Wednesday, February 22, 2006


There's STILL no camera charger (darn that household black hole), so I've been browsing through my memory stick for something timely. NEED PICTURES. Can't always be forcing depressing text. Or so says my blog self-editor. Most of the very recent photos are on the home computer (where I am not), so this is a retrospective to the GREEN part of the year. Remember that time?

Why we did NOT have 30 lbs of beets this year, ala Liz.

The salvaged remnants were delicious, and the greens (mmmm, greens) were really great. There's something in our not-very-well-fertilized historic garden plot's soil that beets love. But of course, there's something ELSE in that garden plot (something that somehow evaded Miss Lutsen's best mousing efforts) that also loves beets. We left these big beautiful Chioggas in the garden just a bit too long into the fall, hoping they'd dry a bit and harden off well for root cellar/sawdust storage. Out of that entire effort, I got about 5 that were perfect enough to store (any hole in the skin leads to weird dessication in the sawdust). If you look close, you can see the actual teeth marks!

Live and learn. I'm happy to say that the carrots were safer from the little chewers (if not the slugs, ug). We stored enough in sawdust that we are STILL eating them this week. Can't complain about the carrots- good stuff.

Some other good stuff that wasn't bothered by much except wandering chickens was TATSOI. Mmmm. A very pretty green bouquet. I harvested this one in early November, I think. I definitely plan to get some started as soon as the soil thaws. Again, let's all remember: GREEN! It will come again! Getting excited for the upcoming seed order. Fedco, here I come!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Update Snap

Bill-cat managed a particularly creative litter box incident today, actually getting some runny… “stuff” half-way up his back. While it wasn’t likely intentional, it solicited so much attention by the house-humans that he’s thinking of submitting the technique to the Pawbook authors for possible inclusion.

Thank heavens I got to him before he got to the bed, etc. Just happened to see it happen. Ieee! We’re currently in the geriatric cat grace period, nursing him along with special privileges (upstairs litter box, etc). He’s a sweet, wise old cat with thyroid issues. Through many twists of fate and other lives, we’ve ended up together for his twilight years, just a bit in love with each other. How can I begrudge him a few tolerances (and prescriptions, ahem) now at age 16? WF’s 3 cats became my first “stepcats” when we married, and I’m trying to take my new role as a cat person seriously (but not too seriously…but ach! they are members of the household!!) My parents mentioned the “grandcats” at our wedding. I’m not even going to begin to analyze THAT one, but it was sweet.

Other updates: The coop door has been carefully scraped and put back, with still a fair bit of fretting on my part. It’s the best we can do for now, with plans to replace the entire door and frame as soon as possible. We can’t paint due to cold temps. A few eggs were shipped off to Washington state for testing, and we’ll find out about levels in a week or so. Fingers crossed!! I did some testing of other paint chips around here (old garage door, etc) and think they are lead free. Such a crazy thing. I am commiserating with friends right now about their current old house renovations/lead scare involving their 2-yr-old, and encouraging others to think about it. Don’t know why the lead story had slipped by me like that, but I now feel it’s worse that the whole mercury-in-fish issue, which is also serious. Low income and old housing with lead paint is much less sexy than the sport fishing/tourism or gourmet dining restrictions due to mercury. Pshaw. Moving on…(for now!)

We’ve finally had some cold weather!! The chickens got through the –20 F cold snap just fine, with only one night of a supplemental heat lamp. These days are the classic crystal-clear blue sky February days I was missing, so the sun has been great for the passive solar (and active solar!) idea. The coop really warms up during the day with the big south window. There’s still no camera charger, so you’ll just have to imagine the welcome blue/white cold. Pictures again someday soon!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Secrets Revealed

Found this yesterday morning beneath Bill's cat bed. Guess the joke's on him- there's medication hidden in that tasty canned food! Aha!

Cat Food Consumption Committee
Pawbook for Members

Chapter 3, Section 7:

1. While waiting through the preparation of tasty canned food, it is advisable to meow frequently, as many times as possible. Loud, earnest tones are best. This will remind the possibly forgetful human that you exist, lest they forget this key fact while in mid-preparation.

Research is ongoing about what the humans might do with said tasty food (eat it themselves? Feed it to the plants?) if they were not reminded to give it to you. Don’t risk it!

2. Remember to request this tasty food frequently with the same loud, emphatic voice. This will ensure an agreeably high quota of cat food consumption. 4:30 am seems to be an especially productive time, possibly due to the human’s perplexing desire for sleep at this hour. Advanced skills such as pawing at hair or making creative noises involving magazines are especially effective at increasing human activity and corresponding opportunities for cat food consumption.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Lead Story

Ah, the world. I wish I had a frivolous sweater/cat/chicken post today, but I warn everyone now that this won't be a terribly cheery post, either. Someday soon! My camera battery charger is currently lost, so this week's tally of random cat pictures is extremely low. Sorry.

A while back, when we first realized we'd be building a chicken coop, FW and I decided to stop in at a new building materials reuse center to scope out materials. The place is a great joint venture between a few entities, providing deconstruction jobs for women, offering job training and keeping materials out the landfill. A very good thing. The warehouse is filled with old toilets, windows, sinks and doors. Two-by-fours with the nails painstakingly pulled out... that sort of thing.

We perused the historic doors, and chose a clean, white painted solid old specimen with a nice, ornate doorknob. It felt really good to have the first concrete piece of the new coop we'd soon build. It even had a working latch and door jamb. I was excited.

We stored it in the garage for a while, and when we finally got around to working with a carpenter acquaintance, he designed one end of the coop around that door. The latch has held, and the door had been keeping out predators and keeping chickens in for a few months now. All seemed well.

Except. (Why does there ALWAYS seem to be a catch when it comes to the poultry venture these days?) The door was painted with interior paint. We didn't really think anything of this. After just a couple weeks outside, it started peeling and chipping off. I vaguely wondered about lead paint, but didn't know what to do (oh, innocence and ignorance). We got busy and generally fretted about other things (bare-backed hens, wet stinky litter, etc). But the other day, I finally decided to buy a lead test kit. I hoped to maybe find out it WASN'T lead, that we could rest easy.

It is definitely lead. Sheee-it. While I’m glad it’s not actually IN our house (some people have nightmares of toxic home renovations) this chips were likely falling onto the ground around the outside of the coop. I’ve been picking up chips when I find them, but it’s not crazy to think that the chickens may have eaten some. They seem fine, but…????

What frustrates me so much is that we did this to ourselves! We thought we were being virtuous in recycling old materials, and now we've brought in a toxin where there wasn’t one before. This REALLY bothers me, and I really wish I’d been more aware of this issue. FW thinks I’m a bit over the top, worrying about possible health effects (for egg consumers, mostly, not so much the chickens themselves).

What really spurred me to action (and worrying, I’ll admit) is an amazing book: Having Faith by Sandra Steingraber. I believe she’s fairly well known to some people in the environmental community, but I only woke up to her work after reading her recent article in Orion magazine about mercury and her 6 yr old daughter. She emphasizes that the first environment we all experience is the one inside the womb, and that this environment (and subsequent development of the baby) is highly impacted by outside toxins like lead and mercury. It’s a primal and very basic truth, one that I doubt many lawmakers and corporate executives EVER consider when they ignore or ease emissions standards, etc.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have my own children, but we’re still considering the idea. Whether we reproduce or not, other people will. While some cynics will say there are too many people out there anyway, my wish is for all future children who ARE born to be as healthy and intelligent as possible. And things like lead and mercury interfere with that equation. It’s terribly maddening, especially when you learn that some people have been aware of the risks of lead in paint, etc for decades- likely since the 1920’s. And don’t get me started about mercury in fish. So WHY are FW and I still dealing with lead’s dangers in 2006?? It comes down to money, greed, and paint companies ignoring science. And the nightmare of lead paint is far from over- it’s lurking under the paint in so many buildings to this day. It’s not just a 1970’s issue, as some people think.

What other “surprises” are out there, waiting for us to wake up and believe the science? I’m not sure I want to know. We’re plenty busy right now, dealing with this hazard in the midst of our organic chicken flock. We’re doing our best with FW's careful scraping, masks, etc, but it’s a daunting task. I HATE it, and I’m scared… for us and the overall future of the world.

So. I warned you, not a cheery post. Expect a few more like this as I sort through my thoughts on this toxin thing. But maybe next time I can regale you with slapstick tales of lead abatement shenanigans- wheeheee!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Spare a little Climate change?

It's getting late and I'm on the edge of my mid-week time budget, but I want to sneak in a post to react to some amazing/sobering presentations I've heard this week. (Or really, maybe, I'm just feeling a need to get the frivolity of a blinding pink sweater off the top of the blog!)

Heard Dr. Mark Seeley from the U of M (public radio listeners are likely familiar with him- great speaker) talk about Climate Change and it's implications for this part of the country. Of course, there are obvious recent trends showing warmer winters, more tropical dewpoints and an increase in torrential downpours, flooding, etc. So what, you say?

Implications include a predicted increase in overwintering of plant diseases and pests, changes of microbes and insect populations, and large change in animal migration, hibernation and foraging. Don't know exactly why, but I got chills when he mentioned DNR scientists presenting evidence for lots of animal behavior changes. We may just be blind, stupid humans who'll debate this issue till we all fall off the damn earth, but those animals KNOW something's up.

He also mentioned that this change will be a boon to the building trades - more time for construction! Oh, joy. There will be less energy needs in the winter around here, maybe, but also an increased demand for air conditioning among us formerly tough Minnesotans. He also invoked the name of Kansas in mentioning the expectation that EVERYTHING be air conditioned. When I lived there in the 110 degree, 95% humidity summers, it was very much like a ghost town or a -20 degree day in MN. People completely quit going outside unless they HAVE to, and then park their air conditioned cars as close as they can to the air conditioned stores. It was very wierd.

Even the "government" seems to be posting some "facts" that seem to match these predictions.

Anyway, I'm trying to think of how to prepare here at the homestead...thinking of putting gutters on the metal-roofed coop to catch water in rain barrels during the torrential rainstorms to use during less water times, and resolving to be aware of soil temp changes (which have increased dramatically over the past 40 years) to figure out what varieties of crops will do the best. We are just learning our soil and land, but now may need to be aware of it's slow change. More insulation, definitely, too... should help in summer AND winter. Gotta be thinking about this stuff.

AND learn more about being grateful to the earth, this place and our home. Attended some other sessions on Geomancy and Feng Shui- but that's a whole different post. Later!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pink Sweater

I've been noticing lately that a large proportion of my clothes are dark gray, black, gray, and for a little variety, light gray. While this might be extra-stylish in New York, around here, it make me look… well, perhaps, a bit grim. It has been a dreary winter, after all. My primarily-primary-colors-wearing mother is appalled. But it’s practical! Doesn’t stain! Hides cat hair! Or so I tell any detractors. Besides, it will be a good basic background for any exciting knitting projects I’l someday finish (haha).

So, the other day, I fell to the wiles of the clearance rack. I usually don’t buy new clothes (most often: thrifty shops), but it’s been a long winter and I’ve been thinking about a bit of variety. There it was- a fetching, cheap cherry-pink cardigan sweater! With odd plastic fasteners! I told myself I’d replace the fasteners with something nicer from the local yarn store, and decided to go daring in my clearance pink. I never wear pink, but this one has a certain toned-down hue that makes it bearable. I’m wearing it for the first time today. While tending the fire, I looked down and saw on one cheery pink sleeve…BLACK SOOT! Aha!

My monochrome wardrobe and I are vindicated! (But I'll still sometime be pink at work, in an attempt to cheer up my beige cubicle.) And speaking of pink, FW is trolling the internet beside me right now, looking up salmon recipies. Mmmmm....

It's back!

A very welcome visitor to the North made a rare appearance today...

No, not the crazy mishapen skiing woman (does not accurately depict actual blogger's shape) but the splendid object that makes this shadow presence possible... The SUN!

Quick! Grab the camera, grab the stale blankets, grab the glum winter attitude and GET OUTSIDE! This blog may make it look like this little frolic corner of the world is filled with this sunny sun, but it had definitely not been the case this year. It's just that the sunny days prompt picture taking, as well as odd lingering, photographing one's own shadow. When I took those last week, I was honestly quite fascinated. Hadn't seen such a thing (a shadow!) in over a month, really. Eeee!

So, we're getting into the time of the year that should be filled with crisp, clear, -20F days. Blue sky and squeaky snow should greet us, but so far it's been a very warm, grey winter. The Lake isn't even a tiny bit frozen, and it frankly seems really wierd and WRONG. I know plenty of people who say, "Heck, if this is global warming, I'll take it! 40 degrees in January is great!" I'll admit it's been a nice year for easing into off-grid (no heat) chicken raising, but it's still just plain wierd. Not sure if all this warm, steamy, not-freezing weather has caused the cloud cover or vice versa, but it still makes me fret.

Warmer weather around here might seem nice, but someday it will likely mean less fresh water, less wetlands, less maple trees, different critters. Some reports predict MN will have Kansas-like weather someday. Eeek. I've LIVED in Kansas, and once was enough, thanks. We can't even console ourselves with the idea of a more productive growing season. Predictions include drought and none of that nice Kansas black dirt to go with the extra degrees.

But what the heck can we do, now? How can we get people to care? Is there anything anyone can do now, anyway?? I try to talk to people, but what a "depressing" topic, ho hum. (The challenge of getting people to talk about real science is a whole differant rant!)

For now, I will vow to savor the days that are a little bit more like "normal" and get myself out into whatever sun there is (even if it means cubicle escape!). Today was great, and those beams prompt me into housecleaning action- airing out the blankets, sweeping FW's chicken-coop tracking (grrrr!) right out the door, opening windows.

I love the sun, but I'd take it even if it was combined with -20 F. That's the way it's SUPPOSED to be!! Let's all hope we are not seeing the dying of our beloved winter... might be an unpleasant surprise.