Monday, January 02, 2023

Seventeen Years and Counting!


Many things come to mind when we note the passing of time, and we sometimes celebrate a New Year by taking time to recount and remember things we have accomplished in the previous year.  A big project for me over the past year was to gather the necessary information to register my Miniature Jersey herd and while the paperwork itself is cause for a bit of celebration, it is what these papers represent that's the real story.  The registrations in this photo represent seventeen years of dedication to the breed and to my own personal goals for my herd.  

It has taken me a bit longer to get this far for several reasons which I will briefly mention but on  which I will not dwell.  (Everything comes to fruition at the proper time and my setbacks and the circumstances that made my progress slower than others are now simply a part of the story and not to be read in a negative light.)  My progress has always been slower than many other breeders because no matter what, my cows have always produced more bull calves than heifer calves.  In addition, I have been very selective as to what cows, heifers, and bulls I would register.  I have sold many cows and heifers over the years as unregistered stock because they did not meet MY criteria for the breed.  In addition, I took time off from focused breeding so that I could give my attention instead to the three grandchildren that I kept from the time the kids were infants until they were four years old.  

The last five years, I have once again worked diligently to return some of the bloodlines to my herd that I sold off and to improve the bloodlines that I reserved.  I wanted to introduce bloodlines that had not been introduced to my herd prior through a new herd sire. I  had a certain size and conformation in mind.  I found two bulls that I loved, and although they came from registered stock, there were some holes in the pedigree and the bulls were not registered.  Once again, I decided that my personal goals were more important to me than registrations.  Now I had these lovely registered cows that I worked so hard to produce over the years and the bulls I was using would be unregistered.  Thus, the offspring would be unregisterable as well.  

A repeat buyer approached me, after buying an unregistered bull calf, and wanted to know if there was any way that I could register him.  Because of this buyers faithfulness over the years to support our farm and promote the genetics we had worked so hard to produce, I told them that I would see what I could do, but I was doubtful I could fulfill her request.  Imagine my surprise when I contacted the registrar at the American Miniature Jersey Association and she educated me on the fact that the bull who was the sire and grand-sire of the two bulls I had purchased was well-known and desired in the Miniature Jersey Circles.  Thus, we had the information needed for half of the pedigree.  She encouraged me to reach out to the original owner of this bull, Dexter Corner Taylor's Alpha .  Interestingly enough, it turns out the original owner lives less than an hour from me.  It took some persistence on my part, but eventually I was able to make contact with the owner, verify enough information for the other half of the pedigree, and obtain a few photos of some of the animals in the pedigree for the registrar.  The back and forth and eventual exchange of information took many months and it was a year later before all the information was submitted so that it could be processed.  I have to give a shout-out to Constance, at the American Miniature Jersey Association.  With the amount of paperwork I submitted and the number of cattle I registered, it was not an easy task to record all the information but she did so in record time.  (We will not talk about the lack of professionalism from the US Postal service that lost and then returned all the registrations the first mailing.  Then it took nine days for the registrations to reach us once they were mailed the second time.)  

These registrations mark a shift for us, as I anticipate now selling mostly registered cattle.  The prices will reflect the years of work, culling what didn't meet my standards, and the increased price of keeping cattle.  My prices will also vary depending on the characteristics and pedigrees of each of the animals I have for sale.  Going forward, I will no longer offer unregistered bull calves.  All bulls from our farm will be sold registered and the price will reflect such.  With that said, I will be be fair because my desire is that these small, homestead cows continue to end up in the homes of people who truly desire and appreciate them.  It has never been about the money that could be made but rather improving and promoting the breed.  This will continue to be my focus.  

I still have a couple of cows in our herd that are excellent homestead cows that do not meet my criteria for a Miniature Jersey and available heifers from those cows may be available from time to time as unregistered and more economical stock.  Mostly, however, we will be selling registered cows and heifers.  

I'm excited about the future of herd.  I am excited about the young bull we brought in a year ago now.  He has matured into a beauty.  It may have taken us a while to get to this place, but it was worth the effort.  In a competitive field, it's nice to be compete against no one other than ourselves, working towards the goals we have set for our herd, and feeling accomplished that we have come so far.  There's always room for improvement and we will strive toward improving our herd as long as we continue to breed the delightful Miniature Jerseys.  

Note regarding the photo:  For those unfamiliar with the registrations from AMJA, the gold seal in the photos represents animals that are three years of age or older and meet the final height requirements to be registered as a Miniature Jersey of permanent status.  The blue seals are animals that are not yet three years of age but will receive permanent status once they are of age and within the required height range.  

Friday, December 16, 2022

Trading a Piece for Peace ~ An Essay on Christmas Past and Present


The Holiday Season brings out a few joyously content Christmas elves and angels who seem to never grow weary in their mission of spreading peace and goodwill to all men.  Most of us will admit, however, that at best, this special time of year leaves us with mixed emotions.  There are a number of factors contributing to our dismay,  including unrealistic expectations (of ourselves and others), as well as significant losses. In addition, the message that we are not enough (and that we are not doing enough) is constantly before us in a myriad of ways. Thus, no matter how we may strive to keep the right mindset, it is often difficult to hold on to the joy that is meant to be ours during this special time of the year.  

Christmas has often been a complicated season for me for various reasons.  When I was very young, before our mother passed away, Christmas was a fulfillment of childhood dreams.  My parents were struggling financially, to the point that they had to eventually leave the little house they owned and move into an old trailer in the middle of a cow pasture where my dad traded labor for rent.  They managed, however, to put the gifts I wanted the most under a beautifully decorated tree each of the first seven years of my life.  After our terrible loss when our mother was no longer there to put the magical touches on the holiday, my maternal grandmother took over for a few years until she and my grandpa returned to Alaska.  

Maybe because I had been old enough to really absorb the magic of the holiday that was created by my mother and grandmother, it felt like a huge loss to me when that type of Christmas was no longer available to me.  In my young mind, I could not sort out the reasons for the changes.  Looking back, I think maybe life was just too overwhelming for my dad and his new wife.  My dad had grown up in a large family, in the mountains of Georgia where my Granny's sole focus was keeping her family together with enough food in their bellies to keep them satisfied.  Anything beyond that was pure fantasy, and she didn't have time or energy for fanciful thinking. Thus, my dad didn't have the Christmas fantasy background that had been fostered in my mother, who was a much-loved and doted-upon, only child. 

Taking matters into our own hands, my brother Jimmy and I found various ways to do the best we could to make our house a bit more festive each holiday season.  There was the old artificial tree with color-coded branches that we carefully reconstructed and decorated to the best of our ability a few years.  On other occasions, we would head out to the woods and chop down a straggly cedar tree and drag it back to the house.  My brother remembers our dad cutting the top out of a pine tree for us to use.  No matter what, our juvenile efforts always resembled Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.  Looking back, I guess those efforts provided me with what felt like a tiny bit of control over what seemed like such a huge loss.  Now that I am an adult, I realize the loss manifested itself in the trappings of Christmas, but what I was really mourning was the loss of my mother, who had been the one to pull the holidays together for our family,  In my maturity, I understand that it would not have mattered if my dad and stepmom had pulled off the finest Christmas ever; it would not have replaced the memories of the Christmas times before our family suffered such loss.  

As a mother myself, I tried to create a Christmas that would give my children their own special memories. I did at first.  Later, the brokenness of my own relationship with their father and the dysfunctional life we were living always overshadowed any momentary joy they may have had.  This was manifested in a tense atmosphere, verbal abuse, fights, and fear.  At one point in our life, a complete lack of finances left us with no Christmas whatsoever, except what others provided.  We spent that Christmas day alone without gifts or anything to eat other than a pot of beans, awaiting the impending repossession of our only vehicle and eviction from our apartment.  

With Mike, Christmas became beautiful to me once again.  I had love, peace, a beautiful home, and a tree to decorate.  We agreed to focus on other families in need and didn't buy presents for each other or frivolous gifts for the family.  Christmas became meaningful and comforting to me during the first three years of our life together.  Then, in September 2008, Josh passed away.  I didn't know how to live life without my son, and I definitely didn't know how to muddle my way through the holidays so shortly after his death.  We had always had a live Christmas tree, but that year I didn't have the energy.   Mike went out a bought an artificial tree that year, set it up, and hoped that I would decorate it.  I hated that tree and all it represented. That artificial tree represented all that was wrong with the holiday season that year.  My heart was exploding with grief but I forced myself to hang ornaments on the tree, sobbing with each reminder that Josh's special ornaments brought to mind.  Later, I would give myself permission to do what was best for me, but that year, I wasn't able to do anything but go through the motions for the sake of others.  

I suppose that is where the above statement is where this rambling essay is taking me: 

"Later I would give myself permission to do what was best for me."  

And while this sounds self-centered, when I embraced this concept, it set me free to give of myself more completely to others.  The next Christmas, I took all those ornaments that ripped my year in two with their reminder of loss and gifted them to my daughter.  I bought different ornaments and eventually found my way back to cutting a real tree and disposing of the one that was artificial.  I began collecting vintage ornaments that reminded me of those beautiful Christmas times when I was a little girl.  Sometimes, I don't put up a tree at all.  It depends on how overwhelmed I feel with the holidays.  Sometimes I put up lights and other years I do not.  One year, I dug up a 12-inch, baby pine and put tiny bows on it and that was our only tree.  There are years I make a gift for everyone I know and other years that don't.  For many years I spend several days dragging out, unpacking, and setting up my more than fifty nativities.  In other years, like this one, they remain in their boxes, hidden deep in the closet.  

Each year brings different challenges, fresh heartaches, and the pain of deep grief that never truly goes away and I remind myself each Holiday Season that there are many ways one can embrace the holiday season and many of them don't fit inside the proverbial box.  Part of the joy I now find each Christmas is discovering ways I can make THIS year meaningful even if it doesn't look like any other Christmas.  

May the true joy and peace of this holiday season fill our hearts in difficult times.  

Monday, November 28, 2022

Sweet Memories ~ A Journal Entry


I can't think of anything that evokes in me the feeling of comfort like homemade cookies.  It's not eating the cookies, but rather all of the senses that come to play when I am making cookies.  The warmth from the oven on a cold day and the familiar whir of the Kitchen Aid mixer, new when I bought it but now considered vintage, evoke memories of years gone by, while firmly grounding me in the present.  Familiar recipes, stained with the ingredients of yesterday read like a favorite novel.  The sweet and spicy aromas dull today's anxieties and somehow hold a tender promise of happy days tomorrow.  The anticipation of the smiles on the faces of those who sample the cookies makes my heart squeeze. I visualize young hands, old hands, and the hands of those between as they reach for yet another homemade cookie.  

For so many years I have been sharing cookies with the people I love.  Memories run through my head like a moving picture.  I remember those years in Alaska when my children were but babies, the snow piled high on the ground, the bitter cold seeping in through the cabin walls, the wood cookstove burning hot, pans of cookies being placed in and out of the oven, and at last cooling on the table.  They were then placed in a large Tom's Peanut Jar and I waited for the knock on the door that was sure to come.  Our friends knew where to find the cookies, the warm fire, and a game of cards to help pass the long Alaskan winter.  

I remember the times, over the years and in different places, when I gathered with friends and family in their kitchens, and we made cookies together.  There was the chaos of growing children distracting us from our baking, confusion of too many people in the kitchen, dishes piled high in the sinks and on the counters, laughter inspired by the quick wit and unexpected humor of friends who know each other well,  and solemn moments of sharing personal secrets with a trusted someone.

I remember the lean years when there were no friends living close by, no cookies or memories being made,  but rather a hunger for what had been a tradition.  I didn't have the money to buy the ingredients to make a decent meal and I certainly couldn't fill the house with the comforts of sweet treats made from scratch.  The sad eyes of my children and the pain of those years will haunt me forever but also helps to remind me that something so simple is indeed a blessing not to be taken for granted. It has made me more aware of the pain of others and I look for those people so that I can share with them a few cookies, a warm smile, and perhaps something to make their days a little less painful. 

I am thankful this year as I see the cookies lined up, cooling on the table, and watching the various varieties stack up in my freezer where they will be readily available for me to share as the opportunity presents itself over the holidays.  Perhaps a few will make their way to the doors of neighbors, some will make it to community gatherings,  the grandkids will run through the kitchen and grab yet another (before their parents can tell them they've had too many), and the grown children will enjoy them with a cup of coffee or hot tea.  

Sometimes,  like what happened yesterday, someone will randomly pass through our back door, into the kitchen, and exclaim, "I smell cookies!".  We will exchange smiles and I will pass them a plate of cookies.  

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Liquid Gold (Making Ghee)


Long ago and far away, in the country of India where the temperature is hot and butter won't keep, an ingenious individual learned to heat this spreadable product derived from the cream of cows and cook it long enough that the clarified fat becomes a shelf-stable, golden oil.  This oil was used not only for cooking but also in traditional medicines and for religious purposes.  Ghee is reported to have great health benefits for those who consume it,  as it contains vitamins A, E, and K2.  For the family cow owner or anyone with access to large amounts of fresh butter, making ghee just makes sense.  It's a simple project that just requires a bit of time and patience.  

To make ghee, put butter in a sturdy pot (one that is not too thin) and begin to melt the butter until it begins to clarify and forces the milk residue to the top of the pot.  Let the foam cook and settle while maintaining a low heat and then begin skimming off and discarding the foam.  Do not disturb the bottom of the pot where impurities will also settle.  You do not want the sediment on the bottom of the pot to burn but do allow it to get brown and allow what is left of the impurities on the top of the ghee to get a little crispy as well so that you can skim it off completely.  The remaining liquid after the impurities have been skimmed from the top will be a beautiful golden color and have a delicious, nutty, buttery aroma.  

You can pour the finished ghee through a flour sack cloth if you wish, but I don't find it necessary as I am able to remove all the impurities from the top with a ladle.  If you pour the ghee into hot jars and immediately apply canning lids and rings, the jars will seal as they cool. Technically, this isn't necessary, but I enjoy the added security of knowing my jars are sealed.   I then store my ghee on the shelf of my dark, cool cellar.  There really is no expiration date for ghee that has been properly clarified.  It will last forever.  

Begin by melting butter in a sturdy pot.  Unlike butter that you are planning to keep, butter used for making ghee doesn't have to be thoroughly rinsed.  In this photo, you will see some butter balls that I made for keeping long term and then a chunk of butter that had not been thoroughly rinsed that I made just previous to starting the ghee.

Impurities rise to the top and settle on the bottom.  Skim off the foam until it stops being produced, being careful to not scrape the bottom of the pot.  

What is left is a golden, pure, beautiful, and beneficial liquid!

You can seal the ghee in hot jars if you like, although it's not necessary.  I re-use old lids for projects like this.   

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

It's Been A Minute ~ Journal Update


The carefully planned, modified schedule that allowed us to breathe a little easier for the first time ever during the summer months came to a screeching halt.   With the birth of our first calf, we became once again tied to the parlor, but our time was still manageable even with several rounds of various family members visiting on the weekends.  Then more babies came (seven total now) and suddenly, I was overwhelmed.  

Now, after two months,  the calves are growing bigger, taking more milk, and the workload is lessening just in time for the holidays that will soon be upon us.  Instead of making dairy products daily, I can make them twice a week.  I'm catching my breath and beginning to settle into the rhythm of autumn that flows into winter.  It's that feeling of being comfortably wrapped in a worn quilt with frayed edges,  chosen because the weight and feel of it are just right.  Comforting.  

Unlike previous years, I have chosen not to continue supplying milk through a share program.  I simply raise and train dairy cows for other homesteaders. To open our farm, our home, and our lives to a constant flow of traffic have been the norm for us for most of the seventeen years we've been married.  We farmed for a living and we sold directly to the consumer whether it was hay, beef, produce, or dairy.  Forced to maintain the presence needed to participate in direct sales, those are years for which I am thankful, for they allowed me to live my dreams.  I am happy, nevertheless, that I no longer have to continue working directly with people on a daily basis.  It suits my introverted nature to not have constant contact with the public.  We are fortunate to be in a position where we no longer have to live with such open doors and I am not ashamed to say that I am enjoying the quiet and the alone time.  

We have truly transitioned from career farmers to homesteaders.  There is a difference and more than a fine line between the two.  While homesteading requires some farming, farming does not necessarily mean one is a homesteader.  Although Mike and I have always combined elements of the two, as a third-generation farmer, Mike's life has always been more focused on career farming.  My life prior to meeting Mike was focused more on homestead living.  I have experienced living without indoor plumbing, hauling water from an artesian well, and using a wringer washing machine to wash our clothing.  We lived in cabins with only wood heat where the temperatures dipped to fifty and sixty degrees below zero.  I've practiced survival camping in the wilderness of Alaska, Northern Montana, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Gardening and preserving the harvest have been a part of my family for generations.  Now that Mike and I are semi-retired, our lives are a pleasant combination of farming and homesteading with more of an emphasis now on homesteading, being self-reliant, and providing for as many of our own needs as possible.  

Note:  Homesteading is about self-reliance, resilience, ingenuity, and frugal living.  Things that bring beauty to a life that is often physically and mentally exhausting could be considered a luxury but I consider them a necessity.  At least, beauty in the midst of hard living is a necessity for me.  Sure, I could go out each spring and buy new flowers for my deck, but why do that when I can simply choose flowers that I can over-winter and with a little care, enjoy year after year.  

I brought my Geraniums indoors last year and they did so well that I brought them in again this winter.  Pay attention when you are reading stories of the homesteaders that settled the west.  You will often find mention of geraniums that were brought indoors, placed in a south-facing window, and bloomed in the bleakest of seasons until they could once again be put outdoors.  

Friday, September 16, 2022

Choosing Love Over Hate ~ A Tribute to My Son

Joshua Marlin Hall
July 27, 1990 - September 16, 2008

Somewhere in Virginia, a mother tries to forget that it's the 16th of September.

But, grief comes rolling in like a fog, just as it has every September for the past fourteen years. It settles heavily around her. Her breaths become shorter and she physically feels the pain in every fiber of her being. She clutches her heart begging it not to break into tiny, jagged pieces all over again.
But it does, and there's nothing she can do about it.

And so, she remembers her son's smile and his tall frame bending down to wrap her in a warm hug. She remembers his love of animals and his gentleness with children. She remembers how time and again he gave away his money and possessions when he saw others in need, disregarding his own desires. She remembers all the good that was and is her child.

It's difficult work, this process of grieving for the rest of one's life. Offering grace for the injustice perpetrated by others is not something that is done only once. How her son died haunts that grief-stricken mother as she faces the anniversary of his death. She could justifiably hate the father who took her son from a safe, loving environment in Virginia, from her protection and loving influence to a place of neglect and abuse. She could hate the boys who posed as friends, who bullied, belittled, and took from him not only his possessions and money but eventually his very life. She could give in to the hurt and allow hate to control her life. and the hate would be justified. The human heart, a mother's heart especially, rails against such blatant disregard for life. There are days when the weight of it all leaves her unable to open her heart to anyone at all for fear that even the slightest perceived infraction will send her over the edge and into a deep abyss from which she will not be able to return. On other days, the pain that is her constant companion becomes the tender used to ignite her fiery passion to make someone's world a little brighter in memory of her son. The fluctuating emotions are exhausting. A week, a month, and another year pass and the little accomplishments of daily life become huge victories when viewed through the lens of grief.

Love takes all the scattered pieces of the heart and rearranges them into a beautiful fractal of light and hope that stands in stark contrast to evil that only seeks to destroy.

So, she continues to choose love over hate and prays for strength for another year.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

My Friend ~ A Journal Entry


September 7, 2022, is my friend Carolyn’s birthday. 

It is also the day that we will lay her precious body in the grave. 

When Carolyn was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I didn’t know her except as the woman who lived in the house at the edge of our property and the neighbor who had brought Buddy home several times when he ran away. I told myself that I would take a nice meal to her and her husband from time to time, but that was it. I didn’t want to get too close because I didn't want to suffer another loss.  That was pure selfishness on my part and I am happy to say that's not the way it ended.  

My friend Carolyn lived 3.5 years after her diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and no matter how bad things got, I never heard her complain.  Until she could no longer manage to text, we messaged each other at least twice a day.  She always wanted to make sure that I was safe, especially when Mike traveled away from home.  She loved to hear about the new baby calves and would come to see them until she could no longer manage the short trip from her house to mine.  Then, we would look at the photos of them together and she would gush over how cute they were.  She wanted to know about all of my animals, my children, and my grandchildren.  She wanted to know how I was doing at all times. We kept in frequent contact every day for 3.5 years as more than neighbors or even friends.  We became sisters.  

During the Covid isolation period, I often set with Carolyn on Sundays while her husband went to church.  We would talk until she got tired and then she would sleep.  Then, she would wake with a start and apologize that she had wasted our time together.  I always told her that just being with her was all I needed, and it was.  There was no time wasted.  Just being in her presence was a gift. 

Carolyn taught me the true meaning of strength.  She demonstrated genuine concern and care for others at a time when she would have had every right to be self-absorbed.  Never did she complain, and she held on so long because she knew the rest of us needed her.  I told her that she was a reflection of the Creator’s love simply by being herself.  She didn’t need to preach sermons, her life was an example of acceptance and love and her friendship was one of the purest I have ever known.  We didn’t have time to be anything but honest with one another.  We knew we were not promised tomorrow.

 In her final days, I was able to make one last visit.  Her husband told her I was coming, and he said she opened her eyes with excitement.  That was my friend, always happy to see me, even at the very end.  When I got there, she awoke when her husband told her I was there.  Her strength was gone and she couldn't converse,  but we had said all the words previously.  I didn’t need her to speak to know that she loved me, so I simply poured out my love to her.  She heard me.  She looked into my eyes and she smiled at me.  Then she rested and I didn’t expect her to rally once again before I left.  As I leaned over her and kissed her in farewell, I said a few more words and ended with “I Love You”.  She spoke clearly to me from her bed and said, “I love you.”  None of us in the room had dry eyes. 

Those would be Carolyn’s last words to me, and they speak volumes. 

I would say that I don’t know how I am going to make it without my friend, only I know that is not what she would want.  She would want me to be strong, smile, embrace each day, and to remember the time that we shared.

I love you, forever and always, Carolyn.  Thank you for being my friend, even when I selfishly didn't want what would turn out to be the best for me.