Reading Habits


It’s a standing joke in my family that I will read anything that’s standing still (or even moving slowly). That’s not quite true, as I have no interest in quantum physics and I avoid travel books – although I did enjoy Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. On the other hand, Steinbeck could write about almost anything and make it interesting. While still in elementary school, I pored over the 20-odd volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and Webster’s Dictionary. By the time I was in my early teens, I had sampled John Galsworthy, James Michener, Robert Heinlein, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mary Stewart, Luisa May Alcott and Agatha Christie, among many others. I read Farm Journal and The Sunset Western Gardening Book and Life and Time and Vogue and Gene Logsdon and John Vivian, Edgar Allen Poe, R.F. Delderfield and Arthur Conan Doyle. Charlie Chan and the Saint were as familiar as Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I delved into Dickens and Twain, Hemingway and Harper Lee, Herman Wouk and Tolstoy (who bored me to tears). As time went by, I compared Desmond Morris with Elaine Morgan, and learned about anthropology from both. I traveled Middle Earth with Tolkien’s Nine Walkers and explored the 17th century with Diana Gabaldon. However, I drew the line at Stephen King – too much imagination created pictures I couldn’t get out of my head.

As I grew older, I began to appreciate that being well-read was the equivalent of being well-educated. For that matter, being well-read is even better than being well-educated, as too much of formal education is overly specialized, slanted because of bias or designed to achieve testing scores rather than promoting critical thinking. I must admit that a side effect of all that reading was that school bored the h-e-double hockey sticks out of me. In several instances I knew more about the topic than the teacher. Not a good position to be in for a teen-age female in the 1960s. I developed a system in which I didn’t bother with homework but aced the tests and brought home a lot of ‘C’ grades. If a subject interested me, however, I gave it my all and usually got an ‘A.’ The system bothered my father, who measured the worth of his children (or perhaps his worth as a parent) by their grades, and couldn’t see that the important aspect was becoming educated, not regurgitating what the teachers tried to force-feed me. The acrimonious tongue lashings put me even further off formal schooling. Once I actually graduated from college and could take classes in what really interested me, I was pretty much a straight ‘A’ student. The few ‘B’ grades I received were the best I could do and I sweated for them.

I also learned that you could learn at least as much from a well-researched historical novel as you could from the official history books. In many cases, you could learn more, especially about the every-day lives of historical figures. Novels were also good for helping understand interpersonal relationships and social issues. Cookbooks might explain chemistry problems. Gardening books were good for understanding biology concepts. Science fiction encouraged creative thinking. I’ve always been intrigued by the Amish system, in which kids get an 8th grade education and then learn by doing and reading. Admittedly, this method has shortcomings – it’s designed to prepare students for a life in the Amish culture only. Those who have left their Amish origins behind usually talk about the ways in which they were unprepared for the “real” world. On the other hand, anybody who takes a good hard look at today’s educational system in the “real” world would be hard-pressed to call it successful…

Today, my grandchildren are struggling with the latest popular nonsense in education – a resurgence of the New Math that was such a failure in the 1960s and curriculum content that I think is flat-out stupid. Being the subversive contrarian I am, I tell them to do the minimum necessary to get by in class and to focus on the basics. I also push them to read everything they can lay their hands on. We have some pretty interesting discussions on our drives to and from school. I’m betting that they will – like their mother and grandmother – turn out to be well-educated, articulate (assuming I can get them to stop saying ‘anyways’ and ‘like,’ and using lay for lie), productive and competent members of society. They will achieve this no matter what their grades, because they read.

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Too Many Eggs


Morning haul.

Eating seasonally means there are times when you have a few, times when you have plenty and times when you have LOTS. Given the nature of biology, you have to plant or raise extra in order to hit the minimum target. As we gardeners know all too well, stuff happens. The bear gets in the chicken tractor, the deer get in the corn, the birds hit the cherries the minute they’re ripe. Having excess is particularly true when it comes to eggs. Despite the efforts of breeders, chickens lay more in the spring and less in the winter. If you want to have enough eggs in the winter, sure as little green apples you are going to have way more than you need come spring. In order to have an average of 12 eggs a day year round for my family of seven, I need about two dozen chickens. I like Delawares, as they lay well and are also of a good size to make eating chickens, including fryers and broilers.

Which is why, at the moment, I have 20 dozen eggs in the refrigerator.

Barred Rocks – an earlier experiment in chicken-keeping – not as productive in winter.

Delaware chicks.

So what do you do with lots of eggs? Well, first, I rotate them, so I know which are the freshest and which are the oldest (oldest being relative, as they aren’t ever going to be more than two or three weeks old). Older eggs are better for hard-cooked eggs, deviled eggs, etcetera, as they are easier to peel. Older eggs also whip up more easily and have a greater volume when whipped. Back in the days when eggs were whipped by hand, cooks preferred them with a little age; today, this strong-arm tactic is usually provided by a mixer, so it’s less of a problem. However, older eggs also deflate faster, so use them immediately in your meringue or souffle.

White pullet on the right is a Delaware.

Delaware rooster.

Some people sell them, but I have so many irons in the fire, it’s too much trouble. I share with people I like who don’t have chickens. I just sent eight dozen over to the neighbors, who lost all their chickens in a barn fire last week.

I cook them, preferably in recipes that use up a dozen at a crack. These include scrambled eggs with ham or bacon and chopped sauteed onions, frittatas and omelets. Angel food cake, divinity candy and meringue cookies help take care of the whites, while gold cake, homemade ice cream and eggnog use up the extra yolks. Floating island – a meringue cake with a custard sauce – takes care of 12 whites and six yolks at one go.

If all else fails, I hard cook them, chop them up – shells and all – and feed them back to the chickens to make more eggs.

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IANS – Male Animals


Father and son; we bred both of them.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain

When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 100 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS).

You can’t run male animals together.
In most cases, this isn’t true. In my own experience, bulls, stallions, male dogs and roosters do just fine running in the same corral, pasture or pen; I’ve never tried it with sheep or goats. I would, however, add a few caveats:
First, I would not run a young, really aggressive animal with an elderly male. I’ve noticed that particularly with stallions. The young one is pushy and the old one just doesn’t have the endurance to keep putting him in his place. If the young one is passive, it may not be as much of a problem. The father and son pictured above did fine together until the young one got to be about three and started beating up his 29-year old father (that’s quite ancient for a horse, by the way). However, running a young stallion (say about 12 to 18 months old) with four or five older geldings is a really good way to teach a snotty youngster that he doesn’t rule the world. Those good old boys will quickly knock some manners into Junior. Running a group of same-age stallions or bulls together usually works just fine. There will be squabbling, of course, until everybody learns his place in the pecking order.

Spreading the hay piles at least 10 feet apart ensures everybody gets enough chow.

Second, you must make sure they have plenty of room. Crowding any group of male animals into too small a space means more dominance fights. With roosters, in particular, the bird on the lowest end of the totem pole tends to get crowded into a tight corner and may be killed. If there’s plenty of maneuvering room he can usually get away. The industry standard for commercial chickens is two feet or less, which is ridiculous. How would you like to spend your life in an equivalent space of five square feet? Most backyard poultry experts recommend at least four square feet of coop for free-range chickens and up to 10 square feet total (coop plus run) for chickens in a run. Our chicken pens have a seven-foot square coop and a 16-square foot run for eight to 10 hens and a rooster. That’s more than 20 feet per bird. If you’re grazing them year-round, horses and bulls need a couple of acres apiece.

If the mares are where he can see them, he’ll run the fence and talk day and night.

Third, the females of the species need to be out of sight, sound and smell. Otherwise, testosterone kicks in (think of teenage boys on the beach surrounded by girls in bikinis) and the squabbling can quickly become outright fighting. In any case, you need to keep an eye on things, and if somebody is getting bullied, make some changes. For that matter, even when you’re running females together, you should always keep an eye on the animals at the bottom of the totem pole. The ladies are equally devoted to the hierarchy, and alpha mares can be at least as mean and nasty as a bunch of adolescent girls. In fact, a band of brood mares is a lot like a high school, with cliques and popular girls – and the mares enforce the pecking order with hooves and teeth.

Take a Missouri Approach
Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum was the one who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.

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