Monday, April 30, 2012

DIY Rabbit Hutch

John has been a getting-things-done kind of guy lately.  And, though, he wouldn't consider himself very efficient when it comes to building things, he's definitely been beefing up on his experience lately.  Case in point -- during a recent garage re-organization, he diagnosed a problem we were having with all the bicycles and scooters cluttering up the garage.  He went inside, looked up a plan for a bike rack, and built one the next day.  Problem solved!

Now, Cocoa Puff wintered in the garage in her metal cage.  But, once things warmed up a bit, she was ready for some more permanent digs on the back porch.  We looked around at various pre-fab models, but none of them were exactly what we wanted.  So, John set out to build a solution -- this time without plans to guide him.

I think the finished product is great!  It gets her up to eye level.  There's enough space between the metal cage and the wooden frame to allow for plywood inserts on the back and sides in the colder months to block the wind.

A pull-out poo-catching tray makes it easy to clean and keeps her from getting messy.

We painted the top board with chalkboard paint so that we could add her name.

She seems really happy with her new set-up.  And, I'm happy that my favorite of our farm animals (shh!  don't tell my kids . . . or the other animals) is getting to enjoy the fresh air from such a nice custom-designed space.  :)

Also, currently under construction is the meat chicken tractor.  I'll post some pics of it as soon as my expert-builder husband has it complete!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

There Are Goats in My Backyard!

Yep, the gang's all here.  This afternoon, our wonderful breeder dropped off our small Nubian herd, and we got to introduce them all to their new home.
This is Razz, our milker, with Izzy, her doeling.  (Girl 1 named Izzy; Razz came to us already named.)

Here we have Honey, who we will get to milk next year.  (Little Boy chose "Honey," and it's turned out to be quite a fitting name so far.  She is so sweet.  She sticks pretty close by when you're in the pen, looking for some lovin'.)

This is the little wether that Girl 2 named Dallas.

Here, Girl 2 is bottle-feeding  Copper (who you guys helped us name!)

Isn't he just adorable?  He claimed the rock as his territory early on . . .

 . . . because he loved to show off his jumping skills!

Copper made the rock look like so much fun that Dallas soon wanted a spot atop the rock, and we had a little head-butting going on.

Razz on our milking stand for the first time

Our first pail of milk!

They all seem to be doing very well.  I love that they are gentle and friendly enough that the kids can just run around the pen with them.  Copper, the youngest one had been kept apart from the herd at the breeder's farm, so today, his first day with the group, they were shunning him a bit.  Hopefully, they'll all come around and include him more soon.  Maybe his stellar jumping will win them over.  :)

Razz wasn't too sure about the milking stand and kicked the pail a time or two before she finally settled into it.  My favorite pair of Toms may smell of sour milk tomorrow.  Oh, well.  John and I both took turns with the first milking.  He is definitely better at it than I am right now, but learning how to do all of this is going to be a lot of fun!

Backyard Berry Pie

I beat Little Boy outside today, so I was able to actually gather some berries before he helped himself to a backyard snack.  Victory!  It's time to make some pie!  Remember my post about my recipe organization book?  Only a handful of recipes get a 5 watermelon rating.  THIS is one of them!  It's such a simple pie, but I love it.  It reminds me of summer and my mom (2 very wonderful things!). 

You'll need the following:
1 Pillsbury Pie Crust (the rolled-up kind)
1 c. sugar
3 Tbs. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
1 c. water
3 Tbs. White Karo syrup
3-4 Tbs. Strawberry Jell-O

Bake the pie crust according to package directions.  (If you want to make your kids super happy, reserve any leftover strips of crust dough, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, and bake along with your crust.  My momma used to do this for us when I was growing up, and my kids seem to enjoy it just as much as I did.)  Allow pie crust to cool.

Combine the next 5 ingredients and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and stir in the Jell-O.  Allow to cool then add clean, hulled berries.  Stir to coat.

Pour mixture into cooled crust.  Allow to set-up in the refrigerator for a few hours.  Top with Cool Whip, if desired.  (I prefer mine plain.)  Enjoy!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Chick Update

The chicks have been here over a week now and are doing great.  They are growing quickly and getting their true feathers, little by little.
This little guy thought he was really cool, ruling the roost from atop his feeder, until he realized he didn't know how to get down. 

The Buff Orpington's are so cute!  But, since they're to be my future dinner, I'm trying not to get too attached.

Thanks so some advice from a friend (you know who you are ;), we've switched from newspaper and paper towels to a paper-lined floor topped with pine shavings.  It seems to be working much better and the smell is not nearly as noticeable.  Thanks, dear friend!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ready or Not, Here We Go!

The goats are set to arrive Saturday.  We've been anticipating their arrival for months now.  Because of kidding and weaning, we've had to wait until now for their arrival.  All that wait time has translated into uber-preparedness.  I mean, seriously, just check out this view of the milking room.  Yes, look at those bins -- my love affair with the label-maker continues (please don't tell my slow cooker ;).  Also pictured here are the freshly painted walls, milking stand John built, newly installed shelf, shop light for working after dark, and refurbished old stool that carries with it a bit of nostalgia.  After all this waiting, it's hard to believe we're so close!  I can almost taste that milk!

In the weeks leading up to my turning 16, I used to just sit in my car in the driveway listening to music.  I could hardly wait to be able to actually drive it without an adult in the car with me.  I think we've all got a bit of that going on about the goats.  Here, Girl 1 is just sitting on the milking stool, getting a feel for things.  And, last night, we all just kind of hung out in the goat shed, talking mostly, but also doing a few last minute things to prep the space.

 I was so proud of Girl 2 for working so diligently and not goofing off. 
Then, I saw all the pine shaving she'd thrown in Girl 1's hair.  Oh, well.  We're having fun, and that's a huge part of what all this is about anyway.  :)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm Back, Baby!

If you read this blog for its homestead-related posts, you may just want to x-out and check back tomorrow.  This one is definitely on a more personal note. 

Last February, I ran a 10K on my treadmill for the first time.  It felt great!  I'd run several 5K races, had a PR that I thought was respectable, and was ready to kick it up a notch and try out a 10K.  But, as soon as I stepped off the treadmill I knew that something wasn't right; by bedtime, I couldn't even walk.  The pain in my hip was searing. 
Over the next several months, the pain fluctuated between uncomfortable and unbearable as doctors were perplexed by my condition. 

I wasn't prepared for how much I would miss running.  I'd run track in high school and hated it.  Funny, right?  My track team was actually really good (we won state three years in a row).  Looking back, I've got to give the coaches credit; they really knew what they were doing.  Every basketball player was required to run track in the spring.  It kept us players in shape during the off-season and ensured that we had a track team well-stocked with athletes.  But, I ran grudgingly at times. 

And, then, after my injury, once I physically couldn't run anymore, it was all I wanted to do.  John and I had taken it back up together some time earlier and it was an activity that we could do together.  We'd have some of our best conversations running around the local track in the dark; and one of my favorite runs was a 5K race we ran in the pouring-down rain crossing the finishline together.  I also missed the runs I ran alone, weaving my way through quiet neighborhoods before anyone was stirring and the only sounds were those provided by the nature around me.  God and I got to spend some quality time together on those kind of runs.  And, I confess, I'm a bit competitive.  I loved setting new PRs in races.  For awhile, I'd even get online and check the results of races I'd run in the past to see how I would've placed if I'd been there.  Pathetic, I know.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with a labral tear in my hip that required surgery to repair the cartilage and carve out the abnormal bone structure that had led to the tear.

Further complicating this diagnosis was the benign tumor in the same region that had been discovered during the numerous MRIs I'd had done.  If the tumor wasn't stabilized, I'd be at risk of breaking my hip doing just  everyday activities.

So, I was scheduled to have the labral repair surgery in November, followed by the insertion of the giant screws pictured above in December to stabilize the bone.  2 surgeries in 2 months. 

By mid-January, I was walking again, thanks to lots of physical therapy.
By mid-February, I was allowed to pick up my 2-year-old son again.

And, now, by mid-April, I'm running again.  Yep.  I'm 2 weeks in to the Couch to 5 K program that gets you ready to run a 5K in 8 weeks.  Don't worry.  I'm not signing up for any races just yet; I know there could be major setbacks, and I may not ever make it to Week 8.  But, for now, I'm loving every footfall. 

The inspirational quote on my C25K app today was from Walt Disney: "It's kind of fun to do the impossible."
I realize that my running again is not impossible.  I realize that people who've been through much worse than me are able to run again.  I've seen awe-inspiring photos in my Runner's World magazine of runners with prosthetic limbs crossing finish lines.  But, look at that photo at the top of this post again.  That is some serious hardware I'm hauling with me! 

Saturday, I set out for a run through a back neighborhood in town.  People were mowing, planting, chatting with neighbors.  Dogs joined me for short stretches.  I saw a woodpecker doing its thing and smelled the distinct scents of various flowers in bloom.  And, it was all set to the steady beat of my feet hitting the pavement.  It was heavenly.  I think I must have said "thank you, God!" 50 times during that run!  It's just so good to be back on the road.

So, if you live around here and see me out on the open road, please smile and wave.  You'll know me by my out-of-practice gait and goofy grin.  I'm just so happy to be doing it!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Getting Crafty

From building a pen, to painting the inside and outside of their shed, to carefully selecting, stacking, and filling their food bins, to taking the kids to the store to pick out their collars (and so much more) -- we've done a lot to prepare for our goats' arrival this weekend. 
But, with all of that done, there's nothing left to do but wait.

But, I don't do "idle" very well.  So, I decided that since their shed looks so nice now that it's been freshly painted, it deserves a little decor.  I found this sign online for $32 (click image to see it on Amazon) and decided to use it as my inspiration.  Honestly, I like my finished product even better! 
The challenge, of course, is to create a new sign that looks old.  To do this, I combined several techniques I read about on various other blogs and Pinterest.

1.  I started with this piece of plywood which used to be a part of our rabbit pen, but has since made its way to the trash pile because my amazing hubby has built Cocoa Puff a great new hutch (that's a future blog post).

2.  I knew I wanted to distress the wood, so I painted it a dark brown (leftover from our kitchen update a couple years ago) first so that that would peek through later on. 
3.  Then, I topped the dark brown with a red (leftover from our chicken tractor).

4. I chose a font and printed out the lettering.
5.  Once I had an idea of where the lettering would go, I used a yardstick to draw guidelines for where I would paint the white border.

6.  I painted the white border with paint leftover from painting the garden boxes. 
7.  Once it was dry, I laid out the letters and traced over the edges with a ball point pen, bearing down hard so as to create an indentation in the wood.

If you look closely, you should be able to see the indentation left behind by the ballpoint pen through the paper. 

8.  Paint the lettering.  I do not have a very steady hand, but the indentation in the wood creates a kind of well that keeps the paint from spilling over out of the lines.  This method really worked great! 

At this point, the sign is finished in its "new" form, but I wanted to beat it up a bit.

9.  This is definitely the most fun part.  Using sandpaper, I just went to town on it.  This allows the dark brown and even the wood beneath it to peek through.

See how the corner reveals the bright young wood underneath, giving it away as a new piece? 

10.  I used some wood stain (leftover from my recent rocking chair update) to age all the spots where the wood was showing through.  I applied it with a brush then wiped away excess with a rag.  See how the corner now has a darker, more weathered look?

A closer look at a heavily distressed part of the sign

The can on the left is the Bombay Mahogany Satin stain I used. 

11.  Then, using the polyurethane in the can on the right, I coated the entire finished product to protect my perfectly-weathered sign from actually getting weathered. ;)  I did actually have to buy the polyurethane.  As the only thing I had to buy to complete the project, I was able to do the whole sign project for $6.00.
Here's a look at the finished product.
And here it is hanging on the wall of the goat shed.

I hope the goats will appreciate their decor. ;)

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Rabbit On a Leash?

Okay.  It may  not be conventional, but isn't it cute?  Cocoa Puff has basically lived her life in a cage.  Since she was rescued from the snake's buffet cart at the pet store, she's enjoyed lots of fresh air and really enjoys her "playpen" in the backyard where she can munch the grass and weeds. 
But . . . you know how you walk outside in the early morning and startle a little bunny who was enjoying her breakfast in your garden, and then she scampers off so fast you're almost not sure you really saw her?  Poor little Cocoa Puff has never really had a chance to scurry about and stretch her legs.  Since she's gotten so enormous since she's been here, we thought she could use some exercise and checked into getting her a harness and leash.  And what better time to test it out than when we're keeping our nieces for the weekend and are looking for ways to entertain them?  I mean, what's more entertaining than watching a rabbit as she takes her maiden voyage around the yard, with a 4-year-old in tow?

This little harness is made especially for small critters like guinea pigs, rabbits, and ferrets.  It has a stretchy cord for the leash so that there's never too much tension on their fragile bodies.  I told the kids as they were "walking" her that she gets to be the leader.  We don't pull her; we follow her.

And, boy, did she run/hop!  Imagine the song playing in the background as she bounds through the backyard for the first time ever:
 "Born free, as free as the wind blows,
As free as the grass grows
Born free to follow your heart!"

How To Crack an Egg

I know, I know. . . It seems like a pretty basic thing, but I just learned a new technique that has saved me tons of time spent egg-shell-fishing-out over the past week.  Seriously, since I read this little tidbit, I've only fished out one shell (and considering that I've probably cracked 2 dozen eggs so far this week, that's a big deal!)

Here's what you do . . .

Hold the egg so that your fingers are on the ends of the egg. Tap the side of the egg firmly on the countertop (not the side of the bowl).  The tap should be firm enough to create a little crushed, flattened portion on the side but not so firm that the inside of the egg is exposed yet.  Then, over the bowl, use your fingers to break the egg apart. 

Supposedly, cracking it on the countertop (or other flat surface) rather than the edge of the bowl (or sink) keeps the internal membrane intact and keeps small shell shards from breaking free.  Who knew? 

(This tip made its way to me via my Real Simple magazine.  Love it! :)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day, everyone!  This is the day set aside to celebrate the beautiful earth God has entrusted to our care.  On this day, millions of people will join in the celebration by committing to do acts of green.  The  most popular act of green commitment is switching from standard to CFL lightbulbs.  We went on a hunt and found one standard bulb in this fan upstairs that we could switch out (wouldn't you know, it was already burned out!).  We do still have a few standard decorative bulbs in our bathrooms, but otherwise, I think we're entirely switched over now.

Also, we walked to church today.  We do this nearly every Sunday as it is right next door.  In fact, the kids think it's really funny when we drive to church on rainy days.  When we get to the end of the driveway in the car, John announces, "Okay, kids, we're going to church."  Then, about 3 seconds later, as we turn into the church parking lot, "Okay, kids, we're at church!"  It's a joke that never grows old.  They crack up every time!

Another act of green that we committed to do is to eat more local food.  It hardly gets more local than your own backyard!  This, our root box, has the most things in it right now.

Here's what the garden looks like today.  Lots of things are now in and growing. 

How have you shown kindness to our earth today?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Drumroll, Please . . .

The results are in.  The readers have spoken.  So, I'm proud to introduce to you our little buckling named . . .

Thanks so much to those who voted.  Thanks especially to Mrs. Rhonda Woods who submitted the winning name.  It was fun for us to watch the votes and cheer on our favorites.  And, don't feel badly for the members of our family whose favorites didn't win.  We're getting 5 goats, after all.  And, only one of them is coming to us named!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Strawberry Butter: A Healthier Version of an Old Favorite

It's Bald Knob Strawberry time!  I pulled over when I saw the sign and thought I'd pick up a quart to take home to the kids.  But, then I walked in . . . and they had a fan blowing across the top of the berries . . . and filling the air with their heavenly aroma.  And before I really had time to convince myself it was more berries than I knew what to do with, I was at the register checking out with my whole flat of berries. 

So, it was time to make some jam.  But, most strawberry jam recipes use nearly as much sugar as berries.  I set off in search of a healthier option and came across this recipe that uses honey as its sweetener.  Yum! 
Here's what you need:
6 c. sliced strawberries
2 boxes (1.75 oz each) powdered pectin
1.75 c. honey
2 Tbs. lemon juice

First, clean and slice your berries.  Then, feed your strawberry hulls to the chickens and watch the chaos!

Back inside, combine your berries and pectin in a large saucepan and crush berries to blend completely. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.   

Stir in honey and lemon juice; return to a rolling boil.  Boil hard for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  (Do not turn away from the stove long enough to put the empty honey measuring cup in the sink.  That's apparently how long it takes for the sticky, gooey mess to boil over onto the stove and floor.  Trust me. I learned this the hard way.)

Remove from heat.  Skim off foam.  Ladle into clean, hot canning jars to within 1/4 inch of tops.  Seal according to jar manufacturer's directions.  Place jars in boiling water bath with boiling water 2 inches above jar tops.  Process for 10 minutes.  Remove jars from water and allow to cool away from drafts for 12 hours.  Test lids for proper seal before storing.

I'm calling this recipe Strawberry Butter because it's more similiar in consistency to a butter than a jam, jelly, or preserve.  I doubled the recipe and made just under 7 pints; then, once I'd had a chance to try it and deem it yummy, I doubled the recipe again and made 7 more!.  I love that it's all-natural and not loaded with sugar.  Enjoy!