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Monday, September 30, 2013

Cheese With My Whine

Grasshoppers continue to plague my garden. No sooner does the current species die out that a new breed takes up residence. With over 8,000 species in existence, I might not win this battle.

I blame the large fields within five miles surrounding us. Some commercial outfits have planted corn and sorghum and that's like open buffet to grasshoppers. My guess is whoever is farming that land is spraying heavily, so instead of the hoppers munching on their fields, they go to those of us who aren't using pesticides.

We didn't have this trouble two years ago. The only thing that's changed is the rise of these massive fields of grain.

I could whine about this (and I have) but I've decided to fight back. Next year, we'll be building some raised beds that will be easier to net and cover. It's a shame we have to go through so much trouble but these pests leave us no choice. We refuse to use pesticides so we have to fight them with other means.

But this brings me to the point of this post. It's normal for us to complain when things get hard. The trick is not to let it win. There are always options. --not necessarily easy options, but then nobody ever promised us easy.

In the publishing side of my life, social media is eating my lunch. I used to be able to keep up but even my own blogging is suffering. I'm seriously thinking of posting once a week here and once at Back to Basics. That's one option. Another option is to combine my blogs again. Or I could get rid of one.

As for visiting others, I'll continue to fit them in as time allows or playing catch up on Sundays when it's quieter.

Do you have a set time or day when you do your visiting? How do you decide when and if to leave a comment? I don't like to leave a comment unless it's meaningful and those take more thought and time. What's a "burn the candle at both ends" girl to do?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls

...It tolls for thee.

Part of the homesteading life also revolves around taking life to feed man and dog alike. We tend to keep our birds longer than normal. We also give them the best life we can. But as winter approaches we need to lighten our load. 

For the next couple of months we'll be dispatching many of our birds.

It's not pleasant work, but we do it as quickly and as humanely as possible. Nothing goes to waste. Even the feathers are put back into the compost. That in turn will grow the feed that will feed future generations of chickens.

How do you feel about taking life to feed yourself? (That is, if you're not a vegan.) 

Greg says that I'm almost obsessive about cleanliness and a sterile environment when I dress any animal. It's true. I can't control what the USDA allows, but at least I'm sure about the meat I process here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Soldier On

Greg likes a Facebook page called Forgotten Chicago that shows a lot of scenes of old Chicago, many of them from the time we grew up there. I imagine the Chicago I knew is long gone. But he shared one picture that reminded me of the old apartment building I grew up in. (Only mine was in worse shape!) 

My apartment building had old gray back porches. They were rickety wood structures with loose boards, missing steps, and a long drop if you happened to live on the top floor like we did. Back then we used to balance on the railings and jump over the missing steps to get to the next landing. 

Of course, my mother didn't know this. Any intelligent kid knew not to tell his mother about our death-defying stunts. None of us wanted to be grounded for eternity.

We had another apartment building kiddie-corner to us. We could jump on a lower flat roof of a connecting building and then onto the railings of the next building. This was our playground.

No one thought to complain to the super if we scraped our knees on the tarred roofs or stabbed ourselves with rusty nails. No one sued if a kid got hurt. If anything, we chided the kid for being clumsy. 

Another strange phenomenon about our group is that no one got bullied either. Oh, occasionally a new kid would join us and try to take over the show, but it's hard to be a bully if no one pays attention to you. They either buckled down or took their bully business elsewhere.

There were leaders in our group and there were followers. The leaders (aka: the older kids) made sure no bully ever got a foothold in our group.

I'll be the first to tell you that MANY of the things we did as kids were stupid, reckless, and dangerous. And yet, I feel like I was safer then than any kid is now with all the laws, cameras, counselors, and social media watching him.

Why? I think there are two reasons.

1. Our friends. We looked after each other. One time a friend got hit by a car. He seemed fine at first but within three days he was dead. No one knew it at the time, but the accident had left him with a punctured appendix. 

Patrick was one of our "leaders" so his loss was keenly felt. Yet we didn't need counselors to talk things out and understand our feelings. Even the youngest among us understood loss. We grieved and then we moved on.

2. Our selves: I have to tell you, we were a heck of a lot more self-reliant than kids today.  It scares me that so many are dependent on technology and adults. I used to think I led a sheltered life (compared to my rowdier friends), but it's nothing like how today's kids are sheltered.

We learn from experience. Buffer that experience even with the best intentions and you lessen that kid's ability to solve the problem. It's a fine line to protect your child yet give him enough freedom to figure things out for himself.

A dear friend who was a generation older than me used to tell me stories of when she was a kid. She lived in the UK during WWII. One of the stories that fascinated me was when she had to go to school the next day after an overnight bombing. She and her brother would walk around the dead bodies and rubble. 

Dead bodies? I asked her. Of course, she said. We had to soldier on, didn't we?

That generation was even tougher than mine. I admired their resolve.

Do you think kids are more sheltered than when you were a kid? Is being a kid today better or worse?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Is Overconsumption Our Death Knell?

I should probably be posting this on Back to Basics instead of my personal blog, but I have more eyes here and I'd like to get some feedback.

Apparently, the US will now be sending poultry and pork to China for processing. It will then return the finished product to this country.

China must have under-bidded everyone down to the floor.

If the video below is any indication, it appears that China's processing facilities are both spotless and sterile. Yet when I think of all the contaminated dog food, dog treats, and toxic children's toys we get from China, I don't feel very secure about their standards.

It is our ultimate goal to raise our own food on our property. Not everyone has that luxury. And some people don't have the stomach, time, space, or inclination to grow their own food.

Regardless of where you live, how do you feel about another country processing your food even when you grow/raise it locally? Am I missing something here? Is money the only determining factor for not processing our own food?

Warning: Some of the video below is graphic, but this is how commercial meat farming is done. It goes on to show how we over-consume and force these companies to produce more and more, though I think some of the video shot in Costco was misleading. A lot of businesses shop at Costco. It isn't all for private consumption.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

We're All on a Diet

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I just didn't think it would involve the whole family. For six years, I refused to go on any diet even though I knew I had put on twenty pounds since my knee injury. 

It took a wake-up call about Greg to reform me.

Tank has been on a special diet for years. With all the tumors he's collected, we deliberately feed him a diet high in fat and protein to slow down cancer cells. (Cancer feeds more aggressively on carbs.) 

Then it was Iko, diagnosed with advanced arthritis so early in life. The only thing that will help him now is losing some significant weight. 

Maggie came to us fat, and she's a thief too, so we're always trying to thwart her food-stealing ways. Nana is a growing puppy. She uses up more calories than the entire US Olympic gymnastic team. 

But it was Greg who changed my ways when his doctors said his sugar was dangerously high. I couldn't monitor his diet when he was in east Texas, but I could certainly change our menus when he was with me.

It's only been a few weeks, but all of us are seeing changes. I've dropped ten pounds. Greg has lost a whopping 22 pounds. Tank has gained one pound. (Yay!) Iko and Maggie are both looking slimmer. 

Has it been easy?

Ha! Not for me. I don't think Maggie and Iko are too happy either. But my jeans are getting baggy and my hourglass figure has returned.

I haven't gone on any special diet to lose weight. Because of Greg, I stopped using sugar in my recipes. I gave up desserts and drastically curbed (but not eliminated) carbs like pasta and bread. If I eat a late lunch, which happens on certain days when I go to yoga, I'll skip dinner and have a little air-popped popcorn.

I miss desserts. I won't lie. But I'd like to get back into fighting weight before I indulge in sweets again. The holidays are around the corner, so I REALLY need to lose the extra weight by then. That pecan pie is calling me! If I continue to be good that should happen in the next few weeks anyway.

Yoga has helped too. After an hour of sweating, I feel ten pounds lighter! It motivates me to stay on course.

Have you been on a diet? Is there anything that's helped you stay on target? 


On a cheerier note, Mike Keyton has had his surgery and is on the road to recovery. Welcome home, Mike! One day at a time, okay?

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Sad Loss

Many of you know by now that Ann C. Crispin died Friday, September 6th. Ann was an SF writer, notably known for her Star Trek novels. I knew her as part of the dynamic team at Writer Beware, a watchdog group that kept the slime balls in publishing from taking advantage of authors.

I didn't know Ann personally, but I was well aware of her work and her dedication to the industry. It makes me sad to lose one of the good ones. But as she lay dying, she left behind one final message of thanks.

It was sobering, not just because she had the presence of mind to reach out to her friends and fans, but because she did it with so much dignity and grace.

Losing her was sad. But the legacy she left behind--her work, her deeds, and her desire to help and teach others transcends her.

It was a life cut too short, but it was a life well lived. It serves as an example to us all.

RIP, Ann. You done good.


Have you read any of Ann's books or visited Writer Beware? When I started writing it was my go-to place for honest, no-bull information. I'll always be grateful to Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss for all their good advice and warnings.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

State of the Homestead

August was a busy month. I don't know why. Usually it's the hottest month of the year and everyone around here keeps a low profile, waiting for the heat to dissipate. This year the goats have kept us busy with improvements to their quarters and maintenance.

Garden: I was able to save about twenty assorted plants from the original garden. I put them in pots and babied them for a few weeks waiting for the temps to return to more reasonable levels. We're still getting triple digits, but not as consecutively.

I put the potted plants back into the garden with an extra shot of rabbit poop. Most of them made the transfer fine. I only lost a couple of them, probably due to the heat. 

I've got my cool weather transplants waiting in the wings, but I'm hesitant to put them out just yet. That sun is still brutal.

Rabbits: My love-bunnies are getting big. They're still very sweet and docile. Even though they're living indoors during the summer months, I take them out in the early morning to enjoy some fresh air and grass.

Chickens: We'll be having a major slaughter in a few weeks. I've got about 25+ birds to dispatch in the next two months. We'll do about ten at a time. That's about all Greg and I can handle in a day.

I plan on fewer birds next year. Until we get one of those automatic chicken pluckers, I don't want to get into full scale meat production. Plucking them is too hard on my arthritic hands.

Goats: They've been a real learning experience. We've trimmed hooves twice. Thank goodness Greg built that goat stand. We can lure them up there and trim hooves while they're busy chowing down. It still takes us a long time, but we're getting the hang of it.

The buck hasn't come into rut yet, but he's becoming interested in the does. So far, the girls want nothing to do with him, but with any luck, we might get a pregnancy before the end of the year. 

Billy has been manageable, but he's hurt me twice without trying. I'd hate to think what he'd do to me if he was angry. I keep a spray bottle of water with me to keep him from getting up in my face. If he becomes a problem he may have to go into barbecue. That's entirely up to him. Wish I could convey that to him.

Nana has been a good herding dog, keeping them at bay, but the buck often turns to challenge her. She bit him on the ear and he backed down. I won't take her into the pen unless Greg is with me. She's still a baby and it's just a game to her. I don't want her to face the buck until she has a little more experience.

Scorpions: We are claiming a tentative success against the scorpions. After examining the house from top to bottom, we think we've removed all but the most difficult access points. I haven't seen a scorpion in the house for three weeks. And this is when they're most active.

But we did find this outside. 

She was in one of the sprinkler control boxes buried in the ground. Those little things on her back are babies. Lots and lots of babies. We wiped out the entire generation without remorse.

Wildlife: There were deer tracks in the front yard. This is where I have lots of American beauty berry bushes. The deer like to eat the berries. Oddly enough, the goats have a few bushes in their pen, but they're not crazy about the taste.

Coyotes have been sparse this year, which is good. But I still see a few feral pigs dead on the side of the road. 

A few more weeks of hot weather and maybe we can cool down to the 80s in October. Both man and beast alike are looking forward to that.

So how about you? What's new?

And who's ever seen a scorpion carrying her babies? I'm telling you, it gave me the chills. All those stingers. Eek!

Find anything unusual by you?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Bla-Bla Blog

One of the questions that came up in the comment thread in the post "I Stopped Reading You Today" was deciding what to blog about.

A lot depends on your blog's focus. If you want to draw other authors, definitely talk about writing, publishing, and books. But if you want to reach potential fans, put yourself in the fan's shoes first. What would you like to read about if YOU were the fan?

Let's preface this with "fans who don't want to be authors" because we all know we follow other authors just to glean some of their wisdom. For the sake of argument though, let's concentrate on fans and followers who think the lives of writers are devastatingly interesting.

To appeal to a wide audience, I don't think it's necessary to be topic-centric. It's okay to have a lot of interests and talk about them.

I used to fret about this a lot in the beginning. I wondered if I should start a separate blog for all my interests, but I realized it would be too hard to keep up with them. Besides, what if I wanted to talk about goats one day and my core readers expected to read about the publishing industry?

I made a decision then and there to talk about what interested me first. My theory was that if I talked about what I liked, eventually I'd find others with similar interests. Water finds its own level, right? My other hunch was that if I had fans who enjoyed my writing, they might also enjoy a glimpse into my everyday life.

But this brings up another important point. 

Don't try to be everything to everyone. I have no interest (or experience) in gaming, singing, or reality shows. When people blog about those things, I choose not to comment that day. 

If that's all they talk about, I probably won't be following their blogs. But if they blog about a lot of different topics, they'll probably net a visit from me on some other day.

Regardless of the topic, the only demands on you is to make it interesting. And that's the trick, isn't it? Your writing ability is put to the test every time you blog.

So what do you think? Do my theories seem feasible? Or do you think a blog should be very specific in its approach?

I was going to mail a get well card to Mike Keyton today, but it's Labor Day in the US and the post office is closed. If you want to add your good wishes to the comment stream here's his post. He has no internet, so I'm sure he'd love to hear from you even if you're not on a first name basis.

I missed August's State of the Homestead update, so I'll do one this Thursday. Wait until you see the scorpion picture. You will not believe your eyes.