Dairy stuff

One happy dog

It is with a sad heart that I post about Rose, our loyal farm dog that passed away last week. I only had about two years of solid Rose-petting under my belt, but she begged the rest of the family for attention for more than a decade.

I’ve read several beautiful odes to pets on other writers’ blogs and I can’t hope to match those, but I do want to say Rose truly loved unconditionally. If you walked within twenty feet of her, she’d drop to the ground, wag her tail (and consequently, her entire lower half), and whine as if she hadn’t gotten attention in a century. She loved riding in trucks and tractors, sleeping, chasing rabbits away from the garden, sleeping, eating things that smelled, and sleeping.

It was probably a combination of old age and last week’s intense heat that led to Rose’s last run. She went out like a bad ass, though; two weeks ago she got into a fight with some critter and was sporting a split eye. She was a steadying influence on Rhoda (the young farm dog) and a constant loving companion to the rest of us. She will always be missed and remembered.



I’ll post about writing eventually (promise), but I haven’t written much lately because we’ve had eight calves in the last two weeks on the farm. For a herd only milking about forty cows, that’s a crazy volume. Even better, six were heifers, which means more adorable baby cow pictures and names!

The much-anticipated Jane Austen calf was indeed a heifer and, after vigorous discussion, she is named Darcy (and is uber-adorable, as you can see). She’s spunky while still being chill, so I think she’ll live up to her name fabulously.

Nutmeg had never given us a heifer before, so we ran to the spice rack for name inspiration. This calf is nuts (I found her running in the sweet corn patch when she was only a few hours old), so I was pulling for something like Cayenne or Cardamom. She was obviously too wild to be a Cinnamon. In the end, Allspice was a strong contender but we settled on Clove. (no picture because the thing doesn’t stand still)

Bonnie’s calf called for a solid Irish name and there were several strong contenders, but once we found “Blair,” my husband reminded us of Bonnie Blair the Olympic speed skater, and we couldn’t say no to that!

With a mother named Grace and a father named Valor, our third baby (sorry, no picture yet) could only be Guinevere. Also top of our mind because the husband and I are hooked on the BBC’s Merlin series.

In the last two days, Iris and Aspen both had heifers as well. Iris is the daughter of Ilse (as in Casablanca) and sister to Ingrid. Aspen’s previous two daughters are our “diva” line: Aretha and Gladys. Anyone have any other good diva or “I” names?


Blair and Darcy say hello

Sometimes, when work is hard and the weather is hot and you’re feeling discouraged, you take a break and walk out to the pasture and see a miracle. Introducing Boo and her new daughter Atticus (Atty for short):

Happy Friday everyone 🙂

Yup, you read that right. And it wasn’t even my idea, I swear. The plan for National Cow Week originated here and I learned about it from Beth Revis’ blog (can you imagine if I’d missed National Cow Week? Inconceivable!).

The girls

For those that are new to The Writing Cave, I live on a dairy farm. I’ve always loved cows, even growing up in the city, and went to Iowa State University for Dairy Science (yeah, it’s a real thing). Did you know that cows have no upper teeth? They have a hard plate that the lower teeth grind the feed against. Did you know they can change direction faster than flipping a switch? (this trait usually shows up when you’re trying to corner them) Did you know they’re flexible enough to bend around and lick their tail? True story. I love cows.

But I also love books, and luckily my in-laws do too, so we have plenty of literary figures running around the farm: Jane Austen; Nancy Drew; Lara

Baby Serafina

from Dr. Zhivago; Boo and Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird; Lyra and Serafina from The Golden Compass; Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, and Edna St. Vincent Millay (the poet family). It’d be awesome to have triplet heifers and name them after the Brontës, other than that whole cow-giving-birth-to-triplets thing.

The eldest stateswoman of the herd is Mary, who turned sweet sixteen in January. Sixteen is old for a cow. Really old. So Mary figures she can do whatever she wants and takes anything I say as a mere suggestion. Especially when I try and shoo her out of the milking parlor when she’d rather just stay and eat. And so, in honor of this being a writing blog, my ode to Mary:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
Why do your feet not go?
They stay there in place,
While you stuff your face,
And I scream and holler F&*%ing go!

I’ve never really gotten that last line right, so I need some National Cow Week help from you lovely readers.

  • Option 1: we’re running out of poet names and Edna is due next month, so leave us some female poet name suggestions in the comments
  • Option 2: if you have suggestions for any type of literary name, please leave in the comments
  • Option 3: re-write my Mary ode to suck less 🙂

Have a great weekend everyone and cows rock!

It’s been a beautiful fall on the farm, so while I’m deep in Revision Land, I thought I’d give you a taste of what I get to see every day.

Mommas and piggies!


The Iowa River


Myra says hello


Now back to work 🙂 Happy November everyone, be you writing, revising, or reading!

No, not waxing unwanted hair, a waxing moon, or waxing poetic. Today is one of my cheese posts. Sorry if you were lured here under false pretenses 😉

My husband built us a small cheese press that will handle about a two-pound wheel, but the only time I’ve used it, we didn’t get the rind dry enough and the cheese got pretty funky. So this time, we figured we’d try waxing the wheel.

Hello Iowa Jack!

This was our first attempt at making Monterey Jack and it took FOREVER! Heat the milk to 88 degrees, then add the starter culture and wait half an hour. Add the rennet and wait another half hour. Cut the curd and let sit for 30 minutes. Raise the temperature and hold for half an hour. You get the idea. Forever.

But we survived and had the cute little cheese on the right to show for it. My home cheesemaking book cautioned that cheese wax fumes are highly flammable, so we ended up melting the wax on a camp stove outside. I think next time I’ll get green wax and we’ll have Christmas cheese.

So the next pictures are what a homemade wheel brushed with wax looks like. Hardly consumer-ready, but certainly an experience. So how did this waxing thing remind me of writing? (see, it comes back to writing

Wow, that's bright red


  • It takes at least two layers to protect the cheese and develop deep flavors. For a really great book, it’s not just the primary, obvious story line, but the layers of conflict and character that create the full taste.
  • Practice makes…less ugly. I’m hoping our inaugural waxing experience is much like a first draft: the next version is smoother.
  • Both are needy. The cheese needs to be stored at 55 degrees and at least 65% humidity, turned several times each week to keep the butterfat from migrating to the bottom. Manuscripts don’t come out right the first time and won’t get any better just by sitting there.

    Ta da!

So now we just have to keep turning the cheese and wait at least two months to eat it. That’s another thing writing and cheesemaking have in common, you craft something and develop the flavors and hopefully your patience pays off. Now if only I was patient!

Anyone have general waxing stories to share? What interesting cheese or book packaging have you seen?

It’s time for pumpkins and fall colors, and that also means World Dairy Expo. That’s right, there is a World Dairy Expo. Picture 2,500 of the world’s best dairy cattle with 65,000 visitors from 90 countries. And I’ll be there all week (and therefore not blogging or reading blogs). Just standing on concrete, smiling desperately at people walking through the trade show. But there will be amazing grilled cheese sandwiches to eat everyday, so that’s something.

So, in honor of Expo week, I’m collecting favorite grilled cheese recipes, ice cream flavors, and cow stories. Ready, go!