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Friday, November 30, 2012

The importance of the simple things this holiday season

Little man has been teething which is accompanied by a low grade fever and restless nights.  Mom makes those restless nights that much harder on herself as she sits bolt upright at the littlest sniffle or sigh that comes through the baby monitor.  Working extra hours off the farm in an effort to catch up on some bills accompanied by poor driving conditions the past couple of days have kept the comfort and rest of sleep at bay.

Lying awake watching moonlit shadows play across the newly fallen snow, my thoughts turn to holiday preparations.  That holiday tablecloth was not where I expected it to be the other day, perhaps it is in the attic.  Company will be coming, beds need to be prepared and a vacuum run upstairs.  Furniture needs to be re-arranged in the living room to accomodate the Christmas tree which will again be far too large for the space - but I like them that way.  Where did we put those pine cones?

Celebrating the all important first birthday and Christmas will carry so much more importance than they have for the past couple of years for us.  Little man's first Christmas was interrupted by mom's sudden departure for and admission to intensive care unit at the hospital a mere ten days after his arrival into this world.  My mother and grandmother were on the farm when I fell ill.  I can't express how thankful I was to have my mom both at my side in the hospital and to support my husband while I spent the next several days in the intensive care unit.  As Christmas comes back around I am thankful for a full recovery and hopeful for an uneventful holiday here at the farm.  It will not be a commercial series of events for us.  The simpler side of the holiday will include handmade ornaments and stockings from a family friend who has long since passed.  Popcorn strings on and handmade presents under the Christmas tree.  We will make pine cone feeders for the birds and squirrels.  Gifts will not be exchanged between adults this year as none of us needs to throw our hard earned cash into something that doesn't fit, isn't the right color or will end up stuffed on a shelf in the basement somewhere.  Spending quality time with family will be the order of business this holiday season.

Little man will be showered with all the goodness he deserves.  Good food, most of which was raised right here on this farm, will be shared.  Perhaps a bottle or two of hard cider or home brew will be lifted.  The house will be warm, tummies will be full and another set of moonlit shadows will play on a different layer of freshly fallen snow.

How will you be spending your Christmas?

Photo courtesy of:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Frozen water bottles

Chores take a little bit longer these days as thawing is added to the regular task of filling water bottles.  Last night after everyone was fed and watered I watched a thick fog roll across and off the farm.  Blues and greys sparkled off of what remained of our light snowfall the other day and then it was quiet.  That eerie kind of quiet, the calm before the storm, the peacefulness which made me wonder what I was in for next.  Usually there are critters scurrying or munching in the Christmas trees or the corn piece in front of the house.  But the only sounds were of my breathing and the tick of the aluminum ball in the nozzle of the water bottles as the rabbits drank their fill. 

I know I worry too much; such is the curse of a Libra.  Perhaps I should have just enjoyed the quiet for what it was.

Today is another day and the last of my days off for a spell - the list is long but the woman is mighty.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cheddar Broccoli Pasta

Part of our goal of sustainability means using the most basic ingredients to create delicious meals.  Eventually we will be able to grow or barter for all of the ingredients we need to sustain our family.  In the meantime we only purchase basic supplies from the grocery store.  It is a rare occasion when we buy anything labeled 'Just Add Water' or 'Heat & Eat.'  One can only eat so many vegetables and potatoes without needing a little something to spice them up. 

Eating well is more than just a hobby or a means to an end to satisfy nutritional requirements, it is a passion; often one I don't have much of an opportunity to engage in.  Ensuring Little Man is fed is goal number one and sometimes at the end of the day that means throwing together a protein, vegetable and a starch and feeding him whilst doing dishes, sweeping the floor, switching the laundry, or running his bath.  Once in a great while I am inspired to dirty every sauce pan, frying pan, soup pot, baking dish, serving spoon, mixing spoon, whisk, mixer and spatula in the kitchen to make a masterpiece.  Sometimes you just come up with a simple fix for a starch and vegetable that is whipped up with ingredients already in the house.   Such was the case the other night.

How about cheddar broccoli pasta?  An envelope from the store which requires only the addition of water, butter and milk is available for a mere 99 cents, but that includes all name and number of preservatives and ingredients I couldn't pronounce if I had a degree in chemistry.  I started with a basic white sauce:

White Sauce
1 TBS butter
1 TBS flour
3/4 cup milk
dash pepper

Melt butter in saucepan, add flour, combine.
Add milk and stir over medium heat until sauce is thick and bubbly.

I added 3/4 cup of shredded cheddar cheese for our meal but any manner of cheese that you have in the house is fine.  Cheddar by itself can make the sauce a little grainy, but I used what we had on hand.

While making the sauce, in another pan bring some water to a boil, add pasta of your choice and frozen or fresh vegetable - cook until done.  Drain, add cheese sauce and voila, Cheddar Cheese Broccoli Pasta.

Not too bad for a quick side to venison steaks for dinner.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The weather is starting to turn

Meteorologists are threatening, several days in advance so I am not sure how much is actual predictions or more hype/hope, our first winter storm.  Preparations for a cold, snowy winter continue as we put away chicken tractors, stack pallets collected free from the road sides, pull the last of the weeds from beds long unattended, collect radish seed pods, and check on the sugar beets that will be over wintered for Spring piglets. 

These next couple days will include the last push to ensure that the important tasks are attended to before the possibility of our first real snow -  the lawn tractor will go in the barn, perhaps some of the floor boards can be moved around so a couple of the tractor attachments can go in there as well; if not, I will be scavenging old tarps to cover them where they lay.  Items stored in the barn are lost to us for the winter season as snow from most of the front of the old dairy barn falls in front of the door; what doesn't fall there naturally is deposited there to allow regular access the area of the barn that my uncle and cousin use as their workshop. 

Discussions of where to store currently empty rabbit cages included the feasibility of getting the cages up the inside stairs or risk having to chop ice from the exterior entrance to the basement should we need more room for growing bunnies.  The last of the plastic will be removed from the hoop-style greenhouse to allow for quick excavation of snow later this winter and easy application of new plastic for early garden starts.  We had hoped to have the plastic on before the snow arrived, but heating fuel and electricity take precedence when you have an 11-month old.

Avenues where snow is typically piled will be weed whacked, dried hydrangea stems and overgrown grass removed along with any other possible hang-ups for the plow.  A lonely perennial shrub will be carefully protected from falling ice off the roof and brushes with the plow by an A-frame of plywood.  I do not own a plow rig and my small Kubota, while it could clear the entire 1/3 mile driveway, would not do well with repeated abuse of that type all winter long.  My cousin and my uncle, who are also my closest neighbors, do most of the plowing with my husband and I to clean up immediately around the house.  When there is some extra cash on hand, a plow rig is on the wish list and perhaps I can repay some of that favor; until then I am extremely thankful for all that they do here.

One more immediate task is to eradicate the family of mice/rats who have decided that snuggling in with the rabbits for the winter is a good idea.  They have started collecting hay and hair from around the cages and are making a nest somewhere underneath the shelves at the back of the garage.  We can hear them scratching and packing when we open the door to the garage.  Traps will be set and if those don't work then I may resort to chemical warfare.  Feed costs are high enough right now, I don't need to be feeding those destructive little critters.

In between there will be the regular chores of cleaning out the rabbit cages, scooping the litter box, burning the few remaining piles of brush (now that there is a light coating of snow on the ground), cleaning out the chicken coop, vacuuming, dishes, etc.  Perhaps there will even be time to add some more products to the website.

Last night I made a great quick side dish of cheddar broccoli macaroni, I will post the recipe tomorrow.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wild winged ones, a couple crustaceans and a lazy feline

Being surrounded by nature's beauty is just one of the wonderful things about living on the farm.  Every day bears witness to Mother Nature's amazing creations.  Some pass through without a second thought allowing us only the briefest glimpses of their splendor.  Others come back regularly often taunting us with gobbles only fifteen minutes after legal hunting hours have concluded.

This Cooper's Hawk is a regular in the dooryard.  Captured here with the aid of a spotting scope she is perched a top the barn at the far side of the yard eyeing the chickens.  Most days she will will leave them alone, but every once in a great while she will go after the smallest or slowest, looking for a quick treat. 

Too slow to escape the clutches of a couple of 12 year olds this summer, these crawfish were guests of a recycled pickle jar on the kitchen table.  On beautiful summer days I cannot see spending the day in front of the video game console or television set.  The kids grumbled a bit at first but had a great time capturing all sorts critters in the yard, from the lake and the ponds.

After an unsually warm winter and fairly dry summer, several varieties of winged insects gathered around the house.  This interestingly colored moth measured about four inches across its wingspan and rested on the front sliding glass door for a couple of hours before heading out for its evening meal.

Monarch butterflies were paticularly abundant this year; my stepdaughter captured this great picture of one on the geraniums in the front flower bed.
Next year we will raise turkeys for our table.  These birds continue to taunt my husband by disappearing during hunting season only to loiter in the front yard less than a week after the season ended. 
Some of the more recent arrivals to the lake and the farm include a family of bald eagles.  I am not sure if this is an immature bald eagle or if it is a golden eagle.  It was at the far end of the corn piece amongst the young corn seedlings this spring.  They came within view of the house at least once a week throughout the summer.

Being city cats originally, our fearless felines are much more comfortable snuggled into a blanket in the living room, safe from where the wild things are.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Working with yarn

My grandmother attempted to teach me to knit when I was about nine years old.  At that age my interests lay not in the tangles of yarn and uneven sheath which she hoped would turn into a scarf.  Instead they rested in the mysteries of the cemetary behind the house, the bugs that lived under the front porch, and how far the skateboard would carry me before I fell off and broke my arm again or momentum ceased and I lay in the middle of the street waiting for the commuters to come chase me away as they returned from the concrete jungle called New York City.

Too many years had passed when I finally picked up my knitting needles again sitting on the couch in a rented mobile home two towns away trying to decide whether I was going to survive in Vermont or if returning to Connecticut was in my fate.   A red and white chenile scarf poured off the needles and spent the rest of that winter keeping the brisk breezes at bay while I was out walking the dog.  Since then many a gift have been knit and crocheted for people I love, others who simply ask and as gifts for friends of loved ones.  This fall necessities for Little Man in the form of a hat and mittens were completed along with a birthday gift and one for a baby shower that I never got to go attend.

My days off this week will include the addition of some newly knit and crocheted items to the website to help raise a couple of dollars for the tax man and the electric company, more rows on Christmas presents for family and perhaps some time to get the roof on the rabbit shed - after all December is only a week away!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


As home butchers we end up with little extras - small pieces of loin that just didn't make it into the original roast, edges of hams, and parts that probably should have been bacon or a rolled roast but got cut too small when we put our pork into the freezer.  Not ones to let much go to waste the decision was made to try and make sausage this year.

I remembered my grandmother grinding up meat for her meatloaf when I was younger and I knew somewhere in the house - her house for which I am now the caretaker - I had seen that grinder.  Retrieved from the far reaches of the baking cabinet and given a bath, I attempted to put it back together and secure it to the table.  Some 30 years ago now I sat beside her watching the juices drip from the grinder onto the paper towels she had placed on the floor.  An old book was wedged in between the table and the grinder to either protect the table or provide a more stable surface for the grinder.  Assembly and mounting complete, so began the journey into sausage making.

Ground pork: Insert meat into top of grinder and turn handle.  Not as easy as it looks.  The pieces of pork don't stay in the grinder very well.  It is a delicate balance of inserting meat pieces and not loosing a finger whilst turning the meat out through the blades on the front of the grinder.

Onions: They go right the grinder too.  Each one sent onion juice pouring out of the back and down the handle onto the paper towels on the floor.

Garlic: Check.

Spices: What ratio?  What spices?  On to the internet, recipes galore.  We settled on a sage sausage recipe, not realizing until after we were done that it was a turkey based recipe and the spices were a little too heavy, beating out the subtle deliciousness of the fresh pork.

Anything else?  Salt.

We use a lot of sausage in everything from spaghetti to stuffed mushrooms to breakfast and meatloaf.  It turned out OK but I will certainly be looking out for some new ones.  There are thousands of recipes on the internet for sausage so I will not recreate the wheel here.  Making our own will not only save some money but allow us to try some unique flavors.  I am thinking Apple Sage might taste pretty good.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The chores will still be there tomorrow

Fall has almost come to a conclusion here on the farm and as I look around I must be careful not to become too disappointed with myself when it comes to all of the projects and chores that didn't get finished.  This has been a common theme for me this year.
"How do you find time to do ALL THAT with a 10-month old?"
I am asked this question repeatedly after discussing gardening, baking, rabbits, pigs, chickens, knitting, crocheting, website development, working more than 1/2 time off the farm, blogging, keeping house, cats, dog, and the like.  The time is carved from essential things like sleep, eating, and my general health to ensure that the dream of living and making a healthy living from the farm stays alive.  Too much doesn't get done that NEEDS to get done in order to fulfill the goal of sustainability, but I manage to find the time that I need to at least keep the dream alive. 
Then there are days like today when I wonder what I have managed to get done.  Today I was a good mom.   That one always makes it pretty high on the list unless I have worked off the farm all day; Little Man is taken care of but I feel terrible not seeing him all day.  He has been lucky so far to spend his days home with his father, but soon we will enlist the assistance of a child care provider.  Working off the farm remains a necessity since my parents raised me wrong - they instilled far too much of a work ethic in me so I can't sit home and expect someone else to pay my bills for me.  Days when I have to have the same conversation as the week before with the health insurance folks or the power company ensuring them that they will get paid just not on their timeline often makes me want to throw my hands up in the air.  But we persist.
A trip to the processor this week with over 120 lbs of rabbits, a freezer recently filled with pork, and a few extra hours at the second off farm job have allowed me to take a little bit of a breath.  Tomorrow will include butchering the last of this summers' roosters, cleaning the rabbits, breeding some rabbits, preparing a couple of pies to be baked on Wednesday for Thanksgiving, continuing to work on crocheting of Christmas presents for family and spending some quality time with Little Man.  Maybe if I am lucky, all the chores can get done before 1:00 p.m. and I can spend the afternoon loafing on the couch watching football...
At least I have big dreams!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cold, wet, rainy and loose pigs

We all have those days when you know you should just go back to bed.  Lately I feel like I am having one of those days every day.  Yesterday, for the first time in a while I felt like I was getting something accomplished.  Paperwork was getting done, the house wasn’t in a total state of disrepair, all the animals had been fed and were dry if not warm, Little Man was just waking up from his afternoon snooze and I was just finishing up balancing my checkbook.  I thought it had been a pretty good day.

As I was downloading the bank statement from the bank and making faces at little man, a flash of black fur went past the front window.  I thought to myself, ‘WOW, Raven (my 13 year old black lab) actually got off the porch in the pouring rain.’  Then as I looked back at Little Man, I saw her sleeping on the ottoman in the kitchen.
<Insert expletive here>
I jumped up from my chair to confirm what I actually saw in the front yard was one of the piggles.  I couldn’t see the other one but knew that she had to be out there somewhere.  Shoes and jacket adorned, a couple of apples stuffed into the pockets out the door into the cold, driving rain I went.

“PPPPEEEEEEGGGGGLLLEES, Come here pig, pig, pig!”

Armed with the grey bucket little pig came running.  Every night they get their dinner in the grey bucket so whenever you are carrying it, you are their favorite person.  I made my way and turned off the electric fence and dropped the gate, little pig sauntered inside interested in only the contents of the bucket.  Big pig was nowhere to be found.

DH came outside with Little Man, bundled head to toe against the weather.  Big pig was down in front of the house, well into the corn field and increasing her distance from the pen every second.  After a few minutes of hollering, she finally made her way around behind the barn and back toward the pen.  Both pigs inside, we secured the gate.  It has been wet and rainy here since the big storm that left lower New England in tatters came through last weekend.  Our pig pen fence is powered by a solar-fence-charger.  Even when it is cloudy, it receives some power; but with several days of cloudy weather, the batteries were in a weakened state.  Our sneaky girls used this to their advantage to find a weak spot in the fence and decided that a cold, wet, miserable day was the perfect day to go for a walk. 

Forty-five minutes later the fence was repaired, I had removed the muddy wet hay from their house and put in fresh, DH had repaired the front wall, and Little Man was pretty unhappy being relegated to the car out of the rain to watch us while we worked.  He finally had enough and decided that watching us wasn’t nearly as much fun as helping.

Soaking wet and covered up to my knees in mud, I took the car back to the house dropped my jacket, and pants in the entry way, then picked up Little Man and headed inside for dry clothes.  DH fed them some extra grain in hopes that they would stay inside their pen at least for the evening.  Perhaps the freezer will be filled sooner this fall rather than earlier this winter.