Year nine on the farm: Older, fatter, and furrier

October 2017 marks two milestones for our family; we have now been on the farm for nine years, and I turned forty.

Turning 4-Oh

Something about turning forty has changed me. With any luck, I hope to live another forty years. It would be a gift of another lifetime! With that, it got my little pea brain churning, thinking about:

  • The importance of living every day to the fullest
  • Celebrating every birthday, and that sending birthday cards to family/friends is no longer optional
  • Planning for a life we’d like to live after the kids have moved out
  • Becoming debt-free so we can work minimally and live to the max
  • Maintaining our health so we can enjoy life to the fullest

I also think about how I have already lived four years longer than my own grandfather did, and how every day is truly a blessing.

On a funnier note, I am trying to understand why, at forty:

  • My body has begun to cling to every single calorie like a person dangling from the side of a cliff
  • God decided that visible nose hairs are not optional just because you are a woman while simultaneously they become more prevalent/darker…yet at the same time, I am losing the hair on the top of my head
  • Any new hair I DO happen to grow on my head is either white and silky or a thick and extremely unruly black menace that sticks straight out
  • I can throw out my back by simply standing up and moving my leg half-inch in the ‘wrong’ direction

These are the things I ponder now.

 Year Nine on the Farm

With this year, we are still working on paying off our debt, maintaining the home and grounds, and now we are downsizing.

While I did keep some baby chicks hatched this year, the new goal is to continue to downsize the flock until we have a nice number of laying hens. Let’s face it: I do NOT get $100 worth of eggs a month that I’m paying for the feed at this point! We do have some older layers as well as several hens who are more like pets, but as usual, we also possess a disproportionately large number of roosters who are getting fat on my dollar.

Now for a review in photos!

October 2016:

That time that everyone got ticked off after playing Sorry:

November 2016:

The cold and wet beginning to our square foot beds:

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Our living room/library area after bringing in the ferns for the winter:

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Fall foliage:

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December 2016:

A beautiful winter sunset!

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From 65 degrees to 48 in 47 minutes!

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January 2017:

One day, as I was hanging laundry, I looked up to see this ‘mackerel sky’. I made myself pretty dizzy trying to take a good pic.

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This year marked the beginning of new beds and a new gardening method: Square Foot Gardening. I love it!!! Jason built the beds. The soil you see was just, well…crappy, but it’s all I had. Now it has much better soil.

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2017 was the Year of the Annoying Ladybug/Asian Ladybeetle invasion. Here is a group in our barn, but there were hundreds in the house. Yuck. Glad they do eat aphids, but it would be lovely if they would hibernate outdoors like REAL ladybugs!!!

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February:

Being sensitive to sodium nitrate (Read: gives me major migraines), I can only eat uncured meats. Let’s face it, when you live in the sticks, things can be difficult to find. Our local Wal-Mart decided to stop carrying ‘my’ bacon, so I was forced to drive thirty miles to find some. Jason came to the rescue with my Valentine’s gift!

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Ladybug invasion continues in the warm sun:

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A true ladybug! I found several Twice-Stabbed ladybeetles on our pear trees. Yaaaay!

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March:

Another ‘true’ ladybug, the Convergent Ladybeetle. I probably learned more about ladybugs this year than in my last 40 years!

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April:

April showers and all of that!

May:

May’s warmth brings out the reptiles! Anoles and rat snakes are in full force!

June:

A cicada emerges!

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Swedish strawberry cake:

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A new friend emerges from the woods! My first photos of Eleanor, the wild cat.

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July:

Happy Fourth!!!

We add another new family member. Meet Esther. Note: Esther is the one without the beard.

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August:

Esther enjoys robes and hiding in the mini pantry. This behavior was not endorsed by yours truly. No one likes cat hair in their cereal.

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September:

Another new family member! Meet Milo:

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2017, so far, has proved to be the Year of the Cat! I also have declared it the year of Returning to the Homestead since I have now deactivated my Facebook account and suddenly have hours and hours added to my day! Amazing, isn’t it? Hope you enjoyed this year’s re-cap.

On to 2018!!!

What if?

Warning: Soap box post ahead. In no way is this post intended to incite a riot among my readers; it is simply a post which will attempt to get you to think outside of the dreaded box.


 

When I was in fourth grade, I had a friend who would play the “What if” game. It would begin with me saying something very bland, such as: “I’m going to the lake this weekend.” He would then start in with the “what ifs”, such as:

What if it rains?

What if the lake is all dried up?

What if you run out of sunscreen and get so sunburned you have to go to the ER?

What if there is a rare freshwater shark that no one knows about and you get attacked?

What if  meteor falls in the lake while you’re swimming?

The What If game almost always ended in my demise or dismemberment and I would roll my eyes as far as I could and holler out a disgusted “AAAAUUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH! SERIOUSLY!!!”


 

But today, let’s play the What If game with happier consequences.

  • What if you stopped caring what others thought of you? Perhaps, more truthfully, what if you stopping caring about what you think others are thinking about you?
  • What if you stepped outside of the box of social norms? The house, the cars, compulsory schooling, college right out of high school, “socially acceptable” job, etc.
  • What if you stopped comparing yourself to others?
  • What if you were happy with the way you looked?
  • What if you quit that job you hated and followed your passion?
  • What if you were totally debt free?
  • What if I told you that grades in school don’t matter in the long run?
  • What if I told you that you can be perfectly happy and successful without a college degree?
  • What if, every morning, you chose joy?
  • What if you were less selfish?
  • What if you forgave instead of harboring anger?
  • What if you truly lived by the Golden Rule? (Do to others as you would have them do to you)

 

Do some of these questions make you squeamish? Angry? Sad? Uncomfortable?

Again, my intent is to not anger, but to get you to think outside of the box. I wouldn’t ask any question of you that I have not asked of myself. I still struggle with some of the answers.

As much as I do not wish to be anywhere near what is considered “normal”, I also do not want to alienate my associates and my friends, so therefore I must temper my thoughts and my conversations with the knowledge that there will always be those who do not agree with me. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine. I don’t know anyone who agrees upon every single issue with another person. I don’t even think that’s humanly possible. But it doesn’t mean that you are wrong or your friend is wrong because your thoughts are different. I have been seeing far too many hateful posts and comments on social media lately. It saddens me.


Several years ago, I read “The Last American” by Elizabeth Gilbert. There was a single passage that stuck with me about circles and boxes. So, here is the truth bomb for you: Life is a circle, not a box. So why are we so adamant about forcing the round peg into the square hole?


Passage from “The Last American”:

Eustace Conway left home at 17 to live on his own in the wilderness. Here he discusses two different worlds while speaking to elementary school children :

“‘I live, in nature, where everything is connected, circular. The seasons are circular. The planet is circular, and so is its passage around the sun. The course of water over the earth is circular coming down from the sky and circulating through the world to spread life and then evaporating up again. I live in a circular teepee and I build my fire in a circle, and when my loved ones visit me, we sit in a circle and talk. The life cycles of plants and animals are circular. I live outside where I can see this. The ancient people understood that our world is a circle, but we modern people have lost sight of that. I don’t live inside buildings, because buildings are dead places where life stops. I don’t want to live in a dead place. People say that I don’t live in the real world, but it’s modern Americans who live in a fake world, because they’ve stepped outside the natural circle of life.

‘I saw the circle of life most clearly when I was riding my horse across America and I came across the body of a coyote that had recently died. The animal was mummified from the desert heat, but all around it, in a lush circle, was a small band of fresh green grass. The earth was borrowing nutrients from the animal and regenerating itself. This wasn’t about death, I realized; this was about eternal life. I took the teeth from that coyote and made myself this necklace right here, which always circles my neck, so I’d never forget that lesson.

‘Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes. They wake up every morning in the box of their bedroom because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into a box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken up into lots of little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to their house box and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they get their food from a box, they keep their clothing in a box, they live their lives in a box. Does that sound like anybody you know?’”

Now, friends, I will ask you again, “What if?”

decision

 

“This Wheel’s On Fire…

rollin’ down the roooooaaad! Best notify my next of kin, this wheel shall exploooode!”

(apologies if you never watched Ab Fab…you’re scratching your head right now) And in case you’ve forgotten the song:

And that, friends, pretty much sums up our latest family vacation.

Yes, my dears, we have survived yet another vacation. Perhaps this is why we waited two years this time? While I will work on links to former vacations to share with you at the end, let’s review this year’s 2017 voyage, shall we?

Let’s begin with the “pre-flight” checklist! As a person who has never, and I repeat never has an uneventful vacation, you would assume that I would be prepared for anything. Typically, I am! If you have ever gone on a trip with me, you will know that I try to keep my emergency arsenal fully stocked.

Scene: A vacation, somewhere in the U.S.:

Friend: Do you have an umbrella? I didn’t think about rain.

Me: Yes, I brought four.

Friend: My button came off! Do you have a sewing kit?

Me: Yes, it’s in my bag.

Friend: I think I’m having a serious reaction to this bug bite!

Me: I have bentonite clay, Benadryl, hydrocortisone cream, lavender essential oil, or an Epi-Pen. Which would you like?

Friend: Oh my gosh, my car won’t start! What am I going to do?

Me: I have a disposable Honda in my purse.

So you see, I am usually pretty well prepared for what comes our way. And as the resident weather nut, you would also assume that I would have packed everything for inclement weather on this trip. I checked the forecast on Saturday and Sunday, and it showed that, by some miracle of God, it would be sunny skies and in the 70s. As I was packing the motorhome, I literally put my hand on my scanner/weather radio and thought, “I should bring this.” But I didn’t bring it, because, it was supposed to be sunny! Warm! Perfect weather! And I also walked right past my mud boots…twice. No, I won’t need those if it’s sunny! No, siree, no boots for me!

Monday: The trip to Arkansas was uneventful, other than a wrong turn in Washington (Arkansas…not the state or D.C., although you can’t rule that out with us). The weather was perfect! We set up camp and ate a hot dog feast, topped off with S’mores. Yay!

Then I decided to check the forecast again.

What was this? Severe weather in two days? Well, of course it was. We can’t go anywhere without a tornado warning. And my scanner and mud boots sat at home in Maydellish, mocking me, saying, “We tooooolllld you so! We knew it! HAHAHAHAHAHA!” I may or may not have said something ugly at that moment.

That night, Jason and Zoe had colds and coughed, sneezed, and hacked their way through the evening. Fortunately, they had mostly resolved by:

Tuesday: Rather uneventful day; no diamonds were found and we were able to walk the nature trail a time or two. Legs were killing me…I am no spring chicken anymore.

Wednesday: We woke up to this:

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And so we did this:

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I colored a lot and did some bible study. I kept thinking about Psalm 46:10, which begins with “Be still, and know that I am God…”. I am so often NOT still. So with the combination of the torrential downpour, deadly lightning, and being stuck in a 8′ x 34′ box, I was still! All day! And got to reflect on the Bible, which was nice. The rain finally let up about six o’clock in the evening, with no severe weather (WOOHOO),  and we were able to walk around the park before it got too dark.

Thursday (departure day):

We went back to the diamond mine for a last look, and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t bring home anything that was worth more than ten cents. But the searching was still fun and I got some nice garden rocks.

We broke camp at 4pm, and headed back into Murfreesboro. As we stopped at the gas station, a horrible burning smell filled the entire motorhome. Jason quickly determined it was a stuck brake caliper, which could result in many outcomes: An exploding tire, failed bearings, or (the best one) a fire. Fires and motorhomes don’t go very well together, in case you were wondering. We managed to make it to a local auto store just before they closed. The man was kind enough to lend us a couple of “c-clamps” and told us to just mail them back. Can you believe it? I called the park to make sure there were vacancies available and sure enough, there were several. Like a scene from Groundhog Day, we went back the the park and plugged in while Jason started working on the RV.

If you have never been to Murfreesboro, let me explain that it is a precious little town, but very little to it. And very little around it. For many miles. And if you are looking for a rental car, well buddy, you are straight up outta luck. Weighing the options, it would be best if Jason could fix the brakes enough to get us home. And so:

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I got to be the faithful mechanic ‘nurse’; holding the light, fetching tools, pumping the brakes and turning the steering wheel. After about two hours of sweating, greasy stains, and possibly a curse word or ten, he had resolved the issue enough for us to limp home! Hurray!!!

By this time, it’s a little after seven and starting to grow darker. I put on some truckin’ tunes (Jerry Reed, Dan Seals, a song about Bertha the Truck Drivin’ Queen, etc.) and we rolled along.  As we passed under the final overpass into Texas, I lost it. Through tears, I broke out into “Texas, Our Texas” with my hand over my heart, and somewhere in the distance an eagle cried in unison. No one was prouder at that moment to be a native Texan and back on her native soil.

Truly, this is the loveliest sight:

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There is such a stark difference between Arkansas and Texas. From the moment you cross into Texas, there are stores! There are restaurants! And, praise the dear sweet Lord, there is a Chick-Fil-A! A chicken sandwich with pickles, waffle fries, and lemonade never looked so good! I may have blubbered just a tad as I placed my order.

Everything was going so well…and then we got hit with the “Texarkana curse”, which is what happens almost every time we try to leave Texarkana. We missed a turn. We were so elated at having found the road to 59 south (HOME!!!) that we didn’t pay attention and missed what is essentially a tiny side street exit. Ten minutes later, Jason screamed, “Welcome to Arkansas?!?!!!!”

Oh, Arkansas, with your confusing roads! You have stumped us yet again!

I had failed at my navigator role! I had to lead us, with a limping vehicle, mind you, through the back streets of Texarkana late at night. Through the old industrial districts, with their liquor stores and their barred windows of all places! Would Texarkana never end? At a critical turn, the brand new Keurig decided to jump off of the counter and hit the floor with the most God-awful crash you have ever heard in your life. You could smell the stress! Finally, I got us BACK to 369 and to 59 south. We got home a little before 2am and I have that home never looked so beautiful…ever.

And that, friends, is how the 2017 family vacay went down. As Jason said, “Anyone could just take a “regular” vacation.” And I agree. We will make this thing happen despite tornadoes, flaming tires, or illnesses! Hear! Hear!

 

 

 

 

 

The Farmhouse Reading Room

Since I’ve taken an official break from Facebook, I have actually had time to read! Oh, how I missed my books!

While I have several on my shelves that I need to read, I always order a big bunch through Thriftbooks.com when winter comes rolling in. Yes, I know going to the library is more frugal, but I’ll be honest, I always run up a fine. I never, ever return them on time and I feel like a book-hoarding criminal. Also, I can’t stand going “into town”. I love to be at home. At Thriftbooks, I can usually get the books I want for about $3 or less and free shipping, plus, there are always coupons I earn that save more money. So with that being said, I’ll share some of my most recent reads with you.

To begin:

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One of my favorite new books is Living More With Less, by Doris Janzen Longacre. The truth is, I haven’t completed this book because I don’t want to say I’m finished with it, as nutty as that sounds! Truthfully, I only have a few pages to go.

This book will broaden your worldview mindset as you hear stories from missionaries who have traveled the globe. I often forget how fortunate we are to live in the United States, and LMWL will certainly remind you. As an example, we can turn on a tap and get clean water, whereas others must walk miles to find a reliable source. These are not just stories from missionaries, however. It is also packed with money-saving ideas from those living here in the States. While it was written by Mennonites, I assure you that everyone can benefit from some of these suggestions. It has reminded me to be a conscious consumer; what I purchase or consume today really does have an effect on people half a world away!

Also, Mrs. Longacre was already known for her other book, the More-With-Less Cookbook. I bought this as well and while most don’t fit our current diet (low-carb), I can see that there are some nice recipes and ideas there that would greatly benefit those trying to cut down on food expenditures.

Next:

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Yet another new favorite, Your Money Or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, was one I finished just a couple of days ago. For crying out loud, if you are struggling with money, want to stay home with your kids, hate your job, or maybe you “have it all” but you still feel empty inside, read this book! Actually, it’s a great book for anyone and I wish I’d read it much sooner. There are nine steps to Financial Independence, or “FI” as they call it. Just nine steps to never worrying about money again.

If you feel like a hamster on a wheel waiting for retirement, READ IT. I really can’t brag about it enough. I have to recommend buying it because I know that I’ll be using it as a reference for years to come, and I bet you will, too!

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Another winner I read was Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. If you don’t garden because you hate weeding or maybe your plants didn’t turn out well, this is the book for YOU!  While most garden plots are traditionally done in rows, the Square Foot method uses 4′ x 4′ squares, which are further subdivided into sixteen 1′ squares. It is so easy to merge intensive gardening, succession planting,  and companion gardening by using Mel’s ideas. I have already dug up ten squares, and each person is allotted two of their very own. Jason, being the left-brained member of our family, wants them to have sides, so he will be making us some metal boxes in a couple of weeks.

Mel tells us that in a four person family, eight 4′ squares are all you need. Granted, this would not be enough if you planned on canning or preserving foods, so we will have a few extras. I am also going to plant a few squares just for chicken food! Why not?

I bought the original 1981 book, which uses a compost-based top soil in addition to your own soil underneath. I have read that the newer book suggests using a fully enclosed box filled with a soil mix. I did this last year before ever hearing of Square Foot Gardening, and for the most part, it did work well. Still, for deep-rooted plants like tomatoes, I wouldn’t think that a box would give adequate depth for water retention, especially during those famous Texas summers!

Now for the bomb of the bunch:

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The Womp-Womp-Wooooomp Book of the Month. I hate to give it such a bad rating, because I WANTED to love this book. I loved the idea of doing without technology! I loved the idea of living amongst a community of people who did things the old-fashioned way! The reviews were largely positive ones!

Unfortunately, I could have bought three loaves of sandwich bread for the $3 I spent on this paperweight, so I’m bummed over it.

Due to a random meeting on a bus with a community member, Mr. Brende and his new wife, the SHIMMERY-Oh-So-Shimmery and elfin-like Mary (who describes their wife as “shimmery”, anyway?), are able to move into a mish-mash group of ex-Amish, Mennonite, and other Luddite-like folks who have shunned most of technology. Eric nicknames them the Minimites. They live in a home built by said community member for when his son marries. I suppose what particularly annoys me about the story is the lack of writing skills. Brende fails to keep a story line straight and I feel as though his words are zig-zagging all over the place. Heck, I even went back to check a quote just now and realized that he had been hit by a car. I completely missed this!

Add to that frustration the fact that Mr. Brende comes off as an annoying and often pretentious wet-behind-the-ears college grad, and it just didn’t keep up my interest. I also don’t care for his comments about the people around him, as they usually come off as condescending and rude. The neighbor boy is “chubby”; the other neighbors “don’t like to be told what’s good for them”. Well, perhaps they don’t like your attitude! I suppose that the part that shocked me the most was after the birth of their first son. They went to K-Mart to get baby supplies. The total added up to a bit over $127, including a car seat, mattress, and baby blankets. They are, strangely, surprised by the amount, thinking it very expensive. Eric says, “Mary looked at me. I looked at Mary. Didn’t she know that baby items were the mother’s responsibility? “Can’t you use your credit card?” I asked.”

Ouch. I was so done. As it ends up, they leave the community and make their home in another Midwestern town, where he has a rickshaw business. He apparently doesn’t care for the German inhabitants of the town, which he makes quite clear. Pretty dumb to publish a book and let your neighbors know you don’t like them, right?

I hope that you will check out the first three books, though! They would be perfect for a rainy and cold day by the fireplace.

If you’d like to check out Thriftbooks, I have a coupon for 15% off for you! It is only good for two weeks after you sign up for it, though! It will also send ME a coupon for 20% off and you’ll be my new friend! 😉  Free shipping starts when you place an order for $10.

 

 

 

I’ll take one. No, better make that 200.

“Cure for an obsession: Get another one.” ~Mason Cooley

I have a weirdness. It popped up in a conversation between Jason and I the other day. For a bit of a backstory, it began innocently enough, as it always does.

I was in the plant section, more specifically, the CLEARANCE (clear-ron-say, as I love to pronounce it) section of Lowe’s. Three sad and mostly dead African violets caught my eye. They were a whopping dollar each. And now let’s hit the backstory to my backstory: Ten years ago, I got an African violet. I don’t remember where I got it. It started innocently enough. A single plant, right? Then, as I started researched African violets, they have things called “suckers” which are little baby plants trying to come up from the base of the mother plant. This is not a good thing for your normal violet, because they will stop blooming. So, being the good plant stewardess that I was, I painstakingly removed each tiny embryonic baby from the mama with tweezers and a Xacto knife (sterilized, of course) and put them with gentle, loving care in a Jiffy greenhouse. You know, the giant ones with like 40 cells.

Then I discovered that there are things called “trailing” African violets, which, LONG AND VERY BORING STORY SHORT, suckers are NOT a bad thing and that’s just the ways trailers grow. Well, crud. So now I had approximately 41 trailing African violets. I will spare you the horror of the boring details, but I ended up doing hours and hours of research on how to BEST raise African violets, what they needed, what they hated, the Latin name, and heck, I may have joined the African Violet Society of America. I even gave a presentation (seriously) to our local garden club on African violet care.

Because you see, when I get fixated on something, I get FIXATED. I have to know all about it. I want you to ask me questions, because I am READY and PREPARED with an endless array of information and documentation and if I had been on Jeopardy and African violets were a subject, I would have stomped a mudhole in everyone else’s behind. Back to present-day Lowe’s:

I thought about my violet that I had ten years ago. I still miss “her”. (Yes, it was a ‘her’, and she had a name, though I can’t remember it) Here she was in her full glory. Be still my heart:

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And the worst part was that I have no idea what happened to her. I am sure that, in the course of us moving and my subsequent obsessions, she suffered a terrible, neglectful death. But anyway, I got the violets at Lowe’s. I have babied them (one did die), pampered them, fertilized them, and given them the quarter-turn each and every day in their sunny, south-facing window. They have rewarded my patience and persistence by thriving and blooming:

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But enter my weirdness. I don’t want just two African violets anymore. I want a hundred. I want a greenhouse full of African violets. I want so many that people can’t come into my house without falling over some Saintpaulia (if you don’t get it, don’t feel bad…it’s the nerd in me). I want so many that people will call me “that crazy violet lady”.

So naturally, a few weeks later I was in Lowe’s again and there was a FULL FLAT of sad, neglected AVs. Be still my heart. But they weren’t yet marked down and I’ll be danged if I pay more than a dollar each for a flowerless AV from Lowe’s when I know that’s what they mark them down to. Enter my DLS (dear long-suffering) husband. A week later, he has to go to Lowe’s. I beg him to go check on the flat. When he returns, it’s like Christmas. He scores fifteen violets…for a dollar a piece. I am giddy. It was better than getting a pony.

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So later that night, he says, “Why is it that you can’t just have ONE of something?”

Me: I don’t know what you mean.

He (looking at me like I have lost it): You can’t just have one. Why do you have to get multiples of everything?

Me (puzzled look): I don’t know what you’re talking about.

He: We have six dogs, more chickens than anyone we know, like 10 parrots….(voice trails off)

Me: shrugs

Of COURSE I know what he means! It’s the same reason I couldn’t have a pair of zebra finches. I had to have 15. I couldn’t have one gerbil; I had to have every color so that I could, quite literally, be able to recreate ANY AND ALL possible color variations in the gerbil breeding world. I couldn’t have just one orchid; I had to save them all from Lowe’s and my kitchen window looked like a Brazilian rainforest minus the monkeys. I couldn’t just have “three or four” chickens, but instead I needed one (okay…more) of each breed known to mankind. One roll of washi tape? NO! I must have one representing each holiday, each possible vacation destination, and every color in the full Pantone color library.

But I have good news! I am older and I am tireder. Yes, tireder. And I am tired of having multiples of anything! Minimalism and my obsession to have a full set of 200 gel pens to go with my new coloring book do not mesh. So, I have been clearing out my past obsessions, and not putting anything else in their place.

Except African violets. Which I can justify because they do not poop nor do they shed. Those are some of my new requirements to come into my house.

Also, if you know where I could get a plant like my original AV, you are my new friend…I really do miss it and I will always make enough window space for one more!

Cheers!

If the Shoe Fits…Or, the Toe Woes

It’s official. I am now at that age where I want to flag down strangers at the grocery store and tell them all about my medical conditions, holding them captive with my too-long tales of woe. Or, tell the world in a blog post. Whatever.

If you are the kind of person who hates to think about other people’s feet, go no further. If other people’s medical stories make you want to vomit, go elsewhere. You’d better stop right now.  If not, read on.

I have had a several years’ long quest to find footwear that doesn’t cause me pain.  I have to tell you that I have failed miserably.  Finally, I went to a really expensive shoe store and had my feet measured (reminded me of going to Buster Brown as a kid…why they did away with that, I have no idea), and after I told him about how all shoes hurt my feet, he looks up at me and said, “Have you been wearing regular width shoes?”  “Ummmmm….I’m a wide, aren’t I?” “Yes, you are.”  “Oh.”

Okay, issue #1 addressed. So I did end up with wide width shoes and they did work much better for quite a while.

Then you get into winter and you really *should* wear something other than flip flops.  Unfortunately, by then said athletic shoes I had bought looked more appropriate for my Mastiff’s chew toy than footwear. For the second (or maybe third?) year in a row, I found myself in November with no other shoes besides flip flops, a scary pair of wrecked New Balance, and house shoes.  I admit, I wore the houseshoes.  The upside to the houseshoes is that they do look more like moccasins, so you can pretty much pass them off as such. The BAD part was that I had forgotten how they nearly crippled me last year.  I was reminded of this fact, quite painfully, about 2 weeks ago when my fourth toes screamed out in the Shoe Revolt of 2014.  Initially, it wasn’t so bad.  I switched shoes for a while and then stupidly went back into the houseshoes.  Well, last week, the Toe Uprising occurred.  Last Thursday, I woke up to a horribly distorted toe and of course, the temperature outside had to be like negative 30.  (not really, but close enough) Now I had absolutely no shoes to wear outside of summery flip flops, because my little pea brain finally associated my mangled feet with the wear of my beloved houseshoes.

Well, they went in the trash. Forget a bra burning party, I had a shoe burning party.  I had to wear *something* to go out and feed the chickens.  I chose my mud boots. Bad decision.  By the time I was halfway to the chicken coop, I was hobbling like I had arthritis in every joint below my waist. The top of the boot was scouring the top of my toes like sandpaper. I was almost in tears.  When I did make it back inside, I ripped off the boots and stuffed them in the trash can. With God as my witness, no shoe will ever cause me pain again.

I made a doctor’s appointment that day, and I’m the kind of person who will avoid going to the doctor unless I’m at Death’s door. Close enough.

When I arrived at the doctor’s, I hobbled in and took my turn to wait. I have to say, I never realized that a podiatrist would be so busy at 8:30 in the morning, but I guess that bad feet are a common thing. I don’t go to see a doctor any more than I really have to. I looked around. Apparently, this pair of doctors saw a ton of wonky feet. The office was brand new and very nice.  Even the magazine selections were good. Not just Golf, People, or AARP. I looked down at my clothes.  That’s a whole ‘nuther issue because I have no nice clothes, either.  I had on my pair of black fleece North Face pants, which cost more than I have spent on pants in years.  I was horrified to see that they were coated with a mix of dog and guinea pig hairs.  OmG. Great. Country comes to town. Nervously, and without trying to draw attention to myself, I try to remove some of the fur, and then realize that the cleaning ladies would be wondering why there was a small pile of animal fur in the lobby.  Note to self: Do NOT leave my house ever again (!!!) without a lint roller.  Okay. Also, do not wear black fleece in public.

I was called back, and the nurse looked at me and said, “You’re limping.”  He got points in my book for good observation. I sat in the chair and propped up my feet. He asked the normal questions about meds, height, weight, etc. Then we get to the issue at hand.  I take off my shoes and he immediately palpates my feet. Without gloves. I look at him in awe.  Wow. This guy handles feet all day, sometimes gloveless apparently, and does this by choice. I’m slightly amazed. He’s an everyday hero. He asks a few more questions and then says, “Okay, so you didn’t fall out of a truck or anything, did you?”

Oh, dear.  My thoughts go back to my furry fleecy pants, my ugly shoes, my address (small town, poor county) and the fact I’m a self-pay (no insurance) client. Did I look like I was the kind of person who randomly jumps out of trucks?  Do I look like a person that would even own a truck? Couldn’t I have tripped over a lump in my hand-knotted Persian rug and stubbed my toe on the stand that holds my Ming Dynasty vase (vahz…not vayce)? Couldn’t I have fallen out of my Land Rover? No, I suppose that people who come in wearing furry fleece pants don’t own any of those items anyway.  I kinda wanted to say that I indeed did fall out of a tater truck earlier that week, but I didn’t want to make anything awkward between us. After all, this man was part of the bridge to my recovery.  So I told him the real truth and that it was due to shoe friction.

He left the room and then popped his head back in to ask if it was okay to perform an x-ray. (I’m self-pay, remember) I said most definitely, YES.  At this point, I could frankly care less what you do as long as I can walk normally. He said, “Okay good, because usually when people are in this kind of pain, the toe is broken, and your toes are a little weird, I mean…” Suddenly, I realize he is very embarrassed, “OH! I don’t mean they’re weird…I just mean…” He trails off. I think to myself, my God, in an office that sees thousands of feet a year, I am the person with the weird feet.   Great.  I tell him that it’s fine, I know my feet are, in fact, very weird, and that it’s okay and there is absolutely no offense, because a fact is a fact, right? I’ve known this ever since I compared my feet to other girls’ in school and realized that toes are not, as a general rule, bent at odd and hideous angles, but in most cases are actually straight.  I even complimented a girl once in school about how pretty her feet were. Yes, I was jealous. I’m sure she thought I was a total weirdo. A weirdo with weird, wonky feet.

Anyway, we get the x-rays done and I sit back down.  The doctor comes in, and I have to tell you that I don’t even know his name because he didn’t tell me.  Oh well. It was one of two doctors, so I’m sure I’ll figure it out by my follow-up visit. So, he takes a look, and then shows me the x-ray. I am absolutely amazed to see that my bones are actually straight in my toes. Wow. Would have never guessed that. Then he tells me what I have.  It was pretty much a list.  Hammertoes, mallet toes, claw toes, claw hammer toes, pliertoes, wrenchtoes, bunions, Funyuns, bunionettes, marionettes…whatever kind of malady a foot can have, I probably have it.  He tells me that I will, eventually, need surgery, both for hammertoe relief as well as for my tailor’s bunions (they actually shave the bone on that one….ugh).  I say, “So, basically, you’re saying my feet are doomed, right?”  He wasn’t expecting that, really, and says,”Oh no, no, I don’t mean it like that.” I say, “It’s okay, my feet are doomed.”  After some more small procedures, I set up with some arthritis gel for pain, Medrol for the swelling, and some custom inserts for shoes that I don’t own.  I ask him about shoes.  He said to find some with a squared toe box type shoes.  I was literally crying in the back of my mind because I have sought these Holy Grail of shoes for years unsuccessfully. I’m still holding out hope. He tells me that the steroids I will be taking are inexpensive. Okay, I say.

I go to pay, fully expecting to shell out at least a couple hundred bucks.  The total came to $130.  I blurt out how cheap that is.  I know that even in our business, we usually don’t do much for under 200 dollars, and here is this nice and beautifully decorated, fully staffed, modern office and they do an appointment for less than $150. Nice.

I get back into the car and tell Jason that I think I may need to upgrade my appearance. “Why?” he said.

“Well, because I think I give off the impression that I’m extremely poor or something. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being poor, I’m certainly not saying that at all, but I think I look, well, maybe like I am the kind of person who jumps out of large trucks on a whim. Like the kind of person who may shoot coons off of her deck at night. Does that make sense?”  He laughs. “Well, it got you some free medicine, a cheap prescription, and a cheap appointment, didn’t it?”  “Well, I guess, but…” I absentmindedly pick a dog hair off of my pants.  I make another mental note to do some wardrobe upgrades in the future as well as buy a case of lint rollers. “Anyway, I think it would have been funny if I had hobbled outside to climb into my brand new Lexus, right?” I giggle.  “Yes,” he answers, “but you climbed into your Prius, and they probably thought, ‘That poor woman can’t even afford gas.’ ”

I laugh.

So, the next day, I start my Medrol pack.  I am one of those kind of people who actually reads about the side effects.  Sweating, acne, insomnia, changes in appetite…pretty much all the normal stuff. Then I get down to “could possibly cause frank psychotic episodes”.  I try to let that sink in for a minute. Frank psychotic episodes.

Great.

I have a cooking class at a grocery store that I take the kids to, and today is that day. Of course it is.  Well, I’ll be the wild-eyed nude woman in the store trying to free the lobsters while I’m declaring to the shocked onlookers that I am either Jesus or the reincarnation of Cleopatra.  This is lovely.

I do have to report that I did make it through the class without removing any garment of clothing, nor telling anyone that I was the materialization of the Lord and Savior or the Queen of the Nile.  I stayed as far away as I possibly could from the lobster tank.

By the next morning, I realized that the ‘insomnia’ part of the side effects certainly held true.  I may not have actually had a psychotic episode, but as I looked in the mirror that morning, I looked like I was psychotic. After a whole night of tossing, turning, and waking up in a dead panic about 10 times, my hair had a Bride of Frankenstein quality, my traces of mascara were down to my cheeks, and my eyes had the look of “If you touch me today, I will likely scare you as well as myself.”  Luckily, after a shower, most of those qualities were erased.

I picked up my new shoe inserts.  I flipped them over. On the back was a big letter “D”.  D for Doomed.  I sighed heavily and limped to the Keurig.

So, here’s to shoes that fit, feet that don’t hurt, and the medicine of podiatry.  Wonky and janky feet owners of the world unite!  I may not be Queen of the Nile, but I declare myself Princess of the Wonky Feet.

The Gradual Vegetarian

This is a post about butchering chickens.  Yes, it seems to be a totally irrelevant title, but I assure you, it IS about putting up your own birds.  First, let’s get down to business about processing your very own meat birds.

Let me begin by saying meat chickens, more specifically, Cornish crosses or “Cornish X”,  are nasty and just vile.  Sorry, there’s no way around it.  When humans developed an animal that does nothing (and I do mean nothing) but eat and poop, it just has to be pretty gross.  They are the smelliest, messiest, and nippiest chickens out there.  They will eat non-stop and poop non-stop.  They will gulp water until their crops are huge and pendulous.  If they do run out of food and you don’t have any, expect your hands to be pecked to a pulp. It ain’t pretty.  People who have grown up working in broiler houses often do not have chickens, and I can clearly see why.  If you’ve had no experience with chickens outside of broilers, you’d never know that they are really NOT nasty critters.

With that out of the way, they are definitely the most efficient way to get a bird from an egg to your freezer in the shortest amount of time possible.  I call them “meat with a beak”, because that is ALL they are ‘good’ for.  They don’t roam, they don’t lay eggs, they just sit and wait to be served their dinner.  Because of this and their genetic makeup, they put on massive amounts of muscle quickly. So, if you want a table bird as fast as you can get it, a Cornish cross is the way to go.

We have always used Cornish cross and it has always made a fine carcass for processing.  When we process, the birds are typically 4-5 pounds after butchering.  So, it’s a pretty big bird.  We usually do not get a table-ready bird in 6-8 weeks because we do not feed them non-stop.  This time around, the birds were about 3.5 months old, which is ancient for a broiler.  The problem was that we just really weren’t ready with our new processing equipment, and the birds weren’t getting enough food to top out quickly.  In other words, it was our fault.

Anyhoo, we got about 1/3 of the flock done yesterday.  We worked on butchering equipment for about 3 days, and I am showing it off via the photo gallery I have posted below.  The boards were all ‘upcycled’ from decking boards and an old rabbit hutch that we had.  The stainless steel ‘sink’ at the “Evisceration Station” is actually our ridiculously expensive chimney cap that blew off early last year, approximately 3 weeks after installation.  Don’t get me started on that damned cap.  I paid way too much, had it supposedly installed by ‘professionals’, and I will be damned if it didn’t blow off in a March gale, taking along with it some bricks which dented my BRAND NEW METAL ROOF  and subsequently bashed in my vintage patio table, that now cannot hold a drink on it, lest it end up in your lap.  SO DON’T GET ME STARTED ON CHIMNEY CAPS.  But I had decided that since I had shelled out so much money on the stupid thing that there had to be a great use for it, and sure enough, with a hole drilled into the center, it makes an awesome chicken cleaning table.  You know what they say: When life hands you lemons, throw some chicken guts on it, and it will be okay.

Each station has its own handheld sprayer with its own sprayer dock so that you are not stumbling over hoses or trying to balance your sprayer where you’re not going to get soaked with it.  Trust me, been there, done that, and been soaked down WAY too many times to NOT have a reliable sprayer and a sturdy sprayer dock.  All it is, is a little ‘c’ clamp so the sprayer handle hooks into it.  On the Evisceration Station, the PVC bar across the top is drilled at the bottom with small holes.  The red handle operates this flow, so you can turn it on independently of your sprayer.  It helps to keep blood, feathers, etc. flowing towards the center drain, which empties into a 5 gallon bucket.  Since the bucket fills up too quickly, we are going to put a screen at the bottom, add a PVC  ‘drain tube’ out of the bottom side of the bucket.  So, it will keep the funky stuff in and allow the water to escape.

On the cone/plucking station, on one side we used 16″ tall flashing to create cones with the bottom openings just large enough for a chicken’s neck to fit into.  Next time, we are going to also include some ‘c’ clamps at the top to hold the chickens’ feet in place as they can even still manage to squirm their legs enough to get down into the cones (they are probably a bit too wide).  On the other side, there are 2 sets of chicken leg sized slots that were cut into the top beam.  The legs fit in the slots perfectly (we used a live chicken and measured its legs), and the feet prevent the bird from slipping out.  On one set of slots, we attached a showerhead above it so that we can turn it on to help rinse feathers downward when needed, into the tarp.  The hand sprayer and showerhead are, again, plumbed independently so you can operate them separately.

The whole process went very well compared to our previous butchering day experiences, with one exception.  We currently do not own a plucker.  We have rented a Whizbang plucker in the past and there is just no other way to pluck once you have used one.  We just didn’t have time to build one, though we have all of the parts needed except for the rubber fingers. However, by next g0-’round, you can be darn sure that we’ll have one because hand plucking sucks!  Even though this time we got the water temperature perfect and the feathers literally slid out, it still takes too long.

For those of you unfamiliar with the process, here’s a rundown of how we do things.

1. Start heating your scalding water.  We use a very large, lidded stockpot and an outdoor propane ‘turkey fryer’ burner.  Water temp will need to be 145-150 degrees.  I let it get a bit over 150, because when you remove the lid, the temp goes down, and it also gets cooler when you plunge a bird into it.  Add about a teaspoon of Dawn to the water, to break the surface tension of the chicken feathers. Getting water to temp will take a long time.  Always do this first!

2. Sanitize cutting instruments/tables/coolers with weak bleach solution. You can look up bleach to water ratios online…I can’t remember them exactly, but this time I believe we did a 1:12 solution.  It must stay on for 15-20 minutes to disinfect surfaces, then you rinse it off with water.

3. When water temp is ready, your equipment has been disinfected, and you have a layer of ice in your cooler, you’re ready to begin.  We ‘do’ 2 chickens at a time.  Chicken is put into cone upside down and head is removed with a knife.  Once bloodflow stops, it’s off to the scalding water.

4. Dunk the chicken several times to fully saturate the feathers, then hold it under with exception to the feet.  Feet are nasty and I don’t like to think about getting chicken foot funk in my water.  After about 8-10 seconds, I pull the bird up and try to pull out a flight feather.  Once these slide out easily, it’s time to pluck.

5. Head over to the plucking area and remove all feathers.  It isn’t difficult, but it is the most time consuming part of the job.  I try to get all the pinfeathers (if any) as well.  However, pinfeathers and the little ‘hair’ feathers come out very easily after the bird has been aged in the fridge, so if I miss some, it’s no big deal.  I then rinse off the bird with a strong stream of water.

6. Now it’s time to eviscerate (remove the guts and ‘butt’).  I remove the feet first, then the ‘wicking’ feather and oil gland above the tail.  I also remove the very last joint on the wing.  No one eats that anyway.  Then I make a cut above the crop by the neck, and loosen the tendons around the crop and trachea.  Personally, I remove the crop at this point below any food that may be present.  The bird is on its back.  Spin it around, and I make a cut just below the breast plate but well above the anus (yeah, you don’t want to go there).  Then you reach in, scoop out ALL the organs and now the only thing still attached is the intestine to that yucky ol’ anus.  CAREFULLY, you cut around that, throw it all in the ‘gut bucket’ and now all that’s left is the lungs.  They are fixed to the ribs of the bird, so you have to reach back in and scoop them with your fingers.  Now rinse the cavity well, and then the outside, and place the carcass in the cooler and stuff ice into the cavity to chill it quickly. Cover with ice, and move to the next bird.

7. After a chill in the ice for an hour or two, I take them out, and either put them in a giant baggie or stack them in a huge pan, cover with plastic wrap, and I leave them in our extra refrigerator for 2 days to ‘age’ the meat. This time in the fridge will make the meat super tender…at least in the case of young birds.  If we’re talking about an old rooster or hen, you’d want to definitely boil it anyway, but if you have birds that are weeks or a few months old, after the stay in the refrigerator,  you should have some very tender meat. I don’t ever skip this step.

8. After the 2 day aging period, it is then that I take them out, rinse them off again and cut them up into parts.  It is very easy to slice them up at that point.  Then it’s either time to have some chicken dinner or freeze them.  I don’t like to leave fresh chicken in the fridge for more than 72 hours.  You can put the parts in freezer bags, or double butcher paper.  Some people also like vacuum bags.

So that’s chicken processing in a nutshell.  If you want specifics on evisceration, you can watch the Joel Salatin (of Polyface Farms) video on YouTube.  It’s very fast, so watch carefully.  I don’t think I need to include photos of the actual butchering day because it’s all been done before, and done well.

So, just a few notes of DON’T’s for you:

DON’T forget to remove food and water the evening before you butcher your birds, unless you want to deal with poop and full crops.  Gross.

DON’T forget to sharpen all your knives and have sharp kitchen scissors at the ready.  Plainly speaking, dull knives make butchering absolute hell.  Trust me.  SHARP KNIVES, PEOPLE.  SHARP KNIVES.

DON’T forget the ice!  It takes a lot more than what you think!

And now on to the vegetarian part of this post….

After it was all said and done and we were hosing down all the grossness that goes along with butchering, I looked at Jason and said, “You know what’s great about vegetables?  Vegetables don’t bleed.”

Of course, vegetables also don’t poop, they don’t have feathers or fur, and you don’t have to make sure that they have food and water every single day of the year.  Over the past few years, both Jason and I have gotten to where we can hardly tolerate eating meat.  Beef was the first to go.  Sure, we still ate burgers and BBQ now and then, but we ‘paid for it’ every time with uber-exciting intestinal ‘troubles’.  Then, it was pork.  As much as I love a crispy piece of bacon, I’d ultimately end up with more, you guessed it, tummy ‘troubles’.  It got so bad a few times that I vowed to eat nothing but hay, twigs, and sticks to move things along, if you know what I mean.

Over the past several weeks, we have really been doing very well on our veggie-heavy meals.  Usually, there is no meat involved at all, and if there is, the kids will eat it.  Well, last night I make chicken cacciatore with our fresh chicken.  I made it chock full of organic bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms…and chicken, of course.  Well, we both found ourselves shoving the chicken to the side and munching down the veggies.  I ate a bite of chicken and I wished I had spit it out.  It just doesn’t even taste good to me anymore!  It has nothing to do with the fact that I butchered it…this is about our 4th ‘batch’ of meat birds and I’ve never had an issue before. If I’m going to eat meat, I want to be the one to put it on my own plate. I just don’t want meat.  I’m not going to vilify meat eaters even though I truly do believe that as a whole, our society eats WAY too much of it.  Meat simply holds no appeal to me anymore.  When I see meat, I can now see a dead piece of critter sitting on my plate.  What’s more, it doesn’t taste good to me.  What’s the point in that?

So, I guess I’m saying that my chicken butchering days are drawing to a close even after we have invested all this time and money in getting all of this done.  Fortunately, the kids still enjoy chicken (for now), so we’ll do the rest of the birds, part them up, and use them in our meals. After that, the lovely equipment I just showed you may be shoved under a tarp and eventually sold.

Somewhere out in the chicken pen, I think I hear feather-muffled claps of joy.