Saturday, November 27

The End of November

Today is another one of those stereotypical November days, and even though it is the last day of November, he has decided to go out with a bang.

The rain is currently coming in horizontal and the wind is rattling the windows. And I have all but given up hope on the flagpole. I am 50/50 - sad and relieved. Sad that it is disgusting weather season and relieved in that I do not have to garden in it. I love my gardens and doing yard work but there comes a time, usually around the beginning of September, that I start having thoughts like "I really just want to get the mowing done - who cares about the pattern!" Sacrilege, I know.

I have also discovered that not being out in the yard and being mostly in the house all day has made me a little jumpy. I am not going to start hiding when a car goes by but the leaves are scaring me. I sit on the couch and the leaves blow by and I jump because I think someone is walking past my window. The other day when it was also frantically windy, I swear that I saw a monarch butterfly outside the kitchen window. It was a leaf.

The only one crazy enough to be out in the yard today is Snowy. She loves it. The colder, the better and she is getting a free bath so I am not complaining. She will be made to come in shortly however since even I know the limits of a good free bath.

Even the chickens are hold up in the coop today, digging around in the straw and pecking at things. They ventured out this morning when the door was opened just because they always make the mad morning dash but they did not stay out long. Their area is complete mud and the bugs are not out today. Nothing makes a normally attractive flock look more horrible than the rain. Although it is fun to watch them shake off, they mostly look depressed and humiliated when wet.

The new girls are getting along well, even though they mostly keep to themselves. They are aggressive and tend to roost in their own area. And I am still convinced that I have 6 baby velociraptor's. They carry themselves differently than the other girls - higher, more of a strut, like they are constantly on alert. Wide eyed and cautious, they can get aggressive and scary at a moments notice - especially when I fill the feeders. They have not hurt any of the other girls and they tend to keep to themselves, so I think they are fitting in nicely. As long as they do not start hunting in groups of three and blindside me when I try to collect the eggs.

Thursday, November 25

Birds, and birds, and..... more birds

I was standing in the kitchen the other day and I heard this noise - like a thousand birds all chirping at once. And guess what it turned out to be.

Yep. A thousand birds all chirping at once.

Well, maybe not a thousand, but at least a couple hundred.

They were flooding the two large maples in our front yard and the other maple in the neighbors yard - totally filling up all available branch space in each tree. Given the light and the height of the birds I could not determine what kind they were, but it was still quite a sight.

They were all chirping and squawking and carrying on, and passing cars would startle a few dozen into flight, only to re-land on the next nearest open spot. There were just hundreds of them.

Then they all decided, en mass, to take off for somewhere else. Again, what a sight.

Then, the sound of hundreds of bird droppings splatting against the driveway and the road.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22

Frugal Shopping vs. Getting Scammed

Craigs List is a great thing. Things are less expensive than in the stores and buying used items helps preserve natural resources. We use Craigs List to sell things in good condition that we no longer need rather than send them to the landfill. Other people can use them and we get a little extra cash in the budget.

We also buy things for the house that we need - baby things that are in good condition since the turnover is so high with these type of items. People always need cribs, changing tables and toys and buying them new just to use them for such a short time does not make much sense to me. The little guys room is furnished with good quality Criags List purchases and we have never had a problem.

I met a lady at Eastview Mall the other day to pick up a toy farm set for the little guy. Great condition, great price and the lady was really nice - we had to pull a James Bond in transferring the item from her car to mine so that her daughter would not see. Kind of fun. :)

Thinking about it, we have never had a problem with Craigs List, until this past week. In our downsizing efforts, we have decided that our really big tv was not that necessary. We have totally re-arranged out living room to make it more baby-proof (since the laptop incident) and, in changing things, we decided we really just didn't need such a big tv. We moved the small upstairs tv down and it is more than adequate, and it also fits better with the size of the room.

So what to do with a big tv that works perfectly fine and has all the bells and whistles that guys like on the tv (Roy bought this as his personal housewarming present when we moved it. I got a lawnmover). We listed it on Craigs List and waited.

In comes Betty. Betty, apparently, was a business lady currently on a business trip in London. But she wanted the tv. She even wanted to pay us $20 over our asking price to hold it for her, presumably, until she got back from her trip. Ok, thanks!

Her next email explained that she had to send a money order. Well....... I guess thats ok. Email three explained the "terrible mixup" that her assistant made by sending us the wrong money order for more money that it should have been for. (Dumb assistant). So when we got the money order could we please cash it through our bank and mail her the difference, minus our asking price and $20 holding fee. Um, no.

Roy and I sent her the following email:

I am sorry that you are having trouble with the payment. Give me your address so I can return your money order. Or, please pick up the tv within 5 days and we will return your money order to you then and you can pay us cash.
Thank you.

We have not heard anything else, or received a money order. And I reported the problem to Craigs List.

Another lesson in homesteading, as well as in life. Living more frugally and with conscious purchases is a good thing with great benefits. Unfortunately there are people in the world who do not think twice about taking advantage of others. In our efforts to consume less and shop locally through these list posting sites, we have to remember that not everyone using them is doing so for the same reasons we are.

On a good note, we did sell the tv to a very nice young man last night who is furnishing his new home with his fiance.

Friday, November 19

2010 Resolution Update

This cute pic has nothing to do with Resolution reviews. I just thought it was sweet.

When 2010 started, I made three official resolutions, and two unofficial ones. Here is the final report.

The 2 unofficial ones have resulted in a 50/50 accomplishment. The first was to spell better in my blog posts and I can proudly say that I run the spell check before I post anything. Yes, spell check. What? Did you think I was actually going to have a dictionary sitting next to the computer?

The other one was lose weight, just like everyone else. That's a big negative. I would lose some only to have a cookie setback. Since I started making my own cookies instead of buying the processed Chips Ahoy!, I have realized that, if I have all the ingredients in the pantry, I can have cookies whenever I want. This is not a good thing even though it sounds like one.

Resolution #1 - 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

This has been working out great. I have been buying much less, thinking about what I really want and reading the packaging before buying. I try to think about the entire life-cycle of the item before I decide to buy it. Is the packaging recyclable? How much packaging is there? Did it come from recycled sources? How well is the item made? Where is the item made? How long will I keep the item? What will I do with it when I don't need it anymore? Is it something I could donate? Will it end up in a landfill?

I know this seems like a lot to go over with each thing you want to buy but it really is quite fast and it saves money and time in the long run. Like I said in a previous post, I feel more connected to the things that I buy now in that I have thought about the purchase and made room for it in the budget. It is not just a random fling purchase. It means something to go to the store now. When we are walking around the grocery store, I can look at the items in the cart and feel good about buying them. Quality items with ingredients we can pronounce for the most part.

Resolution #2 - I will try a minimum of 5 new foods this summer, mainly fruits and vegetables.

This one, although completed for the most past, was not as wonderful as I thought it might be. I imagined myself trying new foods and loving them - having the 'I can't believe I haven't tried this before' moment every time I went to the farmers market.
But I think I just have to accept the fact that I am a very picky eater and I like what I like. Just because I don't like tomatoes (gasp!) doesn't mean I can't grow them for sauce and for the other people here who love them.

Food checklist:
chocolate hazelnut praline with hazelnut pieces and ground nougatine - YUCK! oranges - OK
blueberries - Not so much
melon - Not all that great
pear - OK

Resolution #3 - Less. More. Quality.. Less of things that are not necessarily good for us - junk food, processed food, cable tv, going too fast. We have really improved on all of these things and we are feeling better physically because we eat more whole foods, less junk and we spend less time in front of the tv. Getting rid of cable was a great decision.
More. More attention to the things that matter. The baby, the husband, the pets. One or more have been neglected due to, well, one or more of the three. This is also better. Since we are watching less tv, we are doing more with each other. Going for walks when the weather cooperates with the baby and Snowy, taking time to cuddle the cats a little more, and just sitting on the couch with Roy when we do find something on regular tv to watch and not also be working on knitting or blogging. Just spending time.
Quality. More quality, less quantity. I said in the previous post that 'I will spend more on a quality item that I know will last. I will spend a little more on organic produce and meats and be a little more careful in general as to looking for quality in everything.' It has been a change but a benefit. Yes, it does cost more when you buy organic flour instead of the store brand, and the apples are expensive too but we can really tell the difference. Especially with the meat. I can't eat the non-organic meat anymore. It just tastes different and I don't like anymore. The organic tastes better, it works better in recipes and it just cooks better in general. There is less fat to carve off as well.

So, all in all, most everything was a success. I learned a lot about food, consumerism and how we live. I just have to remember to consider all the options and choices and make the best one for our money, our health and the environment in general. Trying new foods in just not going to happen though. I am happy with my limited palate. And even though we learned a lot, I am also not making any more resolutions this coming New Year. We are just going to keep making informed choices for our purchases, our health, and for the health of the planet.

Thursday, November 18

Yesterday was a stormy day here in upstate New York - cold, pelting November rain and wind so strong they issued warnings on the noon news. It was a good day to stay inside with the pellet stove humming and the knitting needles out and ready.

A quick venture outdoors to check on the chickens and grab the mail was rewarded with a nice thick envelope from Mother Earth News. They send a few advance copies when they print one of your pictures and they decided to print a milkweed pod that the little guy photographed on one of our walks.

Of course, when you get an issue of Mother Earth News with loaves of bread on the cover, you know it is time to break out the mixing bowl.

Sunday, November 14

The Last Ditch

We had great weather this past Saturday - sunny and in the 60's - so I tackled as many outdoor projects as possible. There are quite a few left on the list but I managed to check a few off. Some of the flower beds have been cleared out for winter and all things have been stored away before the snow hits. We also managed to rake up the ton of leaves that have been piling up ion one section of the yard. We still have a few more 'sections' to tackle and I am hoping for a sunny day this coming week.

Today was a total wash out with clouds and rain and general unpleasantness. Normally, I love a good storm, but this was just a miserable kind of cold, pelting mess. We headed to the movies and saw 'Skyline' which was not everything I thought it could be, and checked out the new L L Bean store, which had everything and was an expensive as I thought it would be. We didn't buy anything and I don't think we will be shopping there. The things were nice but the prices were high and I was turned off by the trapper hats lined with real fur. A sticker on each hat indicated that "Yes! This is real fur!" No thanks.

It is the middle of November and we are fully aware of the 'last ditch effort' qualities to our outdoor projects. I have given up painting the shed until next spring, as well as scraping all the lead paint off the front porch and repainting that. Yard cleanup and winterizing for the chickens are our two 'efforts' that are almost done and I am not feeling as rushed as I usually am this time of year. Maybe it was because I enjoyed a red rose and some black eyed susans while out and about in the yard on Saturday. They were making their own last ditch effort - tempting the season as I like to call it.

Making a 'last ditch effort' historically, as it turns out, is not as pleasant as smelling a late blooming rose. Simply put the expression alludes to the military sense of last ditch, “the last line of defense.” Its figurative use dates from the early 1800s.

William of Orange, my ill-sentiments concerning Ireland aside, seems to be one of the first to use the expression -- 'There's one certain means by which I can be sure never to see my country's ruin: I will die in the last ditch." William of Orange (c. 1677).

Another source states that the last ditch was, in military terms, the last line of defense. The term had begun to be used figuratively by the eighteenth century, when Thomas Jefferson wrote, 'A government driven to the last ditch by the universal call for liberty.' Similarly, to 'die in the last ditch' means to resist to the end; it dates from the early 1700s." From "Fighting Words: from War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers" by Christine Ammer

My last ditch efforts are to button my homestead up before the snows of winter arrive so we can spend out days warm and quiet, not venturing out unless we have to, and enjoying the slower days with homemade soups. Nothing quite militaristic about that unless you want to think of a fleeting rebellion against slush and ice coated windshields.

Friday, November 12

Laptops and knitted socks

As if I did not realize it before with the occasional loss of service, I am absolutely, sinfully, yet apologetically addicted to my laptop.

This past week has been a challenge for me, given the broken state of my HP baby. The result of the actual baby/toddler deciding to launch it off the end table. It will be sent to HP repair land as soon as the shipping box arrives since it is still under warranty. Until then it waits, on the desk. It has not been turned off this long since, well, ever.

I have been sneaking my husbands laptop, and even though he says I can use it, I still feel sneaky and a little like I am cheating on my HP with this strange Asus with 'clicky' keys. I could only use it for about a day and a half before I just felt too guilty.

Then, a friend to the rescue. I am now typing on a borrowed mini-HP laptop and I have to say it is quite nice. Tiny, yes, and it did take a little bit to get used to the smaller keyboard, but I have cured my withdrawl until my baby gets back from the shop.

I want to write a post about how I am so dependant and I shouldn't be, or that if I was true to homesteading I would not even own a laptop or even have an outlet to plug it into. That I should impose a time limit on surfing or not use Facebook, since virtual farming is just not 'homestead-ish'. Truth is, I am addicted to it. Something that did not even exist in my world until I was in college. I remember clearly a day when a friend asked me if I had used an Internet resource for a paper and I said "No, I will never use that thing."

I guess this is what the term 'modern homesteader' refers to, in part. Using the Internet for an information source, entertainment after the cable is cancelled, and keeping in touch with people. And, finding other people who share your thoughts on everything from chicken coop ventilation to how to knit a thumb on a mitten.

Can I combine the modern with the tried-and-true? Can I have bread raising on my pellet stove and solar energy pumping into the meter while I type this post on my borrowed mini-HP laptop? Can I wear my jeans bought at a chain store with the wool socks I knitted last month? (A note on wool socks - don't put them in the dryer.) Can I look out the living room window, past curtains I made with my own sewing machine, onto a field that holds the slight remnants of this past potato crop and turn up U2 on my ipod?

How much is too much? How far is too far, either way? I like to think I have a healthy balance here. Yes, I enjoy watching Burn Notice online and I will stare at the screen enjoying every explosion and witty one-liner. But I will be knitting while doing so and munching on an organic apple.

Thursday, November 11

The armistice that ended World War I was signed on November 11th, 1918, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. We celebrate and remember all veterans today, Veterans Day.

My love of history makes today a special day for me, in that I look at our family tree and take note of all the people that have served and are currently serving. So many different people in so many types of situations: Great, great, great Grandpa Fred Mibaum in the Spanish American War, Grandpa Don O'Brien in Italy WWII, Uncle Glen O'Brien in Vietnam, Grandpa Green in the Pacific WWII, and Cousin John O'Brien currently on a ship somewhere....

Today is a history day for me - remembering all those who made my freedom possible. I can sit here on my couch with my son and expres my thoughts on this blog - no matter what they are - without fear. I can own land and grow my own food. I can vote. I live in a democracy, not perfect, but free.

I am going to be telling my son about all his relatives in the service today, and about all the freedoms we enjoy because of every veteran. He will not understand a word I am saying, of course, since he is only 21 months old. But I am going to tell him anyway.

Wednesday, November 10

It's Official

It's official - it's chilly out there. Frost and chill rain and wind. All the signs that it is time to button up the house, stock the pantry, break out the afghans and lay in the pellets. We visited Tractor Supply, aka Best Store Ever, this past weekend and stocked up on chicken feed with some extra corn for winter and 1 ton of pellets for the stove. In addition to the 1 1/4 ton we already have here at the house, this additional ton will get us through this winter and into the spring.

*another reason to love the truck*

The yard is ready for winterizing, and the middle of this week is supposed to show a heat wave of 55 degrees. This means I will be packing up the lawn furniture and garden decor and shoring it in the garden shed for another season. Most of the flower beds need to be cleaned out still and every year at this time I ask myself 'why do I have so many beds that do not produce food?' Then spring comes and I am reminded why with all colors bursting forth and butterflies galore.

Winter plans hold nothing grand here, as with every year. We lay low, enjoy the stove heat, read books, and, this year, play with the little guy's mountains of toys collected all year from generous Grandparents. I will worry about the ladies being out in the coop during the chill weather but we have taken steps to keep them comfortable, and there is always the heat lamp if it just gets too cold. Winter here is standing on the front porch and watching the snow fall on the yard and the road. The plows do not frequent our road so I mostly can stare at a covered surface with a few tire tracks in it. When a car goes by, slowly, I like to hear the crunch of snow under the wheels.

But there is no snow yet and I am not in any rush to see it. Even though I am not fond of misty rain, wet leaves in need of raking and the chill wind in the field, I am really not fond of shoveling. The best part of fall is over, the crispy part as I call it, and now it is time to button up and settle in.

Tuesday, November 9

Book Report

The second book was just as good, if not better than the first. I loved it! It was a fast read for me because I just couldn't put it down and I wanted to know what awsome project she would tackle next. I was treated to delicious descriptions like "Once at Birch Pond I surprised a hooded merganser. The male preened quietly amoung a flotilla of cow lilies. His pure white crest and chest flashed in the late-afternoon sun, and his sleek body looked like black lacquer against the green pads."
Cabin building, canoe mishaps, photography, writing and ecological observations make this book so interesting to read. A few bits about activism but not preachy. Acid rain effects on the Adirondacks and other polution situations are discussed also which leads her to "the realization I could not escape even in my wilderness cabin." She also has great concern for the forest and trees on her land - "It also grieves me every time I see discarded newspapers blowing down city streets or stacks of paper plates and cups in the garbage. These items were once trees. To have the forest I was sauntering through come to such an end would have been infinitely saddening."
"People need pieces and places of privacy more than ever before." Not only to momentarily escape from the threat of nuclear winter, but from polution, noise, technology, and from other people. I can totally relat to this one! Not that I am expecting a nuclear attack but escapting from the noise and interuptions of daily life is something I need. I envy her that she has this type of isolation - it sounds like pure heaven to me.
Even in 1987 when she wrote this book, she can see the complexity and materialistic ways of society. "It is my small rebellion to keep myself in pioneerlike fitness, to promote creativity, and to maintain a sense of adventure in my life. Simplicity is best." A great idea, this 'small rebellion'. Even if I can not have a cabin in the Adirondack wilderness, I can still grow food here, make my own electric, and knot socks. That is my personal little rebellion. Knowing that wehn I go into the grocery store, I can totally bypass the tomato rack.
"Since time immemorial species have made special adaptations. I think that each human should devise her or his special balance between determined action and quiet expectation. And he or she should live with the best of clean technology and natural simplicity." I think that because of her close observations around her Adirondack home, she was able to predict certain things. Not just the effects of acid rain on the lakes, but of the progression of society and the way people do things. She could see what was happening and the reprocussions in 1987. So in 201o, we should be living in a world that takes greater care, right? Well, maybe not. But clean technology and natural simplicity seem to be two ideas that trancend.

Friday, November 5

Out of Commission

It is a curious thing - the facination toddlers have with laptops. Considering that when I was a baby/toddler/kid/teenager there was no such thing as one, the little guy has developed a desire for one quite quickly.

His desire was so great, in fact, that he decided my laptop was going to become his. The only problem was that my laptop was on the table, whereas he is more comfortable typing and web surfing on the floor. And not yet quite understanding the laws of gravity he innocently (?) tossed my laptop into the air and instead of a gentle landing below, which he was expecting (?), a huge crash was heard for about a half mile away

My yell was probably heard much further away than that but what is done is done and I have been trying to repair it. No luck so far but it is still under warranty so I will be calling customer service shortly.

So, as a result, posts will be sparse for a little bit. Hang in there with me, I need all the good thoughts I can find.

Tuesday, November 2

Chicken Eye

The new girls are fitting in well - no fighting that I can see. They keep to themselves still and do not venture out of the coop into the yard. But they seem happy and they are eating everything in sight. Most days they are content to congregate around the feeder. I imagine them chatting about their new surroundings and about their roommates. I don’t even want to know what they think about Hildred. She is still molting and even though some of her feathers have grown back she still looks totally disheveled.

This weekend will be the winterizing of the coop. I am planning on deep pine shavings that I can rake, straw bales stacked to give a little insulation, and I might have to put plastic over the windows to prevent drafts. I have been advised not to use the heat lamp due to fire concerns and that it might mess up their molt and throw them all off schedule. I read that food is heat for them and to supplement their normal rations with corn. However, I will keep an eye on the temps and if I gets below freezing consecutively, I will plug in the heat lamp.

The new girls have been giving me vicious 'chicken eye' since they have been introduced to my flock. I don;t think they are plotting against me or anything but I can't help but think that I have 6 baby velociraptor's in my care.

Finn, my biggest lady (and my favorite), is turning out to be quite photogenic.

The new girls - very dark Rhode Island Reds. I really hope none turn out to be guys.

Getting the chicken eye - "why are you flashing that camera in my face?"

"Seriously! Get the camera out of my face!"

Monday, November 1

Book Report

Farewell, My Subaru
By Doug Fine

"When garden weeds are your biggest problem, life is pretty good." I am inclined to agree.

Doug Fine, off the grid, goat raising, rattlesnake fearing homesteader, is roughing it in New Mexico on Funky Butte Ranch. And his story is very entertaining. Ideas and trial-and-error abound in this read which makes it all the more interesting.

With numerous political references and comparisons to in-the-news celebrities, this book had just enough to be funny, but not over the top. I like a good reference laugh as much as the next girl, and I was able to read this one without feeling like I was reading a list of witty quotes.

I particularly related to his ideas about LBG (life before green - my new way of referring to the 'good-old-days'). I have been giving a lot of thought to this lately - missing my carefree days of not knowing.
"my overall situation at the moment was starting to make me miss the time when I could just turn on a water faucet or a light switch without guilt - before I realized that I wanted to eliminate utilities from my life. I was nostalgic for my innocent carbon ignorance."
How I also miss my innocent carbon ignorance, as well as numerous other forms of innocent unknowing that I have had to trade in for conscious ignorance.

He also spends a lot of time on his solar panels, which eventually powers the whole homestead, including the water pump. He states that the "average American household uses 888 kilowatt hours per month. Funky Butte Ranch used 86 kwh in June 07." Pretty impressive. We are only down to 600 kwh per month here, but it is a start.

This was a very entertaining read - a quick read - which is good for me. Lots of good references in the back too.

A few great quotes:

"I liked the idea of paying my property taxes partly in produce."

"As a result, at seven a.m. I was treated to an exact rerun of the nature documentary. This time i lost my rooster and the two chicks that my jet black hen Agatha had just hatched. Agatha survived with rumpled tail feathers, but when i found her cowering under a juniper, she was suffering from an understandable case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It wasn't a good day. Michelle came home that evening to an angry boyfriend sitting on the porch with a beer, a laptop, and a shotgun."

"Living local and green was not an all-or-nothing proposition. Each day I had another chance to make good choices, to move toward a healthy, independent, sustainable life."

"I was going to stay with it. Whether the green fad faded or gas got cheap again. And not just for planetary reasons, but for personal ones."