Saturday, January 25, 2014

It Wouldn't Be Winter Without....

....some sort of farm animal recouperating in the living room.  Now, would it?

I found this little lass huddled up in the bottom of the coop this afternoon when I did the rounds.  Seems she'd been picked on and her comb was bleeding.  She's not putting any weight on one foot, so I'm thinking a chicken splint of some sort may be in order.  However, she did eat a little and drank quite a bit.  She's currently in this old box in front of the wood stove warming up.  I have some hope for her, as she's perked up a little since she came in, but she's still pretty peaky looking to me.

We'll have to see how it goes.

When I found her in the coop, I considered just leaving her be, and letting nature take it's course.  Frankly, I was kind of surprised at myself.  Seems I've been looking too much at the "big picture" lately, and not attending the little things, because if I was, I wouldn't have hesitated. 

She's under my care, after all.  My responsibility.

Seems I may be a little out of practice with compassion. 

Well, time to flex those "muscles" again.  Winter makes me want to hibernate--in more ways than one.  But I think that with this little girl's help, maybe I can pull out of it.  And I can pull her through as well. 

That'd be my hope.  Maybe we'll pull each other through.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Relearning Food

As I was walking into work the other day, I happened to walk in with one of the teachers at the school, who saw the sign on my car and asked me what we do.  After I had explained about homesteading, and how we grow most of what we eat, she said to me that she had always thought about growing a garden, because nowadays you don't really know what you're eating.

You don't really know what you're eating.

That struck me, mainly because it's true.  What are you eating when you eat grocery store food?  Of course, sometimes you know.  If you're buying milk, you're getting milk, give or take.  You will, of course, never know just how many antibiotics went into those cows and how many growth hormones they were given.  You can't know.  That gallon of milk could have come from a dozen different cows, I'm guessing possibly from different dairies.  You can't know what you're really getting, but you know it's pretty much milk.
Milk on its way to become cheese
All promises are broken, however, when you buy anything that's not a "raw" material.  Can you pronounce most of what's on the label of a processed food?  I can't.  I also couldn't tell you what most of it is.  So what are you eating when you eat processed foods?  I'm thinking, with the few news blips that have come out about wood pulp in your ice cream, and what chicken nuggets are really made out of (hint, hint:  all the parts I throw away on butchering day), that we may not want to know.  And of course, there are all the food scares because of unclean food and people getting sick, and so on.

To me, this all points to a system of food supply that is not working and is on life support.  The fillers and the "parts" things are made out of are added (I believe) to "pad" the fact that the country really can't produce the amount of food that the people living in it require, so they are finding ways to stretch it out.  It would be like a mother adding rice to a meat stew because there's less meat to go around and is more expensive.  Rice will fill bellies as well, so there's a little meat in the stew, but rice is added to pad it out, and everyone gets a nice meal.  Unfortunately, in this case, they're not using rice.
Early October mish-mash harvest
All that aside, whether it is because of what's in it, or because it comes from four thousand miles away, the food you buy is not as good for you as anything you will produce yourself.  Nor does it taste the same.  This year has been an amazing journey on changing our views on how food truly can taste and how it can feel when eaten.  Because we've now been here for a few years, and have somewhat established the gardens, this year was a pretty durn good crop year, even though it was a tough one, weather-wise.  So, we ate from the garden a whole lot more.  On top of that, we have our first milk animals producing milk, and have been enjoying their milk and cheese and yogurt.  It has become a whole new ballgame, and the difference is astounding.
Blurry bell peppers
The first thing I noticed was the milk itself.  Goat's milk, when it comes from your animals, and is taken care of properly, tastes just like what whole milk should taste like.  Sweet, creamy, it's amazing, and nothing like store-bought milk.  It's much, much better.  Yogurt, which I make out of our raw goats' milk, is also fantastic, and depending on the culture I use, it can be slightly tangy or soupy, or it can be creamy and rich.  No matter what, it is NOTHING like store-bought.  Served with a dollop of homemade jam, this yogurt is fantastic to eat every day, any time.  Interestingly, since I have started to eat it, I have noticed how GOOD I feel.  How good?  Really, really good.  And my body actually craves it quite often, which is really interesting.  How often do you say to yourself "I really want a yogurt"?  Probably not too much. 

In counterpoint, after many months of eating only home made yogurt, I had the opportunity to have a store bought one.  It was one of those light yogurts in the little cups, of which I cannot remember the name.  I picked it up at coffee hour, which is something the school I work at does on Fridays.  I thought "Good, yogurt", and dug in.  I had two bites and had to throw it away.  UGH.  Not only was the texture totally wrong, but the cloying artificial sweetness of it was just too much.  I used to like to eat that stuff, but not anymore.  I guess once you've had the real deal you can never go back.

A Cayenne pepper ristra.  Kind of.  Or an octopus.  Or chihuli.
Potatoes.  I have a lot of problems growing good potatoes, with two years ago being the exception.  It is a problem, and one I need to ameliorate, because though I always just want to give up on potatoes, they are such a staple and good source of calories and nutrition, I really can't.  Last year was a bad potato year, yielding a very small amount of sad little potatoes.  Since I knew that, I saved my pitiful harvest for a big family dinner and made potato pancakes out of them.  They were, hands down, the crispiest, melt-in-your-mouthiest potato pancakes I've ever had.  Best ever.  Any time I have used a store-bought potato the cakes have come out mushy.  These were works of art.  Will I be growing potatoes again?  Absolutely.  And I will redouble my efforts to get them to produce!

Sweet corn, both OP varieties.  The top is a shoe-peg corn, the bottom a 12 row corn.  I have a lot of trouble growing corn, mainly because I don't grow enough to get them all pollinated.  These two are pretty, though.
Tomatoes.  Broccoli.  Peas.  Herbs.  Corn.  Eggs.  Chicken.  I could go on and on, but I won't.  What I can say is this:  real food tastes nothing like food you've had from any store, ever.  And getting your family to switch to real food and eat real food can be a hassle, especially if you have kids who have been raised on grocery store food.  Our first switch was bread.  When I read the labels, I didn't like what I saw and started to make our bread, years ago.  My kids complained all. the. time.  It had "stuff" in it (like oats).  It was too thick (because they cut it that way).  It was "stiff" and crumbly (because it's homemade).  And on and on.  We stuck with it, and now it's just the way it is.  Now they stalk the oven to get the first hot slice.  But yes, often it's been a struggle to get them to eat food that's been home prepared.  And it only ever stems from the fact that no one else has that, and they're not used to it. 

Trust me, though, they get over it.  After you've fed your children good, real food they begin to like it--and look forward to it.  And then one night you make dinner and it includes the peas they just shelled themselves a few weeks ago, and your son yells "PEEEEEAASSS!!!!!!" when he sees you make them and tells you he wants A LOT, and eats every single one.  Because, after all, they're his peas and he peeled them.  That's when you know you're getting through.

Changing what we eat and producing most of it has really changed things for us around here.  This year, as I add onto the garden square footage again, I am looking forward to seeing what it will produce for us.  How about you?  Are you growing more this year?  What surprised you most about eating from your garden?

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Going Carefully Forward

I have to admit, I think this is the first year that I didn't feel like the new year brought a fresh start.  Instead it feels like more of the same.  Such a difference from last year!  I don't know what we're in for this year, but I'm not entirely sure it's anything good.  With the economy in a shambles, the climate doing odd things, and nations getting angrier at one another, I feel like things are coming to a head.  I don't know what will breach first, if anything, but I'm trying to keep my eyes open.

With that in mind, I thought about this year and I think I'm going to make only a few resolutions. "Proceed with caution" may be this year's motto.  My goals for this year are:
  • Fixing the goat girls' house a little bit.  They are HARD on the doors, and it needs a little "porch" added to it for the smaller girls for when it rains.  The bigger girls will not let them in!
  • Fencing off more "pasture" for the goats.  It's not really pasture, per se, as it's wooded, but that's right up a goat's alley.  This year we're going to buy some lengths of fence and close off some big pieces for them to eat through. 
  • Building chicken sleds for the broilers, which there will be more of this year.  I've read that some of the chicken sold here will be processed in China starting this spring.  Ew.  I'm not buying into that, so I think it's time to go from producing most of our chicken at home to producing all of our chicken at home. 
  • Trying turkeys again, in the sleds this time.  I'm thinking Midget Whites. 
  • We will have to "turn over" our laying population a bit.  Some of my girls are past retirement age.
  • More seed saving.
  • Prepping for pigs.  I don't know that we'll actually get to the pig itself this year, but it's going to come about soon.  Time to get ready.
  • Working on getting a good system for the newly expanded garden.  I'm up to 4000 square feet.  I need to get a handle on how many plants that'll take, and a better idea of how many numbers of different kinds of plants.  This one is a work in progress type of thing.  I refine every year, now I just need to go a little further with it.
  • Adding some more berries, like cranberries and Elderberries to the yard. I'm also thinking of nut trees, but they are SO big, and cleared space is at a premium here.
  • Having a little tree work done.  My husband has gotten pretty good at chainsawing, but there are a few trees that are too close to structures for my (and his) comfort.  We may need to have someone come on in and take care of some of them for us.
  • In the house?  I'd like to get the kids' bathroom done and the pantry sheet rocked, but I've been saying that for years.  :)

And I think that's going to be it for us this year, though many other things will happen that are not planned for, you can be sure.  The big thing for this year?  Building community.  It seems to me (and many others) that in this rat race we all seem to be caught up in for more money or more things, we are not paying attention to those around us, unless they are in our way.  Honestly, I've had it with this.  I've seen enough people standing on top of other people to get what they want.  No one cares about anyone else anymore, and the "I've got mine" mentality is getting very, very old.

So for me, I'm going to be working on changing that where I can.  I'm a big fan of community work, and obviously I grow a useful commodity--food.  I think that I'm going to start by giving whatever extra I may have to friends and neighbors.  I will try to work with the food pantry in the school and see if I can't donate extra produce to them.  I've tried this before with other pantries, but it never works out.  Maybe this time.  I will try to share my knowledge.  In short, I don't know how this will come about, but I feel that it's more important than ever to lend a hand to others, or just to reach out to others to make friends.  It seems to me that we all may need all the friends we can find in the days to come.

Until next time, my friends.  Take care!
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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Batten Down the Hatches!

So it seems 2014 is coming in with a bang--we're expecting a major snowstorm here, starting today and going into tomorrow, with temps below zero.  Fun, fun.  Today I will spend a lot of time getting cracks and crevices blocked up so everyone is comfortable and safe.  No small task, but very necessary.

I haven't had a chance to really think about what I'd like to accomplish this year as of yet.  Actually, I've spent this past week finishing projects, and putting away the Christmas decorations.  Is it just me, or is putting away the Christmas tree just unbelievably sad?  That little tree gets to be like a member of the family in a way, and when it's lit up, the whole room is warm.  But as the month goes on, and the holiday ends, it's time to part, and we eventually de-decorated it and take ours out to feed to the goats, who appreciate it quite a bit.  But the room looks lonelier to me. 


Anyway, before I get to working on getting everyone settled and insulated, I would like to share some pics of the projects I've finished.  Here goes!

Project number 8:

Two little snowmen candlestick holders.  These were also sitting in the closet from 15 years ago, waiting to be painted.  Done!
Project 9:

This is a pattern from Mary Corbet's Needle and Thread, which I've loved forever, but never got to.  She designed them as a hanging, but I have nowhere to hang them, so I improvised.

Project 10:

This was not on my list.  I saw a pretty Dresden Plate Christmas quilt, and wanted to do one like it.  But I didn't have enough of any fabric to do it, just bits and pieces, so I settled for a small table thing, and used the little bits and pieces.  It looks nothing like the project that inspired it, but I like it quite a lot.

Project 11:

I designed this quilt years ago, based on an Amish design, of which I am a big fan.  I then set out to find all the fabrics, which I eventually did.  It's been a pile of fabric with a picture of the quilt on it for years and years.  I finally took the dang thing out of the drawer it was in, cut it, pieced it, and then quilted it.  It came out well.  I think the stuff's been hanging out since 2006 or 2007, so it was about time!

Project 12:

I dunno....can you tell it was windy yesterday?   Maybe?

This one was pieced and sitting and sitting and sitting.  It's huge, like a twin size, so that's why.  I was feeling brave after finishing the blue quilt, so I figured I'd take the initiative and get it done.  What a pain in the rear!  If you've ever quilted a large quilt on a home sewing machine, you know what I mean.  I stuffed this thing under my machine mercilessly until it was done.  My shoulders still ache.  And the scalloped border was a pain in the butt.  But it's done!  And it's no longer laughing at me, taunting me to finish, which it's done since maybe 2008 or so.  So there, quilt!  Take that!

There is one more quilt to show you, but I didn't take a picture.  I will get there!

So...done and done.  Someone asked me, or commented a while ago, about what to do with projects I don't like anymore.  Do I finish them anyway? 

Nope.  In fact, I just found a small quilt top that I must have done at some point, and I hate it.  I threw it away.  I will do that with the small tops (sometimes I'll use them for the animals or as scrap as well), but if it's a larger top, I will find someone to give it to, who may finish it.  Quite a few tops over the years have gone to charity for that reason.  If I like the top but I don't love it and don't feel it's worth quilting, I might turn it into something else.  I did that with a Halloween quilt once--I liked it, but not enough to quilt, so I turned the edges under and made it a tablecloth.  And once I finished a quilt, realized I hated it, so I then used it as the "batting" to another quilt.  Yeah, the damn thing's heavy as heck.  But at least the ugly quilt was useful. 

So no, I don't feel beholden to finish every project I start, especially if I no longer like it.  It gets tricky when it's a cross stitch project, because there are SO MANY HOURS involved in those, throwing them out is not so simple.  I have a couple now that I really need to think about, as I don't like them, may not finish them, and don't really want them anymore.  It may just come down to passing them along to someone who will like them.  But with the quilts, I'll just donate them or toss them.  I have SO many quilts, some stupid number of them that's completely ridiculous.  Sewing is my creative outlet, so if I get an idea, I make it.  That leads to a lot of quilts.  Everyone's bed has a quilt, my kids have quilts I made for them additionally, there are quilts all over the dang place.  So parting with a few along the way that I don't like is no big deal.

And as I've told my husband, when I die, he can have one hell of a yard sale.

....or one hell of a bonfire.

His choice.

Stay warm, my friends!

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