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...