Saturday, August 28, 2010

Shifting Landscapes

My mom and uncle lived in an urban environment, and every summer my grandparents would ship her and my uncle off to "the farm" of her uncle and his mother, about an hour away by today's travel times. The farm was sold out of the family in the 70's, but my mom always took me out there every summer when I was growing up, and as an adult too, and drove past it and told me stories about the draft horses, the fruit orchard, the time she was chased by a huge sow (and managed to scramble over the fence just in time), and how hard "Bobcia" (Polish for grandmother) worked on that farm. I guess my uncle stayed sometimes during at least part of the school year too, because he tells me of riding the blind draft horse to the school a couple miles down the road.

My mom and I would go to the surrounding orchards there and either pick or buy fruit like blueberries, peaches, apples, and tomatoes, and bring it home for a long session of canning, freezing, and connecting as mom and daughter. I learned a lot from her, and now that she has passed, summer is never complete without this tradition of visiting the farm and recalling the stories that my mother told, and picking or buying, canning and freezing produce.

The farm's new owner wasted no time in tearing the house down right after she bought the place. She rented out the land to be farmed. She let the other buildings go to pot, and let the vegetation grow around them. Vandals raided the buildings and left beverage cans and graffiti. This year I was elated to see that a path had been plowed so that you could more easily see and go to the buildings, so my fiance and I took advantage of the opportunity. He snapped most of these pics, because the weekend before when we visited, I came home with a little visitor that I did not find until two days later--a nasty tick! He also got himself full of burrs salvaging a few pieces of character-laden weathered wood from the granary (thank you, honey!). I may see if I get in touch with the owner (or her children, as she might be quite elderly by now) and see if they wouldn't mind if we took some more wood from the buildings. I know who she is, as she lives, or lived, on the farm next door.

My mom's brother, my uncle, made me a map of the different outbuildings recently, and for the life of me I cannot find that map right now. I have posted pictures. The large building with the tree that fell on top of it I believe is the granary. I don't know what the building is with the small door near the ground. The building with the overgrown vines growing up I think was the tack shed. It is a bit eerie for me to imagine my mom and uncle running all around this farm. I wish I had more pictures of what it was like back then.

I look forward to making new memories with my fiance on his farm!

What did I ever do before chickens?

It has occurred to me that my life is more delightful since the girlz arrived. Here is a picture that I call "I'll take all three!" The girlz don't seem to mind being all squashed like this when I pick them up.

My fiance, the handy guy that he is, constructed a "chicken tractor". This is a moveable enclosure you can wheel around on the lawn, in the garden, wherever you want to, and the girlz can peck at whatever they find where they are: bugs, grass, grit in the dirt--and fertilize at the same time! As you can see, my honey is pretty proud of his creation, and I am, too! We even enjoyed a dinner on the lawn with the girlz to celebrate.

Here was the menu:
  • Grilled chicken with paprika, onion, salt, and pepper (still on the grill yet in this picture)
  • Wild rice with lemon and butter
  • Salad with romaine and sweet volunteer grape/cherry tomatoes
  • Gazpacho (cold tomato soup made of tomatoes, sweet green peppers, cucumbers, red wine vinegar, garlic, and salt, and garnished with croutons)

Double Header!

Yesterday my star egg layer laid a HUGE EGG! I broke it open today and it is a double-yolker! Look how pretty it is!

Note the eggs in the carton. My star egg layer is young yet, and when they are young, their eggs start out small and get bigger. The ones on the right are the oldest, and progress on to the left, with the double-yolker on the left end. She has laid 15 eggs now and even not counting the double-yolker, they get bigger every day.

This is another example of things you don't see when you buy store-bought eggs...everything is very uniform and delightful surprises like this really don't come along. I made a lovely dish of scrambled eggs with muenster cheese and smoked Polish ham with this egg. ~Yummy~!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Delighting in the Wonder of Imperfection

My chicken Qweety's twin blue eggs got me to thinking. Pretty much anyone who grows things themselves appreciates the imperfections that come with the privilege of growing, I think. My mom taught me that early on, and we would marvel at the quirks that presented themselves, like the carrot I pulled up one day. Or so I THOUGHT it was just one turned out to be TWO carrots twisted around themselves in a spiral. I wish I had kept a picture of it!
I have a theory that people who do not grow things (whether it is plants, children, or animals) have not yet discovered the full depth of life's meaning. I think that the serendipity of these events, such as the double egg here, from the forum, lends a deeper understanding to the already intricately complex world God has created. I think this is God's way of reminding us that He is capable of anything, He is in charge, and He loves us and likes to surprise us with these little gifts.

Gifts can come in two, no three, types--practical and beautiful, or both. Take this pretty ear of corn from my garden this year--notice that there are TWO EARS within the same package! How wondrous is that! But what to do with the smaller ear? The sugars haven't fully developed, so it doesn't taste that great. I ended up giving it to the girlz (chickens). They are mini-garbage disposals and will eat just about anything, and give me beautiful compost and pretty eggs in return. Perhaps when my chickens come to the end of their laying days, they will serve another purpose as stew meat. MAYbe. I have fallen in love with my three girlz, but a chicken is still a chicken. And that is the cycle of life.
Talking about eggs, there are all kinds of other ways eggs present themselves.
  • Wrinkly Egg--shell is hard, but wrinkled.
  • Water Balloon Egg --these are shell-less eggs, with just the inner membrane holding things in. They feel just like water balloons when you pick them up.
  • Double-Yolker--two yolks in one egg! The egg is usually easily visibly larger than the others.
I feel sad for people who have not spent time learning how to grow, and thereby learn to be resourceful. I think it is far too easy to get caught up in the uniformity of a non-agrarian or childless life. I have a feeling that that type of life all too easily funnels one into a uniform, pre-fab way of thinking. Like when I go to Costco and see the produce sold in clear plastic compartmentalized clamshells, with the plastic formed perfectly to fit 12 mangoes or 24 apricots. Where do all of the double apricots and oversize mangoes go? I'm hope the grower/packer sends those to some type of food processing venue, and if they don't, shame on them. But if you would just shop at Costco, you would think that all produce is of uniform size, all chicken breasts handily fit into the same size plastic packages, and pineapples are always THAT sweet.

Those of you who grow things as I do, we know better!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Thank you all!

I started this blog to write about things I find interesting, and hoping that others would enjoy reading about these things. I didn't know I'd have five followers though! Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot to you, but I'm new to blogging and it seems like a lot to me!

Thank you all for your interest, and let me know if there's anything about which you want me to write!

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Slice of Wildlife

It has occurred to me that my garden
is probably a haven for not one, but many types of, butterflies. I have planted plants specifically to attract them--the usual monarda, penstemon, trumpet vine (see Yellow Swallowtail to right), butterfly bush (a HUGE hit), and coneflower.

What I didn't know is that they are also attracted to roses, as is this Red Admiral on my Cinco de Mayo rose.

And the white-blooming Late Boneset plant, well, I did not plant that and I know not from where it came, but check out the Skipper visiting it.

All manner of bees and wasps and other little flying stinger-enabled creatures also love Late Boneset.

Right now there is a Black Spicebush Swallowtail taking serious inventory of my purple butterfly bush. Later on, the warmed bricks of my house will serve as resting places for Question Marks. If I am really fortunate, I might see an American Painted Lady or even a Mourning Cloak, but that doesn't happen too often. I have a better chance of seeing a Monarch, Viceroy, or Cabbage Butterfly.

It is a real treat to see such a variety of butterflies in my garden!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Like a Child with her Finger Stuck in the Door!

As some of you know, I have 3 indoor chickens. I got them on March 24, so now they are 20 weeks old. My Australorp is a sleek iridescent black number who is lead bird, as she has the most nerve and curiousity to investigate all new sounds and scenes first. My Buff Orpington (a.k.a. Fluffernutter) is soft, docile, pretty, easygoing, and cuddly. My Easter Egger is, well, let's just say, entertaining. She is not the sharpest tack in the box, but she makes me laugh.

For the last 3 mornings she has been yelling like a child who got her finger stuck in the door. She has been downright OBNOXIOUS! It has seemed that she was so distressed, yet I could not see the reason why she would be screeching with such unrelenting abandon. I started to look on the internet today for clues as to WHY.

All of a sudden things got reeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyy quiet. I went over to the coop and here she was, hunkered down in a depression she made in the bedding, under a ladder against one side of the coop. Her eyes looked glazed over, as if she were in a deep trance. I decided that she was concentrating on SOMEthing (I suspected getting an egg out), so I left her alone. I went back in 15 minutes, and she was throwing bedding onto her back. 15 minutes later she got up and LO and BEhold, there were not ONE, but TWO BLUE EGGS! I was elated! OK, still am! I knew she would lay colored eggs, but to get TWO on the first try...well, how rare is that?

In a few minutes, she shook herself off, then hopped over to the forage/spa area and joined the others in some QUIET exploration and digging and had a long luxurious dust bath. She is the star of the day!
I suppose if I were she, I too would be pretty
vocal if I had 2 of these things in me! I wonder if she was scared, or just complaining that she was READY to have these eggs already!
Kind of like a pregnant woman who is overdue.
Well at any rate, my little baby grew up today and became a woman. I'm ever so proud!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

How to Walk

In the hustle of a major city, in pouring rain and hefty wind, 6 blocks from the train station to your job which you hope you can keep when you move, God knows when, to be with your soon-to-be-husband! :

  • Extra-big-jumbo ziplocs for your computer, your paperwork, your cell phone(s), and any other precious cargo in your bag.

  • Umbrella. Don't buy an expensive one: the metal handle will get bent and twisted and make it difficult to put back into that compact little handle. The braces might get bent and/or break, too

  • Grip. Your. Umbrella. Tight. Ly. As in, White Knuckle. Winds like that are apt to snatch the umbrella out of your hand before you even feel the wind!

  • Umbrella ettiquette: If you are walking and someone comes walking the other way and space is tight, the one with the most testosterone and/OR the bigger umbrella lifts their umbrella up so you don't have to. Yes, there IS courtesy in big cities!

  • Raincoat, microfiber, preferably with hood in case you suddenly discover that your broken and sad umbrella is taking a swift trip down the block. Your clothes will thank you.

  • Footwear: Athletic sandals that will take a splash in ankle-deep curbside impromptu lakes, OR...some really cute Rain Boots! Here we have Rain Boot Paradise. This was taken at the Farm & Fleet in Appleton, WI. I was in HEAVEN. I LOVE cute rain boots!

Monday, August 2, 2010

What can YOU get for $2?

This entire pile of produce in this picture cost me $2.

Having the chickens, I've been brainstorming about ways to feed them fresh fruits and veggies on the cheap. I know that grocery stores throw out old produce, but I was curious to see what constitutes a "reject". Grocery stores live and die by the quality of their produce and their will drive a customer to, or away from, a store. So I had a hunch that the produce they threw out wouldn't be that bad.

I called up the produce manager of a local store and told him I was trying to help feed chickens economically, and he agreed to call me when he had a boxful of rejects. This Saturday he gave me a call, and I retrieved a whole banana box of scratch-and-dent produce for the low low price of TWO DOLLARS! Here is what I got:

6 heads of organic broccoli

about 14 apples

1 beautiful pear with one tiny blemish

5 bags of precut stirfry (YUMMY!)

1 bag of celery (for the birds--not a fan of celery!)

I made an amazing stir-fry with those cut veggies--they are wonderful. They had only gone out of code the day before and still looked really good.

OK so I am sharing the birds' food but this produce is in just-about-perfect condition. WHERE was this going to end up? THE GARBAGE. What a shame, but what a good thing that I got it!

Stewardship...fiscal responsbility...conserving for thought................................

Fostering Dependency: Can you go without garbage service?

I have been thinking a lot lately about different lifestyles: farm vs. suburbs vs. city. Cities seem to be getting bigger, suburbs appear to be holding their own and/or expanding, and really small towns and farms to me appear to be waning. I think it's a loss and a shame, as in many ways I think it's easier to be self-sufficient and help yourself in many ways during hard times in a smaller community:
1. Real estate is more affordable.
2. It's easier to help the land help you make a living by growing your own food, whether it's fruits/veggies or meat (chicken/fish/beef).
3. You are not so bombarded by "BUY BUY BUY" messages at the mall, or billboards on the road. There was a case of a third-world group of people, I think it was a type of tribe, who had been living by themselves in the rainforest for all the time they existed. An experiment was conducted where they were shown catalogs containing pretty clothes, cosmetics, and other things. They had been living a "simpler" life with strictly homemade clothes and body decorations. Once they were shown the clothes and cosmetics, they became discontent with their situation. They began to want jobs to pay for all of these new things they never knew they wanted. And so the cycle began.

I'm not saying we have to live like these people originally did. But when I look out as I do tonight, at all of the heaps of stuff by the curb on garbage night, I can't help but wonder if we've gone too far off the other side. My own mother loved her things and would collect all kinds of beautiful items. Then she'd get frustrated at how complicated it was to take care of, and lament, "Just give me ONE bowl and ONE pot and ONE spoon!"

My neighbor called me this week and told me that she and her husband were cleaning out their basement and had a lot of stuff they wanted to put out by the curb, and could they put some stuff at the end of my driveway since they had so much? Well, I don't even have my own garbage service anymore! so I had to tell her no. I share garbage service with a neighborhood friend. About a year ago I was sitting around and looking at how little garbage I as one person generate. I remarked about this to my friend, and then we compared how much we pay for garbage. We found out that I had the more expensive service.

Then a light bulb went off in my head! I proposed the idea to her of SHARING garbage service. She thought it was intriguing and we decided to try it for a quarter. I brought my garbage over to her house and put it in her can, and paid her half. That was a year ago. So far so good!

Anyway, back to the neighbor. I see the heap piling up tonight and I see lots and lots of plastic hangers that are perfectly good. Who knows what other good things are in there? Why does she not truck on over only a mile and donate this to the thrift store? Granted, we do have a lot of curbside boutique surfers...but still, how hard is it to make a trip the thrift store and get the tax deduction? That's what I do, with my own castoffs and other people's as well (I am a curbside boutique shopper!). Not only does it help keep perfectly good things in circulation, it also feeds my desire to acquire stuff down to a manageable level. There's something very satisfying for me to find something good, and give it to the thrift store. It keeps it out of my house!

There are ways of saving money that some would regard as smacking of poverty. But really, isn't some of it just being responsible with our resources? During the Depression, my grandma's sister had a job at a hatchery. She would give my grandma the "reject" chicks (missing toe, blind in one eye, etc.) and my grandma raised them to adults. She would butcher some, and can the meat. With others she would keep them for their eggs. She would shoot rabbits in the yard and can those too. So, she and my grandfather would always have meat and eggs at a time when so much in other people's lives went lacking. I have bought incredibly cheap chicken at the store and canned it myself, thanks to inspiration from my grandma. Those mini-jelly jars of chicken have come in handy more than once at the office!

I wonder how much garbage there would be if people were held accountable for what was really garbage in what they put by the curb. Between donating to the thrift store, donating to places like pregnancy centers and women's shelters, and making a compost heap, there are plenty of ways to keep the good flowing. That is just a start. What ways can you think of to "wear it or wear it out"? Be a good steward today!