Sunday, September 4, 2011

Baby, if the cops come to get me, bring the bacon!

A while back I wrote about a woman who was being charged with animal cruelty because she put her goat in the trunk of her car. At the time, I had a billie goat and was sympathetic to her plight. I hope the judge is sympathetic to mine.

On October third I have to go to court because of my pig. Before you jump to conclusions, I'm not being charged with animal cruelty. Believe me; it's not that I haven't wanted to hurt something. I just haven't given in to the impulse although with the border collie it has been a very near thing. I'm being charged with Livestock at Large.

The pig won't stay in his fence. He pushes his way out and goes to visit the neighbors. The neighbors don't love him like I do. It is a situation that is exacerbated by the border collie who in his zeal to herd the pig merely manages to chase him off our property and onto the neighbor's. The neighbors have lost patience with my pig and I. Animal Control has lost patience with my pig and I. I have precious little patience left myself.

While I do understand the concerns of Animal Control and the neighbors, I do not think I am guilty of Livestock at Large. The Livestock at Large charge states that the livestock's owner is permitting the animal to roam free beyond the borders of their property. I assure you there is no permitting going on. The pig has never asked for permission before he goes on walkabout. If he had, I would have said no. I have gone to elaborate, embarrassing measures to fix the fence and keep him in. He is, however, as big as I am and probably smarter. He finds a way out, often with the help of the border collie who is desperately trying to find a way in.

When I call him, he comes home following me like Mary's lamb, but like Mary's lamb, he's a rule breaker. On Wednesday, he's going to the processor. The border collie and I are going to miss him. Tell me; do you think I'd get in trouble if I took the judge sausage?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Skeleton Key - Chapter 8

The amazing Michelle Simkins (a.k.a. The Greenwoman) started a blogvel. I know; I didn't know what it was either. Actually, it's a group of writers who each write and post chapters of a novel on their blogs. You can find the Table of Contents with links here. While you are catching up on the other chapters, look around. The blogs are fun, interesting and worth following. I was fortunate enough to be able to write Chapter 8. It was a blast writing someone else's characters, and I can't wait to see what happens next. You can find Chapter 7 at kacimari's blog Hey Now Chapter 9 will be at J. Lea Lopez's blog, Jello World, on August 1. Hope you have as much fun reading as I had writing. Thanks again, Michelle, for letting me play!

Chapter 8

"What do you mean she's going to kill you? I thought you were the most powerful being this side of the Quaterjarnexal Complex?" I pitched my voice low to mimic his. It was pissy. I know, but I was trying not to think about the ex-girlfriend thing, and I was hungry. It had been most of a day and three countries since my half-eaten sandwich.

"Don't you think it's odd that your sister happened to end up working with Angelica?" He spat out her name like it left a bad taste in his mouth. "The prophetess sees you standing against the one killing the doorkeepers, and suddenly a powerful monster decides to model for your identical twin."

I relaxed my angry stance a bit while I thought about that. When he said it that way, it did seem odd- odd and a little scary. The thought of someone targeting Ashley made me fiercely protective. I was the big sister after all. I was so caught in my own thoughts, I missed Ax stepping closer until I felt his breath on my face. Heat radiated off his body.

"And Rebecca," he said letting his lips brush the shell of my ear. "I am an incredibly powerful being."

He turned and stalked off still dangling Ashley over his shoulder like a limp sack. I stumbled forward, caught myself and took off after them. The sidewalks were a sea of commuters in dark suits moving single-mindedly towards the Metro station. No one was paying any attention to the man-shaped dragon trailing wisps of smoke and carrying an unconscious woman over his shoulder. I had to push my way through the masses of commuters to keep up with them.

Tantalizing food scents wafted from street food vendors, and my stomach growled. I wasn't sure if it was breakfast or dinner. I looked longingly at the people standing at counters eating bowls of rice and vegetables with chopsticks as I rushed past them. Ax must have assumed I'd follow him because he was carrying my sister. He wasn't bothering to drag me by the hand anymore. The protective mate thing must be wearing off. At least it wasn't hard to see them. He towered over most of the crowd.

"Wait, wait! Where are we going?" I puffed catching up to Ax and Ashley. He'd stopped in front of a concrete and glass skyscraper. I stepped out of the stream of people to meet them.

"Why are we stopping here?"

"There is someone I need to talk to , and I need a safe place to put her. Somewhere safe but out of our way." He jostled Ashley, and she moaned softly.

"Oh for Pete's sake, Ashley, wake up." I grabbed my sister and helped Ax set her on her feet. He held her upright while I lifted her head and pushed the tousled curls out of her face. "Come on Ash, time to wake up."

"What?' Her eyes fluttered open. "Where am I?" She saw Ax and instantly snapped awake. "You," she said stabbing a finger at him. "You set us on fire." She patted her hair and eyebrows checking to make sure everything was still there.

"It's okay, Ash." I put myself between them, but she continued to glare over my shoulder at him. "You're okay we're in Tokyo."

"Tokyo? The one in Japan? How did we..." Her voice trailed off. "Never mind, don't tell me. I don't want to know."

"I have a condo here. You can freshen up." Ashley touched under her eyes, I think imagining what the remnants of her make-up must look like. My normally polished sister was a raccoon-eyed mess. I felt a little bad for taking pleasure in that, but it was her fault she'd freaked out and fainted.

Ax ushered us through the revolving glass door and into the building. he pushed the down button for the elevator, watching Ashley closely for signs of hysteria. when the polished chrome doors slid closed, he turned his attention to me and stepped in close. His hand moved to the small of my back radiating warmth through the thin cloth of my shirt.

Standing this close to him was making it hard to think. I took a step back and bumped into the wall of the elevator. "I thought you didn't go out much. Why do you have a condo in Tokyo?"

"I don't go out much," he said. "But I do go out. Japan is an important place for dragons. I find it easier to keep a den here than to find a suitable place to stay when I visit."

The doors opened to an entryway that looked like it had been chiseled out of the bedrock. The soft lights and rich oak doors were at odds with the glass and chrome of the rest of the building. Ax took a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. "After you."

He motioned us inside, and Ashley rushed off to find a mirror. I stood inside the cool dark room and looked around as much as the dim light would permit. A huge tatami platform bed sat in the center of the room, and the walls were lined with bookshelves. A doorway to a long hall was tucked between the bookcases. I could hear Ashley banging around and muttering to herself in a room off the hallway.

Ax stepped in close behind me, the heat from his body toasting my back. It was like warming myself in front of a campfire. His hands closed gently over my upper arms. When I moved to step away, they tightened squeezing in and holding me in place. I started to protest, but the words caught in my throat as he bent to nip at the tender skin under my ear.

Holding only my arms in his strong hands, he pulled me back against the hard, hot length of his body. His tongue played along my neck, and the part of my brain that hadn't melted decided it didn't care if he was a dragon. I was also sure now that he had male parts because they were pressing against my butt.

"I have to go out for a while." His breath was hot against my ear, and the low rumble of his voice set off tremors deep in my body. "Make yourself at home. I won't be gone long."

"What? Wait. What?" My brain stopped its slow melt stuttering over the herd of unanswered questions stampeding in my head. I squirmed out of his grip and picked one to start with. "What do you mean you're going out? Going where? Don't you need me to come along and use that hummer thing?"

"Something about the killer's mist is familiar. I have an old friend who might know what it is." He held up his hand to stop me before I could interrupt. "I can't take you and your sister with me. Nushi gave up eating the flesh of young woman centuries ago, but it's better not to tempt him."

I gave an involuntary shudder. It was too easy to forget the handsome man in front of me was one of the monsters. "What am I supposed to do while you're gone?"

"Rest, relax, make yourself at home. This will be your home soon, mate. One of them anyway. Stay inside; you'll be safe here."

He turned and left me standing with my mouth hanging open.

Mate. Holy crap.

I shook myself and went to find Ashley.

She was soaking neck-deep in an enormous stone tub filled with lavender scented bubbles. I guess it was important for dragons to stay calm.

"What are you doing Ash?"

She arched an expertly groomed brow. "I'm taking a bath." She said it slowly like she was speaking to a child.

"I can see that. Why are you taking a bath?" Ashley had gone from delicate flower to smart ass. She'd learned monsters were real and travelled by fire. Leave it to my sister to cope by soaking in a tub.

"I felt singed. Mmmm, it's not as good as a massage with Sven, but at least Mr. Hottie has a decent bathroom. Speaking of which, he sure is a step up from the newt boy. What was his name? Doug? Deck?"

"Dex. His name is Dex, and you know I hate it when you call him newt boy."

"Whatever. No one is going to cal Mr. McSteamy a boy."

She was right about that. Ax was definitely all man. Except he wasn't a man, he was a dragon. It was too easy to forget that. Every time I started to think of him as a man, he'd do or say something to remind me he was a monster. He had friends who used to eat women. My stomach pick that moment to growl.

"Ax went out. I'm going to go look for something to eat. Maybe there is some popcorn or rice in the kitchen. Do you want something?"

"Carbs? god no." Ashley leaned her head back against the tub and closed her eyes.

There was no kitchen. I looked behind every door. I found a room filled floor to ceiling with locked drawers. There was a guest room, and an opulent master bedroom with a bed big enough to hold an orgy or a dragon. I wasn't going to spend any more time thinking about that one. There was no food in the entire apartment. I sat on the tatami mat willing my stomach to be quiet.

"I thought you were fixing something to eat." Ashley came in wrapped in an enormous bath towel. She looked fresh and beautiful. I was rumpled and starving.

"There's no food."

"Well go out and get something." She was talking to me like a child again. "I love Tokyo. I came here when Chic did that spread on Fairy-kei girls." At my blank look she went on. "You know, baby doll colors, short skirts. Anyway, I fell in love with the city. It moves so fast, and the fashion isn't like anywhere else - leggings or knee socks with heeled boots, mini skirts and short swing jackets. I can't wear it. My breasts are too big." She looked down at her towel clad body and flopped on the mat next to me. "But I love it."

Funny, I'd never thought of my breasts as big. "Let's go out. Get dressed, Ash. I'm starving." I was whining. I knew it, but I really don't do well when I'm hungry.

"I'll go out later. It's only...what...ten in the morning here? I want to press my clothes and try to save my job. I can't believe I ran out on Angelica. You go; I'll wait here."

"I don't speak the language. How will I order anything?" Until today my international travel had been very limited. I also didn't like the idea of Ax coming home and finding my twin sprawled out wearing nothing but a bath towel.

"Don't worry. The Japanese are very polite. You can kudsai and domo arigatou your way to a bowl of noodles. Just go Beck. Don't be a baby." She laid back and closed her eyes.

Dismissed, I grabbed my bag and headed out. I had a moment of panic when I realized I didn't know how I was going to pay for my food. I hoped my credit card worked. On the street I quickly found a store front food stall that looked like it would take a credit card. I was reaching in my bag for my wallet when I felt the buzzing. I wondered how my cell phone which barely worked outside NYC could be ringing in Tokyo. I dug around in my bag for it and found the hummer. And it was humming.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Middle Aged Woman in Paris

I watched Ian Garten's Barefoot in Paris the other night, and I was struck by two things. First, how adorable are Ina and her husband Jeffery? Everyone should be loved the way Ina loves Jeffery. The second thing that hit me was an almost physical longing to go back to Paris.

My mother, sister and I went to Paris this past March. My sister had been there before, but it was the first time for my mom and I. I have wanted to go since I was a teenager so when my sister said she had room credits she had to use did we want to go to Paris, I said yes. This was the view outside our window.

We stayed a few blocks from the Bastille. The city was fantastic, and my sister was an awesome tour guide. She made sure we saw all the things we wanted to see and things we didn't know we wanted to see.

I had years of French in high school and college and can't speak the language at all. I tried, but I had stage fright. My sister did most of the talking. It is a common misconception that the French are rude. That was not my experience. Even at the busy Boulangerie where I bought pastry and the best fromage blanc ever, the saleswoman was patient with my ridiculous franglais. If you try to speak their language, Parisians are accommodating. They are also very polite. What they aren't is smiley.

This is a picture of my sister and I. She's the cool tall one. Unfortunately, the only picture I have of the three of us was taken during what we've come to call the international incident. We had the misfortune of sitting next to a loud midwestern couple at a cafe outside the Louvre. They were the worst example of stereotypical American tourists. My mom tried to be nice to them, and it was guilt by association. It's the only time we had bad service, and it was a real shame because the food was very good.

It worked out okay, however, because about an hour later, I got to see this. Antonio Canova's Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss.

The light was coming through the window at the perfect angle to make the marble glow. It is one of the things I will remember for the rest of my life. Spending time with my mom and sister was another.

Next Paris blog - the Revolution, breasts, poo and food deserts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Grandma Lucas's Cup Custard

It's raspberry picking time. This week the berries went from red to purply black overnight. The boys and I have been picking everyday and the berries show no sign of slowing. My four-year-old has declared raspberries to be his favorites. Last month strawberries held the coveted spot.

My dad was visiting last week and commented on the abundant red berries. I could see forager envy in his eyes. I have a bigger crop than he does, but he's the reason I know how to pick berries. When I was a girl, my dad and I would pick raspberries in the fence row behind the house. We'd work our way up one side and down the other filling our buckets and bellies as we went. The berries that made it back to the house often ended up in my grandmother's cup custard. Sturdier than its creme brulee cousin, this recipe will work with any fruit, but it's particularly good with raspberries.

Grab your kids, find a fence row and start picking!

Grandma Lucas's Cup Custard

4 eggs and 1/2 cup sugar beaten together

2 1/2 cups scalded milk

1 tsp. vanilla

Let the milk cool slightly and mix into the egg mixture gradually to avoid scrambling the eggs. Put the berries in the bottom of oven safe ramekins. Fill ramekins with custard mixture and bake at 475 degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 450 degrees and bake an additional 10 minutes. The custard will still wobble when it's finished. You can temper the eggs, strain the custard and bake it in a water bath if you want to, but for me the charm of the recipe is how quickly you can make it. I have a hard time waiting for it to cool!

Monday, May 9, 2011

What I Didn't Know

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I climbed on the motorcycle and rode to Paint Bank, Virginia so I could cover Hollow Hill Farm, a bison farm, for Lancaster Farming. The ride was beautiful. Spring was in full bloom in western Virgina and there were wildflowers everywhere.

Paint Bank is an intersection in the middle of nowhere. I'm not kidding. There is a gas station with a general store, a small quaint hotel and a smattering of houses. The Paint Bank General Store is like a movie set with barrels of dry goods and glass jars of penny candy. The second floor has a country chic gift shop and outdoor outfitter. The general store is also home to the Swinging Bridge Restaurant which has an actual swinging bridge suspended from the second story and serves a fantastic hot bison sandwich with sweet potato fries.

The same family owns the farm, general store and hotel along with Potts Creek Outfitters, a hunting and fishing guide service. It's obvious that they spent a lot of money making Paint Bank special. Everything is a little nicer than you would expect and all of it is charming.

The bison farm itself was inspiring, with green, lush pastures, a committed farm manager and enormous bison. Some of the bulls were over 2,500 pounds and looked me in the eye in the pickup truck Aaron Calfee, the farm manager, was using to show me around. It was a completely humbling experience, and I couldn't wait to tell my sister about the size of the animals. She's a bison freak, and I knew she'd want to know about the farm.

I called her as soon as I got home, and to my surprise, she said she knew about the farm. "That guy that worked with Michael Milken started it," she said. "You know, the insider trading guy." Well, I didn't know about the "insider trading guy" so I googled Mulheren, the family's name.

John Mulheren was a financial powerhouse and a Wall Street icon. By the age of 25 he was the managing director of Merrill Lynch. In the 1980's, he was implicated in an insider trading scandal. He was convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges in 1990, but his conviction was overturned in 1991. Ivan Boesky, who was an informant in the Milken case, was apparently the one that implicated Mulheren in the insider trading scandal.

Mulheren loaded his car with weapons and set out to kill Boesky. Fortunately his wife called the police and stopped him from making a life altering mistake. Mulheren went on to switch from trading to management, building a successful career at Bear Wagner Specialists. He died of a heart attack in 2003 at the age of 54. Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen both spoke at his funeral.

Mulheren and his wife were prolific philanthropists giving millions of dollars to a varitey of causes. They built buildings, funded scholarships, and they raised seven children of their own. Regardless of what may or may not have happened in the 1980's, the Mulheren's Paint Bank employees are very loyal and obviously like the family. They're passionate, hard workers committed to the Mulheren's vision. Mulheren, a kid from the Bronx, built a tangible legacy in western Virginia.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Little Pig, Little Pig, Won't You Come Home?

One of the fat boys has gone missing. I'm afraid he was pig napped while I was at Cow College. (Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write.)

In an attempt to know the provenance of the food my family eats, I got two pigs last summer. I didn't know anything about pigs, but my husband's family used to keep them. He said I needed a way to call them; you know "here piggy piggy" or "sooey." Channeling my inner Helen Bonham Carter, I decided to call them my fat boys. I'd walk out of the house every morning and call "Come here fat boys. Bring me my fat boys," and they would run to the fence to see what treats I had brought them. My fat boys love pancakes, and I can honestly tell you I was tempted to make some just for them rather than feeding them the boy's leftovers.

I loved my fat boys so much my husband said I would never eat them. I told him he was wrong, but I would cry while I did it. Pigs are charming animals. They are also pigs in the classic definition of the word. They climb over each other and anything else to eat, and they eat all the time. They can't be led with a can of food like the goats because they never raise their heads enough to see the can. They root in the ground for God knows what occasionally unearthing horse shoes and other oddities. They have torn up their pen with their digging and actually tunneled under the fence.

That is how the fat boys escaped. They tunneled under the fence while I was covering Cow College and went on a bender tearing up my husband's paths and stone walls looking for tasty bits. When I came home there was only one pig standing outside the pen waiting for me.

As much as I love my fat boys, they love each other more. I can't imagine one would have come home without the other if something hadn't happened. This is why I think he was pig napped.

The remaining pig lives alone now. He misses his buddy; I can tell. Before, the fat boys would retire for the evening as soon as it looked like it might get dark. Now my sole fat boy stays up past dark, I'm sure waiting for his buddy to come home.

He also has to carry all my production costs on his tasty shoulders. With only one pig left, my pork should finish at around $75 a pound. I am some kind of farmer.

Monday, February 21, 2011

One Fish, Two Fish

I love writing for Lancaster Farming. I get to tour places I wouldn't be able to visit and see how different kinds of agriculture works. Recently, I had a chance to cover a farm that doesn't look anything like a conventional farm. (LF 1/22/11 A5)

Blue Ridge Aquaculture (BRA) in Martinsville, Virginia is the world's largest indoor fish farm. The facility is in an ordinary looking industrial park, but the operation inside is anything but ordinary. In its 100,000 square foot facility on less than two and a half acres of land, BRA raises over 4,000,000 pounds of tilapia every year. In contrast, using the National Cattlemen's Beef Association statistics, less than 10,000 pounds of beef could be produced on the same acreage and not in an industrial park. It also takes about six times as much feed to produce one pound of beef as it does to produce a pound of tilapia.

BRA uses an indoor recirculating aquaculture system to grow the tilapia minimizing any environmental impact. About 85 percent of the water is returned to the system and the waste is filtered out for other uses. BRA is experimenting with raising herbs and vegetables in the nitrogen rich water, and the solids can be used to fuel methane digesters.

Fish are packed together in 35,000 gallon tanks, but unlike other large scale animal production which may require the prophylactic use of antibiotics and growth hormones to overcome stress caused by high animal densities, the tilapia actually benefit. Being packed together makes the fish less territorial and aggressive and improves health and growth rates.

We're used to thinking of seafood as a healthy, low fat protein. Over 80 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported, however, making it by far the most imported food consumed in the country. Seafood is very susceptible to contaminants like mercury, antibiotics and hormones, and less than five percent of the seafood coming into the country is tested.

Dairy farmers contribute to a marketing campaign promoting dairy products. Everyone knows the "Got Milk" commercials. Domestic seafood producers could benefit from a similar program. I know I would buy domestic over imported if I had the choice. American seafood is cleaner, safer and a healthier choice.

Blue Ridge Aquaculture sells 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of live fish every day to distributors in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Toronto. It is a fantastic idea, enabling producers to raise healthy protein near population centers and in places where it would be almost impossible to farm any other way.

If your interested, you can find more information a Thanks to Jim Franklin for showing me around and Lancaster Farming for giving me the opportunity to cover this new kind of farm.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Tenacious Miss Griscom

One of the best/worst parts of having school age children is homework. This week, my middle son had a project on Betsy Ross. Like most people, I knew Betsy Ross was credited with making the first American flag. I even remembered the story about how she convinced George Washington to use five-pointed stars instead of six. I didn't know anything about Betsy Ross, the woman.

Born January 1, 1752, Elizabeth (Betsy) Griscom was the eighth of 17 children. Betsy was apprenticed to an upholsterer and learned to make and repair rugs, umbrellas, and bed coverings. She fell in love with fellow apprentice, John Ross. Betsy was a Quaker, however, and John was not. Quakers were not permitted to marry outside their faith.

John and Betsy eloped when she was 21 years old, crossing the Delaware River to be married in New Jersey. She and John started a successful upholstery business, but less than two years into their marriage, John was killed in a munitions explosion. He left Betsy a childless widow.

She continued to run their business, and there was that bit about the flag. Betsy went on to remarry. She was only Betsy Ross for about four years. She buried three husbands and two children as well as her mother, father and sister within days of each other. She continued to work into her 70's, and by 1833, she was completely blind. She died at the age of 84.

Making the first American flag is an important achievement. More important, however, is the tenacity with which Betsy lived her life.

I've been thinking a lot about tenacity lately. I'm querying agents, not fighting a revolution, but I don't handle rejection well. I want people to like me and my writing right away, the first time. I've realized I'm not as tenacious as I thought I was. I'm working on that. Betsy Ross is a spectacular example.