Friday, December 30, 2011

Do I Dare Say It Out Loud?

Seems like when something good is happening or about to and you say it out loud the powers that be go "uh uh. Not  this time". So before I start this blog I am going to knock on wood, virtually. KNOCK KNOCK!

Unlike last year when we had unheard of snow in November and off and on through the end of April (also unheard of) we have had nary a flake this year. We have had a few days of hard frost in the 20's but mostly the weather has been averaging between 35 and 45 at night and 45 to 55 during the day. That's not to say we couldn't still get a snow fall in January but that would be TOO normal. January is when we normally get at least one snowfall. However today I saw a robin out in the yard. Now around here you usually don't see robins until early March which makes this guy 2 months early. To top it off grey whales have been seen in the hundreds off the coast of California (a full two months early) and we have had a couple surfer shark attacks in southern Washington, also unheard off. I think one was even a great white.  My seed potato are sprouting eyes already (almost two months early) another harbinger of spring and I actually have an old sweet potato that has sprouts on it. Can you say global warming?

I never did get the garlic planted but it has been out in the garage (so it has had the required cold time) so if I plant it soon there may still be a crop this summer. The garden is a mess because I didn't have the time to clean it up but with reasonable weather perhaps I will get the chance.
I have been dumping decomposing, bird poo laden straw and bedding chips in the area outside the garden's fence where I intend to place the potato towers this year. (See March 18th post 15 days and counting) I have decided to use brown grocery bags to hold the soil inside the towers because it was easier to install, cheaper than straw, gives me more room inside the towers, and the bags do eventually compost down. The bags don't leave the nice compost that straw does but I am using a thick layer of straw and bedding chips from the birds coop on top of the turf  to kill the turf and weeds before installing and filling the towers with soil. After the potatoes are harvested I will spread the soil around on the composted straw/chip mix and hopefully have a nice little garden area that I didn't have to kill myself digging out the turf.

The ducks are laying eggs better than the chickens and Jezebel keeps trying to hide a nest from me. I think she is going to be a problem. I noticed that the geese are acting strange and that concerns me since I have two males and two females and the males could fight with devastating results. I love Sebastian but he is not the Alpha male. Alphie is and he is the biggest. Hopefully breeding season for them will be short. As much as I love babies in the spring I don't like the resulting fights that seems to go along with bird breeding.

So you are probably wondering about the cold frame. I have been adding leaves, manure from the birds and
old straw to the bottom of the frame and mixing in blood meal, bone meal and some lime in hopes that it will compost down and provide a little heat in the process. My next step is to go get a load of 3 way mix next week and fill the box with soil. I will use the rest of the three way mix to set up the potato towers and get them ready for planting in march (or earlier depending on the weather). It is my intent to plant cool weather greens such as lettuces and spinach in the cold frame as soon as I can.

So now that I have said it lets see what mother nature decides to throw at me in the new year. If she does get bitchy I always have my unread stack of books, my garden planner and seed catalogs, and the never ending projects in the house.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More Cold Weather Gardening, Cozy Chicks, and A Monkey in the Tree

We have an apple tree. It isn't one of those dwarf, easy to pick things and I am not even sure what variety of apples they are,  It produces apples every year without any help from me. I don't prune it, water it, or fertilize it and as a matter of fact the grass grows up around the bottom of the trunk and all I do is mow around it. Last year I bought an apple picking basket. You know the kind with a long telescoping handle and a basket
at the end with a few hooks that grab the apple and then you give it a yank and the apple falls in to the basket. But the tree is still taller than the basket thing. Our oldest daughter is and has always been part monkey. I have seen her shimmy up a hundred foot fir tree without even thinking about it. Our apple tree is
only 20-25 ft tall so every year she gets the job of climbing the tree and tossing down the apples to the rest of us earthbound hominids. It always amazes me that she can do it. I think perhaps I should prune the tree this year since she is going to be 19 and probably wont want to do it much longer.

With the cold weather approaching the chickens are competing for the favorite nest box. Now try to remember this nest box is only 12 x 14 inches so this picture is kinda funny.
With the colder weather the garden is looking rather shabby. I am harvesting the last of the lettuce and peas and still patiently waiting for the brussel sprouts to get some size to them. I could have sworn that last year at this time I had good sized sprouts. The white cauliflower heads are small and wrapped up inside the protection of the leaves so we shall let them be for awhile. I harvested the cheddar cauliflower and it was delicious. I'm really glad my family likes cauliflower. My youngest informed me that just because the cauliflower looks like cheddar cheese doesn't mean that we shouldn't have cheese on it. hmmmm.
Cheddar variety of cauliflower

The cold frame is getting filled at a snails pace mostly because I have family duty that takes me away from my gardening chores right now but I managed to get a layer of leaves raked up and placed in the bottom. Now if I can just find the time to go get some horse manure to put on top I could then put the growing layer of soil on top of the whole thing and get it heating up. I did manage to find the black oil pans for about $10 that I mentioned in the last blog but I had to order them. I will be filling them with water and placing them inside and   along the back where the sun can warm them up during the day and release the heat back into the structure at night. If it works we will have fresh greens all winter. Ya ho! Did I mention that the man, my gadget freak, put a wireless thermometer in the cold frame so that I could monitor the temperature without going outside? It is very cool I have to admit. Lets hope I get it all together before next week. The weather here is starting to turn nasty with the weather man calling for gale force winds tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cool Weather Gardening

Last year I experimented a little with winter gardening. I planted broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts in late August and early September to be harvested in the fall and early winter. What I got was broccoli with green worms, cauliflower with ricey looking heads, and brussel sprouts with tons of grey aphid. I swore I wouldn't try it again. Instead I was going to sit on my butt and read, have fun during the holidays, and cook. Somehow I couldn't resist the siren call of the garden this fall. I planted all of the above plus sugar peas and lettuce in early August. I am now harvesting sugar peas and lettuce for our October and November dinners. The aphids are so far leaving the peas alone and the plants themselves are adding nitrogen to the soil. The lettuce is incredible especially compared with store bought and will last about two weeks in the fridge (except we always seem to eat it before that).

 In July I attended a garden tour in my old stomping grounds on Lummi Island with my friend K. It was a lot of fun and there were some beautiful gardens. However K's garden gave me the tip of the year for my own and she didn't even know it. She had netted her blueberries with netting purchased at a fabric store. You know the kind used for petticoats and tutu's? It's cheap and easy to get and she used that instead of garden netting because the year before she had found a bird tangled in the garden netting that had died. Anyway I went home and bought a few yards at $1 a yard, planted the broccoli and Cauliflower and covered them all with the netting. I noticed the white butterflies trying to get in to lay their eggs all over my plants but to no avail. Come September I was harvesting big heads of broccoli that was worm free and believe me I looked really good. If my kids EVER saw a worm in their broccoli that would be the end of
ever eating it. Now the plants that I harvested from in September are providing side shoots of broccoli. Some of them quit sizable. The white cauliflower is coming along and I have harvested an orange cauliflower called cheddar that was very yummy. I will plant more of that one next year. Once the white cabbage butterfly season was over(when the weather got colder) I removed the netting. Guess what happened then? I got grey aphid. Yep! Guess I should have left it on. Lessons learned. Aphid isn't a real big deal. Hit them with a strong spray of water from the hose a couple times and you should be good. Any left over can be washed off or in the case of brussel sprouts the outside leaves can be peeled off.

This summer's project for the man consisted of trying to figure out how to keep the geese off the porch so we didn't have to pick our way through goose poo every time we wanted to enter or leave the house. Yes they were looking for me. Standing on the porch rattling the screen door until they got my attention then looking very innocent. We came up with a solution that consisted of a short cute fence around the patio with a cold frame for winter lettuce and spinach and a grape arbor over the top. This has turned out to be a great solution and I love the way it looks. Now all I need is the time to fill the cold frame with soil and plant it. However nothing is easy because I am always looking for a better way to do things. The cold frame is made of untreated blank T1-11 siding on a frame of 2x2's. The four lids on top are poly-carbonate panels that we found in the remnant pile at a greenhouse supply place. He mounted them in frames made of 2x2's and installed them with hinges to the top of the box. Then he lined the inside with plastic sheeting so the soil wont rot the untreated wood poking slits in the bottom for drainage.  My plan is to layer organic material that will decompose and give off heat starting with leaves and manure and topping it all off with a "growing layer" of soil for the lettuces and spinach and what ever else I decide to experiment with. I am also planning to line the back wall with some kind of water filled containers that can heat up during the day and release the heat back to the growing area at night. What I would love to get is 3 or 4 of those black plastic flat things that they sell at the auto parts store for draining oil out of cars but they are about 40 bucks each. I will probably end up with one liter soda bottles painted black. I guess you could call it a passive solar grow box. What ever you call it the man did a great job as usual. He even installed a gate in the fence that swings both ways and is spring loaded so you can push your way through it in either direction with arm loads of stuff and it springs shut behind you. I discovered one little problem. When the dog wanted out I was having to walk outside in my bare feet to open the gate for her so she could go outside and pee. I have now taught her how to open the gate herself. She doesn't like doing it but if she wants out bad enough she will push through it. (No she wont pee on the patio. She has manners.) I will let you know how this is working out when I get it planted. I will take pictures along the way so you can see how it's put together. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sneaky Holidays

All right. I'll admit it. I like fruitcake. Good fruitcake that is. Not that sticky candy fruit mess you buy at the local drug store that comes in a can or cellophane wrap. REAL fruitcake. I've heard all the jokes but I just have to believe that if you don't like fruitcake it is because you have never had a real one. My brother use to send me a fruit cake made by monks in some Abby that was good. It was expensive and never lasted long enough.  And I have received a fruitcake from a company in Texas that was good enough to cause me to gain 5 ugly pounds. But last year my brother and I made a white fruit cake that was the best I've ever tasted. I can't take credit for it because he found the recipe on We had a blast making it together mostly because we doubled the recipe (our eyes were as big as our stomachs) and the cakes were oozing butter. Two pounds of butter to be exact. I don't recommend doubling a fruitcake recipe unless you have made it before and know what you are getting into. So this year (yesterday as a matter of fact) I dug out an almost Christmas CD, gathered the ingredients together and went for it. The fruit had been sitting the whole day before soaking up orange juice and a little triple sec so I was ready. The actual cake part was easy enough to put together. Mixing it by hand requires some muscle because you can't use a mixer on something that contains that much fruit and nuts. It turned out great and today I wrapped it up in cheesecloth soaked in a half pint of brandy and wrapped the whole thing tightly in foil. This is gonna be great!! My youngest doesn't like the taste of liquor in her cake and fortunately this recipe makes enough to fill a tube pan and a bread pan. So the small fruitcake is wrapped in cheesecloth soaked in apple cider just for her. I will let the flavors meld together a couple days and put that one in the fridge since it doesn't have the "preservatives" on it. Ya, alcohol is a preservative. Maybe that's why people get pickled when they drink. So if the spirit strikes ya here is the recipe. If you don't like fruit cake try this white one. Make sure you get good quality fruits too. You may have to go to a food co-op or specialty shop to get the fruit but its worth it. Then make sure you wrap it in cheese cloth soaked in your choice of liquor, wrap tightly in foil or plastic wrap and place it in a cool place to age. You can add more liquor every week or so. So try it. A white fruit cake is so different from a dark one. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

So Much for a Catch Up Blog

Getting the pictures to load up was much harder than I had anticipated. As you can see I ended up re-posting the last blog again but with a couple pics. That was me trying to figure it out but with the help of a friend I think I got it. The other problem that I was having was time, exhaustion, and an over abundance of work. My brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the end of August. I and his partner were trying to care for him along with all the regular things that I had to do related to a family and small farm. On October 14th it became apparent that she and I were not going to be able to care for him at home any longer. I moved him to Enso house here on the island. It's a beautiful place and I was lucky to find it and have the opportunity to get him in since they only take two clients at a time and that is if they have the staffing when needed. Follow this link for more info.  I highly recommend this place and feel this community is very lucky to have this resource.

On top of that two days later I took her to the hospital because her back was so painful. She has a compression fracture in a vertebrae and is now in a nursing home.  I am hoping to find a solution for her and get her into assisted living.

My brother died October 18th. I was devastated but his passing was peaceful, I was able to get his partner there the day before and I was there for him all the way through. I miss him every day. Now I just have the stuff to do like closing accounts and moving things from their apartment to do. For those who are asking, a donation to Enso house is being requested instead of flowers and such. They are a 501 charity and get most of their funding from donations. I wish every community had something like this. Believe me it beats the hell out of a nursing home. Not only do they care for the person but they support the family and friends that need it as well.

So I am still overly busy but hope to get caught up on my own work around here and my blog. Thank you all for being patient. I hope my followers will still be following me when I am fully up and running again.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back On Line: A Catch up Blog

So I am now the happy recipient of a hand me down computer. I can now cruise the internet, write blogs, and shop craigslist without feeling like I am imposing on the mans computer time. So lets get cracking on catching up.

First, we gave up the cable TV. This is a huge thing for the man cuz he loves his TV. Especially the news. He is a news fanatic. However, we were paying $120 a month for 300 channels and there was nothing to watch. Except news. Remember when TV was free? The kids stream movies to their computer from Netflix and we can rent a movie for $1 a night from the local store if need be but to tell you the truth there simply isn't anything worth watching. What happened to really good movies like Star Wars or Titanic or Romancing the Stone? I am really tired of "comedy" that thinks bodily functions are funny. I swear if I see one more movie where I have to see someone puke I am going to do it myself and that's not funny. So I canceled the cable. The man was not happy but I think he is adjusting. We are learning to stream TV shows that we actually want to watch to our computer and he is learning how to access news programs. I find we are a little behind on current events (a function of the learning curve) but I am less depressed about the state of our world and I don't have the exposure to commercials for big business pharmaceutical companies. All of a sudden I don't feel the need for Viagra or Cialis so I can take a bath outdoors in twin bath tubs with my honey overlooking a view of the sunset. Sheeeeeesh! And since I don't watch ALL the news stories that are hand fed to you via the big screen I don't find the need for anti depressants either! Wow!

The chickens, geese, and ducks all made it through the summer without getting eaten by the family of eagles, the family of hawks, and the family of Osprey that we had nesting just off of our property. They all had a great view of the farm yard and we had a few close calls. Including the owl that sat in the tree above the pond while the ducks took their morning bath. My smart ducks wouldn't come out of the water until I came and got them then that owl took off.

The garden had a rough start due to a colder and wetter than normal spring and summer but we are finally getting something besides lettuce and peas. No pumpkins but lots of zucchini. The tomatoes are ripening and although we aren't getting enough to can we are eating them like candy. I put in broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts for a winter garden and plan to try to grow lettuce and spinach in a cold frame.

The man built a cute little fence around our back patio and is putting in a large cold frame as part of the fence.  
Originally the fence was to keep the geese and ducks from pooping on the patio and back porch and as usual
that blossomed into a rather large cold frame. 8 ft. by 4 ft. to be exact and he is talking about putting in pipe heaters to keep the plants warm in winter. You know the kind that you use to keep pipes from freezing. Go figure. It will be cool if it works.

The potato towers worked like a charm. (See Fifteen days and counting 3/8/11) I harvested a five gallon bucket of purple spuds, two shopping bags of Yukon Gold, and the reds still need to be dug up. The potatoes never did bloom but I got potatoes. The man didn't like the purple ones. Guess the color was off putting so don't know what I will do with them. The Yukon Gold are crispy like a new apple and so yummy. There is a definite difference between a store bought and a fresh potato. I had people ask why bother and I guess that is why. Not to mention  commercially grown potatoes are loaded with pesticides.

I am reading a book written by the editor of Mother Earth News called Beautiful and Abundant-Building the World We Want. It is written to be the opposite of the doomsayers that we all seem to be hearing these days. More of a "what cha gonna do about it" type book. A hard read for me so I have to go back over pages  more than once to get the concepts but worth while.

It's been pretty much a none eventful summer. The chicks are old enough to lay pullet eggs. The ducks are old enough to lay. Kids are back in school and I am making jam,  freezing fruit and vegis and canning and stocking the freezer of course. I am very thankful we didn't have the hardships that the rest of the country had as far as weather goes. I will take cool and wetter than normal any day over months of temperatures over 100 and tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes.

So I have to apologize for the lack of pictures. I can't figure out how to get them to download on this dumb computer. They aren't set up right so when the man gets that fixed I will flood you with pics.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Computer in my Future

After much fussing and shopping the man took the plunge. He bought himself a power house computer which means I will get his old one. I would have been happy with a computer from the local big box warehouse but he would have nothing to do with that. So when the very slow free shipping truck gets here and he transfers everything he wants off his current computer AND he sets mine up, I will be back in business. Thank you to all for waiting. I will have more garden and animal pics and recipes of course. Considering how cold the weather was here the garden is finally producing. In the mean time I am working on gardening and weeding the perennial beds around the house. They were such a mess from the neglect of having no one live here in this house for nearly 2 years. Fortunately for us the house remained snug enough that it didn't suffer as much damage as some that we had looked at. I am looking forward to writing again. See ya soon.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Elephant in the Room (AKA is this the "IT" everyone is always talking about?)

The other day I made the trek to my credit union to close out an account that I no longer used. I just wanted to tie up one of those loose ends that I'm always thinking I will do when I have the time. After going to a teller I was told it would be a 30 minute wait before an account specialist could assist me and was directed to a waiting area.  Quite honestly it is the first time I have ever had to wait more than a few minutes at my bank for anything. Most stuff I do online but this particular thing required a visit in the flesh. So while waiting an elderly woman sat down near me. She obviously needed to say something and started a conversation  about how busy the bank seemed for a Tuesday. I politely engaged with what I was hoping was a joke by saying maybe this is what a run on the bank looked like and she responded with a nod and one of those looks that said "That's exactly what I'm talking about". The conversation went on from there. While we never actually mentioned what we were talking about, we both knew we were talking about the looming doom of the debt ceiling in Washington DC. I won't bore you with the details but I casually mentioned that I didn't think people were talking about "IT" but that they did seem nervous.  Her response was that it was like the Elephant in the room. I suppose she is right. It seems to be a quiet nervousness. Some people want to ignore it and believe it could never happen and some are quietly trying to prepare for "IT".

So what is "IT" and how do you prepare for it? I happen to be one of those people that want to be prepared and for the most part I have always thought I was relatively prepared for most emergencies. I have water and food put away and have discussed with my girls what to do or where to go in an emergency. We have a meetup spot in case of a house fire and in the case of an earthquake and Tsunami they know to go to a nearby hill and wait for us. I keep extra stores on hand and everyone has cell phones. So now I have to ask. How many different emergencies can you prepare for? What if whatever "IT" is destroys your preparations? Do you keep stuff in the car? In an out building on your property? To be prepared for all emergencies you would need a moving van to haul all the stuff you might need in case of....and then where is a safe place to put it so that it is unaffected by whatever the emergency is? In our case there is the slightest possibility of a tsunami because we live on an island. A somewhat protected one but an island just the same. We also have a major fault that runs right in front of our property so earthquake is a definite possibility even though we are pretty sure our house was built with that in mind. We are located between two volcanoes, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker that could spew ash and make life difficult and although I was relatively unaffected by Mt. St. Helen years ago I remember it well. So how about an economic meltdown? One where money is worthless because of hyper inflation. Any one remember the meltdown in Germany in the thirties (yes before my time) where it took a wheelbarrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread? Yike! Fortunately I know how to make bread. And a lot of other things too like soap, and cheese and butter etc. But there are a lot of people out there that don't even know how to cook anything unless it is frozen and microwaveable.

I like most people don't want to be labeled an alarmist however if this thing in DC actually happens I'm afraid there is going to be panic and marching in the streets. I wouldn't be surprised if the tea baggers didn't get lynched for being obstructionist. Even if you agree with them it is like closing the barn door after the horse got out. Too little, too late. I know there have been many many "depressions" and "downturns" etc., and that they  happen about every 20 years or so. You can find info on them starting in the 1800's here in the states.  We live through them. We learn from them. At least regular people do. Politicians don't seem to. Take a peek at history.

For those of you who want another good blog on self sufficiency here is one for you. Go through the archives and read. There is a lot of stuff here that is helpful. There is also some cute fluff so pick and choose.

I hope everyone reading this does at least a minimal amount of prep for it. The worse that could happen if it doesn't happen is you will have stuff to use for awhile.

Would love to leave you with a cute or funny photo but all my pictures are on my broken computer so this is just going to have to be an ugly looking post. However there are lots of pictures on cam mathers blog. Give it a try.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My computer is busted......

And since I have to borrow the mans computer I am going to be awhile before I can post anything except maybe a few pictures here and there. (If I get any cute ones) In the mean time I recommend you follow this link and read Cam Mathers blog. He has a lot of helpful information in his archives for different projects.  He writes a lot about living on his off grid homestead and about the animals and the different things he is doing to be self sufficient. Be patient. I will be back ASAP.

Thanks everyone.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hooligan geese

This is going to be a short post. I love my geese but.........
My geese are into everything. Today I watched from a window as they decided to harass the hammock in the back yard and pull the blanket into one of the water buckets that I have setting around for them. If I leave my gardening gloves within reach I get to chase them around the yard trying to get them back. They have opened feed sacks, ripped holes in bales of plastic covered bedding chips, and climbed the steps to my front porch looking for trouble. If I am in the house getting some work done or dinner they stand on the back porch trying to pull the screen door off.
click on photo to enlarge

Territorial with the poultry waterers or anything else with water in it they chase the chickens biting their butts until I yell at them. Then they run to me acting  (and looking) like innocent angels with their wings open and talk, talk, talking when I'm out in the yard. I know it is my own fault because they imprinted on me as babies and I wanted them to so they would be nice. I just wasn't expecting them to be like kids that have to be watched all the time.
Like babies they look totally innocent when they are sleeping with their heads tucked under their wings. Because they have so many feathers you can't tell where their heads are unless they open an eye to see what you are doing then that big beautiful blue eye looks at you to see if it is worth waking up for.

 Yes, I love my geese.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Somewhere on someone's blog I read that in the summer you have lots to write about and no time to write. Winter you have lots of time and nothing to write about. That is certainly true with me. Between the 16th birthday and graduation I have not had a moment to spare and more stuff just keeps getting piled on. So here are pictures of the oldest's graduation. We are very proud of her. The party was good with lots of good food and the gift was a huge success.

For those who don't know, we are a blended family. The man and his daughter (the oldest) and me and mine. Mine being the youngest. The man was a widower when I met him trying to raise two kids on his own. (His son is grown and gone now). So the gift to our oldest was this.  Her mother had a ring with three diamonds that had been handed down from great grandma, to grandma, to mother. The man had been saving it to give to her when she "grew up". He also still had his and mom's wedding bands that were made of white and yellow gold. So I suggested we have a pendant and two earring's made from the wedding bands of her parents using both colors of gold in the design and the diamonds from her mother's ring. She is the 4th generation to get the diamonds and her parents wedding bands were melted and made into the settings to hold them. In this way we were able to make sure her mother had a part in her graduation. The jeweler did a great job and she was touched and happy to have such a memorable  and sentimental gift.

The party was a success but oh so much work for me. She had requested a carrot cake from Costco because
they make the best but apparently they don't make them anymore. Go figure. So I made one from my mom's recipe which is one of the best I have ever tasted. We started the meal with an anti-pasto platter, and shrimp cocktail followed with a lasagna Bolognese, a vegetarian lasagna with pesto and sun dried tomato, and a baked ravioli. We also had watermelon, fresh pineapple, and strawberries and Olive oil and Rosemary bread with a Cesar salad to round out the meal. The vegetarian Lasagna went over big. Lots of request for the recipe which I had to then back track and remember what I did. So everyone had fun and her friends from her old school made it for the party and spent the night. We were all so tired the next day all we did was lay around the living room watching old movies and sleeping through most of them. Fun but I will be glad to get back to normal.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sometimes it takes a Village........

...Even in the animal world. My two silkies that are raising two chicks each seem to be sharing parental duties. I was late collecting the two families the other night and when I went out to the chicken tractor (which they share during the day) the black Silkie had all four under her even though the white one was sitting right next to her. Now these two moms are as different as night and day and I don't mean their color. The black one is calm and talks softly to her babies showing them food, picking it up and letting the little ones eat it right out of her mouth. She also knows I will take care of the three of them and acts like she wants me to pick them up and carry them in at dusk. As a result her babies are very tame and don't mind being handled. The white one squawks and makes noise, gets between me and the babes and just lets them know that I am a monster not to be trusted. She is however more able to defend her babies against the bigger hens where the black one tries but then chooses to run as opposed to standing and fighting like the white one resulting in losing one or both of her babies in the chaos. Yesterday a huge commotion outside brought me running from the house to see geese flying and honking and the two mom's raising hell. They were in the chicken tractor and all I could see was both moms running from one end of it to the other in tandem as if they were connected at the hip. At first I couldn't tell what the heck was going on but the way everyone was acting I was sure it had something to do with a predator. Then I saw it. A grey squirrel had got into the tractor to get some food and the two moms where trying to kill it. Poor terrified thing finally found its way out and I bet he doesn't try that again. So perhaps it does take a village.

Sometimes the village reaches across specie boundaries. We were having one of those lovely relaxed days at home. The sun was shining and the kids were hanging out in the yard getting some sun. Our oldest had been working on end of school homework earlier while the geese tried to eat it and was now in the hammock with her boyfriend while the youngest and her girl friend were sunning themselves on a blanket next to the hammock. A rare, perfect, peaceful day. Looking out the kitchen window I noticed one of the geese was in the hammock with the oldest and one was on the blanket with the youngest and her friend. The other two were sleeping at the foot of the blanket. No one is going to believe this and the pictures are on the friends ipod but I will try to post them when and if I get them. I would trade a weeks worth of normal days for one of these. It was perfect.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Rites of Passage

June seems to be the month for it. Birthdays for 16 year olds, and high school graduations. Announcements are rolling in from friends with other graduates. Happens because they are kids that grew up with your own. Young people that slept in your house rolled up in sleeping bags, sharing in celebrations of birthdays, recitals, school plays, picnics and camping trips and yes sometimes the not so good times too.

Today we are in the throes of a 16th birthday. Last night was a family dinner with the requested homemade mac and cheese, broccoli, and Italian sausage. Topped off with a chocolate cheesecake. The big gift is always given at this function and this was no exception. At 16 our girls get their first piece of real jewelry. A ring and this time it was a sapphire ring set in white gold. Not terribly expensive but exciting to get and a treasure that they keep along with the memories.

Today our youngest is "allowed" to get her navel pierced. I picked her and a friend up after school to take her to a tattoo parlor where the oldest had hers done. Only after much thought and research did we settle on this place to have this done and only by  Fat Tony. He seems like a nice guy and has kids of his own. He is also very careful and makes sure the girls know how to take care of the piercing after it is done so as not to get an infection. The parlor itself also seems to be not quite so, how should I put this, scary. I don't advocate piercings or tattoos but I do want my kids to learn how to make their own decisions and consequently suffer the repercussions of decisions made as long as they are not life threatening. This one is not as bad as some others they could be making. So off we go and she, like the oldest, will get the old speech about risky behaviors and consequences. Something the oldest one still remembers and flings at me occasionally. "Youth is  a wonderful thing. To bad it's wasted on the young".

Later this week we will be going into town to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean in 3D IMAX and dinner at her favorite restaurant. When we are done with this rite I will begin working on the next one. GRADUATION! The gift for that has been ordered. Now I just have to figure out what to do for the party.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Small Miracles

Picture taken two days ago
Yesterday my daughter found one of our ducks laying near the gate to their pen not moving. I had just come in from working out in the yard and was in the kitchen making dinner when I looked up to see her picking up a limp almost lifeless duck and walking towards the house. I rushed out to see what had happened. Our duck had classic signs of poisoning. Paralysis of the wings and legs, unable to hold its head up, unable to swallow, and shallow breathing. We immediately took her into the chicken coup to the table and I had my daughter go mix up a Tablespoon of Epsom salts in 2 cups of water and grab the eye dropper. For the next two hours my daughter, her friend, and I took turns sitting with little miss duck and forcing the water in even though it appeared she couldn't swallow it. Most of it just went out the side of her mouth and down the front. We watched helplessly as she twisted her head back onto her back and had convulsion. Apparently some of the water was getting in because she started pooping everything out. Not a pleasant thing but necessary. That was the purpose of the Epsom salts. But it didn't seem to be helping and if I had been able to put her to sleep quietly I would have. I couldn't figure out what she could have got into. None of the others were sick. I was afraid she had wandered over to the neighbors fence where the neighbor is carefully growing a row of alder trees (considered a weed here) complete with chemical fertilizer and slug killer. I don't use anything in my yard that an animal, wild or tame, can't eat. Since we live near a wetlands and on an island, I also don't want to be the cause of chemical run off that pollutes the water. In all fairness I can't point a finger at the neighbor. There are other things in the environment that can make a duck sick and I have no proof the duck was anywhere near those trees. However there is now a makeshift fence up to keep my ladies from wandering over behind the neighbors fence.

At 9:00 I decided to put her in a basket and bring her into the house. I sat her on the coffee table where I could watch her. I was sure she couldn't live another half hour. Her breathing was down to about 4 times a minute and was raspy and sounded like she was drowning. By this time she was laying flat and couldn't move at all. It was just a matter of waiting for the end now. When bedtime came and she was still barely living I put the basket in the small bathroom off of the laundry room and went to bed knowing I would be burying her in the morning. The cat got me up at 2am to let her out so of course I went to see if the duck was gone yet. I turned on the light to look and saw her just laying in her bed flat. Looking very dead. But when I reached in to touch her to see if she was breathing she jumped, feebly flapped her wings and stood up swaying like a drunk! I couldn't believe it. Maybe it was just a startle reflex the last bit of energy before the end. I took the basket back into the kitchen to see if I could get her to drink out of a little bowl but no luck. Still couldn't swallow. She did poop the biggest stinkiest poop ever though so after adjusting her bedding so she didn't have to lay in it (undignified for a dying anything) I returned her to the bathroom and went to bed.

This morning my daughter got up at 6:30 for school and came down stairs to find miss duck standing in the living room with one of the cats staring daggers at her. She just waddled slowly over to her and my daughter was yelling at me that the duck was walking. She was also quietly quacking by the time I got my rob on and out the bedroom door. First thing I asked as I quickly scooped her back into the basket was "is there any poop on the floor?" Apparently all that nasty stuff was gone cuz there wasn't a mess anywhere thank god. We tried fresh water again and she drank like gangbusters. Then it looked like she was looking for food so I went out to the coup and got some poultry food, moistened it with a little water and she ate that dipping each bite into the water dish. I can't believe she is up and about. I will take her outside later to see how she does with the others but right now she is resting in her basket with a towel over it to keep her in. She is our miracle duck for sure. My daughter calls her her birthday duck.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial weekend! Yay!

Memorial weekend. The Man has three days off in a row and we are taking one of those days to go for a ride on the Harley. I spent most of Saturday outside in the garden mostly building up the potato towers. (see march 8th blog, Fifteen days and counting) I did most of them with the straw and then had an idea. Why couldn't you line the towers with brown paper bags from the grocery store? They still hold in the soil and they go in faster and leave more room for growing in the towers and they compost. After having to buy a bale of straw at $9 it is also a lot cheaper. So I did two with bags as an experiment. I guess the down side of that is the bags wont add as much compost at the end of the season. Decomposing straw really adds a lot to soil but at $9 a bale I think I would rather spend my money on compost.

Earlier I had started peas in the house in toilet paper and paper towel tubes cut into 2 inch sections and placed in a cake pan or flat plastic container. I added soil and one pea per tube and kept them watered with the intention of planting them in the garden with the tubes. One container had a paper liner in the bottom. Not a good idea. The pea plants like to attach themselves to the paper on the bottom and it is hard to pull them off. The other container had no paper liner on the bottom and the roots just slid right off and I was able to plant them with a minimum of disturbance. I also grew them under a grow light and noticed that after awhile the paper tubes gave off a moldy odor. (They went out on the porch after that). But at least I have a row of peas that will hopefully produce something. The rest I planted in the garden in the normal way even though it was late.

My original 6 chicks that were raised by my Buff Orpington are now teen agers. They are still trying to find their place in the flock. The four Americana's will lay pretty green/blue eggs and make a lovely dozen  for my customers. The other two are Dominique's a breed on the endangered list. The one with the scissor beak will probably not be much of a layer but is such a pet now that she thinks she can fly up on my shoulder any time she wants. She is all personality.

The two silky mom's are busy raising their brood together. They definitely know which chicks are who's but seem to have reached an agreement to not fight with each other and that makes my job easier since I only have one chicken tractor to put them both in during the day to keep them safe from the other birds.

With all these pictures this post wouldn't be complete without a picture of the geese.

This next week promises to be very busy with a 16th birthday coming up. Because the man and the oldest girl have unusual work and school schedules I am having to do different birthday things on different days. One day will be a family dinner at home with the requested home made mac and cheese and a chocolate cheese cake for the birthday cake. Then the hard stuff will be done on two other days. I will let you know how that turns out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What the H$&#? My newest Rant.

A couple months ago I went shopping at my local Costco. Like most of us I like buying the best quality stuff at the least amount of money in large sizes and since I preserve food that includes vinegar. Now maybe most of you think "vinegar, not a big deal" and maybe it isn't but I use vinegar in a lot of different food not just pickles. The other day I hauled out the jug of Heinz apple cider vinegar to make coleslaw while The Man was sitting there watching me. He pointed out that just under the words "Apple Cider" and just above the word "Vinegar" the label said (in small lettering) flavored distilled. I couldn't believe it. Why would a trusted brand make an apple cider vinegar that was artificially flavored? The ingredients say it is "distilled vinegar from grain, natural flavor with caramel color,diluted with water" to get the 5% acidity. I immediately called my Bro to rage about this new deception by big food industry and to check what his smaller bottle of vinegar contained.

His said from apples. So did the vinegar at his local store. So why this? When we both looked it up the only conclusion we came up with was they are trying to make a cheaper product for mass market stores. The label didn't actually say what grain it is made of but the web site claims their products are made of corn or apples. I assume it is corn. Probably GMO corn since you virtually can't find anything but GMO corn on the market and corn is probably cheaper than apples. The web site claims that apple cider vinegar and wine vinegar are the only vinegars that are gluten free since they are made from apples and grapes respectively and only vinegar such as malt vinegar is not gluten free because they are made of grain so that wasn't a reason. I consider this a dirty trick since I try to avoid corn as much as possible. In this day and age thats like trying to avoid breathing. Go figure. So I guess what I actually bought was colored white vinegar. Hmmmm. So what is the lesson here?

1. Don't trust any company and throughly read each label! Great. That should make a two hour shopping trip turn into four.

2. Make sure what you are buying at your big box stores is what you think it is and if not COMPLAIN! Chances are they don't know it either.

I quit buying Crest toothpaste at Costco in the large 4 pack because there was so much water in it that it would run out of the tube if the cap was off. I thought I was imagining it but it happened with more than one purchase of toothpaste. So maybe there is a pattern developing here. I've always wondered how Costco could sell something so much cheaper and always chocked it up to selling mass quantities.

I'm all for being self sufficient and making a lot of our own food. However I think of cider vinegar as a simple ingredient that is to be used to make other things not something that is made up of other things. Why can't I trust a company to produce a simple ingredient without trying to make it a concoction of several other things. I have a feeling when the effects of peak oil become more noticeable  we may all be making a lot more of our own "stuff". Don't know what peak oil is. You will before long and it will be up close and uncomfortable. If you want a quick, not too in depth explanation go here and watch this video from Mother Earth News. (The link is near the end of the article.) High Gas Prices got you down? (Peak Oil) The video will be quicker than another rant from me.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Books, Obnoxious Animals and Noxious Weeds! (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)

 Ever had a weed you hated? This is one of mine. Thistles come in two forms here and you have to be able to identify the one you are fighting with. A Canadian thistle grows in worn out soil and spreads by underground runner roots. Just for good measure it also will bloom and form thousands of seeds from purple flowers that blow away in the wind to sprout somewhere else on your property. I truly hate this plant. I have battled it for years. I just found an article on getting rid of this obnoxious weed and it makes perfect sense. Pulling the damn thing sure doesn't work. The one thing I know is you have to cut it down before it even looks like it is going to bloom because even though it is cut the flowers will still bloom and make thousands of seeds after cutting and laying on the ground. So if you have this thing check out this link. The picture above is of what we call a bull thistle or spear thistle. It is fairly easy in comparison to eradicate. But you have to get all of the long tap root which can be nearly impossible. Years ago I went with a friend to a garlic farm in Oregon. One of the things we did while we were there was thistle hunting. I have since used this technique to get rid of these "prickers" (my youngest calls them that when she accidentally steps on them with bare feet.) You will need salt, a cutting or weeding tool, and gloves of course. But beware! The stickers still go through the gloves so handle with care. Simply slice off the thistle at ground level then put a pinch of salt on the exposed root. Works like a charm for me. And I have had some in my front yard that are about 2 feet in diameter.  You will have to keep weeding other plants out as they come up from seeds but eventually you will see a difference and you don't have to rely on poisons which don't work on thistles anyway and can make your animals sick if ingested.
I love curling up with a new book. Reading in the winter time is the one thing I really look forward to and sometimes I have to be prodded out of my comfort zone by friends to read something I don't normally read but I have seldom been disappointed with their suggestions. My brother is a writer and until recently I had not been asked to read anything he had written. Perhaps he didn't want to deal with my criticisms. Ya I can be that way. However I was asked to read (and proof) a copy of one of his stories and guess what? I liked it! So much so that I read another and liked it too. I suggested that instead of dealing with agents that only want to handle a proven writer (read easy money) that maybe he should try putting one up on Kindle. After all, those agents are going to be unemployed soon due to downloadable e-books and not so high and mighty. (Ya, ya I like having a real book in my hands too but I also didn't want a cell phone and now look at me.) So he did. It took some time to figure out how to do it and the learning curve was steep but low and behold he is selling books! He writes mysteries mostly and is very good at painting word pictures. To view his stuff and reviews follow this link. Don't have a Kindle reader? Did you know you can download to your computer and read anything you can get as an e-book? Here is a link to his stuff. Oh and by the way. I just set up the hammock in the backyard and now when I have an hour or so I can lay in the hammock and read and still be around my animals and in the fresh air. So take an hour or two for yourself. You deserve it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Busy days

I seem to have gotten very busy since my last post. Trying to get the garden in, raising geese and ducks, raising new chicks, dealing with broody hens, a graduating senior, two birthdays, and the work here is coming fast and furious. I'm working on the garden between rain and wind storms and temperatures that are 10 degrees below normal. The potatoes are up and need to be mounded. I am still tilling and re-tilling and pulling out the stupid grass that keeps re-sprouting.  I have some lettuce in and some peas. I am also bushwhacking nettles, and what I believe are cow slips, (a big leafy wet plant) in my spare time. I simply refuse to let them take over the area we cleared last summer.

One of the new chicks developed a scissor beak as it grew and I know a "real" farmer would have given it a good whack and been done with it. However this little girl is as sweet as can be and I am a sucker for a Charlie Brown anything. Because I am concerned that she isn't able to get enough to eat I have been making her a wet mash from chick starter and water three times a day. That seems to be working and now when I come out of the house she comes running across the yard to look up at me and ask "where's the food?" She follows me, hopping up on the table and then on me while I am making her mash. She is fearless. Everyone that sees this comical little bird thinks she is cute.

In the mean time I have 4 other birds that have decided to go broody. Two silkies (of course) a bantam light Brahma and a black astrolorpe. I think I have cured the bantam and I am working on the black one. However both Silkies want desperately to be moms. So I bought 4 more chicks. Two for each hen. The black Silkie is a natural mother and didn't mind being moved from her original nest to a dog carrier on the table and instantly tucked each Buff Orpington chick under her. The white Silkie was a little more difficult. She wasn't about to give up the original nest and had a fit so I moved her to a carrier after dark and let her settle in over night before adding the chicks. She is now a good mother of two silver laced Wyandots. The chicks are giving her a hard time since they want to explore their nest and she wants them under her wing. I don't think I will ever brood chicks under a lamp again. Giving that job to the hens is great.

Now the man thinks I'm nuts and I have too many animals. Isn't he the one that was saying I needed more layers to keep up with the demand for my eggs? Since I still don't have housing for my geese I guess I better not push my luck.

The geese and ducks are now 9 weeks old and fully feathered so they are staying outside at night in a predator resistant enclosure. That makes my job a little easier because I don't have to clean up the coup after them every morning. The fenced pasture is up and usable for now and handy to have during the day when they need to be out but I am anxious to get it finished with a real gate and nest houses built. I love my geese and one in particular seems to like me. My youngest named him Sebastian. He likes to be on my lap and gives be goose hugs around my neck. Ok. So I am nuts.

Our oldest graduates from high school so we have announcements to get out, pictures to pick up, parties to plan and registration for college. She is in running start this year which means she did her high school senior year and college freshman year at the same time so she will be going into college as a sophomore next fall studying marine biology. Right now she is in crunch mode to get everything done.

Our youngest has her sweet 16 coming up first week of June. That is a special birthday so I am trying to decide what to do about it. We have a tradition of giving our girls a real ring on their 16th so I have to go shopping. I hate to shop.

The man also has a birthday. He wants heated riding gear for the bike. That means a trip to Olympia about two hours south of here (after the ferry) to visit the company that makes it. We will be taking the car for that. I am not riding that far on his Harley in what will surely be rain.

How about a recipe? This dessert starts out as one batter and separates during baking into fluffy cake hiding a creamy layer of lemon pudding. Try it!

Lemon Pudding Cake

1 Cup granulated sugar divided (3/4 cup and 1/4 cup)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 tsp. fresh lemon zest
1/2 Cup lemon juice
2 Tbls. butter, melted
2 large egg yolks
3 large egg whites (room temperature)
Confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350. Coat eight 4-6 ounce oven proof ramekins or custard cups with cooking spray. Place in a baking dish and heat a kettle of water for a water bath.

Whisk 3/4 cup sugar, flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Add milk, lemon juice and zest, butter and egg yolks. Whisk until smooth.

In a clean glass bowl beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff and glossy. Fold the egg whites into the batter (it will be thinner than other cake batter and it's okay if a little lumpy). Evenly divide among the prepared ramekins.
Place the roasting pan of ramekins in the oven and carefully pour in enough boiling water to come almost halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake the pudding cakes until golden brown and the cakes have pulled away slightly from the sides of the ramekins, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve warm or at room temperature.