December 26, 2010

Merry day after Christmas! Joe and I returned on Christmas Eve from a week long visit to friends and family in Va Beach. Many people take vacations to get away from people and just spend some time by themselves. Joe and I take reverse vacations and take some time away from ourselves to spend time with people. :) Joe had every single waking moment we were there booked with a social engagement. It is very important to him to spend some quality time with all his Va Beach family and friends. I didn't have quite as packed a schedule as he did because he likes one-on-one conversations, and that makes me a third-wheel. He did, however, make it a point not to leave me alone for more than 2-4 hours each day. I was never bored or lonely, though, as we were staying with his aunt and uncle and three cousins, ages 4-14. There was always someone around to play with me, and let's just say I got quite proficient at Strawberry Shortcake Memory. All in all, it was a wonderful trip with wonderful people and even a week was not enough time to see everyone we would have liked to see.

We had left the mountains behind with snow on the ground, and came back to find a fair amount of bare ground and many areas of solid, thick ice! We had barely made it home when a snowstorm that I had heard was bringing "less than an inch of possible accumulation" dumped, and is dumping, 5-6 inches and counting of beautiful, fluffy snow. Of course, all of this is landing on top of the patches of ice I just mentioned, and throughout the course of hiking to our car and back, caring for animals, hitting up the outhouse, etc., wipeouts are becoming increasingly common. Tis the season for YakTrax! The irony is that I had my first wipeout while searching for where I had stashed the YakTrax this summer, back when it seemed a preposterous notion that they'd ever be used again. :) Even with YakTrax, extreme caution is needed, as Joe's mom learned first hand when she was hiking down from her cabin to spend Christmas morning with us.

One of our chickens died while we were gone, one of my favorites. :( There was no apparent cause of death, just one of those mysterious poultry die-offs. The chickens are not steeping foot out of the coop these days (the guineas are a little more adventurous), and I'm worrying about how to keep them healthy when they're not getting any green stuff or sunlight in their diet. I sneaked some apple cider vinegar in their water this morning, and I'm thinking about trying a recipe for some garlic infused olive oil coated bird seed as an immune booster.

I'm not sure what to do with the carcass as it's too frozen to dig even a shallow grave. I was too attached to this chicken to be comfortable just tossing her in the woods to be dragged back by Wilson as a Christmas chew toy. Hmmm, maybe the compost pile?? Oh the conundrums winter brings.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas doing whatever it is that brings joy to your heart (within appropriate legal boundaries of course). I've already decided that I'm leaving my decorations up for at least a couple more months. Joe has determined to limit his sugar intake for a little while, which just means more holiday treats for me! Life is good. :)

December 17, 2010

Winter wonderland

I woke yesterday morning to the delightful hush of falling snow. I love snowy days! I had just fixed myself a large cup of tea and settled in with a magazine, when Joe came bounding in from his morning mediations in the outhouse. (Note: Joe really does meditate in the outhouse, this is not a joke.) He asked what my plans for the day were, and I described to him a most delicious day of watching movies, beading, reading, etc. His plans, however, began with a hike to the waterfall. Did I want to come too??!! Hmmm…hiking miles through the woods in fresh snow and snow/sleet showers was hardly in line with my idea of a lazy snowy day…but it would be beautiful!

So, somehow I let Joe's enthusiasm win me over, and we bundled up for a hike to the waterfall. If we head out the eastern corner of our yard and continue down to the creek, within several miles of following the creek downstream through uninhabited woods, we end up at the top of an impressive waterfall. It can be a difficult hike at times as there is no real trail, and often the easiest way to travel is in the creek itself. We had the advantage of more than a week of temperatures that didn't top the mid-20's, so the creek, for the most part, was a solid sheet of ice. Just because ice is strong enough to support your weight, however, does not mean that it cares whether or not your weight is on your feet! I had at least one full wipeout, and we both had many close calls.

Here are a few photos from our snowy adventure.

About halfway to the waterfall, there's the ruins of an old homestead. It's been a long time since there was a fire in this fireplace!

Except for the first trek down to the creek, the hike crosses several people's property. At one point, we came across signs of someone else marking the trail. We decided to appreciate the guidance and ignore the subliminal message. Joe and I are shameless, but harmless, trespassers. We take only pictures and leave only footprints. :)

Joe stopping for an icy cold sip an unfrozen pool. Although we could walk on most of the creek, there are deeper pools that were free of ice, and we could hear the water rushing and gurgling underneath the whole way. Pretty cool!

Wilson was one big beagle icicle and appreciated Joe sharing his coveralls for a few minutes. Like me, he had initially planned on a lazy day by the woodstove, warm and cozy. How did he get suckered into this!

And here it is, Stiles Falls! The cold and snow had turned the falls into terraces of snow covered ice. I know this photo is anticlimactic, but there was no way I was risking life and limb to climb down these rocks and take a photo from the bottom, a venture that is dangerous enough sans ice! These falls are named after someone who died falling down them, and I had no desire to see them renamed "Wareing Falls".

So, my relaxing snow day had a four hour intermission of serious, cold exercise, but it was well worth it, and made the woodstove all that more enjoyable when we returned. :)

December 15, 2010

When the weather outside is frightful, and it sure has been these last couple of weeks, find yourself a snuggly warm baby to cuddle up with! That's exactly what my friend Kerri and I did last weekend. We headed up to Fredericksburg to have some quality bonding time with little Ruby Denise and her 9-mo-old big brother Logan. It was a whirlwind trip, but well worth it.

Although it is still officially fall for a few more days, the balmy autumn weather is but a distant memory at this point. We're back to the winter puzzle of keeping water available in liquid form for all the various carbon based lifeforms that need it. I carry a pitcher full of near boiling water out to the chickens everyday and combine it with some snow or ice chunks to bring it down to a drinkable temperature. The other day one of the young chickens got a little antsy and tried to drink straight from the pitcher of hot water. That was one shocked chicken! The chickens have taken a total vacation from egg laying and are hardly sticking a toe out of the coop these days. I'm sure the guineas are regretting ever leaving Africa, and the chickens are wishing they could return to their ancestral, jungle fowl roots. Wilson and Foxy, as they snuggle in their blankets by the woodstove, seem pretty content with their ancestors' decision to link up with humans.

Joe and I are headed to the beach for a week come Saturday for some quality, holiday time with the Wareing's et al. This sounds like a delightful escape from the cold, but we're only going to Va Beach, pretty much due east and not much warmer. Oh well, even ten extra degrees will feel luxurious, but we'll probably leave the bathing suits at home.

December 08, 2010

Winter is here! It has been so cold, even the bugs are huddling together for warmth. I found these ladybugs hiding in a crevice of our siding behind the front porch woodpile. We've had our first snow of three inches or so and arctic, windy temperatures that have kept the snow on the ground, and the roads in our area, for days now.

This cold, snowy weather has thrown a temporary wrench into our yurt construction plans. We did managed to get all of the posts set and marked off just before the snow hit, and all the materials are in place for building the deck when the snow melts and the sun shines again.

Speaking of the yurt and icy weather, Joe retrieved this slab of ice out of the upturned plexiglass dome that will be the skylight at the very top of the yurt.

Lately it feels like I've only been at my house long enough to sleep, eat breakfast and hit the road again first thing in the morning. I'm really looking forward to that whole winter down-time thing to kick in. I did manage to find time to get my "Christmas window" decorated. It makes me so happy. I've even forgiven Joe for being in the house for an hour and a half before he noticed the decorations.

December 01, 2010

Ruby Denise

Long before the sun came up on Sunday morning (Nov 28), I was on my way to Fredericksburg, VA to witness and support in whatever way I could the birth of my new niece, Ruby Denise. My sister, Lauralee, had a whole slew of attendants at her home birth (including three very capable midwives), but in the end none of us could do the really hard work for her, and hard work it was! After almost 28 hours of labor, the final four of which were serious pushing, Ruby Denise (her gender had been a surprise to the very end) finally made her grand appearance, weighing in at a whopping 9 lbs 10 oz. No wonder getting her out of there took so much effort!

Although the delivery was long and arduous, all went smoothly and Ruby is as perfect as can be. She jumped right into nursing like an old pro. The only major glitches in the process were a bladder that refused to be emptied, a birthing pool whose only apparent purpose was to provide a large obstacle in the center of the birthing room, a rug that refused to lay flat (fixed with some duct tape) and a squeaky, dust covered fan (fixed with some WD-40 of course). Although the birthing pool ended up not being used, it was a water birth regardless since the delivery took place on a water bed, not the ideal surface it turns out.

Here are a couple of pictures of the new addition.

Lauralee won't be running any marathons any time soon. :)

Explaining the concept of little sisters to Logan.

November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! This day has been an interesting mix of exciting and melancholy for me. I love traditions and the comforting consistency they bring, and my family has a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition. Every year for a very long time we've been going to Atlanta to my mom's parents and having the classic feast with a HUGE crowd of aunt, uncles, grandparents, great grandparents, great aunts and uncles and more first and second cousins than you can shake a stick at! This year, however, due to the fact that my sister Lauralee is working very hard to add another cousin to the mix any moment now (one week overdue and counting!!!), my immediate family canceled travel plans in order to be able to attend to the impending baby and new mother-to-be. So, for various and a sundry (sp?) reasons, I did not have a single sibling at my Thanksgiving meal today.

While it was sad to break from the tradition, it was exciting to try something all new. This year's crowd, held on my own stomping grounds, included my dad and grandparents (his parents), Joe's aunt and uncle and a whole family of local Floyd-ian friends. The food was just as delicious as ever, and the company was heart warming. We had at least three musicians in the bunch, so we ended with them passing the guitar around and sharing some songs with us all. Now everyone has gone home, and I have my own little cabin to return home to, with a fire crackling in the woodstove, and some of my favorite creatures on two and four legs waiting for me. I have oh so much to be thankful for. The refrain from one of the songs my dad sang has been a resounding echo in my head - "It is well, it is well with my soul."

Now Lauralee, start having that baby!!!!

November 19, 2010

I spent about an hour the other day on a blogpost, and in the end I abandoned it. In my mind it was going to be pretty funny, mostly about chickens, and slightly philosophical. Somehow it came out barely funny, mostly about people, and heavy on the philosophy. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

At the moment Joe and I are in Virginia Beach to attend his cousin's wedding. Every three to four years one of these dress-up events comes along and totally throws me for a loop. It's always the shoes that get me. I have my really nasty work boots, my decent pair of work boots, my nice pair of hiking boots and my rain boots. (That's maybe an exaggeration, but only a slight one.) After wrestling with the idea of going and buying a whole new outfit from the ground up, I remembered that many years ago my mother bought me a pair of nice, general purpose dress shoes. At the time I thought it a silly purchase, but she insisted that "You need at least one nice pair of shoes." She was right! I had to go dig them out of a plastic tote in our rickety little, mice infested storage shed, but they're still in great shape, and they still fit. That takes care of my outfit, however Joe is still convinced that he can find the perfect tie to go with his homemade duck/brush pants.

November 12, 2010

It's a Small World After All

Warning: The following story has been known to cause a certain Disney song to loop incessantly through one's subconscious.

Wednesday night, Joe and I met my parents in Christiansburg for dinner. After our meal, we were by the front entrance to the restaurant saying our goodbyes when a waitress came up to me and asked me where I got my hoodie. (There were a few moments of confusion because I thought she had asked me where I got my honey, the irony being that my parents were off to the beekeepers meeting. I wasn't sure if she had overheard our conversation and was interested in beekeeping or if she was looking to find herself a guy like Joe.) I was sporting a Wareing's Gym sweatshirt, and explained to her that my husband's family owned a gym in Virginia Beach. At that point, a guy sitting nearby at the bar spoke up and said "Hey man, we're kin!". The stranger's grandfather and Joe's grandfather were brothers, making them second cousins (trust me on this one)! He grew up in this area and still lives here, so we're looking forward to getting to know the local branch of the Wareing family.

We had a great time in Washington DC last week. Aside from being swept into the middle of a four-way girl fight in an inner city DC school, we mostly managed to stay out of trouble. :) Back home on the ranch, I'm finding myself in a weird state of limbo. I have this feeling like I'm an actor in a play that is between scenes or in the middle of a set change. I'm backstage, fiddling around, not quite sure what I should be doing until someone calls "Action!" again. I spent some time today dismantling the garden, pulling up frost bitten peppers and tomatoes. The garden paths were littered with tomatoes, ground cherries and peppers that had been rendered squishy and inedible by freezing temperatures, and this made for a VERY messy weedeating experience. I tried raking them up first, but overripe tomatoes don't rake very well. :(

The yurt project is still in motion, albeit slow motion. There are signs that we may resume activity soon. We've gotten a quote for the deck/platform materials, although we haven't actually placed the order yet. Now, if I could just find a way to switch Joe's attention from firewood to setting posts...

October 31, 2010

Rally Recap

Here are a few photo highlights from the "Rally to Restore Sanity" in Washington DC yesterday. We had a lot of fun. As Joe put it, it's nice to encounter such a large swath of humanity every so often. We both love people watching, and this was certainly a good gig for it. I know there's always controversy about how many people attend these things, and I won't even begin to argue for a specific number. All I can say is it was ALOT of people! The entire journey from the Metro to the Mall and back again was accomplished in very cramped baby steps amidst a throng of people.

The masses emerge from underground!!

An arms length aerial view of the people in front of me.

An arms length aerial view of the people behind me. Start counting and let me know what you come up with. :)

With my camera on full zoom, I was able to get this shot of Jon Stewart on the closest screen to us, even that barely visible to the naked eye. After a few rounds of chanting "Louder, louder!" they turned the volume up enough that we could sort of hear what was going on.

Joe said I couldn't post this picture on Facebook, but he didn't say anything about the blog. :)

Some incredibly sane horses.

Some incredibly sane horses, rear view.

Ahh, back to real life, where warfare is big business. This is one of a string of "Raytheon" warfare billboards at the Pentagon subway stop, how apropos.

We left the rally a little bit early to try and beat some of the crowds back to the subway, so we missed the final, serious moments of the rally. But upon reading Jon Stewart's closing remarks I can say "Hear hear!", glad I was there. :)

Joe and Wilson recovering from the rally.

October 29, 2010

This'll have to be the "highlights" version today because I've got a fire going in the earth oven awaiting a pumpkin pie I've yet to get ready.

Joe's home!! Yay!!! He had a great meditation course, and I managed to keep all the loose ends together while he was gone.

We've gotten the four corner posts set for the yurt!! Yay!! It's actually starting to look like we're up to something productive rather than destructive. Thanks so much to our friend Ben from Alaska for the extra muscle power required to make it happen. :)

Tomorrow morning we leave at 5 a.m. to head to Washington DC where we will attend Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity"!! Yay!!! We've done our civic duty and voted early by mail, and now we're off to have some political fun. We'll be spending the whole week in DC helping my friend and former Wildlife Sciences classmate with a greenhouse project at a DC highschool. She has been putting her college degree to good use as an environmental educator in DC, and I'm looking forward to being able to help out a good cause.

October 22, 2010

Joe comes home in three days!! This is good because I ate my last Daddy Bob brownie (world famous brownies made by my grandfather) last night. I do have some chocolate chips in the house, though, so I guess that'll have to suffice for these last few days. :)

On Wednesday, I had the wonderful experience of unwittingly playing a part in my little brother's plans to propose to his girlfriend. It was truly a divinely inspired coincidence, there's just no other good way to look at it. I had been working in the office all day and just as I was leaving, my sister and her friend invited me out to the Olive Garden for dinner. Upon arriving at the restaurant, I found my little brother Joe and girlfriend Mariah waiting to be seated for their special, 6-month anniversary dinner! They were, of course, happy to expand their reservation to a table for 5 (well, Mariah was happy to :). Joe acted a little bit grouchy about the whole situation, but it turns out that was just nerves due to the fact that he was planning to pop the question later that night!! And she said yes!! So, the evening didn't exactly follow his plans, but it does make for a much better story. :)

October 20, 2010

Stink Bug Mania Sweeps the Nation!

Like apparently everyone else in the nation, I have been dealing with stink bugs in every crack and crevice of my house. I didn't realize how national a problem it was until just now Google tried to read my mind and automatically assumed that stink bug eradication was high on my priority list. I was going to do an internet search on early voting in VA as I'll be out of town on Nov 2nd, but all I had gotten typed into the search box was "How do I" and up popped 121,000 results for getting rid of stink bugs! Do I detect a theme in our collective consciousness??? :)

October 17, 2010

Yesterday, my travels spanned three states and kept me out until almost 2 a.m. Today I am hiding the car keys from myself and not going anywhere my feet won't take me! It has been WONDERFUL to have a day at home. It is the first day this whole week that I have not had to be away from home for the better part of the day. I am dividing my home day up into spurts of incredible productivity followed by periods of general inactivity (chicken watching, beagle petting, staring at flowers and pretty trees, etc.). I believe in keeping a healthy balance. :)

Joe has been gone on his Massachusetts meditating adventure since Tuesday afternoon. I'm missing him terribly, but I'm still in that period of enjoying missing him. I haven't become desperate, yet. So far we've had no disasters in his absence. There've been no more guinea deaths. The adult guineas continue to roost in the chicken house each night, but the two young guineas can't seem to make up their minds. One night they'll sleep in the coop, the next night they choose the trees. So far they've been lucky. I'm just hoping that the coop eventually wins out over the trees, but you can't tell teenagers anything.

Fall seems to be progressing at a leisurely pace this year. The weather has been mild and beautiful. There's yet to be a single explosion of beauty, but there are small wonders everywhere I look. I feel the strong urge to be in the woods this time of year.

The other morning, while putting my shoes on to head to work, I looked up to find myself in the direct gaze of a deer standing in the middle of my yard. I'd been running around attending to my various husbandry chores all morning, and the first thought that popped into my mind was "Wait, am I supposed to feed you?". It was my laughter that scared the deer away.

October 12, 2010


We made it through last night without a single death!!! So exciting. I was going to make an attempt to convince the guineas to roost in the chicken house for the night, but I got home too late from work and they had already gone to roost. But! The GOOD news is, they had all VOLUNTARILY decided that maybe the chicken house was a better bet than the tree tops, and so all I had to do was close the door on everyone and they all slept safe and sound and made it to this morning alive. :)

I'm SO relieved that a collective lightbulb went on in the guineas heads. If I had tried to force them into the chicken house, it would not have gone over well. I can just imagine them discussing/thinking: "Have you noticed how none of the chickens have gotten eaten in the past weeks? Yeah, they sometimes have to wait an hour or so in the mornings for those lazy humans to get their act together and come turn them loose, but at least they're always alive. At the rate we're getting knocked off, we're not going to be around much longer. Do you want to be the one that gets eaten tonight? No? Me either! I vote for the sleeping in the chicken house!"

Good idea guineas!!! I really didn't want to watch them all disappear one by one, and I'm reluctant to take any violent measures against the owl either. I'm really in awe of owls and like having them around. I've always seen my role as animal protector rather than predator exterminator. This only works of course if the animals are willing to accept protection, and that seems to happen. Here's keeping my fingers crossed that their new change of heart sticks for a while so we can all sleep safe and sound. Sorry Mr. Owl, but I'm sure there's plenty of mice in the woods.

October 11, 2010

A sad little avian tale

I now have cold hard proof that it is indeed an owl that has been decimating our guinea flock of late. Joe had a face to face encounter with the 'mythological creature' crouching over a freshly killed young guinea in our garden at dawn yesterday. Therefore, I leave him to tell the story in his own words. The following is an email that Joe sent to a friend:

Have you ever met a guinea fowl? We have some that live near us.

Usually when I talk about the guineas it is a funny story because I can't imagine any creature that more fully captures the mannerisms of the Three Stooges. But today I relate (ironically maybe) something that may be an unspeakable tragedy.

My wife and I are living in the center of a killing ground. In short succession I am hearing words out of Amanda's mouth like, "genocide, dark, vulnerable, and screaming murder." You can imagine how these words either reflect or affect (surely both) the atmosphere around us.

The long and the short of it is we have been sponsoring a flock of free range guineas for over a year. We started with a seed bunch of 8. And after a season of bird sex and true nesting periods we at one time had well over twenty guineas flitting, frolicking, and flocking about the compound. But that was all before the owl came to town.

A side note: I have been told that if I find myself doing CPR I ought to sing the song "Stayin' Alive" by the Beegees, because the ideal rate for pumping a persons heart is 100 beats per minute and "Stayin' Alive" is 102 beats per minute. I have also heard that the song "Another One Bites The Dust" by Queen has exactly 100 beats per minute but most CPR training courses don't use that song.

Anyway the second song has been coming to mind because we have been losing one guinea per night. And we are down to 5 guineas and one is injured.

As to my true feelings about the whole thing it is quite a muddy concoction. I know that my role in this nightly game is that of a lazy sports fan, I am rooting for my team but I am not willing to stay up late enough to see the game in real time. I just watch the highlights in the morning in the form of scattered feathers or burying bird remains. And I suffer the pains of rooting for a losing team.

Tomorrow I am off to a silent retreat for two weeks. I will be unplugged. So I am sorry to say I will not have the opportunity to shoot off a compensating upbeat email until after I return.

I wish for you peace filled days

October 09, 2010


I'm not really someone who relishes change. I love my rut. :) But, if there is one lesson life seems intent on making sure you learn, it is that everything changes. The changing of the seasons is such a powerful and beautiful reminder of that lesson...and the good thing is that the seasons always change in such a predictable fashion, which pacifies the part of me that craves stability. :) This particular day is so completely beautiful and perfect that it is making it hard for me to hang on to the tinge of mournfulness I've been nursing lately.

I spent Monday and half of Tuesday in bed dealing with an ailment of some sort. My only symptoms were a sore stomach that felt like I'd been beaten, a complete lack of appetite or energy, general lacklusterness and a low grade fever for about two hours. I was especially grateful for all of the homemade applesauce we had on hand as my appetite started slowly returning. It was the only thing that sounded at all good to me.

The garden is looking very quiet and peaceful this time of year. Many of the beds have been harvested and cleared out. We got a nice crop of sweet potatoes, but we learned that they have to cure for several weeks before actually becoming sweet. The ones we ate straight out of the ground were most like regular potatoes than sweet potatoes - still delicious but not what we expected. We've also been enjoying that brief window where we get to enjoy both tomatoes and lettuce at the same time. The volunteer lettuces that sprouted several weeks ago are just now getting big enough to harvest for an occasional salad, and there are still tomatoes on the vines for a few more days.

I'm spending this day in Floyd while Joe works at his aunt's gallery, and the sunshine and lure of yardsales is drawing my attention outdoors.

September 27, 2010

B-A-T-H time

We are on day two of the most delightful rain showers ever. Maybe now the garden soil will be workable enough to finish planting the garlic, and hopefully the lettuce seeds I planted the other day will be brave enough to sprout now. Our car is getting a much needed bath, and it's not the only one...

On Saturday, before the rain started, we gave Wilson a bath so he would be presentable enough to go to a friend's cookout with us. Wilson HATES baths, but he always comes when called, even when he knows the consequences. He has his own way of making you feel sufficiently guilty for tormenting him in such a fashion. Here's a video clip of Wilson's "abject bath crawl".

September 22, 2010

The Cobbler's Children

What's that old saying about the cobbler's children having no shoes? Well, how about the professional gardener having no fall crops in her garden. The professional gardener, frantically trying to check off her to-do list also has an infrequently updated blog. Oh well, winter is coming. :) According to the calendar, we are counting down our final hours of summertime. Fall and spring are both so invigorating. I almost feel like I could check off everything on my to-do list....almost.

We spent most of last week enjoying a beautiful house, wonderful weather and fun times with friends and family at the beach in Ocracoke, NC. Joe said he hasn't had that much fun playing with the ocean in years! He even woke me up at 6 a.m. the morning of our departure for one last jaunt in the waves. I was game enough to get up, get dressed and go to the beach with him, but I left the wave riding to him while watched the sunrise. I don't think it's safe to take on the ocean when not fully awake.

A highly camouflaged sand crab, mere seconds before he attempted to leap up my shorts.

My boss Phil, wife Anne Elise and daughter Ayla - gracious sponsors of our beach vacation.

A black swallowtail caterpillar, one of six I found happily munching away on my fennel plants. Such pretty little fellers.

September 12, 2010

This has been an amazingly beautiful, delightfully unproductive Sunday. A few times I have felt tempted to be guilty about being unproductive, but I've decided to fully embrace it. But, just to pacify that little bit of me that still feels guilty, here's a few photos of all of the productivity of the past week.

Joe ricing the cooked apples. I think he was singing a song about applesauce.

The chickens were waiting patiently and mischievously for us to drop our guard so they could sneak in and try to grab some apples.

I love outdoor canning! Keep all that mess outdoors.

Putting the outdoor kitchen to good use, running two full canners and getting ready to bake as well.

In addition to applesauce, Joe baked four beautiful and DELICIOUS apple pies, several of which went as thank you gifts to the suppliers of our apples.

Our onion crop drying from the rafters in the outdoor kitchen.

September 04, 2010

The parade of deaths around here lately has me feeling a little fragile and vulnerable. If I were a turtle, I'd be clamped tightly in my shell waiting for the storm to pass. But, I'm not a turtle, and life goes on, and it is a BEAUTIFUL September, fall's-around-the-corner kind of day. I don't have much to say, however, but here are a few random pictures of the moment.

On Wednesday, we went on an apple harvesting expedition and then came home and canned 32 quarts of applesauce from 6 5-gallon buckets. This is a sampling of the 14 buckets we have to tackle tomorrow.

It'll be quite a few years before our fruit harvesting expeditions only go as far as our front yard, but here are a couple of the beautiful apples our little Fuji tree has produced this year.

Joe and our friend, Robert, are digging out our spring. We've decided it's time for a more sophisticated spring capture set-up, and this is step one. It is quite exciting to see the steady stream of crystal clear, pure water coming straight out of the hillside...

...and the river of mud that has resulted from all of the digging and water diverting. :)

August 29, 2010

A Handkerchief in a Hurricane

It is Sunday morning, and Joe, Lisa, Wilson and I have just finished burying Lily. Joe and I found her late last night as we were returning home from a family dinner at my parent's house. She was laying dead on the edge of our road, a stone's throw from our own driveway. We assume she was hit by a car. That makes her one of five out of the seven dogs I've had in my life that have gotten hit by cars, three of which were fatal encounters.

After loading Lily's body into the car, we drove back to our house to find Wilson in the midst of a serious seizure. Whether he was a witness to the accident or not, he was obviously dealing with it in his own way. When the grave had been dug and Lily's blanket wrapped body placed in it, Wilson slowly circled the edge of the hole, leaning in to sniff a long while at Lily's head. He also spent a long moment smelling Lisa's hands, which had supported Lily's head as she was carried to the grave. He then curled up a few feet away in the grass and repeated the somber sniffing again when the grave was covered.

As we sat by the grave swapping tears and stories, Lisa shared her favorite memory of Lily. Recently, she and her friend Mark interrupted a project they were working on to stop and watch Lily fly through the field in a solitary, joyous pursuit of who knows what. "Wow, she looks like a handkerchief in a hurricane" was Mark's description. I can't think of a better way to capture the exuberant celebration of life that was Lily's existence on this earth. She was with us only 18 months, but she filled her time here with such energy and enthusiasm. She will definitely be missed.

August 20, 2010

I'm a little bit wary of making announcements on here because it seems to be the pattern lately that once I enthusiastically announce something to the world at large, the opposite will happen, and I am left to print a less enthusiastic retraction. So…I won't print any news, but I will tell you I'm planning on buying that lottery ticket as soon as I get off work. ;)

In OTHER good news (Jenny, pay attention), we have had the most beautiful, long, earth soaking rains of late. My garden, my lawn and all of the local weeds are literally finding a reason to live again. It has given me a renewed optimism for the prospects of a fall garden. I went out to take advantage of the cloudy skies and softened soil to plant some fall lettuce when I discovered the job had already been done for me! We allowed our spring lettuce to go to seed, and boy did it ever! I have thousands of little lettuce plants coming up in the shadow of the dried-up trunks of the spring lettuce forest.

This has really made me rethink the whole volunteer phenomenon. I pulled up hundreds of volunteer tomatoes this year and in their place I planted my carefully selected and tended tomato plants. Now that the summer is almost over, my hand grown tomato plants have produced a stellar crop of mostly worthless, blossom-end rotted tomatoes, (except for the sun golds of course, which are always amazing) while the one volunteer tomato plant I allowed to run its course has almost single handedly produced my entire lot of canning tomatoes this year. Likewise, the mystery squash enveloping my whole compost pile has been unaffected by any type of squash destroying insect and wasn't watered a single time during the weeks of dry weather. Hmmm…am I maybe barking up the wrong gardening tree?? Don't get me wrong, I'll always have my hand picked plants (they're so much fun to grow), but next year I think I might let a few more of those volunteers strut their stuff.

I'll leave you with a garden snapshot. I wish I could say this was from my own garden, but it's actually the latest harvest from my boss' garden - the one I get paid to tend. Funny how it always seems to get more attention than my own...

August 16, 2010

Unsolved Mysteries

I have really got to be more careful what I wish for (or I've got to starting buying lottery tickets and wishing for different things)!! Several weeks ago, when we had 6 adult guineas and a combined total of 17 keets (see my last post if you're confused) I was imagining a future where you couldn't turn around without tripping over a guinea. I was actually hoping for some "natural causes" to step in and thin out the rasp (again, see last post) to a more reasonable number. Well…I take it back!!!!! I don't mean it anymore!! Last Sunday, I had 6 adults and 15 keets. This morning I have 3 adults and 5 keets (one less than yesterday). Something has discovered my yard and turned it into a nightly meal ticket, stealthily taking as much as 4 or 5 guineas in a night without a sound or a trace.

The carnage started last Tuesday night, when both Joe and I were away. I'd locked the chickens in the pen with plenty of food and water, taken Wilson with me, and left Lily and Foxy in the care of Joe's mom to run free and hold down the fort. When I returned the following afternoon, I found a headless baby guinea in the dog pen and a quick head count of the guineas revealed that we had five fewer keets than when I'd left. Given the strong circumstantial evidence, Lily got the blame. I didn't know what to be sadder about, the lost guineas or the notion of Lily on a killing spree. I wasn't entirely comfortable with blaming Lily as something about the scene didn't fit what I would imagine a Lily killing spree to look like. Namely, there were no other bodies, the guineas all seemed comfortable around Lily, and Lily had no signs of blood on her. Still, the only smart thing to do seemed to be to treat her as guilty until proven innocent, so we started keeping her tied up when we were gone and only let her loose when we were there to keep an eye on things. Despite the precautions, guineas continued to disappear, always overnight, picked out of the treetops where they roost.

Lily has since been fully acquitted of all charges. Between being tied up and the fact that she is incapable of climbing trees, she had a rock solid alibi for the most recent disappearances. Even the headless guinea can be explained away. About a week ago, I had found a dead keet while weedeating around the chicken pen. I was too lazy to bury it, so I had just walked into the woods a ways and thrown it as far as I could. Lily was guilty not of murder but of simple "grave" robbing and carcass munching.

While we are relieved that the murderer is not one of our own, if this keeps up we will be out of the guinea business entirely in less than a week. I even tried locking the guineas up in the chicken pen at night with the chickens to keep them protected, but the urge to roost high in the trees was strong enough that at least half of the guineas found their way through holes in the chicken pen roof and roosted in the surrounding trees. It looks like all we can do at this point is hold our breath and hope for the best…which I am doing. Did you hear that?? I AM OFFICIALLY HOPING THAT NO MORE OF MY GUINEAS GET EATEN AND THAT I WIN THE LOTTERY!

P.S. Jenny, I'm sorry to be posting more bad news, but I did get my fall broccoli planted and am optimistic about the results. I've checked every leaf for worms or eggs, protected the stems against cutworms and covered them all with row cover to keep the cabbage moths away.

P.S.S. Jenny, at least I didn't even post about contracting Lyme's disease! :)

August 11, 2010

Well, the vigorous pumpkins I was talking about so happily in the last post have succumbed to squash vine borers and almost overnight have turned into a patch of droopy vines with half ripe pumpkins on them. :( Little by little I'm trying to let go of all expectations for this year's garden. I'm thankful for every bit of delicious food I get out of it and thankful as well for the grocery stores and farmer's markets that keep me fed when my garden luck has let me down. :)

The bad garden luck must have spread past the fence and infected the chickens. About a week ago, Reynaldo, our rooster of several years, got snatched in the night. I think it must have been his bad rooster karma (for recent attacks on my young niece) catching up with him. For some reason one night he was being stubborn and wouldn't come into the pen. Usually he is the first one in, but I got tired of waiting for him, so I figured a night outside would teach him to be more prompt the next time. The following morning there was no crowing and only a pile of feathers beside the pen. It was sad to see him go, but at least we don't have to worry about his recent aggressive streak growing and spreading to other victims. I'm hoping that Chickadena will step up and fill the role of head rooster, but I haven't heard him crow a single time since Reynaldo disappeared.

Meanwhile, another one of our guinea hens hatched out a bunch of keets (I just learned via wikipedia that this is what a baby guinea is called) a week or so ago. There have been several losses of baby guineas. The original batch is now down to 10 and the new batch is down to 7, last I counted. I also just learned that a group of guineas is called a rasp. I guess this means my flock is getting raspier?

July 29, 2010

After what seemed like a long lull in garden productivity, we are now cranking out green beans and tomatoes faster than we can keep up with! We canned our first batch of green beans this morning. Despite the bounty, I can't help feeling like I did something wrong with the garden this year. For one thing, we are going to have little, if any, yellow squash and zucchini. I don't know how you mess up squash and zucchini, but I somehow managed to. Surprisingly, our pie pumpkin patch, planted almost as an after thought, is looking like it will be a bumper crop. I'm always amazed at how different one year's garden can be from the next.

We're still very far behind on rain, although we do get the occasional tenth of an inch here or there. I've pretty much let all of my flowers go, especially the ones in pots. It was just getting too stressful bringing them back from the brink of death on a daily basis! All of my houseplants have been replaced with cacti, so I'm thinking my outdoor flower beds might go the same way.

The baby guineas (amazingly still a dozen of them!) are several weeks old now and not looking quite so babyish. They're getting feathers and testing out their feeble little wings. Thankfully, Mama guinea seems to be less paranoid about their safety at this point. I've actually been able to refill the waterer in the chicken pen without wearing the helmet!

The biggest news of the moment is our recent acquisition of a 24-foot yurt from the Pacific Yurt company. It is a pre-owned yurt that was used for several years at a retreat near here. The owner, whose health has declined recently, was no longer using the yurt and graciously offered it to Joe's mom, who was excited to pass it on to us. Once we get it set up, the yurt will give us 452 square feet of living space, more than double the 192 square feet we currently have. This means that if and when a baby ever comes into the picture, we won't have to clean out from under our bed to find room for it! Although the long-term goal of a real house has not changed, this yurt will also buy us plenty more time to figure out how to make that happen.

We have started clearing out a space to build the platform/deck that the yurt will sit on and hope to get it all assembled in the next few months. We love our current living situation, so we won't necessarily move into the yurt until a baby makes it necessary, but it will be great guest quarters in the meantime. Here's a photo of the yurt packed into the truck and headed to our place.

July 19, 2010

Ahh, rain! We've had several, smaller rain events in the past week and now finally we're getting an actual rainy day. The delicious irony is that today we were having a group of friends come over to help us give our garden a good, thorough watering. We've postponed our get together, but the garden is getting a thorough watering just the same. If only we'd known we could have scheduled this weeks ago. :)

On a random side note - Joe and I had the same dream the other night. Side effects of living in a little house??

July 14, 2010

As promised, here is a photo of the baby guineas. I know it is not a great picture, but it was taken from quite a distance, using the chicken house as protective cover. You can see the crazy look in Mama G's eye!!

She continues to terrorize poultry treat time with her misplaced aggression. I have been wearing long pants, long sleeve jacket and a motorcycle helmet to feed and close up the birds at night. However, last night I let it slide and BAM!!, she got me on the side of the head while I was trying to open up the barrel to get to the cracked corn! I've definitely learned my lesson! Until those babies are old enough to vote, the helmet stays on at feeding time!

I didn't take the attack laying down, though. As soon as I regained my wits, I chased her and the rest of the guineas around the corner of the chicken pen, angrily demanding respect and shaking my finger for emphasis. The flock of flustered guineas ran right into a hornets nest, who also began angrily demanding respect! I immediately forget my bruised head and bruised ego and ran the other way. The adult guineas followed my example, but the poor little babies ran around helter skelter in the midst of the angry hornets, squeaking and popping in the air like popcorn when they got stung! It was a sad sight, but luckily they soon regained their bearings and ran to find Mama G.

All in all it was a royally failed chicken-pen-up attempt. Nobody got any chicken scratch, and in the melee I didn't even get the pen door latched. Within minutes the chickens were all out playing again. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

On the bright side, we have managed to get almost a quarter inch of rain in the past few days!! Certainly not a drought breaker, but oh so very good for the soul.

July 09, 2010

This is a sad update to write, but Pippin the kitten has died. Over the last weekend it became obvious that she had some problems and she wasn't eating or drinking much at all. Tuesday morning we took her to the vet where they wormed her, rehydrated her, force fed, etc. and received a good report on Tuesday evening that she seemed to be bouncing back. On Wednesday morning, however, we got a call that she had taken a sudden turn for the worse and died overnight. Although we were sad to hear the news, we felt good that we'd given her a few good days before her end. It seems the real birthday present was a lesson in compassion and selfless giving.

Death is only half the story of course, and there's new life on the farm! One of our female guineas has successfully hatched out 13 WEE little babies. They are about half the size of a baby chicken. We only get occasional glimpses of the new family as the mother keeps them herded out in the fields or woods most of the time. This is just as well because the mother is a determined protector and seems to take my attempts to help out her brood as threat to their well being. This is a conundrum because she wants the food and water I provide but doesn't want me getting close enough to provide it!

Every evening I go through the same "put the chickens to bed" ritual where I call everyone back to the coop and give treats (aka chicken scratch) before locking the pen for the night. Only Reynaldo and the hens spend the night in the chicken house, but the guineas come running for their share of treats as well. Mama guinea brought her chicks to share in the nightly feast, but she attacked me THREE times while I was trying to refill water bowls and scatter scratch. Such gratitude!! After the third round of wearing a screaming, flailing guinea for a hat, I abandoned the scene and left them to fend for themselves. Joe had to go in later, after everything had quieted down, and close the food barrel.

I'll hopefully have a picture to put on here soon, if I'm brave enough.....

July 04, 2010

On Friday, I got a surprise birthday present from the universe at large in the form of a very small kitten. Joe and I celebrated my 30th birthday by going to lunch and the movies in Blacksburg. On our way home we stopped in Christiansburg to say hi to Banjo and Yoda (our former goats) and take them some carrots. While we were hanging out with the goats, a little kitten popped out of the tall weeds right behind us. We were in an area surrounded by businesses and highways with no residences in sight, so we could only assume this was a stray little waif. My sister Lynn came to meet up with us and get some ice cream at the grocery store. I almost had her convinced that she needed to take this kitten home when the kitten climbed in her lap and pooped all over her nice khaki pants. Not the best first impression!

So, for better or for worse, the kitten came home with us. Wilson has been doing a grand job of ignoring Foxy's existence for four years now and doesn't see any reason to treat this cat any differently. Foxy is siding with Wilson in this case. Lily, who has been in love with Foxy from first sight, had a veritable seizure of excitement when first introduced to the little sprite. She stood transfixed and trembling for almost ten minutes just staring at the kitten. Neither Joe and I nor the kitten were quite sure whether this intense emotion was due to love or hunger. Lily is very respectful of the kitten's "requests" for more personal space and is catching on that the way to get the kitten's attention is to be calm, quiet and approachable. In fact, moments after this picture was taken, the kitten climbed over onto Lily's back.

While there hasn't been an official naming as such due to some doubt about the kitten's gender, the name Pippin (a variation of pipsqueak) seems to have stuck in a unisex sort of way.

Joe gets serious brownie points for his creative present wrapping. It only took him several hours, most of a roll of Scotch tape, and a whole seed catalog to merge several small presents into one beautiful, unidentifiable package. He was so proud of it; he kept wanting me to shake it and see if I could guess what it was.

Apparently this was present wrapping plan B as I'd inadvertently spoiled plan A earlier in the week by taking a bunch of cardboard boxes and crumpled brown packing paper to be recycled. He'd even tried to stop me by asking the subtle question "Don't we want to save that for wrapping presents or something?", to which I had replied "Why would we wrap presents in this stuff!" This is what happens when my need to declutter gets in the way of my creative thinking. Good thing Joe is so adaptable! :)

June 30, 2010

It sure does seem like nature has a way of keeping us in shape. This winter it was the long walks through deep snow up to the car and back. This summer it is the daily watering ritual.

It has been weeks since we have had any rain that is even measurable, and the temperatures have been hot even for summer. In the midst of it all, we have managed to keep our garden mostly flourishing through regular watering. Our rain barrels are long since emptied of actual rain, but Joe has ingeniously rigged up a system that allows us to refill the front rain barrels with water from our spring (which thankfully is still running strong). Back in Virginia Beach, Joe's family runs Wareing's Gym, where they have all of the finest equipment to help you get the best workout possible. Here in Floyd Co., we have combined form and function into a daily workout that revolves around water.

Joe usually spends 30-45 minutes a day down at the spring pumping water with the Simple Pump (the only hi-tech equipment involved in our workout) up to our rain barrels, at a rate of about 1.5 gal/min. From there it is dipped into buckets and distributed by hand throughout the garden, one bed at a time. We have been focusing on deep, thorough waterings, so we generally put the whole results of one round of pumping on one or two beds. It takes about a week to get the whole garden watered, at which point it is time to start over.

So, the next time you feel the need for some exercise, be sure to stop by the Floyd Co. branch of Wareing's Gym for a fun, friendly workout - no membership fees and we'll even send you home with a handful of fresh sungold tomatoes!

June 24, 2010

I'm guilty of breaking the age-old adage not to count your chickens before they hatch. I wasn't really tallying numbers as such, but I was counting on having at least some chicks. Victoria, our formerly broody hen, has decided otherwise. After one week on the nest, she called it quits and rejoined the rest of the flock. I guess she's just not cut out for motherhood yet. She left me with the very disappointing task of burying 20 eggs (couldn't think of what else to do with them), but at least now we're getting eggs for eating again.

There's no such adage about counting your tadpoles before they hatch (or are even eggs) is there??

June 19, 2010

Joe recently checked out a book from the library called "The Cabin: Inspiration for the Classic American Getaway". It is a beautiful collection of photos and descriptions of cabins throughout the country, although the authors' description of a "cabin" is somewhat broader than mine (their cutoff size was 1200 sq ft). I had to chuckle when I read this one paragraph:

"It takes some imagination to take an open 14-ft by 16-ft room and jigger its simple rectangular plan into a working home--if only for weekends and vacations. But that's the type of planning that has to take place if a family is going to use the room for a variety of different needs: from sleeping to cooking, from reading to entertaining. For some, a 14-ft by 16-ft room is small, even for a master bedroom; but for Lois and John Schwob, this tiny, changing space is everything."

For those of you readers who may not know me personally, my husband and I have spent three years now living full time in a 12-ft by 16-ft one room cabin (in the truest sense of the word). The authors were correct in their assessment that it takes some imagination to jigger (is that a real word??) one open room into a working home, but what a fun and rewarding challenge it has been. :)

Off the topic, but this morning I spotted TWO frogs in my pond. We all know what that means...

*Note: I just did a Google search on 'jigger' and came up with:
"A person who jigs or operates a jig. A small measure for liquor, usually holding 1/2 ounces."

Interesting new word, but I'm not sure if it was entirely applicable in the above quote.

June 18, 2010

Breaking News on the Poultry Front - We have a broody hen! Victoria, our white rock chicken, has been dutifully sitting on an unknown number of eggs since Sunday. I know for sure that there are at least eight eggs under her because I put them there myself last night, a dangerous operation that I was lucky to walk away from with only minor injuries. The eight additional eggs were donations from my father's flock and a friend's flock, just to spice up the mix a little bit.

On a less cheerful note, we appear to have lost a guinea, bringing our total down to six. I found a pile of guinea feathers in the middle of the field last night but no sign of a body. For a couple of weeks now I had suspected that one of the guineas was sitting on a nest out in the field, and it was most likely that guinea that got snatched. On the bright side, Ranger (the former outcast guinea when there were seven) has hooked up with the dead guinea's mate and is now accepted into the larger guinea group again.

We've reached that very sad time of year when the rain stops falling with any regularity. This means lots of time spent hauling buckets of water to the garden from ever dwindling rain barrels. Everything is planted and growing nicely, however something is making my young butternut squash plants wither away only days after they've sprouted. Hopefully I'll figure out the culprit and how to nip it in the bud before it is too late!

Flower photos, from the top: Water lily, portulaca and calendula. All are growing in my garden at the moment. :)