Thursday, July 21, 2016

My Buckets Runneth Over

Yes, that's right: my buckets runneth over. And my pitchers and jars, too. Everything's running over with milk!! Right now, there's at least five gallons in the house, and this evening, again, there will be more. A lot more. I guess that's what happens when you buy a milk cow!

Oh my, have we taken leave of our senses?? Hopefully not. It's only been two days, so I'm believing that this is an adjustment period and we'll get into the routine of fresh milk twice a day...twice a day?? What were we thinking?!

We were thinking, and have been for a while, about getting a cow. For us, the older we get, the more important quality, nourishing food has become. Not that we're elderly or anything, but our bodies are telling us we're not 20-something anymore. The most logical place to begin a healthier lifestyle is to eat healthier food. I discovered the FOODWIFERY philosophy of sourcing, cooking, and eating, which made a lot of sense. One part of the Foodwifery approach is consuming raw and cultured milk products. Thus, the cow.

We also thought a milk cow would be a good thing for our vacation rental business. Folks who stay at the Guest House love the farm, especially the animals. Milking a cow and tasting fresh milk will be a great experience for them.

We actually have four cows at the moment, but two of them are just babies: heifers that are about 8 months old. It will be a couple of years before they'll be giving any milk.

The other two were a package deal. Otherwise, we would have gotten only one. They are both Jerseys and both came with month-old calves, thank goodness! Every drop those baby girls drink means less for us to deal with. Without them, we'd be dealing with about eight gallons a day! As it is, two to five gallons a day is way more than enough. I obviously have a lot to learn about dairy!

When I met Robin oh, so many years ago, his family still had milk cows. We had raw milk the first few years of our marriage, but his mother took care of most of it. Robin brought in a glass gallon jar of milk every few days. I learned to make butter and whipped cream, but that's all. Now my mother-in-law is gone, and it's all up to me. All five gallons a day! Milking is coming back easily to Robin after all these years, but I think his hands are complaining a bit.

As for me, I'm filling jars and pitchers, skimming cream, washing buckets, and experimenting with cultured dairy. I think I have plenty to work with. There are jars and jar of milk,

The cream is adding up...I'll be able to make butter soon.

I let one gallon clabber and ended up with curds

and whey. Until now, I had no ideas what whey looked like.

There's milk to drink,

even chocolate milk.

I'm thinking ice cream might be a good idea soon. And pudding. At some point in the near future, I'll be giving cheese-making a go as well. I'll have to be careful, though, that all those pounds of milk products don't end up around my waist. That would not be good.

And so our milk journey has begun. I'll let you know how it's going once in a while. I'm excited...but I still think we're nuts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Don't Bug Me

I don't like bugs. Never have. I can barely tolerate a butterfly. Just about anything with six legs makes me recoil in disgust, and a praying mantis could give me nightmares. Needless to say, I don't normally look close enough to appreciate their intricacies, and insects aren't usually the subject of my photographic adventures.

Once in a while, however, I can get past my dislike and see the wonder in a bug. Such was the case Sunday afternoon. Down by the river, where we were enjoying a beautiful afternoon, Robin pointed out this pretty thing flying around.

There were several of them. When they landed, they were perfect subjects, sitting still long enough for me to compose a shot, focus, and click away. Almost entirely iridescent, they are tiny things, only about two inches long.

I have to admit, it was fascinating to see this fellow up close. I got some nice photos, and it wasn't too awfully creepy-crawly, either.

But, just for the record, I still don't like bugs.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday Visitor

We had a special visitor on the Guest House pond this morning. Once again, Robin called while I was still a-snooze, to tell me to bring my camera and hurry. And once again, I threw on some clothes, grabbed the camera bag, and this time, headed for the car. When I arrived at the pond a few minutes later, Robin had gone to feed the cattle and the surface of the pond was empty. Or so I thought. I watched and looked for a few minutes and saw nothing but the fish swishing and a few raindrops making ripples. Robin came back and didn't see anything either, but kept insisting that it was still there. Finally, we saw it: a grebe paddling around near the water's edge.

 My Birds of Virginia Field Guide (by Stan Tekiela) gives the bird's proper name: a Pied-Billed Grebe and describes what we were looking at perfectly.

Although the book says grebes are "common residents," they are not common around here, at least not anymore. Robin's father could remember when, decades ago, there were a lot of grebes on the river. They called them "dive dippers" because they dove under the surface of the water. I tried to capture our little fella as he dove, but this is all I got:

They stay under water for several minutes sometimes, and usually surface in a completely different place from where they went down

Robin walked to the other side of the pond, which caused the grebe to swim toward me.

He (or she!) finally got close enough that I could get some decent pictures. 

Years ago, when a school faculty meeting got hot and stuffy, I slipped out of the library to open the front door for some fresh air. A few minutes later, a little bird (which turned out to be a grebe) hobbled in and started down the hall! With the custodian's help, I got it into a box and brought it home. When we put it into a small tub of water, it was so happy! It paddled and paddled with its one good leg, sending it around in circles. Apparently, it had mistaken a puddle on the parking lot for water deep enough to land on and broken its leg as a result. We sent it to the wildlife rehab center where it could be properly cared for. Luckily, this morning's visitor didn't make the same mistake.

I watched him dive and resurface for almost an hour. He stayed in the middle of the pond as long as Robin and I were on either side. When Robin joined me, the grebe headed to the other side, away from us pesky humans.

How blessed I am when God lets me peek inside the wonders of his creation! And how sweet it is to have a husband who gets up early enough to make sure I don't miss them.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Tale of Two (Or More) Dishes

When I was young, my family ate off of Blue Willow dishes. My grandmother gave my parents the set not long after they were married in 1948.

They weren't fine china, but they were good, sturdy dishes made to serve folks their daily bread.

Over the years, some pieces were cracked, 

some chips appeared,

and a few plates and cups were broken, but for the most part, they survived very well.

Somewhere along the line, we switched to these wheat dishes. I think they came in laundry detergent, but I'm not sure about that.

Finally, Mom went with Correlle, white with a gold border design.

But what I remember most are the Blue Willow. Maybe I liked them so much because I can remember seeing them used on TV, in westerns like Bonanza and my favorite show, Daniel Boone. A history buff from the beginning, I played pioneer and dreamed of living in a log cabin and wearing long dresses. The log cabin and long dresses were hard to come by in the 1960s, but the Blue Willow dishes greeted me at every meal. When I got my first apartment after graduating from college and landing a job, Mom helped me round up second-hand furniture, bedding, and kitchen wares. And she gave me the Blue Willow dishes, much to my delight. When Robin and I got married three years later, I added some newer pieces, made by Churchill, to complete a service for six. We've been using them for thirty years now.

In 2010 we remodeled our kitchen. We went from natural oak cabinets and a beige counter top...

 to plantation white cabinets and a dark green counter top.

 The new kitchen is lovely and I like it a lot, but it does not go with the Blue Willow dishes! The colors simply aren't a good fit.

Consequently, I've spent the last five years looking for new dishes. All the patterns I considered were either way too modern for my taste, way too fancy for everyday use, or way too expensive for my wallet. I like Fiesta Ware, and even borrowed a few plates and bowls from my sister to try it out. Although I liked the small bowls, the dinner plates were awfully heavy, meaning the serving bowls and platters would be heavier still, especially when full of food. So, I purchased a few little bowls, and I do enjoy these bright, happy colors in my kitchen. But Fiesta Ware was not the right fit.

Next, I tried dishes by Pioneer Woman, of Food Network fame. Ree Drummond is her real name, and she launched her own line of kitchen everything last fall. I thought her dishes were the answer to my dilemma, but alas, they didn't work either. The color was OK, but not great.

The plates and bowls are deep, which is good for eating, but not so good for stacking.

I wasn't particularly pleased with the quality, either. One plate has already chipped, and another is scratched (and we don't even have a dishwasher!). In the end, the price was great, but the dishes weren't.

I was beginning to think I'd never find the right dishes. As sometimes happens though, when I least expected to, I found them! Well, three pieces, anyway. The local SPCA chapter runs a second-hand store to raise funds and I like to stop in from time to time to see what treasures might be had. Last week when I walked in, there they were: the dishes I'd been looking for. There was a dinner plate, a square salad plate, and a fruit bowl, displayed on a wooden dish drainer and just waiting for me to arrive.

 The pattern is Strawberry Fair, by Johnson Brothers.

The white is not bright white; I'd call it plantation white because it matches my cabinets. The red is that antique shade that looks both ordinary enough for every day and elegant enough to be special.

I thought it would be easy enough to find and purchase a new set of these lovely dishes. Wrong. The website LoveToKnow says this:

Johnson Brothers also manufactured a pattern called Strawberry Fair. It is a red transferware pattern with the bulk of the motif arranged in a wide band around the edge. The rim on the plates is scalloped.Many of the bowls and cups have a small, matching motif inside. The bowl rims are decorated with a rope design, strawberries and daisies. This is one of the more unique of the strawberry china patterns. It was manufactured from 1959 to 1973.

Leave it to me to fall in love with a discontinued and apparently very collectible pattern! A little poking around on eBay and Etsy revealed that these dishes aren't plentiful, nor are they cheap. But now that I've used the three pieces for a few days, I don't think anything else will do.

I found eight dinner plates in this Etsy shop and decided to go for it and order them. They arrived in two boxes and oh my, the packing!! This photo was taken after I got the plates unpacked, which was quite a job and took me well over half an hour.

After I got the bundles out of the Styrofoam packing peanuts, there was cardboard and bubble wrap to deal with.

Each plate was wrapped in not one,

not two,

but three layers of bubble wrap!

There was lots of tape involved as well.

When I finally finished, I had this beautiful stack of dinner plates,

and this big stack of bubble wrap! (I added the pill box to give you a point of reference.)

Because one of the dinner plates had a tiny chip, the Etsy shop owner threw in a bread and butter plate as a bonus. How nice!

So, I'm good for dinner plates, and I have one each of the bread and butter, square salad, and fruit bowl. I guess I'll be haunting antique shops and searching eBay, and Etsy for good deals on the many other pieces I need.  It will take a while, but I'll appreciate them all the more for the wait. It's just like that old saying: "Good things come to those who wait."  And how sweet it is when the good things finally show up.