Monday, January 30

Green Chunky Chicken Feed Loaf

I have managed to collect a great deal of crumble dust from the chickens food and salvanged at least half a bag of feed from being wasted. That is money saved and one less trip to Tractor Supply. (I know, I love going to Tractor Supply, but taking a three year old and a three month old to pick up a bag of feed is never pretty.)

Following the advice of people much smarter than I online, I decided to make a few loaves of chicken bread to start using some of this crumble dust. It is pretty much like using course flour and I trudged out to the chicken shed to collect a few cup fulls. The ladies watched me, thinking they were getting a treat of some kind and I told them that the treat would come after I baked the bread. They were not entirely pleased, and adding that disappointment to the muddy fenced in area they were dealing with probably did not win me any points today.

I followed the recipe that I posted here and came up with something resembling a chunky banana bread mixture.

I mixed the egg (with shell), the baking soda, the flour and the crumble dust together in a large bowl. I then added 3 cups of what was left over after Roy juiced some vegetables (kale, apples, pears, mango, and asparagus) and the olive oil.

The mixture seems very dry and crumbly so I put in another 1/3 cup of olive oil and 1/3 cup applesauce.

I also added some flax seeds and the last of soem stale walnuts we had.

It came out looking like a very green, chunky mess but I spooned it into small bread baking pans and put it in to bake. I wasn't expecting the dough to look like actual bread dough, and rest assured it did not.

45 minutes later it came out looking pretty much like when it went in, only hard. It did resemble banana bread in its consitancy and appearence, except it was a dark shade of green. Probably from the large amount of purified kale.

I was hoping the ladies would like it and I was actually excited to bring them a loaf that evening when I went to check their feed and water. When I broke it into pieces for them and shelled it out, they were not as over the top about it as I would have liked. In stead of the mass stampeed for the lovingly prepared, home made chicken treat, they greeted it with a luke-warm, cautious reception.

Note to self: When someone gives you something to eat and then stands there and wants to watch you eat it, something may be just a little off.

I am note sure if they did not like it or if they just did not know what to make of it at first, but they did peck at it and it was all gone the next day when I went to check on them. I am going to chalk this one up to a win, not so much that the ladies were ravenous over it, but because I took a waste by-product (crumble dust), added a few common, inexpensive baking products to it and made something that I could feed to my animals. I knew exactly what was in it and I made it here at the farm.

How often can people say that, even if it is green chunky chicken feed loaf.

Sunday, January 29

Per request, here is a link to the article by Tyler Graham concerning processed foods. I have seen this in many places but this link to the Huffington Post offers more interesting reading and great links.

Also, here is a link to a news story on how to avoid processed food in your healthy diet.

Saturday, January 28

Kindle Fire Packaging - Perfect!

My aversion to gadgets aside, I did receive a Kindle for Christmas, and after learning the ins and outs of operation, I have to admit that I am rather fond of this slim little piece of tech.

It is rather handy and I can check emails quickly while supervising the little man, and I can feed the baby her bottle while reading a book that does not require juggling of said baby and bottle when I need to turn a page. And I think that is what I will use it for the most - reading books.

I have stated in the past that I am in love with the printed page and that a hard copy of a good book is second to none. I still hold this view and do prefer an actual, physical book, but there is something to be said for the convenience of the Kindle. I can download books from my local library website just as if I drove there and checked the book out off the shelf. The convenience of this with two little kids is something I will gladly accept.

The packaging of the Kindle was almost as impressive as the product itself. So minimalistic of a design that there was almost no waste. There was a standard MicroUSB power adapter and one small instruction card which basically tells you how to turn it on and where to go for more help. The instruction manual is on the actual Kindle so there is no long booklet of instructions in several languages. The package itself is just cardboard and molded cardboard inserts. No plastic.

Absolutely perfect.

And certified frustration free.

Friday, January 27

Goodwill Gems

To me, part of living sustainably means that we are not constantly buying everything new. We try to buy used whenever possible or practical. Also, living on one income so I can stay home with the babies makes saving money even more important. Craigs list has been wonderful, especially with baby furniture, and, yes, we shop at Goodwill.

I can not stand the thought of paying full price for things such as cribs, handbags or household 'feathering the nest' items. I can get a good pair of insulated boots that are used, but are perfect for wearing out to the coop and doing yard work. And usually I pay under $7 for them.

Yesterday the babies and I stopped at a Goodwill store as a treat for the little man - he likes to look at the toys and I let him pick out something to buy with his own money. I must approve it first to make sure it is safe, clean and age appropriate, but he thinks this is a very big deal and he can get something I know he will like for a fraction of the price.

Turns out, we had a VERY good day at this particular Goodwill. I made a few fantastic scores:

These Melissa and Doug and Battat puzzles were in one bag for $2.99. They are all in great condition and are very educational (US states map puzzle, world map puzzle). The Melissa and Doug farm puzzle retails for $9.99 and the musical modes of transportation puzzle for $12.99.

As for the Battat puzzles, I could not find these exact ones online, but you can get a set of similar ones for $15.00

This is a Rosle kitchen utensil holder complete with can opener, garlic press, whisk, bottle opener, melon baller, pizza cutter, ice cream scoop, 2 vegetable peelers, 1 tea strainer and one apple core remover. I tried to find this item online but i could not find the entire set being sold, or the holder. I did check the Rosle website and found that these are quite good in quality:

"Since 1888, Rösle has been using German engineering to produce the finest
quality professional cooking tools and kitchen utensils for the professional
chef and home cook. Designed for optimum performance, comfort and appearance,
Rösle cookware offers a complete integrated system of kitchen utensils, cookware
tools, colanders, casseroles, frying pans, skillets, barbecue utensils, barware
and more. Made from the highest grade 18/10 stainless steel, Rösle will bring
pleasure to food preparation that is guaranteed for a lifetime."

I priced out a few items and the pizza cutter = $23, the can opener = $45 and the ice cream scoop = $23.

I PAID $8.99 for ALL OF THEM!!!!!!

Edith Blackwell Holden's work, "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" cost me $1.99 and I think it was worth every penny. I am planning on doing a little blog project with this book shortly.

Yes, those are Little House books. A complete set. Very nice condition and they will hopefully inspire my daughter as soon as she is old enough to read them. One of my first gifts to her that will inspire a love of reading and a pioneer spirit.

Over at Lehman's, you can get a brand new set for $49.95. I paid $2.99 for the set.

ONLY $2.99!!!!!!

Now, even though I am trilled with my finds, there was something that seemed like a great find that turned out to be, lets just say, unfortunate. Meet Meowsic:

This guy is a favorite of the little man's when we go to Target. He likes to take one off the shelf and play with it for a few minutes, then he puts it back and looks at something else. He loves this piano/musical cat and I did not find it too aggravating. The price at Target = $25.

The Goodwill price = $3.99.

What a deal! The little man was so happy! And it worked! We brought musical cat home and he started playing.

20 minutes later I learned why some stressed out Mom with a massive headache gladly donated Meowsic to the Goodwill in the first place.

When in the Target store, with the background noise and the short duration of play time, Meowsic is fine. Even charming.

When in my living room, Meowsic becomes an loud, obnoxious ally cat with numerous pre-programmed songs and sound effects that I can only describe as pure evil. This thing could be used as a torture device for the US military. The microphone is the worst part in that it statically amplifies little mans voice along with the creepy digital rendition of Oh Susanna.

And just when I thought I had heard it all, these lyrics to the tune of Skip to my Lou, filled my home:

Where’s our gerbil?
I haven’t got a clue
Where’s our gerbil?
I haven’t got a clue
Where’s our gerbil?
I haven’t got a clue
The big black cat was hungry

Meowsic kitty piano is now in the laundry room closet.

All Goodwill finds, even though they may seem like it at the time, are not always the gems you think they are.

Another Reason Why....

An article by Tyler Graham, coauthor of The Happiness Diet, has been making its way around the blog circles and for those of you who have yet to read it, I think it should be mandatory for all people who are the main food-purchasers of any household.
Reading this just went to further my goal of getting away from these types of purchases. I don't think I will ever by shredded cheese again, even if it is organic.

In the article he compiles the Top 10 Reasons to Avoid Processed Foods:

1: Deciphering food label ingredients leads to unappetizing results. Take the innocuous-sounding castoreum, which is used to enhance the flavor of puddings, candies, and some frozen dairy desserts. You might be surprised to know that it's derived from beavers--beaver anal glands, specifically.

2: Many foods get their red coloring--"carmine"--from ground-up insect shells that can cause severe allergic reactions in some people.

3: The greater the number of cheap cuts of meat ground into a single patty, the greater the risk of contamination with E. coli. A standard fast-food burger contains the trimmings of dozens of cows raised around the globe.

4: According to research from UCLA, it takes only two months to lower levels of brain chemicals responsible for learning and memory (like BDNF) on a steady diet of processed foods.

5: Processed food is only as good as its packaging: In the summer of last year, Kellogg's recalled 28 million boxes of cereal because a compound in the box lining (the company wouldn't say what) was giving off a foul smell and tainting the taste of the boxed food.

6: The same company that makes metal detectors for airports also sells them to food manufacturers, who use the devices to test processed meats for stray wires, metal shards, and hypodermic needles.

7: The ingredients list for Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups doesn't include...strawberries.

8: Animal feed given to factory-farmed cows contains rendered roadkill and euthanized cats and dogs, as well as plastic pellets as a cheap form of "roughage."

9: There are more than 80 ingredients in one Oscar Mayer Lunchables Breaded Chicken and Mozzarella sandwich.

10: The FDA allows 19 maggots and 74 mites in a three-and-a-half-ounce can of mushrooms.

Just 10 more little reasons why we do what we do....

Thursday, January 26

Kitty Number 2?

Just when I thought it was safe to look out the kitchen window....

It looks like we might have another kitty-drop-off in our midst. Not that I do not love kitties but I get very angry knowing that someone does not care so much for a life that they will just abandon that life out of inconvenience.

I sincerely hope that this kitty belongs to someone in the he/she looks cared for. But, original Kitty looked cared for too, and he has been living in my barn for the better part of three months.

Wednesday, January 25

Two New Favorites

I am always on the lookout for new inspiration - accounts of homesteading and homekeeping by others and learning new things to apply here. I have found two new blogs that I absolutely love and i have learned a lot from already. First is Off the Grid at - 30, a great homesteading/living off the grid blog from Canada that is both funny and informative. Gotta love the moose.

And, I have been picking up some great food storage tips at The Harried Homemaker Preps in the past couple of weeks. Nothing like tips from one harried homemaker to another.

Tuesday, January 24

Jenna Woginrich, David Bowie and Debating on the Issue of Sleep

Moms create various ways of staying awake when they are bone weary and the baby is most certainly not.

My early morning hours are most recently filled with warming bottles, stoking the fire and trying not to trip over the scattering of wooden train track pieces in the dining room in the pre-dawn darkness. She is almost sleeping through the night now at a little over three months, which means she takes her last bottle at around 10pm and is not ready for another 6 ounces until the 4:30am hour. Or what I like to call
0:dark 30. Staying awake while watching her guzzle formula require a little creative thinking on my part, not wanting to just turn on the tv for some crazy infomercial. So I sing a few lines from David Bowies' Golden Years.

"Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere, angel..." with the "angel" drawn out and high pitched. She loves that part.

This morning is no exception and here I sit on the garage sale couch in front of a toasty wood stove fire, debating on the issue of sleep. It is that crucial time of indecision where I wrestle with the idea of going back to bed. The little lady has been fed and changed and has fallen back into sleep, giving me that one last little closed lip smile before she is totally out. And this is where my daily dilemma begins. Do I slip back into bed and close my eyes knowing that my sleep will last only close to another hour before the little man rises wanting breakfast and Curious George? This hour is precious, but the issue of yet another rude awakening is enough to make me want to stay awake to avoid it.

"Look at that sky, life's begun, Nights are warm and the days are young"

My decision on most mornings to stay awake is one that I try to fill with something both productive and promising, like making a grocery list or scratching behind the ears of one or more cats looking for attention. Staying awake now feels almost like I have won a small victory in the war on the passage of time. I have stolen back another hour of simply living.

It is the hour before, the 4:30 am hour, that I must have allies in battle. A cavalry riding in to bolster the front lines. Here I turn on the Kindle and to Jenna Woginrich.

"Last night they loved you, opening doors and pulling some strings, angel..."

If a three month old and a 34 year old can have the same favorite author, then it is Ms. Woginrich. After the bottle and the inevitable spitting up, and after the diaper and clothing change, I read the latest Cold Antler Farm blog post out loud to the little girl.

Twice a day they get fresh water and feed—and they seem to need fresh bedding every other—but that is the extent of the work. I don't recommend raising meat birds when it is 10 degrees outside but for this farm they are growing fine

My future gardener extraordinaire smirks and smiles while hearing about raising meat birds and the dangers of hauling full water buckets over the slick icy ground. She lets out a happy cry and drools a little when I go on about Antlerstock, Battenkill Books and wool workshops. And her eyes light right up when I stumble on anything garden-related. Of course, i am reading this in my best sing-song, overly sweet Mommy voice which is entertaining in and of itself to a three month old. When I finish reading a post she looks at me and in the light of the Kindle her face shows an eagerness for more. A happy, blissful gummy smile and I start the next installment of Birchthron until she shows the signs of sleepiness creeping back in.

"I'll stick with you baby for a thousand years, Nothings gonna touch you in these golden years...
Golden years, golden years whop whop whop

Monday, January 23

Baby Crochet and Knit

**patterns at the bottom of this post

One of my good friends from college is having twins next month and I made the almost 2 hour drive, one way, to attend her baby shower last week. I would not have missed it, and not only because she is my good friend, but because I got the chance to see a few other good friends that live in all corners of New York State and that I hardly ever get to see.

I don;t make friends easily and I can count on one hand the number of close friends that I know I can count on when the chips are down. So, this was a big deal to me and I enjoyed every minute of it. I set out on my road trip, leaving the kids with Roy, and followed the roads into the southern tier of New York. Today I could wear earrings without the fear of a baby grabbing on and I could turn up the cd player with music containing questionable lyrics.

It was great to get away for the day and to see people that i had not seen in quite a long time and we all took part in the traditional baby shower games and cake eating. I correctly guess the circumference of my friends belly with my selection of streamer and won a lottery scratch off which resulted in a $2 profit for me.

The opening of the presents was eventful since she is having twins so there was twice as much to open. I had knitted two sets of infant hats and used two new crochet patterns for the two blankets I made. She received only a few handmade gifts and they were the ones that were passed around and discussed long after the gift bags were all opened. Two beautiful handmade baby quilts, a few sets of knitted hats and mittens, and some stuffed animals made from both knitting and crochet. One of my good friends made two very professional looking scrapbooks, complete and ready for photos. Another friend owns and operates her own chocolate candy business and there were baskets filled with all types of twin and baby themed treats.

In the past I have questioned homemade gifts and how they are received - wondering about that little feeling of disappointment that shows up, however small, when someone opens a hand made gift. Knowing that these types of gifts are the best in that they truly are in the spirit of "it's the thought that counts", can we as a society retreat from the 'store bought is better' mentality that we have had since about 1945? Are we too entrenched in store bought that we can't go back to having home made mean more?

From this baby shower, I can honestly say for one of the first times, that the reactions to the hand made gifts from everyone there hinted that we can go back.

Popcorn Baby Blanket (white):
15 sts = 4 in. (10 cm) in Popcorn st. BE SURE TO CHECK YOUR GAUGE. When you match the gauge in a pattern, your project will be the size specified in the pattern and the materials specified in the pattern will be sufficient. If it takes you fewer stitches and rows to make a 4 in. [10 cm] square, try using a smaller size hook or needles; if more stitches and rows, try a larger size hook or needles.
Popcorn St (multiple of 3 sts)
Foundation Row: Work 2 dc in 3rd ch from hook, *sk 2 ch, (sc, 2 dc) in next ch; rep from * across, ending with sk 2 ch, 1 sc in last ch.
Row 1: Ch 2, turn. Work 2 dc in first sc, *sk 2 dc, (sc, 2 dc) in next sc; rep from * across, ending with 1 sc in top of turning ch.
Rep Row 1 for Popcorn st.
Ch 108.
Work in Popcorn st until piece measures about 28 in (71 cm) from beginning.
Fasten off.
Ch 4.
Row 1: Work 2 dc in 4th ch from hook.
Row 2: Ch 3, turn, 2 dc in first dc, dc in next dc, 3 dc in top of t-ch.
Row 3: Ch 3, turn. Dc in first dc, dc in each of next 5 dc, 2 dc in top of t-ch.
Row 4: Ch 3, turn. Work 2 dc in first dc, dc in each dc to t-ch, 3 dc in top of t-ch (2 dc inc at each end).
Row 5: Ch 3, turn. Dc in first dc, dc in each dc to turning ch, 2 dc in top of t-ch (1 dc increased at each end).
Rep Rows 4 and 5 until there are 48 sts. Do not fasten off.
Next Row: Ch 1, turn. Sc in first dc, *sk 2 dc, (sc, 2 dc) in next dc; rep from * across to last st, work sc in t-ch.
Fasten off.
With wrong sides together, pin Hood to one corner of Afghan.
With right side facing, join yarn with slip st in any corner of Afghan. Work Row 1 of Popcorn st evenly spaced around outside edge of Afghan, working through both thicknesses around Hood to join, working (sc, 2 dc) in each corner, and sk 1 or more sts to end evenly. Fasten off. Weave in ends.
Click for explanation and illustration
ch(s) = chain(s) dc = double crochet
rep = repeat(s)(ing) sc = single crochet
sk = skip st(s) = stitch(es)
t-ch = turning chain

Ribbed Hats:

Small amounts of sport-weight soft, washable yarn in pastels, or colors of your choice
US3 (3.25mm) double-pointed needles
Tapestry needle

6.5 to 7 sts = 1in (2.54cm), depending on your yarn
A slightly different gauge will give you a slightly smaller or larger hat, but all baby heads are different anyway.

Finished Size:
11-12in (28-30.5cm) in circumference

CO 72 sts and distribute to dpns. Join, being careful not to twist.
Work k2, p2 ribbing for 30 rnds.
Crown Shaping (Ribbed Version):
Rnd 1: *k2, p2, k2, p2tog*; rep between *s around - 63 sts.
Rnd 2: *k2, p2, k2, p1*; rep between *s around.
Rnd 3: *k2, p2, k1, p2tog*; rep between *s around - 54 sts.
Rnd 4: *k2, p2, k1, p1*; rep between *s around.
Rnd 5: *k2, p2, p2tog*; rep between *s around - 45 sts.
Rnd 6: *k2, p3*; rep between *s around.
Rnd 7: *k2, p1, p2tog*; rep between *s around - 36 sts.
Rnd 8: *k2, p2*; rep between *s around.
Rnd 9: *k2tog, p2tog*; rep between *s around - 18 sts.
Rnd 10: *k1, p1*; rep between *s around.
Rnd 11: k2tog around - 9 sts.
Cut tail and thread through remaining loops. Pull tight and tie off. Weave in ends.

Pretty Squares Afghan (blue):
Worsted weight yarn (MC and CC)
"N" and "I" crochet hooks

WITH "N" hook. Ch multiple of 3 + 2

Row 1: Ch in second ch from hook, *ch 2, sk next 2 chs, sc. REP * across. Ch 2(3), TURN.

Row 2: *3 dc in ch 2 loop. REP * across. 1dc in last sc. Ch 1, turn.

Row 3: Sc in top of FIRST dc. ch 2, *sc in sp between next 3 dc group, ch 2. REP * across to last dc. Sc in top of ch 2(3). ch 2(3), turn

Rep row 2 and 3 for pattern ending on a row 2. DO NOT FASTEN OFF


1. Work 4 MORE dc in last sc on last row completed. Working down side of afghan, Place 3 dc in each end of DC rows. Sk sc row ends. Work in this manner until next corner. Work 5 dc in corner. Now working across bottom, *3 dc in each ch 2 loop. Rep * till next corner. Work 5 dc in corner. Working on other side, 3 dc in the end of each DC row. Sk sc rows. Work till next corner. Work 4 DC in this corner because ch 2(3) at the beginning of last full row worked will count as 1 dc for corner. Fasten off.

2. Join CC. Continuing with "N" hook, Join with sc to any space in between 3dc groups. ch 2, *sc in between next 3dc group. ch 2. REP * around to 5dc for corner. Sc in between last 3 dc group before the 5 group. Ch 2. Sk 1 dc, sc in next dc. ch 3, sc in between next 3dc group. Continue *. Work all corners the same. Join to first sc.

3. Next row: Sl st in first ch loop ch 2(3), 2dc in same loop. 3dc in each loop till corner 2 loops. Work first corner loop the same (3dc in loop). In the second loop (3dc, ch 1, 3dc). Continue in 3dc in each ch loop. Work next 3 corners the same way. Join to ch 2(3)

4. Last row: WITH "I" hook, *work 5 sc in center DC of each 3dc group. sl st in between groups. Rep 3 around. There is no need to make allowances for corners on this row. Finish off.

Saturday, January 21

Ownership of the Nip

This is Cheese. She is a three year old Maine Coon and the biggest ball of fluff you have ever seen. On a cold night, she is the one you want on your lap.

Her favorite thing in the entire world is fresh cap nip. I have a bunch growing in the side garden which has survived due to the mid winter we have been having. off and on snowfall has not seemed to kill it all off so I picked some for her the other day.

Here she is enjoying her nip in the kitchen...

Here is Buffin, who also likes catnip and who is very politely trying to get a leaf of two from Cheese...

Cheese is having none of it, no matter how polite. "Back away from the nip!"

In our winter boredom, we are reduced to fighting over leaves of barely-clinging-to-life cat nip on the kitchen floor.

Thursday, January 19

Buffin now enjoys afternoons in front of the wood stove, soaking up the heat and generally being a very pampered cat.

Reclaiming Socks

Ever since I learned how to knit socks, I have had this kind of obsession with it. I think it is because, unlike many other projects I undertake, the socks that I knit actually turn out looking like what they are supposed to - like socks.

That I can take a bit of yarn and 4 double pointed knitting needles and in a few days have a warm, functional pair of socks makes me feel great. I have a skill. A craft. Something useful and practical. It is enjoyable and a wonderful source of stress relief and relaxation. I can think of almost nothing better than working on a pair of socks in yarn that is soft and warm in the hour before bed to wind down after a long day.

I taught myself this skill which makes it all the more meaningful to me. Some people might say that sock knitting is not a save-your-life kind of skill to learn, and I agree that it is not something that will save the world, but I does save my sanity and reduce my stress. And I feel darn good that I have reclaimed a skill somewhat lost in the modern world.

Here is the first video in the series that I used to learn. It is very easy to follow and you can modify the pattern to make the socks different sizes. I like to make the cuffs longer and I use heavy yarn so they are warm for around the house.

Tuesday, January 17

60 MPH

My house is full of wood smoke tonight as wind over 60 mph ravages our area. I am surprised we still have power and that I am able to post this evening. Most of New York State is under a high wind warning through the rest of tonight and into tomorrow, mixed with cold temps and snow.

It was rainy and chilly here today and the wind did not pick up until after the dinner hour but I had already placed the garbage and the recycling bins out for tomorrows pickup. After shining the flashlight around, it will be the little man and I who will be doing the "picking up" tomorrow morning in the daylight. I now have empty milk jugs and chicken soup cans entangled in the brush by the barn.

The chickens and kitty were fed and secured for the night and then it was time for the little man to be put to bed as well. The baby had slipped into sleep after her last bottle so it was just the little man and I curled up in bed, under a warm quilt.

The wind was strong and we listened to it gusting through the large pine trees on the property and whipping around the corners of the house. It whistled into the cracks of the old farmhouse windows and we listened as the second recycling bin bounced down the driveway and into the side of the barn. A few gusts were so strong that the bed shook. Not just the walls of the bedroom but the actual bed. It was enough to remind me of the last small earthquake we had here and for the little man to be frightened.

I knew the wood stove would need to be checked and he insisted on accompanying me downstairs, hugging my arm the whole way. I got him settled on the living room couch since I knew I would be working with the fire for a little while and there was no way he was going to let himself be left alone with the windy monsters outside the house.

The downdrafts were sending small clouds of wood smoke into the house through the ash pan door and my eyes were already burning. I made sure to close the door leading to the upstairs to spare the baby.

I had opened the top of the stove to check and see how much the wood had burned down and was greeted by a face full of smoke. Granted, I knew this was not a smart thing to do but I needed to see what was happening in there. There was still quite a bit of wood left so the only thing I could do was close the damper all the way and let it smoulder out. I opened up the front door of the house and the back kitchen window to get a cross breeze to air out the downstairs and I turned on both ceiling fans to keep things circulating. I did not want to set off the smoke detectors and wake up both kids - the little man now having fallen asleep on the couch.

The forecast calls for the high winds to last through tomorrow morning and the temperature is falling. There will be snow showers starting in the very early hours of the morning, and when mixed with the wind, should provide a very interesting day of weather. I am grateful that we still have power, especially since the rain today melted all the snow so I had quite an amount of water flowing into the basement. The pump took care of it all and it is still going now, late into the night. If we lose power, the basement will have at least a few inches of standing water by morning.

So for now I will leave the fans on and get some sleep. The baby will be awake around the 1am hour for her next feeding and I will be checking on the stove. When daylight breaks tomorrow, we will survey the damage.


We have a new addition here at our farm - a beautiful long haired orange cat that i have started calling "kitty." Creative, I know, but the first rule is no names - it leads to attachment.

Ok, I am already attached.

I do not know if kitty is a he or a she since I can not get close enough to venture a guess. Kitty is very much scared of people and runs the minute anyone approaches.
This photo of a fuzzy orange blob scooting around the corner of the barn is the best picture I could get.

I am going to call kitty a "he" for now in that I did manage to get a good look at him from the kitchen window. Broken cameras and crying babies kept me from getting a better picture but I can see that this cat is regal. Older, most definitely, which leads to to believe he was dropped off out here in the "country" - the land of milk and honey where the dirt roads are actually paved with gold underneath the dirt and all the people are suckers for a cute cat and take them in.

Kitty looks to me like a well fed and cared for cat that belonged to a very nice little old lady who had the misfortune of passing away and leaving behind thoughtless children who did not know what to do with Mom's cat.

He has taken up residence in our upper barn and makes his rounds every morning and afternoon. He travels our property, making sure to explore the lower barn and the chickens outdoor enclosed area. The chickens don't seem to mind.

I have been feeding him every night in addition to my chicken feeding duties and he seems content to sleep in a big cardboard box, turned on its side, which I have layered with some old blankets. All attempts at this point to get him to not run from me have failed but I am not giving up. My goal is to make friends, get him to a vet, and make him a part of the family.

Roy is not all that thrilled with my plans.

Sunday, January 15

Winter Weather, Hot Coals and Cold Tile

Our very mild winter has finally given way to the icy cold and snow that we usually have this time of year. I was sad to see the temperate climate go but January is a month made for drifts and chills. There have been many variations on the total snowfall we are to expect, as well as temperature, the threat of ice covered roads and wind chill advisories. I listen to them and dismiss most of the them because, as I’ve discovered over time, all weather forecasts are not created equal. I find that if I want to know what is happening with the weather, it is best to just go look out the kitchen window.

Tonight i am curled up in from of a glowing fire on my garage sale couch under an afghan I made when I was in college. It was quiet - the little man and Roy both having gone to bed early, so it is just me and the little lady. She has made herself comfortable in her bassinet, smiling in her sleep and snug in her fleece jammies. I am enjoying the latest installment of Birchthorn, a novella from the Cold Antler Farm blog. A great story but it makes me a little edgy when I go out to feed and water the chickens after dinner. I never noticed how spooky and shadow-filled my property is....

The fonts in the coop had frozen solid when I checked them earlier this evening but the ladies all seem to be taking the cold in stride. Although I only got 4 eggs today. Again. The poor egg production these past few days is giving me the impression that the ladies have decided to go on strike or that i will find a cache of hidden eggs somewhere besides the nest boxes. I'll look tomorrow when it is light out.

Also earlier today, I restocked the suet in the bird feeders and was immediately visited by about 20 chickadees and this red bellied woodpecker. So nice to see his red colors on such a bleak day.

The wood supply on the front porch is gone so a trip to the bottom barn is necessary and i am dreading it. It is a freezer outside, with wind gusting and ice coating the driveway. I have no desire whatsoever to get out from under this afghan, put on snow boots and my heavy coat to have the wind chill me to the bone as soon as I step out the back door. The red hot coals are glowing and putting out a good deal of heat and I just wish I could stay here all closed up for the night.

That calm and content feeling has more than set in and I have two of my three cats taking up couch space. Buffin has decided to sleep elsewhere this evening due to his fear of the baby and sudden movements. I have no doubt that he is curled up somewhere warm and with a vantage point rivaling Germany's Atlantic Wall in '44. That cat is never without a line of sight to every room on the first floor.

Until 2:30 am comes and I am awakened by a crying baby needing a bottle and a dead, cold fireplace. The stove room might still be warm but the kitchen at the back of the house will be cold as the heat does not travel well into that part of the house. there is almost nothing worse than forcing yourself out from under a warm afghan or two to walk across cold tiles on the kitchen floor. Even if you are wearing socks, it is still a shock to the system.

So I am off to the barn for a few armloads to tide me over until morning and I will have a toasty fire at 2:30 when she wants her late-night snack. I will make the bottle and we will sit on the couch by the fire, her drinking enfamil and I staring at hot coals, listening to the wind outside and knowing that we are safe and warm until morning.

Saturday, January 14

Down and Out

The past few days have been a non-stop roller coaster of emotional meltdowns and recoveries. I stared the other day with a wood stove that refused to stay lit until I broke down and used to liquid gel fire started stuff that Roy bought at Tractor Supply even though I am convinced that it is the #1 rule to be broken on the homesteaders/fire starting cheat sheet.

The baby has had mystery gas the past day or two and is perfectly content to coo and goo one minute and be screaming the next. A new scream - so high pitched that I want to run around checking the windows for cracks. After calming her down, she looks at me with those eyes - those pretty blue accusing eyes - blaming me for her troubled digestive system. Then she spits up and falls asleep.

The little man has been spending WAY too much time in front of the tv lately since he has figured out how to turn on Roy's PlayStation and bring up the netflix app. We have had a pretty much non-stop run of Busy Town Mysteries here and that snake/worm character is totally starting to freak me out.

With the wet icy snow we had, the internet was on the fritz so I waited until the baby was sleeping and went to work trying to reset the modem thing. This is in the kitchen on top of the corner cabinet along with three other blinking devices that somehow bring us internet, television and telephone service, along with wi-fi. Since there seem to be three cords for each device, they are in a huge tangled mass hanging behind the cabinet, and having to move the cabinet out to get to the cords, the entire ensembl came crashing down to the kitchen floor. Everything was down for about a half hour while I untangled, re-plugged and re-assembled - all the while listening to little man tell me in end-of-the-world- fashion that Busy Town Mysteries had stopped and that his one true love - the television - was a black screen.

After I had managed to get everything strengthened out, I noticed that my jade plant which was also on top of the cabinet, we looking pretty sad. I have always had horrible luck with these plants but I was doing so well with this one.... I moved it to the freezer, closer to the kitchen window hoping that a little more light might save it.

The chickens have also turned against me in that they are giving me 4 eggs per day. That is 4 eggs from 17 chickens. I feel as if I am running a crumble feeding free-for-all for spoiled rotten hens. They have even started rejecting certain kitchen scraps knowing that if they act displeased, I will shell out the scraps of perfectly good bread - their favorite.

A recovery break today as I got a small road trip to go to a friends baby shower. What a welcome treat - seeing old friends, having fun and knowing that the kids were safe at home with Roy and being kept company by whichever two football teams played this afternoon. I was proud of myself because after three full glasses of pepsi at our after-shower dinner at Applebee's, I did not stop at the shady and very questionable rest stop for a potty break, even though I was almost bursting. Of the many choices I have made in my life, questioning public bathrooms has to be one of my refined talents - a girl just can't go anywhere. Being choosy in this department is a must.

"Why are there peas on the floor?" was what I asked when I arrived home and saw the state of my living room rug. Apparently dinner had consisted of cooked peas, a tomato and popcorn, two of which were in evidence on my carpet. I was not as upset about this as i should have been due to the fact that I was happy the little man was not running around naked and the baby did not have peas up her nose. I'll take my little victories where i can find them.

So, you may ask, what the heck does any of this have to do with homesteading? Pretty much nothing, except maybe the chicken part, but just because I grind wheat does not mean that I don;t have all the annoying and pain in the butt problems that people who eat Wonder Bread have.

And I also lost my favorite Burt's Bees chap stick.

Friday, January 13

Crumble Dust

I have been having a problem with the chicken feeders getting clogged up at the bottom dispense area with the dust that comes from the crumble feed. It gets built up and keeps the crumbles from flowing freely into the trough section of the feeder and therefore the ladies can not get enough to eat.

Dust from the crumbles clogging the business end of the feeder

For a while now i have been emptying both feeders each night into the large metal can that keep their food in. I then stir it around with the large scoop and refill the feeders. This dispenses some of the dust but when the can gets down to the last 1/4 of feed, there is a lot of dust and I end up refilling with the same amount of dust I had just emptied out.

Second bin full of mostly dust and some crumbles

Wasting food is not an option so I decided to try and separate the dust from the usable crumbles. I am sure that other people have had this same problem and have probably come up with many solutions that work very well. I decided to try a kitchen pasta strainer.

$2.99 from Target and it works like a charm. I now have two metal bins. I dump the new food into one bin and the leftover food/dust from the feeders in the other bin every night. I refill the feeders with the fresh food and hand them back over to the very happy ladies.

I have a separate container next to the second bin of cast-off food and dust. I take a strainer-full of cast-off and run it through with the dust falling into the separate container. The i dump the crumbles that I saved into the fresh food bin.

This has saved me a little money, and trips to Tractor Supply. And I do not feel as though I am wasting feed by tossing the dust out into the yard with some crumbles.

But what to do with the dust? Toss it out in the yard like I have been? Add it to the compost bin?

Two good ideas I found while searching the web were to mix the dust with water to make a mash for young pullets or to use the dust in bird bread. Since I am not planning on getting any new chicks this spring, I think I will go for the bird bread. Here is a recipe I found while searching:

Bird Bread
1 egg (with shells)
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 c flour
3/4 cup chicken crumbles or oatmeal or wheat germ, etc
1-3 bananas or mashed squash/zucchini
1/3 cup olive oil OR apple sauce

optional: raisins, flax seed, nuts, spinach
Bake at 375 for 45min to an hour

You can bake it in little loaves or a cup cake pan. Then throw the spares in the freezer to save for suture treats.

I am curious to test this with the wild birds at the feeder as well.

Thursday, January 12

They're Here...

They say the snow might start coming down today, and even though it is pretty to watch, I just reminds me that my days in the garden are still far off. But as if someone knew that I was feeling dirt withdrawl a little more than usual today, I got a little produce present.

The first of the seed catalogs arrived in the mail today.

Burpee, Gurney's and Jung Seeds and Plants. I am still on the mailing list for the first two even though I have not ordered from them in a while. I tend to go for the more organic choices in Barker Creek.

Note to readers: When the Baker Creek catalog comes this year, I will not be posting for a while. I will be baracding myself in my bathroom or closet away from kids, pets and the husband, and I will be drooling over and ordering from this masterpiece.

I have never recieved a Jung Seeds and Plants catalog before so I am looking forward to seeing what they offer as far as more organic, non-chemical wares.

Just seeing these lovely harbingers makes me smile. "Over 150 fresh new varieties inside!" promises Burpee.

"Respected for Quality, Vaule & Service" makes me like the Jung catalog - like I am an old southern gentleman farmer brousing the pages with a glass of burbon in one hand, my hound dogs sitting at my feet.

"FREE $100" blankets the entire front cover of Gurney's. I always think of them as the "easy girl" of the seed catalogs. She is always giving it away for free, but when you read the fine print, nothing is really as free as it appears to be.

If I order or not, I will still have a wonderful time slowly flipping through getting ideas for the shade garden and battle plans for another round of tomato trellis wars.

Wednesday, January 11

Tuesday, January 10

I am a Dork

I have been informed that January 10th is House Plant Appreciation Day. All those ordinary, year round house plants who have taken a recent back seat to the showy poinsettias and evergreen garland are now back in the spotlight and they probably don't look so good.

House plants, at least in my house, need watering and trimming just as much during the winter months as they do in the summer. Our air is dry due to the wood stove and it seems to take its toll on the potted foliage around my house.

Having some greenery to feast my eyes on is wonderful when winter is here, even though this winter has resulted in not much wintry weather at all. They remind me that spring is coming and more growing of green is just around the corner.

By the way, while looking for a quick picture of a houseplant to give this post a little color, I was reminded just what a nerd I am for putting "house plant appreciation day" into the search engine:

Saturday, January 7

Spring Weather and 1 Cord of Wood

It felt like spring here today. Well, not quite spring, but that time before the crocus pops up where it is still windy and it turns chilly when a cloud covers the sun. Being mid-January, there should be at least several inches of snow on the ground and slick coat of ice on my driveway, but it is absent and I am not bothered by it in the least.

Today we packed up the little man and the baby and headed over to Mom and Dads. The cemetery association decided a few weeks ago that the giant black walnut trees that lined the sides of the small cemetery had to go. They needed to continue the access road to reach the new section of plots, and the massive accumulation of large black walnuts had finally annoyed the wrong person on the board.

A company was called in to take out the trees, and they kept the best wood as part of the contract. The rest was left where it fell on either side of and in front of the cemetery for the association to deal with. Given that this town boasts a large percentage of wood burning stove owners, many of them the volunteer firemen and members of the cemetery association, there have been pickups and tractors with wagons at the cemetery religiously.

The pickings were getting slim as we got Dad's wagon hooked up to the tractor and rode the half mile from the house to the cemetery. Our faces were red from the chill breeze but I was so looking forward to cutting and loading wood that I did not care. The baby was safe with Mom in their warm house and the little man was encased in a large coat and warm hat.

i have been inactive for about 3 years now. Since I was in my 9th month of pregnancy with the little man, i have been sidelined from the best activities - loading wood, physical yard work, anything involving heavy lifting - basically anything fun in the form of manual labor. I enjoy manual labor and I miss it. Having and taking care of babies is a wonderful thing, but there is something to be said for getting that deep feeling of satisfaction out of a hard day of meaningful labor.

The cemetery looked so bare and open without those trees. You could see the houses surrounding it much more clearly and I wonder how they feel about looking out onto rows of headstones rather than thick, mature tree trunks. And the people in their final resting places must not be used to seeing televisions glowing at night, rather than the blackness of the wood and the full canvas of leaves.

Dad cut with the chain saw and we loaded. Even the little man helped out as best he could, finding the largest sticks and tossing them into the wagon to use for kindling next season. It was fantastic work and I loved every minute of it. It felt great, it smelled great and I wanted to get as many loads as possible. however, our trailer will only hold 1 cord without making the tires go flat.

That did not stop me from getting a few extra cords to leave in Dad's yard to pick up on future trips. The more wood you can have stockpiled at your home, the better. You will have nice seasoned wood to burn and you will be warm, even if the power goes out. It is a constant presence on the back burner, knowing that you are prepared for the cold that will come before this winter is through. Like having a stock pot of beans simmering in the kitchen, knowing that there is something warm and ready to eat when the need arises. The heating oil supply truck can not be relied on in an emergency, but putting on a pair of snow boots and hiking down to the barn for an armload of fuel is something I can count on.

It is a solid and steady resource that we have provided for ourselves and that works. It is not often that we can say that today.

Friday, January 6

Winter Chickens

The ladies are spending a great deal of time in the coop since the weather has turned very cold and blustery, and I don;t blame them. When the weather gets like this the only thing I want to do is stay inside, load up the wood stove and tackle some pressing chores like book reading or hot chocolate sipping.

They must have their own little rituals and ways of passing the cold, snowy days. I am guessing it revolves around eating, roosting and pecking at the nice flock block that I gave them for Christmas.

To keep the ladies warm, we use the deep bedding method and place extra bales of straw around the inside of the coop, against the exterior walls, to block any drafts. I also keep a thermometer in the coop and watch the temperature. It has never gotten below 30 degrees and the ladies all seem to be fine. Any lower and i might get out the heat lamp and hang it about 5 feet up. I would want them to get some warmth, but not so much that when I turn the light off, that the temperature change would be too drastic. The deep bed method works great to preserve heat, and it creates wonderful compost. It is however, a little smelly. And poop does to photograph well.

I do have to say, before I go any further, that unless you are Martha Stewart, any pictures taken inside of a chicken coop are not going to be pretty.

They have, with the few exceptions, all filled out nicely and have their winter weight on full display. The few that are still looking a little scrawny are either molting, or it is just Hildred - the chicken that has always been and will always be the smallest, oddly looking chicken in the bunch. But she has personality....

The two newest ladies have both been doing rather well, given that one of them is the lowest one in the pecking order. They are Rhode Island Reds and their color is really beautiful as you can see with the picture below. She is the dark one on the right and she has grown from a small, awkward bird into a large, sleek lady.

I do have to think that one of their highlights of the cold winter days is when I visit the coop with fresh water and treats after dinner. They usually get a mix of whatever was left over from dinner, mixed up with some bread scraps and any vegetable peelings. It is quite a show when i flick on the light and open the coop door - chickens literally flying off the roosting perches to see what I am offering that night.

Craziness sets in with the flight to get the good stuff - bread scraps are the most popular, followed closely by leftover rice and beans. Apple peels and stale crackers are ok, but I think they reserve those for those lower in the pecking order.

The craziness ensues when I drop the treats, as demonstrated by one of the ladies giving me the "stay away from my bread" eye.

One of my Golden Comets eating her bread as fast as possible, hiding from the others, then going back for more as if she we just happening upon the scene. "Oh, there is bread here? Well, I was so busy laying an egg that I didn't even notice!"

Even the scrappy little moulter gets a few - she knows that if she hangs out on top of teh nest boxes, I will hold the bowl up to her before I dump it out. That way she gets first pick of the scraps.

Thursday, January 5

Excuse Me!

"Excuse me Ma'am! I don't mean to be rude but you have let the suet run out in your feeder."

Wednesday, January 4

I Would Most Likely Freeze

I love my new wood stove. It puts out so much heat that it is sometimes too much and I retreat to the kitchen, where it is a good 5 to 8 degrees cooler.

The heat is wonderful on cold nights like the one we just had. It dipped well into the teens and I was up every few hours adding wood to keep the house warm and to keep the fire from dying out.

If that happens, ladies and gentlemen, I am up a creek.

I can not start a good fire to save my life. Literally.

If I were in the wild and it was cold, I would most likely freeze.

I have never had a problem with this before. The whole time I was growing up in my parents home I lit tons of woos stove fires. I was even doing ok here, although out of practice. However, this past week or so I have not been able to start a fire and keep it going. I have not changed how I go about it, it just does not want to work for me.

Of course, the house will get cold and the furnace will kick on and I will be using the heating oil, feeling like a big guilty failure every time one of the radiators lets loose with a steamy hiss.

Roy will come to the rescue with his superior fire building skills and we will have a roaring fire in short order. But i have noticed that even he has been getting frustrated with the poor quality of the burning lately.

He decided that it must be the wood. We ordered late in the season and he thinks the wood we got had not dried out all the way, so it was having trouble lighting. We had just finished up our own supply of wood saved from tree trimming projects around the property that had been left to sit for 1, 2 and 3 years. That was good firewood.

Also, I think that our bottom barn is not a good place to store the wood. Since we have a a wet beginning of winter with more rain than snow, the ground has not frozen up as it should. Dampness is creaping into the barn bottom and the wood is suffering for it.

But this is what we have to work with, so I am looking for suggestions.
We try to bring as much wood into the house as possible to give it a chance to dry out before burning it, but that does not seem to be helping. We have tried fire starting gels and using the dries kindling we can find, which does help, but I hate using the gel, or any chemicals to get the fire going.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 3

Quarantine Lifted

Last week I imposed a self-quarantine on our home. We only left the house for necessary things such as to work and to buy food.

The onslaught of the holidays has left me completely drained. Family from all sides bringing presents and cookies and germs into the house. Noise, noise and more noise. Well meaning people invading my space. Where did all this wrapping paper come from??!!

The cookies, oh, the cookies. They were so delicious. I had more than my fair share and I loved every glutinous minute of it. Breakfast, lunch and dinner - the main dish was Christmas cookies. And Christmas fudge and Christmas peanut butter balls and Christmas candy....

Why does it seem like so much less of a calorie loaded overindulgence if it has the word 'Christmas' in front of it?

So there we were, knee deep in ripped up wrapping paper, stomach aches from too much sugar and coughing coming on strong from the colds that we all caught.

My ability to handle any more stress was little to none when Roy decided to watch a documentary last week entitled "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead." I was exhausted and coming off the sugar high of the century so I crashed on the couch and mindlessly watched a man from Australia drink only fruits and vegetables that came out of the bottom end of a juicer.

By the end of the documentary, I was literally having a panic attack. I thought I was going to die tomorrow. That the little man was going to have long term learning disabilities from eating the goldfish crackers that he likes to snack on - if he even made it that long. The ghost of high fructose corn syrup was coming to take me on a trip of Christmas' past that night and it wasn't going to be pretty. Just all those cookies alone would be sending me strength to junk food hell.

I am not exaggerating when I said I had a massive panic attack. It stretched into the next day and with the combination of not a lot of sleep, very poor eating habits, too much caffeine, stress and my generally weakened state of being, it caused me to spend a lot of the day with my head over the toilet.

This was not a eureka moment, no light bulb went on over my head, these was not a light shining down with angels singing. But I knew I had to do something.

First thing - Food.

For all of my homesteading efforts, I have managed to feed Roy and the little man a pretty good diet of vegetables, organic meat and bread. We are definitely not perfect but we are trying, like most people. What I realized is that I have no idea how to eat.

I am talking food pyramid, portion sizes, fat content eating. The thing is that i eat very specifically. I only like a limited variety of vegetables and fruits, which I do eat on a regular basis. I am just picky, the reasons behind which I wrote about here a while back. But lately I have come to realize that a woman can not live on carbs and Coke alone, no matter how much energy she needs. I can not keep eating like a 20 year old and expect to fit into my jeans and to have enough stamina to chase an almost three year old around, take care of the house, animals, and property, and pursue the homesteading lifestyle.

So, taking lessons from several documentaries, books, websites, and just some plain old common sense, we have made some changes on our food intake.

The short of it is control our portions, cut it out with the massive carb ingestion, cool it with the Coke, cut back on meat (even if it is organic), and take in massive amounts of fruits and veggies (even if my choices are limited).

This is not some drawn out diatribe of living a healthier lifestyle. It is short, simple and to the point. Cut out the junk, don;t shovel in empty calories, don't pickle yourself from the inside out with soda, take responsibility for yourself.

This will not solve all the worlds problems, and it won't solve our recent poor eating habits, but it has to start somewhere. We need to get back to where we once were and where we want to be again.

Coming soon, the second thing - Setting Boundaries.