Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Death: Just the Other Side of Life?

We had more chicken death here in our little backyard farm today.  But, this death wasn't intentional.  Usually, when John moves the chicken tractor, the chickens, who've grown accustomed to the routine, move right along with him, eager to discover their fresh ground.  Today, however, as John moved the tractor in the rain, one of the chickens failed to scurry along with the rest and found herself underneath the weight of the tractor.  Besides crushing her internal organs, it also pulled off a foot, and she had to be put out of her misery quickly.  John and I were both pretty shaken up about it.

The chicken was a Dominique (perhaps the black and white one pictured here).
The incident reminded me of a section of The Dirty Life I read recently:
"I had a boyfriend once who liked to gamble, and I'd ride on the back of his motorcycle through the Holland Tunnel and along the Jersey coast to Atlantic City.  Sitting at the table, watching the cards being dealt, I heard a man say that the difference between an amateur and a pro is that the pro doesn't have an emotional reaction to losing anymore. It's just the other side of winning.  I guess I'm a farmer now, because I'm used to loss like this, to death of all kinds, and to rot.  It's just the other side of life.  It is your first big horse and all he meant to you, and it is also his bones and skin breaking down in the compost pile, almost ready to be spread on the fields."

I guess by this definition, I am not a farmer yet.  I'm not accustomed to death of any kind.  When my zucchini vines grew so frail that they were no longer worth the water I was putting on them each morning, I mourned the loss even as I uprooted them and drug them to the compost pile.  And, when I slit the throat of my first meat chicken, I had to take a few cleansing breaths and fight the urge to close my eyes as I made the cut.  

Still, today was somehow different.  Worse still than all of those other deaths.  This chicken wasn't intended to be meat.  She was intended to be a part of our laying flock -- a pet, really.  The way she died was not a part of our plan.  The fact that clouds of "what-could-I-have-done-differently?" and "it-wasn't-supposed-to-happen-like-this" are following us around today is evidence that we haven't yet become accustomed to the death that is inevitable in this new lifestyle of ours. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Stay-cation Project

This week, John is off work, and we're going to celebrate by having a week-long stay-cation!  While we do intend to have some fun (we'll definitely be visiting our favorite animals in Memphis:), we also have one big project we're hoping to cross off the list this week.
As is the case with any good project, this one is intended to be a solution to a problem. 

The problems are actually two-fold:

Problem #1-  Copper, who I'd like to think is still an adorable little buckling, is growing up on us.  And, he has begun to pester the ladies in some ways that we're not ready for until mating season later in the fall.  So, he and his buddy Dallas have been quarantined.  For now, that means that they are living in the old dog pen with a tarp for shade.  It's fine for a short time, but they need more space and grass and weeds to eat, so it's a temporary solution.  In fact, there will be other times (e.g. birthing and weaning) when we'll need a way to separate the goats, so we need a better space in which to do that.

When we had the back field fenced, we had a 1,000 sq. ft. area sectioned off in one corner to serve this purpose.  But, goats are finicky about getting wet, and they need a way to get some shade on these super hot days.  So . . . we need to build a shelter for the new buck pen area.

Problem #2:  The giant fenced-in field has no shelter for the goats.  We turn them out everyday, but if it starts to rain, we have to run out and let them back into the yard where they can find some shelter.  Also, in the early morning hours, shade is hard to come by in the field.  So . . . we need to build a shelter in the field.

Rather than build 2 separate shelters, we've decided to build just one building that spans the fence separating the buck pen from the rest of the field.  Half of the building will provide shelter for the bucks while the other half provides shelter for the goats in the main field. 

Stay tuned for our progress!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fruity Chicken Salad Sandwiches

So, I've still got some shredded, cooked chicken in the fridge from the first of our backyard chickens to makes its way to the table.  Determined that this animal not have given its life in vain (it's interesting how slaughtering the chicken yourself will make you much less willing to let the leftovers go bad in the fridge), I sought to find a good recipe for a chicken salad for my lunch plate.  As I'm a sucker for a fruity chicken salad (a la Arby's), I was thrilled to find this recipe, which was just too yummy not to share.
Throw the following into a bowl:
1 c. cooked, shredded chicken
2/3 c. seedless grapes, halved
1 large peach, chopped (about 3/4 c.)
1 medium stalk celery, diced (about 1/2 c.)
1 tsp. chopped fresh or 1/2 tsp. dried mint

Then mix your dressing:
1/3 c. fat-free yogurt
2 Tbs. fat-free mayonnaise

Start by just adding 1/2 the dressing to the salad.  Then, add more to reach the desired consistency.  Chill for 30 minutes or so.  My ingredients were already chilled, so I didn't chill the salad.  It was excellent, but I suspect the mint flavor would've been more present if the flavors had had some fridge time to meld.  (John likes to mock me for how I like to give my cooking flavors time to "meld," but I really do think there's something to it.)

Slap that salad onto some toasted whole-grain bread, add some Veggie Straws (or your favorite chip), and you've got one delicious lunch!

Now, seems like as good a time as any to confess my latest addiction.  I just realized that my Veggie Straw obsession had reached the point of addiction when at the store this week I went ahead and bought a bag even though I already had 1 1/2 bags in the pantry at home.  Why?  "Just in case."  In case of what?  The zombie apocalypse my high school students used to warn me about?  Anyway, if you haven't had a chance to try them, you really should.  (If you don't like them, feel free to deposit the remainder of your bag on my front porch.)  On your local grocery store chip aisle, look up high (very high -- so high that I, a very tall gal, have to stand tippy-toe to reach them) near the other specialty/healthy chips.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Another Member of the Herd

Which of these things doesn't belong?

Apparently Dexter thinks he's a goat.  Let's not tell him otherwise; it'll be our little secret.  I think he'd be so disappointed.

He's small enough to squeeze under the gate separating our backyard from our goat field, so he spends much of the day grazing and napping with the rest of the herd.

(These pics aren't great because they're taken from the kitchen window.  If I go out, Dexter runs to the door to greet me, ruining the goat/dog combo pic.)

Dexter and Razz are apparently having an ongoing battle for Herd Queen.  They love to head-butt one another.  Because Razz is our milker and has her big udders to contend with, she's our slowest moving goat, so Dexter torments her by ducking and bobbing and circling, driving her absolutely crazy!  They do this every morning when the goats are first turned out to the field.  Eventually, they settle down and are friends for the rest of the day.

Friday, July 27, 2012

"Nobody Ever Gets Killed at Our House"

I'll be the first to admit that there are several things about our family that make us weird.  Of course there are nicer ways to say it.  We're eccentric or unique.  But, let's just call it what it is.  I won't enumerate these items that set us apart, but I will say that one of the biggies has got to be that we do not own a television. 

Like most big changes we make in our lives, this one was made gradually.  We didn't wake up one day and throw out the Tivo and haul our flatscreens to the curb.  We just gradually watched less and less.  Then, we were just using our giant dinosaur of a television to watch the occasional DVD and figured we could just as easily watch it on our computer. At that point, the only good reason I could think of for keeping it around was so that our kids wouldn't get mocked at school for being weird.  I love my kids, and they may hate me for this, but I've decided I want them to be weird.  In my nearly 10 years as a teacher, I've encounterd a lot of teenagers.  And, believe me, normal is pretty scary.  So, out went the TV.  This left us kind of scratching our heads when it came to how to arrange the living room.  What were we supposed to point the furniture at? 

Now, that's not to say that we don't still watch a show on occasion.  We do have a computer that we can pop a DVD into, or pull up the feed for the FC Dallas game, or watch a commercial-free PBS show via Netflix.  But, ALL of our viewing is intentional.  We never plop down on the couch with a remote and wonder what might be on.  If we plop down, it's to watch a particular thing, and lately we really don't plop down very often.  We stay pretty busy around here.  And, we read a lot in the evenings, too. 

Consider this quote by Barbara Kingsolver (have I mentioned that I love Barbara Kingsolver?):

"The advantages of raising kids without commercial TV seem obvious, and yet I know plenty of parents who express dismay as their children demand sugar-frosted sugar for breakfast, then expensive name-brand clothing, then the right to dress up as hookers not for Halloween but for school.  Hello?  Anyone who feels powerless against the screaming voice of materialistic youth culture should remember that power comes out of those two little holes in the wall.  The plug is detachable.  Human young are not born with the knowledge that wearing somebody's name in huge letters on a T-shirt is a thrilling privilege for which they should pay eighty dollars. It takes years of careful instruction to arrive at that piece of logic."
I do find that my kids are SUPER sensitive to advertising.  And, I sometimes wonder whether that may be because they've not had a chance to become numb to it.  I know that even when kids aren't actively "wanting" what the commercial is advertising, they're still receiving messages about what it means to be cool, what they need to be happy, or what success looks like.  But, my kids haven't gotten a chance to reach the passive indoctrination phase.  Once, when the kids were watching TV while at a relative's house, they came running into the room telling me how much I needed the wallet that they'd just seen advertised.  "Mom, you can even run over it with your car, and it won't break!"

But the messages received from the ads are not my greatest concern.  I worry that the content of the shows that are frequently on even during the daytime may desensitize my kiddos to violence, egocentrism, crude language, etc.  In Jodo Picoult's novel 19 Minutes, a teen who's a serious player of violent video games shoots up his high school.  The connection she's trying to make is obvious . . . and worrisome. 

More Kingsolver: 

"'Nobody ever gets killed at our house,' begins a song by Charlie King, and it continues with a litany of other horrors-- 'no one gets shot at, run over, or stabbed, / nobody goes up in flames" -- that you'd surely agree you wouldn't want to see in your house, either, until you realize he's discussing what routinely happens on the screen that most people happily host in their living rooms.  Maybe you have one in yours, and maybe you don't, but I'm with Charlie.  People are very rarely getting killed at our house, and I'm trying to keep it that way."

Trying is definitely the key word.  It is a constant battle, especially now, when it's nearly too hot outside to play during daylight hours  . . . and the kids need some way to burn that pent up energy so they just start picking on each other relentlously.  We've been heading to the pool a lot because they're happy there, and it's a way to burn some energy without getting too hot.  But on days when we can't make it to the pool?  It sure is tempting to let them turn on a Netflix show and just zone out (peacefully) for a few minutes . . . or hours.  Shielding them from excessive TV and encouraging them to live actively rather than passively is a battle I'm determined to fight, though, for all of our sakes.  I guess they might spend their adult lives on the sofa, mindlessly making up for lost time.  But, I prefer to think they'll thank me one day.  :)

Thoughts?  Comments?  Have you made similar efforts yourself?  As always, I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

As Promised . . . Southwestern Chopped Chicken Salad

I realized something about myself today.  I love getting to set the table like this . . .
 . . . with a bowl in the center of the placemat.  More than likely, if the bowl is at the center, then the meal was probably pretty simple to put together.  It may even be a one-pot meal. Think about it -- you may fill a dinner plate with a meat from the grill, a side dish or two from the stove top, a bread from the oven, and a salad from the fridge.  That's a lot of juggling during meal prep time.  But, if the bowl is at the center, the meal is probably a soup or dinner salad and not much else is involved.

Which means that during the usually harried 4:00-5:00 hour, there can be a lot more general silliness, like this.  We were actually playing cards, but Girl 2 wanted us to make silly faces.  Somehow she looks more gangster than silly-little-girl, but, oh, well. 

So, when you're looking for something fresh and super easy to get to the table, try this: 
Southwest Chopped Chicken Salad

Throw all of the following into a big serving bowl:

2 c. shredded chicken (this was our first meal with our own backyard chicken!)
1 bell pepper, diced
1 can or 1 c. black beans (I used leftovers from last night's Spicy Black Bean Soup)
1 can or 1 c. sweet yellow corn
2 Roma-sized tomatoes, diced
4 green onions, sliced
1 head lettuce (whatever variety you like) chopped
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped

Mix up your dressing:
1/2 c. mayonnaise
2/3 c. Greek yogurt (or, in our case, goat milk yogurt)
1 Tbs. Ranch seasoning
1 Tbs. taco seasoning

Start by adding 1/2 your dressing to the salad mix.  Then, you can add more to achieve the desired consistency.  Top with some crushed tortilla chips for serving.

The pic above was of the salad dressed.

It's actually even prettier naked, don't you think? ;)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Backyard Chicken Broth

Backyard Chicken Broth . . . No, the broth is not made in a pot in the backyard.  The chicken used to make the broth, however, was raised there.  Yep, those chickens that we slaughtered on Saturday, that had been lined up in the refrigerator like little, um, chickens all in a row have now come out of their state of rigor and are ready to be frozen or eaten.

On slaughter day, as John was rinsing an already processed chicken with the hose, he said that he was playing a sappy movie-like montage of the chickens' lives through his mind:  we order them online and eagerly await their arrival . . .  they come in a tiny little box to our local post office, chirping away . . . we care for them diligently in the garage as they are too small and frail to live outside, Girl 2 handling them with such care . . . they grow big enough to move into the big tractor in the yard and are absolutely giddy with their fresh grass . . . they grow big enough that we can tell hens from roosters . . . the roosters begin stealing from us our precious hours of sleep as they crow at all hours . . . those roosters are skinned and disemboweled and being cleaned off by the garden hose.

That montage cannot be complete, though, until those chickens have made their way to our bellies.  So, I was very excited to finally have our backyard chicken make its way to the kitchen today.
I began by making a big pot of broth.  You know, its broth, so precise measurements are not really necessary.  A good cook will probably tell you that he/she just throws in a little of this and a little of that.  I, however, grow uncomfortable at the thought of cooking without precise measurements and would just about keel over without at least an ingredient list.  So for those of you who like a more concrete approach, here's what I threw into the stock pot:

the chicken, of course
minced garlic
carrots, in 2" pieces
onions, quartered
celery, in 2" pieces
a bay leaf

Then, I added water until the chicken was covered.  On the stove, simmer covered for an hour, skimming off any foam.  Then. remove the chicken, allow to cool enough to handle, pick the chicken clean of meat and toss the bones back into the broth. Cook on low (Crock Pot could be handy here) for another 1-3 hours.  Strain broth through colander and/or cheesecloth.  Store in the refrigerator for a week or so or freeze in baggies or process in mason jars for later use.

I immediately threw 6 c. of broth into the Crock Pot to make Spicy Black Bean Soup for tonight. I know that seems a bit out of season, but we love it.  And, I thought that a soup would be a good test of how well the broth had turned out, as broth is kind of the main event in a soup.

The meat I picked off the bones today will go into tomorrow night's dinner, Southwest Chopped Chicken Salad.  (I could've sworn I'd already posted about this salad, but I can't seem to find it, so it'll probably be tomorrow's post.  Be sure to check back,  it's a great salad!  Unless, of course, I did already post it and you read about it then.  If that's the case, please send me a link.  :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Soap Trial and Error

Over the past several months, I've tried my hand at several different soaps.  Some have turned out better than others.  (The supposedly rose-scented soap that turned out to smell of licorice comes to mind, for example.)  Today, my little helper and I tried out a new recipe that I'm hoping will be a success.  It uses goat milk yogurt (which I always have plenty of) in combination with oils that are less expensive and more readily available than some that I've had to special order in the past.  If this recipe turns out to be as luxurious as I hope it will be, it'll be a good one for us to sell. 
Notice the gloves and goggles.  We play it safe when dealing with lye!

Now comes the hard part -- the 4-week-long wait before we get to test out a bar!

Monday, July 23, 2012

After Slaughter, Then What?

First, slaughter and processing.  Then, packaging and storing. 

On Saturday, after we'd slaughtered, skinned, and eviscerated the chickens, we put them into a covered pot of warm, salty water until the last one was finished.  This just kept the chickens clean while we processed the others.  Once inside, we rinsed then patted them all dry.  We placed each chicken into its own freezer storage bag (specially designed for freezing home-slaughtered chicken and ordered from our hatchery) and tied it up.  The chickens are currently spending the requisite 2-3 days in the refrigerator until rigor subsides.  Once we can easily move the legs around (like you can with ones you buy at the store), we can either cook or freeze them.  I was hoping to be able to throw one into the stock pot today, but, alas, the rigor continues. Maybe tomorrow.  I'll try to be patient.  :)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Chicken Butchering Day!

The day has finally arrived!  These 4 roosters have kept us from sleeping countless hours over the past month, since they've started crowing.  Last night, they kept John from sleeping as he contemplated what we'd be doing come dawn.  This was going to be a big deal to us.  We were going to slaughter animals in our own backyard, and we wanted to be sure to do it right.

(In case you're concerned about scrolling down further, let me say that, out of respect for the birds we raised to feed us, this post does not include any mid-process photos.  It does, however, contain some descriptions that you may find disturbing.)
We moved the 4 biggest roosters out of the chicken tractor and into a temporary holding pen (they'd been without food since yesterday to be sure that their digestive systems were mostly clean).

They said goodbye to their fellow chickens.  (Don't think it was a sentimental goodbye, though.  These 4 have been pecking at and otherwise pestering the others for quite some time.)

John moved their temporary holding pen to the part of the yard where we'd set up our processing stuff (somehow I didn't get a picture of the table and other supplies) then used the wheelbarrow and plastic tub to block their view of the processing table.  :)

This is a restraining cone.  The chicken is placed head-down into the cone.  This stabilizes the bird as you make the killing cut and allows him to bleed out into a bucket below.  We strove to use the most humane killing method possible.  Once the chicken was restrained in the cone, one quick slice of the jugular started the bleeding out process.  Immediately following that cut, we made a quick puncture (through the mouth) directly into the brain.  This puncture essentially ends the consciousness of the bird, so he no longer feels pain.  It was obvious that the puncture worked because, following it, the bird would immediately close his eyes.



This post is not intended to be a step-by-step demonstration of how we processed the chicken, so I won't go into great detail.  We did opt to skin them, though, rather than pluck the feathers, so the process was much quicker and required less equipment than other home-processing methods. 

You may have many questions about this backyard chicken processing, but I know enough to anticipate two of them:
1.  "Ashley, did you actually take part in this process?"  Yes, I've told you before that I can do most anything with gloves on.  There's just something about the distance gloves create for me.  Yes, I did make a kill cut myself.  And, yes, it was difficult.  Taking a knife to an animal's throat and ending its life is not an easy thing to do.  I will definitely look differently now at every cut of meat that makes its way to my plate.  That slice to the jugular was definitely the hardest part of the whole thing for me.  Once the chicken was dead, it seemed to me to have morphed from animal to food, and that made it much easier to skin and clean.

2.  "Were the kids around?  What were their thoughts about it all?"  Yes, they were in the backyard with us through a lot of the process.  They were interested to see the chicken head in the trashcan and the feathers.  Surprisingly, they did not seem disgusted by it in the least.  Thankfully, none of them were around, though, when the biggest, wildest chicken kicked himself so strongly that he knocked the slaughter cone down off the fence and proceeded to run wild around the yard . . . headless.

"All of us sooner or later must learn to look our food in the face.  If we're willing to eat an animal, it's probably only responsible to accept the truth of its living provenance rather than pretending it's a 'product' from a frozen-foods shelf with its gizzard in a paper envelope."  -- Barbara Kingsolver

 It seems that today was our day to "look our food in the face."  We've had a bunch of animals living in our care for a while now, but somehow this day seems to mark a turning point.  We now feel "all-in" when it comes to this homesteading stuff.  We'd been unsure about whether or not we'd be able to do this whole meat processing thing.  It seems that, yes, we can do it.  And, it was not nearly as awful as we'd feared. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

July's Giveaway Winner Is . . .

Gina Myers!

Congratulations, Gina!  I hope you'll enjoy it.  I greatly enjoyed the suggestions from everyone regarding school lunches.  I've begun compiling my list of lunch options for the girls to pick from.  Hopefully, it'll keep things fresh for at least a couple months.  And, of course, I'll have to be sure to include those handwritten notes that make lunches so special!

Friday, July 20, 2012

There is no better lesson in commitment than the cow.

I'm reading a chick-lit-meets-farming-memoir right now by Kristin Kimball titled The Dirty Life.  It's a good book because it does two things:  it makes me laugh out loud and it rings so true.  Take this section about a cow, for example.  If you sub in "goat" everytime she says "cow," I couldn't agree more!

There is no better lesson in commitment than the cow.  Her udder knows no exceptions or excuses.  She must be milked or she'll suffer from her own fullness and then she'll get sick or dry up.  Morning and evening, on holidays, in good weather and in bad, from the day she gives birth to her calf until the day ten months later when you dry her off, your cow is the frame in which you must fit your days, the twelve-hour tether beyond which you may no longer travel.

And look at this sweet face!  Who wouldn't look forward to seeing it each morning -- even if it is at 5:30AM.  :)

Don't forget to comment on Monday's post by the end of the day today to be entered into the drawing for The Backyard Homestead.  I've had very few comments, so your odds of winning are pretty good!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Media Fasting

I've never been much of a news monger.  And lately, as I've been spending more and more time in our backyard, I've been extremely cut-off from the goings on of the world.  In fact, the other day, John was reading me an excerpt from an article about a recent fundraiser for Mitt Romney, and I remarked, "So, I guess that means Romney won the Republican nomination.  I forget this is an election year."  I know that sounds ridiculous, but I'm seriously that disconnected! 

We don't own a television, so I'm not watching any news.  We get a local paper, which I use for the grocery sales papers.  I rarely listen to the radio.  The bloggers I read are much more into heirloom tomatoes than pop culture or politics.  In fact, one blogger at Root Simple, recently wrote an article describing his year of intentional media fasting:
"At the beginning of my media fast, I was concerned that I would somehow lose touch with reality, with important details of what's going on in the world.  In fact, some news does reach me, filtered through conversations with friends and family.   . . . But the torrent of irrelevant details on the scandals, murders, wars, and political intrigue of modern life no longer cross the threshold of my consciousness.

"Yes, as citizens of whatever country we find ourselves in, we have a duty to be engaged in political change.  But I believe that most of us are better off focusing on politics at the local level where our voices can actually make a difference."

I acknowledge that it isn't advisable for everyone to live this way.  In fact, if my husband weren't so news literate, I might not feel comfortable being so illiterate myself.  But, as it is, I trust that if something were seriously important he would let me know about it.  And, admittedly, to cut myself off from daily news isn't a challenge for me.  When I was still teaching AP Language to high schoolers, it would've been irresponsible of me to cut myself off like this.  After all, my students depended on me to prepare them for the current events essay section of their exam.  But, unlike my husband, who pores over a plethora of political musings on his iPad each evening, I found it work to stay abreast of things.  Thankfully, the chickens and goats seem to be as apolitical as I am, so they're just fine with my being so out of the loop.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm no hermit.   I've not cut myself off from fellow bloggers who inform my decisions and workings on our little farm.  I have subscriptions to Runner's WorldAdoptive Family, Real Simple, and Mother Earth News, all of which I find captivating.  I've not cut myself off from Facebook, which allows me to communicate with friends and family.  But, the love life of Katie Holmes (I'm pretty sure I saw her face on a tabloid in the checkout line today) doesn't take up any of my mental energy.
Just this week, as I was contemplating (in the wake of the Romney realization) just how disconnected I am, I decided to pick up the local paper and have a little read.  The first article I saw described how a teen who was being held on suspicion of murder of another teen had hung himself with a bedsheet in his jail cell.   

And Philippians 4:8 came quickly to mind:
"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise."

I think I could've done without that news story.  Without clutter like that, I find that my world is much more peaceful and more full.  My mind is more filled with the things that immediately concern me or that I can do something about.  I'm able to expend more mental energy in praise of God and His workings and less in worry and fear.  It's during my morning runs that I do most of my undisturbed thinking.  And it's then that I've noticed how much lighter I seem to be lately.  I can think through issues our family is dealing with, the things I need to get accomplished, and spend some time in prayer for those who I love most.   But, I don't get bogged down in thought during my runs.  I find that I'm pretty clear-headed without all the other junk occupying my mind.

Yes, there are definitely times when I feel completely lost in a conversation.  The Bachelorette, who's she?  When a news topic arises while I am among family and friends, though I can't contribute, I can take the opportunity to listen (something I should probably do more anyway).  

Could a media fast (even a short trial one) benefit you, too?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sleeping in the Guest Room

I've never been a violent person.  I've even sent my son to timeout recently for holding his fingers like a gun and pointing them at the cat.  But, I admit, when these dad-gum adolescent roosters finally figured out how to properly crow and began doing so at 4:00am every day, I started graphically envisioning their slaughter day.  Because of the heat, John has them positioned in the yard so that they'll get some shade during the hottest part of the day.   Unfortunately, that shade is provided by our house, specifically, our bedroom.  So, that 4:00am crowing is happening right outside our bedroom window.  We've actually started sleeping in the guest room (again).  But, hopefully, this will all come to an end this weekend. We've ordered the last of the supplies we'll need for butchering day, and, if they arrive in time, we'll be butchering our first round of chickens (definitely including those roosters) Saturday!

Don't forget to comment on Monday's post in order to get entered into the drawing for your very own copy of The Backyard Homestead!  You have until Friday to comment.  :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen

From the Amazon book description:  In 2000, Daniel Suelo left his life savings-all thirty dollars of it-in a phone booth. He has lived without money-and with a newfound sense of freedom and security-ever since.
The Man Who Quit Money is an account of how one man learned to live, sanely and happily, without earning, receiving, or spending a single cent. Suelo doesn't pay taxes, or accept food stamps or welfare. He lives in caves in the Utah canyonlands, forages wild foods and gourmet discards. He no longer even carries an I.D. Yet he manages to amply fulfill not only the basic human needs-for shelter, food, and warmth-but, to an enviable degree, the universal desires for companionship, purpose, and spiritual engagement. In retracing the surprising path and guiding philosophy that led Suelo into this way of life, Sundeen raises provocative and riveting questions about the decisions we all make, by default or by design, about how we live-and how we might live better.

To say that I enjoyed this book would be an understatement.  I'd recommend it to anyone.  I will warn you, though, that it will challenge you.  So, if you're quite complacent with the way you view the world and its workings, you may just want to avoid this one.  So, if you don't run out and buy it, at least humor me and check out the excepts below.  These are from the final portion of the book wherein Sundeen ponders what it is we Americans have to learn from folks like Suelo.

The author is writing about his own journey and recalling when he began reusing baggies and carrying reusable bags with him to the grocery store . . .

But here was the problem:  although these actions made sense, they didn't make me feel any less anxious, or more free.  How many times have I stood at the kitchen sink paralyzed by a plastic baggie?  If it were clean, having held, say, a sandwich, I'd simply rinse and resuse it.  But this one is smeared with mustard and rancid cheese and even a bit of mold.  My instinct is to throw it away.  But as we have learned, there is not such place as "away."  This plastic bag, if it doesn't end up clogging the intestines of some albatross or dolphin, will swirl at sea for decades, and even after it breaks down into tiny pieces, it will never fully decompose:  its toxic petrochemicals will haunt us forever.

But then I think:  That's ridiculous.  It's just one baggie.  And the washing of it will not only be a singularly unpleasant use of my time, but won't I be using precious water to wash it?  And burning natural gas to heat that water.  Not to mention the resource depletion and damage represented by the soap.  And by now I've already wasted five rminutes thinking about this, time that could have been better spent picking up plastic bags along the river. 

So I chuck the thing in the trash, but the next day at breakfast it's still there, peering up at me accusingly.  And the gears of my mind spin. Eventually, one day in the future, I'm going to need a plastic sandwich baggie.  And when I do, I'm going to buy a box of them, thus giviny my hard-earned money to the Ziploc corporation, or whoever, who doubtlessly engages in all sorts of toxic practices to manufacture these things -- I imagine a factory spewing brown sludge into a river, somewhere in the Rust Belt, or maybe China.  And I'll also be enabling my box of baggies to be hauled across the nation on gas-guzzling trucks that grind up the taxpayer-funded highways, which carve through the habitat of grizzles and moose and antelope, driving them toward extinction, and so on. 

Finally, I had to ask a therapist about this, and he said, "Why don't you try going outside and growing something?"

I guess I love this excerpt so much because I've experienced this "baggie moment" myself.  In fact, in moments like this, I almost envy those who've never given a second-thought to the environment or the impact their choices make on it.  But, what I love here is how the therapist redirects that "guilt" and asks him to do something about it.  Because it's true, when I carry my reusable bags to the grocery store and see the bazillion plastic bags being loaded full of groceries in every other checkout lane, I wonder how much of a difference I can really be making.  But, when I plant my garden, I know I'm doing something positive.  And, it directly impacts me and my entirely family.

And for all of you who are engaging in the struggle:

This whole project of changing the world is hard work.  And as much as we seek a balance, straddling the line between individualism and community isn't a recipe for freedom.  It's the opposite.  When you try to balance the anxiety of maintaining wealth (savings, mortgages, insurance) with the anxiety of being an ethical person (eating local food, lunching with hobos, reusing baggies, withholding taxes), you don't free yourself from either.  You end up with twice the anxiety. It's sort of like going on a diet.  Unless you're willing to go all in -- run six miles a day and eat only fish and broccoli -- you'll never have those sculpted abs you see in magazines.  But neither will you have the unabashed joy of scarfing double-frosted chocolate cake.  Instead you nibble away at half a piece, your enjoyment negated by your guilt that you couldn't refuse it altogether.

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's Giveaway Time!

For something a little different this month, I thought we'd do a book giveaway!  I will warn you, though, that before I read this book, I had a pretty normal-looking backyard containing things like a swingset and miscellaneous toys.  Now, of course, our yard is home to 36 animals and an organic garden.  :)

Here's the book description, straight from Amazon:
Put your backyard to work! Enjoy fresher, organic, better-tasting food all the time. The solution is as close as your own backyard. Grow the vegetables and fruits your family loves; keep bees; raise chickens, goats, or even a cow. The Backyard Homestead shows you how it's done. And when the harvest is in, you'll learn how to cook, preserve, cure, brew, or pickle the fruits of your labor.

From a quarter of an acre, you can harvest 1,400 eggs, 50 pounds of wheat, 60 pounds of fruit, 2,000 pounds of vegetables, 280 pounds of pork, 75 pounds of nuts.
Even if you don't intend to turn your backyard into a barnyard, this book still makes very interesting reading or, at the very least, a great Christmas gift for that slightly crunchy relative on your list.  So, ready to get entered into the drawing?
As you know, I use these contests as a way to get info from you, my dear readers.  :) Right now, I'm trying to get geared up for school lunches (it'll be back-to-school time before we know it).  Last year, I let the kids eat the cafeteria lunch way too often.  This year, I'd like to limit it to just once per week, so that I can monitor the foods they're eating most days and be sure that they're as healthy as I'd like.  The only problem is that I need a pretty good arsenal of ideas built up so that I can keep things exciting for the girls.  So, to be entered into this month's drawing, please comment on this post and give me a good, easy, healthy lunch idea that I can add to my list of lunch choices.  Easy, right?  You have until Friday to post a comment and be entered into the drawing!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Getting Crafty: Children's Art Display Frames

Until this week, I've been going through a bit of a crafting drought.  I guess I've just been so busy with having all three kids home all day and caring for the little farm we've got going on in the backyard that inside fun projects have slowed tremendously.  But, this past week, I made two dresses and completed these frames, so I feel like I've got my crafting groove back.  :)
I started with these 3 old frames found on the cheap at a local flea market.

I dismantled them and painted them to look distressed using paint I already had on hand and the same paint method I used for our Farm Fresh Milk sign.

Then, I glued some pretty fabric to the backing board (1/2 yard was sufficient for all 3 frames), put it back into the frames, and glued these bulldog clips to the fabric.

Then, I hung them and displayed some of the kids' recent artwork.  They were so proud of their framed work!

For those who are familiar with the layout of our house, this shows where the frames are in relation to everything else, next to the mudroom-type bench near the garage and backdoor.

Thanks, Pinterest, for the idea!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Forks Over Knives

I've been really enjoying some of the food/farming related documentaries available on Netflix's instant viewing.  Two that I've enjoyed are Forks Over Knives and Fresh (if you, like me, can't seem to get enough of good 'ole Joel Salatin, be sure to check out the latter :). 

But, I thought I'd share with you a couple of tidbits I gleaned from my viewing of the former.  

-- Americans are carrying an average of 23 extra pounds.

-- 40% of us are obese.

-- The average American consumes 147 lbs. of sugar per year.

--  1 in 3 people will be diagnosed with diabetes at some point during their lifetime.

These are staggering statistics.  The movie also provides a unique look at why we're facing this health crisis in the US.  And, interestingly, it doesn't place the blame on the individual.  In fact, the movie claims that we the people are the victims.  I'm not going to give it away though.  Just watch the movie.  ;)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Araucana: a Stand-out Chicken!

When we first brought home our flock of hens, we had a total of 8, a pair of each of 4 different breeds.  Then, our Araucana's were not my favorites.  Sure, they were pretty enough, but they were very timid.  I much preferred the Australorps that would greet me when I came with treats and let me pet them.  Also, the Araucana's were prone to lay "floor eggs," or eggs laid in places other than the nesting box, which I found annoying. 
Now, that our flock has dwindled to 4, though, the Araucanas have won me over. For one thing, they're both still kickin', which leads me to believe that they are pretty tough and heat-tolerant.  Also, while the other two hens have basically decided to just lay off the laying of eggs during this horrible heat, the Araucanas are still going strong.

It's easy to tell their eggs from the others.  Araucanas are frequently called "Easter-eggers" because of their beautiful blue/green eggs.  Martha Stuart, who really likes this breed herself, even named a paint color after that exquisite shade of blue!
So, if you're in the market for a new chicken breed, this one is definitely worth a look!

Oh, and it's watermelon season around here in the home of the world's sweetest melons!  And, our chickens are loving the opportunity to pick those rinds clean!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pasta Salad with Salami and Mozzarella

This cool, summer salad is a staple at our table, especially during this season when cherry tomatoes are plentiful.  It's delicious and has the added bonus of being one of the only dinner salads that our kids will eat (I think it's the salami that makes it so appealing; Girl 1 would be a vegetarian but for her love of all things pork!)

To make this salad, mix up the dressing in the bottom of your large serving bowl:
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. white whine vinegar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Then add the rest of your ingredients, toss, and serve!
8 oz. cooked pasta of your choice (we used penne this time, but we've also used gemelli and rotini in the past)
4 c. or so chopped spinach
1-1.5 c. halved cherry tomatoes
4-8 oz. cubed mozzarella (depending on how much cheese you like.  I was actually low on mozzarella, so we cut up string cheese :)
a few slices of sandwich-cut salami, cut into little triangles like pizza slices


Because of the spinach, the salad doesn't keep for long as left-overs once it's been mixed up.  If you think you may not eat it all at dinner, consider mixing it all up without the spinach, putting spinach in the bottom of each serving bowl and topping with the rest of the ingredients.  Keeping the spinach out of the mix ensures that your salad will still taste great at lunch tomorrow. :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Yesterday, God granted us rain!

  It worked out that I was able to do my afternoon, backyard chores during the gentle rain, and it was such a blessing to feel that sweet wetness on my skin!  The garden already looks happier.  I set out to find a prayer in thanksgiving for rain.  My search turned up many prayers requesting rain and not a one specifically thanking God for answering the prayer.  There's a lesson for us in there.
There is rain in those clouds!

Rain drops on our tomatoes

For anyone who may have not yet received their long-awaited rain, here's a beautiful Catholic prayer I found in my search:

O God, in Whom we live and move, and have our being, grant us rain, in due abundance, that, being sufficiently helped with temporal, we may the more confidently seek after eternal gifts. Through Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

And, if you, like us, have experienced that long-awaited end to the drought, maybe you'd like to join with me in this simple prayer of thanksgiving . . .

Thank you, Lord, for the rain you sent in answer to our fervent prayer -- for the salvation it provided parts of your creation.
Thank you that you never stop providing. 
Thank you for keeping us ever mindful of our dependence upon you. 
Thank you for the many lessons you teach us through the workings of your creation, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear you in it.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blossom End Rot

It's officially tomato season at our house, and, oh, how sweet it is!  While it hasn't damaged too many fruits, I have noticed my first case of blossom-end rot since I've started gardening.  It's pretty easy to diagnose blossom-end rot.  Basically, you're dealing with blossom-end rot if the blossom end of your fruit shows signs of, um,  rot.  It's quite an appropriate name, it seems. 
This tomato (picked from a neighbor's garden) looks great from the top.

But, turn it over, and you'll discover that brown, leathery patch of rotted tomato flesh.

I've talked to several local gardeners who are currently experiencing this problem.  It's no surprise, either, since the primary cause of blossom-end rot is insufficient moisture, and we've been how many days/weeks without rain now?

Anyway, for those gardeners who aren't familiar with this condition and are shocked and dismayed by that hideous leathery patch, I've got only good news for you.

It's not a disease; it's a curable disorder.  In other words, there's no need to pull your plant up by the roots and go tomato-less until next year.  
The rot is caused by a lack of calcium reaching the fruit.  Usually, in organic gardens, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the calcium content of the soil itself, and everything to do with the plants not having enough of the calcium-delivery-system -- water.  Besides a lack of moisture, over-fertilization is another frequent cause of blossom-end rot.  According to Rodale's Vegetable Garden Problem Solver, "Applying too much nitrogen fertilizer may cause blossom-end rot by stimulating so much leaf growth that there's too much competition for calcium."   Since my plants are not super bushy, I suspected that my problem stemmed from the drought, but it did seem like the perfect time to try out one of my Mother's Day gifts, a pH soil tester.

According to my tester, our soil pH is just fine at 6.5.  If it measured much lower, it would benefit from the addition of lime. 

If you have some affected fruits currently green on the vine, pluck them off and feed them to the chickens or compost pile.  There's no need to keep them there when new, healthier fruits could make better use of the plant's resources.  If, however, you happen to bring in a ripe tomato that has been affected, just slice off the yucky portion, and use the rest.  While it's not a pretty fruit, worthy of the farmer's market, it should still taste just fine.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Grilled Summer Vegetable Pasta

Okay, yes, there's a zucchini in this photo.  I will say, though, the zucchini plants are really slowing down, so the zucchini recipes may follow suit soon. ;)  There's a lot more than zucchini going on in this one, though.  This pasta was truly delicious! And, it uses a lot of what's in season right now.  In our area, you should be able to get your hands on local, fresh ingredients for this dish at your local farmer's market or watermelon stand. ;)
8 oz. linguine, cooked according to package directions
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/3 c. coarsely chopped basil leaves (don't go with dried here.  It really matters sometimes, and this is one of those times.)
6 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 red bell pepper, quartered
1 zucchini, halved lengthwise
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 oz. chevre (goat) cheese, crumbled
1/3 c. shredded Parmesan cheese

In large bowl, mix tomatoes, basil, 4 Tbs. olive oil, salt, and pepper; set aside (or take a photo, like I did, because it's just so pretty! Or, just periodically sniff it as you go about the rest of the prep work because it just smells so great -- I've been really craving a Caprese salad lately myself!)

Coat eggplant, bell pepper, zucchini, and onion with a mixture of garlic and 2 Tbs. oil and grill over medium heat for 8-12 minutes or until desired tenderness.

Coarsely chop vegetables; add to tomato mixture.  Gently stir in chevre.

Place cooked linguine in the bottom of serving dish, top with vegetable mixture and Parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!  We've made a lot of veggie pastas, but this one has two great things going for it. 
1.  I love basil.  The fresh basil makes this one great.
2. The grilled flavor really adds something nice to the mix.