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Sheila Velazquez

Sheila Velazquez has 17 articles published.

Sheila Velazquez is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in more than 100 print newspapers and magazines, including Grit, New Woman, the Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register, the San Antonio Express-News and Bay Area Parent. Her awards include two from the Society of Professional Journalists for a syndicated column. Sheila has contributed to online websites, including commondreams.org and dissidentvoice.org. She served as contributing editor of Organic Producer magazine and wrote biographical material for reference collections that include “Contemporary Authors,” the “Encyclopedia of International Biography” and “Notable Sports Figures.” Feel free to send her an e-mail.

Year of the Pig: If only politicians were more like them

Your average pig tries to live a pretty clean life, and would likely avoid the Beltway if at all possible; photo by Jason Velázquez.
Your average pig tries to live a pretty clean life, and would likely avoid the Beltway if at all possible; photo by Jason Velázquez.

My image of our leaders in Washington is of a herd of pigs wallowing in the muck. But that’s a disservice to pigs. I love pigs, and I really wish politicians were more like them.

I raised pigs for several years, beginning with Milda, a Yorkshire I had every intention of raising to 150 pounds and putting in the freezer. Like a pink puppy, Milda was soon following me around and visiting the other animals. She was a “Babe.” I decided, “Hey, I like pigs. I want more!” When Milda reached maturity, I trucked her off to a friend with a boar. The union resulted in a litter of fourteen. Of these, I kept five females, rounding out the herd to a half dozen. An extension that included a maternity wing was added to the barn, three roomy straw-filled pens for my girls. And Milda became the matriarch of hogdom.

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Turning Cabin Fever into Cabin Solace

Ice garden on a very old (1847) north-facing window of Lawrence Hall, home of the Williams College Museum of Art.
Ice garden on a very old (1847) north-facing window of Lawrence Hall, home of the Williams College Museum of Art; photo by Sheila Velazquez

A friend made the comment that “February is good for nothing.” I’ve never felt that way. I enjoy the peace and calm of the month to which “cabin fever” is so often attributed. Instead, I think of it as the month for cabin solace, the calm between frantic end-of-the-year activity and the longer days leading to spring. 

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Tea and Sympathy

Bulk spices and teas make luxury highly affordable, particularly when you buy with friends; photo by Sheila Velazquez.
Bulk spices and teas make luxury highly affordable, particularly when you buy with friends; photo by Sheila Velazquez.

The sympathy is for those of us, including me, who can’t seem to shake whatever bug it is that has invaded our chests, heads and thinking. The tea is part of that sympathy, because a hot cup of tea with honey and lemon, and perhaps a warm muffin, is the next best thing to mom holding you on her lap, wrapped in a blanket, rocking back and forth in time to the lullaby she is humming.

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Welcome to Our World

Collage, "Paper Workers," by Sheila Velazquez.
Collage, "Paper Workers," by Sheila Velazquez.

Furloughed federal workers who are finding life tough because of the partial government shutdown are sacrificing and taking extreme measures to make ends meet and pay their bills. They are visiting pawn shops, asking for loan extensions, applying for SNAP (food stamps), using food pantries and visiting soup kitchens. They are taking any part-time temporary work they can find at whatever pay rate. They go to bed each night wondering how they will get through the next day, week, month. Sort of like a huge chunk of U.S. workers.

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Dem Bones

Since we stopped hunting and gathering and turned to markets for our food and ingredients, cost-conscious cooks have depended on affordable basics to provide hearty, healthy meals for their families. Many of these items are now being appropriated and glorified by “foodies” who have “discovered” them. The gentrification of traditional foods has enhanced the plates of the few at the cost of the many.

Nearly all ethnicities have roasted, then simmered, soup bones for a stock. Used to be that you could ask a butcher for some, and he would give you a big bag, cut into perfect lengths, for free. Traditional ingredients have enabled the cook to serve a wholesome and tasty meal of soup for less than $1 per person, including the chunks of warm bread for sopping it up. Think of all the cultures that rely on soup for satisfying nutrition. With pasta, with vegetables, with grains and curries, with garnishes like parsley or green onions.

Plain bones (no attached meat) are priced at about $2 a pound in the supermarket. And if you want someone else to do the simmering, a quart box of bone broth is about $5. Shanks and oxtails are a step up from bones, with more meat and flavor, but they have become unaffordable for the cook with a large family to feed. Another of my favorite bones, or collection of bones, is one of the dishes that has not been discovered—yet. Pig’s feet are part of the German heritage on one side of my family. I think it may take some doing before they are appropriated by anyone else. Keep Reading

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Happy Hallmark Holiday

If you buy your holiday tree at a cut-your-own place, what tool do you bring or do they supply you with? Likely it’s a bow saw–a lightweight, efficient tool that nearly anyone, even me, can handle. It’s the tool that the workers at the lot use to even the cut of a precut tree so that it will stand nicely in your container and drink enough water to keep it green through the week or two it will gasp in an overheated room.

“Christmas Tree Farm After Snow,” by Bill Morrow; “Heart Hands,” public domain.

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Friends

I don’t know if I’m a cat person or a dog person. Love them both. I’m also a chicken, cow, goat, rabbit, and children person. Just know that I am not, with few exceptions, an adult people person. My adult friends tend to include struggling farmers, struggling artists and writers, and others struggling to make it at something they love while maintaining their dignity. To nearly everyone else, I am friendly, but there is a difference.

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Easy Fruit or Vegetable Fritters 

It’s time to get up on the stool and pull the cookie press and other seasonal baking gadgets from the top shelf. I normally don’t eat a lot of sweets, but there’s something about this time of year that calls me to gain a few extra pounds, on top of the other extra pounds.

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Garbage, the Financial Markets and Preparedness: What’s the Connection?

“The Gleaners,” by Jean-Francoise Millet; oil
“The Gleaners,” by Jean-Francoise Millet; oil

Goldman Sachs has upgraded Waste Management stock from a sell to a buy as a safe place to invest in a downsizing economy. At first read, this made little sense to me, as I think of a recession as a time when you hunker down and buy less, thereby creating less garbage. But maybe it’s a well-run company in an era of companies that produce goods and services that we can actually do without, making it at least a necessity of sorts.

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Working for Legumes

Workers at a counter in a cafe; photo by Afta Putta Gunawan
Workers at a counter in a cafe; photo by Afta Putta Gunawan.

The short-term interests of the financial elite override the long-term interests of society as a whole (the rest of us). Their goal is to keep stock prices and profits soaring by whatever means possible. Currently they are shaking in their boots because they can hear the bear growling off in the woods

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Prepping for the Possible — Part II

It doesn’t take a lot of land to grow enough vegetables for one family and maybe even fit in a chicken coop. Many towns have farm-friendly policies that allow a small number of hens only (for the uninformed, you don’t need a rooster unless you want the eggs to be fertile). There is no piece of ground so small that it can’t be brought into production.

Some pretty amazing wisdom can be found in the pages of the classic self-reliance series, Foxfire; photo by Sheila Velazquez.

Beautiful soil is the result of composting, which also reduces our waste. Keep that bucket on the sink and throw in your peelings, coffee grounds, apple cores, etc. until it smells enough that you must toss it in the pile. We could also use more community gardens where experienced growers could guide others wanting to learn through the seasons. Because I’ve done the farming thing, I often forget how few people still know how to grow food. Scary.

There are many websites that offer help and guidance when it comes to learning the homely arts. For someone like me, who poured (and still does) over hard copies of magazines like Countryside & Small Stock Journal, Grit, and Backwoods Home Magazine, there are articles that instruct on every phase of homesteading. The mother of them all, Mother Earth News, keeps an extensive archive on its website, free to browse and use.

The Foxfire website describes the series that originated in 1972 with the original “The Foxfire Book,” a collection of articles from the magazine that was begun in 1966 by children of the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Georgia. The name chosen for the title is a reference to the glow emitted by bioluminescent lichen that grows on decaying logs in the Southern woods, noticeable on dark nights. Since that time the magazine has been published uninterrupted, a museum has been established, and the core principles, based on self-centered learning and community-based education, have been adopted by families and educators who favor the Foxfire Approach to Teaching and Learning that “promotes a sense of place and appreciation of local people, community and culture as essential educational tools.”

Beginning more than four decades ago, the students interviewed the elders of their area, documenting their lives and skills, and in doing so they became aware of the close relationships and sharing that were an integral part of creating a strong community. We need more of that–relationships with neighbors and an appreciation of lost culture, not only in Appalachia, but in the urban, exurban, and suburban communities where most of us live.

There are now twelve books in the series that began as a sociological work, and millions of copies of individual volumes have been sold. I bought the first six books in the 1970s. I was a city girl learning how to establish a homestead. I had no experience with farming but was a believer, part of the back-to-the-land movement.

It is in these first collections that most of the practical information can be found. You may not plan on butchering a hog anytime soon, but you will certainly want to plan a garden. The original book has sections on planting by signs, building a log cabin, basket weaving and preserving food, as well as making butter, soap and moonshine. For the religious, there’s information on faith healing and snake handling. The next five volumes offer instructions on spinning and weaving, animal care, tanning hides and logging, as well as making cheese, apple butter, wagons, kilns, tools and shoes. And for “when the work’s all done and the sun’s gettin low” (thanks John Denver), you can also learn how to make old-fashioned toys, corn husk dolls and primitive dulcimers, banjos and fiddles–just in case you can’t power up the tv.

The books are available through the Foxfire website, which is a great place to begin if you’d like to secure your future in small ways, and possibly in bigger ones. And remember the Boy Scout motto.

Interested in the prepper movement? Check out this video by the New Yorker shared on Facebook a few days ago!

(Read Part I here)

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Prepping for the Possible — Part I

I couldn’t sleep as news and statistics about our future danced in my head. I tried counting sheep, but as someone who once raised sheep, it didn’t work. It just led me to thinking about shearing and spinning and all the nice organic lamb we used to put in the freezer. I won’t go into particulars about what is coming down the pike re the trade crisis, foreign entanglements, climate change, shortages, terrorism, possible shutdown of the power grid, financial collapse, and our corrupt (on both sides) political system.

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