Saturday, June 27, 2009

You Really Do!

And it's a miracle, really. I mean, I've almost completely ignored the awards you all have been giving me. No tearful, exuberant speeches, nothing.

I must have done something amazing in a past life.

Anyway, I am way past due for an awards thank you post. I've gathered some interesting, warm and sincere blog buddies over the past months, and that makes me happy. Having them acknowledge my own litte efforts here sure is icing on that sweet, sweet cake.

So, without further ado, let me present my own Award Awards. Oh, wait, there is a little ado: please don't feel obligated to follow all the rules; I truly just want to recognize you, not create an obligation. Ok, now let's get started!

The Thank You for Your Patience Award goes to Liz at Eternal Lizdom, for waiting three months for me to do something with the Sisterhood Award!

Of course, these all come with instructions, to wit: First, share memories or thoughts of childhood or adulthood sister-friends. Funny, sad, whatever.

My sister-friends are my college buddies/roommates from my undergraduate days. There were six of us who met freshman year, and stayed together throughout college. Last November, I wrote a post about introducing Miss Chef to them at a wedding. We've moved, married, lost parents, and one of us has even reproduced. We don't talk nearly as often as I'd like, but the ties are still there.

Senior year, five of us rented an apartment together--many, many memories. Can I pick just one? Of course not. There was the Couch Monster that sucked Michelle in every afternoon, the Star Wars marathon, the housewarming party Shelly invited the entire Campus Dems group to, the Family Dinners where Amy showed off her cooking skills by tossing a salad, the Saturday nights at the ATO house with Pork Chop and Elvis, the many, many evenings at Saloon, with Sue leading us in a parade of $1 tips for our favorite bartender--where there's a Will, there's a mighty fine drink.

I remember their understanding and acceptance of my own foibles, from my self-righteousness, to my uncontrollable ebullience on Monday nights after the weekly meeting of our improv troupe.

And I still owe Audrey a phone call, just to catch up.

The second part of the instructions is, of course, to pass the award on to however many bloggers you'd like to share this with- but to make sure you share this award specifically with bloggers that you feel a kinship with. Bloggers you learn from or feel that you teach, bloggers you've connected with in a really familiar and friendly way.

As usual, the ones I'd like to award have already received this award...but maybe not all. So I'll pass it on to Alix, at Casa Hice, who swept me up into her blogger arms and whirled me into this little community; to Claire, at Whispering Acres, who, I suspect, wouldn't know how to be unfriendly if she had to; to Joanna at BooneDocks Wilcox, for her unfailing honesty and willingness to share--and back to Liz, who's so full of love, it almost oozes out of the screen.

Our next Award Award goes to Alix, of Casa Hice: the Beautiful Words Award for the wonderful things she said about me when presenting the Keepsake Award.

Okay, instruction #1 is to post a funny or sweet Keepsake Memory that tells something about myself. This was a very hard choice for me... but the final selection is clear. I asked Miss Chef, and she immediately responded with a memory that I'd had in mind. One that she wasn't even there for, but which makes her laugh.

A hot July afternoon in Suburbia, Ohio. A small gaggle of young children--aged 3 to 7, maybe--play in the fenced-in area around a large in-ground pool. There are several bikes on the wide concrete patio surrounding the pool, including a classic red tricycle. The young golden retriever with them is enjoying all the hubbub, gamboling about from child to child. They are all watched over by a young teen girl from across the street.

The gaggle of kids at one point starts to promenade around the pool on their collection of bikes & trikes. The dog, happy to join in, decides to assume one of its favorite positions: front feet up on the back "step" of the tricycle, back feet walking along as usual.

Except there's one problem: the force of the dog's landing on the step propels the trike forward unexpectedly, effectively pushing it straight into the deep end of the pool.

Now, I'm not 100% sure that it was Buffy's fault I drove my trike into the pool; I may have simply been distracted, or got too close to the kid in front of me. But the end result was me, on my trike, sinking down into eight feet of water, and feeling more than a little bewildered.

I did know something about swimming, though I still hadn't graduated from using my styrofoam "watermelon" float in the pool. I was not unfamiliar with being in the water, and so I don't think I was particularly frightened. I wasn't worried about myself, but about getting my bike out of the pool.

My first reaction was to pedal--as hard as I could. Somehow I thought this would at least propel me in some direction: if not up, then at least closer to the shallow end I was more comfortable with. Needless to say, it didn't work. So I frantically pedaled my way straight to the bottom, where I'd never been, and landed there, still astride the trike.

The neighbor's girl, Sharon, immediately dived into the water to save me. Bless her! For once she reached me, she actually had to pry my fingers from the handlebars. I don't remember every detail about this event, but I do remember clearly that I was convinced my parents would leave the trike in the pool. I don't know why--as punishment? Who knows. But I was determined that if they wanted me, they weren't getting me without the tricycle.

Well, being a three-year old, I didn't get my way, and Sharon finally pried me off the bike and whisked me to the surface, saving my life and undoubtedly earning the eternal gratitude of my parents. They probably even let her get my trike out of the pool, too. I don't remember. In fact, I don't have any other memories of that tricycle, in spite of its obvious importance to me at the time!

So, what does this memory tell about me? I asked Miss Chef, and she said, "That you're hard-headed....or, determined." Depends on what kind of spin you want to put on it. I think it also points out some less flattering traits, such as my attachment to material objects, and maybe my taking for granted the things other people do for me. (Like giving me blog awards, hmmm??)

Now, instruction #2 is to award this to 10 other blogs. Sorry, but I'm not sure I read 10 other blogs...and again, y'all have pretty much already gotten this award. So I'm going to choose ONE blog which I find particularly memorable: Lisa's, at Laughing Orca Ranch. She has been sharing with us the heartbreaking and heartwarming story of recovery from a serious horseback riding accident, and her love / fear relationship with her beautiful paint mare, Baby Doll. Plus, she takes amazing photos of her New Mexico countryside.

(Phew, this is taking longer than I thought...but these awards programs usually do run over, don't they?)

Okay, next up is the Out of the Blue Award, which goes to Daisy Soap Girl, for popping up on my blog to offer me the Kreative Blogger Award.

This is indeed an honor, as much as the others, because I do really appreciate creativity, and it's flattering that you find my little collection of words and pictures creative enough to commemorate!

This one, ironically enough, comes with lots of rules!

1. Recipient is to place the award logo on their blog. (done)
2. Post a link to the person who awarded you. (done)
3. List 7 things you love.
4. List 7 blogs you love and awarded.
5. Leave a message for the 7 blogs you awarded.

Ok, I like #3! Seven things I love:

1. Family and friends, with a Special Mention for Miss Chef
2. Dogs, with special mentions for Amber, Charlie and Rosie
3. Chocolate
4. Nature
5. Reading and books
6. Teaching (oh, and I have big news about this, but it's gonna have to wait--I'm such a tease!)
7. Pseudo-farming--growing some of our own food, and one day having a small flock of chickens. Like Joanna, I'd love to spend time puttering around a small, animal-filled acreage without having to go to a job.

Seven blogs I love...let's see, I bet I could come up with seven (in no particular order):

1. The Fifty Factor: too funny!
2. Goats in the Garden: unvarnished truth about life with animals
3. Whispering Acres: such the overachiever up there in Iowa
4. Casa Hice: you never know what you're gonna get
5. Eternal Lizdom: like moths to light, love attracts us all
6. Stuff Parisians Like: evocative of a very special year in my life
7. Cake Wrecks: Jen is hysterical, every single day

Okay, I'll be off to visit my 7 loved blogs in a little bit, for that whole notification thing... but there's one last award to hand out. The Aw, You Shouldn't Have Award goes, again, to Liz, for doubling up, and giving me the Love My Friends Award.

"The Love My Friends Award is given to those bloggers who aspire, inspire and share the most beautiful of human attributes: art, wisdom and friendship. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more."

Well, this is getting, art, wisdom and friendship. Well, I'm going to re-write the rules once more, and award three bloggers, one for each attribute. Art: Laughing Orca Ranch, for Lisa's amazing photos, and the way she shows us as she experiments (you didn't know you were doing that, did you?). Wisdom: right back atcha, Liz! For friendship, I'll have to award two: Alix at Casa Hice for always being there, and Claire at Whispering Acres, for connecting in real life.

Ok, cue the orchestra, it's time to leave! But I would like to just cram in a last general thank you, over the tinkling music, to everyone who's created this circle of friends in Blogland. Thanks for coming to my little party; I'm having a great time with you!

Those of you who have actually read all the way through this enormous post deserve to know that I'll be headed out of town next week, so you won't be hearing from me for a little while. Please come back whenever I resurface, as I expect to have at least one or two interesting tales from my trip to Chicago, where I'll meet up with some great old friends!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Battle of the Mill

It's 1862, and rumblings are heard throughout the countryside. The War Between the States has arrived in North Carolina. A band of Yankees has captured the local grist mill, and the Confederates are not about to let that stand. Battle is imminent.

Last weekend, Miss Chef and I went to a Civil War re-enactment in Concord, northeast of Charlotte. It's small compared to most, but those involved are just as diligent about making the experience as authentic as any. In real life, there was no battle at Bost Grist Mill, but it sure makes a good location for one!

I put together another slideshow for your viewing pleasure, showing you the highlights of our afternoon. Please bear in mind two things: the actual battle, which lasted about half an hour, was a bit more complicated than I've represented it. And the guns were much, MUCH LOUDER than it seems.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Battle of Bost Grist Mil

Oh, and a third thing...all the "Go get 'em, Jeb!" and rebel hollering was not from the re-enactors. No, it was from a Grandpa standing behind us who talked to his grandson as if the war was an ongoing event. It's true, there are many who believe: the South will rise again!

Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Food Inc.: The Movie

I tried to post the trailer here, but it didn't take for some on the picture above to watch it on YouTube.

If you've been reading for a while, and paying any attention, you know that Miss Chef and I feel rather passionately about our food. We also feel passionately about eating as locally as possible, and avoiding processed food as much as possible. This movie will explain why.

In a nutshell, this documentary shows how America's food-producing industry has diminished the variety and quality of our food, leading to an epidemic of health issues. Yes, Michael Pollan* and Eric Schlosser* are both in it, and Alice Waters* is quoted as saying "The film I have always been waiting for."

Liz, I'm especially hoping you see this movie, because you have young children, and I know you're trying to show them what real food looks like. I have to tell you, when I watched my brother feeding Tyson's frozen chicken nuggets to my nephews, I couldn't help but think, "Does he know what he's feeding his kids?" And this is a guy who loves to cook!

I don't mean to preach (ok, maybe I do...I feel quite strongly about the subject.) I know, it's really hard to work full-time and put quality meals on the table every single day. Lord knows, I just went to Jersey Mike's for lunch today. But if you've been trying to make yourself eat a little more "whole foods" and a little closer to home, this film might help motivate you!

* Author of Omnivore's Dilemma / *author of Fast Food Nation / *breakthrough Chef/Owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA

Disappointing Update: It doesn't look like it's playing anywhere near's a conspiracy, I tell you! Hmph.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Unexpected Delights

Just a quick post this evening. I waited until nearly sunset to take Rosie for a walk tonight, since it was windy and stormy when I got home. I nearly let myself ignore the clearing skies, but I knew the dog really needed to get out, so I got on my shoes and grabbed her leash.

Wasn't I pleasantly surprised when I stepped out the door! Instead of the humid, 90-degree weather we've been having here lately, it was cool and damp, but somehow less humid. Okay, it was probably just as humid, but the temperature was probably in the 60s, so it felt completely different.

In spite of the damp ground, which tends to make the gravel from the path stick to Rosie's paws and belly--she has such a perky little trot--I headed to the park to let her sniff her way around. When we got there, I first noticed the picturesque steam rising from the pond, creating a romantic atmosphere for the two pairs of ducks cruising around the water. The resident great blue heron was comfortably ensconced on the little raft in the middle, hunkered down as he watched us circle him at a distance.

As we passed the woodline along the back side of the pond, I heard a donkey braying. The woods are only about 50 yards deep, ending along a cow pasture. We can hear the donkey from our house when he really gets going, but I hadn't heard him for several months, so I was happy to know he's still around.

Approaching the far end of the pond, I saw a small form moving on the bank near the water. "Ooo, maybe it's that bird I saw the other day." It was--a medium-sized wading bird, light brown with white mottling, grey legs and beak. At least, I think that's what it looks like. As it did the other day, it took off before I could make out much more in the dim light. I thumbed through my ancient Audubon guide when I got home, but couldn't find a match to the details I thought I'd saw. Well, hopefully it'll be back, and I can get a better look at it.

Continuing along the far end, then, I started to see spots. Yellow spots. Yellow, sort of blinking spots. Fireflies! Yay, they're back!! The past two years, I've seen just a few of them, in the deepest shade of the passage into the park, but it was a thin, sparse population compared to the numbers I chased about our open fields in Ohio three decades ago. I know that fireflies are struggling to survive amidst all the pesticides we humans have been spraying and spreading. And I'm sure the drought didn't help their numbers any more than it's helped the mosquitos. But, even if the mosquitos are back, it's nice to know those lovely summer nightlights are back, too.

Finally, as we headed out of the park area, we were serenaded by an owl. I wish I knew what kind; the only hoot I recognize is the barred owl's "who cooks for you?" This was a single, falling "hooooot"--a southern drawl of a hoot, I guess. Even Rosie cocked an ear.

Well, that's all I wanted to share with you all this evening. But isn't it nice to know that, even in a suburban housing development, Mother Nature finds her way in?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

'Tis the Season!

Who knew? Even in suburbia, living seasonally has unexpected ramifications!

I seem to be swamped; with what I can't quite tell you. I think it's just that summer is a time for everything to happen, all at once, for 10 or more hours a day! I'm trying to be good and keep up with it all, and that means no plopping my butt down for two hours in front of the computer, loading up pictures for my blog.

I thought I was at least keeping up with y'all's blogs, but I guess not. This afternoon at work, I peeked at my "reading list" and saw all kinds of updates. Where have I been??

So lemme, tellya, 'tis the season for lots of things...

...shedding! Rosie has a long, double coat, which she "blows" twice a year. I love that expression; it really does describe it. I vacuumed Saturday afternoon, and when I came home that evening after dinner out (more on that later), there were many clumps of black fur from the living room, down the short hallway and into the bedroom. And that's in addition to the usual hairiness all over the rest of the carpet. The light-colored, non-black carpet. Next time we get a dog, I'm bringing carpet samples.

...mowing! Do I really need to explain? Miss Chef has finally come out and stated she hates mowing...which leaves me. And I'm not a big fan, myself. The rain has been fantastic for our garden, but it sure makes it hard to find time to keep up with that other green stuff out there.

...weeds! I knew it was coming, but I was unprepared for the effects of heavy, regular rains. And letting the grass grow long enough to seed--we were really, really bad one time, and now we've got grass seedlings popping up everywhere. Plus, we apparently didn't let the compost "cook" enough, so we have gazillions of volunteer tomato & watermelon plants coming up. The tomatoes are way too late to bear much fruit before freezing time, but I didn't plant any watermelon this year, so I might find room for one to stick around...and the one strawberry volunteer probably won't do us much good, but heck, I'll give it a chance. As for the non-desirables, just when I start to make some headway there, I run into...

...ants! As a Yankee, I can't stand the way fire ants just come in and take over. Little bastards, that's my garden! I had managed to finally get them under control, when high grass and non-stop rains gave the ants an advantage. I saw lots of new hills the last time I mowed, and I just now got 2 or 3 good bites trying to pull grass out of the garden. I've found two hills in amidst the veggies, and I'm stumped as to how to treat them without chemicalling up our basil & garlic. So I got a childish revenge on them by dousing them with the hose. So there, mleah! (Yeah, I know, they'll be back, but I still enjoyed it.) activities! I can spend all winter moping around the house by myself every night, blogging away for hours. But now it seems as if everyone has seen the light and decided to do something. Not only are the farmers' markets roaring into full swing, but friends I haven't seen for months call up for dinner dates, organizations hold all kinds of events and activities, and everyone hits the road for some traveling. I'd better get all that weeding, vacuuming and ant battling out of the way during the week, 'cause there ain't no rest for the weary on the weekends! Which leads to...

...double booking! So far, I've managed to plan vacation over a doctor's appointment (guess which one's gonna get priority?), and Miss Chef has planned dinner with a friend over a Civil War re-enactment we'd talked about last month. Mom has planned cataract surgery and related appointments over prime tomato-canning season (she was gonna come help), and that's just the stuff I'm aware of!

Phew! I'm getting tired just thinking about all this stuff. All this extra sunlight makes me stay up later, and wake up before my alarm. We can electrify, planify and homogenize our lifestyles all we want, but Mr. Sun is still the boss of me.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Weekend update: Monday

"I keep meaning to join the procrastinators' club, but..."

Okay, so it's been over a week now, but I still wanna tell you about the 3rd day of our crazy-busy-amazing Memorial Day weekend. For those who can't be bothered to scroll down, a short recap...ok, I admit, the Saturday post about the New Town Farm tour was kind of long. But you should read it! If you're interested in what you're putting in your mouth.

And of course, Sunday was our "Oh yeah, Atlanta's a big city" visit to the still amazing Georgia Aquarium. I have to say, I wish I could give you a better impression of just how huge that Ocean Voyager exhibit is. It really is a small corner of the ocean plopped down in the middle of Georgia. Nancy, pick a random Wednesday afternoon and just go. You'll always regret it if you don't.

As I mentioned in passing, we were seriously mistaken about the length of the drive to Atlanta. I got up that morning around 6 to get some things done before we left, and we didn't get back home until almost midnight. I would like to take a moment here to recognize a very courageous individual who made the trip 100% better: Rosie, who unexpectedly remained trapped in the house, hungry and alone, for over 14 hours. She was an angel, surprisingly calm when we returned, and not a bit of an accident anywhere. Rosie, you rock.

After feeding and loving on the dog, we crashed into bed ASAP, because we had to be up and out of the house by 9 the next morning, to go to Bosky Acres goat farm! Yes, since I had the day off, I asked Miss Chef if I could accompany her to her second job, making truffles and whatever Michele needs for her various goat-milk product line.

On to the photos! First, we had to suit up:

Those are Miss Chef's feet in this year's Milk Room fashion accessory. This is a separate area that is kept as sterile as possible for USDA regulations. Before entering, we had to swap out our shoes for these lovely foam clogs and put on hairnets.

Now, before I got to enter the Holy of Holies, I put in a little bit of grunt work: sweeping and mopping the entrance / office area, and mixing and bottling two potentially very messy batches of goats' milk lotion (unscented and lavender). I think Michele was impressed at my ability to minimize the mess, so I was in.

While I did that, Miss Chef was busy mixing up the truffles. Once that was done, they had to cool for a while, so the three of us lent ourselves to several other tasks. I mostly washed dishes and equipment. By hand. In a very low sink that made my back ache. But, I did take a few breaks for photo ops.

Miss Chef and Michele started a new batch of cheese in The Vat. This is a 4-foot tall stainless steel pasteurizer which processes almost 50 gallons of milk at a time. According to Michele, it cost as much as her van, so don't plan on running out and getting one for fun!

Here Miss Chef pours 5-gallon buckets into The Vat. Not all of the milk is from Bosky Acres; Michele hand-milks about a dozen does twice a day; if she were to milk enough to supply her needs, her hands would fall off. So she buys milk from a nearby farm.

(By the way, I had to wash all those buckets. Just so you know.)

Here's a shot inside the vat--the propeller keeps things moving. Notice how much more milk Miss Chef has yet to add!

After all the milk is in, The Vat raises the temperature to over 140 degrees for at least 30 minutes--per USDA regulation. Then the temperature is dropped to 80 degrees, at which point Michele adds two things: starter and rennet. Starter is a "friendly" mix of bacteria that cause the milk to sort of ferment, lowering the acidity. Rennet makes it coagulate. For those who are interested, the starter is a white powder, and the rennet is a dark liquid that comes in a bottle that looks for all the world like Dr. Pepper. Tablespoonfuls of each is all that is needed for the entire batch.

Now it has to sit for 24 hours before being drained. But we had other things to do. Michele checked on her latest batch of soap in molds:

She's recently switched from buying beef tallow to using some bought from local farms. This has made her soap softer, so she was chilling it in a freezer to see if it would help release the soap more cleanly from the molds. It did seem to help, but these needed more chilling.

Miss Chef, on the other hand, had her mix as chilled as it needed to be, so she was on truffle duty!

Mmmmm....these were for a Slow Foods dinner with lots of other farmers, chefs and Important Local Food People, so Michele told Miss Chef to make them as consistent as possible. Then she complained that there weren't any imperfect ones she would have to sacrifice by eating. Careful what you ask for...

Eventually, after scrubbing the floors and more equipment, we managed to finish everything on the "to do" list. Finally, it was time to visit the goats!

One of the yearling does.

The obligatory "nose in the camera" shot."

A couple of "can I take them home?" shots of the new babies.

I think the one on the left is a buck Michele's keeping--he has the longest ears in the world!

And let's not forget the other farm denizens: Jack & Meg, two Pyrenee mixes. Jack was feeling antisocial, but Meg is always ready to get in your face. Don't let those sweet eyes fool you; she's a handful!

Oh, and then there's this girl:
We let her into the milk room only when she's done her chores.

Wanna see more pics of the milk room, the animals, and the Bosky Acres family? Check out their old blog!