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Neighbors Came A-callin’

Such a gorgeous day! It’s 80 and sunny, just a little breeze, the mountains are out. These days are the payoff for making it through the wet winter.

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We’ve been working on the kids’ tree fort. My goal is to see awe and glee when the kids come to play. I headed to town and hit up the dollar store for more goodies. We now have a full on pinwheel garden. It’s so cool when they’re all spinning!

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After I finished playing, and took a nap, I had to be outside. I gathered up my crocheting and headed to one of my favorite spots – out with the animals. So peaceful. The ducks were quacking, the chickens were clucking, the alpacas were humming, everybody was relaxed and happy.0420150946a (500x281)

While I was enjoying the peace and quiet, a big woodpecker, with its bright red head, flew right over me. A little while later a flock of finches flew by, tweeting away. The dogs were hanging out with me, lounging in the sun. Who needs to travel somewhere for vacation, when this is my backyard?

I was thinking about heading inside to get some things done. Just thinking about it. Really, what’s the hurry? All of a sudden, my security detail goes nuts! Tajo starts alerting, in a total panic. Spike runs to the fence to see what’s happening. The chickens and ducks run over to join the surveillance. Cookie starts barking. Peanut comes charging out of the woods, hackles raised. Daisy runs and hides under the tree. What the heck! I haven’t heard anybody come up the driveway. I don’t see anything. Maybe a coyote. Or a bunny. I never know what will set them off, but this is weird. They’re all freaking out. Guess I better check it out.

Oh. Hmm.

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Yep, that’s 4 cows in the front yard. I don’t know a lot about cows, but these guys look young. At the same time, I don’t really care that they look young, because they also look big. And that one is looking at me. We do live on a cattle ranch, but there are fences, and the cows usually stay on their own side. I was right next to the pasture gate earlier, so that’s not where they came from. Think about this. What would you do if you suddenly had cows hanging out in your yard?

I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think about it because now the dogs were trying to chase the cows off. That wouldn’t be so bad, but the cows wanted to check out the dogs. While I totally appreciate Cookie’s bravery, I didn’t want her to get stepped on. I called for the dogs to go into the house, while calling Tori to come out and help. Tori came running because I sounded urgent, and she doesn’t know what’s happening.

The cows weren’t sure who to follow, but I really don’t want them following the dogs into the house. While getting the dogs inside, my crochet bag topples, and all my hooks fly all over the place. Dogs, cows, crochet hooks, GAH!! The cows decide to move on, but that’s the wrong way! I’m not sure exactly what we’re going to do, but we have to get them heading back down the driveway, the direction they came from.0427151526 (640x360)

I’ve said before that cows make me a little nervous. They’re big. If I stomp my foot and yell, will they go the direction I want, or will they decide to chase me. I’ve been around some animals now, so I decide I’m going to take charge. “Go home, cows!” I take one side of the driveway, and Tori comes in from the other side. Flapping our arms and yelling, “Go home” we get them moving in what we hope is the right direction. Tori’s an excellent cow wrangler. She was even wearing her boots!

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They’re getting a little far ahead, and we’re coming to the fork in the driveway. The barn is to the right, so we’re hoping they go that way. Tori suggests hustling to catch up to them, but I don’t want to get them running. The road isn’t too far up ahead, and we won’t be able to stop them if they get going.

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They seemed to know which direction to go, so we just followed, looking for holes in fencing or open gates. As we come around the bend, we see some people up ahead, looking concerned and uncertain. We figure these are probably their cows, and we’re right. Someone had called to let them know their cows were out. They drove right over and had closed the main gate to the road, but didn’t know where to go from there. There were a few different directions the cows could have gone. They were very relieved to see us coming up the drive.

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After quick introductions – Sara and Tori – the four of us got the cows headed in the right direction. These are Sara’s show cows, and they’ve recently been separated from their mothers. Someone left the gate open, and with no parental supervision, the “kids” decided to go exploring. Now we know where they belong, and have Sara’s number in case the little delinquents get out again.0427151533 (568x640)

Out here on the farm, you just never know who is going to stop by.

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Field Trip – Quilt Show

I started making quilts several years ago. I call them Lazy Gabba quilts because I flat-out don’t have the patience for all the little pieces and fancy stitching. I made this race car quilt for Raymond. Very simple squares, backed with checkerboard fleece. I think it came out pretty cool looking, but it’s nothing compared to what we saw Saturday.

409028_163720327073448_819328137_nThe Busy Bee Quilters Guild has an annual quilt show. We went for the first time last year, and it was the first quilt show I had ever attended. I am so impressed by the talent – and the patience – of these quilters. I can’t tell anyone how to do these, but I can share lots of pictures. Enjoy!

These were two of my favorites. I love the tunnel illusion in the one, and the little kids reading under the trees in the other.

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I liked this one a lot, because the quilter used corduroy, velvet and other textured fabrics.

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The notes on this quilt say the border fabric and center rooster were made into fabric from pictures drawn by the quilter’s 6-year-old grandson.

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I really liked the embroidery and detail of this quilt. The “direction” sign is local towns.0425151101 (500x452) 0425151100a (442x500)

These owls are embroidered onto the squares.

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The stitching detail on this one caught my eye.

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There was a name for this quilt technique, but I don’t remember it. I know, I’m super-helpful.0425151059 (345x500)

Remember “How many licks?
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Cathy Kessel is this year’s featured artist for good reason. She does fabulous, detailed applique. This first quilt is a tribute to her mother, and I think it’s so sweet.

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All appliqued! Such patience.

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This is the perfect crazy chicken lady quilt. Notice the worm all the chickens are focused on in the big picture.

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The quilting on this repeats the pattern on the fabric. Who doesn’t love elephants?0425151047 (469x500)

More cool quilting.

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Each on of those little circles is appliqued.

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Such detail in the embroidered flowers, the small triangles, the appliques and the quilting. Very sweet and old-fashioned.

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All the small pieces were intimidating enough. Then, the close-up shows all the sparkly dragonflies.0425151035 (342x500)

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And soooo many more….

 

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Potato Planter Bags

Potatoes don’t grow like other garden plants.  Seed potatoes are planted in fairly shallow soil, then more soil is added as the plant grows up. The potatoes grow off the roots and stem of the plant, under the dirt. Because of their weird growth style, people will often plant them in buckets or bags. That way, as the plant grows, it’s easy to add more soil. Deeper soil = more potatoes.

When Charlie told me he was ordering bags to plant potatoes in, I didn’t give it a thought. When they arrived, I realized I should have given it some thought. As so often happens now, my first thought was, “I could make those!”

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The first thing I noticed was that they were made of material very similar to our feed bags. I’ve already had practice making feed bag totes ( http://redmonwoods.com/2014/12/15/feed-bag-tote-bag/ ), and I figured I could put my stash to good use. Because I have a lot of them…

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I was a little worried they may not be big enough, but when I compared them to the potato bags, they’re actually quite a bit bigger.

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What you need:

  • Empty 50 lb. feed bag – the kind that is made of a sort of woven plastic-y material
  • Heavy duty thread
  • Heavy material needle
  • Scissors or Rotary cutter

The first step is to cut the bottom off the bag.

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Turn the bag inside out, smooth it out, and stitch across the bottom. I used a double seam to make it stronger. The seams are at 1/4″ and 1/2″ from the edge.

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This is my view while I work. I get distracted by it, so now you get to be distracted by it, too.

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This next step can be a little tricky, and it’s hard to explain. Hopefully, the picture helps. Fold the bottom corners so that the bottom seam lines up with the crease down the side. The bags measure 20″ across, so I am going to make my corner seam 5″ from the corner.

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Again, I did a double seam for strength. The black line is at my 5″ measurement, then the 2 seams are 1/4″ and 1/2″ from that line.

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While you’re at the machine, fold over the top edge 2/12″ and stitch it down. I only say 2 1/2″ because I didn’t want to fold the chick’s head in half, you can fold it over as much as you want. But 2 1/2″ seems to work well. No need to double stitch here.

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Charlie said handles would be helpful. The bags he purchased had little straps sewn onto the sides, which promptly broke the first time he tried to move the bags with soil in them. Along the piece I just folded over, I drew a line 4″ across, on each side of the bag. Feed bags have a fairly sharp seam down each side, so it’s really easy to figure out where to place the line.

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Now, I basically made a giant buttonhole. I had to redo this a couple of times because I tried to use my machine’s buttonhole setting, and it wasn’t big enough. With the machine set to a zig-zag stitch, just go around your line, with the edge of the presser foot running alongside the line. I wanted the stitching to go continuously around the line, for no other reason than I wanted it that way. Since I couldn’t turn the bag to go up the other side of the line, I put the machine in reverse and backed it up the line. (So, in the picture, I sewed down the right side, across the bottom, then backed up the left side, turning again to go across the top.)

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Back to the cutting table. Cut the corners off the bottom, and cut along the line inside the “giant buttonhole” to create the handle. (Yes, my hands got dirty with this project. I saw no reason to rinse out the bag since I was just going to be filling it with dirt.)

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Last step, cut some little holes in the bottom for drainage. The store-bought version has little round holes, but my little diamond shapes were easier to cut out.

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Ta da!!! Bags to plant potatoes in! They’re a little taller and even a little sturdier than the store-bought bags. Charlie’s excited because now we have a place to plant even more different kinds of potatoes. I guess I’ll be making a few more bags.

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Bonus: They only cost the price of the thread!

Double bonus: Feed bags recycled instead of thrown away!!

Small Town Barn Raising

The town of Monroe, WA has a population of nearly 18,000. The neighboring town of Duvall has a population of about 7500. They aren’t teensy-tiny towns, but they are small. Our mailbox is 1/3 of a mile away, it takes 20 minutes to get to the grocery store, and the local newspaper is delivered by mail once a week. We have found social media is very important for getting local news quickly.

There are a few Facebook pages we follow on a regular basis. I compare them to the old fashioned barber shops, where everyone would gather to hear the latest news and gossip. You can get local business referrals, learn what’s going on at the fairgrounds, get updates on what roads are closed because of flooding and, most importantly, learn when a neighbor is in need.

Just last week, a farm in Duvall had a devastating barn fire, losing many of their own animals and animals that were boarded with them. A story about the fire is here:

http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/livestock-killed-barn-fire-near-duvall/nksLk/

The fire was early in the morning, and before the day was over a new Facebook page was set up, volunteers were delivering food and supplies for the surviving animals and meals for the family, local businesses were doing what they could to help, and the community was planning for how to move forward. A GoFundMe page was set up, construction materials collected, and people were organized.

Saturday, less than a week after the fire, neighbors came together to build shelters and support the family. A barn-raising of sorts.  Charlie and I are still “newcomers” and while we would have been happy to help out, we didn’t know about the work day until it was over, but that’s not the point.

The point is that in the 2 short years we’ve been here, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this. When help is needed, a call is put out (usually NOT by the person who needs the help), and the community comes together in support. We have seen families helped following tragic accidents, meals delivered to a neighbor going through cancer treatments, baby clothes collected for new mothers, jobs found for those in need, and daily compassion and support offered to those who need it.

It is so heartwarming, and I feel a little cheesy saying it, but I tear up a little when I see these things happening. In most places it seems people are busy living their own lives, and working hard to take care of things on their own. We don’t ask for help because we don’t want to put anybody out, or maybe we don’t want people to know we need help. Whatever it is, it seems silly now. When I see people coming together, I realize most people would be happy to help if they just knew there was a need.

The lesson: If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. Maybe more importantly, if you think someone needs help, don’t be afraid to offer. Everybody can use a little barn-raising from time to time.

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Garden Cages – Keeping Critters Out

Ever since the strawberries and cantaloupe got nibbled away last year, Charlie has been researching different ways to save his garden from critters. He saw lots of different options, but nothing that was exactly what he was looking for.

We need to keep chickens, deer, rats, mice, birds and squirrels out, while still letting in sun and rain. The idea of netting made the most sense, but we have a pretty darn big garden. Charlie designed these awesome garden cages, using PVC, and they work great!

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What you need:

PVC – 8 pieces for top and bottom (cut 6″ longer than sides of bed), 4 pieces for sides

90 degree Side Outlet Elbow

Snap Clamps (to hold netting to PVC)

Garden Netting

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Our raised beds measure 4′ x 5′, so Charlie cut 4 pieces of pvc to 4 1/2′, and 4 pieces to 5 1/2′. These will make up the top and bottom of the cage. He then cut 4 pieces to 30″ to make the vertical supports. (PVC pipe is sold in 10′ sections, so 5 pieces of pipe will make the cages for this size.)

Place the corner pieces at the ends of one length of PVC, then connect the other length to make the top and bottom frames

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Add the side supports, then connect the top to the bottom.

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Then, wrap the netting around the frame and use the Snap Clamps to attach the netting around the bottom of the frame.

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That’s all there is to it! You can make your cages any size you need. They’re lightweight and easy to move. When it’s time to harvest, the cages can be tipped up on their side to get to the goodies. After growing season they can be stacked out of the way. What we’re going to try early next spring, is wrapping the cages with plastic to make cold frames. If all goes well, it will extend our planting season by several weeks.

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Most of the supplies you need can be found at your local hardware store. Some of it is available at my Amazon Store.  http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

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Toddler Tuesday – Spring!

Oh, my gosh! We’re having so much fun here at Redmon Woods! The sun is shining most days, the grass and flowers are growing, and Raymond and Reta Jean are, too!

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Last year we played under the tree fort, but it was a big job just running herd on the kids. This year, they’re old enough to play and have fun, without us having to worry quite as much about them taking off in opposite directions.

Charlie and I have been hauling in straw bales to use like giant Legos. We started with a simple “troll bridge,” and it’s gradually growing.

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It’s fun to sit on, but it’s even more fun to jump off!

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Papa even likes playing under the tree. I think he was being the troll.

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Raymond started off jumping off the low bale, but in no time he was being a daredevil and taking off from the top.

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Reta Jean tries to jump, too. She did it once on her own, and once with Mommy and brother.

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But most of the time she hangs on and drops down.

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We moved the fairy accessories under the tree, and Reta Jean likes playing with them. She worked very hard to set it up just like she wants it. There is no better dollhouse than a giant old tree!

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Raymond helped with the toys a little bit, but he was more interested in being a king. He’s defending the kingdom from vicious invaders.

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We can also pretend to go fishing, or just dance in the sun speckles.

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When their imaginations get tired, there are always animals to hang out with. Socks doesn’t play much, but he likes to be around the kids.

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 I think Reta Jean will always love the chickens best, but we never know where we’re going to find them. She found them in the alpacas’ hay tub.

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With all the playing, everybody needs to take some time to relax, watch the clouds, and play with the bugs.

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We’re so lucky to have these happy little people in our lives. They take all the fun we’re having, and add just enough giggles to make all the magic come to life.

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Poultry Rotation

Last year, we had chicks in a brooder, then moved them to an enclosed run, then into the big yard. Boom, boom, boom, it was done. After the chickens were in the yard, we got ducks, and started over. This year, we’ve made it a little more complicated. The 3-4 month plan, which started in February, includes laying chickens, laying ducks, meat chickens, and turkeys. In order to get what we want from each of the birds, when we want it, it took a little planning, and quite of bit of rotation. The egg birds are well into their rotation, and we’ll be starting with meat birds this week or next.

The first step was getting pullets, which are female chicks that will be egg-layers. We start with egg-layers because they don’t start laying until about 6 months old. If we wait too long, we’ll be into the shorter winter days, and they’ll only just get started laying when it’s time to stop again. They’re first available in February, when temperatures still drop below freezing. Their first stop is the brooder – a metal tub with bedding and a heat lamp.

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When they’re big enough, the chicks get moved outside to the enclosed run. We keep the run close to the big yard so they get used to seeing the other animals. They stay in the run until they’re big enough to hold their own with the big girls.

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Once the chicks are moved out of the brooder, the ducklings move in.

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The chicks are 8 weeks old now, and big enough to be moved in with the big girls. The ducklings are 3 weeks old, and big enough to move into the run. Ducks grow faster than chickens, and the overnight temperatures also aren’t dropping as low.

When you move chicks, they need to go into lockdown. By closing them into their coop for 3 or 4 days, they learn that this is home and, if all goes well, they will automatically return to the coop each night. Friday, I made sure the coop was ready for them with lots of food and fresh water. I can add food and water while they’re in there, but the longer I can leave them alone the better. Saturday, Charlie and I caught them, and moved them to their new home. I checked on them each day to make sure they were doing OK, and waited until Tuesday to let them out.

I popped open the door and waited. I thought it would take them awhile to decide to come out, but they weren’t shy at all. Within just a few minutes the first chick was venturing out.

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The big girls came over immediately to see what was going on, and soon they were all scratching together. I was afraid there may be some pecking order issues, but nobody had any problems.

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Soon, Spike had to be part of the welcoming committee. He always has to be in the middle of everything! Tajo took advantage of Spike’s curiosity and got an extra helping of grain.

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The chicks made themselves at home in their new yard.

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While everyone was enjoying the beautiful day, I got to work cleaning out the coop. The common advice is to not do a real good cleaning during the winter. The bedding, food and poop which drop on the floor help to insulate the coop and keep it warmer. That’s a WHOLE LOT of crap to clean up off the floor, but with help from the girls I got it done pretty quickly.

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The ducks are now moved to the run, complete with their own private swimming pool.

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I also decided Criss Cross needs some roommates in her condo, so two little bantam chicks have joined the ranks. Raymond and Reta Jean picked them out and named them. The dark one is Cheekle, and the light one is Fif.

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Turkeys take 6 months to mature, so they’ll be next into the brooder. That way, they’ll be ready to go in time for the holidays. When the ducks move into the big yard, the turkeys will move into the run, and it will be time to get meat chickens. Meat chickens only take 4 months to mature, so they’ll be ready to process around September.

Simple, right? It’s a good thing Charlie can keep the timing straight.

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Chick 911

Reta Jean got to pick out her very own chick this year. (Raymond could have picked one out, but he didn’t want to.) She picked out a little light-colored fluffy one, and checked on her and held her every time she came to visit. She’s the little fluff ball on the right.

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It didn’t take long for us to see the little chick had a little problem. She has a condition we learned is called “scissor beak.” Her upper and lower beaks don’t align, making it a little more difficult for her to eat. Her name soon became Criss Cross, and Reta Jean continued to check in on her chick every visit, never noticing there may be a problem.

We were told that Criss Cross’s condition wouldn’t necessarily prevent her from having a long life, but we would have to keep an eye on her. She was a feisty little fuzzball. She would play with the others and drink water regularly. She could eat, but would have to stick her head all the way into the feeder to get it into her mouth. She didn’t seem to mind, she just did what she had to do.

When we moved the chicks outside, they were all about the same size. Criss Cross hung in there with the rest of them for nearly 3 weeks. At feeding time, she usually jumped over the others to get to food first, and was always scampering around and enjoying the outdoors.

We noticed a few days ago that she was noticeably smaller than the others. At feeding time she was more likely to get trampled than get to the food first. Her neck feathers were getting worn off from sticking her head all the way into the feeder. I started spreading the feed out on the ground, hoping to spread out the stampede, and give Criss Cross the opportunity to scoop food up off the ground. It wasn’t working, and Friday she was really not doing well and we thought we would lose her.

We’ve lost chickens to predators, it’s part of farm life. But this is Reta Jean’s chick. We’ve been watching, and one of the others looks an awful lot like Criss Cross, so we could probably just tell her that one is hers and she would never know the difference. She’s only 2, after all. Charlie couldn’t just let that happen.

Friday evening we brought her inside and put her in a box with her own food and water. We weren’t expecting much, but within an hour she had eaten, had some water, and had jumped out of her box. We moved her into a cat carrier for the night, to keep her from escaping. Saturday morning she was at the front of the carrier, cheeping as loudly as she could, demanding food.

Saturday afternoon we moved her into her very own “condo.” We didn’t want her to be lonely or scared, and we had just moved all the other chicks into the big girl coop, so we put the new condo right by the fence. Since the other girls will have buckets for nesting, we gave Criss Cross one of her own.

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It didn’t take long for the others to come see what was going on, and pretty soon everybody was welcoming her to the neighborhood.

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As Criss Cross gets older, she may be able to join the others, but that may never happen. I still worry about her being lonely, so we’ll be getting her a bantam chick for a roommate. As long as she’s feisty and enjoying life, we’ll do what we can to give her a good life.

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Berries + Eggs = Angel Food Cake

Chickens take a little break during the winter, laying very few eggs. One of the exciting things about spring is the eggs start coming again. Within a few weeks the hens are ALL laying again, and in no time, we’re up to our eyeballs in eggs.

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The other thing that happens is berries! There aren’t a lot on the local vines, yet, but there are plenty at the store. The family loves jam, pie and cobbler. This year I’m adding something new.

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Angel food cake! A few weeks ago Charlie asked if I had ever baked an angel food cake. Was he kidding? No! Way too hard. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks this) I actually had no idea what was involved in angel food cake, but something from my memory said I KNEW they were hard. Then Charlie tells me it was one of his favorites as a kid. Oh. That changes things. Maybe it’s something I can figure out. One direction at a time, one step at a time, I decided I’d give it my best shot.

It doesn’t exactly meet my “super-easy” criteria, but it’s nowhere near as complicated as I thought it would be. And it uses a LOT of eggs. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups egg whites (10 to 12 large – yep, that many)

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 cup sifted cake or all-purpose flour
Directions
  1. In a very large mixing bowl allow egg whites to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, sift powdered sugar and flour together 3 times; set aside.
  2. Add cream of tartar and vanilla to egg whites. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually add granulated sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight) .
  3. Sift about one-fourth of the flour mixture over beaten egg whites; fold in gently. (If bowl is too full, transfer to a larger bowl.) Repeat, folding in remaining flour mixture by fourths. Pour into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Gently run knife or spatula through batter to remove any air bubbles
  4. Bake on the lowest rack in a 350 degree F oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched. Immediately invert cake (leave in pan); cool thoroughly. Loosen sides from pan to remove.

Now, for some tips:

It really does take 10-12 eggs.  I use eggs fresh from the backyard, and the yolks break very easily. That’s a lot of eggs to mess up if some yolk gets past you. I separate egg whites into a small bowl, then transfer them to the big bowl one at a time. To me, separating the eggs is the most time-consuming part. The rest is easy.

The “stiff peaks” seemed open to interpretation. I know if you whip egg whites too long, you ruin the whole thing, and I didn’t want to do that. Really, I didn’t want to have to separate another dozen egg whites. I stop beating when the egg whites hold the lumps made from the mixer. Or, stick with “stiff peaks.” That works, too.

I thought sifting the flour and powdered sugar THREE times was a little overkill, but I figured there was a reason, so I did it. Angel food cake is basically meringue with flour and sugar added. When you’re mixing the flour/sugar mixture into the egg whites, you don’t want to overmix. By sifting ahead of time, the flour and powdered sugar mix in smoothly, with no bumps to worry about.

Getting the cake out of the darn pan is harder than I thought. I run a butter knife around the inner edge once, but the outer edge takes a couple of rounds. The farther down you can get the knife into the pan, the easier that cake will come out.

The cake barely rises at all, so don’t worry about the batter filling the pan all the way to the top.

Charlie likes a mix of black berries, raspberries and blue berries, so that’s what he gets. And, of course, whipped cream. Yum!

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