Tori Mae - A Life Well Lived

Tori Mae helped pick a winner for my blog ~ 2009

It's so hard for me to post this, but we lost our Tori Mae to stomach cancer almost 2 weeks ago.  Once we found out she had this evil disease (mid-October), our time with her was short.

Tori was a strong force in our house.  She kept Trixie Lou and Ringo in check - yes, believe it or not, she was our alpha dog, and even Ringo paid attention to her!

Tori was the absolute queen when it came to fetch.  We had to put her toys up in a cupboard, because she would not stop bringing them to us, 24/7.

But that girl was a smart cookie and decided that she called the shots.  And so an empty toilet paper roll became a fetch toy.  A stray sock laying on the floor became a fetch toy.  Even bones became a fetch toy! ANYTHING had fetch potential in her book.

Her soft frisbee was her #1 favorite toy.  Tori's frisbee created a spark in her eyes and a focused determination that was unrivaled.

She was determined to play fetch.  In the summertime, we had to make her stop or I honestly think this girl would have fetched herself to a frenzied hot faint!

Our hearts are hurting, and yet, I know that Tori had a spectacularly good life. I adopted her from an Australian Shepherd rescue near Columbus, Ohio, in December 2004.  She was only a year old and I wanted Trixie to have a playmate.  They became fast friends, although Tori did take over supervision of the household from the very beginning.

Tori (left) and Trixie - southern Ohio cabin getaway
The house seems a little less full, and lot more empty, without her keeping everything in check.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving I shot some video of her playing Frisbee with her dad -- Tom was Tori's person.  (As a side note, Tori defected from me shortly after I moved to Kansas.  She liked Tom way better than me!)

Note:  There are actually two videos of Tori playing Frisbee on YouTube. They are both rather long, but I was trying to capture her focus, which shows up better in the 2nd video above.  You'll also see the horses, and a bit of the guineas and the chickens.

Tori ate less and less as the cancer invaded her stomach.  Her last two weeks she refused to eat even a bite of anything - and we tried everything.  You might be able to see in the video how much weight she had lost, and yet, amazingly, she still wanted to fetch her  Frisbee!

Just writing this blog post brings tears to my eyes and a hurt to my heart.

She finally lost the spunk for her beloved Frisbee two weekends ago, and we knew it was time.

As we held her at the vet's office, she turned her head to me for one last kiss, and then we let her go.

I will never forget that last kiss from one of the best dogs in my life ~ she may have been a lucky girl to find a home with us, but I know the truth of the matter is that WE were the lucky ones to have this beautiful and smart girl grace our lives.

Tori Mae,  2003 ~2012
Her memory will live forever in our hearts

Hubster Competes on "Tough Grit" TV Show

Tomorrow night, Monday October 22, at 6:00 p.m. Central Time (7:00 p.m. EST), on RFD TV (231 on Dish satellite), my husband Tom will be a competitor on the TV show "Tough Grit".  This show is a collaboration of Grit magazine and Tractor Supply.

Here's more info about the "Tough Grit" TV show at Tractor Supply's website.

And you can check out the "Tough Grit" crew on Facebook. Give 'em a like, or heck, you can even sign up to be a contestant if you want!

We've waited many months to view this episode.  The original taping was back in May.  Tom had such a fun time doing the filming with everyone, and he really enjoyed meeting Caleb Regan and Hank Will from Grit magazine, along with the guys from Tractor Supply.

Watch the trailer for Tom's episode tomorrow night right here on YouTube.  That's Tom in the blue plaid shirt.

At stake was a $1000 Tractor Supply gift card.  He didn't win that $1000 gift card.  But he did win a $500 Tractor Supply gift card, woohoo!  Each of the two competitors got one, since each competitor won one of the two competitions on the show.

That $500 gift card sure did come in handy, since we buy our senior horse's feed at Tractor Supply.  So Murphy's Purina senior feed was gratis for about 5 months.  That was a huge help to our financial bottom line.

If you have a little time tomorrow night, and can find the show on your cable or satellite channel offering, do watch it.  I guarantee you an informative 30 minutes, or at the very least, a few chuckles.

I know we'll be laughing....

Bottom line, Tom had a GREAT time doing this.  :-)

Homemade Yogurt ~ Simply the Best!

I can't remember the precise reason why or even when I decided I needed to try my hand at making my own yogurt.

I think I may have read something that waxed poetic about the sheer deliciousness of homemade yogurt.

Do you know, once I made my own, I believed every word of what I had read. Quite frankly, I had tired of grocery store yogurt many years ago.  I couldn't even stomach grocery store brands anymore, so I hadn't ate yogurt in a very long time.

The first spoonful of homemade yogurt was deliriously delicious.

My first foray into home yogurt making was with raw milk.  I knew that most yogurt recipes required the milk to be heated to near boiling.  But raw milk has highly beneficial nutrients, such as conjugated linoleic acid and friendly bacteria and enzymes, and I didn't want to destroy any of these nutrients in my yogurt-making process.

My Google search for "how to make yogurt with raw milk" took me to the Nourished Kitchen website, and since that inital search,  I've found many other natural food reasons to like this website.

If you'd like to read more about making yogurt with raw milk, you can read Nourished Kitchen's post.  The farm where I sourced my raw milk is quite a distance from me, so I don't always have raw milk.  But that's another taste sensation for another blog post, another day.

I've also made yogurt with regular ole organic milk from the grocery store.  And I've made it with a combination of milk and heavy whipping cream, which of course means more fat and calories (but yummy!)  And I've made my own greek yogurt too.

Every different combination I've used has produced phenomenal, delicious yogurt.

So what are the benefits of homemade yogurt?  First, the obvious: no preservatives or unnecessary additives!  For the most part, you know exactly what you have put into your own yogurt. Secondly, the probiotics in your homemade yogurt will be fresher than anything you could buy in the grocery store.

Here's some yogurt making basics...

First, I bought a yogurt maker from Amazon. After much research, I decided on the Euro Cuisine YM80 Yogurt Maker.  I liked the fact my yogurt would be in 7 individual jars, and that these jars are glass, not plastic.

Since that initial purchase, I think I might like a 2 quart yogurt maker better, only because lately I've been dumping all 7 jars into a large sieve to strain out the whey and have a greek yogurt consistency.  No sense having 7 separate jars when it all gets lumped together in the end anyway!

Ingredient-wise, all you need is milk and yogurt starter.  Your options for yogurt starter are freeze dried packets you can buy at Amazon (and probably elsewhere), or about 6 oz plain yogurt which you can get at the grocery store.  Be sure the plain yogurt you choose for starter is as organic and simple as possible, with live cultures.  Check out the ingredient label before you buy!

Once you've made your yogurt using the instructions that come with your yogurt maker, you can add all kinds of fruits and/or flavorings.  Personally, I just add a wee bit of vanilla and some stevia or agave nectar sweetener to each individual serving as I eat it.  My goal is to keep it as natural as possible. Sometimes I throw in a few fresh strawberries.  It's so awesomely delicious.

Next, I wanted to try to thicken up my yogurt more, so I bought some cheesecloth and after I made the yogurt, I let it sit for an additional 5 hours or so in a metal sieve lined with the cheesecloth over a bowl.

Basically, what you are doing is straining out most of the whey, so your yogurt will have a very thick, greek-like texture.  This is my new favorite yogurt.  Some people call this "yogurt cheese".

Oh, and all that whey you'll have in your bowl?  It's good for a LOT of different things, and I just happen to have another link to help you out with that.... check out The Prairie Homestead for 16 Ways to Use Your Whey.

I don't have a specific recipe here for yogurt because it's so easy, and quite frankly, you can find recipes all over the world wide web, especially for thermophilic (heated) yogurts.  And if you buy a yogurt maker, you'll get instructions on making yogurt with your yogurt maker.

But perhaps you want even easier yogurt recipes, such as Matsoni or Viili, which are mesophilic (room-temperature) yogurts and do not require a yogurt maker for temperature regulation.  I haven't tried these yet, but I'd like to try the Matsoni yogurt soon.

Still on my yogurt wish list:  Cuisipro Donvier Yogurt Cheese Maker (easier to make Greek yogurt with one of these) and The Book Of Yogurt by Sonia Uvezian.

Any questions?  Fire 'em at me, and I'll do my best to answer.  Or maybe you've already made your own yogurt and have advice for me - tell me!

I'll remember to snap a few photos the next time I have a yogurt making session, which will be soon.  I miss my fresh yogurt!

Good grief... I didn't realize I had this much to say about yogurt!!!

Easy Homemade Dog Food

Making your own dog food isn't as difficult or time-consuming as one might think.  And in many cases, it's the best thing for your 4-legged friends!

I've made my own dog food in the past.  When my dalmatian became super sensitive to most store bought foods, I began making his dog food.  The only store bought food his system could tolerate was a canned version called Spot's Stew.  It was $2.99 a can and I could NOT afford that on a long-term basis.  That was in 2003.  I have no idea what it might cost 9 years later!!!

And so my dog food recipe journey began.

I researched high and low, on the internet and in my own dog reference books, and eventually came up with several winning combinations that suited him.

Did I write those recipes down? Nooooo.  And I wish I would have!

Because now Tori seems to be more sensitive to what I've been buying for her and Trixie the last 5 years or so.  They both eat Merrick dry food and canned foods, but I also supplement them with Evo canned food.

I finally figured out several months ago that Tori was becoming sensitive to the Evo.  This is a high protein, back-to-nature type of canned food, and my brain process told me that since the girls were getting older, they probably didn't need the high protein any longer.

Sure enough, as soon as I took Tori off the Evo canned food, she didn't seem to be vomiting as much.

But she still vomited SOMETIMES.

So I revisited my homemade dog food, and I eventually decided on a simple recipe that seems to work for her.  I just top-dress her Merrick dry food with some of the homemade food.

I also give mix up one egg into Tori's food everyday.  Trixie and Ringo sometimes get an egg -- just depends on how many eggs we are getting from the guineas.

Trixie and Ringo are still fine with the Merrick canned food, so I just discontinued the Evo canned food shipments, and changed my monthly dog food shipment to include one 30# bag of Merrick dry food, one 15# bag of Blue Buffalo senior dog food, and one carton of Merrick canned food.  I started mixing the senior dog food with their Merrick dry food this year, since all 3 dogs are about 9 years old now.

Side note:  I've been getting my dog food from for the last year or so now and I love getting my shipments automatically every month!  If you want to give it a try, use coupon code oz49 and receive free shipping on orders over $49.

Tori's homemade dog food contains:
  • chicken
  • brown rice
  • peas
  • one chopped apple
That's it.  Simple.  It works for her.

At first, I was buying whole chickens, sometimes getting even the organic whole chickens at reduced prices when they were close to their expiration date. But it was sooo messy in the oven.

So I recently switched to buying a family pack of chicken thighs for about the same price as the whole chicken.  I dump them all into a large Dutch oven on the range top, and simmer in some water at a low temp til done.  I let them cool on a large platter, and then tear all the meat off each thigh.

While I'm getting the meat off the chicken thighs, I throw about one cup of brown rice into the chicken stock in the Dutch oven and let that cook.  Then I throw in all the chicken meat, plus about 1/2 cup of peas, and one chopped up peeled apple.  I let it all simmer awhile, til the peas are no longer frozen and the apple is soft, then I ladle the food into Glad storage containers.

Dog food on right... that's strawberry-blueberry jam on the left.

One container stays in the fridge for the next few days of feeding, while the other two containers go in the freezer.  I would say each recipe lasts me about 10 days or so?  I've never really measured the end result nor calculated how long it lasts.

Because in the end it really doesn't matter.

I love our fur-kids and I don't mind making dog food when it becomes necessary!

If you'd like to visit some dog food recipe links, here's a few to get you started:
Allrecipes Homemade Dog Food Recipe
Home Cooking Information including Raw, Organic, Holistic and Supplements
WebMD: Healthy Dogs - Homemade Dog Food (information only, no recipes)

Summer 2012 aka The Drought

And I thought the summer of 2011 was bad, when our pond dried up and was nothing more than rock-hard dirt with cracks running through it. Oh ... and a few hundred large weeds.

The drought of 2012 is proving to be much worse than anything the summer of 2011 handed to us.

And yet, in spite of the shriveled up cornfields and the wilted soybeans that dot our local landscape, there really are some bright spots to be found.

Such as our garden.  We've tried our best to water everything, but some plants just won't thrive when temps reach well over 100 degrees.

But the plants that have done well?  Our pumpkins and cantaloupes are doing great.  And we didn't even plant any cantaloupe this year!  These are volunteer plants from last year's cantaloupe scraps thrown into the compost bins.

It looks like we'll be getting quite a few cantaloupes in the next few weeks. We've already eaten one, and it was so juicy and good!  And the chickens enjoy the cantaloupe too - they get the less than perfect, slightly buggy cantaloupes.

And the pumpkins.... I didn't plant the small Baby Pam pumpkins this year. Hubby wanted GIANT pumpkins, and that's what we're getting now!

The tomatoes are not doing well.  Green and bushy, but no tomatoes.  Same as last year.  It's just too freaking hot for them.   The serrano pepper plants are beginning to produce some peppers.  And my mint plants are doing pretty good.... you know, for my mojitos!  :-)

We planted super sweet onions this spring.  We've never tried to grow onions before -- we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was and how delicious they are!

I've been making Onion Strings the last week or so, to use up the last of our onions.  Onion Strings are just very thinly sliced onion rings.  Hubby has become rather addicted to them!  We'll be planting more onions soon for a fall harvest.  

Here's his lunch today - fresh Onion Strings and homemade egg salad (from our eggs, of course!) on a Nature's Own Multi-Grain sandwich round.  Less bun, more filling - he really likes his flat buns for lunches.  

No, this isn't all he ate for lunch - he had angel food cake with strawberries and whip cream for dessert.  :-)

The stray cat we adopted a few months ago recently decided that a freshly watered flower pot makes a cool napping spot.  I caught Midnight snoozing in my serrano pepper pot the other day....

The guineas enjoy hanging out around the sprinkler, so we have a small green spot in the back yard, amongst all the brown.  It's rather lush looking.  Hey, anything to keep the birds happy, you know?  The chickens, not so much.... they run away if they get sprinkled on!

Finally, a snapshot that says "hey, we do have a few things to be thankful for"..... cantaloupe, eggs, and strawberry jam!

How is your garden doing this year?  What fav veggies are you getting, or better yet, what is providing you with an overly bountiful harvest?

And can we all say 'Adieu' ....  'Adios'.....  'Hasta la vista' .... to summer.

It can't end soon enough for me this year.

Really.  I'm ready.

My arms are wide open and welcoming to autumn!!!!


Life on the Hot Kansas Prairie

Silly kitties!

The black and white cat is Baybee, a feral kitten I rescued in Ohio many, many years ago.  She's a senior kitty now.  

I think y'all know the white cat -- CiCi aka Seesers who I rescued off the side of a Kansas country road about 2 years ago.  She's always finding trouble.

Lately Seesers has decided that she much prefers Baybee's cat house to her own.  Imagine my surprise to find them BOTH in Baybee's cat house a few days ago!  Baybee was tolerable this particular day, but the next day I watched her cat-swat CiCi right out of her house.  :-)

I didn't think we'd be able to integrate the two cats but over the course of the last year, they've learned how to co-exist in a fairly civil fashion.  The best part about pairing a young kitty with an older cat is that it provides both cats with exercise.  And it provides us humans with entertainment also, especially when the two of them play hide and seek.

Aside from watching the kitties play, I have been busy with a myriad of other endeavors.  Here's a small list....
  • making my own yogurt at home (it's the best, and SO easy!)
  • making freezer strawberry jam this year, in addition to regular canned jam
  • making fried onion strings with fresh onions from our garden
  • making fresh chicken dog food for Tori, who has developed some sensitivities
  • tearing apart the guest bedroom to create a studio for me
  • renewing my Ebay commitment and listing/selling more items
  • attempting to create a new, fresh website which will house my blog
  • fixing an occasional mint mojito with fresh mint from the garden when the above mentioned website set-up doesn't work quite right....
What I like about Ebay is that you're not just recycling items you no longer use, you're also earning some cash.  I've also sold a few unique serial number dollar bills that I've encountered in my turnpike job and let me tell you, THAT is fun!

So, what have you been up to this oh-so-hot summer??

Sometimes Ranch Life Sucks

This post is a brief tribute to a few of the animals we've lost lately.

Fluff was not just an all-around fabulous barn cat.... she was our favorite barn cat.  She had the sweetest disposition, and loved following us around as we did chores every day.  As is common with farm animals, we're not sure what happened to her.  She didn't show up in the evening to eat, and when I didn't see her the next day, I knew she was no longer with us.  There are so many predators out here -- coyotes, owls, and numerous other threats.  Even though Fluff was a very savvy cat - she seemed to realize the dangers - something finally caught up to her.

We miss her all the time.

The recent heat proved too much for our little Ameraucana hen, Midge.  I noticed her in a corner of the coop last Monday evening, but later when I checked on her, she was up on the roost with the rest of the birds, so I thought she was doing better.  Alas, the next morning she was laying on the floor beneath the roost.  No more bluish-white eggs to add variety to our dozens, just brown eggs now.  Perhaps next year we'll add a few hens to our flock.  For now, 4 hens and a rooster-that-will-not-be-with-us much longer is enough.

At any rate, just thought I'd mention that even though we love our life out here, sometimes it's not all rosy like I might paint it.  True farm people are used to these occurrences I'm sure, but let's remember.... I'm not a true farm person!  I'm a fake, a fraud....  I'm a city gal relocated to the country, and add to that my love for animals, then it makes it tough for me when something happens to one of the creatures in our menagerie.

Even with the doses of real life, though, I still love our prairie life and wouldn't trade it for a minute of city living, nosireeeee!!


Absence Update

Quite simply, the pressures of working two jobs finally became more than I could bear.... I could not keep up with my blogs or my photography... even having time to visit our own sweet animals became elusive!

And so I quit. I left the hospital. I am now only working part-time for the Kansas Turnpike. And that's how I like things to be.

I just returned from an Ohio visit. My beautiful and sweet granddaughter just turned two.... how is that possible? It just seems yesterday that she was born!!!

Leah on the carousel at the Akron Zoo,
with her daddy (my son, Josh)

Today I am going to make strawberry jam.  My cupboard finally became bare of last year's stash, and I'm so very partial to my own canned jam that I cannot stand the taste of boring ole Smucker's from the grocery store!

Our resident Canada geese, right before they finally left and headed north

Right now, I need to head outside and take care of all the animals -- feed the barn cats, let the guineas and chickens out, and then out to feed the horses.

A late update:  No, all of those guinea eggs did NOT hatch.  We finally had to throw them out.  I think they were "scrambled" too many times there in the corner of the coop.

More updates to come.  I know there is lots to catch up on here, and I'm looking forward to it.  Can't wait to begin visiting all of my bloggy friends!  :-)


Geese & Guineas - Update

I took a picture of the guinea egg clutch on April 3rd.  Then after I uploaded the pics to iPhoto, I printed out one so we could get an accurate count of how many eggs have been laid. I kept losing my place when I tried to count them in the coop, and the same thing happened when I tried to count them on my computer monitor!

62 eggs!!

Now our guinea hen has some help too.  Looks like one of the other guinea hens decided she needed assistance covering all those eggs.

It's going to be interesting to see how this all turns out.  My best estimate puts the hatch date around April 20.  One part of me wants to let the moms take care of everything, but then another part of me says they are in a small coop with other guineas, including 2 males, and I'm not sure how well the newborn keets might fare in that situation.  

So perhaps we'll get the brooder ready, and move the new keets as they hatch.  It would be easier to introduce them to food and water that way also.  

We'll need to find new homes for the keets ASAP.  Our coop space won't tolerate even 2 more birds.  We've been discussing our future coop options - either enlarging the current coop, or building a separate coop east of the house on an existing concrete pad near the horses and the shop.

On a somewhat related note, the two Canadian geese who were hanging around the last few weeks decided to set up their new home near our pond. Their nest is on a small peninsula that hubby started to build last fall when we rented a Bobcat over Labor Day weekend.

I didn't want to get too close and upset them, so here's the best photos I managed to get a few days ago, from the opposite side of the pond.  The male (see photo below) kept a close eye on me the whole time.

Sorry.... you'll have to click the photo to enlarge it!
The goose is laying her head down to hide from me.

Both times that I've visited the pond, this is what the male does.
He flattens himself to try to hide from us, all the while keeping an eye on us.

I wish them both the best of luck.  We have so many coyotes around here.  I've heard them howling a lot lately, or rather, the dogs have woke me up because they hear them howling first.

So all in all, the next few weeks should be interesting here on the ole homestead!

Of Geese... and Guineas

Two Canadian geese have been hanging out at our pond for the last few weeks.  They've come quite close to the house, as close as the chicken coop.  Last week, our two younger guineas weren't very happy about their intrusion --the male guinea and male goose did a bit of sparring.

The guinea hens started laying eggs about 4 weeks ago.  In a rather surprising turn of events, they started a clutch of eggs in a corner of the coop.  This was very unusual since last year they attempted to build two different nests in hidden outdoor locations.  The natural inclination of guineas is to find a hidden location in nature.  In last year's case, we brought some of their eggs indoors and incubated the hatches.

But today, one of the guinea hens has gone broody!  So we'll let nature take its course and see if she actually hatches some chicks.  If she does, then we will move the hatched chicks to the brooder on our back porch, where they will have a better chance of survival.

Guineas don't have the greatest reputation as mothers -- they will go out to feed in dew-laden grass and newborn chicks will follow mom, dying soon thereafter from the exposure.

And so the countdown begins... 26 days!

March Country Giveaway WINNER!

We have a winner for the March Country giveaway ~ a $25 gardening gift card goes to the #1 commenter ~ Joe Todd, of My Quality Time!

Congrats Joe, and send me your address via email so I can get your gift card ordered and mailed to you!

today: a rainy back porch
Since it's a very rainy day today, it's the perfect day to get some indoor tasks accomplished.  I'm hoping to get my email inbox cleaned up (OMG it's awful) and get some new products created for my Zazzle store, which is doing very well, thank you.

to the west ~ flooding begins
(click to enlarge)
We don't get as many rainy days here as I did in northeast Ohio.  Because of that, I actually enjoy a rainy day now.  The doors and windows are open so I can hear the pitter-patter of the rain and the occasional thunder boom.  It's a soothing sound to me, and it makes me feel like I can be productive today. Well, one can hope, right?!

What do you enjoy doing on rainy days?

...why God made those Fly Over States...

Have you heard the latest single -Fly Over States- released from Jason Aldean's album, My Kinda Party?

I must admit, this song has grown on me to the point that I almost get shivers up my spine from some of the lyrics. This song says exactly how I feel about living smack-dab in the middle of the U.S. on this awesome, beautiful prairie.

Don't knock these "flat, boring" states until you've spent a few days in our neck of the woods. The sunsets and sunrises alone will take your breath away, and that doesn't account for all the other glorious landscapes you might see in the course of 4 seasons.

And so here's a brief pictorial of photos I've taken over the past 4 years, proving just why God did make these fly over states......

miles and miles of sunflowers demand more than just a passing glance

a black and white photo helps remind us of simpler times

a harvest moon in Kansas?!

a pond glows in sunlight after a massive thunderstorm

and you didn't think the prairie had color in autumn?

yup, just another glorious sunrise in Kansas (yawn)

I just love how I can make a muddy road look glamorous

snow dusts the prairie

the prairie wakes up to another bright day

and the prairie winds down with a big bang sunset

amazing how many different colors the prairie sunset has to offer

longhorn cattle grace the vast plains

even in black and white, the plains are beautiful

another Kansas harvest moon... in winter??

the Kansas farmer has a full and busy day on the plains

even the storms are beautiful on the prairie

autumn in its full Kansas splendor

the setting sun casts its final rays upon the plains

rainbows are commonplace on the plains after storms

another glorious start to the day

I must admit I'm a little bit disappointed in the Aldean crew's video rendition. I guess the upside is that if you want to know the lyrics, you'll certainly learn them from watching the video.  In spite of the video's lack of emotion, this song is still my favorite of any of Jason's music so far.