Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Curious Discoveries and Camel Kisses



Going down to Amish Country, Indiana, this week I expected to see American Standardbred horses pulling buggies on the roads competing in traffic with cars and tour buses. I expected to see well-kept houses with vegetable gardens, laundry hanging out on lines and Draft horses working in the fields. I expected we’d be served lunch by Mennonite woman wearing long, plain dresses in pastel colors and to see Old Order Amish women in their black garb and covered heads shopping in stores and riding bicycles. And I saw all those things, but what I didn’t expect to see was an Amish camel dairy farm.  

When our 50 passenger tour bus pulled into Dallas Bender’s driveway we were greeted by his ‘yard camel,’ a gentle giant of an animal who at first glance looked like a statue standing not 200 feet from a busy road without a fence or tether to keep her confined. The first question I asked Dallas was, “What keeps her from going on down the road?” Without missing a beat he grinned and replied, “Common sense.” After we all quit laughing he added, “She’s going to have a baby in a day or two and she’s not going anywhere. I keep her close by so I can be on hand when she gives birth.” Dallas is 34 years old, movie star cute with a quick wit and a playful personality that I did not expect from an Amish guy. I was charmed right from the moment he and his young son stepped on our bus to give us the Cliff Notes version of raising camels. He was originally from Iowa, moved to Indiana to marry his wife and when he told his parents and friends he was going to raise camels, they all tried to talk him out of it and that made "the rebel in him" want to do it all the more. That was seven or eight years ago and now he has 20 camels, both one humps from Africa and the Middle East and two humps from Central Asia. The milk is sold to a broker in California who resells it for $26 a pint. It’s used in homeopathic medicines and is said to be good for autoimmune disorders. This camel diary farm is one of only seven in the USA.

Growing up, our summer cottage was near a large diary farm that we kids used to visit from time to time so I was fascinated with the differences between diary cows and dairy camels. Camels are milked twice a day and produce six gallons each time but unlike dairy cows, camels won’t produce milk if you take their babies away. So the camel dairy farmer and babies share the milk for as long as they nurse which averages 12 to 18 months. Camels get statue-still and teary-eyed when the milk is ready to drop (after the baby has nuzzled their mom to primp the pump, so to speak) and the farmer then has 90 seconds to work the four teats as fast as he can. After that it takes another ten minutes before a second batch of milk is ready to drop down and at that point he lets the babies nurse. Dallas said camels get a bad rap about spitting. It’s their only defense mechanism, he said, but if you treat them well they are very sweet, affectionate and well-behaved. They are also intelligent and adapt well to cold climates. Camels cost around $1,200 each but he paid $1,700 for a white one. Mrs. Bender makes hand cream and soap from camel milk and many of us bought some. It’s the best hand cream I’ve ever tried! My hands and elbows have never been so soft and it doesn’t seem to wash off when you wash your hands. The ingredient list is short and sweet: camel milk, coconut oil, E-wax, water, optiphen and floral oil. 

We went to Shipshewana to go to a Quilt Gardens and Mural Tour. I wasn't all that impressed, mainly because our step-on guide talked more about herself than anything else and she took up a lot of time that would have been better spent either getting home 45 minutes earlier or seeing more gardens---we only saw four out of twenty in the area. For the sewers in our group, we all enjoyed shopping in Yoder’s Hardware for quilting materials and supplies. I’ve never seen so many yard goods in one place in my entire life although I didn’t buy anything. What did I buy on this long day trip? Three different kinds of peanut butter out of the ten or so variations sold. (We were told it's a staple for Sunday meals in Amish communities because they don’t work or cook on Sundays). I also bought orange slice candies that are a comfort food for me because my mom always kept them in a drawer near her rocking chair. Orange slices, being rocked and motherhood is the Norman Rockwell painting in my head. A post card and something called Traffic Jam that’s made with six different fruits rounded out my purchases. Thirty bucks worth of retail therapy and contributions to the Amish economy.

I should have taken a photo of the contents of the purse I took on this day trip because the topic of what each of us take with us came up when a women on the bus needed a Kleenex, another needed a Wet-Ones and someone else was asking around for an aspirin. I had them all to share and when I came up with a zip lock plastic bag for someone who needed something to put a broken hearing aid in my seatmate remarked, “You sure come prepared!” Kleenex woman said because everything is paid for in advance she only takes her car key in her pocket and nothing else. A couple of others only take a charge card and/or a tube of lipstick tuck in their pockets. I couldn’t go to the grocery store five miles away without my purse! But I’m less “Boy Scout prepared” now than I was in the days when I serviced weddings. Back in those days I carried stuff like smelling salts, a sewing kit, safety pins and clear nail polish to fix runs in nylons. Maybe the fact that I don't live as bare-bones as others is the reason I'm so fascinated by the Amish. No electricity, no TVs, no cars or modern conveniences of any kind. I used my imagination to view their romanticized lives and came home relaxed and happy and glad for the opportunity to slow down and smell the roses...and literally get kissed by a camel. Did I mention they love to have their necks scratched and to nuzzle your hair? ©


A twelve week old baby camel. They are 75 pounds at birth.

A little older calf.
The ‘yard camel’ mom-to-be at the end of her 13 months pregnancy.
Camels stand between 6 to7 feet tall at the shoulders. Fully grown, they weigh over 1,500 lb.
The camel that kissed me on the cheek.

Four Quilt Gardens


One of the painted quilt murals seen on the sides of buildings in the area.

A video of the birth of a calf that the mother at first rejects. Late in the video you'll see the tears roll down her cheeks.


19 comments:

  1. A lot of interesting stuff here. A 13-month pregnancy? I guess it's better than being an elephant. They carry their babies for almost two years. Actually, I didn't mind being pregnant. I was a pretty happy clam.

    When we lived in MD, we would occasionally drive up to Amish Country in Pennsylvania and eat at the "Good and Plenty." They seated us at a long table with other customers, and put bowls of food on the table. We passed them along - homestyle.

    I bet your jams and peanut butter are tasty. I'm a big peanut butter lover. I like to spread it on celery. A nice little burst of protein.

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    1. That's the same way they served our food, family style but I did notice they had a buffet which I've never need in an Amish community before.

      So far I've only tried the butterscotch peanut butter but it is good and I've had a peanut butter sandwich every day since. I had a sample of the marshmallow peanut butter where I bought it and that was yummy. The other flavor I bought was honey.

      It is interesting how long different species carries their young, isn't it. I found the part about the eyes getting watery when the milk is about to drop the most interesting. The idea of an emotional mother camel reminds of the sweet look on the faces of all the new moms in my family when they nurse.

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  2. You certainly do and see a lot of interesting and fun things. I never knew about camel milk dairies, now I do. Great information. Thanks!

    Lovely flower gardens, I admire anyone who can be so organized.

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    1. Our senior hall director does an amazing job of seeking out these kinds of places and things to do. I only do a fraction of the stuff offered. Next month they are going on sailboat on Lake Michigan.

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  3. I always enjoyed stopping at the Amish homes in Iowa when we'd travel to visit relatives in Illinois. There still are some famous restaurants in Amana, but back on the country roads, you could buy eggs, butter, and so forth. My best visual memory is of the lanterns shining through their blue curtains at night.

    The camel business is interesting. When I was writing about the introduction of camels during the Civil War, I found a camel dairy in California, but didn't realize there are more. And the quilt gardens are beautiful. Do you have quilt barns, too? I loved seeing those in Illinois and elsewhere during my last trip north. I suppose they're common up there, but I'd never seen one, and loved it.

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    1. I love the Amana Colonies. We used to stop their every year on our way out West. They aren't Amish but very interesting as well. Both groups came from Germany and are often confused but that's as far as the connection goes. Their religion is totally different and the colonies were communal living until the 1930s. Amish communities were never communal in nature.

      It's hard to believe camels have been in America since the Civil War but I remember reading about that and find it so fascinating.

      If by 'quilt barns' you mean the quilt murals painted on barns, there are a few around this part of MI but not a lot of them, more actually up north in the tourist/wine counties. We were told most of them in the Shipshewana area are painted by the same person.

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  4. Those quilt gardens are gorgeous. I spent a week in Lancaster, PA and never saw those!

    Your Camel herder is a real rebel because Amish do not like to mix with the "English", as we are called. Maybe he was more Mennonite?

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    1. Nope, he was Old World Amish. Our step-on guide for the gardens said the Amish are becoming more entrepreneurial to get the tourist dollars. She said most of them even have their own telephone booths in their back yards now. LOL

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  5. Quilt barns are becoming really popular here in northern New York but I had never heard of quilt gardens!
    The Amish around here do seem to work the land really well and have good luck with a lot of crops with natural fertilizers (I think). I've never seen what they put on the ground and sometimes I am surprised at the things that they buy in the markets and Mac donalds! I think one of the differences between Amish and other societies like Muslims and ultra Orthodox Jews is that it is fairly clear in Amish culture that their clothing is restrictive and burdensome for both sexes...Muslim society very pointedly restricts women. That then carries through to the rest of their live roles whereas in Amish society they both work hard with different roles. But there is the added burden of women having as many children as they can.
    I am surprised that you mentioned bicycles because they do not use them here. I was told it was because of the rubber wheels.
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. Bicycles were EVERYWHERE and Amish of all ages and both sexes were using them but they weren't so plentiful that last time I was down there. Each separate community does get to vote on stuff like that. The last time I was there, it was batteries they voted in to run something in their barns. We went by one house that easily had 30-40 bikes out front and a gathering of people in the back.

      From what I gathered about the quilt gardens is was something dreamed by the business community to draw in more tourists. It's set up like a juryed art show. They submit a plan to a committee in the winter, they order the plants in bulk in the spring and the committee pays for them all and they get awards for the best results.

      The Amish do wonders with bringing back spent farmland with all natural fertilizers. Studies have been made on how they are able to be so successful at farming. Nothing goes to waste. Some even sell horse urine to labs. I would love to see what some of them buy at markets and Mac Donalds.

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  6. I loved all this camel information. I sat on a camel one time in my life. I had to idea about their milk. Very interesting information. Wish I could know a camel better.

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    1. I was amazed at home much I liked these animals. I'd seen a couple earlier this summer at a petty zoo but there was no information given so I just felt sorry for them for being in Michigan. I didn't know they ever can adapt to Russia's harsh winters.

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  7. You do manage to go on adventures! Kudos to your senior center!!! It's an interesting challenge here in Maui as we have no "city" governments, only County which includes 4 islands! Some areas of the County have the beginnings of a senior community with a few day trips ... but mostly Bingo and potlucks.

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  8. Our senior hall is exceptional, even for this area. We have people driving in from neighboring townships and towns to go on our trips and other events. RSVP day is a zoo to get signed up for what you want to do. I only do a fraction of what is available. Seven years ago when the old senior hall director left and a new one started she turned it from being the 'bingo and potlucks' kind of place to what we have now. It's the classic 'If they build it they will come' situation.

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  9. Great post and pix! Almost as good as visiting the place. Thanks! ~ Libby

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    1. Thanks. I really loved that day trip.

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  10. Not too many words to write. One of the dearest posts (with video) I've watched.

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  11. Camel dairy farms! Who knew? How interesting. You do the coolest things. And I'd want to sit with you on the bus just to see what's in your purse. :)

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    1. Let's just say that I'm never the person asking around for something. ;)

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