long before such news reached us as Darrell’s friend Bob had been ill for quite a while and was deteriorating rapidly, but still, it came as a shock.

Bob was six months younger than Darrell, a career Marine who, after leaving the service, ended up in Bend where he and Darrell struck up a friendship. Their common love of old firearms meant they saw each other quite often, meeting up at gun shows, trading this for that, calling each other on the telephone to banter back and forth. Many has been the time Bob and Darrell would share tables at gun shows, travelling down to Reno or meeting up in Redmond once we moved over here. Often, when we made a trip to Bend, we would pop in to see him and his wife Chick for a quick chat or maybe meet for lunch. If we went by their home, Darrell would head back into Bob’s gunroom to see his latest acquisition while Chick and I nattered at the kitchen table about the new English murder mystery series they had picked up. Yes, they were both fans of English murder mysteries! I have been terribly spoilt over the years by the pair of them, for knowing I too love my “Midsommer Murders”, “Lewis”, “Shetland” and “Vera”, anytime a new DVD came out they were sure to buy it! Many are the times we have come home with a brown paper bag filled with murder mystery films to watch!

A few years ago, Bob’s health started failing. He had emphysema and congestive heart failure and soon was on home oxygen, greatly limiting his outdoor excursions and ultimately curtailing his appearances at gun shows. This insidious condition crept up on him slowly then, in the past couple of months, began galloping like a racehorse. Each time we would stop in to see him saddened us. We would come away wondering how much longer our friend had on this earth, for you see, he had given up.

When I was diagnosed with cancer 18 years ago, it felt like a ton of bricks had been dropped on my head. After tests and biopsies, even knowing there was a chance the news you would hear might not be good, when the telephone call came in with the verdict it still shocked you. That initial feeling, as if your legs were turning to jelly, quickly passed and it was if a ramrod had been driven down your spine. After a moment your mind went straight to the “Okay, so what do we do now” mode. A plan of attack was made; despite the severity of the diagnosis it could have been much worse. With Darrell beside me as my rock and support, friends staying positive in their thoughts and love, there was seldom a moment when I did not know I would get through this bump in the road. Memories of this came to mind last night as Darrell and I sat reflecting on Bob. Never did Darrell doubt I would come through my ordeal… you see, we never gave up.

Normally when I am at home, my pager is on and I am always ready to respond with the ambulance should that pager tone me out. Rarely do I have the opportunity to partake in the odd glass of sherry or pint of Guinness when at home. Last night however, knowing there would be others available to respond to an emergency, I felt the need to sit with Darrell and raise a glass of spirits to Bob. As we reflected on his friendship with Darrell, his kindness and respect for me, we talked of how his health had declined so rapidly. How just a mere two days ago Darrell had spoken with him on the telephone and was distressed at Bob’s desire for his life to be over, to have freedom from the pain. So last night we raised a glass of Tuaca to him, a liqueur he introduced us to years ago, in memory of a friend… wishing him peace and Godspeed.

Yes, as I looked up into the starry sky this morning I said my cheerio to Bob. Heading into the warm house with Darrell still slumbering in bed, I sit and let my thoughts flow onto paper. When Darrell wakes up I will make him a cup of tea and go sit beside him and read my morning story to him. We will probably shed a small tear or two but it will be tears of love and gratefulness. Gratefulness that we still have each other, that our love is as deep and strong as ever and thankfulness that we will never, ever, no matter what trials and tribulations come along… give up on each other.

 

 

 

Resolutions… again!

1.7.18

Another Christmas season has come and gone. New Year’s slipped in nice and quietly and here we are, in the year 2018 and life on the farm continues without fail. A new 30-pound batch of soap sits on the drying shelves, with the varying scents of rose, lavender, plumaria and ginger competing for prominence as you pass the office door. We really should rename the “office” to the “soaping room” as no office work is accomplished in there anymore! The entire room has been taken over as my soap and lotion store room! But I digress… Along with the first batch of soap in 2018, the first cheese was made yesterday, a creamy Colby. My first CPR class will be taught tomorrow and piglets are due at the end of this week. Yes, a New Year may be upon us but life flows on as usual.

Darrell and I have yet to sit down and make our New Year’s resolutions. Maybe after I get back in the house from my milking chores we will have a nice cup of tea by the fire and make our list. New Year resolutions are always quite fun to make, although like most folks, a lot of them fall by the wayside as the year progresses. This year however there are some that I am determined to stick to no matter what! I am sure you can all guess what at least one of them will be, here is a hint and it has to do with “time”!

The past few days have seen us working down at the farrowing house, getting the two large stalls ready for pregnant sows Sylvia and Spic to move into. You would think by now the stalls would be just as I wanted them, but there are always ways to improve things to make working with pigs easier such as a new door here, another door there! This morning the girls will follow me to the farrowing house, giving them a good few days to settle in. I am sure they will notice the changes, pigs are quite observant, but before long they will get cracking making themselves nice cozy nests in preparation for giving birth. Although we do need more snow, we have only had what one would call a skiff of the white stuff so far, I am glad we are not having a winter like last year. At least it has allowed us to do work on the farrowing house! There is something so rewarding about completing a project that has been niggling at you for over a year!

Heidi had her calf almost a month ago and it is high time for me to start separating mother and daughter at night so I can get a full compliment of milk from all four quarters in the morning. Right now her calf, Hilda, is taking two full quarters worth of milk before I get down there of a morning to bring Heidi in for milking. Lass is still giving me milk each day even though I have weaned her calf and despite her being in lactation for coming on 14 months! It turns out she is not with calf, which is very disappointing. She had given every indication of being nicely settled after Willy the bull went home this past spring. Then a couple of months ago I thought I saw the telltale signs of her being in season. She should have calved in March so this was not good at all! I weaned her from her big old steer but since she was still giving a good four to five gallons a day, decided to keep on milking her for a while until Heidi came fully into milk production after calving. Lass is a wonderful girl, this is not the first time she has given milk well past the normal “milking season” for a cow! In a way maybe it will be for the best that she is not going to calve in March. If she breeds right away to Willy bull, who will be arriving today to visit for a while, it will put Lass calving more around the time of year best for me, October time. Problem is, I dislike having a dry cow for such a long time! Oh well, Heidi got to be a bit of a slacker last year, now she will have to step up to the plate into number one milking cow spot. I do prefer to have my milking girls calve about six months or so apart. That way I always have a good supply of milk all year long. Fate may have stepped in to help me out after all. At least that is how I am going to look at it!

For some reason, once we pass December 21st, the shortest day of the year, I find myself getting excited about projects around the farm. As you all know, with us being in a dither about selling the place or staying put for a goodly portion of the past two years, some much needed work projects were put on the backburner. Getting the pig house fully completed was a grand job done, now the milk cow paddock and calf holding pen needs revamping. Darrell already cut down a few of the dead trees in the paddock at New Year’s with help from grandson Evan and his friend Lucas who were visiting from Portland. As soon as the ground thaws out a tad more we can take down the wire panel fence of the calf pen, clean and re-do this important area! Yes, the longer days and less frigid temperatures sure make the urge to work outside blossom inside you!

Right now though I am content to sit by the fire with cup of tea at hand. I just got in from completing my milking chores, milking equipment is all washed up, milk cooling ready to be placed in gallon jars before heading off to the milk ‘fridge. Darrell is sitting beside me patiently waiting for me to finish my story then it will be Resolution Time! He rolls his eyes and snorts with laughter! We go through this routine every New Year’s. I have an idea he thought I might have forgotten about it this year… no indeed I have not! Let the Resolutions begin!

Another Year Gone By…

12.31.17

Happy New Year’s Eve to all my friends out there on this crisp, chilly morning! Oh my goodness! It is so hard to believe today is the final day of 2017 and a New Year awaits us on the morrow! How fast the year has passed us by! Let’s hope 2018 is not in a similar hurry to come and go.

So much has happened this past year, some rather major life decisions made and some events the likes of which I hope to never experience again! Maybe that is why the year seemed to zoom by at such an alarming rate. For those who faithfully follow my Sunday stories you will recall this time last year we were under a heavy blanket of snow, which led to the epic roof collapse event in mid-January. This event was instrumental in a way in us making the firm decision to take our farm off the market and stay put, downsize a bit, but stay right here. Honestly, where could we find such an ideal place again? Darrell buying “Scorcher”, his 1958 Chevy Impala, sealed the deal. We would still downsize a bit so as to give us more playtimes versus work time. Since Nessie was incapacitated and initially thought to be damaged beyond repair after being trapped under the collapsed roof of the arena stables, the search began for another farmer’s market transportation project car for me. Pearl, my 1951 Chevy Sedan Delivery was found up in Seattle and that in itself you might recall was quite an epic adventure going and getting her! But what a joy she has been despite her sometimes self-possessed behavior!

I waffled for a while about selling off all our breeding stock pigs but Darrell finally convinced me I should only do so if I really, really wanted to which of course led to me keeping my porcine herd. Rather happy I did in a way, as I was thrilled to receive an award for best breeder from the Grant County Fair! Speaking of pigs, in April a freak accident while moving young sow Sylvia from the farrowing house back to the main pig paddock resulted in the amputation of the end of my left hand middle finger. Thus creating “Mr. Stumpy”! The ensuing journey of learning to cope with all the limitations of having such a shortened finger have been interesting and quite hilarious to say the least! I still at the oddest of moments can burst out laughing when I find yet another thing Mr. Stumpy either allows or disallows me to do. Such as I never knew just how much one’s left hand middle finger is necessary when one is laying in a hot bubble bath with one’s book in one hand and the plate with the M&M’s is on the window ledge only accessible by one’s left hand. Do you know how hard it is to pick up M&M’s without the end joint of one’s middle finger? Or the fact that while teaching one is often inadvertently giving ones students a somewhat rude gesture as you wave your hands about to illustrate a point? Thus I have taken to painting a happy face on Mr. Stumpy before said classes!

One of the other major events of this year was my return to serving my fellow community members as an EMT on our Monument Volunteer Ambulance. Over the winter of 2016/2017 I taught, along with my good friend Cindy Hinton from Condon, an EMT class to a group of folks from all over our area of the state. During this time I was asked by our local hospital to return to service with them as an EMT, which I was extremely happy to do. This was quickly followed by almost all of the other Monument EMTs returning to service and once again the Monument branch of Blue Mountain Hospital District Volunteer Ambulance was back in service for our community. Some of our old crew chose this time to retire from their many years of service as a volunteer but after teaching an EMR (First Responder) class early in 2017, our ranks were slightly replenished and we now once again have a grand crew With the wonderful leadership of our Ambulance Administrator in John Day, we now work closely with our local fire brigade, the Fire Chief being one of my EMR students, which allows us to respond as a team that much faster to a person in need. It has a been quite a busy year for us on the ambulance but we all love what we do and are happy to be here for those who call 911.

This year was a grand one for our little home business of Rose’s Creations soap and lotions and our Triple H Homestead products! Farmer’s markets, bazaars, mail orders and the stocking of our products in some local… and not so local… shops has sure kept me busy! I love making soap, sausages and cheese so to me it is a labour of love. With the growing of our home business and the advent of Mr. Stumpy putting a damper on my butchering endeavours, another major life decision was made… I would no longer take in customer’s wild game for processing. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to make this decision? I agonized over how I was going to tell my faithful customers I would no longer be available to cut and wrap their harvested deer and elk! But you know, when I made the decision I knew it must have been the right one as I felt a sort of “lightness” inside! The past few years have seen me in the butcher shop numerous days a week, long hours at a time cutting and wrapping away, often from mid-August through November or December! My concern for Mr. Stumpy prompted the decision but when Darrell more or less gave a huge sigh of relief I knew it was the right one. Never a chap to discourage me from doing something I want to do, when I asked him what he thought about my decision, his prompt “Good idea!” instead of “Well, that has to be up to you…” response made me see he was happy with my “cutting back”… no pun intended! I will of course still be happy to make my custom sausage and jerky for folks, as I do really love making sausages.

So as this year draws to a close, as the sky lightens with streaks of pale blue and pink, there is much to reflect upon the year that has past us by. But you know what? Despite all the trials and tribulations, the agonies of decision making, the triumphs outweigh any of the ordeals we may have gone through. It is a glorious day and a New Year is just around the corner, a blank… or somewhat… blank page for us to begin anew. Tomorrow will be a day of resolutions, a day of new beginnings, a day to look ahead and plan new adventures. Yes, a new year to look forward to. But as I sit here in my comfy chair, cup of tea at hand, dogs laying quietly on their rugs, Darrell by my side… what on earth more could I ask for than what I have right now.

Happy New Year to you all my friends! May it be a healthy, hearty and prosperous one for each and every one of you!

The Planner

11.26.17

Oh dear, I found myself lamenting the other day about the holidays being a good month away yet here we are, being bombarded with all manner of Christmas reminders … advertisements in the newspapers, the Christmas songs that blossomed on the radio the day after Thanksgiving, endless number of Christmas films one sees as one tries in vain to find a somewhat good programme on the telly … yes, Christmas is coming! I feel so unprepared, but then again, this seems to happen to me every year so why should I be surprised this one is any different? Maybe it is because this particular year seems to have passed at a very alarming rate. Darrell and I are not the only ones who feel this is so. Many folks I have chatted with express the same sentiment! Time seems to have gone into warp speed.

As I sat the other night contemplating how Christmas has become so commercialized, how we start seeing the holly wreathed advertisement pages in the paper, the snow, Christmas lights and holiday shoppers portrayed on television commercials, I felt a tad grumpy. Is it no wonder after close to two months of being bombarded with such advertisements Christmas can often lose it’s charm? Hang on a minute! Now who is being a bit hypocritical here? Have I not recently been showing off my wares on the computer? Professing my tasty peanut brittle, my Traditional English Christmas Cakes, my soaps and lotions, sausage and cheese gift boxes would make ideal Christmas and Holiday presents? Guilty as charged! I become a tad red faced as I realize I too have slipped into this commercialization modus operandi! But wait a minute, I can explain, really I can! Does my soap not have to sit on the drying shelves for about four weeks before I package it up for sale? My Christmas cakes need a goodly bit of maturing on the pantry shelves, cheese has to sit in my cheese cave to develop it’s distinctive flavor, sausages take more than a day to make… yes indeed, a lot of advanced planning is involved in our little cottage industry is it not? Ahhh… part of me feels a tad better. Of course I have to plan ahead! My faithful customers would be disappointed if they placed their holiday orders only to find I had not planned ahead! Still… one cannot help feeling a tad commercialized like the big shops!

As I look at my calendar, a true paper calendar by the way, there are very few squares that do not have some sort of writing in them. From notations recording when pigs were dispatched to when sausage meat was mixed, stuffed and placed in the smoker. Colour coded blocks indicating when folks would be coming to visit the farm, occasional doctor appointments, CPR classes, when milk cows were bred, pigs farrowed et cetera. Even Mr. Stumpy has a date to his name… although he does share it with a notation about Spic being bred by Casper and an EMS class to be held in the church. The EMS class was cancelled by the way! Yes, my calendar has a tendency to fill quite quickly. November started out having very little noted on its page. A quiet month I thought. But slowly the days filled with activities worthy enough to be recorded. As I flip the page to December, other than a couple of bazaars, a notation about attending The Nutcracker Ballet and doctor appointments, when to post off customer’s Christmas gift boxes, December is quite open!

A good few years ago, my dear pal Lynda Thomas gave me a Five Year Planner as a Christmas gift. I now am on my third such calendar and sometimes it is amusing to pull out on old planner from the files and look through the preceding years to see how much, if any, things have changed. As I glance at previous November and December pages I see they too are filled with notations of things to do and memorable activities. As I glance back through the past couple of months in my current book, despite not taking in the wild game to process for customers as I have in years past, my calendar does not seem to be as empty as I had planned. Too many date squares seem to be filled with notations. Of course that is not always a bad thing! One would greatly dislike being bored!

But as I look at the still overly full monthly pages of the past year I notice how few show activities just for my dearest Darrell and I. Did we not decide that things were going to slow down so we could have more time to do fun things together away from the farm? We did indeed! Did it happen? Well, not really. There was always something that came up or the weather was way too hot to go fishing, or we had to do this or do that. We really do love our life here on the farm and could not imagine living any other way. I still may have too many irons in the fire but that is me, who I am and will always be, a work in progress to try to change! But as I glance at my planner calendar and flip to January I see a nice, almost blank page, just a few reminders of dates when sows are slated to farrow and one of my milk cows due to calve. Maybe before more of those blank squares are filled in with anything else I need to set aside time for Darrell and I to go to do something fun, like visit the coast. Advanced planning can be a grand thing to do… not just for work things and farm things but for fun things too.

Yes, this year has gone by so quickly, in a blink of an eye one might say. Christmas is just around the corner again and New Year’s will be upon us before we know it. When I turn that page in my calendar planner on January 1st, I want to see time blocked out in red. Not for pigs farrowing or milk cows calving, not for butchering or sausage making, not for EMT classes or teaching but for Darrell and I. Next year may zoom by just as quickly as this one has, but along with all the irons in the fire a big one will stand out, one with our name written on it.

Tom Turkey

11.19.17

Goodness me! Thanksgiving is just around the corner and Tom Turkey is still strutting around in his pen fit as a fiddle! Actually, he was supposed to have met his demise last New Year’s but had a reprieve. Then he had the tag on him for Easter dinner but that too passed with him being substituted for a ham. Fourth of July was definitely going to be his Waterloo then, my calendar became filled with teaching CPR classes, farmer’s markets and such, plus the weather was quite warm, a turkey dinner did not sound quite so appealing. During the year numerous little girls and boys who came with their families to stay at the farm had the fun of seeing Tom Turkey strut around the chicken pen in all his glory! Delighting in hearing him gobble back at them when they made their “gobble, gobble” sounds to a bird that outweighed some of them! But as they say, all good things must come to an end. Yes, Tom’s days are numbered, actually it may be better to say, his hours are numbered!

I know he is only one turkey, but I would rather butcher 3 pigs than do fowl. Wonder why that is? It will not take long at all to dispatch Tom, large as he is, for I will dry pluck him instead of pulling out all the paraphernalia to go through the scalding process. Ah! As much as I miss home grown chicken I do not really miss the dispatching of them. Well, part of me does not. There is something quite rewarding to start out early in the morning after chores are done and by noon be all cleaned up and have 25 birds in the freezer. The key is having a good system! I like systems and routines once they prove themselves to be time saving! In fact, we ended up with a very large cooler that had a wonky lid, which negated its use as a food storage cooler. Immediately I decided it was the perfect replacement to my old “chicken scalding cooler” that had served us for many years but was so leaky it was in dire need of replacing. Now even though I have no future plans for raising 50 odd meat chicken again, it is always a good idea to be well prepared…. just in case.

No, Tom will be dispatched and dry plucked. He has been residing in a part of the chicken coop along with our little pullets. I really should have snapped a picture with him and his tiny little chicks! Here is this whopper of a bronze turkey living with a dozen little newly fledged chicks and one tiny banty rooster. When we get new chicks, after they are old enough to forgo being under a heat lamp, they are taken down to the main chicken coop and moved into the “number two” chicken house to acclimatize them to their new life. Their pen area is separated from the regular laying hen area by a sturdy chicken wire barrier, allowing the older hens to see and accustom themselves to what will one day be their fellow egg layers. Had I put the fledged chicks in with the adult hens, all manner of pecking and chasing and harassment would have occurred! This way, when the dividing fence is removed allowing grown pullets to mingle with old hens for the first time, neither a pecking nor a squabbling will occur.

Now in the main “big chicken” area, a fine and handsome Barred Rock rooster rules the roost! Very respectful of humans … he is scared to death of me! … he is Lord and Master over his flock of hens. A short while ago I had the bright idea of removing the dividing fence and letting all the fowl mingle. Tom turkey had been residing beside the regular laying hens, separated by the fence of course, since he was just a wee little thing! I had no idea the kafuffle that would ensue by putting Tom turkey and Lord and Master Rooster in closer proximity to each other! Tom outweighs Rooster significantly so I thought there would not be any problems. How wrong I was! Once the fence was removed, that feisty rooster took off after Tom turkey, which I thought would hold his own and even thrash this smaller fowl. But no! Tom turkey was soon cowering in a corner while that cocky cockerel thrashed him! No worries, I was sure they would come to a truce, but that was not to be! One of our guests staying in the bunkhouse heard quite a ruckus down at the chicken coop and headed that way thinking something was amiss. She found poor big, old Tom turkey cringing in the corner of his house, straddling a perch, with the rooster thrashing the daylights out of him! Brave lady that she is, she went inside, extricated Tom who was unable to extricate himself, and after informing me of the situation I once again separated Tom and his little gang of pullets from the main chicken flock.

For days afterwards, when Rooster would see Tom turkey strutting alongside the division fence, he would fluff up his feathers and charge ineffectually towards his foe. Poor Tom would instantly cease his strutting and run in an ungainly fashion as fast as he could to the other side of his pen! Poor lad! Well, the time came but a week or so ago when the pullets were of an age to start laying and thus it was time they joined the main flock. Since I could not put Tom in with them because of his fear of Rooster, there was no option but to separate him from his chicks. So a smaller section of the chicken coop was fenced off just for him and the rest of his companions joined the laying crew with nary a ruffled feather. Tom still struts his stuff, Rooster still charges the fence, the pullets are starting to drop eggs willy nilly all over the chicken coop run (they have not quite figured out there are nice nest boxes inside the main chicken house) and a modicum of peace reigns. For some reason, Rooster pays no attention to the little banty rooster… yet!

Yes, today is most likely going to be the day when Tom leaves this world. I will miss him in a way. He is quite a character. But let us just say he will be glorified on Thanksgiving Day… along with mashed potatoes and Brussel sprouts from the garden as well as carrots, stuffing and gravy. Yes, he has had a good life, a relatively long life for a turkey and will have a swift, humane departure. Thank you Tom turkey.

The trussed half bird…

Winter is knocking…

11.5.17

It’s Guy Fawkes Day! “Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot! We see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot!” Well I know folks in America do not celebrate Guy Fawkes Night as those of us of English descent do, but it would be a fitting night to have a roaring bonfire going out there I am sure! The brightness outside at almost 5 o’clock in the morning… no, make that 4 o’clock since the clocks just turned back… suggest the first measurable snow is on the ground. Yes indeed, as I peek outside I see snow covers the ground. Although it is a mere 30 degrees outside right now, by Monday night the predicted low temperatures are supposed to dip down to 18 degrees. I think winter may be knocking at the door. I do not know if I am quite ready to let him in!

I know I have said it before, numerous times in fact, how this year seems to have flown by at a very alarming rate! Here we are approaching the first bazaar of the season, the Condon Fall Festival on November the 18th, and I feel I am not ready! Just had an order come in last night that made me think I will be running out of cheese before I know it and here I thought I was well stocked for the coming holiday season. Oh well, since it is cold and snowy outside today, maybe a lotion and fizzy bath bomb making session is in order. The house may smell quite interesting since the delicious aroma of Christmas cakes still permeates the air from yesterday’s activities!

Sometimes I wonder how I get myself into these pickles. For example, I was going to have the butcher in John Day come out and dispatch the beef steer that was more than ready to spend a few weeks in the cooler. I had even thought of having the pigs in the butcher pen done by them as well, since I was not absolutely sure how Mr. Stumpy would hold up to the skinning process. But then I decided I needed to get the animals dispatched sooner than when the butcher had an opening available and decided to take the plunge and put Mr. Stumpy to the test. Consequently, on a bright sunny day at the beginning of October, steer was dispatched. It went not too badly, considering I had a brainwave to try a new way of removing the innards (bad idea!) no time records set, but the job was done. Then I decided I needed to make more sausage since the cooler was running and we were getting low, so hauled 100 pounds of beef out the freezer and made a batch of Summer sausage and pepperoni. That was no sooner done than the beef was ready to cut and wrap. Two days after that I thought “Why not get some of the pigs in the butcher pen done?” I was thinking of us dispatching at least four or five but am glad now that Darrell insisted on only three. I was feeling awfully slow as I went to work on “disrobing” them, but it turns out we had three pigs processed, from kill shot to cooler in a tad over three hours time.

The following day, which was last Sunday, was more or less a day of rest since I had agreed to teach a CPR class in John Day on Monday. Wednesday was pig processing day. Thank goodness for my old Butcher Boy meat saw! Three pigs were cut and wrapped, bacons and hams set to rest in their brine baths, freezer full of little white packages. Thursday saw me once again in John Day teaching yet another CPR class and yesterday the belly bacon slabs were popped in the smoker while I also mixed up another batch of Christmas cakes and got them in the oven. Now I need to get a goodly number of Fizzy Bath Bombs made plus some more soaps and lotion too so as to be completely ready for the holiday season bazaars! Maybe Darrell wasn’t joking when he said he wanted to look at my calendar to book a date with me! It is my own fault. I see an opening, a blank spot on the calendar page and before I know it, have planned an activity. So I only have myself to blame for my somewhat frenetic lifestyle. But I would not change a thing… well… perhaps just a little.

Even though some days just feel as if there are not enough hours in them to accomplish all I would like to, there is still time in the day to sit by the fire with a good cup of tea at hand. The early morning hours are spent chatting with Darrell about what is on the agenda for the day, what projects need attending to. Projects we have in plenty! Our root cellar is almost complete. Darrell is now waiting on the painter to get her part done so shelves can be installed and the potatoes, cabbages and squash set to rest inside for the winter. Up at the shop we are enclosing an area of the attached lean-to shed so as to make a weather protected spot for another car. This will mean two of our old cars can be worked on at the same time, allowing Darrell and I to spend evenings at the shop working side by side, him on Scorcher and me on Pearl or Nessie. Right now both girls are residing in the arena while Scorcher sits in the warm shop!

Well, the fire needs stoking, my second cup of tea is on the brew and it is still only 5:30 a.m. according to the clock. Lass at least adjusts well to the turning back of the clocks. I try to get her prepared for it by waiting an extra ten minutes or so a day over the course of a week until I am a good half an hour later than normal in heading down to milk. By the time the clocks change, she is used to me being “behind” schedule. So when I head down to milk this morning, at what to her will be nearly forty-five minutes late, she will not be too displeased with me.

Yes, Old Man Winter is knocking on the door. With a good fire in the stove, a hot cup of tea to warm one’s hands, the smell of Christmas cakes permeating the air, I think I can let him in. Although not yet officially his season, he seems to be giving us a harbinger of things to come. Maybe he will be kindhearted and wait for a while before becoming firmly entrenched, allowing us to enjoy a few more days of autumn sunshine. After all, we have projects to finish that are more happily done on a bright, sunny day! But whatever is in store weather-wise, we are ready. The pantry is well stocked, the woodshed full and plenty of tea in the caddy.

 

 

 

 

Cake baking time again…

10.21.17

It is a cool, breezy, rainy day today. A good day to find an inside job to do! Darrell is working up in the shop on Scorcher, his 1958 Chevy Impala, a fire going in the woodstove to keep him warm. I decided today would be a good Christmas cake baking day once milking and feeding chores were done. All the ingredients for this special cake were subsequently brought out of the pantry and piled on the kitchen counter comprising 18 eggs brought to room temperature, two pound of butter set to soften, dried fruit, spices, treacle and brown sugar, all waiting to be measured and mixed in my big white bowls. I normally make three large cake batches at one time so our kitchen counters are quickly covered in bowls, bottles, bags, spoons and all manner of fixings!

The special recipe I use for this traditional English Christmas cake is comprised partly from my Marguerite Patten’s “Every Day Cook Book” and partly from my precious “Farmer’s Weekly” old cooking book given to me many years ago by my aunty Kay… in fact both books are from aunty Kay! The cake, full of currants, raisins, sultanas, glace cherries, mixed peel, lemon rind and slivered almonds is held together by a little four, plenty of butter and of course, eggs. Allspice and cinnamon, a goodly dose of sherry, treacle and soft brown sugar round out the ingredients. It takes a while to measure everything out and get the cake batter mixed up but that is nothing to the preparing of the cake tins!

I have an ancient old cake tin that has made goodness knows how many Christmas cakes in it’s lifetime and it never, repeat, never gets washed, merely wiped clean with a dry cloth after use. This old tin has a patina all of it’s own, slightly blackened and seasoned, just perfect for this special baking event of the year. Nothing else has been, nor will be, baked in it but Christmas cakes. Since I now have a number of folk out there who place orders for our Traditional English Christmas Cake, I have had to add a few other pots and pans to my cake production line up. Since the cakes, be them 5” or 8” in diameter, all seem to take about three and a half to four hours to bake, the tins must be thick and sturdy and very well lined. Not being able to find tins comparable to my good old traditional English one, I have put some heavy stainless cooking pots, sans their handles, into service. The bottoms of all are lined with two or three layers of brown paper then circles of greaseproof paper are cut to fit on top of the brown paper. Next, a band of greaseproof paper, three-fold thick, is fashioned to line the sides of the tins with little snips made in the lower edge so as to conform to the bottom of the tin to make a good seal.

Once this is done, the rich cake mixture is glopped into the waiting tins which are then given a jolly good bang on the floor so as to really pack said mixture down. This ensures a good solid cake that slices nicely. Then into the oven they go. After about an hour the temperature is reduced… a challenge when using a wood cook-stove… and the cakes cooked for an additional few hours or so. Now the waiting begins. How does one know when they are done? Well, an uncooked Christmas cake sings. Really! You listen close and the cake will be humming and singing away! A quiet cake is a done cake! Right now the cakes have been cooking for almost two hours and I just popped a cover of brown paper on top of the cake tins to stop the cake tops from getting too brown. The whole house smells delicious! All the bowls, spoons, cups and plates have been washed up and put away and the remaining dry ingredients stored back in the pantry. No one would know what a mess the kitchen was just a short while ago. Somehow when I bake, I seem to get stuff not just all over me but also on the floor, the cabinet doors, all over! How nice it is after all the mess to see a nice clear kitchen counter again.

This year seems to have flown by at quite an alarming rate. Hard to think we are rapidly approaching November with December and, dare I say it, Christmas just a short ways around the corner? Whenever Christmas cake baking season is here my mind starts drifting towards the making of peanut brittle, mincemeat pies and treacle tarts. With such a rainy day and a good fire going in the old wood cooker a nice hot chicken dinner sounds good too. Funny how a slight change in the weather makes sticking close to a toasty warm fire with a good cup of tea at hand much more appealing than working outside.

A quick peek in the oven, a gentle press on the cake tops followed by bending an ear to listen… no, they are not quite done as yet. This is always the hard part, the waiting for them to stop singing! Once out of the oven, the cakes will rest in their tins to cool until later on tonight when they are turned out. With their casing of greaseproof paper that lined the tins still attached to them, they sit covered with tea towels until the morning. The final act before heading off to the pantry shelf will be a liberal basting with a respectable brandy, a snug wrapping in more greaseproof paper followed by a good swaddling of plastic wrap. Now they sit patiently for a while, as a Christmas cake should get to “age” for at least six weeks before being enjoyed. Soon they will be shipped out to customers for their special Christmas treat. Cake orders are just starting to come in so I know there will be a few more days like today for me in the next fortnight or so. Oh well, somehow I will manage to bear sitting inside tending the oven, reading a good book and drinking tea! Of course I could always fill the waiting time by making cheese, soap or fizzy bath bombs… hmmm… maybe just the good book and tea will do.

Stumpy’s progress.

10.15.17

The middle of October is upon us, the nights are getting colder and my goodness is it nice to get the fire lit and roaring in the stove of a morning! As I age I feel these nippy autumnal mornings make that scalding hot first cup of tea all the more appreciated! So in eager anticipation I am waiting for the kettle to come to a boil. This past week has been an eye opening one for me, in a good way I should quickly assure you, but in a way that once again has me contemplating “Life”. I guess I need to start out by giving you a Mr. Stumpy update.

It is hard to believe it has been a mere six months since I lost the last joint of my left middle finger, thus began the life of Stumpy… or as he is often known… Mr. Stumpy. I still have not come to a conclusion as to why he should be referred to as a “he” over a “she”, but that is just the way it is. Anyway, this has been quite a journey and I know it is not over as yet. Along the way I have come to discover a myriad of things that said middle finger is important for, things one might never have given thought to had one not lost a goodly chunk of one’s finger. Yes, a whole new appreciation blossoms. This journey has been both humbling and enlightening.

As you all know, the dispatching of animals followed by the subsequent butchering, wrapping and storing away of the little white packages in the freezer is very much a part of my life here on the farm. To the dismay of my autumn customers who faithfully count on me processing their deer and elk from carcass to cuts for the table, due to my not knowing how Stumpy would behave when a sharp knife was in close proximity, I made the decision to forego any custom game cutting this season. I did not want to be under the pressure of having a number of carcasses in our cooler, awaiting my administrations, to discover I could now only get through one deer a day when in the past three had been a breeze! Also, there was the fear that since Stumpy still has that urge to stick straight up in the air, he would do so at an inappropriate time which would cause him a major wound. Do you know how hard it has been to say “no” to so many loyal customers from all over the country? But it was the right decision and I stick by it.

So I am sure you can imagine the trepidation I had when Darrell harvested his buck deer. Now I could have let him skin it and dress it out, but the butcher in me would have none of that so out came my knives and to work I went. Slowly at first I started the process of disrobing the deer, keeping a very watchful eye on Stumpy. I had to remind him a few times to tuck himself out the way and found by making a few slits here and there in the deer’s hide I could make handy holes which allowed his neighbours to more easily pull the hide away from the flashing knife and thus keep Stumpy out of harms way. It was a challenge to change my skinning style, but I managed with nary a nick or a stick. What a triumph that was! It made that night’s dinner of liver and onions so much sweeter! Of course when I am processing an animal I have an internal time clock ticking away in my brain, I find I try to equal or beat previous “processing” times and this was no different. Being awfully careful, as I did not want to inadvertently slash Stumpy, the process felt terribly slow. Darrell, who had popped to the house to make me a nice cup of tea, assured me I was maybe at most about 10 minutes slower than normal and for goodness sake stop worrying as I was not in a competition! How right he was! It was an accomplishment and a relief to know with a bit of training, Stumpy could behave and allow me to get the full dispatching job done.

So, was I ready to tackle something larger than a deer? Maybe. I would think about it a bit. Since my accident I have found it takes no time at all to lose a great deal of one’s strength and despite trying to not compensate too much with my right arm, I have indeed lost a great deal of strength and dexterity in my left hand and arm. Whereas I used to be able to grasp the top of a gallon jar full of milk and carry it with ease with either hand, I am only just at the point of being able to handle a half-gallon with my left hand. Since Stumpy still cannot fully bend downwards like his partners, grasping with any strength is still a challenge (thus all the little holes in the deer hide!) His predilection for sticking up in the air is a habit that is awfully hard to break! So, how would my left hand fare while skinning out a fully-grown steer? I guess there was only one way to find out!

Last Monday dawned bight and fair, a good day for dispatching. After milking was accomplished and feeding chores done, Darrell and I headed to the paddock where Steer and his sister Heifer resided. A big pan of grain was set down in front of Steer and he died a happy chap. My goodness but he was big! His sister munched away on her hay while Darrell with the tractor, removed Steer from the paddock to my customary spot where the skinning and processing would take place. Normally we start such a deed about 8:30 or 9:00 o’clock in the morning. Today we were “late”, it was closer to 10:30 a.m. when we began. Propping the carcass up on it’s back with blocks strategically placed, I began skinning away. Now a steer hide is way thicker and much heavier than a deer hide! Normally I pride myself in removing a hide with little in the way of holes or nicks in it, but that was not the case here! To help Stumpy and my slightly weakened left hand, I once again reverted to making numerous “hand holes” here there and everywhere in the hide! Not pretty, but it worked. All in all the skinning was accomplished in near normal time, Stumpy was hanging in there like a trooper. The evisceration process, which for those readers of a sensitive nature I shall not go into detail at this time, was should we say, challenging. I decided to try a new method, which I thought might be easier on Stumpy. Alas, it was a nightmare… I have never been so inclined to stamp my feet and have a temper tantrum as I was at that moment! I should have stuck to our “regular” method! But no worries, the deed was finally done, the carcass taken to the butcher shop where it was subsequently quartered and lodged in the cooler. Despite taking nearly three and a half hours, the deed was done! Stumpy was tired and a tad stiff and sore, but he had survived the test! Another big step forward!

Yesterday, I was over in Bend, where a lovely lady I met during the eclipse event had invited me to come to her house to showcase my wares for her friend’s shopping pleasure. Her big, round dining room table was the perfect spot to display soaps and lotions, bath bombs, books and all the other odds and ends I make and sell. While the ladies chatted and shopped the thought really came home to me… what a wonderful life I live. Driving home that evening I thought once again I would not change one thing about the life I have. Stumpy has again reminded me that life can change in the blink of an eye, we can accept and adapt and keep right on moving forward or give up. Things you thought you might never do again can be done… maybe with a little more time involved… but can be done, and what a wonderful thought that is at the end of the day. Home, warmth of a fire, kettle singing on the hob, a new day before us, my dearest beside me… what more could one want?