Home and Family

Home and Family topics and commentary.

The Loss of Common Knowledge (Part 2)

So yesterday, after writing the first article on this topic, Kevin and I had a conversation. It was very revealing – one of those where you start thinking about things in a way you have not thought about them before. There is a second part to this topic. One just as important as the first. Homeschoolers… you are gonna like this!

When a person decides to plant a garden, or raise chickens, there is a good chance they won’t remember having done so with their parents. They’ll be completely groundless as to where to start. Perhaps they have a neighbor or friend to point them in the right direction. Or perhaps they go to books or the internet to find out how to do it.

Centuries ago, we learned gardening and animal husbandry from our parents, by being involved in those tasks throughout our childhood. We were taught by DOING, not by TELLING. Nobody knew the microscopic details of photosynthesis or the exact scientific processes of seed germination, or the genus and species and molecular and DNA lineage of their chickens. Those things did not matter. Results mattered. Getting the work done each day, in an efficient manner, so that the essentials were done, mattered.

The twentieth century changed all that. We went from a nation that DID things, to a nation that STUDIED things. We went from PRODUCERS, to CONSUMERS. Each person became a cog in the wheel, taking our place on the assembly-line of human production. We went from EDUCATORS, to BELIEVERS. We no longer taught our children ourselves, we let someone else teach them, and we began to lose our confidence in our own ability to make a choice without professional advice. Pediatricians began dispensing child rearing advice. Schools began overseeing parenting. Industrial ag became the “experts” on farming and food production. Science became a subject at school, where each thing was dissected and discussed, but where nothing was produced.

So now, you want to garden, and you realize that all you did in school, was plant a seed to study germination. You did not actually GROW anything. You did not follow it through to PRODUCE anything. Science in the schools is a disjointed thing with little connection to day to day activities and life around us. We are taught to observe, but not to DO. And when science gets involved in industrial agriculture, it then tries to scale those concepts down for the home grower, and they NEVER scale down, they just over-complicate the whole thing. The government is also involved in telling us how to do it, and they are the experts at overcomplicating, NOT the experts at actually DOING a thing well (after all, the government does not actually FARM… they just tell people HOW do to it… how backward is that?).

You may have had a pet when you grew up, but you never raised anything that gave something back to you. Raising an animal to produce something is an entirely different equation. Science and the government are again involved, and they have thoroughly mucked things up, making raising chickens sound like it requires a college course and a hefty budget, scientifically formulated feeds, and a veterinary on retainer! Your great-great grandmother knew better.

Chickens were economical then, gardens were grown to SAVE, not to SPEND,  and they can be now, if we can regain what great-great grandma knew.

The first thing you need to realize is that government produced information has infiltrated everything about your life. If you try to do anything “self-sufficient”, chances are there is a government pamphlet out there that the source you are using is relying on, either first or second hand. They have muddied the waters and injected false information in every area – raising animals, growing food, preserving food, cooking food, making clothes, building a barn, growing a mushroom, storing food, creating a 72 hour kit, etc. Somehow, we think that our government is the “final authority” on all of these topics! Our government whose goal is dependency, not independence, whose aims are of encouraging purchases not self-sufficiency, and who produces laws that stop us from doing the very things they are trying to tell us they know how to do better than we do.

Here’s the wake-up call – More than HALF of the information they produce on DOING things, is WRONG. Because they don’t DO things. Their information is completely disconnected from the reality of having to make things economically feasible, and manageable on a small scale (or even a large one). The people telling you how to create a growing bed in your garden have NEVER had to do that on a restricted budget, with two toddlers running around trying to eat dirt, a crock pot of stew simmering in the kitchen, and in a climate where only a few things grow well. They’ve NEVER done it! Are you honestly going to believe that they are the best source to tell YOU how to do it?

They are never going to tell you that if you just dig, manure, seed, and water, chances are, the things you planted will grow, and produce just as well as if you followed their instructions. They’ll never tell you that a few weeds in the garden are actually a helpful thing, or that planting things closer together helps them thrive. They’ll never tell you that there are ways to save time and cut the work by 75% or more, and still end up with the same, or even BETTER yields. You see, they don’t study home gardens. They study industrial ag.

We live in a world of “experts” who all want us to believe that they ARE the expert. This means they can NEVER really empower you – if they do, they are no longer the authority, everyone shares the knowledge. In order to perpetuate their elevated status, they must diminish YOUR status. We’ve been accepting that so long we are now a nation of people who do not trust their own ability to make logical and reasoned decisions about anything! As a consequence, we are being lead where someone else wants us to go, without us even realizing we are being lead – we think we are being given “scientific” or “valid” information, when in fact, we are not. We are living in a world where much of what we accept as “fact”, is in fact, fallacy.

The only way we can ever relearn truth, is by DOING. We can’t just talk about it, pontificate, study and watch. We have to DO. We have to go out and dig a hole and stick something in it and see if it grows, because someone else telling you that it will or will not is NOT truth! What happens when you do it is truth. We have to mix our ingredients, and see if it tastes good, because it does not matter if someone else likes it, what matters is if YOU like it. We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work and produce things for ourselves. Miracles happen when we do!

Homeschoolers have an advantage. They can help their children learn by doing. Even they must realize though, that a lot of what they are teaching comes straight from the government in one form or another, and learn to question, and trust their own judgment.

This is what I’d like people to know…

When you are trying to learn how to do something, and all you can think is, “There’s gotta be an easier way than this!”, trust that thought! It is RIGHT! Twentieth century instructions are NOT what allowed humans to survive for thousands of years! Before that, it was MUCH simpler. It was WORK, but it was not COMPLICATED work.

When things just do not sound logical, trust that feeling! Dig a little deeper. Try it another way! Have the courage to resist being herded into a box that does not fit, and will never fit, because it was constructed wrong in every respect right from the start! Build your own container and make it any shape you like!

If we are to throw off the yolk of bondage, we must learn to do things ourselves, and to develop our own expertise in enough things to be an asset to others who are trying to do the same thing. Thankfully, the internet not only brings us the party line, it also brings us the radicals – Back to Eden gardening, Hugelkultur, Crowded Gardening, Feeding Chickens and Rabbits on things you grow, and other work saving and health enhancing techniques which the government is completely silent about.

You don’t have to pick up arms to start a revolution. You just have to dig in the dirt a little, and make something grow!

Finding the Answer in Cottage Industry

Cottage Industry, as defined for purposes of this post, includes any kind of home manufacturing – where materials of one kind are turned into a product of another kind. This includes making parts, assembling parts into another product, making crafts, doing needlework, etc. It can be as complex as machining, and as simple as crocheted dishcloths.

This article is long, but it does explain something very cool. Something that our Nation is really ready for.

I believe in the power of the individual to create something better than a monster corporation can create it. I have long believed that the solution in hard economic times, for people who need employment that is rewarding and lucrative, is in the home, not in the factory or city.  For the impatient, the fastest way to get predictable income, is to become an employee of someone else. But then you are also somewhat enslaved – you are subject to the rules, whims, and employment vagaries of someone else.

I love independence a bit too much to love employment. I’ve worked jobs, and done so well. But I don’t like it. I’d rather have ownership. I’d rather produce a homemade product that has character than work in a factory producing carefully calculated and electronically machined items that are stamped out at hundreds per second.

There is absolutely a place for the assembly line. But there is also a place and time to break free from it. I haven’t drawn any firm conclusions yet about the shape this will take with us. I’m still revolving the options around in my mind, but I have determined on a few things that I think are worth sharing.

I had always thought that if I invented something that I could make at home, eventually we’d reach the point where we had to contract with a manufacturing company for parts to be custom molded and milled, in order to keep costs affordable and in order to produce enough, fast enough. I’ve changed my mind on that. I think there may be a better way, and a better market to tap.

Most of our manufacturing has gone to China. This is a result of the mentality of having to reduce and reduce and reduce the costs of production to accommodate an ever increasing supply chain, and the costs attendant with it, coupled with increases in operational costs due to Unions and Taxes. The US is handicapped in the manufacturing sector, and is now dependent upon overseas suppliers, and the unpredictability that goes with it. That isn’t a good thing.

“Buy America” is NOT the answer.

“Build America” IS the answer.

So here is a potential business model – one we are working as I write this:

  1. Design something unique. Find a way to make it yourself.
  2. At first, you are going to spend quite a bit of time making each item, possibly using make-do equipment or tools. They can get better as you go, but be careful! Once you move to “commercial” production materials, costs increase exponentially. If you set a goal of NOT going into debt, you’ll be able to avoid that trap.
  3. Perfect the process for making it.  Write down the steps. Get it worked out so that you can teach someone else how to do it.
  4. Assemble a materials kit – everything you need to make the item you are making. Create a training kit as well. If it is simple, and based on common skills, you can skip the next step. If the processes or tools require special knowledge or skills, you’ll need the next step.
  5. Hold a training camp. DON’T charge for it. DO pre-screen attendees for suitability. Train them in how to make the item you need, and train them in meeting your quality standards.
  6. From the attendees, select one or two to do a pilot program. Rent equipment to them for a low fee (do NOT look at this as a moneymaking opportunity – sales of your product is where your money comes from!). Sign a contract with them that they ONLY manufacture the item for YOUR company. Have a deposit on any rented equipment so you get it back if they quit. Agree on a set output per week or month. Pay them well enough for them to make a nice income if they do it fast and accurately. THEY pay for materials – you may supply them, but they pay for them (this is also NOT a money-making opportunity for you, you sell them to them at cost, or tell them where to get approved materials). They are sub-contractors, NOT employees. They own their own business, and manufacture something for you.
  7. Add more trained subcontractors as needed. Hold periodic training camps to train new prospects.

Now, there are people who will be terrified at this idea. They will feel that in doing this, they’ll be giving up their proprietary rights to someone else.

Don’t be so paranoid! Is there a risk that one of these hotshots will take the training and then go copycat? Of course! But they are going to do that anyway! Most people who are dishonest copycats don’t have the motivation to see it through – they think that having a hot product is enough. It is not! They are usually bad at marketing and actually competing with an established business. Most people whom you train will rather sell to you for a predictable income than to want to take on the marketing, additional costs, and additional time and hassle of direct selling the product, even if they can make more from each sale. That extra money is hard won!

If you watch, you’ll get a feel for those who are content with a predictable income stream, and those who have a more entrepreneurial spirit in them. They are usually easy to differentiate.

The potential here is that long term, you can be the means of not only keeping YOUR business in the country, but of helping dozens of small businesses get a firm foothold, while it benefits the growth of your own business. Your business stays comfortably small, but gains the income benefits of a much larger business.

So how can you do this affordably? There are a couple of keys to it:

  1. Setting your pricing for YOUR production at the start – in other words, base your sale price on what it costs you to manufacture when you start out – don’t decrease and decrease it if your costs go down, you may go broke without realizing it, and you eliminate the room for paying someone else, and get into a trap. As you go along, your production costs will drop as you learn to work faster and as you refine your processes – this is good, it means that you will be able to “split the difference”, and pay someone else less than it cost you to start, but a bit more than it cost you doing it yourself at your fastest. Don’t get sucked in by greed either – having to have it all. Share your bounty, enough is enough.
  2. Setting a fair price per hour for YOUR labor. Count that into your production costs, so you don’t run off feeling like you can’t subcontract because now your parts are going to cost twice as much (when all you are counting is the cost of materials).
  3. Pay a fair price to your subcontractors. This is tricky. You pay them BY THE PART, not by the hour. The faster they work, the more they make. So work out how many you were making per hour when you were in about the middle of the speed range, and base what you pay them on that. If they can make $15 per hour working at a moderate pace, they can probably make twice that once they learn to work really fast. If they choose not to work fast, that is their choice, you are not responsible for that choice. Just make sure that you provide a reasonable opportunity for good earnings. If you do, you’ll never lack for subcontractors.

There is plenty of room for this kind of business model. This is how things were done traditionally, and it worked for thousands of years. Our society has NOT outgrown it with the advent of assembly line production. You can take advantage of that in your business, by batch processing at specific stages and contracting single stage production tasks out to different individuals.

Think of what you can accomplish this way:

You can have a home business without having to “move up” to a factory. You can retain all those wonderful advantages of a home business.

You can provide those advantages to other people, and enrich our society by doing so – keeping parents in the home with their young children, giving opportunities to people who have been dropped from the job market but who are still good workers, and by encouraging independence and true performance based compensation.

You can get the government out of your business more than you can if you have employees. It is far more economical to run a business without employees than with. EVERYBODY benefits more in this kind of scenario.

You eliminate the supply chain from the cost equation. Most items double the price at multiple points along the distribution chain – raw material, shipped, refined material, shipped, manufactured part, shipped, distribution center, shipped, wholesaler, shipped, retailer, shipped, you. When you manufacture your own parts, you eliminate a LOT of steps and shipping, and markups. Maybe you have to pay twice as much to your subcontractors for the part as you would from a manufacturer, but at the same time, you are direct selling to your customers, so you can afford to do that and still make good money, whereas if you sold to the distribution center, you’d be making far less from it. Of course you also have marketing and other tasks, but overall, it is a win-win situation. You and your subcontractors take the place of multiple steps along the way, so you and your subcontractors can share the profit that those steps would normally siphon off. This assumes that you are purchasing refined goods to manufacture yourself.

This concept was originally discussed with a friend of mine who makes hair bows. An alternative to Direct Sales Companies, for other people to own a business and really profit well. I believe that this is what many people really want. They really just want a job to do at home that they can get paid for.

From the customer perspective, I also see that there is a growing market of people who would rather purchase a hand manufactured item with imperfections and irregularities than a more perfect looking one that has been imported from China.

Bigger isn’t better. Smaller is the trend that will save our nation economically.

Our company is now offering Cottage Industry Consulting.

Naturally Healthy Hair

My hair and I get along most days. Sometimes though, the relationship becomes decidedly uneasy, as something changes that my hair does not like – and then IT changes in a way I do not like! I don’t have the answers to everyone’s hair distresses (yes, that is a pun), but I have learned a few things that might be of use.

Anemia causes hair loss – if you notice slowed hair growth on your legs and thinning of hair on your head, it may be from anemia. If you don’t get enough iron in your diet, or if you have heavy bleeding, your hair may thin. This one is pretty easy to fix unless you have an underlying disorder. Get more green veggies and clean red meat in your diet (yes, I said meat! And I won’t apologize!). Egg yolks help too. If you have heavy menstrual bleeding, get the artificial hormones OUT of your meat and dairy (they mess up female hormones), stop using tampons (they increase bleeding), and get the refined foods out of your diet as much as you realistically can. Folic Acid and B-12 supplements can also help dramatically reduce menstrual bleeding – take them starting when your period starts.

Dying hair, and perming hair also causes hair loss. Most people know that it causes damage to hair, but it also is very hard on the scalp. If you already have hair loss for other reasons, this can be even more damaging. Dye or perm your hair less often. Even an extra two weeks between chemical treatments can give your scalp time to recover.

Dying and perming hair also contributes to an increase in split ends and breakage. Treating less often can help with this, but other solutions for split ends will also help. The same chemicals that stress your hair, are absorbed into your body through the scalp, and may stress your body also, so slowing down a bit and treating your hair less often may help your physical health in ways you did not expect.

Aging can also cause hair loss, which means many men and women will fail to recognize reversible types of hair loss. Whether or not diet or exercise can affect age related hair loss is debatable.

I have oily hair. I do not mean hair that gets a little oily. I mean hair that has to be washed every day, and hair that will look oily if it gets rained on in the afternoon. I mean hair that can’t be washed at night and then worn the next day – after it has been slept on, it is too oily for public. So dry hair isn’t something I have experience with. I do have issues with sceborrhetic dermatitis on my scalp though, combined with chemical sensitivities, and my hair does get split ends and breakage when it gets about waist length.

I’ve found that the best treatment for the dermatitis is Borage Oil. One capsule a day, taken internally, has a really nice effect on reducing the symptoms of sceborrhea. It also has some other really cool effects… though one is not so cool in my situation.

Borage Oil makes my skin more oily. While this is good news for people with dry hair, I could do without that, my skin is like my hair, and adding more oil to an oil slick isn’t what I’d consider a good idea. I do take it at times though, because of the effect on the sceborrhea, and because of one other really cool thing:

Borage Oil helps prevent split ends and hair breakage. It strengthens the hair (and fingernails too, by the way), while the hair is forming in the follicle. So taking Borage oil today, will help you NOT have split ends two years from now. The hair is more elastic, and less prone to developing split ends, and less prone to developing breaks up an inch or two from the bottom. I took it on and off for a few years, and as my hair grew out, I could clearly see where I had been taking it, and where I had not. The hair that grew while I was using the Borage Oil was just so much healthier two years down the road.

You can get Borage Oil at Wal-Mart. I’ve not seen it anywhere else in the stores, but you can also order it online.

I’ve also been through times when I could not use shampoos that had the common chemicals in them. Many shampoos with organic sounding names, are not, in fact, organic. They have the same ingredients that other shampoos have. Many shampoos made by small companies are just standard shampoo blends, with a few custom ingredients ordered. Getting away from the chemicals in shampoo is really hard.

I used Burt’s Bees Shampoo for a time, when that was all I could get. But I don’t much care for it – it leaves my hair feeling VERY greasy. Not a good thing, since I’m fighting oily hair anyway. It seems to have a Castile Soap base (as do many homemade soap recipes), which does not remove oil from hair.

The BEST shampoo I EVER used was Tate’s. The last time I bought it though, it was NOT the same shampoo I used originally. The smell was so strong it gave me headaches – NOT the Tate’s I remember. I will not use it again.

Hair responds very much to your overall health and to good nutrition. I don’t mean what the USDA says is “balanced nutrition”, I mean REAL food. The stuff that does not come in a box or can, or from the freezer case. I mean fruits, vegetables, whole grains, clean meats and clean dairy. Your body recognizes and responds to fresh food, and so does your hair. Hair is an optional thing – no longer needed for survival. So when your body is nutritionally stressed, it often cuts back on the non-essentials. Your hair growth will slow dramatically, and you’ll develop problems with hair and fingernails. Yes, you can be overweight, and still be undernourished. Getting too much refined food that your body does not need (so it stores it around your middle), and not enough of the nutrient dense food that it needs (so it keeps telling you that you are hungry, even when you just ate).

Pay attention to your hair, and make a few changes to keep it healthy. Those changes will help your body stay healthy too.

A Better Way for Airlock Fermenting

In the fermenting world, debates rage over topics such as “anerobic environments”, “airtight containers”, and “traditional methods”. The debates tend to center on two extremes:

One point of view is that traditional fermenting was done under very imperfect conditions, and following a few simple rules can yield success in most situations. In fact, tradition does teach us that if food is kept under brine, it ferments just fine most of the time. A few climates, or home environments, may make this more challenging. A few people with specific health issues may have problems with foods fermented this way. But this IS true traditional fermenting, imperfections and all.

The other point of view is that in order to achieve a true “anerobic ferment”, you have to have an “airless environment”, in an “airtight container”. A system is recommended which is costly, awkward, and which is not in fact, an airtight container at all (explanation is here). It does, however, manage to achieve one thing: It limits air exchange, and microbe exchange from outside the container, and reduces the chances of some kinds of errors. It does this by allowing gas buildup to escape, while eliminating the need to open the jar to release it, or to leave the cap off. Since the container is clear glass, it also allows outside observation – this one factor is perhaps the most important, as it helps people keep their fingers out of it and not mess with it while it is in the initial fermentation stages.

I am not a proponent of either method. I know that it can be done well, either way. I know that certain things REQUIRE an open fermenting environment – that is, they will not work in an airlock system (vinegar, and wild yeast are two of those things). There are other instances where an open environment is preferable, to achieve a specific desired result. There are other instances where an airlock environment is preferable, to achieve a different specific desired result.

That said, many people prefer an airlock system, and I do like the ease of an air-release system, because I don’t have to fuss with the jar to keep it from getting messy! So I began looking for an alternative to the high priced airlock systems. Sure enough, people were making their own airlock caps to go on mason jars. But they had some of the same disadvantages as the expensive systems – they are clunky, and awkward, and the water lock stuck up out of the jar in a very cumbersome manner. I KNEW there had to be a better way, and I could instantly “see” it in my mind. A one-way valve is simpler, more compact, and requires no special instructions to properly operate it. It just works.

The problem is that nobody makes a one way valve for a mason jar lid. And nobody makes a one way valve of the type that is needed, in the configuration needed, at an affordable price! Similar one way valves are available (the concept is scientifically sound, and frequently used in many applications), but they cost upward of $10 apiece. NOT an affordable option, since our goal is to make fermenting MORE affordable, not less!

Long story short, in a trip through a hardware store, I found the pieces I needed, and was able to source appropriate versions of them, to assemble together to make a simple, elegant little Fermenting Jar Cap that goes on any standard size mason jar (Narrow or Wide Mouth). This product is now available for sale on our Fermenta Cap site, under the name of Fermenta Lock.

Fermenta Lock Compact Airlock Fermenting Cap

While we are making and selling them, we are not yet able to sell it at the price that I’d like to be able to sell it, but it is still far less expensive to assemble the parts than are the more costly systems.

A competing Pickling system sells a 1 quart pickling jar and dunker for $23. It is a one quart jar, and nothing more. Price goes up for larger jar sizes, and you have to buy one for every size you need, and more than one if you want to ferment or store more than one item at a time.

In comparison, Wide Mouth Size Fermenta Lock is $8.50, which includes an airlock cap, and a storage cap. A Fermenta Dunk plus Dunk Extender in the same size, is $5.75. So far we are up to $14.25. Add a Quart Mason Jar, for just under $1, or a Half Gallon Mason Jar, for $1.60, and we are still under $16.00 for everything (we don’t sell Mason jars – this is the price for which they typically are sold in stores).

The Fermenta Lock cap is interchangeable. You aren’t stuck spending $23 for one size jar, $25 for another size jar, and so on, and having to buy more and more of them to ferment different sizes or to ferment and then store.

A couple of cases of standard Mason Jars, or jars saved and salvaged from recycled sources give you all you need. Two Fermenta Lock Caps, and a few Fermenta Dunks and Extenders keep a range of things going, and you can swap out the lids and only use the expensive stuff during fermentation times, without having to tie it up for storage as well. Easy, flexible, and cost effective.

You can also assemble things one piece at a time, according to whatever you think is most important – get a Dunker this month, an Airlock Cap next month. No need to spend a lot all at once.

Certainly, our competition may disagree with us, but we think this is definitely a “better way”, and it makes Fermenting more affordable, and more predictable, no matter how you choose to do it!

We won’t stop there. There are more things we can see that we need to do, and we’ve been researching more parts, and suppliers, and thinking creatively to solve problems to provide good solutions for more flexible pickling and fermenting choices, for wholesale purchase of our products, and more. Because we keep looking at other aspects and thinking “There has to be a better way!”. Usually there is. Give us a little time… we’ll find it!

Of Keys, and Outhouses, and Little Boy’s Prayers

“Mom!”, shouted my oldest son, his feet pounding louder as he neared the campsite, “Alex is locked in the outhouse!”

It was already that kind of camping trip. We had come a day early into the weekend. Our favorite campsite on the Platte River was just 5 minutes from Kevin’s job, so we had come in the night before, and he had left that morning to work as usual on Friday, so I was now alone with the kids – all seven of them – beside the lazy river in September.

It was not really a real campground, so much as an area with possible campsites along the river, with a single concession to camping comfort – a solid concrete block double outhouse set upon a rise, just high enough to be above the high water line during the spring flood season. There were several short roads, with a nice broad area at the end of each, suitable for tents, tables, and chairs. Typically one or two other campers were on our end of the area, and a few fishers at the other end. It was frequently used, but not highly populated. We loved camping there, being able to swim on and off through the day, floating the quarter mile stretch of river near our campsite, and listening to the soft sounds of the river at night, and waking to squirrels chattering and birds chirping in the morning.

Friday evening, before dinner, I had worked on some writing using my computer in the front seat of the car. I had tucked the car keys under the front seat. And forgot them. And locked the car right before bed. Like good campers we had put all of the food in the trunk of the car prior to shutting down for the night.

It was morning before we figured out that the keys were securely locked up under the seat of the car. We did not have a cell phone. The nearest residence was about a mile down the road. Town was five miles away. Prayer was our only resource, so I gathered the kids around, and we had a prayer together. We explained that our keys were locked in the car, we were hungry, and had no food, and had no practical way of getting help to unlock the car, and we asked that we know what to do to get our keys out of the car.

We finished the prayer, and Sean (oldest boy) decided to go around and ask the other campers there if anyone could help. Maybe a cell phone, or something.

Sean returned with a helpful man with a slimjim. One of the three other campers there had the very tool we needed to be able to get into the car. He quickly opened the car for us, we thanked him profusely, and he left smiling to return to his campsite.

We knew that had to be divine intervention. It was too unusual to be coincidence. We gathered again to say a prayer of thanks.

Now, as I hurried down the road and up the small hill to the outhouse, I was already considering how one extracts a small boy from a solid block structure. I already knew it had a heavy metal door, with hinge pins that could not be removed without a blowtorch. The door closed with a 3/4 inch square metal bar slide lock. Heavy, and difficult to move, even for an adult. Sean routinely accompanied Alex to the outhouse, and stood outside, but Alex did not lock the door. I guess his six year old sense of independence was coming to the fore, because this time he locked it, and had been required to give it a good hard shove to get it to slide into place. Hard enough to get it well and truly stuck.

Alex was not the average six year old. We knew things were not right, but could not get a doctor to acknowledge it. He did not have the strength to ride a bike fast enough to get the training wheels off the ground. His arms and legs were stick thin, with far less muscle than they should have had. So it wasn’t just a six year old boy stuck in that outhouse. It was one who lacked the physical strength to even begin to help himself.

I reached the outhouse, let Alex know I was there, and looked it over. One tiny vent, up at the peak of the roof. Not quite big enough to let someone else in, or a small boy out, assuming he could even get up that high without falling into the pit trying. No, not really an option. I had visions in my head of having to call Wyoming Game and Fish Department to have them come and dismantle the outhouse to get him out. Prospective newspaper headlines danced in my head for a few moments. I quickly realized that our only option, again, was prayer.

I told Alex that he would have to do it. That we needed to say a prayer together, and he needed to ask Heavenly Father to make him strong enough to move that bolt.

Alex said a prayer on his side, and I said one on my side. Then he grabbed that bolt and yanked. Nothing happened. “Try again!” I encouraged. He threw his weight behind it and tugged again.

“Mom!” he cried excitedly, “It moved!”

“Good! Try again!” I answered. Sean cheered him on in the background, telling him he could do it.

He tried again, and it moved another fraction of an inch. And again, and again, bit by bit he worked that bolt far enough over that it finally slid free with a solid clank.

Alex came out of the outhouse and gave me a hug, and together we said a prayer of thanks. There was no doubt that the Lord had truly given him the strength to move the lock, because Alex simply could not do it himself. Ever since that day, this has been my favorite “Heavenly Father answers little boy’s prayers” story. I must have told it at least 50 times.

It proved to me that Heavenly Father does indeed hear the prayers of harried mothers who lock their keys in their cars, and little boys locked in outhouses. I have also imagined His kindly amusement as He gave Alex the strength in his puny arms to move that great big stubborn bolt.

It was not until years later that I really put the whole thing together and realized that not only had He answered our prayers earlier that day, and Alex’s prayer later, but that there was a connection between the two. That the example earlier of my keys being locked in the car, and an unquestionable miracle in getting them out, had given Alex the confidence to know that God could indeed give him the strength to do what he knew he could not do. Locking my keys in my car had not just been a random event, it had been a vital part of delivering Alex from his smelly concrete prison later that same day.

God does indeed answer the prayers of little boys. Sometimes He even starts answering them before little boys even know they are going to need help.

I am the Bug

He told the story toward the end of Stake Conference. “One afternoon I went out and got in my car, and there was this big bug on the windshield. I didn’t want to make a mess with the wipers, so I decided to just start driving and see how long it took for it to be pushed off.

“I got onto the street, and that bug hung on. I went from the street to the highway, and it still hung on. I was starting to have some respect for that little bug. I got up to 55 miles per hour, and he was still hanging on – though he was kind of slowly shifting around. He got his head down and is back end up, so he was more aerodynamic.

“I got out onto the expressway and kept speeding up, finally up to 75 miles per hour. That bug was still hanging on.

“It suddenly occurred to me, that maybe he didn’t know what else to do. And I felt the Spirit tell me, ‘Slow down, and let the bug go.’ I thought that was weird. But it came again, “Slow down, and let him go.”

“So I pulled off to the side, and when I had slowed way down, the bug finally let go, and flew off.

“Some people are like that. Hanging on because they just don’t know what else to do, hoping for someone to rescue them, and they are TIRED.” He went on to make a point about helping others.

All I could think, with tears streaming down my face, is “I am the bug”. Hanging on for dear life, so tired I wonder sometimes if I can make it to the next day, just wishing things would slow down, that just ONE THING would get better, that something would change to give me hope. That somehow, a miracle would occur to make the whole unmanageable mess, somehow, manageable.

This is not about having a pity party. This is about depression. This is what it feels like to have depression. It may also be described as feeling like you are in a tunnel. Like all the color has gone out of the world. Like the laughter has somehow taken a vacation. Like all the effort to make things change for the better just does not help, and there just isn’t enough of you to keep up anymore. Like somehow the rules of life that used to apply, and seem to apply for everyone else just don’t apply to you anymore. Like God loves you, and COULD fix it, but you know He probably won’t. Life just hurts, and feels so heavy. Sometimes it hurts so much you don’t know how you can bear it for one more day.

From the outside it does not look like this. From the outside it looks like this person just grumbles a lot more than they used to. It looks like they have a bad attitude, and they may be more impatient and more angry. It looks like they are lazy and just not making an effort to help themselves. It looks like they’ve become more selfish. It looks like they do not appreciate your encouragement and good advice.

If you identify with either side of this – if you feel like you are the bug, then it is likely that depression is having an effect on you, or if you know someone who just doesn’t seem to be coping in the way you remember them doing, it is likely that they are under the weight of serious depression.

Now, we aren’t talking about “gee, I feel down today” when you have a crying jag due to PMS or something else. We are talking about something that goes on for more than a few months – almost when the person cannot remember the last time they had a good day, or a time when they had more good days than bad days. They feel like they’ve gone in and just can’t get back out. And it feels like it is their fault.

There are two types of depression – Situational, and Clinical. Situational is depression caused by a specific situation – loss, change, relationship problems, etc. Counseling, exercise, activities, and other strategies may help a lot with situational depression. Clinical depression is caused by changes in the chemistry or hormones in the body, and no matter how many “good things” you do to “fix it”, it simply may not respond with enough impact to pull out of the depression. Medication may be helpful with clinical depression, as may diet changes. Sunlight, and working in the dirt (seriously! bacteria in the dirt has a specific mood enhancing effect on the brain) may help either type of depression, but it may or may not be enough to turn things around.

It usually takes something outside themselves to break the pattern. Medication may be PART of the solution, but is rarely the whole thing. In some instances, medication makes little difference – it simply may not be appropriate for some individuals. Herbs may help – St. John’s Wort can help (though it will make you sensitive to the sun), and so can Borage Oil, or Lemon Balm. In either case, you can’t just tell someone with depression what to do to help themselves – they literally may not have the strength to make an appointment to get help, or go to the grocery store to get Borage Oil.

If you have a friend who seems to have depression, don’t try to tell them how to “fix” it. Ask them to go somewhere with you. Be patient if they say no, and ask again. Don’t be surprised if you ask what you can do, and they don’t know – be specific when asking them if they want you to help them with something. Bring them dinner now and again, and bring enough that they have leftovers. Let them know you care. And be patient with their discouraging mood. This is how they feel right now. It isn’t fun, and it isn’t nice to be around sometimes, but if you are patient, they have more hope of pulling out of it. Hugs help. Love helps. Not judging them helps. Helping them see the good in THEM helps.

Certainly, if you feel like hurting yourself, or someone else, you need to tell someone. And if your friend or family member expresses that kind of feeling, you need to call a Mental Health Crisis Center and ask what to do. Because someone may feel so much pain that they really can’t stand it any longer.

Depression can sneak up on anyone. No one is immune. In fact, most people will experience at least one serious depressive episode in their life, when it is the support and kindness of others that allows them to feel the love of the Lord enough to keep going. It is part of the opposition in life that allows us to recognize joy because of pain, and good because of bad. And it is one of our greatest opportunities to be the recipients of Christlike love from those around us, if they but choose to give it.

If we are on the outside looking in, this is a chance to BE the hands of Jesus Christ. To give true charity – “the pure love of Christ”. You may not be able to slow down the car and let them off. But you can cover their hands with yours, and “lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees”.

Today, I am the bug. Tomorrow, you might be. Together, we are all strong enough to hang on.

Using Milk Kefir Grains Day to Day

Kefir grains are both a blessing, and a burden. They provide you with healthy, microbe rich milk products every day, but they also take daily care, and daily “feeding”. You have to keep milk in supply, and be there to refresh it every day, as a general rule. Sure, you can skip a day now and then, but things go wrong if you make a habit of it! You can also store them in several ways for longer periods of time, but again, things go wrong if you get sloppy about it.

If you’ve been considering getting Milk Kefir Grains, and aren’t sure what it will mean in a day to day routine, this post is meant to give you a picture.

I started with two tablespoons of fresh grains, mailed to me. So they had spent three days in a starved state by the time I got them, which means they may take a few days to re-balance. I promptly stuck them in about two cups of milk and left them on the top of the fridge to incubate.

By the next evening the milk was separated, and the jar spewed on me when I opened it – there was a lot of pressure built up in the jar (I had checked it earlier in the day and it was not set – it seemed to set and go explosive all of a sudden!). The grains were floating at the top of the jar (a good sign), so it looked like the grains were healthy and responsible for the culturing of the milk.

The milk did not smell quite right for kefir – it did not smell disgusting or anything, but it wasn’t right for kefir, so I discarded it and replaced it. I also rinsed the grains in milk – the only time I did that, normally I do not do that. I did it this time just to help them get back in balance, by removing some of the imbalanced bacteria and yeasts from the outside. I put another two cups of milk in with the grains, and set them back up on the fridge.

The next morning, I checked it and it was set, so I opened it and smelled. It smelled better, so I dumped it in the strainer, over a bowl, and tapped the strainer until nothing was left but the grains and some curds and milk slime (yes, it is slimy if the grains are healthy). This time I kept the kefir – I dumped it into a larger bottle, added about another two quarts of milk, and left that on the counter to culture overnight.

Meanwhile, I washed my original jar and lid, returned the grains to the jar, filled to two cups of milk, shook it, and left it to incubate again.

The next morning both jars were set nicely. I noticed that kefir made with pasteurized milk has more of a sour milk smell than kefir made with raw milk (which smells more buttermilk-yogurty than sour-yogurty). I drained the kefir for the day, washed the small jar, added the grains back, filled to two cups with milk, and set it back to incubate. This is now part of my daily routine. We also have kefir every morning, mixed with juice – about half a cup of kefir, and about 2/3 of a cup of juice, stirred together (it stirs weird, because of the stringiness of the kefir, but does eventually blend smooth just by stirring with a spoon in the cup).

The second larger jar of kefir was dumped into a strainer that was lined with a woven dishcloth (not a towel – a smoother, large dishcloth). I left it to set for several hours, then checked it. The solids were firming up, and the clear whey was collecting below. The edges and bottom of the solids were dry enough to separate easily from the cloth (they are sticky at first, but as the whey drains they get dryer and pull easily away from the cloth). I pulled the edges into the middle so the runnier stuff in the middle could go to the edges and drain better. I let it set for another few hours.

By evening, I had about a pint and a half of whey, and two cups of solids that tasted like a slightly sharp cream cheese. The consistency was the same as cream cheese at room temp. I rounded it up into a ball inside the cloth, squeezed it gently (not too hard, or the solids will get stuck in the cloth and it won’t release easily) to get the last bits of whey out that were easy to get out. I now had a partial ball of cheese – the bottom that was against the cloth was smooth and rounded, the top more rough and crumbly looking. So I took a small bowl and turned it upside-down on the ball, and then flipped it, and peeled off the cloth. This left me with a very nice looking rounded white cheese, neatly in the bowl.

The whey went into a separate container, and into the fridge, where we use it as a moistening liquid in various recipes.

That night, I added some seasoning to part of the cheese, and we had it on toasted homemade bread. I used the rest of it several days later, stirred into potato soup, and taco soup, where it added a delightful tang.

The next day I noticed that the kefir was starting to be mostly set by evening, and very hard set by morning. This means the grains are growing and are culturing the milk faster. The solution is to add more milk, until I have enough grains to separate off. Temperatures in our home are moderately warm, it is a warm spring in Oklahoma, which also makes them culture more quickly. I upped the milk to about two and a half cups. I could see we were growing out of our little not-quite-quart jar. I also got some quart containers to use with the kefir.

By this time I was getting a solid two cups of kefir (you lose just a little due to the volume of the grains in the container, and due to what sticks to the bowl and strainer). We are using between 1 and 2 cups per day, so overall, it is increasing slowly in the fridge. The new stuff goes in the back, the older stuff to the front.

After several more days, the kefir is needing more milk again. So we move up to a Ball half gallon canning jar – room to grow! We increase the milk to the four cup mark, and it cultures nicely in 24 hours – I can see that we are going to have to increase that soon as well. It looks like I’ll be able to separate the grains in about a week. I can’t really SEE that they are growing yet – it is hard to tell whether I am putting back 2 or 3 tablespoons. But I can see how they culture the milk, and I can tell by the amount of milk they are culturing that they are growing.

We are now getting just shy of 1 quart per day of cultured milk. I have had the grains for just two weeks.

When I get two quarts of surplus, in addition to the partial that we are using from in the front, I make cheese again. The second time I made cheese I let it sit overnight, and it ended up the same firmer consistency as cream cheese – I got about 1 lb of soft cheese from two quarts of kefir. The flavor still has a sour edge to it, because of the milk (when we did this using raw milk in Texas, it did not have that sour flavor, so I am sure it is the pasteurized milk that does it). But it is not nasty, and it takes various seasonings well.

The next round of cheese will be a cooked, pressed cheese. There are many types of cheese that can be made from kefir. I am already decreasing the amount of cheese that I buy.

So how will I keep this going? How will I keep enough milk to keep the grains happy? At this rate, they are doubling their culturing volume about once a week. That is a lot of milk potential!

The grains will be ready to split soon. At that time, I’ll preserve some for backup. I’ll also start making them available to other people. A quart a day seems to be a good amount right now, to make sufficient kefir and cheese.

One of the issues with kefir that people worry about is the daily maintenance. It takes literally 5 minutes a day to drain the grains, wash the jar, return the grains to the jar and refill with milk, shake, and place them to culture, and then pour the kefir into a container and pop it into the fridge.

Making soft drained cheese is also easy – 2 minutes to set it up to drain. 2 minutes in the middle to adjust it to drain better. 2 minutes at the end to package the cheese. 3-4 minutes to wash the cloth (I do it by hand in the sink with a little dishwashing detergent, and remove any sticky cheese by rubbing the cloth against itself).

I made ranch dressing a few days ago from mayonnaise and kefir – but I can also make it just from kefir, by using some of the thicker cream cheese style kefir, blended with some fresh. The ranch dressing was really good. It is usable in place of milk, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, soft cheese, cottage cheese, and many other dairy ingredients. It takes about 1 minute to toss the ingredients for Ranch into kefir or cheese and stir it up. It stores well, so you can make up a cup or so at a time and use it slowly if you want.

The hardest thing is keeping a steady supply of milk. But once that problem is solved, I am loving having the kefir every day, and loving having a steady supply of cheese starter just right there. It just builds up naturally, takes no special effort on my part, and I just drain it out when I have enough.

I’m all about easy. I’ll do the hard work when that is the only way to get things done, but if I can work out a simpler way, I always will. Kefir has ended up being easy. And convenient in ways I had not thought it would.

Letting Pandora Out of the Box

Guest post by Kevin (Laura’s husband)

I grew up with a strong foundation in music. I played in band throughout junior high, high school, and college. I actually have a degree in Music Education. I love listening to music. At home, in the car, in the bathroom, where ever. Sometimes it drives my wife nuts. But silence, especially for a prolonged span of time, drives me nuts – unless I’m up in the woods. (I managed to survive a week up at Scout camp without a radio or iPod, and I’ve been up in the mountains hunting deer and elk. While working at Camp for a whole summer, we could watch movies on the computers, and listen to iTunes, so I had some respite from squirrel chitters and bird song.) I’ve been trying to tell my wife for years that I think better when music is playing. She is only recently realizing that I’ve got one of those anomalies in my brain that needs music to get it jump started. I’ve been trying to tell her that for years, but her brain works best in quiet, so her assumption was understandable.

I am always on the lookout for how to pump music from somewhere. A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a reference to the Pandora web site. “Free internet radio” it said. “Great!”, I said. On Pandora, you can create “radio stations” and it will pick “similar” tracks to what you originally put in. For instance, if you tell it Mozart, it will play Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and similar other artists. If you create another radio station and start it with Glenn Miller, you will hear Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, and other Big Band leaders. Yes, it does contemporary too.

Laura and I like to play “spiritual” music during business hours. We work from home, and it keeps us in a better “frame of mind” towards each other, and the internet frustrations, if we have music playing. So I started a station using the name Janice Kapp Perry. For a while we got similar artists like April Meservey, Mindy Gledhill. But a couple of days ago, I was only half-way paying attention, and I definitely heard some Country music. I love country music, but I didn’t want it on that station. I looked, and saw that it was a semi-religious tune by Tracy Lawrence, so I marked that I liked it. Pretty soon, I kept hearing more Country artists. At first a couple of similarly “religious” tunes, but then we got a “drinking” song. I think there was some kind of mention of bar tramps, too. I marked it that I didn’t like it. Then Pandora started adding Enya and Sissel to my Religious radio station. I like the music these ladies produce, but I didn’t want it on my “spiritual” radio station. As a matter of fact, I had already created a station specifically for Sissel, Enya, Celtic Woman, and all of their other “New Age” sisters.

So I deleted my religious station, and tried to start over. I kept putting in names of the spiritual artists that I liked, but it wouldn’t start with those artists. It would immediately start playing Sissel or Enya. After several attempts I finally gave up.

What we think happened is that I had marked that I liked Sissel, Enya, Tracy Lawrence, Charlotte Church, Diamond Rio, and it wasn’t following the original parameters anymore. Pandora searches for similar “qualities” in artists, and makes it’s choices from there. You can only tell a computer so much before the limited qualities of brain-like function give up the pretense that it can handle anything that differs from the parameters that it’s been given.

On my Sissel Radio, I had marked a bunch of artists that I liked. On my Spiritual radio, I had marked artists that liked there. I had a radio station for Broadway musicals, and pretty soon Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole started showing up there, because I had marked that I liked them on certain show tunes. But I think Pandora was getting confused, because my “parameters” didn’t fit it’s parameters. I expanded my choices because of my personal likes and dislikes. I was outside of Pandora’s box, and it was getting confused.

The point being that if you stick to Pandora’s pre-defined categories, then you and they will get along just fine.

The “Tumbs Up” and “Tumbs Down” buttons work just fine, when controlling what you want to hear on your radio station as a whole. But if you decide that you don’t want to hear “Boot Scoot Boogie” just after your cat died, and you give it a “Thumbs Down” then you will never hear it again.

One other negative. You can’t just “leave it alone”. I don’t know how long it takes for this feature to kick in. I have been seeing to other tasks in the house when Pandora decides to quit. If you don’t click on something every once in a while, the music will stop and you will get this window that asks if you are listening. If you click that you are still listening, it will keep going from where it left off.

I think that Pandora is a handy way to get radio over the internet, and have some degree over customization, but it needs more options for a listener to “truly” optimize their listening experience.

It will be interesting to see if Pandora’s options improve over the next few years, or if some “hot shot” company will come from out of no-where and pull the rug out from under them.

The Hen Who Laid Invisible Eggs

Large hen

The spring sun smiled brightly on the farmyard, where about a dozen hens and one strutting rooster scratched at the ground, pecking up bits of grain, small stones, tender young weeds, and juicy worms and bugs. They especially loved the worms and bugs.

One especially fine looking hen would periodically stop and turn in the sunlight so the sun could catch the gold lacing design on her feathers. She knew her feathers glowed golden in the sunlight and she was very proud of them. She posed a great deal when the farmer’s wife came to feed the chickens and collect the eggs, and she particularly enjoyed the compliments that the farmer’s wife gave her each day.

“Aren’t you a fine one, then?” the farmer’s wife would say. “So fluffy and shiny looking!” She called her Goldie for the gleaming gold in her feathers.

The farmer’s wife had a soft spot for another hen also. This hen was a middle aged hen, who was anything but fluffy and gleaming. She was rather thin looking, with an unimpressive gray and white feathering. She stood very upright, with a neck that went straight up on one end, and a tail that went straight up on the other end. Her breed was known for outstanding egg production though, and over the last few seasons she had proven her worth by being the soonest in the spring to lay, the last in the fall to stop laying, and the most consistent layer in between. She also normally sat at least one clutch of eggs each year, bringing new chicks into the barnyard to replace the aging hens.

When the farmer’s wife noticed this hen start to get broody, she would leave her alone and let her hatch the clutch of eggs. A good farmer’s wife knows that chicks from a good egg layer are worth more than the eggs, and lets her sit a clutch now and again if she gets broody.

The farmer’s wife named the skinny hen “Fayoumi”, and talked to her each day as she passed by to feed the hens and gather the eggs. Sometimes she’d pick her up and smooth her feathers, and Fayoumi always let her.

If a farm has good egg layers, then they’ll get an egg from every hen at least part of the time. This is how they know that all the hens are laying. This year, the farmer’s wife kept waiting in the spring for all the hens to be laying. But she never gathered more than 11 eggs. One of the hens was not laying this year.

The farmer’s wife told her husband that she knew that Fayoumi was getting past her prime, and maybe she was not laying this year. She felt a little sad about it, because Fayoumi was one of her favorite hens, and she had been such a good layer. A successful farm just does not have room to feed a hen that does not lay eggs, and Fayoumi was just not attractive enough to sell as a pet. The farmer’s wife decided to wait and watch, and see if she could see for certain whether Fayoumi was still laying or not.

Every morning, Fayoumi woke with the sun. She quietly climbed into the nest box and laid her egg, then she covered it with straw before hopping down and leaving the henhouse. She’d go off to hunt and scratch for a few hours, then she’d find a shady spot for an afternoon nap during the heat of the day. After her nap, she’d busily scratch until dusk, when she’d skitter into the henhouse with the other hens to roost for the night.

Goldie followed a different schedule. Goldie liked to wake up later in the day. She’d stay on the night roost until noon, and then she’d hop down and wander sleepily out into the yard. She would scratch around for a few hours, always appearing at the feeder when the farmer’s wife fed the chickens in the evening.

Sometime during the afternoon, most of the hens would head, one by one, for the nest boxes to lay their eggs. There were five nest boxes, and they liked the middle ones best. Fayoumi laid her egg in a corner nest box, and the other hens did not like the corner. The hens would deposit an egg, and then cackle loudly to announce their accomplishment. The rooster would cluck proudly to claim his part in the job.

Goldie never went first. She always waited until the other hens had all been in. She’d climb into the nest box, sit there for a while, and cackle loudly. She’d climb out as the rooster cheered her on.

But Goldie never laid an egg. She did not know how, and she couldn’t do it. She would always pick a nest box with eggs already in it, so no one would ever know she did not lay an egg.

One day, Goldie went into the henhouse too early, and all of the nest boxes were full except the one in the corner. Goldie decided she’d hide there until the other hens left, and then she’d pretend to lay an egg. To her surprise, she found an egg, at the back of the nest box, under the straw! She waited a few minutes, then cackled happily, and she uncovered the egg and hopped down.

The next day, she checked the corner box again, and sure enough, there was an egg under the straw again. From that day on, she used the corner nest box, and simply uncovered Fayoumi’s egg, and claimed it as her own. Of course, she had no idea whose egg she was claiming.

Fayoumi knew though. She noticed Goldie’s fraud. Fayoumi now knew that Goldie could not lay an egg. She also knew that Goldie was claiming Fayoumi’s egg, and she was not happy about it. She knew it would not last though – fraud has a way of exposing itself.

Goldie was not happy either. She lived in fear that someone would notice that she was not able to lay an egg. This made her feel like she had to make herself look more important, and like unhappy people often do, she decided to make someone else look bad, so she could try to make herself look better. Fayoumi looked like an easy target – she was skinny and not so young anymore, and she was quiet. So Goldie started to insult Fayoumi.

“Look at that lazy chicken,” she would cluck in the afternoon. “What is she doing taking a nap in the middle of the day? She should be laying an egg! I’ll bet she can’t even lay an egg anymore!” Goldie insulted and criticized and meanmouthed Fayoumi worse every day.

Then one day, Fayoumi skipped her afternoon nap. Instead, she found a bush in the corner of the farmyard, and began scratching out a nest. It took a few days to get it just right, and Goldie started criticizing her about sneaking off to take a nap where no one could see.

On the fourth day after Fayoumi had started making her nest, she was nowhere to be found in the farmyard! She was not in the henhouse at night, and she was not scratching in the yard when Goldie was up! Goldie thought Fayoumi had just run away. Goldie smiled at that, because this was proof that she was right about Fayoumi all along!

That afternoon, Goldie sauntered proudly into the henhouse, ready to begin her daily ruse. She hopped up into the corner nest box, but there was no egg! Goldie shrugged and moved over to a middle nest with several eggs already in it and faked laying an egg there. When there was no egg in the corner the next day either, Goldie knew that Fayoumi had laid the eggs that she had claimed for so long.

The farmer’s wife wasn’t worried about Fayoumi, because she got up earlier in the morning than Goldie did! She saw what Goldie missed – she saw Fayoumi come out from under the bush each morning, and scratch for food, and then go back under the bush. The farmer’s wife smiled… she knew that Fayoumi had not stopped laying after all. But she still did not know who was not laying.

The fair was coming, and the Farmer’s wife decided to enter Goldie in the fair. She was such a fine hen, she was sure to win a prize. Goldie was in the farmyard though, getting dusty and dirty as she scratched around each day. To win a prize, she’d need to be clean, so the farmer’s wife caught Goldie and put her in a small pen by herself. The pen was much cleaner than the dusty farmyard, and had a nest box in the corner. The farmer’s wife started her on special feed to make her look as pretty as possible. Goldie grew cleaner and sleeker every day. But the nest box in the pen never had an egg. The nest boxes in the henhouse had 10 eggs every day, and Goldie had none.

Goldie went to the fair, and won a blue ribbon. And then she went to the sale barn, where she was sold to a family who wanted a pet chicken, for $5 – they did not want to pay more for a chicken who could not lay eggs, even if she was so pretty. Goldie lived out her life in a back yard, with a bossy chicken who laid an egg every day except on the coldest days of winter, and who never let Goldie forget that she could not lay. The neighbor’s cat never attacked the chickens, but Goldie was always afraid that he just might.

A week after Goldie was sold, Fayoumi emerged from under the bush in the farmyard, with a clutch of eight fluffy chicks peeping loudly around her legs.

And the farmer’s wife smiled.

Moral: Fraud has a way of exposing itself, and faithfulness has its own reward.

So Many Things to Not Write About

I just hate that feeling… That feeling of excitement like you have something important to say, but can’t for the life of you think what it might be!

I feel like that a lot when I’ve been busy learning something that I’ve not had a chance to test out yet. Also feel that way when personal things are happening in my life. But personal means they are not suitable for worldwide broadcast.

On the non-personal side, strawberries have taken up residence next to the pots of herbs and greens on the porch. They are, admittedly, small pots. But you do what you can.

The tomato plant is probably not coming back to life. The leaves have continued to blacken, and the tomatoes on it are ripening, but no new ones are appearing. Not a good sign. I think it was too far gone when I got it, cheap, on sale. But it came in a triple pot with basil and lemon thyme in the other sections. The basil and thyme are thriving, and the basil has an absolutely heavenly flavor and aroma. It was a terrific addition to last night’s soup. I’m gonna use some of that lemon thyme with some chicken – the thyme tastes like thyme with a lemony overtone. Smells wonderful too. So the pot was worth getting even if the tomato doesn’t make it.

I planted ginger too. This is a first. Summers here are warm enough for tropical plants. I put it in a 1 1/2 gallon pot. Mint is next on the list for potted plants – it is too aggressive to plant with abandon anyway.

Funny thing about farming. You set out to do it, get set back, and find that the desire and compulsion just won’t go away. We do what we can – we grow and raise what we are able in the circumstances we can’t change. If a thing is important, you keep trying as best you can, in spite of set-backs.

It makes me view things differently. Try different things, look at options I’d not be trying otherwise. I decided NOT to try raising snails, even though they can be quite lucrative. They are a regulatory nightmare. I avoid regulatory nightmares as much as possible, especially when accompanied by slimy things that I really don’t want to touch anyway! Someday, if we end up having an abundance of edible snails as a natural occurrence, I would seriously consider encouraging them and selling them. But otherwise, they are off my list.

The list does contain things now though which I had not considered before. No, I’m not going to give anything away at this point, you’ll just have to be eaten up by curiosity. We are testing out some options though, and preparing to test some more. There are more cheap options out there that take very little space than I thought there were!

So today I have nothing to say. I think I’m done saying it.

How to Afford Food Storage


Many people have the perception that a food storage has to be expensive, or that you have to do it all at once. They let themselves be overwhelmed by the prospect, and end up doing nothing. Achieving a functional food storage is an attainable goal by any family.

There is no “right way” to do it. There are a few wrong ways (like going into debt for it, or stocking up on ten year’s supply of Little Debbies), but there are enough right ways that one of them is bound to fit your situation.

1. Monthly budget. You can assign a certain amount per month to food storage. It need not be a huge amount. Even $10 a month will get you there in the long term, if you stock up on sale items. $25 to $50 per month will generally allow you to participate in a monthly plan through a food storage supply company.

2. Spend the same, buy more. Any time an item on your grocery list is on sale, add an extra if you can do so and still stay within the amount you intended to spend.

3. Shop less often. There is real magic in this! You’ll plan better, eat better, and spend less. If you spend the same, or split the savings (half in savings, half to food storage), and you’ll still be amazed at how quickly you accumulate a usable supply. The key to this one is that every time you go in the store, you usually lose a certain amount on impulse buys. If you reduce those impulse buys, you have that money for more important things.

4. The Two-Can Plan. Buy two extra cans of food every time you go shopping.

5. One Plus One. If you are purchasing dry packed food, grains or beans, or bucketed food storage, aim for ordering one item each time you go to the grocery store, or one item per month.

6. Food Storage On the Hoof. Get chickens, ducks, rabbits, or other animals that can eat your kitchen produce scraps and leftovers. You’ll still need some feed for them, but they’ll benefit from kitchen waste, and reduce your expenses, while providing a food source that replenishes itself, reducing the need for other kinds of food storage.

7. Grow a Garden, and Save Seed. You can grow a garden any time of the year, even if it is just sprouts in the kitchen – usually though, you can do way more than that! A garden reduces food costs if you do it smart, and gives you food reserves that keep producing. It can provide surplus to can, freeze, dry, or brine. It can provide seeds this year to grow next year. A good garden can be started for $100 or less (often WAY less), and can produce hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of produce from that investment. Keep it simple, and make sure each expense really IS an investment.

8. Look for sales on produce, and preserve it. A $30 food dryer from Wal-Mart is sufficient to dry large volumes of food, one to two batches a day (as long as it has a fan, it will dry food quickly and efficiently). You can often find canning supplies at yard sales or being given away. Many foods freeze easily, and all you need are zip bags (some vegetables need to be blanched before freezing, but most fruits do not, and a large number of veggies don’t require it either). Dried or frozen foods may be stored in repurposed containers – peanut butter jars are a great storage container, as are other reusable containers.

9. Stock up on cheap storage items. Tuna, dried beans, rice, split peas, pork and beans, canned soup, and other items that cost less than $1 per item. It is easier to start with these items – either one or two at a time, or by the case. Easier to think of getting case goods when you know they’ll only cost you $12 for a case.

10. If you buy bulk grains in bags instead of in pre-packed buckets, you can significantly reduce the cost of acquiring bulk grains or beans. If you have 5 gallon buckets shipped, they’ll usually cost more than if you acquire them locally (feed stores usually carry them). Buckets can sometimes be obtained used, either free, or for a low cost, from fast food restaurants or bakeries.

You can’t do a food storage with no sacrifice. You have to give something. But if you think about what you can do, and what you are good at, you can find a way that works for you. It IS achievable.

Good Thing There’s No Inflation

In the last six months, the cost of groceries has increased so much that it costs 1 and 1/2 to 2 times the amount to get the same groceries today that it did six months ago.

But there is no inflation. We know this because our government tells us this regularly. So… we know that something is wrong with HOW we are shopping. It is my responsibility to balance the grocery budget, and keep it from increasing.

I can reduce the amount of vegetables that I buy. At the rate that prices are increasing, this means in six weeks I will have no more money for vegetables at all. This is ok though – if our family has problems with muscle weakness, poor concentration, and persistent obesity, it won’t matter. This is expected from the average American, and conforming to the norm is better than being a radical non-conformist.

After I’ve eliminated vegetables, fruit is the next thing to be decreased. We will then develop problems with our bones, immune system, and eyesight, and our ability to heal will decline pretty rapidly. But that is ok too. If we are unemployable because of health problems we’ll no longer be listed on the lists of unemployed people, and that will help the nation, so we’ll be doing our part.

The next thing to go would be eggs and dairy. Of course, this will mean severe problems with our bones (we really don’t need calcium, we’ve been deluding ourselves all this time), and it won’t matter that eggs are one of the only foods from which I absorb certain nutrients. But dairy is expensive and prices are increasing very quickly, so obviously it is not essential to our wellbeing. The painful and persistent symptoms this causes can be mis-diagnosed by any competent physician, and they can prescribe a pill for us – the FDA has approved “safe and effective” medications for everything after all.

We’ll then have to eliminate meat. Protein is overrated anyway, and weak muscles, infertility, low energy, are GOOD things! There are too many healthy people having babies in the world anyway, and the human race is merely a blight on an otherwise perfect world, it is better that nobody reproduces. We can do without meat, the government already said so, and we know they are always right (even when they are wrong), so we should just shut up and trust them! If the symptoms become too difficult to deal with, we can get an anti-depressant easily from any doctor.

We’re down to grains now. Of course, without vegetables, fruits, dairy, and meats, our bodies will have NO ability to heal itself, and we’ll undoubtedly have plenty of digestive problems, further inhibiting our ability to absorb the incomplete nutrient complement from grains. We won’t be able to afford whole grains for long, so we’ll have to switch to white pasta and white flour, and white rice. Rapidly increasing prices mean that we’ll have to decrease the amounts over time, but that’s ok too, since America is full of obese people and everybody needs to eat less (the fact that a nutrient deficient diet from processed foods causes the body to go into crisis mode and creates persistent obesity is just a myth so don’t worry about that!). It doesn’t matter how healthy you think you are eating, it is still too much, too high in fat, and too high in red meat, sugar, and junk food. So eat the enriched white flour products that the government has said are just as healthy as whole wheat and shut up.

If we collapse from nutritional deficiency, Obamacare is there for us. They can prescribe medications to mask the symptoms and we can suffer from chronic illness until we die a painful death. If we die young, so much the better, there won’t be enough money to pay for our Social Security when we are older anyway, and it will save on medical costs in the long run. We’ll be doing our part to better the general welfare of the nation by kicking off sooner anyway.

So cheer up, America! There is no inflation! The rising prices are just a means of encouraging you to do your part to effect necessary change! And change must be good, after all, the President promised change, and we got it.

Good food, in a healthy variety, isn’t really needed, and malnutrition and the subsequent illness are positive influences on the nation!

Aren’t we blessed to live in a country with no inflation?

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.