Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holiday snapshots

We did have a lovely holiday, with many simple, warm traditions:

Some sparkling juice by the fire (wearing ratty old flannels)...

Some tasty (?) oyster stew at BOTH sets of parent's houses (actually, it's not that bad, once a year)...

Shimmering trees (Nice, eh? Definitely NOT our house/tree. My mother has a much more discerning decorating eye and more time than me!)

And after-holiday chaos to be cleaned up (or enjoyed, if you are a cat)! We are very blessed. Happy New Year, everyone!

Finally- Snow!

Our driveway this morning:

It's not quite enough to cross-country ski, so we had to celebrate and make use of it somehow:

Ha. (And as a nod to the knitting blog world, please note that I knitted that scarf for WF last year. Ribbed alpaca, very nice!) But we didn't make snow chickens. The real chickens are a presence enough, themselves:

(Wow, we're sure lucky that WF person put down some nice green hay for us. Snow? Phsaw! Maybe we'll give more eggs in appreciation...)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Climatologist Chicken

Ms. Orpington says:
Hmmm.... Green grass AFTER Christmas in Minnesota. More evidence for my emerging "Poultry Position on Weather Weirdness". It IS delicious evidence, however. Excuse me... gotta do a little closer, sampling. **peck-snap, peck-snap, peck-snap!**

Hope you all had a nice, if green holiday! We are back and the chickens are definitely enjoying the weather. "Big Rooster" is done molting and tells me we are all now free to admire his new tail feathers.

And, of course, his spurs:

Yikes! I also appreciate his calm temperament. After this photo session, I asked him to kindly remove his poop-prone harem from my deck, and he happily obliged. Definitely points in his favor if it comes down to one rooster, not two! Young rooster (nearly full grown, but with little nubbin spurs) is just now finding his, ah, interest in the hens. Poor guy is pretty frustrated. But we're NOT going to have repeat of last year, which led to some interesting poultry fashion. Close monitoring and adventures continue...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Solstice Gift

We had a nice solstice surprise when WF checked the chickens and coop tonight:

The first egg from a young hen who was hatched from an egg here, nearly 6 months ago! The cycle of seasons AND the cycle of chickens makes itself present tonight. The egg on the left is from an older hen, likely the one who's been laying sporadically for the past month or so. The one on the right is a very first egg, likely from a rather suprised former pullet! Heck, she could even be the daughter of the other egg-layer. Circles...

Special significance today on the most natural and earth-based holiday. I don't mind celebrating Christmas with family the day after the "actual" date, etc because the 25th was chosen by humans. But the solstice has been celebrated RIGHT NOW for centuries. Even our young chicken is getting into the spirit of renewal!

But before we get too mystical about this, it's good to note that while it's a surprise to get a first egg on the darkest day (chickens are rather light sensitive) the "increasing day length" now bodes well for some fresh egg production from these budding young hens. Horray!

Peace, everyone: may you all find a pleasant holiday surprise, somewhere!

Holiday Haiku

Happy Solstice, everyone! The return of the light: whoohoo! Very important to those of us in the darker North. In honor of this ancient holiday, I will bring to light (heh) our holiday letter from this year, slightly edited for the blog.

I do like writing and receiving holiday letters, but felt that our past two had been a little too heavy on minutia. Hence, this year's haiku. Enjoy!

Holiday Haiku
Counted syllables for you
Short and sweet this year

Life’s good at RF
GTR, WF are well
More chickens; same cats

New chicks; second batch
Raised by broody mother hens
Flock continues on

Chicks hatch July 1st
As Grandma Rita passed on
Know life’s transitions

Cute baby chickens
Well documented on blog
Photos and Youtube (!)

First “processing” done
Hard work; good eating later
Chickens in freezer

Three fluffy felines
Lutsen, Schroeder and Bill-cat
Hiss, meow and purr

Elderly Bill-cat
Still with us, thanks to nursing
GTR has soft heart

Gardens well tended
Tomatoes, garlic and greens
Battle with ground squirrels

Little brother R
Is now married to AR
Nice looking couple

More peak oil worries
Coming energy troubles
Occupy WF

Striving for peaceful
life; less impact on the earth
growing good food here

Solar panels still
Provide most of what we need
gen’rator if dark

Community thoughts
Maybe sharing land with friends
Meetings continue

Wishing you all well
More details, photos online
Be in touch this year!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Chicken TV

Some friends of ours are great public library DVD aficionados, and they recently invited us over to watch this:

They are true friends: people who willingly (and even enthusiastically) sit through our exclamations about the different breeds, etc while watching a movie about chickens. It was fun, but I must say, rather “fluffy” and a bit quirky in choice of subject matter. No scholarly depth about how chickens evolved or anything like that, but still a fun Friday night diversion. We are so exciting, yes?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Easily Amused

Lutsen wonders: do these new glasses make her look too bookish?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Green Christmas

No, not the enviro-green, but a TRULY green Christmas in Minnesota. That should be cause for alarm. I hereby declare to the rest of world: Northern MN has GREEN GRASS showing in front yards, etc. It's nearly Christmas; we should/could have snow by now, or at least dead, dry grass. Something's just not right in the climate, and that's NOT very Christmas-cheery.

Want some proof? Check this view of St. Paul (admittedly, not Northern MN, exactly, but still, it shouldn't be 48 degrees in December, even in that slightly-warmer part of the state. Yikes.


Hey, wow! I have a blog!? That needs updating every once in a while? Oh, yeah.
Please stand by while I think of something entertaining or enlightening to say. I think the lull in exercising while sick these past couple weeks has caused a similar lull in the writing, post-creating part of my brain.

I did enjoy this, though: it’s one of the top hits in a search that ALSO yields this blog (I’m so proud): “cat cheese puff”. How random and bizarre, another nearby cat getting by on cheese puff power!

OK. I know that there IS a lot to write about in the wider world, but sometimes I wonder if that’s what I should be doing here. Do people come here to read about my thoughts on global warming? Local food? Welfare reform? Or to see pictures of the chickens and hear what we’ve been up to here at home (Hi Dad and Donna!)? Or does it really matter at all, because this is MY blog? Hmm. I suppose I could be more industrious with the REAL writing one of these days, even if just for my own darn self.

I DO know that I love it when posts get comments (baring my soul, here, people, be nice). But alas, I think I may have violated some blog comment etiquette rules by not always responding. Sorry about that.

I know I forget to go back to places where I’ve commented to see an answer there; do people really see responses put in the comments? But so many people don’t use their emails, and then I get busy (already feel guilty about using too much work computer time) and... Result? I think: less comments. What do you think? What’s the best practice in this case?

This is mostly a place for sharing and recording our own phenology/events (plus writing practice), but I’ll admit that the online community is also very intriguing… I just don’t have the online time to really nurture it as I’d like. (Where DO you all find time?) But I will make a good try to get answers posted in the comments sections, at least. Sound good?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Laundry Life

How NOT to reassure your fearing-blasé-middle-age wife:

GTR: I used to do so much more in my life: travel, adventure, intellectual or idealistic things. What am I doing with my life now?

WF (innocently): Laundry?

Ha! In his defense, I WAS standing there with some freshly air-dried laundry in my hands. Ah, life.

What day is it?

Ah, Saturday. The sun’s out, the washing machine’s going, the chickens are sunbathing. I’m still fighting my sinus bug, and WF is just now up again after a bout with a stomach bug. Bill the cat is resting after a couple, ah, messy days. I’m really getting tired of germs, but I think we’re turning the corner. I'm getting a good review of various remedies: did you know that slippery elm powder is useful for both human and cat digestive issues? Ginger is also a favorite for human maladies. Need to keep up on my herbal learning...

We’re tackling the house and dishes today, which have been put aside during this icky sick/work craziness time. I’m done with the busy first step of two major work projects (grant applications, so the real work could come later), just the regular end of budget year busy-ness ahead.

Oh, wait; is it the holiday season? These Christmas card things started appearing in our mailbox, seriously a surprise to me. We don’t decorate much around here, and if anything, try to focus on Solstice. I used to do a bit more, but with 3 cats and solar power (and a celebration-averse or just ambivalent WF), it’s hard to go too crazy with climbable, electricity-using decorations. I’m trying to remember (and instill) the value of just plain old ritual and seasonal celebration; humans have done that for centuries. Even if we’re not caught up in the commercial or christian Christmas, we can still celebrate the return of the light and the turning of the seasons, a time of gatherings and family. We can all use that in the midst of the cold, dark, germy winter, right?

Ok, now to find some energy for some gifty sewing or holiday letter writing...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Out, foul snot!

Dear Mr. Rhin O. Virus:

I do believe you’ve left an elephant shoved up inside my sinuses. Kindly remove it at once. Consider this also your eviction notice, effective immediately.

You have definitely overstayed our temporary rental agreement. Your little party in my sinuses has been so wild that it is completely blocking all exits to those delicate little caverns. Not only is this a fire (and breathing) hazard, it has trapped your dirty little bacterial friends inside. They’ve taken your cue and begun wild, drunken partying as well. I do not appreciate elephants in sinuses, nor green, sludgy snot.

I have reluctantly called in reinforcements, kindly given to me by modern western medical practitioners. Your complete disregard for my kinder methods (goldenseal and echinacea, herbal steam, saline neti pot washes, massive amounts of assorted teas) and the subsequent bacterial bash has led me to this unusually drastic measure. You additional disregard for my need for sleep to have brain power to address serious work projects has also increased my animosity.

“Is this a tissue I see before me? Out, damned snot! Out, I say!”

Sincerely, GTR

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Commercial Break

We take a break from regular programming to bring you this message:

Hello. I’m Bill the Cat. Have you been searching for the perfect snack to share with your feline friends?

I recommend Smart Puffs, the crispy cheesy taste cats (at least me, and I’m a cat) crave.

The wonderful musky smell...

The cylindrical cheesy goodness...

The delicate crunchy texture...

A purrrr-tastic delight! It’s the only thing that turns ME into a lap cat! Mmmm! I’ll think I’ll have just one more...

(Actual cat intake of cheese puffs was limited by prudent humans, but I swear it’s his favorite treat. We bond over bags of these "healthy" cheese puffs. One of senior Bill-cat’s many little quirks...)

Chilly Chickens

It does finally feel like “nice” winter around here (ie not just cold and gray, but fun snow and some sun), and the chickens are not exactly sure what to think. Sun = good. Snow = bad. Straw on top of snow, put down by the kind WF = okay, good enough reason to go out. At least there's not yet quite as much snow as last year's similar view.

Some of these chickens are experiencing their second winter, but for seven of them, this is a first. Newer readers may not have followed our “second chicken generation” saga, documented starting here. Or actually, here. Those chicks are now 5 months old, and fairly hard to distinguish from their mothers. We still have one rooster from that batch, along with 6 (well-documented) hens:

The young hens are reaching the time when they should start laying some eggs. The “elder” hens have been taking it pretty easy, with a total of 10 eggs in November (!). We think it’s still a product of the molt, but sheesh, it will be nice to get some eggs again. I had no idea molts took so long.

We’re not sure how productive these young ones will be this year, though, as we have a very “natural” chicken raising philosophy: no extra light or heat, just a well-insulated passive solar coop (mostly because we don’t have the power to run that stuff off the grid). It worked well last winter, and the hens continued to lay all winter. But they were young and fertile, and had gotten into their egg-laying groove by the end of September. These new hens (due to our reluctance to let the broodiness go ahead the first time the elder hens tried) were born quite a bit later, so are behind that curve.

But the passive solar coop does work fairly well (when we get sun!). We spent quite a bit of time calculating how high to set the big (recycled) south-facing window and how big the eaves should be to get max sun in the winter and the minimum in summer. Sometimes I feel bad that it gets rather chilly in the coop, but these Buff Orps are a cold hardy breed and did fine last winter. I have to think that people DID have chickens in MN before they had electricity to keep them warm, right? We all need to think of the past as we think of an energy-uncertain future…

Blog note: I did switch to beta in order to use categories. I’m still not sure how to get them to show up on sidebar, but click on the tag below the posts to get more chicken pics, etc!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Germs and Gov't Gems

(re: Title- I know I love alliteration a little too much. "A little alliteration goes a long way." Ha!)

Anyway. I’ve been slow to post this week, partly because of a sneak attach by some cold germs (masqueraded as allergies until it was too late, grr) and partly because of some crazy work projects. One big chunk of the work-work is done (whew!) but I’m going to have this little rhinovirus guest for a while. Sigh….

I’m a big believer in natural healing, self care and PREVENTING these nasty bouts. If I’m aware enough, I can usually catch them with zinc, vitamin C, Echinacea, more sleep and less sugar before things get too bad. I’ve lately heard good things about elderberry, and have been trying that, too.

I think this particular round came from my big Monday evening in town, consisting of a visit to the gym, yoga class (in a lovely old 1914 school) and library. Darn public germs! Gotta be better about no nose/eye touching and handwashing out there.

Anyway, off the topic of germs and back to gems: When I was at the library, I indulged in a little wander in the Federal Depository section. Have you ever been to one? They are FASCINATING. Well, as a former federal employee and current history buff, I think so. Where else can you find the 1896 Report of the Office of Animal Industry (with some great “modern” butter-making photos) right next to some 1970’s Energy Crisis activities for teens, nestled up against some 1980’s era maps of western National Parks?

I don’t completely understand the concept of these places: they are such a wonderful, random hodgepodge of documents from all eras. It’s like picking up a dictionary to see what word your finger falls on; serendipitous messages from the past. I rarely see any actual people in the stacks, just row after row of carefully prepared reports, some over 100 years old. Who says government paperwork doesn’t live on? I hope these throwbacks to a long-ago paper age last through this computer age; where else am I going to get my 1930’s Farm Co-op News fix?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sun Wonder

The Wise Old Hen wonders:

OK, so we like this 50 degree weather well enough, but WHAT the heck is going on?!? This is Minnesota and it’s nearly December, after all. I sense climatic shift, and I’m not sure I should be happy about it... Is it OK to enjoy a day wrought by massive human changes to the planet?

(On the plus side, it gave WF time to wrestle with the outdoor window plastic, in background). Ah, the old practiced guilt can even get in the way of enjoying a rare sunny day in November! Was anyone else torn about enjoying this warm weekend?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hppy Bdy WF!

(My assistant is getting better at typing, heh!)

Early Happy B-day to WF: a great guy, loving husband, inveterate Peak Oil worrier AND apple tree tender extraordinaire! I did a little photoshopping for his birthday:

Have a grateful few days, no matter what events you decide to celebrate!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Asp;odiawwij’pwV ijp’wga
[-04GVY ddddddddddddddddddddddddd.

Ooops. You’ll have to excuse my new assistant:
She types like she’s all thumbs, er, feet.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Word DNA

Etymology: the study of the origin of words.

(Not Entomology, the study of insects; another fascinating realm).

I may have given the wrong impression in that last post: I am frustrated with the need to learn a whole new vocabulary to take care of our house, not the idea of using Old and Middle English in word origins. I don’t mean to denigrate the “DNA of our culture” (a quote from NPR yesterday in a story about Barry Lopez’s intriguing new project, HomeGround).

I graduated from college with an English minor, and fondly remember deciphering the “different” English of Chaucer and Shakespeare. I also had a Biology major, which meant some heavy-duty Entomology along with my side of Etymology. I needed the words to stay sane, acknowledging the cultural context of the science I was learning.

Subtle variations in British/Canadian/New Zealand versions of English fascinate me. Of course, there’s the obvious ones: boot/trunk, bonnet/hood, etc. But did you know that, at least among the family I stayed with in New Zealand for a few months years ago, tasty food is “nice” but a really sunny day is “good”? It’s subtle, but around here, people tend to say “Wow, this cake is really good!” rather than “This cake is really nice!” I love that tiny bit of variety and the careful listening required to catch it. Garbage dumps become “rubbish tips,” moving companies are “removal companies” and kids don’t review for tests, they “revise.” Why? I have no idea, but it’s fun to hear.

Balance and variety in all things; even house door terms. But I still curse the kerf, for slowing down our quest for blocking the drafts in our entryway. So there!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Kerf-es! What the kerf?!

We’ve been working fairly diligently to seal up the house for winter, trying to avoid early symptoms of hypothermia while actually INSIDE the house (ahem). We’ve put up LOTS of plastic on the drafty windows, even some on the outside of windows to accommodate indoor cat windowsill-sitting. (We’re such softies!) It's helped quite a bit.

But one thing that’s been stumping me is the silly front door seal. The old one is disintegrating, and it seemed like a fairly obvious fix. Run to the home store, buy something, stick it on and we’re done, right? Nope. I’ve purchased a couple things, and really none would even begin to fit. Puzzling.

WF and the Internets to the rescue! He recently found the perfect thing:
A kerf-fitted compression door set. (say that 10 times fast). Well, of course! I was forgetting to consider the kerf! (!?!?!). I love language and words, but this was a new one to me. From

kerf (kûrf)
1. A groove or notch made by a cutting tool, such as a saw or an ax.
2. The width of a groove made by a cutting tool.

[Middle English, from Old English cyrf, a cutting.]

So, now not only do we have to try to decipher home-improvement projects and the copious inventory of these crazy warehouse stores and their apathetic teenaged employees, but we need to learn Middle English, too. I’ll get right on that.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Winter, Hats, One Year!

Tada! The winter wonderland arrived this morning; here’s a view of the chicken coop before work today. Unhappy chicken can be glimpsed through the window.

I am also happy to report that after 3 years together, I have finally managed to provide WF with a real, live HAT THAT FITS! I’ve nearly given up knitting hats (can never get the size right, grrrr) with my glacial pace, and so have been yearning to find a bit of time with the sewing machine. Finally, this weekend, success! I am very proud. I am really a neophyte seamstress, so this is a nice, simple, attainable finished object. Mine feels very comfy, too- it’s always hard to find hats that fit. Helps with the cold house issue, too!

Just in time for winter’s arrival, and to wear in celebration of the one year anniversary of this blog. Hello and best wishes from us to you! Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Solar power!

Today's post brought to you by real sun-power...

The sun came out today! Very exciting: celebration included treats for the chickens (they are NOT pets- ahem) and enthusiastic use of the electric sewing machine. Yeah!

We DO live off the grid here, but we don’t depend solely on our solar panels for electricity. That would be nearly impossible this time of year in MN. November is one of the worst months, ironically, even worse than later winter. So, we have a small generator hooked up to our big propane tank to make more power when the batteries need help. (We also use propane for heat and cooking in the winter).

We’re in the lap of luxury if we choose to run the generator. (Wash clothes AND vacuum at the same time: Crazy!) It’s just a bit stinky and loud. The whole point of solar panels is to reduce our contribution to air pollution and greenhouse gas emission, etc. So, we scrimp (and pester each other to turn off lights, ahem) until the batteries absolutely need a recharge.

So, no feeling sorry for us: it was a conscious decision to take this “standard suburban/rural” house of the grid a while back. WF chose not to reconnect the house to the grid a few years ago when some neighbor projects necessitated taking down the power poles, and so we’re in a sort of “artificial” off-grid world. Our house is definitely not a typical off-grid house, and needs quite a bit of electricity to run “normally”- ie well pump and septic. We end up scrimping more than most people would with a solar array of this size, but live very comfortably with a small, efficient fridge (w/ tiny freezer), efficient washer but no dryer, etc. We use the septic system as little as possible (WF is a humanure convert). All lights are compact flourescent; an incandescent bulb would be a ridiculous waste.

The solar decision was made before my time here, and I actually don’t think about it that much. Some of my co-workers are convinced I’m living in a cave without “real” electricity, but really, is it THAT weird to live without toasters or waffle irons or microwaves? Or electric sewing machines? I am coveting my grandmother’s old treadle machine these days. If you’re set up for it and give it a bit of thought, it really IS easy to live without much electricity.

Friday, November 10, 2006

10 November

Around this part of the country, today is remembered as a somber anniversary: the day a “modern” ship went down, taking the entire crew to the bottom of a very big lake.

While some of the observances over the years seem a bit macabre (a CD with “amazing” vocalists?), it is something that deserves to be remembered. This documentary was on the radio again last night, and the story can definitely draw you in.

Lake Superior is amazing and beautiful, but it can also be an awe-inspiring force, capable of cold destruction. Can you imagine a lake with 30 foot waves? “Green water” coming over your boat’s deck? It can happen here.

I’ve spent some time on Lake Superior in small, government boats, and have felt a bit of Her power. I’ve lived alone at a lighthouse, lonely outposts built to prevent shipwrecks in another era. I am oddly fascinated by maritime history, and have purported to “remember” shipwrecks while playing a character from Lake Superior lighthouse history.

I don’t consciously remember the Edmund Fitzgerald, but the story always gives me pause. The power of nature is something to be reckoned with...

Edited later to add: OK, I still found the ads on the radio for the "great new musical" disturbing last year, but the Gales of November CD description has won me over.

"At the heart of it is the Great Lake Superior: a serene beauty, a fearsome force, a giver and taker of life."

I think that sums it up very well.

Wattle Wind

Don’t you just hate it when the wind is so strong it blows your wattles sideways?

They didn’t stay out very long after the picture was taken; it was a brave attempt, anyway. That’s the senior rooster, the one who is still living despite all respiratory odds. He’s still molting, so his tail feathers are not nearly as impressive as they should be.

Hmmm, Buff Orpingtons don’t really stand out for stunning photographs in this blah dead-grass season, do they? Ah, well, the green grass (that just sets off their feathers so nicely!) will come again someday... Even snow might be nice for the scenic view. Soon!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What, posting?

It’s dark. It’s cold and drizzley. I want to eat chocolate. I want to sew hats, but I have no time to sew hats. Plus the sewing machine takes electricity, which is in very short supply these dark, foggy days. We just ate the last fresh garden tomato, harvested on this day. Waaaaaa....

OK, OK. I had planned to post more this month, but I’m afraid so far it would all come out whiney like that. It’s NOVEMBER, people. It’s that time of adjustment to the fact that we drive to work in the dark and get home in the dark. I was shocked by the darkness at 5:10 tonight when I left the office: solstice (and lengthening days) can’t come soon enough!

I was very heartened to hear the final election results, though: whoohoo! Mostly good! A cheery spot in this month. So, OK, let’s see. What did I used to write about here? Oh, yeah… Chickens!

The chickens have been literally cooped up (awww…) for a few days now to keep them out of the rain and to save our guilt for leaving their door open in the dark before we get home and perhaps let in predators (oh, the weight of responsibility!). The young ones are mixed into the coop community for the first time (it was getting too cold to house them in the tractor anymore). 2 roosters of varying age are still getting along, knock on woodshavings!

WF has been on regular chicken duty, as he usually is, and reports no injuries or major altercations. The young ones HAVE been pushed to the side of the coop with only box edges to perch on most nights. WF goes in and moves them to the perches, turning around the older chickens so they can’t peck at the younger ones. Gotta love a drowsy chicken: so pliant and docile! Only occasional vicious pecks to the newcomers! Also gotta love a hubby who does all that for the young chickens. Perhaps they are pampered poultry, but gosh darn it, they’re healthy. Maybe they’ll give eggs again, someday, right? Darn molting.

I better go forage for some protein, missing the egg protein as I am. I wonder about chocolate as a source...

Friday, November 03, 2006

Syllable slinging

From an article in today's paper:

“With one word, Mike Hatch offended all of Minnesota. By calling a newspaper reporter a ‘whore,’ the angry, slash-and-burn Hatch that he’s tried to hide over the past year has finally been revealed. Hatch has a long history bullying and attacking those who question him,” said Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Ron Carey. “Hatch’s latest blow-up shows he doesn’t have the temperament to lead our state.”

My response:
"With rabid focus one syllable from certain opponents, the Republican Party has finally revealed their true fear of defeat and lack of substance in their own policies and campaigns. With juvenile finger-pointing at that one syllable, they hope to down Democrats who might actually care about issues like health care and the environment. This latest blow-up shows that they are so desperate, they should hardly be taken seriously (if only this wasn’t about real live and leadership, or lack thereof!). Definitely not fit to lead our state or any government at all."


Do they really think we’re that stupid, or that all we need to worry about are one-sylable words?? So, maybe Kerry forgot to say “us” in the “get stuck in Iraq” flap. So what? Does it really mean he’s therefore unfit to campaign for other candidates (????). And now grown men are trying to convince us that ANY use of the word whore is offending everyone in the (apparently delicate) state of MN? Come on, guys, give us more credit than that! There’s more important things in the world to worry about. Who’s “bullying and attacking” now?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lap cats

Can you hear the purring? Bill-cat and Schroeder enjoying a rare bit of togetherness. He may look drunk, but that's the special Bill-cat squint and smile of contentment. Purrrrrr.....

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A daily write?

So. It’s November. Should I try to post every day, ala NaBloPoMo? I haven’t signed up, and have noticed that most “homestead” bloggers haven’t either. (Likely because we have too much to do at home already?!?) There’s a different online “clique” that seems to be embracing it. (Isn’t it weird how the circles of “who knows who” overlap and evolve online just like in real life? Sometimes I feel like I’m spying on the “popular kids” by reading their thousand-hits-a-day blogs!) Aha!

But regular writing deadlines ARE a good idea. My first “blogiversary” is coming up this month. Hmmm. Nah….I think I’ll just embrace the idea of writing a bit more, but do it on my own schedule. It’s good motivation, just having the blog. But I don’t want it to overshadow direct emails to friends, other writing projects, etc.

The other day someone said to me: “That was a good story on your blog- you should publish it!” Um….but that’s what this is, right? But I know what she meant. This is a whole ‘nother ball of wax: there’s the possibility for instant feedback, for connection, etc, but this sort of writing can really “hide out”, visible only to the select few who seek it out. I don’t always take it terribly seriously, with minimal editing.

When I used to write for a “real” paper, I knew that 10,000 copies were going out into the wide world each week. I could put physical copies into my clipping file. Occasionally people would comment in person, but if no one did, I didn’t really mind. I was just thrilled to see my name in print for the first time.

Now, in this smaller, yet more personal setting, I find myself craving comments. I’ll admit to being thrilled when something gets a larger response. A weird dichotomy, eh?

Which sort of writing seems more “real” or worthwhile to you??

Monday, October 30, 2006

Pumpkin Picture

Pretend this photo goes with the last post, will you?

I swear, blogger is really annoying sometimes!

Mushy Insides

Pumpkin carving and chicken butchering: how are these two similar?

Yes, the very fingers that are typing these words also encountered some mushy “insides” of two different sorts this weekend. I am not implying that killing a chicken and cleaning a pumpkin are in the same category, really, but a definite similarity came to mind as I stuck my hand inside both….

So, the deed is done, at least for a few weeks. WF solemnly selected 3 unlucky hens who had not re-grown their back feathers after last winter’s over-roosterage event. We suspected one of them may have been laying fairly well, but we thought it cruel to try to get her through a -20 F winter without feathers or heat in the coop.

WF did the actual dispatching, and I tried my hand at plucking for the first time. Last time we tried to avoid plucking by skinning, but it didn’t work that well. This time, we even used a thermometer in the scalding water and it was surprisingly easy, considering the age of these hens. Turns out that one WAS indeed laying, as evidenced by some proto-eggs inside. Sad, but interesting from an anatomy standpoint. Also proved that she wasn’t going to grow any more feathers, as she was done molting and still bare.

So, they now rest in our refrigerator. One went with us to a pumpkin carving potluck last night. The flavor is good, not too tough after pressure cooking. It somehow amazes me how much like CHICKEN these chickens taste. It reminds me that this “chicken” substance I’ve eaten a million times comes from living creatures with personality, much like these hens in our yard. I remember all the other times I’ve mindlessly eaten chicken at restaurants or events and more fully realize that those were once living creatures, too. I don’t plan to give up eating meat, but it makes me more adamant about eating GOOD meat, where the animal had a good life, a humane death and proper, clean processing.

I DO dread the butchering task (don’t like thinking about the next time, when a rooster needs to go), but once the bird is dead, I can be very practical and business-like: dunk, pluck, cut, draw, clean, cool. After all the work we’ve done to raise them and the sacrifice of their lives, I want to make the most use of the meat as possible, appreciating and thanking the chicken lives (and hard human work) which make our chicken dinners possible!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Stats Sarcasm

So how do the multitudes of new readers (ha) first find this site? By searching for chickens, gardens, solar power or Minnesota?

No, by searching “flippy hairstyle” on I’m currently #4 on that search. I’m so proud! (????). Maybe a new tagline is needed?

“Raising Frolic: It’s all about the Hair!”

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The good, the bad and the overthinking

There WILL be a post today, goshdarnit, even if it has to be haphazard:

Wearing Hats indoors:
(but Nordic hats with strings make for dangerous cuddling with pounce-prone cats)

Custom sized windows and cost of replacements thereof:

The realization that custom-sized hats for oversized heads can be sewn out of polar-fleece in a fraction of the time it takes to knit them:
(Especially good for those of us prone to loss or destruction of winter wear)

Difficulty in finding time to squeeze sewing (or knitting for that matter) into daily schedule:

The ability to eat and purchase fleece due to paycheck from job:

The guilt that polar fleece is an unsustainable petroleum product:
(but manageable at this time)

The worry that WF will therefore disdain said hats.
Sigh... (see time crunch, above)

The time spent wondering if the “positive environmental points” scored by keeping thermostat set low (and necessitating frequent indoor hat-wearing) outweigh the "negative environmental points" scored by using a petrochemical fabric:
Overthinking: Eeeeeeek!

edited later to add: some brands of polarfleece are made from recycled pop bottles, so perhaps the nameless remnants I purchased are not so bad, afterall!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Rooster Redistribution!

A rooster reprieve! The group of 8 young chickens is about to become 7, but not through, ah, meal planning. Seeing the 2 roosters grow so fast into nice, cocky young specimens, I again started hoping to find a new home for at least one. I started calling around to the local “chicken people” and right away, someone said, “Sure!” I almost fell out of my chair. Wow, really?

Then I got a bit silly, hoping he will have a good life with her mixed hens, in a new coop, etc. The 8 "young ones" stick together so much still, now... My mother-hen instincts (he was raised here from an egg!) seem a bit mis-guided, however, considering his other fate was the stewpot! This way, his fine Buff Orpington genes can help perpetuate another flock, if all goes well. The breeding experiment continues. Lucky rooster!

Young rooster, 16 weeks

Sunday, October 22, 2006

4 degrees and a breeze

Warning: privileged whining ahead-

So, it’s getting chilly and we’re into the days of our ultra-virtuous but darn uncomfortable propane rationing. Our house is off-the-grid as far as electricity, but we’re dependent upon a big tank of propane for our house boiler. The house was built (by someone else, not us) to be heated with propane, with a largely decorative fireplace (more about that later).

I know it’s good for saving money and for reducing CO2 emissions, but setting the thermostat at 58-62 degrees F is not terribly comfortable for me. Hats and thick sweaters only work so well indoors (what about the hands?!?). I think my circulation is getting wimpier- I never used to get so cold. And it’s only October! I’m not sure if I can take 5 more months of this… it’s only going to get colder before it gets warmer!!

So, last year we set about attempting to make our house a bit less dependent on outside fuel and got an insert stove put into the (fake rock) fireplace. It’s lovely and does put out a bit of heat. Problem solved, right?

Ah, if only. The other day I was home for a good part of a cold, dreary day, and decided to try to make the place comfy with the stove. Never mind that the stove points away from the rest of the house, in it’s own room (with vaulted ceilings, ahem); maybe I could be toasty there! Last year we didn’t try to keep the stove going continuously because we didn’t have that much dry wood. This year: plenty. Yeah!

So, I merrily burned that stove pretty darn hot for most of the day. In that time, I was rewarded by a 4 degree increase in the closest thermostat, with nothing in other parts of the house (bedroom was sitting at a brisk 60 F) Sitting on the couch 4 feet from the stove, I still had cold hands and could feel a BREEZE! Insane. So, instead of enjoying my cozy fire, I commenced fretting over the crazy, inefficient shape of this “fancy” house and pondering new windows. Windows (and ridiculous sliding glass doors) have come a long way since 1982, right?

So, I’m investigating new windows and possibly a ceiling fan to get the heat out of the peak before it can sneak out the (inefficient) window in the apex. We’re bracing ourselves for a bit of a nasty price jolt, but I am looking forward to no more breeze in the stove-heated room. I also won’t feel so frivolous “wasting” wood for the experience of the fire when the heat is negligible. I will miss the great airdraw, though: I never have to blow on the fire- it’s like having a room-sized bellows!

I am grateful to live in a spacious house when so many people struggle to pay rent or yearn for a place like this. But neither WF nor I would have designed the house to be like this: it just happened to be on this piece of fairly-close-to-town property. And he just happened to own it when I married him. So, I really have to practice gratitude… and find some fingerless gloves for my computer time!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Pillowcase Pledge

I, Schroeder the cat, do solemnly swear: There will be no puking on the pillowcases. (No promises about shedding, though...)

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Stitch in Time

A stitch in time saves nine…

When I was younger, I didn’t really understand that saying. Maybe it was because the book “A Wrinkle in Time” got to me before Ben Franklin did? I took “time” in the same meaning as the book title: stitching time. How does one stitch time? And what 9 things does it save? Memories?

I recently realized that my grandmother managed to “stitch time.” She passed away nearly 4 months ago; it’s still hard to believe she’s gone. Last weekend, my mother gave my brother and I each a set of pillowcases that Grandma embroidered. They had been carefully pressed and stored in a drawer, saved during her big move to the small apartment a couple years ago. I doubt they’d ever been used, being too fancy for “everyday.” I had never seen them before, and didn’t even know she had done that sort of work. Where in the world did she find time to stich, with 9 kids and a house to keep? When DID women find time for themselves and everything else, with Monday washdays, Tuesday ironing days, etc….?

I have carefully stored them in my “linen closet” (top shelf, IKEA wardrobe, ahem). I too will likely keep them wrapped up, tucked away. Who can stand the thought of staining a pristine white pillowcase? What if the cats throw up on them?

Today I was at Goodwill (sweater shopping) and came across a “vintage” pile of embroidered handkerchiefs, napkins and dresser scarves, all painstakingly hand-sewn and pressed by someone years ago. Now, jumbled in a pile, they sell for a couple dollars to random strangers.

Every once in a while, a piece speaks to me and I take it home, wondering about the woman that created it. Did she enjoy the skill, likely taught by her own mother? Was she working on her hope chest before marriage, only to abandon the skill after the kids came, as a suspect my grandmother did? Was this one of her only creative outlets? When did she find the time to spend on this intricate art?

I don’t really want to embroider handkerchiefs or pillowcases, but I do yearn for that “simpler” time, whatever its definite flaws. I suspect TV, computers and commuting played a smaller role in the lives of those women. I bet their downtowns were still lively and full. I bet they washed their hair less often and had less “stuff” than us. My life as a “modern” woman gives me countless more choices, yet I can hardly find the time to cook for WF, let alone knit or sew as I’d like to…

Anyway, regardless of the deeper meanings of embroidery and it’s heyday, I am grateful to my family for sharing my grandmother’s work with me. I’m glad it didn’t end up in a pile at Goodwill. If I can’t learn from her, I’ll try to learn from the stitches she left behind. A stitch in time, indeed!

(pictures not loading: maybe later?)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bear-ly Winter

Last night the coop, both chicken-tractors and MY CAR were all thoroughly inspected for edible potential by a large, flat-footed critter. (See super-creative, helpful circling on the best tracks- ha).

The tracks in the snow tell us this: A BEAR standing up, placing his or her big feet on the back/top of my car (!) and elsewhere. One chicken-tractor has a bit of damage, but that might have been the wind (gale warnings last night). Everything’s locked up pretty tight, so no pre-bed snacks for the furry visitor this time.

So I’m wondering: when does this hibernation thing begin??

Thursday, October 12, 2006

And So It Begins

The first snow! On October 11th!

Bill the elder cat says: Entirely too soon. I disapprove of these styrofoam pellet snow bits. Can I go back inside now?

We're hanging onto summer with a few fresh tomatoes for dinner tonight: who says they have to be red? These are some tasty Nebraska Wedding orange examples, a good producer in our area ...Available through Seed Saver's exchange!

But the tomato supply on the window-sill is dwindling. Is it really winter already?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Garden 'n Chicken Check-in

So, the blog has strayed lately to personal and "people" topics, without much chicken or garden content- hmm. Partly that's because it feels like we're never home, not doing much bonding (or harvesting!) in the garden or observing the quiet puttering ways of poultry. WF just finished unloading manure in the dark and rain; such is the life of a two-jobs-in-town and too-much-traveling existence right now.

Looking back at the calendar, I confirmed that I haven't spent two continuous days here since June- always work or travel or family events happening. But "the farm" (as WF's sister delights in saying- we can't quite bring ourselves to call it that yet) is still here, carrying on in the face our town-based distractions!

The young chicks are now over 3 months old: still a long ways from laying eggs (T-mins first egg is December 1st or so) but not really looking like babies anymore.

Here they are inspecting the adult tractor (they have their own new tractor, expertly, if painstakingly, built by WF) and learning to mix with the big hens (and rooster). All 8 are still with us, but the two roosters are starting to look a bit tasty, ahem. We're still not seasoned with the butchering thing, but WF thinks he could do the deed when needed. Still, anyone need a young rooster?

The "old chickens" are currently molting, so there are not many eggs. But each hen who grows back enough feathers avoids this winter's stewpot, so I'm silently cheering them on!

The garden still has plenty of old stuff; dry beans were hastily harvested at twilight today, and we're hoping the beets and carrots can get through the predicted SNOW tonight- we'll finish harvest this weekend. There have been some lovely potatos, thanks to WF. Garlic has been planted. A few tomato vines still hang in the garage with tiny grape tomatoes, slowly ripening. My doorstep kale garden has been ravaged by deer (some of it was actually TOUCHING the house: they have no shame!) but there's some hope of carrying that through for a little longer, providing a few green treats for the chickens later in cold fall.

The rain is falling right now and temps are dropping, so we'll see what the world looks like in the morning! Stay warm!

(non-loading picture of cozy warm stove here)
First fire, October 4th or so-?


So, I don’t listen to tapes in my car that often (recall I’m on 1991-era technology in there) but yesterday I was frustrated with the public radio offerings and popped in a Tom Paxton tape (which I like, but also don’t listen to that often).

What are the chances that RIGHT as I was driving into the parking lot of the hair salon, planning with some trepidation to cut off my long hair, the song “When You Shook Your Long Hair Down” (swooning over the effect of said hair) would start playing?

Ah, yes. But I still went ahead with it, even agreeing to a somewhat-flippy, shorter-than-I-intended “motion cut”: egads. I generally dislike the salon experience (one of the reasons I had such long hair: avoidance of those places) and had hoped this person would be different (she advertised in our co-op newsletter as a wash-and-wear expert!). She was very nice, but still did the 5 “product” routine. I prevented any suggestion of curling or straightening irons with a mention of our off-grid life: no electricity for heat-producing, energy-sucking appliances (even hair driers are out in the winter). She agreed that my “alternative lifestyle” does require a simple hairstyle- ha! WF approves, too.

It does feel good to have less hair. The amputated braid (eww- but it does feel a little like a dislocated limb!) is awaiting mailing to Locks of Love. I’ve heard that they don’t often end up using American hair for long wigs (generally too damaged) but I don’t need it anymore, either. Unless, of course, I take up Victorian hair art...not likely!

I could have gone the route Snail Spirals recently did (so cute!) but I really don’t think WF is up for even attempting a straight cut on my crazy hair. But maybe someday when this flippy cut grows out….

Monday, October 09, 2006

A new sister-in-law!

The family is growing... There was a beautiful wedding this weekend!

Congrats, R and A! You'll make a great team!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Fall is Fleeting

These colors are completely unretouched. This place is stunning, if one only takes time to appreciate it!

Here's a picture to compare to my blogger profile shot, taken in the same place as last year. Along with growing garden crops and chickens, I've been growing hair this year. It's threatening to overtake me (eeek!) so I'm thinking of a radical change next week. Will probably donate it- anyone know if Locks of Love is "for real"?

And even the cats are all business this fall, enjoying as much outside time as possible before the snow flies. Don't mess with Lutsen: she's on a mission!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Decorah Decorum

I love that title (say it out loud), and I don’t think it’s too far off the truth. There was a certain “decorum” in Decorah, Iowa, but not in the overtly Lutheran way I expected. It’s the home of Luther College, but we didn’t even visit campus. I decided, however, that if I ever had an alternate life as a professor or Lutheran college student, I’d consider Decorah!

We made Decorah a destination in the trip back from Nebraska, mostly because of the Seed Saver’s Heritage Farm. (Blogger won't load my pictures again, so gaze at this site's scenery) We found that lovely spot, and spent almost a full day exploring their trails and fields and browsing books and seeds in their timber-framed visitor center. They have an impressive mission, preserving old varieties of seeds to preserve genetic diversity. They have the farm in Iowa, but encourage partnerships among members, sharing their own varieties.

Their compost pile was impressive: growing product for seeds (not the actual produce) means lots of BIG cucumber and melon “shells” with their seeds carefully scooped out, jumbled together into a huge pile. The heritage orchard was similarly mind-boggling: hundreds of trees, grown for the trees themselves (for grafting), not the actual apples. We did sample a few apples (WF’s a true apple variety buff) and tried to note their names, hoping to someday propagate some old varieties in our “orchard.” We also wandered their small disjunct population of white-pines: it was like being back in Northern MN: weird.

We looked in the window here, but didn't realize till later that there really IS still a hatchery in this spot: An interesting marketing twist, no?

And any town with a charming co-op like the Oneota Co-op gets a gold star in my mental “good towns to live in” list. It was small, but it managed to offer some great stuff I’ve not seen elsewhere and a cozy little deli (using real dishes, something our new big city co-op hasn’t managed).

We were co-op tourists quite a few places along the trip: Lincoln, Nebraska, Ames, IA, and Viroqua, WI: all fine places if you ever find yourself passing through. I love glimpsing the little pockets of lefty culture in Midwest towns: it gives me faith that there ARE good people in that place, kin of a certain type. What else do you take as a sign of “kin” in a new town?

Monday, October 02, 2006

F.A.S.T. Foray

Who knew so many of you were such fiberglass aficionados?

I really must tell you about our visit to the Mecca of giant critters, the fantasy island of fiberglass fun. I have always been a big (heh) fan of these monstrosities, and once wrote a review for the Minnesota Marvels book.

In the book, Dregni highlights the origin of many of these roadside jewels, but I had forgotten about it until we were paging through some Sparta, WI tourist info. We immediately sidetracked to seek out this great place. WF was not yet convinced of the value of this search, and I was afraid we tourists would just be a nuisance (the listing in the brochure was under “shopping”- just in case you wanted to bring back a giant fish from your travels).

But hark! We were greeted with this sign:

I thought it would be a giant fiberglass critter heaven. But alas, most of the fancy, painted items are custom made and sent out to the buyers right away. The yard consisted mostly of other-wordly-looking shells and molds, mostly brown, grey and disintegrating. A bit spooky, actually. A distinct (and toxic?) odor of fiberglass resin emanated from the buildings.

But it was still a roadtrip highlight in rural WI! Local businesses and even homes showed a higher than normal incidence of giant fiberglass objects in their yards (hence the rooster in the previous post) than the standard American average incidence, so there WAS that added benefit. If you can’t make it to the factory, definitely check out the F.A.S.T. catalog online: Wow!

2 years!

Thanks, WF, for 2 great married years; here’s to many, many more!

(The rings, the flowers and the partnership are ALL still going strong, even if a little less “new” around the edges. That’s the benefit of sturdy, locally grown or produced “goods”!)