Sunday, January 29, 2012

Everyone's A Critic

 I stopped by our relatively small, local library the other day and was slightly surprised to see this book on the shelves, so I promptly snatched it up.  I had been wanting to read it for some time and was delighted to see they had the book.  Actually, our library, though small, has a pretty darn good variety and selection of books, especially on gardening, homesteading and such.  So.  What did I think of the book?  If you are at all interested in gardening, homesteading, permaculture and/ or our environment I would highly recommend the book.  It's a delight to read and even though the facts presented are quite sobering you don't get the feeling you're being flogged about the head and shoulders.  The parts about the turkeys alone are hysterical but it also provides a generous amount of meat to chew on for days (pun only slightly intended).  For instance, one passage states:  "If every U.S. citizen ate one meal per week from local, organic food, we would save 1.1 million BARRELS of oil every week."  Now, that just floored me.  One meal a week.  1.1 barrels a week!  Now, I realize that for what seems like the majority of people, they couldn't give a shit about saving any oil.  They want cheap food now and really do not care one whit about where it comes from.  I've had 'em tell me to my face and be proud of it.  But, for those of us who do care and who are concerned about our food and environment and actually see the connection, that is an astounding revelation, or it was to me anyway.  I mean, I understood that growing your own food would save oil, etc but 1.1 barrels a week? and just for one meal.  I also understand there would be a lot of skeptics out there who would say, how can they prove that statistic?  Well, they actually do give some hard figures and when you realize that petroleum is used to not only run farm equipment, ship food and all but to make fertilizers, pesticides, etc etc. it starts to make sense.

So, it got me to thinking....what activity can we, as concerned people, do that makes the most difference to the health of our world and ourselves?  Now of course, you want to participate in more than one but I hear people going on all the time about if you really want to save the earth we must all be on solar power, electric cars and yada, yada, yada.  I know a number of people who live off-grid, non-consumer based lives but yet, don't grow a large percentage of their food.  This gives me pause.  I'm not saying they are buying all their stuff from California or Mexico but it has really made me think lately.  Especially down here in the south where we have such a long growing season.  Now, I hope to one day be off grid or at least produce some of my own power and this is a fine goal.  But it costs a lot of money at first.  I know a lot of people that drive electric cars or hybrids but they still must use power generated by conventional means.  Most of the off grid people I know are not the ones with the electric cars.  Both can be pricey so I guess you sometimes have to choose.  Anyway.  I know tons of people, places that recycle, reuse and all that and that's wonderful.  But what is the number one action we can take that makes the most difference per person?  I think it's to grow or source locally, a very high percentage of your own food.  We must eat and often several times a day.  If everything you put in your mouth (food that is) has been shipped hundreds of miles, what does that all add up to?  It's freakin' crazy to me when I finally started thinking about it.
Now,  I realize not everyone has the amount of land I have or even lives in a house.  Millions live in apartments and such but for those of us who do have the room it seems a no-brainer to me and it's something that will have a major impact for relatively little start up costs, as opposed to say, going off grid.  And yes, of course, nobody can produce everything they need and I'm not saying we should.  I have no problem with importing a few things.  Humans have traded spices and foods since the beginning.  Make a little money for you, I get a treat I can't make myself...But for us to grow tomatoes down the road and ship them to Wisconsin while we turn around and import ours from California??  Wha???
Since reading this book I decided to challenge myself to find local products to supply what I can't grow or make myself and I have been pleasantly surprised by what I've found.  Alabama makes a lot of stuff!!  I actually found an organic diary!  Well, two actually.  One is in south Alabama and too far to drive but they sell their products in Birmingham ,where I go frequently.  And yes, it is shipped in but 150 miles is a helluva lot better than 600.  And I know their milk is from their cows and their cows only, not cows from Texas and Canada and God only knows where else.  The other diary is much closer, well within driving distance for me, but it has actually been easier to get this other milk for now, as I was already in Birmingham.  It is a bit more expensive but with all the money I save growing my own food, and not buying junk, I have plenty of money to buy the milk.  Plus, I can take a gallon and make my own yogurt and maybe even some cheese as I don't keep a lot of milk for just drinking.  The photo above shows just a few things I already had that is produced locally or in our state.  We make lots of honey and various syrups.  Of course we produce cornmeal and grits!  And only the white cornmeal; southerners know better than to use that yellow crap.  My sister knows a man that grows wheat and corn for grinding on a commercial scale and our state even grows rice!  Not a tremendous amount but some.  I am very fortunate to live in a county that produces tons of fruit.  Apples, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, melons, pecans (yeah, that's a nut), blackberries and much, much more.  Yes, I hope to grow much of this myself one day but for now I can get it within just a few miles.  As I mentioned in the beginning, we want to go solar soon too but until then, I think I'm going to put much more effort into producing my own food or sourcing it locally.  I was meaning to anyway, but this gives me a lot more motivation.  Oh yeah!!  and to this end...I'm going to start growing my own tea!  Annie's Tea Plantation!  Lots of people say, what???  the tea plant is Camillia Sinesis; it's in the camellia family!  Our state flower!! lol! DUH on me!  I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner!
So what do ya'll think?  What do you think is one activity that really makes the most difference to us and our environment?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

All Good Books

Over the few years that I have lived on my little homestead here, I have collected a few books that have really come in handy and I thought some of ya'll might find them interesting if you don't already know about them.  Especially if you are geared towards the gardening, homesteading kinda movement.  I think a couple of them are pretty standard to most people who garden seriously but there was one or two that might not be that popular.  I can't really say that I use anyone more than the others; they all get referenced regularly.  And I have several more good ones on the same subjects.  I just thought these 4 were kinda the best overall.
I think everybody is familiar with Rodale's organic gardening books and for good reason.  I use this book a lot!  Great info on all kinds of stuff, even if you've been gardening for a while.  It has good illustrations and diagrams too. 
I think there are several variations of John Seymour's book on self-sufficiency but I like this one a lot.  My only complaint would be that it contains so much information on so many subjects that it sometimes leaves a bit to be desired in depth of information.  For instance, the section on making pottery just kinda glosses over the process.  Not really enough info for someone new to the craft.  I do really like his gardening strategies for each season and that is outlined well and how to best use the land you have, whether it's 1 or 20 acres.  I consult the gardening sections a lot.  It also gives you a lot of ideas for truly being self-sufficient; producing energy, reducing wastes, raising food etc.
Story's Guide to Raising Chickens is great too.  It gives really good overall info on everything from hatching chicks to cooking the chickens.  Good diagrams and illustrations too.  I also supplement this book with The Chicken Health Handbook, which is a bit more technical but full of good info.  I've never had any problem with my chooks that I couldn't figure out using one of these books.  Not that we have much problems with them but anyway..
Last, but not least by any means, is the Reader's Digest book, Homemade.  This is not a book I've seen espoused much but I love it.  There are recipes for everything in this book!  food, cosmetics, animal treats, cleaning supplies, art supplies and on and on and all of them designed to save you money and go easy on the planet.  It also has a huge section on home health remedies and gardening tips and products.  I have used and/ or made much of the stuff in the book and it's always worked, been luscious, effective or what have you.  I highly recommend this one whether you live on 200 acres or in a ultra urban apartment.  Even if you are not into "green" that much, the recipes etc. are not so out there that you don't want to fool with making them.  They might require having some dried herbs etc. on hand but everything is really easy to make and usually pretty quick.  And relatively cheap!  It has a to-die-for rice pudding recipe in it that I am going to post soon.  I really, really like this book.  And no, they didn't pay me to say that!

Do any of you have a similar book that you would recommend?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


 Alright!!  The maple syrup experiment was a success!  In my opinion anyway.  Our season ended quicker than I wanted, due to this unusual warm spell, that has now lasted for a couple of weeks.  So, I went ahead and took the 2 gallons of sap that I had collected and processed it.  Now, to people that do this regularly, 2 gallons isn't squat.  It's hardly even worth fooling with but for me it was something to try.  Just enough to see if it would actually work and taste decent.
So, Jack hooked up the big propane burner that we use for boiling water for chicken scalding and I got my pots and stuff.  Now, all this is done outside because it puts off an enormous amount of moisture.  I used a large stainless steel pot and it was just big enough for the 2 gallons.  So, basically you just get it up to a rolling boil and check on it every once it a while.

After several hours it had boiled down considerable and had begun to get this foam around the edge.  I scooped that off occasionally.  Don't know if it matters or not.  At first the sap is basically like water but as it boils down it starts to take on a golden hue and you can smell the sweetness.  At this point it was starting to get pretty low in the pot and I didn't want it to burn so I knew I would have to transfer it to a smaller pot.  I had calculated about how much finished syrup I would get out of this batch (about 3/4 cup) so I knew when it was getting close.  When it did get around a cup and a half or so I took it inside, which is okay because most of the water is gone, and poured it into a smaller pot on the stove.  It's very important to have a candy thermometer to work with.  I had also calculated the boiling point of water for my area because the syrup must reach 7.1 degrees above that boiling point. (It varies according to your elevation above sea level.)

So, I continued to boil all the while monitoring with the thermometer.  At this point the syrup formed a lot of foam as it boiled but that's okay.  When it reached temperature, for me 217.1 degrees F., I took it off the stove and poured it through clean fabric to filter it.  You have to do this while it's still good and hot.  The fabric I had wasn't too fine so I poured it through an unbleached coffee filter next and it cleared it up really nice.  Some people recommend using a hydrometer to test the syrup and that's probably a good idea, and I actually have one, but this was such a small amount and I knew it would be kept it the fridge anyway so I didn't bother.

And here is the final product!!  We had pancakes this morning with it and it is really good.  It is not very thick as many people would expect syrup to be and it doesn't have that really strong maple flavor but I thought it was quite tasty and sweet.  My maples are Red Maples by the way, not the Sugar Maples but you can use any type maple and they say even Sycamore and some other trees.
I know if I had a large batch of sap, say 30-40 gallons, this would be a much more time consuming and labor intensive thing but for what I did it was pretty easy.  Just get set up and get the stuff boiling and check it every so often.  Now, when it gets close to being boiled down all the way you have to monitor it closely but it was pretty simple and not a lot of trouble.  I think spending a weekend to do this for a gallon or so of syrup would be well worth it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Things I Have Seen Lately

Jack and I have taken a couple of day trips lately, just to get out a little and have some fun while the homestead is kinda slow.

These were solid silver, made completely by hand.  There were probably 20 animals in the exhibit.  The details were exquisite.

We were also scoping out a few new galleries where I might could possibly exhibit my work.  It's funny; these days I often find myself inspecting the structure of the building more than the art.  Especially if it's old, board-formed concrete like was in this place.  No luck here however.  They specialize in "outsider" or folk art.  Outsider means no university degree, so that leaves me out.

This was an example of folk art that just blew me away.  Normally, that genre is not really my thing but this lady had a gift.  Outstanding design and composition.

Thought this was kinda neat and it was rather large.  I have always been partial to "junk" or found object sculpture.  I hope to get back to doing some of my own soon.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Little Bit Of This And That

 This is one of the meat chickens we butchered the other day.  They came out quite tasty if I do say so myself!  I stuffed this one with onions and sage, seasoned the outside and roasted it in my new oven.  It was very juicy and plump.  I think the taste was very similar to the good, organic roasters you get in the stores.  Perhaps a little more texture?  Not tough by any means but just not mushy?  The crispy skin was very flavorful too.  I took half of these (5) and froze them whole and then took the other half and cut up for frying, braising etc.  I froze them according to section; legs, wings etc.  Then, I took the backs and ribs that were left of these and boiled them to make stock.  And it made a beautiful, golden rich broth.  Now, these birds had a significant amount of meat on their backs, so I'll pull the meat off and freeze it for fajitas, pot pies etc.  The skin goes in Chigger food and the bones get thrown in the wood stove.  I read about this as a way to make your own bone ash.  Of course, they are mixed in with wood ash but you can just sprinkle that on parts of your garden that need both. 
These chickens also make several meals as it weighed in at 5 lbs.  Overall I am pleased with these meat birds but I do know several things we will do different next time to differ some of the feeding costs.  Despite a few of them having leg problems they were very active and acted really, well, chicken like.  Not just like blobs of meat laying around.  I have some ideas also to try next time for their leg issues, if we get these again.  I also did some close inspection on the innards as we butchered them to check for health problems.  Some had mentioned the possibility of Marek's in relation to their legs etc. so I really wanted to see what was going on inside, as Marek's has several internal symptoms.  Well, everything looked fine.  Clean, smooth livers and lungs.  I won't go into gory details but everything inside looked healthy.

We also decided to purchase a few more hens to replace those we have lost recently.  Jack found a guy not far from here who had some extra Rhode Island Reds so we got 5.  I checked these out and they have been vaccinated for Marek's and one other thing that slips my mind at the moment.  They are getting used to their new digs slowly.  They guy that had them kept them up in a big coop all the time so I don't know if they ever got to go out on grass and such.  They are a little scrawny looking right now, and mostly missing their tail feathers, but we think they'll fill out fine after they adjust to life here.

The garlic is poking it's first tendrils up due to this unseasonably warm weather.  I bought 2 different types this past fall from and organic supplier, Southern Exposure.  I have been very pleased with their seeds and such so far.  They are always very robust and healthy.  I would highly recommend them if you live in the southern regions.  These are "Inchelium Red" and "Red Toch" and are softneck types.  I am very anxious to see how they do.  I amended their beds well with chicken poo, compost and bone meal before planting.

And last but not least, here is Goober, aka Basement Chicken.  Goober gets to go out everyday, if it's not raining, and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.  I was putting him in a chicken tractor but decided the best place might be the garden.  Now, Goober can stand up and walk, and even run at times, but his legs are kinda weak so he sits a lot.  He has recently discovered the catnip plant and I often find him face down in it.  He really likes it and he can sit right next to his meat brothers (or sisters) and chat with them.  Even though we have cut the horde down to 8 I'm still kinda hesitant to put Goober back in with them.  I'm afraid they might trample him.  As I said, they are very active.  Jack and I often joked that it would be a horrible thing if one of us had ever tripped and fallen down in their run.  It would be like fluffy, white piranha.  Anyway, since naming Goober and such I think he might be the resident pet chicken but he does have a job.  Due to his infirmity, he doesn't scratch like most chickens and therefore doesn't tear my plants up.  So, he gets to forage the garden and pick weeds and poop.  He also is very quick to snatch up any bugs if they are unfortunate enough to wander too near him.  I'm thinking he may be my squash bug secret weapon.  Just set him down next to the plant and wham!!  They won't know what hit 'em!
Jack has made the first efforts to put in an asparagus bed also.   I really want to get that going this spring along with many new fruit trees.  First though, I've got to finish this kitchen!  My range hood came in the other day so I've got to get busy on that.  So much stuff to do!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter's Work

Caution:  the following post contains photos that some people may find objectionable.  Viewer discretion advised.  I'm serious; there is chicken bodies and blood.

Even though the garden is pretty much out of commission right now and most chores associated with that, there is still plenty to do around here where food is concerned.

Cool weather is historically the preferred time for slaughter and I agree with that myself.  The yellowjackets are just too bothersome in the warmer months to do something like this outdoors. So, Sunday we finally got to the task and harvested 10 of the meat birds.  That is a good number for us to do in one day it seems.  We usually pick a nice sunny, cold day.  I do this for me and for the chickens.  Nice for us because you don't want to do this in impending bad weather.  Better for the chickens because they are running around outside enjoying themselves and have no clue what is transpiring.  We only bring down 2 at a time so they don't see anything going on and are happily oblivious.  I don't like to have a bunch sitting in a cage waiting their turn, you know?  Jack and I don't enjoy this at all and a lot of people can't understand this part but I do not wish to participate in the abusive, industrial food system anymore, where chickens and other animals are raised in horrible conditions out of sight and no one cares.  It's hard to walk these guys down to the awaiting table but I know they had a good life and enjoyed running around outside in the sunshine.  If I'm going to ask for their life I should have the cahoonies to do it myself.  So, we both 'do the deed', so to speak and as quickly as possible.  Me holding and Jack wields the knife.  Then, after they are bled, he scalds them and we both pluck and I do the dressing out while he plucks more. 

I was very pleased at how well developed these were.  Very plump all over, no scrawny legs and such.  After they are completely dressed out and washed very well they get packed in coolers with ice and salt and aged for about 3 days.  This draws any last bit of blood out so you don't get any gamey taste.  I then divide them up and freeze some whole for roasting and then cut up the rest for stir fries, frying and so on.  We had let these get bigger than most do just for lack of time and such to deal with it.  Christmas had me so busy we just couldn't find the time.  As a result, the hanging weight (after dressing out) of these were all around 6 lbs.  

So, what did the other chickens think about it all?  I have to admit, they kinda gross me out.  They always come down to see what's going on and end up scratching around for bits and pieces.  Yes, you got that right...they eat whatever they find of their brethren.  I even chopped up a little fresh liver for them, just to see.  They fought over it.  Almost knocking each other down to get to eat it.  I have to say in their defense though that Runt, the rooster there, was very upset when we caught the first 2 meat birds to process.  I slipped in and picked them up gently but they are not used to being carried and so squawked a little.  Runt came running let me tell you! He sensed something and went into protector mode, even going after Jack.  We shooed him off finally though and he ran back to his girls.  Most people would never believe a chicken will eat meat but they love it.  I used to have a good frog population here.  Used to.  Frog is a great delicacy to them, apparently.  I even once saw Big 'Un, the Barred Rock rooster we raised, down a small field mouse whole.  I didn't think a chicken's mouth could open that wide.  He flipped that thing up in the air and 2 gulps it was gone! 

 So, anyway, on to brighter things... I am running a bit of an experiment this winter.  My land is inundated with Red Maples so I have tapped a couple to see what I can get.  Up north the maple season is usually in February and March and I waited that long last year only to see the temps go up too high and stay.  See, it must be cold enough to go below freezing at night but get above freezing in the day for the sap to flow.  For us, that's January.  So far I only have about 1 1/2 gallons of sap but I've only had the trees tapped for a couple of days now.  I may tap one more as we are supposed to go back into cold weather this week.  So, we'll see.  I just wanted enough to be able to see if this would make good syrup.  The sugar content in Red or Black Maples is not as high (obviously) as Sugar Maples but it is still supposed to make good syrup.

It's fun anyway!  These buckets are quite large.  They would probably hold 3 or 4 gallons of sap.  I think I'll just use plastic buckets or such for any more.  I collect the sap every day and pour it up into 1 gallon jugs that are BPA free and rated for water storage.

It takes 10 gallons of sap to make 1 quart of syrup.  That is quite a lot of sap but you can get about 1 gallon from one big tree each day. 

The sap must be stored around 38 degrees and only for up to 7 days before it is made into syrup.  At first I had no idea where I was going to be able to store that much sap.  You really need to have several gallons to start with or it's just not much worth all that work.  Finally, Jack remembered a small refrigerator he had stored out in the tool shed we built adjacent to the chicken coop.  I had kinda griped about him keeping it but it turned out rather handy I must admit.  The chicken coop/ shed has power already so we just had to plug it up and clean it out a little.  It should work great for storing 10-11 gallons of sap easy and will only be turned on for stuff like this. I can't imagine that our syrup season will last long so it won't be running for weeks on end. 

I had to include this picture of Chigger with her buddy Ramona.  Ramona is the only chicken that will play with her and Chigger is just beside herself!  She loves her chickens!  They do this staring contest thing a lot and Ramona always wins.  That chicken don't back down from anybody!  She is a great hen, very personable and chatty.  If Chigger gets a little too rambunctious Ramona will peck her on the behind to show her who's boss! 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Beyond The Gray Sky

Well, now that the festivities are all behind us the gray, dreary days of January have settled in and it's all I can do to muster much enthusiasm for anything more than reading a good book while soaking up the warmth of the wood stove.  We have had an unseasonable warm spell, as it seems many parts have, so I did take advantage of that and spread a good layer of chicken poo and saturated straw over the entire garden area.  That should do wonders come spring.  I've continued the mulching and planted a few new evergreens to increase the visual interest of the gardens.  The chickens completely shred any annuals or tender flowers I try to keep in pots, so I ripped their sorry remains out (the flowers that is) and planted some sturdy small shrubs in their place.  At least it will give us a little more greenery to look at in all this gray.
The cold returned today with a vengeance, even a little snow this evening, so we can now butcher the meat birds.  We had put it off for a few days because it was just so dang warm and I prefer to do that when it's fairly cool if possible. The broccoli has completely pooped out but I have let the plants stay in order to give the meat birds a treat.  I throw them 1 or 2 a day to devour with some other greens.  They really enjoy that.  The cabbage are still holding on pretty good but I don't know if they'll make it to spring. 
As I stated in an earlier post, things are going well and this stage of our homestead is really coming together.  We are seeing some definite rewards from all our hard work and it's great.  But, there are always trials to overcome in this type of life.  Sometimes bad things happen no matter what we do.

Ya'll remember that we had one hen die a few weeks back, just out of the blue.  Well, the week after New Years Jack and I were inside eating lunch and I heard Chigger barking a bit.  I didn't think much of it but did go out a few minutes later to take some scraps to the chickens.  We let the hens free range during the day and Chigger does a pretty good job of looking out for them.  Well, as I approached the garden area I saw Henny (the red hen above) laying on the ground and Chigger was pacing back and forth beside her growling and obviously agitated.  She kept looking off into the woods but didn't seem to know what to do.  I could tell Henny was in bad shape and ran down to see.  Long story short, she had apparently been hit by a hawk and Chigger interrupted before the hawk could carry Henny off.  She didn't seem terribly bad hurt in a way but I could see two small puncture wounds on her head and she seems stunned, her eyes dilated.  I looked around for the other chickens and there was no one anywhere.  Even the meat birds had ran for the hills.  They were all crammed in the coop house and completely silent, which for them is quite a feat!  I ran in the direction Chigger kept looking but couldn't see any predator or anything or the other hens.  I guess Chigger sensed my intention because she ran down the trail a bit and stopped.  She barked a small bit and ran a little farther, stopping to look back at me.  I followed her and she actually led me to the other hens who were hiding in a clump of blackberry brambles.

I ran back to the house and called for Jack, who was already coming outside and we herded the chickens up to the coop house and inside.  We debated whether or not to try to take Henny to a vet and finally decided just to doctor her a little and see if we could tell how bad it was.  (Turns out we wouldn't have made it anyway.)  So, we wrapped her in a towel and put her in my studio by the stove.  She didn't seem that bad at first but then I noticed it seemed her head was swelling and I saw more puncture wounds.  They were small, like pin pricks right around her eye.  Suddenly she started to have a seizure and I scooped her up to keep her from hurting herself more as I ran up to the house to find Jack.  I knew we would have to put her down; her injuries were too bad but she heaved a big sigh and died in my arms before I could reach the steps.  I sure hated to tell Jack.  Henny was his favorite and a real good hen.  She laid every day right before sunrise, almost like clockwork.  Back in the summer she had developed a tumor on one of her feet, which we had to surgically remove.  She took it all in stride; no problem.  We buried her in the shady area behind the coop house where the chickens like to rest and scratch in the leaves.
So, things go pretty good for a while and then things go crappy but things go on.  We may go pick up a couple more hens if we can find some for a reasonable price.  We'll see.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Little Bit Of A Mystery!

So I know ya'll are all wondering about the other penny, right?  Well, the saga drug on for a while.  Jack and I both were sick of eating cupcakes so we talked Allen into coming down and eating more.  It was strange that it just kept getting down to fewer and fewer cupcakes and still no penny.  Finally, we got down to the last two.  Erin and Sal; which wold it be?  I mustered up the stomach for one more while Allen took the other one.  We chewed slowly, wondering which one would hold the prize.  Then....we realized neither one did.  What??  Those were the last two??  What happened to the other penny?  Allen and Jack laughed at me!  Are you absolutely sure you put TWO pennies in the batter??  Yes!!  I know I did!  Ya'll saw me!  I could not figure out what went wrong.  Had one of us accidentally eaten one of the coins?  You'd think we would have noticed that.  We thought and thought and scratched our heads but we never did figure it out or determine where that other penny got off to.  So..................

 I put everybody's name (sans Pablo) back into a bowl to do this the old fashioned way.  I counted to make sure everybody was there!

I stirred them up good and got Grendal to draw!  She sniffed around for some time but finally picked one.  Actually, I closed my eyes and drew one.  And..............

I know that's actually Peg on Vancouver Island but I was short on space.  Anyway, congratulations!  Email me your address Peg and chose your mug from that original picture.  Remember Pablo got the most red one.

I'll be back to posting soon.  Jack has still been under the weather and I've been rather sick the past 2 days myself.  Plus, the weather is awful dreary and rainy and has just sucked the enthusiasm right out of me.  I hope to have some more interesting stuff soon.  I've got some recipes and other things in mind and am even going to do a separate food page on here.  I don't know why I didn't think of that sooner.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

All Things New

 In keeping with the new year I've been experimenting with some new designs and new glazes.  I'm not sure what it is but lately I've felt a very renewed sense of creativity and action.  Whatever it is, let's hope it continues!  I think part of it is that we have been making some progress on the homestead.  Things are starting to come together in that realm and I really feel that this is the life I am meant to have.  No, things are not all roses and daisies (I'll explain later) but I feel good about our food production, my art production and just things in general.  We are even working towards adding active solar elements to the house.  More about this later too.

This is a "new" glaze that I really like (the inside color, not the dark rim).  Actually, it is partially a mistake.  See, I have a standard oatmeal colored glaze that I use quite a bit and so I ran out recently.  Well, there are literally hundreds of glazes out there with the name Oatmeal.  I had 2 written down in my books and, you guessed it, I mixed the wrong one.  The recipes look very similar but produce a noticeably different glaze.  And the bad thing is that the one I made this time is not suitable for dinnerware.  Well, I had 5 gallons of it now and had to do something.  I got to thinking and knew that I also had about 3 gallons of a slate blue that I had decided to retire.  It wasn't very popular anymore and I had tired of it.  So...what if I mixed them?  I did (reserving a little of each glaze separately) and it came out wonderful!  Plus, the elements of the slate glaze brought the finish of the new glaze up to where it would be suitable for food use.  I am going to try to compare the two recipes and see if I can combine the formulas to make this glaze now, instead of always making 2 glazes and mixing them.  I really hope I am successful.  So, that was a good save and nothing was wasted.  But now, I need a name for it!  It sorta, kinda, vaguely resembles an ash glaze so I had just thought about Blue Ash.  That's kinda boring.  The stores where I sell my work likes for me to name the glazes fancy stuff, like Paprika and Oatstraw.  You know how they are nowadays about colors.  But hey, as much as this lady sells, I don't care if she names them Chickenshit.  So, any ideas?

Speaking of pottery and stuff, it was brought to my attention that the email address I have had on my pottery page has been dead for some time and I had forgotten!  So, if you tried to email me at that old Hotmail address, I didn't get it!  I closed that account several, several weeks ago and just forgot to change it there.  Please forgive me if you've been trying to get a hold of me there.  I did send out an email change notice to those of you I correspond with and hope everybody got that.  But if not, my email is now  It is also listed under the About Me header.  I hope no one has been emailing me and think I've been ignoring you.

I will also continue updating the cupcake situation in the posts here.  As of today, Rurality is out!  I may have some company later on and I will stuff a few cupcakes down them to try to speed things up!

*Update!!!  Allen came by and scarfed down some more cupcakes!  This is really getting interesting!  OK, those eliminated this time are...

Peg on Vancouver Island, Lisa in Bammer, Beatrice, Tammy (Grendal fan) and Dan.  Sorry guys.  But this is kinda fun!  OK, (smack, smack) and FloridaCracker.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Let The Nomming Begin!!! (Updating!)

 Alright! Here we go!!  Now, I swear I did this as fair and anonymously as I could.  Since ya'll were so good to comment so much, and are such sweeties anyway, I decided to give 2 mugs away!  To 2 separate people now, not 2 mugs to one person! ha!  So, dropped in 2 pennies and stirred well.  I was surprised that I absolutely could not tell where those pennies went after I stirred them in.  I guess they're still in there?

I made up little teeny flags with everybody's name on one.  There were 20 people entered by the way.  I turned the flags around backwards so I couldn't see the names and placed one in each cupcake.  Not that I had any idea which 2 cupcakes have the penny, but anyway.

So, here we go!  I guess I should have just had a bunch of cupcakes already made and then been able to start eating last night but then, you don't know how many people are going to enter...or I guess I should have had ya'll enter your names a week ago or something so all of this would have been ready last night.  Well, anyway...this is the way we're doing it this year!  Now, as we eat the cupcakes some of you will be eliminated because your cupcake will be empty, so do ya'll want me to post who gets eliminated as it happens??  Or just announce the winners at the end?
And good luck to everybody!!

*Okayy, the first winner is......................Pablo!!  Since Pablo is probably one of, if not my #1 long-time reader, he deserves to finally get something out of this blog!  I started to say oldest reader but that didn't sound right! ha!  So, Pablo, email me your address and you get first pick of the mugs!

I will also take the opportunity to report that Woody, Hermit Jim and Ed have been eliminated.  Sorry!  Burp!

* Update!  As of now, Sissy and my Backwood Neighbor have been eliminated.  Sorry ya'll!  I'm not sure we can eat anymore tonight but I think I'll enlist Allen to put down a few for the cause.  He probably won't mind!

*More updates!!  We're slowing down a little on the cakes but we managed to get 3 more down today!  Unfortunately, Adrianna, Chicory and Island Rider have been eliminated.  Better luck next time ladies!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Happy 12th Day and Night!! (Mug Giveaway!!)

Alright!!  So, today is the 12th Day of Christmas and as promised we are going to be having a party here tonight and I'll be taking comments and names all day if you want to get your name in for the mug drawing!  I would like for ya'll, when you leave your comment, to tell what new plans you may have made for the new year.  Not necessarily resolutions but just something you'd like to accomplish or do this year.  But if don't want to that's okay too; just leave your name for the drawing.  I know I've got a BIG list of stuff I want to do!  
When the party starts, after about 6:00 pm ( and ends at midnight as does your chance to get your name in!)  central time, let's say, I'll be doing sort of a timeline thing.  Updating my post as the night goes along.  Not sure how long I'll last and I'll probably be baking and such as we go.  Ya'll are encouraged to comment all along too.

So, these are the mugs you get to choose from.  (Click on the photo to enlarge and get a better look) I thought I had more of a variety of color but the reds are very popular!  Well, anyway, it's a free mug!  These are my standard size which hold about 12 oz.  They are microwave and dishwasher safe but be aware they get very hot if put in a microwave.  So, let the festivities begin!!  Are any of ya'll having 12th Night parties of your own??  If you are, what does that entail?

*Wow, this many comments and it's only 8:30 a.m. my time!  I may need more cupcakes!  I thought I'd wait until this afternoon before I start baking to maybe get a better idea of how many I need, since the coin has to be put in the batter. Heck, if I get a lot more comments than what I'm thinking now I'll just bake another batch and give away 2 mugs!  On, and you people from Canada put your name in!  I don't think shipping would be too bad.  I've shipped there before and it's not bad for a light mug!

*Hey People! Keep those comments coming!  I'm still trying to decide on a cupcake recipe!  Jack requested something a little on the healthy side; maybe carrot cake or a wheat/ fruit combo.  I know, it's still a cupcake but at least it's not white flour! lol!  I'll be glazing and firing more pottery today but still checking in!  Just talk amongst yourself!

*Hey, here I am again!!  We are about to eat supper and then I have to work on glazing pottery but I'm still here!  I'm really enjoying the comments and appreciate ya'll participating so well.  Hopefully, I'll finish with the pottery in short order and get that firing going so I can check in more often.

*Okay!  I'm back for good!  Finished the pottery and have the kiln loaded and ready to fire.  Well, I'm going to go take a shower and then I'll be back!  Won't take long.  Hey, now, I know I have many readers who have probably read for quite some time but never, ever commented so don't ya'll be shy if you want to get your name in for the drawing.  This isn't just for my regular commenters!

*Hey!!  I got some spiked eggnog and Jack and I are watchin' 'Aliens and Cowboys'!!  It's not near as stupid as I thought it would be!  Besides, it's got Daniel Craig in it!  Wooweee!  That man could eat crackers in my bed anytime! lol!  Oh, I'm kinda leanin' towards chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese icing now.  There's a real yummy looking recipe for that in this new Cooking Light book I got.

*OK,OK I go t one!!!  My plans for this coming year might get married!!!  Yep! you read that right!!  Maybe, we'll see!! ha!!!! Jack's about talked me into it!  Just kidding, he hasn't had to talk me into anything.  I'm just kinda gun-shy!!!

* Now, ya'll realize it's gonna take a few days for me and Jack to eat through these cupcakes and find the coin.  Well, unless by chance we hit it on the first one!  Anyway, ya'll bear with me!

*OK, I'm up, well, I've been up for some time actually, but anyway, I'll be posting the cupcakes soon with everybody's name on them.  I may have to get Allen to help eat these things!  I got about 19-20 names I think.  This may take a day or so or three!  Jack is sick so I'm having to take care of all the animals and I'm firing and have several other things to do today. LOL!  But I'll be back soon!

Monday, January 02, 2012

A Cold But Sunny Day

This is the creek that marks the border of my property on one side.  It runs alongside the driveway for a bit as you first come in.  Then the drive turns sharply to the left and runs alongside a smaller creek or stream really.  I need to do some cleaning and clearing so you can see the water better as you drive in.  It's very lovely.  Every morning, after I do the second check and feeding of the chickens, Chigger and I go for a walk down the drive, all the way to the road.  It's not quite a quarter mile round trip.  On nice days I like to sit by the creek for a bit and let it talk to me.  There's an old saying around here that, 'there's a lot of wisdom in a fire'.  Meaning I think, the peace and insight conjured up by the mesmerizing quality of flame would lead one to at least a few decent thoughts.  By that same measure, I think there's a lot of wisdom in a creek also.

And every day Chigger finds a stray limb down by the gate and carries it all the way back to the house.  I figure if I take her on enough walks she may get that whole end of the drive cleaned up.  Most of them are good for kindling so I break them up to put by the stove. 

Today was what we would call 'brisk'.  A stout wind blowing and very clear, cold air.  I hope the wind dies down tomorrow.
Most all of the holiday festivities are over so it was back to the grindstone today.  It's a pleasant grindstone though.  You can't much beat working by a nice warm woodstove making art that people are actually buying! 
And speaking of art and festivities....Ya'll know I adhere to the 12 Days of Christmas right?  Well, most of the celebrations are over but the one last biggy is coming up; 12th Night!  or Epiphany.  Traditionally it is a night for partying and eating and such but I live out in the boonies and it falls on a Thursday this year, so....I am going to have a 12th Night Party here, on the blog.  Now, usually you would bake a King's Cake or similar and inside the cake is a coin or bean.  Whoever gets the coin or token in their slice is crowned "king" and is supposed to have good luck that year.  There are many variations to this depending on your denomination or heritage.  Anyway, you all come by here Thursday and leave a comment.  I will bake something that can be divided up.  I thought about cupcakes but Jack and I have eaten so many sweets and such I may use something else.  Now, whatever it is, it will have a coin inside and I will put a little flag on each section for every person that leaves a comment.  Maybe I'm explaining this right.  Anyway, as we eat whatever this is, we will come across the coin and if your name is on the corresponding flag, you win one of my mugs! and the coin!  Some of you may be more excited about the coin I know, but anyway, I thought it would be fun!  And who knows, there might be some other goody thrown in.

I will accept names from 6 a.m. to midnight Thursday and then start the flagging and eating Friday.  And yes, I will show ya'll the baked product with all the little named flags before the chowing begins.  Fun, Fun!!!  I will probably have 2 or 3 mugs that you can even choose from.
Oh, the picture above is of the spring overspill and the watercress that grows there.  I guess the recent bout of warm weather has brought it forth.  I picked some today and was amazed to taste it was already hot!  Normally it stays mild until the weather gets really warm.
So, don't forget Thursday!!!!