Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Busy Times

Yep, we all been busier than a one-eyed cat watching 9 mouse holes around here.  The garden has died down a good bit so I let the pullets in for the last 3 or 4 days to clean up for me and boy, they have been goin' to town!  They have scratched and dug and picked and had the time of their lives eating everything in sight, although they are pretty good to leave most of the larger plants alone like the peas and beans and such.  I'll go out there about twice a day and dig around for them where the dirt is real loose.  They get so excited they jump in and start digging too and pretty soon there are so many of them scratching in my spot I don't have room to dig anymore.  They are not able to dig quite as hard and deep as the big hens so they are not as destructive but they clean up the place good and clear out lots of the bugs and grubs.

The poor little things got in a fire ant bed though and I felt bad but couldn't help but laugh too.  They couldn't resist eating the ants and their eggs but were getting their feet bit from standing in the ants.  So, they would stand there and when the ants started biting, the chicks would start stomping their feet but were too greedy to leave.  If I had had some bluegrass music to play it would have looked like chicken buck dancing!  I laughed until I was cryin' just about and they would finally get enough and then run away and pick the ants off their feet.  Edit:  let me stress that I do NOT think it was funny that the chicks were getting bit, in fact I tried to run them out of the ants, but they insisted on running right back to eat the critters.  But seeing them all stomping their feet like that was funny.

They especially liked the coldframe once I turned some of the soil for them.  It was very loose so they could scratch through it easily and they got it all ready for me to plant now.

Hey, those are some funny looking chickens right there!  Well, somebody dumped these 2 little sweeties down at the end of my drive about a week ago.  Chigger actually found them hiding in the weeds when we walked down to check the mail, so I brought them up to the house and we have been trying to find homes for them.  No luck so far.  Grendal does not tolerate other cats well and I don't want any more in the house anyway, so they have been staying in the Goober Chicken Memorial Pen in the henhouse.  They actually seem to really enjoy it and the chickens don't really seem to mind them either.

And I have actually started on the kitchen in earnest since we about have the outside done!  My cabinet guy came Monday and got his measurements so those are being built now.  Things are slow for those trades right now so he said he should have them ready in 2-3 weeks!  Which means I have really got to get my butt in gear to be ready for them.  Yes, that is corrugated metal roofing going on the wall and it is a dark chocolate color.  I'll explain more about that later.  I know the whole kitchen looks kinda dark in this photo but it's not really.  My appliances are all stainless steel but they reflect the dark of the wall making them appear black too.  It will lighten up and be much more colorful when I am done.  I also got the wiring and ductwork for the range vent done and have closed up that wall and chase.  That is the big grey block on the right.  That is Durock covering that wall as it will get tile and stone over all of it.  You can see the ductwork poking out where the vent goes.  So, things are going but I have so much to do in this one area.  I am really excited about it and anxious to finish though.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The House That Built Me

Well, I'm gonna tell you, it's been a long time coming but the outside of the house is just about done!  I've got to clean the windows and put the last few screens on and install my porch lights and that's about it for the house exterior.  The landscaping is another matter 'cause I know ya'll are all looking at that horrible yard and thinking, "you ain't goin' to leave that like that, are you?"  lol!  Nah, and...I still need to lay the stone around the bottom and pour the planters in front of that awful block down there too, as Allen keeps reminding me.  But the house itself, is done on the outside for the most part.  Well, this half anyway.  God willing there will be another half.
The landscaping that goes back here is going to be awesome.  Where you see the little dots of stepping stones will get flagstone walks and a patio all the way up to the house.  I will most certainly include a water feature of some sort and a fire ring for toasting marshmellies!  Well, I also have to get that dang pickboard off the roof and clean up there a little.

So, that's about it for now.  We've just been working like crazy to get this done and now I'll be working like crazy on the kitchen.  Hopefully I'll have some stuff to post about that soon.  Oh, I have a chicken and garden update too that I'll do soon.

Thanks to all of ya'll that chimed in with the Florida advice.  We are considering things carefully now and leaning heavily towards the Longboat Key and surrounding area.  And stuff coming and going.  Ha!
I hope all ya'll down that way ride out this approaching storm okay also!  Ya'll be safe and I'll see ya'll back here shortly!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Southern Accents Part 2

Okay!!  I am finally back to finish this post on Noccalula Falls.  Aunty was wanting to see the video of the kayakers so I saved this one for ya'll.  There are several versions, amazingly enough, and this is one of the longer ones.  It takes a little bit to load but not horrible.  Or, just Google "Noccalula kayakers" and you will get a number of results, including several You Tube versions.  I think all of the guys were wearing the GoPro helmet cameras and it just about makes me sick to watch when they go over the falls! lol!

So, back to our originally planned broadcast.  These photos are more of the back portion of the park and they contain a few features that are unique to the South.  The house you see above is a great example of a classic "dogtrot" design and is the basis of the design for my house.  Now, I know you are saying, 'your house doesn't look anything like that Annie!'  Well, no it doesn't.  Not yet anyway.  I still hope to add the second part of my house that would allow it to develop into a true dogtrot design.  The existing deck would become the breezeway area with a master bedroom and bath, a library/ office and laundry/ crafts room on the other side.  As we stood inside the breezeway or dogtrot area, you could feel a much more noticeable breeze within than you could standing outside and that is one of the purposes of this design.  When air currents are compressed or force to turn a corner they tend to pick up speed, allowing for more ventilation.  It worked because these type houses were very common before air-conditioning.  It also allowed you to have the cooking area separated, literally, from the sleeping area thus keeping it cooler.  I have gotten a lot of crap over simply wanting this design and that kinda boggles my mind.  Anything from, "but you'll have to walk across that opening in the winter!!!!' (like we live in the Arctic and I might freeze solid in 12 feet) to "why do that when you can just run your air-conditioner?"  Explaining the green aspect of not wanting to run air-conditioning so much just doesn't work on these people so I don't bother. 

Many of you might recognize this contraption as a "bottletree" but for those of you that may have never seen one I'll explain.  The South has been heavily influenced by the African culture due to the import of slaves in colonial times and later and the idea of demons or evil spirits being captured in glass is one of those ideas.  The bottletree is simply the evolution of that idea taken up by white people, I imagine partially just because they are pretty and eclectic, something southerners revel in.  Here are a few lines from a story by Eudora Welty that might explain some: 
Then coming around up the path from the deep cut of the Natchez Trace below was a line of bare crape-myrtle trees with every branch of them ending in a colored bottle, green or blue.
There was no word that fell from Solomon's lips to say what they were for, but Livvie knew that there could be a spell put in trees, and she was familiar from the time she was born with the way bottle trees kept evil spirits from coming into the house - by luring them inside the colored bottles, where they cannot get out again. 
Now, traditionally, blue bottles were considered to be the best for demon capturing but nowadays you see them with all colors.  When I was a kid we didn't see bottle trees too much but they have made a comeback of sorts in the past few years as more Southerners have come to embrace, rather than be embarrassed of our eccentric culture.   The above example is not one of the most imaginative examples of a bottletree but it's not bad.  Much better than the horrible, factory churned, thousands produced in China.  Here, you can see some gorgeous examples of real bottletrees and art working off that idea.  You do have to scroll down the page just a little...

So, back to the gardens... the koi pond was great.  They had planted it well and it was very peaceful.  This shot was taken from inside the covered bridge that spans the pond.

And this was taken just outside the bridge.  I hope to have similar gardens as this one day.  Well, without the covered bridge anyway.  Just regular foot bridges for me.

This is standing at the entrance to the gorge below the falls.  If you look closely you can see the falls way int he background.  I used to love to hike around this area when I was a teenager. In the fall it is really pretty.

The descent is really steep!  and once you get down there it is fairly rigorous hiking in most parts.  Lots of boulders and such to go over and around.  You certainly want to be in somewhat decent shape and not go alone on this hike but it is very scenic and enjoyable.

So, that's my tour of Noccalula Falls; I hope ya'll enjoyed it!  Oh, I don't think I told ya'll how it got it's name?  This area was heavily occupied by native Americans before the white man invasion and Noccalula was the name of the beautiful daughter of a local Cherokee chief.  According to legend she fell in love with a brave and courageous (and unfortunately poor) young man in her tribe but her father promised her in marriage to a chief of a neighboring tribe.  In despair, after her true love was banished, she threw herself off these cliffs to her death rather than marry another man.  I know this sounds like a number of other "legends" of lost loves but this one has some facts to back it up and may actually be true, at least in part.  The plaque at the falls gives a more detailed account.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Southern Accents Part 1

This past weekend we experienced an abnormally cool spell of weather; Sunday morning dawned around 58-59 degrees here!  That is astoundingly cool for August and made for some gorgeous days where it was actually bearable to be outside!  So, I said the heck with yardwork and housework, I needed to go do something.  I called Mama and asked if she wanted to go with us because our destination wasn't too far from her house anyway.  She was game, happily, so we picked her up and headed for Noccalula Falls Park.  This is a 250 acre state park around the Gadsden area in north Alabama.
Some of you might just remember seeing a story back in November about 3 "extreme" kayakers that purposefully went over these falls.  Now, they waited until after a heavy rain so that the pool would be as deep as possible; that is a 90 foot drop and many, many people have drowned in these waters.  I saw the video the guys made and I have to say, I had never seen the waters as high as they were that day.  They were still insane.
I grew up in this general area too, so this place is very familiar to me.  We didn't come here a lot when I was small but as a teenager and young adult it was a popular spot for a lot of us.  You can view the falls and upper part of the park at no cost so we liked that.  And there is a burger joint right across the street so it was all good.  My father lived just down the road from here as a kid and this place was their swimming hole back before it became a park.  That's a heck of a swimming hole!  I had thought that the city had blocked the entrances to the bottom of the falls, due to the number of deaths associated with it but they have not.  In fact, Mama was telling me that they just completed a long hiking trail that starts here and goes southward out of town.  I would like to find out more about that.  We used to hike all around the bottom and down the creek when I was younger.  It's very pretty there but you must be careful not to fall in the creek.

The water was pretty low the day we visited, despite all the rain we've had, so the geese were enjoying the calm waters above the falls.

The back portion of the park contains a recreated pioneer village along with a large "farm" or small zoo, however you want to look at it and botanical gardens.  This is the area you must pay to enter but it's not too much.  I really liked this detail in the outriggers and verge rafter on this old cabin.  I thought that was pretty cool.

This area was quite nice and has wonderful, shaded walking trails all through it.  The upper part, near the actual falls, was rather disappointing though.  They had let the maintenance of that area just go to crap.  When I was young it was full of rose gardens and other flowers etc. but much of that was now sadly neglected.  I'm not sure why.  The majority of the park is very nice though and well kept.  The building in the background here is the new entrance to the park and just in front of that is the boarding for the train that runs through the park.  Of course, the building in the foreground is an old church and small village garden.

There are quite a number of old buildings for the Pioneer Village.  Many of them were moved down from Tennessee.  I thought that was odd.  Were there none here to be had??  I also thought our chicken house looks much better. LOL!

This was the resident llama.  He was pretty friendly and thankfully, didn't spit on us.  You can see that's a very nice barn in the background!  I would love to have something like that!  They had an assortment of normal farm animals too; goats, sheep etc.  They also had several emus, one of which just ran around free! and numerous whitetail deer.

Now, ya'll can correct me on this ID but I think this is a Loblolly Pine??  They are enormous and grow very straight.  I don't have any on my property and I have always been fascinated with them.  I think I just have the average long-leaf pine.

Here is a shot of more of the animals and you can see the ol' llama would just flop down on the ground to graze!  I guess it was easier on him.

Anyway, I have a bunch more photos that contain more examples of our Southern way of life that I think ya'll will enjoy.  I figured it might be better to break it up into 2 posts so your eyes didn't start rolling back in your heads.  The South is a unique area to say the least, as are the people and the next batch of pictures show a bit more of our folklore and ingenuity.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Animal House

Well, I've got a ton of pictures for ya'll today since I have not shown any kind of update or progress on the chickens or garden in some time.  The original batch of hens are doing fine.  Scooter finally broke out of her broody mood and is back in the swing of things.  Sheila is either getting tired of motherhood or got booted out by Prissy because she has been running with the old hens more and leaving Prissy alone with the 6 mutt chicks.  That seems to suit Prissy fine.  Here they are enjoying a half of cantaloupe from the garden.  I ate most of it first and then gave them the rest.  Ramona, the red with the black tail in front, just about jumped up and snatched it away from me.  These chickens are spoiled rotten.  They think any time you come out of the house that you should have some treat for them.

Here is one of my little sweetie pie Speckled Sussex.  They are just the sweetest little things.  They climb all over me when I go see them.  Of course, they think you have treats for them too, but they love to be petted.
I've learned to be careful though because they'll snatch my earrings out given the chance!

Here's a good many of the others.  It is extremely hard to get a good picture of these birds because they are always moving so fast most of them end up blurred.  The reddish ones are the New Hampshires (like Ramona).  The gawky, bloomer-legged one on the far right and the one directly in front are the Partridge Rocks and the one on the right with the long black tail pointed down is one of the Brown Leghorns.  Those things remind me of Allen's pheasants. 

The little mutt chicks are not so little anymore and are all doing fine.  I guess Ms. Prissy and Sheila are pretty good mamas after all.  They've all survived so far and are very active.  I think I have 4 hens and 2 roos with these but I'm not totally sure.

The garden is on it's second wind apparently.  We have had very good harvests of everything this year.  I thought after the black-eyed peas made their crop they would die back but they just rested for a while and are flushing with blooms all over again!  The green beans are all still going strong.  I grew Jade this year, instead of the Blue Lake bush that I normally grow and I will probably stick with these Jade beans.  The package said they were prolific and they were not kidding!

These are my canning tomatoes.  They are finally getting cranked up.  I was a little late getting these in so it's my fault not theirs.  I went through the garden this morning and pruned, weeded and just generally tidied up the whole place.  My cukes have bit the dust and my other tomatoes were looking pretty rough so I pulled all that and a few beans and peas to make it easier to get around between plants.  I also pruned back these tomatoes where they were starting to run across the ground.  They just get too leggy and don't put much effort into fruit if I let them go so they got a good trim.  This should put more energy back into producing fruit and a sturdier base plant.  I have pruned my tomatoes the past couple of years and they will flush back out again to produce more.

The strawberry plants have really grown and become robust so hopefully I will have a good harvest next year.  These plants seem much better suited for this climate than the ones I had before.  On the right of the path is my pepper patch.  They have gotten so big they have fallen over even with staking.  I need to fix that!
The tomatoes you see on the ground are from the plants I pulled.  We picked through those and keep some and will give the rest to the chickens.  The raspberries are starting their second crop this year too!  I believe it will be better than the first one at the beginning of summer.

I have been tidying up along the creek next to the driveway.  It looks SO much better now.  It is very nice to sit down here and listen to the creek.  I have planted a few things and hope to have some real nice areas with the native ferns and things grouped in places.

Chigger loves it when we work down by the creek because it gives her an excuse to play in the water!  She has gotten better about getting in the deep areas.  For a long time she would not wade deep enough to get even her belly wet but now she flops in all the deep spots.

Now here's a frugal idea for ya'll.  Chigger loves to "camp out" on the deck in pretty weather but we did not have a bed for her there.  Well, she commandeered my drop cloth, from when I've been painting on the house, so we decided to find her something.  I found this thickly quilted pillow sham for $1, so bought it as a bed for her.  It's just the right size for her and with the slit in the back (for the pillow) it was easy for me to stuff an old folded sheet inside for a little more padding.  Works great and she seems to like it!

And this is just a gratuitous picture of Grendal.  We have had absolutely fabulous weather today and she enjoyed napping on the deck for some time.  It has turned so mild here that I just couldn't stay inside much either.  In fact, I'm going to go out and watch the meteors in a minute and it is so cool here I may have to wear a jacket!  In August!! 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

21 Questions

Okay, so I have some questions for you all if you are inclined to answer them.  I've simply been curious about a few things that have come to my attention lately and would like to know ya'lls experience, if you have any with what I've experienced.
First, this is basically for those of you who blog.  So, of those of you who blog and who keep track of your blog with a Sitemeter of any type, have you noticed a number of hits from Mountain View, California?
If you have, for how long have you been getting these hits?  Did you notice a few days ago that all your other hits blacked out and only Mountain View, California was showing on the sitemeter?  How long did this last if you noticed it?
If you are getting hits from this location, what country do you reside in, if I'm not familiar with your blog?  Also, if you are getting these hits, what do you generally write about on your blog?  Gardening?  Homesteading? etc?

And lastly, if the reader(s) from Mountain View would like to speak up I would like to hear from you!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

In A Pickle

For a little bit of a change of pace I thought I'd post a couple of new recipes I tried out this year.  I love pickled food and had been wanting to try refrigerator and fermented pickles for some time now.  I found 2 great recipes and they are super-duper easy.  As you can probably tell, the photo above is the refrigerator pickles.  They came out very tasty (zesty) and crunchy!  So, I used a 1 1/2 quart jar for mine and the amounts I'm going to give you are sized for that, so adjust accordingly to how much you want to make.  The brine is 2 cups of water, 1 3/4 cups white vinegar and 1 1/2 tablespoons pickling salt.  Heat this just enough to dissolve the salt.  Wash your cukes and make sure to clean off the blossom end well.  I put about 3-4 heads of dill, several very small onions, a few cloves of garlic, about 1 teaspoon of mustard seed and about 4 pods of cayenne pepper in the jar and pack the cukes so that the jar was about filled to the shoulder.  Personally, I think cukes about 4 inches and smaller are the best for this type pickle.  Pour the brine over the cukes until they are all covered.  Just put a lid on (no need for hot water bath) and place in the refrigerator.  Wait at least 3 weeks and then enjoy!  After I ate about half of the pickles I added more fresh cukes to the jar.  It's easy to tell the difference between the newly added so you can pick out the older ones until the others season.

Traditionally fermented pickles are just as easy although they have a very different flavor.  I have a 2 gallon crock that I use for making kraut and pickles.  I think any stoneware or glass crock would work.  For these I used about 3-4 lbs of fresh cukes, washed well.  I think slightly larger cukes are better for fermenting too; about 4 inches or larger.  I had some smaller ones in there and they got kinda mushy.  So, place a small handful of clean grape leaves in the bottom of the crock, which has also been cleaned well.  This helps keep the pickles crisp but if you don't have any I think the recipe would still be okay.  I used grape leaves and these didn't come out super crisp anyway.  They are still crunchy like though.  Put your cukes along with 3-4 heads of dill (or same approximate amount of dill seed), 5-6 cloves of garlic and 3/8 cup of pickling salt or sea salt in the crock and then enough filtered spring water to cover the cukes by about an inch.  You must not use chlorinated water.  Weigh the cukes under the brine with a dish or jar and cover with a clean cloth to keep out dust and such.  Place the crock in a cool, dark spot.  I started checking on them after about 2 weeks.  There will be some mold around the edges.  Don't freak.  Just scoop it out and wipe your weight off and the sides of the crock if needed.  Check them every day at this point and skim off the mold.  As long as the pickles stay submerged they will be fine.  Taste them after about 2-3 weeks and when they get to the point you want (depends on the person) just transfer them to a jar in the fridge.  This stops the fermenting process but keeps the good buggies alive and well, which is great for your tummy.  Oh, and the brine will become cloudy so don't freak about that either; it's normal.  These smell absolutely delicious to me while they are fermenting.  They taste good too but are a more traditional dill flavor rather than a kosher dill, in my opinion.  They may be a little salty after just 2 weeks but this diminishes as they ferment more.

Edit:  After refrigerating the fermented pickles they were just as crunchy and crisp as the others.  YUM-OOO!!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Waste Not, Want Not

So, in trying to get back to the Frugality/ Savings theme; I had thought I was finished with food subject but then it occurred to me; I had never gone over frugality of food itself and avoiding waste, which can be a huge cost to a lot of people.  I hope I'm not repeating myself on this one too much but if I am just overlook me.  I did a little research and the results were kinda sickening.  In the US, food is second only to paper products in the amounts of thrown away.  They estimate that for EVERY American there is 400 pounds of food discarded every year.  They also estimate that each family in America wastes between $500-2,000 each year by throwing food away.  This is generally food that was bought but allowed to rot or expire before being used or food that was prepared but thrown out because no one wanted to eat leftovers.  Now, this is a BIG pet peeve of mine; especially when it is an animal product that is being thrown away.  It's bad enough the way most factory farmed animals are raised but then to have their abused bodies just thrown in the trash because somebody didn't want a leftover hamburger......well, let's just say it gets to me a little.  But even if that aspect of it doesn't concern you, the way food prices are skyrocketing, any waste, for any reason, is cause for concern.
Let me relate a little anecdote to illustrate my point.  Allen and I have both worked in other people's houses for years doing repair or remodeling work, both together and on our own.  We have worked for the super rich and the desperately poor.  Now, in the poor's case it was the landlords paying for the repairs etc., as you might expect.  In all of our experiences we always noticed one thing.  If you were in a poor person's house you would almost always find loose change laying around the house; on the floor, on tables, behind appliances, wherever.  I never recall seeing money laying around a wealthy person's house.  And no, I'm not blaming these poor people's total circumstances on a few dimes here and there but there is a significant point to be made.  If you think a little waste here and a little waste there don't matter, you're wrong.  Little bits add up fast and to a greater extent than we might realize.  When you have to throw food away, not only have you wasted your initial investment but you often have to buy a replacement.  And then there is just buying unnecessary things.
I cringe to think I used to buy chicken broth.  I'm almost embarrassed to admit that.  It is SO freaking easy to make chicken broth.  I bake a whole chicken and we eat on that for 2-3 days.  If we get tired of baked chicken I make chicken salad or chicken enchiladas or whatever.  As we eat I save the bones by putting them in a baggy in the fridge.  If it's going to take a while to collect enough or I already have broth made I store the baggy in the freezer and just add to it.  Then when I need broth just pull the bones out and presto!! fresh broth!  Then, in the winter, those used bones get thrown in the wood-burning stove and their ashes get put on the garden.  I try to use every part of any animal that comes into this house.  Fat, broth, scraps go into dog food if we don't eat it.
If we have a glut of some veggie or fruit I freeze, dry or can it if we can't eat it all then.  .  I generally cook so that we don't have tons of leftovers ,but if they are refrigerated promptly, leftovers can last up to a week with no problem.  If you cook just a plain roast or whole chicken one night you can spice it up into something else the next night.  You don't have to eat it the same way every time.  I generally eat most leftovers for lunch the next day anyway and that's a great way to use them if you take your lunch to work.  Or even if you don't!
I think another horrible waste area is where people freeze stuff and it stays in there for years.  If it's ever cleaned out it's thrown away.  I try to rotate my freezer stuff regularly, keeping the oldest stuff up front where I can see it.  It's not terribly hard to do.  For example, I stack all my veggies separated by type.  Like all corn in this stack and all beans over here etc.  Dating the packages is essential as you would guess, and then just pull the older bag off the bottom or put the new on the bottom when you put it up.  I keep all my meats separated too; that way you can easily tell how much of what you have and plan accordingly.  It's easy to work out a system that works for you.  I know I look at things differently and my methods may not make sense to some.  The main thing is just date everything and keep it halfway organized.
Another area some may not think about is recipes.  What I mean is, if you don't have a certain item that is not essential, just substitute what you do have rather than go buy the other.  For instance, I found a fabulous recipe for an apricot cobbler.  Well, I didn't have apricots but had tons of peaches and it was great.  Now, that was a no-brainer but you can get really creative with substitutions.  I mean, I've even read about people substituting large mushrooms for hamburger patties.  Why not?!
I also don't pay a tremendous amount of attention to expiration dates.  Now, I have found, by doing a little reading, that soured milk makes GREAT pancakes or other breads.  One word of caution on that though; I only use organic, non-homogenized and barely pasteurized milk.  I would never try that with the ultra-sterilized, homogenized fake milk crap.  And I mean, soured milk not spoiled rotten, chunky milk.  That gets poured on the garden on the rare occasion I have any.  It usually never gets to that point though!

So, I think that is really about it on the food topic.  I will try to be back soon with another subject for ya'll!!