A Little Relief

Today was great!  We woke up to rain and cooler temps and unlike the other showers, these were not followed by 100 degree weather.  As a matter of fact, it took all day for 2 loads of clothes to dry on the line.  This summer the average load was dried in about 20 minutes- try to get that out of a dryer and the heat was free!.  But today, we had cloud cover for 90% of the day. What a blessing.

I am so grateful!  Things were getting desperate, as a matter of fact, the other day I witnessed two huge buzzards drinking from a bird bath in the middle of town. I knew then that if we didn’t get some relief soon, we were going to have many visitors that we would not enjoy. In small towns bordered by agriculture, its not unusual to see wildlife on the edges of town.  In our town, the nursing homes are located in areas that border farmland so at a distance it looks like the buzzards are circling above the nursing homes when, in fact, they are circling a dead cow in the field.  More than once we have driven by and a young child had asked, ” Oh, did somebody die?” Country kids have a unique perspective of death…

Speaking of death, our farm has been troubled by many more pests than usual.  Our eggs go missing on a regular basis, little chicks are disappearing, and every skunk in the county seems to be trying to live under our storage building.  I don’t blame the wildlife, the drought is pushing them to areas that have food and especially water.  Mostly that means our backyards.  When you have small livestock like chickens you can count on a little trouble from predators, but this year has been unusual.  Never have we had “wild” animals trying to live so close to us.  The heat has claimed a few casualties as well.  It is upsetting, but it is part of life.  We will regroup and learn from these hard lessons and go at it again in the fall.

You might think that all this talk about death and having to deal with it so much would be depressing, but it isn’t.  I guess when you get to witness the miracle of life as much as we do, seeing the other end of the spectrum is only natural.  Of course, we want to prevent death as much as possible and will make some changes before next summer arrives. But for now, we pray for rain and enjoy any clouds that come our way.

Holland Crossing, Rusk, Texas

An easy and tasty way to get some lunch.

If you ever find yourself in Rusk, Texas- there is a great little cafe on the square.  Tony and I found Holland Crossing Cafe this past week as we were doing some business in that little town.  The courthouse and square are very quaint.  The cafe is casual with a  friendly atmosphere.

The special of the day was “all you can eat fish and shrimp.”  Now in most cases, this would not at all  appeal to me as I am very picky about my fish (mostly I don’t like it, for some reason it usually tastes fishy) and I love shrimp, but fresh.  Normally these small town cafes will offer frozen shrimp that is not very appealing.  Catfish is not uncommon and usually done well- if you don’t mind your fish tasting fishy. But Holland Crossing surprised me.  I walked over to take a look at the buffet and saw some shrimp that looked like what I cooked at home and since the buffet cost no more than the Hamburger Basket, I decided to give it a try.

I am so glad I did!  The shrimp was so good.  The breading was light, almost like tempura and the shrimp was very fresh and cooked just right.  The way to tell if seafood is fresh is to take a bite.  If the shrimp or calamari or lobster has a nice “pop” to it as your teeth sink into it- it is fresh.  If you have to pull back on the bite to get it loose and it feels like biting into a rubber band- not fresh.  Sadly, most seafood you get in this part of Texas is rubbery.  So many people don’t think they like seafood and I really think it has to do with not being served fresh stuff.  Not only was the shrimp good, so was the Gumbo.  The gumbo had good flavor and just a touch of heat.  When I first got my plate there was no fish out.  As I finished my shrimp, the gal in the kitchen bought out a fresh batch of catfish.  Given the freshness of the shrimp, I took a chance on the fish.  Perfect.  Not a hint of mud or fishyness- it was really good.

The only flaw I found on the buffet was the actual lettuce.  It was fresh and crisp, but it was just a standard iceberg mix.  I find that really sad given the fact that the romaine and loose leaf varieties are the same price if not cheaper. However, the rest of the salad bar had a lot of great choices- fresh mushrooms, cucumbers, carrots, bacon bits, etc.

Tony had a ham and turkey sandwich that was served on a croissant with chips.  He really liked it.  Several customers were served hamburgers and those looked great.  Being located across from the courthouse means that a lot of sidearms walked in on their owners.  This was a bit out of the norm for our usual haunts, but the deputies usually know the good eating places in town.

There are several other attractions in the areal.  The Texas State Railroad is in Rusk and there is a really pretty park downtown.  This area of Texas has a lot of early history in it that is marked by the historical markers.  I reccomend this little town for a great day trip to expose your kids to some our colorful Texas history.

While you are there- give the Holland Crossing Cafe a try!

Tony always grins this big when he has a great lunch.

Happy Trails, Cinnamon

Sierra with Cinnamon

A few years ago, every little girl’s dream came true for Sierra.  She got her first horse.  Talk about happy!  She smiled for days and brushed that horse a whole bunch.  Cinnamon was an Arabian mix old ranch horse who was a ripe ol’ age of 24.  Don’t let the age fool you, that horse had spunk!  She made Sierra learn to ride and earn every bit of riding time.  Not very big, but just right for Sierra.  Sierra rode her every chance she got, all over our little place.

After Sierra got Cinnamon we took her up to the rodeo arena for a novice practice with the equestrian drill team.  It seems that in her long life time, Cinnamon made some really great memories at a rodeo arena.  She got so excited, started dancing around in the trailer and talking to all the other horses.  Well, Sierra could not do a thing with her the rest of the day.  She cracked us up, of course Sierra did not think it was funny that day.

Shortly after we got Cinnamon, we noticed that she would bleed a little out of on side of her nose.  Horse friends told us not to worry too much.  As time went on, the bleeding got more frequent.  So, we took her to the vet to get her teeth floated thinking it might be related to a bad tooth.  Dr. Eberhart could not find anything going on and referred her to an equine vet in Rockwall.  They used a scope to look at her nasal passage.  Dr. E said he thought it might be cancer.  Well, he was right.  However, the horse vet said that as long as she acted fine to let her be.  Of course, there was no more riding.  Cinnamon now found herself  living the life of ease. That was last summer.

Before then, we had made a lot of memories with her.  I could not have gotten a better first horse for Sierra or Jonathan.  One day I came around the house to find Sierra going up one side of Cinnamon and Jonathan coming down the other side.  Cinnamon was not one for running off, so Sierra would let her wander around and eat the grass.  Once Cinnamon found the dog bowl on the front porch, it was not uncommon to walk in the living room and see her looking in the front window.

When the vet checked her out, she said that the tumor would not cause her any discomfort, but it would grow and one day we would find her gone.  Well, the vet was right.  Cinnamon never seemed to be bothered by the tumor and we did find her gone this morning.  It was something that we knew was coming.  She had lost a lot of weight in this heat and we had been talking to Dr. E about the options of putting her down.  Sierra took it well, she has been crying for weeks knowing that it was time.  Grief is not something that comes and goes in a day, especially when you are morning the loss of a childhood friend.  So, today was kind of like closure for it.  We will have really great memories of that horse.  And to think all she cost was 2 jersey calves about 6 weeks old.  What a great trade.

I do believe the her soul went to heaven.  If you don’t believe me then you never owned and loved a horse.  Just like in Narnia, some animals are talking animals and some are not.  Cinnamon was definitely a talking animal.

Happy Trails Cinnamon! You were a good friend!

 

 

The Hardship of a Drought

One of the hardest thing about the drought is the shortage of hay for the animals.  With a food shortage the farmers and ranchers have no choice but to sell off their animals to meet the level of food they have available.  Given the fact that most of the hay meadows and paddocks look like the dead of winter- the food is very limited!  And what is available is very expensive.

Today, Tony and I took 6 of John’s cows to the sale in Emory.  I am never really crazy over being at the sale and I really don’t like taking animals to there.  However, there is not a better outlet for the beef cattle. The buyers for the slaughter houses come to the sale barn to buy the stock that will become beef for the supermarkets.  Generally, this is made up of stocker calves- calves bought young and then grown with the intent to sell them for beef in 6-12 months. Now,the great majority of the cattle are going to become beef for you and me including cows, bull, heifers, and stocker calves.  Knowing that the animals there were somebody’s herd and they are having to sell of their cows due to economic hardship makes it really hard to watch.

To be honest, the cows don’t bother me as much as other animals.  I find cattle to be the most dull of all the animals we have ever had.  They will lay in their own poop and never seem to be able to remember a gate from one day to the next.  Now, a lot of folks would disagree with me.  Mama cows are some of the best mamas and the animals can be really sweet and personable so some feel the same way about their cattle as I do my goats.  Regardless of which side you are on, none of us want to see the animals go to the sale due to the fact that their owners can no longer afford to feed them.

I did find it especially sad today.  Simply knowing that so many of these animals were there because the owners can’t afford to keep them made it very different than our other trips.

Then there are the horses, I hate to see horses go through the sale.  If you have never owned a horse, you may not understand the way I feel, but a horse has a soul different from other animals.  They are majestic and powerful.  A horse doesn’t have to submit to us as their masters, but they do.  All that strength and they let us control them.  I saw more horses at the sale today than I ever have.  The horses were just standing there in the pens looking sad.  A couple of years ago the horses you found at the sale were often problem horses.  Now, people are having to take perfectly good horses to the sale.  It breaks my heart.  I only hope that they go to good homes.

When you decide to take on animals for whatever reason- pleasure or food or income- you are in essence making a promise to that animal to take care of them, feed them and keep them safe.  These animals wether dumb or smart  are dependant on their humans for their needs.  As you care for them you do develope a bond with them.  Everyday I see my dairy goats, brush their coats and milk them.  Salsa turns and nuzzles my neck and hair when she is done with her food and would like more.  She is very affectionate.  I hate to think of her in the strange barn with a bunch of animals she doesn’t know, hearing sounds that scare her, being herded through the clanging chutes and yelling men- scared.  I can’t stand to think on it.

I know I am not alone in the way I feel.  Lots of good folk feel the same as I do.  That is one of the hardships of the drought.  Folks are forced to sell their animals and make the hard choices that break their hearts.  I pray the rains come soon so that the field green up and the animals can stay in their homes.

So when you are fussing about the heat and the drought and looking at how pitiful you lawn looks, remember what the people who produce the food you eat are dealing with right now.  Remember them in your prayers.  By the way, if you have the ability to keep a steer- I recomend you get you one.  If you think beef is expensive now, just wait.  Texas produces the majority of our nation’s meat.  With all the animals going to feed us now and ranchers not raising more right now, the demand will outweigh the supply.  You will be in much better shape raising one steer per year to put in the freezer for you and you family.  Not to mention that the meat will taste better.

Got Milk?

Rylie trying her hand at milking

One of the best things about having a farm and all the animals that go along with it, is getting to share them with my nieces.  Katie & Rylie are frequent guests and are always so excited to tag along with their cousins to do morning chores.

Usually, Rylie goes with Sierra and Katie goes with Jonathan.  This is a good match up because of the different personalities.  Rylie is four and fearless.  You never really know what is coursing through her brain waves – which are very numerous.  Sierra is 12  and has a good grasp of good ideas versus bad ideas.  I like Rylie being with Sierra because I am confident that Sierra can anticipate Rylie’s thoughts enough to head her off at the pass if she is about to do something dangerous.  Jonathan, on the other hand, is a 10 year old boy who comes up with things his sisters NEVER thought of doing.  Katie, age 6, is thoughtful and cautious- so even if Jonathan had a hair-brained idea, she would probably stand back and watch to see what happened.  Jonathan would protect his younger cousins with his life if he thought they were in danger.  The problem is that what would spell danger to you and me, does not register as danger with him.  Thankfully, we have never had anything more serious than an ant bite.

Rylie had helped my 16yr old daughter, Savannah, milk before and informed her she was touching the goat’s hienny. No matter what Savannah said, Rylie was convinced that she knew better.  Today, I got to milk with Rylie.  I guess a little time was all she needed.  Rylie helped me milk and I was quite thankful that Salsa, my lamancha dairy goat, was so understanding.  I told Rylie about Salsa’s udder- which Rylie has refered to all day as her “gutter”- and showed her how to squeeze her fingers to make the milk come out.  Her little chubby fingers were so cute!  However, her little hands were just a little to small to get it to work, but that didn’t stop her from trying.  Salsa never even fussed, she just kept eating her oats.  I loved every minute of it!

 

Rylie brushing Saphire

Goin for a swing

Homeschool Guests

hard at work

Today, we had guests for homeschool. My nieces, Katie & Rylie, got to spend the day with us. Actually, they spent the night and were here all day.We love to have them over.

Botany is the science subject for Sierra and Jonathan this year. The course is produced by Apologia and is excellent. Today we were studying the testa (seed coat) and the parts of the embryo. I really enjoyed Rylie and Katie doing class with us. They were so much fun. One of our activities was to design our own testas and color them. Katie was the only one who remembered to include the seed’s hilum (belly button). That made me feel really good. The delight that children show when learning is certainly a gift from God.

The other activity we did was do start an experiment. We placed 3 different kind of seeds in a ziplock baggie along with a wet paper towel. Now, we will wait and see which seed sprouts the fastest. Katie and Rylie will take their baggies home with them, of course. Katie told me that she had a warm spot in her room on the window sill to put the baggies.

I hope to get to do this some more with them.

Who says school isn't fun? Rylie & Sierra working hard on their science

Cousins, Jonathan & Katie, working on their seed coat

Garden Boxes Rock!

The garden boxes in spring, full of lettuce and other goodies

For everyone who has thought of growing their own vegetables, flower gardening, or raising herbs, the garden box is a great way to go. With the garden box the soil is easy to amend, the plants are easy to care for and the beds are defined clearly.

There are several ways to build a garden box. My favorite way is to use 2X12 untreated lumber. Many publications say that if you use lumber it must be cedar or cypress. Although these two materials are extremely long-lived they are also very expensive. I simply used pine available at our local lumber yard. My first boxes were build 4 years ago and are still in great shape. I live in a very humid area with lots of insects including termites and those first boxes are showing very little decay.

Sizes of garden boxes depend much in part to the size of the area you have available. I did find that my five foot wide beds are just a little too wide to reach the middle without stepping in the beds. I really like my beds that are 2′ X 10′. These are a really great size and hold plenty of veggies. The width of the beds is the major consideration, the length is totally at your discretion simply based on your space available. The depth of 12 inches is a great depth. I grow carrots every spring and fall and those orange roots come out beautiful.

Now comes the filling. There are so many great options that your choice really depends on what is readily available in your area. I filled mine with aged horse manure that came from a friend’s stable. To this, I apply compost to the boxes every fall and spring. The results I am getting from this recipe are really great. By replenishing with compost twice a year keeps the boxes really fertile.

The ease of weeding, planting, and rotating crops have made me a total fan of the garden box. I will be using this boxes for the rest of my gardening days.