Saturday, November 22, 2014

Goodbye, Chickens of Honeysuckle Hill...

  Today we said goodbye to our chickens.   They haven't been laying for a few months now...and they are 3 years old.  It was their time, as time goes. Animals who don't carry their weight on the homestead don't generally get to stay too long, as the costs of their feed and general care become  a burden. 

  I love my chickens, and somehow, this is the first time we've had to actually butcher them. Last winter was really hard on them, I think. We always keep the heat lamps going in the coop so they don't freeze to death, but the extra cold winter seemed to take a toll on them this time. Whatever the reason, the day came. I had to leave.  I'm not proud of that, but seriously, my son and husband were better off without me here.  I did take over the process once the deed was all done and they were brought into the house.  All 7 of them are presently simmering away in my big roaster in the kitchen. Since they weren't young birds, I thought I'd cook them down and can the stock and the meat, if it's tender enough. We'll see. Once they didn't resemble my girls anymore, I was okay doing the cutting up and cooking.  I did cry all the way to town, when I left them to take care of the butchering. 

  It's a little silly and a little not. We do eat meat. I know where food comes from. It's not anything except that I am so tenderhearted when it comes to my animals. I took good care of these girls for 3 years, and petted them and held them and was always delighted  to see them come out of the coop every morning. Delighted to gather eggs. Delighted to watch them peck and scratch in the dirt and fuss with one another.  Delighted in having chickens all the way around.  Just not this part. 

 Like having to put a sick dog or a cat to sleep, this is one of the responsibilities you take on when you have animals. Chickens are a little different, but not as much as you'd think. We have had chickens killed by raccoons.  That was horrible.  We have had chickens get sick and die. That was bad enough. But to make a plan and follow through with it  was another thing entirely. We have talked about raising meat birds before, and wondered if we could handle the butchering process.  It seemed like maybe it would be easier to just be vegetarians, since we don't eat THAT much meat anyway. lol  The price of feed has been going up and up and it almost isn't financially feasible to raise your own eggs if what you're looking for is a bargain. On the other hand, the eggs are SO much better than anything you can buy in the store that it is a choice you are willing to make.  Or, at least, we are.

  They are forecasting a winter even worse than last year for this part of the country. That was part of our decision. As the price of electricity keeps going up, that is another consideration. It's hard to keep a coop heated enough to be useful. The age of the chickens was another thing we had to think about. It doesn't get any easier the older they get.  Our 9 year old coop is in need of repairs too--it needs a new roof and needs some insulating done.  We knocked it together with materials we had on hand and frankly, I'm surprised it help up this long.   And no eggs. That was the final point. For some reason they stopped laying completely. 

  In the spring, we will build a new coop. Enlarge the run and plant the entire floor of the chicken run with alfalfa grass or something.  It needs to be dug out and leveled anyway...between chickens and erosion, I've nearly killed myself in there at night a couple of times. And when it rains, it's really bad.  So, we'll renovate and get it ready for new chicks next spring.  I think. I do like having chickens.  I just have to remember that there is a circle of life in the world. It's in my world here at Honeysuckle Hill and it's at your house too. I knew the first time was going to be hard. Maybe it will get easier. Maybe it won't.  I know it has affected us all, even though it was all carried out as humanely as possible. And I know it is a part of life...birth and death. All of us beings, animal and man, come to this world to carry out our purpose. Feeding others is the highest calling there can be, I am pretty sure. I feel that in my soul when I feed wild birds in winter, when I care for stray animals and now, when my chickens will feed me and my  family.  That's how I want to see this.  That's how I feel when I share my garden bounty with others. Or when I teach or share my knowledge of raising or cooking food. 

  I am thankful.  Thankful to the chickens who gave me eggs for breakfast for a long time and who now will give me stock for soups to help us through the long dark winter.  Thankful for the opportunity to share my life with  a couple of men who are loving and compassionate in their words and their actions.  And who can do the things that I cannot do, when they need to be done.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

It has arrived...

 This picture was taken pretty early in the day...we probably got another 1.5 inches as time went on.  It's about 17 degrees and a little breezy out there.  And really beautiful.

  It's easy to like the weather when you don't have to go out in it if you don't want to.  All day I've been listening to people moan and groan about it, but heavens to Betsy--it IS the middle of November.  Of course, this is probably not the song I'll be singing by February, when I'm tired of the mess and the limitations and the all around depressing grey days that go on and on and on. lol

 I spent most of the day at home alone...just me and the critters. I had a pretty slow and relaxing day...made a big pot of creamy potato soup.  I opened a quart and a pint of the pork that I canned a few months ago and opened my last jar of home made bbq sauce and had bbq pork sandwiches on big hoagie rolls with soup for supper. We watched a movie, a light and silly comedy with Paul Rudd and Steve Carell. I read for a while this afternoon. This morning I finished my next blog post for Mother Earth News. I had been having some issues with posting photographs in the system they use, and finally emailed my "guy" about it. He sent me back an email and said someone else was having problems too, and IT was looking at it. So...the next time I tried, I got it to work. Yay !  So that was finished and submitted.  I folded the very last load of clothes that were in the dryer, workclothes that he will never take out of the dryer. They are always the last load that I do, because he is at work when I start it. I finish all the rest of the laundry and get them all washed dried folded and put away. Then I start that last load with the dirty workclothes from the week, stop the machine and wait for him to get home so we can wash what he's wearing and start the week with all clean clothes.  I get them washed and out in the dryer and then I always think this will be the week when he'll get his work clothes out and put them away. But he doesn't.  So, I either get them out or he will take them out one piece at a time in the morning when he is dressing for work. It drives me insane.

  I guess if this is one of the biggest sources of discontent in my marriage, we must be doing okay.  LOL  

 I got my first seed catalog this weekend.  Hold On !!  They don't usually start coming until after Christmas, do they ? I was excited and surprised to see it. At that point, the garden still had chives and parsley out there. I appreciate the seed catalogs that come in the dead of winter, filling me with hope and bliss at the thought of spring and gardens. Not so much in November when I am barely finished with all the hard work from gardening this year.

 The soup was very good...I have been experimenting with making dairy free (pretty much. anyway--I still use butter) cream soups lately. We don't use regular milk hardly at all. I do keep some cans of evaporated milk in the pantry. I also have a box of instant milk that I use in some bread recipes and when I have to make a batch of instant hot chocolate.  I have used white beans (canellini)  pureed for the thickener, I have used basmati rice too. I have used coconut milk.  There are lots of things to try. But with potato soup, I generally just make the mirepoix base with lots of celery, onions, carrots and garlic, add spring water, and then chop the scrubbed white potatoes and toss 'em in. Add some salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Cook until the potatoes are soft, then ladle out vegetables and broth into the Vitamix and puree. It gives the soup a lovely texture, as well as rich taste.  Sometimes I will also add about half a package of cream cheese to it...but not always. It gives it a layer of richness that is grand without a whole lot of dairy. 

  Tomorrow I guess I will be making a run to the market if the roads aren't too bad to pick up some wide mouth lids. I need to make a big batch of bbq sauce and can it. I used my last jar and I cannot abide store bought sauce anymore. lol  One of the problems with making things yourself all the time. I make mine from a cheaters recipe that starts with a number 10 can of ketchup. Or 2, depending on how much I want to make.  I can it in pints.  It's  a fairly easy recipe that I figured out once costs me around t 40 cents a pint to make.  And it is GOOD.  It has ketchup, tomato paste, brown sugar, molasses, liquid hickory smoke, and spices in it.  Sometimes I add finely minced onion and garlic, but not usually.  It doesn't take very long to make or can...I always pressure can it.  If I make a big enough batch of it, I can get away with only making 2 or 3 times a year. We eat a lot of I use it on top of meatloaf, mixed with ketchup. And inside meatballs when I make those. 

  It's getting late and I have that cold weather-hibernation feeling, so I think I'm going to head for bed.  All the critters are in and the house is quiet. Paco was gone for a couple of days after one of the dogs chased him outside...but he's back and has been in the house without leaving now for the past 48 hours + .  He's a bit of a wild boy, but am hoping he'll decide to stay. He's so adorable...
 As you can see, he's made himself right at home in here with me. 

  Here's wishing you all a restful night....


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Life's Dilemmas...

This is a daily scene in my house. Add 4 cats and a bird.  All scattered hither and yon. All in the house today because it's like 20 degrees and snow flurries and too cold for them to stay outside more than 5 or 10 minutes...every 2 hours.  Aarrrggghhhh !!!  How am I supposed to vacuum?  How am I supposed to get anything done ?  lol

 I have never been so un-motivated in my life. (I don't think).  My house is in dire need of attention. My  pantry  needs re-organized and inventoried.  I need to write. My NaNo is behind, I have a blog post due for MEN  soon.  On a bright note, I am putting away my dehydrators and canner for a while. lol  The only thing I have left to can is  [maybe] one more batch of soup. The Cowboy Soup, which I can do anytime really. The gardens are down.  We are butchering the chickens on Saturday, and they will go straight into the electric roaster to be cooked down for broth and meat and I will can that too, because there is not one tiny bit of room left in my freezer. It's time for the chickens...they haven't been laying for months and we will not feed them through the winter. The cost of feed and electricity to keep the coop warm enough for them requires that they pay their way, and they are not doing that. This will be the first time we have ever butchered our chickens ...and though I am not looking forward to it, it must be done. The boys will do it while I'm gone.  LOL  This is farm life.  You either pay your way or you go.  It's been a strange year for chickens and egg production...I'm not the only one. I've talked to several people who have had this problem.  Weather ??  Feed ??  Who knows.

  Next spring I will go back to a straight flock of Rhode Island Reds though...they have been the best all around chickens yet.

  I finished up the last batch of spearmint.  Dried most of it, tossed some of it into the compost. And Started a quart jar of oil infused with spearmint. I used grapeseed oil. It's sitting there in the dark, where it will be for 2-3 weeks. Can't wait to see how it turns out.

  Making big plans for Thanksgiving at my brothers. I am in charge of rolls, crockpot corn and a dessert that is not pie. I'm thinking maybe a fresh fruit trifle...,made with home made pound cake instead of angel food cake, and lots of rich whipped cream. Might change my mind and do the angel food would make a much lighter dessert...we'll just have to see how it plays out.  Or...maybe a beautiful pound cake with a blueberry concoction to pour over it. Hmmm.... the possibilities are endless...

 Sir Paco the cat is playing hard to get again and will not come in the last 2 nights.  It has been in the low 20's and I am worried about him of course.  He sleeps up in the attic of the garage, we finally figured out. Junko has been staying out there with him, and then comes in at daybreak and sleeps in a warm spot all day.  One of the dogs hauled a huge skeleton up into the front yard...must be a young deer, but maybe a coyote. I can't tell. No legs...just the backbone and ribs.   The bones are pretty much bleached. Generally we wind up with at least the rotting carcasses of  a field dressed dead deer in the yard.  Sigh...

  Life on Honeysuckle Hill.  It waxes and wanes. It blooms and dies. It goes round and round and we all hang on for dear life until it slows down enough to let go. And we dance and we sing and we follow the seasons , one after another. from here to there and back again.  And the season of rest and hibernation is almost upon us.  We actually had some snow today...just flurries for a bit and then some big fat fluffy flakes fell from the sky for about 10 minutes. A preview of things to come.  Bring it--I'm ready for a good excuse to stay home and not leave the hill.




Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday...AGAIN ????

This last week has gone by so quickly. Busy of course. And some emotional/mental struggles. And some health issues.  lol  That big old wheel keeps on turnin'...

  I did get the pumpkin all done the wake of dental appointments and sore throats and stomach issues.  Almost 3 gallons of assorted spiced and salted seeds, all tucked away in the pantry. The rest of that pumpkin (2 water bath canners full of chunks)  cooked, dehydrated and pulverized into powder (less than a quart jar for all of that.  YIKES !!   Picked up another big bag of spearmint that will be mostly an experiment in oil infusion. (Part of today's list, if I ever get on with it).  The usual cleaning and cooking and lots of napping.  It's a miracle anything got done.  OH--AND...finally this---

So I've been alternately buzzing on Cloud 9 and napping, okay ? lol  

Isn't this a pretty picture? This was in the sink still, I think...

 I just loved the look of the form and textures in

Yesterday I roasted a chicken for supper and so the carcass and another small carcass that I had in the freezer have been in the small crockpot all night  simmering away. Smells really comforting in this house.  There's just something about the smell of chicken soup/broth, isn't there ?

Tonight the Irishman is going to the discussion group so I will have a sandwich or something for him to eat on the road. I'll eat leftovers probably. I am sitting this discussion out I've decided. It's just not that interesting to me and I have been so tired lately.  It's easier for me to not go. Next time I'll be back at it and rarin' to go...we usually take a short break at the end of the year, since the holidays get a little whacky for everyone. So, that will be a nice long break for me.  Next year will be busy...

I have had a curious experience at the dentist office and am kind of in limbo right now.  I have talked about this on Facebook and gotten all kinds of great support and advice (lol).  I went to a new (to this area) dental office at the end of October for an abscess in my jaw.  They got me right in, rushed me through 10 kinds of xrays and exams, rushed me through to the office and told me I needed to have all my teeth pulled and it was time for dentures. I was stunned, to say the least.  Not that I haven't thought that at some point in my life this would happen. I have a long history of bad teeth. Family bad teeth. Childhood bad teeth,  I had about 10K dollars of work done on my teeth about 13 years ago.  This abscess occurred at the base of a tooth that had a lot of saving work done on it back then, and has been loose since the car accident in May.  I fully expected a course of antibiotics and having it extracted. But for them to come at me with pull them all and wear dentures...well...that knocked me for a loop. My teeth aren't the greatest, but I don't think they all need to go. I tried to discuss this with the dentist (a young Chinese woman) and she wouldn't hear of it.  At least that's how it felt to me. Granted, I was in a lot of pain at the time...  Long story short, I went in for what I thought was the extraction (after several days on the penicillin)  even though I had tried to call several times to see if I should still come, because I have developed a sore throat. I couldn't get ahold of anyone and it was time to go or miss the appointment, so I went. When I got there, I talked to the girl at the desk and she said she had just gotten my message.  They whisked me back and instead of doing the extraction, they started fitting me for the denture mold.  I had a sore throat and kept gagging and she kept saying Breathe thru your was awful.  When she was done, I asked about the extraction and she said, no, they'll pull them all at the same time. I was shocked...I was supposed to go this morning.  I called and cancelled last night.  I started reading online reviews through Consumer Affairs about this group IN GENERAL...not the local office, which is brand new...and it scared the beejeezus out of me. I'm going to get a second opinion.

Lovely surprise...I just took some bills and Netflix movies down to the mailbox. Apparently I had not picked up the mail on Saturday (I coulda sworn...)  and it was full. Including a package for me. It turned out to be the 2015 Creativity and Parkinson's Calendar  that my good friend Tim has a watercolor drawing in.  How awesome is that ???

So, my today (I slept until almost 11 o'clock in the morning after going to bed at 2 !!!!! )  is waddling along at a duck being carried by a snail's pace.  I did get dressed right about noon--I am not a heathen, people !  lol Now I'm having a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast and going through the mail. I poured the last of a quart of milk that I had bought to make some pudding and then never did...and as usual, it's already giving me a stomach ache. When will I accept the fact that I simply cannot drink cows milk ?  Sheesh...

Alright. I should do something make a dentist appointment or something.  Or clean house. It is really beautiful out there today. A last ditch effort by Mother nature to  say she loves us before all hell breaks loose. Tomorrow's daytime temps are supposed to be 20-25 degrees lower than todays  and continue to plummet, with nighttime temps in the low 20's.  

  I guess it's really here.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Falling into November...

 The leaves are falling, the temps are falling.  This morning the temperature had climbed all the way to 30 by 9 AM.  It's chilly, but not rainy, so I guess that's good. Autumn has made her debut. Welcome, old girl... it's really beautiful around these parts. All the reds and golds and browns. I thought about taking today off and going out for a while with my camera to take some last ditch photographs of the beauty, but I have SO much to do today. Laundry, last minute garden preservations (carrots, peppers, etc.), finish up the 3 lbs of spearmint that is drying in various places around my house, and all the pumpkins that are in the garage.  I have to get these things done because the upcoming week is going to be pretty busy for me. I might still get up off my butt and at l;eat take off for an hour or so and shoot some pictures.

 I have a bunch of peppers that are going to be canned into Unstuffed Bell Pepper Soup.  I have  to make sure I have enough jars for this, and of course lids too.  I think I do. I have been eating things out of the pantry regularly and so am collecting some more empty jars. (My rule is that after October 1st, I can officially start eating out of my pantry stores. LOL  Any time before that I eat out of the garden).  I have a 5 gallon bucket full of carrot greens that need to be made into pesto.  I made a recipe the other night (we had a guest for supper) that was a warm chickpea and carrot greens salad. It was awesome people !!!  I also found a recipe that looks suspiciously like a Seaweed Salad, only it is made with carrot greens, and I seriously want to try that. The carrots and their tops are looking a little wilty (they were pulled Friday afternoon before the first frost) so I'm going to take that bucket and fill it with cold water and see if I can shock those greens back while washing the muddy carrots.  lol

  This is National Novel Writing Month too...starting yesterday.  NaNoWriMo is one of the highlights of my year, even though I sometimes don't finish my novella.  I started writing yesterday on Nov. 1st (that's the rules) and have gotten about 1200 words down so far.  I was just thinking that it's crazy sometimes how...the more I have on my plate and the more I have to do, the more I do and the more I get done.  When I have some downtown from having a ton to do...I get lazy and sometimes accomplish almost nothing.  Once an old timer in AA told me (I was on a committee) to always ask the busy people for help--they are the ones who get things done. He was right.  The title of my 50,000 word novel is ...A Rainy October.  And that's all I'll tell you for now.  (Of course the title could change at any moment, but for now, that's what it is. LOL)

  I am going to go start a load of laundry. It can be going while I write here... okay. So the first of  3 loads of laundry is sorted and started,  the carrots are in the bathtub full of cold water and I stopped and made my bed on my way through. I am finishing up the first 3 pound bag of spearmint...last night I manicured and trimmed and filled 2 dehydrators and 3 brown paper bags. I think I am going to prefer the old paper bag method...I don't know. The mint just seems like it is losing it's potency in the dehydrator. Or maybe it's just me.  I guess when I steep some in boiling water for tea, I will know for sure. I have another 3 pound bag coming...I had no idea how to even visualize what a pound of mint looked like, lol.   But to give you an idea, here's part of a 3 pound bag...  

That's a kitchen can sized garbage bag.  My plan for all this mint is a couple of is obviously, Tea.  I also want to try my hand at infusing oil with spearmint. And my wonderful friend Crystal tells me that she makes a mesmerizing pesto using mint. All of which intrigue me to no end. And I will certainly have plenty, lol.  Crystal is the goddess that is an herbalist,  farmer at a CSA with her handsome husband Eric, and mother extraordinaire to her 2 beautiful children Cayan and Iris.  One of those women that you meet and immediately think--I HAVE to have that woman in my life !!! I am blessed to call her my friend.

   It's not going to get real warm today. Low 50's they say and there isn't a lot of sunshine out there. I'm still in my elegant soft cotton nightgown that looks like something my grandma would have worn, and my Joe Boxer longjohns with socks and Birkenstocks. (How's that for a visual ???) I could get dressed, but...

  Tomorrow starts a busy week again, filled with another workshop  (Herbs and Edible Weeds) followed by a potluck. After that I'll head over to meet my husband at a speaker meeting to hear our friend Jeff share his ES&H. Monday also starts another of Oprah and Deepak Chopra's 21 day guided meditation series that I am going to do.  Tuesday morning I have a dentist appointment  to have some work done, followed (I hope) by my volunteer commitment at the Service Office.  I also have to vote in there somewhere...probably first thing in the morning before I head to the dentist.  Wednesday will be a slow day with just the usual stuff. Thursday I have another dentist appointment at 5 PM.  More work.

  Somewhere in there I have a car trunk full of pumpkins to massacre and keep seeds from. (Actually, the pumpkins are now residing in the garage, not in the trunk. My wonderful son came in yesterday morning and said  "...hey, I took all those pumpkins out and put them in the garage. I didn't think you wanted to drive around all day with them in there."   I have another 3 pounds of mint to pick up. I'm still looking for beets. I didn't grow any and no one seems to have any.  My novel will be calling me to work on it every day, hopefully a minimum of 1200-1500 words.  I also have blog posts to start writing for the Mother Earth News, as soon as they let me know when the first one is being published.

  My busy life. A good thing. Now...shall I get dressed? I need to call my little market and see of they have 8 pounds of their freshly ground beef available to can that soup...