Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Raw Milk Update

Been awhile hasn't it? And you've been worried haven't you? Maybe even having trouble concentrating at work, difficulty with sleep, not interested in...you know...and it's all my fault I'll admit.

To go so long without a raw milk update is very thoughtless of me. Frankly don't know what you see in me, you should've left years ago. It's true. I never deserved you. But maybe I can win your trust again with some fresh out of the udder milk news.

Everything is fine.

Well, The drought was tough on the cows and hay had to fed in July to supplement the pastures. This meant increased costs to us of course. We held off with increasing our per gallon charge as long as we could but tomorrow our price will go from $5 a gallon to $6. It's not something we're happy about but with other small farmers around us cutting way back on their products and some dairies closing their barn doors permanently, we feel this alternative is better.

In general, our raw milk continues to sell very well. People continue to drive up our lane with empty containers and then back down the lane with full ones. I continue to advertise but we're not wasting our $ on print ads. We ran a few for several weeks last spring but only got a couple new customers. So it's the Book of Face, this blog and word of mouth.

Specifically, Raw milk sales  are up by over 30% from last year at this time. The increase is both in the NUMBERS of folks who come and the AMOUNT they are buying. We still have the rare customer who comes once and then we don't  see again, same way for our farm store where the meat is sold, but most of our new customers do return, over and over. Several of them have expanded their raw milk talents moving into cheese and yogurt making.

They make us proud.

We did have a couple complaints related to our milk this past month. And as required by NOP (National Organic Program) we logged the complaints (about taste) and then took action. We reminded folks that when feed is changed, the taste of the milk is often altered. And that's what happened. An early frost hit one of our primarily alfalfa filled pasture which really did make the milk smell bad.  So we provided some education about this phenomenon and went on.

Then a second customer complained so I took a milk sample over to Peoria, a 140 mil round trip to the lab that tests our milk for us. The next morning we were relived but not surprised to find our lab counts were good. Somatic cell count 180,000. Federal requirements are that the SCC must be less than 750,000. A couple emails to those customers and new pasture to the girls and all was back on track again.

Other news...The  customer demographic has changed slightly.  I don't track it scientifically but last year our top raw milk customer was the young 30 something mom with small children. This year, that group continues to visit us but we are seeing an increase in retired folks, those who want to improve or maintain their health and remember drinking raw milk as children.

Not sure I'll ever quote that group in any of my advertising though, since they have a tendency to walk around spewing wisdom like "I drank it when I was a squirt and I ain't dead yet am I?" Yeah, when we think the time is right to run some TV ads  (never) I believe we'll approach our young mom group for their opinion. Yes we will.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Saponification Sunday.. Binge Soaping

Even without a web store I have been inundated with Christmas Soap orders. This week alone I've had four, count them FOUR orders for soap. I know...pretty impressive. Just imagine what I could do if I had a real on line store. I could have maybe five or even six orders.


Which is why I am still piddling around with a few bars here and a few bars there. Seriously though a couple orders were none too shabby. One for 15 bars and another for 25. Plus those pesky store customers think that just because I put a bar of soap in the farm store with a price tag on it that gives them the right to leave me moola and take the soap with them. The noive.

So each night for the past couple weeks I've been making more soap. Some night just a few bars and other nights a whooping 4 pounds worth. (yeah, I hear you pros out there with your master batching and your 200 pound molds laughing at me but you were amateurs once too you know...except for that handful of you BORN to soap. You know who you are )

Making a little soap more often has been more pleasurable than making lots all at once. It has been very relaxing and rewarding and the results are better or so I tell myself. The pics are just samples of all the different kinds I've made in the last 14 days. Some are HP (Hot process) some CP  (cold process) some LP (music from the 70's)

My personal favorite is the most plain of the bunch, my "Farmtastic Bar" above. It doesn't look like much and with the partial gel it looks like even less but it has tremendous intrinsic value. Crafted from Organic raw whole milk, raw honey, a free range egg and organic lard it has the faintest most delicate sweet smell.  No, it does not smell like bacon. When cured, if it performs as well as its predeccessors, it will leave ones skin extremely soft. For being unscented and uncolored it sure is a favorite with my customers.

All of  the above soap batches in the first picture are already sold but more is coming. One day I may get caught up enough to actually have extra to sell on that nebulous web store I keep yakking about. Only time will tell.

DON'T FORGET !  Bramble Berry is having a great deal this November. (For my original post about their generosity Read HERE )  Enter the code GIVEMBER200 on any order when you check out at brambleberry.com to be entered into a drawing to win a $200 gift card from Bramble Berry. This code is good on orders placed during the month of November only. Thank you Bramble Berry!

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Sometimes, when no one is looking, I turn off the TV as well as  the computer. I remind the GK's that they have marvelous brains that with a little encouragement will likely bring about ideas for exciting non-electronic play. Oh sure they balk a little but with some sweet encouragement from their loving grandmother "Don't let that door hit you in the $ss on your way out!" They are soon involved with activities that do not require downloading, updowning or sidewinding.

I hope they will one day forgive me my cruel and should be more usual behavior.

Impressionistic Contemplation
Olympic Training

Big Sister Knee (and tree) hugging

Aerodynamic Design

Poultry Reiki

Cat-Habitate for Humanity

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Famous Hams

It's a sad day when your big fat lumbering 400 pound plus dirt snorting worm eating pigs are more desirable than you are.

Sad and exciting. The ball got rolling with an email from an animal talent agent in Chicago looking for several piglets that could be trained to halter and leash in order to star in a commercial. Several emails back and forth resulted. At first she wanted "white pigs" but when I sent pics of our adorable fat bottomed Red Wattle piglets she thought they'd work even better. Then she asked my "fee" Hmmmm. How does one figure the cost of training piglets to heel? Let alone "roll over". How about "Beg?"  Seriously she just wanted to be able to walk them in the same direction in their little halters and leashes.

I figured in gas and time, leash costs and more time, feed costs while gone and more time. I sent her this final number.

I haven't heard a word since.

I thought it was too high then gave the whole scenario to my two youngest 20 something sons who came up with a figure TWICE that of what I was offering. So now I'm kinda hoping she won't respond as I stand to lose money after looking closely at the costs my boys thought of that I didn't. But then again what if the ad is for something really pig...I mean big.  Like John Mellencamp doing a "Save the Family Farm" gig or something similar. I could ask for royalties right?

Then last week I was contacted by a large out of state University doing a study on Heritage Hogs. They wanted a Red Wattle sow (no mixing up the red with the white here. She knew she wanted a Red Wattle). And she wanted that sow to be pregnant and ready to farrow in April.  I like a woman with a plan.

The sow would be transported to their university farm and her babies would be studied on things like
nursing behavior, social skills (Like does she know which is the grub fork and which is the mud spoon ?!?!) etc...No, she and her piglets  would not be used for testing nuclear arms and although the farm is not a pasture type set up it sounds very roomy and they welcomed us to deliver the sow ourselves and meet and greet the vets in the project.

So that event seems like a Go.

To add more activity to an already chaotic life, I was interviewed by a reporter with Farm World newspaper about the cost of organic pork production. Seems the state of Iowa did a study , "study" consisting of two farms I might add, that indicated that pork production costs were estimated to increase by $11-$15 per head in 2012. This reporter wondered if we would see such a drastic increase in  our own business. He was a little gobsmacked when I told him we were projecting an increase of $60 (!) per head from 2011-2012.

He then asked what sacrifices we might be making in order to stay in business so I ran down the list Keith and I had come up with just the other night. I trust that if I share this top secret information with you all, you won't go blabbing it all over the universe will you? So here are our planned sacrifices for 2013

1. Fire the maid  (I caught her dipping into my supply of Guinness again anyway. It was time)
2. Cease the purchase of all designer duds and instead just share Keith's chore clothes. So what if my arse hangs out the back of his jeans, I'll just let Keith do all the outside work while I do the inside work. We fired the maid remember?
3. Stop the wasteful practice of purchasing out of season fruit. A good case of scurvy will help with my weight control which will further help my back end fit into thin man's jeans.
4. Quit with all the travel expenses back and forth to get the GK's. The youngest is now a very mature five.  About the same age I was when I started hitchhiking We totally coddle these kids too much as it is.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sisters who need sisters...

I was the first , making an entrance in 1959. The others followed in rapid Irish Catholic succession with a final count of 9 pregnancies and 6 kids in 10 years. Due to a bad roll of the dice for my brother, he was the only male.

So, as we were growing up there, were 5 girls and just one lad. It's no wonder he occasionally would "toss" a large metal tractor at our heads. Who wouldn't? One bathroom and a bunch of sisters ? we were lucky it was only tractors he tossed and not hand grenades.

 Like so many families we fought as children over many  trivial things like the last hot dog and who got to sleep closet to the fan in a small, cramped, non-air conditioned home. With the exception of one precious sister who died of pneumonia complications at the tender age of 11, we have all grown up.

Most miraculous of all...we like each other now.

We take this for granted at times, until we are told that not all sisters are as close as we are. Not all share every major holiday together, along with our ever expanding families,  or plan a week long family vacation together in another state (next June) or even risk an overnight trip to the Covered Bridge Festival in the neighboring state of Indiana like we just did this past weekend.

From left Teresa, Mary, Peg and Herself
We finally have learned that we can be great sources of support rather than just thorns in each others sides. We all love our husbands and feel that they got the better end of the marriage deals and we each enjoy sharing clothes back and forth ( as body shapes go up and down) now that we are no longer FORCED to share as when we were tiny. We especially liked sharing a couple of weak bottles of wine before retiring on Saturday night.
All in all I would say I am the luckiest sister in the world.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Saponification Sunday...Galway Bay Day

It used to be called "Bluegrass" because of all the blue's I made it with. Then I kind of forgot about it until a customer requested it.

So I dug through my soap recipe box and then old pics on my computer and I found it! To make things even better I had all the Essential oils I used the last time, specifically Lavender, Lemongrass, Bergamot, Amyris,  and Sweet Orange.
I colored it with Spirulina from Bramble Berry  (you might recall I was asked by the company a few weeks to test some of their products. You can read about that HERE) as well as Wheat Grass Powder, Nettle Leaf Powder, Indigo Powder and Titanium Dioxide. The Indigo was blue when I poured it in the mold but by morning had turned a dark deep green.
And so Bluegrass no more and instead I re-christened the soap "Galway Bay"  Galway is the third largest city in the Republic of Ireland, curled up next to Galway Bay on the Rive Corrib. Known for its great music and art such as the world renown Claddaugh Ring,  it's a city that embraces old traditions and newest creative venues for those who make their living in pristine crystal, wondrous stone walls and modern design.
My soap is not nearly as adventurous as Galway but the colors are very close to the waves of Galway Bay that rush past the Aran Islands to eventually wash over the land on the far East cost of the US.
I love the city of Galway
I really like this new soap dish too. Found a few days ago while investigating an estate salvage store in Campaign, I was thrilled to find two of these. I was even more thrilled to score them for only $10 each. They have multiple layers of paint and their petite size is very attractive. Anyone seen this type of soap dish before? Would love to hear what you might know.
PS. The tightly woven, high end dishcloth in my soap photos was created by blog buddy Martha Witcher of  Thistle Rose Weaving.  Her work is amazing, not like that cheap crapola one finds in the mass produced Walmart World. Her weaving is the purest type of art. Any item placed on a piece of her work is instantly transformed into a solid piece of everlasting beauty.
I wonder what she would charge to weave me a dress ? Nothing formal, a simple A-Line would suffice.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Flash: Local Celebrity Visits South Pork Ranch

Even though she herself would probably frown at this title, it's true. She is a local celebrity on her way to small farm greatness and it was a real pleasure to have her and several of her farm friends down to our neck of the woods.(prairie)

Deb, owner (along with husband Mike) of Antiquity Oaks in Cornell, Illinois, tells an interesting story of how she manhandled her family onto a 32 acre plot of hard work and great joy. You can read that venture yourself by going to her farm web site Antiquity Oaks

Most recently Deb has become well known for her common sense approach in living the Good Life, Cornell Style, through the publication of two books. (A third is in the works). Her first, Homegrown and Handmade is an easily digestible how-to guide which covers all the basics of homesteading and includes many anecdotal stories and first hand experiences. It would make a fantastic gift for someone dreaming about a simpler, more sustainable life whether they lived in the boonies or in Boston.

Her second book  Ecothrifty looks like a fantastic companion to her first book but I've yet to read it so can't give an honest review yet.  I do know from her Face Book Updates that the book shows the reader HOW to save real money on the  real necessities of life while avoiding the wasteful consumer jungle that surrounds all of us. Soon, I hope to have both books available for purchase in my little farm store. I also should mention she is working on book number three and travels frequently to various events teaching people in person to live more simply.

Deb brought with her other hardworking woman homesteader types, all of which were already selling products made with their own hands and who either had a small farm store or were planning to open one in the future.

From the left they are:  Janet Jablonski, Melinda Barrett Cusak, Deborah Niemann, Kat Madreas and Cheryl Trhlik Zacek with her 4 children. (You all know Mad Max on the far  right I believe) After doing the South Pork Ranch walk around, followed by tea/coffee/milk in our dining room, each of them were gracious enough to buy a few things from our store.

Never required, always appreciated.  It's just like Forrest's mother always says:
 "Local is as Local Does"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Boot Wellington Please

For the first decade of my new farm life after marrying Keith I wore what he wore. Chore boots from Big R. But they never fit right being made for skinny man legs and all. And after a brief year or so of wear they would leak.

9 years ago while visiting the Dingle Peninsula (Ireland) I wandered into a sport shop and found my first pair of Wellington boots. They were surprisingly well made and inexpensive. I left behind some junky souvenirs, stupid Leprechaun stuff I think, and made room for the boots in my suitcase. I wore them at least 5 years. Bought another pair over there and wore them for 4 years.

I was spending lots more time outside since retiring from nursing, so they didn't last as long as the first pair.

So a few weeks ago when the second pair began to leak I figured I'd make them last until my next trip to Eire but the rains convinced me otherwise. It took awhile to find a real pair of Wellies that fit, I have wide feet and wide calves, how very feminine huh? Finally I found a company in the UK and sent my money.

They arrived yesterday.

They are called "Festival" Wellies because apparently all the cool folk are wearing them at all the fun events overseas. So tell me all my UK and Republic of Ireland Blog followers, are these really being worn over there or have I (once again) been taken for a fool?
The true test of a good chore boot though has nothing to do with its looks (of course it does) and everything to do with its wear factor. So come with me while we take these for a test drive.
First we'll the feed calves.
Next, we need to get some grain to the poultry. No I do not normally hold the bucket for the turkey. But it's not every day I get "Festival" boots either now is it?
Following that we'll check on the feeder pigs. Swine nibble test is always important
when breaking in new chore boots.
We meander north to the horse pasture and ask Ennis her opinion. You wouldn't think tiny brained farm critters would notice something like new boots would you?

Just in front of the horse waterer is an area that gets pretty muddy.
An excellent test for possible leaking

And finally back to the milk house to wash up all the calf bottles and buckets.

I always like to end my chores in there as my boots are good and clean before I take them off and head into the house for the morning first break and our daily farm meeting.

So there you have it. No leaks, very comfy to walk in, fit my wide calves very well and stunning in appearance.  Yes, those are Keiths boots next to mine. He's so serious, isn't he?
The only thing missing now is YOUR opinion of course.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Saponification Sunday...To infuse or not to infuse.

Some of my regulars might recall that I recently received a gift box from Bramble Berry. But if you're over a certain age you might remember Bramble Berry but are thinking it's a new type of bush fruit. If this is so refresh your memory with last weeks blog HERE

So  lets get to this week shall we?

I thought at first I would use ALL the gifts in one grand soaping adventure. This plan lasted all of 30 seconds when I realized it was 9pm and I had less than 3 hours for saponifying. So, I decided to focus, yes focus, on one aspect...infusions.

I'm not new to infusions, I have stuck thousands of needles into thousands of arms ( several feet and sadly  a few infants heads) in order to infuse fluids into bodies in need. Soap infusions however are still newish to me. Usually I just throw the colorants , clay, plant materials etc, right into the soap mixture in their chopped up form, thus getting color and exfoliation benefits.

But tonight I risked all and ...followed directions. Specifically the ones given to me by Bramble Berry in their infusion book I was gifted. I chose Alkanet as my material of choice and elected to compare two types. The one gifted to me from Bramble Berry and one from Organic Creations.

I was so surprised to see how well ground the Alkanet was from Bramble Berry!  (On the right in the pic above) Like talcum powder. Whereas the Alkanet from OC was very course. Using a 1/2 tablespoon of the Alkanet from each company and mixing it into 2.5 oz of Rice Bran Oil, I heated each for a minute in the microwave,

The resulting color from both was a rich purple-grey.

I then divided my soap into three parts, the two largest parts I colored with the alkanet powders. The bottom layer with the Bramble Berry concoction, the top layer was the Organic Creations Alkanet and Rice Bran mixture. The middle layer was a small amount of white soap just so I could see the difference between the two after it was unmolded.

Both soap mixtures were a beautiful deep purple with the Bramble Berry layer looking slightly . darker. I did not wrap my mold, afraid that between the plant additives, the warm weather (it's 60 and humid) and the EO's I used to scent, that it might gel and crack. So left it out in the open where the smell was easily enjoyed, a combination of Lavender, Amyris and Bergamot.

An hour after pouring in the mold the top soap layer morphed into a gorgeous blue. Couldn't see the other layers of course, not in my high tech diaper wipe mold I couldn't. 

But I certainly could feel some strong heat in the bottom of the mold...a good thing. Cannot wait to see the results tomorrow, if I make it that long. I have found that 0400 can be an excellent time for unmolding soap.

Post note: 12 hours later and the soap was hard enough to cut. This first pic was taken in the kitchen, with filtered light and a black card board background. The darker area in the middle is where the soap got the hottest or gelled the best.

The next photo was taken in the dining room in early afternoon sunlight. It has become obvious that the top Alkanet layer (from Organic creations) is slightly lighter in color than the bottom purple layer from Bramble Berry's Alkanet infusion.

My favorite? Must say...I like them both very much but my daughter-in-law Tab is the real purple freak in our family. The final decision will be hers. Tab??? Are you there?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Goodbye Drought...Hello Price Increases.

Mad Max, all 800 plus pounds of him...
contemplating pork futures

As we head towards 2013, now less than 3 months away. Keith and I are buried in plans for the next year. In the last month we had three individuals look at the farm but still no offers. One looker though, was serious enough to contact the folks we rent land from, to ask about future rent prices and  the possibility of additional land purchase, so maybe an offer is in the works?

In the meantime we are doing what all other farmers in this area are doing...assessing the effects of this summers disastrous drought. As farmers harvest field by field we hear of the results. Some fields were not too bad, others less than 30% of last years harvest and some worse than that. Year to date over the entire state of Illinois, we are still 6 inches below our average precipitation. In the western counties it is far worse, at 16-18 inches below the average.

We do not raise our own grain, instead it is purchased from an organic farmer about 45 minutes west of us and as we've been expecting...he has recently raised his price to us.  He also put it off as long as HE could. This price increase includes all the organic corn, wheat, barley and rye we buy in order to grind all our own hog and chicken feed.  Specifically our grain is being increased by 50% . Yes, fifty percent.

Innocent Red Wattle babes,
thnking grain grows on trees.
7 days old

He also supplies all our organic hay and, no big surprise, our hay prices will increase as well but our farmer supplier has not yet given us the final price for the green stuff. Soon he tells us. Soon. Being the BRILLIANT blog followers you are, I'll bet you can guess what these increases will mean to our customers, Yup, we are being forced to increase our own meat prices. Economics 101.

We waited as long as we could, watching farmers and grocery stores around us bumping up their prices months ago in preparation for the inevitable grain price income, but we could not validate increasing our prices "just in case." We prefer to react in real time.

Beef and Pork, our biggest sellers, will go up as will our raw milk prices. This will include our per pound price for carcasses as well as the per pound price for the individual cuts we sell in our farm store and the grocery stores we sell to. The process of setting these  new prices is time consuming in itself and not so simple as just increasing everything across the board by 50%  in order to match up with the increased grain prices we are facing.  Instead we will be diligent concerning our costs. Rather than just increasing across the board in one fell sweep (swoop?) we have been doing market research looking at prices for comparable products in our area. "Market research" consists of this Midlife Farmwife.

Mad Max , the King Pin of
South Pork Ranch

This is always a challenge as there are no other certified organic dairy, beef and pork farmers anywhere near us, who sell direct to the consumer as we do. We have also been snooping on similar type operations who sell to the same 4 grocery stores we do. Again, there are none in the immediate area, the grocery stores having to get good portions of their organic meat from out of state from much larger farms than we are. Fortunately though, there is this new invention called the Internet. Full of fabulous information for the taking. Some of it, I have heard, might even be accurate.

Son of Mad Max and Sophie.
Just 8 weeks old

My best method for price comparisons though, are my own eyes and feet. By walking into area grocery stores as well as those up north in Chicago and just jotting down the prices posted in their meat departments, I can gather valuable information in a short amount of time. What is difficult to find though is the wholesale price. Farmers are reluctant to share this, as they should be, which is why I try to gather this info year round , usually done by eavesdropping at different farmer events, and not just at price increase time.

We will also try to project how many beef and hog carcasses we will sell, how many roaster hogs (hogs younger than the usual 6 month market age) might be sold, how many Red Wattle Breeders will be sold, how many non Red Wattle feeder hogs will leave the farm to be raised by other farmers..  whether or not we should participate in any farmers markets and what can we afford to donate to needful organizations.

And when we have completed this process for our pork and beef, we'll take the same steps for out other "Cost centers"

Raw Milk
Free Lance Writing
Animal Talent

Yes, Animal Talent. Yesterday e got a phone call from an Animal Talent Agent in Chicago looking for piglets to use in a commercial. Would involve my driving them in north and then walking them around in leashes. Yeah, I could do that.

Some people refer to us as diversified. I prefer the old fashioned term.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ennis...my Nemesis Part Three.

So OK impatient ones...the duck incident. But after this you need to know it's back to farm business as usual. Three posts on ONE horse is three too many. She doesn't even generate any income for us for crying out loud!

So there we were, Ennis, my new Missouri Fox Trotter and I ,  strolling through the woods near our farm. It was our third ride in the woods and she was doing so well. With her ears up, listening to the sounds of Fall, and me enjoying the colors shifting from green to orange to red in front of my eyes, the sun filtered , coming through the trees  we were both realxed and happy when suddenly... a splash.

A small group of ducks just in front of us, swimming on the pond, now startled by our presence, decided to fly straight up in the air...and nearly into Ennis's face.

Suddenly my very tall horse became drastically short. So frightened by the ducks she shot all four legs out, bracing them against the earth, lowering her entire body towards the  ground so much that my legs, just seconds before, elevated up in stirrups a good three feet off the ground , now were dragging the ground alongside my mare's belly.

For a millisecond I thought "so cool" but that thought evaporated at the exact moment  she flew back into an upright position and BOLTED!

I was no longer thinking "so cool" but rather "So DEAD!!!"

As we moved at warp speed towards the far side of the woods I reacted automatically and took her straight out into the bean field at the edge of the woods. I didn't really want to run at break neck speed. Instead I wanted so desperately to stop her and even thought for a second I would try the one rein stop. A technique where the rider reaches down and using just one rein,  pulls the horses head into her neck and thus disengaging their hind quarters makes it impossible to run forward, but the thinking part of my brain knew if I pulled on one side of her at this speed I could easily cause her to trip and fall.

Not a good option.

So I choose door number two and began circling her in the field. She was pretty spooked so the circle was large and wide. But with each turn I brought her in closer and closer and closer and smaller and smaller and finally she was tired enough to stop.

It was at that point I realized I had lost both stirrups. Yeah? Me too. Totally surprised I was still in that saddle. But factors remained that made it so.

1. I'm a big girl with a big bottom
2. When I am scared, my first reaction is anger and I was MAD at Ennis for acting like such an idiot which put me into emergency mode and caused me to work her into circles so that her mind was on my commands and less on the ducks now long gone.
3. I have an Australian saddle. The dang thing is heavy as sin but it grips you in the thighs, pushing them up against the polley and keeps you from sliding all over.
4. Adrenaline is a great butt glue.

After checking again that I was indeed still alive I considered just hoping off and calling it quits for the day. But I know that putting a horse straight away after a frightening experience just serves to cement the event in their little pea brains so instead I continued to do maneuvers with her. After I managed to get my feet back in the stirrups. I did:

Figure Eights
Cartwheels and backflips

Anything , so that she continued listening to me and would forget about the hugely frightening and life threatening 5 pound quacks. By the time we walked the 1/2 mile home we were both worked into a frothy sweat but we shared a mutual sense of relief.

She was relieved I was finally getting off her back and I was realized my body had not been driven 5 feet under by a jackass ninny, I mean legitimately frightened equine.

Why or WHY can't be satisifed to plunk down $30 twice a year at a stable in order to ride some over trained mount that wouldn't spook if it's belly were on fire is beyond me.

I just can't.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ennis, my nemesis...Part Two

Ennis, Age 9 in the front Pasture of our farm

Last week, posted about my new horse Ennis and my warped equine background. If you are so amused you can catch up HERE

To continue...So here I sit, with feet out of my stirrups a fair amount of time partially to improve my balance and partially due to my poor seat. This new mare is different all the way around from all my other steeds.

Shes been well trained.

Yes, up close she does resemble a moose. So What?

In the past I would go cheap. Here in the US a "green broke" horse, one with little saddle time, can be purchased for between $500- $2000 depending on varying factors. I have never spent more than $1200 for one of my horses, (until now) mostly out of necessity and sometimes out of pride. Thinking I might be the next Buck Brannaman (The original horse whisperer) I would purchase a horse just "half cooked" thinking I had the skills to bring them up to par.

I did not.

Then the epiphany came. (I'd like to think it came just before the fall that impacted my head into my butt but that remains to be seen) I needed a horse SMARTER than I was. Enter Ennis. I found her about 60 miles from me and had to "audition" in order to purchase her. A bit unnerving I will admit, considering I had not ridden either of my horses in a year. To say I was rusty is like saying Obama is slightly liberal.

Meeting the GK's.

But the previous owner must have seen something she liked (cash perhaps?) and when I emailed her to say I wanted to purchase her horse after riding her once, she said yes, in a round about way. She invited me on a second ride, long trail ride. And so I did just that and after an hour in the woods, up and down hill and dale, I was even further convinced this mare and I might make a go of it. I also became convinced that her owner, Mary, was indeed not just looking for a cash cow, er horse. She did indeed really want her horse to go to a decent chap.

She moves with more grace than I ever will.

So with all tests passed, hers mine and ours, We brought Ennis home. (Her original name was Josie, but with all the changes in MY LIFE it seemd only fair she'd have to make some concessions as well. Ennis is the name of a lovely village in the west of Ireland's County Clare)

Now, 8 weeks later we are still in the getting to know you phase. At first she seemed reluctant to do anything I asked that was slightly difficult. Like walk forward. But I persisted and she, like a toddler testing the boundaries, learned quickly I did not intend to get off her back (giving her relief) until I obtained some give on her part. Some days the progress was minuscule, while other days it was...just slightly more than minuscule, but they way I look at it is this. I'm going to be 80 soon one day might as well take my time getting there.

We progressed from round pen work to pasture riding and then this past week...out into the wilds of the woods. She did quite well , taking me through narrow paths, around bends, up and over a few steep hills. Yes, she did very well indeed...until the duck incident.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Saponification Sunday...The Bramble Berry Mellencamp Week.?

It's been one of those weeks. And then the clouds lift and the smiling face of your favorite postal lady shows up at your kitchen door bearing FREE STUFF!  And the week turns good.

Lets start at the beginning. Anne-Marie Faoila , The Soap Queen herself, emailed me a few weeks ago. If you are a serious soaper you know Anne Marie, founder (at age 20!) of her company Bramble Berry which supplies soapers with all the materials they need to make fabulous soap.

She told me she'd been following my blog (ah shucks) and wondered if I'd like to sample some of her products and then share my findings on my blog. Well after a lengthy review of the pros and cons such as FREE STUFF! vs FREE STUFF! (I never could find a con) and looking deep into my motivation for accepting the offer (FREE STUFF !) I decided to reflect further (I ate another Hostess Glow Ball) , emailed her back and accepted the challenge.

And before you get all high and mighty about me, an organic farmer, eating the above nuclear waste laden snacks, the dang things were left over when we hosted the GK's Girl Scout troupe last week for a farm tour. If I didn't eat them then who would? It's not like I can feed them to our certified organic pigs now can I ?!?!?! Throw them in the garbage and possible pollute our water supply? I think not. Sometimes, sacrifices must be made

Mellencamp ? Hang on, I'll get to him. What are you? Three?

So, Anne-Marie, a woman of her word sent me a boat load of  soap related freebies as illustrated below.

Please note how she selected items very specific to the highly unique individual that maketh up me; Celtic soap molds, (Can you spell O'Shaughnessy? Well that's OK, neither could I till I was 14)  plant based colorants and journals to keep track of my infusion work and  Moonlight Pomegranate Fragrance Oil. Yeah, I was impressed. And she didn't send any rinky dinky tiny samples either. She sent some pretty big packages of Spirulina Powder, Annatto Seeds and Alkanet Powder. Check them out:

I told you they were big. Almost didn't fit on my blog did they?   Oh crud, I forgot the Oil. Be right back.

Here it is.

She also sent this very generously sized bottle of Sweet Almond Oil.  Now that she has kept her part of the agreement I will move forward with my part.  This next week, I will make soap and scent soap and color soap. I will mold soap and infuse soap and then blog about the soap. To see the results come back next Saponification Sunday. In the meantime you need to know this:

As my SPECIAL readers of this blog you have access to an elite savings code to be used DURING the month of NOVEMBER only.  (Don't worry, I'll mention it every Saponification Sunday in October as a reminder)  For any of my readers who uses the code when placing an order with Bramble Berry during November or "Givember" as Anne-Marie Likes to call it, you will be entered into a drawing for a $50 Bramble Berry Gift Certificate.  The code is GIVEMBER50.

OK, you've waited long enough (or you signed off this blog hours ago as any sane person would). Here is my Mellencamp story. Awhile back a neighbor bought some soap of mine. He gave it to his new mother-in-law who happens to live in LA. She then ordered more from me which I sent. She then gifted one of these soap bars to none other than...John Mellencamp...a friend of hers. Which means that every time I hear that little didy about Jack and Diane...I wonder about....

Never mind.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ennis...my nemesis ?

She is unlike all the others. But first I'll need to tell you about those who proceeded her.

My first, Lightning. So called because his ruined mouth meant no one could stop him from running. A fast little black  Welsh pony I bought for $25 to save him from more physical abuse only to get my own hide tanned a couple of times over the issue. Irony is best served Irish.

My second, a Shetland stud given to me that stood 1/2 the height of my stunted father who had to throw the beast to the ground in order to trim his hooves. Miss you dad. Don't miss the evil Shetland Pony.

The third, Cherokee's Diamond Lady, a registered Appaloosa. I paid $25 a week for her for 8 weeks and then traded something, now what was it? to get a friend to trailer her home. Never could afford a saddle or bridle for her. She taught me and my siblings how to stay put on her wide back. My sister Teresa, only 6 at the time and I rode her for hours, her little arms wrapped tight around my waist. LOVED HER. (and the horse)

The fourth. Red fawn. Is that not the best name? Again given to me by a friend. The same friend who taught me to ride at the age of 8. Or I should say LET me ride this Red fawn horse, a mustang from the wilds of Nevada. We did crazy stuff together. Jumped huge logs, swam across lakes, galloped full on into the rain storms. I fell off this horse most. She was magnificent. How did I not die?

Time out. From age 17-33 no horses owned but always lusted after. Then met and married Keith the man with a small barn. Enter again...horses.

The fifth. Johnny Walker. A seasoned fellow at 15 when I bought him from a horse trader. The first night he ran thru our electric fence and travelled 5 miles away. We had no trailer so after we found him I had to ride him home. Keith followed me in his truck unsure of this new bride and her affliction for horse flesh. Johnny took care of me as he did for the next 13 years. Numerous children, nieces, nephews, friends learned to love horses while on his gentle back. He went slow for the wee ones and fast for the others. I spent years on his back riding over and through all things. My son Colton , nieces Jordon, Bridgette and Micah took to him most. Finally his trail ended and we had him put down at age 28. There will never be another like our Johnny.

The 6th. Odie. Blind in one eye. Again a "gift" from the owner who could no longer afford to board him. We took him for a pasture mate for John. Rode him a handful of times. Then he lost sight in the other eye and needed to be put down. Brand new vet came. Took her FIVE injections. He fell down he got up. Fell down, got up. We thought it hysterically funny after the fourth time. She was traumatized and went into small animal care after that.

The 7th. Sally. Never did we bond. She was big and strong, handsome and stubborn and too much like me for us to ever get past who should be in charge, I gave her to an 11 year old girl who whipped her into show shape in one short summer. How humbled was I?

The 8th. and 9th  Nora and Gus. Bought as a pair. One very seasoned and one much less so. Gus was for the others to ride and Nora was mine. It was in year two of owning Nora I realized I knew nothing about horses and stopped trying to train them, instead began to train myself. I attend my first formal clinic with Nora. 3 days with Chris Cox who whipped my sorry butt. It was the greatest accomplishment of my equine life. But shortly after , with 6 bulging vertebra discs "encouraging" me, I knew her quarter horse gait would never work for me into the long term. Last month I gave her and Gus to a riding stable. It was a good decision. I think.

Mare Nora and I the day she left for her new job at the riding stables.
Lessons learned on her were about far more than horsemanship

The 10th. Ennis. Tomorrow, I'll bring you up to date on this fine steed. My last?

Thursday, October 4, 2012


My father always referred to us as "Pumpkin" when he was in an endearing mood. The name was altered slightly when we caught playing with his artist paints, a forbidden activity. But most of the time, he called us "Pumpkin" with good intentions.

For that reason and many others, Fall in the US is my favorite time of year. One moment sunny and bright with brilliant orange and red leaves dancing off the trees, the next it is rainy and cold with gunmetal grey skies that cause you to question your entire sub-human existence. Fall is very dramatic, very emotional, very unpredictable and of so very...


Thus, what better time is there to bake comfort foods? The GK's and I  plunged into the real thing last week after buying it from a farmer friend selling such at our last Farmers Market of the year. Cut into chunks and plopped in the oven to soften it was soon soft enough to peel and throw into the food processor.

Once pureed we added our own raw milk, & raw eggs plus the spices we like. While it sat soaking up the goodness I taught my GK's how to make crust.

My mother was an excellent crust maker and though she had her hands full most days with all us kids I manged to get in her way long enough to learn the process. The key to good pie crust is COLD. You must use cold shortening (me ma used Crisco, I prefer real lard from our pigs) cold flour, preferable right from the freezer, and ice cold water.

Once mixed, but never over mixed we had fun using the rolling pin. It is my mothers rolling pin which means that piece of wood has been rolling out pie crusts sine the 1950's. Take THAT you germaphobes! Although I give it a quick wipe after each use it is never really "washed" as that seriously could harm the wood. This means each time I use it a nanometer of flour from say Thanksgiving 1976 or Christmas 1962 may have fallen into the dough I am making on that particular day. Yum....

The GK's love using the rolling pin and did a fine job. The way they could focus all their concentration on just the task at hand was so amazing. Just during the time to do this brief post I have gotten up to refill my coffee twice, OK six times, put in a load of laundry, tidy up the kitchen and throw away garbage off my desk of junk.

Soon it was time to pour and bake.

Waiting for it to cool always the hardest part but always so worth the wait. Thank you Knapp Family for growing such a fine pumpkin.

Thank you mom, for teaching me how good times roll.