Saturday, November 22, 2008


The evening was progressing smoothly after a hectic day of errands. We had an hour and a half to get ready for piano recital. The kids were making themselves dinner, and I was working on making a batch of pumpkin cookies we were supposed to bring for after the recital. The kids were in their recital finery and we had half an hour to go as I slid the last sheet of cookies in the oven. The previous two sheets were cooling on the counter. I ran into the office to print out directions to where the recital was located. I came back and stopped, confused. Where were the cookies? Only crumbs remained. Oh, Emily must have put them on a plate to take to recital. Boy, she sure left a lot of crumbs. Well, Where is the plate? Nope. No plate. I look at my feet, and there is Roger. He looks up at me and burps. Oh NOOOO! BAD! BAD DOG!!! THOSE WERE MY COOKIES! Good thing I still had one sheet of cookies left. This time, I made sure to put them where he absolutely couldn't get at them.

P.S. If your Fifi suddenly turns up her nose at her dogfood, you might try pumpkin. My dogs, especially Roger, have gone nuts over the pumpkins I was processing. As I discarded the roasted peels, the dogs got into the chicken bucket and dragged them off to devour as quickly as a pig ear. Even got into a few squabbles over the skins. Then, when I left some of the roasted pumpkin seeds on the counter, Roger ate THEM. (And drug the Ziploc bag full of raw pumpkin seeds outside to devour at his leisure.) So, if your dog won't eat, roast up some pumpkin and watch the fun.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Frost on the Pumpkins

Well, winter has officially arrived and it is COLD tonite. (About 25) I have succumbed to affection (INSANITY!) and have installed a heater in the chicken house-- Just to help the little ones stay warm and to encourage the older ones to resume egg laying! Really! I know what I tell everyone about their ability to handle cold, but they just look so Miserable all fluffed out on their perches. Just until they get their feathers fully grown, then I PROMISE I'll turn the heater off. (My husband helped in my resolve by sneaking in and turning off the heater for me last week.)

I have been busily processing pumpkins this week. I was at the grocery store and they had pumpkins out front for 50 Cents. Most of the other stores didn't have any after Halloween and these were LOVELY. Saw a woman and her two daughters pushing three carts full of pumpkins into the store. She said that the grocery in the neighboring town had pumpkins for a penny each, but the manager said they weren't selling fast enough and so he threw them all away. She hadn't gotten there in time to buy all that she wanted. I was just on my way home from serving lunch at the homeless shelter and was horrified by this story of waste. If only there was some way for unwanted produce to get to people who could use it- even farmers can feed slightly spoiled produce to their chickens and pigs! I asked her what on earth she was going to do with all those pumpkins and she said she was going to somehow get them home and then she knew people who wanted them. I paid $8 each for my first Halloween pumpkins, so I grabbed four for my cart. After a while of shopping inside, the lovely cashier informed me that my pumpkins were a penny apiece. I almost ran out and got some more! I am now eternally grateful I didn't. I processed those pumpkins into 27 pint jars of puree. Everyone I know will be offered pumpkin for their Thanksgiving feast. It truly is an amazing fruit(?) full of energy and vitamins and so perfect for cool Fall days. Well, must go back to knitting booties for the bunny....Just kidding!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

There's No People like Chicken People

Got a phone call the other day from a dear elderly lady to whom I sold three chickens in the spring. "I was hoping I could buy some more chickens from you- my hens have stopped laying and I sure miss the eggs." (She must not have many chicken friends except me, for this is the forlorn story of every chicken keeper come winter all over the land.) Visiting my friend's farm in Virginia we combed her fields looking for a hiding spot. "Surely they can't just have stopped laying completely!" Sent 7 kids into the barn to search high and low there. Yielded a dozen eggs. Talking with strangers at a 4H Horse Composition Class- "Yes, we just put up lights to get the required amount of daylight. But my husband expects me to go turn them on and off at the right times and it's driving me crazy. Still no improvement in the egg numbers." At the farmer's market in Waxhaw: "My grandpa's hens haven't been laying for months now." And in my own chicken house: a lonely brown egg, the only production for a flock of over 60 hens. Roast chicken, anyone?! Just kidding....My family would kill me. Although with a feed bill of about 100/ month, I WOULD like to see some eggs. I put up lights middle of last week and installed the timer today, so I WON'T have to go turn them on and off.

So back to my dear friend..... I inquired, ever so politely, "Do you have any lights on in their house? They need at least 14 hours of daylight to produce eggs." She replied, "No, I don't. Wouldn't that keep them awake at night? I am fond of my birds and would hate to disturb them." I assured her that only a low watt bulb is necessary and that most chickens are not kept awake by light. I also told her she could use a timer to turn the light on and off to only the hours necessary to make up the 14 hours needed. She said, "Oh, well that would be easy because I already have a heater on a timer out in the chicken house." A HEATER! I thought. Keep in mind it has only been 40-50's at night here and these are adult birds that she has. I cannot imagine her electric bill. I then reassured her that with their feathers, the birds did NOT need a heater as they had each other to huddle next to for warmth. "Oh, that would be save me SO much money!" I was struck by how chickens bring out the caretaker in us all tonight as I looked at my puffed out ladies on their roosts and wondered if maybe I need to put in a heater myself. Hee Hee.
I DID sell her three new pullets (young hens) this morning and was able to reassure them as I stuffed them into the dog crate, "Relax, honey - you're going to someone who is going to treat you very well and love you more than I ever could." Somehow, they didn't seem reassured but continued scolding and squawking as fiercely as ever. Oh well. My friend will have them won over in no time. That's just how chicken people are.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

At the bottom of the pile.

Woke up the other morning at the bottom of a pile. Can honestly say it is one of my favorite things. Two children, two dogs and three cats were in the bed with me snuggled as close as they could get. One other dog snoozed on the floor beside the bed. Brian says I'm the pied piper. Lucky me. Sometimes I think God sends me all this love because I get so preoccupied with routine and forget how much He loves me. So many sins stem from forgetting who we are in Christ and the insecurity of feeling unloved. God is awesome! May you notice him singing to you in the birds in the trees, a gentle crisp fall breeze caressing your cheek. Watch him painting the trees for your enjoyment.
I truly stand in awe of his creation. Somehow it assures me that even if everything is scary and unsure, that He is ABLE to handle caring for me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

There's a sheep in my car!

Gack! said Roger, the mastiff. There's a sheep in my car! Mom, can I PLEASE ride up front with YOU?! No, said mom and Allen. You may NOT. Oh MOM, it's so SCARY!!. It has horns!!. AAAAChoo! says the sheep. And promptly returns to munching her hay.
To picture this, take your average minivan. Fold down the back seat, assemble large mastiff wire crate. Fill with hay. Load 80+ pound Jacob ewe into crate. Remove one passenger seat. Place dog bed on floor. Place daughter and son in car and request that large mastiff (Roger) take his bed as usual on floor for 3+ hour drive to Virginia.
The ewe still has her winter wool, so she looks enormous. Roger did NOT approve.
However, the drive was uneventful after we convinced him that he could NOT ride in my lap. The sheep delighted the kids by sneezing every so often and by going potty in her crate. EEEEWWWW! said Allen.
Once we got to my friend's farm in Virginia, the sheep was unloaded without much fuss and Roger got to bark at ALL the big animals there. (Cows, goats, sheep, etc.) The sheep settled in nicely and made friends with her new flock. She even showed signs of going into heat and flirting with her new beau, Boaz, another Jacob sheep. Jacob sheep are from Biblical times and are sturdy spotted sheep that either have two or four horns. (Remember Laban dividing the flock with Jacob and Jacob choosing the spotted ones.) They are prized for their beautiful wool, and Ophelia(the ewe) has wool that looks creamy lavender in the early morning light. Beautiful.
We had SUCH a lovely visit. Got to help herd one of the cows to the neighbors to be bred over the next month. Got to explain to Emily (again!) what exactly was trying to be accomplished. Got to explain that, yes, that IS what happens with people to make babies. And Yes, that is how Mom and Dad got you. No way to get around the truth on a farm.
I have never worked so hard in my life as when the ten of us (two adults, three teens and five children) tried to convince the cow to meander to the neighbor's pasture. We all formed a line and had sticks to enlarge our reach, but she broke the line three times. Once, she charged across the creek and right up the side of the thickly forested ridge. By the time we had all charged up the hill and headed her off, she realized that now the pasture was clear all the way back to the barn and off she boogied! Boy, we were running through knee high grass and stickers for the better part of an hour. Finally contained her to a fenceline and gently moved her along it to the desired goal. I was so impressed at those farm kids and how quickly they anticipated the cow's (Priscilla) movements and how to react. I almost collapsed as she sauntered into the neighbor's pasture and I realized now I had to walk all the way back. Emily, of course, being a city girl, also felt that way and promptly declared that there was no way she could walk, that she had stickers in her shoes and that I needed to carry her. I declined.
Some how, we made it back.
The next day, we picked the very last of that season's apples. The UPick was abandoned with a coffee can for you to leave your money in. We got the best Red Delicious apples I have ever eaten. We were able to use the picking tool at the orchard and there were just a few apples on each tree. Managed to get 2 bushels. There had been a fierce wind the day prior and we were blessed to find a LOT of perfect apples already on the ground. I hope to make apple butter and pie filling this week sometime.
The day after, I made butter. Did you know you can make butter with just heavy cream and a blender? I didn't. Ginger's cow, Cocoa, makes about 5 gallons of milk a day and the percentage of cream is impressive. Cocoa gets to hang around the yard, pasture or house and is one HAPPY cow and her milk shows it. I think I must have made about 6 lbs of butter that day. Couldn't stand up by evening. Roasted a pumpkin and canned it. Roasted the best batch of pumpkin seeds I've ever made. (Olive oil, and LOTS of it!) Gorged myself on goat cheese, fresh bread, pumpkin seeds and fresh mozzerella. (Ginger was busily whipping up fresh cheeses for a winery and I got to be her taste tester!) Her daughter helped make a pumpkin pie and an apple pie for dinner. Delicious!
We prayed over dinner that God would bless those who don't get such variety and who mainly eat rice at each meal. I was reminded of how many people get to eat meat once a year on a big festival and was thankful for the bounty of our land.
Got to chase the pigs briefly the next day (the dogs helped). Kept the fire stoked as snowflakes swirled in the air. What Bliss!!!
Took my precious friend to a movie for her birthday. "The Secret Life of Bees" Bawled my eyes out. Loved it. Catharsis is good for the soul. Went out for late appetizers and pigged out yet again on delicious food. (I highly recommend the Olive Garden Appetizer assortment!) Got home and crawled in bed with my snuggle bunny, Emily, who was keeping the bed warm for me. Bliss just doesn't cover friendship, hard work, good food, God's blessings and the beauty of the Roanoke countryside in fall.
Halloween was one of the best ever. We went to a friend's home for chili and costume preparation, then to a TINY quaint town for a short parade and being set loose for door to door frolicking. We made out like bandits and were done before everyone was exhausted and began bickering and sniping. Then back to home for a cheery hour of bartering among the kids before bedtime. "My store is still open! I have two Jolly Ranchers up for grabs!" The kids got enough to have fun sorting but not so much they will be visiting the dentist prematurely.
Now it is back to home and back to school. May God keep my eyes open to the wonders around me here.

George and Martha

Turkeys are the delight of my life. (After my children and husband, of course!) I have named our pair George and Martha (initially after the cartoon hippo pair, but now more after our first president and his wife- they are both so regal.) You simply haven't lived until you have seen a tom turkey strut his stuff. First of all, picture him, tail fully raised, all body feathers puffed out and wings stretched low until they almost drag the ground behind him. Then, picture a fan dancer and the way she moves. Step, step, pause. Flip the tail the other direction. Step, step, pause. Flip. Step, step, pause. GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE. (Just in case you didn't notice the show) Step, Step, pause. FLIP.
You get the idea. As soon as I get a sunny day, I'll try hard to shoot some video I can post. He is just too much fun for words. He is now our resident guardian, and gobbles at any new sight on the property. The goose, Pilgrim is still vocal at strangers and the guineas are as rambunctious as ever, but George is top dog. (turkey) Pilgrim has actually calmed quite a bit since his arrival. I think it helps having another species that is a large male bird to "help" him guard the turf. He doesn't really have to compete with him, but he knows George won't tolerate any nonsense from predators. The guineas are just noisy in the evenings as they return from eating bugs in the woods to roost over the chicken house. There are about 12 now and with rumors of the coyote being wounded by my neighbor, I have high hopes of them making it through until spring. Even with the racket, they keep the ticks and ants away and for that I am eternally grateful. George sleeps on top of the chicken house with his lady tucked safely away inside. I absolutely love being gobbled at as I start my day.