Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It Just Bugs Me

I have finally found something truly awesome about winter.  Sure, snow is pretty.  When it melts, it provides moisture to the ground.  Even ice is pretty when you see the sun shining through trees sparkling with ice coatings.  Those are tiny things compared to one fact:  there are no bugs out in winter.

Observe the common housefly (photo from Wikipedia).  One or two, you can deal with.  My dad has a theory:  leave the window in a car open less than an inch, and every single fly within 50 miles will flock to that car.  I totally agree.  So I have to multiply that when my kids stand there with the screen door completely open in summer and let every fly in a 1,000 mile radius into my home.  Fly strips are my friends.  If I knew who invented flyswatters, I'd probably kiss them.  To top it off, these little buggers (pun intended) are pretty smart.  If you're trying to sleep (in a room that has NO food in it), they WILL come land on your nose.  Or your mouth.  Ecch.

Even worse than the flies are the crickets.  I used to love crickets.  Sitting on the porch, listening to them chirp, meant that warm weather was finally here.  It felt so peaceful and comforting.  NOT ANY MORE.  I hate the things.

Photo from www.pest-advice.com (and I'd stomp on this one if it wasn't on the monitor!!!)

The sound of crickets chirping OUTSIDE is lovely on a balmy night.  However, having 20 or so of them INSIDE with you is another story.  Mind you, I'm used to camping out.  I've fallen asleep surrounded by crickets outside of a tent.  Hearing one that's less than 2 feet from your bed at 2 AM is another story.  Knowing that they're probably eating holes in all of my clothes is another deal-breaker.  Reluctant to resort to pesticides, I tried placing hedgeapples all over the house.  Maybe it helped, maybe it didn't.  I do know that we found lots of cricket corpses (YAY!!) in the basement where I hadn't put any hedgeapples.  Finally, they all succumbed to either the apples, the spiders, or my foot.  The house is quiet once again.  I still hate them.

I know that bugs are beneficial.  Sometimes.  I'll leave them alone if they're outside (and not chewing on my plants or my critters).  I've even managed to master my arachnophobia, and that's another story for another day.  The Cricket Invasion of 2011 has made me more aware of tiny home invaders. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  The Cricket Invasion came AFTER the massive influx of Box Elder Bugs (what I grew up calling Democrat bugs). 

(Photo from boxelderbug.com)

As soon as it warmed up last spring, these things were EVERYWHERE.  They caked the front of the house to the extent that we had to use the entrances from the mud room or screen porch to get in without them coming in too.  Still, some managed to come in.  They were nesting under the siding by the front door.  I will admit that, on that occasion, I used a liberal dose of Raid.  It seems to have solved the problem.  Thank goodness.

Lastly, there is my ultimate nemesis:  FRUIT FLIES.  Sometimes my darling husband forgets to empty the drain sieve.  The result?  Clouds of tiny little flies that swarm all over the place.  For heaven's sake, can't I even have bananas or apples without getting mobbed?  I've tried just about everything except walking around with a can of bug spray (want to stay away from that) but geez.  I must admit again that I take almost a sadistic glee in covering the jar of cider vinegar, sloshing it around, and watching them twitch.

So finally, at this point in my life, I'm enjoying winter.  And when those little buggers come back . . .I'll be ready for them.  Yeccch.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Here's your laugh of the day, folks.  I'm sorry I didn't get a picture, since I was too embarassed to walk back out to the coop.

A friend of one of my sisters is a teacher and wanted to buy some hatching eggs for a class project.  I kind of dithered a little bit--after all, it's winter and egg production is down.  I was hoping to wait for slightly warmer weather so more of the girls would be in production.  After all, I'm pretty sure all of them are bred.  Stewie is the most likely father, but Trouble manages to get him some too.

I installed some lovely new nest boxes when I put the chooks in the coop, since the old ones were mostly rusted out on the bottoms.  Even so, I checked each corner of the coop, and even out in the run to make sure that I got all those wonderful eggs.  Well, since I never found any in places other than the nest boxes, I got a little lazy.  I'd check the boxes, check the crates, maybe look around in the yard occasionally, but apparently I wasn't as thorough as I need to be.

Like I said, egg production has been down due to winter's cold temps and shorter daylight.  I'm still out in the coop several times a day, and today I cast my eyes at a corner.  Mind you, this is the corner just behind the indoor dust bath (for those rainy days when they all want to stay inside).  What did I see?  Was that an egg?  No.  It was FIVE eggs.  Goodness only knows how I missed them for the last five days (since they all have the same color and shape, and I'm assuming are probably laid by the same hen).  Heaven only knows which hen it is, since I've never seen one sitting there.

So I felt pretty stupid.  Then I got paranoid.  What else are they hiding from me?  Are they organized?  EEK!  Then there's the problem of storing the eggs at the right temperature to get a good hatch.  Yikes!  Where's the cooler?  Where's the dang snake that's in the basement and is this cooler going to keep him out?  AAAAAAARGH!  Do these incubators work?  How?  (I got them as a gift from a friend, but without instruction manuals!!!)  Thank goodness it's been fairly warm lately and I don't think any of them have frozen.  Thank goodness nobody got the egg eating bug.  They're even all nice and clean. 

So I guess I'll just keep all the eggs that get laid in the next few days and let this nice teacher do her project (since I've heard that after 10 days, hatchability declines).  I hope she sends me pictures of my "grandchicks" and I hope that her students want to keep them.  Maybe tomorrow I'll remember to check the corners.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I got both of my horses for free.  I had to buy the trailer.  It was cheap, but the adventure I had with it is priceless.

I'd only trailered a horse once before.  I had to borrow a trailer when I lived in South Texas and took my Azteca stallion to a show about 10 miles away (we took second, only because first place went to a "ringer"--a national champion).  I tried to return the trailer to the owner, and the dang thing just refused to back where I wanted it to.  It didn't help that there was also an evergreen shelterbelt where I needed to pull up to get the right angle.  Well, after about half an hour and a lot of cussing, I finally got it situated in a tolerable spot.  "Phew" I thought.  "Glad THAT's over!"  and I managed to avoid trailers for the next 10 years.

Then I got ready to bring Aces and her trailer (the one I bought) home to Kansas from Colorado.  No Problem, right?  Heh.  Right.  Not only did we have to hook it up to my truck, we also had to load the 10 fence panels that came with her onto it.  If you've never seen a couple of women on a cold Colorado evening lifting fence panels and tying them onto the trailer with baling twine and ratchet straps, you've really missed something.  Then there's the sight of the trailer with all those panels on it.  Talk about redneck heaven.

Departure Day dawned bright and cold.  Of course, I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before since I was still apprehensive about trailering that kind of distance.  Everything that could go wrong ran through my head on a repeating loop.  We finally got my mare loaded (actually, I should say THEY did because my nervousness was upsetting her).  And there I rolled, down the road.

The Colorado leg of the journey was mainly uneventful until I saw my gas gauge drop before my eyes.  My mileage got cut in half, or less.  Then there were the stares of people wondering what the heck kind of contraption was rolling down the road towards them.  Still, all was going well and I was starting to feel pretty good about the whole thing.

Mysteriously, right at the Kansas border, the wind kicked up.  I'm not talking about a playful little breeze, or a whimsical whiff of air, I'm talking WIND.  It was gusting up to around 40 miles an hour, but still holding steady at about 30 MPH the rest of the time.  Up went my stress levels.  Through the ROOF.  I swear I could feel the trailer trying to rock the truck over.  Oddly enough, no matter which way the road turned, it seemed that the wind was determined to hit me broadside.

Then, in the most deserted part of Kansas, I realized that I was low on gas.  The Distance To Empty display was ticking down at a shocking rate.  I was driving on a Sunday, so even some of the gas stations I did find were closed.  I was seriously starting to look for farms beside the road that I might be able to stop at and buy a few gallons to get me to the next station (and hoping that they could tell me where it was, plus hoping the station would be open) . . .and madly searching my pockets for any available cash.  Have you ever tried to get into your pocket while you're driving?  Have you ever done it when the horse trailer behind you seems seriously determined to become a kite?  Take my word for it.  Don't try it.  Then there's the question of leaving MY horse in a trailer while I go trying to find gas.  Erm, not a comfortable idea.

Finally, as I was running on fumes, I saw it.  THE GAS STATION.  It was OPEN.  I swear that I almost kissed the man behind the counter.  I'm sure he thought that I was crazy, but hey, everyone else does too, so that's OK. 

Getting her onto the farm was rather an anticlimax.  Harry and Margie had agreed to let me keep her out here even before we closed on the property.  As a matter of fact, they had some friends over that night who generously helped to get those baling-twine-tied panels off the trailer and set up.  Aces was a good girl and stayed tied while we set up her pen.  So here she was . . .MY HORSE! 

Since I obviously stink at backing trailers, we figured out a way to pull the trailer around so it would sit out of the way.  It's still sitting there.  I can't see it without thinking of this particular adventure.  So, if you must trailer anything, make sure you can back it, make sure you know where the gas stations are, and hope and pray that it's not a windy day.  Good luck!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Victory Garden

How many members of my generation know what a Victory Garden is?  Not many, and I'd lay money on that.  I'm not a gambling person, so that should tell you something.

Here's the "official" Wikipedia definition:  Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, were vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted at private residences and public parks in United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Germany[1] during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort. In addition to indirectly aiding the war effort these gardens were also considered a civil "morale booster" — in that gardeners could feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. This made victory gardens become a part of daily life on the home front.

When you think about it, home gardens really are morale boosters.  When a friend of mine came to stay with us this last year, she was on the verge of depression.  She actually fought me for the privelege of picking asparagus and raspberries because it made her feel good.  Having our own gardens lets us know where our food is coming from.  We know it's not coated in pesticides.  We can be relatively certain (if we're using heirloom seeds) that it's not GMO.  That's the true "home front."  Think about walking down rows of tomatoes.  You can smell the leaves as you brush past them, see the ripe and ripening fruit, and you can pick one and eat it right there.  It's perfect--an heirloom tomato, ripened in the sun and nestling in your hand.  Taste it with me:  warm and slightly dusty on your tongue as the sun beats down on your head and you listen to the breeze blowing through the garden.  Your teeth pierce the skin, and maybe some seeds run down your chin, but you laugh right after you say MMMM.  You stand there and savor it for a moment.  It tastes like summer and EXPLODES with flavor.  It's not like supermarket tomatoes that look really pretty but when you eat them, they're tasteless mush.  You grew this yourself.  You can take pride in it.  You take JOY in it.

Think about a truly fresh chicken egg (and yes, it used to be standard practice to keep some chickens in your city backyard in the 1950s).  Many people haven't ever HAD a fresh egg.  The eggs you get from the store are usually about a month old, produced from confined hens, washed in filth.  Finding out that supermarket eggs are washed in a chlorine solution that quickly becomes soiled with chicken poo and broken eggs but is not quickly replaced really opened my eyes.  (mind you, the natural "bloom" on an egg is water-soluble.  So, we're taking off the natural anti-bacterial coating of the egg to bathe it in chlorine and diluted poo that will penetrate the egg?!?)  I was skeptical too until my hens started providing me with the most gorgeous fresh eggs I'd ever seen.  The yolks are darker because I pick the chooks fresh greens to eat every day.  The whites are firm and "stand up" because they're fresh (I write the date it was laid on each one of my eggs).  They taste like EGGS, not like a pale, chlorinated imitation.  And while these chookies are giving me these beautiful nuggets of nutrition, they're making compost for our garden.  Win, win, win.

You see, gardening is a constantly evolving process.  You try what you know.  You try new things.  You combine those into what works for YOU.  Nothing can be more empowering than that, especially when you're rewarded with fruit for your labor.  Two years ago, we gardened with no pesticides.  Today, thanks to some wonderful people who wrote great books, we're expanding into areas that we'd never considered before.  Next year, we might have a new idea.  Take it, tweak it, make it work for you.

Folks, that's victory.  Each time you take your kids out to your garden (no matter how big or small) to pick their veggies for supper, you win.  Your kids win too because they'll be healthier for it . . .and maybe want to have their own gardens.  Each time you let them help slaughter and process your own chicken, you win, and so do they because they know just where their supper came from.  People have become so out of touch with the land (and being stewards of it and giving back to it instead of just taking from it) that they've started losing.  Take the lead.  Grow a Victory Garden.  Be VICTORIOUS.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Friday, January 27, 2012

I Get By With a Little Help From My . . .Rooster?

There are very few chickens out in my coop that aren't being evaluated for culling (and yes, I mean killing and eating).  They're all healthy, but some of them just aren't earning their keep.  They need to make room for the newbies and what better way than gracing our table?

Stewie, however, is not even close to being on the short list.  He's my rooster buddy.  Some of you may have read about how he protects me from Trouble, or how good he is at getting the hens inside at any glimpse of a hawk.  Well, today, he reinforced his position tenfold.

Here's Stewie in all his majestic roosterness.

I went out to check for eggs and saw something white just outside the coop.  "What the . . ." I thought.  It was Cow, my Bantam Sultan roo.  He'd fluttered over the fence.  Again.  The last time he got out, it took two of us to herd him to somewhere we could corner him.  I tried to get him caught by myself, but that little sucker is fast.

Here he is, Cow the perpetrator.  Looks a little mad, doesn't he?

So, I mentioned to Scott that if he had a few minutes, I could use some help catching Cow again.  I wasn't really all that worried--he has the shrillest, most annoying crow you've ever heard, he doesn't lay eggs (obviously).  He just hangs around and eats my food and grates on my nerves every time he opens his beak.  I hate to say it, but I was almost ready to write him off.  But dangit, he's MY chicken.

Then a wonderful idea hit me.  Why not use my fishing net?  It's big and it has a longish pole.  After trompling through the garage to find it, I headed out, armed for chicken.  He saw me coming and TOOK OFF.  I even chased him down the road a ways.  Finally, I got him herded back to our property.  He was eyeing that net like he knew what I was going to do with it, even though he's never seen it before.  Even if I hid it behind my back, he still wouldn't come in net range.  Cow ran back to the road side of the pen again, and that was when Stewie made me love him. 

Stewie charged at Cow like he was going to kill him through the fence.  That drove Cow in my direction.  I missed with the first swipe of the net, but Stewie wasn't finished.  He kept driving Cow along the fence line until Cow hit a dead end and I could smack the net down over him.  Stewie not only looked very pleased with himself, he shook his feathers in a rather satisfied manner and crowed triumphantly.

So, Cow is safely back in the coop.  Stewie is safely off the cull list (as long as his chickenality doesn't change radically in spring).  Trouble still has a chance to redeem himself, but he's going to have to work for it.

Here's Stewie with some of his girls.  Gorgeous boy!

For those of you who are wondering about Beautiful Sweet the Broody Silkie, she's breaking up nicely.  I actually carried her around the house on my shoulders today.  What a great ambassa-chicken!  I can't wait until she lays me more of her perfect little tiny eggs!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book Learning

two of the most valuable books ever. 
I'm sorry, Mr. Salatin, I had to take yours back to the library today but rest assured, I WILL be buying them.

Yes, I'm one of THOSE people.  When I get interested in something, I read every book I can get my hands on about it.  I google endlessly to get not only facts, but opinions.  As a result, I have so much information knocking around in my brain that sometimes I get a little scared.  Or I get a headache.  I prefer the headache.

Take today, for instance.  I just got invited to do a 50 minute presentation by a local community college.  They want organic.  They want "green."  Never mind that we've only been out here for a little over a year, and last year was one of the toughest weather years ever.  We're organic, right? 

So what's a fearless farm frau to do?  Rely on what I've read, of course.  Thanks to Joel Salatin, Harvey Ussery, and Andy Lee (again), I've got a pretty good grip on permaculture.  We've started putting a few methods into practice, but since I hadn't read those books last year, it's going into the testing phase this year.  I'm pretty sure it'll work fine, since all of those fine gentlemen have had way more experience at this than I have.

Why yes, I plan to talk about chickens a lot, since that's what I know (or I think I do).  Horses too, but mine aren't the useful kind, they're the recreational kind that just happen to provide us with lovely manure.  Composting is going to be big.  I'm still jotting notes as I think of them, but I think I can come up with enough to not only entertain, but educate as well. 

See, I realized that all I have to do is talk to them like I talk to all of you.  I'll just have to talk longer.  So wish me luck, and if you have time to spare, let me practice my presentation on you. 

Other things that I've obsessively researched have been great too--in my Rambo phase, I learned a lot about survival and bowhunting.  I know more about submarines than your average girl, thanks to The Hunt For Red October.  Watching The Wind And The Lion (a must see!) prompted me to research the Berbers, and get a pen-pal in Morocco.  Even Jurassic Park got me interested in dinosaurs again.  Don't even get me started about where Indiana Jones took me!

Book learning isn't a bad thing.  Just remember that knowledge without application is trivia.  Put it into practice, tweak it till it works for you, and pass your knowledge on.    

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nice Weather We're Having

Isn't it?  Here in Kansas, we're enjoying a very mild winter.  I'm enjoying it for lots of reasons:  not only do I still have plenty of greens to pick for the chickens (without hitting the stash in the hoophouse), but I can send the kids outside to play when they drive me nuts inside--and not have to worry about frostbite.

Yeah, we're making a dent in the firewood, but we're not using nearly as much as we would have in a winter like last year.  Maybe that's because we're getting smarter about burning, or just learning to layer up a little more on cloudy days when the passive solar doesn't make much heat.

It's so nice to be able to go out and do chores in clothing that I can put my arms down in.  Yeah, I still wear my Packers hat, but that's usually to keep my hair under control.  I don't usually have to wear the hated pink gloves.  It's nice to go down to the coop again--not ugly cold and I don't have to wade through drifts.  I'm sure the horses appreciate it too.  Seeing them in their warm fuzzy winter coats warms my heart while I'm warming my body by forking hay to them.

I can't escape the feeling that all this niceness is going to turn ugly.  Heck, it was almost 70 degrees yesterday.  IN JANUARY.  I'm seriously wondering if February is going to become a morass of snow, rain, or other storms.  It just seems like we've had it TOO good so far.  I know that sounds pessimistic, but remember the farmers' motto:  hope for the best, but plan for the worst. 

And how many good conversations have started with "nice weather we're having?"  Finding mutual ground, associating with one another (even if it's vilifying the weatherman that was wrong, haha), is usually the start of friendships.  Even people with radically different views socially or politically are happy to talk about the weather.  Or their kids.  Or their car.  (and if they've got a Bugatti Veyron, I'm going to hit them up to borrow it!!!!!)  Common ground is the basis of relationships.  I'm glad that I have so much in common with so many people--it doesn't make me normal, it makes all of us special.

Scott is down building our overnight fire now.  Smells like it's time to clean the chimney again.  Thank goodness the weather looks cooperative.  Sleep tight, all.  Enjoy the weather!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

My lovely Bearded Silkie hen (Beautiful Sweet) is broody.  Again.  When she lays, she lays the most beautiful, perfect, ivory-colored eggs that you've ever seen, and lays almost every day.  Yes, they're tiny (she only weighs 2 lbs) but I love them because they're mostly yolk.  Alas, I won't be seeing any for a while.

Beautiful Sweet getting snuggled

I've been taking conservative measures--shutting the chookies out of the henhouse (and her away from the nestboxes) for a few hours at a time.  Believe me, I'm out there and watching for hawks, even though I know Stewie would alert.  Holding her so some cool air hits her vent is kind of twisted, but I've done it.  I don't think it's working.  So, it looks like I need to get the broody breaker coop set up.  Thanks to Diana, I have a small cage with a wire bottom to get her out of the nest box habit.

The last time she did this, I thought it was because she was getting picked on.  She is, after all, the smallest of all my chickens.  Now I'm rethinking the matter.  Yes, she might have gotten pecked, but she gave some pecks back too.  Of course, Silkies are one of the most notorious breeds for going broody, but I thought that if I gathered eggs often enough it wouldn't be an issue.  I guess it is.  She really does set on any egg she can find.  I had to take the dummy eggs out of the boxes (to try to encourage some of the other hens to lay) because she sat on them too.

So, tomorrow she'll be going into the newly named "broody breaker."  She'll have food and water, plus shelter and possibly a heat lamp (since she won't be able to snuggle up with the other bantams at night).  But she most definitely WILL NOT have a nesting area. Yes, I'll let her out to range a little bit and get her greens.  I have to confess that I'm rather apprehensive about reintroducing her to the coop after her isolation . . .but I plan to be there, watching closely, and it will probably go well.

A friend of one of my sisters wants some hatching eggs for her classroom.  I'd love for some of the eggs to be from Beautiful Sweet but so far, all of her eggs have gone into the refrigerator, probably killing the embryos, IF they were fertilized in the first place.  Of course, if they were, Cow is probably the daddy . . .and I'd love to see what a Silkie/Sultan cross would look like.  They'll probably get some other interesting mixes like Ameracauna/Rhode Island, Rhode Island/Orpington, but hopefully I can save them some that will hatch.  I want to see pics, but I want those kids to take the chicks home with them.  I've already got my breed plan and at least for now, mutts don't figure into it.  (yeah, I sound like a purist.  I'm still learning.)

Wish me luck, folks.  This is my favorite hen, since she really does live up to her name.  I'd like to get her back to laying!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal.

Thanks to Joel Salatin--I hope he doesn't mind me swiping his title.  Please read his book (same title)--it'll really open your eyes.

I want to expand my chicken flock and sell those lovely fresh eggs.  According to the State Health Department, if I have 50 or less chickens and sell to individuals, I don't need a license.  But I want to add value.  I'm perfecting my recipe for smoked eggs (yes, in compliance with State rules as to cooling and storage, even though it radically changes my method) and I have an awesome recipe for pickled eggs. 

Sounds like a perfect opportunity to sell to local restaurants, right?  Local eggs from local chickens for local people.  But oh no.  The government can't handle a small farmer trying to make a little money on the side.  In order for me to market my smoked eggs to restaurants, first I have to have a licensed coop.  I can just see the looks on their faces as I describe my deep litter system.  No matter that it doesn't stink and that my eggs don't get soiled 99% of the time.  No matter that I have happy cluckers who are thriving in a mostly open front coop and open run, even in winter. 

Then there's the kitchen part.  I've gotta boil those eggs somewhere, right?  Apparently, even if I don't breach the shell, it's NOT OK to boil them on my kitchen stove.  I need a licensed kitchen apart from my family kitchen.  Folks, I'm not going to kid you.  To be in compliance with every state regulation, a kitchen to boil my eggs in would cost over $20K plus building permits.  Lord only knows why I need a 3 compartment sink just to boil eggs.  Or a walk in refrigerator, let alone a desk for the beaurocrats that think I need all this junk to file paperwork at.

Then there's the smoking part.  It takes between 6-8 hours--time in which I can do any number of things that need to be done out here.  But oh, no.  Even if I have the eggs boiled in an approved kitchen (an inspected restaurant, etc), I can't bring them home to smoke them.  Mind you, they're still in the shell and after smoking have been elevated over 160 degrees--the temperature that kills Salmonella--TWICE.  I could bring a portable smoker to each restaurant and waste a whole day sitting around tending it.  But apparently that's still not safe.  To top that off, I'd have to get a separate health license at every restaurant I smoked eggs at. 

Ditto the pickled eggs--of course, they've only been elevated to over 160 once, but they're immediately placed in a vinegar brine after cooling and peeling.  Isn't brine a preservative?  You'd think so.  But there again, I need a state licensed kitchen to combine the rest of the ingredients just so everyone's sure it's safe.  $20K to make maybe a few hundred dollars a year from value added eggs AND add to the local food movement and economy.  Think about that for a minute.

Isn't it funny that I can sell these eggs to individuals but not restaurants?  Who goes to restaurants?  Last I checked, it was individuals.

Then there's the broiler idea.  I want to pasture-raise chickens for healthier meat and environmental benefits.  Slaughtering them at home like my grandparents did (and geez, they managed to survive to produce offspring that produced me) is another no-no if I plan to sell them.  Again, they want a high dollar processing facility, not just a few tables and a hose.  It doesn't matter if my customers would be willing to accept the risk.  They've got to have their fingers in MY chicken pot pie.

Sure, everybody wants to take credit for creating jobs, but they're making it impossible for people to create their own jobs.  They've gotten so used to dealing with big companies that they've forgotten that everyone had to start out small.  They've gotten so paranoid about "factory chickens" (and for good reason--those chickens and eggs are filthy!) that those of us who have normal chickens that lay cleaner, healthier eggs have to suffer. 

Oh please, Big Government, save us from ourselves!  Save us from the filthy poultry and eggs that you deem acceptable.  Please, oh PLEASE don't give anyone an opportunity to start a small business that's actually "greener" than what you give bailouts to.  Bend us over and make us a USDA inspected Wal-Mart nation!  When we can't do what's right or help our neighbors or stimulate our local businesses, Big Government has won, no matter who spouts what rhetoric.

Folks, whenever you can, buy private, buy local.  Farmer's Markets are a great start, and a good place to make contacts.  Get active in your state's food legislation and help them realize that smaller scale is actually healthier for all of us.  I won't even get started on raw milk tonight.  The government thinks it can tell us what we can eat (since we apparently don't know our arses from our elbows)--let's show them otherwise. 

Be Healthy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Art is life, life is art.

My father gave me one of the best gifts I could ever hope to receive this Christmas.  He's an artist, and does everything from drafting to painting, from photography to lettering.  When I was growing up, this picture hung in our living room.  Being the horse crazy girl I was (and still am), I'd spend hours looking at it,  wishing I was in it.  Go on, take a look.  See if you can't hear the thunder of hooves, smell the sweat of horse and rider, or feel those powerful muscles flex.  I dare ya.

Painted before I was born, but still no less powerful.
These pics really don't do the colors justice.

Some days I appreciate it for its raw energy.  Some days I appreciate it for its soothing nostalgia.  I'm always priveleged to see it every day. 

My dad has a gift for seeing certain colors in unexpected places.  However, I find that when I look for that color in those places, there it is.  A shade of purple in a shadow.  A trace of blue in the grass.  And when you think about it:  what you look for, you will find--and not only in a painting.  If I look for positives, if I look for beauty, I can find them in the smallest things.  If I'm looking for negatives, I'm sure to find them, and they'll take over my head and be the biggest things ever. 

Music is a no-brainer.  True music, played by people passionate about what they're playing, is a soul-moving experience.  But you know, there's also art and beauty in someone learning to play an instrument. I know you parents out there will be wincing about now.   An old friend of mine is realizing his childhood dream and learning to play the violin.  Yes, Chris, I mean you.  I'm sure there will be some screeches and clinkers at first, but the beauty lies in making the dream come true, and the enthusiasm behind it.  I'm sure the beauty of his music will sing out before we know it.  I just wish I could be there to see his face the first time he plays a song, no matter how simple, the way he wants it to sound.  I'll probably feel the radiation beams of his grin from here.

The simple act of talking is art and music combined.  The rhythm and cadence of speech.  The arpeggios of an old friend's laughter.  The visceral connection to another living being--sharing joys, sharing sorrows.  The brushstrokes of your lives merging into one glorious whole, even if only for moments.  The utter joy of rediscovering someone every time you talk to them.  (Yep, Linda, this one's you!)  Think about it--when you talk to someone you love, your heart sings.  Whether it's a major or minor key makes no difference.  When you perceive beauty, your heart sings.  That, my friends, is art.  PURE ART.

I'll leave you with one last pic that's been an inspiration to me.  The artist really knew how to find beauty and help us see it too. 

by Vincent Van Gogh, photo from Wikipedia

See the world differently, and even the smallest things become art.  Let the small beauties speak to your soul, and your life will become art.  As Terry Pratchett wrote " 'taint what a horse look like, 'tis what a horse BE."  Be yourself.  Be art.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Living this close to a train track, it's a good thing I like trains.  That wasn't always the case.

Granted, when I was little, my mom would roll down the car windows when we came to a train crossing so that we could listen to the thunder of the wheels on the track.  It was always rather exhilarating to hear and feel that power rolling on.  We would always make a game out of counting the train cars when we went on a road trip.  At the time, my favorite part was waving to the guy in the caboose.  Mom grew up on a farm very near a railroad track (much as I have now) and enjoyed waving to the engineers.  Much later, she met one of the engineers she had waved at!

I, on the other hand, grew up in town, a long way from the track.  I've always been a fairly light sleeper.  So, when I went with my (then to-be) husband and his family to the bluegrass festival at Winfield, I got a rude awakening.  Several times a night.  Obviously, tent fabric doesn't stop noise.

See, the bluegrass festival is held at the Cowley County Fairgrounds, right next to the railroad track.  Since it runs through town, and trains have to blow their whistles (more on this in a minute) at every crossing, it could have been a nightmare if I could have stayed asleep long enough to dream.  Well, we kept going (since great music can sometimes trump no sleep) and I gradually got used to sleeping through the trains.  Somehow I still managed to hear my very quiet alarm going off to let me know it was feeding time for the babies.

So now I live close to the track.  Some trains rumble through hard enough to rattle the windows.  Some breeze through and you can hear the whistle of their passing.  Some decide to stop on the track as I'm in the truck at the crossing.  It never fails--the minute I turn around to take a different route, no matter how little or long I've waited, by the time I get back round to the house, the train is either moving or gone.

I have come to find the trains comforting.  Every engine has its own whistle tone, and every engineer has their signature whistle.  I've been able to remember several so far.  I love to hear that thunder, and my kids love to watch too.  Now they clamor at me to "roll the windows down, mom!  We want to hear the train!"  Sure, some of the engineers get a little too creative at 1 in the morning, but the comforting rumble of the wheels soon soothes me. 

photo from wikimedia

About the only day I haven't heard many trains was on Christmas Day, but on all the other holidays, they're going strong.  Thanks to all the linemen who keep our goods moving:  day and night, fair weather and foul, holiday or not.  You're helping all of us.  You're the arteries of America.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Are you fracking SERIOUS?

We should all be angry.  SERIOUSLY ANGRY that any state has even considered this.  For those of you who don't know, "fracking," or hydraulic fracturing, involves drilling deeply into the rock and then injecting water filled with chemicals and sand to open seams in the rock to extract oil or natural gas. 

Here's a link to help explain.  http://www.hutchnews.com/todaystop/BC-KS--Fracking-Controversy-1st-Ld-Writeth-20110906-21-36-46

picture from http://www.propane.pro/category/fracking/ also some good info here

You're probably thinking "hey great!  New sources for natural gas!"  WRONG.  In Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, fracking has resulted in documented cases of natural gas mixing in with groundwater and private wells, sometimes to the extent that people can ignite the water coming out of their faucets.  That's not even taking into mention the chemicals they inject into the ground to do it.  Hmmm, where do those chemicals go?

I live near a reservoir that provides not only surrounding towns with water, but is a terrific tourist destination for camping, swimming, and fishing.  Hm, what's going to happen to that if the water suddenly gets contaminated with chemicals and gas?  It's bad enough when we have a yearly blue-green algae bloom caused by an influx of cow poop.  Sure, let's pile on more chemicals and see where we are then.  Why go to the lake if you can't swim or fish?  Why drink water when it might kill you?  Why not let a town die out, poisoned?

And then it gets closer to home.  We use well water.  It's good, sweet water.  Has anyone in on this travesty thought about protecting my well?  I doubt it.  I can say no on my property, but if any neighbors give the OK, it'll ruin my well.  Sure, pump those chemicals in.  My animals won't mind, will they?  My organic produce won't be organic anymore, but it isn't a big deal, is it?  My family's health isn't that important, is it?  Yeah, SURE we have plenty of extra money to not only put in a pipeline to bring our water in (from a contaminated reservoir) but to pay the levy for a more stringent sanitation at the water department, which will probably miss the important lethal stuff anyway.  But hey, somebody somewhere will be making money!  AWESOME. 


Then let's talk about the earthquakes.  Mind you, I live in Tornado Alley and I accept that.  I dealt with tropical storms when I lived in Texas.  If I would have wanted to deal with earthquakes, I'd have moved to California.  But the reality of the matter is that the disposal wells from fracking CAUSE earthquakes.  Check out the tone of geophysicist Art McGarr in this article:
I guess he's pretty used to earthquakes because he lives in California.

Oh sure, I should just get ready to accept more earthquakes.  In Kansas.  RIIIIIIGHT.  Tell me that when I get thrown off my horse and break my leg because someone had to make money.  Tell me that when my income (aka my laying chickens) get thrown around and stop laying.  Whisper it softly in my ear when my heirloom china or valued collections get broken.  Maybe I'll believe you then.

Folks, please start writing your representatives no matter where you live.  Don't allow this to go on.  Anywhere.  There are plenty of sources of oil and natural gas that can be obtained at much less impact.  Even the Alaskan Pipeline has only minimally affected caribou.  And it's just a slight adjustment in migration patterns.

Earthquakes and poisoned water concern us ALL.  Us, our kids, our animals (both domestic and wild).  Keep that in mind.  Love your neighbor and protect them.  Protect us all.  Sometimes we get so caught up in what we CAN do, we don't stop to think if we SHOULD.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Pleasure of Finding

When I was younger, I wanted to be an archaeologist.  I SO wanted to be Indiana Jones.  I have the fedora, the leather jacket (even though mine is the biker version), not the bullwhip, but hey.  I listened to the theme music again today, and got inspired again. 


I wanted to find my dig kit, grab my trowel, lay out a square, and excavate.  So what if I didn't find anything when I got to 6 feet down? 

But then I thought hard.  I'm the Fearless Farm Frau.  I have a family, critters to care for, and a home to look after.  Archaeology usually involves moving around a lot.  And really, what IS archaeology?  Stop here and take a minute to think.

It's the pleasure of finding.  When you unearth those bones or sherds or arrowheads, you've connected with someone.  You never knew them, but now you do.  You can say "pleased to meet you" to someone you'll never meet in person (unless you count holding their bones or their carefully made utensils in your hands). From what they left behind, you can get a feel for what kind of person they were--meticulous or sloppy?  Hunter or Homemaker?  But you've found something special.

No, I'm not out with my handy trowel anymore, but I am taking pleasure in finding.  Finding that warm egg on a cold morning.  Finding friends in unexpected places.  Finding that new recipe I can't wait to try.  Finding new ways to interact with my friends and family that will enrich all of us.  Finding out more about my ancestors that I didn't know about before. 

So even though I'm not in the dirt all the time, there is much pleasure to be found.  Every day presents its own gem.  I'm still rather hoping to come across a site out here, but I have my hands full with all of my other findings.  It's all in the pleasure you take in finding.

And speaking of pleasure, thanks go out to all my followers and viewers.  I couldn't do this without you!  Obviously, I'm from the States, so thank ya kindly to my US viewers.  Spasiba to my Russian friends.  Dankeschon to my German friends (sorry, I don't have an umlaut key), and Thank You to my UK audience.  And thanks especially to those of you who are reading my column in the Hillsboro Free Press.  I'm still doing the happy dance!  (the rest of you can read my columns at http://hillsborofreepress.com/ )

Take this thought with you today:  if you never look, you'll never find.  Whatever you find is always valuable in some way.  Even negatives can be turned into positives and you can take pleasure in the finding.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


It's amazing how quickly we become dependent on something, isn't it? 

Take this as an example:  I grew up when card catalogs were still being used in libraries.  I remember being taught how to use the filing system.  When there was something I wanted to find out about, I got my parents to drive me to the library and found my information in a book that was likely older than I was.  Even when the library upgraded to computer filing, I didn't know the half of it.

Now I live in the information age.  Google is a way of life.  I can type "barnevelder" or "black copper marans."  I can type "home remedy sore throat" or "green tomato jam."  I can read about politics, past Presidents, or Roman Senators.  The information (and input from millions) comes to my fingertips instantly, without even having to stand up, let alone leave my home.  I can find phone numbers in cities I've never heard of (let alone know anyone who had a telephone book for).  Heck, I can even write this blog and save it on someone else's server until I'm ready to hit publish.  For those of you that are curious, here are pics--and they took just seconds to find.

Double-laced Barnevelder hens, photo from Wikipedia

Marans eggs, photo also from Wikipedia

So you'll understand why I felt like my right arm was cut off last night.  Apparently a major accident had severed our Internet provider's cable.  (And yes, my prayers go out to the families of those involved).  They had to wait until the police had finished with the scene to begin repairs, and I just couldn't stay up till 2 AM.

Suddenly I was without my information feed.  Every optimistic reload ended in disappointment.  Every single thing I've ever wanted to look up in my LIFE ran through my head and made my fingers tingle in frustration.  I felt like an addict getting the shakes for their next fix.  Luckily service was restored this morning (thank you techs!) and I could reconnect with my life/info line.

We also become dependent on our families and our friends.  We depend on them to support us, yet be honest with us.  We depend on them to be who they say they are, and actually depend on them to expect and hold US to the standard of being who we say we are. 

We depend on our pets.  How often have you taken your pet for granted just because they're there?  How often do they give you that comfort you yourself didn't even know you needed?  I even depend on my chickens--I know that, no matter how stressed I get otherwise, I can always go out to the coop for some peaceful clucking and possible feathery snuggles.  Ditto the horses, without the clucking and feathers.  (Of course, I keep trying to talk Scott into letting me have a Shire.  That way, I'd have the horse AND the feathers.  The cussed man keeps saying NO.  With a capital NO.) 

Just because I can, here's a pic of a Shire like I keep asking for.

We are so used to living in the information age and taking things (and people) for granted that we forget that it's sometimes good to just slow down and appreciate, rather than rushing on to the next search, the next job, the next, the next, the next.  Folks, please take a moment to appreciate the people, animals, and even inanimate objects you depend on.  (for me, I have a favorite rock that I have to almost caress on the way up from the cellar, but I appreciate it for its solidity, placement, and permanence.  It helps to literally ground me.)  Everyone has to depend on someone, even if they don't think they are doing so.  Everyone has someone who depends on them, whether they know it or not. 
Mitakuye Oyasin.  We are all related.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Needful Things

There are some clothing items that are essential for living on a farm.  There are also many things that you really need to do without.

First and foremost is a good pair of work gloves.  Don't get the cheap ones.  Don't buy gloves that don't fit your hands.  My personal favorite is buckskin (no, not cheap stiff goatskin).  When we moved out here, I had the perfect pair.  Somehow, they got lost, and I mean vanished without a trace (I seriously suspect that Indy ate them).  So I got another pair, but they're just a hair too big.  My rings always rotate in them when I do heavy work, and it's annoying.  My wonderful hubby got me a brand new pair for Christmas, and they fit well, but I'm hesitant to use them--they're so nice and clean, they smell good . . .and my old ones aren't worn out yet.  They're still good for cleaning chicken poo out of nestboxes (better than barehanded!), keeping some of my more aggressive chooks from drawing blood, and coiling up hoses.

Left to right:  old, new, doggone pink insulated

For colder days, I have an insulated pair of work gloves.  Except for the insulation, I hate them.  They don't fit, they tore after 3 uses (see that hole near the thumb?), and they're PINK.  For some perverse reason, I bought pink that day, but I shouldn't have.  At least they have a longer cuff that fits over my coat sleeve.  Still, you need a well-fitting insulated pair.  I'll be smarter next time.

Seasonal clothing is also a must. If you don't have ski pants and layers of clothes, Carhartts are what you really need to get.  You might choke at the price, but pay it.  They're worth it.  I got Scott a coverall pair last year, and he loves them.  I love them.  It's amazing how quickly cold and damp get to you. 

Summer clothes are pretty open to interpretation when you're doing chores, but I beg of you:  Don't wear ankle bracelets out to the coop. 

An excellent pair of work boots is also a must.  That way, when you try to pin yourself to the ground with a pitchfork, the injury probably isn't as bad.  It's also much better to walk through a horse pen with boots on than flipflops, unless you believe in the healing properties of manure (and if there are any, please let me know!).  They've got to fit well, be easy to put on, and preferably waterproof.  My favorites are my Ariat Terrain H2Os, but since I stabbed a hole in them, they're not waterproof anymore.  Dangit.

Yep, these are said Ariats, on my own personal feet. 
If you look closely, you can see the pitchfork hole on my right foot.

Good jeans goes without saying.  I used to resist the trend towards hoodies, but they really do come in handy on those windy days as an extra layer for body and head.  Insulated or wool socks are also a must for winter.  Wellies (big rubber boots) are a literal necessity for spring, or when it decides to pour in summer (or when you just don't feel like tying your boots).  A slicker for those days is also a wonderful idea.  A husband who is willing to share his Carhartts and slicker is even better. 

Fancy clothes occupy a middle ground.  Yeah, sometimes you've got to leave the farm.  Sometimes you want to impress somebody.  But I've found that the people who I want to be most impressed by me are still impressed when I dress like who I am--not foofy, but farm girl.  Holey work boots and all. 

There are some things that definitely DO NOT work on a farm.  Long fancy nails and poop of any sort (be it kid, horse, cat, dog, or chicken) really don't go together well unless you want to spend days with a nail brush getting the last of the reek out.  And in case you didn't know, birds like to peck at brightly colored things.  I used to do my nails in a variety of interesting colors with sparkles on top, but no more.  Now I just cut em as short as I can and forget the nail polish.

I've already addressed ankle bracelets.  The last time I wore an ankle bracelet out to the coop, Trouble got interested in it.  It was kind of cute until he pecked me bloody.

As stated before, flipflops are a pretty bad idea.  Yeah, they're cool in summer, but just try walking through the horse pen to fix the water trough.  EWW.  Then there's the concept of a horse stepping on you, which could get just about as ugly as getting stepped on wearing steel toed boots.  (For those of you who don't have horses, if you get stepped on in steel toes, the steel bends down and can cut off your own personal toes.) 

I've always loved dangly earrings.  However, farm life really has no room for them.  Either they'll get tangled up somehow (giving your ear a painful yank) or your critters will try to eat them.  Jewelry in general seems to be taboo--you never know when something's going to catch on that ring or who's going to peck at sparkly.  I still wear both of my rings (my wedding ring and my "England ring") but I accept the risk.  My earrings are tiny hoops that, so far, haven't attracted the critters' attention.  At least I have gloves.

Perfume?  Fancy soap?  I think not.  Dial and deodorant work for me.  As a matter of fact, whenever I use a plant-scented shampoo (peach, pomegranate, etc), the horses think my hair smells better than their hay.  They try to eat my hair.  If you've never seen a horse's teeth, that's a serious affair.

I know I've left some other important things out (like a tractor) but hey, I'm a chick.  Deal with it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

On Beauty

a view of our crick

Some days, you find yourself surrounded by beauty.  Some days, at the same place, you really have to look hard to find the beauty in your surroundings. 

There are warm spring mornings that welcome you into their arms, inviting you to glory in the light.  There are crystalline winter nights--so very cold, but so very clear--that you can see every star in the heavens.  There are summer days spent watching the light play through the leaves while you have your fishing pole in the water . . .and you just got a bite.  There are autumn days when the colors in the trees remind you of the color of your husband's eyes, or the colors of a rose.

Then there are days when the world kicks you in the teeth.  Days when you just can't seem to say or do anything right.  Days when something hits you again and again and again.  Days that start out like today with not enough sleep, a 2 hour nosebleed, and other assorted problems and just goes downhill from there.  Sometimes I feel like I'm constantly battling uphill.  That's not a good thing, especially with my track record of falling up stairs.  Sometimes it just feels like I ought to give up.  But, thanks to my good German genes, great family, and great friends, I won't.  I CAN'T.

Maybe it's my artist dad, or my poet mom.  Maybe it's my husband, or my kids, or my close friends.  Somehow, beauty always shines through, even if I'm slow to notice it.  Looking at the play of light sparkling on Stewie's feathers.  Seeing the steam from the breaths of horses who are happy to see me.  Gazing up on that frozen night to see the universe wrapping around me.  Having my kids on my lap and getting to snuggle them and tell them how much I love them while their arms embrace me.  Seeing my solid, warm home that's held us safe.  Knowing that I have terrific friends and family, and picturing all of their faces.

Beauty is all around us.  I'm going to leave you with an excerpt from the Navajo Beauty Way prayer.  (borrowed from beautywalk.wordpress.com)

Today may I walk out in beauty.
With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty around me, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

May you walk surrounded in beauty too, and may you be fortunate enough to realize it.  May each of your days be more beautiful than the last.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What A Difference The Wind Makes

Growing up in Kansas, you're always aware of weather.  Heck, you've got to be.  EXTRA AWARE--those tornadoes can come out of nowhere.  An addiction to radar is almost inborn.

I have never, in all my life, called a tornado a "twister."  Twister is a game with dots on the floor that I'm not sure I should even attempt anymore.  We don't have twister warnings, we have tornado warnings.  People (IMO) who call them twisters either aren't from here or don't know what they're talking about. A raw force of nature that powerful should be called by its name, not diminished by a nickname.  Also, true Kansans tend to run outside to watch the tornadoes when there's a warning. 

While I have (thankfully, knock on wood) not been IN a tornado myself, I have seen the destruction firsthand.  A big one passed my hometown rather closely when I was a kid.  After it passed us, my brother and I went out to chase it.  We watched it go through a nearby town, parking well out of the path.  I kept wondering what those little "poofs" were.  Then I realized they were houses.  People's HOMES. 

I drove through Greensburg on a dog rescue shortly after the devastating tornado there.  It was on my regular route, so I was familiar with it before and after.  It was hard to stay on the road because my eyes kept tearing up. 

I weathered a couple of tropical storms when I lived in South Texas.  While they weren't actually hurricanes, it seemed to me that we'd been through worse thunderstorms here back home.  Granted, I did have to put on my combat boots to go out and feed my horse because the ground was so soggy that it sucked regular boots off my feet.  I succumbed to the mania at the stores before I finally stopped and realized:  I have THREE different kinds of peanut butter in my cart.  THREE.  I had umpteen cans of food that I would never eat.  There were fights breaking out over the last few cases of bottled water.  I was even going out and breaking dead branches off the trees in my backyard and putting them in the garage so we'd have dry wood in case we needed to make a fire to boil water.

Then there's the lingering dread.  You know it's coming, usually for days.  Endless time to contemplate whether or not your house will hold up, if you have enough food, water, and fuel, whether your animals will be OK, and exactly where it's going to hit.  And to top it off, as soon as the first fringes come in, your satellite dish promptly cuts out.  So much for up to the minute reports from the Weather Channel. While I don't hate radio, I like to watch the radar images for myself. 

So, I'll take tornadoes over hurricanes any day.  Yep, they come out of nowhere, but your chances of not being in one are lots better.  They're over sooner. 

Now it's winter.  Winter is SO not my favorite season.  I can deal with it if it snows, but I hate cold for cold's sake (aka no nifty white stuff).  And it will literally take your breath away if it's that cold plus that windy.  Yesterday was one of those days.  Granted, it only got UP to 32 degrees (17ish for a low) but the wind was howling around at 40 MPH.  I borrowed my hubby's Carhartts and wrapped myself up in fleece, and was STILL cold.  Interesting how the chickens were still goofing around outside.

Today made it up to the middle 40s, but when I went to do chores, it was still 25.  (Yeah, I know you folks further north than me are laughing about how "hot" that is!)  However, the sun was shining and there was no wind.  I bundled up again and actually got HOT while forking hay to my lovely beautiful manure machines, also known as horses.  Folks, it's hard for me to even get WARM in winter, let alone hot.  I like to hang around the propane heater or the furnace vents, and I'm always wearing multiple layers.

Here's me suited up to go out in almost 2 ft of snow to do chores last year.

In this pic, I'm wearing lots more than you think I am.  Long underwear, jeans, ski pants, long sleeved shirt, hoodie, wool lined denim coat, headband, dickie, insulated gloves and wool socks.  I look rather lumpy, but as long as the critters get fed, it works.  Still, I look forward to spring:  jeans and wellies, maybe a slicker, but nowhere near the 10 or so pounds of clothes I'm wearing here.

Spring will bring its own challenges--planting the gardens, new chickens, and controlling the gawdawful poison hemlock, but I'm looking forward to it again.  That is, as long as the snakes stay out of the nestboxes.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mother's Little Helpers

I used to be a punctual person.  I was always the one who showed up 15 minutes early, no matter what. 

THEN I HAD CHILDREN.  Two, to be exact.  One girl, one boy, 19 months apart (yep, that's not a typo.  I was still breastfeeding when I got pregnant the second time.)  I used to hate children, but found that I was really enjoying mine.  I loved it when they were little noodles and stayed where you put them.  I got excited when they rolled over, and was ecstatic when they started to crawl.  Then they started walking, and I should have known I was in trouble.

Because when I was in trouble, usually so were they.  They tried everything from crawling up on chairs to take one bite out of every ripe tomato on the table, to decorating the bathroom with toothpaste, to occasionally trying to kill each other.  Don't get me wrong:  they're good kids MOST of the time.  But when things happen, they happen big.  Plus, my punctuality suffered because there's always one last thing to do, one last thing to grab, one last thing to clean up after.

Now the current activity around here is HELPING.  I know, most of you are saying "awwwww" and possibly envying me.  I understand that I'm fortunate in having kids that really do want to help.  The problem is that it now takes 5 times as long to get ANYTHING done. 

Caitlin wants to help cook dinner.  She can't just go to the cabinet and find the jar of spinach, she has to examine everything else and ask why we can't have pineapple or olives or sauerkraut.  (She's a good German girl and loves her kraut!)  Even putting her on pot stirring duty hasn't worked.  I know, I know, it's all in the practice.  But when you're running behind on supper and you know that if those kids don't eat in the next 30 minutes, they'll probably begin gnawing their own arms off, it becomes rather important.  Plus, I have a short temper--better than it used to be, but that's only thanks to Ibuprofen.

Arthur likes to help me do chores.  Invariably, I get ready to go out (no easy feat in this weather) and he decides to come along at the last minute.  So, we have to find his shoes.  He has to put them on, which can take longer than you think.  Then he has to go potty (usually #2 too, but that involves a second trip.  I guess that's why they call it #2).  Then we have to fight about what coat is appropriate for the weather.  Ditto gloves.  Then he actually has to put on said gloves.  By the time we finally make it outside, it's 20 minutes later than when I first started--usually the time it takes to do one round of chores.

Then we head down to do the chores:  feeding the barn cats, letting the chickens out (and giving them fresh water), feeding the horses their alfalfa and pitching hay, then picking fresh greens for the chickens.  I have really TRIED to let Arthur help.  I give him the bucket of scratch grains for the chookies, and instead of scattering it, he usually ends up dumping it in one huge pile.  Yeah, I hear ya.  Use less and do the rest yourself.  Well, that's sort of working, but you try to tell a 4 year old boy not to yell "RAWR" at the chickens when they come to eat. 

Then there's the picking fresh greens part (since having him dump grain at the chickens has distracted him while I use the Pitchfork Of Doom).  We're infested with poison hemlock out here.  While I've heard that animals instinctively won't eat things that are bad for them, I'm not taking any chances.  I'm still amazed at how many things (besides the dang hemlock) are still green at this time of year.  Granted, it's been a pretty mild winter, but I'm still tickled.  He really wants to help pick greens.  His cute little hands can only grab a few strands of grass at a time, or a few stems of clover (and I'm trying to fill an entire bucket).  The problem is that every time I try to show him what the "poison weed" looks like, he's looking the other way.

I guess the important thing is that the chores DO get done, supper DOES get made, and the kids feel like they made a contribution.  I will say that the two of them are excellent firewood helpers.  Arthur is usually out with Scott feeding wood into the chute to the basement.  Caitlin is usually down with me, catching the smaller pieces to stack up for kindling or very small logs while I catch and sort the big ones.  They both still love to get their new work gloves on and pitch in, and this is really one time that they excel and we could use the help.

Like an old teacher of mine used to say, "Patience is a virtue, and Virtue is a grace.  Put them together and you'll have a happy face."  I may never be graceful (since I tripped again the other day and have a lovely multicolored bruise on my knee to show for it) but I might have a line on virtue.  One day, patience will come.  (Lord, please give me patience.  RIGHT NOW!!!!!)

Here are my little ones.  For anybody who tries to get any ideas, I have a gun and I'm a decent shot. My neighbors (who love the kiddos almost as much as I do) have many more guns and are better shots than I am.  Keep it in mind. 

I'm writing this while my little angels are sleeping above my heads.  Their smiles, their brains, and their uniqueness warm my heart.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Today isn't going to be very educational, folks.  I'm not even going to post pictures.  I'm just going to go out of my way to be thankful. 

First off, to my mom.  (It's all her fault anyway!)  She started getting Backyard Poultry magazine when she had no intention whatsoever to get chickens.  REALLY.  She still lives in the home I was raised in--in TOWN, and I have no idea whether they allow chickens or not.  Then she passed it to me.  Hmmm.  I still lived in the big city at the time, and had no special affinity for chickens, but dang if the articles weren't rather interesting.  (Also interesting is that she didn't renew my gift subscription to Western Horseman.) 

Well, we started trying to buy our farm.  The chicken questions came more often.  I have to honestly confess that mom shares the blame with our kids.  Who among you could take your kids to Tractor Supply and deny your children the opportunity of "their own pet" (and I use the term very loosely) for $1.50?  Especially when you think you're getting Silkies out of the straight run Bantam tank?  We had a farm.  We had a coop.  We had brooders (erm, sort of.  cobbled together, but it doesn't have to be pretty to work).   

My husband also has to take some blame.  He told me it was OK for the kids to have chickens, but he said I should also get some that lay eggs.  Why, I'll never know, since he won't eat eggs.  So, here I come with the Rhode Island Reds, the Buff Orpingtons, and an Ameracauna.  We brooded chickens in the mud room and screen porch for months. 

Tracee, this is your fault too.  You helped fix up the coop.  Nuff said.

So here I am with a chicken addiction.  I have a special order of fancy chickens on the way in March.  I plan to get more.  I have stared at the article in Backyard Poultry about sexing chicks so hard that I think my eyes have suffered (since I'm gonna pick up the non-exotics at the local store).  I endlessly debate chicken breeds with my patient husband.  I read every chicken book I can get my hands on.

Bless your luck that you're not my husband.  He has to sit there, listening to me debate egg color, hardiness, expense, and looks.  He has to listen to me holler every time I find a Silkie egg.  And that's only the chickens.  I talk his ears off about the horses too.  I'm sure he sees going to work as an escape from the crazy woman he married.

Thank you to Harvey Ussery, Don Schrider, and Joel Salatin for their immensely wonderful books and articles.

Thank you to Don Ratzlaff at the Hillsboro Free Press for wanting to publish my amateur column. 

Thank you to Jennifer Nemec for wanting me to blog for Capper's magazine. 

Thank you to my family (yep, all of you), friends, and neighbors.  If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be having this much fun.

And finally, the biggest thanks go to Peter Richardson for making me promise to blog.  It might take me a while, but I keep my promises.  And it seems like he's steered me in the right direction.

Sleep tight, folks.  I'll see you in the papers.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hoses and Other Inconvenient Things

Maybe I'm spoiled.  (ah heck, I know I am).  But the inconveniences I get to deal with sometimes really chap my hide. 

First and foremost on my mind today is hoses.  Not horses, I mean garden hoses.  Mind you, my parents took great care to teach me how to coil a hose without kinking it.  I know what I'm doing.  In winter, I end up keeping hoses inside in the basement so they don't freeze up when I have to water the horses.  I have always been very careful to coil my hoses up properly, but somehow, kinks showed up in there.  And, no matter how meticulous I am in how I pick them up, they are ALWAYS tangled when I start pulling the business end from the faucet down towards the trough. 

Yeah, I'm used to carrying a pocketknife 24/7, which comes in handy, but seriously--should I be carrying pliers to fix the kink too?  gadzooks.  At this rate, I'll have to strap a toolbelt on every time I step out the door. 

Round hay bales are another problem.  When I just need a little more off the bale, I touch it with the fork, and half the bale falls off.  Now, granted, I have picky horses.  They like dry hay.  They like fine hay.  They don't like wet hay at all.  So, if there's any chance of precipitation, I've got to either fork it out to them (since if they're left to their own devices, they waste LOTS of hay, and it's pretty expensive now) or shove it under the tarp.  EXPENSIVE pain in the rear.  I mean pain in the elbow. 

Farmer's Elbow is my new term.  Some people call it tennis elbow, but I haven't played tennis in 10 years.  Wrestling with round bales and a pitchfork started it, then I miscaught a piece of firewood coming down the chute that probably weighed 30 pounds.  NOT GOOD. 

And let's go back to the pitchfork.  When that half a bale falls on your foot, you try to get out of the way.  Or you would, if you weren't me.  I am SO not a morning person.  When I say I stumble out to do chores, that's literally what I do.  Stumble.  First I feed the cats (because they're closest), then I let the chickens out, clean the nest boxes (because the bantys like to sleep in there), move the eggs to an unused box, then go to the barn to get the horses their oats and alfalfa.  While they're munching the goodies, I fork the hay. 

Well, like I said.  I'm not a morning person, and one night I'd gotten way less sleep than I apparently need.  I forked a little bit of hay out, and wanted to grab some more, but the fork wasn't working.  SOOOOO, I stabbed it into the ground as I usually do when I want to use my hands.  MISTAKE--it wasn't the ground, it was my foot.  Or, more accurately, the tines struck glancing blows to my toes. 

Now I was even grumpier.  Not only had I potentially given myself lockjaw, I'd ruined a wonderful pair of work boots.  I managed to finish forking hay without cursing aloud then stomped back up to the coop to get eggs.  Of course, Trouble the rooster wanted to start trouble and kept flying at me and pecking.  Folks, I'll be honest.  I punted him with my injured foot.  I was in no mood for any shenanigans. 

The good news is that I don't have lockjaw or lockfingers, LOL.  Trouble is still fine, but he's on the short list if you know what I mean.  And now I'm very very careful with the pitchfork.  The hose . . .that's another matter. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Herding Cats

No, seriously.  I have herding cats.

There were a few existing barn cats out here when we bought the place.  Only one of the originals is left, and her name is Callie Co.  Yeah, real original name for a calico cat, I know.  She sees herself as my personal calico escort wherever I go. 

I'm not a morning person.  It takes me a while to wake up.  So, when I can manage to stumble out to do chores, it's always a little shocking to hear thundering kitty paws behind me.  Callie must have found somewhere to watch the Discovery channel, and she has decided she's a leopard, or a cheetah, or a lion.  She comes thundering up behind me (seemingly from out of nowhere), runs to about 10 feet in front of me, and STOPS.  I think she laughs every time I trip.  She gets particular enjoyment out of bumping my hand as I'm putting the food into the bowls, making it scatter everywhere.  She likes to lurk behind the round bale as I'm feeding the horses and leap out and say "boo" (or Merp!--Merp must mean BOO in Cat).  She thinks that her aim in life is to HELP me, either by being right under the pitchfork or standing right in front of me as I pick greens for the chickens, trying to avoid the poison hemlock.

Then there's her buddy Claire.  Some bozos think that, just because I have a farm, it's OK to dump their unwanted animals out here.  Claire was dumped, but she's earning her keep.  She even kills and eats snakes.  She's so friendly that she'll jump up into your lap if you're sitting outside, or up on your shoulders if you'll let her.  Between the two of them, they herd me (I'm sure they think of it as "escorting", but it's herding, plain and simple) out to the cat food station in the morning.  Even if I'm having a terrible morning, friendly kitties purring at me really helps things look up.  And Claire almost never trips me.  Always a plus.

Here's Claire with Twinkie before we brought Twinkie inside.

Then there's Jack.  I guess it should be Jackie (since gender got confused for a while there), but Jack just stuck.  She's the gorgeous black and white tuxedo kitty who thinks she's a chicken.  She hangs out in the coop, and I've even seen Stewie pick up a foot to let her get by.  She was eating layer pellets (the food, not what comes out the other end) the other day.  I keep trying to tell her that she's NOT a chicken, but somehow she doesn't believe me. 

I brought Dolly home from the same place I got Jack(ie).  Apparently she thinks she belongs to Barb and Ralph because I only see her occasionally, and Ralph says she pretty much lives on the seat of his Rhino.  She's also the one that mistakenly got shut in the back of my truck overnight.  I have a topper on my truck bed, and left the top door open after I unloaded groceries (was going to get to unloading feed, but didn't, and it was supposed to rain that night).  Well, come morning when I went to get the feed out of the truck, a rather agitated cat flew out.  She'd also left me a little present, and the truck bed still smells like cat poo.  Maybe that's why she went to live next door.  The world may never know.

BOT the tomcat is legendary for his skills of disappearance.  Now if he'd just take care of that raccoon under the barn, I might get to like him.

I've always known that it's impossible for me to have normal pets.  Maybe that's a good thing.  I hate being bored.

Anyway, I'm ready to submit my first newspaper column.  Y'all can follow me at the Hillsboro Free Press site at http://hillsborofreepress.com/ .  I'll revisit some things, write some new things, and I hope you all follow along.  Goodness knows I can use the company! :) 

Have a great night, folks.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

AI (Animal Intelligence)

For those of you who were wondering, the Velvet Rooster was rather tasty.

I'd like to address animal intelligence tonight.  Lots of people say "dumb animals" and that just isn't the case.  I've had quite a bit of experience with some, and none of them has ever struck me as dumb, stupid, or whatever putdown you want to use.

My first wolfdog rescue involved a known biter, who usually went for faces.  I had my arm in the crate up to the shoulder, with my face pressed to the fence.  I talked to him the whole time, and he never once made a move towards me (even after the trauma of spending 12+ hours in a cage in a moving vehicle).  I think he understood that I was trying to help him. 

Cows, sheep, and goats aren't dumb either.  They'll protect their offspring, no matter what, and get the whole herd involved.  Yeah, I remember the story my grandpa told about trying to raise sheep.  They panicked, piled up on each other, and some got suffocated by the others.  But you just try getting past a new mama ewe.  Ain't gonna happen.  So, while they're not seen as smart, there have to be some serious brains in there somewhere.

Horses are some of the smartest critters out there.  They know you and they know what you're capable of.  If you're lucky, they'll bond with you.  I used to have a stallion that knew exactly what I was capable of.  Even though he had had more training than I had, he insisted that I tried to teach him something.  When I got lazy and didn't try hard enough, he got peevish (and that means nipping and kicking).  As long as I was extending myself, he was fine, even if he already knew what I was trying to teach.  I miss him.  He's a truly great horse, and he's learning lots with his new owners.  I couldn't afford to buy him back now.

Even chickens are smart (if you speak chickenese).  They have their own way of doing things, but it's pretty easy to understand and modify, if you so choose.  Stewie (my Rhode Island Red lead roo) is supposed to be one of the meanest chickens out there.  RIR's have a bad reputation.  But ya know, if I move slowly and talk to him quietly, he's great.  He chuckles to me and drives the other roos away from me if they get too aggressive.  Beautiful Sweet the Silkie hen actively seeks me out for protection and cuddles.  If you can speak chickenese, visiting the coop is lots of fun.

We all know that cats are smart.  If they deign to demonstrate their capacity.  That's a big IF.

There's a lot of material out there about the intelligence of dogs.  I think that some dogs are just cat-wired:  they know perfectly well what you're saying, but they don't find it relevant at that point in time.  Stanley Coren published a book on dog intelligence, but he should have called it dog trainability.  Each breed possesses the inherent capacity to be trained, if the trainer can "speak" dog, in specific breed dialect.  Some breeds are more trainable than others.  Within those breeds, there are certain individuals that may require more or less training. 

Then you get into rescue dogs.  On one hand, you get a dog (hopefully with basic manners training) that's already housebroken and past the chewing and demolishing stage.  On the other hand, you get all the emotional baggage that the previous owners put there.  Both of my dogs are rescues.  I'm babysitting my mom's dog this weekend, and he's a rescue too.  Even with previous problems, I'm sticking with rescues.  It can be a problem at times, but they're priceless.  My horses are priceless.  My chickens . . .well, I love them, but they're there to provide a service.  Eggs or meat. 

It's a fine line we draw about pets.  Yep, all my chickens have names.  Yep, there are a few on the slaughter list.  Yep, my dogs are my kids and I'll fight to keep them.  Hey, I fight for my kids too.  Family members are worth it.  I'm not quite sure where I draw the line (horses vs chickens) but I don't see the horses as expendable, whereas the chickens are livestock, meant to serve a purpose.

I'll save the rants against puppy mills for another day.  Or two.  Or three.  I'm so lucky and blessed to have the critters that I do have.  I've made the dogs and horses the promise that I'll take care of them till the day they die.  (As much as I love the chickens, well, they're expendable but I'll keep em around for as long as I can.)

So says the Fearless Farm Frau for tonight.  If you have pets, love on them extra for me, and treasure them.  Get in all the snuggles you can because you never know what tomorrow may bring.  If you think life is too short for us, imagine what it's like for them. 

Goodnight, folks.  May you and your critters be blessed.