Sunday, August 28, 2011

Being Neighborly

Angelica and Rocket
Kindness, like a boomerang, always returns.  ~Author Unknown
I have neighbors in two places. Neighbors at my house, and neighbors at the ranch where my animals live. When I first moved into this house, my new neighbors brought us plates of baked goods to welcome us here. Each year around the holidays we all exchange baked goodies. I had never had that happen before. I mean really, in this day and age, how often does something like that occur?

When we bought the land and intended to build, our neighbors came out to meet us. They were nice, they knew things about the area we didn't know, they shared their knowledge with us. They checked on us to be sure we were us and not some stranger intruding. The first time we had to milk the goats late at night in the pitch black dark by flashlight, they drove up to be sure we weren't goat thieves. They like to visit, they like to talk, and it's nice to have someone to visit and talk with from time to time. They have kids and grandkids who like to see and pet the animals. They have big dogs to chase away predators and protect my animals. They have a tractor I can hire for goat milk or eggs or produce. They have a rideable mower they run along the edges of our shared road and ditch and no one even asks them to do it. They know how to put spark plugs in itty-bitty girlie generators. They know how to tighten chainsaw chains and trim trees. They know more about animals than I do, and they are nice enough to teach me.

I have to say, I really am grateful for the neighbors we have. I check on them too. I watch their property to be sure there are no coyotes or scary things intruding. I wave at them when they drive by. I offer to help them if they need help. Above all, I try my best to just be nice.

Life is short but there is always time for courtesy.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Social Aims
Two weeks ago, when I was at Costco, the man in line behind me thanked me for placing the plastic divider between our orders. He commented that most people won't do that anymore, that most people won't even be nice anymore. "It doesn't cost anything to be nice," he said. Well, maybe it does; maybe it doesn't depending on the circumstances. But if everyone in the world was a little bit nicer, the world itself would certainly be a nicer place to be. We chatted a little about being nice, and I agreed with him. I have been told I am too nice, but so what? I would rather be too nice than too mean.

Rocket - future barrel racing champion in a corral built and
cleared by my beloved neighbors and a lot of sweat equity.
My neighbor friend/surrogate daughter figure/4-H goat guru finally got her horse. She lives in a small house with a small yard (and both sadly for me but happily for her family) is moving to a bigger place with a corral and arena for her horse. But for now, she needed a place to keep her horse for a little while. So I was nice and said KEEP HER HERE! We worked our tails off clearing out the corral area for the horse and both neighbors helped. Everyone was working together and no one was doing it expecting anything in return. They were just being nice. And it was really neat to see and be a part of.

If you step on people in this life, you're going to come back as a cockroach.  ~Willie Davis

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Something BIG

Something BIG is coming to visit the ranch for a couple weeks.
Something with four legs, a bald face and blue eyes.
Something 4-H neighbor girl has been wanting
and saving up for
for a long time...

Something that makes BIG compostable POO!

Angelica and I quickly built this corral for the visitor.
She should be at the ranch sometime Saturday.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Essential Worker

Not entirely sure, but I think it may be a Sheet Web Spider.
It is green and white with spots. Pretty big too.
This spider guards the tomato rows.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fond Father-in-Law Memories

Several days ago, my father-in-law passed away in Greece. I've been down and depressed about this, but have decided that he would want me to keep moving forward and would be happiest to know that I am enjoying life as much as possible--as he always did. Rather than write a tearful post about him, I will leave you with fond father-in-law memories that make me smile whenever I think of him.

1. I was about 18 when I met my future father-in-law. I had no idea what to expect. He was extremely small, and the day I met him, he had on no shirt and his back was all covered with gray fur. He had a decidely joyful twinkle in his eye and a smile that was simply charming. He spoke broken English but made sure, now matter how many times he had to try, that I understood what he was saying. "You 'stand? Traci, you 'stand?"

2. He liked to dress up to go to church on Sunday, and he really wanted me to go to church as well. He was the most religious man I have ever known, praying over his meals, and blessing my husband and I whenever we left the house. I remember waking up on Sunday mornings to him carrying an incense burner and leaves dipped in holy water with which to sprinkle at me and bless me, my husband, the room, and the entire house as he went along singing prayers in Greek. He often said when things were questionable or the outlook was not bright that it was up to God.

3. I like spinach. It was a dish my dad served up boiled with a little vinegar. My father-in-law made me LOVE spinach the first time I bit into a still warm piece of his homemade spanakopita (spinach pie). He had rolled out the crust himself.

4. He made the best lentil soup, hands down. No one made it like him. I watched him make it several times and have hopefully learned his tricks.

5. One time, when I was growing a garden in the backyard, he came outside to inspect. I showed him what was planted. My father-in-law loved garlic. I was happy to show him that I had some and pulled one for him. In his excitement, he peeled it and ate the whole thing like an apple, right there. He said it was delicious. But his eyes were tearing up from the heat.

6. On the nights when I came home late from college classes, he always made me "cheese special" which was his own invention of a slice of feta drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with pepper that he then microwaved. It was the best.

7. He was an extreme couponer. Every Wednesday he collected all the grocery store ads and drove all over town to get the best deal on food. Once he bought turkey for .04 cents a pound. He liked to remind me of that many times after I bought a turkey for .39 cents a pound. Forget that the turkey he bought was the size of a small chicken and mine was 20 pounds. In fact, I think we heard about the .04 cents a pound little turkey for a few years. He was very proud of that bargain.

8. I don't like fish. He never stopped trying to get me to eat fish. Being polite on his behalf, I once ate a piece of pickled fish he brought on the plane back from Greece. It had been pickled raw mind you. *gag*

9. He used to bring huge wooden crates of olive oil from Greece because it was "the best oil". He also loaded his suitcase with Greek cheeses, candies, and baked goods. Whenever he arrived here it was a feast.

10. He used to slice pieces of apple and float them in his wine after dinner.

11. He was a hard working man. My husband once told me that his father always told him: "If your butt doesn't sweat, you won't earn any money." My father-in-law and his wife could clean the whole yard up in two days after 6 months of neglect. They could work a weed-eater, leaf-blower, hoe, and any other garden tool like pros.

12. When I had my first child, my father-in-law and his wife came from Greece and stayed to take care of that baby so I could go back to work. They also renamed the baby, Andreas, after my father-in-law. And after a while, I was okay with that.

13. When I went to Greece to baptise my son, my father-in-law took me, pregnant as I was, to the local village farmer's market and bought me whatever kind of fruit I wanted, and some that I just thought looked interesting. We had a LOT of fruit.

14. My father-in-law loved me like I was his own child...and maybe more than his own son sometimes. He liked to take my side, and in arguments, he always wanted me to take his.

15. He always tried to have me explain bank statements, doctor's records, and social security statements to him, even though I do not speak much Greek at all.

16. When he came to visit this summer, he went on my weekly Costco run with me and insisted on pushing one of the carts. He wanted to go the following week as well. He never wanted to stop going and doing.

17. My father-in-law taught me how to make Greek style olives, from picking the fruit from the tree to preserving it. This summer when he visited he ate some of the olives I made and said they were delicious.

18. He liked my weak coffee better than my husband's freshly ground strong coffee.

19. He spoiled me. He spoiled my kids. If they wanted chocolate milk and there was none in the house, he'd go out to the store just to get it for them.

20. When he fell down at the ranch on his last visit and was upset that he did, I told him not to worry and said, "If you fall, I will pick you up." Luckily our 4-H neighbor girl happened by that day and we both got him into my truck safely. Sometimes we all fall down and need someone there to help us. He'll always be in my heart to help me when I fall down. He will always be remembered and loved by every person he ever knew. He loved life and enjoyed it all he could until it was time for him to go. But he will never really be gone because he lives on through every person who loved him.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ricardo Rooster

I'd been avoiding getting a rooster for a long time even though I wanted one. Their crowing reminds me of my first visit to Alle Meria in Volos Greece, a small village on a mountain. Roosters there crowed every morning, and there were a lot of them.

The other day I was visiting with the neighbors who live closest to where I have my animals and asked if they would mind if I got a rooster as they would be most affected by his crowing. They said they didn't mind at all since they get up very early anyway. They also said they liked that my geese sound the alarm so they can let their mastiff out to chase away any intruders like coyotes.

So, I thought about it for all of two hours as I did the restaurants' weekly Costco shopping and decided to stop by the feed store for my first rooster. I was really hoping for a big, beautiful, ornate bird to woo my hen ladies like a Phoenix or a Serama, or maybe even a Polish Crested, but alas, there was a markdown on the overload of bantam roosters they had. And that was the only kind they had. And they were ALL crowing over and over. It was cute because they're small.

So I told the guy to catch me the prettiest rooster he could net.

Meet Ricardo Rooster.

He's small. He's colorful. He walks alone in the chickenyard. He needs no one. He knows already that he is king. King of all he oversees. King of twenty assorted hens. King of the massive mesquite tree and the creepy coop.

He looks on as the hens scrabble for food. He's supervises Tsica, Canella, and Vanilla as they do their goatly duties.

He does not need to be petted or held. (We hold him anyway despite his squawks of disapproval).

He checks on the nestboxes to be sure the ladies are doing their job. He especially like Broody Red Hen who makes a hideous henly noise whenever I show up for egg collection.

He is at least half her size, maybe smaller. But size does not matter to him. He left a pen with over fifty other roosters where he was pecked and pushed around to become king of this small ranch. And so he is...

Broody Red Hen

Our itty-bitty King Ricardo

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Love is in the Air

Image Copyright Sunin
This morning, something strange was happening at the ranch. I went alone to do the chores (the mini-farmers had a late night) and I noticed that my broody hen was dreamily eyeing the new rooster and squishing in beside him in a nest box (more on Ricardo Rooster later). Lil G, our baby Nigerian buck, was eying Star's and Princess' rear ends with utter fascination, almost buckly moanings, and a waggling tongue. Mojo was giving off his magical buckly 'stench of awesomeness' more so than ever. Even Lucky the Ram and Teenager Sheep were cudding up and smelling each other's backdoors.

But that was not the strangest of all...

Jorge, the last goat we bought from our beloved and helpful 4-H neighbor girl, was sticking his tongue out at Ms. Cow. And Ms. Cow was leaning on the fence by him giving him her best bedroom eyes.

Jorge has been in isolation since having a twig lodged between his left hoof and limping and generally looking pitiful. The twig was promptly removed same day and his ankle bandaged to keep it stable. He was totally milking the attention and freely offering his foreleg for twice daily exams when I came in to check him.

Anyways, back to bedroom eyes and tongue boy.

Bear in mind Jorge, who is still just a young guy, is almost as big as Ms. Cow. They were snuggling up against the fence so sweetly that despite Ms. Cow's prior violent past of ramming the heck out of Jorge, I decided they ought to spend some time alone together.

I'd have taken pics but I accidentally left my cell phone at home.

There was dancing, cuddles, sniffs, rubs, and the wild mambo. Well, he tried to dance the wild mambo but he doesn't really quite know how to do the right moves. I'd done all my chores, so I figured Ms. Cow could handle teaching him the steps as she'd danced the wild mambo before...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Littlest King

Some days you are king of the mountain...or at least you think you are.
Lil G was taught this fabulous trick by the mini farmers.
I'm not so sure it will be as fun when he grows up!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We officially have...

At last!
We finally have some okra happening on a regular basis.
I have to check it daily or else it grows too big. Mmm okra.

Some days...

Some days...
if you're very quiet
and careful
and slow
you can get close enough
to a butterfly
with your cell phone.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Happy Sheep

Today I moved the sheep to the first pasture area.

It was an astoundingly hilarious, action packed event. Thank goodness there was no one there to video-tape it and place it on You-Tube. There are rules to lassoing mostly wild Barbados sheep that can jump six feet in the air without even having to propel themselves. They have magic jet packs they keep in their hooves--I swear!

Rule #1. Wear proper shoes. (I wore flip-flops. Those are not proper, btw. Do as I say, not as I do.)
Rule #2. Have experienced human or canine helpers to herd them for you. (I had Pepper and Star. They're goats. Um, yeah, they can totally herd sheep. I know you don't believe me, but they did.)
Rule #3. When all else fails, just grab them midair when they jump. (It works.)

Anyways, I moved my sheep today to a pastured area about ten times larger than where they were. They were so happy they didn't even eat this morning's hay ration. They had yummier stuff to keep them busy.

I have a lot more areas I need to fence off and gate in. Summer needs to stop now.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


When you have goats in milk you will almost always have more milk than you and your family can use up in a day. We freeze our excess in canning jars (leave space for expansion or you will have explosions). We save up enough for a cheesemaking party. The first cheese I learned to make was Chevre which you can read about here. The second cheese I learned to make was mozzarella. The recipe I first used came from The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company website and I modified it slightly to suit my needs. I'm not a fan of hunting down citric acid or waiting for it to come in the mail, so I substitute lemon juice. Here is the original recipe: Mozzarella in 30 Minutes

Here is my version:

Easy Mozzarella
1 gallon of raw milk (I use goat's)
juice of 2 large lemons, strained so you don't get seedy cheese (ew)
1/4 cup DISTILLED water (don't use tap or the recipe will FAIL)
1/4 tsp rennet
1 teaspoon salt

A Stainless Steel Pot and lid large enough to accomodate your milk
Measuring cups and spoons
Microwavable bowl
Container to store your cheese in the fridge

Place your raw milk and lemon juice in a large stainless steel pot. Stir. Heat to 90 degrees fahrenheit. The lemon juice is what creates the acidity and make the cheese stretchy later.

At 90 degrees, remove your pot from the burner. Mix your rennet with the distilled water and then pour that slowly into the milk and juice mixture. Stir with a ladle for about 30 seconds. Place a lid on top. Let set up for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes touch the edge of the milk and it should be thick like custard and separate from the edge of the pot. If it doesn't, let it set up longer.

If it has reached custard consistency, slice it with a long knife in a checkerboard pattern. Return the pot to the burner and heat to 105 degrees fahrenheit, slowly stirring. Your cheese may drop or glob together.

After the cheese reaches 105 degrees, remove it from the burner and continue to stir at least five minutes. I like my cheese fairly dry so it's the consistency of the packaged mozarella from the grocery store, so I let it set up about 5 minutes longer.

Remove your cheese curds from the pot with a ladle or your cleans hands if you're fairly heat tolerant and place them in a microwavable container. I prefer a Pyrex casserole dish. Drain off the excess whey.

Place in the microwave and heat on high for 1 minute. Take it out and knead the curds like bread dough. Drain any excess whey.

Microwave again on high for 35 seconds. Knead again. Drain excess whey.

Add salt to desired taste. Sprinkle it around. About 1/4 teaspoon does it for me. Knead it in good. You can taste your cheese at this point to see if you have enough salt. Add more if you like.

Microwave on high a final 35 seconds.

Knead, Stretch like taffy and then roll it into a ball.

I place mine in a screw top platic Ball brand container and put it in the fridge to cool and harden. The container gives it a uniform shape that makes it easy to slice later on. You can also shred it or just eat it as is! We like to make homemade thin crust pizza weekly with ours as well as fresh basil from the garden.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Silly Goose

This is my Silly Goose. She and her counterpart Big Boy are excellent alarms. They make all kinds of noise when strangers drop in for a visit. I try to hold her each morning and give her lots of pets which she tolerates. She likes to pluck at my bracelet or watch.

She's a little more violent with the mini farmers, preferring to pluck at their hair. They think that's a good thing and bow, offering their heads to her to be plundered.

Big Boy is not as friendly, and I'm pretty sure he is a boy because he's larger and developing a dewlap under his chin. He'll let me hold him but isn't as calm as Silly Goose. She follows after me when I go into their area and demands my attention.

We have discussions about the happenings at the ranch. She keeps an eye on everything for me while I'm away.

Other Things in the Pumpkin Patch

Here are some others seeds I snuck into the pumpkin patch. You have to dig through the huge leaves to find them, but they're doing well.

Honeydew Melon

A Cool Looking Gourd

Gimme the Keys

Big Mamma is the oldest and wisest. She can open gates. She does it when no one is looking. I think when we bought Violet, the other goat she lived with who allegedly had a "hand inside her mouth" passed that hand on to Violet who then gave it to Big Mama.

Here she is trying to steal my keys so she can steal my truck and go for a joy ride. I have to keep one eye on her at all times and slip the secret gate locks in to keep her from letting all the others out.

Sometimes I get in a hurry and forget the secret lock. Then I look up in the middle of milking only to find three escaped goats charging toward the stand to sneak some grain for themselves. Not Big Momma. She sits back and watches with that little devious smile on her face.

Lizard Houses

Part of permaculture design is attracting beneficial critters into the garden to do the dirty work for you. One of our favorite creatures to attract are lizards. They love to eat up any sort of nasty bug that wants to eat our garden goodies. Farmer C is in charge of lizard house construction. He builds them primitive little shelters made of rocks and scrap boards so they have a place to bask or hide as needed.

In the morning, there are dozens of lizards zipping around the gardens, hard at work. Here are a couple of prime examples:

Farmers C and K checking on our "workers". 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Night Patrol

Some days we don't get out to do the chores until after the sun has set. On nights like tonight I drive extra carefully so as not to squish the Night Patrol...
They move pretty fast!