Sometimes towns are lucky enough to have a small, local, organic dairy. The town where I live is one of those lucky towns. Our dairy, Radiance Dairy, is run by Francis and Susan Thicke, and it provides probably the best milk I have ever had.

Every time I grab a cup of milk for tea, or mixing up pancake batter, or topping my oatmeal, I know that the source of the milk is a herd of very well taken care of and well fed cows.

The operation of Francis and Susan’s grass-fed dairy is based on the principles of ecology. Specifically, the cows are rotated through paddocks on the farm, imitating the grazing of bison on the prairie. The carefully managed plan of rotation allows for the cows to be fed on a healthy and diverse diet of grasses. The rotation plan also benefits the land through increased biodiversity and improved soil fertility.

Francis is running for Secretary of Agriculture for Iowa.  He has a vision of how to improve agriculture on a state and national level based on the effectiveness of nature, supported by advances in science and technology. Radiance Dairy is a working example of this vision.

Francis needs support, and it is easy to give money to his campaign. This is something that is so important for our state, country, and for the environment in which we all live. For more information, visit Francis’ website

group ski

March 1, 2010

One of the benefits of living in Iowa in the winter is cross-country skiing. Especially when the snow doesn’t seem to ever go away. It is one of the best ways to get outside, enjoy the weather, and stay warm, toasty warm! Some friends organized a group ski a few days ago, and it was a great opportunity to have fun with friends, enjoy the beautiful sunshine, and get some exercise.

And eat treats and drink tea and cocoa of course!

Up the hill after break. I have two favorite things about going up hills. The first is knowing that I will get to zoom down an equal amount of hill some time in the relatively near future. The second is the Groucho Marx uphill shuffle. Lots of little bouncy sort of steps to keep going, and keep the traction on the bottom of the skis.

And the silo set against the beautiful blue sky, reminders that the group ski is indeed in Iowa. It is a little later in the afternoon, so the shadows are growing a little longer on the snow…

One of the highlights of the skiing trip was a taste of a maple icicle. I have never thought or heard of such a thing, but as we were skiing a long, my friend Sam noticed a rather large icicle hanging off of a maple tree. He tried it, and it was indeed maple syrup flavored. YUM! It makes me want to try to tap some maple trees in the next month…

cleaning vinyl

November 23, 2009

This weekend was spent almost exclusively collecting firewood and cleaning records. I have been meaning to clean my minimal record collection for a long time. My dad kept on telling us about how much better the records would sound if we only cleaned them. He even ordered us cleaning solvent and new record sleeves and plastic slip covers. And I think that we have had them for a good year…

Finally, Skye and I went over to my dad’s house and got to work. He has a really nice setup. A record cleaning machine, and all the bottles and sponges filled with the right things for the appropriate steps. He gave us a thorough tutorial, and I have made notes to outline it below.

Here is a general outline. I might have forgotten to note some of the specifics, but this should give you the gist of things.

Step 1.

Remove records from jackets and discard old and funky inner paper covers (you can save any original ones with things that might be important on them). Place records into dish rack, starting from the back and taking care to place record with side a facing up. My dad’s setup (aka dish rack) fits 12 records.

Step 2.

Place record on table (a turntable of sorts) and screw the top tightly on.

Start the motor spinning, and soap the record up. The sponge catches the soap as the record turns, evening out the cleaning process. The soap cleans out the dirt in the grooves of the vinyl. An indicator of this is the level of gloss on the record. The above record needs a little more soap in the middle where you can see the streaks in the reflection. We had the whole thing setup under a bright window, and this helped to identify if there was enough surfactant present. During this step the record is also intermittently spun backwards, to clean more thoroughly.

Step 3.

Rinsing and vacuuming.

Place the vacuum tube on the record at an angle, and turn on. After one full turn place the “water sponge” down and start washing the soap off with distilled water.The water rinses the record, and then is sucked out through the vacuum tube. When water begins to form droplets you know that the soap is rinsed off (surface tension changes), and the record is clean and ready for the final 2 spins with the vacuum tube. If the vacuum is used for too long, the record will pick up static, which isn’t good, as it attracts dust and other debris right back to the clean record.

Switch record to side b, clean it, and so on and so forth.

The final step (4)  is to replace the clean record in the jacket, using a new sleeve if necessary. The sleeve should be dated, and the cleaning method should be noted for future reference. In my case, November 09, and the soap which was Disk Doctors Miracle Record Cleaner, and the name of the machine (VPI). Then, the newly cleaned record is placed in a plastic sleeve, and you are finished!

Now I am listening to a scrappy old George Jones record that used to sound pretty bad and now sounds much, much better! Cleaning is totally satisfying work!!

how to jump out of a box

November 5, 2009


fig. 1

1. Print a UPS label and void the shipment.

2. Purchase a large ummarked box and a roll of tape.

3. Place the box in a believable location. (fig. 1)

4. Have a friend tape you into the box.

Swati, Torrey, and Box

fig. 2

5. Pretend like you are an inanimate object in the box, and wait.

6. Make sure that the friend supervising the opening of the box has the recipient (a) open the box, and (b) open it with a relatively dull object.

Swati Hyperventilating

fig. 3

7. Wave your arms and legs around when the box is opened. (fig. 2)

8. Make sure that the hyperventilating recipient (fig. 3) doesn’t pass out. Supply a cup of tea, or perhaps some Rescue Remedy.

putting up the spice rack

October 30, 2009

I have had this spice rack sitting on my counter for about a year. I finally decided on jars last week, which are a light green glass with cork lids (from Spain), and I was motivated to put the rack up on the wall. My mom stopped over tonight to drop off a few things, and she helped me put up the rack.


The process started with a trip to the basement for wood screws. They are different from machine screws, and the way that they are formed makes them grip the wood and hold on better.

Wood Screw

My basement has a whole section of assorted screws, nails, and other odds and ends, left over from my grampa’s house building days. We also picked up a phillips head screwdriver, a tape measure, and a level.


In order to place the rack right in the middle of the wall space, we measured with a handy snap out ruler. Then my mom held the rack while I put one screw in and tightened it most of the way in. Then we used the level to make sure that the rack was in the right place, and held on tight while we added the second screw.


Funny thing is that the spice rack might be level, but it definitely doesn’t match the light switch on the wall underneath..

Spice Rack

And now the spices are all in their new home, not stuffed in plastic bags in my cupboard. I haven’t put any labels on the jars yet, and am not sure if I will. They look really pretty sitting on the shelf with the different spices bright inside.