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.