March 31, 2011

Springtime in Atlanta

Last weekend I went to Atlanta to a bridal shower for my sister thrown by my grandmother. Whereas winter seems to be having its last say here in VA, down in GA spring was in full swing! Here are some pictures of my Daddy Bob's prize flowers.

My oldest sister and her two young'ns came down to the shower as well, so I got to spend lots of quality time with my nephew, Logan.

Danger! Adorable purse snatcher on the loose!

I didn't bother fixing the red eye in these photos because you can always tell it was edited and the color matches his shirt so nicely. :)

March 27, 2011

This is what happens when you forget to check on what's cooking in the earth oven. Hard to do this much damage in a conventional oven! When we pulled it out, it was actually glowing. Joe had prepared this beautiful medley of homegrown sweetpotatoes and onions, fired up the earth oven....and then left to attend a meeting, leaving the final task of monitoring the cooking process in my forgetful hands. :(

March 26, 2011

I must be seriously out of the loop because apparently they are enacting much stricter regulations on road kill these days. It's not enough to just run over it, now you have to season it, bake it and hermetically seal it! Below is an actual photo of some "roadkill" I encountered in the middle of a back country road on the way to work the other day. Whereas I usually make it a point to spend as little time engaged with roadkill as possible (well, there was that tail collecting phase I went through as a teenager…but that's another story), I had to stop and pick this one up. After all, nobody doesn't like Sara Lee, right?

Wilson certainly thinks we should stop to pick up roadkill more often, and Wilson was exactly who I had in mind when stopped to collect it. This thing oughta feed him for a week! I sliced it up and put most of it in my boss' freezer; the rest will be eaten over the next few days by a very lucky beagle. I was interested to note that ingesting large quantities of turkey apparently makes beagles as sleepy as it does humans. (Phew! And gassy, judging by the vapors wafting up from the beagle sleeping down below me.)

On a less disgusting note, here are some photos of the spring beauty popping up everywhere you look.

I find myself constantly inventorying the birdcalls I hear and noting which new birds are settling back in after their winters down south. Towhees and phoebes are two of the most recent ones. I heard a screech owl the other night, and I think I heard a turkey calling one morning (that would be the wild, live variety, not the shrink wrapped, oven roasted Sara Lee kind). I'm anxiously awaiting the day my two favorites make their presence known - the whippoorwills and the wood thrushes.

March 25, 2011

"Wild Kingdom" meets "The Young and the Restless"

This morning, my breakfast preparations were interrupted by a flurry of activity and excitement in the front yard. When I stepped out on the porch to see what was going on, this was the scene I discovered - two guineas (Ranger and Guinea 1) were engaged in a full on battle, one guinea (Silver) was standing nearby, uninvolved but squawking loudly, and two guineas (Guineas 2 and 3) were at the other side of the yard, uninvolved and uninterested. It didn't take me long to figure out what pivotal event I was bearing witness to. Guineas mates for life, and Guineas 2 and 3 were obviously a happily partnered pair (male and female guineas look identical), the dramas of the dating world far behind them. Ranger and Guinea 1 were vigorously engaged in a competition for the affections of Silver, the last girl in the world as far as they knew (those of you familiar with the musical "Camelot" can now join me in singing "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood"*).

Ranger and Silver are the only two guineas I can tell apart from the group, hence the fact they got named. Silver is named for her beautiful silvery lavender plumage and is one of the babies hatched here last summer, now fully grown. Ranger has dark, almost black, feathers and was one of the original batch of guineas we acquired almost two years ago. We started out with 10 guineas, a nice even number, but predators reduced us to an odd numbered flock pretty early in the game. From the very beginning, Ranger has been the outcast of the group (he was named after the Lone Ranger of course) and mostly hangs out with the chickens.

But, spring has sprung and love is in the air. Maybe this was Ranger's moment to win himself a partner and a better position in the flock hierarchy. After all,
Guinea 1 was also one of last year's babies, not even a full year old. He should be an easy opponent to best, right? Sadly, not so. The battle being fought in the front yard consisted primarily of chest butting, feather grabbing, and high speed chases. Even my untrained eye could see that Ranger was not maintaining the upper hand. Guinea 1 was always the one in pursuit rather than the one being pursued, and Ranger was certainly losing the bulk of the feathers. However, Ranger was determined. Several times I thought the battle was over, with Ranger admitting defeat, but then, after a brief moment to catch his breath, he'd be the one to start it all up again. I was afraid that the skirmish would not end until someone was seriously injured, and I've always had a soft spot for Ranger, so I attempted to step in with some very authoritative lecturing and arm waving from up on the porch, but I was completely ignored. I guess I'd just have to trust nature to take its course.

At this point, the chickens (who are late sleepers) arrived on the scene. First Mopsy rounded the corner. She seemed a little dazed and confused, probably still waking up, and just stood there blinking and flinching whenever the action got a little too close for comfort. Just behind her was Thelma**, one of our two Buff Orpington hens. She took one look at the melee and jumped right in! I'm not sure if her goal was to join in on a good fight or maintain law and order, but her participation had the immediate effect of breaking up the argument.

My cream of wheat was threatening to boil over, so I had to take a quick break from the action to tend to breakfast. When I next looked out the window, Guinea 1 and Silver were standing side by side, preening, and Ranger was all by himself, off to the side of the yard, decidedly disheveled. Oh the woes of an odd numbered flock. Poor Ranger holds true to his name, and another man will be calling "Hi ho Silver, away!" (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)

The Lone Ranger

*Excerpted lyrics from the aforementioned song:
Where are the simple joys of maidenhood?
Where are all those adoring daring boys?
Where's the knight pining so for me
he leaps to death in woe for me?
Oh where are a maiden's simple joys?

Shan't I have the normal life a maiden should?
Shall I never be rescued in the wood?
Shall two knights never tilt for me
and let their blood be spilt for me?
Oh where are the simple joys of maidenhood?

Shall I not be on a pedestal,
Worshipped and competed for?
Not be carried off, or better st'll,
Cause a little war?

**In all honesty, I can't verify that it was Thelma that broke up the fight. I can't actually distinguish between Thelma and Louise, the other buff orpington hen, but it does seem like something a Thelma would do, doesn't it?

March 16, 2011

Joe and I had our first few hours of garden playtime the other day. We started by planning out our garden layout for the season (it's always funny to look back and see how far we diverged from our blueprint by the end of the year). We've tried to take into account some of the lessons we learned last year, such as it IS possible to have too many sungold tomatoes and ditto on ground cherries until we come up with an efficient way to dry them. We're going to try to focus more on the low maintenance, high producers, good winter keepers such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternuts. We'll see how it goes I guess.

It is still a little early to jump in full force, which is good because I don't think I'm ready to yet, but we did spend some time pulling up the remnants of fall crops and some of the tenacious weeds that made it through the winter. I weeded one half of our strawberries, and if all goes well we should be dealing with a ridiculous quantity of berries this year. We planted 200 plants last spring, and they look like they've made it through the winter without any problems.

This winter seemed much shorter and far busier to me than usual, which leaves me facing this spring feeling like I do when waking up to a busy day after a shortened night of sleep. I need the seasonal equivalent of a cup of tea. A vacation maybe? :)

March 10, 2011

Martha, my dear

As I'm making up the bed in the morning, I often find myself glancing out the window and taking inventory of the guineas and chickens that are within my sight range. The official head count comes during the morning ritual of a scoop of cracked corn, an event that brings all the birds running.

5 guineas - check
3 yellow chickens - check
1 white chicken - check
1 peeper (aka Salmon Favorelle) - check
2 red chickens - sadly, only one :(

This is a number that fluctuates. The guineas have varied wildly as they first had a population explosion last summer followed by a population crash as autumn neared. Over the course of two years, we've had four chickens vanish without a trace, about one every six months or so. This is a sad side effect of an otherwise blissful free range lifestyle, but it's a balance of healthy wildlife populations and happy chickens that I'm willing to accept. Our latest disappearance is taking me longer than normal to adjust to as it was my favorite chicken, Martha, who vanished. Martha had serious personality and was definitely the tamest of our flock. She was always the first to come running when I'd bring out a handful of cabbage worms from the garden, and she was always right underfoot, mumbling away in her distinctive voice, whenever I was out and about working in the yard. The flock as a whole responds to the call of "Here chick chick chick!", but Martha also responded to her name.

On May 23rd we'll be getting 8 new little chicks in the mail. I'm excited about adding some new breeds to our flock, and who knows, maybe the next Martha will be in the mix.

Front: Martha
Back, L to R: Mopsy and Victoria (There use to be a Flopsy and a Cottontail as well, which made Mopsy's name make much more sense. However, Flopsy and Cottontail were two of the previous chicken disappearances. I've really got to keep this in mind when I'm naming chickens in the future.)

March 07, 2011

I spent Saturday night at my friend Kerri's house in honor of her 29th birthday. Since her own family was down and out with sickness she was hoping to avoid, my sister Lynn and I decided to keep her company with a sleepover/movie night followed by whipping up a special breakfast for her on her birthday morning. Well, the movie night part went off with out a hitch, but the torrents of rain and wind whipped up their own surprise for us on Sunday morning - no electricity. Happy birthday! Hmm, so much for the special breakfast. All of the local businesses were out of power as well, so going out for food wasn't an option either. We did manage to get her gas fireplace started, and by removing a few of the ceramic "logs" I was able to make a place to set a pot of water (luckily she was on city water or else I would have been giving a tutorial on the joys of rainwater catchment.) so the all essential cup of coffee could be made. We also were able to warm up a pan of lemon pecan danishes Lynn had brought, with the exciting ending that the pan lost its tenuous perch on the uneven logs and came shooting out of the fireplace, skidding to a stop right at the edge of the hearth. Hot cross buns anyone??

During this whole scenario, I couldn't help but be struck by the irony that here I was in a modern home with all the standard amenities and luxuries, but without that power grid umbilical cord it had very little to offer besides a dry place to camp out. Meanwhile, Joe was back home in a cozy cabin eating a hot breakfast, bustling around getting pies ready to bake in the earth oven. There was plenty of hot water on the woodstove for a nice warm bath. A whole week of sunny weather had filled the batteries with electricity for lights, music, movies, and the toilet always works! There's no place like home.

I spent Wednesday through Friday in bed sick. I'm usually done with most illnesses in 24 hours, so this one was definitely something stronger. Joe has been fortunate enough to slide through this sickly season unscathed so far. I hope his streak continues. We had scheduled a work together day on Thursday, and the weather provided the perfect day for us - one I got to experience through a window only. Joe continued on with a solo work day and got all of the wooden parts of the yurt oiled, repaired, and restacked ready for use. I'm hoping to go this Wednesday and talk with the Blue Ridge Yurts folks about whether they could fabricate us a new wall and for how much. Can't hurt to ask!