8 Maids a Milking

my cow friends
My cow friends

The idea of milking a cow as one of my “52 To Do” came as a suggestion after my first blog post.  My friend Donna Hurm suggested it and I loved the idea.   As I child I was obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie books.  I fantasized about being Laura Ingalls Wilder, growing up on the prairie and drinking fresh milk from our family cow.  There are several flaws in this logic.  Number 1, I am lactose intolerant. Number 2, I am not really that fond of physical labor or early mornings… but I digress.

Donna not only offered up the idea, but suggested the farm of her cousins, the Rexings, as a place we could do the milking.  A few weeks before the visit, someone asked me about upcoming activities on the list.  My nephew Colin and niece Emery immediately chimed in that he wanted to milk a cow.  A few days after that, my niece Megan shared that this was on her bucket list.  So, with 8 of us in a caravan, we headed to the northwest side of Evansville to milk a cow.

donna hurm and kerrie
Kerrie and Donna Hurm, the lady with the brilliant idea to milk a cow. So fun!

The Rexing dairy farm milks 70 cows, twice daily.  Thanks to automation, the process takes about 90 minutes each time.  If done by hand, it would take hours.  The process was amazing to me.  The doors to the milking area open and a group of cows slowly ambles to the next available milking station.  I am guessing there are about 8 cows at a time.  Udders (most cows have 4) are cleaned by hand twice before milking begins.  The automatic milking machine is attached to the udders and the milking process begins.  The machine self-releases when the milk flow drops below a certain level. Workers then apply a liquid to the udders to prevent infection.  When the last cow in the group finishes, the doors to the outside open, and the cows calmly walk back out to the field. The milk is piped from the milking station to a holding tank where it is stored and cooled.  I think it takes about 7 minutes for each cow to finish.

 

I was able to assist with each of the steps I just described AND to milk a cow by hand.  Gary and Don Rexing estimate it would take at least 20 minutes to milk a cow by hand.  I probably tried hand-milking for a minute.  I didn’t want to waste the milk and I also didn’t want the cow to have to wait for the milking.  (Moms who have nursed their babies, I think you get what I am saying!)  I suspect trying to get 5 gallons by hand would have left me with screaming forearms.  When the cows arrive at the milking station, their udders are sort of solid.  I would equate it to a sand bag??  When they are finished, their udders are soft and droopy? I know these are terrible descriptions.  I wish I had better words but let me tell you, it was SUPER interesting.

 

Don and Gary Rexing with Kerrie
Gary and Don Rexing, the super generous and patient farmers who let us participate in milking.

I learned so many interesting facts:

  • Milk comes out of the cow at just over 100 degrees. They want it cooled to the mid 30’s in under two hours.
  • Each cow produces between 9-10 gallons of milk per day.
  • Cows eat about 90 pounds of food/day. Most of the food the Rexing cows eat was grown on their grain farm.
  • The Rexings operate the dairy operation almost exclusively using solar power.
  • Cows are bred to compensate for any weaknesses in the parents and take full advantage of their strengths. A breeder evaluates each animal (cows and bulls) on about 70 qualities.  He then looks for traits that match the qualities that help produce the best offspring.  All “mating” is insemination.  There is no cow hanky panky going on. (Note from the editor/Paul.  I think she means Cow/Bull hanky panky.  Kerrie must have been sick the day they covered this in health class.)

I can’t begin to tell you how much I LOVED this “to do” and how much I appreciate the idea from Donna and the time and friendliness of Gary Rexing and Don Rexing.  They were so patient with our many questions.   I believe it is important to understand where our food comes from.  Milk doesn’t grow in gallon containers, it comes from a living animal and from hard working farmers.  It was so interesting and eye opening to better understand the process.  And, it was udderly fun!!

While I don’t think my words can adequately describe the excitement I experienced, I hope the photos and videos give you better view into the joy.

megan and friend
I think Megan was even more excited than I was about this adventure.
colin checking out the storage tank
Colin checking out the storage tank
Emery and Paul miling a cow
Emery and Paul doing the milking

A car wash, a manicure and sushi

 

Seems like an odd combination, doesn’t it?  What do these things have in common?  They are the things I did on March 1st, after we completed our “month of no spending.”  After 28 days of winter weather, the car was desperately in need of a wash.  It is too cold to do it outside, so I took the car to the local car wash on my way to work.  I don’t know if it made the car happy, but I was excited to be able to see the color of my vehicle again.

I made a rookie mistake when I got my nails done at the end of January…I picked a really vibrant pink color.  It was so pretty on day 1.  By day 28, it was chipped and grown out and impossible to hide because the color was so bright.  A 5:30 manicure appointment was vital to my emotional well being.

On the food front, I missed sushi so much.  I love the Newburgh Roll at Sakura, so we met our friends, Luke and Mary there for dinner that night.  Never has sushi tasted better. (The company was really good too!)

The cupboards are a lot barer, not empty, but manageable.  The boxes of instant oatmeal are now gone.  So are the miscellaneous boxes of crackers and varieties of boxed dehydrated potatoes I must have been saving for a zombie apocalypse.  The refrigerator was empty enough to do an easy shelf cleaning.  The expired salad dressings and restaurant condiments (why did we have these??) have been thrown out and it looks shiny and new, ready for a supply of fresh veggies and fruit. (By “easy shelf cleaning” she should have added “for my husband .”)

This “to do” certainly sparked a lot of interest.  Friends asked for updates often, usually following with an “I could never do that.”  A few were inspired to do their own modified version.  Some mentioned the idea to family members and were immediately told that they would NOT be doing something similar.  People often asked what I missed the most.  Definitely fresh fruit and veggies.  My friend Trudy treated me to a banana one day, and my friend Lisa dropped off an emergency supply of a few items toward the end.  I have never been so excited to see onion soup mix before.

As I check each item off my list and sit down to write the blog, I try to take a few minutes to think about what I learned from the experience.  As strange as this may sound, this “to do” has really had an impact on me.  We are now 23 days after completion, and I will tell you that I am now much more reluctant to spend money.  We haven’t wasted any leftovers since February 1.  I give serious thought to each item before it goes into the grocery cart.  Do I really need this?  Will we eat it before it goes bad? (We came close to eating meatloaf on a Friday during lent just so it didn’t go to waste.  Thank goodness she listened to my Catholic reasoning and saved our souls from eternal damnation.)  (For readers who don’t know us, this is a joke…we don’t really think anyone goes to hell for eating meat on a Friday during lent.)
Not to get too preachy but the exercise made me really think about the plight of homeless people and those with economic challenges. I know there is a school of thought that says not to give homeless people cash because they might spend it on drugs or alcohol.  But shouldn’t they be given the dignity to choose what they want to spend money on, what they want to eat that day?  What if they are really craving fresh fruit?

If you had asked me on January 31st, I would have guessed I would want to go on a gigantic grocery shopping spree and make a serious trip to the mall at the end of February.  Don’t get me wrong, I was very excited to be able to pop into the grocery, but I am very intrigued with the change in my attitude toward spending.  I decided not to turn the gym membership back on.  It is nice enough outside to walk for exercise.  I am not turning Audible back on until I have listened to the 159 hours of books I already have downloaded (that is not a made-up number, it is the real number of hours I have downloaded and not listened to.)  I will say, however, that I am not going to skip haircuts in the future.  My hair is a mess!

People have asked if I would do it again.  I haven’t told the fam yet, but I am thinking about trying it again this summer when we have vegetables in the garden.  And I might do it again next February.  It is a nice way to recover from the overspending most of us tend to do over Christmas.  And, after all, it is only 28 days. (Slow down there Sparky!!!!)

As always, notes from the editor/Paul are in red.

No Spend February Update

No Spend February Update

I am a little more than halfway through my month of no spending.  To remind you of the rules, I am paying required bills like utilities but am not going to the grocery store and have tried to eliminate discretionary spending.  I am not eating out without a gift certificate.  No haircut or manicures.  Gym membership, Audible membership and some premium cable channels cancelled.  (The kids threatened a revolt if certain channels were removed.)  I am trying to keep driving to a minimum.  Here is a summary of the first 14 days.  Notes from the editor/Paul are in red.

Exceptions I have made so far:

  • My nephew was on homecoming court (Congrats Aidan!) so I paid admission

into a high school basketball game                                                                                           $5

  • My niece played in the IHSAA Girls Basketball

Regional (Go Adi and the NE Dubois Jeeps!).  I

drove to and from the game, two hours away,

which meant extra gas.                                                                                  Approximately $20

  • I bought Turbo Tax to do our tax return                                                                      $70

 

  • Paul bought hamburger patties to take to a family event                                           $18

(She caught me at the grocery store.  I never knew grocery shopping could cause so much shame!)

Things we are out of:

  • Seasoning salt (How is a guy supposed to cook without spices??!!)
  • Lipton Onion Soup Mix (The roast was a disappointment)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Bread
  • Milk expires tomorrow (Thank goodness I like my coffee black)

 

Things I miss:

  • Fresh vegetables
  • The church fish fry
  • Chips (Thank you Ryan and Ali for the emergency bag of corn chips)
  • Bananas and grapes

 

Things I am doing on March 1:

  • Taking my car to the car wash
  • Getting a manicure
  • Grocery shopping
  • Eating sushi
refrigerator mid month
Starting to look a little bare

As you can see, the refrigerator is starting to look a little bare.  We have made a slight dent in the supply of canned goods in the pantry.

pantry mid month

Cooking dinner is a little less exciting but conversations about what to make have certainly been interesting.  “Why and when did we buy stove top stuffing?”  “Is the expiration date on the can a suggestion or a hard deadline?”  “Why do we have 6 different kinds of vinegar?” 

Next weekend is going to be a bit of a challenge as we are attending a family carry in.  We spent 15 minutes brainstorming what we might have to take along.  (Dear family, we hope you like beer bread and pasta salad.)

So far I would say it has been kind of fun to limit ourselves.  But is it also not that difficult to make sacrifices when you know something only lasts 28 days.  (I am bored with saltine crackers and popcorn for snacks.  Something stronger than beer may be necessary to get me through!)  We are over half way through…hoping for a very clean pantry on the 28th.

At last inventory  I still have two onions left. I have been rationing them like they were my last cup of water, while walking across death valley, in a parka and mukluks, in the middle of August!

Planning Ahead, Hopefully Really Far Ahead

When I first came up with the idea of doing 52 things, I brainstormed ideas of things to do with a few close friends; my college roommate/soul sister Julie, my dear friend Kathy, and my awesome co-worker Laura.  They had some really great ideas; surfing, some soon to be discovered restaurants, and a historical tour were all ideas they added to the list.  One of them (I don’t remember exactly which one) also suggested the super fun idea of preplanning my funeral.

When I added it to the list, I thought it was actually a really promising idea.  It was something practical.  It was something free, so I could/should do it in February in conjunction with the “not spend any money in a month” to do.  It is something helpful.  Who hasn’t heard stories of someone passing away and their family having no idea of the desires of the recently deceased?  And who wants to leave their family with the burden of trying to read their mind when they are grieving?  I also thought it made sense to do the planning now, while I am youngish and healthy. No emotion tied to the planning, right?

My brain rarely shuts off.  I keep a notebook next to my bed, because I often come up with solutions to issues in my sleep.  The minute my eyes pop open in the morning, I have a thought of something I NEED to talk to Paul about.  Like, right now, can’t wait another second for the words to come out.  Paul, while he likes to wake up earlier than I do, prefers to awaken in quiet, not a barrage of questions.  I think he would really prefer no conversation before 7:00am and not before he has had a cup of coffee and watched a nature show. So, you can imagine the little ball of sunshine I have been this week in the morning.

Monday, 6:30 am

Me:  “Paul, when I die, I really think I want to be in a mausoleum.” 

Paul: “Uh, why are we talking about this?”

Me: “Remember, this is funeral preplan week on the 52 to do list?”

Paul: “Ok”

I am not sure if the OK was “OK, I remember now that this is what you are doing this week” or “OK, we can be buried in a mausoleum” but I am going to go with option 2.

 

Tuesday, 6:00am

Me: “Paul, when I die, I really want person1 to give my eulogy.”

Paul: “OK, I also think person2 would be a good idea.

Me:  “I thought about that too. Great idea!”

See how awesome my husband is!  He is contributing to my funeral planning.

 

Wednesday, 5:30am

Me: “Are you getting up with the dog this morning?  Also, I only want upbeat songs at my funeral.”

Paul: “Who had the idea to get a puppy?  And if you play On Eagles Wings at my funeral I will haunt you.”

Now we are not only planning my funeral, we are planning his too.  This is so efficient!

 

Thursday, 4:30am

Me: “Oh my gosh, why is the dog up at 4:30 am!!??  Oh, and when I die, remember I hate carnations.  I mean it, do not put carnations in the flowers on top of the casket!”

Paul:  “Enough with the when I die!”

So, I think this topic is starting to not be so much fun for Paul??

 

Friday, 4:00am, dog whining, barking, clawing at kennel

Me: “Paul?”

Paul: Hand on my mouth and pillow over his ears

I think we are finished with the conversation about my funeral.

 

While our early morning conversations hammered out a few crucial details like the flowers, there really are a lot of decisions to be made.  And it really isn’t easy to make those decision in a vacuum. Where I want to be buried today probably isn’t the same place I want to be buried if I die 40 years from now, like I hope to.  The scriptures I would select to comfort my family if I die young and healthy are probably not the same scriptures I would pick if I die older or after a lengthy illness.  Who knows where we will be living when we die?  We might move to wherever our kids are living when we retire.  Heck, we might move in with our kids when we retire (just kidding Alexander and Bailey).

And while I thought preplanning when death is not imminent would be emotionless, it really wasn’t.  I spent an hour reviewing lyrics and listening to performances of songs I thought I wanted.  My eyes kept leaking.  As I read through scriptures, my mind wandered to funerals of family and friends, and my eyes started leaking again.

I did prepare a document that outlines what I think I want, at least as of today. I explained the joyful and hope filled service I want.   I selected songs and scriptures. I drafted my obituary.  All of this will go in a safe place, hopefully to be revised many times over the coming years with changes in our lives and in our family.  Optimistically, my family won’t read it for many, many years.

As I started writing this post, I got to thinking about death and dying and then about life.  And while doing this preplanning was certainly a good exercise and something that might make my passing a little easier on my family, I think the real value in this “to do” was a time to reflect on my life.  What do I want my life to have meant?  Are there things I really want to accomplish while I can and what is my plan to make those things happen?  What do I hope I have taught my children?  Do those I love know how much I love them?

Over a decade ago, I lost a really wonderful friend, Linda, to cancer.  On her next birthday, I took flowers to her grave.  As I sat inside the mausoleum building talking to her in heaven, it struck me that I never sent her flowers for her birthday while she was alive.  When this thought hit me, it was like a gut punch.  I was so regretful and am to this day.  My point is, while we need to plan for our deaths, we need to LIVE, GIVE and LOVE while we are alive.  So pick something on your “to do” list and do it this week or this year.  Plan that trip, eat on the china, send flowers to a friend.

Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows. Pope Paul VI

On to happier topics next time,

Kerrie

 

The Shortest Month

February is a bit of a challenge. 4 weeks means I need to take care of 4 items on my to do list.  However, one of the items on my list is to spend no money for a month.  This means I have to be pretty strategic with the other goals I try to accomplish this month.  My motivation for this “to do” came from an article I read online a year or two ago.  I really wish I could find the original article but I will summarize.  A young adult, living in New York City, pledged to buy nothing for a year. Regular bills like rent and utilities would be paid but nothing would be paid for new items like shopping, dining out, and groceries.  I was amazed at the lengths this person went to.  Gifts were hand-made, food was grown or acquired from dumpsters of nearby restaurants and bartering was necessary if something new was absolutely necessary.

I know myself well enough t to know I can’t do this for a year, but I wanted to try it for a month.  To make this a little easier, I selected the shortest month of the year.  Here are my ground rules:

Obviously, utilities and other required bills have to be paid.

I cancelled the following:

  • Audible
  • Starz
  • Gym membership
  • Hair appointment
  • Nail appointments

I can only eat out if I already have a gift certificate for a restaurant (in anticipation of this activity, I asked for gift certificates to a few places for Christmas gifts last year.)

No grocery shopping.  Paul and I were very deliberate with our final grocery shopping trip of January. We spent $75 on food and another $50 on toiletries/paper goods/adult beverages. We purchased A LOT  of canned vegetables.  We do have an advantage as we butcher our own meat so we have a freezer full of beef and pork.  This means our $125 at the grocery store can go a pretty long way.

Driving will be kept to a minimum.  We filled both cars on the 31st of January and I am hoping to go two weeks without filling up again.

Wish me luck as we see how frugal we can be.  I am excited to clean out the freezers and the pantry of items that we just never seem to cook.  I am curious to see how much money I can save in a month.  I wonder how many “necessities” I give up in February will be permanent, once I realize I really don’t need them.  I will update you at the end of the month to let you know it it goes.

Note from the editor/Paul: It is day 4.  We are already out of chips, only have two onions left and are running low on bread.  Send beer!

grocery cart
Groceries to last a month-notice the essentials (like Diet Coke)

I tried to love it, I really tried.

As you know, I am trying to do one new thing on my list every week.  The Bob Ross painting was actually week number 2.  The first items on my list was to eat vegetarian meals for a week.  While I love meat, I know I eat it too often.  I admire those who are disciplined about healthy eating.  While I know there are many healthy reasons to live a vegetarian lifestyle, I was a little concerned about this activity.  I worried that it would be difficult to select meals at restaurants.  Would I be hungry all the time?  How would I handle it when those around me were eating some delicious looking meat?  For those reasons, this wasn’t the first item on the list because I was the most excited about it.  It was strategically placed first for two reasons.

#1.  Paul was going to be out of town the first week of January.  There was no way my carnivore husband would survive of week of no meat.  He gets really HANGRY (if you know what I mean.)

#2.  I was sure this would jump start weight loss for the year. I was mistaken. I didn’t gain any weight, but I didn’t lose any either.  Chips and salsa are meat free, you know.

My worries were largely unfounded.  I had no problem choosing vegetarian options while dining out.  A spinach and cheese quesadilla did the trick while eating at Acapulco.  The General Yum Yum Pizza of the Month at Azzip was delicious, even without the chicken.  The most difficult “eat out” day for me was a lunch with friends at Bru Burger.  While I love their Gorgonberry Pecan salad, I usually get it with chicken.  It wasn’t quite as fulfilling without the chicken. I was quite envious watching my friends enjoy the savory burgers.

I was never hungry.  Vegetarian meals are filling and satisfying.  Who doesn’t love a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich/tomato soup combo on a chilly winter day?

Other than the day at Bru Burger, I really didn’t have a difficult time eating a vegetarian dish while those around me ate meat. I would also say I never really felt like I was sacrificing.  (Note from the editor, also known as Paul…she did almost cry when she made meatloaf for everyone else while she ate a salad.  But in her defense, she makes a REALLY great meatloaf!)

I wish I had done more research on vegetarian dishes before I started the week.  I suspect my taste buds might have enjoyed the week more if I had been more adventurous with my cooking.  I did make a very delicious Roasted and Charred Broccoli with Peanuts dish for dinner one night.  I will definitely make it again.

The biggest problem for me with eating vegetarian meals was headaches.  I get frequent migraines, and not enough protein is a trigger for me.  I tried to make sure my meals were high in protein, but I think I didn’t know enough about vegetarian meals and protein counts to avoid the headaches.

I will say, I learned quite a bit this week.  I learned about nutritionist yeast. (For those who don’t know, nutritional yeast is a sort of parmesan cheese substitute).   I learned that you can find something vegetarian to eat anywhere.  I learned that vegetables, beans, and nuts are filling and satisfying.

If you are a vegetarian or if you have a favorite vegetarian dish, I would love it if you would post a comment on my blog page with your favorite recipe. While I don’t plan to give up meat, I do want to be healthier this year. I am hoping to introduce some tasty vegetarian dishes to my family.  I would also like to reduce my meat consumption and maybe have one or two meat-free days each week.   I enjoyed my meatless week, just didn’t love it.  I know there are delectable and filling vegetarian meals to prepare that would satisfy my inner chef and my tummy.  Your recipe might be a new favorite for us too.

Happy Little Trees

Happy Little Trees

This week’s To Do was to paint along with a Bob Ross Joy of Painting show.  When I was younger, we would run across his shows on the local PBS channel as we flipped through the channels.  Back in those days, we had only 3 or 4 channels so programming was limited.  I was always mesmerized by his ability to create a beautiful painting in 30 minutes.  He always made it look so easy.  I would daydream about having a set of paints and recreating his works of art.  And then I would remember that I have zero artistic ability.

If you don’t know or remember the name Bob Ross, I bet you will remember him when you see a photo.  His distinctive curly hair and beard are what most people remember.  He also had some memorable lines.  Trees are usually “happy little trees.”  To clean your brush, dip it in paint thinner and then ‘beat the devil out of it.”  His calm voice would encourage you to paint freely, knowing that there are no mistakes.  His show, Joy of Painting ran from 1983-1994.  Bob passed away in 1995.

I had completely forgotten about Bob Ross in my adulthood.  In 2016, our college student daughter, Bailey, mentioned that she and her friends watch Bob Ross shows for relaxation. His calm voice is a guaranteed anxiety reducer.  Who can’t be happy watching him create a beautiful mountain scene or paint a dream cottage in the woods?  Bailey asked for a Bob Ross original painting for Christmas one year (she didn’t get it).  I think I read that he donated most of his paintings to different PBS stations.  From this conversation came the idea of painting along.  Of course, life is busy, so we never really got around to it.  That is, until I decided to do 52 new things this year.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to complete this childhood bucket list item.

Bailey was my go to person for this activity. She watched several episodes to determine which painting she thought would be best. We didn’t want to spend a small fortune on this artistic endeavor, so she used the following parameters in making her selection:

  • Relatively limited number of paint colors
  • Smallish list of items required for purchase
  • A beginner’s project-no buildings
  • Something that would allow us to paint several elements of landscape

She selected Valley View which included mountains, trees and water.  This gave us a great introduction to lots of different painting techniques.  We only needed about 12 colors and were able to come close to the list by purchasing a relatively inexpensive set of oil paints.   The colors could vary a little from the colors selected and blended by Bob which gave us some flexibility.  We also only needed 3 brushes and one tool.

As you scroll through the photos, remember what I said in the first paragraph.  I have ZERO artistic ability.  I literally cannot even draw stick people.  Please be kind in your critique of my finished project.

Now that it is over, I will tell you…I LOVED this project.  It was so fun.  I totally get how painting can be relaxing.  Bob is right, there are no mistakes.  Did I feel this way all day, absolutely not.  The type A in me freaked out multiple times that my mountains don’t look anything like Bob’s. I stressed way too much about trying to match his colors or making something the exact same size or shape.  When I was finished though, I was amazed that it looked even remotely like his painting.  But one can recognize mountains, trees, water and rocks in my piece.

What I will do differently next time:

  • I will watch the entire episode in advance. We would have been more targeted in our purchases and had a better idea of the tools that were needed if I had seen the project for start to finish before I started my painting.  A preview of the episode would have also better prepared me for the important decisions I had to make while painting…Where do I want to put trees?  How far up on the canvas do I start the mountain?  How important is it that I have his exact color?
  • I will invest in a palette for the paint. We used paper plates.  This works great for finger painting.  It makes life difficult when trying to mix colors for a real painting.
  • Use way less paint. It really takes a lot less paint than you think.  Bob’s shading was so much better than ours, and the shading was important in elements such as the sky and water.  I think we had too much paint to get the proper gradual fade we needed.
  • Allow plenty of time. Bob’s 30-minute show took us 3 hours.  There was a lot of rewinding and re-watching.
  • Drink wine. I will admit it, I had an epic meltdown mid painting.  My “trees in the distance” were a smudged green mess.  I was devastated. “Bob Ross is a liar.”  “I hate this project.”  “I am NEVER doing this again!”  Bailey was horrified to hear me speak of her artistic idol with such anger.  Thank goodness the “happy little trees” salvaged the disaster and returned the joy to the afternoon.  Maybe if I had a little (or a lot) of red wine, I would have been more “Bob like” in my attitude.

Will I ever paint a work of art that causes others to marvel?  No!

Will I proudly hang my piece prominently in my home?  No!

Am I excited to share it with you on social media?  You bet!

Will I occasionally view my treasure and smile at the fun memories we created?  For sure!

Will I do it again?  Absolutely!