Monthly Archives: September 2014

cover photo

Nope, not ready yet

I was supposed to get a tattoo tomorrow. Some of my sisters want to get one, and so we scheduled it so we could all get them together. I don’t currently have one, and I never thought I would get one, as “I don’t like anything that much that I might not like it in the future.” But you know what I will never not like? My family. My husband, my three sons, though only one is with us.

After I miscarried in March, I was a wreck. For weeks, all I could do is cry. One night, staying up late, I found some inspiration in some tattoos. There were two especially that I liked, and I knew that my sister K could draw it for me.

I sent her facebook messages all night as I refined my thoughts, as she blissfully dreamed.

Here was the first I felt drawn to:
flowing image

I loved the flowing lines, and especially the top left and bottom middle. Just simple lines, not especially detailed, but I felt drawn to it. That was going to represent Boobock and I. I also asked her to add DH to that as well.

I then found this one:
heart - foot

I mean, that exact one is kind of crude, but I liked the foot on the heart. I liked the idea, but wanted the style to be like the top one. I would want two of these, one for each baby I lost. And to definitely show that there were two of them, both of the hearts needed to be right feet.

Then, we needed to think of if I have another baby, another like the top, or if I miscarry again, another like the bottom. That would be hard, though. A design that would look good as is, or adding one or the other.

And…no angel wings. People don’t become angels when they die. They hopefully become saints, but never angels. Angels are separate beings created by God, not dead people.

I thought of adding a phrase to this as well. It turned out that the image was so powerful that it didn’t need a phrase, but I still love what we came up with:
May God hold you in His arms until we gather as family.

I sent her all this late into the night, and then she started drawing. She sent me different pictures on her phone, and eventually came up with exactly what I wanted:
cover photo

I love it. I look at that and see DH and I holding Boobock in our arms. We are surrounded by love. Our two sons we never met are forever a part of our family, though we never got to hold them. We have room for more, if God so chooses to bless us (and if my body can get with the program), but we know that even if we can get pregnant, there are no guarantees. In our arms or surrounded by them, I am still their mom. And we are still family.

And when the final picture came through from my sister, I felt peace. Designing this and dealing with all the symbolism really and truly helped me cope with our latest tragedy. After she cleaned up the lines a bit and framed it, she gave it to me. Looking at it has calmed me over the past 6 months when I needed it most.

And so, tomorrow is the day. My sister A asked me if I was going, and I said yes and asked her for a bit more information, as to where and what time. As I was driving home, I started thinking about the picture and how I was going to explain to the tattoo artist exactly what everything meant, the symbolism that was so perfectly rendered by K, and I got a heavy feeling in my chest. A nagging feeling about…something. I tried to shrug it off, but over the years, I have made big mistakes when I ignore that feeling, so I decided to explore it. The feeling I had was “are you sure you are done?”

No! No, I don’t want to be done! I need to continue to feel hope that we can have another child. I am not ready to give up. I am not ready. I got this overwhelming feeling that if I tattoo that permanently on my body, that we are done. Even though we designed it to allow additions. Even though ink in your skin does not mean anything other than you had someone inject ink into your skin. No. I can’t let those fatalistic thoughts creep into my head.

And as my eyes started brimming with tears, I had to call someone. And so, I called my sister J, who had put this whole tattoo party together. I felt so badly. She is only 18. She doesn’t need to get unloaded on by her 36 year old sister about things she hopefully will not ever have to contemplate. I started telling her how I was feeling, and how I was so sorry for her going through all the trouble to get us all appointments and all, and I was backing out. I really started crying then. I mean bawling. About the symbolism of it all and trying to explain what I was feeling, and oh, I just felt awful.

But after making the decision, I felt peace. Peace that not getting it now is the right decision. That there may be time still and to not lose hope. And I still have the picture, framed and signed and made with love, and that is good enough for now.

Sickness and mourning and Ebola

What with the news of higher and higher numbers of Ebola suffers in Africa this year, and the high death count (I’ve seen as high as 71% of the people who contract Ebola in this current outbreak have died), naturally the question of “how far will this disease spread” is a common one. Usually, in the news I read, this also is accompanied by “will it spread to the United States?” and “will it become an epidemic in the United States?”

We are assured that it won’t come here, and we are further assured that our hygiene and medical system/burial practices can handle it even if it does come here, so we shouldn’t be worried.

Am I worried? No. There are many other things I need to worry about before I worry if anyone I know contracts Ebola. But it isn’t logical to take these assuaging statements as facts.

First, will it come here? Well, it already is here. 4 people have been flown into the country already with the disease. The first 3 were flown in with much fanfare in specialized airplanes, the first 2 to Emory University in Georgia, the third to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha Nebraska, (which by the way, he was released today: US Ebola Patient Released; Says He Feels Great

We haven’t heard much about the 4th patient, though. He walked into the hospital after getting a flight to a local Air Force base in Georgia, and is also being treated at Emory. New Ebola Patient Arrives in U.S. for Treatment They haven’t released his name, nor how bad the illness is for him.

Also, there is the fact that tens of thousands of “unaccompanied minors” – or you know, 35 year olds claiming they are minors, or anyone else who wants to, can cross our borders. What do they have? Scabies, tuberculosis, measles, Enterovirus 68? I know the first two are true. The fourth had a sharp uptick in America this year, where it hasn’t been common, though it is common in other parts of the world…a tidbit that was in the first article I saw about this virus, but not in any subsequent articles I saw. The fact that we don’t know who is coming across is a major health threat. What would stop someone with Ebola from driving down from Canada or walking up from Mexico? Or flying right in to the country? We don’t quarantine anyone anymore, and the virus has a 3 week incubation period.

Second, yes, I know there is a difference between 3rd world Africa and 1st world America when it comes to hygiene. We tend to shower and wash our hands much more frequently than those in Africa, and we do have flush toilets and not latrines. And as shown by the 4 that have been treated, we are reasonably sure that the virus hasn’t spread beyond them. But at Emory, they have had trouble dealing with the waste associated with treating this disease…gloves, hazmat suits, diarrhea and vomit and blood, etc. “CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said the agency isn’t aware of any packaging that is approved for handling Ebola waste.” And this at the premier hospital for treating Ebola victims! What happens at the podunk hospitals I am surrounded by?

And before the person is sick enough to be taken to the hospital, how are they treated at home? Boobock had a fever a few weeks ago. I just held him all weekend. Held him, and when we wanted to see if he had a fever, I kissed his forehead before getting the thermometer out. When he needed medicine to break the fever and kept refusing – I could get the small portion of they syringe in, but he clamped his lips up so the entire thing wouldn’t go in – DH put the syringe of medicine in his mouth and said “yummy!” and then tried to get Boobock to take it, which he finally did. And when he puked the one time, I wasn’t prepared. I caught it in my hands, yelling for DH to get a bowl, and then he took Boobock and I went to the bathroom to clean my hands in the sink. I washed it off, but it went down the drain. He was better by Sunday, and DH and I never got sick. So, what if he had had Ebola? All three of us would probably have contracted it. Because we haven’t seen this disease in this country before, many people won’t take it seriously enough at the beginning (like we didn’t treat his fever very seriously), and then panic will take us too far in the other direction, swamping ERs and doctor’s offices.

Thinking about this, someone would have to physically tear me away from Boobock if he got Ebola. Someone would have to physically block me from holding him and comforting him. I do not know how I could handle seeing my 3 year old behind plastic, feverish, vomiting, crying, with diarrhea, scared to death, and not hold him and try to calm him. And that is with me knowing about germs/hygiene, and how deadly this virus is! How can we expect people who most likely don’t know what is causing this disease, nor how it is spread, to hygienically care for their loved ones?

And let’s look at “cold and flu season”. How many of you go to work when you are sick? How many of you proudly exclaim how your fever was awful yesterday, and even though you sound like your lung is about to be hacked up your throat and stuffing tampons in your nostril to stop the flow of snot is looking pretty good right about now, you made it in today! “Give me a medal for spreading this to everyone in the office!” you gleefully exude.

Anti-bacterial soap and hand cleaners don’t work on viruses, yo.

Do we know how to clean up after someone who is sick? Does Clorox kill Ebola? If you wash it off down the drain, is that a health hazard? CAN you wash it off down the drain with soap? How hot do things have to be to sterilize them? Hot water in the washing machine? Boiling gets up to 212*. Pressure canners get up to 245* or 255*. Is that hot enough? For how long does it require?

Finally, I hear many media reports on the virus talking about the “burial custom of touching the body” in Africa. Well, let me tell you, that ain’t just in Africa. The last two funerals I went to, I saw people touch the deceased’s hands in a farewell gesture. I saw people give a kiss on the forehead and hug the deceased. And then wipe their eyes or blow their nose, with nary a thought. We know that these two funerals were not for Ebola victims, though. That should make a difference, if the person is diagnosed. What if they aren’t?

And what if they are? What happens when someone dies of Ebola in this country? Are they cremated? Are all crematoriums able to handle something like this? If not, where do we ship the bodies? Across the interstate? Fly them? I don’t know, and I haven’t heard much discussion about it.

But I’m not *worried*. This isn’t keeping me up at night. I just don’t believe we are permanently in the clear like we have been told we are.

Pregnancy facts about me – #2

On facebook in December 2013, there were many pregnancy stories going around. “5 pregnancy facts about me” or “20 pregnancy facts about me”, etc. Most of them started with morning sickness, or the happy lack thereof, and ended with 12 hours of labor, or a C-Section, or some other happy ending. Mine is much, much different. I compiled 20 at the time…but more will be added to that list, since my pregnancy facts – or infertility facts, as the case may be – are still accruing. I’ll be doing one “fact” per post, in a recurring fashion. The roundup of this entire series is here: Roundup

2) I was lucky that during my first pregnancy we got to see an ultrasound early, at 8 weeks, since I was an older mom. I miscarried 2 weeks later. But I have an ultrasound picture and I was able to hear the heart beating.

Oh, happy day, we finally got pregnant! After getting laid off from my job in 2009, I was finally home full time, without the 3 hour drive one way, and 4 days away from my husband. Less stress, more time together, boom, pregnant 2 months later.

We, or I, decided to go to a local doctor instead of driving an hour to a larger hospital, or 3 hours back to the doctor in Wichita. I got my first appointment with the doctor, and explained a bit about my PCOS. She hadn’t ever heard of it. That was a bad sign, but I didn’t change doctors. She saw that I was on Metformin, and told me to quit taking that, as I didn’t actually have diabetes. I shake my head at her abject incompetence.

I started telling people that we were pregnant after around a month. First just close family, then more and more people. We were so excited! I just couldn’t wait to hold this little person my husband and I made. I had a lot of time to help DH on the farm, as the company had laid off so many people that they had to give us 2 months notice first. Since I was in a sensitive position that could have caused havoc, I was let go immediately but they still had to pay me for that time. They also paid out my vacation, and then I got some unemployment when all that was done. Of course, I was looking for a job diligently, but hadn’t found anything yet.

I scheduled an appointment to have an ultrasound done. Because I was “older” at 31, they decided to do an ultrasound at 8 weeks instead of 10. DH went with me, and we got to hear the baby’s heartbeat and see the little bugger. It was magical. I was so happy. Oh, the plans we had. I am very thankful that DH decided to go. I didn’t know how many times he needed to go to the doctor with me, but he went to the first appointment and also went to this one.

We got a picture printed out of the ultrasound. I called him my little peanut. That picture is still up on our refrigerator.
ultrasound of Christian

I had little morning sickness and just got a bit tired. I have since learned that because of the small amount of hormones I produce, I don’t get morning sick very often. I felt fine and helped DH around the farm. Walking and lifting and driving and bouncing and all that. Everyone assured me that was fine, just don’t wear myself out.

I finally got an interview for a job on June 12. I went to it, and DH came with me so he could do some errands in Beloit. I had a great interview, we went out to eat and came home. Things were looking up! A new baby, a new (potential) job – which I did actually get, happiness and butterflies and rainbows. I was still under the mistaken impression that if you got pregnant, you automatically got a baby after 9 months. I had no idea what was coming next.

Apple cider or Apple juice, whichever

I’ve made enough apple sauce to last all year…in fact, if we eat a pint every two weeks, we would still have enough until next year. I was ready to pull all the apples off the tree and give them to the chickens, but thought I would try to make juice out of them first.

Before, I just had a crockpot and large roasting pan that I had made the apple sauce with. When making the apple sauce, I saw that there was a lot of juice left over when pushing it through the meat grinder after cooking, so I just thought I would let it cook all day while I was away at work and then try to squeeze it when I got home. What I got was a start to dehydrated apples in the oven and a gooey sticky mess in the crockpots. The chickens got a feast that night. I have since learned that you are supposed to cover them with water. boil or simmer, strain, put in a sack and squeeze…

Gee, you know that information… really would’ve been more useful to me *yesterday.*

You tell em, Adam Sandler.

I then started looking into steam juicers. The Finnish one is apparently the gold standard, but very expensive. After poking around in the intertubes, it didn’t look like the knock off versions were functionally different, so I ended up getting Cook N Home NC-00256 11-Quart Stainless-Steel Juicer Steamer

I started with sand hill plum juice, which was TART aka bitter. Still trying to find a good combination to use that with, without drowning in sugar – or any sweetener. I mixed like a tablespoon with about a cup of apple juice, and it gave it a nice little kick, and I have heard that ginger might take some of the bitterness out of it as well. I then tried it with some regular plums, off a neighbor’s bush, and that juice is very nice with no sugar added.

But, I wanted to try to make apple juice. I’m still a bit unclear about the difference between apple cider and juice, as the traditional method of grinding, pressing and then either filtering or not decides if it is apple cider or juice:
Apple juice and Apple cider: What’s the difference?

Apple juice and apple cider are both fruit beverages made from apples, but there is a difference between the two. Fresh cider is raw apple juice that has not undergone a filtration process to remove coarse particles of pulp or sediment. It takes about one third of a bushel to make a gallon of cider.

To make fresh cider, apples are washed, cut and ground into a mash that is the consistency of applesauce. Layers of mash are wrapped in cloth, and put into wooded racks. A hydraulic press squeezes the layers, and the juice flows into refrigerated tanks. This juice is
bottled as apple cider.

Apple juice is juice that has been filtered to remove solids and pasteurized so that it will stay fresh longer. Vacuum sealing and additional filtering extend the shelf life of the juice.

Well, that doesn’t tell me how my processing fits in. It is steamed juiced, so it comes out perfectly clear juice with no pulp, but I don’t filter it. I”m going to call it cider. Sounds more fancy than juice.

I use an apple corer to cut the apples and core them. Maybe not necessary if using store bought apples, but mine could/did have bugs/worms, so I needed to cut them open so I could get rid of the icky parts. A helpful hint: put the top of a beer bottle down on the cutting board, pointy side down. Use your corer to core the apple on the cutting board, but there is always that little bit of skin still holding everything together. Move the circle of the corer onto the beer bottle top and press down again. That puts your metal corer on top of the metal beer bottle, and you can push down that much more. It won’t slice cleanly through, but you can then turn it over and push the core out over your compost bucket, and then turn it over again to flop the apples into your waiting bowl. That little addition of the beer bottle cap made going through an entire juicer load of apples much faster…20 minutes or so? And I got to drink a beer while doing it, so win!

After the round of apple sauce I made earlier, that cleared a bunch of apples from the neglected, never pruned, fallen over tree in the front yard, and the extra energy after harvesting a few went into making much larger apples. Some turned out almost as big as store bought! The smaller ones I just quartered and cut out the cores with a knife. IMG_3390[1]

The juicer has a bottom pan for water, a middle pan that stores the juice and an upper pan with holes in it to let the juice drop into the middle pan. The water boils, comes up through the cone part of the middle pan, heats the apples, which make them release the juice. I put a jar in the cabinet below the juicer and let it drain out as it is heating. I bring it up to a very high boil, and then back off again so it is still boiling but not furiously. I let it go 1 1/2 hours or until all the juice is done coming out. That is longer than most instructions say, but I am only doing one load a day, so quiting 30 minutes earlier isn’t much of a time saver.

The first time I did it, I just used the apples from the aforementioned neglected tree. It was pretty good, but a little tart, as the green apples that it grows are definitely less sweet than others around. A friend down the street has just moved into a house and said she had some peaches I was welcome to. I went over to grab some peaches one day, and they were all gone! Too late. Bummer. But I saw the apple tree with beaucoup red apples littering the ground, so I grabbed a bucketful and came home with them…later telling her I stole some :) She responded with “come take all you want!”

Combining the green apples with her more red, sweeter apples yielded a great apple cider/juice. The steam juicer makes very heavy/syrupy juice that could be diluted and it would still taste awesome, but storing it, I don’t do that, as why store water like that?

So far, I’ve done 3 juicers full and came up with 8 quarts of juice…kind of. Another neighbor indicated she would like to buy some. I had done a juicer full of green apples, and then did another juicer full of red apples the next day. I told her that I would come by when it was ready, but she stopped by instead. I was still boiling the two types together and putting it into 1/2 gallon jars, so I rushed and put it into the jar, added a two piece lid, wrapped it up in a towel, and handed it to her to go. And…

Thermal Shock!!! dun dun duuuuuunnnnnnnn

All over the floor. Damn it. 1/2 gallon just made apple cider mixed with dog food/hair and dirty shoes. (That sounds like my kitchen is uninhabitable. No, that was the back room she was leaving by.) I was so embarrassed and mad at myself. I should have told her it wasn’t ready yet and I would bring it by later. I knew better than that. So, she left, and I did the other half gallon, and then the rest into 2 quart jars.

Apple juice is acidic enough that you don’t have to worry about botulism, but other germies could be present. I boiled the juice, washed the jars with soap and water, boiled the lids, and then filled and put the lids on. Then, moved them to a towel covered counter-top to cool naturally and not break all over my clean kitchen floor.

The first time, I pressure canned the quarts, as I don’t have a water bath canner big enough for quarts. I did 11 lbs of pressure for 10 minutes, and it turned it very dark. I did the apple juice, plum juice and sand hill plum juice all in one canner load, and the colors were very different going in (sand hill plum was dark pink, plum was light pink, and apple was beige) but they came out all looking about the same. I had to guess which was which, based on color, the smaller canning jars I had used to finish out the batch, and by…licking my finger, swiping the outside of the jar on the threads, and tasting it. To detect the overflow, you see. It worked :)

I have since found a great resource for pressure canning things traditionally canned:

The science behind canning lends itself to letting traditionally water batch canned items be safely pressure canned. The pressure canner brings the water to a higher temperature than the BWB canner, so my original thinking was to blow off the steam for 10 minutes, pressure it up to what you use for other traditionally pressure canned foods (11 lbs at my elevation of 1500 feet) and keep it there as long as the original recipe said to do the BWB canning, and it had to be safe. Turns out, yes, but it was too much pressure and for too long. Apples and apple sauce was 6 lbs pressure for 8 minutes, according to the above link. I had gone 11 lbs for 10 minutes.

Now, for the math of buying the juicer. It was about $100 for the juicer when I bought it. I looked in the store today for apple juice, and it was about $2.50 per half gallon. I sold the one 1/2 gallon for $5, so it’s down to $95 :) $95 / 2.5 = 38 one half gallons to break even. I’ve got 2 more 1/2 gallons (actually, 4 quarts) on the shelf (I’m not counting the one that broke), so 36 left. I’ve got one apple tree in the front yard, another 2 year old tree in the front yard that isn’t yielding yet, another 1 year old tree in the front yard that is probably dead and I need to get my money back from the seller, trees in 3 different neighbor’s yards that I have permission to pick, etc. If I didn’t have the tools to process these, these apples and other fruits (plums, sand hill plums, pears, etc) would be going to waste. I have no doubt that in a few years I will make the juicer pay for itself.

The juicer looks like it could be transformed into a still with a little work, as a facebook friend helpfully pointed out. I don’t think I will be attempting that, but here are some hard apple cider references I might try in the future:
How To Make Hard Cider
How To Make Applejack