Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What gets me through the Winter

Being the 'jack-of-all-trades' that I am, one of my many interests is bird watching. I have two 'bird buffets' in my yard, both with multiple feeders hanging from them and homemade squirrel baffles. I keep my birdbath thawed through the winter with a water defroster made especially for birdbaths. I even have a "Mother Nature's Monitor" (seen here), so I can listen in to all the sounds outside, when it's cold.
What really does help me feel better about the blah's of winter is this little bird... the Dark Eyed Junco (pictured is the male). They spend the summer up north in the Yukon and northern Canada, but make their way to 'warmer' climes in the fall. They'll be here for several months, then one day in March or April, they'll be gone. They are members of the sparrow family and are ground feeders, preferring to forage for seeds, etc. They are very unaggressive and usually will flock together in groups of 6 to ten or so. Females look like males, except they are a little more gray, rather than charcoal like the male.
I guess I think these birds are cute. They hop around on the ground, making dark spots on the snow with their bodies. They're just nice to see and watch. So, that sort of helps me through the winter, it's something I can look forward to because of the cold weather, not in spite of it. If it didn't get cold, they wouldn't be here, so I appreciate the cold.... just a little bit. And they make me feel happy.
Hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday and has a great time with family and friends!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Slouching Away From Prosperity: Dan's Perspective

A blogger I follow, Herrick Kimball - the Deliberate Agrarian, recently posted some thoughts about the effect of the current economic situation on the world of pro sports. Another blogger followed up with some thoughts that included not only sports, but actors as well.
Here's the low down. You see, none of the people in our country are gonna make it if the current landslide continues. Sports, movies, or any other entertainment that relies on corporate sponsorship to keep it up and running. Here's why:
Of course all of NASCAR is corporate sponsored. I mean, look at their cars, they're rolling billboards, for crying out loud. Football teams, baseball, basketball, golf, tennis... they all get corporate sponsorship. Now, companies are beginning to hurt, there just isn't as much extra money going around for them to throw at these things, so they begin to pull out. As a result, events get cancelled, or at least aren't aired on the boob-tube (tv), the fans get frustrated and everything goes to pot. Movies are about the same. It takes a lot of money to make a movie, and many actors are just so WAY stupid over-paid (like their sporting counterparts), it isn't funny. Many of them could run a small nation on what they make for one movie. Fortunately, I'm not red-neck enough for NASCAR woes to bother me any.
I've never been a sport fan. That's not to say that I hate or loathe sports. I have been known to enjoy a day at the baseball game (Indianapolis Indians - minor league). But when you're actually at the game, you don't have to watch the game if you get bored. You can laugh at the drunk making a fool of himself three rows down. That said, my motto has always been "Football fields were made for band practice". So the potential demise of sports franchises doesn't really bother me. As a matter of fact, there have been some years that I've deliberately kept myself ignorant of the names of the teams playing in that greatest of sporting worship services, the Superbowl. Last year, I couldn't have cared less that the Colts won. And that's nearly heresy living here in Terre Haute, where the big boys come to camp each summer. (Yeah, that's a lot of fun... a whole month of nonsense).
Movies, I like. But not enough to be all upset if they slow down making them. It's been more than six months since I went to a movie, and that was "Prince Caspian". They're in the theater such a short time now anyway, it's like you'd have to go every week to see them all, if there were actually that many worth seeing - which there aren't. Fact is, I usually rent movies, and rarely a movie that I've not seen before, or at least heard good reviews for. So, I wouldn't be hurt if Brad, or Tom, or Angelina, or Julia, or George... couldn't afford their bazillion dollar house in the hills (if it hasn't burned down yet). I don't begrudge them their lives. But excess in anything is never good - we call it gluttony.
I've always kind of resented professional athletes for their often money grubbing ways, threatening to strike if they don't get so many more millions, etc. Actors and actresses that make millions per movie, for what? Play acting! And some of them not that well. Yes, you can argue that each of them, athletes or actors, have taken their skills to a higher level and should be compensated in kind. But at what expense? What about America's educators? I home school, but I still think that teachers should be paid a lot more for their work. There's just no arguing that. What about the homeless shelters and free clinics that take care of thousands of poor and needy every year? Some of those places barely keep their doors open. What about ministries and organizations STILL working to rebuild homes and lives after Hurricane Katrina, and now in Texas after this summer's hurricane?
Here's an idea.... How about we make a rule that caps the salary of all actors and athletes (of whatever flavor you like) at $1 million a year. I think that's being pretty doggone generous. If they want more money to live on, they can go get a job in the off season and work like the rest of us. Any money they generate over that goes to charity. Yes, that's way oversimplified, but you get my meaning.
So what will Americans do if their favorite team isn't on tv each week (sorry Keetha and Greg)? Some may go back to other forms of entertainment - bootlegging, cock-fighting... eh, maybe not. But perhaps more people will discover the library. Maybe folks will decide to learn a new craft, plant a garden, spend time with family... Well, that's probably being too hopeful. I'm sure the TV gurus will find more inane blather to fill the time with. But I can hope.
For anyone offended and wonder just what I do for fun... I read books, garden, knit, cook, preserve food, listen to music, and watch movies from time to time. On a less frequent basis, I go camping and hiking, fishing, and spend time outdoors. I'm not saying we shouldn't have pro sports or movies, not saying that at all. But there's just too much real living to do to pay someone else to watch them do it for me. If I wanted sports, I could go play a pick-up game myself.
I suppose the summary of all of this is: Everything in moderation. What does it say about us as a nation that the potential for the economy to really hurt pro sports makes us so upset?
To read the original posts, go here, or here. As an aside, I know the pic at the top of the page is from Norway. But I thought it just looked funny... NASCARs sliding down a ski slope.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I am NOT encouraged!

Ok, 9:00 a.m on November 21st and the temp is 21 degrees. It's gone up two degrees in the past 20 minutes or so.

Anyone that knows me very well will know that I HATE WINTER! I hate being cold. I'd rather deal with being hot in the summer than being cold in the winter. That's just me.

A good friend in Michigan, up above Traverse City, said he's got 4 inches of snow on the ground with 6 to 8 more by weekend. Yeah, ok, but I don't exactly live in northern Michigan, do I?

We had some pretty good snow flurries last night, as well as a few on Monday morning. I doubt we get anything significant before January, but still. I haven't seen flurries this early in the year since the snow of Halloween '89 (remember that? - Melora was a senior in HS and she, her sister and a friend went trick-or-treating as carolers).

Ok, yeah, I like snow for Christmas, though around here that seems to be more the exception than the rule, which makes it really special when it happens. I remember actually praying for snow on Christmas as a kid. But after January 1, that white stuff is just not welcome. Sure, kids love it, and a nice, clean blanket of the stuff is pretty for awhile. Then people drive on it. It turns to slush (if it doesn't freeze again), it gets blackish-gray and it's just gross. I say we skip winter and go straight from Fall to Spring. I know, I know... there's too many seeds and plants that need a hard freeze to germinate and grow. I'm just saying...

I will tell you this. About two or three months ago... back when it was still nice and warm and sunny out... I was in the back yard doing something (don't remember what) and I had this funny thought race through my mind: "Blizzard. We're due for a blizzard." And I could see the yard full of snow. Made me a little worried actually. I barely remember the big one of '78. Snow drift up to the top of my swing set in the back yard. Let's hope it wasn't a premonition I had.

All that, and I still have leaves to rake. Silly Silver Maples and Bradford Pear took forever to shed leaves.

Stay warm, my friends!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NOT for the Squeemish!

Today, thanks to some home school friends, Audrey and Eric Beachy, I had the awesome experience of learning how to butcher a chicken! So be warned, this isn't gonna be pretty!

I got to their house at around 8:20 a.m. and accompanied Eric to the hen house. After looking over the flock, he and his kids caught the few birds they were going to keep. The others, we took by the legs and carried to the edge of the garden... where waited a board with two nails sticking up about an inch apart. Each bird, in turn, was held by the legs and wings and their head placed between the nails. Then the axe. Quick. Done. I even used the axe quite deftly. Below is what is left, after the birds bleed out, which was done while we held them, so they wouldn't run all over in their 'death throws'. I warned you, it isn't pretty!
Next came the part that most people really hate. The scalding and plucking. For the 'farm challenged' among my small readership, scalding a bird in hot water helps relax the skin so that the feathers come out nice and easy. Usually there are some small, almost hairlike, feathers left that you burn off by passing the bird over a small flame. Unfortunately, these birds are in the process of molting and had numerous pin-feathers that we had to scrape off with the back of a knife. Grossed out yet? Here's a pic of Eric dipping a bird in the water before plucking.
After that, it gets messy. Yes, chicken butchery is as smelly as you've been told. I almost lost it once, but I bucked up and just backed away from 'the bucket' a bit. This was the tricky part. Eric had to show me how he wanted the birds cut up and how to gut them. I've cut up a chicken before, but I've never gutted one. So that was a really new experience. Let me tell you, not pretty. Put simply... gall bladder bile is very green indeed, and the gizzard is an incredibly tough, muscular organ - it's amazing. I also saw undeveloped eggs, which was pretty cool.
In all, we butchered 7 birds: 2 roosters and 5 hens. Below is a photo of the chickens we left to cluck and scratch another day. The rooster in front is an Austrolorp/Phoenix cross, five hens, and one itty-bitty little peep. See it there behind the brown Buff Orpington? The little whitish spot....
So... would I ever do this again? Yes, I would. Why on Earth would a person do all of that? Well, there's something to be said for knowing where your food came from. Knowing that it lived a healthy, happy life, full of sunshine, fresh grass, lots of juicy bugs... for a chicken, that's a good life. No antibiotics or hormones either.

Before I went over today, I had had little interaction with Eric, who is a doctor. But through the course of the day, I found a man who is something of a kindred spirit. He gardens, raises chickens, is thinking about goats, just planted a bunch of fruit trees yesterday... He's a homesteader. On top of that, he's a father of four, a husband, and a committed Christian. We had a very good day working together and talking about life, homeschooling, parenting, animals, gardening, bees, property... oh, just everything that came to mind. It was really a blessing to me to be able to spend a large part of the day there. So I'm thankful.

Oh, and about a half hour before I left, Ethan, the 8 year old son, shot and killed a squirrel with his dad's .22. That was his second squirrel. I understand it takes about two to make a good pot pie. But, since I was there, and it had to be done anyway, I got to watch as Eric cleaned the squirrel, so I learned that too. Melora about gagged when I mentioned the thought of hunting squirrel. She says they're rodents and she just can't do it. Sigh. Oh well.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Knitting the throw

Sheesh. I read somewhere (from another male blogger I think) that every piece you knit should teach you something. Well aint that the truth!?!

I had to undo about five rows of knitting on my afghan because I had about 10 stitches in a row that were backward (of all things) and there was a hole about two rows below that where I'd evidently dropped a stitch. Fixed that, then discovered another hole two rows below where I was knitting. I was able to fix that without undoing anything. Yeah, I'm learning. It won't be too pretty when it's done, so I think we'll just keep this one.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I have more to say than I originally thought!

Well, just an update on life.

There's been a rash of sinus infections going around the town here lately. Neighbors, friends, and family all have had it. And this one seems to be ugly, it hangs on for several weeks. My sister is currently under the weather, significantly, with pneumonia and has been getting sicker, leading up to this current bout, for a few weeks. I caught the sinus infection and still have remnants, three weeks on now. It moved to my chest a couple of weeks ago and I STILL can hear myself wheezing in the night. I've been taking Xopenex that we got for my son last year. I only take it when I need it. It's a nebulizer med and it works. Of course, that indicates that I have asthma. So I wake up in the morning and cough up all sorts of happiness. Yech.

On another note... If something doesn't change, I'm only gonna have one kid left come Spring, cause I'm a gonna knock at least two of 'em in the head! And it's only November. They get kinda antsy, teasing each other, tormenting... gets on my nerves BAD. I didn't have siblings young enough, or close enough in age to have this experience with, so it's new to me. And it's making me crazy. Which leads me to the following.

There's a man at our church that has two grown sons. I've been praying for a long time for a mentor, someone that can help me along this pathway of fatherhood. This man is well spoken of - very well spoken of. I'm told his relationship with his sons is very good and he's quite a godly man. PLUS he has a dairy farm! How awesome would that be? He runs a grass-fed production, which is what I hope to do someday with my milk cow. So not only could he help me be a better dad, but boy could I learn a lot. His extended family hails from Switzerland and he's been over there to visit distant relatives. Anyway, he has a real dairy operation... they make cheese, butter, etc. It's goooood stuff. I was hoping to get to his place and help him make cheese, but my schedule just won't coincide. My plan was to spend the time with him, get to know him a little, then ask him to consider being a mentor. But now I think I'm just gonna drop him an email and lay it out and ask him that way. Nothing else is working out. We'll see how that goes.

Today was a busy day. In addition to doing school with Anna, I put up some veggies. Yesterday was the last delivery of the season for our CSA (consumer supported agriculture) group. We got a head of cabbage, carrots, celery, potatoes, cauliflower, parsley, turnips, and celeriac (it smells just like celery, but it's a root like a carrot). Not only do I have my box of veggies, but there were three more not picked up. Anything left is mine to keep, and I usually end up with an extra box every week or so. Anyway, we split our share with a friend, so she gets a whole box and I get one, plus two of the others. So, I cleaned, cut, blanched, and froze celery (yuck, Baldwin food service ruined Melora and I on that stuff - celery salad sandwiches), cauliflower, carrots, turnips, and celeriac. I'm dehydrating the three bunches of parsley. We had a bunch of potatoes from previous drops. I've put them all in a cardboard box with newspaper around them to 'cellar' them for the winter in the garage. We'll see how that goes. I did the same thing with 9 heads of cabbage. Yeah, we're eating it. I cut up a head a week ago or so and cooked it up with green beans and some ham bits. It was good. I feel like such a real homesteader, it's just really rewarding.

I also am making meals stretch. I bought a small ham loaf last week and baked it with cloves, honey and pineapple. What we didn't eat I froze. It was only one of those small loaf things, but I used some for a batch of ham salad for lunch Monday. I made ham and cheese quiche tonight (love that), and I still have a portion to use later, probably in the crock pot with pinto beans. My kids'll eat just about anything. Four meals from one nine dollar ham! I also bought two roaster chickens at KMart on sale a couple of weeks ago and made one. We don't eat a whole chicken, ever. So I cut the second breast off and froze it and will use it in stir-fry tomorrow night. The rest of it went into a pot and cooked down into broth and meat. It also had onions, garlic, and rosemary which it was originally stuffed and baked with. It'll make some yummy chicken and noodles. Also, don't ever throw out that last tablespoon or two of veggies that nobody eats at dinner. Collect it all in a freezer bag and, when the bag is filled, put it in a pot, add water or broth, herbs, etc. and you've got some great veggie soup. Or add meat to it if you want. THEN you can throw out what doesn't get eaten.

And finally, I just (literally) got a phone call from a man I met through the home school co-op. He's a doctor, has four kids. They have chickens and he's gonna butcher some. I told his wife two Monday's ago that I wanted to learn how to do all that and would love to help. She told her husband and he just called and set up the time and date. I get to help kill chickens. I'm so excited! Now how crazy is that? I'm so easily entertained, huh? But really, it's a skill I will need some day. Just like cleaning fish, which I learned to do this summer.

You know, all this said, I used to feel kinda badly because I'm such a 'Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none'. I know a little about a lot of things. Have some experience with a lot of things, but don't master anything. That used to get me down. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that just maybe God made me that way so I'd be cut out for homesteading and do it relatively well. I'm finding some solace in that.

I'm homesteading in suburbia. Have a great rest of the week!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

And now for something different...

Well, the past week or so, there were two days where, if one were to look closely, one would see a man, in a house, washing windows. Yes, in fact, it does happen. I even remember my dad doing it from time to time.

My own experience is a matter of necessity. You see, about half of the windows in our house are newer, tilt-in, double-hung windows. I clean them once a year (yeah, ok, so I should do it twice a year, but like you do it that often!!!) in the fall to clean off all the crud from the year so I can see out them during the winter. Why in the fall? Well, I have a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder and winter is a real downer for me. So I need all the sunlight and clear view I can get.

The other windows in the house are old. I have to remove screens and put in storm windows. The job was made more difficult this year by the fact that the storm windows had about 13 inches of dried mud on them from where they sat in the garage during our flood this past June. So I had to get the hose out, in the cold weather, and wash them off. BUT, after several hours of diligent work on Saturday, all the storm windows are in and we're closed up for the winter. Only our large picture window needs cleaning inside and out to finally be done.

As an aside, I happened to break one of the storm windows in the process. I had kept the old storm window from the bathroom window that we'd replaced several years ago, and I got to thinking... long story short, I replaced the broken pane with the old window, and only had to cut a strip of glass off one end to make it fit right. I was quite proud of myself!

And now for something different....

I knit! Yes, it's true. I've joined the growing number of men in the world that take up the sticks and work em like magic. Actually men have been knitters for eons and even had guilds in England back in the day. I picked up the hobby last winter with hopes of one day making myself some sweaters and socks. Those items are a little tricky to start out with, so I'm taking it easy for my first effort. Last winter, I basically just made a couple of pot holders as I learned the garter stitch, stockinette stitch, and purl stitch. I started out trying my hand at some of those stitches again this year and decided finally to quit putzing around and actually make something....

So here it is. An afghan I found on the Lion Brand Yarn website ( I went to JoAnne's and bought my yarn and appropriately sized knitting needles, rushed home, and cast on.
It's not going to be a huge blanket or anything, but it'll be cozy. The yarn I have is actually called 'Claret'. Pictured is the color 'Cilantro'. I'll be sure and take pictures to share later on. Here's hoping I don't get screwed up and really mess it up. But at least it's a project and it thrusts me into the world of 'real knitters'. Yee-haw!

Special thanks to Joel B. for showing me how to peel an orange using a spoon, way back in college. It just came in handy with the kids.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Today I went to a free, public seminar at the West Terre Haute branch of the Vigo County Public Library. This diminutive building was the setting for the kitzchy (how DO you spell that word?), monthly meetings they call "Coffee Thursday", complete with coffee and cookies. The wife and kids tagged along, because they thought they might do some school whilst I was in my meeting. However, never having been to that particular branch, we didn't realize that this would be near impossible. The meeting took place right out in the open and there isn't any other space or rooms... so there was talking and noise. Remember, I used the word "diminutive". Not much school got done there.

The seminar was on beekeeping. The speakers were an older couple that have been beekeepers for two years. They had 12 hives, but this past summer, a flock of barn swallows ate the bees of 6 1/2 of their hives as they left the hive to forage. Bummer.

I can't say that I learned a whole lot more than I already knew about bees. Oh, some little tidbits and facts I learned, but not too much more that was useful and helpful. One or two bits of info, is all. But it was still fun and entertaining, sitting there with a group of old women and one mom with her infant and young daughter.

I went to this "Coffee Thursday" because I do want to try my hand at beekeeping some day. Papaw did it when I was a kid, and I use honey in my bread baking, and in sweetening tea, etc. We also put it on cereal, etc.

It's very healthy for you you, honey is. If you buy honey produced within 50 miles of where you live, it'll help your allergies a lot. It's a natural antiseptic and can help heal wounds. It's just an amazing thing. Honeybees weren't native to North America and had to be imported to pollinate fruit trees brought from Europe. The first captive hives came to America in 1640.

A bee may travel as far as 3 miles from home to collect nectar and pollen. Each bee only produces 1/12 teaspoon of honey in it's short 40 (or so) day life. And, a bee could fly around the world on two tablespoons of honey! Isn't that just amazing?! The average hive, at the height of the honey season, may contain 60 to 80 thousand bees, with upwards of 100,000 not being impossible. A hive usually loses some members during the winter and starts the nectar season with somewhere in the neighborhood of only 40,000 bees. A queen can lay up to 1,500 eggs a day, lives for up to five years, mates with up to 8 males, on one nuptial flight, and, because of her size and job of egg laying, does absolutely nothing for herself. She is fed, cleaned, cared for, and her waste removed by attendant nurse bees.

Anyway, I may try to find a mentor next Spring to show me the ropes and give me the ins and outs of beekeeping, first-hand.

As a point of interest, I usually buy a 5# jar of unpasteurized honey for $14.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day After Election '08

May God, out of a heart of compassion for His children, have mercy on this nation.

'Nuff said.