Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More Eggs!

On Christmas Eve I walked out to the coop and was amazed to find two eggs instead of just one. Ann Bancroft, our Dark Brahma, had finally decided to start laying!! You can imagine our shock then to go out on 12-29 and find a blue egg, meaning one of Americaunas (we don't know whether it was Easter or Bunny yet) had also decided to start laying!! YIPPEE!!
Shannon was very impressed by the arrival of the first blue egg. He will be 5 in January, and he is suprisingly very gentle and careful when handling the eggs. Both boys do quite well with them. They were each so enchanted with the egg (Tristan was still napping when the photos were took, hence his absence), that I had to let them put it into the egg carton together! Quite a feat that it wasn't broken considering they're 2 1/2 and almost 5! Everyday since the 29th Shannon has been insistent on going out and looking for the eggs himself.
It is really funny, but it seems that once the birds begin laying the become much friendlier. We've never had a mean bird (and we never will, at least not for long!), but they aren't pets really either. However, the ones that are laying get much more curious and interested in us. They all will come out and follow us around as much as the can in the tractor, but if you open a nest box, or the door to the coop, it is a different story. LadyBird in particular, as our bird that has been laying the longest, will immediately come into the coop and near you. When you reach out to pet her, she sort of drops to the floor, but allows you to pet her none-the-less. If you open the nest box they will often hop up onto the roost in front of it and stick their heads into the nest box and allow you to pet them. Ann Bancroft has started showing more interest in being petted as have the Americaunas, hence my theory. The Pattis (our two Partridge Cochins, both named Patti) will come look at you but will walk off if you try to pet them. When Shannon opened the nest box on the tractor the other day, LadyBird immediately hopped in there. I was quite worried about her hopping on out and getting loose in the yard (dogs were both out with us and I was holding Tristan, it wouldn't have been good), but instead I saw his little hand reach down and begin petting her gently, and her allowing it. He then shut the nest box up properly, which is impressive since it has a latch that must be locked.
Our Buff Orpingtons began laying on Sept. 6th this year. That was the day of our first egg. At the time we had two Buff Orpingtons and though they weren't officially named, they were both "LadyBird" to me. A week or so after the first egg there was an attack that killed one of our Buff Orpingtons and left one Dark Brahma having to be put down. Since then we've added the two Americaunas who are both 2 months younger in age than the other biddies. It wasn't too bad a transition phase, though Bunny seems to be the lowest on the totem pole now. After that we had another attack which left LadyBird and Ann Bancroft, and possibly Bunny, injured. Luckily everyone has healed well, and we've fortified the tractor against (fingers' crossed!!) future attacks. However, it was 3 weeks after the last attack that LadyBird took as hiatus on her egg-laying. I state all this because, as part of our urban homesteading, we've been daily noting how many eggs we get on the calendar. Today I added it up ~ we've gotten a total of 72 eggs this year.
I'm sure to those who've had chickens for years this number is nothing and piddly. I hope to view it as quite a meager number myself next year. But, considering all we've been through with and for these birds, right now it is a number that we are quite proud of. We've had to deal with attacks not only from wild animals (raccoons, possums), but also attacks from a neighbor who has just flat out decided to hate us now. We've had the City called on us, had the news crews out here, and have been in the paper. We have an online petition. We've told our story over and over. We've also had to work hard to educate those close to us who don't understand about urban homesteading, much less keeping chickens.
So, at the end of the year, we've got 72 eggs, at least 3 out of 6 chickens laying, our kids learning how to help care for the chickens and contribute to our lifestyle ("Everyone Helps" is our motto), and our friends and family going from being aghast to being somewhat impressed and proud. We think this is enough. Definitely a plus, and enough for us to know we are living a truly privileged life!!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Green & Grateful

Not really certain where to begin on this one. We had a truly wonderful Christmas, meager but full of the things that truly matter. One fun thing was trying to find ways to make Christmas a little greener. We made sure our Christmas tree was grown on a local farm. When the kids went to see Santa it was at, as usual, our local library during Ye Olde Salem Christmas. Instead of using gift bags this year we bought cloth sacks from & filled them with goodies. Gifts for pretty much everyone were homemade this year: sourdough bread (with a touch of organic 7 grain cereal & agave nectar), chocolate fudge (organic cocoa!), hot fudge sauce (more organic cocoa), herbal soap (made with herbs from our garden), and vanilla infused sugar (using both organic sugar & vanilla beans). Although I spent most of the 23rd and all of the 24th baking loaf after loaf of bread until I didn't know whether I was coming or going, it was worth it. We also used LED lights on our tree again this year, as well as the star atop it. We have some LED icicle lights for the front of our house, but not enough to cover the entire front. Since we were short on $$ we didn't buy extra lights, and just lit a strand of lights around the door and some candles in the window. We've been blessed with hand-me-down rolls of wrapping paper (some, quite literally, easily 40 years old), so we wrapped gifts with that. After all the festivities were done I spent quite a while neatly folding up tissue paper and gift bags we got for future use. We now have a gift bag FULL of tissue paper, just from this Christmas Day alone! WOW!!! Since we are now running low on gift wrap one goal for next year will be to find wrapping paper made from post-consumer materials.Even though it was a small Christmas this year, it truly was wonderful. The gifts we got and gave each other meant more. Seeing the boys learn what we believe and why we celebrate Christmas, telling them the history of it all, and seeing them believe in the magic of it all was ... well, words can't accurately describe.We did have a surprise while out today. We had hoped to find something to help with a storage issue at a local consignment shop. We weren't so lucky ~ the one item we had our eye on was already sold. We left feeling a little blue, but going over the things that are truly important to us. We decided to stop by a local hoity-toity home furnishing store to put things in perspective. It did. Things were ridiculously over-priced, and it made us feel reassured in our decisions. But, as we were walking around we spotted some bunk beds, something we want to get the boys in the future. I was checking out one set, getting ready to snort at the price tag. I turned it over, and snort I did. It was regularly priced at $750 but was marked down to $168!! We called the clerk to verify the price, he said there was no way it could be possible and called someone else. They looked it all over and still couldn't believe it to be true and called the head honcho on duty. She looked it over and said "yup, it's a blow-out!" We decided to take advantage of the opportunity and buy it. When we were checking out I actually almost asked who to make the check out to and I had to double check the date. I was completely in a daze. We had been on our way to a beer tasting when we stopped in the store to kill some time, and as we drove there I was still in a daze. All through the tasting I felt weak, as if I might just topple over. This feeling didn't go away for nearly an hour!! I rarely buy new things, not like that anyway. Sometimes you have to be grateful for the things that you can find when you're just trying to kill time and re-adjust your perspective on life. True, it isn't made of sustainably harvested wood or by local craftsmen, but it is something I will feel proud to have my children sleep on none-the-less.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

When Real Simple gets it right

There is a magazine out there called Real Simple. It used to be one of my favorites, but over the years it has lost it's luster. It seems aimed at people with a LOT more free money on their hands than I'd expect. How to organize closets -- well, gee, if I could afford to buy $500 in supplies (baskets, extra space-saving shelving, and so on) I don't think organizing my closets would be such a mystery! Or the issue where people wrote in on their money saving measures, with one woman being proud to having cut her personal "mad-money" to, like, $70 a WEEK!!! (Ok, I may be off on that, but I'm damn close!) Somehow it just doesn't seem to accurately live up to it's title.
But sometimes they DO get it right. Here are some of their "Five Minute Holiday Decorating Ideas" that I thought were good & on the mark (just for the record though, the one for the $92 painted magnolia wreath only got a good "Yea Right!!" snort from me -- so they won't be in correct numeralogical order, I'm leaving the "yea rights" out!):

1. Posts of Christmas Past: For a mantel with extra flair, collect family holiday cards from previous years and clothespin them to a long, slim stick suspended between two vases. Put them in chronological order and, if you want, date the pins. -- Last year I did something similar. I hung up a simple red ribbon as a garland across our living room curtains. When Christmas cards arrived in the mail, I punched a tiny hole in them & tied them to the garland - ended up being very beautiful. This year, I've begun saving photo cards to work on putting together a similar garland in the future, showing how all of the kids (and us!) have grown! :)

2. Candy Stand: Take advantage of a household cane surplus by securing five or so with colored string or jute, then stick your favorite decorative touch on top. Instant holiday spirit. -- We always seem to have candy canes leftover from the previous year, so this is a neat way to re-use! Also, don't forget what wonderful stir-sticks candy canes make in coffee and hot cocoa!

4. Lend a Hand: Pin mittens—either stray ones or pairs your kids have outgrown—to lengths of yarn and display them along a mantel or a bookshelf. You can also hang kids’ striped wool socks or knit caps. -- Personally we have out-grown winter items I can't bear to part with, so this seems like a nice way to keep them around!

10. Star Power: Even a homemade ornament can pack a decorative punch. Gather a few small sticks from the backyard and trim the ends with sharp scissors. Arrange them into a star shape and tie together with jute or twine. -- This could be a fun thing to do with the kids. You can also tie on some holly or a cinnamon stick for more decoration.

11. Sweet Sensations: Fill pretty glassware with sugar and mini marshmallows, then stuff old-fashioned stick candies inside. A holiday display that looks good enough to eat -- Honestly, I wasn't going to add this one. Anyone with kids knows how long this would last and cringes at the thought of the sugar-high. HOWEVER, for a holiday party this could be quite a cute way to set out some sweets (.... even if I do still think it is still likely a big waste of sugar & marshmallows).

14. Step It Up: Show off some of your most eye-catching ornaments (that might otherwise get lost in your tree). Thread them with different lengths of thin ribbon or string, then tie them to a long, wide grosgrain ribbon wound along the banister. -- We do this with various ornaments and hang them off the chandelier in the dining room, a tip I think I found on Real Simple a year or so ago.

15 & 16. Feast for the Eyes: Gather a bunch of doilies in white and silver and tape them together (or secure with a dab of glue) to form a one-of-a-kind table runner. For an inexpensive wintry centerpiece, fill glass vases and large compotes of different heights with pinecones. Spray-paint them gold and silver for extra sparkle, or leave them as nature intended. -- For a more eco touch, instead of paper doilies use vintage ones you already have, or even just a simple cloth runner you already have. And, if you chose not to paint the pinecones you can compost them when you're done!

27 & 28. Setting Pretty: Turn old holiday cards into place cards. Cut them into star shapes and add tissue-paper cutouts to match; punch a hole, tie with a ribbon, and label accordingly. -- They had something else about lace-like plastic placemats ... a BIG eco-no-no!!! If you MUST buy new placemats, go hit up a local antique mall, and find real lace-doilie style stuff there. You're re-using, recycling, keeping stuff out of landfills, and helping support your local economy. If it is a little stained, it is ok to dye it to match your holiday decor.

31. Skirting the Issue: If each member of your family has, oh, four or five scarves, put some of them to work as a tree skirt. Arrange in a pinwheel fashion around the base of the tree and secure with safety pins -- Ok, if all of you have so many scarves you may need to rethink some priorities here! :P Still, this is a good way to re-use something that can then be re-used again. A caveat though: probably not a good idea if you have curious little pets ... fringe is such a tempting little mistress! :)

32. Stick ’Em Up: Finally, a use for those colorful store-bought bows you’ve saved every year—and a project the kids can do. Take a plain paper plate, cut out the center, and stick bows all over it to create a sweet wreath. -- A wonderful idea and holiday project to share with the kids!

33, 34 & 35. Window Dressing: There’s more to holiday decorating than just the tree and the mantel—consider window ledges and empty bookshelves, too. Place pine boughs in a large vase and hang a handful of ornaments on them. Fill old jars with pistachio nuts, winterberries, or red peppercorns and nestle a tealight on top. Or go for a seashore motif, assembling an array of starfish draped with a length of plain red string. -- With the aside that I think you're ridiculous if you BUY shells for this as they suggest, this is a wonderful idea! We've used the cuttings from the bottom of the tree as decorations before, and our house has small bits of decades-old garland (passed down from grandparents) tucked here and there.

Here is the full link for anyone who might want to see all their suggestions:,21863,1860980,00.html - Obvioulsy I left out several. Some were ridiculously over-priced "solutions", some I thought were dumb, and some while seeming good were impractical for those of us who have kids and pets (stringing together clemetines -- those wouldn't last a night with my dogs and kids!). But you make up your own mind. Like I said, sometimes they hit the nail on the head ... though too many times they miss the nail & just knock an expensive hole in the wall ... or wallet as the case more accurately is.
They did have one other decorating tip regarding candles: 6. A Pine Idea: Perfectly at home in a modern apartment or an Adirondack-style log cabin, these unscented beeswax pinecone candles lend a touch of the forest to any decor. To Buy: Candles (three inches high), $8 each, -- Personally, I need more candles, because I do LOVE burning them, but I wanted to buy something a little more eco-friendly. Here is my new favorite site and where I would recommend buying pinecone candles from. They're a small, family-run company in North Carolina, and their prices are better (for the 3" pinecone candles anyway) than -- Check it out, they have holiday ones along with fall-themed ones, and of course the standard taper, votive, & tealight ones which I am currently longing for!!

No matter how you decorate (LED lights this year?? We're working our way to switching completely over!) and what you celebrate, think beyond spending and current "must-have's". Think about sustainability, what you can use again (and in different ways!) over the years, what can be safely composted, what supports your local economy or small, family-run businesses. We all talk about when the holidays "meant more" than just shopping and bills. Make it mean more by truly putting more thought into it. Even if this post is a little late for this year, it isn't too early to start thinking about next year! A little fore-thought is one of the keystones of sustainability.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


While we aren't Christian we do celebrate Christmas. At this time of year, regardless of your religion or what you celebrate, trying to de-commercialize is especially difficult but even more important. If you have children in your life (be it your own or family members) it is even more of a challenge and all that much more important.
We started out as many parents do with their first child: swearing that we wouldn't allow them to watch any tv. And, just like the majority of those well-intentioned parents, we let them watch tv. We do however limit them to certain channels and won't allow them to watch tv all day. Mainly they are allowed to watch a little bit of PBS in the morning, but they usually end up focusing on playing with toys (right now they're building with blocks). They also get to watch a channel called Noggin, which is mostly educational stuff ("It's like preschool on tv" as Shannon quotes to us! - It's the channel's tag line.) - they only get to watch that on very special occasions here ... like when Mommy is trying to cook dinner and REALLY needs them out of her hair. ;)
More and more though I find myself muting the channel if the shows get too "commercialized" - Sesame Street did a take-off of 'High School Musical' the other day called 'Preschool Musical' that I muted. If Noggin is on, commercials are muted. So, it was a moment full of an enormous amount of pride when my mother told me how Shannon told her that they didn't need to watch any other channels because there were too many commercials for him!! Talk about one VERY PROUD Mama!!! They both also will turn off the tv here saying they've had enough for the day, a wonderful surprise.
With Christmas now quickly on it's way this issue is a daily one. Last night and again this morning we talked about how the elves make toys at Santa's workshop in the North Pole. The toys they get from Santa & the elves we try to ensure look like they could've been truly handmade, if they weren't in reality. Last year we bought several handmade wooden toys from a local man who makes them. We stamped them with a stamp we had made that says "Made for you by the Elves is Santa's Workshop."
Our home has hardwood floors in every room, except for the bathrooms and kitchen. We keep our house at cooler temperatures in the winter as well. The two combined make for pretty chilly floors and the need for "house slippers" a necessity. So, last year the boys got "Sock Monkey Slippers" in their stockings, knit for them by Mrs. Claus. (You can find your's at Of course those slippers have been out-grown, so this year they'll be getting some new indoor slippers made by Mrs. Claus and the elves. (
It's a continual challenge, keeping out the commercialism. I know it will get harder and more challenging as the boys get older. But, so far, I think we're doing a fairly decent job of it. Whether the successes show themselves in Shannon's rejection of tv & commercials, or in their delight in singing Christmas Carols and wanting to get out instruments so they can play music along with it, they are those moments that you know you've done a good job.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Why I'm Grateful

Thanksgiving was wonderful here. We were blessed with a large bird, fresh from a local farm. We were blessed to have both family and a new friend over for dinner, which went very well with a wonderful selection of mouth-watering dishes. Shannon greeted people with "Come in, would you like to see our dead turkey?" He then kept telling people how you kill a turkey by chopping it's head off. - We are honest with them about where their food comes from and how it becomes food. He's never seen an animal killed, though he's seen us process a chicken. Sometimes though, when he talks about it all, it can come out sounding a little "questionable" - he is still only 4 after all, and being a 4 year old will repeat the strangest of things, for the strangest of reasons, at the strangest of times.
For Friday we began a new tradition of making mac & cheese, using some raw milk cheddar and some organic muenster. On Saturday we cheered the Hokies to victory over UVA (our rivals) and on to the ACC Championship game while eating bowls of freshly made white turkey chili. The kids also enjoyed chowing down on left-over turkey as we were trying to put it all up.
It truly has been a wonderful weekend. Justin watched the boys and let me catch up on some much needed sleep. It's been calm and quiet, but at the same time loud and fun. Football of course is what brings on the loud part.
Tonight we all went outside after dinner and looked up at the moon. Wonders of the cosmos are a special delight to share with people, and so it was especially delightful to share it as a family. The moon, Jupiter, and Venus were all in alignment.
Next weekend will be the Christmas Parade for Salem, which we will be taking the boys to. My mom and step-father usually attend with us, along with Justin's brother and sometimes our neighbors stand nearby. The boys love Christmas (what kid doesn't?), and are delighted by the lights beginning to pop up. We don't start decorating for Christmas until on or after December 1st. We believe in honoring Thanksgiving. So, today I put up a few things, much to the boys' delight.
These are the things of my delight: Shannon calling reindeer "snow-deer" because they come out in the snow, not rain (today I was able to convince him they're really reindeer); Tristan seeing a commercial for the classic 'Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer' and thinking Santa has a lot of "goats" (trying to raise them rurally while in city does have interesting "side-effects"); the eager squeals of excitement when the boys see Christmas lights and decorations (or any for any holiday for that matter); and the zen-moments that occur when you're filled to the brim with happiness and contentment.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Green your Fridge!

Sure, one "easy" way to do this would be to run out and buy a nice Energy Star fridge, but for most of us buying a brand new fridge just because we'd like to be a little bit greener isn't an option that we can just run out and do. And, if you don't own your place, you're not very likely to go out and buy new appliances, regardless of your financial situation. So, what's a Greenie to do? Make your current fridge run more efficiently by storing your leftovers in glass or metal containers instead of plastic! These are our leftovers from tonight's quesadilla dinner (check out for some yummy info about that meal!). Glass and metal containers will absorb the cold temperatures of your fridge, becoming cold themselves, and therby helping your fridge maintain a cold temperature without having to run as hard!
Here's a snapshot of our fridge. Left-Right: jelly jar of homemade apple butter, quart jar (white lid) of raw cream ~ great in hot cocoa & coffee, (top) leftovers of beans & corn for quesadillas, (bottom) leftover venison roast in sauce, and finally, in re-used Homestead Creamery jar: homemade "conditioner". And just because I know you will ask: yes, conditioner as in for your hair: it's a mixture of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and chamomile & lavender tea. We keep all of our milk in half-gallon glass jars as well.
You can find some inexpensive glass containers by haunting yard-sales, antique malls, and even ebay. Or, your parents' & grandparents' cupboards!! Pyrex containers are fantastic finds. I was lucky enough to start my collection with a little help from Mom and my Grandfather. The containers stack as well as plastic, don't leach like plastics, and can safely go in the microwave. Newer models come with plastic lids so please be careful about those.

*~*~* And a quick chicken update: My birthday was Nov. 19th and Justin took the day off. We took advantage of the daylight and moved the coop back up to the back of the house, so that the chickens can winter there and catch more of the sunlight. LadyBird (I'm guessing it was her at least) apparently really is a "lady" and immediately ran into the coop and laid me an egg. So, I got an egg for my birthday! She didn't lay the next day, but has laid both yesterday and today. Now, if only the 5 other silly chickens will start laying. But, at least we have one laying again!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Frustrated Baker = Happy Chickens

Lately I've been having bad "bread luck." I think it may be a seasonal thing, as I seem to remember going through a bad bread phase last year. Either way, my bread loaves just aren't coming out right lately. I've even cheated and tried to let the bread machine just do all the damn work for me, but it comes out even worse.
So, I moved the Sourdough Starter yesterday to a new location in the kitchen, and then started a new loaf of bread today. Dough was a little too moist, so I added so extra flour before baking. Let it rise, and it rose fairly well. Got it to baking. Checked it when the timer went off and noticed the sides were still a little light (I use a glass baking loaf pan), so I put it back in.
Then, I made my great mistake and started thinking: wouldn't it be nice to leave the sides a little lighter this time?? Maybe if I did so the bread would taste a little better this time.
NOPE - all I got was bread that was doughy in the center and just not all the way done!! Luckily Tristan, my two-year old, loves bread and doesn't really care how well-done or under-done it is. So, he got to have several bites of freshly baked 1/2 done bread (he got parts that were done).
Even luckier - the chickens apparently LOVE fresh-baked, or 1/2 baked, bread! I took it out to them about 7:30pm. The 6 of them were all huddled together in the nest box, but eagerly ran out to gobble up the crumbs as I rubbed them through the wire on the tractor for them. The dogs even got a couple bites, as I couldn't deny them while they say there looking pitifully at me. The chickens also got a dish full of traditional buttermilk today with leftover tostito-chips, pretzels, and celery in it (they're chickens, they don't care).
Now if only they would start laying eggs again. They haven't laid eggs in over a week now!! They're getting treats daily, so they better start back up again soon!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

"Remember, remember the 5th of November, the gun powder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gun powder treason should ever be forgot" - from 'V for Vendetta.'
It was with a huge sigh of relief that I woke up this morning. We were 110% for Obama and equally afraid of what would happen should McCain get elected. Palin especially scared us. When we went to bed Monday evening I turned to Justin and told him how I was really nervous about the election. We had recently watched 'V for Vendetta' and I was struck by the similarities of it and our current state. We decided if McCain got elected we would shave our heads. A sign that, as terrified as we were of what could/would come to pass under a McCain administration that we would face the future unafraid and more determined than ever to continue living along the path we've been living. I also found it ironic that the day after the election would be (and obviously is) Nov. 5th!
The boys insisted on going with me to vote yesterday. I explained to them who the President is and what he does. To make it understandable for a 4 1/2 year old (and a 2 year old) I told them that the President is like the "daddy" of our country. Shannon helped me cast my ballots while Tristan watched. We all got "I Voted" stickers, and Shannon is still wearing his!
I'm proud my children have gotten to be part of such a historic election. Shannon wanted to go vote again today, and when I told him it was over he asked me "well, what about Obama?" I thought that was really cute. I am proud that we were all able to see the first non-white-male elected as President of the United States. I hope they can one day look back on this and remember it, even if only just a small, fleeting memory.

Monday, November 3, 2008


For those of you who haven't noticed, I've started another blog online dedicated just for recipes. I was inspired when I saw other bloggers doing this, and well, personally speaking, some of the best recipes I've ever found have come via the Internet, and so I thought I would add some of my own out there as well. At all times I will try to give proper documentation as to where the recipe came from if it isn't one of my own personal ones. I also, very much, encourage feed-back on the recipes. This is how good recipes become great! If you scroll down the right-hand side of the blog you will find a direct link, but you may also click here: ~ Again, I very much look forward to hearing from you, as I always do on here as well!
Happy Cooking!


Sometimes I am hesitant about how personal I want to be on here. While I believe there are some things a family, or just a person, best ought to keep to themselves, I also believe we have utterly lost the knowledge of how to be a thriving a functioning community or village. Locally it rarely exists. Online it is beginning to come back.
October was a really rough month for us, as I am certain it was for most of the country given the current economic troubles. I will begin with I know how blessed we are for the things we have and we are TRULY grateful for them. But, you can be as grateful as you want and that doesn't make times any less tough sometimes. November is shaping up to be the same way, and I am sure with the holidays coming that December will be rough as well. We're luckier than many, and we know that, but it is still rough.
We are eagerly awaiting the results of the election tomorrow. No matter which way it goes it will be historic. We're VERY much supporting Obama & Biden and VERY, VERY much against McCain and Palin. We don't see ourselves as Democrats but more as independent thinkers who look at the pros and cons and make our choices from there, without looking at party tickets so much.
I keep seeing these commercials about Obama wanting to raise taxes and it bothers me since one of his core messages is lowering taxes for those who don't make a lot of money, and pretty much taking away tax cuts for those who do (so they would be back to where they were under Reagan). I see Obama saying what he wants to do and seemingly with a very detailed plan. I haven't seen that from McCain. I have gone to both of their respective websites to research their stances on subjects that matter to me, to hear it in their own words. And based upon that, we are very scared of what is going to happen should McCain get elected. We plan to make a stand should that occur, a definitive stand to continue with greater energy and dedication to they way we've been living our lives and trying to live.
So, what has my revelation of late been? It has been how I've watched the people who have the least to give be the most willing to give. Be the first to help out. We've been very blessed with help from my family in the last week.
The chickens have all recovered from the attack, and seem to have actually bonded nicely because of it (a silver lining) ~ but it was the help from my Mom and Step-Dad that allowed us to get the supplies to fix the tractor to try and help prevent another attack. We were blessed that someone was willing to "share" a deer with us this year; my mom, knowing we couldn't afford it right now gave it to me as a early birthday present. And today, my Dad has offered to give me another early birthday present to help afford the pork I have to pick up this afternoon. (Long story short: we ordered "extra" pork this year because we didn't get any deer last year, and so this year is turning out to be a wonderful example of Murphy's Law). The people we are picking up the pork from have agreed to let us pay what we can now and the rest by the end of the month. We will certainly never cease doing business with them. It is without their help and giudance that we would've even been able to make the leap for organic meat, and it is with their help and understanding that we're able to continue to do so.
My father also saved for us his bags of leaves from his maple tree. It was several VERY full 55 gallon bags. We've used them as bedding in the coop for the biddies and also to give the garden a nice covering. This helps let us put off getting some more straw until we can afford it a little easier. One man's burden is another's treasure at it's finest.
Justin and I have talked about the things I do: baking goods, canning things, and making soaps and shampoos, along with postcards & other things I do with my photography, and I've told him I would like to be set-up enough to be able to sell some of these things at the local Farmer's Market by next Spring. Hopefully that will help us out some as well.
People talk, well commercials talk, about what each candidate represents. I believe in Obama and his sincerity in wanting to help the middle class out. I believe in McCain's desire to keep helping those who really don't need it. Those are things I believe, but here are the things I know: that some of the kindest and most sincere people I've ever met have been members of the middle or lower-middle class. That those without great monetary worth have so much more worth and generosity within and about them. That the amount of money you make doesn't equate to the kindness in your heart. Of course there are exceptions, but in general, this is what I do know.
We, these people, DO work hard. And we appreciate the things we have even more so because of the difficulites it takes in getting them. Because of the physical labor it takes to produce something. Because we know how close we are, as well as those we care about and those like us are to being without and losing everything. I resent the notion that we (those who are liberal or who will vote Democratic, and so on) aren't hard workers. We are. We are the backbone of this country, and it is a strong backbone. And I am grateful for everyone who is part of that with us.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Chickens

Last Thursday, the 23rd, when Justin came home from work we got to work. He quickly culled our three Speckled Sussexes (it used to be a common table bird in England over 100 years ago, hence why we chose it as our meat bird) and I got to work processing: plucking, taking off feet & necks, and then cleaning out the insides. Jomo was very happy for the fresh chicken necks, but other than that the dogs did a good job of staying away.
Killing the chickens and processing them for food has gotten easier. Now, when I am sitting there hunched over & plucking away in the cold (3 hours total work that night .. my ass was FROZEN!!) I feel a profoundly deep sense of gratitude to the bird for it's gift of life and food. I feel a deep sense of pride in knowing that we can, very literally, grow and raise food to put on the table ~ that we don't have to rely (always) on supermarkets and others to "do the work" and that the food we grow and raise is healthier and tastier by an easy ten-fold than that which we could buy. A wonderful "fuck the man" feeling! ;)
We also moved Easter & Bunny, our two Ameracaunas, into the tractor with the rest of the remaining gals (LadyBird, Ann Bancroft, and the two "Patti"s). Matt was over helping, and together he and Justin moved the birds one by one into the coop, then moved the empty tractor back against the coop, ready for them to come out in the morning. As you can see in the photo above, it frosted that night ~ I took the photo early Friday morning, so that was the reason for "let's do it now".
The transition has gone well. Easter & Bunny have been picked & pecked on, but that will happen until the new pecking order is well established. In the photo you can see LadyBird, our Buff Orpington, and both of the Patti's, our Partridge Cochins, hanging out in the tractor. They weren't letting Easter or Bunny come outside so we put some feed and water inside to give them a better chance.
Sadness struck yesterday though. The biddies were attacked by either a possum or raccoon. It tore through the chicken wire on the tractor and broke into the coop. The little food & water feeders had been dragged outside, and the dogs' heads couldn't have fit through the opening to the coop, so that is how we know the dogs didn't do this.
Shannon and I went out to collect eggs. We saw Easter, Bunny, and both Patti's laying outside, huddling together ~ honestly I thought they were dead. Gentle nudging proved otherwise, but the holes in the chicken wire, the food and water outside, and the amount of feathers on the ground told me they were far from ok. I looked into the coop and found LadyBird and Ann Bancroft huddling together, alive.
Shannon and Tristan luckily went with my step-dad and mom yesterday, and after checking on the birds Justin came home from work to help. We bought Bactine spray for their wounds ~ it is better than ointment as litter and dirt can get stuck in ointment.
Three birds were injured, very thankfully none were killed. LadyBird was injured on her back. Their skin is so thin it is quite easy to tear through it. We poured hydrogen peroxide over the wound, then sprayed it with the Bactine. Ann Bancroft was bleeding on her belly. I cradled her like a newborn while we did the same treatment. Bunny was the one I feared the worst. When looking at her before Justin got home it looked like a hole was ripped in her neck, and the way she was acting was the worst of them all. But upon bringing her inside (we cleaned and cared for each of them in the bathroom) we found her wounds to be the most minor. She got the same treatment, but I really think she is just the one on the very bottom of our pecking order and is the most passive and scared. Unlike "moving night" when both Easter and Bunny pitched a fit about being moved and carried, Bunny let me carry her into and back out of the house without a sound, as did the other birds.
I locked them all up in the coop, gave them some fresh buttermilk and frozen cherries to entice them to eat and then we headed to Lowe's. My mom was sweet enough to give us the money to buy new materials needed to fix the tractor. We bought a hardware cloth with squares 1/2" thick. Justin put a 2x2 beam across the sides in the middle to help keep the dogs from leaning on the wire and causing it to bend in so much. He was able to get 1/2 of one side as well as one end (where the biggest holes were) done last night before it got too dark to work.
He went out this morning before work and checked on them. They are all still alive and were huddled together. He left them locked up in the coop and I will go out in a bit to make sure they have food and let them out. Most attacks happen at night, and though it can be quite loud our house can be rather sound-proof at times and so we don't know what time it occured. I figure the more into the day we can get, the safer the birds will likely be.
The pharmacist yesterday told me that everything seems to like eating chicken, that they're the lowest on the totem pole and it is amazing they have lasted so long. From reading it seems that is pretty on the mark. And even though I wouldn't go so far as to say we consider these birds part of our family, we do care for them. Panic filled me yesterday until we were able to get all three examined and treated, and worry over their health will fill me until they heal. With everything we have had to go through, both physically and emotionally, just to even get to HAVE these birds, we are MOST certainly NOT ready to just let them be picked off by greedy predators.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Confusing Eggs

I was talking to my mom and she recounted something that happened at her house when she had the boys. Apparently she was making them pancakes and had gotten out the eggs. Shannon's head quickly began "spinning around" and he asked her "Grandma, where are your chickens?" She laughed and replied that she didn't have any. Skeptically he asked her "then where do you get your eggs?" She tried explaining to them that she bought them from Kroger, that when people don't raise their own chickens they go to the store to buy eggs, as opposed to the backyard to collect them. Apparently Shannon (who is 4 1/2) doesn't remember a time when we bought eggs. Even before our chickens we most always got our eggs from friends who had chickens.
Then there is the other end of the spectrum. Yesterday was a big day around here as the rest of our Speckled Sussexes "found a new home," all the remaining birds were moved back to the coop (as was the tractor) since it is getting down to freezing temperatures at night, and the Ameracaunas were added into the existing flock.
I had gone out earlier in the day to look for eggs, and there were none. We're usually getting about one a day, but some days there aren't any at all. Justin noticed there was one later though when he was messing around out there. He took it out and set it one of the potted plants that we have on the deck.
When I went inside with the processed chickens I had forgotten all about the egg. Matt, Justin's brother, had come over to help Justin and brought it to me. I asked him if it was dirty or not, and he told me he didn't know what I meant or was really talking about. So, I looked at it, saw it was perfectly clean and told him to just please put in the fridge.
Later that evening, after Matt had left, and as Justin and I were basically getting ready for bed I went into the fridge for something. There, sitting by itself on a shelf alongside jars of condiments was that silly egg. Justin and I each got a good laugh out of this, as the egg carton is fairly visible in the fridge and even the kids know to put eggs into the egg carton!
It just goes to show you how we can live so close (as my mother and Matt each live less than a mile from us) and yet so vastly in different worlds. It is wonderful to see my children be confused by the notion that eggs can come from stores. Tristan (who turned 2 in August) often has to be told if something is bread as the only bread we really have here is bread I bake, made of whole wheat. He just doesn't recognize bleached white bread products bought from stores. This always tickles me too. It is wonderful to see how quickly things can be turned around, how we're always just one generation away from an entirely new way of thinking and of looking at things. Now that is amazing!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ramblings and Ana Pascal

There are several things I could write about right now. The first would be how many times you hit the keys "g," "h," and "j" in regular typing. I only note this because these keys are currently NOT on my keyboard thanks to the curiousity that arises out of two young boys the moment Mommy leaves the room (and, no, they aren't just snapping back on ... I'm luckily able to hit the little "buttons" that are under them to get the letters to work).
I could write about the moving of the new biddies (our Ameracaunas) into the larger tractor. This we did Saturday night, with Justin and his brother Matt lifting the tractor and me sliding the Ameracaunas (cage & all) into the tractor, while also trying to pull Jomo back OUT of the tractor. I am quite certain that his only motivation for continually running into the raised up tractor was to insure that none of the older birds (who were mostly asleep) ran out. That or he was trying for a freshest of fresh snack of spilled chicken feed and chicken poop.
But, no, what is going through my head right now is Ana Pascal. She is a character from the movie Stranger than Fiction, and I love her. I love her character and why she is who she is. I love the relationship she develops with Harold Crick. Here is a link to a beautiful moment in the film: -- Harold is trying to give her flowers ... but rather than just give her a bouquet of flowers, he brings her a box of flours, as she is a baker. Ana has this wonderful line in the movie, explaining why she left Harvard Law School: "I just figured that if I was going to make the world a better place, I would do it with cookies." (pardon any misquoting there .. I think that quote is dead-on accurate, but am not able to verify at this precise moment).
I love that sentiment. I love baking, I love the thought of baking. The true comfort in it. When I crave chocolate it is not a candy bar that I crave but something freshly baked and still warm. Until I worked in a bakery I never knew the utter decadence of a pile of warm, yellow cake tops. We trimmed the tops off for a flat work surface, and would pile them up in huge piles: a pile of chocolate, one of yellow, one of marble, one of white almond, and on special days, one of red velvet. Warm cake, no icing, just the warmth from the oven in that moist texture .. I gained several pounds working there but when I look back they are some of the pounds I was happiest to gain and some of my favorite pounds ever.
I love being in the kitchen when the air is cool. I love the feel of natural materials (which my kitchen needs more of) surrounding me: brick flooring and old brick walls, antique wooden working surfaces. And then there is the delight of the way that modern, utilitarian stainless steel blends in so well.
If you haven't seen the movie, I would highly recommend it. It is a wonderful story, perhaps that is what makes it such a delight. It is well acted, the characters are believable, the plot line isn't too mushy, though there are so many scenes I can't get through without the inevitable shedding of tears. But I love the narration that takes place, for it is truly like a good book, and being read to in such a captivating manner is something that is getting rarer and rarer these days.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rain Barrel Opinions & Thoughts

We have some fantastic plastic barrels for collecting rainwater in the back yard, but want something a little more asthetically pleasing for the front yard (especially with sweet VL ready to explode any second). So, am looking for opinions here as I've found two different barrels that each have their own pros & cons.
First, a recycled whiskey barrel from - here is a photo: I'm loving this one for several reasons: 1st - it is recycled! Wine & Whiskey barrels can only be used for so long before there is the need to find new homes for them. We have two already (not rain barrels), one that we in our kitchen as a chopping block and one we have in our front room with a pretty little lamp on top! :P So, back to why I like this - where we live there are a lot of wineries and we're not very far from the Moonshine Capital of the World ~ so it feels like supporting heritage, if that makes any sense. Plus, it has a wonderful cottage style to it and is made of natural materials. They do need some maintenance to keep them looking nice, especially with the rings, because they can begin to slip off if/when the wood dries out.
Ok, second choice. This one I found thanks to the wonderful site Groovy Green and their latest post: & the rain barrel they got from Garden Supermart:

Beautiful terra cotta look to it, but it IS made of plastic. Cool thing: there is a spot on top for planting plants. It is truly beautiful, but I'm not so sure it fits in with the style here. Plus, apparently this one might need to be brought in during the winter to prevent the plastic from freezing.
So what do you think? I realize this is just a personal choice when it boils down to it, but I am curious to hear what you have to say. Do you have rain barrels? How important do you consider the need for rain barrels? How many rain barrels do you see where you live?
Around here, not many. Isn't that a shame? Wouldn't it be nice to see government buildings with rain barrels outside, dripper hoses attatched to them, gently watering all those beautiful plants on dry summer days? All these homes with glorious plantings and landscaping, using collected rain water to give those thirsty plants a drink? And, to finish up with my grumble about Lowe's & Home Depot designed yards ~ where are the rain barrels there??
Why are my two glorious choices limited to two?? Shouldn't this be a booming market, with choices abounding? If green-washing really is so abundant and rampant, where are the rain barrels?
Your thoughts?

PS ~ I did have a glorious moment the other day, where it was drizzling and I was able to fill up the chickens' waterer with water that was coming out of the down-spout. I didn't mind getting wet, standing there in the rain, instead I felt envious of the tasty and beautiful water they were about to drink. If you're going to drink bottled water, how glorious would it be to drink it from a bottled that had been filled with captured rain water?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Getting over Ourselves

At first I felt the need to post a blog of apology for the negative context of my last two postings. It really isn't my normal style, though at times I feel a good "Soul-Screaming-Crying-Out-to-the-Cosmos" (and not the flowers!) is what is needed. But being negative only brings about more negativity, and that isn't good.
Yes, I feel like my neighbors need to get over themselves and their outrage that we choose to garden, have chickens, grow tall flowers, and not spray toxic weed-killer everywhere. But, I need to get over my indignity at them for their hiring a complete lawn-care team who attacks a barely 1/2 acre lot with 4 grown men and many loud obnoxious machines. That's their right, just as we have our rights. And most importantly should be the fact that we have the right to disagree without being disagreeable.
So, I'm left feeling the need to express some gratitude. Here are things I'm grateful for, in no particular order:
1) My wonderful kids who keep me on my toes at all times, but who already know about composting (who thought I would utter the phrase "NO, you CAN'T compost your cereal for the chickens, you need to eat it!!"), and who burst into tears if they find out the miss a trip to take the recycling.
2) My husband who allows me to be home with the kids, the dogs, the guinea pigs, the chickens, the fish, and who does a good job of keeping me grounded. If it weren't for him I would've already tried to concoct a complete rainwater harvesting system without giving it the true time and thought it desperately needs to make it work.
3) My chickens. The ones who we've bred for meat and who have provided us with a beyond-healthy meal that truly spoke to my soul. The ones who are beginning to lay eggs and delight us each day with a trip to the tractor. With our two new Ameraucanas who will lay blue and green eggs for us in the next month or so.
4) To Joel Salatin and Nina Planck for being sources of inspiration and information. For being the light in dark times, the encouragement needed to continue on when all odds seem against us. They don't know how much them mean to me, and they should.
5) To the folks who work with the City and who have to deal with small-minded complaints from sweet VL (and other neighbors?) who really ought to live somewhere where there is a nice, strict Homeowner's Association.
6) To Debby & Larry Bright who we get our pasture-raised, big "O" word meat from, who have been an endless source of patience and understanding. They helped us know how to fill out a butcher form and they've shown we're more than just a check to them, they're here for us in tough times.
7) To my family and friends who don't always understand me and our reasons, but who are willing to listen and maybe learn, and if not, at least politely humor me.
8) To my acupuncturist at Dancing Crane in Salem who has given me a life almost completely free of migraines. Who was the first to truly listen to my body and treat me according to that. To his wonderful father who always brings a smile to my face.
9) To the so many other wonderful bloggers online (Jenna Woginrich from Cold Antler Farm, the Dervaes Family in Pasadena) who inspire me to do more and try more.
10) To the wonderful vendors at the Salem Farmer's Market whose ranks I can't wait to join, and whose patience I always appreciate when I inquire about their growing methods. These are truly wonderful people.

I could continue this list, and in many ways I ought to. Life is wonderful. It is through hard times and hard lessons that we learn the true merit of a person. It is ok to get down in the dumps from time to time, but it is the ability to pick ourselves back up by the bootstraps, to take stock and look around and realize how blessed we truly are that matters most.
To quote Monty Python "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" .....
Thank you all who help me remember that! I don't normally sign my blogs here, but truly, with complete understanding of the meaning of the term:
(aka - Mama Taney)

Panties in a Bunch

Yesterday I was very flattered when the postman told me was had gotten certified for me. Then, I read the letter and realized it was a notice from the city thanks to our favorite neighbor making good on her threats. Apparently, we were in violation because we hadn't trimmed weeds along the fence lately - though what they city commented on was our "dead flowers."
We were blessed with cosmos that grew over 6' tall this year, and as tends to happen in the fall, they're now beginning to die. I've been trying to let them go as long as possible to collect the seeds before pulling them from the ground. Now, when I say our cosmos grew 6' tall, please note I'm only talking about a couple plants - not the entire front of our house!
First off, we don't want to be a nuisance, and we do try to keep a nice-looking house and yard. But, I have to appreciate the irony of this being a problem. It is fall. Currently the entire Farmer's Market, along with many store-fronts and houses, are bedecked with things like tied-up bundles of dried cornstalks, gourds and pumpkins scattered about, bales of straw, and rustic items such as old wheelbarrows brimming full with baskets of colorful mums. Ahh, the look of autumn! Heaven forbid though there be a house in the "CITY" (as our neighbor likes to say, hissing the "c" sound out) that has these things because they actually GREW there!! *GASP* The HORRORS!!!! EEEK!!! To grow these things yourself, or to actually use them ... well that most certainly is worth a call to the City!!
I've realized that the best thing to do though might be to realize what my neighbor is missing or in need of in her own sad and angry life: granny panties. I think the kindest thing for us to do would be to go out and by her some big ole pairs of granny panties because obviously the panties she currently owns are staying wadded up in a bunch far too often and making her miserable. (WE LOVE YOU VL!!)
That and I'm guessing I ought to bake some nice brownies or something like that for the folks down at the City Zoning Office. This surely won't be the last time they're called out for our "trashy" ways of living (her words, not mine!).
I think I might've lost the camera itself in the weeds, and there might've been a grizzly out there too, not sure - just know it sure is deadly and menacing! haha -- Ok, just got the photos uploaded, so IF YOU DARE TO LOOK, here are the shots of our disgusting, property-value-reducing, trashy lawn and house:

The above one was taken from across the street. The one below you can clearly see the dead cosmos plant, the weeds along the fence, and if you look carefully a grizzly bear (or was it a badger?).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Green Grumbles

First off - I really DO try to remain positive on here (at least I think I do, sorry if I don't). That is one of my goals: focus on the positive. But, today I am grumbly. Maybe it is the extra caffeine from indulging in coffee (I'm quickly finding out decaf is better for me) - it tends to have the same effect on me as too much bourbon & whiskey ... the "asshole effect."
We're in a time of economic recession, where everyone around the world is reeling from the effects and feeling the strains, but we're also in a "green boom." Normally I would be one of the first to cheer this Green Boom, and I truly am thrilled to no end about it. But, I'm also kinda disgusted.
I just read a line about a couple building their dream home, how it is self-sufficient, they practice permaculture, how their "property is officially recognized as a certified wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation and listed as part of the National Registry of Backyard Wildlife Habitats", they use passive solar energy, and so on. The title of this article was: Create a Self-Sufficient Green Dream.
I was ready to devour the article, with it's gorgeous photography, and learn all I could in order to apply it to our lives and home. Then I got to this line (talking about the architect and designing the house itself): [he] let the property’s sloping topography guide him in designing a three-bedroom, 2,700-square-foot structure tucked into the site’s south-facing slope. HELLO?? A 2,700-square-foot house for ONE COUPLE!?!?!?!? Don't you think you could've minimized your footprint by building a SMALLER HOUSE!?!?
I am so sick of trying these companies trying to sell me a clean, green conscience! It is great to buy recycled products, but it is also great to make use of what you already have. Yes, CFL lightbulbs are fantastic, but no, I am NOT going to go around my house and throw away all the incandescent bulbs that haven't burnt out yet just to replace them with CFLs!! We replace them as they burn out, as we have an actual NEED for them! Yes, bamboo cutting boards and recycled glass plates, bowls, and glasses are wonderful - but until we actually have a NEED to replace what we already have, I'm not going to just go out and spend money that we don't have and things we don't actually need! And, even when I do need to replace something, I like going to antique malls (our town happens to have an abundance, but you can substitute a Goodwill Store, yard sale, or whatever is prominent in your town here) to see if I can find something that fits my needs as well as my desires. Do I want to use less plastic containers, yes .... so let's see if I can find some vintage pyrex/glass dishes that someone would like to sell. Benefits? Hmm - 1) I save $ as I am not spending $60+ on a new, hip, green container; 2) I am supporting my local economy if I buy it locally, or if I use something like ebay then I am supporting someone else trying to make a living, not some big business hopping on a trend; 3) I am giving life back to something that otherwise would be trash; 4) I am not just accumulating more new crap when there is perfectly good stuff already out there. I'm guessing you see the point here.
If you have the money and want to spend it all on everything new & green, well then good for you. But, for the rest of us, those who are really feeling the pinch lately, those who are trying to figure out how to afford true necessities, there are other ways.
Being green is good. Going green is great. But using what you have, making-do, not buying into the fad (no matter how much we happen to love the fad) is even better.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Organic Valley Rocks!

I'm a true believer in the power and pride in doing it yourself and supporting small, local farmers in the process. But, not all of us can live day-to-day like that, and that is when you want a company who possesses those same values. Two recent finds I had to share:

We make our own butter from the cream we skim off of our raw milk. I've blogged about this before, with pictures showing the quality difference. If you can't make your own, I recommend getting some of this. Here is the description from Organic Valley's website ( Organic Valley’s Pasture Butter is a limited edition, rich, delicious, nutritional powerhouse made from the milk of organic cows eating the nutrient dense pasture that grows during May through September. Milk from summer pasture produces butter unusually high in nutritional benefits. Pasture Butter contains elevated levels of beneficial fatty acids - CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), and Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids in an optimal ratio. In production we add a lactic acid culture to the milk to ripen the cream and bring out the natural sweetness of the butter. Upon reaching perfection in the culture tanks, the cream is churned in small batches. Pasture Butter is churned longer than other butters, lowering the moisture content, and increasing the fat content to 84% butterfat.
Remember, this type of fat is GOOD for you!! Not all fat is bad!
Also from Organic Valley, we were shocked to find this at the new, local Nature's Outlet store: raw milk cheese!!! My heart skipped a beat, sung with joy, and it was all I could do to contain myself from doing the happy-dance right there in the store!

They have several different varieties of Raw Milk Cheese, and if you've never had it before you need to get your butt out there, cuz you are missing out!!! They also have a wonderful FAQ section, and here I'll quote their answer to the question "What are the health benefits of Raw Milk Cheese?" ~ Consuming organic dairy products is an excellent way to minimize risk of exposure to antibiotics, or synthetic hormones and pesticides while obtaining a healthy dose of nutrients. Cheese is a natural food providing a dense source of nutrients. It is a good source of calcium and protein. Calcium is essential for growing and maintaining strength and density of bones and teeth, and preventing osteoporosis. It supports normal cardiovascular, thyroid, and muscular function. Research suggests dietary intake of calcium between 1,000 and 1,500 mg daily makes cells less likely to store fat and more likely to burn fat when calorie intake is reduced. Research has shown milk from pasture-fed cows to be higher in nutritional value and antioxidant levels compared to milk from non-pastured cows. Beyond the personal health benefits of eating organic cheese, sustainable organic production methods promote the health of all life on earth, now and for the future.
From us here at the Blue Nymph in good ole Salem, VA here's a big "HAZAHH" to the folks, farmers, and farming families at Organic Valley!!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Readying the Garden

I just got done reading a wonderful blog post. Jenna at Cold Antler Farm wrote about "Graceful Decline" - a must read, check it out here: I likened that "ahh" moment to how a tree must feel when it starts allowing the leaves to turn and then fall off, before hardening itself back up for winter.
Our garden was a bust this year. We were busy with other things (chickens, ponds, patios) and didn't have the time/desire to devote to it. Plus, we realized that our gardening styles have changed. Justin used to find zen in going out and pulling weeds for a couple of hours, but now no longer likes it. I love the planning and planting, but hate the weeds as well.
Our compromise? We're going to try Ruth Stout's method of deep mulching with straw and compost. Rather than tilling up the Earth which disrupts all the life in the soil, creates noise pollution, creates pollution from running a gas-powered tiller, causes Justin stress (from having to go rent the tiller, get it home, till the garden, and get it back before they charge us more), and sends me running for the hills (hoping I don't get a migraine from the noise) - we're trying a quiet, peaceful process that builds soil quality, helps keep down weeds, and will help retain soil moisture during summer's dry spells.
I have to say, so far I am loving it. We let the chickens "till" up areas that we're already done for us for a while, which they loved. Now we're filling in with straw. I've found it is a Zen Moment for me, spreading out the straw. I pick apart the bales and shake the straw loose, watching it fall in golden clumps to the ground. I love seeing the older straw, matted down and gray. Soon, when we stock up on hay bales and have a good long afternoon to devote to it, we will spread the compost from the bin down, and then cover it with the straw (help keep the dogs uninterested).
And now I'd like to toast a "cheers" to everyone for a hard summer's work, and to toast to that wonderful "Ahhh" moment.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My first flower

October 1st - You can see the pride in the photo above. I was in the kitchen, working on cutting up some beef fat to render into tallow when I heard the backdoor open. Shannon, who had been playing in the back yard with the dogs came in and exclaimed to me "Mommy, I picked you this flower!" It was the first time I've been told this, like this. Hands greasy, I wiped them off on my apron and turned my attention fully to him.
This is a close-up of the crocus. It was one my great-grandmother planted, one her mother most likely bred, so it is with a special heart-tugging tenderness that this is the first flower that Shannon spontaneously picked for me on his own, while out in the yard playing.
I oohed-and-ahhed over the flower, and Shannon deserved every bit of the adoration he got. We talked about the color and then we talked about what type of flower it was. I will forever love this flower, and I hope to never forget this moment.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Rude Wake-Up

So, last Wednesday morning, 9/17, I thought I got to sleep in a little. I had heard the boys get up, but they do that often so I wasn't worried. Plus they were playing quietly in their room, so I should've known to worry right them and there, shouldn't I?
I went to get them up, walked in, looked around, and promptly walked out and shut the door. I called Justin and told him to come home and help me with this mess.
I had been painting the day before and left painty brushes in a mason jar with soapy water. I had also confiscated some crayola tempera paints from them the day before, and had left them sitting on the kitchen counter. The boys had gotten both.
They had painted the floor, the walls, the closet door, and themselves. I filled the sink with soapy water and rags. I was able to get the paint off of the floor and mural, then get the boys into the tub by the time Justin got home. He got them dressed in our room and got them breakfast while I finished cleaning up and took a shower.
There were too many photos to show them all here, so follow this link:
I've started a whole new collection dedicated to "events" like this. Of course, I don't have photos of the super-glue incident, the scissors incident, the medicine bottles they've gotten into (that were in a medicine cabinet almost 6' off of the ground and had kid-proof lids on them), the jelly beans they got off of the TOP of the fridge, or the "giving-the-fish-a-bubble-bath" by pouring bubble bath into the aquarium. I'll try harder from now on to remember to always have the camera handy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Helter Skelter

I listen to music and watch movies about or from the 60's and the Vietnam War and what was going on in our country around that time. It amazes me how we can have the same feelings, fears and sentiments 40 years later. It amazes me that it was 40 years ago. Then again, I think anytime a country is at war and in a period of upheaval the sentiments and fears are pretty much the same.
I am worried about our economy. Normally you could ask me what my number one "political" (since the election is so close, lets go with that) is and I'd say the environment. And, that still is a high concern, but now it is surpassed by my concern for where the economy is headed.
I don't know the answer. I disagree with the bailout, I don't like government involvement too much, but I do feel that what has been going on has, quite obviously, not been working.
Part of me wishes to see it all crash. Bring it on. The way things have been have been bad and wrong on many levels, so bring it on, let the madness come.
Another part of me is a mom and a wife. Will I be able to take care of my boys and my family? We live a frugal life, and we're lucky for that, as we haven't been affected by the recession as much as others. I study the old ways and we try to live by them, and I think that has been what has helped us out. But even now we're feeling the pinch more and more every day. It scares me.
A mixture of madness & intensity and calmness & breath-holding. I want to blare my music and scream along with the lyrics. I want to be in a dark pub drinking a stout. I want to throw glass and be satisfied with it shattering. I want to bake a loaf of roasted garlic bread. I need a fix because I'm going down. Happiness is a warm body, that I can hold in my arms, and nobody can do me no harm.
Radicalism or pacifism? Is it going to be allright, or is that just something we sing to ourselves over and over as we sing a child a lullaby? I don't know, I don't know.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

101 Ways Not to Build a Chicken Tractor ...

Well, the predator issue came to a head. We can't be certain which dog actually broke into the tractor, but we're guessing it was Jomo since he's been the one most curious about the gals.
Sunday morning I went out to check on something, and to my surprise saw some of the chickens very much enjoying their free-ranging in our yard, between an apple tree and the lilac bush. I hollered for Justin, and he, Shannon, and I began trying to catch the girls.
Apparently the brilliant idea I had of using a rubbermaid tote for a nest box was flawed. It had a latch-able lid, and we cut the bottom out, with the bottom facing into the tractor. This allowed us to latch and un-latch the top to check for eggs. We attached it to the frame with screws. The corner of the lid was gnawed on and then unlatched. Birds got out. We found one of our Buff Orpingtons dead within. One of our Dark Brahmas, also inside the tractor, who I thought was just terribly shaken up, apparently was very injured and Justin had to put her down. Apparently the dogs figured out the chickens aren't toys, since the only ones wounded or killed were in the tractor, the ones in the yard were allowed to hang out.
We ran out to Lowe's and picked up some lumbar. Justin built a nice wooden nest box, similar to the one on the coop. We put a nice lock on it so that no curious little pups, racoons, or even biddies can open it to see what is on the other side. They're safe now and back to laying eggs, though we still need to redo the sides to further Jomo-proof the tractor.
To say Sunday was disappointing would be an understatement. We lost two layers, we couldn't even eat the meat. We had to spend money and an afternoon trying to hastily fix the problem. It was disappointing, but all I could think about was a quote from 'National Treasure'. Nicholas Cage says how Edison failed 101 ways before making a working lightbulb. When asked about his invention he said he found 101 ways NOT to make a lightbulb.
This is what true learning is. Learning from your mistakes, learning from your failures. Not letting them get you down too much, to the point where you don't try again, and try something new.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Protecting the Chickens

I originally intended this not as a post, but as a reply to a comment to my last post (by 'anonymous'). Anonymous stated various critters as a concern to having chickens. This is a very real concern!! Friends of ours have lost several chickens to racoons. They would attack when the chickens stretched their heads out the wire to grab grub. Our friends would find headless bodies in the morning.
We've lost one bird by accident. We moved the tractor at night, after the birds were already asleep. It is hard to see how many you've woken up when they're mostly all dark colored and it is dark out. We think we rolled the tractor over one poor bird and killed it.
Our newest "threat" is Jomo. Technically, Jomo Lager (as Shannon won't hesitate to tell you). Jomo is our 6 month old American Bulldog & Bandogge Mastiff mix. A Bandogge Mastiff is, for those of you wondering, a breed created by mixing Mastiffs and Pitbulls, mainly. He's truly a big baby though. At his last vet visit, just last Thursday, he weighed 56lbs!

So, the question is: why is such a big baby a big threat to our little Biddies?? Well, because he is a curious little pup!!
This evening I went out to check and see if we had anymore eggs - we didn't. Instead I find Jomo standing against the tractor's wire "walls." This isn't anything too new, he likes checking the gals out and is jealous of food they get. I yelled at him & instead of getting down the little turkey CLIMBED UP & OVER the tractor!!!
So, new task: fix the tractor. We already have "build a nest box on the tractor" on the list for next weekend. Now we also have "make tractor Jomo-proof" on the list. I'm not really certain how this will go. If anyone has any ideas how to make a chicken-wire, chicken tractor puppy proof, I'd love to hear it! Jomo should turn out to be a good 100 pounds or more, so this is a big issue for us! Ideas?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Surpises & Slow Food

Well, today turned out to be quite a shocker! We had originally planned to go camping this weekend since the game wasn't being televised ~then along came Hannah and much-needed rain. So, no camping. We decided instead to go pick up some chicken feed, as well as some straw, and move the tractor to the coop so that the gals could go inside and (hopefully) use the nest box for laying. We know the gals should begin laying anytime now & this would buy us some time until we build a nest box onto the tractor itself.
We were getting into the car when I heard it: a very faint crowing. As I've stated before, we live in "the City" and no-one nearby has chickens. Which means, if it is crowing it is our chickens. Apparently, what we thought was an Easter Egg hen turned out to be an Easter Egg Rooster!! We ran and got the feed, then came home and took care of the rooster. It was somewhat ironic as this was the only bird I had really named, and it was one of our prettier birds, I thought. Plus, the idea of getting blue & green eggs had really begun to grow on me, so that was a bit of a bummer. On the plus side though, we're now back up to 4 meat birds (since we still have 3 Speckled Sussex we're letting fatten up), and that is good. We cooked it for dinner and it was very tasty!! If you're going to eat meat, pasture raised is the way to go!
As the dinner was cooking, we all went out to begin work on the coop and tractor. Some re-figuring needed to be done, a wall taken out of the garden, and so on. As Justin was getting the hay, I walked over to the tractor to get ready to move it. Imagine my amazement to see a little egg there!! A friend told us that the first time her rooster crowed, the hens began laying the next day -- apparently that is a good indicator!

While we don't believe in "washing" the eggs (they are laid with a protective barrier that is removed when they are washed, leaving them vulnerable to bacteria), this one was pretty darn muddy, so I quickly & gently rinsed it off with my hands.
Shannon was particularly impressed with the whole thing. He has always loved going to get eggs from our friends' coop, and today he even carried a chicken (a Cochin, of course!) from the tractor to the coop! We were able to get him to eat all of his dinner by promising that, if he did, he could go out and look to see if the girls laid anymore eggs this evening. They hadn't, but tomorrow is another day and I am sure we'll be out there quite often!
Speaking of dinner: we were able to have a complete Slow Food meal, most of it local! We had the chicken/rooster (or Eugenie, since that had been it's wrongly-sexed name), some chili that I made with organic dry beans bought at the co-op and tomatoes we got at the Farmer's Market, topped with raw milk garlic-colby cheese!! What a fantastic feast!!

The cheese we bought from a local farmer-friend, but it did have to cross state lines to get here so I suppose it isn't truly local. But, still, raw milk cheese from pasture raised & organic cows!! DELIGHTFUL!
I know to some of you it must seem odd that I can type about killing a named bird and cooking it for dinner (and then show a photo to boot!). While I repsect everyone's right to choose what is right for themselves and their family, we have that right as well. We don't kill what we don't need. We make sure our food, when it was alive, led the type of lives animals were meant to live. With our chickens, we've even taken the step to raise heritage and rare breeds, trying to help ensure that these breeds aren't wiped out.
It is truly the deepest feeling of satisfaction to know the life our food lived, to know that not only were they happy but they're healthier for us to eat and significantly so! To know that I can fix my children a meal made from these things makes me feel like I have succeeded. And, too often, like most parents I assume, I tend to feel like a failure as a parent. To know that the food my kids eat (or a majority of it) is some of the best and healthiest food they can ever possibly hope to eat, well, it is a primal goal that we have accomplished. It leaves me content to the very core of my being.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ironic Morning & Sexy Baths

A good dose of irony is always a nice way to start your day! This morning I was debating taking my shower, thinking I could just take a nice long bath this afternoon. I looked in the mirror though and realized I really needed to wash my hair, so into the shower I hopped.
No sooner had I washed my hair, put homemade conditioner on it, and begun washing my face than the water pressure dropped. And I mean dropped, as in "who snuck in here and flushed the toilet?!?!"-dropped!! I quickly rinsed off fearing the water would cease to run or would become either very hot or very cold, very quickly! I was able to get my face washed and my hair shampoo-ed and conditioned, but that was it!
Since I knew we weren't using any water else-where in the house, visions of a quickly-filling flooded basement began to fill my head. Our basement is accessible only via a trap-door in the back hallway. Not normally a hassle, but something where someone really ought to be "upstairs" (not in the basement) to keep an eye on the kids and dogs to make sure no-one falls down the steps. Drying off from the shower I began to try and figure out just how I would do this by myself. And, how we were going to afford to call our plumber out to fix this mess. How strong is duct-tape?? Doesn't going down in a dirt-floor basement to deal with a busted pipe shooting water negate ANY type of shower?? What clothes do you even put on for that?? Do I call Justin to come home, and if I do what do I do in the time between now and then?
While I was quickly getting dressed I noticed a City Water vehicle pull up out front. They weren't there long before moving along. I checked and our water was back on as usual. I don't know what they were doing, but whatever it was, it was over now. WHEW!!
Now I suppose I get my afternoon bath after-all! However, I'll take a different approach from the last time I took an afternoon bath. I had been reading one of my books on amazing women through-out history, reading about how they seduced men, how they would bathe in oils that would leave the men's heads spinning. You can see where this is headed.
Kids gone, Justin still at work (but coming home soon), I hop into the tub with plans to leave my husband stunned with my sex appeal. I poured in some of my sexy smellum oil. It seemed to dissipate rather quickly, so I poured in some more. Ahh ... it was an Oriental Musk scent, but the bathroom smelled like flowers! I bathed and washed my hair and imagined how sexy I would look and smell.
After my bath I got out, got dressed up some, and waited for Justin's impending arrival home from work. We were planning on driving up to Vintage Cellar to get some nice beer and have an evening of yummy beer drinking like we used to do before kids when we car-pooled to school together. I sat down in the living room and began to notice my own smell. It was a little strong, but then again I am very sensitive to smells, so no worry - I am still sexy. He will be amazed.
But, now it is really bothering me, so I sit in front of the fan to help keep the smell away from me (isn't that a sign when you try to keep your own smell off of you?). Justin came home and I tried my best nonchalant sexy attitude. You know "me, I'm just sitting here reading a book, I didn't know I was sexy" attitude.
Sure enough, my plan worked! As we were getting ready to leave, Justin complemented how nice I looked. However, he didn't seem awed by my sexy-scent. I asked my smell was too much -- it was. I knew it. Thankfully, Vintage Cellar is a good 30 minute drive. Thankfully the weather was nice, as we had to roll down the windows to let me air out along the drive. Note to self - a little smellum oil goes a LONG, LONG way!!!!
Later that evening, after my intense smellum had worn off & I was back to a very-humbled sexy, one of the beer bottles we bought would explode in Justin's hand (see for that story!) and cut his leg. Gosh, I really hope my water/shower incident from this morning isn't a precursor to another evening like that!! At least I know my new smellum rule!

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Fun Poll

Ok, on our other blog, Soul One Brewery, we have a poll going. We're curious to know (because I have a wild theory in my head ... no suprise there, right? ha ha) what type of beer you like. We have one poll for the guys and one for the gals. In part, my theory is that, in general, women and men have very different taste preferences in beer. I won't tell you what my guess is, so I'll let the polls speak for themselves. You can even choose more than one style if you'd like when you vote! Check it out at: - scroll all the way to the bottom to find the polls ... and please make sure to only vote for YOUR gender!!!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Failed Sour Cream & Real Butter

Not all attempts work the first time we try them, but it is only more encouragement to keep trying! A beautiful example: This was our first attempt at making sour cream. We used our raw milk, or rather the cream from it, and cooked it for a bit, then blended in some of our (traditional) buttermilk. This is it, sitting out to age. It tasted different than store-bought, that was to be expected. What wasn't to be expected was that it never thickened up like we had hoped. Hmmmmm. A dilemma to be sure! But, all was not lost ~ RANCH DRESSING PACKETS TO THE RESCUE!!! And, viola, we made a beautiful, homemade, raw ranch dressing. The taste truly was amazing.

And now, here's something we hope you'll really like: REAL BUTTER!!
On the left you will see a partial stick of butter. I bought it at our local Co-op, and while not organic, it really is a very good quality butter from a respectable creamery. On the right, my homemade butter, made from the cream of our delicious, Jersey-cow, pasture-raised, raw milk. Historically speaking, one could always tell the quality of the butter by just how yellow it was. Any questions?
Ok, I think I heard one - how do you make butter?? Well, it is a merciless sport to be sure! First, start with raw milk and seperate out the cream into another container (I use a 1/3 measuring cup for this). The cream is thick and heavy, when it gets watery looking you're not getting cream! Once you've got your cream, well, here is what I do: 1) I pour it into my KitchenAid mixer and attach my whisk attachment. 2) Start to whipping the daylights out of the cream. Here is where you show no mercy!! ;) 3) You're cream will soon become whipped cream (yes, this is where it comes from) ... but don't get too excited!! ~ Be mean & cruel and keep whipping that cream till it breaks down! Don't give up, you're almost there! 4) Soon, you will have mastered the cream (hee hee) and it will suddenly begin to split ~ with the butter beginning to clump together & buttermilk shooting out. 5) When I say "shooting out" I mean it, so turn down your mixers! 6) Drain off the buttermilk - you want to get as much of it out of your butter as you can. Sometimes if I plan on adding ingredients, I will attach the paddle attachment here. Save the buttermilk, it is great in recipes! 7) Now that you've gotten the buttermilk out, you can add any extra ingredients to your butter that you'd like: salt, honey, garlic (though I wouldn't advise the honey and garlic together, but you may be weird like that and if you are - go for it, I won't judge!), strawberries, various herbs and so on. 8) I like using little metal molds for my butter as they freeze well and it is very easy to pop the butter back out once frozen.
So, there you go, how to make butter. *Note - if you have buttermilk left in the butter it will increase the rate at which it spoils. I've never had any butter that lasted long enough without being eaten to go bad! Now, go find yourself a nice cow and get to milkin'!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

School, fat, and more beer

It must be something about August. Or maybe I just really hate the heat. Either way, by this time of the year I'm done with summer and longing for fall. So, once again, we've begun some "school" exercises with Shannon. This is proving tricky with Tristan underfoot and other demands calling, but we're taking it a day at a time. One thing I am really trying to learn to balance is doing something "schooly" while realizing we're much more into unschool. Integrating the two is tricky, and getting into the routine of doing something is much harder.
On the topic of fat, I lucked out with a major haul of it on Monday. I had contacted the farm where we get our meat from and inquired about beef fat as well as leaf fat from pigs. The meat processor has to pay to get rid of fat, so having someone take it off there hands is something they get pretty happy about. I drove up there with two big coolers, got them both filled up and had an extra box of fat sitting beside them for the ride home. I'd say I probably got a good 75 lbs of pasture-raised fat. Yes, pasture-raised, meaning high in Omega-3 not Omega-6, nice old-fashioned fat the way it should be. I've rendered down a full skillet's worth of the leaf fat into lard and I didn't even make it through the entire package it was in! WOW!!! I will use the lard and tallow (rendered beef fat) for cooking, and also use the tallow in making soap and shampoo. To say I am excited is a complete understatement!! Nina Planck's book 'Real Food; What to Eat and Why' has changed our lives, and we couldn't be happier or more grateful. Take a moment and check her out at:
Finally, and I know this really belongs on our Soul One blog, we're planning on entering an Organic Homebrew Competition this fall. It will be our first Homebrew Competition and we're really excited about it. We've ordered our organic ingredients, and are ready for them to get here so we can begin brewing. We're also beginning our plans for our winter beer this year. We're calling it 'Decadence' and it will be a strong stout (maybe an imperial? we'll see!) brewed with coffee, chocolate, and vanilla. My mouth is watering already.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Save Energy & $$

From Co-op America:
Here's how to save energy and money. Go for a big, but doable goal – 10% energy saved per year over the next five years – 50% in five years!
For the average household, 10% per year energy savings is only about 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kwh) of energy/year. Here's how doable that is:
Many families could achieve the first 1,000 kwh/year of savings by washing clothes in cold water (770 kwh/yr); placing several major electronics, such as video and stereo systems, on a surge protector that can be switched off (47kwh/year); and brushing of their refrigerator's condenser coils twice a year (392 kwh/year).
Many families could get another 1,000 kwh/year reduction by replacing half of their incandescent lighting with compact fluorescents (440kwh/year), letting the dishes in the dishwasher air dry (404kwh/year), and enabling the "sleep" function on their computer and printer to go on after five minutes of non-use (259kwh/year).
Here is a link to their site on Steps to Energy Efficiency:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I wish I were Beatrix Potter...

With food shortages and food recalls, with the housing market a bust yet somehow seeing so many people putting additions on already ridiculously large houses, with seeing sustainable & artisanal farmer's struggle to stay afloat then raise prices to where most people can't begin to dream of affording their delicious, Earth-Friendly goods ($40 for 2 lbs of cheese?!?!!), with this chicken fiasco looming over us, all I can think is: I wish I were Beatrix Potter.
I am quite sure that sounds silly to most anyone reading this, but it is what keeps rolling about in my head. Not that I want to write tales about bunnies (though that wouldn't be bad either), but it is what she did with her money that impresses me so. With the money she made from her books she bought farms. She saved farms from becoming real-estate. She made sure that they forever remained working farms. What would have become of the land over time if it weren't for her?
Everyone dreams of winning the lottery. Oh, the things they would do if only they had money of lottery-proportions! That is what I would do. I would buy farms and land and make sure they remain worked. I would give my friend Joann a farm to raise sheep on, and make sure that there was enough space and people to spin the wool into the wonderful quality yarn she knows would come from those sheep.
I would make sure the building received their power via solar-powered generators. We would use animals, along with the powers of our own bodies, to work the land rather than machines. We would raise not only heirloom fruits and veggies, but also heirloom breeds of animals.
I would make sure these farms could be multi-generational and perhaps even support mutiple families. There are so many jobs to do on a farm, why should anything be outsourced? Large farms that become mini-villages, self-sustaining throughought time.
This is my dream, my desire. I think I just saw Peter Cottontail heading straight for the garden.