Monday, December 29, 2008

A Couple of Amazing Things

I got some really great Christmas gifts this year. By and large they were modest, but they were perfect for me, and I'm just wild about all of them. Dearest husband gave me a tricked-out garden seeder that digs a trench, drops seed, covers it and marks the next row for me, all as I walk along behind it. I don't have pictures of it since it's still in the box, and I won't get to use it for awhile yet. I do plan to supply some pictures of it in action as well as a review. It came from Lehman's, and I have coveted it for some time. I have a pretty sizable garden plot now - bending over to hand-plant each seed? I think not.

There are a couple of items, however, that I do have pictures of, and they might be the two most interesting gifts I've ever received. I was gifted this year with a copy of The National Geographic magazine, dated December 1925. The advertisements alone are worth it, and there is a roughly 120 page story on...cattle. Coolest. Thing. Ever. Check it out:

Okay, so it might not be THE coolest thing ever. But if it isn't, then this is:

Many moons ago - probably a year ago or more - I saw an article in a magazine about how to knit a rug out of second-hand wool sweaters. The idea is to collect unwanted sweaters from thrift stores, garage sales, your closet, wherever, and cut them into wide strips. You then use very large needles to knit these strips into a small area rug. My mother is an accomplished knitter and I thought at the time that this seemed like a project she might enjoy. I tore the pages out of the magazine, stuck them...I don't know, somewhere, and promptly forgot all about it. Six months ago when I was packing to move, I found this article and actually put it aside where I'd find it again. I finally remembered to give it to her at Thanksgiving. So, this article had been swimming around in my possession for easily a year or more before I finally gave it to her.

Guess what I opened at her house on Christmas Eve? She spent the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas making this rug for my husband and I, and I couldn't believe it! It is my understanding that there was a considerable amount of cursing involved. Evidently the wide strips of wool are hard to work with, and even before that she had problems locating enough wool sweaters to complete the project - we do live in Texas, after all. Not much call for wool sweaters here. She managed to pull it off, though, and I must say it looks (and feels) amazing. It still needs to be blocked, but we'll do that ourselves. Here's a picture showing some detail:

So, kudos to my Mom for slogging through what turned out to be a truly inspired gift!

On an unrelated note, I plan to start a new series of posts next month. I will be chronicling a year on the farm, beginning in January of 2009. I'll put up a post at the end of each month serving as a sort of diary of things that happened here in that month. I hope it will be interesting to others, and at the very least I think it will be interesting to me. I hope to read over it again this time next year and get a good sense of what we've accomplished and how far we've come. There will still be regular postings as always, too (intermittent though they may be) to keep you entertained. ;-)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

First Contact

We've always known the coyotes are here. I hear them in the evenings, just as the sun is going down, barking and singing up a storm. The dogs know it, too, and are often aware of their presence before we are. We're nearly six months into our residence here, and this morning had our first actual sighting. I didn't, of course. I was in bed, sleeping the drug-induced sleep of a sick person. My husband and the dogs were the ones on the case, and I missed the whole affair.

It began with the dogs barking their faces off from the kitchen porch. This is fairly unusual for them during daylight hours. There are rarely unfamiliar people around, and the dogs are accustomed to the chickens and ducks that wander around the place, so daytime barking is almost nil. When my husband went to investigate, he spied a coyote about 30 yards down the hill, on the near side of the pond, just sitting and watching the dogs. He went for the .22, and when he returned, it was no longer in sight, but he could see rustling in the tall grass. He fired a shot into the grass and two coyotes went running out and away.

I knew this day would come. Now that they've been here, we need to be extra watchful of our animals. Chickens would be nice easy prey for a coyote, and I worry about our dogs getting too near them as well. We'll continue to let the chickens out for now, but later in the morning and probably not while we're away all day anymore. We'll just have to take things as they come, I suppose.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holiday Dog Cookie Assortment

Clockwise from top left: beef and cheese fire hydrants, peanut butter bones, beef and cheese shoes, frosted peanut butter bones

Say it with me: meat slurry. Roll that one around for a minute.

My family has dogs. Lots of dogs. Somewhere along the way, it became a Christmas tradition for the dogs from each household to give gifts to the other dogs - cookies and treats are the standard fare. I had a big pile of scraps from some beef soup bones I'd cooked up, so it looked like some homemade biscuits were in order. I ground the scraps into a paste in my food processor, along with some oil, grated cheese, an egg or two and some whey I had leftover from a batch of cheese. This mixture was unspeakably disgusting, and it was at this moment that I pondered whether they really appreciate the things I do for them. I added wheat flour and cornmeal until I had a workable dough. I rolled it out (ewww) and cut it into fire hydrant and shoe shapes with cutters I had from a homemade dog treat kit. I really thought they'd smell awful while they baked, but they just smelled like cornbread with a hint of parmesan. Oh, and beef. ;-)

Those went fairly easily, and I have many dogs to give to, so peanut butter cookies were up next. What dog doesn't love peanut butter? These consisted of more whey, peanut butter, oil, eggs, vanilla, rolled oats, wheat and white flour and a small amount of cornmeal. I rolled these out and cut into bone shapes. They looked a bit plain when they came out, so I decided since I was already at the party, I'd frost about half the batch. I used a mixture of melted white chocolate and a small amount of peanut butter.

Naturally my dogs were happy to taste test for me. I'm happy to say they were very well received. Now it's time to bag and tag!


Friday, December 19, 2008

Doing What Ducks Do

Last night we came home from my husband's company Christmas dinner to find only two ducks in the house instead of four. It was well past dark and by that time they're either inside the house or camped out by the door. The four of them have always moved together as one unit, so it was quite surprising to see that two had gone AWOL. We were a bit worried, but there was no sign of any kind of a disturbance. After about ten minutes of walking around with a flashlight and spying all sorts of nocturnal creatures that were NOT ducks, it finally occurred to us to...check the pond!

Well, lo and behold, there they were, resting peacefully at the water's edge. They spent the night down there, and this morning they've been swimming and eating tasty pond morsels like happy ducks. I expect that's where they'll stay. Now I wonder when the other two will find their way to the water and why they parted company in the first place.

*UPDATE*: The other pair of ducks seems to be quite nervous today, and they have taken up residence inside the chicken coop. They've been just sitting in there all day, which is unusual.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I Should Have Known Better

Tragedy today. I went out the barn to check on the animals and all the baby bunnies expired overnight. I'll spare you the details, but it seemed to be a combination of cold and foul play. The bunny cages are hanging from the ceiling, and I had the horrid realization this morning that since we moved the worm bin under their cages, it has provided much easier access to marauding critters such as skunks and raccoons. It was also 70-some degrees yesterday, but then took a dive to near freezing temperatures overnight. Poor babies. Poor Mama, too. She was always pretty grouchy, but now she's outright hostile, and so confused. We really feel awful. I'm afraid we're never going to get this right. I'm still willing to try again with the rabbits, but I honestly don't know how many more times.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


And it's about time!

After nearly a year of trying and quite a few failures, we finally have our first viable litter of baby bunnies. Our three breeding rabbits were just babies themselves when we bought them so we had to wait for them to mature. Apparently we didn't wait long enough because although they delivered their first litters just fine, they didn't seem to know how to make a nest, or nurse, or mother them at all. We had three or four litters that simply ended in tragedy. Then it was high summer (a really hot one this year) and no one was in the mood. Then it was a beautiful autumn and we thought we were back on track, but no dice. Neither doe conceived and we worried our buck might have become sterile from the extreme heat.

We tried one more time about a month ago, with the thought that if it didn't take, we'd have to try a new buck, but lo and behold, last week our pregnant doe began pulling her fur out to make a nest. A couple of days later the nest was full of warm babies. Now they've survived long enough to have a thin layer of fur. I think we might finally have something to show this time, and our buck officially gets a pardon.

I've found it pretty incredible that we're having so much trouble making baby bunnies. I mean, this is something that's supposed to happen with extreme frequency all on its own, right? If we can't get rabbits to make babies, we must be complete failures, right? We were seriously beginning to lose faith in our abilities. Needless to say, this event has really gotten us excited and boosted our confidence!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Picture It.

Me, outside on a cold December morning. On the phone with my mother. In my pj's, bathrobe and slippers. Chasing a puppy that's chasing a rooster.

Dear God, I WISH I had a picture to share with you, but operating a camera was just a bit more than I could manage given the full plate I had at the time.

A Not-So-Black Friday

This post is quite late, but you'll have to forgive me. As my husband put it, we're in Turbo Christmas Panic Mode. We're making lots of gifts this year, and there's still some shopping to do, and all the while the normal everyday things still need doing.

As we do pretty much every year, we opted out of Black Friday shopping this year. Well, sort of. We attended the Homestead Heritage Thanksgiving Craft and Children's Fair. This is truly the way to spend Thanksgiving weekend. Loads of live demos of homesteading and craft skills, the nicest folks you'll ever meet in your life, great food (hot apple cider, anyone?), and the best kind of shopping - buying beautifully crafted, worthwhile goods that were handmade mostly by children.

We saw live demonstrations of blacksmithing, metal casting, woodworking, cheese making, sheepdog herding, horse farming, pottery and probably more than I'm not remembering now. We had a handful of good friends with us, and a good time was had by all, out of the malls, out of the traffic and out of the stress.

Friday, December 5, 2008

It Might Be Full of Baby Draculas...

Or it might just be a freakishly large egg. Full of unformed chicken, just like it's diminutive brethren.

I'm not sure which of the Phyllises was responsible for this, but I'd wager that she squawked extra loudly that day. I was certain it would be at least triplets, but no, it was just a deuce. Still, they were enormous.

My husband suffered permanent trauma from this, I think.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Where, Oh Where, Has My Little Dog Gone?

Not to worry - they're all safe and sound in their beds tonight, but it does seem that my youngest, my boy, has taken leave of, himself.

Here's how it happened. Last weekend, I went away to visit a friend. I left on Saturday, and returned Monday evening to warm, furry welcomes from all my four-legged charges. We all went to bed content that night, but sometime in the wee hours, my boy Harvey woke us all with a horrible squeal - the sound a dog makes when you step down hard on its tail. It was followed by many more just like it. We checked him over, and he didn't seem hurt, but he was extremely anxious. He paced the house for hours, trembling and whining. He wanted to be near me but wouldn't let me touch him. He wanted no part of going back to bed. He spent the rest of the night wandering the house with his tail tucked under and ears flat, shaking like a leaf. This incident has repeated itself, with varying degrees of severity, every single night for a week.

The trip to the vet was prompt, but the results were inconclusive. The Doc was perplexed and could only think that perhaps it was a seizure (not all that uncommon, apparently). He sent us home with Phenobarbital and instructions to dispense at the onset of another "episode". We find this a bit hard to swallow, as we've witnessed nothing at all that looks like a seizure, nor any of it's side-effects. There has been no involuntary movement, no collapsing or loss of consciousness, he's never unresponsive. This happens every night, roughly between the hours of 3:00 am and 6:00 am, only when Harvey is sleeping. After Monday he abruptly changed his entire sleep habit. He gave up his normal position on our bed and began huddling in the very corner, at the post, poised to fall off the bed at a moment's notice. He eventually gave up on the bed altogether, and began sleeping on blankets on the floor. Without fail, even after the most sleepless of nights, when his feet hit the floor in the morning it is as if nothing ever happened. This is a complete and utter mystery to us.

We don't like to, but we've broken down and begun giving him the Phenobarbital. It seems to be the only hope any of us have to get some rest. He's only just over a year old, my Harvs, and is a busy, energetic boy. You'd never know it now. Between the lack of sleep and the barbiturates, he spends his waking hours in a slow daze. Oh, he still wants to play, but when I throw the ball, he gives chase in a listless and leisurely manner, and not too many times before he tires out or loses interest. His raison d'etre has always been to run circles around his sisters in the evening, barking excitedly and trying to entice them to play. Now he just can't be bothered.

It's heartbreaking to see him this way, but equally so to hear him cry out in the night. We really don't know what happened, or what to do. I just want my dog back, hyper and all. I miss that spastic little bugger.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Happy Friday

No news today, just a little chicken dance. :)

I'm out of town until Monday, so have a great weekend, all!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Egg Salad and Quackers

The barnyard is now integrated! We've started letting the ducks out of the house to explore. This is only day three, so they haven't wandered very far yet. The very first day, after some mildly traumatic wing clipping, we opened the door and walked away. It took them about an hour to finally venture out. They stayed within a few feet of the house, and shuttling them back in at night was easy. On day two, they were slightly bolder, ventured a bit farther and we circled the duck house about fifteen times before I got them all back inside. They don't much care for confinement, and aren't the types to put themselves to bed the way the chickens do, so this will likely be a nightly occurrence.

This morning they were waiting for me at the door of their house, and came right out when I opened it. They haven't yet discovered the pond, but I'm already imagining what it will be like when they do. I'm already having nightmares about herding them all the way back home from the far (and largely inaccessible) side of the pond, up the hill, past the house to their ccop. That should be big fun.

In case you were wondering, the chickens are still photogenic.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Missing Link

Even though I live in Texas, having a fire at home is important to me. It's my preferred way to relax, and it makes me feel very cozy, very nest-y. It's uncommon here for houses to be built with fireplaces (for good reason), so we generally make our fires outside, camp-out style. Some time ago I moved my backyard fire pit, brick by brick, from old house to new, and have been waiting for an opportunity to light it up ever since. It was beginning to seem ill-fated. Every time I thought I'd have my chance, it would get sidelined by other plans, or it would become unacceptably windy or suddenly way too warm. I became more and more despondent, thinking that maybe it just wasn't to be.

Finally, on Saturday night, I got my chance. I couldn't have asked for a better night for it. It was perfectly clear and perfectly calm, there were tons of stars to see, and it was just cold enough for the fire to feel great. At long last, I was really home.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Today was worm bed maintenance day, and it occurred to me that I've never really shared any details of the worm bed here on the blog, nor did I have a single good picture. Well, let's just fix that, shall we?

Today's job was to separate out the castings and put them in fresh bedding, as well as assess their general condition. We have a very large wooden bin on legs way in the dark, back corner of the barn. Jerry built it just for this purpose, and it has holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. It gets filled about three-quarters full with shredded paper (I use newspaper and office paper) and then I spread about a shovel full of rabbit manure into that. The whole mess gets lightly moistened so it is just damp, and this makes the paper compress down so it winds up only being about half full. The worms live in here, and slowly turn the paper and kitchen scraps we give them into wonderful, garden-friendly castings (that's the stuff that looks like soil, above).

The way to separate the worms from the castings to pile everything up onto a plastic sheet or other similar surface (I used a split-open feed sack). You want to make a rather tall pile. Shine a bright light on the pile, and the worms will gravitate away from the light, down to the bottom of the pile. Every few minutes, you can take a layer of castings off the top, until finally you reach a point where you're down to mostly worms. At this point you can place the worms into their new bedding.

Mine looked good, and after about two months I appear to have roughly twice as many as I started with. I didn't see very many small worms, nor did I see any eggs, though, which leads me to believe that I'll need to supply them with more food. If there is not enough food and they're forced to compete for it, their population will not grow as quickly.

So there you have it - a fun Sunday with WURMS!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Yeah, Yeah, I know.

So it's been more than a few days, and I have no pictures. That's just the way it is sometimes, I'm afraid. I completely forgot to take the camera with me to the goat class. It was pretty great, though - I learned a lot, got to try my hand at milking, and got to meet some very sweet goats. I have a similar class this Saturday, but involving cows, so we'll see how that goes. I'm excited about that too. I'm pretty heavily favoring goats right now. I found that I wasn't drawn to sheep nearly as much as goats and I'm really not into fiber crafts, so I may consider adding them down the road but for now sheep are off the table. I like the idea of a cow, but that would be a considerable amount of milk to deal with, so I'll have to think about that some more. Goats are looking good, though! Milk, cheese, butter, soap!

Everyone else here is doing well. The ducks are looking much better these days and are getting less timid all the time. A couple more weeks and they'll be ready to come out of their house. The rabbits are happy for the cooler weather, the garden bed is dug and half-fenced and cooking up nicely for spring, the bees are buzzy and the chickens are their usual silly selves. We're spending more time indoors now, getting the house organized, doing lots of cooking and canning and generally getting ready for winter, which seems to be coming sooner than usual this year.

Speaking of winter, I'm working on ideas for homemade Christmas gifts that aren't too hokey. No one seems to have much to spend this year, us included, and we really want to give some gifts that truly came from us. I don't knit or sew, so that's out. We've got some other ideas in the works, though - it's just a question of whether we can pull them off. What about everyone else? Any homespun gifts on the horizon? Any ideas? I'd like to try blown egg ornaments, but need to do some research on that.

That's all I have for now - hopefully next time I'll actually have something to talk about.

Friday, October 17, 2008

We'll Be Right Back After These Messages From Goats

Folks, I'll be out of pocket for a few days, so the blog will be quiet. I'll be spending tomorrow taking a class on goat care - I'm hoping I get to try milking, but we'll see. I also hope to get some pictures.

After that, I have some social engagement every day until, uh, Wednesday, plus the usual workload, so I just don't anticipate having time to post anything until later in the week.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Close Encounters With Wildlife

I just had my first snake sighting since moving to the farm. Actually, calling it a "snake sighting" sounds rather mundane, like "Oh look, there's a snake." Hardly. This could more accurately be described as a perfect storm of creatures inadvertently scaring the piss out of one another, and everyone backing away slowly. I'm still breathing hard.

I just took a walk (a long walk) out to my mailbox, which turned out to be in vain, since it's Columbus Day (I forgot). On the walk to the mailbox, there's an area of the property we like to call "the scary, snaky place". We'd never actually seen a snake there before, but it's densely overgrown, with a line of trees behind it, and if I were a snake, well, that's where I'd live. I had nearly reached the street, and it was just at that time of midday silence, when not many animals are out and about. All was quiet, the air was still, the sky was overcast, and about five feet in front of me I heard a very loud rustling in the trees, followed immediately by the thump! thump! thump! of GIANT beating wings. Apparently I had startled a large, LARGE bird. I didn't get a good look, but it was certainly a hawk or a turkey vulture, which are plentiful here. This did not just startle me out of my reverie. This scared the living daylights out of me. I jumped and stumbled backwards a bit, and when I did, I felt something sort of soft under my shoe. That just scared me again, and I jumped and stumbled a second time and saw a flash of movement on the ground - a copperhead streaking out from under me and into the tall grass. Holy Sh-t. I mean, really.

Let me see if I have this right. I surprise a vulture, vulture scares me, I scare a snake, snake scares me (again), all parties make a quiet and hasty retreat. All I can say is that I'm SO glad my snaky friend opted to retreat. How lucky for me.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Another Trip Around

Today is my birthday.

I bring this up because I took a bit of time to reflect on where I've been, who I am today and where I'm headed, and I'm happy to report that I'm right where I want to be. I'm not too old. I'm not too young. I'm not wasting time and I'm not working too hard. I have the family I want and the home that I want. I feel like I'm doing just what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm just right, and that feels great.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Help Us Name the Farm

It's time for our little slice of heaven to have a name. We've been loosely calling it all sorts of things, but so far none have really stuck. We'd love some suggestions, if you care to offer any.

We have twelve acres - a mix of trees and pasture. There is a pond, a little white house and two barns. Other than the pond, there are no really prominent landscape features. We plan to grow vegetables and keep a wide variety of livestock, without a strong focus on any one thing (at least for now). Our indigenous residents include frogs, coyotes, rabbits, skunks, armadillos and lots of birds of various types. We are surrounded by cattle and are regularly serenaded by them. We brought with us dogs, chickens, ducks, rabbits and worms (so far).

"Screaming Frog Ranch" was popular among some folks, I know, (and our frogs do scream) but I'm trying to avoid it because I think it has a bit of an "animal cruelty" connotation. We've floated a few ideas already and the only one we like at all is "On the Job Farm" - because we both still work day jobs, and because we're literally getting on the job training with this place. We're not necessarily married to that one, though. We want something memorable, not too goofy (but a little goofy is okay) and not too, I don't know, "peaceful and serene" sounding, if that makes sense.

So let me know what you think - thanks!

UPDATE: As of this morning, we're also liking "Dogfeathers Farm"

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Chickens are Revolting

Yes, it's true. They came running full tilt out of the trees the other morning, cackling wildly. The hen in front had something large in her beak - really quite large for a chicken to be carrying. She was running like mad, making excited clucking sounds, the others right on her heels. When she got close enough, we were able to get a better look at the highly-sought-after prize she was carrying. It was...a frog. A good-sized bullfrog. With no head. The other girls caught up with her and they fought over frog legs for breakfast. To see such behavior from animals that usually peck at weeds, seeds and insects was comical, yet...gross. It elicited many a cry of "Ewwww!" from the two of us.

We were up early (about 4:30) yesterday morning for our visit to the sheep lady. We ended up spending nearly the whole day with her, learning all we could about shearing sheep and hair goats, as well as how to clean wool. She was absolutely delightful, allowed us to make a total mess out of one of her goats, and graciously gave up an entire day to educate a few people she had never met before. It was an incredibly generous gesture. I also learned from visiting her farm that I absolutely adore donkeys! Who knew they were so sweet and personable? I'm sure a donkey or two will be added to the roster here. She warned that they're like potato chips - you can't have just one! It was a great day, but quite a whipping. We finally got home at nearly 8:00 p.m., and couldn't have been more exhausted. Those are usually the best days, though.

Today, while I'm working at home, I'm making a huge batch of homemade spaghetti sauce, which I intend to can. It's a cloudy, rainy day, so it's perfect for a big pot of home cooking. Between my long, hard day yesterday and the gloomy weather today, I'm really finding it hard to want to do much of anything. I suppose I'll just have to suck it up and get to it!

P. S. For those of you who were wondering, the ducks are now named Reginald and Bernice. ;-)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

New Arrivals

The ducks are here! They arrived yesterday and are settling into their new home nicely. We'll keep them confined to the house for several weeks, and after that they'll be allowed to roam freely during the day and swim in the pond. For now, I need them to get acclimated and oriented and learn that this is their home. I'll be anxious to let them play in the pond, though - they do foul their water in a hurry! They're really quite shy so far - they all run to the back of the house every time I approach. They do seem quite sweet, though, and I think they'll be a great addition to the "family". I mean, look at this face:

These are Muscovy ducks, and are the only domestic ducks not descended from Mallards. They are often treated more like geese due to their large size. Adults can top out at anywhere from 17-24 pounds. They don't quack, but will make soft hissing sounds when frightened or upset. These four need a bit of rehab. They have mites something awful and are looking a bit rough from excessive pecking. Their previous home, while not overly crowded, was populated by so many ducks that some aggression was inevitable. Now that they're here, I think they'll be on the mend soon enough and looking lovely again in no time.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Democracy Has Left the Building

**WARNING: POLITICAL RANT** (as if the title didn't give it away)

I'm deeply distressed by the state of our "democracy". I do partly blame corporate greed, lobbyists, colluding politicians et al, but I also think our democracy is being killed off by apathy. No one can manage to look away from their reality TV long enough to care about the things that matter to our very survival. Who anymore can be bothered to cast an educated vote? Choosing our leaders these days amounts to which sound bite stuck with us, or which candidate has better hair, or rabidly supporting a single issue to the exclusion of all others. I'm appalled by the number of times I've heard "[Candidate ___] really gave a good speech!" Well, good for them! They passed their course in public speaking! How well they do it has very little bearing on their ability to lead the nation. (Maybe this is our natural reaction after listening to the monkey for eight years?)

Perhaps "they" have conned us into this state, lulling us with endless consumer goods and 24-hour "news", but we let it happen. We fell for it. It's purely about showmanship now. We only care about the future of our democracy to the extent that it entertains us. It now must compete with shopping, American Idol and sporting events for our attention. Political campaign strategists know that we don't care. They know that we're distracted, and learning the facts is tedious. They know that they can play to our emotions and we'll swallow just about anything. Emotion is not a good zip code to cast a ballot from. Votes should be cast based on qualifications and a careful consideration of all the issues at hand. Patriotic chest-pounding and warm, fuzzy "let's all get along" rhetoric may make us feel good, but it doesn't put food in the mouths of the hungry, keep roofs over our heads or protect our loved ones from illness, poverty and violence.

How can we preserve a system that the population at large seems not to care about?

If you've done your homework, studied the facts, and have already made an informed decision on who you will vote for, turn your TV off now. Nothing coming from those airwaves will affect the decision you've made. If you're still not sure, don't rely on the media to help you decide. Their job is not to explain things to us. Their job is to sell news (and promote products for their advertisers). Do your own legwork and make the decision for yourself.

Let's not buy into the feeding frenzy anymore. Know that you've made an educated and calculated choice based on what you truly think is best for our country, and get back to the business of living. They'll only keep feeding us this crap as long as we keep begging for it.

Please, let's be clear: I'm not endorsing any particular candidate on this blog. I don't care who you vote for, as long as you consider your choice as carefully as you possibly can. Ignore the drama. Ignore the sound bites. Pay attention to what matters. Take time to learn the details. Let's all pull our heads out and act like we give a crap.

Thank you, come again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Another Cardinal at My Door

This time it's a male. He's been trying to get in ALL. DAY. LONG.

He hops from branch to branch a few times, cheeping, and about every ten or fifteen seconds he flies into the window. I've tried to chase him off, but he comes right back. Poor fellow. I don't think he realizes that there's nothing for him in here, except dogs that want to kill him. He's literally been at this for about five hours now.

And speaking of killer dogs, my little attack pastry finally made herself useful this morning and killed a mouse! I'm so proud. Did I mention I'm AT WAR with the mice, now? It's official. They've decided that my oven would make a delightful residence (the drawer under it, actually). I've decided that they need to die. Oh, you can call me heartless if you like, but they're eating my food and crapping in my oven. Therefore, it is ON.

Hubby got the worm bed almost finished over the weekend, too, so on Friday I will be meeting a local lady I met on Craigslist and taking delivery of two pounds of red wrigglers. That should be an interesting trip. Mmmmmmm....squirmy. The bees seem to have mostly moved into their hive (as best we can tell) and are doing their little bee thing. The chickens are fat and happy as ever, the arrival of the ducks was delayed due to inclement weather, and we're looking forward to our sheep shearing excursion in a couple of weeks.

The weather here took a rather abrupt turn this week and we suddenly have nights in the upper 40's to lower 50's. I've never seen such a sudden shift from summer to fall, and I'm thrilled! My only lament is that my beloved fire pit is still standing at the old house, and I'm desperate to sit under the stars by a warm fire with a glass of wine. We need to make a trip to town this weekend, so maybe we can disassemble it then and bring it down. I'm not sure how long I can survive without fire.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rainy Day Dog Antics

This is what happens when a little, short-haired dog gets chilly. She discovers that the cover on the dog bed is unzipped (because the puppy relieved it of its zipper altogether). She worms her way into the open side, like a sleeping bag, with her head down at the closed end. Unable to find her way out again, she finds a handy corner opening (also supplied by the puppy) and tries to exit that way.

What can I say? I was laughing so hard I almost couldn't stay still enough to take the picture.

This post could also be titled "Why I Love Dogs".

Friday, September 12, 2008

Preparing for Ike

This is very strange. I am spending a good part of today securing our homestead against hurricane Ike. This is strange because we are hundreds of miles inland, and although hurricanes often affect the coastal areas of my state, the most we ever see from them is a rain shower now and then. We might even get a proper thunderstorm if the hurricane is severe. But this time we're right in its path, and are expecting 40-60 mph winds tomorrow, along with heavy rain, lightning, and the potential for tornadoes.

This is a very different sort of drill for us this time because we're way out in the country without fast access to supplies, and we have animals whose well being we're responsible for. So I'll spend today doing laundry while I still can, making sure the rabbits will stay dry, covering the bees with a tarp so they don't drown, locating our flashlights, batteries, candles and other emergency supplies, filling containers with water, and securing anything in the yard that looks like it might blow away. We get strong winds through here on otherwise normal days, so I can only imagine what we could be in for. My internet connection has already been spotty all day today, so the next couple of days don't look too promising on that front.

It's entirely possible that Ike might make landfall and weaken to a point that all we get is a little rain - we got virtually nothing at all from Gustav. But for the first time ever, I think we might be in for it, so I have wine, tons of books, some oil lamps and good company, and I'm preparing to hole up.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hey, Beetender!

Well, it's day two in Beeville, and they were ready for a feeding. We only have one bee suit, so I can't (or rather won't) get any closer since I don't have any protective gear. It's a bummer, though - I really want to go look at them. I'll probably put the suit on and go out by myself later. But for now, Hubby donned the gear and went out to give them their first food. Here he is suiting up:

And feeding bees:

It was pretty fast and easy - they just get a jar of sugar water set in there for them. I think suiting up actually took longer than the feeding! He said they were all bunched up around the hole in the tree, so hopefully that means that they're making their way upward into the hive, which is what is supposed to happen. Hopefully I'll be able to get out there in the suit and take some actual bee photos soon!

Amusing side note: When you have a wasp/hornet problem to deal with, wearing a bee suit does wonders for your confidence level! ;-)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tree Bees

They tell me there are bees in that tree. They also tell me that the bees will make their way into that box. I'm going to take their word for it. For now, until they get settled, this is as close as I'm getting. :) Day one in Beeville is likely to be a bit boring, actually, since we just need to leave them alone for a bit. So for your amusement, here are some interesting facts* about bees:

  • Newly-emerged workers begin working almost immediately. As they age, workers do the following tasks in this sequence: clean cells, circulate air with their wings, feed larvae, practice flying, receive pollen and nectar from foragers, guard hive entrance and forage.
  • Honey bees are Old World insects that were introduced into North and South America by European settlers.
  • Bees are closely related to ants, and are found on every continent except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants.
  • Beekeeping is also known as apiculture.
  • It is estimated that one third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees.
  • A bee's wing flaps approximately 230 times per second, faster than a fruitfly (200 times per second) which is 80 times smaller.
  • Drones hatch from unfertilized eggs, females (Queens and worker bees) hatch from fertilized eggs. The queen actually can choose to fertilize the egg she is laying, usually depending on what cell she is laying in.
  • Although stinging is the primary defense against vertebrates, defense against other insects such as predatory wasps is usually performed by surrounding the intruder with a mass of defending worker bees, who vibrate their muscles so vigorously that it raises the temperature of the intruder to a lethal level. This is also used to kill a queen perceived as intruding or defective, an action known to beekeepers as balling the queen, named for the ball of bees formed.
Fascinating, huh?

* Bee facts were obtained from Wikipedia and The University of Georgia Honeybee Program website.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Now Accepting Deposits

Here at Screaming Frog Ranch (did I mention we have screaming frogs?), things sometimes move at a breakneck pace. Other times they move about like molasses in January. We put off projects for weeks and weeks, and at the same time have things thrust upon us rapidly that we hadn't planned to even discuss until, oh, next year, maybe.

The animals are coming.

We already have three dogs, one cat, three rabbits and thirteen chickens. All of a sudden, indeed this very week, I've been approached by two friends (separately) that are interested in keeping a cow share with us on our property. One of those friends is also busily conspiring to get sheep and goats here as well. If you keep that sort of livestock, you also would do well to keep a guard animal, so ideas have been floated about llamas, donkeys and (gasp!) another dog. And since we don't just talk the talk around this place, we will soon be the proud recipients of a swarm of bees.

Did I say "soon"? I meant tomorrow.

That's right. I'm going to go to work in the morning, and when I come home tomorrow evening, there will be bees at my house. They'll be nice and angry too, after being uprooted (quite literally) from their happy home and taken for an hour long truck ride. I found this out today.

This is great, really. Bees were part of our long-term plan. We had pushed that off for later because the up front investment in equipment and protective gear is not insignificant. As it happens, our friends who already keep bees and have extra gear are now finding themselves oversupplied, and are happily passing some our way. Stay tuned for upcoming posts re: my life in Beeville. Boy howdy, will there be pictures. Oh, AND - it looks like we may also be getting a sheep-shearing lesson in a few weeks!

It's all very exciting, but it's happening so fast. On the other hand, we've only had the hens for six weeks or so, and it feels old hat already, so maybe we're ready. Maybe.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chickens as Enemies of the State (Or, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???)

Well, not the chickens themselves, per se, but rather their keepers. Apparently if you drive your permiculture bus/house to Minnesota to spread education and goodwill, that makes you subject to search and seizure, under the most dubious of circumstances.

Thanks to Lisa Z for this week's bit of deeply alarming (and subverted) news. See the story at her blog.

Perhaps local law enforcement was afraid they'd show up with eggs and rotting vegetables to throw at the RNC? Really, now.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Rooster Redemption

The rooster and I have had some issues. Some days he and I simply don't see eye to eye. I haven't yet seriously considered him as a candidate for the stew pot, but sometimes, in an irritated snit, it does cross my mind. I've been watching him carefully, though, and it is becoming quite clear to me that he takes his position very seriously. Like a great dog, he does his job faithfully and very well, with a certain commitment to his role.

We came home later than usual last night, and when we pulled up to the house it had just fully turned dark. The chickens will always put themselves to bed by nightfall, and we simply have to come along and close the door behind them. As we approached the coop something looked, well, funny. The birds had decided to roost on top of the coop for the night, rather than inside. Evidently the door had been blown shut by the wind at some point during the day, so being unable to get to their "bedroom", they did the best they could. They were all lined up side by side on the front edge of the roof, with Rooster Boy right in the middle, wings spread slightly over top of the hens on either side of him. He had a very protective posture. In that moment it seemed apparent that he had gathered them all there, as away from harm as he could manage, and was trying his best to keep them safe. I was so proud - it was all I could do to not give him a resounding "Good boy!"

We plucked them each one by one off the roof and relocated them to the inside. Even the rooster went peacefully - they were so ready for bed. As long as he keeps that up and doesn't become outright dangerous, I'm content to keep him on the payroll.

Good boy!

And now for your Friday viewing pleasure - smoked chicken!

If she only knew.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dreaming Of Livestock

We've only lived for a couple of months on our land, and are still deep in the throes of "have tos" - all the immediate chores and repairs that must get done NOW and eat up most of the time we might otherwise have for "want tos". That does not, however, stop us from wishing and dreaming and sometimes even conspiring, and these days our thoughts are turning to larger livestock. This isn't new. We've been discussing meat and dairy animals since before the place was even ours, but we're now talking with a bit more intent and seriously considering the pros and cons.

The looming question on our minds is: goat, sheep or cow? Or a combination?

Our first (and almost automatic) thought was goats. Goats are small and inexpensive enough that we could keep a few, and they'd provide us with plenty of fresh milk and occaisional meat. We also have a large area of our property that is hilly and overgrown with brush - great for goats! The downsides to this are that we'd need to build extremely strong fences, since goats will free themselves from just about any enclosure if given the slightest chance, and frankly, while I like goat milk, I don't LOVE goat milk. I like it a lot for certain things, but wouldn't want to use it for others, as I find it rather more salty than cow's milk. Dairy goats apparently must also be milked twice a day, every day, which would mean a complete and total end to any spontaneity and flexibility in our lives.

I've begun just in the last week to seriously consider sheep. Sheep also produce milk, as well as meat and fleece, so they could be a good candidate for us. They are also a manageable size and from what I understand, are possessed of a more even temperment than goats. That is to say, they aren't as curious or prone to getting into things (or out of things!). It's fairly appealing to me to think that we could have all the benefits of goats, plus wool, with a somewhat more laid back animal. We also have a very large area of flat, grassy pasture with a few shade trees here and there, so accommodations wouldn't be a problem for them either. My biggest problems with sheep are these - I don't spin and really am not inclined to, so I'd need to find an outlet (or some use) for the wool, I've never actually had sheep's milk (only the occasional cheese) so I don't even know if I like it, and as much as I find lamb delicious, I just could NOT slaughter a lamb myself. I'd absolutely have to make other arrangements for that. They're simply too cute. Really. I couldn't do it. I mean, could you kill this??

Yeah, me neither. It's worth noting, too, that wool sheep seem less common in my area, possibly due to our extremely long and hot summers. I do see quite a few hair sheep, and sheep for meat, but finding an all-around multipurpose breed here might prove difficult.

I had categorically dismissed cows as an option until just yesterday. I had assumed that their size would make them too difficult to manage, plus we're literally surrounded by them, with a place selling pastured beef just down the road, so it seemed like there wasn't much point. But a cow would provide more than enough milk for us (and we know we like it) and they are generally quite docile, despite their size. There would be plenty of milk also for cheese, yogurt, cream and butter, and any excess milk could be offered to other folks or fed to our chickens or other livestock. We would also have the opportunity to raise a calf for meat every year or two, which would more than provide for the two of us. In this case, third party butchering would be a must. We simply don't have the facilities to handle such a large job and still keep everything acceptably clean. Given the great abundance of cows near us, I can't imagine it would be all too difficult to come by one. The big downside to a cow is the upfront investment. It costs considerably more to purchase a cow. Plus, a bigger animal means more feed, whether you're able to provide it with pasture or have to supplement with cut hay. The return on a cow is much larger, however, in terms of quantity of milk and meat. There is also the option of selling the calves on the hoof, which would return some dollars to our pockets.

All of these animals have their own unique appeal, as well as unique drawbacks. It seems as though the more I think about it, the harder it becomes to make a decision about which is right for us. Perhaps the eventual answer will be "all of the above", but boy, does that seem like overkill for two people.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fun Day, At Last!

After many weekends (and weeknights) of nonstop working, we finally took a break for some fun yesterday. We did have to run into town for a few things in the morning, but after lunch we dug through boxes to find our fishing gear and went out back to fish in our pond. It was an adventure, to say the least.

Right off the bat, hubby walked out onto the footbridge and a whole section of it collapsed under him! There was a loud cracking sound, followed by a rush of water, and down he went! It was actually pretty funny - the water is only about a foot or so deep in that spot, and he managed to stay standing perfectly straight and upright as he went down. So he wound up standing just as he had been, only about two feet lower and with wet feet. :)

Once we got settled on a stable section of bridge, I broke my reel on my first or second cast. Then hubby gave me his and I promptly broke it too (on the first cast). Hubby tried to repair them on the fly, fish jumping all around us, mocking our misfortune, but to no avail. After a quick walk back to the house we had two new ones to use, and things were improving. I cast out my line and felt a good tug on it. I started reeling in and whatever I had was heavy. I pulled and pulled and reeled and reeled and I was actually afraid that I may have caught a turtle. After all the pulling and reeling I finally saw the end of my line and on it was...a branch. Woopee. Not to be discouraged, I got right back to business. I cast my line out again...into a tree. I had to walk it pretty far to one side, some distance around the edge of the pond and finally freed it. As I reeled it back in from there, I felt another tug...and another...and this time...I caught a fish! An actual fish. My very first fish ever! It was just a little one, a little sunfish or something, but I was very proud. OF COURSE it didn't occur to either of us to take the camera down there with us. With the luck I was having, though, I'm sure I'd have dropped it in the pond straight away.

We stood at the water's edge, quietly casting, sometimes catching something but mostly not. We watched birds, turtles, fish and dragonflies do their thing above and below the water. We even had the pleasure of seeing a hawk fly low right over our heads - it cast an enormous shadow. Finally it just got too hot and we had to hang it up and retreat to the house. It was great fun, though. After that, we got cleaned up, hopped on the motorbike and rode into town for an Italian dinner. It was a wonderful day.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Guess What?


Monday, August 18, 2008

Some Projects

We've been mostly shut indoors here for the past few days due to some unusually heavy (but very welcome) rain. That just means that we've had some down time to come up with more new project ideas! Also, we've been able to come up with some solutions to problems we knew were in the post.

After only a month, it has become quite clear that the chickens do not need to have the run of the place. Don't worry - they'll still get to range, but their "range" will be somewhat determined by us. The problem is that a chicken will go wherever it wants to, regardless of how you may feel about it. Given the freedom, they'll be in your garden, on your deck, roosting on top of your barbecue grill, under (or on top of ) your car, and so on. As much as we enjoy them, we have our limits. SO, the ladies and gentleman will be enjoying some deluxe but rather more confined accommodations in a soon-to-be fenced area adjoining the small barn. The chicken tractor will remain in use for now as well - it can be their enclosed quarters, or could be re-purposed to house new birds until they're ready to mix with the flock. We also don't quite have enough nest boxes for our twelve girls. The tractor has just two built in, so today I set up a third one inside a chiminea with a broken top that's been sitting around waiting for some good use. Here it is - no visitors yet:

Yes, there's a bucket over the top to keep the rain out of it!

I also started growing a few batches of sprouts (bean and sunflower). I did that a lot before the move, and was finally able to unearth the sprouter. Hubby had a stroke of genius, though, and thought of a way to provide me with a much BIGGER sprouter, to make many more sprouts. Off he went to root through boxes, and he came back bearing a paper safe (the type used in photography to store photo paper). It's a good sized enclosed box with built in shelves and a roll-up door on the front. He intends to fit the shelves with some screens and I'll probably need to fix the door open and hang something like cheesecloth or a tea towel over it to maintain some air circulation, but it looks like it will work. I'll let you know after I've tried a batch. For now, though, here are the beginnings of my latest batch:

Lovely, aren't they? Just a box full of sprouty goodness!

Also on the horizon - a worm farm! We need to get out and rearrange the stuff in the barn, after which we plan to set up some worm beds. I'd like to get to that fairly soon, but the weather makes outdoor projects difficult, and we'll be busy this coming weekend helping our friends dispatch some more chickens (can't say I'm looking forward to that, but hey, what are friends for?). As soon as we can work it in, I'll post an update.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Woohoo, Commerce!

We sold our first dozen eggs!

And then we sold two dozen more!

I think I like this game.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Spent All Afternoon on...This?

My "big" project over the weekend was to mark off and start prepping Garden Bed Numero Uno. There will be many, eventually, but for now I marked off just two beds, and prepped one. The plan is to have two "banks" of 4' x 20' beds with wide pathways in between, and another wide pathway between the two banks. I basically prepped an 80 square foot area for planting, and it looked incredibly, impossibly tiny. That's actually about the same size as our entire garden was at the old house - that was all we really had to work with. Now, looking at it in the context of a much larger property, it looks so small. I can see how easy it is for people to over-plant and get into something they can't hope to maintain! Just that little area was quite a whipping, though. The dirt on this land hasn't been worked in many years (if ever), and it was just like trying to break bricks with shovel. I was actually breaking it loose with a pick ax at one point. But it's been turned, amended with some rabbit poo, covered with cardboard, chicken litter and straw, wet down and left to, uh, rot - or whatever it's supposed to do - until spring. Maybe I'll prep the second bed this weekend. Or maybe I'll look out there at the hard dirt and say "Oh, HELL no.". ;-)

And speaking of oh-HELL-no's, my rooster has started challenging me. Just Saturday, out of nowhere, he's taken to flying at me. I think we may have cleared that up for now, though, after a few swift kicks to the chest. I also find it helpful to stomp my feet and generally "loom largely" at him right from the start, before he gets any ideas. He seems to reconsider his position and head the other direction when I do that.

All's well, though. I'm in my living room working, listening to jazz, it's POURING outside (!!!) and I've got happy, nappy dogs.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Seem to Be Getting Ahead of Myself

By many, many miles. I've lost perspective. We got into this house after a long period of waiting, and I was so excited, so relieved to finally be here. In my mind I've envisioned the place the way I want it to be. I've been making lists. Every weekend I stack the deck with tasks for myself, trying to get it ever closer to "perfect".

And then, nothing happens. Well, not nothing, but all the wrong things. Things still need to be moved from the old house. I get a bunch of boxes cleared, and more show up. Things break. It's over 100 degrees every day for weeks, so no work gets done between 11:00 am and 7:00 pm. I still have to do my job. Money is tight from the move. My husband suffers an injury. All the wrong things. My list keeps growing and never shrinking, and every time I look around, all I can see are things not done. All the things I want to do here I want to do NOW.

Yesterday a friend was kind enough to supply me with a boot to the head. She confessed that she's been in her place for two years and is only now starting on many of her "to do" projects. They are still hauling off loads of junk that they inherited with the place. Some reflection on that made me realize something - I need to sit on my hands and let things happen. It's one thing to have drive and a sense of urgency, but there are just some things you can't force. I can't change the weather. I can't make compost happen any faster than it wants to. Water will flow where it will. Even more important than that, I realized that it's probably not a good idea to finish all my projects right away, even if I could. It takes the long, slow wearing of time to transform a house into a home, and a patch of land into an oasis. They need to be broken in, develop some history with you, get to know you. If I finished everything on my list tomorrow, what on earth would I do then?

Monday, August 4, 2008

You Take the Good With the Bad...

They like me! They really, really like me! Well, someone does, anyway. Rob, over at Rob's World was kind enough to present me with this fine award (my first!) and I'm most grateful.

Now, in turn, I will pass on the love! I hereby present the Brillante Weblog Award to....

1. Brenda over at Skunky Acre Farms for showing me the way, and for always meeting adversity with good humor.

2. Lewru at Wisdom of the Trowel, for always seeking out the answers and for frequent invocation of the Triple Word Score.

3. Risa at Stony Run Farm for the sheer beauty of it. Wow.

And in accordance with the, er, rules, I'll provide a few fun facts about myself:

1. In elementary school, I wrote a story about feeding radishes to a volcano in order to make it erupt. Sounded reasonable to me.

2. All of my chickens are named Phyllis.

3. Apparently I know more Christmas trivia than anyone ever should.

Thank you everyone. Thank you, thank you. {takes a bow}

What, you ask, is the bad? Replacing the water heater at 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday, because you happened to be behind the house on the east end, and heard water gushing from somewhere on the west end. Sigh.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Meet Mama Bird!

Apparently I didn't scare her away.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Little Aliens

We have a back door that we can't use. It opens from the back wall of the living room to the backyard. I'd love to be able to use it, but alas, there's a tree that has grown up immediately outside the door, effectively blocking passage. I thought it was just weeds that had grown out of control, so I went out with some pruning shears earlier only to discover that no, it's actually a small tree, and my shears aren't going to cut it (haha). I'm not sure at this point that anything is going to cut it, because when I got closer to it, I found a nest:

Of course, I had to look inside. I couldn't resist, and besides, I had to know if it was inhabited, lest I unwittingly become a home wrecker. Inside the nest were these little guys - little alien life forms. Hungry ones. Hungry for...blood? Brains? Maybe they'll grow up to serve mankind.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

They're Here

Coyotes, that is. We heard them last night. Lots of them, barking and howling up a storm. Very close, it sounded like - just down the hill, in the trees past the pond I think.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Umm, Okay, Really...WHY?

Just in the past couple of days, I've heard from several people who say they feel judged by others for wanting to live in a simpler, more sustainable way. This happens to me too. I can come up with quite a list of things about myself that have caused people to call me "weird", "quirky", "different", etc.. Some of these things include (but are by no means limited to):

I don't eat fast food. C'mon, ewww! I mean, if you want to eat it, fine, but don't judge me for wanting to eat actual food instead. Even if you put aside all the health and environmental reasons for not eating it - it just isn't good. I've actually had people wrinkle their noses at me and tell me I'm weird because I "eat healthy". What???

I like to hang dry my laundry. No, my dryer isn't broken (well, actually it is now, but that's unrelated). No, we're not so poor we can't afford the electricity. I like hanging my laundry. I get to spend a few quiet minutes out in the fresh air and sunshine, my laundry smells fresh when it's done, I'm not heating up my house with the dryer, and I'm not using the energy. Someone please tell me why this is weird or wrong. Please. Now, some may say it's unsightly, but I do always take care to hang our unmentionables out of public view, and really, what's the difference between hanging your clothes on a line and hanging them on yourself everyday? Why do our clothes suddenly become taboo when we're not wearing them?

I try my best not to be wasteful. This means that I buy things used, I re-use whatever I can, I avoid disposables and single-use items, and I don't feel compelled to replace items that are still perfectly serviceable, even if they're no longer the latest or greatest. I don't need to buy the book that I'll only read once when I can check it out from the library. I'm quite content with good quality items acquired second-hand. I am NOT poor. I am NOT cheap. I just don't see the need to buy, buy, buy...when there's probably already something at hand that will meet the need. Why waste things? What good does that really do anyone? I really don't care if I'm not keeping up with everyone else. I could care less about status. I love our super-ugly, old truck that we bought used. It runs great, hauls our stuff, and hasn't let us down yet.

These things are just the tip of the iceberg. We get ribbed for recycling, not using styrofoam, growing vegetable gardens, keeping livestock, making our own clothes, foraging for wild plants, eating less meat and more grains and beans, and on and on. A particularly sensitive issue is how folks raise their children. I don't have kids, so I don't have any personal experience with this, but I know people who are repeatedly told that their kids are being deprived, or won't have any social skills, or won't have any friends because they're being raised to live simply and not extravagantly. This, to me, is utter hogwash.

There seems to be a prevalent perception that all the things we do are things that poor people do (and therefore unacceptable). Well, guess what? We are not poor. Many of us have more money and less debt than the average family. We do these things because this is what feels right for us. The really awful part is that the worst criticism very often comes from those closest to us - our families, our spouses, our oldest friends. Can it be that they can't get used to the ways in which we've changed? Is it possible that they feel a small bit of fear and self-loathing because we've had the courage to forge our own path and they haven't? How about guilt? Perhaps they're not proud of their wasteful ways but can't find the fortitude to change. I really don't know the answer.

We are your mothers, brothers, wives, uncles, coworkers, daughters and best friends. We're living the way we want to live. We're not driven to it by insolvency. We enjoy this life. By and large we don't tell you how to live and we'd like to be extended the same courtesy. There is ZERO reason that laundry hanging on a line to dry should cause a rift between family members. When you call us "weird" or "different", it hurts.

So, seriously, someone on the other side of this - please get really brave and tell me why all these behaviors are wrong. I'm dying to know.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bread Update

Ladies and gentlemen, I can now say with certainty that the no-knead bread is wonderful! It really does deserve all the rave reviews it gets. I've always been unhappy that I could never duplicate the steam-induced crusty-crust of an artisan loaf at home, and this pretty well solves that problem since you bake it in a covered dish. The result is a crusty outside, chewy inside, moist and flavorful bread that takes nearly no effort. Having said that, it does still carry with it the usual inconveniences of breadmaking - it takes a long time, makes a mess, etc. If these things don't bother you, you're good to go. If all that still puts you off, do still give it a try at least once. Try it sometime when you're home all day without any time-sensitive commitments. It won't require but a few minutes of active effort here and there, but you will need to be around to tend to it once in awhile. So, enough blathering on about it - here's the result:

The sunflowers came from the yard where they seem to be growing wild just anywhere they chose. Here's the inside of the bread. As you can see, it has nice, big holes:

Here is the recipe if you want to give it a try. It calls for instant yeast, which I don't keep around. If you'd like to make it with the more common active dry yeast instead, proof 1/2 teaspoon of yeast in 2 tablespoons of warm water . Add that to the dough and cut the water in the recipe to 1 1/2 cups. I also used 2 cups of bread flour and 1 cup of whole wheat flour here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Day of Firsts

Today has been an interesting day. It was my first day ever to work from home, and while it has certainly been wonderful, there are some aspects of it that I didn't anticipate. First, it's very, VERY quiet. I normally prefer that, and I always get more done in a quiet office, but there's something different about the quiet of the house. I literally don't see or hear another human being all day. By the day's end, it seems a bit unnerving. I think I'll need to start playing some music.

Also, I'm a bit light on work right now, and I'm finding that I can get work done much more quickly at home. Therefore I now have two more days before I go back to the office, but not much work to do. I must admit this has made me feel quite uneasy all day, like I'm going to get in trouble. Deep down I know that no one is really keeping track, and I also know that my boss is primarily interested in whether I get my work done, and not really in how much time I spend at it, but it still feels like slacking off. So here's the thing - I know I do good work, I know I'm reliable, and I have the sort of job where those qualities are more important than punching the clock. So I need to let go of the guilt and just roll with it, but it's weird and hard.

Enough work angst - on to the more interesting home front! Our hens have started laying. Not much, just one here and there, so we have our very first little batch of eggs. They're quite small - about half the size of a normal egg. They should get larger and much more abundant in the coming weeks. I'm a bit worried, actually. For two people who don't really eat that many eggs, a dozen laying hens, when you start to do the math, really sounds like A LOT of eggs. I intend to use and preserve a reasonable number of them for us, and hopefully find folks to buy our excess eggs, which would offset the cost of feed, making this little enterprise break even or maybe even make a small profit. Here are the first ones. Don't they look...eggy?

I decided since I'll be home during the day a lot more, I have time again to make bread by hand. After all, it typically only requires short spans of activity with long periods of no attention required in between. It seems like lately I can't log on or pick up a magazine without reading of the virtues of no-knead bread. It's gotten so many rave reviews that I decided to give it a shot. It takes quite awhile, and won't be done until sometime tomorrow, but I'm dying to know how it will turn out. I went with just a basic rustic wheat loaf, and started out with a smallish blob of dough in a large mixing bowl. Here's what it looks like after just a couple of hours:

Since I took this picture, the dough has risen nearly to the rim of the bowl. It's only been in the bowl for three hours, and is supposed to sit for 12 to 18 hours. Hmmm...

I also made an exciting discovery this morning while watering the plants. It seems that a previously unnoticed tomato plant has been squatting in the same pot with my bee balm. I have no idea how it got there or how long it's been there. I assume I never noticed it because it was dwarfed by the bee balm, but no longer! You can see it here on the left side of the bucket - it's quite tall.

I'll do my best to post a follow-up on the bread sometime tomorrow, like, uh, when it's done. So stay tuned for that!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Chickens Have Landed

And boy are they funny! We now have a dozen Barred Plymouth Rocks, including a rooster (we'll call him "Stu").

We've decided that watching chickens is somewhat mesmerizing - sort of like watching a campfire, only more comical. Before we knew it, we had pulled up a couple of chairs and a couple of beers and were just sitting, staring at the chickens.

The rabbits have been successfully transitioned to their new home, and are a bit more comfortable in the shady, breezy barn than they were at the other house. Poor things are still hot though. I wouldn't want to wear rabbit fur in Texas in July either.

We took our male dog outside this morning to meet the chickens. He was curious, and tried to sniff them, but was very good and didn't make a fuss over them at all. They were surprisingly interested in him, though, and kept following him around, which I think made him nervous! We also took him down and showed him the pond. He was really interested in that, and tiptoed all along the edge of the water, but stopped short of getting in. As an overly protective mama, that was fine by me. ;-)

I wish I had more to report, really. It seems that while moving, unpacking, cleaning and putting things away, most everyday life activities are suspended. I think we're out of the woods now, though, and can start living more or less normally soon. I'm dying to dig up some garden beds, but I just can't get to that for awhile - too many other things have to come before that. Oh well, maybe by the time we're ready to dig the beds, it will be cooler outside!

I'll close this for now with a few pictures. Here you can see our front gate, and the evil cows that graze across the road. My dogs tell me that the cows' day is coming...

Check out the moon!

Peace -

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Today's Must-Read

I'd like to direct your attention today to Sharon Astyk's blog. I beg you to give this a read, consider it carefully and take it to heart. This is not a drill, I am not some sort of fringe nutjob, and recycling and changing your lightbulbs, although admirable, is not enough.

People, it's time to get your houses in order.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Settling in and Laundry Line Disaster!

First, let me start by saying that we're absolutely thrilled to be in our new house. Seriously, we love it and couldn't be happier. We are, however, experiencing some "first week after moving" woes that we had forgotten about because we haven't moved in so long. Just normal things like trying to cook dinner without knowing where the dishes are, trying to go back to work when you can't find the boxes that house your work clothes, trying to simply exist and maneuver in a box farm, that sort of thing. These problems are compounded by the fact that we're so far out of town, because we really need to budget our time, and haven't yet worked out how. So we came home last night after our first day back to work and before we even knew what hit us, it was bed time. Our first day looked something like this:
  • up at 6:00, out by 7:00
  • drive forever, arrive at work in the neighborhood of 8:30
  • work until 5:30
  • drive forever, through driving rain and wind, worrying about the laundry on the line
  • arrive home in the neighborhood of 7:15
  • get soaked opening and closing the gate
  • get even more soaked picking up laundry that's scattered all over the yard
  • get yet more soaked moving my rain-pummeled seedlings under cover
  • change into dry clothes, feed and generally pay attention to bouncing-off-the-walls dogs
  • tear every still-packed box in the kitchen apart looking for things with which to make dinner
  • make and (finally) eat dinner
  • wash dishes
  • run the two loads of soaking wet clothes through another spin cycle, and hang inside to eventually dry
  • take showers
  • Oops - it's 11:00 now.

It just felt like a marathon. I'll be really happy when we settle in to a routine.

We've also had some pretty serious laundry misfortunes. With all the moving and working on the property, we've dirtied many, many clothes. I have a gargantuan pile of laundry staring at me. Hubby was kind enough to hang my two clotheslines on Monday, and I proceeded to wash. It felt great to be out in the yard hanging clothes on the line. It felt like home. Naturally, as soon as I had gotten the first load hung and the second washed, a storm rolled in. Hubby arrived home and helped me pull the clothes off the line, and we waited. After a short while, it appeared to have blown over, so we hung them out again - both loads this time. At this point I got really cocky and put in a third load. And the rain came again. It was getting late in the day by this time, and the wind had died down, so we decided to just leave them on the line overnight and they'd dry the next day (yesterday) when no rain was predicted. "No rain" then turned into zero-visibility, pouring rain and high winds. Thus, our laundry wound up all over the yard.

Our dryer is broken, by the way, in case you were going to ask.

Every day things will get a little bit smoother. And we're still on to take delivery of the chickens this weekend, so we're really excited about that. I really will post some pictures soon, but there's not much to look at yet except piles of boxes, so I'm trying to clear some of that out first.

Lastly, it seems that our dogs have discovered the cows that graze across the road. They've taken to standing up on the couch looking out the window at them. them. They stare and bark and growl and twitch and bark and run in circles. Those cows are blissfully unaware that there's a fat little ham hock of a dog just waiting to rip their faces off if they get any closer. It's really, REALLY funny.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Moving Day! Errr...Night!

Since it's topping out around 102 degrees this weekend, we've decided to bump up tomorrow's move to tonight. We'll be doing an evening load-up, driving down tonight and unloading bright and early in the morning while it's still vaguely tolerable. Keep in mind, though, this won't make it much more comfortable. It was still 95 degrees at 9:00 o'clock last night, so really this will only serve to keep us all from expiring! Isn't this always how it goes?

You say "I'm moving!".

The "powers that be" say "Fine! Move in THIS!"

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Chickens Are Coming! The Chickens Are Coming!

On Saturday the 19th, we take delivery of a chicken tractor, about a dozen laying hens, a rooster, and all their associated gear. We're so excited! More details and pictures (of course) when they arrive...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Straddling Two Worlds

This is what I looked at while drinking my coffee on Sunday morning. Lovely, isn't it? This is the view from my kitchen door. This is what I get to look at every morning, starting next week. (The ducks are decoys, by the way - we're trying to lure in some real ones. We've seen them in the area, and we'd like them to stay.) If I walk past the pond to the right, there are some happy sunflowers to greet me. Mornings in the country belong to the birds, just as evenings belong to the cows. The frogs, of course, work the night shift. These prominent headliners are supported by an endless cast of bit players and extras - dragonflies, spiders, mice, rabbits, coyotes, snakes...and countless others we'll never see. I can spend my whole day hearing nothing at all except the windmill and the sounds of animals. I could go for days or weeks without seeing another person. I can see stars at night.

This is how I've been spending my weekends. So it has already become quite a shock to my system to spend my week in the smoggy, noisy, hot, traffic-congested city. We're already finding that the minute we hit "town", we want to turn around and go back. It amazes me how quickly we've settled into country life, and how other-worldly it already feels to pull into the parking garage of my office building. I walk through the marbled lobby of my building feeling as though I'm living a double life. Feeling as though I have a secret. The house that I've shared with my husband for seven years no longer feels like home to either of us. I'm anxious to get the rest of our things into the house this weekend, so we don't have to live the "two home" life anymore. We've given ourselves over fully to the new one.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I'll be going offline for Independence Day. We'll be spending the weekend at the farm smoking some grass fed cow, drinking copious amounts of beer and blowing up as many fireworks as I can spare the expense for. I thought I'd sign off for the weekend by paying respect to some freedoms that I'm thankful to have.

  • The freedom to have my own money, property and legal identity, and the freedom to more or less do what I want with same.
  • The freedom to participate in the political process. I'm that guy that LIKES being called for jury duty.
  • The freedom to set off fireworks in my backyard. WOOT!
  • The freedom to stand up and speak my mind to anyone, anytime.
  • The freedom to choose whether or not to work, get married, have children or practice faith. One size does not fit all.
  • The freedom to love my country without propaganda. An American flag static cling on my car does not make me patriotic. The lack of one does not make me a hater.
  • The freedom to choose my friends, regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, color, gender, sexual preference or religious affiliation. All the people you see around you every day? They're pretty much just like you.
That's really only a drop in the bucket, but you get the idea. What makes you feel free?

Peace, love & freedom fries everyone. Have a fabulous 4th! We will resurface next week...


Sunday, June 29, 2008

The First Supper

Here it is - our first home cooked meal at the farm. A roasted veggie pizza with mushroom pesto and crumbled feta. I have to say it was divine. Now allow me to explain why it was so divine.

I took Friday off work to go sit at the farm house and wait for someone to come hook up our internet service. After a few stops at the post office, grocery store and such, I arrived at the house around 11:00 am to find that the electricity was off. After further inspection (of the refrigerator) it became clear that the power had been off for at least a couple of days. It was about 95 degrees. To make matters oh so very much worse, the large, wheeled trash cart I ordered had not been delivered, which left me with no means to dispose of the HORRIFIC contents of the fridge (the previous owner was kind enough to leave meat in the freezer - seriously).

So, here I am. It's a million degrees, inside and out, I have no power, I have a rapidly rotting fridge, I have no trash bin, I have to trapse into the scary, poisonous-snakey area next to the barn to turn the water on...which is leaking. A lot. So I did what anyone would do. I did the only thing I could think of to make myself feel better. I went inside the sweltering house, opened up all the doors and windows so the wasps could join me, and I...TEXTURED. THE. CEILING. It was awesome. I was hot, I was starving, I couldn't leave because the internet man was supposed to be coming, I was texturing the ceiling, and he never showed. Total no-show.

That day was the suckiest bunch of suck that ever sucked.

Ah, but then things started to shift. Around 2:00 the surly man from the power company came to turn it back on. About an hour later the really nice man from the trash service came with our bin (both after some angry phone calls). I got all the texturing done on the ceiling. Darling hubby arrived and fixed the water and we had this wonderful pizza for dinner. It was the best thing I'd ever eaten. Of course, all I'd eaten all day was a piece of leftover pepperoni pizza and a few bites of potato salad, so what did I know from a good meal? We settled in on the air mattress and watched a movie on my laptop (which I'd taken along in anticipation of having internet) and all was right with the world.

Until the next morning when we had to put up a fence, paint the ceiling, fix the water line for real and fix the mower (again).

I keep thinking about when I might have a day to just rest and relax, and I keep coming up with...never. It's okay, though. We're killing ourselves now, but it's going to be SO worth it.