Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Quiet Winter Days

A three day weekend has turned into a five day weekend that likely will become a week long break from school. This winter storm has dumped over 8" of snow, and is bringing bitter cold temperatures with it. In many areas of the country this might be an average winter storm, but here it is enough to shut things down for a while.

Normally, I am the first to complain about snow and cold, but right now I am thankful for it and the days off school it has brought. Life in the last months has not been what I planned. It is not what I wanted. Tim is home. The kids and I are going to school each day. This, in fact, is the opposite of what I envisioned our life to be. I'm not bitter about it. In many ways, considering all the circumstances, we couldn't be in a better position. I am grateful, yet sometimes it is hard to not throw myself a pity party about all the things that aren't the way I want them, about all the plans and dreams that have taken detours, and about the big changes we made in our life only to be thrown an even bigger curve ball.

But this extended weekend, life is just as it should be. The entire family is home. There is a warm fire and good food cooking in the kitchen. We've gotten things done, including some pesky nagging projects that have been long neglected. We've worked on puzzles, played games, read books, watched movies, gone to bed late, and slept in until we've felt like getting up. We've worked together to care for animals, keep the house in decent shape, create delicious meals from things we've grown ourselves, and clean up afterward, Yes, this is what I envisioned ten years ago when we began this homesteading and homeschooling adventure.

These days won't last forever. The kids and I will soon enough return to school and our hectic daily schedule. Tim will still be home, and nothing in our situation will have changed. But today (and hopefully tomorrow and the next day) I am going sit here by the fire with my family watching the snow and enjoying this time together. Life may not be as we planned, but we are going to enjoy it anyway.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fermenting Phase

Up until this year my experience with fermenting was limited to making vinegar. I regularly make apple cider vinegar from our apple scraps, and once many years ago, when I had more blackberries than I knew what to do with I made blackberry vinegar.

I'm not sure when, but I'd guess a couple years ago at least, fermented vegetable posts started popping up on blogs I read, Facebook, and Pinterest. I would skim them, and I really wanted to try old fashioned sauerkraut, but that idea was put up on the "someday shelf." I've done quite a bit of pickling with vinegar before, and I guess I really never was motivated to change my ways.

With our recent and ongoing health concerns, we have looked closely at making our diet healthier. Before I would have said we ate pretty healthy. We probably did compared to the average American diet. We mostly ate what we grew. We grow our food without chemicals in what I consider a very healthy way. There were things about our diet we didn't consider the effects of enough, like sugar, and things we really didn't consider at all like alkalinity and probiotics. We are still learning in these areas.

On one of our recent medical trips, I picked up a bottle of kombucha. If you don't know, kombucha is fermented green tea. The first taste was not what I expected. It is tart and fizzy without the sweet. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Tim posted something about it on Facebook, and a friend offered us a scoby (starter.) We took one, and made our own kombucha. Then we started reading about how good it is for you. We have been fermenting green tea since. The biggest challenge is keeping enough for all of us. I just split my scoby again, and currently have 4 gallons fermenting on the counter.

It wasn't long before I was pinning other fermented drinks and fermented vegetables too. When the garden started to produce, vegetable fermenting began. Currently beets and hot peppers are fermenting, and cucumbers will be started today. I tasted the beets today. They aren't quite done, they still taste a bit salty, but I love the flavor already. Besides the flavor and the health benefits, I love that fermenting is an easy way to preserve. It can be done in small batches which is perfect for those times that the garden is producing more than you can eat, but not quite enough to run a canner for.

This may be just a phase, or maybe not. It is fun trying new ways to do things though. Especially when they are tasty and healthy. Maybe this fall I'll finally give sauerkraut a try too.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Pigs of all Sizes

In my last post, I mentioned that we have had a steady flow of pigs here on the farm this summer. Meet our newest additions. They are less than 24 hours old here. They were born to Blackie , a first timer, who is about a year old. 

One day old.

You may notice our pig names have become less than creative. Our two newest sows, Blackie here, and her sister Pinkie were named because one had a black nose and one had a pink nose. Kellen suggested we name them Keith and George. I think we need to put one of the other kids in charge of naming the pigs.

If we have two litters that are close together we will let the mommas and the babies interact freely. In this group, there are piglets from two litters. One is about a week old. The other is about two weeks old. 
One and two weeks old.

These little muddy cuties are just about two months old. They are still with momma, but are about ready to be weaned. They can already pound the feed. 

Two months old.

These two are about 4 months old. They are actually a little smaller than they could be. We've been letting them grow slowly on pasture and limited grain to time them right for our needs this year. Standing beside them is the momma of the two month old piglets. She is two years old.

Four months old.
Pigs are amazing. Birth to about 250 lbs (slaughter weight) can happen in a mere 6 months for a pig on full feed. Our pigs on pasture do grow a little slower, but even after raising them all these years, I still can't believe how quickly a pig will grow.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Well Lookie There

It is July. How is it already July?

I really thought I would blog regularly this summer. I miss blogging. Writing for me is a way to document this adventure here in the 100 Acre Woods, but it can be therapeutic to put my thoughts down in words. We knew the summer would fly by, but I feel like after a month we've just found our summer groove.

The month of June was very busy. We had a couple trips to North Carolina. Tim's surgery was fine. The pathology report was not what we hoped. They found several pockets of of cancer cells in the removed tissue. The lower part of the tissue appeared to have been cut through a pocket of cancerous cells which suggests that there was still cells left after the removal.

The only chemo therapy approved for Tim's stage is the interferon that he took the first time around. It is not a treatment you repeat. (Not that we'd want to repeat that anyway.) The doctors at Duke recommended radiation, but have said even with radiation it is probable the cancer will return. We have declined this treatment, and Tim has begun an alternative treatment called Protocel. Now we pray, hope, and wait and see what happens.

Let's talk about happier things.

June was filled with camps. Lydia and Nolan had soccer camp.

Lydia, Nolan and Vivian spent a week at Tim's parents. The next week Lydia and Nolan went to 4-H camp. This week Vivian is going to Cloverbud camp. Kellen went to the  US Marine Corps Society of American Military Engineers Construction Camp
One of the projects they complete was a trebuchet.

We've been busy on the farm too. There is a steady flow of piglets being born, broilers to be processed, and eggs to be gathered. The gardens are coming along nicely. We do have less planted than previous years, but are still planting, mulching, and just beginning to eat some of the fruits of our labor. We are still waiting for goodies from many things. Below the girls are standing in front of our two elderberry bushes. These bushes are amazing to me. Kellen and I planted them just over a year ago by simply cutting branches off a wild bush and sticking them in the ground. The bushes and the flowers are HUGE!

Summer means market season. We stock our farm products all year at The Wild Ramp. In the summer, we are also at The Putnam Farmers Market. A few weeks ago Lydia, Nolan, and Vivian participated in Kids Chopped. I think Vivian's chocolate was a little soft.

It has been busy, and it has gone fast, but I am completely loving summer! It is so good to be home together to work on projects and to play. We are going to enjoy it while we can!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It ain't over

Just a quick update....
We thought Tim would have his surgery and be done. We thought he would be coming to Duke this week to get stitches out and for a routine follow up. 

The call came late last week that this occurrence  of melanoma was more serious than we thought. The pathology report on the removed tissue showed quite a bit of melanoma cells. Over the phone, chemo and radiation were mentioned. Today we meet with the surgeon, the medical oncologist and the radiation oncologist.

In our own research, the chemo drug suggested has lots of side effects with a less than stellar success rates. We haven't seen anything that has shown radiation to be effective for melanoma. We will see what the Drs. have to say this morning.

We are continuing to research alternative approaches. There are many out there that appear to have better sucess rates without the serious side effects.There are many decisions ahead of us. 

We have been blessed by the support we have received, in many forms, from our friends, family, church, and co-workers. This is a scary road to walk down. Your love and support has made it easier and taken some of the stress from us during this time. 

Thank you.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Give a Broody Hen a Job

Right now we keep about 100 laying hens. Their main job is to produce eggs, but they have other jobs too. Some of their other jobs include eating bugs and scraps.

We raise chickens for meat in batches of 100. They have one obvious purpose. Getting them to that purpose can sometimes be challenging. When they first arrive on the farm there are challenges with keeping them at the right temperature, with pasty bottoms that need cleaned, and other issues. As they get older, the main issue becomes predators. Our LGD, Stella, has greatly helped keep the fox and raccoon away, but hawk have been a problem the last couple of years also.

Every now and then a few hens will go broody. This is their natural instinct to sit on their nest and hatch eggs. I love when our hens hatch out their own chicks, but we've never had success with hens sitting in the chicken house. The only successful broody hens we've had have always made their nests somewhere hidden outside. So, when a hen is broody in the hen house we try to discourage her by removing the eggs under her daily. They will come out of their broodiness, but while they are broody they are not producing eggs, or going outside to eat bugs. They just sit in their boxes.

Last year we had a hen go broody while we had 100 meat chicks in a brooder box that was in the hen house. She could not get in the pen with the chicks, but she could see them and was determined to be their momma. She would sit next to them clucking to them through the fence. She kept a watchful eye on them. When they were large enough to go outside, we moved them to a different pen for finishing on pasture. That momma hen found her 100 babies. This time she was among them, and able to mother them in a whole new way. One day Kellen was feeding the meat birds, and witnessed momma raising a ruckus and defending her babies. She was chasing off a red tailed hawk.

Currently we have about 6 hens sitting broody in nest boxes in the hen house. On Tuesday, we got 100 new meat chicks. One of those broody hens got a new job. Her job is momma. It was very cute to watch her when we put her in with the chicks. She looked a little overwhelmed at first. Can you blame her? It didn't take long for her to start clucking and calling them. Of course she can't brood them all, but she tucks ten or so of them under her, and keeps a watchful eye on the rest who warm under the heat lamps.

Hen is happy and productive. Chicks are happy. Farmers are happy.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Round Two

The Drs. are calling Tim's second bout with melanoma a transient melanoma. This new lump was very near the original area, and the cancerous cells were likely there before at a microscopic level. The surgeon told us that often when there is a second occurrence the cancer has spread through the body. Thankfully, that is not the case for Tim. His PET scan and MRI are clear.

He had surgery last week to remove a larger area around the lump. That is it this time. They have no other treatments for this stage of melanoma except the interferon chemo he took last time. It is a treatment that is supposed to help boost your immune system against melanoma. Interferon helps some people, but not all. They told us that up front. Obviously, it didn't help Tim.

The surgeon was up front with us about this occurrence. We can hope that this is the last little bit of it, but there really is no way to know. Microscopic melanomas don't show up in the scans. We just wait and watch closely.

Yep, that is it. No treatments for this stage. They have new and exciting (sarcasm) treatments if the melanoma progresses to stage 4, but at this point it is just wait and see. Their only advice for prevention is to use sunscreen. No mention of diet or any other lifestyle changes that might help the body fight this. We can only wait and see if this happens again.

That's not good enough.

Our bodies are designed to heal themselves. They are designed to fight off disease. Why not cancer too?

I like our doctors. They are kind. They are doing what they think is best. What I don't like is that our medical profession only teaches doctors to cut and medicate. I can't believe that is the only choice. I can't believe there is nothing more we can do, but wait and see. So, we are reading. There are plenty of books out there, and there are doctors who take a more holistic approach (though they are rare in WV.)

On our trips back and forth to Duke we listened to Whole by T. Colin Campbell. The author was a research scientist for years when he found a link between animal proteins and cancer. He did a lot of studies on this connection and wrote another book, which we are reading too, called The China Study. He studied rural populations of China, with mostly plant based diets, and their incidences of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. In  Whole he gives evidence for why nutrition is so important, why eating a plant based diet is best, and looks at the reasons he believes the studies about nutrition and disease do not reach mainstream popularity. He doesn't hold any punches pointing fingers at politics, professional self interest, pharmacies, media, and more.

I read this book Defeat Cancer Now by Tamara St. John. She was never formally diagnosed with cancer. She had no medical insurance, and did not go to the doctor, but based on lumps, swollen lymph nodes, and other symptoms self diagnosed herself with breast cancer. Her book is about how she put into practice various protocols of natural healing including The Budwig Protocol, elements of the Gerson Therapy, alkaline diet, and others.

Another book in our reading queue is Outsmart Your Cancer: Alternative Non-Toxic Treatments That Work. The author of this book began researching alternative cancer treatments when a family member was diagnosed. She puts the information all together in this book that summarizes the different protocols out there.

There is a lot information to wade through in these books, and many more books out there on the market. Almost all that we've read so far involve a diet change to a diet that includes no sugar or meat, and some call for a diet that includes no animal proteins. We are still reading. We are still sorting through the application of this information in our life. We have already made some changes. We are juicing. Most of our meals have been meatless. We are buying a lot more that is organic, and are thankful that our chemical free garden is starting to produce for us. Tim has been a rock of self control when it comes to sugar. (I wish that I could say the same.) Beyond that, we are still figuring things out.

The diet changes we are incorporating now are not hurtful. Anyone can agree that adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet is healthy. We are still looking at other treatments we are reading about. We will also be talking to a nearby holistic doctor who has experience with cancer. Tim is not actively fighting cancer (that can be detected by scans,) but changing nothing, and just waiting around to see if another melanoma pops up is not acceptable. Having another one pop up and removing another chunk of Tim's shoulder is not acceptable. Having it progress to stage four and undergoing chemo with some new drug is not acceptable. We pray. We do what we can to prevent this from happening again, and then we wait and see.