Sunday, January 31

Resolution #1

Resolution: Every time I enter a store, I will make conscious choices. I will try to buy less. I will ask myself if I really need it, if I already have something similar, and how long I will use the item before I throw it away or recycle it.

I will pay attention to where the item is made, how much packaging is used, and how far the item had to travel to get to me.

I will change the way I think about shopping. Instead of "getting groceries" I will "select and purchase provisions."

Explanation: This one came about because of a few factors. First, we buy too much stuff. Stuff I don't really need and the like. I simply want to buy less stuff. It will save money and I will have, well, less stuff. From now on, I will ask myself "Do I really need this" before I buy anything. This will cut down on frivilous purchases, convenience purchases, and waste in general.

Second, I will really look at the thing I want to buy. If it appears poorly made and looks like it woiuld break with regular use, I am not going to buy it. If it breaks and I can not fix it, it will end up in a landfill. And if it is poorly made in the first place, how long would a "fix" last anyway? I am willing to spend a little more money if it means that the item, if I decide that I really need it, is of good quality.

Next, I will make a conscious effort to find out where the item was made. Mostly this means looking on the tag or packaging. I don't know about you but I am sick of cheap crap from China. They make some good things, but mostly I see pastic junk. And all those reports about the lead paint and chemicals, not to mention the sky-high environmental impact of China, are just plain scary. Especially now that I have a baby who puts everything in his mouth. I am going to try and buy American as much as possible. The packaging must be minimal, or recyclable. Bottom line.

As for buying local, that is something we already do as much as possible. What vegetables I don't grow in the yard we get at the farmers market in the summer and we try to buy organic, and local if possible, from the grocery store in the winter. Products, services, milk - we try to get local whenever we can.

So, let me just say right now that I am not some strange person. I just want to know where my stuff comes from and what is going to happen to it. I want to know that the bread I got at the bakery was made at that bakery that morning. And that the milk I get in the glass bottles is from the cow down the road. I don't want to buy a cheap electronic device/household item/clothing/baby toys made in China with chemicals I can not pronounce that may be toxic and will break within a month and contaminate a landfill for 500 years. I will pay more for the good, local stuff or I will go without.

I know this will send our household budget into a tailspin and it will be cause for much aggrivation in the grocery store. It takes time to read all those labels!!! And I have to admit - I like stuff! I like getting new clothes and gadgets here and there. It is going to be hard not to want to raid the flipflop section of Target this spring. But I think it will be worth it.

So that is Resolution #1 and i plan to stick to it. I will keep you updated.

Friday, January 29

Presents From the Mailman

On a day so cold and windy that the snow is blowing down the road and you can't see past the driveway, I ventured out to retrieve the mail. And I was rewarded for my bundled up efforts.

My seeds from Baker Creek arrived today and a book that I bought on Ebay was also there making this a wonderful afternoon - even though it says 7 degrees on digital temperature gage by the back window.

I could hear all those lovely seeds rattling around in their packages inside the padded mailing envelope - music to my ears - as I ran back to the house though the snow. A nice bright spot for today.

Resolutions: The Beginning

I wanted to make a better resolution than "lose weight" this year. I make that one every year and it never happens. I am still holding on to that 30 lbs of post-baby weight and he will be 1 on February. That just says it all right there.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I found a wonderful idea for then resolutions thing. It was from Cold Antler Farm - here's the link - and I have been trying to follow this example.

However, I have found that I need more of a kick in the can. So, I have developed a specific set of resolutions which I will post with an explanation of each. I have to admit, this is more for me than to making for interesting reading - kind of a check and ballance system.

PS - the first one, although not actually on the list is try to be a better speller. My spelling is horrible. I type too fast and for some reason I think that the computer should know what i want to say and just come out with it. Lesson: Slow down and get a dictionary.

Thursday, January 28

My New Cake Tin

As Simple as Baking Bread

The snow is back and with it has come the chill and the wind. So windy today! T0he flakes are flying and we are staying indoors today, catching up on house chores. Yesterday we took a day off and went to visit Mom and Dad which is always a wonderful break for me and a fun time for the little man. The whole house smelled like "woodstove" and I loved it. I spent time streched out on the floor by the stove, soaking up the heat while Connor threw blocks around the livingroom.

I brouhgt my soap making supplies over because I had given Mom some homemade bars for Christmas and she liked them so much, she wanted to learn how to make them. Another convert.

We made about 10 bars, all different colors and scents, and she was very happy with them. She is planning on buying some supplies of her own and experimenting with her own ideas.

Back here, the projects are not going as smoothly. I have been trying to learn how to knit on circular needles and it is just not working. all the YouTube instructional videos in the world are not helping me and I am about ready to give it up. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I just can't get the hang of joining and everything just looks all messy.

I am also having a hard time with bread. I know, bread. If I were living in 1870, we would all be dirty and starving right about now. I have used the frozen bread dough you get in big packs of 5 or 10, letting them rise on the pellet stove, and baking them. Turns out fine. No problem. But I want to try all these wonderful looking recipes in Mother Earth News and such. It always comes out heavy and thick. It does not seem to want to rise and be the fluffy loaf I am carving.

I tried the 10 Grain bread recipe from Mother Earth News last week. I followed the instructions to the letter. I even used a broiler for the first time in my life. (I always windered what that thing that came with the stove was). And it looked good, enough though a little small. My husband was my test subject and he cut into it and tried a piece. He chewed and said "You should try it. It is good. Put lots of butter on it."

So, it was ok but not wonderful. it was thick and heavy and really crunchy on the outside. I let it rise exactly as described in the article. HELP!

This is the most basic of homesteading skills! I must learn how to make a good, edible bread from scratch!!! I count this as one of my "must learn to be considered a homesteader (OK, 'lite' homesteader). It is on my New Years Resolutions list!!! (I'll post the whole list later).

This should be simple.

Sunday, January 24

A Good Day

It is a rainy, cold day today - the rain has been coming down since late this morning and it has not let up yet. The basement pump has been going on and off all afternoon and Snowy smells like, well, a wet dog.

Most of the yard is a mess of water, mud and very pathetic looking grass. And as much as i hate snow, I would rather have the whole place covered in a deep white blanket than look out the window and see wet and cold and the dead and sleeping things that are supposed to be undercover until at least the end of March.

Despite the dreary weather, we managed to get a great deal of work done around the house today. Mom and Dad took the baby for the afternoon and Roy and I worked like madmen to knock things off our very long to-do list. Our accomplishments for the day include organizing and cleaning up the potting area in the basement, loads and loads of laundry, and Roy's workbench and tool storage finally resembles something useable and organized. I can actually see the workbench and who knew we had so many hammers.

I have also been sneaking in projects during the little guys nap time and when I should be sleeping. I was able to get a ton of sewing projects off the list, mostly consisting of repairing clothes and chair cushions. Nothing too exciting but I did manage to make myself a nice apron that I will actually wear.

So even though we are both exhausted and the weather is depressing, I will still go ahead and call this a good day.

Saturday, January 23

Goats in Grit

I picked up the current issue of Grit the other day which I couldn't resist because of the totally adorable goats on the cover. I don't subscribe to Grit, even though I am thinking I should, after all the great articles, and goat pictures.

It has a little bit of everything - articles on bread making, goat raising, flax growing, horse plowing, and so many other interesting little things.

It madde for a night of interesting reading.

Thursday, January 21

Christmas Cactus Problems

(Note: The picture does not show exactly HOW wilt-y the branches are)

I am looking for advice on my Christmas Cactus.

My Grandmother gave me a huge christmas Cactus and a few years ago and it was doing very well. Big branches and lots of flowering. Last summer, it started to drop branches - both little and big. They would just fall off and I would find them on the floor. I tried to stick the ends back in the dirt so they would re-root but it only worked about 10% of the time.

I now have a pot with the remnants of the original root and a few branches that have made it through, but it is not nearly as big and it looks very unhealthy. The leaves and branches are all wilting and sagging. And no flowering.

I have been watering according to guidlines - the top inch of soil is moist but not overwatered. The dirt is fresh potting soil and I have taken some of the branches that fell off and stuck them in another pot, thinking they just needed a fresh start. This did not work and now I have two pots of sagging wilting very sad looking Christmas Cactus.

I recently bought a a bag of Cactus potting mix and I was going to repot themto see if it helped but I an going to wait and see if any of you out there know what is happening and if you have any suggestions on what I should do.

I Couldn't Help Myself...

Last night I surrendered to temptation and got the seed trays out. I put the plastic down on the plywood and sawhorse table and put everything out and filled all those little peat pot lined trays with organic seed starter and I loved every minute of it. I felt like I was getting away with something.

My official seed starting room is in the basement as also shares the name “craft paint storage and painting things that are too smelly to be painted upstairs” room. It also houses our furnace which means it is also the warmest little space in the house. And it has a door that actually closes and which needs to remain closed as soon as seed trays get filled. Cheese likes to dig around and send dirt mix flying and last year, she ate the tops off all the little pepper sprouts.

A reminder – I did not plant the seeds yet. But I am just too worked up about sprouts and germination and milk jug cloches to wait any longer for just a little gardening fix. Filling the trays and getting things set up was enough to level the buzz, for now. I also planted a little pot with catnip seeds which is basking in the rare January sunshine coming through the kitchen window. The cats need their nip, you know. It had nothing to do with me actually getting to plant seeds.

I also did a bad thing yesterday. I went to the store and bought cactus potting mix for my Christmas cactus which is a whole other post. Maybe after lunch.

While I am going on about doing bad things, I spent an unhealthy amount of money on seeds today. Baker Creek, my absolute favorite seed place, has wooed me again with their colorful catalog. Pictures of perfect vegetables and beautiful flowers and names like Green Zebra Tomato, Dragon Tongue Bush Bean and Bells of Ireland, it is hard to not run up a total of $50 or more by the time you reach the order form at the end of the catalog. For a family of three, that’s a lot of seeds. And keep in mind that Roy is the only one who eats tomatoes, the squash and gourds are for decoration and projects, and Connor only has 6 teeth so far. But again, I couldn’t help myself.

It is my weakness. Seeds and pots and potting soil and planning the garden and dreaming about how the tomatoes smell when they are ripe. You can smell them all the way from the house on those hot August days, and I don’t even like eating them. Just growing, planting, caring for and harvesting them. After all, the next best thing to eating something you grew yourself is heading out to the garden with a basket or an enamelware pot to collect veggies for dinner.

Wednesday, January 20

Connor's Toys

My Grandfather makes all kinds of wonderful things out of wood. I have so many things around the house that he has made for me over the years, I can not even begin to count them. Everything from toys to kitchen utensils to decorative boxes.

But he only makes them for family. So Connor is a very lucky baby. He is only 11 months old but he has already amassed a fleet of hand-crafted, wooden toys, and a chest to put them in.

He is not old enough to fully appreciate them yet but he will soon and I will be happy to tell him all about them. Right now he likes the fact most of them have wheels he can spin and that he can crawl-chase the bug and the bunny when i pull them around the floor.

These are the best kinds of toys. Hand made, non-toxic and in most cases the wood comes from my Grandparents farm. You can not buy things like this in the store unless you go to a specialty shop and pay an arm and a leg and even then you are not sure about lead paint and all other sorts of things. There are some good stores out there but right now, I am happy and very lucky that I can no worry too much when Connon decides he wants to put a wheel in his mouth.

I do not want to be totally crazy and expect that he will only play with there toys forever and not like anything from the store. He already has a ton of plastic stuff and whatnot all over the house and there is probaby no way that I will be able to steer him away from Transformers or whatever will be the "popular" toy to have when he is older. And he will not understand about lead paint and stuff from China and all that. He will just want what he wants, within reason, of course. And that is ok. As long as he appreciates the difference and significance of what his great grandpa made for him.

Monday, January 18

3 cats

I have three cats. I love them all very much, and they are the only animals we have here at the farm right now besides Snowy the stubborn dog and the masses of birds living in the cedar bushes.

I have three cats. And they are the farthest apart in personalities that three cats can be.

Prince, my oldest cat, is my bright orange half maine coon boy. We had him and his brother Sidney, before we even got married. Sadly, Sidney passed away in 2008. Prince is definately his own cat. He would gladly be the only cat in the house. He loves laps and loves attnetion. Every time you sit down, or even give the appearence of thinking about sitting down, he is there, waiting for a lap. You would think he was never given any attention for the amount of begging he does. He loves his cat treats and loves lunch meat and hates baths and brushes. He is picky and fussy and stubborn and likes things his way, every time, all the time. He reminds me of myself.

He sleeps by my head every night but will jump down and sleep on the chair if another cat dares to think they can jump up on the bed and sleep with us at night. He constantly wants to get outside and eat grass. All my cats are indoor cats so we have a cat pen outside that allows them fresh air and grass in the warmer months.

Buffin, our gigantic 6 year old gray and white short hair, is just that - gigantic. He is a very big boy and loves his food. But he does not like people. He will come out for my husband and myself only and whenever someone comes to the house, he can always be found hiding under our bed - square in the middle - out of reach. We adopted him as a tiny kitten out of a tiny cage in a Patsmart. I couldn;t help myself - he was just too perfect. A terror as a kitten - into everything - but mellow to the point of not wanting to move as an adult. He sleeps - alot. He is picky about his food - only mushy Salmon diner from Friskies - and will not lower himself to eating cat treats. He is a table scraps kind of boy. Don't get me wrong, he likes affection and loves to be brushed but only on his terms, when he wants it. A shy boy at heart. He is the only cat I have ever had that does not want to go outside. He has no interest in it and prefers to be in the house, somepleace warm, sleeping. But not in bed with us. It is a rare treat to wake up and find him lounging, just out of reach, at the foot of the bed.

Cheese is our newest addition. A beautiful full main coon girl - browns, blacks and bits of orange. She came to us a tiny ball of fluff through Craigslist last January while I was 8 months pregnant. We had just lost Sidney that past October and and Lily, Snowys sister, that November. We were not looking for a new cat or dog but we could not say no to Cheese. (Her mothers name was Crackers). She is the most complicated of our cats. First, she is still a kitten so she is a terror and destroys things on a daily basis. She is what I call a 50/50 cat. She will be very affectionate and want to be sitting on you one minute and the next she is flying around the house and does not want to be petted for anything. She will curl up with us in bed one night and be right under the covers, all night (much to the annoyance of Prince), and the next night she will not want anyone near her. She is a digger and we have to have two cat pens now, one on the ground for Prince to feast on his grass and another one off the ground for fresh air and bird watching. Did I mention that she gets into EVERYTHING! And she attacks the dog. She is the one I feel I most need to win over at this point. It is a privilege to have her pick our lap over the chair, couch or cat bed and when she climbs up and tries to sleep on your neck in the middle of the night, purring away, I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

My three furry babies, all so different. I am surprised they can co-exist together here. Then add Snowy and you have got yourself a real mix.

Tuesday, January 12

A Note on Snowflakes

I know that everyone knows this already but it still amazes me that snowflakes are each entirely different. They are so perfect with their tiny points and intricate designs. How could something so small and seemingly so random but so perfect?

If there was ever something that made me beleive in a higher power creating things as opposed to evolution, thent he snowflake would be my example.

Bluejays are Not very Nice

I went out and rescued the bird feeders yesterday and brought them in the house for a cleaning and a thaw. The birds have been hiding themselves away from the weather lately - all sheltered in the cedar trees, so I have not felt horrible about neglecting the feeder filling. But today, with the windy not so strong and only the lightest of flakes floating down, the birds are out in force attcking the feeders and littering the snowy ground with sunflower shucks and overanxious spillage.

The blue jays were the first ones I noticed - how could I not! Their bright blue standing out so clearly against the snow. And they are huge birds in the winter months - dwarfing the black capped chickadees and even the cardinals. I have a small flock of the chickadees darting from the barren lilac bush to the feeders and back again, and a few daring cardinals that are mostly picking up what the bluejays displace when they land on the feeder.

I have come to the conclusion that bluejays, although very pretty, are not very nice. They seem to be the bullys of the bird world - in my yard anyway. Always scaring the other birds from the feeders and making noise. I have seen them dive-bomb cats before for no apparent reason.

The cats have come to accept that there are birds outside the window and also that they are never going to be able to get at them. They used to perch on the sill, tails thumping back and forth against the wall - stalking their prey. Now when i hold prince up to the window and say "Look, a bird" he just looks at me like I am crazy. "I've seen birds before and that one is nothing special." If a big gray squirrel manages to make his way to the feeders, they take more notice, but still, they know it is a lost cause, being indoor cats.

That is my day today. Watching birds pick around in the snow for feed and listening as the snowplow goes by with blades down, making a horrible scraping sound going down the road, sparks flying. .There is no snow on the road today but someone must have told them to go out and plow anyway. The little guy is napping and when he wakes up there will be a bottle and then a bundled up trip to the store for provisions - Roy is coming down with something at work and has requested orange juice and medication.

Monday, January 11

Old Dog, Stubborn Tricks

Snowy, as you know, is my beautiful German Shepard/huskey mix. She is a great dog and I love her. However, she is going to be 11 years old this year and she is starting to act a little screwy.

She has always been "her own dog". Even when her sister was still alive, she was the follower but she always give the impression that she was a follower by choice and that she could change her mind at any time. She is very smart and great with the baby. But now it seems that she has made up her mind to be a very bad dog.

She refuses to listen. She will not come when she is called. She goes to the bathroom on the kitchen floor. She is stubborn, obstinate, tricky and she is acting like an all-arond smart ass.

She is still affectionate, and yes, she can hear just fine. She can hear me open a can of cat food from the other side of the house. i just don't get what has gotten into her lately.

She wants to be outside all the time, even in freezing temperatures. I know she loves the cold but it is TOO cold. She will get very upset with us if we don;t let her out at 10pm for her nightly "sit in the shed" time and will start whining and grunting at us until we finally let her out. Then of course, we have to practically carry her back in the house and she acts like we are punishing her.

I know she is an old dog and I baby her so much it is borderline obsessive. She gets more treats than any of the cats, she gets all the table scraps she wants, she gets right of first refusal on anything going into the compost. Am I spoiling her? Is this leading to the bad behavior? Am I making too much of it and dogs will be dogs?

Any advice would be welcome.

Thursday, January 7

Sweet dreams

A long day today. The snow is melting a little but there is still so much that poor Snowy has to wade through belly deep to get to her favorite "business" spot. She loves the cold and the snowy but with her sister gone, she has no one to run around in it with. And with the aches and pains that come with being an older dog, she seems content to enjoy the cold by lounging in the shed on her couch.

I finished a late Christmas present today - an off white, alpaca yarn scarf I made - and sent it off to the woman it was made for. Now I am working on an afghan. I like having something to work on at night after dinner and before bed.

The baby has not been sleeping well lately, which means i have not been sleeping well lately. He has gas and cramps and I have dark circles from nights of interuppted sleep and consoling.

But it is not all that bad. We are warm in the house with the pellet stove roaring and the clothes are drying on the racks from the heat. The cats are fed, Snowy is basking in the chilly weather on her shed couch and I am going to spend the rest of the night thumbing through the Baker Creek Seed Catalog in my jammies, dreaming about heirloom tomatoes and hoping they grow well this year.

So here's to sweet dreams and, hopfully, a non-gassy baby and enough pellets in the stove to last through the night.

Monday, January 4

Cheese in a Crock

The Word on Soap

I have made soap that actaully looks like, smells like and works like, well, real soap. I base my judgement on comparison to Ivory, which is the soap of choice here.

I made a set of soaps for a friend for Christmas. I made lavendar scented bars from clear base and mixed in little lavendar bits for effect. I also made unscented bars which I colored a light orange.

I made the little tags and wrapped them in nice paper and string and I think they turned out really nice. And I think they make a nice gift.

However, I wonder about the actual practical-ness of it all. It is fun to do and I like the final product in that it is something that I made that I can give as a gift. But after I figure the cost of ingredients, molds, dyes and all that, I really can not justify it as our sole means of household soap. it kind of reminds me of the book, The $64 Tomato, but on a smaller scale.

If I were to really look into starting from scratch with the whole process (buying the animal fat and going from there) it might work out to be a better financial option, per bar. But I can honestly say that boiling down animal fat is not part of homesteading that I want to get into. If I have learned anything from this modern homesteading, it is that the marriage of Laura Ingalls and the Internet is a wonderful thing, and that we are lucky in that we can choose which aspects of homesteading we want to explore and enjoy.

So I am hoping that this does not make me a failure at my homesteading and I know that if I lived in 1870 I would be buying my soap bars at the mercantile. Either that or I would have very dirty children.

A Strange Evening

It is currently 11:56 pm on Sunday and I will now relate the evens of the evening.

We have, at last measure, 15” of fluffy white snow sparkling away on the landscape of Webster, NY. And it is still coming down, looking very innocent and non-menicing. But I know that tomorrows commute for Roy will be a nightmare.
I have just come inside from forcing Snowy out of the shed. She had started this game where she begs to go outside in her pen at around 8pm and trys to spend the night in the chicken shed on her old blue couch. Of course, she can not do this when the temperature is 6 degrees and I have to trek through the snow and wind and cold, pry open the heavy sliding door and literally lift her up off the couch to get her going. This is not as easy as it sounds – she is about 80lbs and very wiggly.
Then the chase is on – around the yard and through the drifts and by the time you can corral her up by the back door, you are really annoyed and she is very pleased with herself.
The baby is also proving quite unruly tonight. He absolutely refuses to go to sleep for longer than 10 minute intervals and wakes himself up passing gas loud enough to be a mortal round. Roy went to be early tonight, earplugs in, to get ready for an early start tomorrow so in order to keep the upstairs quite, Connor and I are camping out tonight downstairs. This has not eased his gas problems any but at least Dad can get some sleep.
So here I sit, in the laundry room so as not to disturb his royal gassy highness who is lounging on afghans in the livingroom. I am running on laptop battery power, using the cats scratching hutch for a table and sitting on what I really, really hope is a pile of clean laundry. I have three very interested cats wondering is this means they will get extra treats since the laundry room doubles as the cats dining room. And I have a strong urge to raid the kitchen – there are Double Stuffed Oreo’s in there.
I feel like I am back in 2004 recovering from a broken back – up at all hours from pain medication and watching Crossing Jordan re-runs on late, late, late night tv. I know my sudden burst of energy has nothing to do with medication or young-person stamina and I know I should go to bed right now but I do not want to risk picking up Connor to move him to his crib.
So the dilemma is do I try to move him and risk staying up until 2 getting him back to sleep or do I resign myself to spreading more afghans and trying to get a few hours of broken sleep on the livingroom floor. With my luck, I will fall into a deep sleep and Connor will wake up and crawl his way into the cat litter without me knowing about it.
But I have had time to plan my day for tomorrow, oopps, I mean today, since it is now 12:09am, Monday. I want to try this new bread recipe that I got out of Mother Earth News, make some cranberry muffins, finish up some sewing projects and make another run through the Baker Creek Seed Catalog before I place my order. Very productive and ambitious – if I can get some sleep.