Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Locavore donkeys

donkeys eat weedsWhen I was first considering getting a donkey I thought: "I know places there are lots of weeds for a donkey to eat." Came to learn there are several problems with the weed thing:
  1. Donkeys (mine at least) are incredibly picky and will only eat 1 out of 10 or 15 types of weeds present in local weed patches. Eeyore ate thistles but my donkeys don't.

    Jethro and Hector on a weed-eating walk keep their noses to the ground and after they've passed up 14 weeds they find one kind they like.

  2. Even eating as fast as they possibly can, donkeys have to eat for hours to keep up their figures. I can't stand to stand there holding the leashes that long. But they won't stay put; if they're not on leashes they instantly relocate to the neighbors' homes and eat expensive landscaping.

    So if you want your donkeys to eat weeds, you have to fence the weeds and that's very expensive. Otherwise prepare to stand around contemplating while they munch. Here you see Hector and Jethro eating the (invasive) Japanese switch grass that grows under the power line right of way.

Roger Tate Farm in MebaneSo my donkeys, after they've eaten or killed all the grass in their fenced-in fields, live on hay. I never knew there was so much to the hay business before I had Jethro. If I get stuff he doesn't like, he gets bony. (Hector is not so picky.)

They love second-cut orchard grass and today I was lucky enough to get 54 bales of it, green and fragrant, from Roger Tate's farm in Mebane. I love knowing the farmer who grows the hay. On my second trip out I met Roger's mother, who came out of the house to say she enjoys seeing a woman loading her own hay. She told me Roger was very independent as a toddler.

On the third trip I ran into Roger himself. We always talk about the weather, and today remembered with horror the summer of 2007 when the drought was so bad the grass crunched under our feet and he ran out of hay in July.

This year there was a late frost that ruined a lot of the first cut, but kinder weather recently resulted in a lovely second cut. After three trips to Mebane I'm happy our barn is almost chock-full, that's a satisfying feeling as the leaves start falling off the trees.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

How I am like my donkey Jethro

donkeys eatingMy donkey Jethro is like me: stubborn, defiant, cowardly, and unable to compete.

Here's how I ended up with a donkey. In August 2007 my daughter and I went to Bulgaria and I fixated on the donkey carts trundling down the road. The drivers were tan, leathery old guys in no particular hurry. The harnesses were cracked, dusty old leather, the carts were homemade out of what looked like driftwood. The carts were full of weeds, why were old guys driving weeds around?

We saw one of these hand-hewn carts by the side of the road and stopped to investigate. Through some trees we saw them, the guy and his donkey, hip deep in greenery. The donkey was eating as fast as he could and the man had a scythe. So that's it: they were ambling around the countryside gathering donkey dinner.

At that moment I decided to become a donkey owner. I thought: when Armageddon arrives I'll be ready with my donkey and cart, I won't have to compete for gasoline. I thought: I know places I can steal weeds and nobody is competing for them. I thought: nobody else I know has a donkey, no competition there. I thought: I would like to live my life at this tempo, rolling down the road looking for something nobody else wants.

I found Jethro through a friend of a friend of a friend and went to meet him in Iredell County where he'd been lazing his young life away servicing hinnies. As I walked across the field I saw in his body language and the cocking of his magnificent ears that he was rebellious and fearful. That's the opposite of what you want, which is brave and obedient. I bought him instantly.

Here's why Jethro is still lazing. If you ask a donkey to do something, he asks "Why?" and unless there's an answer that satisfies him, he refuses. Jethro can do anything I ask, but generally doesn't choose to. For instance, he happily carries stones, but if I ask him to stand still so I can unload the stones, he keeps going till he finds a place with better weeds. He doesn't mind pulling a cart, but he is going to pull it in the ditch, where there are weeds. He was ok with being tied to a big heavy chicken coop I wanted him to haul, but first he stood still acting like it was too heavy and then he galloped across the field with the chicken coop bouncing heavily along behind him until the thick rope I'd tied to it snapped and the coop was upside down in the woods. Eventually I gave up and so, he lazes.

A donkey shouldn't live alone. I made a website for a gentleman farmer and he paid me with a miniature horse named Superman. Superman came stumping into our lives, short and broad and unflappable. Jethro was afraid of him at first but they eventually became pals and Superman learned to like donkey games, which involve a lot of biting.

Superman really knew how to look out for #1. He got all the treats because Jethro, three times his size, moved respectfully out of the way when Superman nosed into the bucket. I felt bad for Jethro, he got no banana peels unless I handed them to him directly. It bothered me so, I finally gave Superman away to the little girl who lives across the railroad tracks - her daddy snuck up that Christmas morning and led Superman away with a big red ribbon stuck in his mane. Now he gets brushed every day and eats ice cream sandwiches.

Superman's replacement is a little donkey with unattractive brown fur like matted dirty dog hair. Hector was cheap because his owner had expected him to be born white and had planned to use him in living creches at Christmas time. At his first performance Hector dropped to the ground, rolled in the dust, hooked his hoof under Baby Jesus's cradle, knocked Him over, and gashed his own leg. So I got him cheap. Jethro was of course afraid of Hector at first but now they're good friends.

Still, if I put down a bucket of treats, Jethro dives in enthusiastically, then little Hector trots up on his tiny hooves and pretty soon Hector's snout is in the orange peels and Jethro is at his side, staring politely off into space. I can't tell if Jethro wants treats less than Hector does, or if it's that he's too afraid to stand up for himself. For years he was afraid, of strollers, bicycles, recycling bins, flags dangling from mailboxes - and he thought everything in the world wanted to eat him. He's not afraid of recycling bins any more, but he's still afraid of being eaten and he still always loses when it comes to the treat bucket.


Monday, September 29, 2014

My great neighbor and his pet turkey Dirk

Glenn, my neighbor across the railroad tracks, is one of the reasons I can love North Carolina. Both my other close neighbors have sued me but Glenn more than makes up for them.

I first met him when I bought some land-locked acres, logged atrociously and grown up like a jungle, between my place and his. He came roaring up to my front door on his ATV with his little daughter in front of him, introduced himself and explained: he'd lived across from this land all his life and would keep an eye out for vandals and poachers.

Over time he's helped so often, cutting trees that fall over my paths, planting chufa for the wild turkeys we both hope will come back to live here some day. Recently he hauled away a deer one of my evil neighbors had complained about: it just up and died on the border between our properties and this yuppie emailed me -- "Haul it away!"

What would you do if someone told you to haul away a deer? I called Glenn, and even though it was raining cats and dogs he came on his ATV (with his daughter, in her foul weather gear, because she'll never be parted from him) and, with a scary dog barking and snarling at him for removing this delicious feast, he tied that deer to his ATV and hauled it away somewhere the vultures could recycle it.

His girl loves to be outside with him. She rode this trailer full of turkey oaks when he brought them and planted them for me where huge, beautiful trees had once stood. Their poor little trunks were feeble as reeds but over the last year they've bulked up a bit.

So now are you wondering about that turkey in his lap? Here is, more or less, the story he told:

He has a buddy in Chatham County who "wants to be country so bad." This buddy hatched a bunch of Heritage Bronze turkeys but a raccoon got them all but one, this one. So this turkey became a pet and lived in the house with the buddy and the buddy's daughters (I astutely guessed correctly there was no mom in this house).

This turkey took to roaming the neighborhood and one day he stuck his head in some lady's car to see her kid in the car seat and the lady came back from wherever she'd stepped off to, saw the turkey, and had a cow. She called animal control and what with one thing and another, the turkey had to relocate, and Glenn offered to adopt him.

Glenn texted me: the turkey, whose name is Dirk, is very curious. "Dirk may wander out your way so now you know where to bring him back." (Superman, the miniature horse I gave to Glenn's daughter, is an escape artist and has been known to wander back here to his old haunts, no doubt in search of imagined treats, perhaps next time they'll come together.)

His text continued: "I plan on getting Dirk a girlfriend." His wife is not so keen on all this but she is tolerant. His next plan: to get some wild turkey eggs and hatch them. I asked how's he going to raise them right? Without a mother to teach them not to be stupid won't they walk right into raccoons' mouths? I suggested he get a turkey suit and go out in the woods with them and point out the dangers. To be continued some day...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Singing Circle in the Triangle rides again

People are always asking me when I will start a new singing class. I "retired" from teaching Songs for Non-Singers and Harmony Singing at the Duke Short Course program quite a few years ago, then had Rise Up Singing Circles at my house, then quit altogether. I'm hoping MeetUp will make it easier for me to run this class, which was loads of fun in the past but too hard to keep track of!

We'll meet from 7:30-9 pm at my house on a weeknight to be determined, cost $5 per session. I have seven copies of Rise Up Singing (a wonderful book chock-full of songs everybody knows and likes) and hopefully people will be inspired to buy/bring their own. I'll play piano, people can bring guitars etc. I'll give vocal coaching and tips on harmonizing to those who want them. If you just want to belt it out that will be fine too! No experience necessary.

I live between Chapel Hill and Durham, not far from Hillsborough and Carrboro. If you join the class you may bring banana peels for my donkeys to eat if you like!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

PickNBow folk music retreat weekend is this weekend! August 22-24

This is the third annual folk music camp run by Danny Gotham at the Shared Visions Center on Murphey School Road in Durham, NC, it's starting around 6 or so this Friday evening. We start with introductions, see what the "campers" want to work on, organize the workshops for the following two days, and then have an all-hands-on-deck singing and picking session.

Saturday we have about five workshops during the day, a potluck dinner, and a staff concert. I'll be doing a few of my Itzik Zhelonek songs with pianist Roger Lynn Spears!

Sunday we'll have a few workshops, lunch of course, and the camper concert which we all think is the best part of the weekend. People who come with friends/band members can show off what they do, others do solo numbers, others meet new musical friends at camp and work up numbers together. We finish off before dinner on Sunday.

For more information: PickNBow website. (Currently, erg, the site is down, but I'm confident that is temporary.) Or you can email Danny Gotham at or call him: 919-967-4934. He's easy-going.

Beginners welcome on fiddle, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, bass, and more. I'm going to be running a slow jam, a singing circle (I'm bringing Rise Up Singing), instructing in making up harmony vocals, and giving individual coaching sessions.

Staff: Danny Gotham, Joe Newberry, Julie Elkins, Bobb Head, Jane Peppler

See you there! (If you need a place to stay, email me.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

DIY coin purse with a "kiss clasp"

Home-made holiday presents coin pursesHere is a personalized, inexpensive project. I made five of these coin purses for my five nieces. Here's how to do it yourself, and what I would do differently next time.

These are two tutorials which were quite helpful. They don't agree on how to set the fabric into the frame.

Molly's sketchbook: a cute Japanese coinepurse

Purse frames de-mystified (aka Laundry Day clutch purse) - tutorial: they say "have you ever wondered how to make those lovely purses with clasp frames; dented, scratched, and ruined a metal frame/frames with those darn pliers; taken apart lots of purses to try to figure how in the heck they put them together...well step this way because we can help."

metal changepurse fixingsI ordered my purse frames from Ah Kwok Buckles in Hong Kong. They sell a lot of really cool stuff.
where to buy change purse metal framesThe price was reasonable, even with shipping. They came in quantities of five. I got five square ones and five curved ones.

Since then I've heard about this place: American Purse Supplies. Haven't tried them. (Haven't used up all my frames from last time.)

So, first draw yourself a pattern, as roomy or long as you like, as long as the top edge conforms to the pattern given by the manufacturer. If you use square frames, the very top is flat, but you can angle the sides out as much as you want.

The pictures in the links I gave above are wonderful. Go have a look.

I made the template the size of the finished purse and did not include seam allowance - I added the seam allowance later.

Once you've drawn your purse, tape the drawing onto a piece of cardboard for a template (I always use cereal boxes).

Trace your template onto lightweight fusible interfacing, four times for each coin purse you are making - then iron the interfacing pieces onto the fabric and use them as a guide for cutting out the fabric pieces. Since I was making five change purses, I cut out twenty identical pieces of interfacing. I ironed ten of them onto my lining fabric and cut around them, this time adding a seam allowance.

Then I ironed five more pieces of interfacing to the five different "outside' fabrics I was using. The last five pieces of interfacing will eventually be ironed onto your "outside' fabric, but not yet.

Now trace your pattern (leaving room for the two seam allowances) onto the front fabric. I used very narrow grosgrain ribbon for the letters and stitched it onto the fabric by hand with tiny stitches. Some other system might be better.
After I embroidered the fabric, the backs were a bit messy, but I ironed the interfacing over them and that secured the messy threads.
Now sew the fabric pieces together, lining to lining, outsides to outsides, right sides in. If you "chain" them through your sewing machine (that is, don't cut each one off, just move on to the next one) it goes much faster. Only sew up to where the top goes into the frame. Leave the top unsewn! Now I had five lining bags and five outside-fabric bags
Sew across each corner of each little bag, at the bottom - this little triangle adds volume inside the purse. (You can chain them through your sewing machine.) The larger the corner you sew across, the boxier the finished purses will be.

Stuff a lining bag inside each "outside fabric" bag such that the seams show on the outside and the seams show on the inside.

Think of the unsewed perimeter as a mouth - start sewing at the front teeth and sew right around the side to the bottom teeth and keep going around ALMOST back to where you came from, but leave a gap to pull the purse through. And then pull the fabric through. There should be no raw edges showing anywhere, and there's a little unsewed bit at the top of one of the sides, but since you're about to glue it into the frame it will never show.

Elmer's Ultimate Glue with Precision Tip was what was recommended to me. I love this glue. It expands, like gorilla glue, only it's more manageable. Expanding is good in this case because the fabric is thin and the channel is thick.

One method of making purses suggests stuffing a string up inside the frame. Good luck with that. I carefully prodded the fabric up into the channel hard against the glue and it worked ok - but if I do this again, I'll try cutting a piece of cardboard the shape of the channel and shoving that up in there with the fabric, or maybe I'll baste a piece of yarn to the mouth of the purse before I turn it right-side out.

Let the glue dry before you close the purses. Here are three of the five purses I made, as they sit with the glue drying.

One tutorial said to use pliers and gently crimp the purse frame closed. I complied, because it bothered me that the fabric was thin and the metal channel was wide, but it kind of wrecked the purses. Next time, instead of crimping, I will add cardboard inside the frame. Otherwise, I'm very pleased with how the purses came out.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My favorite t-shirts

How to make a half-size cheesecake

A whole big heavy full-sized cheesecake has so many calories. And face it, if there's half a cheesecake left over and you stick it in the refrigerator, it's going to get eaten.

Easy Small Cheesecake RecipeI didn't find a recipe online for what I wanted - a half-sized cheesecake - so I figured it out for myself and it was perfect.
And very easy.

After I made two half-size cheesecakes in a 1-quart baking dish, I splurged and bought a 7" springform pan. A 6" pan would also work, you would have to cook it a little longer at a little lower heat.

Half-sized cheesecake recipe: the graham-cracker crust

home-made graham cracker crust for cheesecake1-1/4 cup of crushed graham crackers (about one of the three wrapped portions inside a graham-cracker box)
1/4 cup sugar
a dash of salt
1/4 cup of butter

You don't really need this much crust but in my family people like a lot.

I crush the cookies in my food processor but you can pound them flat inside a gallon-sized ziplock bag too. Don't use low-fat graham crackers, they won't hold together well. Some people add cinnamon but I don't like it in this recipe.

I melted the butter and added the rest of the ingredients and pressed them carefully against the aluminum foil lining of my casserole (and then against the edges of my springform baking tin when I got it yesterday), and pushed them up the sides as far as they would go. It's recommended to chill the crust for half an hour but I didn't bother and it turned out fine.

Small sized cheesecake: the filling

12 ounces of cream cheese (that's one and a half of the big size or three of the small size) you can use non-fat creamcheese and it will turn out fine!
1/2 cup of sugar plus 1 tablespoon which is added to the sourcream topping
2 teaspoons of vanilla
dash of salt
2 eggs
8 ounces of sour cream

They say cheesecakes turn out better if you don't mix them too vigorously - I had all the ingredients at room temperature and first beat the sugar into the cream cheese (with the dash of salt).

Then I mixed in the two eggs and one teaspoon of vanilla by hand and poured it into the casserole.

Shake your cheesecake gently to settle it and then bake it at 330 degrees for about 35 minutes. You want it not all the way cooked - you want it jiggly for about three inches in the center.

Pull the cheesecake out of the oven and let it cool for five minutes. Meanwhile, stir the other teaspoon of vanilla and the one tablespoon of sugar into the sour cream.

Mix the sourcream, vanilla, and sugar and drop by dollops onto the hot cheesecake. spread them into a thin, even layer.

Put it back in the oven for another ten minutes. Then turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake in there for an hour or three before putting it in the refrigerator. These small cheesecakes never crack.

Labels: ,

Find me on Google+