Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rambling Holiday Thoughts

An update of goings on around here will follow at the bottom of this post. Suffice it to say that daily routines have been extremely busy!

Fall is my favorite time of year. I do have some peeves about the season however. I'm all for capitalism, but our world today is so overwhelmed with advertisements that the merchants seem to be bent on sapping the joy out of everything.

We can't get through July 4th before the back-to-school ads begin, harping at us that our children should not be deprived of the latest and best in any and everything from their clothing, backpacks, electronic gadgetry and of course, heat and eat food from the freezer section. All of these things are bent on driving parents to equip their child with nothing but the best - yet published charts explain that despite our personal spending and massive increases in local, state and federal government funding, the children have not significantly altered their academic performance in the last 30 years! (Why More Money Will Not Solve America's Education Crisis: provides examples of such charts, along with their views regarding funding.) Before I digress too far down that bunny trail, suffice it to say that I think too much money is being thrown at anything labeled 'for the children', yet somehow, the children do not benefit.

Then, we can't get the kids on the bus to school before the Halloween ads crank up. Michael Jackson's Thriller is thrown at us in all kinds of versions no matter where you go, accompanied by skeletons, ghosts, witches and a few scarecrows.

Abruptly after October 31, however, an oddity has arisen in our seasonal deluge of media blitzing. Merchants skip right past Thanksgiving to Black Friday. Thanksgiving hardly is mentioned at all, except with the context of PRE-Thanksgiving specials - and we're not talking turkey dinners here. Now I'm all for early shopping to save money and to be prepared to bless family and friends with carefully chosen gifts. I honestly believe that the current generation of children and teens have likely heard much more about Black Friday than the traditional Thanksgiving account of the English settlers' feast.

So, Thanksgiving is basically being erased in favor of the competition for the Christmas shopping dollars. Aisles in the stores are filled to overflowing with every type of merchandise intended to help you create the ideal holiday, complete with indoor/outdoor decor, apparel, and of course gifts in the ideal wrap with the perfectly matched ribbons and bows.

I went out last night in search of candles for our advent wreath and was dismayed to find the carnage in the aisles of the local stores after the ravaging of the fervent shoppers. I also did not find the candles I wanted, but easily settled for an alternate in the desire to escape the chaotic panorama of both the recently plundered and depleted shelves of Black Friday specials and the overflowing bins of cheaply made toys spilling on to the pathways to the checkout counters.

So, in a nutshell, commercialism of holidays seems to effectively drive folks out to mix it up in somewhat of a frenzy to spend money. I think there must be a huge segment of the population that continues to feel deprived and unfulfilled...and in debt!

Time to put the blinders on! Focus on what's most important with each holiday celebration and life in general! We've been working for years to establish traditions for the holidays that have some meaningful purpose for our family. Time will tell whether these things take root within our kids, but I know that for my husband and me, these things help to prevent the distractions from stealing our time, attention and money away.

Enough ranting, the promised update follows:
Chickens: As of yesterday, we put our 23 pullets (or possibly 22 pullets and 1 cockerel) into the coop and run with our 26 laying hens. We were somewhat anxious about this blending, as warnings abound in online resources that advise that re-establishing the pecking order can be brutal and possibly fatal for the younger chickens. We can report that all 49 chickens are alive and well. We will be rehoming a number of the birds so that our remaining flock will not be overcrowded! The laying hens are doing very well and continue to produce an average quantity of 24 eggs per day. We have some loyal customers that purchase our excess, so the hens are paying their way on feed and continue to pay down the mortgage on the coop ;).

Garden: The garden has been reworked to remove as many weeds as possible and lies dormant for winter with nothing but a row of strawberry plants and a few straggling asparagus plants. We're trying a new approach that involves mounds, irrigation, plastic protection and mulch.

Herb Garden: Absolutely nothing happening in this area. Thanksgiving meal preparations stirred my desire to have my own herbs for next year's dinner - planted, harvested and dried. We'll see....I've got a whole year to work on making that happen!

Life in general: School for the kids, meal prep and clean-up, house maintenance (cleaning and repairs), garden tool maintenance, inside/outside chores, church participation and activities, extracurricular kid activities all seem to keep us quite busy!

Thanks for stopping by the blog! Perhaps the coming winter months will afford more opportunity for posting articles of merit!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bloggers Remorse

I read a blog this morning about blogger burnout The Old Geezer Blog. I enjoy reading that blog and he made some great points. I don't think that's what happened to me. We got really busy and quite honestly, I had a burnout about a lot of things - including the blog. But, the good news is, the burnout has passed its' time and I'm renewed, re-energized and ready to share my little pea brain thoughts again.

The chickens are in terrific health, although the rooster had to be quarantined. He's just more aggressive than I care to put up with and the hens certainly don't seem to like his harrassment. Even though I'm a city girl, I do understand some of his behavior is normal for a healthy male bird, but too much is just too much. He's in isolation while we sort out if we're going to keep him. The hens in the meantime are laying machines. We have 26 of them and we get a minimum of 23 eggs every day. The most our family consumes in a week is about 2 dozen, so obviously we have excess! We've made a habit of taking our eggs to a local farmer's market every week and we've had no trouble finding happy customers. We're going to share a few of our busy layers with another family. That will give us room for new chickens with more variety in the breeds. On order are Auracanas, Barred and White Rock, Black Austrolorp, Buff Minorca and Silver Laced Wyandotte. The chicks should arrive later next week and we look forward to the joy of the tiny, fuzzy peepers. We're planning our brooder as I blog, but hopefully with the benefit of our one time experience and warmer weather, they'll thrive just fine with little trouble.

Buttermilk biscuits: Still a work in progress. Since I've lapsed from preparing a hot breakfast except for one or two days a week, my ambitions for that home cooked mastery have not yet been achieved. I'll not give up, though.

Vegetable garden: That one's a dismal status indeed. The wonderful rain with which we were blessed made everything so pretty and green most of the summer. We didn't have a good handle on weed management, however, so the only thing growing well in our garden were a few onions and the weeds. We're working to annihilate them now and hope to plant a fall garden. The trick is to annihilate the weeds without introduce elements into the soil that we don't want to consume! Any tips out there? Our son came up with the idea to burn the weeds off and we're tempted to do so. Then, we could till the remnants back into the soil and begin again with a more proactive weed prevention/management approach.

Of late, the focus in our family has been preparing for another school year. We have had to adjust a bit to Tennessee requirements, but we're on our way now. The public schools started last week and we have made some preparations. We have curriculum in place, have enrolled our older son in an online class and have supplies stashed away. I completed an overhaul that we must do at least once a year to purge out items that either are no longer needed (or never were). We sometimes resell those items, but more often donate to another family. Our philosophy is that we were blessed with it through at least one student and more often, two. We've gotten lots of good of most of our choices and love to pass them along.

Thanks for reading the blog. The next entry will include some photos of our more filled out hens and rooster.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


The chickens are now 16 weeks old and we had a big surprise this week - eggs! The hatchery advised that the hens should be laying by week 22. In the photo above, the first eggs are on the right and left, with a store bought (free range) egg in the middle - large, grade A. We were so amazed and pleased with the early production.
Looks like an egg, right? The yolk is a very rich color and when cooked retains the orange coloring. Throughout the week, we've been consistently finding two eggs by noon. Because we had not yet finished the nesting boxes, the first eggs were laid on the floor of the coop and we were pleased to find them before they were stepped on. My husband quickly finished the nesting boxes, we ordered wooden eggs to place in them and we haven't found another egg on the floor since.

The chickens are rather large, and the rooster is being housed separately. He learned a crow a few weeks ago and now crows throughout the day, beginning at 4:40 am every morning. He's segregated due to being a bit rough on the hens. We've no interest in fertilized eggs, so he's getting a bachelor pad extension for the coop.
He is beautiful and seems happy enough living in the playpen until his quarters are complete.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mews on the Homestead

I'd like to introduce the newest critters on the homestead - Hansel and Gretel (or Eowyn and Eomer). The names are a work in progress.

The kids have wanted a cat for some time and we've been deliberating about caring for an outdoor kitty. We could definitely see benefits in combating mice and voles. We see evidence of the voles all over the property.

Looks pretty cute in the photo, doesn't it? Thriving on mostly plant life, they will certainly wreak havoc on the vegetable garden, bulbs and the herb garden.

I could also see the beautiful song birds that frequent our feeder becoming prey for the cat. However, as cute goes - the cat is much cuter than the vole and we can do our best to relocate the feeder to help the songbirds survive. I wish I knew how to train the cat to be selective in the hunt!

So the search for the cats was on and we first stopped at the local animal shelter. The local government operated facility is most definitely not a 'no-kill' shelter and they are not set up to quarantine sick animals from the healthy ones. We spied a couple of very spunky young kitties, but were worried about diseases, so we left without selections.

We then stopped at a privately operated non-profit shelter. A Time 4 Paws houses as many adoptable cats and dogs as possible, with a long waiting list of critters in foster care waiting for space in the central facility. We found Hansel and Gretel there, 6-8 mos old siblings, recently spayed and neutered, vaccinated and with a clean bill of health from a local vet. They will live solely in the garage until acclimated to us and their home, then we hope that they will have a blast roaming the property daily and hopefully return to the garage for the night. Our Lord of the Rings fans are considering names of the Rohan kingdom siblings, Eowyn and Eomer. We'll let you know!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spring show of flowers

The first spring in this new home for us has been especially delightful. Besides the normal lift of spirit from seeing green grass and flowers, we have a number of new things in our surroundings.
Dogwoods showed the first blooms early on, along with several forsythia bushes.
Then, a few weeks later, the rhododendron beside the house and an azalea came out with the irises.
Next, the peony bush showed off these large white blooms.
Here's a closeup view of some of the brightest blooms!

I found myself trotting around the house early each morning to see what new blooms were greeting me! Now, reflecting back, the dogwoods, forsythias and most of the irises are spent. What a reminder to enjoy thoroughly what each day brings!

I have a long range dream of spring and summer long blooms blended with an herb garden. I'll have to stay focused as fall approaches to see if I can plant wisely! I want to supplement these blooms that have already shown themselves and add some things that will bloom throughout the summer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tornado Alley moved?

I grew up in Texas and remember frequent alerts for tornadoes. I've never seen one, but have seen the aftermath within a few miles of my childhood home on many occasions. Among many other events, I remember the story of a high rise building in Lubbock (yes, they have at least one) being twisted on its foundation by an F-5 tornado (250 mph winds!). From my own personal observations and reports over the years, I believed that the image below defined Tornado Alley:

Now that we're in Tennessee, a good 1000 miles to the east of this highlighted area, we are now seeing this diagram in the spring forecasts:

Odd, isn't it?

The good thing about those huge thunderstorms is the rain. Another relatively good thing is that tornadoes damage such a limited area - if you are a few blocks away, your home and you will survive. There are other types of disasters such as hurricanes or tsunamis that take out entire regions! Of course, the bad thing is the damage that can result from high winds, hail and of course, the limited protections you can use for a direct impact of the deadly tornadoes. I'm thankful for the warning systems and broadcasting tools that can help us prepare as best we can. I'm also thankful for God's graciousness in protecting us, not only on tornado alert days - but every moment!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When convenient isn't so convenient anymore

Thinking more about my small goals of a really terrific buttermilk biscuit and pie dough from scratch, my mind is going down another bunny trail. First of all, I want to make sure that I go on record with a declaration that my mother is an excellent cook. My grandmother was an excellent cook and my mother told me not too long ago that my great-grandmother baked homemade pies for sale when she was a kid. So, with that kind of cooking heritage, how is it that I don't know how to create these things?

I think that food production took a drastically different direction when processes were discovered that allowed for freezing fully-cooked dinners like that TV dinner above. In the day when we were amazed to think that Jane Jetson could prepare dinner with the push of a button, we didn't actually have microwaves!

But we did have an image that the modern woman didn't slave in the kitchen for her family's meals. We also bought into the idea that this new frozen food was more convenient than preparing meals the traditional way. I'm not sure if we really sold ourselves on the idea that it tasted the same? Just look at this plate and tell me that the TV dinner at the top of the page looks the same (or tastes the same) as the one below!

Then, we took this giant leap of 'fast food' at drive in and drive through 'restaurants'. Now, when I stop and think about time management, going into the kitchen and cooking a Rachel Ray 30 minute meal is probably a quicker, cheaper and better tasting alternative than the local Sonic, Taco Bell, etc. options that would require the drive to and from, time ordering and waiting for delivery, etc.

I think the message that 'I don't have time to cook' infiltrated my mind long ago and I've been gaining more on the truth of the matter for awhile now. But, like everything else, doing things well takes practice and so here I go. I think the message may be changing with the popularity of Rachel Ray, the Food channel, HGTV, etc. I heard a professional chef advising a failing restaurant owner to prepare and cook the food rather than heating up frozen options. He told the restaurant owner that the 'real' food would cost pennies on the dollar and would taste better. So, if that's true in the restaurant business, why not in our homes? Now, the times are getting a little tougher economically and we all may need to pinch our pennies more than we used to. Food prices are also going up, but preparing your own food will taste better and be less expensive that frozen options or eating out. Since my family doesn't mind left-overs, I usually prepare a double recipe so that we can enjoy two meals for the mess I create with my efforts.

And just because I can't help myself, let me share one other thing. A new item I saw advertised in the last month was a product called 'Recipe Inspirations'. It's a packet with 1/2 dozen different spices and/or dried herbs and a recipe card. The entire contents are less than 1/2 oz of spices and I bet the product costs more than a single container of an individual spice. Between the internet, cookbooks, magazine articles and TV shows, there's a multitude of 'inspirations' out there! Please do not spend your hard earned dollars on a frivolous item like this! Print out the recipe, make a grocery list, get the stuff and cook it! You CAN do it!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In search of the best buttermilk biscuit recipe

As a girl raised in the south, you'd think I would have already conquered this one. But, alas, I cannot bake homemade buttermilk biscuits that line up with my ideal biscuit. It's fluffy, a little tangy, soft, but lightly brown on top. Here's a picture:

I keep working on one from my favorite cookbook published by Southern Living, but without the results that I want. Now, I'm on to that queen of southern comfort food, Paula Deen. Here's a link to hers:

If we pair it with the sausage gravy, I know that we will have to spend more time with Jillian. If I can sort out how to make home made biscuits however, I'll be on to my next cooking goal - homemade pie crusts!

I'll let you know how this works out. Better yet, I should let my kids and husband report on this - they will have to eat the results!

Spring is BUSY!

The focus this past week has been on outside projects and includes completing a really thorough tilling in the vegetable garden and completing the first mowing of our 'lawn' areas. Sounds simple enough, but the complications arise in getting the equipment up and running after a long winter of dormancy. My husband and I both agreed that we need to sort out how to keep these things in better condition prior to their active season! Along those lines, I found a website to help: Hobby Farms Three regular contributors to their blog area include an experienced individual to discuss equipment, tools, maintenance and repair, etc. This is why I LOVE the internet!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Home School on the Homestead

Thanks Heather for asking about curriculum! We've taught our kids at home since our older son reached Kindergarten age. My goodness, there are so many options for curriculum these days. The choices were overwhelming when we started out 11 years ago and options have grown by at least 100 fold since!

We really like a classical education approach, primarily due to the chronological exploration of history. History is taught from the beginning of time through current age in 3 cycles, each cycle taking 4 years to complete. When we began this approach, we started with Tapestry of Grace and now use the books we've accumulated with Diana Waring. I like Diana Waring's materials because she includes CD's with her own lectures, while Tapestry of Grace would necessitate more preparation on my part. With all the choices on my time management and things I need to learn myself, it's so much easier to have a prepared lecturer available on the CD player!

So, here's a list of what we use:
History and Literature - Diana Waring
Math - MathUSee
Science - Apologia Science
Language - our 10th grader has writing assignments from a combination of Diana Waring recommendations or our own assignment based on current events
Language - our 4th grader uses Easy Grammar
Spelling - 4th grader uses Spelling Workout
Spanish - Rosetta Stone

To help with preparations for PSAT, SAT and/or ACT tests for our high school student, we include Vocabulary from Classical Roots.

In the past, we have used a smattering of things: Switched on Schoolhouse, Abeka, Sonlight and Bob Jones. All worked fine, except for some issues with Switched on Schoolhouse. We feel more comfortable with our current selections and will continue until it seems something needs adjustment. The thing I like best about our home school is that we can choose what fits us as teachers and our kids as students to keep them engaged and learning.

Our day is very full! We include some art projects, music lessons and some exposure to art and music appreciation as we can. With chores (inside and out), extracurricular activities and participation with our local church, time passes very quickly!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Unwelcome guests and my new favorite word!

Sometime during my growing up years, a certain Alfred Hitchcock movie appeared on TV with some regularity - The Birds. If you're unfamiliar with this film, a huge infestation of birds descend upon a little seaside village and wreak havoc on the residents. The birds are both gulls and these horrible black birds. Here's a few still shots from the movie and posters:

Images from that movie remain planted in my brain forever more and every time I see a flock like the following photo, I have immediate recall of those nasty birds:

Well, these creatures can be identified and they are grackles. As a lone bird, they could be attractive, except for that creepy yellow eye! When they 'speak', they have either a high pitched whistle or a terrible rasping sound. And they never are loners, as a matter of fact they travel in huge flocks creating havoc with their horrible sounds and bombardment of feces.
We saw them frequently in Texas, mostly in the central to south regions. Every year, it seems they are more predominant in regions further north. Besides being unpleasant to be around, they also drive every other species of song bird from the territory, robbing backyard bird feeders and bird baths of lovely cardinals, robins, sparrows, mockingbirds or doves.

I've despised them for years due to these factors, but as a chicken enthusiast, I have a new concern. Several diseases as well as harmful mites are carried by these creatures (and most other migratory birds). This can wreak havoc on a flock of domestic poultry!

Until the last couple of weeks, we've not had any of these creatures around, but now they've descended upon us and seem to like our tall oak and poplar trees. Yuk! Further complicating matters was my understanding that no one could harm grackles because they were defined as migratory birds by the Fishery and Wildlife Service.

But, I have a glimmer of hope....just look at this!

The Code of Federal Regulations, more commonly referenced as CFR provides this information:

50 CFR 21 §21.43

"A Federal permit shall not be required to control yellow-headed red-winged, rusty, and Brewer's blackbirds, cowbirds, all grackles, crows, and magpies, when found committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance:..."

Hot diggity! We have all kinds of justification to 'control' these birds since 'depredation' seems to be their very purpose in life. That makes 'depredation' my new favorite word and furthermore, since we reside outside city limits, we can operate a fire arm for 'control' with no worries.

Now, for those of you that might be horrified that I'm considering these birds to be terrific target practice, take heart that my aim is pretty lousy and the birds spook quickly. They also return quickly, so we'll see how this war goes, but it's official....Grackles are unwelcome guests at our homestead and we will pursue ridding ourselves of these pests and disease carriers!

We also may need to work on the area that will be the chickens' run to assure that we aren't releasing them from the safety of their coop into mite-ville and disease laden feces in the field!

We'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Second Day of Spring

I somehow missed noting that the first official day of spring was on the 20th. Undeniably, spring is all around us and we are discovering new blooms daily in the landscape and trees. We moved in during the fall, so our first spring is truly full of surprises! Not sure, but these blooms look most like a maple from our tree book.
One very brave hyacinth is very showy in the midst of many daffodils...
Daffodils are tucked into several areas around the house and along the driveway...
They are nicely coming out in stages, so we should be able to enjoy them for a more extended season.

Oh, boy...time has come to pull out the garden tiller we purchased from the previous property owner. We were told that it needed new belts and my husband had studied the manual to determine the type. He discovered that it needed belts. Period. Old ones had been removed, so the manual came out again to identify how to place them. After a few hours of fueling, adding oil, placing the belts on and tugging, tugging, tugging the starter cord...success! The almost 30 yr old tiller sputtered and coughed, but still worked.

My husband coaxed it along a few turns in the garden plot. It's extremely cranky, we're hoping due to lack of use. Our soil tests indicate we need fertilizer in the garden as well, so we'll purchase a good quantity and give the cranky tiller an opportunity to earn its keep!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Moving Day! Mission accomplished - chickens in coop, not garage!

Here's the end of the story - 26 chickens that seem much happier in the very roomy coop instead of being literally 'boxed in' the temporary brooder. They are making some adjustments, but mostly seem very content to run, flap their wings, 'chest bump' one another (establishing pecking order?), scratch the pine shavings, try out new perches, etc.
This will be the last time the boys sit down in pine litter - it will never again be that clean!
Here they are moments after being released in the coop - mostly checking out the fresh litter.
Earlier in the day, we worked feverishly to complete the last few chores of predator proofing (we hope!). Note the challenge of the chicken wire and hardware cloth that somehow clings to work gloves by a single strand! Our son was working on attaching hardware cloth to the 'ceiling' of the coop. We decided that the largest vulnerability for weasel/possum/raccoon penetration was via the roof line (corrugated roofing with no sheathing beneath).
After adding some insulation to the ceiling, we attached hardware cloth all over, securing it first with heavy duty staples, then adding boards to prevent prying critters from working their way in.
The last items added were the perches, attached with hinges to facilitate cleaning. Our younger son demonstrates the final sweep out. We know the coop will never be this clean again!
The automatic door is set to 'Night' position, meaning it will stay closed at all times. Our next project - the run! When a secure fence and covering is in place to keep the chickens from wandering off and predators from wandering in, the door will be set to 'automatic'. Using a photo sensor, the door will open about 1/2 hr after dawn and will close about 1/2 hr before sunset. Another feature automatically turns an interior light on 8 hrs after the night closure to tease the chickens into better egg production.

The two perches provide plenty of room for all the chickens to roost at the same height. We hope this minimizes feuding over the best sleeping spot! We still had them hooked up by their chains here so that we could add a layer of pine shavings to the floor.
Here the guys go at it, making a nice landing spot for the chickens to dismount the perches and also provide absorbent litter.

Four 8 cubic feet bags later, the area is all set for the chickens!
We saved an area for people only! This will provide storage space for feed, extra litter and cleaning tools.
Last check to see if everything's ready...
Now you can return to those top pictures to see how the chickens settled in after their transfer from the garage. How did we do that? We used one of our dog travel crates and scooped them out of the brooder, into the dog crate, rolled the dog crate on an old kid's little red wagon to the coop and released them into the coop. Although completely traumatized by the capture and rough ride in the wagon, they seemed to settle down within 30 minutes or so. Fortunately for us, it seems chickens are fairly resilient with inexperienced handlers!