Monday, December 26, 2011

The end of the holidays

Back to work tomorrow, but it's hard to feel bad about that since it's another short week. It really doesn't feel at all like winter here. Even the temps are well above normal and without any snow or strong winds...just weird!

I'm getting a side of beef, organic and grass-fed. One of my co-workers has a 'beef guy' who raises a few as a hobby in his retirement. I called him about six months ago to reserve one for our family and it's being processed this week.

I set up my aerogarden with mixed lettuces and they are growing fast:

The hens are loving the dry warm weather and I spoil them with daily treats. I can't think of anything that gives me so much happiness for so little effort as my chickens. Every time I go into the pen I'm surrounded and if one is sitting in a nest box when I gather eggs, often she will let me pick her up and shift her to another box. Ten hens are averaging eight eggs a day.

And such a variety!

I hope everyone is staying safe, warm and happy as the year winds down and we greet a new one.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Barrow in Furness

I've been rereading Nella Last's War, which is taken from the diary of a middle-aged housewife during WWII. I've read a number of first-hand accounts of life in those turbulent times, but this is my favorite.

Aged 49 in 1939 with a difficult husband and two grown sons, the book provides a front row seat to her reactions as events unfold as well as her observations on those around her. It feels real because it was. Volunteering became a vital part of her life by working in the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service), the canteen (to feed the soldiers and sailors passing through or stationed there), and the Red Cross shop (selling donated items to raise funds to provide parcels to P.O.W.s). Added to all this was the strain of having her youngest off fighting, the worry of making do with very restrictive rationing and inflation, and the horror of heavy bombing.

Barrow in Furness was (and is) a port with a major ship-building yard. That made it a prime target during the blitz. Today I googled the location and, while looking at the images, found myself doing a double-take. Furness Abbey looked very familiar....

and there it was in pictures I had taken on my 2004 visit. On that same day I was in Barrow where I saw a submarine in the ship-building yard...

Talk about having history come to life! I wish I had known about Nella's book then.

The good life

I've started my next knitting project. This time I'm making a baby blanket for my niece's first baby. There's a deadline on this one! No sitting around taking an entire year to finish.

It's been a nice relaxing weekend. My parents came over yesterday and we watched Cowboys & Aliens. Today I've finally gotten around to putting up the rest of the window plastic. It's been a mild winter so far, but that's not likely to last.

Exciting news: after weeks of 1 egg a day, recently production bumped up to 3, and today, 4 eggs! Yay, hens!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Knitting success!

Last night I finally finished my first major knitting project - the scarf. Six and a half feet long, it's going to be very warm. :)

Now I'm ready to choose a new project!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Story of Esther

That's her in the foreground, making a dash for the outdoors. She was one of the older generation of hens but as the only Araucana (blue eggs) and having a lot of character, I attempted to relocate her to my coop last month. She was having none of it! Even after dark, she took off out of the coop and over the fence and never looked back.

That was the last time she was seen and I thought she had probably been eaten. Dogs, foxes, raccoons... it's a dangerous place for a hen without shelter. Then yesterday my son came in from taking his dog out and said one of my hens was out of the pen and in the garden. I went out to find out who was a.w.o.l. but all 14 were right where they belonged. Then I saw her, long lost Esther. Clearly torn between rejoining the flock and living wild, she comes back but dashes for the horizon if anyone gets too close. When I see her I hear a shrill Scottish voice shouting in my mind "You can never take my freedom!" Thus she is now known as Esther Braveheart.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Recycled Passive Solar

How's that for a catchy title? Tanya asked me to explain my plan to add some passive heating to the chicken coop so here it is:

I took some empty pop bottles, filled them with water and spray painted them black. After that I hauled the bottles out to the coop and put them on a shelf across from the south-facing window. Hopefully, the water will absorb what heat the sun puts out during the day and release it back into the coop at night. I'm not expecting much, but every little bit helps.

Speaking of cold and weather; yesterday we had our first snow of the season (I know! Incredible to be this late!). Not a lot, just enough to give everything a coating of white. I was feeling a bit scornful of my hens this morning when none of them wanted to venture out even though the wind was calm and the sun shining brightly. Then I remembered the cat started to go outside and did the fastest u-turn possible in the doorway... and he was wearing a fur coat. :)

One thing that makes me happy: I can see the garage solar panels from my kitchen window and although fully covered in snow this morning, the solar guy spoke true and it quickly melted off.

The time has come again to venture out, close the coop up tight and bring in the dog.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book nook

No, not an electronic device, just the paper and ink books I have stacked next to my reading chair.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Winding down the vacation

Filling in a couple missing days:

Friday I dismantled the guinea pig cage and cleaned. Also, the last of the farm chickens moved out. Happily, Duke went on to another farm where he will attempt to usurp the reigning rooster.

Saturday was supposed to be this gorgeous, sunny day of 60 degrees. Ha! It was cloudy and windy and utterly disappointing. Instead of the outdoors things I planned on, I made a big pot of super soup and started rereading Eragon.

Today was the long awaited nice day! I put plastic over the chicken coop window and built a shelf on the opposite wall to try out a passive solar heating method. I'll paint 2 liter bottles of water black and line them on the shelf to absorb sunlight and hopefully radiate it out at night. The shiny insulation behind the bottles should help with that.

Back to work tomorrow. :(

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 6

This was a good day!

I went to Sam's Club with my parents to stock up. It will be crazy busy from now through the holidays so they won't go back until next year. My shelves are full. :)

Arriving home found the solar guy and electrician working hard on the system. They tracked down the solution with the manufacturer and after rewiring the connections and one pesky fuse... it works! Hooray! The electrician is all fired up now and can't wait to tackle another installation. The solar guy said he even had friends who wanted to try this but all refused to be the first. Luckily, I'm mad enough to be a guinea pig.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Days 4 & 5

Day 4 was lovely though cool; I dug up the last of the potatoes, closed up the polytunnel and tidied the big garden.

Today was not so nice with a cold wind. It would have been enjoyable to do more of the indoor jobs I had planned, but instead I was stuck working all day (at my job!). Rather spoils the fun of taking an entire week off when it's interrupted right in the middle. :(

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


One full day plus a couple hours. That's how long my boss lasted before asking me to do some work during my vacation.

I think I need a raise.

Day 3

A good, productive day. I started off gleaning more ears of corn in the field, lots of bending, walking and carrying. At home I replaced the messed up ceiling tiles that I had to destroy to reach the old attic access. Before covering it up I stapled some leftover insulation across the access cover in case extra blown insulation didn't make it into the top of that area. This was one of those jobs that needs doing for months and makes a huge improvement in the appearance of that room; not to mention providing another layer of insulated space to conserve heat.

Finally, tired of watching X-Files (which do get a bit monotonous after awhile), I pulled up Voyager. My son doesn't really remember the show at all so he enjoyed watching too. Cute moment: I had the scarf I'm knitting rolled up on the desk in front of the monitor and Trigger decided it made a perfect cushion to lean on when sitting in my lap...yet another Star Trek loving member of this house.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 2

Quiet day, mostly spent chilling out. I did pick up a bag of corn from the empty field behind my parent's barn this morning. The combine misses quite a lot and if left would just be eaten by raccoons; I'd rather my chickens got first chance.

I just finished watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind thanks to Amazon's freebies. It started very slow... so much so that I almost gave up on it. In the end I'm glad I stuck until it picked up. Interesting.

Tomorrow the solar electrician will be back to figure out why one battery bank isn't charging.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 1

After the last couple months of very intense work, I get an entire week of vacation! It's wonderful. :)

Today, as the official first day off, I cleaned the garage. It was much too windy to work outside, yet warm enough that being in a sheltered place was comfortable.

I finished off the day watching First Wives Club and knitting on my scarf. A great day.

Sweet solar

Yesterday my solar system finally got hooked up and running. So, now my furnace, frig, and freezer are all running off batteries.

It's a bittersweet time though as my solar guy was diagnosed with lung cancer yesterday. While I am thrilled to have some degree of off-grid sustainability; I'm also deeply worried about the traumatic time he and his family are dealing with.

Monday, October 31, 2011

No rest for the weary

To avoid squabbling over my time, my boss asked me to work evenings and try to wrap up these two projects this week. Then I can take some time off next week! I'll need it!

This evening I pulled into the garage and hadn't even got out of the car before the neighbor girl came asking for candy. Being a heartless, practical person I promptly put her to work carrying in groceries. :)

I had two soft shell eggs today. Definitely icky to pick up.

Sigh...back to work.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


My crew tend their clean up duties diligently.

Even braving ruffled feathers!

Popping inside for a break from the wind is always a nice option.

The coop

Spoiled hens? Indoors feed choices include cracked corn, layer pellets, grit and a scratching block (which they haven't figured out yet); outside they receive garden gleanings, kitchen scraps and odds and ends.

I keep ceramic eggs in the nesting boxes to encourage them to lay there. I need to put up the second roosting bar to hold the rest of my young hens when I bring them over. It may feel a bit cramped but the extra heat will help in the winter months.

I love the 'spaceship feel' of the insulated walls.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Why do I always feel colder when I can hear the wind blowing? I even nudged up the thermostat a little. It's not that cold yet anyway; still in the fifties.

The electrician was working on getting the lines run from the garage solar panels to the basement today. We're still waiting on a couple pieces of equipment that should be in this week.

We watched Captain America tonight. My son wasn't too impressed with the graphics and thought they were silly to follow the comics so closely instead of making it more realistic. I liked it; I can do without too much realism lately. :)

I've gone off the prepping blogs for a few weeks now. Maybe it's because I feel like I'm doing enough at this point and I really need a break from reading about it. Speaking of breaks, I wish I could have taken a week off after the last work project. My reset needs pushing!

I hate that soon my parents will be relocating to winter quarters. It wouldn't be quite so bad if they were going to the city where I work but they chose the opposite direction. I will miss them terribly and hope we have such a mild winter that they spend some time at home too.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Adventures in knitting

Now that it's getting colder I've got the urge to pick up my needles again. I ordered some yarn online, re-purposed a videotape rack from the basement and arranged my stash. I've already ordered more so I'll have to clean up another rack when it arrives.

There is something very cozy about yarn even before it's been made into anything warm and useful.
This is a blanket a friend made from left over bits of yarn. The photo doesn't do it justice. To truly appreciate the warmth and pleasure provided, you must drape it over your legs with a good book. Be sure to run your fingers through the ruffled rows quickly because it's guaranteed that a cat will be in your lap within minutes.

I'm starting with my basic dish washing cloth as I recall the mechanics of knitting. My goal this year is to finish the scarf begun last winter!

Sunday, October 9, 2011


We've had a long dry spell which ended this weekend. Logically I should feel good about moisture on the garden and trees, about the rain barrels filling up again. Instead I just feel fed up with everything and crabby.

I'm sure it's partially due to the work-load at my job and the sinus headaches from the weather change. The result is that I let my cell phone battery run out and I'm hiding until work forces me out again.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


That's what I kept saying as I harvested this beauty today. A full seven inches across and much better looking than anything I've seen in the store.

Almost more amazing than the size is the complete absence of bugs. I may have to freeze some...this was just off one of many plants!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This, that and some of the other

These are the heirloom chocolate cherry tomatoes I planted this year. Sadly, they don't taste like chocolate, but do have a nice tomato flavor. :)

Only four eggs from the farm chickens today; rather a poor showing for 19 hens considering the very nice weather we've had. Allowances: some are quite old and a couple have begun molting. The hens I brought over are settling in well. I chose the gold speckles because they're mild-mannered and the white because she wanted to set (a silly time of year to try to hatch babies!). Moving to a new coop with strange youngsters around has changed her mind about setting at least.

I had my annual mammogram this morning. Unpleasant, but over quickly and definitely worth it if I should ever develop cancer.

I really don't like how early the sun goes down now. It's a daily reminder that soon I'll be driving to and from work in the dark. Ugh.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Adult hens

I brought three hens over from the farm to introduce the chicks to society. They don't mingle much yet although the chicks were fascinated by the hen that could easily be a mum to them. After dark I had to fetch the speckled hens out of the branches of the honeysuckle bush and put them inside the coop. Hopefully they catch on soon.

Chick time

The chicks are growing well and have adjusted happily to the coop and pen. In fact, they seem fearless. When the dog lies down with his nose against the fence to watch them, they settle in a row on the other side to watch him.

They tend to stick close together. Earlier today when I didn't have my camera they laid down snugged up against each other and every one leaned over and stretched out a wing and a leg. It was hilarious!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Trees vs solar

Now that I have the solar panels up I could see how much my trees shaded them at different times of the day. Along with the problems in the big garden from not getting enough light it was enough to motivate me to have some of the trees cut down. Eight black walnut, one box elder and one dead horse chestnut were removed and it's really opened up the space. Since the walnuts were over 60 feet high and some quite near the house, I had to hire professionals to do the cutting. Spendy, but Madison Arborcare does great work.

Don't worry about the squirrels - I still have 25 more mature black walnuts in the back yard along with a sprinkling of other varieties.

It also means I have some great firewood ready for next year when I get a wood-burning stove!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Garden update

We've been lucky with the weather apart from no moisture at all. I've covered the squash plants on a couple nights when we had frost warnings, but otherwise it's been warm.

Soon I'll be doing a big clear-out of the big garden, then I'm going to add in lots of compost and get it ready for next year! Not this weekend though, I need to paint my chicken gate and do some more work on the coop.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chicken pen

The wind wouldn't leave the coop door open today so I added a pop hole for the chicks. It took them all day to brave the new opening and then they weren't too impressed by the strong wind gusts so didn't stay outside long.

Here is an example of my handiwork - a homemade gate to separate the chicken pen from the dog pen. Poor old Jupiter would love to come play with the chicks...but it wouldn't be healthy for them!

Solar progress

The panels are up on the roof! Because I've got limited south-facing roof space these four are on the garage and the other four are on the house. Today should have been hook-up day, but my electrician bailed out at the last minute and has decided to have nothing to do with solar. My solar guy is making arrangements with his electrician to do the work.

More pictures as the work progresses.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Growl ;)

This was the result from a quiz I just took. Funnily accurate.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Selective invisibility

I got my hair done this week. It's a fairly rare event, averaging about twice a year. Last time nobody noticed that it was cut and colored so I told my stylist I wanted something with a little 'pop' this time. We decided to switch out one of the blond shades with red so my hair now has bands of three colors and it definitely pops. Everyone noticed at work and complimented the new look; my son called it 'cool'. So, what did my parents think? I'll let you know if they ever notice. :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The second garden

Due to uncontrollable circumstances, my little garden didn't get planted in the spring. Instead, it got the dregs of the clearance racks of leftover plants in the middle of summer. Isn't it nice to see how well they've grown now that the big garden is practically empty?

Three and a half weeks

Lots of feathers and lots of attitude! So much fun too. What else could make a gardener say 'yay!' when finding caterpillars on her broccoli plants?

The tall chick with bright orange feet is Gandalf. The chick with feathers all the way to it's claws is Frodo and his sidekick is Sam of course. Frodo might be the first genius chicken; he's snagged every caterpillar on offer so far. Every thing a carer is supposed to have to teach a chick he has figured out without help: how to drink water and how to eat from the trough. If he's a rooster then the next generation of hens doesn't have a chance!

Monday, August 22, 2011


Big ole thunderstorm flashing and rumbling it's way into town right now. Very cool.

And, before I forget: happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me... :)

Too bad I had bothersome hot flashes all day. Must have been my body making a point about the whole aging thing.

The battery system for my solar panels arrives tomorrow. That means the installation will begin in earnest on Wednesday. So exciting!

So, a very nice start to the week and another (hopefully good) year of my life.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Peep peep

The kids are growing well. Now 1.5 weeks old, they've just started 'roosting' on the top of the feeder. I really expected some problems with the cats, but they've completely ignored them.

It's a good thing we don't need the garden to survive! The only produce I've harvested enough to preserve this year were green beans. Maybe next year will be better.

I've listed my big fish tank on craigslist; only a couple nibbles so far, no serious buyers. I'd mostly like to sell it to open up the floor space but the cash would be nice too.

The solar install will get started in the next couple days. I'm looking forward to posting lots of pictures!

PS: lovely to see you online again Tanya. :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Groan again

I spent today putting together the new shelves in the basement. There was a translation problem in the instructions; it used terms like 'tap gently into place' when it was supposed to read 'hit as hard as you can repeatedly'. My arm is very sore tonight.

Friday, August 12, 2011

There are now three cute little fluffballs in the chick cage. We're still waiting to see if the last two eggs will hatch.

Last night it RAINED! And rained. And rained some more. It was badly needed so...Yay!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Early birds

This was a surprise; I wasn't expecting a hatching until Friday but two of the chicks were in a hurry.

Which means they get first go at the cushy digs while waiting on their siblings. It's going to be fun to see how they develop. While all five eggs have the same rooster I have no idea which hens laid that day.