Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Spin Cycle

Sunday morning is usually my house-cleaning time. I mop the floors, clean the bathroom, dust the coffee table... All those chores I put off during the week, I force myself to do on Sunday morning. The past few weeks, however, I've been outside tending the garden, getting the chicks settled in, and generally just enjoying the beautiful weather, while POSSLQ slaves away with the household chores, blessed man.

Today I decided to get back into the routine of things, starting with the weekend laundry - our sheets and the dog's blankets and beds. Dog laundry came first since POSSLQ was sleeping in (and rightfully so, it's his birthday). Shortly after I heard the washer stop spinning, I stepped into the kitchen to check the food dehydrator. When the burning smell hit my nostrils, I assumed a strawberry had fallen on the heating coil of the dehydrator, but I followed the smell to the laundry room, or, more specifically, the back of the washer... Uh-oh.

It seems the drain is blocked (best case scenario) or the pump has gone out (worst case). A few years ago, this would have been disaster #1, but today, it got me thinking... Do I really need the washing machine? I wash a lot of my summer clothes by hand anyway, so why not spring for a nice washing board, scrub most of it by hand, then hit the laundromat for the big stuff? I'm already neglecting the dryer in favor of sun-kissed, line-dried clothes, so why not hand wash too? I can imagine it would give me a better appreciation for the threads that cover my body. We would simply need to re-define "dirty," maybe getting a few more wears out of our jeans before they hit the hamper. No doubt it would decrease our impact on the Earth, in both water and energy. And I'm sure it could be considered "clothing conservation" if we just ran around naked here at home.

I'm hoping this will be an easy fix; maybe a sock or hairball stuck in the drain hose. But, if not, I guess I'll find out if we're ready to take that next step toward energy independence. Then again, maybe I'll forget trying to fix it and head out to pick up one of these cool toys -- -- a hand crank washing machine!

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Every so often you do something that takes you back to childhood. Lately, my every-so-oftens have been coming pretty frequently. Today, for example, was a wonderful day spent with my MIL, picking strawberries and going "yard saling."

The farm where I picked berries as a child was biking distance from our house, but we always drove, since we picked so many berries. They handed out cunning little woven baskets, and into the fields we went. I remember eating almost as many berries as I picked, my mom teasing, "You're going to have to pay for an extra basket if you don't quit eating them!" as she popped a ripe berry into her mouth. The sweet taste of springtime is never more evident than in that very first fresh strawberry. The crush of the bright flesh against the roof of my mouth, the sweet juice on my fingertips...

All this I relived as I stepped into that patch today. We quickly picked our five gallons, and turned back to the barn to pay for our cache. Though the sun was hot, the breeze blew at the exact moments I most needed to be refreshed, and my floppy sunhat protected my face and shoulders from the strong noontime rays.

The strawberry farm is right down the road from where POSSLQ grew up, and we had a lovely visit with Mama Louise this afternoon. Such a lovely visit, in fact, that I came home with a brand new pressure canner! I've never canned before, but I'm expecting a bounty of veggies from the garden, and I plan to eat every drop of my produce, so preserve I must. I also got to meet this interesting plant in Mama Louise's garden - a Voodoo Lily. MIL called it a "stink plant," and that's right on the mark... It smells like roadkill!

Speaking of preserving, my strawberry adventure didn't end at the patch. Mom made strawberry jam several summers of my childhood, and I wanted to try it myself. As soon as I got home, I started capping and washing berries, separating them into "jamming berry" and "eating berry" piles. In no time, I had six jars of jam, and loads of berries left over, so I froze some, then sliced some for the dehydrator, pureed some for fruit roll-ems, and (of course) left a bowl for eating right away.

I feel so very self-sufficient today - I can eat my strawberries for the next year!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Am Not a Roosting Pole!

Happy 7 weeks old, chicks!

A very welcome sight met me tonight when I went into the chicken coop. A very welcome sight, indeed. For the past several weeks, I've been having a battle of the wills with these young ladies. For anyone who has never met a chicken, they are very strong willed, but only because they are such creatures of habit. They don't like any change in their routine. Unfortunately, mine learned the wrong routine, so change they must!

My coop is long, narrow room with the lovely roosts at one end. At the other end (the door end) is a curtained-off storage area. When I first moved the girls out, they huddled in the corner at the door end. As they've grown, they have started spending the night in the storage area (which makes for a very messy storage area). Each night, I go out and gently pick them up and place them on the roost. The next night, they huddle up on the floor, and we go through the routine again.

Last night, I decided to go for a little surprise play... I shooed them out of the corner, and stood guard, forcing them to find a new safe place all on their own. After much cackling, clucking, and flapping about, a few found their way to the roost, and the rest followed in not-so-very-short order. I think I stood in the corner of the coop for about 35 minutes last night.

Tonight when I went out, I was greeted by this sight--

14 happy chicks ridiculously piled up on the roost! Don't ask me why they are only using half the roost space... I choose to ignore that and focus on the fact they climbed up there at all!

The other two? I suppose they thought all the piling up was getting tiresome.

Earlier in the evening, Gretchen decided my arm looked like a nice place to take a rest...
Later this week, ten of these lovely ladies will be going to live with my MIL. It's been fun raising chicks, in the same way taking 14 ten year old children to the water park is fun. The kind of fun you tell stories about for years, but never do again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Airing Your Laundry

I finally got to use my new clothesline today. I hung it several days ago, but it rained the two days after, and then we had no water pressure for two days (so no washing machine). POSSLQ* insisted I buy a coated wire clothesline this year (I'm not sure why; rehanging the braided cotton line five times last summer was no biggy!), so I've been without a line for several months now. Not a huge deal, since it's rained almost every day since... well, the beginning of time, I think. But today, glorious spring day that it was, was a perfect day for hanging laundry!

There's something inherently comforting to me about a clothesline. Every time I hang clothes, I think of my summers at grandma's house, and rushing out to pull clean, dry clothes off the line faster than the summer squall could start, pins popping off the line and flying in every direction. I always wondered why she hung clothes in the afternoon, knowing the sky would reliably turn dark and stormy for at least a half hour each summer evening. Now, I understand. It's all about squeaking out that last load of white clothes before bedtime. And if that means braving earth-rumbling thunder and deafening cracks of summer lightning to retrieve my sun-warmed clothes, that's okay; I'm a more courageous woman for facing the storm. There's a sense of satisfaction in knowing you are faster than nature; you managed to shove every last t-shirt into the basket just as the first fat raindrop hit your shoulder. Plus, that pre-storm wind dries shockingly better than the "more dry" cycle on the electric machine.

On the coop-front, I made loads of progress today... I finally hung my fancy hanging-bucket-gravity-feeder thing. I made the girls a ramp so they can (maybe) find the roosts, because they are too old to pile up at the coop door overnight. I also, sadly, had to dispatch a wasp today. I've been politely asking her to move it out for about two weeks now, and she just keeps staying, so I had to smoosh her, and it only took a few tries. Question: how long does it take a nesting wasp to regain her composure after being nearly smashed with a purple Croc? Answer: I didn't stick around to find out, I just slapped and bolted. But she was calm (and easy to smoosh, maybe she had come to terms with her fate) half an hour later when I was brave enough to check. I've never been stung by a wasp, but that's an experience I'd rather not have.

And, just for fun, a picture of Turd-Bird soaking up the afternoon sun.
Who knew chickens lounged??

I went to the library after work today, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a new book on the "Featured Selections" shelf by the door! A few months back, I checked out the only two books the library had about chickens, and one was, "Raising Poultry the Modern Way," published 1976. Not very modern. But this beautiful book! I suspect I might be the first to check it out... I love few things more than an unbroken spine on a book.

*What's a POSSLQ?
(1) A Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters, my POSSLQ is an amazing man who supports me in everything I do, tolerates my every crazy idea, moderates my dreaminess, and keeps me grounded, but encourages me to follow my bliss. He makes so many sacrifices so that we inch closer to the life we dream about, and I don't tell him enough how much I appreciate him. He's an awesome musician, and hearing him sing still gives me butterflies. He's practically an encyclopedia of information, and can talk to most anyone about most anything. I like him, as you can probably tell.

(2) POSSLQ is the acronym the Census Bureau used to use for counting people who lived together, but were not married. (Stay tuned, I'm sure the day will come when I write about why he's a POSSLQ and not a DH.) I'm not sure what they use now, but when I read "Unmarried to Each Other," I liked the sound of it, and it stuck.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Yes, I Can Wipe My Bum With Something That Has Bunnies On It.

One of my favorite things to do on a rainy day is to catch up on my endless pile of sewing projects. My machine is tucked away in the closet at the top of the stairs, and as I sit in the antique chair at my sewing desk, I can hear the raindrops on the roof, a foot above my head. Very soothing for the soul, I tell you.

Today I set myself the task of sewing up two baby slings. After making one for a very dear friend a few weeks ago, I've made this project my baby shower gift-of-choice.

I have very strict rules about what I give as baby gifts. Though my views on childbirth and child-rearing are speculative, and I don't expect everyone else to share my opinions, I flatly refuse to spend my money on things I deem unnecessary. This includes, but is not limited to, wipey warmers, nursery decorations, bottles (especially plastic ones or the kind with pink bows or blue boats printed on them), expensive cutesy clothes that will never be worn, disposable diapers, disposable wipes, the Diaper Genie (doesn't that sound like something better than POO STINK should come out??), or bath wash/lotion/massage crap with loads of chemicals. I also won't buy into the "pink polka dots and ribbon for a girl, blue boats and trains for a boy" shit, so I only give green or yellow baby gifts, even if everyone knows what sex the baby will be! As you can see, these rules make it difficult to give a gift. At the last shower I went to, I brought a breast pump, a hand-made blanket, and a stack of cloth diapers. I have given that "nursing pillow" that is all the rage right now (which people are using to prop their infant up to see the TV better!!!!), but I just love the idea of handmade items for babies.

So here I am, sewing baby slings. They take about 20 minutes to make, and only 2 1/2 yards of fabric, so it's a no-brainer! Much less expensive than a lot of gifts, and I'm sure no one else at the shower will give one. They are so beautiful, and can be used from infancy until about two years old. I guess the Diaper Genie can be used for that long too, but it's not beautiful! Plus, the sling is great for motor development, fosters breastfeeding, and is ideal for attachment parenting. Three points for baby sling, zero for Diaper Genie.

Ignore the fact that my baby model is a stuffed panda, and tell me, doesn't that look comfy? Plus, I can still use both hands to knit or read or whatever, and my panda-baby feels safe. Almost like he's still in the womb. When he gets bigger, and nosier (as infants do), I can face him out to the world, and still have him close to my heart... So sweet!

I went into "sewing mode" today, and whipped out a few more cloth napkins. We are slowly making the switch to reusables, and trying to eliminate all paper products from the house. These napkins are made of a lovely olive linen, and we use them every day! And look, you can sort of see the garden out the window!

Of my final sewing project for the day, I'll say only this -- aren't these cute fabrics??

And, of course, the obligatory bunny update -- he is, at this very moment, munching GRASS right outside the garden. Good bunny.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friend or Foe?

Homesteading has taught me a lot already this year, and it's only May. The lessons just keep pouring in. Today's lesson is complex... I'm learning to appreciate the delicate balance of critters we now have here on our land.

We have young pullets for eggs (someday) and angora rabbits for fiber. For the past few weeks, I've been chasing a big grey tomcat off the property every chance I get. We also have a vegetable garden. And for the past few days, I've been battling a cottontail rabbit, who just this morning munched two broccoli plants to the ground while my coffee was brewing.

My general policy concerning pests/predators is this: if you were here first, I'll work around you, but if I was here first, then you must work around me or leave. For example, I refurbished an old outbuilding into a coop for my six young hens. I started early in the spring, and had a lot of work to do. I didn't see any evidence of mice or rats, snakes or other critters, so if they come now, they must be peaceful, or leave. I delayed working once I realized there was a sparrow's nest in the rafters, but she unfortunately kicked all three eggs out of the nest anyway. A few weeks after moving the chicks out to the coop, a wasp decided to build a nest on the ceiling. Refusing to kill her, I made a big imitation nest out of a paper lunch sack to encourage her to move along. When she was away from the very small nest, I knocked it down. I don't begrudge her a nest, but I was there first, and I'm allergic. She left, and now I assume she's made a nest in an area with less human foot traffic.

This rabbit (or his forefathers) have been dining in our backyard for at least two years now, so when I put the garden in, I knew I'd have to contend with him. I've put poultry fencing up along the bottom of the wooden fence to discourage him coming into our yard, and I throw lots of edible scraps on his side of the fence. But still he comes... So today, I went out and bought blood meal to put on the plants, and sprinkled buck-rabbit litter from my angoras around the edge of the garden. Later this afternoon, I saw him munching on clover on the other side of the yard. Good bunny.

But I'm not above relocating him if he starts to really make a mess of my garden. Or better yet, keeping that old tomcat around to keep the bunny on his side of the fence... I just hope the cat doesn't try to make a meal of a chicken.

The balance of predators and prey is very complex on the small homestead, I've learned. The cat might eat my chickens, but he definitely keeps the bunny out of my garden, and will probably catch a few mice too. The snake might steal an egg, but she keeps the mice and rats out of the barn. The wasps eat other insects, but they will also sting me with little provocation. I put shiny CDs on the "roof" of the chicken run to deter the hawks, but a hawk flying over would probably keep the rabbit under cover of the brush, instead of in my garden. It's much harder to decide who the bad guys are than I ever anticipated.