Tuesday, February 28

Backyard Bird Sightings

Quite a lot of activity at the back yard feeder and around the property recently. I have only been putting out suet this winter since it has been such a mild one here in New York - the birds can find plenty of things the eat without a few feet of snow on the ground.

My visitors this month, as of today:

European Starlings (these guys are everywhere!)
Brown-headed Cow Birds (also everywhere!)
Black Crows (I am always amazed at how big these birds are)
Downy Woodpecker (A nice sight to see)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Loves the woodpecker suet)
Blue Jays (very aggressive and loud, but nice to see some bright color)
Dark-eyed Junco (timid little guys)
Cardinal (always in pairs)
Mourning Dove (picking up the suet droppings on the ground)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (I love the markings on this bird)
Black-capped Chickadee (so friendly - you can get so close to them)
Northern Mockingbird (very happy to finally see one of these)
Canada Goose (flocks resting in the side field - in the larger field up the road, there are hundreds of them).

Now I am awaiting the first robin of spring.

Monday, February 27

Regional Planting Guide

I love this interactive regional planting guide from Mother Earth News. It is so very easy to use and offers a ton of great information. Just select your color-coded geographic region, then select the month and you get a detailed listing of what you should be starting inside, starting outside and transplanting during that given month.

There is also a wealth of gardening information and tips and links to other places to learn more.

Friday, February 24


Some great blogs that I wanted to share....

Tiny Farm Blog: Organic micro-farming with two acres and some tools ~ a daily photo journal...

Carolina Country Living

Chicken Scratch: Wordy Farmer at Large

Consciously Frugal: Tips and topics that address living frugally in a socially conscious manner, respecting community, the environment and our global human family.


Bizarre Winter and Topless Pens

This has been the most bizarre winter I can remember. One day it is sunny and in the 50's and the next it is cold, blustery and snow is coming in full force - only to be melted that same afternoon by the temperature climbing back up and the clouds moving away.

We can have almost a foot of snow fall overnight - what has only happened twice this winter - only to have the majority of it melted away by lunchtime the next day. Periodically mix in rain, high winds, cloudless sunny days and temps ranging from the low teens to the high fifties, and you have the recipe for the strangest winter I can remember in upstate New York.

Yesterday the thermometer read 47 degrees at one point and i was outside running errands without a coat. Then last night Roy came in bringing a load of wood and informed me that there was about 5 inches of snow on the ground.

This morning before leaving for work he came in to tell me that the mesh roofing on the chickens outdoor run has collapsed in due to the heavy wet snow. Those big heavy flakes the accumulate too fast and stick together forming a deadwieght of coverage guaranteed to bring down small branches, make barren butterfly bushes lay flat on the ground and perch on to of mesh netting rather than fall through, causing a severe weight bearing issue.

This happened last year when we had some inferior netting and I had what could arguably have been the worst homesteading day of my life trying to repair the damage. We replaced the destroyed netting with a more durable and thicker poultry netting which has openings just large enough to deter a build up of snow.

Apparently not this snow.

And even though, at 9 am when I went out to inspect the damage, the snow was already melting in what promises to be a day in the 40's, the damage to the netting (and my butterfly bush) had been done.

A check of the ladies assured me that everyone was present and accounted for and I left them secured in their coop with a head of lettuce and a 5 pound head of green cabbage for company. The netting will have to be completely removed and repaired, which makes me rethink the whole idea of netting in the first place.

The first things that comes to mind is that we want protection from predators. I have seen hawks stalking my ladies and i have seen them dive bomb the yard when the ladies are out, free range. Also, even though our fencing is about 5 feet high, some of my ladies like to fly the coop and end up wandering around the yard when I do not want them out and about.

The netting is kind of a pain to get up, but once it is up, it is good and I have yet to see a better way to put a top on a pen to keep hawks out. I have seen one other way and that was to take some thick nylon rope and run it back and forth in a zig-zag pattern horizontally across the pen top to make it hard for anything to fly in or out, but I can see how this would only be a 50/50 solution.

So I guess the question is, when I get time to go out and take stock of the netting to judge repairs, should I just take it down all together? OK, I have to say it - Should I go topless? Sorry.

It would make walking inside the pen to clean things up a lot easier, it would look a little better and if one or two of the ladies got out, I don't think it would be the end of the world.

Does anyone have any ideas for tops for chicken pens? What do you use? Do you find them necessary?

Tuesday, February 21

Kitty Continues

Doing dishes the other day, I looked out the window down towards the barn and saw Kitty, sunning himself on a warm patch of blacktop. It was a sunny day, mild with not much of a breeze, and he was enjoying some time just being a cat.

I feel sorry for him in that whatever home he once had is gone and he is now relegated to living in my barn in a big cardboard box, tipped on its side and lined with some cozy old afghan pieces. So I took some little joy in seeing him lounging in this sunny spot, rolling onto his back, legs all sticking up.

He started to make his rounds - up the driveway about half way to get a good look at the yard in front of the barn, looking for a wayward rodent. Then back up the driveway to the back door of the house where he sniffs around the lilac bush and the bird feeders. Where he goes next is pretty much arbitrary. I have seen him head down to take a look at the chickens and I have also seen him picking out a good hunting spot in the side field.

He is still so afraid of people and he will not come to me when I try and call him. He runs at most loud noises and voices, and is very cautious when he comes near the house. He saw me take this picture of him and when I gave a little wave in his direction he was off like a shot down the driveway and hid under my car.

I am not giving up on him and I will keep putting a bowl of dry food down for him every evening in the barn. Such a regal old guy should be in the house by my fireplace keeping his weary old bones toasty warm.

Saturday, February 18

The Versatile Eggshell

I have been slacking on the use of my compost bins lately, mostly in the form of food scraps, due to the weather and that the chickens get right of first refusal.

And they don't refuse much.

But I don;t like to give them egg shells, which I would normally throw in the compost buck destined for the black bin outside. I know that some people say you can crush them up and add them to the chickens food to add extra calcium, but I just think that it might encourage egg eating. Even though powdered egg shells are used in animal feed and pet food, and there are nutritional supplements that are composed of them, i really don't want to take the chance.

So what can I do with them besides toss them in the compost? In an effort not to waste, I went looking for ideas on the modern homesteaders #1 resource - our good friend, the internet.

Eggshells are composed of around 95% calcium carbonate (the other three percent is organic matter and egg shell pigment). Calcium carbonate = good stuff.

This seems to be the most popular was to use eggshells, by far. They are an inexpensive source of fertilizer and provide the soil with calcium carbonate, greatly enriching it. The components of eggshells encourage healthy growth in your garden plants. Mix crushed, dried eggshells right in with the dirt when you transplant your seedlings for a boost of energy and nutrients, especially with tomatoes and peppers.

Around the yard in decorative gardens, place crushed, dried eggshells around hostas, lilies, begonias, peonies and roses to discourage slugs, cutworms and snails where you do not want them. There is some back and forth on if this works but in theory, the sharp edges of the egg shells will deter these soft-bellied creatures from approaching your plants. Either way, it is a great way to avoid using toxic pesticides.

Deer are deterred by the smell of eggs, so scattering dried shells around the garden can keep them away from your pole beans and broccoli plants, while giving the plants a nutritious supplement. It is also said that crushed egg shells discourage cats from using your garden as a potty, a plus for any gardener. Some manure is not welcome.

There are several methods for using the entire egg shell as a way to start and grow seedlings. The most popular way I have found is to use half shells filled with potting soil. Place the half shells into the egg container or similar container, fill with dirt and plant the seed. You can poke a small hole in the bottom of the shell to allow for some drainage. The egg shell might break up as you continue to water and the seed grows but the carton or container holds everything until you are ready to plant. Then simply put the seedling, dirt and what is left of the egg shell in the ground. The egg shell provides a little extra fortification to get your seedling started outside. If the shell is mostly intact, crack it up a little before it goes in the ground to give the seedling roots an easier go of it.

Not just the shells can be used after you crack and peel a hardboiled egg. The water can also be used as a form of “plant tonic.” There are two ways of doing this. The easy way is to dump the water from the pan after the eggs are done into watering can, add a little fresh water, and use it in the garden. The other way is to put egg shell pieces into a jar of fresh water with a tight-sealing lid. After several days, you can remove the egg shell pieces and water your houseplants with a nutritious soaking.

The most obvious way to use egg shells is to throw them in the compost. Eggshells tend to decompose quickly in the compost pile and add valuable calcium and other minerals to the mix.

Eggshells can be used to treat skin irritations such as bug bites, dry or flaky skin, or mild rashes. Dissolve an eggshell in a small jar of apple cider vinegar (takes about two days) and use the mixture to treat minor skin irritations and itchy skin.

A facial mask can be made by crushing dried egg shells with a mortar and pestle. Whisk the powder in with an egg white and use for a healthful, skin-tightening facial. Allow the face mask to dry before rinsing it off.

The super-thin membrane inside the eggshell has long been used as a home remedy for a wide range of ailments, from healing cuts to treating ingrown toenails. The membrane lining of the egg shell contains anti microbial substances . After cracking the egg and before throwing the shell in the compost, peel the thin white skin or membrane out.

Tear off small pieces of the egg membrane and put them wet side down on the peeling skin next to your fingernails or on ingrown toenails. Leave it on until it has dried and wash it off.
You can also put the damp side of the membrane on a small cut and leave it there until it dries. To treat a stubborn cut, spread a little egg white over the top of the membrane after it is in place over the cut and if necessary bandage over that.

Another popular use of the membrane is to draw out splinters and blackheads. As it dries it will tend to draw the splinter or foreign matter out a little, enabling you to pull it out with tweezers.

Eco-friendly Household Abrasive - Shake crushed eggshells and a little soapy water to scour hard-to-clean items like thermoses and vases. Crushed eggshells can also be used as a nontoxic abrasive on pots and pans.

To remove stains from a tea pot, thermos or water bottle, fill it with a mixture of crushed egg shells and a little bit of water, shake vigorously and let sit overnight. You can also use the same technique in your kitchen or bathroom sink.

Crushed eggshells added to a greasy pan helps remove stuck or baked on food.

Mix crushed eggshells with your coffee grounds for smooth coffee. The calcium in the eggshell helps to reduce the acidity of coffee and will also help any loose grounds sink to the bottom of the cup.

You can put cracked egg shells inside your lidded commuter coffee cup or thermos to clean it. Add water, and shake your cup well. The egg shell pieces will help to remove residue without breaking the plastic or glass liner of your mug or cup. Be sure to rinse and wash your mug or cup thoroughly before using. (Remember, raw egg may pose a threat of salmonella infection.)

Unclog your drains - Keep a few ground eggshells in your kitchen sink strainer. They trap additional solids and when they slowly break down, they will help to naturally clean your pipes on their way out.

Less Bitter Coffee - Add an eggshell to the coffee in the filter, and your morning coffee will be less bitter. The spent coffee grounds, eggshell and bio-degradable filter are then conveniently ready for the compost pile.

"Blow out" the inside of a raw egg and paint/decorate the hollow shell to make your Faberge eggs or other craft projects. Pieces of egg shell (plain or dyed) are also used in mosaic art projects.

Spread tiny pieces of egg shells out on your bird feeder on your deck or in your yard. The local birds will enjoy the egg shells, and they may even use the egg shell pieces to build their nests.
Female birds, particularly those who are getting ready to lay eggs or recently finished laying, require extra calcium.

Dry eggs hells by placing in a low oven for a half hour. Crush them finely and add them to your dog's food for a boost of calcium. BIRDS: Spread tiny pieces of egg shells out on your bird feeder on your deck or in your yard. The local birds will enjoy the egg shells, and they may even use the egg shell pieces to build their nests. Female birds, particularly those who are getting ready to lay eggs or recently finished laying, require extra calcium.

Jello and Chocolate Molds - Carefully fill "blown out" eggshells with jello or chocolate to make unique egg-shaped treats; peel away the eggshell mold before serving, or serve as is and let your guests discover the surprise inside.

The Fuel of Tomorrow? - Researchers at Ohio State University recently discovered that eggshells might be the key to producing affordable hydrogen fuel.

Friday, February 17

Happy Birthday

It is hard to believe that my little man is turning three today. This photo, taken the first summer he could walk when he was a spry 15 months old, was by our newly turned tomato garden.

If there was ever more of an incentive to do what we do, than this is it.

Tuesday, February 14

Kitchen Cupboards and Windy Nights

Lets just face facts. Kitchen remodels are pricey. Probably the most expensive room in the house to remodel, considering appliances.

When we moved in to your farmhouse almost 7 years ago, we knew that things were going to be the way they were for quite some time. And we were fine with that. Everything was functional and nothing was in any sort of drastic repair need.

That said, if you walk through my house you can take a journey through decorating styles from the last 5 decades.

So on this windy evening, I have decided to try and make a little improvement to the kitchen that I will most likely be using until both kids are our of the house. Little things can make a room feel like it has been redone, without spending a fortune. When we moved in, we did not replace the vinyl tile squares that were lining the bottoms of kitchen drawers and cupboard shelves. I felt that remove the old and replacing with new would give the kitchen that inexpensive revamp I was looking for.

I purchased two boxes of 12" x 12" sticky-back vinyl tile from our local discount hardware outlet. Granted, this is not the most sustainable choice but it was the most cost effective and for the small size of the home improvement purchase, I was willing to use them.

I took everything out of all the kitchen cabinets, remove the old tile, which came out easier than I expected it would, and I completely washed down the cupboards with some green multi-purpose cleaner.

While waiting to make sure the cupboard shelves and drawer bottoms were completely dry, I sorted through the contents of the cupboards and managed to get rid of quite a bit of junk and items that we just do not use.

One large box of Goodwill donations later, I was ready to install my new vinyl.

As the winds whipped around outside blowing who knows what around the yard and against the house, I gathered my supplies and started the project.

It was fairly simple and all I needed was the tile, a tape measure, a sharpie and a good pair of utility scissors. The work went fast and it took a total of 3 hours, including putting things back in the cupboards.

I ended up with clean cabinets lined with new vinyl and an organized and de-cluttered kitchen. I am very pleased with the result and it does make me feel as though I have upgraded my kitchen a little. I know, the cabinet below still looks a little full, but it is the tupperware and misc. cabinet and you should have seen it before I cleaned it out!

Sitting here at the table, typing this entry, I am still listening to that howling wind. We have had a quite a few wind storms this season, a few of which have been enough to do some damage, although we have yet to lose power. The kids are both in bed, Roy is working on the taxes, and I am planning a quiet evening of book reading by the fireplace. All three activities should keep the respective participants busy for hours.

Happy Valentines Day

Saturday, February 11

Being Prepared: The Car

This is the first in a four-part series on being prepared.

Many of us have our homes stocked and ready for any type of disaster, natural or man made. But how many of us have a decent showing in our vehicles? Think about it - if you have to leave your house, especially in a hurry, you will not be able to load up all the supplies you have stocked up in your house.

And, if you are on the road and disaster strikes, you need to be able to relay on what you have in your vehicle.

That said, I have a tendency to put too much in my car. I have things that I think I may need or that may come in handy taking up lots of space in the trunk, which becomes problematic when it is time to shop for groceries or take the stroller anywhere.

So what is really necessary to leave in the car at all times? What would you normally have with you? (purse, diaper bag, etc.)

I recently did an inventory of my car emergency supplies backpack, which looked like this:

After consulting internet checklists and reading up on kit essentials, I have made the following car kit:

Survival blanket
Res-cue mask

Sewing kit
Waterproof matches
Hand sanitizer
Emergency Drinking Water
A small notepad
Pencils - The ink in pens can freeze or the pens can leak if the temperature is too hot in your car. Pencils always work, and you can sharpen them with your pocket knife.
Glow sticks
Flashlight with working batteries
Back up batteries
Polar Pure water disinfectant
100 ft of nylon cord
Basic first aid kit
Pocket knife
Folding multi-purpose utility tool
Rubber gloves
Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED handbook
Emergency food rations (MRE's) - I also like to have a box or two of granola bars.
Paper towels
Wiper fluid
Small empty gas can
Maps/gps - The GPS is a great thing, but if your car is inoperable or you are left to walking, you will want a map.
Duct tape
Solar radio
Fire extinguisher
Seat belt cutter
Zip ties/bungee cords
Roadside safety kit
Car repair kit - Tire gauge, jack and lug wrench, spare tire, foam tire sealant, small portable air compressor, spare fuses and jumper cables
Basic tools - hammer, phillips and standard screwdrivers, pliers, tape measure, some sort of small saw, adjustable wrench

Especially in Winter:
Hats, gloves, scarves, dry socks

I use a simple backpack with many pouches, pockets and compartments built in to hold most of my car supplies. I know that list seems long but most of the things on it are small and they fit in that one backpack. I like to keep it secure with a bungee cord so it does not go sliding all over the trunk.

In addition, I keep the Emergency Seat Belt cutter in the glove box, along with duplicates of some of the more common supplies (lighter, pencil and paper, map, Kleenex, etc) in the glove box or in the center console.

In most cases you will have a purse and/or a diaper bag with you when you go out. Make sure that the diaper bag is stocked just in case you are away longer than you thought you would be. I like to carry a small can of formula and an empty bottle - the sample cans of formula that they give you at the pediatricians office work great.

Like most ladies, my purse is home to all sorts of necessities, including an emergency cell phone and a digital camera - both good things to have in an emergency or accident. Make sure your wallet contains all necessary identification and that you always have a little cash on you.

On my cell phone, under the contacts, I have a contact called ICE - In Case of Emergency. I picked a number that I knew would be answered by someone for this contact so if I am unable to call for help, someone can look at my contacts and know to call that number.

Remember, better to have all the stuff and never need it than to be in need of it and not have it.

Printable/Downloadable Checklists: Here, Here, Here, and Here

Thursday, February 9

Belly Armor (Sounds so Medieval)

While pregnant with our little girl Roy brought home a few items from a baby products expo that he went to. One of which was the Belly Armor by RadiaShield. The box stated that this blanket, when placed over your belly, would protect your growing baby against harmful everyday radiation. Cell phones, wi-fi, etc.

First, I loved the packaging. Minimal, which is always great, and made with recycled materials. The box also states that "all products made with socially responsible processes." Nice!

This particular model was the Belly Blanket Luxe, and according to the website,"Luxurious cotton micro-fleece and satin together with RadiaShield® fabric make this blanket a convenient and unobtrusive way to protect your child within against the risks of everyday radiation. Easily portable in your handbag, this blanket is ideal for both the home and the office. With the highest quality textiles and the always reliable protection of RadiaShield®, you will fall in love with this ultra-soft protector."

Not that I am exposed to that much radiation on a daily basis - or am I?

On a daily basis, the radiation that people are exposed to can come from two sources, naturally occurring and man made.

Nuclear radiation is all around us in the environment - radioactive elements found in rock, soil, water, air, and in food from the earth make there way in our bodies when we drink water, breath air or eat foods which contain them. Radon, the stuff that you have to run a test in the basement for before buying a house, is the result of off gassing from soil and rocks, generally speaking. We are also exposed to naturally occurring cosmic rays.

Man made radiation can come in many forms, some being x-rays, cordless phones, microwaves, baby monitors, televisions, laptops, PC's and cell phones. There is much debate on if and how much radiation is emitted from these devices by way of the electromagnetic field.

That's enough technical stuff. So, I am exposed to radiation be it man made or naturally occurring, on a daily basis. The naturally occurring stuff has always been there, which means that the people of the Dark Ages were also receiving their daily dose. But now we add in the man made stuff and according to some studies, we are getting more than we should.

Now that I had been made aware of the radiation risks all around me, i was glad to have this great new blanket. How could I not want to use it constantly? Why didn't every pregnant lady have one? They should make full radiation snuggies! Snuggies for everyone! We would all wear them and society would look like one of those advance cultures on Star Trek, all slowly strolling around perfectly manicured futuristic cites, smiling and chatting on cell phones.

So, I am exposed to radiation on a daily basis and this blanket keeps it off my belly and away from the baby. This is a good thing. Just to see, both to test the blanket and to verify in my own mind that my cell phone was a device of radiation emitting horror, I did the Cell Phone Test described on the blanket packaging.

Yes, it works.

But I am just going to go ahead and say it - Am i going to freak out about this? I pick my battles, mostly due to a severe lack of time. I love the homesteading lifestyle and we do quite a bit, but not everything. I also strive to be as chemical free in our home as possible, but we are not 100%. And with that said, there are a lot of things out there, many controversial, that are bad for you. Asbestos, lead paint and high fructose corn syrup are all bad for you. Cell phone radiation, wax on apples and nail polish remover - not necessarily good for you in some aspects, but in the grand scheme of things, I would focus on removing any lead paint from my home before I dove into researching the pros and cons of Sally Hansen.

I used the belly armor - my own choice - and I was glad I did for peace of mind. I don't know if typing on a laptop while pregnant is a serious health risk and I am not going to make clothes out of aluminum foil and hide in a bunker. You just have to know how far to take things and pick your battles.

Info on the Belly Armor Belly Blanket Luxe:

Instructions: During pregnancy, drape over your midsection while sitting or lying down.

Efficacy:99.9% Shielding Effectiveness (~50dB). View independent FCC-certified laboratory testing report. Try the Cell Phone Test.
Dimensions:30 x 35 inches (75 x 90 cm)
Material:Cotton micro-fleece, satin and RadiaShield® lining

Here is a good review of the blanket from Mummy's Reviews

Wednesday, February 8

Spic 'n Span Meets Cleaning Green

When I became pregnant with the little man (he will be three shortly!), I started the transition to "green" cleaning products. Given that I could not walk down the cleaning supply and laundry detergent isle in the grocery store without becoming violently nauseous, I took the hint that these products probably were not the best options anymore. And switching over to something better had been on my To-Do list for some time.

Chemical sensitivity aside, I wanted the safe options, and as I ran out of Windex, pledge and scrubbing bubbles, I replaced them with natural, more "green" cleaning products. Not only did they not emit such a noxious odor, I was glad to finally make the change and being pregnant was just the incentive I needed to finally get this step in motion.

I was concerned about getting things clean and I suspect like most of us, I was raised on what I call the "spic 'n span" mentality. To get things clean and sanitary, you have to use chemicals that smell pretty bad and come with tons of warning labels. Wearing rubber gloves meant that whatever you were using was killing all those bad germs and you could eat off the floor when you were done scrubbing it. Turns out a simple wipe down of kitchen surfaces or bathroom surfaces with soap and water, hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar will provide adequate disinfection. In other words, clean without having the wear a gas mask while getting your toilet sparkling fresh.

I was still a bit skeptical, since society being as it is, I have been taught the "spic 'n span" way since I was old enough to help Mom dust the living room. But the first time I cleaned my upstairs bathroom with a vinegar and water mixture, I could tell things were clean. Not only that, but I got that vinegar smell - my new verification that things are, in fact, clean. No more noxious chemical odor needed to verify that my tub is ring-free.

Although I like the Simple Green, 7th Generation, Planet, Meyers and Green Works products, just to name a few, I really wanted to get as simple as possible. In researching, I found that you can clean just about anything with a few simple ingredients that we all probably have in our kitchens, laundry rooms or pantry's right now.

Baking soda, vinegar, borax, and liquid soap.

Here are a few of my personal favorites - all tried and true.

All-Purpose Cleaner:
Mix 1/2 cup borax with 1 gallon of hot water until borax dissolves.
Use of any non-wood surface.
I like to use this on the kitchen counters when I do a "kitchen deep clean" - taking everything off the counter to get all the glossed over places.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner:
Scrub with 1/2 cup borax or brush the bowl with baking soda and let sit for 2 minutes. Then add white vinegar, let fizz, scrub again, and flush.
Leaves the bowl shiny and spotless.

Floor Cleaner: (can also be used on walls)
1 cup white vinegar, 1 gallon hot water, 1 tablespoon liquid soap (optional).

Mix vinegar with water and soap. Use a mop or a damp rag to clean and then use a clear water wipe or mop if you add the soap.
I used to be addicted to my Swiffer Wetjet for the mopping duties around here. I loved that thing. And I can still use it - just without the bottle of cleaner that snaps in the holder. I put this mixture in a spray bottle, spray the floor and use the swiffer mop just as a normally would.

I like to use the Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid Pure Castile Soap in this mix.

Drain Cleaner:
Pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain then gradually add 1/2 cup white vinegar.

Let fizz (the fun part) and dissolve.

Then pour boiling water from a kettle down the drain. Wait 30 minutes and repeat if necessary.

No-Scratch Scrub:
1 cup baking soda, warm water, 2 to 3 drops liquid soap.

Combine baking soda with enough water to form a paste. Add soap.

Apply to surfaces and let stand for 5 minutes. Scrub with non-abrasive sponge, rinse and wipe off residue.

I love this for my porcelain kitchen sinks. They are old and stain very easily. It takes a lot to get them clean and white. I also like to add a second step to this one: After I rinse and wipe, I like to sprinkle a little more baking soda in the sink and drizzle vinegar over it to get that fizz. I let it fizz up then I scrub again, concentrating on those stubborn corners.

Dish Soap:

I love Planet dish soap - it is my favorite when I can get it. Unfortunately, the store I usually buy at has stopped carrying it. But there are other options that work very well. I am currently trying Meyers lilac scent dish soap, but you can also make your own:

Add 3/4 cup Castile soap to 1/2 cup water - very simple and it works.

Glass and Mirror Cleaner:

Mix 1 cup white vinegar with 1/2 teaspoon Castile soap and 2 cups of water. Put it in a spray bottle and you are ready to clean all those little fingerprints off the mirrors and windows.

Tuesday, February 7

I'm a 6B!

The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is out and ever so easy to use. Just plug in your zip code, validate with that annoying letters/numbers thing, re-validate because you thought a g was a q and then re-validate again because it is case sensitive. Then it tells you your planting zone.

Sarcasm aside, it is a pretty nifty little gadget, and even if you already know your zone number, it is still a fun little exercise that puts you in the mood for garden planning.

Saturday, February 4

Flying Creatures in the Coop

And no, I do not mean the chickens.

Last night I trudged out to he coop to check the feed and water. At this time of year, I should be trudging through a few feet of snow, but as of today, we still have grass and lots and lots of mud. Snow has been almost absent this season.

So I trudged through the sticky mud mess that was once my back yard to the coop with a bucket of fresh water and a bowl of kitchen scraps looking to fill the feeders and collect the eggs.

The door to the coop, always closed since the ladies have a trap door entrance and exit, was blocked with something from the inside when I tried to open it. After shuffling things around a bit, I discovered it was the large plastic top to the can we keep the cracked corn in. Something had knocked it off the top of the can and it was wedged between the can and the door.

I figured one or more the chickens had decided to take a mid-day flight and used the can to propel herself back over the coop wall when she was done exploring, knocking the top off in the process.

I went about my feeding and watering and egg collecting, and then I went to make sure the top was on the corn can tightly before I went back to the house. I had found a mouse in there once who, after eating his fill of corn, realized that he could not get back out. I gently used a dustpan to extricate the mouse and send him on his way.

As I am about to place the top on the can and secure the handles, I noticed something cowering in the blue plastic corn scoop cup.

I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was not a chipmunk, mouse or squirrel. I always have a camera with me when I go outside and I got a few pictures before I let him out of the can.

I removed the blue cup and slowly tipped the can to one side as to not bury the little guy in cracked corn. When it was about half way tipped over, he came running up the inside of the can and flew out of the top to the wall of the chicken coop. Literally - he FLEW. I swear I saw wings.

I ran up the wall and disappeared into a crack near the rafters.

Fast forward 10 minutes - I am back in the house with the camera plugged into the computer and the pictures on display. Roy insisted it was a chipmunk and the little man wanted to go outside and pet him. I had to explain that he was gone already and that maybe we would see him again another day.

Turns out, much to Roy's annoyance, that he was not right about it being a chipmunk. It was a flying squirrel. I had never seen one before and I had no idea that they lived around here.

According to FlyingSquirrels.com, it is a Northern Flying Squirrel found here in the upper Atlantic states as well as in the pacific Northwest, the upper parts of Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Southeastern Alaska.

The Flying Squirrels website offers just about everything you ever wanted to know about the little guys including a video and audio gallery, nest box plans, and a cornucopia of interesting facts all devoted to the Flying Squirrel.

So, besides having chickens in my coop, I can now add flying squirrels to the list of other residents, including the mice, birds, normal squirrels, chipmunks and the skunk.

Thursday, February 2

Munchie the Cow Can Stay

I doubt that Laura Ingalls Wilder had to put up with such things.

I am talking about juice cups. And goldfish crackers, and matchbox cars and baby gates.

Right now, my 'homestead' is a sticky, crunching, painful mess. Dripping juice cups are at the top of my gripes today. How hard is it to make one that doesn't leak? And how hard is it for my little guy at the advanced age of almost 3 to not throw the juice cup across the living room when he is done taking a sip instead of setting it down nicely. Quietly. Homestead-like.

In addition to having sticky carpets from leaking white grape juice, I also crunch when I walk. This is the result of goldfish crackers. Various cereals, crackers and the occasional potato chip can also be found and even though I vacuum every day - that's right ladies EVERY day - people just can't seem to keep it in the bowl. I am thinking about only offering soft snacks that do not crunch. Like fresh, warm homemade bread with butter that I churned myself, just like Laura would. She would never had allowed such highly-processed snacks at her place!

Injury, although part of homestead life - especially on the prairie where Doc Baker lived all the way in town - has taken on new form here. Instead of accidentally gashing my leg with an ax while splitting wood or falling down a 100 foot mountainside looking for berries for those preserves, I have matchbox cars.

Annoyingly small, metal matchbox cars. I step on these things all the time. They seem to multiply like bunnies here. And those suckers hurt! Especially the Firefighter Adventure Set with the little ladders..... But the foot injuries don't stop there. Picture Laura - it is the middle of the night. She comes downstairs, candle in hand in her robe, planning on getting a drink of water or using the outhouse or something definitely middle-of-the-night- 'homesteadish'.

She reaches the bottom of the stairs and in her first steps across the dining area, she slams her big toe right into the BAO tractor and wagon set which sets of the "hello little farmer" greeting followed by the tractor roaring to life. The force of the blow has now sent Munchie the Cow, who rides on the wagon, flying across the room and landing on the VTech Tiny Talk Light-Up Phone, which starts flashing red and cheerfully proclaiming "1, 2, 3! Call a friend to play."

All this commotion in the dark freaks out the cat who was asleep in the chair. He goes flying off into the living room where he knocks into the box of legos, tips over the plastic shopping cart and sets off Chuck the Truck. Or as I like to call him, "Chuck the most annoying truck ever." Chuck is fond of saying "I'm Chuck. And I'm a dump truck. You call that heavy? I can take more." Such a mouthy, arrogant truck.

Did Laura get her water? Probably not. She was passed out from shock.

Did I get my Advil? Yes. And I really needed it at that point. Especially after the baby gate incident from earlier that night.

I was bringing a juice cup and a glass of milk to the little guy and Roy. As I stepped over the baby gate, my slipper got caught on the top and fell forwards to the floor. I juice cup went airborne, and leaked (no surprise there), the glass of milk hit the floor and I hit right on top of it with my upper left arm. How I did not get shards of glass embedded in my arm is a total mystery. I must have landed on it just right. I did manage to smack just about every other part of myself on something however. My face went right into the plastic toy lawnmower and I have tons of bruises on my legs from the gate. But the baby gate stayed in place, which goes to show that some baby stuff is made right. Sturdy little bit of plastic there.

Mu quest of the idyllic homestead is slowly fading into a haze of cracker crumbs and, as with everything else here, I have to find the balance. I can can all the peaches I want but I will still have to find the occasional matchbox car in the potty. It is hard to look around my house and see all this mess - the toys, the food, the unfinished projects, and we have been trying to limit the clutter and toys. But, like I said, it multiplies like a shed full of Easter bunnies.

So, like in the garden, I will streamline my approach here too. I can homestead all I want. I can sew and knit and garden and can and use my drying racks. I can save energy and turn off the tv and tend to my chickens. I can do everything I can to make this modern homesteading work for me, even if it means letting Munchie the Cow stay.

I'll bet that Laura did her fair share of cleaning up and stepping on all those wooden toys and blocks. Her cleaning of messes focused less on goldfish and more on poop-filled cloth diapers.

One positive note - I have seriously been considering the use of baby gates as supports for my tomato plants. Those things are sturdy!

*Feb 8, 2011

Wednesday, February 1

setting boundaries

A little while ago I posted about my total post-holiday meltdown, fueled by Roy's new facination with the art of juicing any unfortunae fruits and vegetables that make it into our home.

My goal to find out even more about the food we eat has lead me to some interesting, scary, informative and bizzar information. As there is so much to learn and process (no pun intended), any posting on the topic will have to come later. There is just so much to learn.

However, the second part of my melt-down revelation was that we need to be setting some boundaries around here. In short, we have let things go. Putting homesteading to the side for a minute, there need to be a few changes in the way this household works.

Boundaries. On food, spending, television and children. I have taken care of food and that is probably one that I will never really get figured out as everything changes constantly about what is good for you and what is not. I can accept this.

Spending: we are back on the budget. We deviated from it around the end of November with plans for holiday shopping and the new baby needing more diapers pretty much every other day. (She can poop, that one!). Spending overflowed onto the credit card which I did not want to add to. We got a little crazy, and I guess it is good to throw caution to the wind once and a while, but then you have to pay the fiddle player. In this case, we will need to be paying Mr. Visa a little more each month to get back on track. A certain amount for the week and that is it, excluding utility bill and mortgage payments. If the money runs out on Thursday, we are out of luck until Sunday.

One thing about being on a budget: that first grocery shopping trip after starting a budget or getting back on one is such a shock. Counting every penny and really, REALLY taking the time and making those decisions - "Even though I KNOW the organic is better, can I really AFFORD it?" and "Holy cow! Goldfish crackers cost a fortune! Good thing I am really limiting the little mans golden cracker intake!".

Television: For us and the little man. We got rid of cable a long while ago and I am not sorry for one minute. I now realize how much time we wasted watching programs with no substance. Local tv and occasional netflix is more than enough for us. My free time is extreamly limited right now and I just can not justify filling it with mindless chatter. The little man has become, I am very sad to day, a tv addict. He watches mostly PBS so he is not bombarded with the commercials aimed at kids for everything from sugary cereals to remote controled boats, but he is obsessed with it all the same.

I hate to admit it, but televsion does make my life easier, especially with teh new baby. That hour of Curious George or Seseme Street makes clean laundry and a daily shower possible.

Don't they say that admitting you have a problem is the first step towards recovery? Well, we have a tv problem here and its name is Dora the Explorer. The only cure I can think of is the cold turkey approach, but that just seems like more of a punishment for me. So, the tv for little man will be limited to 2 hours per day with the ability to earn an extra hour of Curious George in the afternoon.

I have also enrolled him in a local toddler soccer camp one day a week and we have weekly scheduled play dates on the calendar. I am anticipating a rocky reception to this plan which starts tomorrow. i will keep you posted....