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Wolf Spirit

Country MoonFew animals touch our hearts and speak to our spirit like the wolf does. For centuries they have been symbols of guardianship, ritual, loyalty and spirit. Wolves have the ability to make quick and firm emotional attachments and to trust their own instincts. They teach us to do the same, to trust our hearts and minds and to have control over our own lives.

Perhaps our fascination with them stems from what their very being symbolizes to us. They are free creatures, living in the wild, unencumbered with life's dramas. They embrace life's freedoms that were meant for all of us.

Beyond their mystical side, wolves also have a dark side, a side to be feared. They are sometimes portrayed as creatures of nightmares, fanged beasts who lurk in dark forests. This is a bad rep that they have acquired; most of the time they only kill to survive. We credit this fear of the wolf to the Europeans who brought this fear with them.

At one time, wolves populated all of North America but, as they became the hunted, their populations dwindled. In 1600 the North American gray wolf population hovered around 2 million and today they number 65,000 and the world population stands at 150,000. Wolves were the first animals to be placed on the United States Endangered Species list in 1973. The last wolf in Yellowstone Park was killed in 1926 and in 1995 wolves were reintroduced. After ten years, 136 wolves roamed the park in 13 wolf packs.

New wolf
Photo by Getty Images/KenCanning

Whether they are mystical creatures or not, both red and gray wolves have distinctive characteristics that set them apart from any other animal. Some of these stats give them an almost "human" side:

1) Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of wolves is their howl which can be both eerie and intriguing. Wolves howl in packs to contact a separated member of the group, to rally a group before hunting or to warn rival packs to keep away. Lone wolves howl to attract mates or because they are alone. They will respond to humans imitating their calls. The International Wolf Center in Minnesota periodically sponsors "howl nights," when people go into the wilderness and howl, hoping for answering calls.

2) They have been attributed to be human-like because they communicate within the packs by using a variety of facial expressions.

3) Wolves are carnivores and are celebrated to be some of the greatest hunters in the animal kingdom. A hungry wolf can eat 20 pounds of meat in a single meal. This is like a human eating 100 hamburgers in one sitting. They are also able to go 12 days without eating. They have immense power in their jaws which possess a crushing power of 1500 pounds per square inch, compared with 75 pounds per square inch for a dog. They are equipped with 42 teeth that are specialized for stabbing and shearing flesh and crushing bones.

4) They have about 200 million scent cells which enable them to smell other animals more than a mile away. Humans have 5 million, by comparison.

5) Wolves also possess a keen sense of hearing which lets them detect sound six miles away in the forest and 10 miles away on the open tundra.

6) Wolves run on their toes to help preserve their paw pads and this ability also helps them to stop and turn quickly. They run at 20 mph on an average but can get up to speeds of 40 mph for a couple minutes at a time when in pursuit. Equipped with webbing between their toes, they can swim 8 miles at a time when needed.

7) There is a light reflecting layer in wolves' eyes called tapetum lucidum, which causes a wolf's eyes to glow in the dark, thereby adding to the mystique of the species. This may help them with night vision in tracking prey. Their eyes are extremely sensitive to movement.

8) All female wolves can bear pups but only a few in each pack do. By doing this, they produce only the strongest pups, which limits how many the pack has to care for. Males and females mate for life and are both devoted parents. They maintain sophisticated family ties, so much so that females in the pack that do not bear offspring will babysit and care for wolf pups in the pack that are not their own.

9) Wolf pups are born blind and deaf. All wolf pups' eyes are blue at birth but turn yellow by the time they are eight months old.

10) Wolves spend one-third of their lives roaming and they shed their winter coats in sheets.

11) Most times, where there are wolves there are also ravens, sometimes referred to as "wolf-birds." They follow the packs to not only tease them, but also to help themselves to the leftovers of the kills.

12) Many North American Indian tribes consider wolves, like bears, closely related to humans. The Aztecs used wolf liver as an ingredient to treat melancholy and they also believed that piercing a person's breast with a wolf bone would delay death. Cherokees would not hunt wolves because they believed that a slain wolf's brother would exchange revenge.

Many think that wolves hold a mystical power that is both ancient and wise. They are symbols of our own desires to be free, wild and untamed. These attributes speak directly to our souls. Farley Mowat perhaps put it into words the best, "We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be — the mythological epitome of a savage, ruthless killer — which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself."

Thus, we get wolf power and wolf symbolism. Wolf power teaches us to find resources which we need to use wisely to keep moving forward and to keep evolving. Wolf symbolism teaches us to assess each situation and to adapt as needed — always ready, always prepared.

But the greatest lesson that we get from the wolf is the wolf spirit. This spirit enables us to be intuitive to our surroundings, to sense movements and to anticipate every move of ones we are stalking or ones who are stalking us. We can learn these attributes by bonding with the soul of the wolf. Wolf spirit, the spirit to be free, unencumbered and untamed, lives in all our souls to some degree.

Shoebox Season

Country MoonIt's getting close to that time of year again...shoebox season. Some more politically correct people refer to this time of year as "tax time," for others it is crunch time but, I would be willing to bet, that for most it is shoebox time.

I say this because for me, and many others, we start every year out with good intentions of doing a better job of keeping receipts and other tax information in some kind of order. However, that notion usually goes by the wayside and the year's paperwork invariably ends up in a shoebox.

I have such vivid memories of this happening every year with my parents when I was a kid. When we saw "The Shoebox" come out, we knew we were in for a rough couple of days. First of all, the shoebox came out of the closet and sat in plain sight for a few days. Every time Mom and Dad walked by it they would glance at it and give it a quick sneer. No one dared mention anything about it, the shoebox was taboo.

Then the dreadful day came when the table was cleared and the shoebox took its place in the center. The three of us kids were banished from the kitchen, given a few snacks and told not to interrupt unless it was a matter of life and death, literally. The few times that we did venture out to the kitchen and dared to ask a question we got "the glare" and turned around and left the room.

We waited for the annual phrases that we always heard, "What did YOU do with it?" and the response in a little bit louder tone, "I never saw it!" If we were lucky, along about suppertime all the receipts would go back in the shoebox. This time, however, they were in neat little piles and we knew we would not have the shoebox ordeal again until next year.

It is said that there are three things that are certain in life: you are born, you die and you pay taxes. So, why is tax time such a big ordeal every year for so many people? After all, it rolls around every year at the same time. So many times it is not even the issue of whether you will owe money or be getting a refund that causes the stress. It seems to lie more in getting things around and ready to file than the actual filing itself.

Granted, the whole shoebox ordeal was before the time of personal computers which revolutionized the whole tax thing with programs like Quicken and Turbo Tax. But, even with all the programs in the world, there is just so much paperwork that needs to be dealt with.

I have to admit that I fall into the same category as my parents most of the time except that I don't have a shoebox. I am a little more organized than that. I have my receipts in their proper place in file folders in the filing cabinet. All paperwork is filed under the proper title except for the few that just don't fit anywhere. This file is appropriately labeled "miscellaneous," which is, in reality, just a smaller version of the shoebox.

Not only am I fairly well organized, I also have good intentions of getting everything ready to go to the tax man early in January. As a matter of fact, it is always one of my New Year's resolutions to get my paperwork ready to go the first week of January and just add the end-of-the-year tax items to the files as they arrive in the mail. My intention is to be ready to just pick up the folder and walk out the door on tax day. And like other resolutions, this one always gets broken. Uh-huh.

However, I think the reason that this one gets broken is all part of a bigger plan. There is always a list of things that I need to do before spring breaks and I am outside again. These always take precedence over taxes.

For example, I would have started the taxes but closets needed to be cleaned. This year I have every closet cleaned and organized. This even includes the dreaded closet in the office room where all the old photographs, various cards from different folks that I have kept from year to year, Christmas wrapping paper that gets thrown back in the closet after the holidays in no particular order, and generally anything else that doesn't have a home gets stashed. Not only did I clean the closet and organize it, I also managed to throw things out...things that I could not part with from year to year. I had to, I was running out of room for things that I just couldn't part with this year that I will keep for a few more years before they are tossed.

I would have started the taxes but I also needed to paint the office room. It's the only room in the house that has not been painted since we moved in. There were just so many things on the wall that every time the thought came up to paint this room, it was just easier to shut the door. It took a week to get the room torn apart and put back in order.

I also would have started the taxes but the kitchen cabinets needed cleaned and wiped down. So many people wait for spring to do spring cleaning and I really don't see why. Winter is when you are stuck in the house anyway so it just seems logical that this would be the right time to start these chores. On top of that, if I didn't start cleaning, I probably would have to start taxes.

I also made a resolution to really follow my exercise program this year. This one, I am proud to say, I have kept. I would have started the taxes on a few different occasions, but it was time to get my exercise in for the day. I literally had to choose between the two. It was a hard choice.

On a few occasions I did start my taxes. One day I added up the gasoline deductions. That was tiresome so I quit. A few days later I worked on my depreciation. That was a big one. I put it away for a week after that. Besides that, after each tax encounter, I thought I owed myself a treat. After each treat I had to go and exercise. It really is a vicious circle.

Mind you, I am not usually a procrastinator. My philosophy is that if something needs done, you may as well get at it and take care of it otherwise something else will crop up and things will just keep multiplying until you are overwhelmed. So why are taxes any different for many of us? They are just a fact of life, an unpleasant one, but still a fact of life.

I have come to the conclusion that by procrastinating on this subject makes me a better person. I actually work harder at not doing them than if I would just get them done. I know that. I also know that it will be the same next year and the year after that.

But I like the positive: by avoiding taxes, other things get done. It's a sacrifice. If I hadn't worked so hard at procrastinating on my taxes again this year, I wouldn't have gotten so many other things on my list accomplished. There really is a method to my madness for shoebox season!


Winter Passions for the Outdoorsman

Country MoonFor the true outdoorsman, winter is no excuse to go inside. As a matter-of-fact, it can beckon one to get outside and enjoy passions that the other seasons just don't offer.

One of those passions is ice fishing. For the true fisherman, this sport offers opportunities that summer fishing doesn't. For one thing, you can get to places that you can't in summer and the equipment is relatively inexpensive. All you really need is a hatchet or axe for checking the safety of the ice. My dad always figured on four inches to be safe to walk on it; however, you still have to be cautious about springs or holes from other fishermen. You can chop a hole with an axe or use a fancy auger.

The only other piece of equipment is your line for catching fish. You can use a line with bait on the end that is dropped into the hole or you can fashion a snare with a slip noose from fine wire and attach it to the end of the line. A snare requires a little practice to learn how hard to pull it without breaking the line or cutting the fish in two.

Either way, ice fishing has a charm all its own with a mystique of lowering a baited hook or jiggling a snare into a dark hole. Some ice fishermen are so caught up in the sport that they have their home away from home, their ice shanty on the lake. True, it blocks the wind and offers amenities; however, the down side is that you have to be sure and get the shanties off the lakes and ponds before the ice melts and they fall through. This was never an issue when we used to have old-fashioned winters where the ice stayed all season long but, with today's freezing and thawing, having a shanty can be more of a hassle than it is worth.

If your outdoors side leans more to hunting than fishing, then you may want to try coyote hunting. After the traditional hunting season in the fall is over, winter brings a time to try sport hunting and coyotes offer that perfect game. Winter is the time to hunt the hunter.


Coyotes were long thought to be creatures of the wide open west, but in recent years they have moved into timber country and even many urban areas. The popularity of coyote hunting has soared in the last 20 years, especially east of the Mississippi where their populations have risen dramatically.

So, why hunt them? Whether they are trapped or hunted with a gun, coyotes remain the bright spot in the fur market. According to Trapping Today, western coyote pelts went for an average of $56 last year while their eastern cousins brought an average of $25, which is far higher than mink, raccoon or fox pelts. Coyotes also eat the same game as we do: quail, duck, deer, rabbits, etc. So, a hunter can take out the competition and pursue an exciting hunt at the same time. Last, but not least, coyotes do spread disease, especially when they move into urban areas and come into contact with humans.

They are subject to diseases like distemper, rabies and trichinosis and can carry parasites like lice, fleas and worms. They are clever animals and easily adapt to different environments, which means they are not afraid to approach homes and farms. In this close proximity, they can easily pass diseases to dogs and humans. No domestic farm animals are safe when they are around because they are not very fussy on what they choose for dinner.

So, how do you hunt coyotes? Most times a hunter will set up in a camouflaged area and start calling them. The trick here is to be patient. In flat country, search out clear meadows, logger's landings and marshy areas because it will give the hunter more visibility and the calls will carry further. In hilly country, look for hollows and valleys where you can set up on one side and survey the opposite side.

For the hunters that come back empty-handed after a coyote hunt, it is usually a few common mistakes that are the reason for their failure. Quite possibly they could be hunting an area where there are just no coyotes. On the other hand, if you haven't killed one, it doesn't mean that they are not there. Remember how cunning they are, it could very well be that the coyote saw you first. You hear them but don't see them, it could be they are laughing with the thought that they outsmarted the hunter.

Using the calls can be tricky too. It is a fine line between knowing when to call too much or too little. Also, you may need to switch it up some and use calls that they haven't heard before.

The number one mistake boils down to giving up too soon. It takes patience to wait them out. They also have a keen sense of hearing so any unusual noise will be enough to alert them.

When hunting deer and other game, if you don't have your own land to hunt on, many hunters will meet closed doors when approaching farmers and inquiring about hunting their land. It is usually the opposite scenario for coyotes. Most farmers and landowners are more than happy for someone to rid the area of these menaces.

I remember my Uncle Don and his friends going coyote hunting many a night. The kill was always a thrill but, even more so, the sport provided them an opportunity to scout the land with friends and spend a starlit winter evening listening for their calls.

Coyotes have earned the nickname "Native American trickster" by being clever. They are twice the nuisance, but also twice the challenge to hunt. They provide the sheer excitement of tracking a wild animal.

So, just because snow blankets the land and temperatures drop, don't forget the special challenges that only winter can offer the true outdoorsman. You can tap your fishing and hunting skills during this season, just like you do the other three seasons of the year, and tap into your winter passions.

The Hidden Americans

Country MoonGypsy. When that one word is mentioned, negative connotations may come to mind of a group of people who travel the country in wagons, men playing violins and women dancing in brightly colored dresses and trying to con an innocent young man.

This depiction could be a part of what gypsies were, but there is just a sampling of a culture that has been around for 1,000 years. The name “gypsy” actually dates back to the 1600s when the Greeks believed that they had arrived from Egypt and so gave them a name shortened from “Egyptian.” The ones that we call gypsies actually originated in the Indian subcontinent, then spread to the Middle East and Africa and later to Europe and to America. Thus, they are not Egyptian at all but the name stuck.

Today they are either referred to as gypsies or the Romani people. It is estimated that there are one million living in the United States with many of them concentrated in southern California, the Pacific Northwest, Texas, and cities like Chicago and St. Louis.

Their biggest migration to the United States was from the 1860s until around 1914. They populated the larger cities because they could find work in carpentry, metal work, music, dance and fortune telling. Even today, they are very much a part of the Chicago landscape and, as recently, as the 1970s and '80s, they frequented two main areas of Chicago and gypsy caravans could still be seen going down Lincoln St. Until just recently, Little Bucharest Restaurant held an annual outdoor gypsy festival on the grounds of St. Alphonsus Church. Whole pigs and lambs were roasted over an open fire and there was plenty of guitar and violin music, upholding the gypsy lore of people dancing and singing around campfires in brightly-colored costumes.

They are still very much a part of our communities and may even be your neighbor, although you probably would never guess it. Some gypsy caravans still travel because of finding work or because of family, but most live in homes and dress less flamboyant these days. On the outside they fit into mainstream society, although most still follow the old gypsy traditions and ways in the confines of their homes.

Roma culture is all about family and community. Keeping their culture and heritage alive is important to them, thus they hold onto long-standing traditions. Just like they are portrayed on television, they have big elaborate weddings that can last three days. Baptisms and funerals bring them together in a big way, with sometimes up to 1,000 in attendance.

They are proud that they have never lost their heritage. Some elements of their belief system may seem strange to some, but the rules have been around since they became a culture. They follow a conservative law code, or set of rules based on purity and cleanliness. Legend has it that all gypsy tribes still appoint a “king” who serves as judge, financier, mayor and matchmaker.

Each tribe’s “code” sets conduct and lifestyle rules that run the gamut from large money decisions down to everyday tasks on how to prepare food and even wash their clothes. Marriages are typically arranged by the parents and new couples live with the husband’s family for the first year or until the first child is born.

They consider the upper half of the body pure and the lower half (feet and genethliac) to be contaminated. If they touch the lower body they must wash their hands. A gypsy woman who gives birth is totally contaminated, so much so that she and the children are isolated for a temporary amount of time. If one of them “pollutes” his or her self, they may be ostracized for up to a year or expelled from the community. Men’s and women’s clothes cannot be washed together and if they touch a dog they must wash their hands.

Family watches the kids and the kids only attend public school until they are 10 or 12 years old many times. After this age, they believe that everything they need to know can be taught by the older members of the tribe.

Gypsy women serve the men although the women are respected for their money-making ability. All fortune tellers are women and fortune telling is a big part of their lifestyle. This also makes females a key role in the “family” business.

Gypsies have been and still are a colorful part of our heritage. What we need to remember is that their image has changed. Anymore they are not the roaming bands of con artists nor the women in lowcut blouses dancing seductively around the campfires. Instead, they now try to blend into our society rather than to try and be the exception.


The Last Red-Blooded American Adventure

Country Moon 

We have had some colorful groups of people shape our country into what it is today. One of those groups is the hobo. Unlike their counterparts, bums who won’t work at all and tramps who only work when forced to, hobos are more than willing to work, but mostly for a short duration, as their main focus is travel. They love the journey more so than the actual destination.

Although not as prevalent as in the last century, the hobo culture is still very much alive today. They all don’t fit the image of a man (or woman) in overalls with a charcoal beard, a red bandana and carrying a brindle on a stick (bundle of belongings on a stick). Today’s hobos blend into our society rather than draw attention to themselves. True hobos are not to be confused with “gutter punks,” crusty kids and dropouts trying to piece together a meager existence outside of conventional society.

The very first hobos were cast-offs from the Civil War in the 1860s. Soldiers came home and jobs were scarce so they looked to the railroads for their fortunes. The word “hobo” is derived from “hoe boy,” which is an individual who goes from town to town looking for odd jobs, mostly in menial farm work. During the Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s the hobo ranks swelled to 250,000.

It is hard to believe that most hobos actually like living like they do. Although it is still, and always has been illegal, they hop trains and go wherever the rails take them. They forage for food wherever they can find it and take handouts. Train hopping is an art in itself. There are actually books and websites that tell how to befriend the train staff, find your way around the freight network, and find a good container to hunker down in for a ride through mountains and forests.

As inviting as this may sound for an adventure, the danger is real. They ride inside, on top of, and under boxcars. Losing limbs is sometimes common as loads shift. Sometimes doors close and lock and no one has any idea that someone is trapped in the rail cars. Hobos have been known to starve, die of thirst, and freeze inside these cars. They have a rule of thumb; never hop a moving train unless you can count the bolts on a wheel because if you can’t count them, the train is moving too fast to jump.

During their heyday, hobos created an unwritten code to communicate with each other. Many were illiterate so, quite often, these codes were a series of signs that were scrawled on trees, fenceposts and train crossing signs. A picture of a bird meant a free telephone and a cross meant a free meal if you possessed religious beliefs. When they spoke of a comrade that had passed on, it was said that he had “caught the westbound.”

So, why would someone intentionally choose to live like this? One person described it as “there is just something about laying atop a boxcar, feeling the power of the engine and watching the stars.” Sometimes it is a family affair. Connecticut Slim was a hobo who rode the rails for 44 years. He wasn’t around to help his daughters grow up, but he gave them his sense of wanderlust and the gift of the hobo family.

His daughter, Connecticut Shorty, didn’t understand the lure of the rails until she started hopping the trains herself. She was in her 40s when she caught her first train from Dunsmuir, California, to Roseville, the legendary rail yard outside of Sacramento, California. A veteran hobo named Road Hog USA showed her the ropes. She learned how to hide from the bulls (train yard cops), where trains stop or slow down so she could hop on, what kinds of trains to look for, and what to put in her pack.

Her older sister, New York Maggie, caught the bug also and together they sold their homes and all their possessions except for a few pictures and prized possessions. Not down on their luck by any means, Connecticut Shorty was a senior administrator for an insurance company for nearly 30 years and New York Maggie was a paralegal for 20 years. Together, they recently bought an older RV and traveled the country, a step up from the hobo life but still giving in to the wanderlust.

For the past 15 years they have been traveling to Britt, Iowa, where the National Hobo Convention is held annually on the second weekend in August. It was first devised as a way to put Britt on the map and has evolved into the longest running hobo gathering of its kind. They serve Mulligan Stew, a hobo’s main dish, which contains whatever they have to throw in. Ladies of the town host a tea party and they elect a hobo king and queen. Part of the town cemetery is reserved as the final resting place for hobos. Some day, if the sisters decide to put down permanent roots again, they are leaning to calling Britt home. Connecticut Slim is buried there.

Jack London, author of The Call of the Wild and White Fang, spent 30 days in jail for vagrancy after train hopping to Niagara Falls in the 1890s. Another seasoned hobo went in search of work and ended up riding the rails and seeing the country for 25 years.

The die-hard hobo lifers dislike the train hoppers. Full time hobos have chosen their lifestyle and are proud of how they live. Part-timers and train hoppers give true hobos a bad rep!

I remember my mother telling stories of hobos when she was growing up in the 1930s. “There were many times that a hobo would knock on our door and ask politely if we had any extra food. Usually, we would take whatever we had and make up some sandwiches while they waited outside. There was never any trouble.”

Although the number of hobos riding the rails today have dwindled, there are still some out there. Some have filtered back into society and some just love the carefree lifestyle. As one former hobo summed it up, “When I’m sitting at my desk, wondering how my life got so dull, I like to think back to an afternoon, sitting in an open boxcar in Utah with a stack of sheet metal clanging beneath me, basking in the sun, smoking a cigar and gazing at the far horizon.”

You have to admit, there is a pull there that, even though just in our dreams, tugs at all of our hearts for just a fleeting moment.



Modern Gadgets Simplify Cooking

Country Moon 

Why do you cook, other than for the obvious reason that we all like to eat? Beyond that, is it a passion, a hobby, a challenge or a chore? Wherever you fall in these categories, there are some modern gadgets and appliances on the market that make this task a whole lot easier and faster.

You know what they say about old-school habits. Well, recently I learned the hard way how to break some of those in the interest of ease in the kitchen. I wanted to make my mother’s cranberry Jello salad, which calls for the cranberries and oranges to be ground. She always used the hand grinder, you know the kind that screws onto a table or cabinet and you put the food to be ground in a hopper in the top and turn a crank and all the goodies comes out ground into a bowl, or rather, they are supposed to. Instead, I always have a mess of sticky juice on the floor, on the table, and basically all over.

In the middle of this mess, it occurred to me that, unlike my mother’s world, I have a blender. So, I left the sticky mess and put it all in the blender, only to have this not work so well either because there was not enough liquid for it to work properly. Fine. So, I went to my handy dandy Pampered Chef all purpose chopper. It worked great, I had the consistency of the cranberries that I needed…but only after I had made a serious mess and dirtied three different gadgets. There are simpler ways to do simple tasks, we only have to embrace new technology.

One of those gadgets that is hot in the world of new kitchen technology is the Instant Pot. This is a single appliance that does the job of seven different kitchen tools including a slow cooker, electric pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, saute-browning pan and a warming pot.

So many folks, including myself, are leery of using a pressure cooker because of the horror stories of something going wrong and hot food ends up in every corner of the kitchen. The Instant Pot has ten built-in safety mechanisms that make it safe to use. Being a pressure cooker, it cooks so much faster than conventional methods so, by saving so much cooking time, it makes it possible to eat healthy meals at home. Beef stew can be ready in under 30 minutes and baby back ribs are ready to set on the table in less than 25 minutes. It makes so many more meal choices doable for weeknight suppers and it does it using 70 percent less energy.

With the shorter cooking time coupled with requiring less liquid, food is more flavorful and it retains more nutrients, resulting in all around healthier and tastier food. The pressure cooker feature softens tougher, less expensive cuts of meat so you can save money without sacrificing flavor. You can even skip the defrost step because frozen food can go directly into the pot.

The Instant Pot is easy to use, easy to clean and convenient. It has a stainless steel pot that you can let soak for a little while then wipe clean. The cooking process is fully automated so you don’t need to babysit it like a stovetop, which means no adjusting the heat, no undercooking and no overcooking. You simply throw the ingredients in, set the controls and walk away. It even has an automatic feature that automatically changes to “keep warm” for up to 10 hours after the food is done.

When the pressure builds up, it is completely sealed so nothing escapes; no steam, no smell, no mess. It is great for summer days because it does not heat up the kitchen. Although it comes in 2, 4 and 12 quart sizes, the 6 quart size is perfect for a family of four. With the six quart models that I have seen on Amazon averaging $150, they are also affordable.

Another hot appliance on the market is the air fryer, which literally fries food by circulating hot air around the food rather than submerging food in hot oil. This is accomplished by use of a mechanical fan that circulates the air at high speeds around the food. Using an air fryer is an excellent way to reduce fat and calories without sacrificing taste. This appliance uses no additional oil, but a small amount may be added to the food itself to make the outside a little crispier. Even with adding this little extra oil, air fryers, on the average, use 75 percent less fat than other conventional cooking methods. Bacon comes out both crispy and chewy so you can please any bacon lover.

Air fryers may reduce cancer risk by lessening exposure to acrylamides, which are chemicals that are produced in some foods during high temperature cooking processes like frying. They are formed from sugars and amino acids in some foods and are potentially toxic and cancer-causing.

In reality, an air fryer is a table top convection oven so foods can also be baked in one. This makes it faster than a conventional oven and does well with baking because air is circulated above the food as opposed to all around it.

Speaking of convection ovens, many folks are opting for these over the traditional ovens even though many are confused as to what the differences between the two are. Basically, the difference lies in the way heat is distributed. In a conventional oven, hot air surrounds the food whereas in a convection oven, heat is circulated by a fan in the back. Since the heat circulates, food is cooked much faster.

However, faster does have its drawbacks. Sometimes a convection oven can cause the outside of a cake to bake but not the inside. They have also been known to dry cakes out before they are completely risen, which is why convection ovens sometimes put tilted hats on cupcakes and blows cookies clear across the baking sheet.

For this reason, it is best when choosing a convection oven, to buy one with four separate baking controls; bake (conventional oven), convection bake, convection roast, and broil. Convection bake has a slower fan speed so baked goods bake quicker but more evenly and convection roast has a higher fan speed, which is good for making chunky meats with crispy outsides and caramelized roasted vegetables. One of the best things to remember when using any convection oven is to reduce oven temperature by 25 percent of what a recipe calls for when using a conventional oven.

These new appliances can make our lives healthier and simpler. Remember when crockpots hit the supermarket shelves? It revolutionized how we cook. It meant we could come home to a hot meal without spending hours in the kitchen after a long day. We’ve come a long way.

Instant Pot

A Different Kind of Dairy

Country Moon 

Nestled in the green pastureland just outside of Milford, Indiana, local folks are seeing something new when it comes to dairy animals. Camels can be seen leisurely grazing at Luke and Amber Blakeslee’s River Jordan Camel Dairy acres on any given day.

“It is funny to watch passersby stop and do a double-take,” Amber laughs.

Jenny, Daisy, Ginger, and Journey, their four camels, officially arrived in June of 2017, but only after Luke and Amber had spent two years researching and fund building to make sure that this venture was the right choice for them and the camels and that it was feasible. Today their camel soaps and lotions are making a name for themselves and Luke and Amber couldn’t be happier with their business choice.

Ironically, it all started when Amber was mowing lawn one day. “Five acres are a lot to mow and I was thinking how senseless it was to mow it week after week when it could be put to better use. Even though we had previously had horses, we wanted something that would not only keep the grass down but also give back in other ways.”

They both grew up in the area and they both loved animals. Luke’s experience was more with goats, ponies and chickens while Amber’s mini farm consisted of horses, cows and pigs. Time and again their research pointed to camels as their animal of choice because of camels’ adaptivity to new situations and surroundings, both mentally and physically. Camels are not flighty, they take things in stride, easily figure out new routines and do not have many natural predators. Camel milk is naturally low in lactose and has been medically proven to help heal autism by healing the digestive tract.

Even with all these pros, they made numerous visits to a camel dairy in Shipshewana, Indiana, and attended a hands-on clinic in Michigan with Marlin Troyer as their mentor where they actually worked with the camels to make sure they were comfortable with the animals. They left confident that this is where God was leading them in life.

First of all, their 5-acre mowing job was gone. Camels eat orchard grass, hay, regular grass, thistles, thorns and all the leaves and bark off trees up to 8 feet high where they can reach. They are just as happy eating hay out of feeders in trees. The lactating mamas and calves do get non-GMO grain supplements, alfalfa pellets and sunflower seeds.

Contrary to popular belief, camels store fat in their humps, not water. Because of this, they can turn this fat into energy and go without eating or drinking for long periods of time. As far as needing water, camels drink a lot when they do drink. One camel can drink 30 gallons of water in a span of 15 minutes. They also get moisture from the grass and other sources that their body soaks up and stores. One thing that they do need is lots of salt. The camels on the Blakeslee’s farm eat Himalayan salt, to be precise.

Although Jenny, Daisy, Ginger, and Journey are American born and bred, they are Arabian camels and have all the characteristics of their Middle Eastern relatives. They have thick lips and no upper teeth in front, they have long eyelashes and have the ability to close their nostrils and still breathe, allowing them to keep out the sand. Their ears are small and filled with numerous little hairs, which is another trait that affords them protection from the Middle Eastern blowing sands. Perhaps the most peculiar characteristic is the third set of eyelids they have that are clear so they can close them and still be able to see.

All in all, they are pretty hardy animals. With their thick winter coats and the uncanny ability to raise and lower their body temperature by 10 degrees, they actually don’t mind the snow. The only downside is if their diet changes drastically or if they are stressed, they tend to get loose stools. Eating too much alfalfa or eating grass that is too wet makes them more prone to parasites.

I had to ask if it were true that they spit at people like llamas do sometimes. Amber laughed, “Only if they are excited or upset. They are really very gentle, docile animals.”

However, a couple months after they got them, they hired camel trainer Jason Martin to “home school” their new charges. “It’s not that they were behaving badly but they needed to learn to respect us and to know what we expected out of them. It was also so important that we learned how to safely work with the animals. Jason actually lived with us for a week and taught them how to walk nicely and to lay down. Camels are happiest if they have one or two “jobs” to do so he even taught Ginger to be a ride animal,” Amber explained.

Their camels have only one hump and the custom-made saddle is placed behind the hump and supports the back. “At some point we want to offer camel rides to get the public more familiar with these gentle animals,” Luke points out.

However, that won’t be for a while as their main focus at present is making soaps and lotions from the camel milk. “Our initial goal was to sell the milk,” Amber recalls. “Now, as demand has increased for the soap, that goal has changed. I had never made soap before but you learn as you go. One of the main reasons I got into it was that our daughter has had eczema really bad although she is only 3. We heard that camel soaps helped the condition and, since we have been using them on her, it has all but cleared up.”

Milking a camel can be quite a chore as they have to have their calf suckle first to let the milk down and then they only drop it for 90 seconds at a time. They get about a gallon per day and it takes a pint of milk to make 16 bars of soap. Each bar’s ingredients are made up of 25 percent milk. The active ingredient is alphahydroxy acids and camel milk is rich in these as well as vitamins A and E. Camel milk has three times the vitamin C as cow’s milk and 10 times the iron.

Amber is always experimenting with different recipes for the soaps. She incorporates her own designs, which are works of art, and plays with various fragrances by adding different essential oils. In a busy week she can do 300 bars but she must also plan ahead as the bars have to cure for four weeks. “They are amazing for anyone with skin sensitivities and they are so soft to the touch,” Amber relates with pride.

As if the soaps didn’t keep Amber busy enough, she also offers her own line of camel milk lotions, which requires three times as much milk by volume as the soaps do. The lotions are silky and smooth without the greasiness of other lotions. One of the main reasons for this is the tapioca flour that absorbs any greasiness and helps the other ingredients to bind together. “She is real picky on her products and she won’t make anything that she won’t use herself,” Luke adds.

Between the soaps and lotions, Amber and Luke stay pretty busy. August through December is their busiest show season and they do eight to 10 shows a year, many in Shipshewana, Indiana. They also sell off their website,, and have soaps as far away as Branson, Missouri. “It’s really taking off!” Amber beams.

They chose the name “River Jordan” very carefully as Luke explains. “To give us a daily reminder of where the Lord had led us. The Jordan River is a symbol of healing and restoration in our lives, and we hope each of our products can reflect that in their own way.”

From the beginning, they wanted a venture that would incorporate family, their life’s passion and a lot of blessings. The camels give them that. “It’s a business but we want it to feel like a hobby,” says Amber. She, along with Luke, enjoys spending time with each other and their two toddlers most of all.

What does the future hold for them? They are already thinking of expanding to a total of six camels, with a couple of males with the purpose of giving rides. They would also like to train a couple of them to pull a wagon. “Camels are such good investments since they live between 30 and 40 years,” Amber says. “These four are already such a part of our family and they have brought so much joy to us that we want to share that joy with others.”

It is amazing how River Jordan Dairy was born from a task as mundane as mowing the yard. What an amazing journey it has been for them so far and they have only just begun.