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Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Living a rich country life in a small Midwestern town.

Showing 18 posts in the Better Living category for this blog.
Winter Pleasures: Corresponding via Snail Mail
Sunday, January 16, 2011

Now that the holidays have passed, things have slowed down here on My Little Farm in Town, and I’ve been catching up on correspondence. A number of friends and family have responded to the letters I enclosed in Christmas cards and during this cold weather is a great time to write.

Sadly, more and more people seem to be abandoning the fine art of letter writing. I tend to blog on one day and answer correspondence on the opposing day.  (I’m really writing letters both days because to me blogging is just writing letters to a bunch of folks I don’t know really well yet!) I enjoy getting letters in the mail—I consider them small 44-cent gifts!

I started corresponding when I was in third grade with a friend of mine who is a Catholic priest. Once a month, he was the guest instructor of our Catechism class and would tell us Sherlock Holmes stories when Sister Bernadette left the room!  I still write to him a couple times a year. He has since retired to his home seminary in India and is in his late 80s and still teaching English literature! (He is a scholar of Chaucer. When he heard that I was studying Chaucer in college, he quizzed me in Middle English for a couple of letters. I’m afraid I must have disappointed him. God Bless him!)

Over the years I’ve kept in touch via letters with family; friends from grade school, high school, and college; and Pen Friends in other parts of the world. I write regularly to ten people and less frequently to eight others. Most people seem to enjoy my letters. Some of them have been writing back for over 30 years. Here are a few pointers for writing a good letter:

  • Always keep who you are writing to in mind. If they don’t care about chickens but love to read, write about the books you are reading right now and skip the chicks!
  • Ask specific questions about the life of the person you are writing to and remember the answers.
  • Answer questions that are asked of you thoughtfully. Refer to the letter you are answering so that you don’t miss any questions asked of you.
  • Enclosures add fun and interest. Stickers, postcards, brochures, newspaper clippings, photos, bookmarks, coasters, tea bags, perfume samples, magnets, book plates, magazine articles, fabric swatches, and seeds are all things that I have sent or received in letters.
  • Write about everyday things as well as special events in enough detail that the person you are sharing with can experience them again with you. What is a common event to you may be a novelty to the person you are writing to. It also gives them a snapshot of your daily life.
  • Don’t brag about your kids or your pets too much. Some pride is natural—too much is tiring.
  • Share your feelings. Confidences build intimacy and give the other person permission to share more of themselves with you. This give and take is important for building and maintaining friendships.
  • Be patient and faithful. During different seasons of life people write more or less often because of illness, hardship, or crazy busyness. Don’t be a bean counter. Sometimes you will write more than you receive, but it usually evens out.

Next time you get a real letter rather than an e-mail from friend or family, treat it like the gift that it is. Sit down with pen and paper and return the honor. Begonia

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Snowshoeing in Donald Park, Dane County, Wisconsin
Sunday, January 09, 2011

I have a friend that I hike with. We pick a different county or state park to visit each time we get together and spend two or three hours exploring the trails. In the warmer months, we take our trekking poles and explore the different trails. In the cold snowy months, we do our hiking on snowshoes and cut the brush, sometimes we even use the trails!

Yesterday was pretty warm—in the 30s F. We knew it was going to warm into a January thaw in the next 48 hours, so we took advantage of the last bit of warm weather with a little sun and decent snow to visit Donald Park.

We parked in the small public fishing grounds lot and slipped into our snowshoes. Then we skirted the creek and crossed it at a shallow, snow covered spot and followed the rock formations around into a wide prairie area bordered by rolling, forest-covered hills. We could hear the call of a Great Horned owl way back on the ridge where the park borders private land. It was unusual to hear one in the afternoon. They are big owls with big voices, and you could hear this one echoing through the entire valley.

Our goal was a special “boiling” spring on the opposite end of the 600+ acre park. The trails were well used this year because the park is gradually becoming more well-known. We saw tracks of skis, snowshoes, walkers, and dogs, as well as the footprints of mice and rabbits and hawk and owl pellets of fur and bones. 

We walked on a trail bordering the trout stream that runs through one quadrant of the park. The active corps of volunteers has been working for years clearing brush along it, and now we could see it clearly as we walked: the small river of open water rushing on one side of us and the rising upland of restored oak savannah above us.

Finally, we entered the woods again. Still with the trout stream on our left, we passed the now-shrouded and snow drifted excavation of an early settler’s cabin. The park is made up of donated farm land, so there are a number of cabin foundations in it. (This site has been under excavation for several seasons and continues to be a golden opportunity for any volunteer wanting to participate in a dig.) The trail we were traveling had once been a stage coach road that literally passed at the doorstep of this cabin.

The final trail to the springs snaked through the woods and on, but we stopped at the small observation deck overlooking the springs and climbed up to get a better view of the open pool of water below. It is not a hot spring. It gets its name because of the way the spring water rises from the floor of the pool, bubbling up and disturbing the surface in perfect rings like boiling water in a shallow pan.

There is something mesmerizing about liquid water after every bit of outdoor moisture has been frozen solid for a couple of months. I can stand and watch that bubbling water (it seems like) forever. I can understand why this was considered a sacred place by the tribes that moved through this area in earlier times.  The water is so clear that you can see the sand “smoking” as the fresh water pushes up through it. The 10-inch fish swimming around in it and the logs and branches on the bottom look close enough to touch, but I know the water is at least 3 or 4 feet deep. You can even see the springs rising in the river channel where the pool and stream meet. The water stays open here most of the winter, so I’m looking forward to hiking back in later in the month to share a few liquid moments with my family.  Begonia

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On Self-Sufficiency: Hubbard vs. Hayes
Sunday, December 05, 2010

One of my hobbies is reading autobiographies, journals, and handbooks on thrift and “self-sufficiency.” I was reading Payne Hollow Journal by Harlan Hubbard last night and something about the guy bothered me.  He wrote about all the various tasks of “simple living” in tune with the seasons and the land: gathering and chopping wood, gardening and gleaning, animal husbandry, and painting and observing nature, with some musical evenings and infrequent trips to town for minor shopping and cultural events. Sounds nice doesn’t it?

He also related how he was really out of sorts before and after a visit of any length to another’s home or anyone’s visit to his home. He mused on how he was able to act cordial until the second either he or they were out the door and then he was back to his previous grumpy mood.

I couldn’t pinpoint what was bothering me—depressing me really—about Hubbard’s worldview. That was until I started reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes. To paraphrase her description of a Radical Homemaker, all “radical homemakers” were able to do a lot of things that enabled them to live on one income and save money by not needing it, but none of them could, or tried, to do everything.

Although Mr. Hubbard’s prose was wonderful, his outlook was too self-sufficient. He observed the natural world as interconnected, but he was emotionally disconnected from the greater world around him, which included people (with the exception of his wife) and just about anything that happened in town!  The key things that the Radical Homemakers had in common, besides all being great cooks, were their ability to connect with each other. They were interdependent. They all valued and nurtured community and relationships. They helped each other and learned from each other, and it made their lives richer and more satisfying.  

Last year, a friend of mine found a good deal on beef, and we bought a side of beef together. This week, my neighbor gave me two shopping bags of vegetables she didn’t want from her winter vegetable share from a local CSA.  Last night, I made a big pot of beef vegetable soup for my family. That pot of soup that fed my family was really a group effort with two other families!

Are you doing everything you know how to be thrifty and self-sufficient and still not succeeding? Perhaps you are failing because you are trying to do too much alone! Begonia 

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Collecting (Things of Little or No Value): Colored Glass
Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I’ve been collecting colored glass for years. I started out with small bottles and toothpick holders that I picked up cheaply at garage sales. I put them on the top of my sash window above the kitchen sink in the winter to enjoy their jewel colors when there weren’t any flowers to look at outside. Soon I filled the window.

I picked up the nucleus of my collection of larger pieces of colored glass at an estate sale outside of Osseo, Wisconsin, on an old farm. On the creaking enclosed back porch, I found a box of vintage jars that once held baked beans and other foods back when a product was known by the color and shape of the glass container in which it was packed. They were reasonably priced because nobody wanted them—nobody but me, of course. I held them up to the sun and enjoyed their colors and just had to take them home.

I’ve found a lot of glass at garage sales. Not the kind of glass, like carnival, cranberry, or cobalt, that people seek out and pay real money to acquire, but dime store footed candy dishes and gaudy bowls in olive green and turquoise. I laid down white Christmas minilights in part of the built-in hutch in my dining room and crowded it with all the colors of the rainbow. On rainy days or cold autumn evenings, I like to plug in the lights and enjoy the riot of hues.  But this Aladdin’s cave of color is not enough.

I like to mix milk glass (more Things of Little or No Value that I collect) and colored glass in my living room on end tables and hearth. I burn tea lights in them and enjoy the glow while relaxing in the evening or entertaining. 

I also add colored glass to my Christmas trees. I like the ornaments that look like multicolored wrapped hard candies. After years of picking them up at garage sales for a dime here or a quarter there, I can now decorate a small tree with them.  Some years, I simply pile them in a glass dish and display them on a kitchen counter or sideboard!

The next time you are at a garage sale or in the basement of an estate sale, the bargain area of an antique mall, or the housewares aisle of your favorite thrift store and see one of these miracles of color, buy it and carry it home to brighten and lighten your spirits. Begonia


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Caramel Apples Without the Caramel
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A few years ago we went on a family outing with some good friends to Maquoketa Caves State Park near Maquoketa, Iowa ( ) . After scrambling around the rocks, woods, and caves for a morning, we were famished. We all ended up sharing snacks.

Our friends offered us salted peanuts and apples and said, “Here, try eating both at once—it tastes just like a caramel apple!” So I put a few peanuts in my mouth and took a bite of apple and chewed them together. They did taste like a caramel apple! The salt/fat of the peanuts and the tart/sweetness of the apple are a wonderful combination and one I had never thought to try.

Perhaps you have already discovered this treat. If you are trying to give up sugar, or just want a healthier snack, this is a good alternative to the traditional caramel apple. Enjoy! Begonia

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Bird Watching on My Little Farm in Town
Saturday, October 16, 2010

I learned to watch and appreciate birds when my Mom and Dad moved the younger half of the family Back to the Land in the 1970s. Up to that point, I don’t think that my Mom especially had much opportunity to watch birds with a houseful of eight or nine kids and a kitchen window that looked out on a thermometer, a  garage, a parked VW Bug, and a gravel driveway. 

All that changed when we got settled on our new place of 40 acres in northern Wisconsin. Birds where everywhere. The big farm kitchen had windows that looked out onto a valley and the rolling hills and woods beyond.  I don’t remember when my Mom and Dad started feeding them, but now they have hanging feeders, suet cages, and nectar feeders that attract 6 or 8 hummingbirds at a time, as well as orioles in great numbers that eat quarts of grape jelly and build their hanging nests in the ash trees that surround the pole building.

I began feeding birds when we bought our home in this little town. My first Mother’s Day gift in this location was the 300+ pound composite bird bath that we can see from the dining room window.  (My husband wrestled it into place with the help of an exceptionally burly neighbor.) When my daughter was small, I would set her car seat in the middle of the dining room table so that she could watch the cardinals and house finches eat from the window feeder.  One of the first things I taught her along with her colors was the names of the birds. She now has a better eye for spotting and identifying them than I do! (Her eyes are a lot younger!)

Now that the weather is settling down to serious autumn, I am filling my window and yard feeders again with black oil seed to attract cardinals, blue jays, and finches. Later, when it is colder still, I will begin to feed suet to the nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers that haunt the yard because of all of our mature trees. I throw wild bird mix down on the patio for the ground feeders: juncos and mourning doves. I will feed continuously from now until the starving time of spring has passed and the world has greened and the insects returned. Begonia

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Cheap Apples and Other Wonderful Things
Sunday, October 10, 2010

This is the time of year to find apples cheaply. I have my favorite orchards for different apples and apple products.  My buy of the season was a three-bushel purchase for $10 a bushel from an orchard outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I shared part of the bushel of Honey Gold “eating” apples with friends and neighbors. The other two bushels of Cortlands will become baked goods and apple sauce.

I buy #2 apples because they are much cheaper and the best value is on buying whole bushels—but be sure to do the math because sellers  have figured out that people assume that bulk is cheaper and are raising their prices on bigger quantities. Number two apples are too big, too small, bruised, or imperfect in some other way but still too good for just cider. They won’t keep for long periods, so they are sold for quick use.

We go to Sunrise orchard in Gays Mills, Wisconsin for an autumn daytrip every year  , mainly for their apple cider, cider slushies, and the most wonderful, warm apple cider donuts in the civilized world. Oh My Gosh—they make these donuts fresh every day at harvest time—by the thousand. They keep the cooking fat at the correct temperature always, so the donuts consistently have a crisp, golden outer shell crusted with white sugar and an almost creamy flavored, moist, dense, cakey interior that melts in your mouth.

The first time we visited Sunrise, we were on the tail end of a “tour d’cheese” and were returning home from our final visit, a cheese coop in Mount Sterling, Wisconsin, a little town nestled in the bluff country bordering the Mississippi. The ridge above Gays Mills is lined with orchards, and we were stopping at each one. The sun was shining and the air smelled of apples.

Other orchards had better prices on apples, but Sunrise was the cleanest and best run—and then there were the donuts. I first spotted them resting atop a small mountain of white granulated sugar in the glassed in kitchen area. The kitchen workers were putting them in a glass self-serve case to be sold individually with coffee and packing them into 12-donut containers while they were still warm.

I had been sent into this, the final orchard on the ridge to do a little reconnaissance. We had already bought apples, it was the end of the day, and we were all tired. I walked in scoped out the bins of apples, the gift shop, and the cleaning, sorting and grading machines and workers all operating at top speed, and then I went deeper to explore the bakery area briefly. (All of the orchards had a bakery.) That was when I spotted the sugar mountain crowned with golden donuts and decided to just get a cup of coffee and three for the ride home: one for each of us.

I carried my warm, fragrant purchase out to the van where my slightly grumpy family awaited me, and distributed the donuts. We all sat in silence after taking our first bites and exchanged glances. Then we all piled out of the car, went back in, and purchased more donuts! I learned from the lady who took my money the second time (a veteran seasonal employee of Sunrise) that it is common for people to eat their first dozen warm while waiting in line and then pay for the empty container!  I also noticed people with shopping carts full of 12 packs, who do fund-raisers selling these apple cider donuts every fall. Other people stock up and freeze a supply or share them with neighbors—talk about building goodwill! 

I told some good friends about the apple cider donuts at Sunrise, and now it has become one of their seasonal traditions as well. They grew up in Michigan and lived on the East Coast for many years until their children came along and jobs moved them back to the Midwest. They told me that all the orchards in Pennsylvania make and sell donuts, and these are on a par with the donuts they used to get at the orchards in Pennsylvania.

Do any of you have something special that you only do at this time of the year (September/October)? Feel free to share with the rest of us! Begonia


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Another Week of Construction
Monday, August 30, 2010

It is hot and dry and DUSTY on this Little Farm in Town.  Another typical August week in Wisconsin has begun, normal in every respect except . . . there is no curb, gutter, sidewalk, or street in front of our rancho.

I tried to catch it all in pictures! You will note that the flowers are still blooming and my zucchini is doing pretty well. I just have to be sure to rinse all the herbs and produce from the front yard before I cook them. Meals are a bit gritty otherwise. Begonia


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Volunteering: Gaining by Giving
Saturday, June 12, 2010

Volunteering adds another layer of richness to life on My Little Farm in Town. Every week involves some form of volunteering. How we volunteer depends on what we are learning, the time available, our interests, and what needs to be done.

My daughter and I volunteer weekly at the local nursing home doing one-on-one visiting; are involved in community service through our 4-H club and home school group; make Midwife Kits for Global Health Ministries at home (see my Dec. 22, 2009 blog); and participate regularly in church activities.

Since moving to this small town 15 years ago, we have had the opportunity to volunteer in a variety of areas:

·         Public Library: shelving and checking books and other materials

·         Friends of the Library: fund-raisers as working  and organizing pie, cookie, and book sales

·         Garden Club: digging, potting and selling for the plant sale and doing civic beautification projects

·         Meals on Wheels: packing meals

·         County Parks: planting prairies, collecting seeds, stewarding trails, tending blue bird and poetry trails, participating in work days, keeping track of volunteer hours, participating in archaeological digs, and collecting prairie seed

·         Public Schools: Tutoring, aid in the classroom, and checking papers when my older children where in public school

·         Home schooling and civic and charity volunteering: Part of our Philosophy of Instruction from the start!

·         Local Events: Century bike rides, Thanksgiving dinners, holiday giving trees, and community celebrations

·         Local Food Pantries and clothes closet : shelving and sorting food and clothing

We have learned a lot while volunteering. I’ve improved my analytical, organizational, and problem solving skills through big volunteer jobs I’ve done. My daughter started visiting at the nursing home with me when she was six years old, we learned together about life and death and faithfulness and people who don’t look or think the way you do, but you love them regardless.  The parks have been like giant laboratories of natural history, botany, and zoology. Through my work with the garden club, I learned the growing habits of all kinds of wild and domestic plants and gained enough skill to grow a diverse variety of plants both edible and ornamental on my own place.

Volunteering is a good way to build a resume and tells prospective employers and educators (college) some very positive things about you.  If your primary job is raising and or educating your children right now, it shows that you have been continuing to hone your people and work skills while you have been doing it. If you are a young person not of an age to be employed, it demonstrates your ability to be disciplined and apply yourself to tasks successfully.

Perhaps most importantly, we made lasting friendships and connections in our community through volunteering.  Meeting people is easy when you are potting plants or serving a Thanksgiving dinner beside them. The transition to a new community is made much more easily when you start contributing to it as soon as you arrive  Most people admire, respect, and trust people who freely help others or make the town they live in a better place. 

About two paragraphs ago you were probably thinking, “It must be nice to have all that time to do stuff for free—some of us have to make a living.” I have a more flexible schedule than most right now, but a lot of this stuff was done on weekends and an hour here and there when I was working full time in an office. Sometimes it was too wearing, and I had to choose what activity was most important; but a lot of the time, it was hours donated individually when help was most needed (“Just In Time” volunteering!).  Pick one thing that you care about and donate some of your effort to it. You’ll meet some neat people and gain a lot more than you expect. Begonia

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Frugal Family Fun: Morel Hunting
Sunday, May 16, 2010

May is morel hunting in our part of the country. When the weather warms and the rains fall, it is time to go to our favorite places and search for the elusive fungi!

The morel is one of the only edible mushrooms that I can identify beyond the shadow of a doubt, besides the big puffballs that we don’t care to eat. You should never pick and eat any mushroom that you haven’t identified without doubt.

We started hunting morels when my daughter became fascinated by fungi. She wanted to go morel hunting, and I remembered seeing one in a nearby county park many years before. I noticed it growing along a hiking trail and filed it away in memory (as I do a lot of things). We went back to that park and started combing the woods in the area where I had seen the original mushroom—and got lucky! Picking morels is like treasure hunting—once you have a little success, you just can’t stop.

People have all sorts of theories about where to find morels. A lot of them must be good because they sell hundreds of pounds of them around here every spring, but we have found them everywhere from grassy campsites to dense woods. I’m just happy when I find them at all! Morel hunters keep their hunting places secret, but we have the advantage of being able to go into the woods during the week when most of the other hunters are driving to work in their SUVs.

During the morel season, we go hunting whenever there has been rain followed by a few warm days. We never have gotten huge quantities but have always had a good time cutting the brush and enjoying the spring ephemeral wild flowers, and especially the orchids, that appear in the woods at the same time as the mushrooms.

We carry our finds home in paper bags and rinse and spin the water and any little bugs away with a salad spinner. (Every kitchen should have one!) Then we put flour, pepper, and garlic salt in a clean paper bag and beat up an egg with a couple tablespoons of water in a shallow bowl. We dip the damp morels in the egg wash and then drop them into the paper bag with the flour mixture and shake to coat. Meanwhile, we have some extra virgin olive oil heating up on the stove. When a crumb of the coating mixture sizzles when dropped into the hot oil, we know that it is time to start frying them. Some folks prefer to cook morels in butter, but we think that it overwhelms their delicate taste. The mushrooms are done when they are golden brown and crisp. We drain them on (yes!) paper towels and eat them as appetizers.

Besides the gas to get to the park and the cost of the electricity to cook them, picking and eating morels is a fun but affordable activity and has become one our family traditions as well. Happy Hunting! Begonia



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Water in the Garden: Wild Birds
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I have three watering areas in the yard for wild birds: one large composite bath, a terra cotta bowl on the ground, and a smaller cement one under the big spruce tree in the front yard. Each bath is situated in a spot that is sheltered from wind and overhead predators with safe cover nearby—but not so close that ground predators have easy places to hide.

I don’t feed seed and suet all summer. When everything wakes up, I figure the birds should be able to forage on their own. I’ve found that water attracts birds just as surely as food. I have a small heated bird bath that I keep filled and plugged in all winter with a branch in it so the birds can drink without getting their feet wet. The birds use it as well as the deer that visit after dark.

In the summer, I have a lot of bathing activity. The large bath in my shade rock garden area is easily viewed from the dining room window. It attracts crows, grackles, starlings, sparrows of various types, as well as cardinals, blue jays, wrens, robins, mourning doves, indigo buntings, gold finches, rose breasted gross beaks, and purple and house finches. The flowers aren’t the only bright and colorful things in the garden.

Water punctuates my day. When the hot weather arrives, sometimes I have to brush out and refill some or all of the baths several times a day. It is the first thing that I do each morning and often the last thing I do each evening.  It’s not a bad way to spend the summer. Begonia




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Feeding the Nectar Eaters: Wild Birds
Tuesday, May 04, 2010

May brings back the Ruby-throated hummingbirds and the Baltimore oriels to My Little Farm In Town. They always return to the spots where they found reliable food and nesting in the previous year. Our willow is what draws the Baltimore oriels to nest in the backyard. The nectar is what draws the hummingbirds, but I feed both species of birds.

When May first rolls around and whatever the weather, I take down the window seed feeder and put up the window nectar feeder for the ruby-throated  hummers. There is a shade garden and flowers planted in big pots on the patio at the back of the house that attract them as well. It is fun to sit at the dining room table and watch them feed and buzz around.  When I’m outside, I can hear them scold and body slam as they compete for spots at the feeder.  They are very feisty little ones.

I usually hear the Baltimore orioles before I see them. They have a lovely song:  They have been nesting in the yard for about four years now. I feed them grape jelly from a red peanut butter jar lid. I put the jelly on something high so the birds have a good view of what is going on around them and so that they can easily locate the food. They are attracted to the red color of the lid and share a lot of jelly with the ants unless I place the lid in the center of a dish of water.  It is especially neat to see them bring their young to the jelly.

Feeding the orioles and hummingbirds is just one of the activities that marks the season here on My Little Farm in Town.  Happy bird watching! Begonia.


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Spring Has Sprung!
Monday, April 12, 2010

We are having some nice warm weather after almost 2 inches of rain. The temperatures are in the 60°s F. Everything is growing, and a lot of the early bulbs and flowering bushes are blooming. The birds are back—we’ve been watching Sandhill cranes, great blue herons, lots of raptors, and even one kingfisher. Today, I want to share some of what we are enjoying on My Little Farm in Town after a cold, snowy winter.  Begonia



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Feed My Starving Children
Friday, March 26, 2010

My friend and my daughter and I had fun working a shift packing meal pouches for the organization Feed My Starving Children today. This is the second year that my church has organized and sponsored one of these events.  Over 1000 people from surrounding churches and communities will work over three days to set up and pack the meals this year. One of the women working at our station drove 50 miles to volunteer!

In 2009, our community raised over $40,000, packed 229,608 meals, and fed over 620 children in Haiti for a year!! . (Volunteers this year were encouraged to bring in a food donation for the local food pantries with a goal of gathering one ton of food to help the hungry locally.)

It starts with raising the money to buy and truck in the ingredients for the food pouches which contain everything a starving child needs to survive and thrive: Carbs (rice), Soy crumbles (protein), dehydrated  vegetables, and vegetarian chicken-flavored powder containing 20 vitamins and minerals. Each pouch feeds multiple kids (six meals per pouch) and is formulated to bring a person who is starving back to health.  I got to taste this rice mixture, and it is bland but pretty good.

Each meal costs 17 cents, and 94 percent of the money donated goes right into food.  Volunteers of all ages, half of them under the age of 18, pack the meals. The food goes all over the world to organizations that are already in place and caring for people. The food isn’t being stolen or misdirected; it all has a specific destination with people to handle it properly when it arrives.  Feed My Starving Children was already feeding people in Haiti before the earthquakes and continues today.

All the people in our one-and-a-half hour shift packed 160 boxes (36 meal pouches each) with 34,560 meals—that is enough food to feed 94 children for one year! When you work at one of these events, you really do make a big difference and directly help starving children.  

You don’t have to look at those pictures of kids with their ribs sticking out and feel helpless anymore.  This is good news for everyone.  If you want to find out more about Feed My Starving Children you can go to their web site . Begonia


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I'm Listening for Robins
Sunday, February 28, 2010

I woke up this morning listening for Robins. They usually return to My Little Farm in Town March 1—give or take a day. I usually hear them for a few days before I see them. My sister in East Texas watches them flock and fly away. I listen for their return.

As I lay in bed this morning, I heard hairy and downy woodpeckers, cardinals, and our murder of crows, the sentinel crow alerting the rest. The blue jays made their usual squeaking garden gate cry.

 I’m waiting for the morning I hear the robin break the silence first.

That is the thing about winter in this part of the world. You know it is coming when the birds fall quiet. Even the ones that stay the winter have different conversations. It allows you to hear other sounds. We have eleven mature evergreens bordering our lot and a half, so I listen to the sea sound of them all winter as I walk out to take care of the girls each morning and evening.  I hear the dry scraping of blowing snow mix with the little begging noises the chickens make when I go out to collect eggs midday.

Living in town there is always the noise of cars, dogs, and the highway when the wind is out of the south or west. I like the days best when the wind blows from the north.

Even though  the north wind is colder, it blows away the highway noise. In the spring, it brings the sound of tractors and the smell of dairy (manure)—and the calls of robins sheltering by the lake in the wooded valley below my neighborhood.  

Are you listening? Begonia.


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Are You One of the Ten Percent?
Tuesday, February 09, 2010

We live a quiet life here on our little farm in town. We are one of the Ten Percent of American households who do not have any form of dish or cable television service.

I heard this statistic on NPR while sitting in my recliner drinking my morning cup of coffee. I don't know where they got this number, but it made me think.

I thumped down my mug of coffee and thought, "Oh my gosh! I think I've become one of the counter culture!"

Ever since we had to install one of those goofy little black boxes to get any TV at all, I've been watching less and less regular TV and more of my own programming. I have a lot of movies, TV shows, and documentaries on VHS tapes (OK−I admit to having a few extra VHS players squirreled away in odd places around the house against the day they quit making them) and DVDs acquired at thrift stores, garage sales, used book stores, and library book sales. We get movies free (sort of) from our public library and watch on line for free at places like (Internet Movie Database) and Internet rental sites that have some free content.

Sometimes we will go whole days without watching anything at all. In the winter, you might find us reading books, creating art or crafts, and writing letters (yes, by hand). In the warmer months, we are apt to spend the days gardening and visiting with neighbors. (The Fine Art of Neighboring--that ought to be another blog.)

I can't count my family among the (probably statistically tiny) number of people who don't watch any visual media, but we have taken responsibility for what we do watch. It's a rich and varied life. Are you one of the ten percent? Begonia

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Eggs, Parsley, and Barter
Friday, January 29, 2010

My girls have begun to lay again! We have begun eating our own eggs once more. The days are lengthening and at least two of my five hens are now laying. These eggs along with seed catalogs are giving me new hope. It had been feeling like the "2 o'clock in the morning" of the year with gray skies and single-digit and below temperatures (Fahrenheit).

I let my hens have a rest from laying for a couple months. I have an easier conscience about this because I value their manure for compost almost as much as I value their eggs for eating! Supermarket eggs are a real disappointment after eating homegrown eggs, but I wasn't prepared to pay the price for true free-range or organic eggs (call me. . . frugal)!

I decided to barter the last of the parsley that bordered my front yard walk for cull eggs from an organic egg producer that I know. She was so busy with her egg business, home schooling, and work off the farm that she had no time to dry her own parsley. I had a bumper crop that I had been giving away to neighbors because I couldn't stand to see it go to waste and already had a winter's supply dried for my own household. Next year, I might offer to go out to her farm and pick her parsley and dry it in return for eggs while my girls rest!

Today, I bundled up and brought a half dozen eggs over to the 85-year-old neighbor who allows us to garden on her deep second and third lots in return for mowing her yard, help in her garden, and eggs. I also give her some of whatever I produce in my garden plots. These plots receive more sun than my backyard, so I can grow onions, okra, beans, peas, celery, egg plant, and other sun lovers. It is a good trade because she also shares extra plants and seeds from her flower garden and fruit from her vines and pear trees.

The harder times become, the more important barter will be for all of us. Have you done any bartering lately? Everyone has some skill, commodity, or knowledge that someone else lacks but needs. It may be as simple as parsley or as complex as computer teching. Best of all, barter helps us connect with each other in healthy ways and help each other through the hard places.

Stay warm and be thinking about what you need and what you have to offer! Begonia

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Midwife Kits and Roast Turkey: Another Frugal Day on the Farm
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yesterday morning, after putting a 25-pound turkey in the Nesco for a home school potluck that evening, a friend of mine came over to put together midwife kits for Global Health Ministries. (You can learn more at We are both workers and like projects that result in nice satisfying piles of completed items. We had a lot of fun putting these kits together.

Most of these midwife kits will go to Africa. Lots of people feel overwhelmed or helpless about what is going on in Africa. You don't have to be a rich rock star to help alleviate some suffering. Each kit contains everything necessary to birth a baby, cut and tie the cord, clean up baby and mother, and dress and wrap the baby. (These kits consist of a 36-inch square of sheet, a regular-size bath towel, a thin wash cloth, one bar of Ivory soap, a pair of medium-sized vinyl exam gloves, a receiving blanket, a newborn t-shirt, a small newborn hat, and two 8-inch pieces of white cotton sting and a new one-sided razor blade in a zip-lock bag--all this is folded into the towel and stowed in a two-gallon zip lock bag and labeled "Midwife Kit".)

We put 32 kits together from the materials I had gathered over a summer and fall of garage and estate sale shopping. Everything I buy had to be in good shape: no stains, rips, or excessive wear. I generally pay 50 cents for a towel or receiving blanket, 10 cents or less for a wash cloth, 10 to 25 cents for a t-shirt, and a dollar or less for a sheet. We buy zip lock bags at dollar stores for a dollar a box and the rest of the items where ever the price is best. Both my friend and I crochet so most of the little hats are made from sport yarn left over from other projects or skeins I pick up at garage sales. Sometimes I tell people what I am doing and they give me stuff for free. I was given all the towels for my first batch of kits by our town recreation department--all came from the lost and found box of the local pool! Cut down and hemmed, a beach towel roughly makes two regular-size towels.

My daughter-in-law will drop off the kits at the organization's headquarters in the Twin Cities. I'm grateful that she will do this, because the postage to ship these kits would be beyond my means.

By the time we had finished with the kits, the turkey was beginning to smell pretty good! The nice thing about turkey is that it goes on sale for outrageously low prices at this time of year. I usually pay about 39 cents a pound. I put about four turkeys in the freezer every year and pull one out whenever cash flow is bad. (A 25-pound turkey will feed us for at least a week, if not a couple of weeks if used carefully.) It only takes about 10 minutes to get a turkey emptied of giblets and neck, rinsed, the cavity salted, and the whole thing popped into a cooker or oven. I used broth from the neck, drippings from the pan, and some flour to make the gravy, and the Betty Crocker recipe, dried herbs from my garden, and some day-old bread to make the dressing. I also brought some canned cranberry jelly I got on sale--just because I don't like to eat turkey without it! I figure the whole thing cost my family about $17.00. It would have been less than $10.00 without the three cans of cranberry jelly and the triple-batch of dressing--but why be stingy?

The potluck turned out to be quite a holiday feast, we had punch, chips and dip, salsa and corn chips, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, homegrown ham, homemade mac and cheese, fruit salad, mixed green and apple salad with raspberry dressing, raman salad, cranberry jelly (!!!!), challah bread, and chocolate covered popcorn for dessert. We did a white elephant exchange and the house was warm and nicely decorated. It was snowing lightly when we drove home.

There were leftovers, so all I have to do is make mash potatoes today. I've had plenty of time to write to you today. Take care and don't let the turkeys get you down, let them fill you up! Begonia



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