Thursday, February 14, 2019

A new hobby - maple syrup!

Trees are tapped!

I'm in love with this already. 

Although there was a brief "Oh no what have I done moment" when I looked outside this morning and realized there was about 4.5 gallons of sap that appeared OVERNIGHT. The plan is to save this all up frozen and have one big processing day. Can already tell storage/storage containers are going to be an... um... issue. Oh goodness. 

More to follow...

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Missing my mother

My mother died 4 years ago, when I was 6 months pregnant with my first son. I think of her every single day. Some days are not too terrible, other days it's a bit much. Those are the days when I turn on Neil Diamond, remember the time she and I saw him live (5th row center ! I had dreadlocks!) have a glass of wine at an inappropriate hour and have a dance party with the children to songs a like Cherry Cherry, Walk on Water and I Got The Feeling.

It doesn't make it easier to forget. It makes it easier to remember.

She got tipsy once a year from a single wine cooler but I would like to think she would forgive me for it.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The weekend, goose eggs, ready to tap

This weekend, Friday evening maybe, I mounted a small weather vane on one of the chicken coops while it was raining.  It was something i found in my grandparents' house before it was auctioned.  Not something that was original to the farmhouse but something newer my Grandpa probably picked up at a yard sale.  Part of the E is broken off but it still looks nice.

My nephew celebrated his birthday with a sweet party at a movie theater.  The oldest ran around with a balloon and watched about 20 minutes of the movie before announcing 'I'm done with this activity".  We had driven over an hour to get there so, after stopping at and leaving Chick-fil-A in disgrace, on the way home we stopped at an indoor rec center by us so he could get his wiggles out after being cooped up in the car.

The youngest rode in a carrier and we watched all of  the activities while the oldest ran around the indoor play area with my husband.  The little one and I played some arcade games and turned all of our tickets in for a couple of miniature slinkies that probably cost us $12 in quarters.  It was a good time though.

A miracle occurred; both kiddos cooperated with making Valentine's cards for the grandparents.

We had really excellent fish tacos, here are the leftovers pictured.  Aldi's has a big Asian cooking section at the moment and I found some fun things to try. Tilapia was fried in coconut panko crumbs.  Orange/ginger dipping sauce, grilled tomato and an Asian salad completed things. 

This lady has been walking up the chicken ramp and wedging herself into the coop.  It was her preferred place to lay an egg last year so I started searching for goose eggs in the afternoons.

They're huge. Chicken eggs for scale.

Success! We've gotten 3 eggs over 4 days so I suspect both ladies are laying.  It's funny that the goose eggs are arriving the same week as they did last year.  For now we're just making pasta and cooking with them but the goal is to fire up the incubator.  Except that when I crack them open they don't appear to be fertilized yet.*

Poor guy is trying but he's young and doesn't seemed to have figured out how to *ahem* get the job done.  Hopefully practice will be its own reward here. It would be really fun to have goslings.

This is like 10% of our book collection. 

And this happened.  We've been without a television for about 8 years.  A funny thing happens when you tell people that you don't have T.V.... for some reason people keep finding excuses to give you their old ones.  Out of pity?  I don't know.  This is the third T.V. we've been "gifted" during our time without.  It's a big loud eyesore, and I'd rather throw myself out a window than sit through an entire program of just about anything but it is a huge improvement over watching PBS on my phone.  "Look!" my husband joked "now we're just like the rest of America!"  That noise you hear is me weeping a little.

On the bright side, and this is a big one, it forced us to take every single book off of those shelves and reorganize them.  I spent Friday night happily alphabetizing them all by author and re-shelving them.  

The little field guides got moved onto the bottom, kid-accessible shelf.  I found a bunch of book marks that had been tucked in between volumes and have started reading again.

The sap jugs are all ready to go, tomorrow after preschool drop off I'm going to pick up a drill bit and get moving on this project as long as it's not pouring rain.  One of our dear friends alerted me to a syrup making workshop that was held locally over the weekend; I couldn't make it due to the party but called and the educator there was kind enough to answer my questions.  It is early but some people are tapping now, the taps can be left in for weeks apparently.  I guess, like most things, the time to do it is when you have the time. 

*it occurred to me this morning to explain this because it potentially sounded gross.  When you crack any egg, you should notice a tiny white circle in the yolk.  That's the germinal disc that has the potential to become a chick.  That little circle looks like a bulls-eye or doughnut when the egg's been fertilized..  That's all.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Winter walk, a goose video, crazy week

We've had really nice weather this week and on Sunday my husband and I had the chance to take a long walk All! By! Ourselves! We strolled around town, down side alleys, looked at the architecture of the old houses, walked around the park.  We walked 4 miles total. I've been using the app Map My Walk on my phone to track distance for me.

The river was still thawing that day.  I've recently read that you can tap sycamore trees and the syrup has a butterscotch hint to it.  We saw plenty of those trees on our walk and they sure are beautiful.

Here are the kids on the porch, also thawing out in the sunshine.  The oldest is holding his emergency whistle (outside us only, please!) He's been a total three-year old lately, as in complaining "BUT Mooooom!" to everything which is sometimes hilarious.  When he saw the boxes on the porch he walked over, stared and whined "BUT Moooooom! This was NOT the chicken coop I was expecting! THIS IS WOOD!"  Hahahaha.  The other day he and I had this conversation: ME:" You really are acting three lately.  How much longer do you plan on doing this?" HIM: "Hmmmm... 6 more months".  Oh, these two crack me up.

The week has gone a bit sideways honestly for a bunch of reasons.  The new coop is still sitting in the box, supplies have been gathered but no trees tapped, no garlic planted.  Plus the geese managed to destroy the base of the rain barrel (by mucking about under the concrete base till it fell over in the thaw) so that needs fixed.  

Here's a video of geese behaving badly.  I'm just grateful when the water barrel and concrete blocks fell they didn't squash anyone.

We've had a lot of family time but not much productivity.  

We made a concrete stepping stone owl.

We went out to lunch with Papa. One of the kids accidentally called the police on Papa's phone.

To the thrift store where they each picked out a toy.

And I picked out this little wooden chicken that is now sitting on the back of the wooden steer (also thrift store) in the kitchen.

Today is the nicest day of the week and our afternoon is actually free. Maybe, just maybe something can get done. Maybe when the oldest is picked up from preschool I'll run up the road, pick up straw and muck the coops.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Saturday thaw

We had a lovely day today, the cold has finally broken.  The kids and I took the Honda to the car wash to spray off the salt and then we all spent some time in the yard.  I had the baby in the carrier.  The oldest got out his snow shovel and randomly shoveled paths and holes in the yard.  It was a much needed break from being cooped up in the house.

My gander.  I love when the geese stretch their wings like this.  They look so regal.  Of course, he'll probably try to beat the hell out of me with that 4 foot wingspan come breeding season.  Oh well.  We pick up the new coop tomorrow and I'm thinking of some modifications out in the yard to make poultry-tending easier like hooking up an overflow barrel to the rain barrel off the main coop.  maybe i could install a gravity water system out there?  It's worth looking into.  Wow, if each coop had a gravity water system from collected rainwater that would be wonderful.

The temperature is going to be wonderful this week.  I need to clean coops out, fix part of the fence and clear brush away from the back perimeter.

Walking around the side property, red baby hood and family in the distance.. We are thinking of clearing most of this in the spring; leaving plenty of brush and cover around the perimeter for wildlife and nature exploration but allowing some of the smaller trees to grow up, planting some more trees and opening up the old orchard so it can be usable.  The property owners (2 owners back?) actually had horses here but between foreclosures, tax sales and deaths the property grew into a tangled mess by the time we came along.  

Are these tiny squirrel tracks? Foot for scale. When we pick up the coop tomorrow I'm going to use a Christmas gift card to pick up a salt block and start setting up the game camera again.  

We came inside and had some homemade hot cocoa.  My dad found this tablecloth for us at an Amish re-sale shop and we LOVE it.  The color is so beautiful.  

My mom made this stained glass piece.  It's been displayed on a shelf but we hung it in the kitchen window. Some day I'll post about how we bought this house in total ruin and with help restored every flippin' part of it.  Every corner of this house was made better by friends and family.  In some ways it feels like we're still moving in, finding little touches that make it seem like a home.

Dinner tonight was homemade pasta with lemon added to the dough, roasted broccoli and squash along with a pork tenderloin from Aldi (these things are so delicious and cost about $3).

Here's the pasta recipe.  I did not put white beans in it.  I don't know who thought it would be a great idea to put both broccoli and beans in the same recipe.  I can only imagine.

The weather is going to be amazing this week.  I am hoping to walk into town for yoga, take some other walks and get some chores done outside.  The days will be warm and the nights around freezing but I don't know if I should tap the trees now  Is it early?  I have no idea and will call our Cooperative Extension office on Monday hoping they can put me in touch with a local maple syrup person to talk to.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

New coop, Saturday drama, great soup

What an odd title for a post.  Wow, that's horrible considering what an unusual weekend it's been.  
First off - I went to TSC to buy a chicken coop on Saturday.  I  have been looking at these coops for weeks and knew which one I wanted: the one on the right, which would look great next to the other coops.  I would like it for my little group of Easter Eggers (1 Rooster and 5 hens) to ensure some pure hatching eggs in the spring.  

I rolled in with my 10% off coupon and $15 back offer only to find this:

The Prairie Coop had been marked down again, to half the price of the green coop.  You can't tell by the photos but the square footage of the base is pretty close to the same.  Dang it anyway.

i still liked the green coop better.  But did I like it $150 better? No, I did not.  We have plenty of exterior paint in the basement and it will not take but an hour to paint it the same blue and cream colors as the other two coops.  And drill in some extra ventilation.  $150.  These are chickens, folks.  It doesn't need to be the Taj Mahal.

New chicken coop: original price $499.  Paid $135.  Can I get a hell yeah?

So excited was I by my savings that I went ahead and bought the spires and hooks to tap the two Maple trees in the front yard.  This week I will call around to get some nearly-free food grade bakery buckets and look in the local thrift store for a couple of big roasting pans to evaporate the sugar water over the fire.

So. Excited.

What else?  In other news we had quite the adventure yesterday.  We all piled in the car to go to my parent's house to let the dog out as my dad was away for the day.  When we got there I turned the car off in the driveway and threw the keys into the center console (It's a small town, who the hell doesn't do this?) I got out of the car the same time my husband did.  But, by the way of opening the door, he managed to hit the lock while closing it... leaving the keys locked inside the car ALONG WITH BOTH CHILDREN.  Holy crap people.  We had locked both kids INSIDE THE CAR.  It was about 15 degrees outside.  Both of them were crying; the baby because he's teething and the oldest because he's old enough to know that somehow the shit had hit the fan.  

Holy crap.  After a very brief "whose fault is this" I called 911 and explained the situation.  An officer showed up, unlocked the door and we had both kiddos out within 4 minutes of me placing the call.  

Four minutes.  Well done West Salem police, well done.

Both children recovered from the trauma/drama.  We went inside, ate pizza and turned the TV to the movie Happy Gillmore (quite the novelty as we don't have a TV at home).  About 15 minutes into it the oldest talked to himself quietly then, a little louder said "Mama? Shut the hell up?" 

Hahahahaha.. he's never said anything like that before and doesn't have a clue what he was repeating.  It was so funny I couldn't help but laugh until my sides hurt.

For contrast, here he is tonight when I went up to read him a bedtime story.  He pulled the Bible off of the nightstand and was studying it quietly "Mama, this is a lot of words."

I can't even handle it.

Oh, in cooking news my sister send me this recipe for 10-minute white bean and spinach soup.  I tossed all of the ingredients into the crock pot before going shopping.  It is sooo delicious and easy.  WOW, this is going to be on regular rotation here.  Even if you have to buy all of the ingredients I'm guessing it would come out under $5 to serve ten. 

So, so good.  I should think it would also be great over toast with a soft boiled egg.

Here's to the weekend, cheers!  What's in store for us this week?

Friday, January 25, 2019

Flowers, books and 2019 planning

The amaryllis are starting to bloom.  This big double white one is my favorite.  It was a surprise as when I bought it on clearance last winter it was marked as being a plain, pink single blossom (like the one below).  But it obviously isn't and is just spectacular. 

Here are the three that are blooming now.  We also have some dark red ones in the living room that have buds but haven't opened yet.  Amaryllis are so beautiful in the dead of winter.  

Yesterday I set up my little breeding group of booted bantams in a coop to segregate them for hatching eggs next month.  One of the doors on that coop lifts up and outward and when I opened it this morning it slipped in my snowy glove and cracked me right on the bridge of the nose.  There was actual crying and the bridge of my nose is swollen and painful but no black eyes, thank goodness.  I did skip yoga on account of a blazing headache.  

The baby has gotten his first tiny tooth this week and figured out how to motor around in his little wheeled saucer.  The oldest is loving some new books.

Aunt Bee babysits while laundry is folded.

We had a 3 a.m. Peppa Pig party in the middle of the night.

Homemade chicken noodle soup tonight.  Home made noodles and flatbread.

Really trying to be more constructive with my free time.  I've done some reading this month.

I loved The Commitment, it was touching and insightful and hilariously written.  The Kid was a really interesting look into the world of surrogacy and adoption.  I got The Kid off of Ebay and it turned out to be autographed.

I really enjoyed this.  Can't remember if I finished it in December or early this month. I'll re-read it.

Starting to plan ahead for the Spring and Summer.  Hoping to be more productive around here than we were last year as far as the property goes.  I'm going to TSC tomorrow to buy another pre-fab chicken coop so I can segregate my breeding group of Easter Eggers.  The coop is on clearance, plus I have a discount coupon and a $15 offer which means the price will be about $235 instead of $499.  The idea is to be able to sell a couple batches of chicks this year: the bantams, Easter Eggers and African goslings.  Plus hatching eggs from these groups.  In this way I hope to offset my feed costs for the year, which are estimated at about $240.

We have two ancient Maple trees in the side yard that I'd like to try tapping this spring.  Food grade buckets can be had from bakeries for a dollar or so and I'll start looking at large pans for evaporating at the thrift stores.  In this way I hope to set up the project for under $30.  If we enjoy it them we'll spring for the nice galvanized pails next year.  This guide at The Art of Doing Stuff is really helpful.  Has anyone made maple syrup at home?

It would be nice to have a hive of bees on the property again.  Part of the garden could be used for buckwheat forage.

The seed order is starting to come together.

I really hope to work smarter instead of harder this year.  I'll post more about homestead plans as they come together.  We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The big cold

Well, that happened.  We took no real notice of all of the weather warnings and winter rewarded us with dumping a full foot and a half of snow on our place.  The snow is higher than my boots when I slog through it every day to feed, water and gather eggs.

At least the sky has been bright and beautiful, part of the time anyway.

As luck would have it, it was also a full moon.

We were basically snowed in for a long weekend.  
It made me think about how much my life has changed over the years.  If this had happened 4 or 5 years ago I could tell you exactly how I would have spend the last three days: luxuriously  lying in bed under the covers with a coffee cup full of wine reading The Shining as the chill crept in from under the old windows.

I'm not saying it was "Overlook Manor" here exactly but my job now was to make sure everyone was fed and entertained, cabin fever be dammed.    The oldest puttered around the house on his scooter (not un-like Danny with his tricycle in The Shining) and had lots of activities to enjoy.

We build a tiny xylophone, built a tic-tac-toe board, read lots of books, painted.

Watched our neighbor, God bless him, snowplow the driveway for us.  It seems like a small thing but as it was covered with a foot and a half of snow it would have taken us a solid day to shovel it. 

We fished in a tiny pond, measured each catch against a ruler and decided to throw the fish back or put it in the tiny fabric cooler.

One snowy day the oldest found a balsa plane kit in our bedroom.  "Mama let's build this!" he said.  Sigh, OK, you're right.  I bought this kit 5 or 6 years ago and have never attempted to put it together, so what could I really say but "Sure"? There are about 500 pieces, all made of paper-thin balsa wood.  So far we have made the body of the plane, the rudder, the tail and the oldest has learned lots of creative new swears.  I think I've broken every paper-thin piece at least 4 times and super-glued the plane to my fingers more times than I can count.  

There were some inventive meals cooked.  The freezer was relieved of a chicken, some fish, venison sausage and frozen pasta dough.  We used some canned apples and bruchetta.  We didn't go to the store until things were dire: the house was out of cheese, wine and diapers.   It was a wonderful three days of being isolated from the world and together as a family.