Black Friday is infamous for being the busiest shopping day of the year. Some wake up in the early morning hours on a pilgrimage to malls and shopping centers where they wade through throngs of deal-hungry masses and drastically discounted wares. It’s a holiday that has never sat well with me, particularly from my background in the retail and service industries. I hated how people treated one another as well as the shallow spirit of the day itself. Last year, for the first time in my working life, I had Black Friday off. Not being one for willingly flinging myself into consumer chaos, I had resigned myself to staying home until I was invited to my employer’s house, where her family hosts an annual sugar cane grinding and syrup making party.
Louisiana’s tradition of grinding sugar cane dates back hundreds of years to when Jesuit priests first brought the crop to a newly formed New Orleans. With the acquisition of their own cane press seven years ago, the Simon family has become part of that same proud tradition. In an effort to denounce Black Friday and what it has become in the American psyche, the Simon’s have instead created an alternate purpose for the day- one so very far removed from the rat races and super stores. Instead of spending money, they’re now spending time and creating invaluable memories with family and friends.
The morning started with a trailer-load of donated sugar cane stalks from a local farmer and friend of the family. Before the process can begin, each stalk must be stripped bare of it’s long, sharp leaves and placed in a neat pile near the mill. Nothing from the plant goes to waste. The leaves and the bagasse leftover from the extraction process goes back into the land in the form of mulch for the several oak trees that pepper the property.
The mill, also known as a cane press, is a large iron contraption with gears that stands firmly on pillars. On one end, cane is inserted into a slot where two rollers grip and pull the stalks into the heart of the machine. Inside, the stalks are squeezed with great pressure and pulled through to the opposite end where the bagasse falls in thin ribbons to the ground below. As all this takes place, juice pools at the base of the machine and funnels out through a spout on the side into mesh-screened buckets.
Before the press can come to life, something or someone has to exert effort onto the pole that’s fixed atop the machine. One woman watching explained that mules would have been the animal of choice to make the mill move. She said when she was a young girl she only saw pictures of mills, and exclaimed what a treat it was to see the real thing right before her eyes. While there were no mules on this day, there was still plenty of horsepower. The beasts of burden are gone but the zero-turn mower now rises to the challenge. I was told that they once tried to use one of their miniature cows for authenticity’s sake, but she was too stubborn and couldn’t be persuaded to move. Spectators were also invited to push the pole around the mill to make the gears move. The children in attendance seemed to have the most fun with this activity and they tested among themselves who was the fastest or strongest.
What I found most surprising is how much juice can come out in such a short amount of time. Apparently it only takes ten to fifteen cane stalks to produce one gallon of juice, which is fortunate because it takes six gallons of juice rendered down to make only one gallon of syrup! The juice in its freshly extracted form doesn’t look at all appealing. One person hit the nail on the head when they said it reminded them of murky swamp water. It is coming from a plant after all, and still needs some more attention before transforming into the sweet, syrupy goodness we Cajuns have come to love.
Raw cane juice has to be strained before being poured into a large vat where it’s allowed to boil for six to eight hours. As it boils, any excess water will evaporate and the juice level will slowly go down. The juice will turn darker and become more concentrated once it starts to reduce. While the initial straining process does remove a fair amount of particles, the rest will float to the top where it has to be skimmed off. Even more particles will sink to the bottom at the end of the boiling process and will be discarded later. After hours of boiling, and allowing sediment to both rise and sink, the vat is left to cool for a day or two depending on how cool the weather outside is. Only then is the finished cane syrup bottled into jars and shared among friends and family throughout the following year.
It’s a beautiful thing to celebrate one’s own distinct culture, especially on an increasingly commercialized day like Black Friday. The Simon family is keeping their heritage alive through a spectacular display of history come to life. A commodity that is so often taken for granted has been made a catalyst for strengthening the bonds of family and community. It was a privilege to be part of this experience and I hope this inspires you to create new and unique traditions of your own!
Logan got his second chance at life when he became our medical foster fail this past March. As far as we know, he either fell or jumped out of a moving vehicle and badly fractured the femur in his right rear leg. While waiting for his previous owner to claim him, he was brought to the veterinary clinic where I work and treated for his injuries. Radiographs revealed significant damage to his femur and, once surrendered into the care of local animal services, it was decided that limb amputation was his best chance at recovery and a normal life.
The veterinarians at my clinic are estimating that Logan is about two or three years old. Although he looks like a purebred Australian Cattle Dog, he’s very tall compared to the breed standard and we have absolutely no idea where he got that height from (maybe one day we’ll do a DNA test on him just for fun!). He’s an affectionate couch potato who enjoys giving kisses and sleeping upside down with all three feet in the air. His only “bad habit” is the excessive barking he does around meal times, a trait he borrowed from his bad influence of a big brother, Remy (also a blue heeler, go figure). Otherwise, he’s the perfect companion!
It’s difficult to imagine life without our big ol’ “Logie-bear”, but sometimes I think about how painful it must have been for his previous owner to have to surrender him because, financially, they were not able to care for such a significant injury. I choose to believe that their decision came from a place of love and that in doing so it saved him from being unnecessarily put to sleep. Although an extreme case, these choices we make for our pets are difficult. But, when we are empowered with the right information, we can confidently make the best choices. I’m here to explain that when faced with the possibility of amputation, it can be a viable option for your pet and why, if you choose this route, you don’t have to live with the gnawing regret of, “Did I make the right call?” or “Could I have done more?”
My career often calls for me to educate owners and, as always, serve the best interest of my patients. Recently, I was approached by one of our veterinarians and asked to speak with a client whose dog had been hit by a car. The owner was juggling three options now that radiographs had confirmed that their family pet had a badly fractured femur. Option one: We call in an orthopedic surgeon and have them repair the leg (our clinic charges upwards of $2,000 for this service). Option two: We immobilize the leg with a splint and schedule an amputation (estimated cost being around $500 with a shorter healing time). Option three: We humanely euthanize this animal and relieve it from it’s pain. Their situation was eerily reminiscent of ours with Logan. For this reason, my personal insights on this matter were being requested.
The veterinarians had already discussed both the physical and financial commitments of the choices they were facing. On the one hand, specialized surgery on the owner’s part requires intensive aftercare, several weeks of physical therapy, multiple followup appointments, and a lengthy recovery time, not to mention a hefty price tag. On the other hand, amputation is something most owners have a hard time wrapping their head around. The third option, euthanasia, was not being considered becasuse the owners were deeply attached to this dog and wanted to explore the other two options first.
My ultimate goal when speaking with owners is to help guide them into a decision that is beneficial for both them and their pets. It is not my place to make that decision for them, but to give them all the facts and speak from a place of understanding and experience. One of the major concerns the owner voiced to me was if his dog would ever “be a dog again,” meaning, would his dog be able to live a full and happy life with only three legs? My response: Absolutely! With Logan, I could tell he was still a dog with a lot of life and affection left to give. I knew that his injury was just a bump in the road and not something that would be his downfall. Young animals make good candidates for amputation since healing time tends to be faster and they can more easily acclimate to this new lifestyle change. I’ve also witnessed a case where a dog received an amputation at twelve years old and recovered beautifully! This just goes to show that you have to take your pet’s individual needs into account.
From there, I shared Logan’s story with this owner, along with numerous pictures and videos of his journey up to this point. I shared the good and the bad; how I celebrate his triumphs and encourage him to overcome and adapt to all the new obstacles he faces. Suddenly the options this owner faced were not so terrifying. The atmosphere in the room shifted into something more hopeful.
True, every case is unique and there are a multitude of factors that come into play, but ultimately you have to explore all options, educate yourself, ask LOTS of questions, and decide on the best course of action for you and your pet. Orthopedic surgery is OK. Amputation is OK. Euthanasia is OK. This choice isn’t to be made lightly but it can absolutely be done without regrets once the, forgive me, leg-work has been done.
In the case mentioned above, this dog’s owners decided that amputation was the right choice for their family. Soon after this appointment, I worked with another family that had a young hunting dog with the same exact injury. For them, orthopedic surgery was a more appropriate choice given the lifestyle and needs of the dog. A natural duck hunter, this dog is going to lead a more fulfilling life with the use of all four legs. Will he be a future field trial champion? Maybe not, but he will be able to continue doing what makes he and his family happy.
Today I want to share my recipe for the most neglected item at everyone’s Thanksgiving feast: the cranberry sauce. Why do other dishes get planned days or weeks in advance while cranberry sauce is just plopped onto a saucer straight from a tin can and we call it a day? Think about it: It stays in the shape of the can and you literally have to mutilate it with a fork to give it any sense of appeal or illusion of edibility. How depressing. Surely we can do better than that.
Only three ingredients are essential to making any cranberry sauce: sugar, water, and cranberries. Beyond that, the possibilities are endless. With my family, sometimes getting them to put aside their preference for the canned stuff to try homemade sauce can be half the battle so I don’t go nuts with adaptations to the recipe. My goal is to cut the natural tartness of the raw berries with the sweetness of fresh satsumas for a more universally appealing flavor that will enhance the savoriness of the turkey. (When I really want to wow them, I add a half shot of Maker’s Mark bourbon to the pot.)
Gabbie’s Cranberry and Satsuma Sauce
Prep time: Less than five minutes
Cook time: Ten to fifteen minutes
- 12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
- 1 c. light brown sugar
- 1 small satsuma
- 1 c. water
- Gather all the equipment you’ll need to prepare and store the sauce (one pot, a cooking spoon, a kitchen knife, a measuring cup, and mason jars).
- Over high heat, boil one cup of water. At the same time, zest one small satsuma. Add the zest to the boiling water.
- Once the water has begun to boil, add one cup of light brown sugar and stir until fully dissolved. This creates a simple syrup.
- Carefully add twelve ounces of fresh, rinsed cranberries to your pot of simple syrup.
- Squeeze the satsuma over a small dish or into your measuring cup and separate any seeds that may fall out. Add the juice and any pulp from the satsuma to the pot. *Use caution from here on as the cranberries will start to burst and pop as they cook. It would be a good idea to use a grease screen if you have one available.
- Cook for ten to fifteen minutes while continuously stirring to avoid burning. You can reduce the temperature of the pot, but stay above a medium heat. Your sauce is finished when all berries are popped.
- Spoon into a decorative dish and allow to cool before serving or spoon while hot into glass mason jars for short term storage (if unopened, sauce can last at least three months in the jar, making it the perfect addition to your Christmas and New Year’s dinners).
One of the most rewarding aspects of my life is being a kid’s coach in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Over the last year I’ve been an instructor at my gym where I’ve had the privilege of training the youngest of our practitioners: the Tiny Ninjas and Beginner Little Ninjas. As a coach, I’ve witnessed first-hand the life altering benefits that Jiu Jitsu has to offer and how techniques acquired on the mats translate to school, homelife, and beyond. I solemnly believe that Jiu Jitsu has an undeniable effect on each life it touches and when you allow your son or daughter to train, you set them on an early path to success.
Bully Prevention Techniques
In a recent online article about bullying, my home state of Louisiana ranked number one in the United States in several categories including percentage of cyberbullying, number of physical fights on campus, and number of attempted suicides. In the same article, Louisiana also ranks in the top five for percentage of students bullied on school property and students who skipped school for fear of being bullied. (https://wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-states-at-controlling-bullying/9920/#main-findings)
Many parents cite bullying as the primary reason why they chose to enroll their child in our programs. Jiu Jitsu teaches realistic self defense methods that protect children both physically and mentally. If a fight could no longer be avoided, would your child be ready? Would they be able to hold the bully down until help arrived? Would they be willing to intervene on behalf of someone else being picked on? Do they believe that they are strong enough to handle life’s adversities? While fighting is not condoned, we understand that it is sometimes unavoidable. We protect ourselves and others; we never become a bully ourselves.
Building Confidence and Self Esteem
Probably the single greatest lesson I’ve learned from training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is that you are more than you ever thought you were capable of being. Confidence and a stronger, healthier sense of self is one of the greatest gifts this martial art can give. A common practice in each of my classes is to begin with a group chant of “I am amazing!” Every one of my students is absolutely amazing and every day gives them the opportunity to strengthen and celebrate their individuality. I’ve had a handful of students who came in on their first day shy and unwilling to talk to anyone or look up from the floor, but after a short amount of time training would willingly introduce themselves to new students, volunteer in class, and look you dead in the eye as they shook your hand. Every transformation is magical.
Developing Good Values
Being a true martial artist goes deeper than just knowing how to fight; it means living fairly and honestly, even when no one else is looking. Beyond developing their physical skills, martial artists also develop their character. Unlike many other sports, Jiu Jitsu is practiced year round instead of seasonally. More time on the mats allows me more time to build each child up. Without the usual time constraints, my sole focus is not just on the moves, and I can afford to put more emphasis on what kind of person they will become. Each month we delve deeper into a new word or phrase that represents a value we admire (Past words of the month include optimism, mental strength, and teamwork). The foundation of my gym was built around the premise of “building people into better people”: a mission we are dedicated to upholding.
Focus, Self Control, and Discipline
In each class we’re striving to achieve a goal. That goal may be as simple as throwing a ball to another person without letting it hit the ground or as complex as stringing together multiple coordinated movements in a specific sequence. Either way, focus and self control becomes essential to completing these tasks. Jiu Jitsu is like a living, breathing puzzle. Problem solving becomes your new norm and through a succession of… mostly a lot of failures… you’re training your brain to relax in the presence of frustration and work toward a solution. This way of thinking is invaluable to the development of young people. Discipline and perseverance are essential to the learning process. The best way to succeed is to fail and fail a lot. For most people who prefer instant gratification, continuous failure gives them an easy out or excuse to quit. I want to teach my students that sometimes the best things in life don’t always come quickly. Sometimes you have to keep pushing forward until you get the desired result.
Pressure Makes Diamonds
When we bow and leave the mats, our lessons don’t stop there. If I’m doing everything correctly, my hope is that my students are leaving the gym as better, more capable people. I want them to enter the world with all the tools they need to better themselves and others. Jiu Jitsu gives empowerment to those who believe themselves too meek, and humbles those who believe themselves superior. Training allows students to test themselves in extreme scenarios while in a fun, safe, and controlled environment. Lessons learned in the gym better prepare adolescents for the unexpected. If they can problem solve and handle pressure on a regular basis, then they are ready to adapt to anything life will throw their way.
I could speak forever on how Jiu Jitsu is going to do this or do that for your child, but at the end of the day it’s something that truly must be experienced to be appreciated. Most gyms will allow you to tour their premises or enroll in a trial period. I strongly encourage doing the research and finding a quality training center if anything I’ve said here has resonated with you. Ask questions, give it a chance, and be open to the possibilities. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this article further, please leave a comment or contact me through Twitter (@gab_theassassin) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)! Thank you for supporting the blog!
IT FINALLY HAPPENED! OUR QUAIL ARE LAYING EGGS!
The last two and a half months with our little avian friends have presented us with many troubles and triumphs, but nothing is more satisfying after so many difficulties than picking up these tiny butt nuggets like an Easter egg hunt! We would get only one or two eggs a day in the beginning, but now we’re collecting as many as twelve!
A few weeks ago our quail started to become increasingly aggressive, not only to my husband and I but to each other as well. Suddenly they went from these shy, docile creatures, to wild, flighty assassins. Last week was certainly the hardest as they began attacking each other to the point of pulling feathers, drawing blood, and even scratching out eyes. We had two that were so badly injured that we feared they wouldn’t live to see the next day. They surprised us and are still with us, but unfortunately another two were hurt and we found them dead early one morning. I had no good explanation for the violent change in personality, so I took to poultry message boards for advice.
After much discussion with more seasoned quail farmers, I decided to try one nontraditional approach to curb their aggression: I put a white foam block in their cage in an effort to distract them from pecking at each other. The results were nothing short of astounding and aside from losing two birds, I saw a change in their behavior within the first day. I also added makeshift toys to their environment to keep their interest and avoid boredom that could lead to pecking, feather pulling, or worse.
Providing them with enrichment seemed to do the trick, if only for a short while. Occasionally we still find fresh wounds on our birds, but at least it’s getting better. Our next approach will be to take the advice of our local veterinarian and add a red light to their pen in an effort to keep them calm. We’ve chosen an LED bulb instead of the red brooder lamp we used when they were chicks so that we can keep the temperature of the pen cooler. We live in south Louisiana so even though we’ve just come into September, our temperatures still reach the mid nineties during the day. We’re willing to give any credible idea a try. While they’re just doing what comes naturally to them, it’s still hard to watch them get hurt and have a gnawing feeling that we’re not doing all we can to give them the best life possible. Even though we are using them for food, it’s only fair that we treat them with kindness and respect.
This weekend, Julian and I decided to take all the eggs we’ve collected during the week and make a batch of pickled quail eggs. Besides a few that became breakfast, we had thirty-seven eggs available. While our eggs boiled in a large pot of water over the stove, I began peeling and slicing cloves of garlic to add to our jar for extra flavor. Once cooled, Julian and I began the tedious task of peeling the tiny shells from the eggs. It’s slightly more difficult than peeling chicken eggs without damaging them because of the harder shell and thicker membrane, but we became pros at around egg thirteen! At this point we developed an appreciation for the different patterns of each individual egg and admired the stunning bluish, green color on the underside of the shells. Finally, I layered our eggs, cloves of garlic, and chow chow* that my grandfather and my great aunt made in the Spring in a one quart glass jar before filling the remaining space with vinegar. Our jar will stay in the refrigerator to season for an excruciatingly long two or three weeks before we’re able to enjoy them. The payoff will be well worth the wait.
With so many fresh eggs at our disposal, we’ve been contemplating what to do with them. Our plan for the moment is to experiment with the surplus of eggs that don’t get eaten to create new, interesting flavors of pickled quail eggs. I’ve been getting several requests for homemade pickled eggs and I think I can make a small profit from selling them. Any money we make from our birds will go directly back to them in the form of feed, essential supplies, and improved housing. We’ll periodically keep you guys up to speed on our quail adventures and share any recipes we think you’ll love. Thanks for reading and supporting the blog!
*Chow chow is a popular spicy pickled condiment in Louisiana. Ingredients will vary by region, culture, and tradition, but it’s essentially a finely diced vegetable and vinegar relish. The chow chow that I’m accustomed to is primarily made up of cayenne and jalapeno peppers, garlic, onions, and vinegar. It’s absolute heaven.
In the spirit of transparency, let me begin by stating that I am not a nutritionist and I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. In this article, I will simply explain the supplements I prefer to use and the thought process behind them. Through trial and error, I have found what works specifically for me and my experiences should not be considered the standard for anyone else. “Supplement” does not mean “substitution” for proper diet and exercise. Please consult an actual expert if you are considering a supplement routine.
My Top 10 Favorite Supplements:
#10: Iso-Amino Pure Isolated BCAA ($28.99 at mansports.com)
I think it’s important for every athlete to have a quality amino acid supplement in their gym bag. I look forward to one scoop of this fruit punch flavored goodness in my water bottle after I finish my workouts. The purpose of this supplement is to repair and promote growth in muscle tissue. Not only does it taste great, but it feels great too!
#9: Up Speed ($49.99 at planetnutrition.com)
Up Speed is a great pre-workout and gives me a quick, yet long lasting boost of energy that I need to knock out an intense training session. I appreciate the fat burning element of this product as well, which is always what I’m after when I’m trying to make weight for an upcoming tournament. This supplement is perfect for those morning workouts due to its long lasting effects. You’ll feel like you can take on anyone and anything for the rest of the day.
#8: Magnesium (Nature Made, $4.99 at walgreens.com)
When cardio becomes essential to my training, I need this for proper heart, nerve, and muscle function. You have to take care of those vital organs and tissues.
#7: Mullein ($20.65 at naturessunshine.com)
I LOVE mullein and rave about it often to anyone who suffers from frequent upper respiratory infections. I take two capsules twice a day whenever I feel discomfort in my ears, throat, or sinuses, and it knocks out my symptoms in only a day or two. This is the only supplement on my list I would consider a “miracle worker” (And others seem to think so too. During allergy season it flies off the shelves at my local natural wellness center and I have to be put on a waiting list for the next shipment. Absolutely worth it.).
#6: Quick Shred 100 ($49.99 at divisionsupply.com)
This is my all-time favorite supplement that I use as a pre-workout. It serves a dual purpose: giving you an insane amount of energy while also acting as a fat burner. It’s the best of both worlds. It actually does what it claims and I just can’t say enough good things about this product. My only regret in life is not having this at home in my medicine cabinet right now!
#5: Shroom Tech Sport ($23.29 at onnit.com)
This is what I take when I’m in the gym for long intervals. It’s perfect for my cardio and weight lifting regimens in that it helps to build my stamina through improved oxygen utilization. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be superhuman, I suggest giving this a try.
#4: Alpha Brain ($34.95 at onnit.com)
I would bet big money that this is what Bradley Cooper shoved down his throat in the 2011 movie “Limitless.” I like using a natural supplement called Ginkgo biloba as a cheaper alternative for improved memory and focus, but this takes your brain to the next level. The best way I can describe it is that you’re living your life in a fog. When you take a focus enhancer, like Ginkgo biloba extract, you become aware of that figurative fog. When you take Alpha Brain, you step out of that fog and everything around you becomes sharper. You act faster and more clearly. You’re you, just better; a well-oiled machine.
#3: New Mood ($29.95 at onnit.com)
Now I know that this supplement is widely used as a mood enhancer and stress-reliever, but I like to use it to help get a restful night’s sleep. I was recently in an automobile accident and since then, try as I might, I just can’t fall asleep because my mind is completely wrapped around that event and the well-being of myself, my husband, and my friends who were also involved. I worry about so much and as a result I can’t fall asleep on my own without some help. New Mood calms me enough to get some rest when I otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
#2: Thyroid Support ($29.99 at naturessunshine.com)
My metabolism can sometimes slow to a snail’s pace crawl and in those instances I need a little help getting it back on track. I take this supplement as a natural way to support my thyroid for a more consistent metabolism. When I’m focused on losing weight for a tournament, this supplement is crucial to helping me achieve my goal on time.
#1: Women’s Multivitamin (Equate, $3.98 at walmart.com)
In my opinion, if you’re not taking a multivitamin, you can just throw all those other supplements in the trash. Multivitamins assist in getting all the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to run efficiently. If your body is not taking in and absorbing what it needs, then there is no way any of those other supplements will be effective. I take a women’s once a day multivitamin, because… well, I am a woman, but obviously you should choose one that accommodates your needs.
I have not been contacted by any of the mentioned brands and am not receiving compensation for my opinions.
I’m a firm believer that important life changes cannot occur until you are absolutely ready for them to happen. Even more importantly, these changes will not manifest until you take action. One of my best personal examples of this would be the day I decided to start training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Flashback to September of 2015: I was the ultimate homebody; chalk it up to being antisocial or just plain lazy, either of those would technically be correct. I had zero drive to do anything and as a result my relationships with the people around me were suffering. My self esteem was at a record low and my weight had reached its peak of a whopping one hundred and seventy-five pounds. I was fat, lonely, and quickly sinking into depression. I had to do something extreme, fast.
On one not particularly special morning, I did my normal routine of skimming Facebook posts. Through mindless browsing, I stumbled upon an add for Gladiator’s Academy of Breaux Bridge, a martial arts training center just ten minutes from where I lived. I clicked the link and noticed that two of my friends were tagged in some of the student photos. I guess the locality, the fact that I would know someone there, and my declining self-image was the perfect storm of what drove me to call the gym and request a trial period. With a shaking voice, I made a decision that would alter my life forever.
Until then, I had no athletic ability to speak of. I was never in sports, and any fitness-related activities (such as dancing and cheerleading) ended very abruptly as I was never cut out for it. This phone call to a martial arts academy was radically out of character for me. I didn’t even know what Brazilian Jiu jitsu was! I just assumed, as most do, that it was “UFC” (MMA, or mixed martial arts, was not yet in my vocabulary). But still, I had to do something. I made the call. I scheduled the first class. I fearfully stepped through the door.
If I would have continued to remain withdrawn and stagnant in my current situation, I would have never discovered all the wonderful people I would soon come to know as family, or the amazing capabilities that laid dormant within myself. Admittedly, I was very intimidated during my first class. I was the only woman there, everyone already had a good working knowledge of the moves, and the very first person to introduce themselves to me had a teardrop tattoo on their face (He would quickly become one of my best friends and training partners. Life lesson learned: Don’t be so quick to judge.). Everything inside of me kept saying quit, but I wanted better for myself so I mustered up all the courage I had and signed up for a full membership. The rest is history.
Great things happen when you step out of your comfort zone. Flashforward to now in 2018: I’m more confident in myself than ever before. I’m one hundred and thirty-five pounds, a blue belt, an instructor, a teammate, a competitor; someone I can face in the mirror and no longer shy away from. I’ve learned how to defend myself, I’ve instilled values in our youngest of practitioners, I know the importance of choosing your tribe and inner circle, and I’ve completely molded myself into someone I didn’t think I was capable of becoming.
If there is one thing that can be taken away from this article, let it be this: I hope you always choose to dive headfirst into what makes you afraid. If you truly want to change and live the life you’ve always wanted, take action! Try something radical.
For my husband and I, it was always at the forefront of our minds to one day own our own home and start a farm. In 2015 I inherited a half acre plot of land behind my parent’s home which included a barn that was constructed to house the various livestock of my childhood 4-H and FFA years. As monumentous as this acquisition felt, it paled in comparison to last August when Julian and I purchased our first home with another acre and a half of land. What made this home even more special was the fact that it was built and owned by my paternal grandparents. My father was raised here. I spent my entire childhood here. It was perfect.
Homeownership has afforded us the opportunity to begin our journey toward self sufficient living. For us, self sufficiency means autonomy and freedom. We want to produce as much as we can to satisfy our basic needs and reduce the amount of dependency we have on supermarkets and retail stores. We also want to holdfast to the essential living skills that generations before us were accustomed to. Most importantly, we want to be able to reflect on our work and take pride in what we accomplish.
Part of self sufficiency is being resourceful and utilizing what is already available to you. Over the years my grandfather has gone through several fishing boats, all of which are still in my backyard. We made our own raised beds from these very same boats by drilling holes in their hulls and filling them with soil. These decommissioned boats have proven to be surprisingly efficient. This summer we’ve grown garlic, lettuce, three tomato, one bell pepper, two zucchini, and numerous onion, jalapeno, and cayenne plants.
Now that we’ve established that we have somewhat of a green thumb, (and trust me, as someone who has killed nearly every houseplant she’s ever owned, this discovery is completely shocking) we’ve begun treading familiar ground: animals. I’ve raised animals my entire life and I currently work as a veterinary technician.
Every animal we raise must serve a purpose; otherwise we’re wasting valuable time and money. For the lowest startup cost, we decided to start off with meat rabbits. We currently have three rabbits: one female and two males. Again, being frugal and resourceful, we’re using old rabbit cages I had in my old barn from my livestock showing days. Right now, we only have one long cage with four compartments. I want to add one more female into the fold, but not until I can block off the males from the females (Fun fact: Rabbits can breed through the cage!). Our female and one of our males is New Zealand Red X Californian and our second male is nearly pure New Zealand White with some Chinchilla coloring distantly in his ancestry.
Another cost-effective protein source we’ve most recently added to our farm is quail. We’re raising twenty-seven Coturnix X Texas A&M quail for meat and eggs. The greatest advantage of these young quail is that, within six to eight weeks, they’ll start laying eggs. They’re very fast growers and will produce more quickly than the rabbits considering we won’t be able to start breeding our doe until she reaches her reproductive age in October. This will be the first time that either of us raise quail. I’ve had chickens in the past, but this is a unique adventure for us!
What we have– it’s a start; a step in the right direction. The journey itself has been far from easy, but no less satisfying as we’ve been able to look back in pride at these few meager accomplishments. We have big hopes and dreams for our farm and personal lives, and we can’t wait to share and document the entire experience with you!