Sunday, December 29

Field Walk to My "Spot"

All of these pictures were taken while I was at my brothers farm a few weekends ago, when there was still snow on the ground. Regular readers will know that this farm, until recently, belonged to my Grandparents. This is what remains of my Grandfathers favorite field stand for hunting deer. It is a triangular platform about 3 feet off the ground and offers about 2 feet of sitting or leaning space. It is located in the same field as my "favorite spot" on the farm and near the place where I some day hope to build my cabin.
Standing there in the cold and the total quiet I could see why Grandpa put his stand here and why he spent so much time out on the property when he was alive. It is beautiful there and the silence is golden. The field is now slowly going back to forest as young trees are left to grow unchecked and what was once a mostly open field is now marked with developing strands of white birch and numerous other wild trees and bushes.
I wanted to stand there all day - until the chill finally crept into my snow boots and my cheeks turned red with the winter wind. Some day I will sit on my front porch, facing West, on a chill December day wrapped in a warm afghan and sipping some cocoa. Not hunting deer like Grandpa did from that vantage point, but looking for them just the same.

Tuesday, December 17

Bees in the Attic - HELP!

I don't know a lot about bees.

I know that they sting, that they make honey and that they are necessary for the survival of mankind but that is about it. I know nothing about the habitation requirements of bees which makes me totally clueless as to why they have chosen to set up residence in my attic.

I have been dive-bombed by them for the better part of late summer and the fall every time I needed to get something done in the attic. We have a full attic - unfinished, but very large - and we keep a lot of stuff up there.

Now that the climate is more arctic, especially in the unheated attic, I would expect the bees to either be dead or to have gone where ever bees go in the winter. Apparently they do not fly south like the birds. They seem to hang out in the attic, unseen, until I open the door to get the Christmas decorations out. Later that night I will hear at least one buzzing around. They must "reanimate" when they feel the heat coming through the open door and find their way out the door and into the house before I close it again.

It is not at all fun to  have a very large and very angry bee ramming into the overhead lights and sporadically swooping down over our heads.

I want to get rid of them but I am not sure how.

Who knows stuff about bees out there? What kind of bees are these? Why can't I find a 'hive' in the attic? How can I get rid of them?

Monday, December 16

I give him a lot of slack......

If ever there was a cat with a split personality, it would be Seamus Harper MacKenzie III.

From the day Roy and the little man brought him home from a cow barn, he has been both a little angel and a little devil.

I give him a lot of slack since he was, literally, born in a barn. He has a wild and aggressive side that comes out when he is playing or if he decides that he wants to gnaw on your arm and dig his claws into your flesh. He will also stalk you from behind various pieces of furniture and wait for you to unsuspectingly walk by on your way to the bathroom, at which time he was launch himself at your legs and try to take a bite out of your ankle.

Other times, like right now, when the house is quiet and both kids are in bed, he will curl up on my feet in the recliner and sleep. He keeps my feet more toasty than putting them up by the wood burning stove and his exceptionally loud purr lets me know that he is happy where he is and not to disturb him by getting up for a sandwich.

He has grown so much since his trip here in the car on the little man's lap. Very small, very curious, very friendly, and very, very dirty. His first bath happened about 10 minutes after he came into the house and didn't end until about 3 sink refills later. He had more white fur on him than I originally thought!

He has his special quirks that are both maddening and endearing. He loves to climb into the refrigerator any time someone opens the door, he insists on coming into the bathroom with you and helping you with the toilet paper (much like my now-two-year old daughter) and he has a gross habit of sneezing violently and depositing, (forgive me if you happen to be eating something while reading this), green cat boogers on whatever surface he is near at the time of the sneeze.

You see, Seamus has some sort of chronic upper respiratory issue that really does not have a cure. I attribute it to his being born a barn cat and it being passed on from his parents or siblings.

This will be his first Christmas, I am sure. I think he may have been born early enough this past spring to see the last of the snow, so he must know what it is and how cold it is to walk on. But this does not stop him form doing the thing that is the most maddening of all his traits. That cat will do anything to try and get outside. Even if it is below zero, the snow is falling and the wind is blowing - and even if I have one armload of groceries and another armload of disagreeable toddler, he will feel no concern for me or the weather, and make a daring lunge for the opened door.

In the summer, I would chase him down and bring him back inside, yet again explaining to him about the dangers of cars, dogs, ticks and coyotes. All three of my cats are indoor cats who can enjoy fresh air from the cat pen I have outside during nice weather. He just doesn't seem to know how good he has it.....

One escape last summer lead to him being lost for over an hour and we were all out looking for him. We wandered around the property calling for him and we scanned tree branches and shed roofs. He was eventually found by Roy playing in the neighbors very fragrant pine trees and the only thing that made me not so angry with him for scaring me was that he smelled pine fresh for days afterwards.

He is still curled up on my feet in the chair, probably knowing exactly what I am saying about him since I know that cats have that 6th sense people are always talking about. It is late and it is time for me to get to bed, but I know that as soon as close the laptop, he will glare at me and just about dare me to lower the foot rest. I know that my ankle and probably my wrist and arm, will get a good scratching-up before I make it to the stairs.

Friday, December 13

The Skill of Penmanship

I have a 16" by 18" framed diploma from 1919 on the wall in my house. It is my Great Grandmothers Penmanship Certificate from the Mills System of Business Writing. It is beautiful with its yellow coloring, worn corners and massive amounts of calligraphy.

I have a very dear friend who sends me thank you notes written with a fountain pen on card stock stationary made in France. The envelopes are lined with the richest of contrasting papers.

And I have dozens of historical documents from wills to draft registrations to notes jotted down in margins - all in the handwriting of my ancestors in the family tree.

Why do these things have value to me?

They were physically created by a human being with their two hands, some ink and an instrument to put that ink on some paper. It is tactile and it is personal. And I can't be the only person who feels this way.

Can I?

Or more importantly, will my 'generation' be the last to value this very personal, very artful and very necessary skill?

I say my 'generation' because I remember learning to write my letters on the lined paper in grade school. And I also remember being required to have all my work done on the computer, typed and printed, before it was handed in. Having 'good penmanship', writing a letter, signing your name - will my children and their educators value these things?

The fact that I am typing this post on my laptop is not lost on me. Technology and keyboards are here to stay and I love all my gadgets. But I also love my collection of fountain pens, textured stationary and the recipe cards written by my Grandmother, complete with margin notes and slight cooking stains.

Like modern homesteading, even though I sometimes wish I had never even heard of computers or cell phones or pinterest, I take the old and the new and make it work. Someone once said that the pioneers that went west and carved out homesteads on the prairie used every bit of technology they could gets their hands on, little as it was. We are doing the same - saving seeds with drying instructions found on YouTube. And we can type a blog post about our tomato trellis problems while still writing a check and signing our name to it when we place a mail order for next years seeds.

My fear that classic penmanship will be lost in the powerful rise of the keyboard does make me worry that my children will not appreciate the power of the pen, so to speak. I believe that their education will revolve around the keyboard and that it will not be some plot to get them addicted to online farming games. They will need to be technologically literate and ready for their future. the amount of advance that I have seen in my lifetime so far is amazing. What can they expect to see in the future?

Tuesday, December 3

Little Things

A few little things have been floating around lately that do not merit an entire post, but I think do deserve a mention.
First, from the conservative in me: is the language on Revolution getting a little risky? Is it just me? I really like that show and the second season is much better than the first as far as realistic life in a blackout. I mean, Charlie Matheson must have had a secret stash of shampoo and makeup hidden away in her quiver in season 1. In season 2, she is much more realistic, as is everyone's hygiene.
The language in season 2 bothers me. I find myself watching show and hearing someone say something not normally heard on network tv.... wait, did they just say that? Ok, I get it. It's not a show for kids and writers have to put in those little tid bits to push the envelope and keep their audience. It just seems like that is happening everywhere and pretty soon nothing is going to off limits.
Second, from the Mom in me: I have noticed that worlds are merging. By this I mean that I am making shopping lists with purple crayon, I am clipping coupons with safety scissors and I am eating my morning toast off of a red plastic plate with cartoon construction vehicles printed on it. Bathroom privacy is non-existent, hot wheels car magically multiply overnight like bunnies, and I am no longer shocked or surprised to find at least one toddler in my bed when I wake up in the morning. More often than not, this toddler is awake and is 2 inches from my face trying to inspect my teeth.  

Third, from the 'person that thinks there are way too many crazy people in the world' me: About 10 miles away from where Roy grew up in the southern tier of NY a man has been arrested for firing a cannon. Now, I happen to like cannons. They are great at the Civil War reenactments and my brother has one in his yard. However, this guy, while feuding with his neighbors, fired his cannon at his neighbor’s house for 8 straight days. It was only loaded with powder and not actual cannon balls which is probably a good thing, but apparently he caused quite a ruckus and after 8 days was finally arrested on charges of second-degree menacing and three counts of second-degree harassment.
The part that had me in hysterics was when the article stated that the police confiscated the cannon. Don't ask me why, but that had me laughing out loud. How does one confiscate a cannon? Where would you put it? The local Sheriff was quoted as saying that he did not recall, in his 34-year career, such an unusual seizure. As far as I know, the cannon has not been returned. 

Finally, a little observation from the other day: On the end of our road there are two huge corn fields, both already cut for the winter. A few days ago, on the north side of the road, the field was empty except for a few flapping and flashing goose decoy lures and a hunter hunched down in some tall grass. Not a goose in sight. 

On the south side of the road, in a field equally full of chopped off corn stalks and mud, about 200 geese were happily pecking. 

I decided against pulling over and shouting to the man hunched down in the brush that his dinner was eating their own dinner less than 1/4 mile away.

Monday, December 2

Damn It.

You would think that after two years of this happening that I would, on the third year, have figured out how to keep it from happening.
I am a complete failure at chicken pen roof netting. At least when it comes to the winter months. I try to make it sturdy and strong. I get the netting that has the biggest square openings possible to let the snow go through instead of building up on the top. And mother nature still finds a way to turn my chicken pen top into a heavy, drooping blanket of white that snaps the zip ties and the rope.
My outdoor chicken pen is in a sad state of affairs. But I am not angry this time. This actually gives me the go-ahead to redo the entire outdoor chicken area this coming spring. I have been mulling over this idea in the back of my mind for a while now. It seems like I am constantly shoring up fencing, replacing stakes, filling in holes that develop around the bottom of the fence line, and yes, replacing and repairing the netting.
My main requirements for the redo are:
A sturdy top - to keep out hawks and hold up to any heavy snowfall
A large grazing area for the girls
A more durable system of fence posts that do not require 'shoring up'
If it is portable, it must be light-weight
I have found several options:
I like this pen option because it looks to be light weight but also sturdy. The top is the same metal mesh as the sides so I think that would stand up to snow very well. If I make a smaller pen like this one, I could also make it portable. My idea is to make it longer and make a flexible attachment on one end that would fit up again the coop door. This would let me slide the pen over every few days to allow the girls to graze a different section of grass.

These are nice but I am not sure how my 10 girls would do in such close quarters. The low tunnel would be a good flexible transition piece from the coop door to the main pen.
This one is great - it is low to the ground, looks very sturdy, has a nice top and I could move it around. Having it lower to the ground (currently my fence is 5') would mean that I could quickly throw a tarp over it on rainy or snowy days, and I could still use the old baby swimming pool for a sand-holding dust bath and be able to put a light piece of corrigated roofing over that section to keep it dry.

This most closely resembles what we have now, only this one looks much, much nicer. I like it because it is durable, permanent and I am assuming that the roof is made from the same metal netting as the sides. The girls would not have fresh grass, unless I hooked up the temporary portable pen to this larger one, but they would have weekly deposits of fresh straw, their dust bath and I could put it some permanent climbing and roosting structures.
I still have time to think about my options. There are pros and cons to both portable and permanent fencing. I would like the opportunity to have green grassing growing in from of my shed again but constantly moving the pen might put stress on it and cause it to wear out faster.
Maybe a combination of both - a smaller permanent pen that it 5' with roosting areas and a smaller, portable pen off the side of that which can be moved around via the flexible tunnel.
Any suggestions would be welcome if you have gone through this dilemma before. the last thing I want is to spend the money and build something only to discover through use that it does not work the way I thought it would.