Bluemoon

Blue Moon

I’m either getting smarter, braver, or completely hopeless.

The local coyotes have been partying in the full moon, in the back pasture. We’re on about day 4 of the yipping and howling, and most of the animals are ignoring them now. Then, last night, everybody went nuts!

The alpacas were alerting, the dogs started barking, the ducks and chickens were rioting. Learning from past experience, I put my shoes on and grabbed Charlie’s big Maglite before heading out to check on things. Peanut took off toward the howling while I investigated the animal yard. With the arrival of backup (me and Peanut) the animals had calmed down, and there was nothing there that didn’t belong.

I could hear Peanut, in the distance, chasing off the coyotes, and it sounded like they were running off. Then I realized I was hearing Peanut off in the distance, but I was hearing rustling to the right, in the pasture. I scanned with the flashlight, but didn’t see anything, so I had to trek around the fence to get closer to the pasture. Oh, great! Eyes.

I call to Peanut, and the eyes don’t move. She’s still off chasing the coyotes. As I move the flashlight, it picks up several sets of eyes. I make some loud noises, but the eyes stay put.

Coyotes here are pretty skittish. If you get close, they run off. I’ve had midnight run-ins with deer, but these eyes were much closer to the ground. There have been local reports of bears and mountain lions, so I can’t just go back inside and hope for the best.

My only choice is to head down the back path. During the day, this is a nice shady path, winding through trees and fern. In the middle of the night it turns into something from Sleepy Hollow. Especially knowing there are going to be eyes at the end of the path. Lots of eyes.

I debate heading back to the house and getting Charlie and his gun, but I have the big flashlight. I’m good. No headless horsemen jump out at me. Now I just have to find out what these eyes belong to.

I scan over the fence with the flashlight and pick up the eyes again. I also pick up a large black shape. Uh oh. Maybe I should have gotten Charlie. The grass is rustling, and I can hear Peanut’s tags clinking in the distance. Now I’m worried that she’s going to head back and take on this big bear. I continue to scan the pasture to make sure Peanut is safe and I come across another set of eyes. These eyes are attached to a large brown shape.

OK, this doesn’t make sense. I’ve never head of brown bears and black bears hanging out together. I move in a little closer and realize there are a dozen sets of eyes looking back at me.

Really? The neighbor’s cows have been moved into the back pasture! This happens for about 2 weeks each summer, as their main pastures regrow grass. The noises I’ve been hearing are these darn cows, laying around under the tree, chewing their cud.

I know the coyotes are no real threat to Peanut, and the cows are no threat to anybody.  I can pack it in and go back to bed. We have just a few more nights of the full moon. Then we can all sleep through the night again.

Done

Pressure Canning, Take 1 – Green Beans

Nothing exploded! Before I try any of these new farm things, I research them to death. I don’t want to get into the middle of something and realize I’ve missed an important piece of information. Usually, by the time I take the leap, I’m pretty confident nothing serious will go wrong.

Pressure canning is a different thing, altogether. The more I researched the worse it got. If so many people are talking about exploding pressure canners, there must be something to it. Right? For this project I researched even more than usual. People who have been pressure canning for years have said over and over, if you follow the canner directions, you shouldn’t have any trouble. OK, well, I can follow directions, so time to take this on!

A few days ago, Charlie and I realized the green bean vines were loaded. So, today after animal chores, I picked 5 pounds of beans – and that was just the green beans growing outside the fence. There are even more inside the garden and I’ll get around to those.

Green bean vines  Fresh Picked

After picking the green beans, I then had to trim and cut them into 2 inch pieces. I got comfy on the couch and got to work. This part takes over an hour, and I’m thinking if I mess something up, this is a whole lot of work for nothing. Guess I better not mess up.

Ready to trim      Leftovers

Once the green beans were all trimmed, I had to boil the jars and lids. Since it takes forever for the darn pot to boil, I took a little break and shared the green bean bits with the animals. As usual, Spike was all over it. The chickens were willing to give them a try, but weren’t real fans.Snack time

Back to work! The jars, lids and green beans all get boiled. Then it’s time to put them all together. So far, so good. Up to this point, it’s just like regular canning. Every time I have to stop and wait for something to boil, I’m re-reading the pressure canner instructions. They seem pretty easy, but maybe I’m missing something really important.

Jar prep   Boiling Beans  LoadedI add the liquid, seal up the jars, and pop them into the canner. Based on the numbers in the canning book, I thought I would be canning 6 pints, but I ended up with 12. That made me feel even better. That’s a lot of green beans, done all at once.

The canner has a lid that slides into place, then there are 6 screws that tighten down to keep the lid on. The directions said to bring the pressure up to 10 pounds, so that’s what I did. Easy peasy. You put the little jiggly weight thingy on, and the pressure does what it’s supposed to do.  Every little noise I heard, I was expecting the whole thing to blow up. It never happened.

Ready for takeoff  Pressure on

Once the time was up, I let the canner pressure decrease by itself, just like the directions say. Taking the lid off was probably the scariest part. We had a family friend when I was a kid, and he opened an overheated car radiator. It blew up all over his face and burned him badly. I had images of this in my head as I unscrewed and turned the lid. Yeah, nothing. It opened. No problem.

I’m putting pressure canning into the “Way easier than I thought it would be” category. The entire process – from picking the beans to taking the jars out of the canner – took about 5 hours. Totally easy, and totally worth it. Now that I’ve conquered the pressure canner, I can’t wait to see what else I can can.

Done

Cake

Blueberry Upside Down Cake

In the past week, our hens have given us 106 eggs. Yes, ONE HUNDRED and SIX. And that doesn’t count the duck eggs. As a result, I’ve spent some time looking for recipes using a LOT of eggs. Scrambled eggs, omelets, quiche, frittatas, egg salad, deviled eggs, etc., I’ve heard over and over again. Those work, but really you can only eat so many things that taste like eggs. Charlie likes angel food cake, so I’ve made quite a few of those. Macaroons use egg whites, but only 4. That’s barely a dent.

eggs

I heard about a recipe for a 10-egg Pound Cake. When I looked up the recipe, it looked more like it would be a 10-pound Egg Cake. I read, “1 pound, or 10 eggs. 1 pound shortening,” and I was done. The thought of a pound of shortening just seems really wrong. But I felt like I was on the right track.

I found a recipe for pound cake that called for 6 eggs, and that sounded about right. We bought blueberries a the farmer’s market, and I wanted to use them. I didn’t find a recipe for blueberry pound cake, because I didn’t look. How hard could it be?

Here’s the recipe I used from allrecipes.com:

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups butter
6 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups white sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
Directions:
1. Grease and flour a tube or Bundt pan. Do not preheat oven.
2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well each time. add vanilla.
4. Add flour mixture alternately with milk. Beat until smooth. Pour batter into tube or Bundt pan.
5. Place cake into cold oven, set the temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and bake for 60 to 90 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.
6. Top with confectioners sugar or glaze.

Batter

Glaze:

  1. 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  2. 3/4 cup lemon juice

Place sugar in bowl. Add lemon juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, until glaze is desired consistency.

Here’s what I did differently:

I replaced the vanilla with lemon extract and added 2 cups of blueberries.

I knew 2 cups was a lot of blueberries, but we really like blueberries. It only took an hour to bake, and it got huge. I guess the 2 cup of blueberries was a lot.

Baked

Once it cooled, I sliced the excess of the top and the kids and I snacked on it. It took several tries to get the darn thing out of the pan, and once it came out I knew why. All the blueberries sank to the bottom. All the blueberries. All the way to the bottom. I didn’t take a picture of the whole cake because it had chunks of blueberry missing. When I make this again, I’ll bake it in a regular round pan. The lemon cake and the lemon glaze, combined with the blueberries came out really nice. All in all, yummy! Even better, that’s SIX eggs in one shot.

Cake

 

old pic2

Pageant Days

Once upon a time there was a little girl…

Reta Jean just knew she was meant to be a princess. She loves all things pink and sparkly. Her mom and dad let me sign her up for a natural pageant, and she was ready to show her stuff.

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The entry forms included questions about her favorite things and hobbies. Reta Jean’s favorite foods are marshmallows and ice cream, and her hobbies are dancing, jiu jitsu and working in the garden with papa. She also likes to cut her own hair. Which she did just  2 weeks before the pageant. A big chunk on the top of her head. Right against her scalp. In retrospect, none of these things sound very princess-y, but Reta Jean wanted to be a princess, so we did what we could to make it happen.

While waiting for the pageant to start, Reta Jean didn’t want to hang out in the dressing room with the girls. She came out to the auditorium and immediately started practicing her jiu jitsu on the mats hanging on the wall. Dad got her to stop beating up the walls, and she decided to dance instead. Did I mention her favorite TV show is “So You Think You Can Dance”? Yep, and her favorite style, right now, is break dancing. Everybody else may think she’s rolling around on the floor, but she’s DANCING! Before heading back to the dressing room, she finally showed me her “pretty feet” pose. She’s been practicing, and is quite good at it, for as long as she can stand still.

jiujitsu2

break dancing2

pretty feet2

For the opening number, all the girls criss-crossed on the stage to their spots, then all they had to do was stand still and smile. I tried to get a picture of Reta Jean standing still, but that just doesn’t happen. She was so happy that things were finally starting, she kept dancing and waving.

on stage2

Then, it was back to the dressing room to get ready for the beauty portion. Mom and I helped, but Reta Jean picked out everything she was going to wear. She loves her pretty pink dress and fancy white shoes.  Mom tried to cover her almost-bald spot with a head band, but it just didn’t work. It was better to just let her wear it down and let the short spot blend in. In reality, it just made her hair look a bit thinner. She’d be on the stage and the judges probably wouldn’t see the top of her head anyway. Hopefully.

Singing2

We had our hands full keeping her off the stage before it was her turn. We let her walk around the hall to keep her occupied and barely dodged a meltdown. She REALLY wanted her turn on stage.

To the stage2

It’s always hard to get pictures of Reta Jean because she is in perpetual motion. It seems like even when she’s still, she’s “vibrating.” Whirling dervish, Tasmanian Devil, Hurricane Reta. Those all suit her just fine. Walking slowly for the judges? Not so much. She hopped onto the stage and introduced herself. “I’m Reta Jean. I’m 3. Oh, I’m 2.” And she was off!

Introductions2

She skipped to her first mark, then monster walked to her second. The slow turn at the front mark? That turned into a dance spin with Mom.

turn2

For her exit, we had practiced blowing a kiss and waving with two hands. Apparently, that wasn’t enough to capture how excited she was. She jumped up and down, blew multiple kisses, and had to be coaxed off the stage by Mom, while she continued to wave at everybody. We just knew she was going to win for Best Personality, if nothing else.

Blowing kisses2

Once Beauty was over, we watched the exiting queens, and had one more of many “10 minute” breaks, while we waited for crowning. She rested with some cookies while the exiting queens were presented, then couldn’t be still another minute. She was off and running around the back of the auditorium with the boys.

applause2running

Once the stage was available, she was right back up there. There were stage lights to check out, dance moves to practice, and excitement to burn off. No sitting quietly with Mom and Dad for our Reta Jean.

Stage lights2

stage2

blur2

Finally, it was time for crowning. Fortunately, her group was first. This is when we learned they had a category for “Best Poise,” not “Best Personality.” No shot there. The kid has no fear and no inhibitions. And, apparently, no poise. And that’s perfectly OK.

She won a Princess tiara and participation trophy. And…ready for this? Best Hair! I agree! Even with a chunk missing, there’s no beating her fabulous curls. She was hot, sweaty and exhausted, and THRILLED with her awards.

trophy2awards2While Reta Jean had a wonderful time at her first pageant, I don’t think the pageant world is ready for her. Pageant girls are beautiful and well-behaved. And still. And poised. If they had categories for Best Laugh or Most Sparkly Personality or Bounciest, Reta Jean would be a shoo in. Like so many wonderful little girls, Reta Jean is a sparkly peg, and will never be contained in a round hole.

I have no doubt she’ll find her stage someday. And she’s going to fill it with love and magic and sparkles. Because she’s Reta Jean.

loves the stage2

 

Rabbit Trio

Down the Rabbit Hole

I’m struggling with our rabbit endeavor, but we’re doing it, so I’m sharing it. Charlie has been researching raising meat rabbits for months. He’s checked out breeds, housing, feed, breeding schedules, butchering and processing their pelts. It seems like there’s a lot to it, but when he explains it, it sounds pretty simple.

There are several different meat breeds and the selection seems to come down to size. More importantly is the “meat-bone ratio.” If you have a big rabbit, and it’s all heavy bone, that’s not so great if you’re raising for meat. Charlie selected Champagne d’Argent rabbits. They’re known to be sturdy and have a good meat-bone ration, so you’re getting a good amount of meat for your efforts. The breeder Charlie bought them from says her rabbits don’t bite or scratch. I’ll have to take her word for it because I’m still afraid of rabbits.

Loaded up

Once he decided on a breed, he had to figure out housing. Rabbits don’t take a lot of space, but if you’re going to be breeding, you want to keep the bucks and does separated until you’re ready for kits. (You see how I used rabbit terminology there? Bucks = male, Does = female, Kits = babies). After looking at tons of different cage styles and set ups Charlie felt the 3 story cages would work best for him. Before picking up the rabbits, he made sure their home was all ready for them. Cage, water, feed, and little mats that they like to stand on.

Charlie and cages

Rabbits breed like rabbits, so there’s a little planning involved in scheduling. Rabbit gestation is 28-31 days, and a litter can be expected to be 8-10 kits. Butchering happens at about 11 weeks. The does can be re-bred the day after birth, but that seems harsh and unnecessary. Charlie will be re-breeding every 3-4 months. The standard home-breeding set up is 1 buck and 2 does, so there should be a new litter about every other month.New Home

I wanted to have names for the rabbits, so I would know who we were talking about. I call the buck Bucky, the junior doe is called Junior, and the youngest doe is called Kit. Pretty clever, right? So, here’s the rundown of how the scheduling works:

  • If Bucky and Junior are bred September 1, as planned, their kits will be born by October 1.
  • Bucky and Kit will be bred around November 1, with kits then due around December 1.
  • Junior’s kits will be butchered around January 1, and Junior will be re-bred to Bucky around the same time.
  • Kit’s kits will be butchered around March 1, at which point Kit and Bucky will be rebred.

Following this schedule, we should have fresh rabbit every other month, once they get going. None of the other bunny rabbits will be named, and Charlie will be in charge of caring for all of them. I almost cried when we were bringing the trio home. I don’t imagine I’ll do very well when it comes to butchering. I may or may not get over it. Everybody says rabbit is delicious, so I’ll just have to go through life believing the bunny fairy is delivering them to my freezer. I’ll post updates about butchering, pelts and recipes, but don’t expect a lot of pictures or details. I plan on going to the movies on the yucky days.

Since I’m such a wimp about it, we’re trying to make sure the grandkids are better farmers than Gabba. We introduced Raymond and Reta Jean to the rabbits and told them we’d be eating the babies. Reta Jean’s response was, “Yummy!” I think they’ll do just fine.

Kids meeting bunny

If you’re interested in raising rabbits, you can find the books Charlie has used at my Amazon store.  http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20

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Happy Birthday, Raymond!

I’m not unpatriotic, but the 4th of July has never been my favorite holiday. With summer temps in the desert reaching 120 (with lows only getting down to the mid 80s), sitting on the ground in a park, on dead, itchy grass, sweating and waiting for fireworks will never be my idea of a good time. A couple of times we climbed up on our roof with the kids to see the fireworks, but it turns out I’m deathly afraid of going DOWN a ladder.

July 4, 2011 changed my attitude because that’s Raymond’s birthday! We celebrated his first birthday in the desert, but his last 3 have been spent here in Washington. Cool temperatures, legal fireworks, and a toddler’s birthday combine to make a day about as fun as it can get.

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Nobody can quite figure out why, but Raymond really wanted an Avengers birthday party. He’s never seen the movies, or even read the comics, so I guess kudos go to the Avengers marketing people. Raymond may thing Captain America is actually called Agent California, but he loves him just the same.

Raymond was given the choice of a fancy Avengers cake from the bakery, or a homemade cake from Gabba, with fresh strawberries that the two of us picked. He picked me! I can’t tell you how happy that made me. Now, all I had to do was find Avengers cake decorations. For the record, there are NONE in the town of Monroe. If I’d known it would be impossible to walk into a store and buy decorations, I would have scoped out the internet much earlier. As it was, I had to fake it a little. Enter, cookie cutters and colored sugar.

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Little fingers were immediately stuck in the icing, and Raymond loved his Avengers cake. To me, that’s all that matters.

Tori was off work, PJ had a surprise day off, and Joe’s sister Tonya and her son Elijah have moved to Monroe. That meant a house full of kids! The temperatures hit the 90s, so we spent the day playing in the water. Reta Jean and PJ are definitely the water babies. PJ is also, officially, the kids’ favorite playmate.

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Once it cooled off, it was time for the pinata. Even though I grew up, and my kids grew up, in Southern California, we have never had a pinata. Because one of Raymond’s favorite things to do is swing sticks at the branches of trees, it seemed like a pinata was a must.  Reta Jean was worn out from all the water fun, but Raymond and Elijah had fun beating up the Avengers (once Raymond opened up his gift of a t-ball bat).

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Carly took on a Pinterest challenge and made a marshmallow and strawberry shield. There are no good pictures because it was attacked as soon as it hit the table. At some point, somebody said, “chocolate syrup” and that was the end of the shield. The kids really didn’t appreciate that the adults moved in on their treats, and Reta Jean made sure she stuck around for the very last bite.

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Somewhere in there I know dinner was served, but I needed a nap, too. Birthday cake and fireworks were still to come, and I for sure wasn’t going to miss that. It took a few tries, but Raymond got his candles blown out all by himself.

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By the time it was dark enough for fireworks, the temperatures had finally dropped. Because of the lack of rain this year, we stuck with small fireworks and big buckets of water. I love getting to sit in our own backyard, in a chair, wearing a sweater, and watching fireworks with the kids. Raymond snuggled down with Mama, under his new Avengers blanket, and enjoyed the show.

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