November 23, 2013

Sweet Success

Sweet potatoes are one of my go-to crops. They are low maintenance, mostly insect pest free, one-time harvest and good winter keepers with no labor or energy intensive preservation methods. Their vegetation is like crack to deer, however, but since we have a fenced garden, that's not an issue. Unfortunately, their tubers are like crack to voles, which can easily get through garden fences and tunnel in to munch away on the sweet potato smorgasboard. They mostly prefer to eat the bottom two-thirds of the biggest sweet potatoes. This makes for a lot of disappoinment when harvesting as you first uncover the tops of what looks to be a nice, large sweet potato, only to pull it from the ground and find it mostly gnawed away. Argh!

But, I digress. This is not a post about sweet potato disappointment. This is a post about sweet potato success. Yes, the voles devoured ninety percent of the twenty five percent of my overall sweet potato crop that was decent sized (is that math making your head spin?). What I was left with was about three 5-gallon buckets worth of long, skinny sweet potatoes. It was hard to decide where to draw the line between a thick root and a thin sweet potato. This photo doesn't really help much without something for comparison, but most of these potatoes are as thick as my thumb and as long as my hand. The largest ones in the photo are about half the size of my wrist, and if you know me, you know I have tiny wrists!

So, how to utilize this harvest, that is the question. Joe's favorite way to eat sweet potatoes is baked whole, in their skins. That works beautifully with large sweet potatoes, but it turns these guys into little sticks of dried out sweet potato dust in a charcoaled skin. Peeling them would require enough "Elmo's World" episodes to rot Eden's brain. (Eden watches one "Elmo's World" or two "Blue's Clues" episodes each afternoon and all food prep and dish clean-up must be completed in that time span, approximately 45 mins. I consider the trade-off between mind-numbing brain food and body nourishing homemade, homegrown dinner to be more than worth it.) The key to cooking these potatoes is the solar oven. I must watch the weather and choose a good sunny day, but after scrubbing them down and chopping them into chunks, the sun cooks them to perfection, never dried out or burnt, and all in their own juices.

Next, I run them through the ricer (aka food mill) to separate out the skins. This sounds easy, but it's a lot more of a workout then making applesauce. But, still much faster and easier than peeling them before cooking.

The result is smooth, thick sweet potato puree, perfect for sweet potato pies! I was going to take a picture of the pies, but I was too busy eating them. I'm not much of a recipe follower, but our general concoction goes something like this:

Sweet potato puree
One can of coconut milk
One block of silken tofu
Some molasses
A smidgen of some other sweetener (honey, stevia, succanant)

Blend all ingredients together until smooth, spoon the thick mixture into two (or three) homemade pie crusts and bake until the crusts are cooked and the filling is browned. The filling will be "set" once completely cooled. We usually dig in as soon as they come out of the oven, so our first slice is more like sweet potato pudding on crust. We also make them only mildly sweet and eat them for dessert, breakfast, snack, whenever!

The tofu makes a perfect egg replacer for this kind of pie. Sweet potato pie season is also chickens not laying much of anything season. I (mostly) refuse to buy eggs from the grocery store, so I prefer to save our few precious winter eggs for eating with breakfast or a frittata rather than hidden in baked goods. It also, depending on how you make the pie crusts, makes a perfect vegan treat to share with your mother-in-law, if she's lucky!

November 14, 2013

10 Things, v2

Despite my best evasive efforts, I was "tagged" on Facebook to present 10 interesting things about myself. I have already written a previous post with 10 interesting things about myself, which can be viewed here, and I'm intending to provide 10 different points of interest in this post. So, that gives you the option of learning 20 things about me should you so choose. Here goes:

1) I was home schooled for all of grades k-12 (and pre-K too I guess). I attended New River Community College for three semesters and then transferred to Virginia Tech, from which I graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2004 with a BS in Wildlife Sciences. Thank you Mama for the stellar education!! I intend to continue the tradition with Eden.

2) I am the middle of five children, all of whom I shared a room with from the time I was 10 years old until I left for college (VT) at the age of 21. Actually, since my little brother was born when I was 12, I guess I only shared a room with 3 siblings for the first two years I mentioned.

3) I was bitten by the travel bug while in college and hopped my first ever commercial airplane flight (My uncle is a pilot and had taken me for a flight in a Piper Saratoga) to South Africa for a semester-long exchange program at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Emboldened by this experience, I later traveled to India for a friend's wedding and sailed around the Caribbean for two months with Joe and his uncle on a 100-ft sailboat. The travel bug is currently in remission, but I feel it will flare-up again in the future.

4) I married the second person I ever dated and the only guy I ever called my boyfriend. The first guy I dated refused to ever "define the relationship" and seemed allergic to the term "boyfriend", a situation that just wasn't workin' for me.

5) I've worked the same quirky but ideal job as a personal farmer/girl Friday for 9 1/2 years now, starting immediately after graduating college. At what point does a job become a career?

6) I've hiked into and out of the Grand Canyon twice, courtesy of my quirky, ideal boss of 9 1/2 years.

The above six points are all what Joe called "historical facts". Without telling him what it was for, I asked him to name some interesting things about me. Here are the four things he threw out there, in his own words.

7) "You have serious beading skills."

8) "You have a level of integrity far above the standard in our culture."*

9) "You pee in a bucket."**

10) "Your weed-eating is interesting."***

*Awww! I can definitely say the same about him. One particular example of my integrity that he still recounts with amazement is that once we were at a major, big-box home improvement store purchasing a large amount of building supplies. When they rang us up and announced the total, I pointed out they'd undercharged us by $500.00 on some plywood, which they corrected and we paid. Therefore, it is with a red-face that I admit I said nothing when a woman at a yard-sale miscalculated what I owed her by $1.00, in my favor. Obviously my integrity can be inconsistent and has poor money-management skills.

**I'm not running to the outhouse in the middle of a cold, dark night just to pee!

***This was on his mind because I had just finished weed-eating the garden, and what he meant to say was that I am a good weed-eater, which is true. I take pride in my weed-eating skills.

November 11, 2013

Trash to Treasure

I love it when the random stuff that accumulates around our place actually turns out to be useful! Case in point, a dumpster salvaged barbecue grill and a plastic concrete mixing tub. The concrete tub was actually a premeditated acquisition that served as Eden's bathtub all summer long. We'd throw a couple gallons of water in there in the morning, put a piece of plexiglass on top, and by afternoon the sun would have warmed it up to perfect outdoor bath temperature. The grill from the barbecue has been sitting in the outdoor kitchen for years, unused until now.

The project I had in mind was to sift through a finished compost pile. Turns out the metal grill has handles on it that perfectly fit the sides of the concrete tub, mostly keeping it in place. I'd shovel some compost on the grill, work it around with my hands, and any large chunks would stay behind. You never realize how many peaches and avocados you eat until you go through your compost pile! Peach pits, avocado pits and skins and butternut squash stems were the three most common un-composted ingredients. This compost pile was constructed during a year where we bought and canned several bushels of peaches, so there were A LOT of peach pits! All together I put about one five-gallon-bucket's worth of material into the current compost pile. The rest was BEAUTIFUL dark, crumbly compost that all went onto one garden bed. It was enough to cover a 4' x 12' bed with a layer of compost about an inch thick. So very satisfying.

Of course, that was the results of almost a year's worth of kitchen scraps, garden weeds and an old square hay bale for layering. At this rate, it would take us over a decade of home composting to enrich each of our garden beds with a one-inch layer of compost. This is why we cheated this spring and bought a whole dumptruck load of compost from a local large-scale compost operation, primarily in hopes of improving the overall structure of our heavy clay soil. This small, homemade compost pile didn't feel like cheating, though. It felt like we'd struck oil in the back yard.

November 07, 2013

"Bog"ged down?

Four years ago, after much research and agonizing, I bought my first pair of Bogs boots. It was a tough decision because I pretty much clothe myself head to toe from the thrift store. It kills me to think of paying full price for clothes. Thrift stores are great for the occasional awesome find, but its hard to shop for anything super specific, especially when you need a particular item within a specific time frame. Winter was coming, and I needed snow boots! Luckily, my Bogs were worth every penny and far exceeded my expectations. They were super comfortable right out of the box, warm, great in the snow, and cool looking to boot (no pun intended)! They were so comfortable and easy to slip on and off that I ended up wearing them for everything. I basically have my year divided into Chacos season and Bogs season (both of which were full price footwear purchases that I've never regretted). But, as you can see (on the left) in the above photo, it's been a tough four years for them. With another winter fast approaching, and the neoprene on my original Bogs torn and coming apart, it was time for an upgrade. I was lucky enough to find a discounted pair of a previous season's design/color scheme in my size on for about half price. As you can see, they're gorgeous! I can hardly bring myself to wear them because I don't ever want them to lose their bright, brand new glow. They'll be my "dress" pair of snow boots.

 Which brings me to a problem we have around here. We never get rid of old shoes! There's always a use for the previous pair. My old Bogs are still super comfortable; there's nothing wrong with the foot part, and since they're already scuffed and torn, they're perfect for dirty work. Shoes can always be downgraded, so when the day comes that you have to wade through raw sewage, you've got the shoe for that! Even the one pair of work boots I downgraded completely out of footwear status ended up being recycled into pansy planters, so they're still sitting around on the porch. Hence the problem, we've got way too many shoes sitting around on the porch, and in the house. I haven't figured out a solution yet, I'm just complaining.

It doesn't help that when I bought my new Bogs snow boots just recently, I purchased a second pair of Bogs as well. Like I said, as soon as the weather turns too cold for Chacos sandals, I switch to the Bogs because I want a waterproof, easy slip on, sturdy pair of shoes to do everything in, snow or not. All the gardening, hiking, etc. that I did in my Bogs probably shortened the life of the neoprene quite a bit. So, this new pair is to be used for all non-snow, non-downpour situations. And I'm loving them! They are comfortable, easy to slip on, sturdy…and something else to trip over on the way in or out of the house.

New Bogs, "Rue", photo courtesy of the internet

 Who'd a thought that I would ever end up one of those women with a "shoe problem"! (In my defense, Joe and Eden's shoes are equal parts of the problem.) At least I've got my farm footwear needs all sorted out. Don't get me started on what the heck kind of shoes I'm supposed to wear with a skirt or dress in the winter time!

P.S. Maybe this is what I need to do with some of the bottom-of-the-totem-pole shoes around here.  I mean really, what are the chances we'll have to wade through raw sewage anytime soon.

P.P.S. This post is dedicated to Eden. Shoes (or shooies as she pronounces it) is one of her new favorite words, both spoken and signed.

November 02, 2013

Although I've haven't posted anything on here in ages, I've had a blog theme running through the back of my mind for quite a while now. I call it "The Vegetarian Homestead". We are lucky to live in a community where many people have an interest in connecting with where their food comes from. For some people this means frequenting the local farmer's markets, but for many it means producing as much of their food as they can themselves. Joe and I definitely fall into that category, although grad school and parenthood have diverted a lot of our time and energy at the moment. Although we share common goals and interests with so many people around us, I find our vegetarian lifestyle puts us in a category mostly our own. Hobby farms and homesteads abound, but most of them include raising animals for meat as part of their food production strategy (or acquire meat from another local source).

I was feeling a bit lonely in my niche a while back and decided to search the internet for a homesteading kindred spirit. My geographical community may be small, but you can find anything on the World Wide Web, right? I typed "vegetarian homesteading" into Google to see what I would find and lo and behold, up popped a blog with the very promising name "The Vegetarian Homesteader"! How serendipitous! You can imagine my confusion when the first few posts that I read all seemed to be about raising animals for meat. Turns out the "vegetarian homesteader" is a woman who is indeed a vegetarian and raises a variety of heritage livestock on her farm…and her husband and children kill and eat the 'surplus' of her hobby. Hmm, not exactly what I was looking for. The pickin's were pretty slim throughout the rest of the WWW as well.

This disappointing research got me thinking about what I'd been looking for and the specific challenges of my own vegetarian homesteading experiments. We have some good friends who are vegetarians from way back and are basically my homesteading heroes. Although they don't produce all of their own food, their root cellars and storerooms are laden with homegrown and home preserved garden bounty that lasts year round. It's truly a thing of beauty. However, they don't have any domestic animals on their compound, neither livestock nor pets, which still puts me on my own to work out the kinks in my particular vegetarian homestead vision. Simply stated, how can one incorporate animals in a compassionate and sustainable fashion into a vegetarian homesteading paradigm without relying on someone else to "eat the surplus"?

Well, that might not have been very simply stated, but I'm already amazed that Eden has stayed asleep long enough for me to get this far. Spending time on editing might be a luxury I don't have if I want to get any blogging done at all. And I do want to do some blogging. In fact, I want to "be the blog you want to see in the world". (Is that how the saying goes?) In some of my future posts, I hope to focus specifically on my dreams for and experiments in attaining my vegetarian homestead vision, and maybe someday someone with similar goals will not find the World Wide Web quite as barren a terrain as I did. (I'm currently imaginging the mice from "An American Tail" singing "Somewhere Out There".)
Mountaintop magic! :)

June 28, 2013

Whew! It's been ages, but I'm gonna break the silent streak here. Blogging, I have found, takes a combination of time, energy and motivating material. I seem to have been having trouble getting all three of these ingredients at once lately. One thing often holding me back is the lack of enthusiasm for typing my posts out with my thumbs on the iPhone. But, now that Joe also has entered the smartphone world, we can use our phones as "mobile hotspots" to connect the laptop to the internet, albeit over a slow and spotty cellphone signal, which lets me use all ten fingers to type this post at warp speed!!

A recent family photo from a wedding Joe officiated

Joe is crazy busy with three summer classes and his job. His official job title is "Behavior Specialist", but the best I can describe what I know of his job (confidentiality and all that) is it seems like he is kind of a professional "Big Brother" to boys who are not having the smoothest of childhoods. He hangs out with them, goes hiking/bowling/throws the football around and hopefully manages to sneak some "counseling" in there at the same time, without them really noticing and therefore resisting. He is certainly getting a heartbreaking and overwhelming look at the crazy lives some kids lead. But, besides often coming home feeling very emotionally drained, he seems to be really enjoying the job and is great at it, I'm sure.

Eden, luckily, does not have to lead a crazy heartbreaking life; although to hear the fuss she puts up at having to get her face wiped after a meal or be put, all alone, into her safe play area for 30 seconds so I can (insert any short but essential task requiring two hands here), you'd think otherwise. Mostly it's all fun and games around here. Eden has passed the monumental one-year mark and everyday I see the "baby" slipping away and a "little girl" boldly taking her place. Although she can walk, crawling is still her go-to method of transportation. She continues to add signs to her ASL repertoire, but now she is also trying to say the words. I've noticed the only words she is speaking are ones she already knows signs for.

I'm pretty much Eden's full time entourage and lady's maid, a job I'm happy to do. However, during father/daughter moments or playdates at YaYa's house, I become a frenzied work machine. Much of that time is spent on regular daily chores, such as dishes, cooking, etc. But occasionally I do slip in some "extra" work. I haven't managed to keep a manicured lawn, but I have kept the grassy areas surrounding the house and outbuildings from reverting to full-blown pasture. I've also planted a full garden, which has so far kept us supplied with as much kale and swiss chard as we can dream of eating. It remains to be seen how productive the tomatoes, peppers, green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes and black eyed peas will be. I've promised myself that I will not get upset at the inevitable invasion of potato and bean beetles and will be happy for whatever crop we can salvage amidst their destruction, a promise I am having to remind myself of daily. Thankfully, so far we have had plentiful rains that have eliminated any need for garden watering.

I'm also raising my first ever batch of mail-order chicks here at our place to beef up our paltry poultry flock. My initial order of 15 birds is down to 13 after a couple of random deaths to unknown causes, and they all seem to be doing well. After keeping them in a dog kennel in the yurt for the first two weeks, they're now outside in the secure goat-house chicken coop. I ordered them this late in the year so that we wouldn't have to worry too much with providing supplemental heat, and so far that seems to be working out. I kept them warm with half-gallon jars full of boiling water, insulated with old socks and covered the kennel with a blanket at night to help hold the heat and eliminate drafts. Now the weather has warmed enough and they've feathered out and grown quite a bit, so they're braving the outdoors with no heat and seem to be doing fine.

That's it for now. I've been listening to several barred owls conversing in the nearby woods as I wrote this. Very cool.

April 06, 2013

Two days ago we got four inches of snow. Today was sunny and in the 60's! Jango did still find a little patch of snow to munch on in the shade of the car. Eden and I are loving being able to spend msg of the time outdoors. She is supplementing her diet with lots of dirt, leaves, bark, etc. Joe's mom asked that we please not let her eat dirt as she might get parasites. While I think that sounds like a perfectly reasonable request on paper, in reality it is like asking water not to flow downhill! A friend td me the other day that having parasites is good for you, prevents allergies. I'm gonna go with that theory.

It has been way too cold and unpredictable a spring to do much garden work, but I have managed to plant onions and start some plants in the greenhouse. My kale, broccoli, chard and lettuce starts have been up for weeks, but they're growing rather slowly. It hasn't helped that many nights their soil blocks have been ice cubes. We're really testing the limits of "cold tolerance" here !

The weather report looks to be spring-like for the next week or more, so I planted some tomatoes in the greenhouse today. My "garden of Eden" may be more Eden than garden this year, so I'm planning on crops that are as low maintenance as possible. Pretty much every year our tomato crop suffers from BAD blossom end rot. No amount of calcium supplements or strict watering regimens seems to help. This year I'm planting only tomato varieties resistant to BER. I'm refusing to be wooed by gorgeous catalog photos and mouthwatering descriptions. The best tomato ever is the one that actually makes it to my plate and doesn't fall off the plant half ripe and half rotten. I have a couple of varieties that always do well, namely Sungold (best cherry tomato ever!), Eva Purple Ball and Principe Borghese. These are all smallish tomatoes. The big dinner plate kinds and any "saucing" variety are doomed. I'm trying one new variety, Earl of Edgecombe" that's supposed to be BER resistant. I'll give you my review at the end of the summer.

March 21, 2013

Sleeping In

Now that our mattress, which Eden and I share, is on the floor and separated from the woodstove by a baby fence, I don't have to worry if she wakes up before me. This morning she woke up at 6:30 am, which is not unusual for her but seemed ungodly early this particular time. I was definitely not ready to be fully awake and in entertainment/supervision mode, so I pretended to not notice she was awake and lay there drowsily faking deep sleep. This was especially hard to do since I was the only "toy" available to Eden at the moment. While I pretended to sleep, she amused herself by poking my closed eyes, giving me a full dental examination, a few wet willies for good measure, and twisting my nose like a door knob all while spitting and making motor noises!! Somehow I not only managed to keep up my act with a minimum of giggling, I even fell back asleep for real. Apparently Eden did too as I later woke up to find her zonked out, using my throat as a pillow with one hand on my forehead. Using this method, I got to "sleep in" until 7:30 am!! Hey, you take what you can get.

March 20, 2013

Wonders Never Cease

First, I must say that so far the best thing I've done all year is to purchase and install an automatic chicken coop door ( Now I can focus worry-free on round-the-clock child care without the stress of nighttime chicken protection. Whatever birds choose to roost in the coop at night are safe and sound. As for those who don't (namely the guineas), well lets just say we're down to two guineas. It's been serious carnage over here of late!!

But, there is hope for the two lonely guineas because....Jango is back!!!! It's been right at two months since his mysterious disappearance just as the biggest snowstorm of the winter rolled in. I had knocked on doors, posted on various online sites, and spent weeks scanning the roadsides for any sign of him, to no avail. I had assumed he'd been hit by a car, wandered into the woods and died somewhere out of sight. Ever since Wilson's disappearance, I've been keeping an eye on lost-and-found dog pages on Facebook. I quickly skim over the myriad of pictures popping up on my newsfeed to get to more interesting social tidbits, but on Tuesday a very familiar face popped out at me. I had to pull up a picture of Jango to verify the location of specific markings, but I was pretty darn sure it was him. Within a few hours of first seeing the photo, I had Jango back home, safe and sound, with a few extra pounds on him. Getting lost suited him!

The best I can piece together the story, he was found wandering around on a road that is 15-20 miles from here, depending on which route you choose on Google maps, during or just after the snowstorm. Although he was wearing a collar and ID when he went missing, by the time he was taken in by a concerned woman, he had no collar or ID. Due to her living arrangement, this woman could not keep him and passed him on to her brother and sister-in-law. Somewhere along the way he developed serious Lyme disease symptoms and was treated with antibiotics. The sister-in-law grew quite attached to him, but the brother was just "not a dog person". So, Jango's photo was posted on Facebook in hopes of finding his original owners or a good home. That's me!!

Jango was happy to see me and has settled into his old routine already. He spent most of last night barking, hopefully scaring off raccoons. Tonight all is quiet. Although he was a house dog for a while, I still can't convince him to come inside. He seems to prefer his outdoor freedom. Now I'm even more curious as to what happened and how he ended up collarless 15 or more miles from home. Joe thinks he just got lost and roamed that far because he didn't know what to do. That see unlikely to me. Could he really be so stupid as to get to the end of the driveway and decide to head in to town because he can't remember how to turn around and go back home? My theory is that he was dognapped, probably by meth heads, and his collar thrown out to destroy the evidence. He managed to escape from his captors soon after arriving at their destination, but he doesn't know his left from his right, so he wasn't able to retrace the route they'd driven and was left to wandering the neighborhood until a Good Samaritan picked him up. I think that's a far more realistic scenario. I heard a rumor that police are staking out possible meth labs in our area, so I like to throw a few meth heads into my stories these days for good measure.

Either way, we'll never know. We're glad to have him back and readjusting to having a dog again. Now I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that one day Wilson's face will pop up somewhere. Stranger things have happened!

March 08, 2013


I don't do caffeine. Ever since I was a kid, even a little bit of caffeine can make me literally shaky. But, once or twice a year I make an exception and test out whether it was all just in my head. This morning was such an occasion. It was a beautiful, sunny, mild March day spent hanging out in town with some fellow "mom" friends. I was feeling wild and free, threw caution to the wind, and had half a cappuccino at a local coffee shop. On the midday drive home, I was definitely feeling the jittery caffeine buzz. Usually this feeling makes me a little frantic and crazy, but I hardly paid attention as I drove the deserted back roads at twenty miles an hour below the speed limit, totally absorbed in my audiobook, to allow Eden a nice long carseat nap.

"Let's go turn our chickens loose on this gorgeous day!" I told Eden while unbuckling her carseat straps when we arrived home. They'd been on lockdown for a full week in attempts to protect them from a Cooper's hawk (Sharpshinned??) that has been killing my hens of late. Just a week ago, all in the same day, I lost a hen to a hawk and narrowly saved a second hen from a raccoon by running through the cold, dark woods in my pjs with a flickering flashlight, yelling in my scariest voice. This tactic actually worked, although in the future I'm hoping my soon-to-arrive new solar powered automatic chicken coop door will keep me from having to rely on this as my primary defense against nocturnal prowlers.

It took me a second to figure out what I was looking at as we approached the chicken pen. The fluffy piles of creamy yellow feathers surrounding a motionless mound of dead, semi-devoured chicken was an all too familiar sight. But just under the edge of the chicken house there was something hopping around in an erratic fashion. Another chicken, alive but mangled? Nope, I had surprised the killer at his feast and my presence had him cornered under the chicken house, frantically testing the chicken wire for a way out. In an instant my shock disappeared and the caffeine in my system combined with a sudden surge of adrenaline to create a rage so palpable I felt like I might explode!

Whenever I share my predation frustrations with other humans, the most common response involves jokes about making hawk stew or involving weaponry in the situation. I tend to ignore these comments because this particular solution is not only illegal (all birds of prey are federally protected) and impractical (even if I knew how one goes about hunting hawks, I'm not sure where in my 24/7 schedule of infant care I'd fit it in), it does not jive with my personal moral compass. However, at this particular moment my best self was trampled to the ground by a raving, revenge seeking version of myself I generally keep pretty good control over, and if I had had a shotgun in my hand I would have obliterated that hawk! If I'd had a nuclear weapon at my disposal I would have pushed that red button in an instant and taken the whole east coast down with me just to get that bird!! But, I had no shotgun or nuclear weapon in my hands, only a baby on my hip, and a cellphone.

So, I did the next best thing and called Joe, who was catching up on work at school, and I screamed at him. Well, not at him, but to him. Poor Eden; if her first words are of the four letter variety, this one instance will be the reason why. Joe, who I'm pretty sure has meditated every last scrap of crazy revenge seeking self out of his psyche, listened patiently and responded empathically. He was very understanding, but he suggested I have a heart-to-heart with the hawk. Hardly the wrathful justice I was wanting to wield, but I didn't have many options. The only thing keeping the hawk cornered was my presence, and there was no one else but Eden around. I squatted down to get a closer look at my enemy. I could see I wasn't the only one hopped up on adrenaline. "Good" my rage-self said, "maybe he'll die of a stress induced heart attack!" My better self was in awe of his wildness and beauty. And my incredulous self still can't believe such a little bird is killing chickens almost twice it's size!

My better self gave it a shot at understanding the hawk's need for sustenance and reminded it that the woods were full of squirrels and rabbits which I had no personal investment in. Then I tried to get a couple of photos, nearly impossible given my jittery hands and a jittery hawk. I held my ground for as long as I could, really hoping this particular hawk would decide a few chicken mcnuggets aren't worth all this stress, but it was past lunchtime, and no amount of standing there being mad will make a dead chicken come back to life. When I had backed far enough away that the hawk felt he had a window, he flew with a high pitched whistle up into a pine tree and looked down on me for a second before disappearing into the woods.

When Joe got home and took over with Eden, I removed the dead hen from the pen and finally took the time to spread some netting over the top of the pen. I was kicking myself because I'd bought this netting almost a year ago and could have prevented this particular incident if I'd been proactive about installing it. Hopefully now the chickens will be safe from aerial predators when they're in the pen. As for when they are free ranging, which is an uncompromising chicken-quality-of-life point for me, I can only hope that hawk is perched somewhere taking our heart-to-heart to heart. My other hope is in a new generation of chickens I'm going to add to my now puny two hen, two rooster flock this summer. After much research, I'm opting for breeds that are billed as being "quick and alert". You gotta stay on your toes around here!

There's not much of an end to this story. It's merely a chapter in my ongoing saga to find a way to make it all work, to be creative and find solutions in-line with my better self, even when the quick fix solution seems most gratifying in the moment. The photo I've attached is grainy, but zoom in for a better look.

March 05, 2013

Peas under pressure

So having this iPhone hasn't made me the blogging diva I imagined. Turns out that by the end of the day, when I can actually use both thumbs and the small portion of my brain that is still awake, I'm mostly too tired to come up with anything interesting. I blame it on Facebook. FB is pretty mindless, and that is what fits the bill most evenings. I make my mothering situation sound rough, but I actually have the best baby you could ask for. Still....

But, I did want to share this one tidbit that I've been strangely exuberant over the past few weeks: how to cook split peas in a pressure cooked!

We have a dried bean soup mix that was billed as being perfect for busy days. Quick cooking lentils, split peas, barley, etc. Seemed like the perfect job for a pressure cooker. However, my pressure cooker manual warned me in bold, capitalized font "DO NOT COOK SPLIT PEAS". That's it, no explanation, just a stern order. So, I'll cook in the old fashioned way, no problem. Well , after having crunchy split peas after hours and hours of simmering away on a woodstove over two different days, I decided in the future Wed find away around the pressure cooker ban.

I found this very helpful site:

I'll summarize for you. Basically split peas are dangerous because they have a proclivity for exploding under pressure and gumming up the works. The trick is to let your pressure cooker vent steam for 30 sec or so, then let it come to pressure. As soon as it does, turn it off and let it sit. By the time the pressure drops off again, the peas should be cooked. If the pressure drops right away, just turn on the heat for a minute or two and repressurize. Works like a charm!! And I love the "retained heat cooking" aspect of it, something we're big fans of around here.

So, there you have it...and good night.

February 24, 2013

Never Say Never

When I found out I was pregnant, I set a goal for us to be in the yurt by the time the baby came. There was NO way we were going to be able to squeeze a third person into our cabin, no way. Then Eden was born early and we were nowhere near being in the yurt, and so we added another person to our cabin. Turns out there was a way, not even that tough really.

But, now we would DEFINITELY be in the yurt by fall, winter at the latest. There was NO way we were using the woodstove with an infant in such a little space. Well....fall came and went, and we have managed to have an infant and a warm house. No big deal.

BUT, we WILL be in the yurt by the time Eden starts crawling. There is NO WAY we are managing a crawling infant, a woodstove, a 5-foot high bed, etc.

Okay, I think I've learned my lesson now. Where there's a will there's a way, lots of ways actually. Eden is crawling, pulling up on everything, and even experimenting with bipedal locomotion, and the yurt, while slowly moving closer, is not move-in-able yet. So, we find ways.

Our latest adaptation involves eliminating the disastrous possibility of a tumble out of our much elevated bed. We put our bed up high enough to accommodate our dressers and storage area for out-of-season clothes underneath. As of today, though, we've cleared everything out from under our bed (taken it to the yurt of course) and put our mattress on the floor under the bed. I kept out a half-dozen or so outfits for myself, stacked in a momentarily neat pile at the foot of the bed. So, this is my first night sleeping in the "cave". I'm really pretty impressed with us for making it work, whatever happens. I love how life keeps totally wiping out my will-not-cross lines. Keeps me adaptable. Now, I just wonder how many times I'm going to bonk my head on the bed frame with this new arrangement.

January 21, 2013


I apparently have some really bad beagle karma swirling around me lately. First it was the disappearance of Wilson eight months ago, a heartbreaking mystery that remains unsolved to this day

Strike two was running over my grandfather's elderly beagle, Fancy. Yes, given her deafness and seeming oblivion about cars it was only a matter of time until someone ran over her, but still, that someone was me. Luckily, she's alive and in good spirits but not using her hind end.

Now it's Jango. Did I ever even get around to introducing him here? Jango is the friendly beagle who's been living with us for six months or so after he showed up, and stayed, at my parent's place. He was no Wilson, but he was cute and sweet and gentle with Eden. See, I'm confused as to whether or not to speak of him in the past or present tense because now he is missing as well, for almost a week, the day before a 10-inch snowstorm and Arctic temperatures. He was wearing his collar with ID tag so we were sure we'd be getting a call soon, but....

This is really just getting maddening. Don't get me wrong; I'm sad he's gone and worried as to his fate, but mostly I just can't believe this is happening g again. I've had eight dogs in my life - three of which died after being struck by cars, two died of old age (there's a novel idea!), one is living out her last days with my parents, and then there's the vanishers. Losing a pet by any means is never easy, but I've always had a body to bury, a sense of closure. I don't know what to do with these disappearances! Do I hold out hope? How long? Do I assume the worst? Which worst? I've got a very vivid imagination. Jango could have been stolen and sold to a medical lab for experiments. A neighbor could have him tied in a back room pretending to know nothing all the while. Maybe our cat Foxy put a hit out on him. Maybe he's headed West in search of gold. Who knows! Realistically, I'm waiting for the snow to melt so I can search the roadsides for a body, but probably I'll never know.

Either way, strike three...I'm out.

January 09, 2013

Minor Miracles

Stop me if I've told this one before (or I guess stop yourself from reading). I know I've written this in my head multiple times while showering, but I'm not sure if its made it into print yet.

Anyway, I seem to have a magical bottle of hair conditioner, one that never ends. Granted, I only use it once a week at the farm I work on, but still, I've been working on this one medium-sized bottle of conditioner for a couple of years now! It's not even one of those jumbo "family sized" ones either. It's one of the small and expensive "natural" kinds. (I have a "no animal testing" criteria for my hair care. I just don't see the need for any rabbits to have their eyes burned out by chemicals so I can have more shine or bounce.) Its not even to the stand it on its head or give it a good shake down point.

Every time I shower I'm reminded of the Old Testament story about the woman who was going to have to sell her kid in to slavery until Elijah (?? Don't fact check me here, I'm going for the gist not the verbatim retelling) made her crock of olive oil never ending so she was able to sell a bunch and keep her kid. I think my bottle of conditioner has been similarly blessed. Not to be ungrateful, but if I could pick one thing to be never ending, I don't know if conditioner would have been my choice. Yes, it's nice since it is slightly more expensive than the discount brands, but how about the never emptying gas tank on my car? Or the never ending dog food bucket (we feed that dog too good)? I'd be happy with never ending olive oil too - healthy, tasty, numerous uses. Not that I'm not happy now. I'll take my blessings however they come. And if you ever need a little moisturizing designed for all hair types, you know who to talk to.

January 07, 2013

First night in the yurt

Last night was Eden's and my first night sleeping in the yurt, made possible by the loft Joe built and the newly installed and functioning wood stove ( see photos below ). Joe has been sleeping in the yurt for a while, unheated because he's tough like that. Apparently he gets a better night's sleep alone in the freezing cold than he does sharing a little double bed with Eden and me. We've been looking forward to the larger bed out in the yurt, but I'm a pansy and wanted a little heat on these winter nights as well.

After what seemed like endless obstacles, we finally got all the parts and pieces necessary to get our cook stove installed, just in time for some visiting friends to be our first overnight guests. They were coming from balmy LA, but they're also seasoned world travelers, so they did just fine.

Anyway, my first night in the yurt was a somewhat sleepless temperature rollercoaster. We lit a fire in the stove a few hours before bedtime. There's still a lot to learn about how to efficiently operate the stove as well as how the yurt heats up as well. By the time we went to bed, I was guessing it was in the upper 50's in the yurt, though Joe was guessing 60's. For my comfort level I was happy to keep my socks on and burrow into the mounds of blankets Joe has been using out there. I was glad I'd put Eden in fleecy pjs. The windows and plexiglass dome were clouded with condensation, but I could still make out the stars just over my head. Somewhere in the night, I woke up in a puddle of sweat. Eden's pjs were also damp with sweat, so we kicked the blankets off. I remember thinking "yay, so it can get really warm in here". Due to the way I sleep on my side to be able to nurse Eden with minimal wakefulness, I always have one arm that is out from under the covers and often falls asleep. The next time I woke up during the night, that arm was a numb popsicle! I could tell that the fire had died out in the stove, though I have no idea for how long. So, back under the blankets we went.

Overall, I think it was an OK night's sleep, but I remember waking up a lot and being glad when it was time to get up, and very happy that Joe (who'd gotten up at 5:30 to meditate) had built a fire in the cabin so it was nice and warm when we came in. To add to the restless night was the fact that we'd watched the "Hatfields and McCoys" movie just before bed so my dres were full of shoot outs. I'm also a much lighter sleeper when sleeping with both Joe and Eden as I'm conscious about every twitch Eden makes so I can tend to her and minimize any disturbance for Joe. We'll get it all straightened out with time I'm sure.

Next step on the yurt project is putting a finish on the floors and then finishing out the kitchen!