Archive for the ‘Farm’ Category

Still Alive

June 1, 2015

Wow, I’m totally embarrassed that it has been 6 months since I talked to you guys. Working nights is totally messing with my ability to get much else done besides basic chores! I haven’t touched the spinning wheel in months despite a couple of big projects that really need to get done. The only knitting is happening at work between calls, and very little of it.

The good news is that I still am working, and I am grateful for that. Office politics is a killer for me, as it is something that I totally don’t “get”. I don’t understand why any workplace would not only allow behaviors that are counter-productive but seem to encourage them. My mantra has become “Not my circus, not my monkeys”, and I have to tell myself that several times a shift. I enjoy the actual work, so that’s what keeps me going.

On the farm-front things are going well. I had quit milking when Mom had her knee replacement, there being only so many hours in a day, but Clara was still nursing, so after a 6-month hiatus I forcibly weaned her yearling sons. They were not impressed by my efforts, especially O’Dell. He nursed her through the fence when I moved her next door to the boys pen, and when I set her up further away he would break out and find her! He is now living on a tether in the boys pen, which is not ideal but will have to do for now. The first few weeks were slow going, averaging about 12-18 ounces a day (2 milkings a day). But even little bits add up, and by the end of April when I added up the totals she had given me almost 6 1/4 gallons. I just ran May’s numbers this morning, and the grand total was 12.43 gallons! She is now averaging 54-57 ounces a day, and I am very pleased with her progress.

All this milk means I have gone back to cheese making. I figured out the Clara was the source of the failures I had been having, so I have had to make some changes. For some reason her milk does not take well to being heated (I suspect a sub-clinical infection, since her boys were so rough on her udder. When I am ready to dry her off I will give her a course of antibiotics). So mozzarella and ricotta are out of the question, and I have moved on to an Iberico-type. It only has to be heated to 97 degrees. I got my mojo back making a Manchego with some sheep milk I bought from a friend. Still haven’t broken in to any of them, so the cheese cave (aka veggie drawer in the big fridge) is filling up. I chopped up some of the salt-preserved Meyer lemon I made last year and stirred it into one batch. Sure is pretty, don’t you think? Meyer lemon Iberico

At the beginning of May I also got a half-dozen turkey peeps. Four broad-breasted Bronze, and 2 Chocolates (a heritage breed that will be capable of reproducing if it turns out I have a pair). A month old now, it is amazing how much bigger the Bronzes are already. They are a precocious lot, intent on escaping the safety of the barn where I have been brooding them. Almost from the very beginning, I occasionally come out to one or more out with the sheep, who thankfully have been very gentle with them. I have been unable to convince them that the big, wide world isn’t a safe place for little turkeys, so I need to figure out where I am going to put them to grow out. I will mean building something for them, since all the pens are occupied at the moment. turkey peeps

All the duck hens are sitting on nests now, so if they all hatch out I will soon be up to my armpits in ducklings. One of the Muscovy girls was not happy with being in the pen and has made herself a nest in between the pole barn and the chicken coop, between some old windows. It is fairly safe, so I will wait for her ducklings to hatch before I move her back to the pen. She went broody about 2 weeks before the other Muscovies, so the move should be interesting. The crazy ducks all went broody at roughly the same time, so fingers crossed that I get ducklings from them. Breeding them to the Muscovy drake is an experiment. Being different species, any babies will be sterile mules (generally called Moulards); they should grow fast and are all destined for freezer-training. The hens seem dedicated to their nests, and I haven’t seem them rejecting any eggs (which they will often do with infertile eggs). I’m pretty sure that the hen that hatched out a brood last year had a few Moulards in the mix, since there were ducklings that didn’t hatch out that weren’t quite mature when their litter mates hatched (Moulards take a longer incubation period). I am cautiously optimistic at this point, but only time will tell. If it doesn’t work, I will have a lot of rotten eggs to add to the compost bin.

I have started a lot of seeds under lights in the kitchen, and a few things have been moved outside to the garden. The spinach that volunteered has been going gang-busters but is bolting now. I have been pulling stalks to feed to the beasties, but will let some go to seed again since that is so easy. We have had a cool, wet spring, so grass and weeds are growing and threatening to take over the place. I have taken to using the scythe a few minutes every time I go out to milk and feed. In under 5 minutes I can cut enough to give everyone a healthy addition to their diet, and I am slowly clearing the pasture. Lots of mustard, plus grass and dandelions. They prefer it fresh-cut, and since that is easier on my back I am happy to oblige. It isn’t the cutting that gets to me, since the scythe is very ergonomic, but the gathering and delivering of the goodies is work.

That’s it for now. Hopefully I’ll get back here before the New Year. It isn’t that I don’t have anything to say; it’s just having the energy when the words are flowing. Take care!

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Welcome 2015!

January 1, 2015

Hello again! It has been far too long since I have reached out to the world. Adjusting to my mostly nocturnal lifestyle has been rough, and I have, for the most part, been a pretty good hermit.

I won’t bore you with the minutia of the last few months. A few highlights, though, are probably in order:

  • Work goes well. It is nice to have a reasonably steady income again.
  • The ducklings were successfully raised by their respective mothers and have been freezer-trained, along with 22 Cornish cross chicks. It is nice to have home-grown meat in the freezer and pantry again. I have spent quite a bit of time getting comfortable with my pressure canner, so there is an assortment of tasty meals ready when I’m hungry & don’t feel like cooking at the moment.
  • I was able to travel up to Friend’s Thanksgiving with Daughter’s friends this year. I feel very blessed to be included in the festivities.
  • Kid the Younger successfully applied to join German to his master’s degree program. The process included an interview in German. His grades for the 1st part of the year were a B and 2 A’s. I am one proud mama!
  • Kid the Elder and his wife are looking at moving to a warmer climate in the next couple of months. We all hope it will be a positive move for them.
  • Mom came through her knee replacement like a trooper. She worked really hard at her PT and has come out stronger and with better range of motion than before. It was hard at first, since I was working full-time, running the farm and taking care of her. I ran on very little sleep for a couple of weeks, but we all survived.
  • I made a decision not to breed the sheep or goats this fall. Originally my plan was to see how long I could keep milking the goats, but taking care of Mom after her surgery kind of interfered with that plan.

The last few months have presented some challenges as well.

  • The pump that brings water into the house decided to die. I had been unhappy with the results of having it rebuilt by one of the big pump companies in town a few years ago since it had continued to leak despite several call-backs. So I chose one of the other companies available, and that seems to have done the trick (fingers crossed!). I was prepared to have to replace the pump, but they encouraged me to rebuild it instead.
  • Had a couple of plumbing leaks that needed professional attention. I had hoped that it was just one under the house, but there was another within the wall between the laundry and bathroom. Since I had to tear the laundry room apart to gain access for the plumber, I am totally redoing the room as I put it slowly back together. I have scrubbed it down and am working on painting the walls & cabinet a soft yellow. I am also getting rid of the food that no longer fits my life style, so when I refill the cupboards they will only contain good foods.
  • We had a major wind storm a couple of weeks back, and I came home to find the roof of the front porch had partially collapsed. I had to take about 2/3’s of it off to be able to get in the front door, breaking a kitchen window in the process. I also managed to tweak my back and left shoulder, but they are settling back down. The broken window has been boarded up and will be replaced when the weather is a bit better.
  • My car will be needing an emergency trip to the mechanic next week. I went out to let it warm up before heading to work Monday night and it wouldn’t start. Luckily, Mom was able to come get me and has lent me her car for the next few days. I was hoping it was just an old battery giving out on me, but it appears to be more than that. I know that it has needed a major tune-up for some time but other things keep coming up (see above). Hoping it isn’t too bad.

I’m probably forgetting a few things, but we’ll talk again soon I hope. Here’s hoping that 2015 brings only good things to all of us. Much peace and happiness to all of you!

Missing In Action No More

July 11, 2014

Getting used to working again has been rougher than I imagined, especially because I am now working the graveyard shift. The hours are midnight to 8 a.m., which actually work really well when you are also trying to run a small farm. The biggest challenge is sleeping while trying to have something resembling a life. As with many things in my life, this is a work in progress. But there is much to share and catch up on, so let’s go!

When they offered me the job back in late April, I had let them  know that there were a couple of long weekends in June that I would need off. One, of course, was Black Sheep Gathering (more on that later). The other was planned by Kid the Younger as my birthday present. He sent me down to Southern California to visit with Sweetie’s sister and her little family. I have talked about getting there for ages, but it never quite made it to the top of the To-Do list. No more excuses! I drove over to his place in Eugene on the last Thursday of May and he drove me up to the airport in Portland and off I went. Sistah collected me at LAX way past her bed time and I finally got to see their sweet little house, complete with guest house. I wish I had thought to take a picture of the bounty of hand-knit stuffed animals my Wonder Niece had decorated my bed with! All were created by her; she goes to a Waldorf school and at the tender age of 9 is already a wonderful little knitter and a budding spinner. My traveling projects were a pair of socks and my Golding spindle with the yarn I am making for a wedding shawl. When WN asked if she could try my spindle I said sure, figuring I’d take off what she spun since it needed to match what I was doing. A quick lesson in how to handle combed locks and she was off and spinning like a champ. I really can’t tell where my single leaves off and hers starts, so it will all be incorporated into the shawl.  India spinning for Liz shawl

Huntington garden

My spectacular Sistah

my refuge

The patio where I spent a great deal of time relaxing

Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory

view from lunch

The view from our lunch table

I had a wonderfully relaxing time. Sistah and I visited the Huntington Gardens on Friday, walking about 3 1/2 miles. I was threatened by a bunch of teenage geese when I wanted to use the bench they were sitting by, but I won the battle of wills. We did a whirlwind tour of the artwork too. Saturday we visited a local yarn shop so WN could pick out some yarn that I could make her a pair of socks from. Sunday some other cousins were in town, so we had a mini family reunion and I finished off the day swimming in their pool. Monday I was headed back home, via a quick trip up to the Griffith Observatory (closed for the day) and then lunch at the beach. All in all, a perfect vacation! I must have come home looking refreshed, because for about 2 weeks afterwards all the store clerks I dealt with called me “Miss” instead of the usual “Ma’am”.  The trip home was a bit stressful; my plane was an hour late leaving LA and then hit head winds, so I was a bit late to work that night, but it couldn’t dampen my spirits. Southern California has a special place in my heart. I was born in San Diego and finished high school in La Habra. It was nice to be back for a visit. The back yard was perfect; orange trees all along one side, the pool glistening, a Meyer lemon tree against the side of the guest house. We could not have ordered better weather. Even the smog I remember from when I lived there is (mostly) a thing of the past.

While I was off relaxing surrounded by love, Kid the Younger, his Fiancée, and their roommate came and worked on my house! I came home to a much cleaner kitchen and dining room. I have found a few things missing, but their efforts were greatly appreciated.

Before I left, one of the brown ducks had indeed escaped again from the pen, and when I found where she was hiding I discovered an established nest. The weather had warmed up enough for her to be successful if she persisted, so I gave her a chance. The nest was in the middle of an old roll of chicken wire, so I hoped that she would escape being noticed by any possible predators long enough to hatch out her brood. After 30 days, she presented me with 6 healthy ducklings first duckling Here they are a month later, growing fast. I set up a nursery area in the corner of the duck pen using my skirting racks.  growing up 7214 I have since released them into the general duck population, since I needed the panels for a nursery area for the Muscovy in with the chickens. Yesterday she hatched out 8 of her own. muscovy babies

Black Sheep Gathering was wonderful as always, with a few bothers. The Romeldale show went well, as did the Spinner’s Lead. There were, however some rather disturbing reports from both the wool show and a class. I have not been able yet to track down which teacher it was, but apparently the people taking the class were told that the CVM breed came about when the wagon trains came across the country and allowed their sheep to breed with the Big Horn Sheep. Yikes! And the wool judge (Judith MacKenzie) wanted to perpetuate the myth that CVMs and Romeldales are 2 separate breeds and  any fleeces labeled with both names should be disqualified from the purebred class. It’s bad enough that many judges want to say that fine wools are tender because they will break if handled too roughly, but it is very harmful when a supposed expert doesn’t even have the facts straight. Next year we are hoping to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the breed, with special demonstrations and classes, and I’d love it if all the entries in the Spinner’s Lead were made from Romeldale yarn (there will be a special prize for the best one that is).

One very nice thing that I have discovered is that, since the kids are still nursing, I can forego milking for several days without any real drop in production. Even being gone for almost a week didn’t make a real effect. It is nice to be able to take a break now and then. And with a trip to the State Fair coming up towards the end of August, weaning will be put off for a while yet.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but it will come to me later. I’m hoping to check in again soon. Until then, stay well!

 

 

Work!

April 25, 2014

Yes, finally, after many applications and way too few interviews I have a job again! I am currently in training to be a monitor for a security company. One of my friends works there and recommended me to them. Eventually I will be transitioning to the midnight to 8 am shift, which will work much better for this night owl. Getting up at 6 to be to work by 8 am is very hard for me. I feel chronically exhausted even though I am actually getting more sleep than normal. Funny how our internal clocks run differently. It hasn’t helped that I am also coming down with something (all those wonderful new germs I’m being exposed to). I am very glad that the weekend is here, and hope to sleep my sickness away before Monday morning.

The biggest change when I move to the graveyard shift will be that I will change the time I feed the beasties from the late afternoon to the morning when I get home, after I milk. I will lock the babies away from their mom’s before I go to work (now I do it before I go to bed). It will be nice to have some income again, even if right now I feel like my head may implode from all the new information.

The animals are all doing well. I think I have finally blocked the crossbred ducks from escaping. Not only had I been worrying about their safety, but almost a week went by with the 2 brown females successfully hiding their eggs from me. The blue female apparently hadn’t been watching when they were getting out, because she was always in the pen. After I locked the pen down I found a nest under my lilac bush with 6 eggs in it. The next morning, one of the browns was very vocal while I was milking, and as soon as I went in the pen to collect eggs she dashed out the open gate. I let her go while I collected the 2 eggs from her pen and checked the chickens (who consider 7 am too early to be getting down to business). But when I looked under the lilac, the nest there was empty. It took me a while to figure out where she had disappeared to (across the alley way, under an aspen tree). As soon as I spotted her, she ran back to the pen, leaving behind a nest with 7 eggs! Mystery of the missing eggs solved! The weather has been cool enough that I was not worried about using the eggs (but it has been too cold at night for the eggs to be viable).

Unfortunately, I have not been nearly as successful at containing the goat kids. They are all still little enough to squeeze easily through the fence, and short of applying a layer of finer mesh fencing all the way around the pen my only hope is for them to grow quickly. They are enjoying the access to fresh grass that is denied their mothers (though I do let the does graze for a while after milking while I do other chores). They are cute little buggers, to be sure, and I am a source of great amusement when I sit on the ground in their pen. And they are learning to head to the barn when I go out after dark to put them to bed. They have half the barn to use now instead of just the crate, with some fresh hay that they don’t have to share with the big girls (who are all convinced that this is totally unfair).

I have been playing with all the milk, making more cajeta, yogurt and pudding. I am also putting the finishing touches on not one but two cheese presses, so hopefully I will feel better by Sunday so that I can make a couple of wheels of cheddar. They will not be huge, but that will actually work better for what I want. Definitely an improvement on my improvised set up the first time around. I’m down to the last little nub of that effort, and it has aged wonderfully so I am looking forward to making more. I know that the cheese will be a bit different since I will be using my own milk rather than cow’s milk, but I am hopefully that I can be successful with my efforts.

I’m going to leave you with this poster I found somewhere online (I’d provide the link but my brain is too full of new info to remember where I found this). It seems to me lately that the disconnect from the realities of what we use is becoming more prominent in our society. It’s not just about people not understanding where their food comes from, though that is huge (I think we’ve all seen the letter to the editor about how hunters should stop hunting and get their meat at the grocery store, where no animals were hurt). Personally, I’m glad that so much of a slaughtered animal gets used. Better than throwing things away!no such thing as a vegan

Not Funny!

April 1, 2014

Mother Nature obviously has a weird sense of humor, because this is what I woke up to this morning. I am not impressed! April Fools snow storm

At least I’m not milking in the same set up as last year, which looked like this. I used to have Myrtle tied in the corner there, with the fence to her side so she couldn’t get too far away.  last years milking area April Fools 2014 My new set up may not be perfect, but at least there is cover over my head, and I am shielded from the worst of the wind and weather. I’m using my fitting stand. I need to make a better head gate, but it works. The grain pan hangs on the wall to the left (in front of the goat), and there is a bench at the side for me to sit on. I milk into a pint measuring cup and take a mason jar to carry milk back in with. That way I can keep pretty exact records on how much each doe gives me. new milking area April Fools 2014 I know the pictures aren’t great, but there hasn’t been a lot of ambient light today, as it has been snowing all day. I am so done with winter!

We are settling into a routine. I lock the kids up before I go to bed, at about midnite. For now we are using an old dog crate that used to belong to one of my Akitas. The kids will outgrow it soon and I will have to make other arrangements, but this allows them all to see their mommies at night without interfering with my ability to milk said mommies in the morning. At about 8:30 am, I go out and bring all 3 does out of the pen on leads.  Two get tethered on to t-posts while I milk the third. The order is Myrtle, then Cloe and finally Clara. Once everyone has been milked, they get to graze while I do the rest of my morning chores (though the snow this morning meant access to hay, not fresh grass). The rest of the chores consist of locking Bridget in the barn for some supplemental feed (she is looking her age right now and needs the extra), and collecting eggs. Once those are done it’s time to take the does back to feed their children. I wish I could adequately capture this on film. The general consensus seems to be that any mom will do, and Cloe and Clara are ok with that. The other morning, poor Clara had all 7 kids clustered under her before they split off for the correct udders. I am putting Myrtle’s milk into a bottle which I offer to her kids first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The triplets are bottomless pits, but hopefully that will taper off a little now that they are eating some hay. Even when their bellies are full they want to keep sucking on the bottle, but I make sure they all get a turn. Since I’m only supplementing, I don’t want to carry more than one bottle out, and I want them to nurse mostly on their mom so they are only getting the 16-20 ounces I’m getting from her in the morning. They sure are cute little buggers though. Obi Wan and Odin are both naturally polled (like their mother, it turns out), but all the others are getting pointy bits. I don’t mind horns, and since none of them will be joining the herd on a permanent basis I won’t bother debudding them.

ready for release  mad dash for breakfast

So, how is production you might ask. Well, I started milking Myrtle on March 16, Clara on the 21st, and Cloe on the 22nd. Since then, I have gotten over 3 1/2 gallons of milk, milking just in the morning. We’re all learning together. Myrtle’s milk is getting put in the bottle for her kids, as I said earlier, and I’m playing with the rest. I tried my hand at Cajeta the other day (goat milk caramel sauce. Think Dulce de Leche made from goat milk). I need to work on my technique, but it has great potential to be highly addictive stirred in to my coffee. And while the chickens are not reacting well to having ducks sharing their quarters and have quit laying, the ducks are all starting to lay. Since the 16th, I’ve collected 44 eggs, not bad considering I only have 4 hens. Mom has declared that these are the most delicious eggs I’ve ever given her, and I may have to agree. The yolks are so dense and yummy! I want to make fresh pasta soon, as I hear that duck eggs are the best for that.

Last Saturday was our annual Fiber Market Day at the Prineville fairgrounds. I shared a booth, which kept expenses down, and spent the night before at Laura’s house to save gas. This is the first time we could set up the night before, which was a great improvement. In the past we have had to start setting up at 7 am and be ready when the doors open at 9! The weather cooperated, and we had a steady flow of customers most of the day. I did a demo on spinning with a  drop spindle and hope to have made a few new addicts. I brought a basket full of cd spindles for the adventurous to try with, and even let someone try out my Golding so that she could see the difference a good spindle makes.

It was a good thing that I made a little money, because I had to replace a tire this afternoon. That was not what I had planned for that money, but at least I had it available. Fingers crossed for more regular income soon! Doing without is getting old.

 

Staying Optimistic

March 12, 2014

Another catch up post. While I am doing better at posting regularly (3 times in January!), I need to get better about not letting so much time go by undocumented. More for myself than anyone else. I like looking back and seeing that I have made progress, even if at times it is just baby steps. I think a lot about posting, but then let inertia take over.

First, I want to report on two books that you might want to look into. My friend Leigh published a book about setting up her homestead. I love her blog; I appreciate that she doesn’t hide the failures that we all encounter as we work towards self-sufficiency. The other one is by my friend Rachael. Pack Up The Moon is her latest book. A fellow NaNo participant (and knitter), Rachael took the plunge a few years ago and has become a Real Author. Now, I am not a girly-girl and don’t normally watch chick flicks or read romance novels, but Rachael’s books are different, and I highly recommend them. I want to meet her characters for coffee and some knitting time, if you know what I mean. You can’t go wrong with either of these books (or both!).

I’ve been reading a lot of new-to-me blogs lately. When I find someone who’s writing I like, I go back to the beginning of their blog and binge-read my way to the present. It sometimes takes a while to get near enough to the present to be able to comment, but I like looking at their whole journey. It is frustrating that many of the ones that really touch me seem to cut back on the amount of time they spend blogging (a few are now taking longer than even me to post new stuff!). I have found some wonderful new recipes to play with, and a few new patterns to try when I get bored.

It has been a challenging winter. If I were not by nature an optimist, I’m not sure that I would still be breathing, and there have been moments when even doing that have seemed almost too much to handle. Yet even in the darkest minutes, I know that I have much to be grateful for, and I know that life will get better. And so I wait for the darkness to brighten, and trust that it will. There have been some bright moments lately, so I’m hoping they are the beginning of the improvements. Kid the Younger has been accepted to graduate school (Bowling Green State University, in Ohio. That is so far away!). Daughter-In-Law had her SSDI hearing (fingers crossed for a positive outcome, soon). An Extra Daughter announced her engagement, which means I need to get started on a wedding shawl for her.

My lambing season was a total bust. Midge presented me with a darling horned son, who unfortunately got smooshed in one of the shelters during one of our nastiest snow storms. Eartha came down with pregnancy toxemia, and despite my best efforts (and a valiant struggle on her part) I lost both her and the twin ewe lambs she delivered much too early. In all, I have lost 11 animals since October, and each one hurts.

But the goat girls are due soon. Udders are filling, and I have felt the kids bumping against their mothers sides. Soon I will be drowning in fresh milk and kids will be hopping everywhere, and those are good things.

Clara rear March 7

Cloe March 7

Myrtle March 7

I got the new milking area set up last night and tried it out this morning. I moved the picnic table out of the little sheltered area that Sweetie built (he always called it the Pergola) and Kid the Elder helped me move a large window over to serve as a wind break on the mountain side (where most of the wind comes from). It won’t be perfect and may need some more work to shield us from the weather, but I won’t be sitting on the ground in the rain to milk this year. I moved my fitting stand in for the goats to stand on, and I have the picnic bench to sit on. I may work on a better neck gate but I’ve cobbled one together to get us started. This morning I took all  girls out on leads (much to the upset of all the sheep in that pen). Two got to graze while I worked with the third. On the stand they got a handful of grain while I brushed them out a bit and handled udders. Cloe is not at all convinced that I should be touching her There, but she is very food oriented so tolerated it. Myrtle and Clara were both pretty blase about the whole thing. I want them all to get into the routine of coming out in the morning before they kid. After the kids are well started I will start locking them away from their mamas at night so that I can milk in the mornings, and think it will be easier on everyone if I start going through the motions now. Today it was just brushing, but tomorrow I will trim a few hooves. No sense wasting the time on the stand. I’ll make a decision about twice a day milking after I wean the babies. It will depend on how much milk I’m getting with once a day, and the job hunt also.

I have had a couple of interviews, and hopefully one (or more) of them will materialize into actual job offers. As much as I love being at home, the stress of having no income is overwhelming. I am tired to the core of being told that I am over-qualified, and really want to be able to use my talents for financial gain. And the idea of having a little money to spend on a splurge would be nice too. A hair-cut and a movie would be wonderful!

Living Frugally

January 20, 2014

fru·gal

: careful about spending money or using things when you do not need to : using money or supplies in a very careful way

: simple and plain

(according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

From a very young age, my mother called me frugal. I always hated the word as a child, equating it in my mind with being cheap. I am not cheap! It was only over time that I came to appreciate the label for what it truly is. And mom was right, I am frugal. I spend money on good things but I am not wasteful, and I am a simple, plain woman. I don’t use makeup (except on very special, rare occasions), I don’t fuss over haircuts or clothing, I can count how many pairs of shoes I own on one hand (to Daughter’s great despair). I save things for future use, I use things up, I re-purpose things. I always have, even as a child.

It wasn’t behavior that I was taught. My parents were well-to-do, and my dad spent money like there was no tomorrow. No one picked up a dinner tab if he was at the table (I almost had to come to blows with him when I wanted it to be my treat, even if he had agreed before dinner). I saved my allowance for special purchases, hidden between the pages of books in my room that my sister pilfered on a regular basis.

Being frugal is very helpful now.  While I am sometimes at a loss to figure out how the electric or phone bills will be paid when there is no money coming in, I am resourceful and they do get paid. The house is reasonably warm, and I eat well. The universe provides what I truly need, if not the things that I would like. I am grateful, happy even, living my frugal life.

Two things this week make my point very well. Kid the Younger, Fiancée and Roommate came over for the weekend last week. While it meant giving up going to my spinning group and seeing friends, those were easy sacrifices. I pulled a chicken out of the freezer and mom & I planned a feast. Main course covered, she did sides and I cruised the web for a new dessert to try out using what I had on hand. Came up with a Pineapple-Banana Cake which will definitely get more play around here! Pineapple from the pantry, eggs from the chickens, bananas from the freezer. It is not overly sweet, which I really like, and it lasts for days (not that it really had a chance to). The glaze is pineapple juice and powdered sugar. Mom and I discussed some possible modifications to the recipe to change it up a bit.

pineapple banana cake finished  Ready to roast

This is the chicken before it went in the oven (forgot to take an after picture, oops). Very simple roast chicken, salt & pepper, fresh rosemary from mom’s garden, a couple of leftover lemons in the cavity. We ate a lot of it that night, and I left several slices for mom. I made several meals off the meat over the next few days, and then the carcass was used to make soup which will feed me for several days also. The pantry supplied all the spices and goodies I need to make a filling soup: a can of chicken meat, one of tomatoes, potatoes from the Free Potato Day, carrots from the fridge, onions. Simple, plain fare, but filling and satisfying.

My other example isn’t pretty, at least to start with. I love my hand-knit socks, but I am not easy on them. I tend to wear just socks on my feet in the house during the cold months. I should use slippers to save wear and tear on them, but I don’t. Sadly, this is the result. Sock repair reason to fix I have worn huge holes into the feet of both socks. I don’t know how to darn holes (it’s on my list of things to figure out). Yet the legs and heels of the socks are fine, and I have the leftover yarn (there’s that frugal thing again). So I cut off the toes of both socks, picked up stitches, and am in the process of reknitting the toes. Faster than knitting the socks all over. I’ll have to weave in a couple of ends (no biggie), and my socks will be useful again. As an added bonus, it has freed my mind from the fear that has been keeping me from completing my vest which has stalled out over the idea of cutting the steek. Yay!

Sock repair ready to pick upSock repair stitches picked up

Up until today the weather has been lovely. Today, we are a foggy, cold mess. I am thankful that there is little need to be outside today, other than chores this afternoon. No lambs or kids yet, though bellies are swelling. I finally sealed up the hole that Myrtle was getting out through. Fencing is always a challenge with a thinking goat. She’s still looking for a new way to escape, silly girl.

Dreaming for the Future

January 8, 2014

The wind is howling outside, throwing frozen rain against the side of the house. Inside after doing chores, I am warmed by the old fence posts I cut this afternoon with the chain saw. The wood pile is long gone, so I am scavenging wood off the farm now. Luckily, there is enough, for now at least. I am resourceful if nothing else.

A blustery day is the perfect time to gather the seed catalogs and to start dreaming. I would love to have an abundant garden, but living in the High Desert makes that a challenge in the best of years. Still, I am starting with a good base. Fairy God-daughter gifted all her Fairy Godmothers with an enormous quantity of seeds left over at her work last fall, so there are only a few holes that need to be filled in. And the dreaming is the best part of gardening! No weeding, no hungry insects or loose chickens to prey on the tender plants, no weather to contend with. Just the beautiful pictures of ripe produce, promises of the bounty that could be mine. Even an over-abundance of zucchini isn’t a scary idea at this time of year. Bring on the vine ripened tomatoes, tender carrots and beets smelling of fresh dirt, peas and green beans waiting to be steamed lightly and enjoyed. Luckily, I just put a lamb shoulder roast in the oven to cook with some of the bounty of potatoes from Rainshadow Organic’s generosity and a few carrots, onions and a bit of oven-roasted garlic from the freezer, so all the dreaming will be well fed in an hour or so.

I also dream of planting an orchard. I love fruit. Even as a child, during the season I would forego spending my allowance on candy in deference to fresh cherries. I have planted several fruit trees over the years, but gave up when Sweetie kept insisting on using the weed whacker around them (he girdled and killed at least 10 trees). I have one lone sour cherry tree that survived the carnage, having lost apples, peaches, pears, apricots and the sweet cherries. I have never gotten any cherries from it but remain hopeful. It bloomed well last year, but we had a cold spell immediately afterwards. I keep thinking I should move it to try to find a place where it will be happier but probably I never will. I am going to be more aggressive about pruning it this spring, to get rid of the abundance of dead wood that it has (which is destined for the smoker).cherry blossoms close

I look at blogs of gardeners in warmer climes and envy them their early springs and long summers. In cleaning out the barn (which hadn’t been done in a few years, and has yielded some lovely compost), I have created some new garden beds. I think that they will be devoted to growing squashes this summer. I have 3 kinds of pumpkins to play with, and several other including summer and winter types, plus a couple of ornamental gourds. A girl can dream, right? All the existing beds will be well fertilized as well. I am ready to get my gardening mojo back after a lull of the last few years.

I do need to report a successful foray into the making of hard cheese! It isn’t finished yet, since it needs to age for at least a couple of months, and it won’t win any beauty contests. I jerry-rigged a press using the steamer basket of my Revereware. The sloped sides of the steamer means that my cheese isn’t pretty, and the sides aren’t pressed as well as the middle. A little chunk broke off when I turned it (all right, I helped it escape into my mouth!) and it already tastes like cheddar! I am super excited about the possibilities. The goat girls are all showing signs of definitely being pregnant, so in a few months I will need to step up my cheese-making efforts. Hard cheese is the best way to preserve milk, at least as far as I’m concerned. I have an idea for a better press , but hadn’t solidified my ideas when this one was ready. I also made ricotta from the cheddar whey with some very interesting results. It didn’t make nearly as much (12 ounces vs the 1+ pound I got from the mozzarella whey), and the texture is much finer, making a smoother ricotta. I don’t think I’ll notice a difference when it’s cooked, though. pressed cheese

New Kids on the Block in the New Year

January 4, 2014

I am not sorry to put 2013 in my rear-view mirror. I know that I am up to the challenges that life throws my way, but I am tired of doing it. If I were not such an eternal optimist, I would have curled up in a ball. Not saying I didn’t do that a bit, but for the most part I kept on dealing with reality.

So what made 2013 so hard, you might ask. Lack of work was huge (and continues to be, at the moment). It isn’t that I don’t have plenty to keep me busy. I have never understood folks that can’t find things to do to keep themselves amused. And with the animals and property to care for, there is never a shortage of chores that need doing. But with no paying job, that means no money coming in to take care of those things that require something other than physical labor. I am continuing to look, but am getting very tired of hearing that I am over-qualified. I have never understood why an employer would not want to hire the most qualified person they can get for the money they are offering.

But my biggest challenge was the one that went on for way too long – no running water. My home runs on a cistern. Just before Thanksgiving, it ran dry. When it refilled a few days later, I could not get the pump to hold a prime and run. Yikes! This coincided with a deep freeze that gave us some of the coldest temperatures the area had experienced in a very long time (down to -30!). I spent several weeks bringing home jugs of water from my Mom’s house, and accessing cistern water for the animals via bucket brigade. That is a workout that I am not eager to repeat, but at least I was up to the work. Just call me Pioneer Woman. Just after the Solstice, a friend’s boyfriend came over and got the pump figured out. Yay! I filled the animals waterers, and went off to celebrate with a soak at the Turkish tub.

But of course, that was too easy. When I got home from my soak, we discovered that there was a major leak under the house. So the pump got turned off again, and I went into major denial. I am not afraid of plumbing repairs, mind you, but I had a severe case of the “I don’t wanna’s”. Luckily, my friend offered up her boyfriend again, and a few days later he came back. There was a major break in the metal pipe that ran from the hot water heater to the kitchen sink. He ended up cutting out the old pipe and replacing it. Yes, I could have done it, but it was so nice to be taken care of! The only down side was how much water emptied out of the cistern during the 6 or so hours that the leak went undetected, but time will remedy that.

I know that in much of the world having no running water is the norm. In the grand scheme of things, being without was merely an inconvenience. I am lucky that my Mom lives close enough that I could go over to her house to fill up all my jugs and take a hot shower. Being in an old mobile, I long ago developed the habit of entering winter with at least 15 gallons of jugged water in the house to guard against those times when the pipes freeze for a day or 2. At least I had a roof over my head, and enough wood to battle the cold. My ordeal made me even more thankful for what I do have, and on a quest to figure out what I can do to help those that don’t. I can’t even wrap my head around the idea of being homeless with children in the winter around here.

The New Year has started well. A local farm, Rainshadow Organics, was also hit hard by the deep freeze, which hit their stored potatoes. Rather than seeing it as a complete loss, they invited the public to join them on January 1st to go through the potatoes, sorting out the rotten ones and taking home as many free potatoes as you could carry. These were several beautiful heirloom varieties, and I made the drive out and joined the crowd. Folks were also invited to help sort out spuds that would be donated to local food banks. This is my loot, after I had given away several pounds to friends and family. I don’t know that any will survive to be planted in the spring, but I will be ordering some different varieties to grow.

potatoes from Rainshadow Organics

After I got more potatoes than I could really carry, I went off to gather up 9 gallons (yes, gallons) of raw cow’s milk that had not been picked up from the dairy. No sense in letting it go to waste, so I am playing at cheese again. I have already made mozzarella and ricotta, trying a little different method for each, and now I am ready to try my hand at cheddar and jack. It is nice to have such a quantity to work with, but a bit daunting too. I am being good about keeping notes on what works, which I think will be even more important with the hard cheeses since they have to age for so long before you can taste them.

Yesterday I went to Laura’s. I took her potatoes and cheese and picked up the newest flock members (the “New Kids” referred to in the title) – ducks. A mutual friend was disbanding his farm, and she had collected 13 ducks from him. They are mostly Runner crosses, which makes them a little odd looking, but the females should be laying soon. After doing a bit of research online, I got one of her Muscovy males (the white duck below) to try my hand at breeding moulard ducks for the freezer. We thought we had sorted out 4 females for me to bring home, but in talking with their original owner last night it turns out that the big, beautiful black is also a male. I don’t want the girls to have the option of breeding with him, so I will be separating him out of the group in the next day or so. They are all a little skittish right now, what with 2 major moves in as many days, so I will give them a little time to settle down. I am very excited about having duck eggs to work with, especially for pasta making. Yum!new ducks

I have also made a decision about recreating the shawl that was stolen last summer. I’ve been working on some commission spinning this fall, and talked the woman into letting me do a yarn with silk noil added in. It turned out very pretty so I made up some for me too. I am doing one ply of the black alpaca/black American top/dyed silk noil and one of the American top, both spun very thin. This is a very dense yarn, so I’m not getting the yardage that I’d hoped for, but I think it will be spectacular knit up. This was the last yarn I made in 2013, about 350 yards. Since I will need about 2000 yards, I have quite a bit of spinning left to do! I’d like to get it done in time for Fair, so I have my work cut out for me. I’m hoping I have enough of the black alpaca left (fingers crossed). black alpaca silk lace

I don’t make resolutions for the New Year, but I do set goals. So my goals for 2014 are:

  • Continue my weight loss/get healthier campaign. I am very happy that I have managed to maintain my weight through the holidays. Didn’t lose any more, but I didn’t put any back on either, so I count that as a win.
  • Blog more often. I compose wonderful posts in my head as I’m doing other things, but then I get in front of the computer and do other things. I admire folks that blog every day or so, but that isn’t me. Once a month is too little though, so I will just say “more often”.
  • Make more art. I have tons of art supplies that sit unused, and I need to stop that. It doesn’t have to be great art (and I’m pretty sure I can promise that it won’t be), but I need to get over the idea that it needs to be. I started this morning. Don’t count on seeing any of it shared here, unless I get really brave.
  • Sew more. Again, I have tons of supplies that sit unused. Even if I just make a pile of quilts to donate to the homeless shelter, it would be good to clear out some of the stash.

What are your goals for the coming year?

newyear

 

 

The Great Chicken Adventure

October 31, 2013

Last Saturday, Laura and I had a date at the butcher’s for the chickens. Because she was concerned about the possibility of nasty fog in the valley we left here at o’dark thirty. Our appointment was for 10 am, which with a little padding meant we needed to leave my place by 5:30. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I am not a morning person! I got to bed at about midnight, and set the alarm for 4:30, since Laura had mentioned that her’s was going off at 3:30 (she lives about an hour away).

I had just enough time to get dressed and brew a pot of coffee before I heard her coming. She was also bringing a Muscovy drake that had proved rather mean to his ladies, and two pea-hens, and they were in a crate in the back of the Suburban. Turns out, that was taking up way too much room, so we removed them from the crate, and loaded the chickens. Both the pea-hens were tied into feed bags, with just their heads sticking out (the butcher had requested that we make sure they couldn’t escape), and we tied the drakes feet.  Unfortunately, we found another dead chicken when we went in the pen (number 7). Loading the remaining birds went very quickly, and we hit the road right on schedule.

About half way over the mountains, there was a slight ruckus going on in the back, and when I turned to see what the deal was I found that one of the pea-hens had escaped her bag. Oops! We pulled over and tied her feet together better, and found that the drake had killed another one of the chickens. He got stuffed into the bag vacated by the pea-hen and tied up so that his head was no longer loose.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful, especially when compared to our trip last year to get the turkeys processed. The anticipated heavy fog never materialized, and we actually arrived at our destination an hour ahead of schedule. Lucky for us, the person who was scheduled for that time slot hadn’t shown up on time, so  we were able to get started right away. The pea-hen tried to make a run for it, but she and the other two odd birds got taken in first, along with another chicken that had died since our earlier stop. They were able to bleed him out completely, so he wasn’t a loss, unlike the one that perished in the stampede to avoid all the folks reaching in to grab birds (the kid that grabbed him just tossed him on the ground and didn’t try to bleed him out).

We were totally done by 10:30. Well ahead of our anticipated time, we took a side trip to a local monastery, where Laura got a present for her dad, and we both picked some chestnuts. We also went in to the Craft Warehouse in Salem and treated ourselves to some goodies. All in all, it was a lovely day.

So the final count was 31 chickens that survived to the end (out of 40). After looking at their final weights (5 to 9 pounds at 8 1/2 weeks), I will process them at 7 weeks next time around. I hadn’t lost any until the last 10 days! We split the losses, so Laura got 11 and I got 20.

So what did I do with 20 chickens? The final tally is in:

  • 8 were bagged whole. 7 of them are in the freezer at Mom’s, and we celebrated a successful trip by roasting a small one Saturday night.
  • Also in the freezer are several bags of chicken parts (boneless, skinless breasts, skinless thighs, and wings)
  • 14 quarts of boneless chicken chunks were canned
  • 7 quarts and 8 pints of plain chicken broth were canned. There is another 3 quarts in the fridge for use this week, and I made a fantastic roasted garlic/chicken soup which I ate on Sunday, and took a quart each of the broth and soup to Mom.
  • 7 quarts and 12 pints of chicken soup. It’s pretty basic, but will be easy to spice up as the mood strikes me.
  • 5 half pints of schmaltz. I gave 1 to Mom, 1 is in my fridge, and the other 3 are in the freezer.
  • The last chicken was roasted here at home last night and shared with Kid the Elder & his wife. We only managed to eat half of it, but I’m looking forward to some great sandwiches this week.

It took me a few days to get everything processed, and my back was not happy with all the kitchen work. But I know that it will be worth it every time I go to the cupboard and pull another can of something tasty out to eat. I took a little time to clean out the linen closet in the spare bathroom, and was able to dedicate 2 full shelves to all the goodies I’ve canned this fall, and set up an inventory sheet so I can keep track of it all.

Very little went to waste. The broth and soup were made from the bones, the meat still on the bones went into the soups, and the fat and skin went into the schmaltz. Little pieces that were too small to go into the jars of chunks went into my freezer in 2 bags, for stir-fry later on.

This is the schmaltz, just starting to render. Schmaltz

Roast chickenTasty roast chicken and potatoes. Pan juices were added to the stock pot after dinner.

So, was it worth it? Only someone who was never had homegrown meat would really ask that. It’s like the difference between a homegrown tomato and a store-bought one. The 2 birds that I’ve roasted so far have both been incredibly tender and juicy, more flavorful than anything I could buy at the store. Mom and I discussed the differences while we ate dinner. I think we finally settled on the idea that it just had more substance than a commercially raised bird. Grocery store chicken tends to be very bland and, well, the word flaccid comes to mind. I am looking forward to some fantastic meals! The cost per bird would have been better if all 40 had made it to the end, but I’ll say yes, it was definitely worth it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.