Sunday, December 19, 2010

Never throw anything away

I admit it, I am a pack rat. I come from a long line of pack rats, as does my husband. It is something that often frustrates us, as we have a lot of "stuff" that we are trying to organize without anywhere to put it. We struggle with trying to decide when we should get rid of something, especially since when we do, we often end up needing it for a project weeks or months later on. It is especially difficult because we intend to build our own home, so we need a certain amount of stuff for it. Much is in the nature of building supplies (wood, countertops, metal, etc.) that will be useful when we start building, but can really get in the way when there is no easy place to store it. We also try to repurpose and recycle materials as often as possible, finding creative ways to resolve problems. Like when we needed to build a pen and shelter for our first goats with just what was lying around on the property (we spent about $4 total on clips for the gate. That is it); the Goatagon was the product of our creativity.

Yesterday I was once again thankful that we and my in-laws have this tendency to keep items we may need in the future. Early in the morning during my husbands routine of feeding and watering the goats, one of the little ones (Her name is Rune) got her back leg stuck in the fence of the goat pen and broke it. Hubby was very upset and came to get me inside, where I was working on the goat milk and breakfast preparations. We checked it out, and it was indeed broken cleanly between the hock and the knee along the cannon bone. 

Neither of us had ever dealt with something like this before, but since I remembered reading a few months prior about goats and broken bones (and in light of our recent successful experiences with our goofy dog), I felt confident that we could deal with it ourselves.

We quickly grabbed some thin scrap wood from the garage/shop, and some self-adhesive bandage from my mother-in-laws vast stores of random medical supplies (she was a nurse until she retired) and set about making a splint to keep her leg together while we figured out if there was another way to keep it stable. The way it worked out, Hubby realigned the bones and wrapped the splint while I held the goat and kept her stable and helped keep the wood from moving too much. It seemed pretty easy to wrap, and she didn't complain much while we did it. In fact, she happily munched a little grain we set out without so much as a peep. Of course, it was too easy. After setting her back in the pen with her newly stabilized leg, we set about our own breakfast and research on goats and broken bones.

My father-in-law, in his infinite wisdom (insert heavy sarcasm here) claimed that you couldn't put a cast on a goats leg, and we should just splint it (using the materials we already did, only he treated it as his original idea). During our research we found that you can either cast or splint a broken leg, and it should heal just fine after the 4-6 weeks it takes for a bone to knit. We both thought that a cast would be the way to go, but after spending a few hours calling around the various medical supply places in the nearest town we weren't able to locate any plaster cast material. Weird. The ironic thing is that I have several rolls of the stuff back at our home since that is what I have used to make plaster casts of peoples faces for my artwork.

So after also calling a vet (who was currently being snowed in, in the next state over and couldn't drive the hour here to check on our little doe), we decided that we needed to replace the splint with a studier one. We also realized that she would do better in an "isolation" ward so that Alice wouldn't act like a normal goat and head butt her or push her around while she is healing. So we gathered our supplies again, plus some metal splint material normally used for fingers (and an ideal size for an almost yearling doe) and we set about to re-splint her leg. It wasn't as easy this time around. I think the leg was starting swell more, so she was pretty unhappy with having the bones realigned and splinted again (and was rather vocal about it). We also had our daughter take photos (hence the occasional finger in the way and viewpoint) since I had to pin down the doe so her leg could be worked on by my wonderful husband. I am sure it was quite the scene, with us doing the mending while also having to answer her questions, keep Rune calm, make sure our son was staying out of the way, while handing over the necessary supplies as they were needed. We ended up putting her in a large dog kennel (another very useful item we rescued from a neighbors trash) in the garage where we can keep her warm, dry, and in a small confined area for her recovery. Hopefully we can set her out in a few weeks once it starts healing, but we will have to play it by ear and see how it goes.

I suppose there are several lessons to be found here, if you are the sort to look for them. Always be prepared (luckily my husband is a former Boy Scout, and a creative man to boot) would be an important one. He says this last year has been all about learning patience and a certain amount of veterinary medicine, which I would not argue with at all!! Prepare for the worst but expect the best; I feel is one that is always good to keep in mind. And to bring us back full circle, dear readers: Never throw anything away. You never know when you may need it to fix a goats' broken leg.

Friday, December 17, 2010


When I was growing up, my mother used to have terrible insomnia. She would spend hours in the kindle of he journal awake, but she made good use of her time at least. We would often wake to freshly baked cobblers, cinnamon rolls, or tarts for breakfast, or bread just coming out of Tue oven to be gathered would a thick helping of butter and homemade jam. You could say that baking has pervaded my senses from a very young age, as the scents intertwined their way through my dreams as well as spirit. I have fond memories of waking up to these scents from the oven of my childhood. When she wasn't baking, she painted, drew, or worked metal; whatever medium she happened to be involved in at the moment. I suppose it was how she dealt with being unable to quiet her mind when most others were ensconced in slumber.

I rarely knew what it was like (the inability to sleep when every other signal around me said I should be) until I had children. As is often the case with the young or college bound, I stretched my wakeful hours into those nocturnal times readily; paying for it the following evening when the wall of sleep would hit me head on. Little did I understand the restlessness and frustration I would encounter when I didn't have the goal of a paper to finish or a game among friends to greet the sun with.

I first brushed up against this wakefulness when I was pregnant with my daughter. My belly round, I lay in bed thinking of who she would be, and how to be a good parent to her. The books and websites I read all said to treat insomnia as a sick child: stay in bed at all costs, sleep will come to your tired body eventually if you remain there. So I followed their advice. Tossing and turning as my growing family slumbers blissfully unaware. My mind turning, drawing, writing letters, stretching, baking, balancing. For five years I have lain here randomly awake (as the sleeplessness strikes erratically) and eventually slipping back into sleep with my loved ones surrounding me. Tonight I wonder if I had it all wrong. There is a certain utility to actually getting up and being productive without the inevitable interruptions that small children bring. And the peacefullness of the early morning is soothing. So to still my mind this early day, I instead chose to get up and look out at the falling snow and write out these errant thoughts while they were freshly baking. And now that they are done, I shall go back to bed. You see, I am truly my mothers daughter, but not so entirely that I cannot learn from her mistakes. Goodnight.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fear and Something Else to do with Fathers

Right now I am lying in bed as I type this, trying to figure out a cohesive way to write what is on my mind. It probably won't happen, but here it is for better or worse. I apologize if it is a  random train of thought.

Tomorrow morning at 7:30am EST my father heads in for surgery to repair a damaged vertebrae (C5) in his neck. It is the first of at least two major surgeries, and could take two days to accomplish. Why so long? Well, he also has a rare bone tumor that has destroyed that vertebrae as well as encapsulated a major artery to the brain and is impinging on several other nearby structures. Like his esophagus. His vocal cords. Oh, and a whole mess of nerves that lead to his arms. Oh, and he has osteoporosis to top it off.

This egg-sized tumor is called a Chordoma, and has been growing there since, well, probably since before he was born. The theories are that something went wonky in the bone cells as he was developing and they just kept growing, albeit very slowly. Tumors like these are incredibly rare; in the US, only 300 people a year are diagnosed with them. Having a rare bone cancer is bad enough, but this is the rarest of he bone cancers. Chordomas also are usually found at either end of the spinal column, not along the neck like his. Go figure. Seems pretty typical for the family though. We seem prone to living "interesting" lives.

The first surgery is to repair his vertebrae so it doesn't break and leave him worse off (either paralyzed or, well, dead). The plan at the moment is to fuse C2-C7 (his whole neck) and possibly down to T2. Plus add several rods for strength. And a bone graft from his hip to boot. This might take 2 days depending on how things go during the operation, as there is always a certain amount of unpredictability here. Did I mention that he has a team of, I believe, 8 different doctors? He has a lot of confidence in them, so I have to trust his feelings on it. I would like to be there for additional moral support, but we just can't swing a trip across the country for potentially several months right now. So it falls to my mom and sister to be his support. I wish we could be there though. The second (or third) surgery will be to actually remove the tumor. Then after a short recovery, five MORE weeks of radiation. Then lots of physical therapy since he won't be able to turn his head, and hopefully he WILL be able to play music again.

My father is an excellent musician. Growing up, we were surrounded with music and art (my mom is an artist), and we learned to play different instruments from a young age. While I don't play like I used too (I really miss playing piano and other instruments), I still have a love for music. It really speaks to my soul, and has the ability to completely change my moods. I would be terribly sad if he could not play again (as would he, obviously!)

I have so much more on the subject to say, but I am getting tired, and tomorrow will be a stressful enough day as it is that I really need some sleep. Plus some quality cuddling time with my fabulous husband while the kids are snoozing.

Do I dare write down my worries? If I acknowledge my fears, does that give them more power to actually happen? There is power in giving things a name, but who will that power best serve? I am afraid of losing my dad. We have finally become much closer after years of being somewhat aloof. And I would hate for all those amazing experiences he had as a child/teen to be lost since he is the repository of so much family history. I want him to play mandolin to my children and tell them of his boyhood, and escaping the Nazi as they swept through Hungary. Be strong Papa, we aren't done with you yet. We love you.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Another Holiday Gone...

Another holiday has come and gone. Happy Thanksgiving. I'm actually feeling somewhat sad today. Granted, we are staying with the in-laws, so it isn't as though we are without family. I am just missing my own family right now. Last night we drove from our house in the city to the semi-rural place my husbands' parents own. Through a snow and ice storm with an antique armoire in the bed of the truck, which was packed to the gills.

I did get a few nice sunset photos, although they don't do justice to the real thing.

It wasn't as bad as some storms we have driven through. The snow was light while the winds were only at about 20 mph. The road was pretty icy and the temperature was 6 degrees. Somehow it seemed like it wasn't too bad for all that. No sliding on the black ice, no wrecks to navigate around, no drifts of snow across the highway. We all made it in one piece (as did the armoire), unpacked, and collapsed into bed.

I really enjoy cooking, if you didn't already know. Normally, we would cook a great mealk at home, with one of the family members present (for the last few years it has been my sister). We would bake, and have a relaxing day with food, family, and the craziness that the kids bring naturally. This year was already going to be different though. Since we are trying to move forward with slowly packing the house so we can sell it and staying with the in-laws for the majority of the time we would not be hosting this year. This past Monday we had to travel to the house so that Greg could have a hole in the roof of his mouth fixed (a pretty painful surgery, and maybe a story for another day), and Tuesday Claire was going to have a cavity filled. We were planning to come back Wednesday. Since there would really not be enough time for us to cook a great meal, we went with Plan B: Let my IL's order from the place they usually do for the holiday, a cafeteria-style chain. We decided it was worth not having the stress of cooking and baking especially since we would be travelling, and would just deal with the foods that aren't really on our diet anymore. I also thought I would just run to the store the day after we got back to pick up some sweet potatoes/yams and cranberries so we could at least have some good side dishes that we all liked.

About halfway here, I realized that that the day after we returned would be THANKGIVING. It seems that my grand plans to supplement our meal were foiled by my own distractions with our most recent trip. No way I was going to the store this morning and dealing with the hordes of crazy people buying last minute groceries. Yuck.

This morning it was 10 degrees out as we milked Alice and took care of the goats. I took some photos, but they don't quite convey the cold.

I spent some time talking to my family this morning when the in-laws went to pick up our meal. I feel somewhat adrift already, with the house being so unsettled, but especially with not seeing anyone from my family since February. We try to visit a few times every year, but this year has been especially bad for that. My father was diagnosed with a very rare bone cancer called a Chordoma in April (he has been unwell since March or so). Since then, he has been trying to seek the appropriate treatment which has been a challenge. After many months of dealing with insurance, etc. he is finally getting the treatment he needs. He just finished an intense course of radiation, and the surgery to repair his neck (one vertebrae is entirely gone, and several others are very weak) is scheduled for Tuesday. Less then a week later is the surgery to remove the tumor. Both are pretty dangerous, since the tumor has taken over a vertebrae, a major artery to the brain, and who knows what other structures.

He has been staying with my sister during radiation treatment, across the country from where he and my mom live, since that is where one of the major centers to deal with Chordomas is (in Boston). My mom is travelling tomorrow to be there for the surgery. Which leaves me and my little family here. Not being able to be there for support and to spend time together. Hence, my sadness.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Dog-Gone Mystery

One of our dogs is such a big goob. He is a sweet yellow lab, who normally is really well trained. However, when we stay here at the in-laws place, he kind of looses his brain. Here is a case in point. The neighbors on two sides have several dogs each. They love to run along the fence barking like mad at each other, whipping themselves up into a serious frenzy. They eventually stop, once they feel they have defended their own property from the dogs on the other side of the fence. Really annoying. Especially when our dogs join in on the game and get so focused on running the fence that they don't hear us calling for them to stop. I don't like having to practically drag my dog away from the fence and to his senses.

A few weeks ago, we noticed one of our dogs with a small hole in his side. We thought it was from one of the other dogs, or from running the fence. It was a pretty serious hole, which we treated successfully at home. Well, this week there are more holes, all at the same height. Yuck. Apparently we need to do some serious looking at the property again to see if we can figure out where it is coming from. Fun times!

Here are a few photos from when we cleaned it his morning. Much of the red is actually iodine, so it looks pretty ugly. It is starting to heal though, and should be just fine in a few days.

Sunday, November 14, 2010



The cooler weather always brings out new cravings from the taste buds. Pumpkin pie, Hot Apple cider, Beef Stroganoff, Hot soup and Sandwiches. My senses always seem to be tuned to the seasons, and taste is one of the foremost that get triggered. For my husband, he starts craving eggnog. I have never been a big milk drinker (although my family loves it), or a huge fan of thick creamy drinks. I think it is the sensory aspect of it for me; I don't like the thickness in my mouth or throat. It just feels wrong to me. However, my family feels differently, so this post is dedicated to them.

Is there a history of eggnog? Who would have thought of it, but there apparently is quite a bit. A very brief internet search provides us with a few historical references, like one from Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages to this one. Fascinating!

We love to cook and bake in our family, and often tinker with other recipes until we come to something that is more our tastes. Since we try to avoid sugar in general, we also use different sweeteners than simple cane sugar. Xylitol, erythritol, agave and even honey are staples in our pantry.

This recipe was our starting point. We used Alton's recipe for many years before we had to radically change our diet away from carbs and refined sugars (more on that another time). This eggnog is still a great one unaltered, but here is what we have done to make it our own. I have to note that we will continue to refine this recipe until we get it to a point where we are completely happy with it.

This recipe makes just over half a gallon, so you may want to cut it down if you want a smaller batch:

  • 12 eggs (organic, free range and fresh will taste the best)
  • 1/2 cup xylitol
  • 1/2 cup erythritol
  • 1/2 cup agave
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 packet Knox Gelatin
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat eggs until they start to turn lighter in color and a little frothy in the bowl of a stand mixer or with an electric hand held mixer (A stick blender would probably work well too). Add the xylitol and erythritol slowly until they have dissolved, then add the agave.

Put water into a small saucepan, and slowly add the gelatin over low heat, stirring constantly, until dissolved. If it clumps up, it can be reincorporated at the end in a blender.

Bring the milk, cream, and spices just up to boiling in a large pot while stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and gradually add the milk mixture to the egg mixture. This tempers the eggs by bringing them slowly up to the temperature of the milk without instantly cooking the eggs into a solid mass. Return the combined egg and milk mixture to the large pot and add the gelatin slowly while constantly stirring until incorporated. Add the honey, and heat on the stove while continuing to stir until it reaches 160 degrees (or until too hot to taste).

Put into a stainless steel bowl and put into ice bath and stir until cool or you are too impatient and ready to drink it NOW. Put remaining eggnog into gallon container in fridge and enjoy!

It doesn't last long in our house, maybe a day at best.

Cooked vs. non-cooked eggnog: This is a cooked eggnog recipe. You can also make this uncooked, which some people prefer. However, raw eggs may contain salmonella, a bacteria responsible for a serious food-borne illness. The choice is up to you. Bringing the eggnog up to 160 degrees will kill off the harmful bacteria. There is a great website that discusses egg safety here.

With vs. without alcohol: This recipe is without, mainly because we are staying at the IL's and they don't drink, and we didn't have any with us when we made the eggnog. If you want to have an alcoholic eggnog, add approximately 3-4 Tablespoons rum, bourbon, etc. to taste with the milk mixture before you combine it with the eggs, if you want the flavor of the alcohol without so much of the effects. Add in at the end before you cool it, if you want the alcohol to remain. It is up to you!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Meet Maude

Meet Maude. She is a Nubian Cross Goat. She and her buddy Alice were our first foray into the world of dairy goats. Yet again, something we talked about for years but had no definitive plans for starting into. Yet the opportunity came along to adopt them. So we suddenly have two goats. Now, a brief digression; Alice, Maude's companion, is about the most patient goat on the planet. Especially for a couple of beginners like us. Sweet too. We were lucky, since she was in need of being milked daily when we got her. Maude, however, was in need of being as they say "freshened", or bred so she would produce milk again. Welcome to the world of mammals; you don't get milk without kids. We figured we would keep an eye out for a boyfriend for Miss Maude, which is another story to tell. Anyhow. Maude came to us as a more aloof goat. According to her last owners, she was running loose with a herd (not exactly feral, but certainly not tame or super friendly). She would hang out nearby and maybe sniff your hand, but that was as far as her friendliness went, as opposed to Alice who would happily be a house goat if she could.

Now after being around our crazy family for a few days, Maude decided that hubby gave really good neck rubs (did I mention he is a professional massage therapist? Probably not). So she was much friendlier. Oh, and she has horns. Now, another brief digression here on goats and horns. Goats, both male and female are born with them except for some that are genetically born without, these are called polled. Now Alice was disbudded (this is the term used when a goats horns are removed) as a baby. Most goats, especially those as family pets or as part of a dairy herd have their horns removed. Reasons vary but we felt, as Maudes' previous owners did, that if goats were born with horns, they should keep them and removing the horns at birth was cruel. Well, the ability to grow them at least. Anyways, Alice does not have horns. Maude does.

Eventually (a few weeks later) another pair of goats came our way. Connie, a young female who was never bred and Splint Eastwood, a wether (castrated male). When we introduced them, Alice made it clear in her goatish way that she was the queen bee of this herd by head butting the others until they agreed. Maude backed her up as the brawn beside Alice's brain. All went well for a few days, until Miss Maude realized that if she was going to do all the dirty work of cracking skulls with her horns (what hornless goat in their right mind would argue?), she may as well get the glory of being queen too! Now Alice being the sweet girl she is, seems willing to be some sort of co-monarch with her pal. But in Maude's mind, Maude is queen. Unfortunately for the other goats, she is a really rude and bitchy queen who rules with an iron hoof as it were. Which was not too terrible until we found a young buck and two more little does for our new herd. Problem was, these new animals are still young at 8 months old and small compared to their eventual adult size.

To finally get to the point of this post, people will do all sorts of crazy things to protect their animals. We decided it was in everyone's best interest to find a way to dull Maudes' use of her horns. Why? We really don't want her hurting or killing the little ones as she tries to tell them in her heavy-handed fashion that she is boss. We really didn't want to rehome or sell Maude, as she would most likely become someone's dinner and Alice would lose her lifelong companion. Plus, Maude is generally a really pleasant goat except when she gets a burr up her behind and wants to remind everyone of her status.

Now, most vets won't de-horn an adult animal as it takes specialized knowledge (the horn is living and has its own blood supply after all). Online resources basically say if you are getting a goat, make sure it doesn't have horns (not an option for us at this point). So we had to get creative about her use of those dreaded horns. After some internet research, hubby felt it would be best to cut the tips off where there is no blood supply and epoxy some balls to the remaining horns (still at about 7" long) to help dull the heavy blows she deals. What follows is what we did to help the rest of the herd.... I hope you enjoy he show, and for now the decorations that our much more festive goat is wearing are completely removable (i.e. no epoxy). And while I used to feel that disbudding was cruel, I now realize that in certain situations it can be more cruel to let the horns remain. Especially if it might mean the safety of the rest of your herd...

 Using a coping saw to trim the horn tips.

 Horns trimmed down.

Rounding the edges with a rasp.

Meet Maude, our newly particolor goat.

In the Thick of Things

I admit it. I have a hard time with beginnings. Especially with creative ones, unless they come to me as fully dressed ideas ready to stand on their own. So here I am trying to come up with a grand beginning, a catch that will keep my audience not only interested, but coming back for more. If I were writing for myself (which on some ways I am, obviously), I would appeal to my own curiosity about what was to happen next.

Life in our family is never dull. Which is a blessing for me since I get bored easily unless something interesting is going on. With two young children around, the chances of something interesting occurring increases logarithmically. I suppose that is one of the reasons I decided to try writing this blog, as a way to document the riotous goings-on of our family, and the paths we are following. There is no telling how this story will end, but it sure will be an interesting journey!

Speaking of family, I should introduce us at some point. For the sake of our privacy, I will change our names. We are rather protective of our privacy around here, but I believe it is also important to get acquainted. My creative and strong hubby you can call Greg, and my children will be known as Claire and Jacob. They are 4.5 and 2 years old, respectively. As for me, you can call me Heidi.
It is a pleasure to meet you.

Our journey so far: This last year has been a fairly momentous one. For years we have been your average city dwellers, owning our suburban home, taking things day by day. Tying to make a positive difference in our community and teaching our lids to respect life. We always planned on finding a bit of property in the mountains, building our own home, and raising our children to respect the earth, have a light footprint, and give back to the community. Life often gives you opportunities, and it is up to you to take them even if the possibilities scare the crap out of you! So here we are. Trying to find our place to plant our roots, but at least partly out of suburbia. Want to buy a nice home? We have one for you...
Our path has taken an unexpected yet thoughtfully considered jog this fall to staying at my in-laws home while we try to pack up and sell our own. With our cats, dogs, and kids in tow we are here for the moment. If all goes well, we will find that property soon. Yet as I said before, life around here is always interesting and I am still not sure how we will make that next transition. But that is the topic for another time.
Mysterious enough? Too mysterious? I never claimed to be the best at storytelling, but I hope you are still interested.