Saturday, January 26

The water fonts in the coop have frozen solid each day for the last 5 days. I have been changing them out once, sometimes twice a day and the ladies are not pleased. They greet me at the coop door, feathers all puffed up and raised like a German shepherd warding off a burglar. And with pretty much the same noise. They don't like that the water has frozen in the first place and even though I show up with nice, fresh, luke warm water in a fresh font, they are still upset because I did not bring bread scraps.

Nasty attitudes and the raising of hackles aside, it is in fact pretty darn cold out there. It has been hard for my temperature gadget to offer a number higher than 28 degrees. Yesterday morning it presented my with a nice solid '4' when I woke up. We have about a foot of lake effect snow on the ground and more coming down.

I am not a fan of winter. I describe it as bulky, cumbersome and unsteady. The best winter day is one where you have nowhere to go and you can stay inside in front of the wood stove with a book.

I am happy to report that Bailey, the barn cat, has made it through the freezing temps and is spending her days curled up in the cardboard box house I made for her.

When the weather started getting chilly, I scavenged around the house and came up with a sturdy box, some memory foam leftovers and some styrofoam panels. I cut the styrofoam to size and lined the insides of the box for insulation. then I placed the memory foam on the bottom, followed by some old blankets for warmth. The finishing touch was a bright pink fleece "snuggly" that, although advertised as a fantastic idea for late night, cold weather tv watching, it turns out that it is about as cumbersome as winter weather in general. So, Bailey is burrowing down in it and keeping warm. She has been reluctant to venture out of the barn in this weather, and I do not blame her. I see that she has made a few trips, and according to her tracks, they are not far from home. Yesterday, she came out of the barn, took about 4 steps, went to the bathroom, and went right back into the barn.
She will let me get within two feet of her now, and she has started "talking" to me when I come in at dusk to feed her. Not much of a conversationalist, but I will take the few 'meows' she gives me as a gesture of thanks for the bed and the food. She still will not let me pet her and looks at me suspiciously when I try to stretch my hand out to her. Hopefully, she will be my outdoor garden cat by next summer. We can hide in the garden together.
Yes, I am already thinking about the garden. I ordered my seeds from Baker Creek - not many this year in that I have quite a few saved from last year. I have so many big plans for the garden this year, as I do every year, but I am hoping that I will actually get to accomplish some of my goals this time around. Finding the time when I do not have one kid hanging on each leg is the dilemma.....

Bailey tracks

Monday, January 21

Pitiful Potatoes

Some people can grow corn without even thinking about it. They just put in the seed and soon they have golden ears of summer sweetness. Some people can get the perfect tomato. No heat cracks, no bug holes, perfect and uniform coloring. I can not do either of these. My attempts to grow corn for the past few years have failed miserably - to the point where I think there is a corn seed thief in our neighborhood. And my tomatoes, although plentiful, are not the perfect specimens I wish them to be.

But I can grow potatoes. Slice the seed ones, dig a trench, throw them in, cover them up, and later I will be digging for gold.

Potatoes are my fool-proof crop. The crop that makes me think that I am not such a bad gardener after all. This past summer, the little man and I planted two long rows of yellow potatoes. We harvested them into a big black plastic laundry basket and dragged them up to the house. But then we had to store them.

Now, all the homesteaders who read this can get a good laugh.

No matter how hard I try I can not store a potato. I can put a perfectly good, clean, blemish-free potato away under what the internet says are idea storage conditions, and when I go to get a potato out a month later, I have soft, wrinkled up potatoes with green sprouts erupting from them in all directions.

So, I need some help. I will tell you my most recent storage attempt and please, please, please tell me what I am doing wrong.

I followed the instructions on How to Store Potatoes. I made sure they were all clean and not damaged. I placed them to dry in a semi-dark place (my pantry). I checked them after the right amount of time had passed and got rid of any that did not look right. I used a big woven basket for storage - air could get through but hardly any light. I placed each layer in between a layer of newspaper and then put the basket in the pantry.

I did not do anything that would have made them rebel against me (I don;t think).


Sunday, January 20

13 Chickens (as of last nights count)

We are down to 13 ladies in the coop. As of last week, we have had 3 natural deaths here - no signs of a predator, the three hens in question were still in the coop, and they were all healthy looking and acting normally previously. I have no other idea as to what has happened except natural causes in the time frame of two months. Not unheard of in the chicken world but enough to make me feel the slightest bit of dread when I go into the coop in the morning and again at night. I count them all as I throw out pieces of stale bread and apple peels. One, two, three, four, oh wait, one just ran in for that scrap - start again, one, two, three, four.....  all the way up until i get to 13. Lucky number 13.

The weather has been up and down here, as in almost two feet of snow one weekend and then sunny and almost 70 degrees the next week. The girls were locked up on the coop for those very cold and snowy days and by the fourth day, they were getting restless. Since I installed the extra portable fencing to their run which allows them access to fresh grass, they see it as an insult of sorts to be confined. As soon as the weather was ok and there was no more risk of frostbite, I let them out and they were 13 very happy ladies.

I am taking the winter accommodations day by day, weather forecast by weather forecast.

We are using the deep bedding method again this winter, which has worked very well int he past and seems to be doing the same good job this year of keeping the girls warm, dry and semi-clean. A trip to the straw supplier must happen sometime next week since I spread the last bale yesterday. Actually, all I really have to do is separate the sections of the bale and throw them into the coop area. The ladies pretty much do the rest of the work, scratching and digging around looking for hidden treat treasures. But i like to scatter it a little for them - makes me think that they actually need me.

I have had a problem for the past few weeks with one broody hen. A mean one, she is, and she will peck my hands as i try to get those eggs. In the past week, she has enlisted another hen to join her in guarding the eggs and I now have two hens squished together in one nest box, one facing foreword, the other facing backward. So when I go in at dusk to collect the eggs, I am greeted by a feather-filled nest box with a head and beak on the right and a fluffy tail feather display on the left.

Luckily, the new recruit is not as dedicated to her egg duties as her broody boss. The new girl will gladly hop out of the nest box for some of that stale bread.

Saturday, January 19

A New England Nun

I remember reading this story in high school during one english class. Afterwards, our teacher asked us to comment about how we felt about the story and the woman. Most people in the class said that it sounded horrible to live that way.

I thought it sounded wonderful. Just plain wonderful.

Except I would have let the dog live in the house.

"It was late in the afternoon, and the light was waning. There was a difference in the look of the tree shadows out in the yard. Somewhere in the distance cows were lowing, and a little bell was tinkling; now and then a farm-wagon tilted by, and the dust flew; some blue-shirted laborers with shovels over their shoulders plodded past; little swarms of flies were dancing up and down before the peoples' faces in the soft air. There seemed to be a gentle stir arising over everything, for the mere sake of subsidences very premonition of rest and hush and night.  This soft diurnal commotion was over Louisa Ellis also. She had been peacefully sewing at her sitting-room window all the afternoon. Now she quilted her needle carefully into her work, which she folded precisely, and laid in a basket with her thimble and thread and scissors. Louisa Ellis could not remember that ever in her life she had mislaid one of these little feminine appurtenances, which had become, from ]on- use and constant association, a very part of her personality. Louisa tied a green apron round her waist, and got out a flat straw hat with a green ribbon. Then she went into the garden with a little blue crockery bowl, to pick some currants for her tea. After the currants were picked she sat on the back door-step and stemmed them, collecting the stems carefully in her apron, and afterwards throwing them into the hen-coop. She looked sharply at the grass beside the step to see if any bad fallen there.  Louisa was slow and still in her movements; it took her a long time to prepare her tea; but when ready it was set forth with as much grace as if she bad been a veritable guest to her own self. The little square table stood exactly in the centre of the kitchen, and was covered with a starched linen cloth whose border pattern of flowers glistened. Louisa had a damask napkin on her tea-tray, where were arranged a cut--lass tumbler full of teaspoons, a silver cream-pitcher, a china sugar-bowl, and one pink china cup and saucer. Louisa used china every day-something which none of her neighbors did. They whispered about it among themselves. Their daily tables were laid with common crockery, their sets of best china stayed in the parlor closet, and Louisa Ellis was no richer nor better bred than they. Still she would use the china. She had for her supper a glass dish full of sugared currants, a plate of little cakes, and one of little white biscuits. Also a leaf or two of lettuce, which she cut up daintily. Louisa was very fond of lettuce, which she raised to perfection in her little garden. She ate quite heartily, though, in a delicate, pecking, way; it seemed almost surprising that any considerable bulk of the food should vanish. After tea she filled a plate with nicely baked thin corn- cakes, and carried them out into the back-yard."

continue reading....

Monday, January 14


My nice new weather monitor perched on top of the fridge in the kitchen tells me that the outside temperature is now at 40 degrees and falling. Quite a contrast to yesterday when we were in the high 60's watching the snow melt away into rivers.

Little man and I visited my Grandmothers farm yesterday, with my parents, and we enjoyed walking in the woods, breaking ice in the pond and throwing what was left of the snow at each other. Little man thinks it is very funny when we make a big deal out of deer poo. And there was a lot of it.

And with that nice weather yesterday, little man and I did the basics of yard maintenance - picking up sticks and wayward trash. We had a good hour of daylight left by the time we returned from Grandma's so we set to work picking up everything that did not get collected before that last big snow. Mostly downed branches and McDonalds wrappers. Knowing that we got even the tiniest bit ahead before spring gives me that little push to get going on other things.

Together we measured the existing garden area so when the snow reappears this week, I will be able to doodle longingly on my graph paper, planning new raised beds, fencing and my hollowed out stump planting idea. Our current measurements roughly show a spring garden that will be 34' x 32', all fenced. (Not large by some standards, but it is ablout all I can handle with two little ones).

The bigger garden is just one of the things on my list for this year. Now that I feel I am on firm ground with our staying here, I want to get some permanent upgrades and minor renovations done. Big plans this year! After 2012 being a year that will not be remembered well, I am looking forward to 2013 - slowing down, releasing stress, and growing our roots a little deeper.

Saturday, January 12

Energy (and bird house)

Our solar panels have gone from car-slowing oddity to just another piece of the landscape existing in our side field. When we first had them installed, people walking their dogs would stop and shoot curious glances toward them while their dog found something interesting in the tall grass. People would slow their cars and I think I even saw someone take a picture once.

I didn't blame them - it did look a little out of place at first - a very large solar array perched on a pole in the side field, standing sentinel over the garden shed and vegetable garden. I was a little taken back by the size of it, even though all our research told us the sizes we would need for energy production.

But now, it is just part of the yard. A large, energy producing perch for birds. That part drives Roy mad in that they sit on the very top, rear ends panel-side, and let nature take its course. He keeps meaning to get out there every spring with a ladder, a bucket of water and a long-handled brush, but so far he hasn't found the time.

I'm not complaining. Those panels cover over half of our electric bill. And we don't waste when it comes to electric.

Every time I go to the grocery store, I see how birds have made nests in the most unlikely of places - integrating their lives into what people have put around them. The little nooks in between the G's and A's and O's in the over sized lettering, the opening at the end of the covered cart return, and the smallest crack in the overhang about the entrance has little bits of straw stained with white sticking out. And now I have birds nesting in the hollow spaces behind the panels. And I don't mind a bit.

I don't even mind the poo in the spring. 

Thursday, January 10

Glass To Go

When I find a great product, I like to spread the word. And many of you know that we are pretty picking out our drinking water here at the homestead. We can filter water all day long but then putting it into a container to go defeats the purpose. Even metal containers leave at little 'flavor'.

For us, glass is best. But we also wanted it to be safe for transport.

Solution: Classic Glass Water Bottles with Silicone Sleeve, 22oz by Takeya

I found these beauties at Mighty Nest and we love them. At $20 each, it can seem a little steep, but when you compare that to the cost of bottled water, it makes total sense.

picture from Mighty Nest

Sunday, January 6

Podcasts to Wash Dishes By

I am a fan of the Kunstler Cast. Why does that sound like it should be preceded by "Hello, my name is Meredith and" ?

I listen while I am elbow-deep in soap suds and dirty sippy cups. And I feel like I am getting away with something. "Ha ha dishes - you are not going to waste my time and energy! I am listening to a great podcast and learning something while I am forced to stand here scrubbing!"

I must admit then when I first met James Howard Kunstler I was a bit frightened. Gloom and doom and all that. But after hearing his speak and reading his books, this guy makes a lot of sense. More on this later, but I wanted to set you up with a link to his podcasts. I find them informative, funny and they make me think about things in ways I haven't in the past.

Example: Why are we thinking that we must develop alternative energies in order to keep things they way they are now? Disney World is never going to run on solar panels. Rethink the priority!