Monday, September 8, 2014

::sunday funday - spring mill park::

Josh works every Sunday and I am off every Sunday now days.  
Yet I work every Saturday.  
Sunday is really my only full day with the shorties.  
I am trying to take advantage of this by making it #sundayfunday
Last Sunday we headed down to Southern Indiana to go to Spring Mill Park.

This place is awesome.  
For five dollars you get all the fun of a state park - trails, nature center, play ground, etc.
But they also have a great pioneer village with many different activities.

Q was in a mood where he did not want to be in any pictures with Lily and Max.  Every time I tried I got this.

He was totally obsessed with the door handles in all the cabins.  
Such a mechanical minded kid. 

My kids can sniff out an art project for 100 paces.
They found one in the leather shop and all three actually worked on it.

But then I tried to take a picture of them together.  
Q denied his people.

Till suddenly he agreed to have his picture taken. 

Spring Mill has a huge working mill that we loved.  
The top two floors are a museum that the kids really enjoyed.

Of course my boys couldn't just look at things.  
They had to find a place to do some bad stuff. 

Another group picture attempt denied by Q. 

Yet he would not leave the steps till I took this one. 

Great minds at work. 

We had to buy the corn meal that was made at the mill.  
How could we resist?

Lily loved the corn husk dolls. 

They loved walking in the gutters, but Q had to lead. 

The wood shop had all kinds of different joint set up.
Lily loved it.

They had a garden set up that just about killed me with how pretty it was.  I need this stone arch. 

Another attempt at a picture together. 

And another...

They found this waterfall and spent 40 minutes putting leaves in the stream to watch them float down stream.  I was shocked that no one fell in. 
Of course Max had to climb.

And ice creams where enjoyed by one and all. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

::chicken farmer Lily::

Last year we bought a few red hens to keep big mama company since she found herself the only chicken on the farm to survive the foxes that year.  Those new friends of hers are sweet - not as sweet as her - but sweet.  Early this year Rural King had some really cool breeds of chickens.  I had to bring some home, which left me with a nice little flock of pretty ladies and two accidental roosters.  My rule with roosters is that they can hang out till they start attacking me or the kids, then they go in the pot.  The two roosters are Aracauna - which means if they where hens they would lay blue eggs and since they are roosters they carry the genetics for blue eggs.  Roosters are bossy jerks so I had moved them out of the hen pen and was letting them free range.  About two months ago one of our red hens went broody.  She sat in her nest box constantly and only left for very short food breaks, then rushed back to sit on her eggs.  She was sitting on blanks because there was no rooster in that pen.  Yet - her hormones and instincts where driving her crazy trying to protect and hatch those eggs.  

(side note - if you know how eggs are fertilized skip this.  A chicken lays about one egg per day.  She does not have a uterus to grow a baby like we do.  She lays her uterus and sits on it.  The baby grows in that egg from conception to birth.  Many people get confused about how the rooster gets in on the deal.  The male and female chicken mate in the traditional way - its actually fairly dramatic as the rooster holds the hen down and she screams the whole time.  It only takes about one minute but it is very violent and ugly.  Once he has placed his sperm in the chicken that sperm would join with the female egg cell.  That collection of cells would still be inside the hen and the hens body would surround it with a yolk and nutrients and finally a shell.  Then she would lay that chicken egg.  Remember - she does this almost every day.  It would be like a human having a full menstrual cycle every day.  Then that fertilized egg has to be sat on and kept very warm and humid till it hatches about 21 days after it is laid. Got it?  Google it if you need more deets.)   

Lily was fascinated by all this.  She kept begging me to let the hen hatch her eggs.  No amount of bird and bee's conversations could make it clear to her that those eggs would never hatch.  Finally it sunk in - then she changed tactics and begged me to put the rooster in the coop with the hens.  She asked for a book off Amazon about raising chickens.  She started a notebook tracking what eggs where laid what day.  She started writing on the eggs with pencil.  She had me with the notebook.  We worked together and caught our prettiest rooster and let him in with the girls.  We got rid of all the eggs before him and I let Lily keep three of the best eggs laid during a few day period.  Broody, as we where calling her, was very happy to have some eggs to nurture.

After careful research on her part she built a chicken nursery from on old rabbit hutch turned upside down.  It was actually very clever.  One evening, about 10 days after we removed the rooster from the pen, Lily gathered up the hen and her eggs and moved her in to her new digs.  Then we waited... and waited.  We experimented with candling eggs, which is where you shine a bright light through the egg to try and see the baby inside.  I knew we had at least one that was working, but I thought the other two where duds.  Every day Lily ran out to check her eggs.  She was so excited and I was so nervous.  I was just about to go to a chicken breeder and buy her some one day old chicks that I was going to put under the broody hen and pretend the hen had hatched them when one day after school Lily found this...     

 A baby!!  A real live baby.  
Lily has a little cell phone for emergencies and she text me the first picture she has ever sent me to show me the new baby.  
I was so relieved.  I wanted this to work for her, she had put in so much effort.  
But we still had two eggs that Broody was sitting on and they didn't look promising. 
 I just kept telling Lily, "At least you got one!"

Then the next morning I saw this!!!

 Mama started to teach baby how to eat while she was sitting on another egg that was hatching.
Already a multitasker - so proud. 

Papa was walking around feeling very proud of himself.  

And when the happy farmer came home from school she now had two babies!! 

 There is still one egg left under Broody.  We will candle it tonight, but I think its a dud.  Of course I obviously have no idea what I am doing.  Maybe I will just let Lily handle it since she seems to have the magic touch. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

::august is giving me a whooping::

Remember how I said that I wasn't going to do any major stuff around the house?  I was going to just hold to the norm?

Guess what?  That's not happening.  

My parents have decided to move to lake house as their permanent residence.  They are in the process of selling their old house.  My mother had a huge playroom closet where they kept all our toys.  She and I have been going through it.  I sent most of the girl toys to my cousins - I couldn't deal with just giving them to good will.  I needed to know they went to a good home.  I kind of felt like Andy in Toy Story.  I loved these toys and they can't go to the trash.

But that still leaves one billion Play Mobil's and a huge train set.  I needed those.  I spent almost every day of my childhood on the ground playing with those Playmobils.  My emotional attachment to them is so strong.  Plus, I think the boys will really enjoy playing with them.  Josh gave up his day off to truck up to my parents house and we brought home a trailer full of toys and supplies.  I had decided that I was willing to store most of the kids toys in the attic just to make room for the Playmobils.  Yet while driving home Josh and I came up with another idea.  Lets trade rooms with the kids.  We will make the big Family Room (where we actually watch TV and keep it pretty neat) into the Play Room.  Then the old Play Room can be turned into the Living Room - a place for grown ups to watch TV.  You have to walk through it every time you go to the bedrooms, and we really made the kids keep it too clean to have it be a good Play Room.  You can't have an epic Play Mobil play session if you have to take it all apart every time you get it out.

I am still going back and forth to my mothers house helping her sort through her stuff.  Grad School also starts back up next week - guess I better make some time for that.  Plus my garden is totally neglected right this second, which just seems to happen some times.  I'll get back to it ASAP.  With the prospect of a lake house to run to on my days off I am really trying to talk myself into keeping the garden small next year.  (Yeah right!)  Ok - maybe just SMALLER.  Making it small may be beyond my ability to contain.  Small isn't really my gig.  But can't I just buy my sweet corn and melons?  Do I really need to grow them myself?

The good news is my weight loss journey is still trucking along.  I am on week 6 of the "Couch to 5K" program.  A few more weeks and I should be running 5k's.  This is huge for me.  I have never been a runner and I am feeling a bit proud about this forward progress.  I still fall off the food train sometimes, but I am doing much better with it.

The older three are back to school and already in the groove.  Max is learning easily and being a little bit of a mild behavior problem in class.  Too much talking and playing.  Basically exactly how he is at home.  Lily is getting invited to lots of different events and activities and it is nice to see her social circle growing.  Emma is nested into high school and excelling as always.  Mr. Q is still every inch of the emotional turmoil that is age two.  He cries and looses his mind when ever we leave him.  He has the worst stranger danger of our entire crew.  Youngest little rainbow baby has no chance but to be rotten. The kids are rocking it out.   

On the farming front, I am still trying to sell the fainting goat.  No luck yet.  But it will come.  My champion sheep, Annabelle, has been traded back to her breeder for a spring lamb.  I will miss that little girl so much.  I had gotten too emotionally attached to her.  If she was a pygmy goat I would have kept her home as a pet forever, but they really need high quality animals like her in the gene pool.  I hope we can buy her back some day as a retired old grandma.    The goats are totally crazy and ever time I am in the barn I fall in love all over again with my Nubian doe.  Such a noble little creature.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

::edamame - or just plain soybeans::

Look at these pretty babies!  2.4 lbs of beans from 2 ounces of seed.  I am in love with this new seed company that I ordered from last year.  It's called Territorial Seed Company - link here to see the soybean variety I grew.  I even like their catalog - its a great company.  The hardiness of what they sell is hard to top.  I planted these babies around early May.  They where in the ground for about 77 days from seed to dirt to harvest.  They where in the back row left half of my cottage garden.  A space about 3 feet wide and 15 feet long.  Soybean are very touchy - you have to keep trying them till they taste right.  Then harvest them all.  I just pull the plants right out of the ground and go sit in the shade while I pull the pods off.  For these beans it took me about half an hour.  Easy quiet work - great for listening to Disney podcasts. 


Meanwhile, before I even went out and harvested them I had a pot of water sitting on the stove on high.  It takes my old electric stove FOREVER to boil water.  Sure enough - even after about 45 mins it still was just starting to boil. You need a big pot and enough water to cover how ever much you are going to blanch.  Blanch is simply boiling a vegetable for a few minutes before you freeze it.  The Nation Center for Home Food Preservation says, "Is it recommended to blanch vegetables before freezing?   Yes. Blanching slows or stops the action of enzymes which cause loss of flavor, color and texture. Blanching cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color and helps retard loss of vitamins. Blanching also wilts or softens vegetables and makes them easier to pack."  After you blanch something you have to cool it quickly in an ice bath.  I fill one side of my sink with cold water, four trays of ice, and three cooler packs. 

Now we blanch.  Three full minutes.  I count it out in my head and force myself to not multitask during this time.  It's too easy to forget about them.  Then I dump them right into my colander.  

Then I run them under cold water for one minute.  Just to try to start cooling them a little before they go in the ice. 

Next they take a polar plunge when I put them in the ice bath.  I leave them in the ice bath for at least ten minutes or more.  I want them to really be cold before they come out.  I take them out of the ice and I let them drain in the sink for a few minutes before I dump them on a towel to dry.  I use a second towel to pat them dry or they will be too wet for the vacuum sealer.  I let these guys get about one more hour of air drying time before the next step. 

Which is the vacuum sealer.  I double seal the first end, vacuum seal the second end, then add another seal to the second end.  I want to make sure that if one seal fails it has a back up.  It only takes a few seconds more for each pack and is well worth it. 

These 2.4 pounds gave us five freezer packs and one serving of fresh edamame.  I am glad to have them but that is not nearly enough!  Next year I need to triple this amount, or higher!  

I then put all five in one large zip lock so they don't just randomly float around the freezer getting lost.  I think I may not have needed to freeze them because they may be gone with in the week.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


We bought this farm 14 years ago.  At that time I wanted a place where I could keep most of my show horses at home.  Then life took over and talked me out of show horses.  First, it was no longer in my tax bracket.  Second, I didn't want to travel anymore.  In my dream world I would still like to just curl up with Josh, the movie Arthur, Reeces Cups, and Mountain Dew (2L chilled in a champagne bucket) when ever I can.  This was an actual date that Josh and I had in our early days.  Third, I didn't really like it as much as I did before.  I will always love horses.  I can't imagine never having at least one - but I don't crave it like I did.  I remember watching other horse girls hit the teen years and half of them would stop riding because they wanted to chase boys and be a cheerleader.  All I wanted to do was ride and show.  But then things in my personal life in my early to mid twenties finally became more interesting that showing horses.  I can honestly say that I don't miss horse shows.  I can't even dream how that would fit into my life now.  Dragging my kids around to make them follow my hobbies???  No way.  Even if I had the money, I wouldn't do that to them.  

When we moves in here I hated all vegetables.  I loved to flower garden in the city house I had before this, but I never grew or really ate a single veg.  I remember growing my very first tomato plant next to my house.  I buried my little plants, put some cages around them and told Josh to eat what ever he wanted to eat.  I didn't trim them or water them or give a hoot about them.  I think the next spring they where still in the ground - all brown and way dead.  A few more years passed.  I planted roses and daisies and other pretty water wasters, but something was building in me to start branching out.  

I think it started with me wanting some strawberries.  I have no idea how I heard of Square Foot Gardening, but it seemed like a good idea.  I didn't want to spend much time on my garden.  AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!  Seriously!!!  I remember saying to a friend, "I have plenty of space but I like the idea of Square Foot Gardening because it it will not take up much time weeding and being BORED in the garden."  BORED IN THE GARDEN????  I really talked like that.  Bored in the garden?  Never.  Weeding had become something that I could zone out and meditate while doing for hours if I could.  I actually set the timer on my phone to make myself stop.  Now I say stuff like "OK - you only get 45 mins to weed then you have to stop."  

With my little square foot garden I put in three 4/4ft beds and one 4/8ft tomato bed.  I grew my little plants with minimum success but I was happy and learning.  I think I had that for two years before the bug really bit down hard.  I needed a real garden.  A Cottage Garden.  A Kitchen Garden.  A Potager.  Something with plants thickly planted and working together.  I needed to dive in.  Thank God Josh loves to eat fresh veggies enough that he was 100% in.  I planned and planned and planned again.   I had it all figured out.  And in our usual fashion, my Josh took one look and it and knew it made no scenes.  He made it actually happen.  I fought him and made him reuse the beds that I had already made.  Of course in retrospect he was right.  Dammit.  He usual is, and it drives me crazy.  

Now I had blow up the amount of usable garden space that was available to me.  I went from 80 square feet to around 450+ square feet of raised bed space.  I thought I was big stuff.  Then I planted that garden and quickly ran out of room.  Where would I grow melons?  Pumpkins?  A billion more tomatoes?  I needed another garden.  The next year I was too broke to make a new raised bed garden.  That meant having a traditional in the ground garden.  Which I thought I was too cool for, yet went for it anyway.  18ft by 96ft was the original measurement.  I never measured it since the first time.  Since it has no defined boarders I bet it has actually gotten bigger over the years.  

The front garden - the Cottage Garden is my love.  I always wish it was bigger, but then I might not love it as much as I do.  It is just the right size for me to keep it pretty and under control.  If I work too much and let it go a little too wild it takes me a day or so and it is back under control.  It's just right.  

The back garden or the Orchard Garden.  Damn that orchard garden.  It has always been my bad kid.  It really illustrates to me that growing veggies in the ground is way harder than raised beds.  But just like my bad kids - its totally worth it.  It is a great place for me to grow large scale things in the quantity that fills my freezer.  I try to put things back there that are ugly or take up lots of space.  I like to eat tomatoes but the plants themselves take up tons of space.  If I planted them up front they would take up almost my entire Cottage Garden.  This year last second I decided to plant 30 tomatoes out back.  No problem.  Plenty of room.  The pumpkins are going insane back there.  Every year I draw out a plan of how I am going to convert that garden into partial raised beds and partial open vine space.  Then I never do.  This year Josh has really helped me with the weeds back there.  He goes back there with the weed wacker and pushes those puppies back.  As the pumpkins start to take over they are shading out the weeds from coming in.  Between the Jurassic sized leaves on the pumpkins and weed killer Josh its all under control - today.  Call me back if we get some hot weather and tons of rain. 

Once I lost myself to gardening I learned a new term - homesteader.  And that is me.  My title has been found.  And I am so excited to find a bunch of other geeks that love gardening and growing food.  The girls wanted to show in 4H and we all fell in love with goats.  Then I discovered Babydoll South Down sheep and I fell in love again.  Grad school is stopping me from having a huge flock right now, but the day will come when I have 10+ ewes breeding away for me each year.  I make lists of expenses and needs for that flock.  I doodle and dream about them.  They are coming eventually - sorry Joshy.  Egg chickens has been a fun adventure for me.  I enjoy the love that develops between me and my pet chickens.  They are such lovely little ladies.  The horses have whittled away to just one old retired gentleman and my mini donkey.  That's just right.  No show horse worries.  Just a happy fat old man living in the pasture with good shelter and plenty to eat.  He doesn't even wear a blanket in the winter.  The dog is higher maintenance. 

  Every year I want to try one more step.  I still have not reach my limit of the amount I think we can handle.  Pasture chickens, beef, veggies, pasture pigs, fruitfruitfruit and more fruit.  I love it.  And because of my selfish choice to buy a horse farm I have plenty of space to live out my little homestead dreams.  My horse barn has been converted one stall at a time into a chicken coop, then a goat pen, then another goat pen.  This homesteading thing owns me.  I love it.  More please.   

What's on my plan for next year?  Remember - grad school is getting in the way.  
     More fruit!
     Add a new horse pasture
     Make a barn quilt
     Add some cut flower growth areas
     Some small projects - 
         goat hay feeders, goat portable pen, mailbox remodel

For the future?  Dream big.  
     Meat chickens and turkeys  
     Solar and wind power
     Re-do the pond
     Much more fruit


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