Monday, January 31, 2011

Storm’s a-comin’ this way

Just looked at the local weather report and it looks like we may miss the brunt of the ice but we’re still expecting up to 4” of snow between tonight & tomorrow. 
Having survived our first ice storm back in January of ‘09, I’m not going to take any chances and have loaded up the front porch with firewood.

I normally don’t like to keep that much fuel on the porch (wooden porch, log house & all), but if we really do get hit with ice, it’s not going to be an easy task to haul firewood.  We keep our wood piles about 150’ away from the house.  Normally not a long haul, but if it becomes an ice rink that will be a very long & difficult jaunt.
I’ve got several weeks of grain in the barn for the goats, chickens & mule.  The hay is either in the barn or under tarps.  I’ve got plenty of buckets / containers to store animal water.  Paul is going to top off the car with gas and get extra fuel for the generators.  Found where the Coleman fuel is for the camp stove.  Checked on our store of lamp oil.  Pantry is full. 

I am also going to make sure I do some of the "other" preparing things that I didn't realize we'd need to do until that last storm.  Things like doing the laundry, doing the dishes, making sure everyone gets a hot shower, vacuuming all the rugs, baking bread & cookies and making sure that the rechargeable batteries and cell phones are actually charged.
Well, got to go make some bread & cookies now.  That’s always a good idea, impending ice storm or not.

Warm & Productive Weekend

Saturday was in the lower 70’s (yes, you read that right) and today was in the lower 50’s.  Grandma came over on Saturday to watch Rhiannon so Paul & I got a lot of outdoor chores done. 
Godzilla was in working order so Paul dozed a few more trees down & then went to doing “cleanup”.  Having a mechanical monster capable of toppling trees on a whim seems like a great idea, but it does leave a mess.  Na├»ve as I am, I was originally thinking, “Wow, we can clear pasture in NO time at all”.  Then reality slapped me awake as I witnessed the gawd-awful mess that the dozer creates in its path.  The path itself is clear, but the surrounding areas become a tangled mess of trees, limbs & root balls.  So now we have to sling a chain around the larger trees to drag them out of the mess, cut the limbs off (and avoid getting impaled by branches), toss the limbs in a pile to run though the wood chipper, then saw up (and eventually split) the tree trunks into woodstove-sized logs. 

Our limb-chipping provided seven wheelbarrows full of chips so I got the small path to the goat area spread with the new wood chips.  Several small cedars went through the chipper so it smelled sooooo good!

My small berry garden was swallowed by the weeds this past summer.  And beaten by the Africa-Hot summer.  And provided soft, composted earth for the bastard Armadillos to dig in.  All this equals a not-so-nice-or-productive garden.  Add that to the fact that the chickens were having a ball scratching through the newly raked mulch & dirt and you get a not-so-pleasant-gardener that was screaming obscenities and waving the rake at the poultry digging around the remaining blueberry bushes. 

This garden used to be fenced in, but the ice storm two years ago mangled the fence & some of the posts so Paul finally took it out this fall.  If I have any hope of keeping the remaining raspberries and blueberry bushes, I’m definitely going to have to put up another fence.  I’ve already been eying some of the cedars that met with Godzilla this weekend and plan on using them for fence posts.
Speaking of the ice storm damage from 2 years ago; it seems that we’re in for another potentially nasty ice storm this evening & tomorrow.  I’ve got to get working on preps for that this afternoon. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Godzilla LIVES!

Our bulldozer, which I’ve nicknamed Godzilla, is finally back in service!  Paul has been working on it in his “spare” time since we got it last year and it’s finally up to his minimum working standards (he’s a wee-bit anal when it comes to mechanical stuff).

He had it running for about an hour today and was able to clear another section for pasture.  It’s amazing how much faster & easier it is to clear using the dozer as opposed to using the tractor & the backhoe.  How in the world did they do it in the “old days” with just an axe & saw?  Amazing when you think about it; how much time & back-breaking labor went into carving out a homestead back then.  No wonder they didn’t need Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. 
Our plan is to have a large enough area to plant some good pasture grasses and bring Ms. Melman and Nugget (Paul’s name for the mini) down here this Summer.  As we don’t want the animals running around the entire county, we’re also going to have to fence it in.  I think we’re going to use 5’ t-posts and field fencing with two strands of hot wire; one at mule-nose height and one at goat-nose height.  I’m really hoping that everyone (goats, mini-horse, mule, chickens) will get along together in the same area, although I suppose we’ll still have a separate pen for kidding time or if somebody is sick and needs quarantined. 
There are so many projects I have buzzing around my brain now that Godzilla is back.  Fire break around the property.  Riding trail.  Pond.  More pasture (why did I want a place with all woods?).  Level out the back yard.  Huge garden plot.
I’ve got Paul’s entire spring & summer booked up already.  He just doesn’t know it yet.  He-he.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tax Evasion

In recognition of my political rant on the SOTU address, I will practice what I preach.  While it can be interesting, animating or completely maddening (or even fun for some) to grumble about the short-comings and incompetency of our government, complaining does few things.  Venting about it may relieve stress for you but it often causes stress for the person you are talking to and it does nothing to address the actual problems.
While I can’t do much to convince others to see beyond the massive Dog & Pony Show that our government is constantly putting on for us, I can do things in order to lessen my involuntary contribution to the ever-expanding tyrannical behemoth.  And that’s Tax Evasion.  Not in the sense of “cheating” on your tax returns, but in avoiding taxes in the first place. 
There are many ways to avoid paying taxes.  Sales Taxes have been such a commonplace item in our life that we don’t even think about them any longer.  Just keep this in the back of your mind:  Every time I buy something (other than used), I’m paying Uncle Sam for that “privilege”.
So here are just a few things you can do to tell Uncle Sam to “stuff it”.  And it won’t even bring any undue attention to you or your family.
Plant a garden.  Even if it’s just in a few buckets of tomatoes on your condo patio.  Or a half-acre plot of heirloom veggies.  Every homegrown delectable you eat is a physical, tasty & healthy way of not giving your money to the government via sales tax at the grocery store.  Same thing goes if you have the means to raise your own meat, milk and / or eggs.
Barter. You don’t need to live on a farm to do this and it doesn’t have to be “I’ll give you three chickens if you give me a side of bacon” kind’a thing.  Do you watch your children at home during the day? Maybe your accountant or dentist has a kid that needs daycare.  Could you swap some daycare time for his or her services?  Can you mow the neighbor’s lawn in exchange for that old wheelbarrow behind his shed?  You’ll never know if you don’t ask and the worst that they can say is “No”. 
Shop Thrift Stores & the Classifieds.  Before you buy something new, try a local thrift store.  There are also plenty of free papers (often with free listings) available and internet sites like FreeCycle and Craig’s List that have items for sale & barter, sometimes even free.  Not only can you get items cheaper than new, but you’re not going to have to pay sales tax on it. 
Internet or Catalog Shopping.  Take advantage of those companies or internet sites that don’t charge sales tax. 
Tax-Free Weekends.  I believe Missouri has a day or weekend like this.  You can buy certain school items like computers, books & clothing tax free.  I think it’s just the state’s tax you are avoiding - the Feds still take your money.  But make sure it’s something that you were going to be buying anyways and that you’ve exhausted any way of getting it online or second-hand (state and Fed tax-free).
Restaurant & Fast Food Taxes.  Home cooking is better for you and you don’t have to pay taxes on the restaurant bill.  Not only that, but some cities even have an additional “sin” tax on take-out and fast-food items.  Eat at home.
Fuel Taxes. Ever wonder why the taxes aren’t posted on your fuel receipt at the gas station?  Because you’d probably have a stroke if you saw it each time you pumped gas into your car.  Want to reduce your tax load?  Then plan your vehicle outings.  Don’t make unnecessary trips.  Make sure you have a list so there’s no more running out to the store for “just one thing”.  Less money spent on fuel and fewer taxes paid.
Save your hard-earned money from the bite of State & Federal taxes any and every way you can.  It may not be long before they pass laws making growing your own food tax-evasion.  Think I’m kidding?  I bet your not-so-distant relatives would have laughed if somebody suggested that they would be paying taxes on their outhouse or the family plow mule. (BTW, if your Loo is on a permanent foundation, it is taxable here.  Same with the mule….although it doesn’t have to be on a foundation).
If anyone else has any ideas, please post them here so you can share with the rest of us. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Down one Hen & one Cat

Not that it should come as a shock, but we lost a Barred Rock hen this morning.  We've been very lucky with not losing many chickens to predators this year, so I guess it was just a matter of time.  I found the carcass of the hen in the ditch under a cedar tree.  Not sure what got it though.  It's lower jaw was missing and all it's neck feathers were plucked out, but no meat from the neck was gone.  That's it.  Nothing else had been touched.  I'm assuming something got it & was interrupted by the dog or something else & left it there.  So I'm guessing it wasn't a coyote or bobcat as they would have probably been able to drag it off with them.  Hawk maybe.  I'm not sure if a raccoon or opossum would have been out in the daytime and if they even bother plucking the feathers off before they eat.  I lopped the head & feet off & put them in the live trap this evening.  Maybe I'll catch something tonight (hopefully not the barn cat).
  
Speaking of the PO'd Barn Cat, I haven't seen him in about a week now.  I'd put out a bowl of cat food each evening as I closed up the chickens in their coop & I'd usually see him lurking around waiting for supper.  I've still been putting the food out every evening and it's gone by the morning, but it wouldn't suprise me if something else is eating it.  Hopefully he just found a nicer place to live.  Or he finally got sick of the generic dry cat foot I've been giving him.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I've Reclaimed my Clothesline!

I’m ashamed to say it, but it’s been months since I’ve hung laundry out to dry, and because laundry still needed to be dried, I’d been using the electric dryer.  What a waste of electricity.  But since we’ve moved Pan (the stinky Nigerian buck) out of the back yard, I’ll be able to use the clothes line again! 
Winter doesn’t give the clothing and sheets that same wonderful sun-dried-smell as the warmer days do, but I’m still happy to be line-drying our laundry again.  Sorry Mom, but the days of “fluffy towels” have come to an end.  Well, I’ll still warm & fluff up a towel for Rhiannon’s bath in the dryer though.
Crunchy clothing, unbendable undies & stiff socks, here we come!

**Warning** Political Rant

I apologive in advance for this.  When I first thought about starting a blog I told myself that I would try very, very hard to keep politics out of it.  And to my defense, I think I've done a darned good job (if you only knew how many days I wanted to go on about the declining state of our country.....)
But I couldn’t help myself.  I went online to read Obama’s State of The Union Address.  And now you must all suffer for my weak will.  So here goes...... 
We’re going to cut spending.  Oh wait, it’s not really cutting spending, we’re just not going to let it get any bigger (after inflation is taken into consideration that is).  Or we’ll cut spending here, but put that “savings” into something else more noble (like a wind farm in the hollows of the Application foothills or solar arrays on the north sloping face of the hills in Wisconsin).
Don’t worry about Social Security; you know, “Americans' guaranteed retirement income”.  Don’t worry if you could have done better by investing on your own, of if you don’t care for being forced to contribute to such a huge Ponzi scheme.
We’re going to work on Obamacare.  But your health care costs have already gone up, months before any of his new health care legislation went into effect. 
We’re going to invest in education.  Well, at least how to be good civil servants.  Maybe we’ll even do a few days on The Constitution and Bill of Rights, but don’t expect us to go into any detail on the tyranny committed by the government on a daily basis.
He claims that he will continue to introduce & enforce “common-sense” safeguards regarding our food supply.  You mean by making it illegal to print “Non-GMO” on a package?  By shutting down a family run farm (www.uncheeseparty.worldpress.com) for selling clean, healthy milk & cheese that has not, in 30 years of operation, sickened one person?  By giving the factory farms a slap on the hand when they sicken or KILL somebody because of E.coli or Salmonella contaminating their eggs or ground beef?
Oh, and we’re going to bring our troops home from Iraq.  Eventually.  Not from those other places though.
“Of course, some countries don't have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed. If they don't want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn't get written.” – Obama, SOTU speech
Do you believe what he just said?  Really??  Come on. 
I also made the mistake of reading several pages of comments regarding the speech. 
There are people out there that are literally jumping for joy over this.  A few people even mentioned how their hope had been renewed by seeing the D’s & R’s sitting together. 
This speech & television broadcast with all the lovey-dovey bipartisan chumming around was nothing more than another crappy episode of some “Reality” TV program.  And the people are eating it up.
In the meantime, I’ll be planting my garden, taking care of my animals, raising my daughter……….and awaiting the high-speed rail and high-speed wireless & internet for everyone. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Great Pantry Challenge, Phase 3 - Shelf Stable Items

The Veggie Phase of the Great Pantry Challenge went smoothly, and it wasn’t nearly as hard as I had originally thought.  Here’s what we had:

Spaghetti with parmesan & goat cheese sauce w/frozen veggies
Mu Shu veggies w/rice
Barley & Veggie soup with whole wheat bread 
Pizza & garlic breadsticks 
Lentil, cheese & onion enchiladas w/Spanish rice & refried beans
Chili & cornbread 
Mushroom & rice pilaf with steamed broccoli and baked sweet potatoes
Soup w/croutons, loaded baked potatoes & honey baked carrots 
Thai noodles w/veggies in a peanut & garlic sauce (sounds weird, but it was good)
Spaghetti casserole
And there were several other veggie suppers that I didn’t even have a chance to make. 
Now we’re on to something a bit more challenging; using shelf-stable items only.  Of course, this happens when the chickens are starting to lay again (I got six eggs yesterday, yeah!).  But I’ll just give the eggs to my Mom.  Or I could start incubating them.  Hmmmmm.  Another project that I’ll want to start that I’m not quite ready for.
Although we do have fresh eggs (and it seems a waste NOT to use them), I going to use the egg powder we have in storage.  I normally don’t use it much at all and it’s getting time to “use it or lose it”. 
Even though I’m not going to use any foods from the fridge or freezer, it’s not like I’m going to cease using either of the appliances.  Leftovers will go into the fridge & those are what usually make up the next day’s lunch menu (or supper for the next day if I end up making LOTS). 
Sunday night we started Phase 3 of the challenge with cream of mushroom soup w/croutons, Salmon patties, baked potatoes & fresh bread.  And had that last night.  And Paul had it for lunch again today.  Poor guy.  Beats potted meat in a can & ramen noodles though.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Goat Bachelor Pad

Pan, our Nigerian buck, has been living in an enclosure right behind the house.  The rest of the herd live in the front.  So I have to make two separate visits each morning and evening, in opposite directions, to feed & water the goats.  The extra exercise definitely isn’t going to kill me, but it isn’t a very effective usage of time.  Not only that, but having Pan behind the house meant that for like five months out of the year I can’t hang my laundry out.  I have my laundry line suspended by the posts for the back porch and he smells sooooo bad during rut that we’ve given up the use of our back porch for anything, including hanging laundry.
This weekend I finally made Pan an enclosure closer to the rest of the girls. 
It’s definitely a downgrade for him as he probably had four times the space in the back yard, but at least he’s closer to everyone else.  I am a bit worried about him stinking up the rest of the herd, but since they can’t touch each other I’m hoping that it will be ok.


Eventually we’re going to fence in a larger area so we can bring the mule & mini down here and hopefully everyone will live happily together.  Well, everyone but Pan.  He’ll still be close by, but I don’t want him running with the does.  The main reason is because I like knowing exactly when everyone is going to kid, the other reason is that he stinks so darned much.  I had brought Nettie down to his enclosure this fall for breeding and left her with him for half the day.  She got so stinky that I ended up giving her a bath.  I just can’t imagine the entire lot of them smelling that badly. 
Speaking of breeding, I’m a bit worried about Nettie.  She’s due in seven weeks and she’s not looking the least bit large.  Usually she’s showing by now.  I’ve also noticed that her behind has been pink & swollen twice now in the past two months.  I even brought Pan up by her those two times, but Nettie wanted absolutely nothing to do with Pan and he didn’t even seem that interested.  I’d be really bummed if she’s not pregnant, as I’m sure she will be when everyone else has their kids.  She is such a good mother.  Nettie even adopted one of the other doe’s kids when she rejected it.  I can imagine her trying to steal everyone’s babies if she doesn’t have one of her own this year.  I wonder if she’ll still go into milk?  I’ve heard of things like that happening, but never had the experience here.
I was thinking about having a blood test done on her to see if she’s pregnant or not, but since it seems that Nettie and Pan want nothing to do with each other this late in the season, it’s doubtful that she’d be bred anyhow.  So I guess I’ll just have to wait and keep my fingers crossed.  It’s going to be a long seven weeks.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Another food item I’ll never be able to buy

I got a recipe for caramel corn from my Mom a few weeks ago.  For reasons unknown, I’ve always thought that making caramel corn was a long & drawn-out process.  But now that I’ve made & tasted it, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat store-bought again.  I’m telling you, this stuff is addicting!  And not that difficult to make.  Just be sure to store at least half of it out-of-sight because if you are looking at the bag of it all day, it won’t last very long.
8 Quarts Popped Corn                        1 teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Sticks Butter or Margarine               ¼ teaspoon Cream of Tartar
2 Cups Brown Sugar                          ¼ teaspoon Salt
½ Cup Corn Syrup
Pop the popcorn & pour into a LARGE bowl (big enough to hold the popcorn and to be able to stir the syrup into it). 
In a large pot (I used a 3-qt. pot), combine butter, brown sugar & corn syrup & heat to a boil.  Keep at a boil for 5 minutes stirring constantly.  Remove from heat & add the Baking Soda, Cream of Tartar & Salt all at once & stir (it will make the syrup increase in volume by at least double, so make sure your pot IS large enough).
Pour syrup over popcorn & stir until popcorn is evenly coated.  Pour into greased baking pans & put in a 250 degree oven for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.  Take out of oven & break large pieces apart.  Let cool & store in airtight containers or bags.

Oh my, yummy!

Friday, January 21, 2011

No Excuse

The economy is in the hole.  Our currency is continuing its downward spiral.  Unemployment is at an all-time high.  Crime is on the rise.
Choose any one (or more) of the above statements and you are assured to hear them in the news on a daily basis.  Just today I learned that one of Paul’s coworkers had his house broken into and a TV set, electronic equipment & a purse were stolen.   At night while they were sleeping. Their dog woke them up & caused the low-life(s) to flee.  The police were able to apprehend them with the stolen items a short time later.  One of them was sixteen years old.
And just yesterday, our neighbor called me to ask if I’ve noticed anyone or anything “odd” during the day.  We live on a dead end gravel road and they are the second to the last home (ours being the last).  Seems that when they got home from work last night, there were tire tracks in their driveway and footprints that went all the way around the house (we just had a snowfall that day).  Nothing was taken or broken, but obviously it warranted a call to us.  They have two outside dogs so maybe that was enough to deter any potential wrong-doing.
Add these two recent incidents to the fact that I’ve seen, on five different occasions within two, maybe three weeks, the same vehicle come down our driveway then turn around & barrel back up the drive, I’m starting to get a bit more cautious. Twice I went outside to try and “meet” this person, once actually breaking into a jog to see if I could get them to stop or to at least get the license plate number. 
Yes, I know we need to get a gate set up.  And I think Paul is finally going to put it on the top of the “To Do” list after these current events. 
But, back to the crime rates going up.
How desperate would one have to be in order to steal a television set?  Is it going to be sold on the street to pay for his (or her) family’s next meal?  And even if the answer to that is “Yes”, I find it very unlikely that the money couldn’t have been obtained in a lawful way or that person couldn’t have found a local organization that could lend him a hand.  Or is that it?  They don’t want to have to work at McDonald’s for minimum wage or rake a neighbor’s yard for $20.  They don’t want a hand up, but a hand OUT.  They don’t care about who they are stealing from or how that violation is going to affect the victim (both financially and mentally).
This sickens me to no end.   Not only because of the actual criminal activity, but because it seems that we are just telling ourselves, “Oh, it’s because of the economy.”  As if that makes the crimes more easily digestible.
It’s not because of the economy.  It's not because a Democrat (or Republican) is in office.  It isn't because of global warming (or whatever it's called now).  It’s because people have become lazy, irresponsible and egotistic.  Why work when you can steal?  I can either personally steal someone else’s possessions or have the government do it for me in the form of welfare.  Our children have run amuck and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Know your neighbors.  Help your neighbors.  Lend a hand to those that truly deserve it.
Teach your children to be responsible.  Protect your family & friends. 
Keep your wits about you.  And refuse to let yourself become a victim.
I apologize for the mad rant.
Tune in tomorrow for your Normally Scheduled Blogg.

The 4-Letter “S” word

There are very few things I like about snow.  One would be how beautiful it looks on a moonlit night.  Last night was one of those times.  It’s bright enough outside even past midnight that you can pick out the small details of the tree bark.  I’ve been after Paul to go on a nighttime walk through the woods after a snow when the moon is full.  Going to be a bit more difficult now that Rhiannon’s here, so I suppose I’m going to have to go alone if it’s going to happen this year.
Another thing I like to do after a snow is to look for animal tracks.  Not that there are tons of different types of animals or birds around here (and half of them are our critters), but it’s still interesting to pick out an animal by its tracks and try to figure out what it was doing.  Was it “going” somewhere or just scouting around?  Was it walking or running? 
PO'd Barn Kitty tracks


Vulture tracks (tail feathers making the lines)


Rabbit and small bird (maybe Junco) tracks

For the life of me, I couldn’t find any deer tracks.  Which I thought was kind’a weird as they are usually everywhere and it’s not like the snow was very deep or that icy.  Maybe they found a good eat’n spot and have camped out there.
The temps aren’t supposed to warm up for several days, so I guess we’ll be stuck with the white stuff for a bit longer.  In the time being, I think Rhiannon & I will work on our numbers and letters.  And maybe work on NOT eating the flash cards.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Small Space Dry Food Storage

Don’t think you have any room for storing pantry items?  Well, take’a look at this then:

This fold-up baker’s rack measures only 21” wide x 48” high x 15” deep and is in one of those “dead” spaces in my kitchen.  If we were really ambitious I suppose we could make permanent shelving in this area and double the shelf space.  Another thing to put on the list.
Anyways, on this small rack in the kitchen with a footprint measuring less than 2 ½ feet, I have the following items:
Lentils, Spaghetti, Macaroni, Barley, Brown Rice, White Rice, Split Peas, Pinto Beans, Great Northern Beans, Popcorn, Black Turtle Beans, Malt-o-Meal and Oatmeal.  I’d guess that there is about forty pounds of foodstuffs there.

There are also various jars containing Alfalfa & Mung beans for sprouting, Flax seeds, Poppy seeds, Hot Cocoa mix and a few spices and a small basket of sweet potatoes and onions.  There’s still room for a few more containers.
I did splurge and buy the large glass jars at the dollar store, but the smaller jars are recycled condiment or jelly jars (paint the lids with spray enamel and they look fancier) and canning jars.  Having your dry storage items in a sealed container is a must to keep your foods pest-free.  I’ve heard that many people will put a bay leaf or two in their long term dry storage items although I haven’t done that yet. 
Speaking of things not being done yet, I should probably get off the computer and haul some warm water to the goats & chickens.  We had some ice earlier this morning & a few inches of snow on top of that since. 
Goats?  What goats?
Looking out the window I’ll usually see the goats staring back at me, but all I see is an empty goat yard and the goat barn.  Not only do my goats hate “acid” rain, but apparently snow is also radioactive as they are either under or inside the barn in an attempt to avoid touching any of the white stuff.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

*(&*^%^&#$#!@ - Avian for "You freaking iddiot"

Evil Kitty & Susan, our two indoor / outdoor cats, go in and out during the day (and in, and out, and in, and out, and……) but we bring them inside at night to keep them safe from any nighttime predators.  Paul leaves for work before daybreak and when he was bringing in wood for the stove this morning, Evil Kitty scooted out the door.  Nothing really to worry about as it’s starting to get light out and the fact that it was darn cold out this morning; meaning that she soon would be scratching and meowing at the door to come in and thaw out by the stove.
About twenty minutes later I hear the meowing & pawing at the door.  Rhiannon is still sleeping, so the lights are out so I quietly shuffle through the maze of Duplo building blocks (big Lego toys) to the back door to let Evil Kitty inside. 
But my head is still foggy from early morning and forget one of the cardinal rules of letting the cats inside.  So I open the door for her, feel her brush past my leg & quickly shut the door.  A few minutes later I hear weird “mah….mah…mew….mah…mew” kitty noises coming from underneath the kitchen table.  Thinking that she may be hurt (I’m a worry-wart when it comes to my outdoor critters), I flip on the lights and look under the kitchen table to find a small bird stuffed in Evil Kitty’s mouth.  So I quickly extricate the ruffled and wet bird from the jaws of death (much to the cat’s dismay) give it a quick once-over to determine that it is still alive, then look around for a something to put it in while it recuperates.  You’d think that by now, after having several birds enter our home via Evil Kitty’s maw, that I would have a dedicated container or cage for such incidents.  But no.  Hence the canning pot.
So, what's cook'n Ma?

But wait, it gets better (worse?).  I also forget the second cardinal rule of letting the cats in if first rule is broken (the first one being never let cats in before checking to see if they have anything in their mouth).  After rescuing critters from jaws-of-death, and after securing critter into safe container, do not open lid to said container just to “check-up” on critter that will, undoubtedly jump or fly out once lid is lifted.
So now Evil Kitty, Susan and even Moonshine (who somehow managed to drag her bulk out from under the woodstove) are running around the kitchen trying to catch the bird.  So for the second time in less than a half-hour, I extricate the bird from Evil Kitty’s mouth and place bird back into the “safety” of the pot.  By now Rhiannon is awake and is seemingly quite amused with all the ruckus going on in the kitchen given her almost hysterical giggling.
Return bird back to the pot.  Place pot on countertop.  Turn around to get teapot that has been whistling for the past five minutes.  Look over to pot just in time to see Rhiannon lifting the lid off.  Bird is out of the pot flying around again.  Bird smacks into window.  Grab bird before cats or dog get it.  Put semi-conscience bird back into pot & put pot in utility room.

Not-so-happy Birdie.  I think it's a Junco. 

I gave the bird another half hour of peace, then took pot out of the utility room (without lifting lid) and to the front yard.  Lift lid, bird looks at me for an instant & flies to nearest tree, probably swearing at me the entire time.
All this before 8:30 in the morning.  I need a nap.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It’s Seed & Chick Catalog Time!

There are very few items that I look forward to getting in the mail.  Seed & chick catalogs are two of the few exceptions.  A box of L&M Chocolates would be another.
But back to the non-chocolate stuff.  I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time browsing the McMurray catalog; making lists, crossing things off, putting them back on the list, adding just ten more chicks, might as well make it an extra dozen…..
Our chicken flock is at eighteen birds right now.  One black mutt rooster (Australorp somewhere in there), one Production Red hen, two Easter Egger hens, one Australorp hen, three black something-or-other hens (one of which may actually be a rooster) and ten Barred Rock hens.  Seventeen laying hens may seem like a lot, but not when it’s the dead of winter & I’m only getting one, maybe two eggs a day.  I was also hoping to sell more eggs this spring & summer to help offset the chicken feed bills.
Oooo!  What kind do you think she'll get us this year Bonnie? I hope she buys one of those Phoenix hunks instead of whatever's in the bargan bin at Farm & Fleet.
Well, Gloria, I personally prefer the White Faced Black Spanish Roosters, but you know I'm a sucker for those boyish Mediterranean faces.

I think I’m going to try incubating eggs again.  I’ve done it three times already, once with good success but the second & third times it didn’t go so well.  The last time I tried incubating I only got one live hatch and since it’s a pain in the butt to raise just one chick, I ended up giving it to a guy at Paul’s work who just bought a bunch of chicks.
Of course, if I incubate the eggs it means that I’ll have to keep them warm in a brooder after they hatch, then move them to an enclosed pen so they don’t get pecked to death by the older birds until they are several months old.  Makes me wish I had a few good broody hens.  Well, I did have several hens go broody last year, but they have since met their maker by way of a bobcat, hawk or coyote dinner plate.
So I think I’m going to try both ways of obtaining chicks this year.  Along with incubating some eggs, I’ll buy a few Partridge Rock and Silkie hens in hopes that I can raise them for future broody hens.  I have grand dreams of eventually having a separate, totally enclosed chicken run to house my breeding hens & roosters.  It would be nice to know that I wouldn’t have to rely on a hatchery in order to keep our chicken numbers up.
Off to finish looking through the chick catalog.  I haven’t even made it to the fancy breed section yet.  Then there’s the goose, duck and peafowl section.  The list keeps getting longer & longer. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Grocery List

After the month of January, when The Great Pantry Challenge ends, we’ll be making a few shopping trips to the bigger towns to re-stock our pantry. 
We buy staples like white sugar, veggie oil, white flour (yes, I know it’s icky, but I still occasionally use it), pasta and some canned goods at Aldi.  Then off to Sam’s Club where we get most of our bulky items like popcorn for grinding, honey, olive oil, cocoa powder, rice, beans and miscellaneous spices. 
I haven’t bought any bulk wheat in almost three years and it’s time to get more.  I used to buy my grains from Walton Feed (www.waltonfeed.com) and Country Life Natural Foods (www.CLNF.org).  Walton Feed generally had cheaper grains, but Country Life had a larger variety of Organic grains and the best Thick Rolled Oats I’ve ever eaten.  I was very happy with both of them, but since we’ve moved farther south the shipping costs are too much to justify either of them.  The last time I bought wheat it was from a bakery about an hour away.  The price was double that of Walton Feed, but still cheaper when you added the shipping costs.
Corn, Rice, Beans, Pasta & Wheat.
Easy long-term storage items.

Some grocery list, hugh?  Where’s the Sloppy Joe mix, the Shake ‘n Bake, the Hamburger Helper and Tombstone frozen pizza you say?  If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you already know the answer.  I don’t consider most of the items in your local Dominick’s or Jewel (can you tell where I was originally from???) food.  Yes, I’ve eaten my share of Ritz crackers topped with Cheeze Whiz and mini-hotdogs wrapped in ready-made biscuit dough, but I try not to.  And now that Rhiannon has come into our life, I try very hard not to subject her tiny intestinal tract to preservatives, artificial sweeteners and dyes.
That brings us to the reasoning for all the basic staples.  I make our meals from scratch…..most of the time.  I wish I could say that a box of Stovetop Stuffing has never graced our pantry, but I’d be fibbing.  But I do make homemade meals the majority of the time.  It also helps that I really love to cook.  And eat.  My scale is a liar by the way.
Even though I’d like to be able to convince all of you that cooking from scratch is the way to go, I also know that reality is in play here.  Like you work 50+ hours a week away from home and take care of your children.  Or you haven’t made room in your home for a large pantry.  Or you just hate, hate, hate cooking (like my Sister…..I feel sorry for her husband) and can live on a boneless, skinless chicken breast cooked in the microwave on a paper plate & served with a side of mustard and a microwaved bag of steamed broccoli.* 
And as long as your normal eating routine doesn’t include McDonald’s $1 menu every meal, you’ll save money on your grocery bill by cooking from scratch.  Not to mention it’s healthier for you.
If there is still room in your bag of New Year’s Resolutions, please humor me and try to take one day of the week, or even one day a month, and try cooking something from scratch.  And if you’re my Sister, keep your spirits up….and keep the phone number to Little Caesar’s handy. 
*One of the dinners my Sister made me several years ago and I’m not in any way exaggerating.  Wasn’t even butter or salt on the broccoli.  I vividly recall peeling the cooked chicken breast off the paper plate. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saving $$ and stocking up on Groceries

Besides the obvious – growing your own produce - how does one keep the grocery bills down?  You can use coupons, buy store brands or generic canned or packaged goods, frequent a Dent & Scratch store, join a warehouse club or shop online to buy in bulk.  Or just eat less (which I probably need to practice more).   Most of these things are no-brainers, but sometimes you can get in a rut and need a thrifty smack-upside-the-head.
Coupons.  I’ve read many a blog and heard of several coupon sites (some which you pay for!) that give tips & hints on how to “stack” coupons to get things half-off or more, sometimes even for just pennies.  I’ve tried the coupon clipping thing, but I found that any coupons that looked remotely interesting were either not a product we normally buy, or the product was still more expensive after the coupon than the generic or store brand.  Not to mention the fact that we don’t get a local paper or even those junk mail coupon flyers in the mail.  So although you may be able to save some cash clipping coupons, I personally can’t justify it for our household.  Sale flyers are another nice thing to have when planning your grocery shopping.  But make sure you aren’t driving another ten miles to get the two items that were cheaper down the road.  You may have saved fifteen cents on a can of tuna, but burned two bucks worth of fuel.
Store Brands & Discount Grocery Stores.  There are very few brand name grocery items I buy, in fact, I couldn’t tell you which items they were until I needed them.  Anyways.  There are only so many canning or food production facilities that provide products to your area.  Do you think that each brand has its own farm and packing facility?  Nope.  Most store brands are packed in the same facility and usually with the same product as the name brands – just different labels.  Some will have different standards though, so it’s not like everything is exactly the same.  Stop falling prey to the fancy advertising.  Try a store or generic brand of veggies (or whatever) and honestly ask yourself if the name brand is any better.  And, if you still think it is better, is it worth the extra cost? 
Scratch & Dent Stores.  We have two of these stores in our area.  I wouldn’t really count on this type of store to provide me with everything I needed because the items change weekly, but it’s a nice place to check out.  Just make sure that if the canned goods are dented that the actual contents haven’t been compromised.  And definitely stay away from any bulging cans (and let the store manager know about them).  One of these stores routinely had a lot of organic & “hippy-dippy” foods there and I loved it!  Nothing wrong with the items, most within their expiration dates, but the items just weren’t selling quickly enough in the big stores around here.  So I got great deals on some obscure (at least to the folk around here) organic items.  I think the best deal I got was for 6 oz. of dried Shiitake mushrooms for $2.49.......I just used the last of them with our Mu Shu Veggie supper last night.  Wish I had bought more.

Mu Shu Veggies with Rice

Warehouse Clubs.  The closest one we have is Sam’s Club and it’s two hours away.  We buy popcorn (for grinding into cornmeal), white & brown rice, olive oil, white sugar, bulk spices and baking additives like vanilla.  We used to have an individual membership but ended up quitting it last year.  The membership dues were $40 a year, and even though we split the dues with my Mom, we still couldn’t justify the $20 cost as we were only going twice a year and I’m not even sure we saved $20 on buying in bulk.  So now we hitch a ride with a couple we know who does have a membership (thanks Ed & Sandy!!) and buy stuff with them.  Remember to compare the prices though!  There are some items (like pinto & black beans) that are still cheaper in the 5 lb. bags at the discount grocery store than it is at Sam’s. 
Online Shopping.  For those of us out in the boonies, online shopping is often the only way to find those hard-to-get items.  And that may mean something as “simple” as Vanilla Chai tea.  Hard-to-find is all relative around here.  Unfortunately, online shopping has one major drawback; shipping costs.  And escalating fuel costs are going to make shipping costs climb even higher.  You should take your fuel costs into consideration also.  An online item may cost more when shipping fees are added but if you’ve got to drive an hour to get something “cheaper” than it was online, are you really saving any money?
Another important tool in your shopping bag o’ tricks should be a price book.  A small booklet that you keep with you during all shopping outings that has the current prices of items you frequently (or even sort-of-frequently) buy.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a store & stare at the price of carrots and wonder if they were cheaper at the store I’m going to be going to next.  On your next shopping outing, take a few minutes to jot down the prices of your regularly purchased items – and which store they were at.  You’ll thank me the next time you’re staring at the bag of romaine lettuce and wondering if you saw it cheaper down the road.
Food prices are continuing to rise every month (if not every week).  More than likely your paycheck has not followed this trend.  When you see a good deal on something at the grocery store, instead of buying one or two, buy a half-dozen or more.  And make it a practice every time you go to the store.  Stop buying just one or two cans or packages of such-and-such.  Not only will you have to make fewer trips to the store, but you’ll be on your way to having a nicely filled pantry.  Just make sure it is something that your family eats on a regular basis and that its shelf life is within the limits of when you think you’ll need to restock. 
One of the most important mottos for stocking your pantry is “Store what you Eat and Eat what you Store”.  I’ll talk more about that and long term storage items next blog.  Yeah, really exciting, I know.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Great Pantry Challenge, Part 2

We started the New Year’s Pantry Challenge with a week of Woodstove Only cooking.  I reheated the leftover pork chops from New Year’s Eve dinner, baked three loaves of bread, baked potatoes, made two batches of soup, baked beans, and a few other easy things like canned veggies heated on the stove.   I even made two small batches of cookies. 
I took the cover off to see if the cookies were done....not quite.

Since the chickens are on their winter egg-strike, breakfasts usually consisted of oatmeal with apple butter and toast.  Cooking on the wood stove wasn’t rocket science, but it definitely took more thought & time than using our electric stove and range.  I was pretty happy with how the loaves of bread turned out so I may continue baking bread in the wood stove when the logs have burned down to coals.
I was going to start Part 2, Vegetarian cooking, on Monday, but we had to finish pork steaks from Sunday night and then Mom brought over homemade meatballs on Tuesday.  So I started our vegetarian week yesterday with oatmeal & fruit for breakfast and spaghetti & broccoli in a goat cheese sauce for supper.  I made extra spaghetti and had a lot of leftover sauce that I made for Mom’s meatballs so I also made a dish of “Polish Lasagna”.   It’s basically lasagna but instead of using lasagna noodles I used layers of spaghetti and my cheese layers were just goat cheese, mozzarella & parmesan (no egg).  I threw the casserole in the freezer for a meal later on this week. 
"Fast" food, Krazo Acres style.

Other things I’m planning on having are at least two soups, a batch of chili with cornbread, loaded baked potatoes, enchiladas with beans & rice, veggie stir fry and some sort of lentil dish.
After the Veggie Only week, we’ll have a How Cheap Can We Eat week and a Dry Storage Foods week (meaning nothing from the fridge or freezer).
We’re already half way through the month & with the exception of the bunch of grapes and the bananas Grandma bought for Rhiannon, nothing new has come from the grocery store.  I did, however stop at the store yesterday to return a Christmas gift.  Our Fire Department has a gift grab bag & I got a nice set of glasses.  Which doesn’t seem like anything special except that I was really wanting a new set since we haven’t had a matching set in several years.  One of the new glasses had a crack in it so I went to return it.  Since I was already at the store I picked up a few other things like kitty litter & windshield wiper fluid and not only managed to stay away from the grocery section, but didn’t even buy any of the kinda-unnecessary things that usually end up in the buggy.
Half a month of no grocery stores and I’m patting myself on the back.  How sad is that?  I suppose I really didn’t realize it until recently how often I went and really how unnecessary those trips were.  Was I having to go so often because I really needed something, or because I needed something to do?  I suspect the latter as I’m normally a very good list-maker and store trips never used to be for just one or two items. 
I think that my blog for tomorrow (or whenever I get to it) will be something along the lines of bulk buying and thrifty shopping.  Or something entirely different. Try not to let the suspense kill ya.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Filling the Freezer

Since I spared you all from the step-by-step photo journal of the actual butchering process, I figured I could at least show you what the hind & front quarters look like going into the oven.  There are cuts of meat that look “worse” in the grocery store, so if this grosses you out, I’d hate to be with you at the meat counter in the store.
These cuts of meat aged for a day & a half.  Not as long as I’d have liked it to hang, but I had an opportunity for some uninterrupted butchering time (i.e. Grandma was over watching Rhiannon….thanks Grandma!) and took advantage of it.  I seasoned them with a basic seasoning salt, garlic & onion powder and wrapped them up in foil to keep it moist. 

They slow cooked in the oven for about five hours at 300 degrees just until the meat falls off the bone.  I got two pounds of meat and one pound of dog / kitty treat meat.  It doesn’t sound like much, but the 2 pounds for us is just meat – no fat, no bones, nothing but pop-it-in-your-mouth tender goat meat.  I could have been pickier about it and got more meat out of it but it was getting late & I was getting tired. 
Today I’m going to cut out the tenderloins, ribs and neck and wrap them up for the freezer.  As much as I like the tenderloin cuts, I’m really looking forward to a rib dinner.  Visions of a meat goat herd is filling my head again.
I often wonder what my reaction would be if somebody came up to me 15 years ago and told me that I’d be raising, eating and enjoying goat meat.  Although I suppose “exotic” meat wouldn’t have really freaked me out even when I was a kid thanks to my adopted grandpa, Bernie.  I have him to thank for so many things, one of them being how to skin & butcher an animal.  I vividly recall being called into the garage one day after school to find a dead raccoon hanging from the rafters and given a lesson on how to skin an animal.  Same went when deer hunting season came.  And the parties at Wilma & Bernie’s house were awesome; beaver tail, bear, goose, moose, elk……you name it, we ate it and loved it.
Now this may not seem like anything special to most country folk, but at that time I was a pre-teen living in the suburbs and attending a well-to-do Catholic grammar school.  I don’t recall if I had any conversations with my classmates about my “strange” grandpa, but can you imagine how it could have sounded?
Schoolmate: “So, what did you do this weekend Carolyn?  My Dad took us skiing at Villa Oliva.”
Me: “Well, I learned how to gut, skin & butcher a raccoon, although we didn’t actually eat this one because it was too old and it was basically for practice.”
Schoolmate:  Stares at me wide-eyed, jaw agape.
Me:  “Bernie said we could eat the next one as long as it’s fresh.  Maybe I can bring some in my lunch and share it with you.”
I’m not sure if Christine received the same “training” as I did or not.  But given her aversion to most meat products, and her ability to only eat meat that doesn’t look like what it was before being butchered, I suspect not.  But who knows.  Maybe she’ll chime in & let us all know.
My adopted Grandparents, Wilma & Bernie. 
We miss you very much!