Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Craft win - soft book

Here's something else I've been working on for the little guy for car trips.  Google "quiet book" and you'll find lots of examples of small books made out of felt with interchangeable pages.  This was originally supposed to be a Christmas gift but I got really confused on how to bind the pages and it didn't get finished in time.  I had made my pages out of felt and couldn't decide out how to bind them - most people either stitch finish the edges (I don't have a serger) or back them with cotton (would take too long and be too fiddly).  A couple of days ago it occurred to me, duh, that the book was made from FELT, which doesn't unravel, so why not just back the pages in felt too?  It's for a toddler, it doesn't have to be a masterpiece and he's not going to care if my edges are wonky.  The pages are about 5x7 and will be "bound" together by a eyelet in the upper left corner.  Then they'll be threaded onto a key loop.  This way I can add or swap out pages as he gets bored with them.

I got so much joy from this project.  I wanted to make him a book that contained animals so I went through my fabric scraps and it snowballed from there.  The designs just kind of happened as I went.  Each page has something interesting that he can explore with his hands.

Pipe cleaner "hook", ribbon seaweed and ribbon "coral".

Rabbit tails are pom-poms, vegetables are barely tacked down so the edges can be lifted.

The beads can be moved along the ribbon and the ribbons have different textures.

 I love this one.  The zipper can be open and shut.

Buttons and textured flower ribbon.

This is a fun one.  All of the leaves lift up.

Bonus page.  An I-Spy bag.  He can manipulate the rice to "find" the objects: a penny, sequins, a 4-leaf clover, beads. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Craft win - I Spy ocean bag

I've been doing a little bit of crafting this week in odd moments and it's made me almost giddy with happiness  No stress, just pipe cleaners, glitter and glue.  No pressure there.  And I love how this turned out.  It's an I-spy toy that I made for the little guy for when we take car trips.  Give "I Spy sensory bag" a google and you'll find tons of ideas for these.  The basic premise being that you fill a freezer bag with hair gel (seriously - hair gel) and then float tiny toys in it.  The bag can be manipulated by tiny hands to squish the "water" and find the objects.  I wish I would have made some of these when he was little, like 6 months old would have been great but I think he'll really enjoy it. 

It was so inexpensive to make, too.  Most all of it came from the dollar store. I used a 16 oz container of hair gel ($1) and two freezer bags (one inside the other in case of a leak) The duct tape used to reinforce the seams was $1 and the glitter and sequins $1.  The shells and ribbon scrap I had.  I could not find any tiny fish where I live so I bought some orange oven-bake clay and made them myself (also $1).

Don't all fish smile?

Close up of the "water".  The fish look like they're floating belly up here.  Hmm.

Stay tuned for more crafting this week. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Growing, cooking new foods & Jamie Oliver

Feel like I've been in kind of a cooking rut the last couple of months.  Winter produce around here is terrible so it's hard to get inspired without fresh vegetables from the garden everyday.  I found myself cooking the same things over and over and over and it was just boring.  I'm sure a lot of people can relate to this. No one complained but I was pretty sick of my own cooking.

Over the holiday I picked up a couple of new Jamie Oliver books for myself.  The bookstore by my in-laws house was having a big sale and I think I got them for about $6 each.  We love Jamie Oliver in this house and with these I now own 6 of his cookbooks.  

I marked a ton of new things to try and so far have tried the following from Jamie's Food Revolution:

Broccoli & Pesto Tagliatelle: Meh.  It was good and a nice change but I don't think I'll make it again.  It somehow managed to be rich and bland at the same time.  The idea of adding potato was intriguing and I may do that again in another fashion.

Pot-roast Meatloaf: I didn't think I would ever call a meatloaf stunning but this is damn delicious and shockingly fast to pull together.  I think 10 minutes, tops, to get the meatloaf in the oven and the sauce came together in about 5. 

Parsnip and Ginger Soup: Again, quick. I prepped and cooked the veg while simultaneously re-heating leftovers and eating lunch.  Then I blended it with the chicken stock (see below) and put in the crock pot on low to hang out until dinner.  He suggests a little crumbled bacon on top, but I don't know if I'll bother because it seems incredibly rich already. I don't know what I was thinking.  YES to crumbled bacon and some toasted panko crumbs.  It's delicious.  

Not Jamie Oliver related, but part of the parsnip soup:  yesterday I cooked an Easter Egger layer hen that was culled this fall.  She was almost 5 years old and I really had my doubts about if the meat was going to be edible.  She simmered all day with carrots, celery and herbs and then the shredded meat was made into enchiladas.  I am not kidding when I say this is the BEST CHICKEN I HAVE EVER EATEN. Legs and thighs were so dark, they nearly looked like lamb.  The meat was a little stringy, sure, but the intense flavor more than made up for it.  Besides, it worked fine for the dish I made.  Also got about 2 quarts of the most intensely yellow chicken stock.  

So, reading about these new dishes prompted another seed order from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  

Dixie Speckled Lima Bean, Carentan Leek, Masterpiece Fava Bean, Thai Lavender Frog Egg Eggplant, Free Seed - Black Vernissage Tomato

Would anyone like these tomato seeds?  They seem identical to Violet Jasper, one of my favorites, but I already have seeds for them.  Send me an e-mail cottontailfarm@yahoo.com and I'll send them to you.

Updated my seed inventory again.  I've never grown leeks or fava beans before, any tips?  Never really had any luck germinating eggplant either but I hope I can get a couple of these plants started.  They look really pretty and are supposed to be the size of a cherry tomato!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The rural update - stamp collecting, poultry & a book review

So, what's happened this week besides just surviving?

We had a really warm day, I don't remember which one, where all of the snow melted off and then it rained and rained and rained.  The asparagus bed flooded and the ducks and a field day.  I'm glad they got to enjoy it because it's over with now - it was about 8 degrees today.

There was a lot of laziness.  There was a day when I totally shirked all but the very basic adult responsibilities and spent the day tinkering with my stamp collection.  Does anyone even collect stamps anymore?  Some of my hobbies would make a person think I was 80 years old.  Or 12.  Whatever.  My father found a grocery sack full of stamps from when I was younger and gave it to me.  There are three bowls here: "duplicates", "foreign" (my uncle lived in England)  and "check the book".  There's a binder that I organize the stamps into, in kind of a "collect one of each from 1800-something to modern day" fashion.  I am trying to find one best example of each stamp.  It's like putting together a puzzle and is really soothing in a mindless way.

There was a lot of napping that day as well.  

What else?  Another seed order arrived in the mail today.  I'll talk about this later in the week. 

Big news:  I have decided to go ahead and order myself a flock of geese.  I've wanted them for years.  We only live once, just what the hell am I waiting for anyway?  Call it an inheritance of spirit if you will.  I'm leaning towards Brown Africans.   Wow, are they stunning.  We don't have a pond but we do have a bunch of kiddie pools and I can turn on a hose when I need to. 

And I read a book last night; A Wild Swan by Michael Cunningham.  He's my favorite author.  You can read a NPR interview about it here.  I don't have the energy to review it.  He took classic fairy tales and explored the human emotion hidden between the lines.  I will say that it is a book I will read again and again and gain a better understanding each time I open it.   It's a book that explores the wonder and frailty of being human.   And that Michael Cunningham seems to have been blessed with a window into love and the human condition that I cannot remotely understand how he channels.  It's amazing.  

Made several loaves of bread, served up homemade soup.  Survived on mostly beer and lunchmeat and Arby's.  It happens sometimes.

Here's to the start of another week. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thank you

A very heartfelt hug and thank you to everyone who took the time to comment to my last post and to those who have kept my family in their thoughts.

The viewing, mass and cemetery service are done.  I held myself together by staring at the ceiling until shots were fired during the military service at the cemetery; then I lost it.

The same priest, same funeral home, has cared for three of my loved ones in the last two years.  They've done an excellent job.

I don't have any photos of him tending cattle, fishing or pulling weeds. Or that time when he took me out fishing and I, as a child, caught my limit of trout before the adults and demanded everyone else go home becuase I WAS DONE FISHING.

 Isn't that the way with all of us?  We only photograph the fancy stuff.  Not who we really are.

Here is this; my grandparents on their wedding day; December 29, 1952.  My grandmother was a stunner and still is.  He was from Pennsylvania and she is still a Southern gal from Alabama. 

My grandparents and my mother.

Day is done, gone the sun,
 From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
 All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Fading light, dims the sight,
 And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
 From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.

Thanks and praise, for our days,
 'Neath the sun, 'neath the stars, neath the sky;
 As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

While the light fades from sight,
 And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
 To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

On loss, grief and hope

It's been a shit of of a time lately.  I am just going to lay it all out there.

My mother died two years ago this April.  She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer too late and although she fought harder than we will ever understand for another four years with us it was not to be.  Her death was cruel and prolonged and unforgivable.   She died when I was six months pregnant with my son, a baby she never got to feel kick, a grandson she never got to meet. I wish for her help and guidance every day. I wish for my mother. Wish is not the proper word. I suffer for want of it.

I feel our loss harder this year than last. I am better understanding fully every day what I have lost, what my son lost, what my father lost in losing his mate.

I had another miscarriage last month, a week after my birthday.

And then my grandpa died on New Year's Eve.  He was 90 years old.  Laid down in his own bed and didn't wake up again.  Grandpa was one of the great heroes in my life.  I could not have possibly loved him more and he knew that.  He was among other things a farmer and an outdoorsman and took me along with him everywhere when I was little. He was one of the people in my life that shone like the sun.  I can barely talk about this.

He left behind his wife of 64 years and a large family.  My grandmother has advanced dementia and must go to a nursing home for her own safety.  The farm where I spent my childhood will be sold. The barn and fields I played in gone.  The porch where my grandmother and I would shell peas and the kitchen where we baked bread, gone.  The high lonely ridge my father and I hunt on each year which overlooks a creek, gone. These things are necessary and unavoidable and horrible.

I joke that I come from stoic people.  My people do not air their laundry.  I am normally private on this blog.  Possibly I will feel embarrassed by this post.  Probably later I will take it down.

I am sharing this because I know I am not the only person out there who is dealing with loss this holiday season. I am probably misremembering the details but I am reminded of a story  about a woman who pleads to Buddha to bring a child back who she has lost.  He replies "if you bring me just a single mustard seed from a house that has known no suffering I will restore your child".  She is elated by the promise but as she goes from door to door begging for salvation at each one finds she a family that has lost someone precious.

Most people you meet in your day have a burden.   You learn to shoulder it as best you can; to lean into it and pull it alongside you. It's lighter some days and heavier others. But it's always there.

There is no room for death in our culture.  No room for grief.  It embarrasses people and makes them uncomfortable.

To be certain, I have very much in my life to be thankful for.

The very least we can do is to be a bit kinder to one another.   To treasure what we have while we have it.

And hope this year is a better one.

Friday, December 30, 2016

2017 Goals

I'd like to lay down on paper some personal goals (not resolutions!) for 2017. Some of this is going to tie into the list of what I learned in 2016.  I want to check back with myself in another 12 months and see what got done, what didn't and what I deemed not as important as I thought it was. Let's keep on getting better, amiright?

Let's start with personal goals. I think a lot of stay at home parents can relate to the the feeling that whatever they do is never enough and don't cut themselves slack or allow themselves downtime, because there is always crap on the counters and crumbs on the floors to clean, however much their spouses encourage them to take time "off". And in spite of it all, your house is a hot mess 24/7 and your child has sticky hands.   I didn't do a lot of my loves last year because I had a beautiful, nursing, bottle-refusing baby who needed me.  I'm going to put these first because I think I'll be a lot more productive overall if I keep these in the forefront:

Go turtle trapping again.  That was awesome.
  • We've talked about getting one of those bicycle trailers for the little man so we can all go biking.
  • I hate shopping but am trying to put together a classic capsule-type wardrobe that I feel good in. That sounds fancy but all it means is that I can reach into my closet and any items I pull out will fit, make me feel good and match each other. 
  • Keep trying new things in the kitchen.  In December I discovered leeks and squid.
  • Keep making bread.  I bake about 5 loaves a week.
  • Read a book each month. 
  • Possibly 2017 might be the year I take the time to get a haircut.
  • Possibly 2017 might be the year I shoot a deer while hunting.  Last year I slipped in fell in a pile of deer crap and that was about the closest I got. 

Homesteading goals.  Keeping the above in mind, and realizing that I have a toddler who is more important than micro greens, here are my personal goals.
  • Freezer chickens.  
    • I raised 10 Red Rangers for the freezer, butchered 9 and kept one for laying (she's doing great).  I'd like to put 25 in the freezer in 2017.  
    • I also put away two silkies - they have black skin/meat/bones and are used in soup. Not sure if I'll do more next year because I need to order things like wolf berries online to make the soup.
    • I don't know how many random roosters/culled hens we ate -maybe 5 or 6?
  • If I'm at this auction again and grown roosters are going for $1 each, someone hold my wallet.  I will impulse buy a dozen. Also, any turkeys for sale will be bought and killed because Lord knows I'm not raising them myself again.
  • Eggs.  As it stands, I got my winter numbers down to 7 chickens and 5 ducks.  The ducks lay an egg a day, every single day, starting in about March.  I'm projecting 4 dozen eggs a week for the house.  This is enough but I'll set more eggs because I can't help myself.  They're Easter Eggers and I can always Craigslist the pullets.
  • Quail.  I really miss having quail and that cute layer pen is just sitting there.  I 'm thinking of ordering Golden Manchurian eggs from James Marie Farms. I'll keep a small covey for tiny eggs and butcher the rest for fancy-looking dinners.
  • Mushroom logs really need re-seeded this year.  I've had my shiitake logs for about 7 years and while they give mushrooms every season, I don't know how much longer it's going to last.
  • I'd like to find a way to grow fresh herbs indoors in the winter that doesn't involve my gross basement or the cats messing with them.
  • The garden.  I am re-evaluating the layout and our food priorities in order to be more effective in the future.  Eventually, I would like to work back up to selling at the farmer's market again.  For 2017 I just want to feed us very, very well and have a house full of beautiful flowers.
Other goals.  
  • Sometimes I feel like our house, a small 1930's Sears & Roebuck, is closing in on me.  We have too much stuff, period.  Time to cull out the things we don't need and set up a spot at the flea market.  Which is great fun in itself because I get to spend the day tanning myself and making a bit of money.
  • This is going to sound ridiculous, but I plan on kicking ass at the local fair this year.  Bragging rights and ribbons are fun.  And when you win Best In Show? Golden.  So far I've done it once in the Eggs division and twice in the Canning.
Dreams.  Things that I don't expect to happen but would really be thrilled about if they did.
  • I really want geese on our property.  A trio of American Buffs or Toulouse.  Geese that will chase off cats, bite the UPS man and honk really, really loudly.  Geese that look beautiful in out yard and eventually produce offspring that I can roast for Christmas.
  • It would be really nice to find a foraging class or survival skills class to take instead of just reading about these things.  A (very) long-term goal of mine is to do a months-long pilgrimage hike like the Appalachian Trail when the little man is older. I want to start laying a path to prepare myself. 
  • I would love to be in a place at the end of 2017 where I'm thinking of selling at the Farmer's Market again in some capacity during 2018.

Comments? Suggestions? Here we go; cheers to a new year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My pet rooster died. A changing of the gaurd.

Well, there you have it.  And it was my fault.

Christmas night we were at my parent's house celebrating with my father and my sister and her family.  We got home really late.  I forgot to close the coop door.

The next morning we were getting ready to travel to my in-laws for a couple of days.  Around 8 a.m. I looked out the window and saw chickens puttering around in the pen, and then I got busy because there was so much to do and I didn't go out there to feed and water until we were literally packing the car to leave.

I started across the property with the feed and water buckets and I saw something odd in the window of the chicken coop.  What the hell?  As I got closer I could tell it was a foot, hanging upside down from the window.  There was a black mass of fluff half blocking the door.

Talk about feeling like you're going to lose your breakfast  Something had scaled the fence during the night and walked up the ramp into the coop.  A raccoon probably.  Mr. Rooster had fought off the intruder and had given his life to protect his ladies, all of which were unharmed.  Somehow during the battle one of his massive spurs got caught in the fencing that covers the windows and this is how he died.  Hung upside down from the window.  The only consolation I have is that looking at his wounds (his tail and lower back were missing) and how I found him - he was injured before he got tangled up.  That, and once a chicken is upside down it only takes seconds before they pass out.  I'm guessing that his panicked flapping is what drove the animal off.

I feel sick.   Mr. Rooster was with us for five years and was, honestly, a beloved pet.  He protected his ladies, was a respectful gentleman with me and produced beautiful babies.  He was a massive cochin, weighing probably 12 pounds, and had a wonderfully fluffy butt.

I didn't even have time to bury him.  I took him to the far corner of our property, thanked him for his service and laid him beneath an old apple tree.

Anyone who knows me personally knows that this has been a pretty shitty month overall. I know he was "just a rooster" but I really did not need this.

Anyway.  It's important that the hens have a rooster.  I hatch babies every spring and the hens need the protection and guidance.  Tonight they were just wandering around the run looking lost.  Mr. Rooster used to round everyone up at night and make sure everyone was inside before he got on the roost himself.  The irony here is that I put Mr. Rooster's beautiful and well-behaved son in the freezer a couple of months ago because I had too many roosters. I have the bantam rooster but he doesn't count.  That leaves me with this guy who I just hadn't gotten around to turning into enchiladas yet. 

He's the striped one in the back.  Tonight I plucked him from the his roost in the duck yard, tucked him under my arm and walked him out to the big chicken yard.  I gave him an impromptu talk as we went.  Out loud.  "You're getting a pardon, little guy.  Because of the  untimely death of Mr. Rooster I need you to take his place out in the big coop.  You will protect those ladies at every moment and defend them with your life if need be.  Mr. Rooster left some pretty big shoes to fill and I need you to step up.  Oh, and you also need to get on the baby making."

We'll see how things work out.  I am really sad about this but that's how things go.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Canning citrus & egg review

I've been doing a little bit of canning this week, those tiny mandarin oranges that are in season. What's that? I live in PA and no oranges grow here? Don't I have anything better to do with my time?  Apparently not.  My little guy adores those tiny oranges.  I used to buy the ones at the grocery store marketed to parents, in the little plastic tubs, until I started to notice that every single one of them was manufactured in Asia.  I could not find a single canned orange made in North America or Europe.  And then I started to wonder just exactly how the factories in Asia got all of the pith off of the oranges.  Give it a google and you will read references to things like "chemical process" and "lye solution".  Um, hell no.  No thank you.

So I got out the canning jars and started peeling.  It takes about 3 or 4 mandarin oranges to fill a jelly jar.  Because I read that the sweetness of the solution you can them in has no impact on canning safety, I made a very, very light solution with some of our honey to top off the jars.  

I figure I'll keep doing jars of these while they're in season.  That way I'll have something on those "crap, we're out of fruit" days. 

Also, see that egg?  Apparently all the hens needed was a good public shaming.  One of the hennies has started laying every other day.  And thank goodness, because the next thing I am going to complain about is the organic expensive eggs I bought the other day.  Check this out:

Store egg on the left, home laid egg on the right.  

My chickens aren't free-ranging because the ground is still covered with snow.  They get a mix of  grains from a nearby feed mill along with whatever table scraps I throw at them.  It's not organic, fancy or expensive.  More like "cheap and easy".

The store eggs didn't look or act like normal eggs.  Mixing our eggs for a scramble takes some work, these were like stirring water.  My husband said something to the effect of "why are they that color?" They had no flavor.  Here's the best part: the cats wouldn't even eat them.  I threw out a dozen and a half.  

I am just so regularly disappointed with the quality of food from stores.  It's depressing.  And with our incoming president I don't exactly foresee regulations on big business, GMOs or food safety moving in a direction that is going to make me feel any better about things.  

Just my two cents today.