I started the story about my time here at Homestead Heritage in Elm Mott, near Waco, Texas, in October and I’m going to be here most probably through Thanksgiving. So, since it’s now November 11th, I decided to write more about this wonderful place and what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks in this new story. You can explore the various links on this site to the gristmill, cheese shop, gift barn, and other types of shops. The Special Events tab at the top has the Homestead Fair information and video you may find interesting to explore. I also have an album with the pictures I’ve taken here.
As an update to the October story, I am still helping to harvest vegetables from Kim Yarden’s garden. It’s supposed to be below freezing tonight and for the next few days so this afternoon we picked all of the vegetables including green tomatoes so they won’t be ruined with the freeze. I know that we would have liked the freezing temperatures to wait a while so the tomatoes could turn red, but that’s not the way it happened. The wispy type plant is an asparagus bush. Other vegetables like cabbage, swiss chard, and carrots love the colder temperature.
I’m still helping out at the cheese shop two days a week. The cheese is sold at farmers markets throughout the state so on Tuesday and Wednesday we package the cheese so it can be shipped on Thursday. Every time I am there I learn new things about the process to make different cheeses, Mark is really good about answering my questions and explaining the process to me. We also get to sample the cheese as it’s being cut, eating some of the small pieces cut off of the large wheels. Since the last time I was here which was in 2012, the packaging process has become much more efficient and better thanks to the vacuum packing machine which seals the cheese in air tight packages, and the remodeled shop which has a storefront and an area to cut and package the cheese.
Today, one of the cheeses we were packaging was smoked Gouda. The cheese is made, aged, and smoked here on the premises. The smokehouse is a very old building and just walking by it the smell of smoke is very strong. Today, I learned that when packaging smoked cheese we have to be extra careful because the smoke leaves a film on the wheel of cheese and when it’s handled the smoke dust for lack of a better word comes off on hands, the knife, and any surface it touches. So in order not to have fingerprints on the cheese surface we handle this cheese more carefully and make sure the knife, gloves, and work surface don’t have the brown smoke on them.
One of the things I have become very conscious of during my time here, and especially for some reason this visit, is that almost everything is done by hand and in made in small batches. This is the case for all the food types prepared, not only at the Cheese Shop and Gristmill. The same goes for the ice cream, ice cream cones, breads, etc. As for the cheese, depending on the type of cheese, it’s made in batches of 100 gallons to 400 gallons. The cheese making process is done by people, not machines. The same with cutting and packaging the cheese. One of my jobs is to put the labels on the cheese packages and to weigh them and put the sticker on the package.
When we made the Malawach dough last week, we made it in batches using 5 pounds of flour for each batch. I think we mixed and rolled out 10 batches of dough. The same at the Gristmill when making mixes or other type of flour products. It is made in relatively small batches. This ensures the quality is good, and also that it is made and sold fresh. Many days the flour is ground and sold the same day. And each bag for every product is labeled and filled by hand, not a machine.
Friday afternoon I was not feeling that great. My insides and back were really hurting bad. So on Saturday morning I slept late, and during the day I took more medicine than I remember taking in one day to control the pain. I don’t know why it was so bad, but it happens occasionally and I have no control over it. I try to find the balance in taking medicine so it takes away the pain, or at least most of it, while not taking too much so that I sleep all the time. Sometimes, I have to just sleep until I feel better. In the afternoons I try to rest and sleep for about an hour or two. It’s a good night when I can sleep through the night, or at least most of the night. I’m finding that the past month or so my pain has been increasing quite a bit. I think the tumor is growing in size because it’s more sore by touching it. It seems to be pressing more on my organs causing a few different symptoms, but nothing too more life threatening than I’ve been experiencing, as far as I know. It would be nice to have a glass window so I could see what’s happening inside me. Since I didn’t have a good day healthwise, I stayed in bed until almost noon resting and napping.
I’m camped in my friends, the Yarden’s, front yard and they include me as part of their family. I join them for meals and to sit and visit and talk, and I also get to take a shower and do my laundry. I am so grateful to them for including me in their family. I also learn quite a bit in all sort of ways. They have lots of muscovy ducks, I’m guessing now about 100 of them? A few times a year they slaughter the ducks and then freeze or can the meat and broth to enjoy all year long. These ducks do not quack, you don’t even know there are ducks on the property if you don’t see them. For some reason if you have muscovy ducks there are no flys around.
Saturday morning was a duck slaughter day. I was invited to help but I didn’t want to do that. I watched a few years ago when another friend here killed the turkeys and chickens for our Thanksgiving dinner two days before Thanksgiving. That was enough for me. Saturday, after the ducks were cleaned and were being cut up to freeze or can, I helped package the duck meat and after the bones were cooked for broth I took the meat off the bones and we made duck salad with it, sort of like chicken salad. It tastes almost the same. Saturday night we had duck cacciatore for dinner, it was really good. One of my favorite dishes the Yarden family makes is duck enchiladas. You really can’t tell that you are eating duck, it tastes like beef or chicken depending on how it’s cooked and with what seasonings.
On Sunday, we had a workday at the Gristmill, there were about a dozen of us working at various things such as filling granola bags, putting mixes into bags, and someone else was grinding and sifting cumin. Yes, fresh ground cumin… it smelled like someone was cooking enchiladas or some other wonderful smelling dish. My primary job at the Gristmill this year is putting labels on bags. It’s easy for me to do and I can sit while working. Working together is a great way to get to know people and share stories about our lives and what we like to do.
After finishing at the Gristmill about 3:00 p.m., I went over to the kitchen where my friend Ahavah and several other ladies were making sorghum pecan brittle and caramel sauce for candy apples for the fair. Before the pecans are used for anything like the brittle or spiced nuts, we open every bag and sort through the pecans to make sure there are no rotten pecans or parts of the shell. After the brittle was cooled, I helped package it. After it was all packaged, Ahavah told me to take the bits and pieces from the bottom of the pan so I could snack on it later on. It tastes so delicious. It’s made with rice syrup, eco sugar, butter, cream, and pecans which were grown on the Homestead Heritage property.
The ladies also made caramel sauce that would be hands on project for children during the fair Thanksgiving weekend. Ahavah wanted to try to find something different for the children to roll the caramel apples in besides nuts, so they were trying crushed pretzels and white chocolate chips. In any place we work with food, everyone wears aprons and hairnets, and in some cases like the cheese shop we wear rubber gloves too. We make sure that everything is clean as we work.
These same ladies, along with a few others make various jellies such as prickly pair, jalapeno, and habanero. I don’t normally like spicy foods, but after trying the habanero jelly, I really like it when a small amount is put on a cracker, especially if it has a little bit of cream cheese on it too. I find the habanero jelly is not as hot as the jalapeno jelly, I think it’s because of the red peppers added to the habanero jelly. Two years ago when I was here I helped make the jelly… boy was it tough to be in the room when the pepper jelly was being cooked and put into jars.
Monday I worked at the Gristmill, I got to package the cumin that was ground on Sunday, along with cinnamon, and ginger, and I put labels on bags that would be used as needed. Then I came back to the camper and picked up pecans from the ground and filled a basket with them, and then I laid down in the camper and took a nap. I try to help out at the Gristmill two or three times a week. That with two days at the Cheese Shop gives me a pretty full week. The most I try to help in a day is four or five hours at the most. That’s about it for my physical limit. Some days it’s two or three hours.
Here are photos looking up into the pecan tree. These are native pecans which are smaller than other pecan types. When the pecan is ripe, it separates from the green covering and falls to the ground. In the photo on the right you can see a pecan separated from the covering and ready to fall to the ground.
Besides the pottery shop, the woodworking shop, and the fiber craft shop, there is a blacksmith shop. When I walked by the other day, Caleb was making axes. It really is a hard job, the force of hitting the hot iron with a sledge hammer is tough on the arm.
One of the new techniques of gardening here is aquaponics. I’ve heard of hydroponics, but not aquaponics. The basic difference between the two I think is aquaponics uses fishes. Elizabeth explained the process for this type of garden. There is a large 8 x 8 foam tank for the fish, and another tank for overflow and to keep the tank full, and the fish tank water will be pumped into the vegetable beds where the plants take the water they need and evidently somehow clean the water which is constantly being pumped and recirculated through the vegetable beds. Various types of fish can be used, and when they are mature the fish can be taken out of the tank and eaten.
The family building this aquaponic garden is doing a modified version, they are adding soil to the vegetable beds in addition to the gravel. This provides additional nutrients in the soil and it gives the plants more stability. The pipes are in the bottom of the bed, then gravel, then a layer of fabric, then the soil. The greenhouse has an opening at the top which can be opened or closed as needed for heat or cooling, and the sides can be rolled up for the same purpose. Having this controlled environment can help to eliminate bugs, and control weeds, and the raised height makes it easier to take care of the plants and harvest the crops.
In several areas around the grounds of Homestead Heritage there is a plant called the Pride of Barbados. I see the plants by the cafe and gristmill most often since I go by there frequently. This is the most unusual and beautiful plant that I always enjoy stopping to admire. The colors of the flowers are unusual and they vary bloom to bloom.
There is an area that has some animals and one of them is an alpaca, it has a very unusual face. Look closely at its mouth, it seems to have a split lip.
That’s about it for my activities here for now.
On a different subject, I’ve had a few people tell me I should write more about my health situation and how I’m dealing with it emotionally and physically. I do write about it periodically, but I don’t want it to be the focus of my life. Yes, my life and activities are more limited because of my tumors and how they are affecting my body, but I like to focus on what I’m able to do even by modifying my activities like sitting when working, or not walking as far and asking for rides to where I want to go, and taking longer naps daily. I have to take more pain medicine than I was previously and it’s been hard to do emotionally, because I don’t like taking medicine of any kind. Thankfully, my pain medicine does not affect my mental state. It only takes the pain away for which I am very grateful.
I do on occasion write about my thoughts regarding what’s happening to me physically and how I deal with it, but I like to focus on what I’m able to do and accomplish during this time I have left to live. It’s almost the end of November 2014, and last summer my doctor said she didn’t think I would live to see the end of December 2013… wow, almost a year longer than expected, and I’m still alive.
I have no idea how much more time God will let me have to live. I like to think that I have used this extra unexpected time wisely. That I have made an impact in a positive way to help others, and I believe that I have. What more could a person want. I feel close to a Higher Power that I choose to call God. I try to live the way I think God would want me to do. I do my best every day to have a positive attitude and be grateful for the life I have, even with health issues. Yes, there are days when I feel sad, but it only lasts a very short time, sometimes less than 5 minutes. Mostly, it’s at times that catch me unexpectedly. I might be doing something or talking with someone, and it occurs to me unexpectedly at that moment that I might not have many more opportunities to do this again or talk with this person, or see another eclipse for example, or share special moments with friends and family. I have shed some tears, but not too many and not too often. If I didn’t I don’t think I would be normal… whatever that is. On a rare occasion I will just let myself cry for a while to get it out of my system and feel my feelings. It’s okay to do that too, but I don’t want to stay in that place for long. There is so much to be grateful for and to still do with my life.
I’m very grateful that I have several close friends that I can talk about anything with, including when I feel frustrated due to my limitations, and sad on occasion when I think about my life ending sooner than might have without the tumors and their affect on my body. I have no control over the growth of the tumors or their affect on my organs, nerves, muscles, etc. I have no idea when they will further compress the nerves in my leg that might cause more loss of feeling in my left leg, or when they might put more pressure on my internal organs to compress them further then they are now, which might result in still less lung capacity or eating still smaller portions of food, or put more pressure on my bladder and intestines that can cause other complications which I know are a possibility. There are many scenarios, but I do my best to not think about it or focus on it because that would not do me any good. I’ve learned worry doesn’t accomplish anything, however, prayer accomplishes a lot. It brings me closer to God and I know that God has a plan for me and my life. Worrying is suffering in advance. Things I worry about might not even happen, nor happen the way I think it might. It’s even possible that the end of my life might not even happen as a result of my health condition. People die from falls, auto accidents, all types of unexpected events. So, I leave my life in God’s hands and just pray for God’s will and ask to be shown what that is every day.
An example of worrying about things that might not happen is that I brought my walker with a seat on this trip in case I needed it since my left leg and foot has numbness from the tumor pressing on nerves in my left groin and pelvic area. When I was at the Balloon Fiesta one night in my camper by accident, I hit my right foot on the edge of a table leg and a few days later when I was putting on my sneakers I realized my right foot was swollen and bruised and it was not happy to be in shoes. When I left on my trip, and as I traveled, I didn’t even think about hurting my right foot. My left foot and leg were good most of the time and didn’t hinder my activities, but my right foot did.
No one knows when their time is up, or when they might unexpectedly have a serious health condition arise in their life or the life of someone close to them, or when an accident or injury could change their life. Once again, I like to express my wishes that everyone live their life fully every day. We never know what tomorrow might bring. Don’t miss what is here for you now. I have always liked to walk rather than ride a bike, even though it would get me somewhere faster. By walking I get to enjoy the scenery, stop to admire a flower or butterfly, stop to talk with someone rather than waving as we pass, smell the fresh air, look at the clouds, the sunrise or sunset.
Live each day with an attitude of gratitude, no matter what. There is always someone who is going through something more challenging than I am. It keeps my life in perspective.