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”!)