Posted by: The Arcadian | January 29, 2014

Get out of the house, it’s beautiful outside

IMG_3207

Play outside: It helps your brain

“Get outside and go play,” she said most Saturdays, after two hours of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Schoolhouse Rock. Those were the words my mother said to my brother and me on so many occasions.

I remember whining about being pried from our three precious TV channels. These were the days before cable, where satellite receivers were adjusted daily based on orbital patterns. We would gripe then go outside and dig holes in the yard, jump out of the hay loft and explore the dry creek behind our house. Being outside was holistically good for us.

Other days we would work outside with our dad. We complained about having to feed the horses, open gates or round up cows. I enjoyed riding horses while my brother preferred riding on two wheels. I remember feeling better after playing outside, but as a kid, never understanding why.

There was that one summer we had to chop cotton. Our dad gave us kid-sized hoes and taught us how to use the file to create an edge for better chopping efficiency. My brother and I still bemoan that summer full of naturally-acquired vitamin D. While our city friends were in the air conditioning playing PacMan, we were relegated to child farm laborers.

What I didn’t understand until recently is that those physical activities in my youth helped my brain develop the capacity to learn academically. The force my muscles had to exert and the tug of gravity helped my brain create neural pathways that set me up to learn in school.

These neural pathways of physical exertions were the first routes hacked out of the brain’s forest of neurons. While the advanced academic neural connections were being made, these routes were the ones that first carried the basics of mathematics and reading.

Work and play required eye-hand and whole-body coordination. Many of our activities required a sequence of movements that culminated into one fluid motion. This is known as motor planning and is essential for learning how to speak, get dressed or write your name.

I didn’t know that the upward swing of the hoe and force of chopping down on an intended target was such a complex movement holding so much potential brain power within it.

The limited access to “screen time” was a benefit that forced my brother and me to seek other means of entertainment. It forced us to interact with each other and resolve differences. We also learned how to interpret our own emotions, how to read the other’s face, how to express ourselves—sometimes with fists and shoves.

Looking back, it seems obvious how playing and moving in a tangible world contributes to our ability to process and think in the abstract, as well as, overall wellbeing.

I didn’t give full credence to my mother’s asseveration that babies need to crawl in order to read. The two seemed unconnected at one time, much like the neural connections that would come later as the result of moving physically.

But now I understand, don’t argue with your mother and go outside to play.

Posted by: The Arcadian | November 24, 2013

Extreme Hulabaloos, Blue Northers & Snowpocalypses

[Editor's note: it's been far too long since I posted to the blog. No time like the present.]

The Blue Norther commeth …

Extremes are the normal with North Texas weather. There is constant clashing of warm moist air with cool dry air. The dry air sweeps across the western U.S., over the Caprock then down the draw known as the Llano Estacado and collides with warm moist air coming up from the Gulf.

There is a diagonal  250 mile-wide strip where these prevailing winds smash into each other.

I live is in the center of this strip, so it’s common to have a 40 degree temperature change in a few hours. Friday, November 22, 2013 was one of those days. (it was also the 50-year anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.)

It was still, warm and humid with a high in the 70s. Then what is called a Blue Norther showed up. The wind picked up suddenly and the temps dropped 20 degrees in 30 minutes.

My tree before the wind.

My tree 12 hours later, after the wind.

These days, any form of moisture is welcome, even if it comes in frozen pellets of rain or snow. In a day or two the weather will warm up and the frozen moisture will thaw into ground-soaking water—something we need desperately in North Texas.

It is ridiculous when you think about the hullabaloo made over winter weather in North Texas. Every year winter shows up, freezes and ices everything, then is gone as quickly as it came. Yet we are bombarded with severe weather reports and warnings to bundle up, be safe on the roadways, and bring outdoor pets inside.

Everyone is hopefully anticipating a day to blow off school and work. However it is the opposite for nurses, doctors, insurance claims processors, wreckers, firemen, police and ranchers and farmers. Don’t forget the U.S. Postal Service always delivers – rain, snow, sleet or shine.

There is ever-increasing hyperbole and drama surrounding the extreme weather. Handy Husband always jokes with the next door neighbors that we will resort to cannibalism since “snowpocalypse” is forcing everyone inside for three days. Now after two days inside … I think I’ll emulate the Canadians and go outside even with a 100% chance of snow. Because I, like the Canadians, have cabin fever, and must go outside weather be damned (seriously, it’s only 30 degrees –I have wool socks and thermal underwear, it’ll be ok.)

Posted by: The Arcadian | May 25, 2013

My Precious Tomatoes

A rainbow of fall tomatoes.

My compulsion to garden began with my quest to grow an abundance of tomatoes. I didn’t even like tomatoes until I was about 22 years old. The first time I remember loving the flavor of a freshly-picked, salted tomato was when I lived in Chicago working my first post-college job. I visited friends in Champagne one weekend and bought tomatoes at the farmers’ market. That first bite of beautifully ripe tomato was like heaven on a plate and since then I’ve been hooked. Two years after that tasty bite, I moved to Michigan—where the climate is just right for tomato growing.

My first garden was a success in Michigan, which has a much milder climate than North Central Texas. The harsh Texas summers and drought conditions make gardening a challenge. I decided to approach the objective from a different angle by looking for the best-performing vegetable varieties for my area.

I consulted the Texas Agri-Life Extension Service’s list of recommendations but only found a few tomato varieties for sale at local vendors– Celebrity, Beefsteak and Big Boy are the most commonly available. So I started looking to seed sources and catalogs, hoping to find varieties that would grow well where I lived. Over the last few years, I’ve amassed quite an assortment of seed stock and catalogs. The more I learned about the plentiful tomato varieties, the more intrigued I became with open-pollinated and heirloom varieties of all plants, not just tomatoes.

Peppers: Jalapenos and Serranos

Even though Texas “technically” has a long growing season, the hottest part of the summer is about keeping things alive, not producing. So really we have two short growing seasons with fall being best of all. In the spring I try to grow bush-type tomatoes that ripens (55-70 days) all at once. In July I pull the spent vines and start seeds in the same beds. What sprouts and makes it will produce the best fall fruit. If a volunteer tomato comes up, I let it grow. Every time I’ve done that, it’s produced the most awesome fruit.

After three trial-and-error growing seasons of starting tomatoes from seed, I’ve found that Porter and Porter Improved are the top performing tomato cultivars in my backyard; Willhite Seed has the highest germination rate of all the sources I’ve used; and when a volunteer tomato plant starts growing, let it grow because you will be rewarded for it.

My favorite resources:

Texas Agri-Life Extension http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ — a great resource for all Texas gardeners. If you live in a different state, look for your local extension service. It will be affiliated with the land grant university in your state (Auburn, Michigan State, University of Illinois, Purdue, Texas A&M, etc.)

Willhite Seed
www.willhiteseed.com – everything I’ve ever grown from this supplier has been top notch. They breed their own watermelon seeds! The first year I grew their Porter tomatoes, I had a 98 percent germination rate – that is quality seed!

Botanical Interests
www.botanicalinterests.com – this company is part of the coalition of non-GMO growers and suppliers of seed. They have the best information on their seed packets – tons of information about each variety and cultivar.

Totally Tomatoes
www.totallytomato.com – the 2013 growing season is the first year I’ve used seeds from this supplier. So far so good. They have the most comprehensive selection of tomatoes I’ve ever seen. They also have a wonderful selection of other seeds, especially night shade plants (tomatoes are part of the night shade family).

RH Shumway
www.rhshumway.com – this company has the coolest retro-style catalogue and is one of the best sources for beans. 2013 is the first growing season I’ve used this seed provider. The germination rate has been excellent. It will be awhile before I can report on production.

Victory Seeds www.victoryseeds.com – one of the best sources for open-pollinated and heirloom seeds that grow in most parts of the United States. They produce their own seeds and are a non-GMO seed source.

Baker Creek (rare seeds) www.rareseeds.com – another comprehensive source for heirloom, open-pollinated and non-GMO seeds. I have not grown any seed from this supplier but they have great reviews.

Posted by: The Arcadian | May 12, 2013

Time well spent

Today was Mother’s Day. I spent the day with my family, as many moms do. My son was part of a tribute program to the mothers in our church congregation. Afterward, we went to lunch with my mom and dad, then my mother and I left with my son to visit my 83 year old grandmother and 94 year old grandfather.

It’s not how I planned spend the second half of my day, but it was worth every second. While I was with my sweet grandmother and grandfather we talked about nothing in particular—my grandfather was watching The Players Championship on TV . I had an opportunity to tell my sweet yet pious grandmother that Tiger Woods needed forgiveness too, just as King David did.

Even though my grandmother, mother and I all boast about our prowess in the kitchen, today we let Sara Lee do the cooking so that we could have quality time together. It was a beautiful day in May in North Central Texas, regardless of the long-standing drought.

After I got home at 5:45 p.m. I immediately began picking up the house, doing wash and other mom-like chores. My home needs cleaning, but I tried to remind myself that the house isn’t that dirty and that years from now I will cherish the time spent with my grandparents. The bathroom will still need to be cleaned but it can wait, for the moments that my grandmother and son are here on this Earth simultaneously are few.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Son and Dog-Daughter on Mother’s Day. Handy Husband taking the photo.

Posted by: The Arcadian | April 10, 2013

Garden Variety Peace

Almost every night I go out into my greenhouse and garden and look at all the wondrous things that are growing. I’m always surprised when I see little sprouts emerging, even when I’m expecting it. It’s the awesome miracle of life in one tiny little seed and the journey of nothing to something from start to finish. I love witnessing the plant’s lifecycle, growing from seed to blossom then returning to its genesis.

Seeds: nothing to something in 10 days or less

Seeds are a beautiful promise of the future. They represent both the result of nurturing and just plain science. There are some seeds that need coaxing to sprout and coddling to produce fruit.

Then there are those seeds that need nothing more than a drop of water and something for roots to cling to. Some seeds need to be in the cold for extended time while others need fire to crack the hard seed coat. Some seeds lay dormant for years waiting for the perfect conditions before they will sprout.

I’m thankful that I have this hobby and get to see the true value of time. A garden helps you understand the difference a day, week or month can make. It also teaches delayed gratification and the payoff of hard work.

Micro greens day 1

Micro greens day 5

Micro greens day 8

I’m fortunate to have a handy husband who has been willing to work beside me while I guide (more like boss) him on what goes where and when to do this or that. We don’t eat exclusively out of our garden and I’m thankful that there are many, many farmers around the globe who produce food abundantly so that we have plenty with a variety on our plates nightly.

Strawberries in February

Strawberries in April (the difference 2 months can make)

Strawberries — it’s almost pay day

Most days I go to look at the plants, monitor their progress and contemplate whatever comes next – what’s for dinner, what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow, did the washer’s spin cycle work … Sometimes I get to harvest the crops and enjoy a special dish or meal – maybe it’s the one rewarding, sweet bite of strawberry that makes me offer thanksgiving. Some days I look out on our garden plot and feel like shouting—prideful Tarzan style—”I have grown this!”

Then there are times when I go to my garden at the end of a hard day to find peace.

On those days I go looking for something to be hopeful about, something positive, something to remind me of why I have made certain choices. It helps me right myself and to remember that all I really need is all that I already have.

Posted by: The Arcadian | February 27, 2013

Sombrero Potato

A week ago (Feb. 21, 2013) Jdubs and I were out feeding the cattle.  As we were looking for our last herd, we came upon a momma cow that had just given birth to her calf. She hadn’t even delivered the placenta yet.

Momma cow just had this calf moments before we spotted her.

We approached the pair, very carefully, because you never really know how a new momma will react, even if you “know” the animal. Momma cow was looking a little nervous but settled quickly.  We sat close to the calf and watched him for a few moments. Then on occasion the Almighty lets us see a little miracle… This newborn calf stood up and took his first steps and we got to witness it.

A precious moment caught with my trusty iPhone. This baby calf took his first steps.

Just learning to stand up … I’ve probably seen thousands of first steps by newborn calves, but I’m always amazed, every time I see it.

Jdubs put his hand out and the calf came to him. Newborn calves don’t see well for a few days, until their eyes adjust to seeing light after nine months in total darkness.

A few minutes later he stumbled over to his momma and took his first suckle of colostrum. It was a precious moment and one that was worth a thousand hours in a classroom. These are the things that can’t be taught.  They have to be experienced, witnessed.

The first taste of milk … the hard-wired instincts are amazing to watch in nature.

We couldn’t stay long because the rest of the herd began to show up, which made momma cow really anxious. And she was hungry too. Momma cow and the rest of the herd haven’t had much grass to eat– we’re at the tail end of winter, just as the spring grasses begin to grow, not to mention the long-standing drought.  Our cattle really look forward to and rely on the high-protein cubes we feed daily.

We led and fed the herd a short distance from the pair. When we circled back around to count heads, momma cow and calf had rejoined the herd.

We departed the pasture double-time, no need to freak out the newborn calf, that can’t see with the loud feed truck and noisy, bawling herd.

I’m wondering what the conversation is going on between these two?

At the gate, I asked Jdubs if he had thought of a name for the calf. He very nonchalantly said, “his name should be Sombrero Potato.” I asked where that came from. He said, “the name comes from Mexico, mom. And he has a Mexican name.” And thus, we have Sombrero Potato. (I declined to point out that the Spanish word for potato is “papas.”)

Meet Sombrero Potato

Posted by: The Arcadian | January 30, 2013

Milkstache

Today I was feeding cattle and found this little calf. He has a perfect and permanent milk mustache, and thus will be know as Milkstache. That little stache is the remnant of a genetically-dominant Hereford trait—the white face.

black baldy

Milkstache — the remnants of a bald face.

Our cattle are Hereford-Angus crosses, affectionately known as black baldy. As in, their hair is black and their faces are bald (white). The bald face of the Hereford is iconic. They are the cattle in all the western-themed art and photographs. However the Angus producers association has made the Angus breed a brand name– hence the Angus-branded packaged meat at the grocery store, and as noted on upscale steakhouse menus.

We used to be a pure breed operation. Herefords only. But the hybrid vigor of the crossbred cattle we have now is more suited to our climate and the economics of raising beef cattle. There is plenty of research in the animal husbandry world to support the complement of the breeds when crossed.

A gentle cow is a good thing to have with a little kid. This cow is eating a cube right out of Jdub’s hand.

I do miss the pure breed Hereford, but have come to love the black and white, bald-faced cattle we have now. Pure Herefords or not, one of the true legacies of our Lazy J Ranch is the demeanor of our cattle. They are gentle and docile. Most of them will eat right out of your hand.

We select for that gentle nature when choosing which heifers to keep as breeding stock and which ones go to sale.

I’m thankful that caring for our cattle and my family’s legacy are part of my daily to-dos.

Posted by: The Arcadian | January 11, 2013

The New Victory Garden

Gardening: the original patriot act. (source: Michigan State University)

I have been salivating over gardening books, seed catalogues, blogs and ag extension websites for weeks. It’s only January and I’m anxious to start a spring garden. My seed box has many great leftover seeds from previous growing seasons. There are numerous sources for all kinds of seeds—organic, heirloom, F1 hybrids, new plant breeds, etc. I want to plant them all.

Over the last three years, I’ve noticed a surge in the availability of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. Considering the growing popularity of locally-grown, non-GMO or organic food, it’s not surprising that the market is meeting the demand. This trend toward organic and local foods has sprouted the long-dormant victory garden concept. Urban and community gardens have become all the rage in big cities and small-town classrooms.

The victory garden’s inception came during WWI, but really took off in America during WWII. It was a way for the war department to send all available food supplies to the troops. The idea was for private citizens to grow their own produce in their backyards, so the large-scale farm production could be sent to the war overseas. Eleanor Roosevelt championed the first victory garden planted on the White House grounds in 1943 to publicize gardening as a patriotic act. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 20 million Americans planted gardens during the WWII years.

Fall tomatoes collected before the killer frost 2012.

Today’s victory garden trend is a more grass-roots movement. People are driven by health consciousness, environmentalism, self-sufficiency, and the emerging “food culture” in America. Fueled by available resources focused on cuisine, there is a schmorgesborg of food blogs, print publications, websites, TV programs, all focused solely on cooking methods, recipes and food preparation. When celebrity chiefs cook, they use the best ingredients, which are fresh, locally-grown produce and meat.

Market demand for homegrown food—favoring organic, heirloom and specialty items—is the byproduct of our food culture. Thus, boosting demand for seeds, especially the unique and old varieties. The benefits of healthy eating is a major contributor to the new victory garden effort. The first spring in the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama created a kitchen garden as part of her healthy living initiative. Ironically, Mrs. Obama’s kitchen garden is the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt’s.

Other groups advocating gardening are Americans who want to be self-sufficient, or are ecologically minded. There is also a group of people who are opposed to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). There is big debate about the long-term safety of consuming food from GMOs. Stewardship and nostalgia factor in too, since many gardeners and horticulturists want to preserve the world’s rare and unusual plants.

For me, I’m just happy these forces are culminating into a perfect storm for gardens and seeds, both rare in nature and scientifically cultured.

I love to see city folks growing nutritious food in whatever space they have available. It’s a reconnection to our roots (no pun intended) as Americans that carved out a way of life in a harsh and rugged environment. It’s also gratifying as an “ag woman” to see a renaissance of agriculture—growing our own food so we don’t have to travel, scavenge or starve. And the important lessons of knowing where food comes from; the work involved to grow it; and the patience required for a bountiful harvest.

I will be planning an entirely new garden space this year … more to come.

Ladybugs are a garden’s friend.

Posted by: The Arcadian | November 14, 2012

Fun Photos from Arcadia

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted fun photos from our life here in Arcadia.

Black eyed susans from my front flower bed. This is a perennial favorite of North Texas gardeners.

Jdubs on the “Fastcat.” His grandfather rigged up a stampede string from a left-over strip of leather.

The real deal.

Textbook wall cloud. A few minutes after I snapped this, the sky opened up and hail stones rained down.

This photo represents the “why” of living where I do.

Posted by: The Arcadian | November 9, 2012

St. Mary’s Sausagefest

Out here in north Texas, when the Fall hits we get to take our choice of festivals every weekend.  From cooking competitions to fundraisers and heritage celebrations, we get a decent selection of weekend activities within  a quick drive for just about anyone in all of the north part of the state.  One of the best you can find is right in Young County held every second full weekend in November.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church started making homemade sausage in the 1970’s after one of their parishioners who had a German family recipe for sausage came up with the idea for a fundraiser.  Originally, they harvested the pork in the local fields as hog hunters would provide the meat.  As it grew, though, the church had to go to a more reliable source of pork.  Decades later, the annual fundraiser lives strong, and the entire church turns out to lend a hand to pull off the impressive event.  The church will feed 1,200-1,500 people hundreds of pounds of homemade sausage made over a weekend.  Named “Sausagefest” (funny name acknowledged), folks from all over flock to the church to eat lunch on Sunday and buy the uncooked sausage for their freezer so they can have it all year long (or at least until summer when they run out). Here’s a little tour behind the scenes.

The week before the festival, the p0rk roasts arrive in boxes.

The roasts are then taken out of the boxes and cut up into small chunks by volunteers.

The church has a large commercial kitchen in its annex where all the magic occurs.

The chunks of pork are loaded into large tubs, which are stored in a refrigerated storage container, retrofit with a large air conditioner.

The chunks are then fed thru a commercial grinder not once but twice.  The pork is dusted with the special secret seasonings that includes cayenne pepper and garlic before the first grind.  The smell is overpowering when you walk into the kitchen.

There’s a guard over the grinder to avoid injury.

The pork after the first grind:

And after the second grind:

And here’s the grind:

Then the casings have to be filled.  What are casings?  Well…if you don’t know, it’s probably best I don’t explain it.  Let’s just say that the sausage is all natural.  The casings are soaked in warm water:

Then loaded onto PVC pipes so they are easier to push onto the sausage filler…

And then the casings are filled.

The sausage filler is pretty ingenious.  You load the barrel with the the ground pork

Which is powered by a water hose attached to a water faucet outside.  It’s a pretty cool system…the pressure on the water builds up, you slowly release the water into the barrel and the sausage shoots out of the cap:

The casing is loaded on the spout and the pressure inflates the casings with delicious spiced pork.

Want to see it in action?  Check it:

The sausage is then moved to tubs…

…and then hung in the refrigerated storage container to cure for a couple days before it’s cooked.  The sausage is hung on 1″x1″ boards that run the width of the container.

Outside the kitchen is a commercial smoker with 12 rotating racks.  On Sunday morning, the sausage will go on and given the perfect combo of heat and Texas smoke from wood cut down and seasoned locally, usually a combo of oak and mesquite.

And lo, we have sausage.

It’s a delicious bite all the way thru with the perfect blend of spice and flavor.  The ladies in the church also make a special secret recipe of sweet mustard, as well as fresh cobblers for the crowd.

And there you have it…St. Mary’s Sausagefest. You don’t want to miss it.

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 876 other followers

%d bloggers like this: