Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Swap Party

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I hosted a Swap Party.  Clothing and household items swapping party, mind you. 

You weren't thinking something else, were you?  (Sorry MamaTea, but I figured you'd be the first to pipe up about that.)

After my light bulb moment came, I did do some online searching on Swapping Parties (and let me tell you, not all swapping parties are household goods related....wow!). Apparently I'm not the only one with this idea (swapping material goods, not well, other non-material goods); although the websites I visited seemed to be geared towards the more "affluent" types of Parties with high-end clothing, purses and accessories. There were all kinds of etiquitte for the parties and rules. Which I could understand would be needed if you made a big production out of it and invited a bunch of people likely to bring pricey items, but since I only invited close friends, I didn't really worry about two participants fighting over a dog-eared paperback romance novel. Guess some of these high-faluting Swap Parties can get pretty sophisticated.

Two weeks before the event, I called several of my friends and told them to get their "To Donate" boxes out and start filling them.  Everything that could be brought into the house without the use of a forklift was welcome; clothing, nick-knacks, costume jewelry, books, DVD's, kitchen gadgets, etc..
The day before the Swap Party, Mom and I cleaned up the living room, dining room and kitchen and put up an extra side table to display the "goods".  I made a trip to the store and bought some lunchmeat, cheeses and little sandwich rolls along with a bottle or two of wine.  Made some last minute cheese dips for more munching and two kinds of wheat-free cookies for dessert.

When Swap Party Day came and the guests started arriving (only half a dozen of us) we displayed our goods on the open tables, side tables and countertops.

There was much merry making, munching, some drinking of wine and laughter.  Some of the gals went home with an item or two, but others left empty-handed.  Not because there wasn't a lot of neat stuff to choose from, but I think that the real benefit from this "Swapping" party was to clean out closets and drawers of old or unused items.  Which is fine.  That's how I came upon the idea; I was cleaning out MY stuff and thought that it would be neat to give somebody else a chance at taking home some of my junk treasures before sending it to the donation site.
After the wine was finished off  items had been rummaged through and everyone was happy with their loot (or lack of), everything was boxed up to be sent to the donation site.

Besides being a wonderful afternoon of visiting with friends, it was a nice feeling to have several boxes of stuff to take to Goodwill just in time for the Holidays.
So, exactly what did I get from the party?

A drinking game called Partini (which I gave to Christine, even though she doesn't drink....I don't know why I took it, moment of weakness I guess and will probably end up in the next Swap Party).

And this little guy (because Rhiannon fell in love with it):

But the best thing I got was some much needed closet space!

Nugget's Nuggets

Even though I wanted to spend more time with my sister during her Thanksgiving visit, there were still farm things that needed tending to.  Namely, we had an appointment for Nugget to be gelded (nice name for relieving a male horse of his family jewels).

Normally, one would have had their male horse (or mini-horse in our case) gelded around a year old.  When we first got Nugget, I noticed that he only had one testicle (BTW, the name "Nugget" didn't come up until we found out about this).  When we took him to the vet, we were told wait for another six months to see if the other testicle would drop.  Well, it never did.  So we took him back to the vet this weekend to see if the vet could still manage to castrate him even though the second testicle hadn't dropped.

I've banded our own male goat kids before, and I've seen pictures of other castration processes online (you know, to a non-farm person this really sounds twisted, doesn't it??) but have never seen one in person.  Until this weekend. 

Normally, castration by cutting is not a difficult thing (for the vet at least).  Sedate the horse, clean the area around the scrotum, make an incision, grab the testicle(s) and cord and cut.  The incisions are small enough that they aren't even stitched up and there isn't a lot of blood involved so the wounds are sprayed with an anti-fly and antibacterial spray and left to heal as-is.
The vet first sedated Nugget to get him to relax, hoping that he would also relax his groin area enough to get a grip on the retained testicle.  There seemed to be a sliver of hope.  Nugget then got a general anesthetic to really knock him out.  After he was totally out (and was on the ground), we rolled him over and the vet had a chance to really feel around for the "missing" testicle.  It was in the inguinal canal (the area between the abdomen and scrotum).  He was pretty sure that he could maneuver it into a position where it could be pulled out.   After soaping and rinsing the area off, the vet made a small incision, maybe an inch long and tried to pull the testicle out.  After several minutes of no luck, he made a second small incision in order to get two fingers inside.  Still no luck.  After more massaging, maneuvering and pulling, the testicle ruptured.  Not good.  Not life threatening or anything, but not what we were hoping for. 

Here's some more male horse reproductive organ information that you probably didn't want to know:

If one (or both) testicles do not drop into the scrotal sack and stay in the inguinal canal or in the abdomen, they don't function or grow properly.  They are usually much smaller than normal and don't produce viable sperm.  If the testicles are inside the animal as opposed to "outside" in the scrotal sack, the few degrees of additional heat causes the sperm to die.  But the rest of the testicular tissue thrives inside the warmer area and produces even more testosterone than normal.  It's not just the testicle that causes stallions to act like pissy-jerk-bastards.   So if you don't remove all of the testicular tissue, then you've got a REALLY pissy-jerk-bastard; what's you'd call a "Proud Cut" horse.

Back to the exploding testicle.

Even though Nugget's retained testicle was now dead, the rest of the "stuff" still needed to be removed.  And it just wasn't going to happen with just those two small incisions.  So we were going to have to have abdominal surgery on Nugget to properly castrate him.  Since there was no reason to remove the other testicle (as one is just as bad as two), the vet didn't bother cutting the other one out.

Unfortunately, our vet doesn't have the facilities to do abdominal surgery on large animals. 

So he cleaned Nugget up and gave him a shot of Penicillin and a Tetanus shot.  The vet apologized for not being able to castrate Nugget, but we knew that it wasn't going to be a sure thing when we brought him in and we thanked him for trying.  It would still be about fifteen or twenty minutes before Nugget came around so the vet went back to the office and we sat with Nugget until he came around. 

Nugget can be a real jerk.  He's going on three years old and is definitely pumped up with testosterone (hence the need for gelding him).  But I almost wanted to sob seeing him lying on the grass like that.  Poor little bugger.
He woke up, groggy and confused, and eventually managed to pull himself up and just stood there for a few minutes.  Then he went to try chomping on some grass and even that was pitiful looking....his bottom lip/chin just flopping around and his head swaying back and forth.  We got him back into the trailer and back home to a very relieved Ms. Melman.  She is a nervous wreck when we separate them and was happy he was home.  I'd even say she mothered him a bit.

So now we've got to make an appointment for the large animal vet.  Which is located two and a half hours away.  Ugh.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mooberry Giveaway!

I haven't been blogging lately. What time I have had on the computer I've been using to check up on you guys. But the Thanksgiving madness is winding down and I'm finally able to sit down and do some writing.

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. Ours was made extra special since my Dad, Sister and her husband made the long drive to come to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. We all had a wonderful time visiting. And eating pies. And turkey. And sweet potatoes. And that white jello/sour cream/jiggly dessert that Mom made (kind'a reminds me of my thighs).

Speaking of my excessive jiggly body parts, Julie over at Mooberry Farm is having her first giveaway! What does my superfluous celluite have to do with a giveaway? It's an exercise DVD!

Julie is giving us a chance to win one of her favorite work-out DVDs (and thank goodness it isn't one of those bootcamp kind'a videos) just in time for the Holidays! Why wait until after the New Year to start exercising a little bit more?

As soon as I get over this bug (and the cleaning up from visiting relatives), I'm going to get my behind back on the treadmill (and back to blogging). And wouldn't it be extra special if I could have a little bit of encouragement and direction from a DVD? Hope I win.   But if you hope that YOU win, you gott'a go over there and enter!

Click HERE to enter Mooberry's giveaway!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tough Love

The goats have been on a hay strike.  They now prefer the kind'a crappy hay over what we recently purchased.  As in the eight large square bales (at a cost of $65 per bale, mind you) of a good, green brome hay.

There were days when they would just look at it.  Each one of them lined up at the fence, staring at the heap of newly forked hay, then back at me, then back at the hay, obviously wishing it were something else.  But guess what?  There IS nothing else.  They even went so far as to pick through the old wasted hay I put in the blue barrels for bedding.  Technically I could probably get another crummy bale of questionable hay, but when it's more than half stems and twigs, I just can't justify spending the money.  That crummy bale suddenly costs not $45, but $90 when you figure I have to double the quantity of it I feed to them.

So there have been days when I don't put out any fresh hay.  And they bawl and cry and moan every time I go past the hay pile.  Eventually it dissapears.  Then, and only then, will I fork some more hay into their hay bin. 

They all run over to the new hay, stick their fat heads in and immediately pull back out.  Nettie looks up at me as if to say, "So, when you going to feed us?"  Annette just sighs.  Ishtar would flip me the bird if she had fingers to do so.  After several moments of human and goats staring at each other, they begrudgingly take a mouthful of hay and munch away.  When they have finished chewing their first bite, they plunge their heads deep into the bin, trying to find something else.  As if there were something better at the bottom.  This, of course, causes much of the hay to fall out of the bin.  And heaven forbid they would have to eat hay that has touched the ground.  Oh, the horror!

Before leaving, I give them the old "If you don't eat your dinner, you're going to be eating the same thing for breakfast" speech. 

And Ishtar mumbles a goat cuss word my way.

"Did you say something young lady???"

No, Mom ***bitch is trying to starve us***


Nothing.  Munch, munch, munch.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Another Apron!

Although my Mom didn't officially join in the Apron-Sew-Off as she's not a blogger, she did make one and finally emailed me a picture of it:

Wonder if she want's to swap aprons????

The Story of Ms. Melman, Part 2

We bought a 3 year old, female mule in May of 2008.  Per our agreement with the previous owners, they trailered her to our place as we didn't yet own a livestock trailer.  Since the pasture where she'd be kept is not by the house (it's about 3/4 mile up the road), we stuck around for the day to make sure she settled in ok. 

Ms. Melman's first day with us.

There was much running around, checking out the fence line (and the hot wire....zap!) but eventually she calmed down.  Of course, a nasty thunderstorm came through that evening so we went up there several times during the evening to make sure she was doing ok.  The next few days I just pulled up a chair and waited for her to come to me.  Eventually curiosity gets the best of her and I started brushing her and finding the sweet scratchy spots. 
Ms. Melman was basically "Green"; meaning no formal training.  And I was a far cry from a horse or mule trainer.  I've done my share of reading and internet searching for mule training help, but honestly, I'm a hands on kind'a gal and found it difficult to understand the methods without having someone there to show me.  But we were persistent.  And quickly found out that she was food-motivated (sounds like me).  So with the help of a fanny-pouch full of grain for treats, I was able to get her to pick up her feet and use the hoof pick on her.  I also got her to accept the halter and lead and we started getting her to back up and whoa by voice.
I would bring in new "stuff" for her to see, sniff and then rub on her to show her it wouldn't hurt.  We got a blanket on her back, then a bareback pad with a loose cinch.  She didn't buck or run when she was sacked out, but if it was something she didn't like, she would just walk away.  We didn't have her tied for a lot of this.
I started longeing her in the arena, but it was too large of an area to do that effectively, even with a long longe line.  We really needed a round pen if we were going to continue our training attempts.  Another thing we found out is that if we pushed her too hard or demanded too much from her too quickly, she would get mad at us and hold a grudge.  For days.  So it was back to earning her trust again until we could continue any training.  But when everyone had said sorry and she forgave us, she showed us that she did indeed retain the previous lesson.
Fast forward two months.  It's now July of 2008 and Ms. Melman is doing well with our feeble and slow attempts of training.  And then we find out that I'm pregnant.  Not that we weren't expecting it (the pregnancy part), but what I didn't anticipate is that I'd have to really lay off working with the mule for the sake of our unborn child.  Even though we weren't showing her new things, I would try to at least put the halter on her every day and reward her for that and for picking up her hooves.  Paul would continue leading her around the arena and grooms her just to keep her from being too bored.
Not that it's a valid excuse, but being pregnant, then having to care for Rhiannon really put a damper on any sort of additional improvements in our training sessions with Ms. Melman.  Basically we were on auto-pilot for a good two years.  She wasn't neglected, but she definitely wasn't being paid as much attention as she was before Rhiannon came along.  It also didn't help that she was away from the house, so even though we stop up there twice a day to make sure everyone is ok, additional visits aren't easy to squeeze into the schedule.  Rhiannon loved seeing Ms. Melman and would be more than happy to visit her more often, but I wasn't able to keep Rhiannon safe while working with her.
I felt badly for Ms. Melman.  I wish we had an area ready for her by the house with the rest of the Krazo Acres critters.  So when Paul found a mini-horse wandering around her pasture one morning, we jumped on the opportunity to re-home the little guy with Ms. Melman so she'd at least have a pasture buddy.

A "Nugget" for Ms. Melman
Ms. Melman and Nugget quickly became best buddies (he was also an only "child" at his previous home).  When we had to take him to the vet, she worked herself up into a slobbering sweat until he came back home.  So even though my guilt was reduced a little bit with the addition of another equine buddy, she still wasn't being given the attention she needs.  But then sometimes I wonder to myself, does she even care that we're not around?   Is she happy just having hay and water provided?  I'd like to think that she'd be happier with us nearby and that she'd eventually enjoy taking trail rides or being driven.  But since I don't have the ability to read her mind, I guess I'll just continue mulling that thought over until something else pops into my.....

Oh, look!  Something shiny!

One of our fellow firefighter friends is a "horse gal".  She's trained several of her own horses and has a bunch of awards for halter showing and barrel racing and recently trained her mini-horse to pull a cart.  So when she offered to help us work with Ms. Melman I took her up on it.  She's never worked with a mule before, so it's a bit of a learning experience for even her.  But she's also the kind of person that craves a challenge. 

So last week, Liz (the horse gal) and I went shopping for a bridle, bit and reigns.  And so the "Training of Ms. Melman" began......

PS - Since we couldn't think of a better name at the time we got her, I just put a "Ms." in front of my first online mule love, Melman, and she's been known as Ms. Melman since.  How original, hugh?

Monday, November 21, 2011


Today is A-Day.  You know, when we (those wacked enough to take up Susan's challenge) were supposed to unveil our homemade aprons from the dreaded Great Apron Sew-Off.

And I finished it last night!  Well, not 100% finished, but darned close enough.  There were supposed to be buttons sewed onto the back, but the hell if I knew how to make a button hole (yes, I KNOW there is a doo-dad for that!) and I figured grasping the idea of ruffle-making was all my gelatinous mass of grey matter could absorb for the month.
So here it is:
Daddy, why is Mommy crying??
Actually, that's one I whipped up for Rhiannon. During a screaming fit moment of hopelessness while trying to figure out how to make Ruffles, I put my apron stuff away and picked up some scraps and decided to make Rhiannon her own apron. I needed to accomplish something other than swearing so I figured I'd whip out a small apron and at least have some feeling of accomplishment.  Do I get extra credit for making two aprons??
I finished my apron just before 4 o'clock yesterday evening and tried it on.  And I wanted to die.
Don't get me wrong.  I am painfully aware that I'm thirty pounds overweight.  Mama Pea's Apron makes her look skinny, but obviously mine has the opposite effect.  Not only does the camera add ten pounds to your image, my apron must add an additional fifteen because when I saw the look Paul gave me as I put it on, I knew it had to be, well, unflattering.
So I looked in the mirror.  Horrified at the shapeless form staring back at me.  Well, not really horrified, but a little saddened.   But since you were all going to post pictures of yourselves in your apron (you HAVE, haven't you?!?!), I figured I may as well post mine. 
Besides, if I had any stalkers following my blog, this should cause them to run for the hills and pack salt in their eyelids in an attempt to remove the image of me from their retinas.
So here it really is:

The apron that I was going to serve Thanksgiving dinner in.  If I didn't spend so much stinking time on it, I would give it to the dogs to sleep on.  Well, maybe.
I guess I shouldn't complain too much.  I did get some hands-on sewing experience that I desperately needed.  But I still wasn't too happy with the bib coverage; I thought it should have covered more.  But then again, the model in the "Easy Sewing" pattern picture didn't have as much mid-section real estate to cover as I do.
I am going to make another apron because I really do need one that covers more of the top half.   But one that doesn't require ruffles.  Or buttons.  Or slip stitching.  Or interfacing.  Or basting.....
I will never again complain about the price of homemade aprons again. 
Looking forward to seeing everyone in THEIR apron!! Hint-hint!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Story of Ms. Melman, Part 1

Or maybe I should have called this "The Story of how I managed to get a mule and not find myself divorced".

Just like any animal-loving, suburban-bound pre-teen girl, I loved horses.  They were, like, the best pet any girl could ever have.  I dreamed of riding my horse up and down the street, taking it on picnics at the park and other equally impossible romantic scenarios.  I had even planned keeping my horse in the tool shed (it seemed like a big shed back then, but probably not even big enough for a pony) and cutting all the lawns in the neighborhood for "hay".  A twelve year old has absolutely no concept of  "Zoning" or "Restrictions", let alone the logistics of feeding, watering and sheltering such a large animal.

Since it was obvious I wasn't going to have a horse at the house (Dad was sooooo mean!), I settled for the next best thing; riding lessons!  Actually, my Dad sprung for me to go to some fancy-pants camp in Northern Wisconsin that offered, among the normal camping activities, a special equestrain class (read: more money) and that's where I first learned to ride.

Years went by and I had a handful of other opportunities to go on trail rides.  Paul and I even signed up for riding lessons about ten years ago to brush up on our skills (does this horse make my butt look big???).

My love for horses didn't actually wane, but I suddenly became interested in mules.  Not sure how it started.  Maybe it was because I had a mule stuffed animal when I was little (come on, who has a stuffed mule as a kid??), or maybe because I'd been reading a lot more homesteading and self-sufficiency books and invariably a mule would pop up. 

Or it could be that they are just so darned cute!  I mean, come on....look at those big ol' EARS! 

Anyhow, years before we even made the move to Krazo Acres, I had been scouring the internet for information on mules.  I had stumbled upon a website that I would just drool over, Kelsomules.com, and dream and dream about having a mule for my very own.  I fell in love with a mule for sale, named Melman.  We were still living in the 'burbs so it's not like there was any way that I could ever get Melman....but I oogled over his picture online any chance I got.

Once we made the move to the country and I accumulated the chickens and goats (ducks somewhere in the middle), I figured it was time to add a long-eared equine to our farm.  We had just acquired the exclusive use of a small pole barn, outdoor riding arena and about two acres of pasture.  All that was missing was the mule.  So I looked through the papers, online horse trader ads and asked around.  I drug Paul three hours south to look at a mule as tall as a giraffe, made him drive me to no-mans-land on ten miles of dirt road to see a gaited mule, and I even went to a livestock auction in town (really, really scary).  None of the mules were very nice.  Not like I expected them to come up to me, wagging their tails and begging for cookies, but we never really clicked. 

Several months later I saw an ad in the local paper and made a trip (unbeknownst to Paul) to see her since it was only about a half-hour away.  She was in a pasture with about a dozen other horses and wasn't really halter broke.  They had to round up several of the other horses and used them to drive her into a corral.  I spent some time in there with her and she eventually came up to me and even let me hang off her neck.  I haltered her with some help and tried leading her around the pen.  She did ok.  The owners said they thought they wanted to try breaking a mule, but didn't have the time for her.  They also said that she was halter broke (obviously not) and had a saddle on her two or three times (unlikely).  I said thank you to the owners for showing her to me and was on my way. 

Then I went back again the next day and spent a little more time with her. 

And a few days later I had Paul in tow and we negotiated a price for her.  They would keep her for up to two weeks while we put a hot wire on the pasture fence and they would also deliver her to us since we didn't have a trailer yet.  And I went shopping for mule stuff.

Stay tuned for the next long & boring installment of  "The Story of Ms. Melman, Part 2" to be blogcast on Tuesday morning.

Paul's Take
I only agreed to chickens.  That was it. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Just a little "Bit" busy

My schedule has been pretty busy lately. 
"How can you be busy?  You’re a Stay-at-Home-Mom.  Don’t you just sit around watching SpongeBob and eat Bagel Bites with Rhiannon?"

(If you could only hear the eyes rolling in my head). 
Although I do have to admit I have it better than many people.  Now a days there aren’t a lot of families able (or willing?) to make it work with just the Dad bringing home a paycheck while the Mom stays at home with the kid(s).  So please don’t think that I’m ungrateful.  But then again, don’t you dare assume that I’m eating bon-bons (or blogging...hehe!) all day.
As usual, I regress……
Besides canning like a million quarts of chicken stock, packaging & freezing chicken for quick meals, canning up venison (thanks Liz!), making two (or was it three?) batches of soft goat cheese (one has enough garlic to kill a vampire with a sniff), baking several loaves of bread, taking Rhiannon to a birthday party and homeschooling group at the library, training night at the Fire Department and everything else that normally happens (you know, cooking, cleaning, barn chores), I’ve been neglecting my blogging (along with the vacuuming) lately.  It may not seem like it, but I have.
(And how many sets of parenthesis can I possibly use in one post????)
I thought Autumn was a winding-down time, but I seem to be as busy as ever.
Normally I have about a half-dozen blog posts in the works and I’ll use them for “fillers” (yes, dear readers, I’m giving you fillers!) when I’ve got a lot going on during the week and can just add a thing here or there to make it more personal, but lately I’ve run out of even those types of posts. 
I blame it all on Susan's Apron-Sew-Off, by the way.
But I do have a good post coming shortly (and maybe even informative to some of my readers), and it all revolves around this:
Bridle, Bit, Chinstrap and Reigns.
Get it? Little "Bit" Busy?  Right? 
So stay tuned my fellow bloggers, I shall return!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Respect the RUFFLES!!

More sewing done this weekend.  Gathered all my sewing materials and "instructions" (ha) together, put my shiny-new sewing machine in the trunk, strapped Rhiannon into her carseat and off I went to Mom's house for some more sewing lessons.  Specifically, how to "Gather the Ruffle".

Now come on, if you were the one making instructions for an "Easy" pattern, don't you think that you should include something more than just this:

Oh. Ok. I'll just "GATHER upper edge of ruffle."
And what the hell is that string in the middle???
Throw me a bone here!  Would it have cost that much more in ink for you to print the words "Sew a very loose stitch down the raw edge, then to gather, pull on ONE thread & work the gathered material towards center of work".

Anyhow, Mom in her infinate sewing wisdom, showed me the Magic of the Gathering (isn't that the name of a video game or SciFi book???) and I ruffled up the skirt and the shoulder straps:
Ruffles are there.  Trust me.
There is still a lot to do, and unfortunately I'm at a "Instructions Impasse" so will have to wait until Mom comes over.

In the meantime, how are YOUR aprons going?  Hopefully Mama Tea has had a glass or two and RE-started her Apron Attempt.

Oh, gld wanted to know what kind of machine I had:
Kenmore, purchased about eight years ago.
All this power at my fingertips, and I have yet to read the
instruction booklet that came with it. 
Not only does the machine have a 1,2,3,4 printed it to show you
how the thread goes, but there's even instructions on how to
thread the bobbin!  I LOVE no-brainer instructions!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Apron Update

Since it rained the entire day on Tuesday, I figured it was a good enough day to really start working on the apron.  It also helped that Grandma happened to be visiting so was able to distract Rhiannon with her wiles and grandparent-magic.
Although my Mom is an accomplished sewer, I never managed to pick up on any of it.  I do remember her having Christine and I sew little pillows and hearts and beads with needle and thread when we were kids, and maybe a few lessons on a sewing machine, but the machine just freaked me out.  The thread goes here, then there, then around this thing, and then where??  I dreaded running out of bobbin thread because that meant that I’d have to rethread the machine again.  And speaking of the bobbin, how in the world does the needle “catch” the tread from the bobbin?  Magic, I suppose.  Maybe I’m a sewing-machine Luddite on the subconscious level.
I ended up inheriting my Mom’s old green Singer sewing machine years ago as well as Paul’s Mom’s machine.  I’ve used it to hem many a pant leg, made dozens of pillow cases, simple curtains and even a duvet cover.  But anything other than a straight stitch was beyond my capabilities. 
Right before leaving Illinois for Krazo Acres, my Mom bought me a brand new sewing machine as a going away present.  Not sure if it was because she actually thought I’d be having to make my own clothing out of flour sacks (I was moving to the Ozarks you know) or what.  But it was shiny and new and even had little numbers right on the machine showing you exactly how to thread the thing!  There were also instruction printed on the cover of the bobbin on how it went, and to top it all off, a little doodad that threads the needle for you!  A-Freaking-Mazing.
So even though I have this new and easy-peasy sewing machine, I still have done nothing other than a straight stitch.  But that’s ok!  Because thank the heathen gods, that is all that is required for an apron, right?  Right??
Well, I suppose that would be true if I didn’t pick a pattern with stupid ruffles.  There is a section where it says to “gather ruffles” next to a cryptic picture of the shoulder pieces with a largish-stitch showing on the edge you’re supposed to be doing the gathering.  Except, it doesn’t tell you how to do this gathering sorta stitch.  I’m assuming that it’s a large, loose stitch that you’ll eventually pull one end & it will ruffle up the material.  But how do I do it??  And don’t these pattern people understand that I am a complete moron when it comes to sewing?  And they have the audacity to put the word “Easy” on the pattern in bold red letters.  False advertising if you asked me.
As usual, I regress…..
Since Grandma and Rhiannon were pretty much entertaining each other, I had an opportunity to start on the dreaded and feared highly anticipated Apron Sew-Off apron.  With some guidance and help from Mom, I was able to pin and cut out all the pieces. 
Susan "helping" me with the pattern instructions.
Even though Rhiannon was busy with Grandma or mesmerized by a SpongeBob video, there were still several close calls, mishaps and other activities pretty much non-conducive to sewing.  All I could imagine was having to chase down a screaming and kicking toddler with pins stuck in her soft little feet.  Luckily nothing like that happened.
Notice the toddler about to run across my carefully laid out pattern.
Oh, and the bag of multi-colored puff balls and pipe cleaners from the
craft bin that was pilfered through just moments earlier.
After Paul got home from work, I was able to sew the pieces together that didn’t require any “gathering” or the like, so now I just have to get another lesson from Mom on how to do that.  And then try to decipher the rest of the hieroglyphics printed on the so-called “instruction” sheet.
I may yet get this thing done before Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving of 2012, that is.

Last Minute Harvest

There was a freeze warning for our area last night so Paul, Rhiannon and I harvested the last of the zucchini, yellow beans and eggplant:

There was a lot of frost on everything this morning and the plants definately took a beating.  Time to pull them out and toss them to the goats.  Kind'a makes me sad.  But there are still cabbages and peas in the raised beds and I suppose I should pick the dozen remaining butternut squash.  I've never done a Fall Garden so I'm assuming that the cabbages and peas will still grow for a while longer since the afternoon temps are warm.  It got up to 67 degrees this afternoon.

Thankfully it didn't get cold enough to have to skim ice off water buckets this morning, but cold enough that I waited until almost 10 o'clock to take Rhiannon outside with me to milk the goats.  I keep thinking about drying Ishtar and Annette up so I won't have to milk when it's cold outside,  but I'd miss the milk.  Also, I figure since they only get milked once a day anyhow that I'd just push up their milking time each day so the sun has a chance to warm things up.

It's not like I a complete baby about the cold.  I've done my share of milking in the freezing weather. I recall being out in the barn in the early mornings last year bundled up in longjohns, sweater, jeans, insulated overalls and Carhart jacket.  The battery operated Coleman lantern I keep outside in the milk parlor doesn't even want to turn on at that point.  But now that Rhiannon is big enough to come outside with me - and she makes it very clear that she does want to "help" with barn chores - I don't want her to get too cold.  And I don't mind not having to layer on clothing every morning either. 

Oh, almost forgot about the harvest......

Would you look at the size of those zucchini!!  I had intentionally left a few of them on the plant in order to get to some Zucchini Boats, but honestly, I wasn't expecting them to get that big, especially this late in the season.  Guess I'm going to be making some Zucchini Fritters soon!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Soup's On!

What does one do with a freezer full of year-old chicken neck bones, feet and backbones?  Well, if you’re 85% of the “normal” population, you probably don’t even have those things in your freezer, because you would have:
A) tossed those pieces out when you finished your Walmart pre-cooked chicken
B) never got those pieces in your package of “fresh” Smart Chicken or Perdue from the supermarket
C) the Tai Noodles with Chicken take-out only came with chunks of chicken breasts.
But, the rest of us will make it into Chicken Stock!  And if you’ve never made chicken stock, it’s about time you did.  It’s easy and oh-so-yummy.  Forget what you’ve tasted out of the can. Homemade is like chicken soup orgasm!  Like you’ve taken a chicken and just sucked the chicken-ness out of it and put it in a bowl for you to slurp up on a cold, damp afternoon.  Almost makes you wonder exactly what they do to the stuff in the cans at the store to make it taste like it does.
So, how does one go about making Chicken Stock?  Well, you can go about it in a number of ways.  First, one must acquire a chicken, or suitable parts of a chicken.
A)   Go outside, pick a particurally nasty rooster, lop the head off, pluck, eviscerate & clean it.
B)   Dig through the deep freezer and find the not-quite-freezer-burned bag of chicken parts you bagged up last year for soup.
C)  Go to the supermarket and buy a whole chicken or pieces of chicken (cheapest parts are fine; if legs are on sale, go with the legs….if wings are on sale, go for the legs).
Next, go through your fridge.  Got some of those not-quite-ready-for-tossing veggies sitting in the back?  Take those carrots, onions, celery, wash the funk or hairy things off them, chunk ‘em up and put them aside.  Got some green onions or a clove of garlic?  Great.  Now go find a few bay leaves, salt and pepper.
Toss the chicken parts, veggies and bay leaves in a big pot, about two teaspoons of salt, several dashes of pepper and add water just to cover everything.  Turn on the burner, bring it to a boil then turn it down to a slow boil or simmer, just depends on how long you want to keep watching the pot.  When the chicken comes off the bone easily (like when you pick up a drumstick, the meat just sloughs off), strain the soup through a sieve into another pot and then pick the meat out of the strainer and put it in a container in the fridge for later use.  Save the veggies for the chickens or compost heap (you weren't going to throw that in the garbage, were you????)
I know this isn’t an exact recipe, and I know it drives some people crazy when there aren’t exact directions (for example, ME!), but honestly, I don’t follow any recipes for soup stock anymore.  I’m sorry. 
But, here is what looks like a good recipe for Chicken Stock, and it basically sounds like what I did, had I taken the time to actually measure out my ingredients.
Actually, I did do something else differently.  I used a pressure canner to cook my chicken stock.  It’s faster and I feel it gets more of the chicken-goodness out of the bones if it gets pressure cooked.  Same ingredients, just tossed into the pressure cooker and cooked at 10 lbs. for about twenty minutes (or more).  Technically it’s longer than what is recommended in the recipe book, but I like to do some other things with the “leftovers” from the soup. 
So now you’ve got your chicken stock.  Taste it and add salt & pepper if needed.  You can then slurp it all up or put it in the fridge for a few days or right into the freezer.  If you’re planning on canning the stock, then you’ve got a little more work to do.
I put the cooled stock into containers in the fridge.  The next day I’ll skim the fat off the top (oh, the shame!!) and re-heat the stock until boiling.  I’ll have cleaned quart jars, lids and bands ready and the pressure canner ready.  When the stock is at the boiling point, I pour it through my milk strainer fitted with a filter, put the lid and band on and into the canner it goes.
Straining the hot stock into clean hot quart jars, ready to go into the canner.
The chicken stock needs to be pressure canned at eleven pounds of pressure for twenty-five minutes (longer for high altitudes, check your canner instruction booklet for more info.).  After the time is up, turn the heat off or carefully move the canner over to a cool spot on the stove and let the pressure drop on its own.  When the pressure has dropped to zero, open the canner and place your homemade chicken stock on the counter for the night, making sure that each lid has “pinged” and sealed.
"Pinged" and sealed jars of homemade chicken stock.
You now have stock ready to be used whenever you get the hankering for chicken soup or for making other homemade dinners.  Remember that chicken you picked off the bones?  Plop it in a pot with the stock, some fresh chopped veggies and some egg noodles or rice or barley.
I’m exhausted from writing this post.  Better get myself a second bowl of soup so I don’t waste away to nothing (as if).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Apron Anxiety

Susan at e-i-e-i-omg! dared us to join her in an Apron Sew-Off a few weeks ago and I was more than happy to take up the challenge.  Mostly because I’ve been meaning to make myself an apron for like ever and never seem to get around to it.  Not because of lack of patterns (I have two pattern packets, each with three different patterns) or lack of material (I have enough yardage in various fabrics to clothe half the country), but because I just lack the ambition.
I love the idea of making my own apron and a matching one for Rhiannon.  I’m always complaining how I’m constantly splattering my clothes with kitchen catastrophes and although I do have two aprons, neither cover up enough of my “Northern real estate”.  The fronts just don’t provide enough protection from the boiling hot bubbles of spaghetti sauce or thermo-nuclear splatters of grease from frying chicken livers.
Anyways…….I finally found one that has a full front; kind of reminds me of the old time aprons that actually looked like a dress, but with an open back.  And since it’s now the second week of November, I figured I should get working on it if I actually plan on wearing it for Thanksgiving of this year.
So here’s what I’ve accomplished so far:

Yep.  Pulled the instruction sheet out of the packet.  Just the instruction sheet.  Not even the actual pattern.

I think I’ve only made one thing using a pattern years and years ago, and I don’t remember what it was or if I even finished it.  Those instructions just freak me out. 
It’s not like I’m a complete moron (well, if you don’t count the whole trying-to-farm thing), I’m quite literate, good with numbers and pretty dexterous with a pair of kitchen shears (that is what you use to cut out fabric, right???).
Why can’t I grasp the idea of a pattern?  I get the color coding stuff (pattern side/wrong side), but as soon as I start reading the instructions, I stove up.  These are the simple patterns!  And what the hell is a selvage anyways????
So there it sits.  So close to my sewing machine, pins, scissors and other sewing notions, but light-years away from being finished.
Maybe a Hot Toddy will help things along. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chicken Accomplished!

We had a few friends over yesterday morning to help us butcher the remaining Cornish birds.  Paul and Les did the actual “deed” while Johnny and I were in the kitchen awaiting  the plucked birds in order to finish processing them.
WARNING: Although there were no actual killing / butchering pictures taken, this IS a long & boring post!

So this is how we get those yummy birds onto the dinner table:
A line is strung from two close trees and at about 6' high.  From that line we hang several 1' lengths of bailing twine (what can't you use that stuff for???) with slip-knots on the ends.

Directly underneath is a blanket of wasted hay to catch any blood and feathers so when we’re done it can just be raked up and put into the compost heap.   Paul made a butchering bucket from a used blue plastic 55-gal drum by cutting about a third of it off and cutting handles on two sides.
Butchering bucket AND a water bucket for Ms. Melman
from a $15 recycled 55-gallon plastic barrel.
This particular bucket is used when we butcher just about anything;  deer, goat, chicken, whatever.  Very nice to have as it’s durable, light enough to easily move around, and easy to clean.
We have a large pot and propane burner (think turkey-fryer) that we use to heat up the water for scalding the chickens. 

Propane burner, propane tank & pot lid (pot is inside being cleaned).
The water is brought up to 150 degrees and a squirt of soap is added to help penetrate between the feathers.  While the water is coming up to temperature, Paul and Les will each grab a bird and hang it by the feet using the bailing twine.  The birds will hang upside down a minute or two until they calm down.  Pull down on the head by the beak (or if it’s a rooster, by the wattle & beak) but not so hard as to dislocate the neck, just enough to keep it steady so you can make the cut.  A cut is made on one side of the neck, from almost the middle of the neck to the ear, just under the jaw.  You just want to cut the jugular, not lop off the head. 
After the cut is made, the birds will usually just kind’a hang there while the blood drains (into the blue bucket), but just when you think they’re “done”, they’ll flap around for a while.  This is where a killing cone would come in handy.  Les had made one for us this weekend, but it was too wide and the birds managed to flop out.  Hopefully we’ll have one by next spring when we plan on raising another twenty-five birds.  Depending on how much flapping occurs, you may hold the bird’s wings next to the body so it doesn’t dislocate a joint or splatter blood everywhere.
Once the bird is really dead (as opposed to almost dead) and has stopped flapping around, Paul / Les will take it off the line by the feet and plunge it into the hot water, dunking it up and down and swishing it several times to get the water to penetrate through the feathers and to the skin.  This may take maybe a minute.  The bird is ready when you can easily pull the tail feathers out.  The bird goes feet-first back onto the slip-knot and the feathers are stripped away.  If you got the temperature right, you can just run your hands down the bird and the feathers will easily come off.  Of course there is still some plucking to do for the stubborn feathers, but it beats plucking a dry bird.
Once the birds are relieved of most of their feathers, the head and feet get cut off and the bird goes into the kitchen where Johnny and I are drinking tea and eating cinnamon buns patiently waiting to start our part. 
Johnny makes a cut around the anus and a slit from there up to the bottom of the breast bone/cartilage, just under the skin and through any fat; not too far or you’ll puncture an intestine and have a mess.  He basically then jams his whole hand in there, grabbing as many internal organs as possible and yanks them out.  If everything was pulled out clean (no busted intestine or broken gall bladder), I’ll grab the liver and heart out of the pile of innards, cut it away from the connective tissue, rinse it off and put it in a bowl of cold water.
Paul yelled at me for not saving the gizzards from Sunday’s butchering.  Yes, I know, we could have fed them to the dogs, but Johnny and I were working so quickly and smoothly I didn’t want to ruin our groove.  Besides, serves him right for not saving the chicken feet for me.
Johnny will then cut the neck off and either quarter the chicken or pass it to me to finish cleaning out the inside.  If he quarters the bird, the backbone gets put in a pile with the necks and is saved and frozen for chicken soup later on.  I put the clean bird (either quartered or whole) in a plastic bag, wrap it again in plastic wrap and then into the freezer.
By the time we’ve finished, the guys are bringing in another two birds and the process begins again. 
We did fourteen birds in less than three hours.  Definitely not record breaking speed, but there was a lot of gabbing, blowing and chasing bubbles (Rhiannon was at least) and visiting going on as well.  After everything was cleaned up, we sat down to a late lunch of homegrown smoked chicken, homegrown butternut squash, homegrown yellow beans and baked potatoes (store bought).  Homemade pineapple upside down cake for dessert and we were all ready to plop down on the couch.  Which I did.
Not sure if you guys read my blog, but thanks for all the help Les & Johnny!  Even you Timmy! (Somebody without blood or feathers all over their hands needed to bring beverages to the others.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chick Check (checking OUT, that is)

Well, we weren't too late in butchering the Cornish crosses; this weekend would have been week nine.

There are now eleven chickens wrapped up in the freezer and only fourteen more to go.  Hopefully we'll finish them tomorrow.  Figures. I just bought another fifty pound bag of chicken food.  But the hens will be more than happy to eat it.

I was thinking about posting a chicken butchering photo log, but figured you've all seen chickens being butchered before.  If not, and if someone really, really wants me to photographically document the process, just let me know and I'll try to remember to take pictures tomorrow.

I did, however, make sure to take a picture of our lunch this afternoon:
Artery-Clogging Fried Chicken Liver Goodness!
I just LOVE fried chicken livers.  I really like them with a carmalized onion dippy sauce, but I was too hungry and lazy to make it so just ate them as is.  Paul was even hungry enough to want to eat them so I had to share.

We've cleaned up the kitchen and outside where all the messy stuff happens and I now have my pressure canner filled up with chicken carcasses, neckbones and chicken feet (yes, the feet) from last year's chicken harvest.  Had to make room in the freezer for the new chickens.  It will be nice to have some chicken soup stock ready for the cold days that are just around the corner.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Freedom and Fall Veggies

Well, I took a slat out of the chick pen door, so the Barnyard Mutts can now come and go as they please.  I still have their feed and water in there so they won't have to compete with the older gals for food outside the barn. 

You go first.  No, YOU go first!
While I was milking, I had Rhiannon scatter some scratch just outside the chick pen door to entice some of them outside.  It didn't take long for one, then another to hop out.  And of course, as soon as the group saw one chicken interested in the scratch, everyone had to be out. 

There was a little chasing and sqwaking going on, but nothing terrible.  The Barnyard Mutts ran right back to their pen if they were getting picked on by the older hens.  And the older hens are too lazy to jump up to the pen to follow them.  Hopefully everyone gets along once the little chickens make it out to the yard again.  Although it's pretty cold and windy today so I'm betting they stay in or around their pen for a while.

I think we're only supposed to have a daytime high in the mid 40's so I suppose I should get the plastic tarp ready to put over the zucchini tonight.  We've harvested five nice sized zukes from the fall planting and there are still about five more on the plants.  I know that it's not a huge crop, but since we normally wouldn't be getting them this time of year, I'm happy.  I'm hoping to grow out at least two of the zucchini to "zucchini-boat" size.  I want to be able to make at least two more batches of Zucchini Fritters.

And speaking of the garden, look what I got from it yesterday:

Zukes and Yellow Wax Beans
I still can't believe I'm getting stuff out of the garden in November!  I also picked on of the cabbages last week:

Egg Rolls?  Coleslaw??  Golumpki???
The peas are doing nicely, but still need a while longer before I can harvest full-sized ones.  Paul & Rhiannon planted some lettuce, spinach & green onions, but they are still really small.  This was our first year planting a Fall Garden and I'm definately going to plant more next year.  And for some reason, there doesn't seem to be such a rushed feeling with the later garden.  Maybe because I'm not having to water as often or weed as much.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chick Check, Week Eight (and a half)

Well, technically this was supposed to be a butchering weekend, but it looks like the Cornish will be staying with us at least another week.  Between having to fix the broken fence up by Ms. Melman and the fact that we did some Halloween trick or treating on Sunday, there just wasn't time for it this weekend.  But who knows.  Maybe I'll get ambitious (hungry) and grab me a fat ol' bird and have roast chicken for supper one day this week.

The Barnyard Mutt chicks were doing well, I thought, up until yesterday.  I didn't see one of the black & brown chicks so I did a chick-head-count.  There were only eighteen; there are supposed to be nineteen.   The missing chick had been one of a few that I've noticed being able to flap her way up onto the top of the chicken pen door and I guess she just made a break for it.  I looked around the yard during the day, but didn't find her.   Well, serves me right for not having a full door on the pen.  

During morning chores today, I opened the big gal's chicken door and figured I may as well count them to see if any were missing (it's much easier to count them while they hop one by one out of the coop).  We're supposed to have fourteen birds (thirteen hens and one rooster), and I counted fourteen.  At least none of them were missing.  But right before I turned to go, I heard something in the coop.  I opened the door half-expecting to find a stupid squirrel, but there was the missing black & brown chick!  She must have made her way into the big girl coop before I locked them up at night.  What a good chicken!!

So I suppose it's probably time to let the rest of the Barnyard Mutts out of the chick pen.  I'm always aprehensive of "meet & greet" day between older chickens and the new ones.  It's usually "peck & squawk" day for a good week and I do feel a bit protective of the little ones.  But it has to be done and eventually everyone settles down and chicken life goes on.

Maybe I'll let them out into the big barnyard world tomorrow.  Maybe.