Bjo Trimble shares her experience in response to letters from MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers.
I just recently discovered MOTHER EARTH NEWS when I made a cross-country trip to Ohio, MOTHER's birthplace. Since then, I've ordered all the back issues and have been joyously reading MOTHER first thing when I wake in the morning. This long letter is because I have a "mizzerable cold" in my head and am too restless to stay in bed. I should be putting the energy to work cleaning house (my housekeeping has been termed "chore-to-chore failsmanship"), but instead I'll offer up some tips and trick in response to the letters I've seen in some past issues.
A comment about cows by Howard Garrett (in a letter from the January/February 1973 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS) has really been bothering me. Howard says, in effect, "Normally, more than half our herd of 200 have mastitis, because the milking machines leave the cows uptight and they don't let down all their milk. " Wow! All my farming relatives plus my own experience on a farm tell me that there's something very wrong with an operation where more than 10 percent of a herd comes down with anything. Either Howard has too many cows for the amount of help he has, or he's doing something drastically wrong.
Basically, you should never have more cattle than you can "strip." It seems as if Howard is depending on modern technology to do this for him . . . a bad mistake. Nobody should ever depend completely on a machine for stripping a cow (big operations do, but they can afford to replace animals that get into trouble, or sell off the mastitis-prone ones as hamburger). It only takes a second or two on each teat to strip the last of the milk from an animal (using a stroking movement of the thumb and forefinger), and a machine, unlike a human, can't gently but firmly massage down the bag. A sort of "bumping" much as a calf would do can help accomplish this chore.
But, and I suspect that this is the real problem, has Howard taken into account the social order of his herd? Aside from TV networks and government hierarchies, there is no greater adherence to the pecking order than that found in a herd of cattle. Two cows can be friends. Add a third, and a "social status" immediately goes into effect . . . absolutely guaranteed.
Cattle set up a firm, unbreakable (unless the lead cow dies or is removed from the herd permanently) social order . . . and if a human lets it get disarranged, the entire contingent will hold back on milk and give themselves mastitis. Removing bossy from the group won't solve anything. If she's within sight, sound or smell of the others, they'll hold her spot for her.
I've seen novice farmers trying to willy-nilly muster their cattle through a gate to the barn . . . without the Number One cow in front. You may be able to force the animals through the gate by shouting and beating and carrying on but they'll mill around and shy and do anything possible to get that lead cow through first. And she has her stall. Run another animal in there and you have two set up for mastitis (bossy because she's uptight about having her place usurped, and the other because she knows she's going to get it next day, when you herd them out to pasture). If Howard is running 200 cows into his barn each night and using different stalls each time . . . well, the confusion and mental turmoil among the cattle guarantees mastitis.
Before anyone thinks of the Trimble family as struggling around some farm, or even having a deep desire to get back to one, I'd better own up to the facts. We live in Los Angeles and it would be somewhat difficult to return to a farm, even if we wanted to. We have a nine-year-old, daughter who's disabled and is now in a fabulous school, and we just couldn't move far away from it. My husband, John, is a rope and twine salesman (which always gives rise to an image of him measuring off yards of string on street corners!) for a company that represents some of the largest cordage mills in the world. I'm into arts and crafts and people and Miscellaneous. Kathryn Arwen (Katwen) is our Elf Child . . . dealing with her is somewhat like handling orchids. Lora JoAnne is 6-going-on-35, very intelligent. Nature gave us two opposites. We also have at last count two large cats and three small ones, a set of goldfish and an assortment of southern California birds that frequent the feeder just outside our breakfast window.
We're buying a large old 1920s house and currently having fun repairing it. The built-ins are all mahogany and the dining room has bas-relief grapes and vines all around the top of each wall (now, that's class!). I'll soon have a sewing room in the basement (anybody need a custom made Renaissance costume?), and the garage will be a studio by summertime. There's room for lots of flowers and plantings . . . and even for a rooftop vegetable garden.
Meanwhile, speaking of getting back to the land, I would like my kids to know the fun of being on a farm . . . how to milk a cow for instance, or the sheer exuberance of racing across a field of alfalfa on a neighbor's fat old horse. Or the crisp clear radiance of a summer pre-dawn when the meadowlarks call. Or the scratches and bruises you get climbing an old oak to gather galls for Grandma's dyes. And eating sun-warmed strawberries . . . . But, actually, my parents' farm wasn't much of a step up from the dirt floor tent that my crop-picking grandmother had (she raised me for the most part). In fact, I have better memories of her tent out on the California desert sharing our fortunes with bracero families than I do of the wonderfulness of farming.
I mention this because MOTHER EARTH NEW is full of letters (the Positions and Situations pages especially) from starry-eyed people who want to homestead without knowing what in the blazes they're doing. There are a lot of good farms going to waste because people who didn't know what they wanted or what they were getting into have tied up the acreage. How? Simple. They go out and start homesteading (which ties up land in California, for example, for at least 7 years) and then find it's more work than they expected. Or they get ill from exposure in drafty cabins and damp ground and all the other things that happen when tenderfeet go out into the wilds. And the land lies there ignored and forgotten when the people wander on.The fruit trees go wild and the pastures turn to weeds. The state can't do anything with the land until the statute of limitations runs out, and other homesteaders can't do anything with it either (unless they want to take the chance of just settling in and hoping nobody will run them off about the time they've brought the whole farm up to snuff).
So a lot of that good farmland which folks are looking for is around, but it's not available. If the acreage isn't fenced, then you can forage wild foods or run animals from your own farm on it (some Arabian-horse ranchers I know use nearby abandoned homesteads for good pasturage). But that's about the extent of the use you can make of somebody else's property.
I was astonished to read in Richard Beardley's article on Chinese foods in the September/October 1971 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS that he considers making chicken stock a hassle. What else is there to do but throw the whole mess into a kettle, set it on the lowest possible heat (or, with a wood-burner, at the back of the stove) and just check it sporadically to make sure it doesn't boil dry? Every single bone can be used. Also the tails, necks and, if you really don't like 'em, the innards.
When cooking chicken bones for soup, use a Chinese chopping knife also called a French knife, to whack the bones and chop off their ends. The soup will not be the pretty, clear broth that you might be used to, but it'll be richer and contain more vitamins. (Use this method to reuse the poultry bones of any fried or roasted fowl and you'll get all the food value from them.)
Macramé is still going strong, but just plain old macramé is becoming a real drag on the market. Ken Osumi, a young designer who lives and works in Tokyo, has been adding cut and polished stones to his twine masterpieces. His idea is a goodie. Here's why: If you look closely at the drawing (Fig. 1), you'll see that the stone in the necklace is travertine . . . the trusty practice rocks of lapidary workers all over the United States. Nobody in a gem shop (a hobby of mine) keeps these stones after they're through experimenting on them (because they're a dull black and white and never take a topnotch polish). Other stones used in this way are jasper, or the brown agates known in rockhound circles as "gelid gravy" after they're cut.
What happens to the travertine and jasper after we've finished practicing on them? Well, mainly we unload them at the next rock show, in grab bags for children or in a bolo tie. Practically every rock shop in the country has an overflow of these, and every lapidary and mineral society has people who've tossed the stones in the back of their workshop. Someone into macramé could visit these shops and clubs and gather their rejects. The rocks aren't pretty enough to fit into gold-filled settings and so on, but they sure as blazes are "organic" looking. They are just charming in a naturalistic macramé necklace (especially soft tones of twine).
I suspect that the way the stones are "set in" to the string is a quick indentation run around the edge of the rock with a grinder. They may be set in an inexpensive bezel that, in turn, could be attached to the string, but that would be more costly. Ask your rockhound contact for more ideas when you find one. (Warning: You'll be dealing with a generous but extremely conservative bunch. Rockhounds have spent years and years trying to conserve this country's natural resources, and they've seen tramps of all kinds come and go . . . ruining all they touch. This has caused xenophobia among lapidarists and you'll have to work at making friends to get their stones.) But rockhounds respect craftsmanship: show them your work and offer to trade other things—purple bottles, old railroad ties, pieces that can be tumbled into fake amethyst and just about any old metal junk for the stones you like.
You can find lists of lapidary groups and rock shows in your neighborhood in the pages of Gems and Minerals, Lapidary Journal and other magazines devoted to rockhounds. And you can garner all kinds of ideas for perking up your macrame from these same issues. For instance, a whole curtain using tumble-polished beach stones would be stunning!
Thank you Joan Lomba for the idea of a pattern library (in response to Sue Montgomery's letter in the July/August 1973 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS). Donating the designs no longer of use to yourself is a great idea . . . especially for children's patterns, which are outgrown so quickly.
Sue didn't mention what size her patterns are, but her neighborhood school for children with disabilities can probably use them also. Many disabled children are larger than normal and wear adult-sized clothes. Also, some of the children are taught to sew and can use the patterns for their projects. Inquire first, but these schools also can probably find a place for leftover scraps of fabric. The children use them in many ways . . . as "touch boards" for example. These are simply to teach the youngsters about textures. Of course, after several dozen strokings; with grubby, clay-covered little hands, the boards must be replaced with new materials. Fabric swatches, ideally, should be at least 2-by-2 inches, but some of the more exotic textures are often less than that at the school Katwen attends. Fancy lace, velvets, Lurex, satins . . . what have you?
Or, you can decorate and show your children how to make old-fashioned frames for the family's photographs, those great antique prints you find in thrift shops or the children's artwork. Take an ordinary, uninteresting old frame or make a cardboard one. Then use up your tiniest fabric scraps by gluing them patchwork style all over the structure. Trim off the edges, or bend them under. If you'd like to "finish off " the frame, use Tri-Chem or a permanent marker and make fancy "stitches" between each patch. This creates a fun border for something you want to hang in a country kitchen . . . and you'll be surprised how delighted grandparents are when the young 'uns make them a present like this.
Covering objects with scraps can extend to anything else you have that might need a bit of sprucing up. Of course, you can get carried away with this type of project. If your family calls in white-coated chaps from the Home for the Gently Bewildered, I'd take it as a hint that they really didn't appreciate your pasting patchwork on the privy seat.
Don't stop, however, until you're tried "calico beads." Grandma, who was also an herb doctor, used to put me to work on these when I was too sick to go outdoors, but well enough to make a pest of myself in the kitchen where she was brewing her potions. You make calico beads the same way you make newspaper beads (remember making a string of them for mother in school?), by rolling up the calico with glue. You can't use heavily textured materials like velvet and corduroy (unless you want lumpy beads), but just about any other fabric works.
Just in case you didn't make paper beads in preparation for Mother's Day, here's how:
Wedges of paper or thin fabric
1 piece of thin wire
 Take a longish wedge of calico (or paper) and a piece of wire. Wrap the widest end of the fabric around the wire.
 Starting at the big end of the calico, roll as evenly as possible until you run out of fabric. The whole mess should be liberally coated with white glue as you do this. The younger the artisan, the more glue needed (one of the Facts of the Universe).
 Wait until the bead is solid to the touch and then remove the wire. If you forget to do this, your wire is embedded in the bead, but you can pull it free with a pair of pliers.
 When the bead (sans wire) is completely dry (if the kids are impatient, hurry the process via your oven), you can slip the wire in again and dip the bauble in shellac. (Adults can use spray varnish if all precautions are followed, but never allow children to do so.)
 When the varnish is dry, you can string the beads alone or interspersed with large donkey beads or handmade clay beads or eucalyptus medlars . . . or whatever is handy that appeals to your craftsmanship.
Hope all this is of use to someone. I can't thank everyone in "Dear Mother" enough for the handy advice, friendly suggestions and other interesting information I've found there, I think that I'll now go fix Grandma's cold remedy . . . hot lemonade with honey for the sore throat and a tot of brandy. It doesn't help the cold much, maybe, but it sure makes me happier about having one. Best to all!