Is it here yet?

I noticed the first signs a couple weeks ago, but wasn’t willing to believe it. Last week there were more signs. This week, even more. Spring is coming!

I know it’s not here yet, and we have plenty more rainy days ahead, but it’s coming! It’s almost here.

The first sign was little, teeny, baby sprigs of grass, trying to break through the ground in the animal yard. But, up here, just one day of sun can coax the grass out, so I didn’t get my hopes up.

Then, last week, it was the frogs. With a pond on one side of the house, and the creek running past two sides, we get a lot of frog noise. Last year, they partied so loudly, we could hear them inside, with the house completely closed up. If you’re going to have noisy neighbors, those are the kind to have. They’re not up to full volume yet, but every evening when I go out to tuck in all the other critters, they’re getting a little louder.

This week was the strongest sign. Daffodils starting to peek out. They’re usually the first visible sign of spring, and the first to go. During their short lifespan, they’re everywhere! Bright yellow, happy flowers, letting everybody know spring is here.  The stalks have started pushing through the ground, and I’m checking daily for blooms.

Seed catalogs have been coming in the mail for a month now, and the first seeds arrived this week. The feed stores will start carrying chicks over the next couple of weeks. More signs of spring. And signs that it’s time to get back to work.

We’re supposed to have sun through this weekend. We also have Farm School Saturday, and Super Bowl Sunday, so we won’t be getting yard work done this weekend. Next week, spring cleaning starts!

Now that we live in a place that has an actual winter, I totally get the spring cleaning thing. On a farm, it’s more of an outdoor thing. The animal shelters haven’t received a good cleaning for a few months. I’ve left the fallen hay and bedding on the floor in an attempt to help keep the animals warmer. I can’t wait to get in and give it all a good cleaning.

We learned a lot last year, and are looking forward to getting to work on our plans for this year. When we start hearing tractors and seeing plowed fields, we’ll know spring is officially here!

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Chicken Killin’ Varmint

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday I woke up to two dead chickens. They had basically been decapitated, and I didn’t know what could have happened. There’s been an outbreak of avian flu locally, but does that make a chicken’s head explode? I had been leaving the small coop door open because the ducks like to go in and out through the night. They’ve all been outside for about a year, and we haven’t had any problems.

I decided to close up the door, and potentially sacrifice our two ducks, in order to save the flock of chickens. Before we had chickens, we had no idea that once they go to sleep, you can do just about anything to them that you want. (Come to think of it, Charlie sleeps that soundly, too.) Ducks will at least wake up and run away if something starts chewing its head off.

Early Saturday, I wake up to the sound of a screaming chicken. And quacking ducks. And barking dogs. This can’t be good. I’ve heard the chickens put up a racket when they’re upset, but this was SCREAMING. I didn’t even know chickens could do that.

I obviously haven’t learned my lesson about running outside to take on predators, because I once again took off in my pajamas. The chickens had been tucked in and locked up for the night. That had to mean that they really were suffering from some brain-exploding virus. Right?

The dogs and I ran out to check things out, and there are two more chickens on the floor. One is dead and headless, but the other one is breathing hard, and weakly squawking. When it’s dark out, and you only have your pajamas, it’s hard to see what’s going on. Back in for the flashlight…with its dead batteries…back in for the flashlight on the phone.

There is nothing I can do for the one chicken, but the other is fighting the good fight. All the other hens are up on the perches, really upset. Then my light catches THIS critter:Mink

It’s a mink! I don’t support killing minks for fur, but I also don’t support minks coming around and killing my chickens. If I get a hold of him, he’s going down!

Knowing this is a predator issue and not a brain-exploding virus issue, I pick up my warrior chicken and put her back up on the perches. Her face is a little beat up, and she’s murmuring softly. I tell her how proud I am of her screaming loudly enough for me to hear her. I tell her I’m proud of her for fighting back. And I tell her she did the right thing. She didn’t answer, but that’s OK. I’m going to take care of her, and I’m going to take care of Black Bart The Chicken Eating Varmint!

When I go back to feed everyone, that damn mink scares the hell out of me again! This time he’s hiding behind the food tub, and when I opened it up, he took off through a hole in the wall. Ah ha! That’s how he got in.

Charlie heads out with his shotgun, and I follow to make sure nobody gets caught in the crossfire. Black Bart is hiding now. Using plywood, Charlie blocks all possible points of entry.

Our hero has made it out to the yard, and she’s pecking around. She’s staying away from the others, which is probably a good thing. I don’t want them picking on her. Right now, she’s looking good, and I’ll keep an eye on her throughout the day. Most of our chickens don’t have names, but I have named my brave girl Xena. Yep, Warrior Princess.

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Xena and Spike at snack time.

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Lotion Bars

Farm life is really hard on the hands. I must wash my hands 10-20 times a day. No, I’m not neurotic. Between poop duty, collecting eggs, digging around in the dirt, and working in the kitchen, plus having the babies visit, washing is a big requirement. All the grubbing around, and the soap and water, turn my hands into sand paper. We’re talking painful cracking and bleeding.

All this means lotion is a biggie, too. But, in my opinion, lotion is a big pain in the butt. It’s goopy and takes time to absorb. I also haven’t mastered getting lotion on the backs of my hands, where I need it most, without getting it in the palms of my hands, and all over my fingers. (Maybe that’s just me being uncoordinated, but that’s my life.)

I’ve seen lotion bars at farmer’s markets and craft shows, but just didn’t get what the big deal was. This year, halfway through the cold weather days, my hands were bad enough I had to give it a shot. I bought a little bar at St. Distaff’s Day and absolutely loved it! Of course, like everything I see at craft shows and such, I figured there had to be a way I could make them myself.

I’ve taken on enough little projects at this point, that I’m used to learning things are a lot easier than I would have thought. That being said, lotion bars are REALLY easy. The hardest part is gathering up the ingredients, because these aren’t things most of us have hanging out in our homes. But, you can check the link at the bottom of the page for my Amazon store, where you’ll find everything you need.

Here’s what you need:

  • Coconut oil or Palm oil
  • Shea butter, cocoa butter, or mango butter (or combine them)
  • Beeswax
  • Optional: Vitamin E oil, Essential oil fragrance
  • Glass measuring pitcher
  • Large pot
  • Wooden spoon
  • Silicone mold, plastic deodorant container, or plastic lip balm container
  • Medicine syringe or dropper

I keep all my soap/candle/lotion items in their own box, so I don’t ruin everything else in my kitchen.0120150916

Add equal parts of coconut oil, shea butter, and beeswax in your glass measuring pitcher. I use 1/3 cup of each.

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Place your pitcher in a pot with one inch of water – double boiler style. Heat on high to melt all ingredients. The beeswax does take a little longer to melt, so don’t worry. If you want to add a meltable dye, do it now. I added just a little bit of red.

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Once everything is melted, remove pitcher from heat and mix in vitamin e oil and essential oils, if you’re using them. I made this batch orange-cinnamon. For oils that don’t come with a drip-top, I use a medicine syringe. I used 10ml of orange oil and 10 drops of cinnamon. You can play with whatever combinations you like. (I made a lavender batch with 10ml of lavender oil, and I thought it was too strong.)

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Pour liquid into molds. Silicone cupcake molds work great, if you want to keep your lotion bar on a small dish, or in a small metal tin. Plastic deodorant containers or lip balm containers also work. The first time I tried them, I wasn’t sure the warm liquid wouldn’t leak out the bottom, but it doesn’t! The deodorant and lip balm containers make the lotion easy to keep with you and easy to apply. A 5ml syringe fills the lip balm container perfectly. (I use the lip balm containers so I can carry lotion in my pocket. Most lip balm recipes use twice as much beeswax as the oils and butters, but that’s really the only difference. If you want to use this recipe as lip balm, you certainly can.)

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That’s it! Measure, melt and pour. Easy peasy! The lotion appears to set up quickly, but give it a few hours to really harden up. When it’s done, your lotion should have a consistency similar to soap. To apply, just rub it onto your skin. The heat from rubbing will melt it just enough to transfer to your skin.

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The orange smells wonderful! I keep a bar of lavender lotion on my nightstand, and Carly uses the lavender lotion bar on the kids’ eczema. Reta Jean likes to rub it on her “itchies.” She can do it all by herself – like she does everything – without worrying about a mess.

Find everything you need here: http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=7

Go ‘Hawks!

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We never did football. I find so much of the football-hero culture distasteful, I didn’t want to support any of it. My son PJ was always a big boy, and I taught with high school football coaches. They wanted him from the time he was in middle school. No way! I taught football players. I know it’s not all of them, but the ones I got were cocky and mean. By 9th grade, they thought their careers were in the bag. In their minds, they didn’t have to do schoolwork, or follow rules, or even be decent human beings. Their parents, coaches, and teammates told them over and over that they were better than everybody else, and they believed it.

Our kids did water polo and swimming. There was some baseball and soccer when they were younger, but they excelled in the water. Yes, there were some mean, cocky kids in the water, but that behavior wasn’t tolerated by most parents, coaches, or players. The pool was mostly an environment of support, encouragement, and sportsmanship. Even the littlest kids were taught not to get out of the water after a race, until the last swimmer was in. If someone knocked off a half second from their time, that was cause for congratulations. It didn’t matter if they came in last. Water polo could be rough, but there were no over-the-top celebrations every time somebody scored. I only once saw a team cheer when one of their team members hurt another player. (PJ was recovering from a dislocated kneecap, and a player from Palm Desert kicked him right in the side of his knee joint. Fortunately, there was no serious damage, but PJ was hurt and he pulled himself from the game. That was Palm Desert’s objective, and the team was proud.) That team had very little respect within the league. And their attitude was often compared to that of football players.

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Fast forward, and we’ve landed 45 minutes outside of Seattle. Home of 2014 Super Bowl Champion Seahawks. Beast Mode, The Legion of Boom, and The Twelves, all come up in daily conversation. Russell Wilson is akin to a Greek god, Skittles are the candy of choice, and it seems every business in the state celebrates Blue Friday. Initially, we tried to ignore it, but during football season they are on the news every.single.day! The national news only reports when Richard Sherman has a blow up, or Marshawn Lynch refuses to talk to them. They leave out Sherman’s apology for bringing negative attention to his team, or the fact that Lynch REALLY hates giving interviews. It’s not a Beast Mode thing, it’s a Marshawn thing. He doesn’t like it.

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You see what I did there? Yeah, I’m defending football players. In my own defense, though, the Seahawks are a pretty cool group of guys. Earlier in the season, when there was some prima donna behavior in the clubhouse, those players were traded away. On a visit to Marysville-Pilchuck High School, which had just endured a deadly school shooting, the guys found a wallet at a gas station. The guy’s last name was Lynch so, of course, Marshawn Lynch decided to return it in person. Just for kicks. And I think everyone knows that Russell Wilson is at Seattle Children’s Hospital every week, unless he’s out of town. Pete Carroll says he likes recruiting young players. He wants to bring them up with the Seahawks mentality. He wants them to understand hard work, humility, and decent human behavior. If they can’t do that, he’s OK with letting them go. THIS is what football should be.

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Tomorrow is a playoff game. I don’t remember what it’s called, but if the Seahawks win, they go to the Super Bowl again. And I know they’re playing Green Bay. Fans on the news are running around with cheese graters because that’s a thing. Carly is bringing the kids up for a little football party. I’m crocheting beanies for the kids – in blue and green, of course. I even bought a football shaped cupcake pan. Today when we go to town, Skittles will probably find their way back home with us.

Im in

I can say I’m still not a fan of football in general. I can’t keep the positions straight, don’t understand the plays, and still think a lot of the players aren’t nearly as fabulous as they think they are. HOWEVER, I  do like those Seahawks boys and really hope they can bring home another Super Bowl win. Go Hawks!

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Road Block

A Trip to Town

The main road between us and town has been closed due to flooding. Many of the other roads are closed, too, so we haven’t even tried to go to town in several days. (This is why I keep my pantry well-stocked)

I needed to take a package to the post office, so we set out to see if we could get there. As we drove toward the previously flooded road, we could see it, and there was not an uncrossable amount of water. Since we could see the road, we figured the “Road Closed” and “Water Over Roadway” signs were mistaken, and just hadn’t been removed yet. And they were only on one side of the road. Would one side of the road remain opened, if we weren’t allowed to be on it? Apparently so.

Gosh, we were really lucky there was a State Patrol officer, hanging out around the bend, to set us straight. We were going to turn around, but he waved us over to the side of the road. Okie doke. “License and registration?” Crap. Good thing Charlie was driving. That means it’s his fault if we get a ticket. Also a good thing that we really do live just up the road from the flooding, and were checking out if there was a way through. The very nice officer let us know it was a $411 ticket for passing the signs. The very nice officer also let us off with a warning and sent us on our way BACK the way we came.

With our back roads closed, the trip to town is about twice as long. We have to backtrack through farmland, back to the highway, loop past our street, which runs under the highway, pass the high school and the prison – they’re right next to each other – and work our way back through town. Good thing it’s a pretty drive, and we weren’t in a hurry.

It’s also a good thing we didn’t need stamps. We got to the post office and got the package all set to go. Then, the postal clerk asked us if we needed stamps. Then, she said, “No. Never mind. We don’t have stamps. I’m just used to asking.” Yep. The post office ran out of stamps. How does that happen? The people behind us in line, waiting for stamps, weren’t as amused by this situation as we were.

Off to the craft store. But first we have to wait for the train. A very busy set of tracks runs right through the middle of town. It’s a constant complaint for people who live and work on opposite side of the tracks. Sometimes, the train will stop and take a break. In the middle of town. Darci’s Dinky Donuts is the best placed donut/coffee stand in town. She’s on the main road into town, right next to the train tracks. People stuck on her side of the train tracks have been know to leave their cars and run over to pick up a drink and snack while they wait.

Finally we get to the craft store where I need to get some calendars. For some reason we didn’t get any free ones in the mail this year. I have a heck of a time keeping track of days, weeks, months, seasons, and keep calendars in several rooms in the house. There is a calendar for every dog imaginable, cats with mustaches, hot guys with cute animals, and bacon. I wanted alpacas and gardening. Goats, pigs, rabbits, roosters. No alpacas or gardening. Fine, I’ll get folk art and pretty Washington pictures. And candle dye and scents. And some caramels. No yarn, even though I did touch every single skein in the store.

While I was wandering the craft store, trying not to throw everything I touched into my basket, Charlie went and got a hair cut and took a quick trip through the grocery store. He gets things done much faster than I do.

Hardware store, stop for lunch, then back home. When it takes so long to get to town, you get done as much as you can in one trip. Especially when Charlie’s driving. By now, I should know a trip to the post office is going to be way more involved.

I was so excited to have my calendars, I started filling them up as soon as we got home. There’s ALWAYS something going on at the fairgrounds. Now, it’s all on my new kitchen calendar. We know when every goat, rabbit, alpaca, quilt, mountainman and craft show is going to be. Life is good.

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Field Trip – St. Distaff’s Day

St. Distaff’s Day is traditionally observed on January 7. This is the first day following the 12 days of Christmas, and the day women returned to their distaffs to spin fiber into thread and yarn. Since there were no football playoff games at the time, the men would amuse themselves by setting the flax on fire, and the women would douse them with pails of water. Gotta love pre-television entertainment!

Country folk spent a lot of their time isolated from neighbors, and St. Distaff’s Day provided an opportunity to socialize. Today, the tradition continues with good, old-fashioned spin-ins being held across the country.

I attended my first St. Distaff’s Day event this weekend. It was hosted by the Northwest Regional Spinners and was a great way to kick the fiber season into high gear. (I didn’t even know there was a fiber season!) Not only was it a fiber show, with lots of vendors, it was also a spin-in. Women, and a few men, from different guilds in the area, all brought their wheels, sat in groups, and spent the day shopping, spinning and socializing.

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The fiber selections were beautiful. Tons of wool, but also alpaca, camel, and other fun blends. One of the biggies right now seems to be Polwarth. I saw of lot of this wool, but don’t recall seeing it at previous shows. It comes from dual purpose, fiber/meat, sheep from Australia, and is extremely soft.

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In addition to fiber, there was all the fun stuff that goes with it. Spindles, spools, dyes, needles, hooks, yarn bowls, and blending boards. There were also processors there who make different products from alpaca and wool. There was felt, felting kits, scarves, and curtains. One processor brought his needle felting machine to demo, and it was really cool. It makes sheets of felt 30″ wide, and as long as you want. The thickness of the felt can be adjusted to make anything from rugs to scarves. (I was so busy geeking out over this cool machine, I forgot to get a picture of it.)

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As always, at events like these, I see spinning wheels that make me want to own all of them. I don’t get how all of them work, but they’re very cool. I’m going to start putting money in my piggy bank so I can get a cute little portable wheel.

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All of this, plus demonstrations, prizes, raffles, used equipment for sale, and food. Next year I’ll bring my wheel, and join in the fun!

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Knitted Knockers – Breast Cancer Prosthetics

I found a new charity this weekend, and they became an instant favorite. Knitted Knockers provides lightweight, washable, cotton knitted boobs. Free!

The numbers I was given state that approximately 50,000 women in the U.S. have a mastectomy each year. Of those, 44% are unable to undergo reconstruction. For some, the cost of reconstruction is prohibitive, and many insurances consider it “elective” or “cosmetic” surgery. Silicone prosthetics weigh 4-5 lbs each, and many women find them sticky and uncomfortable, not to mention ugly and expensive. This means a lot of women, after surviving surgeries and treatments, who just want to get back to “normal”, are met with one more obstacle.

Knitted Knockers are provided, free, to breast cancer survivors. They are available in sizes A-DD, and come in any number of colors. Knockers slip easily into a regular bra, no special clothing required. If a patient is going through stages of reconstruction, stuffing can be removed from the Knockers as needed, to keep the girls even. Groups of volunteers donate their time and yarn to create Knitted Knockers. They are then distributed through a number of different venues. Knockers can be requested from their website, or in some cases, directly through a doctor’s office.0103151018a-1

The Knitted Knockers website provides patterns for knitting and crochet, and explains which yarns to use, and how to go about donating. Completed Knockers can be mailed to the organization, UNSTUFFED, and they will stuff and distribute them, as needed. Currently, a manila envelope, holding 10 Knockers, costs just $6.00 in shipping. It is important to use the specified directions and yarns, so they can be accepted. Lots of time has been spent experimenting and adjusting the patterns, and they have found what works best.

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If you or someone you know needs a new set of knockers, or knows how to knit or crochet, please visit http://www.knittedknockers.org/.  I’m not very good at reading crochet patterns yet, but this is one I’m definitely going to take the time to figure out.

 

To-Do List 2015

I’ve never been good about New Year’s Resolution. I don’t know why. But then, who is good at them? They’re intimidating. It’s like a commitment to do something every day for 365 days straight. That’s just hard.

With every project we’ve finished here in 2014, we’ve come up with something else we want to do. It’s been very exciting to take on farm life, one little piece at a time, and have success! During the hectic holiday months, Charlie and I have been developing ideas for what we want to get done in 2015. Our goal has never been to be totally self-sufficient, but we both get such a kick out of providing for ourselves, we’ll be expanding those efforts this year. So, instead of resolutions this year, we have quite a to-do list.

1) Secure the back pasture. There are 2-5 acres at the back of the property, that the landlord doesn’t use. We will be working with him to figure out how much of this land we can use. It’s an unusual shape, and the creek runs through part of it. The perimeter is enclosed with cattle wire fencing, but we will need to cross-fence, clear out anything that may be a risk to the animals we want to move in, and get water to the area.

2) Build shelters. Once the pasture is ready, we’ll be moving in a variety of animals. We also want to expand our little alpaca herd, and give them more space. That means a variety of shelters. We built our big shelter this past year, so we’re confident we can take on several smaller shelters.

3) Rabbits. Charlie has been researching rabbit breeding, and is looking forward to getting started with that. That means setting up a few different hutches, figuring out a breeding schedule, and becoming proficient at “processing” them. That’s all on Charlie. I’m still not sure I can care for animals, and then eat them. So, Charlie will have to take care of them, THEN I’ll eat them.

4) Bees. There is a small open area in the woods, on the way to our water source, that will be perfect for bees. It’s far enough away from the busy parts of the farm that we won’t disturb them, but close enough that they will be able to easily access our garden. The’ll also be surrounded by blackberry bushes, so that should make for some yummy honey. We’ll be setting up hives soon. so they’ll be move-in ready come springtime.

5) Hard cheese. I’ve done mozzarella and ricotta, and now it’s time to take my cheese commitment to the next level. Hard cheese has to age for months, so I’ll be working on patience, too. My first attempt will be the shortest aging time I can find. I really don’t want to wait 6 months to figure out I did something wrong. I hope I can find something to start with that only needs to age a few weeks. Once I get that down, I’ll go for something bigger. I should have this process down by the end of the year.

6) Lye soap. I want to make “real” soap, all by myself. The lye process makes me nervous, but I’m going to take it on this year. I think I’ll get, like, welders’ protective gear, to make sure I don’t hurt myself. Then, I’ll be able to make any kind of soap I want.

7) Alpaca afghan. I have already skirted and washed, and started to card, several pounds of gorgeous brown alpaca fiber. I’ll be carding, spinning, and crocheting my dream blanket: 100% alpaca.

8) Knitting. I say “crocheting” my dream blanket, but I may actually be knitting it. I’ve never knitted, and I don’t know if my left hand has the coordination to do it, but I’m going to try. If I can learn, great, if I can’t, I’m not going to sweat it. Carly and Tori both have the basics of knitting down, so they can help me if I get stuck. There’s a class in town later this month, and I’m signing up for it. We’ll see how it goes.

9) Turkeys. We’ve toyed with the idea of raising turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but didn’t get started early enough. You have to start with turklets (?) in July or so to be ready by fall. We’ll be on it this year.

10) Garden. We learned so much with our garden last year, we can’t wait to get started this year. There are some things we won’t be doing again, like Brussels sprouts. The plants grew great, but nothing ever sprouted. We’ll also be trying some new things, like beets. They’re supposed to be good for many of the farm animals. We’ll be more varieties of cucumbers, for pickling, and maybe not so many squash. The seed catalogs have started arriving, so Charlie and I will start poring over them, and making lists of what we’ll be getting in the spring.

10a) A greenhouse is on our “maybe” list for this year. It will depend on the pasture situation, and what kind of time we have before planting begins. If that doesn’t happen this year, it will move to the to-do list for 2016.

That’s it! This is the list that I’ll be posting on the refrigerator. I’m sure some of these will happen easily, and others will go comically wrong. Whatever happens, we’ll learn a lot and have tons of fun.

Happy New Year!

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