Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years Thoughts

This has been a weird year. I wouldn't call it bad, because any year you make it out of healthy and kickin' is a good year! But it did start out with losing our dear Airstream camping friend Darol to cancer. That sucked, I still miss him whenever I think about my Airstream. A couple months later Alki took a sudden turn and we had to let her go. We knew it was coming, and we were grateful she had managed to survive almost three years since her cancer diagnosis, but it was still pretty sad. We still had Barclay and Jack, both young and healthy.

It was a penny-pinching year, with slow sales at the store and online. We kept our belts tight and tried to be as frugal as possible. That's not much fun, but what can you do? I got better at using cheap cuts of meat I found in the bargain section at the market, learned to make my own beef and chicken stock, and cooked a lot of meals at home. We cut our eating out down until it become a rare occasion, which actually made it more special when we did decide to go out.


My only resolution last year was to get to the top of Silver Star Mountain, but we couldn't even afford the gas to drive up to the trailhead - so maybe next year!

We had sheep visiting in the spring, but they didn't stay too long because of the rain. I made a little money at the beginning of the year selling chickens, and raised quite a few more through the year, yet I ended up buying eggs this winter because my old chickens were slowing down laying, and my young chickens weren't ready to start yet. I got to see the first of the buff/blue chicks feather out and was amazed by their colors, and so I am focusing on making more of those. I also brought home a GIANT incubator I picked up for free on CL. Still haven't decided what to do with that.

Later in the year we were convinced to adopt another little dog who needed a home, and Navi joined our family. Her mom had been trying to talk me into taking her, but it was Navi herself who clinched the deal, sitting next to me in the grass at the dog park and rolling her head backwards to look at me, upside down - what a crazy ball of fun! I knew she was meant to be, despite my reluctance.

I made my best effort yet to have a successful garden, but the weather didn't cooperate, and everyone in the area agreed it was a lousy year. No tomatoes for us! Lots of lettuce though. Even though it turned out to be a bummer year for the garden, I did take a canning and food preservation class. I not only learned to can and dehydrate foods, but I got to help teach classes and answer the county food safety line to help other people with their food preservation questions. At home I canned pickles and green tomato salsa (yum) and fresh peaches and pears in season.

Dave did a number of theater shows, and starred in two shows back to back, one of which I was assistant director for. It was fun to get involved in theater again, but it was nice to end the commitment and get back to a normal life too - just in time for the Christmas toy rush!

Here is hoping for a better year to come, and a happy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chicken dinner!



Well, I decided to do the deed and butcher the extra rooster. I dispatched him quickly and humanely, and that was over in seconds. Then it took about an hour to clean him! The part you might think was bad (gutting) was actually no problem at all - getting all the feathers off was the part that took forever. I planned to scald and pluck, but I guess I scalded too long, and the skin tore, so then I proceeded to skin him, and that took a long time. Once I got most of the skin off I brought him inside and worked on finishing it up in the sink. I learned a couple tricks for next time - put paper towels down in the sink so the body doesn't slide around while I'm working on it, and next time just cut off the wings, then quickly pluck them and throw them in with the rest of the bits for stock.




The end result - 2 1/2 lbs of fresh, farm-raised chicken. Big meaty legs and thighs, not much meat on the breast at all. This is how all chickens used to look before they developed chickens with breasts so big they can't walk once they're a couple months old. We'll let it rest a few days and then find out if it was worth all the trouble.

Current count - 5 buff hens, 5 blue/buff hens, 1 blue/buff roo, 1 big blue roo

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Another hawk attack

This time the hawk got a crow! I saw the dogs out in the drainfield sniffing and poking at some dark lump, at first I thought it was just a molehill, but they looked confused by it. I went out to investigate and found a freshly killed crow! Poor thing was beautiful, crows are such lovely, jet black birds. I think the dogs must have chased the hawk away. I took the body away and closed the chickens up in the coop (they were all inside anyway, they must have seen the hawk too). I'll leave them locked up for a day or two and see if the hawk goes elsewhere. Otherwise I mighthave to see about making a run for the chickens. Seems like we only have hawk problems in the dead of winter when the hawks are getting more creative.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dogs playing in the field

I'm trying a new hosting service, since the quality of YouTube videos are so poor.

Here are the dogs playing out in the flooded field yesterday. They were having a blast! It would be hard to move back to a house with a little yard after seeing how much they enjoy using up their two acre play area!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Somebody ate a chicken

..and it wasn't me!


This morning Barclay was barking at something inside the chicken area, which was unusual. There's usually a reason for his barking. So I went out to investigate. In the middle of the orchard was one of the buff hens. Something had attacked and killed her, and started eating her but got chased away. From the damage I'm guessing it was one of the neighborhood hawks. I think that I was bothered less by losing a hen, and more by the fact that the hawk didn't even hardly eat any of her, and by the time I found her she'd been laying out there who knows how long, and there was nothing to do except throw the body in the trash. What a waste :(

Current count - 5 buff hens, 5 blue/buff hens, 2 blue/buff roos, 1 big blue roo

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Limbo

Our present to ourselves this year was a new Xbox 360 - something we have been waiting to get for a long time! It was well past time to retire the old xbox, and we are both videogame junkies given the opportunity - after all, we both grew up with Atari 2600 joysticks in our hands.

The new Xbox has some interesting twists though - the whole 'Xbox Live' thing is a new way of thinking about videogames. Being hooked up to the internet all the time, just like the other computers, makes for some interesting abilities old consoles didn't have. We can watch streaming video over Netflix, or play games against other people far away. Those parts only work so-so, because our rural internet connection is not quite up to spec for intense gaming and streaming, but it works well enough. I decided to jump right in and check out some game demos, and found one I fell in love with immediately and had to download. Limbo.


The game is entirely in black and white. It's not like any platform game I've ever played. It can be described as run, jump, push, pull, with occasional climbing and button pushing. Doesn't sound very exciting, but the puzzles are incredible - real mind benders. None of the puzzles are the Mario type, where you have to memorize complex maneuvers and practice running the same thing over and over again until you get all your timing right - it's not nearly as tedious as that! Things happen slower, and most of the time you have time to think before something kills you. Your little runner dies - a lot - and comes back ready for more. It's just great fun. I was challenged by every puzzle, and delighted when I got through them. 

I can't get over what an incredible little game this is. It only cost $15 and I got more entertainment value out of it than some games I've paid much more for, and that's pretty unusual.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Barclay!


About three years ago we went to a dog show to meet an American Eskimo breeder, just to talk about maybe thinking about getting a puppy sometime in the future. Instead she introduced us to a friend who had an extra puppy that someone had backed out on, and we ended up putting money down on him. A week or so later we brought home fluffy little Barclay. So it's been three years of socializing, training, a lot of fun and a bit of hard work. When he was a baby he threw the most terrible tantrum in puppy class and the teacher sat down with us and held him until he gave up! That was just more incentive to keep working with him. He's turned out to be all the dog I could hope for. He is sweet and gentle with humans, friendly and playful with other dogs, and although he chases the chickens when he can, he doesn't really want to eat them, just to play! He's not what I would call obedient, but he comes when I call him, most of the time, relatively quickly - for an eskimo. He makes me laugh all the time. Earlier this month he passed his therapy dog testing and earned his Canine Good Citizen certificate. 

They say everyone gets the dog they deserve, I'm flattered to think I deserve this. 
Happy Birthday, Barclay!

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pony :)

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I went over to visit my friend's mini-horse again. She needed me to do a petsitting visit two days in a row, so I got there early so I could spend some time with her horses. She told me where to find the brushes, and I went back and gave the little girl a good brush all over. She seemed to like it just fine, especially her withers - that made her make a funny face and wiggle her lips :)

The next day I got there later, did my petsitting chores, and went back and talked to the pony and gave her a bit of a scratch, but it was getting dark so I had to go. She usually just watches me walk away, but this time she followed me to the gate, then stood there giving me sad eyes. So I went and got a brush and she stood perfectly still in the paddock while I brushed her all over - she really liked it! But then it was really dark and starting to rain so I told her good night and went to put the brushes away while she wandered back to her stall. What a nice little horse! I'm so glad my friend said I was welcome to come by anytime and get a mini-horse fix!

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rainbow

Driving home in a bit of misty rain, I got to the turnoff for our road and noticed a bit of color on the horizon. It was the end of a rainbow, but the rest of the rainbow wasn't visible, just a little stub where the trees meet the sky. I've never seen anything like it! It was beautiful! I ran inside to get my camera, but it had a hard time picking up the colors against the bright gray sky. With a bit of tweaking I brought the colors out as best as I could. Definitely one of those cases where it's hard to get the camera to record what you see.

Bones

I picked up some bones at the butcher shop for the dogs.

Jack LOVED his bone!

Navi LOVED her bone!

Barclay wasn't sure what to do with his bone, so he set it down
and then sat a safe distance away and kept a nervous eye on it!



Silly dog!


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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chicken update

My youngest chickens (the group that a friend incubated for me) is 5 months old today. The two boys, unfortunately, are extra and will end up as dinner someday, but not yet, because they are still pretty scrawny.


I sold the two black/buff girls to a friend who has older chickens and hasn't seen an egg in his coop for over a month. The girls aren't laying yet, but they will be soon.



That leaves me with my 6 older buff orpington/cochin girls, 2 not-laying-yet 7 month old buff/blue girls, and 3 5 month old buff/blue girls. Oh, and my latest addition, a beautiful Blue Orpington rooster.



I added the blue orpington roo because he became available locally, and I want to breed him to buff orpington hens and get blue/buff orpingtons (my blue/buff girls right now are crossed with cochin, so they have feathered feet which get very muddy - orpingtons have clean feet). For $5 I couldn't resist him - and he came from a show home - he's HUGE and gorgeous!



So that's 14 birds gobbling up the food, and we get an egg every other day from one of the youngest of the buff O girls. I don't know if the older girls will start laying again someday. We'll just have to wait and see what spring brings.



Planning for next year, I put in an order with a hatchery for buff orpingtons. I ordered 25 pullets (that's baby girls) and 25 straight run (that's a mix of boys and girls, however they come out of the egg). The boys will be raised for food. I felt better about doing it this way, because in big hatcheries they sex the chicks and the boys go right into the dog food bin (you don't want anymore details than that). This way at least some of the boys will come here and get to run around and grow up. They'll still end up as dinner, but they'll get to enjoy their life for a bit first. One lucky boy will get to stay around and have his own flock of hens, because I'm hoping after this I'll be able to keep a flock of buff O's along with my separate blue/buff flock, and use the incubator to hatch and raise my own instead of buying from a hatchery.

I also plan to learn to butcher my extra birds for our dinners. Hopefully this doesn't sound horribly cruel to anyone, but I have good reasons. First of all, because I let my birds hatch and raise chicks, every year I have extra roosters, and that's a great use for them. Secondly, if I give them away or sell them at auction (like I did last year), they still get eaten, but I don't know how they are treated until then - at least if I take care of them I know they've been treated humanely from start to finish. Third, I will know what they ate and how they were raised, and I think that is better than buying factory farmed chicken from the store. I probably should feel worse about this part of the plan, but I don't, I actually feel like it's quite natural. Under those feathers, they are, after all, chicken!



So that is where my flock stands as of today, and my plan for next year. We'll see how it goes.


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Friday, December 10, 2010

Yesterday it rained

..and rained and rained and rained. I think it's the most water I've seen in the field for a long time. When I said swale in the front field flooded when it rains, this is what I'm talking about.



I walked around the field a bit to judge what parts actually had standing water, vs what parts might be ok to have livestock on during a deluge. In addition to my miniature horse dreams, I'd still kind of like to have a flock of sheep again someday. They can't be running around on the wet part of the pasture though!



The swale is not only about 30ft wide, but it all ended up in a 40 x 60 ft pond at the bottom of the field (which was so deep I thought Navi was going to have to swim) by the road. I took the dogs out and they had a great time splashing around and playing fetch in the pond, then we came back up to hang out in the shelter and watch the rain come down.



That roar is the rain on the metal shelter roof. It was LOUD!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Insanely busy! Yay!

After a year of mostly 'famine', it's nice to have a little 'feast'...


This is most of the orders going out today...

There's the rest of them. We were waiting for boxes to be delivered to pack up the stacks of ships waiting to go out. We're getting about 85-100 orders a day through Amazon. We work until late at night, and get up early and work some more. Yay for Christmas-Time!


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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Thoughts about horses

Warning - exceedingly long, meandering post ahead! Since this is my journal, sometimes I like to write down my thoughts so someday I can look back on them, and see just what the heck I was thinking.

Since I was a little girl, I have loved horses. Don't most little girls? I read books about them, drew pictures of them, collected Breyer horses, and in general obsessed about them, to the point where in 5th grade my teachers told me I couldn't write anymore stories about horses! My parents even had the supremely bad idea that they would get me a pony when I was little, and took me to test ride a friend's little shetland pony, which I fell off of, prompting my overprotective mom to forbid any pursuit of my horse interest again as too dangerous.


I still have mixed feelings about this. Like, if I had somehow gotten access to horses and learned to ride at that age, it would have been wonderful, and a skill I would have enjoyed my whole life, instead of merely longing to be involved in horses from the sidelines. But my parents were not the sort of attentive folks who could have taken me to riding lessons, nor could they have afforded it. I don't know what they were thinking when we went to check out the pony - we lived on a small lot in the suburbs. Maybe they figured it could stay on my grandparents larger lot. At the time we were unincorporated, and there was a horse living right down the street from us, so it's not too crazy an idea, but for them to have taken care of a horse? They couldn't take care of themselves, their children or their dogs, a horse would have been a disaster. But I'm sure their hearts were in the right place. Actually, I'm sure Dad's heart was in the right place, because I would just about bet it was all his idea, and Mom went along right up to the point where I fell off. For a long time I couldn't help but blame myself for missing my only chance to have a horse by being too clumsy to stay on!



I never got closer to a horse than petting one over the fence, until i took a trail ride with the outdoor club in college. Then nothing again for a long time. I have friends with horses, but they never actually ride them, they are just pets. A couple years ago I finally took the leap to get involved, and took lessons for about 6 months until my teacher quit and moved to another barn. It was fun because I really liked my teacher, there were some nice calm lesson horses, and the stables was literally around the corner, with a big covered arena to work in. She let me stay as long as I wanted and only charged me for the half hour, and sometimes I'd be there for two hours, just hanging out and talking and riding around the arena. I finally had my fix to my horsey longings, and I looked forward to my lessons every week.  I even went in on the weekend to help her out and muck out the stalls. Yes, I am so horse obsessed that I enjoyed mucking out the stalls!



I learned some important things about horses. They're big - bigger than you think until you're up close to them, or on top of them. Riding is a lot higher up than it seems - and yes, I did fall off to test that distance. Horses can be unpredictable and spook and test your balance and ability to stay on them. They can also have fun horsey personalities that test your balance and ability to stay on them :) But they are also wonderful, and warm and there's something really amazing about sitting on one, even just sitting still and having that connection with this huge animal.I enjoyed getting to lessons early and brushing the horses out, and if the horse I rode was already brushed out or working in the arena, I'd go brush out some other horse. It's just fun to be with a horse.


The real downside is that everyone I know who is involved in horses has stories to tell about horrible accidents they've had with them. After my riding teacher moved I hadn't heard from her in awhile so I got in touch and found out a horse at the new barn had tripped over his own feet while she was riding around the arena and fell on her, crushing her leg and leaving her laid up for months. Another friend's horse got spooked by someone using a leaf blower, and he spun around and kicked her in the stomach, resulting in emergency surgery. Another friend had been kicked in the jaw and had permanent scars from having her jaw wired shut while it healed. It seemed everyone I talked to about horses had a story like that, but they were all very upbeat about it. It happens, they would say. It's not the horses fault. I did something to cause it, I should have known better, I should have seen that coming. Getting seriously injured or being hospitalized or bedridden for a few weeks or months could be financially devastating. I decided riding horses was fun, but not worth the risk to our family and all we've worked so hard for. I sold my riding boots and helmet, and wrote off horses forever.

Well, sort of.

I still have that longing for a horse of my own. It's the future I saw when we bought our three acres of beautiful pasture. I've had llamas, goats, and sheep, but I still have that itch for a horse. Of course, there's another thing I didn't see when we bought our acreage, and that is that it is very wet. Part of the main pasture is unusable all winter because the swale runs through and floods it. The rest of it gets muddy easily. Even the sheep made muddy paths in the pasture during the rains last spring. A big horse would destroy it. I've seen my friend's horses beat the path to the barn into such a swamp of mud that they sink in it up to their knees. I can't have that. Without thousands of dollars in investment in making a proper winter yard for them, I don't think I could keep horses here.

Not a big horse anyway...


This is my friend's miniature horse.



She is a neat size. Standing next to her I can comfortably lay my hand on her back. She is a rescue. Who could have abandoned such a beautiful girl?


My friend warned me she can have a pony attitude, but I think she's just cute as can be. I went over to visit her a couple times and give her scratches. I think this might be the perfect size horse for me. Unlikely to seriously hurt anyone. Small enough she wouldn't turn our pastures to mud pits. Less horse to feed. Could be happy with the small shelter we built for the llamas. Just as much personality as the big horses.

What can you do with a miniature horse? How about this?




It's all just dreams right now, maybe someday I'll finally have a horse of my own. I just wasn't sure how until I met a miniature horse. Now that sounds like a good idea for the future. Something to work towards. Until then at least I can go visit my friend's horse and enjoy her company.

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