Sunday, September 30, 2012

Loropetalum: What's Going on Here?

With the drought we had this summer, I'd expect to have plants dying.  But, this I just don't get.  See the very much alive and blooming plant on the left?  And the very much dead and dry plant on the right?
These plants, are Loropetalum, commonly known as Fringe Flower or Chinese Witchhazel.  They were planted at the same time (maybe 5 years ago?) and receive the same amount of water and sunlight.  They are (were) well-established plants that had previously lived up to their claim as low-maintenance plants. 

Beautiful blooming shrub

Dead-as-a-doorknob shrub

So, more experienced gardeners, what's going on here?  Obviously, the situation is beyond the point of asking for suggestions.  But, I'd at least like a little explanation so that I can avoid this problem in the future.

Hmmm.  That sure is a guilty look.  Is there any way Dexter could be culpable in this?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

What's All The Fuss About Fair Trade?

As we learn more and more about how important it is for our environment and our health that we consume more local foods, there are certain food areas that are pushed to the forefront.  For example, must my family give up bananas?  We certainly can't purchase locally-produced ones.  What about coffee?  I really, really don't want to do without my coffee, but I also don't think I'd have much success with cultivating it in my own backyard.  Luckily, there's Free Trade certification to free us of our coffee-consumption guilt.  A more selfless way to consume is as easy as looking for that little label on your next trip to the grocery store. 

According to Fair Trade USA, 5 million men, women, and children in developing countries benefit from the sale of Fair Trade products.  "An item that is Fair Trade certified is produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way:  No children are employed, the environment isn't threatened, the working conditions are safe, and the labor force is justly compensated."  That all sounds pretty good, huh?

So, at the store, look for the Fair Trade certification seal on your coffee, tea, cocoa, spices, honey, and wine.  For a list of brands and products that are Fair Trade certified, visit  If your family is a Keurig family, like ours, check out this list of Keurig coffees that are Fair Trade certified (whew!! Wild Mountain Blueberry made the list!  That's a relief.  I really wouldn't want to give that one up!)
Thank you to Real Simple's October issue for the above statistic and definition of Fair Trade.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Weirdo Egg

Yesterday, I sent Girl 1 out to gather eggs.  "How many?"  I asked her as she came back in the door. 
G1: Five.  There would've been six, but one was broken.
Me:  Broken in the laying box?
G1: Yep.
Me:  And you just left it there?
G1:  Yep.
And then she sauntered off, nonplussed.

Kids.  Sometimes I'd swear this one is 18 rather than 8.

Anyway, I headed out myself to dispose of the broken egg.  You really, really don't want to leave broken eggs in the hen house.  If chickens get a taste of egg and like it (which they often do), you'll have a real problem on your hands as they begin to intentionally break eggs.  Anyway, we've never had a broken egg in the hen house, and I was on the move to quickly dispose of it and avoid any future problems.

This is what I found in the nesting box.

It's a soft, thin-shelled egg.  No wonder it was broken!  A little reading in our trusty  Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens revealed that thin shells are common in a pullet's very first eggs.  It may mean that her little body is not fully geared up for egg production.  It could also be the result of a hereditary defect, imbalanced ration (not the case here), or some type of disease.  Also, "stress induced by fright or excitement can cause a hen to expel an egg before the shell is finished."  The mental image of this one made me laugh out loud! 

Anyway, we'll continue to watch for similar eggs in the future.  Hopefully, it's just a matter of having a young layer.  But, if the eggs continue to be thin-shelled, we'll know we have a larger problem on our hands.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

It's Goat Breeding Season!

It's now officially fall, and that means it's goat breeding season.  I'm so excited!  (Is that weird?)

This is the little guy who's gonna make the magic happen!
"Who, me?"

Here you can see Copper, our buck, standing in front of Razz.  You can really see here how different they are in size.  That seems to make this all the more entertaining as he tries to figure it all out. 

Here you can see how the hair on his back and neck stands up anytime he's near her.

We decided to start by trying to put Razz with Copper, since she's more experienced with this.  Once we're pretty sure that she's been bred, we'll switch her out for Honey and let her have a try.  Honey has never  been bred, but we're hoping all will go well and we'll have two milkers come spring.

Yes, the kids are asking questions about everything that's going on in the backyard.  We're answering those questions honestly as they arise,  in as delicate a way as we can.  So far, they haven't connected any dots between what the animals are up to and how human babies are made.  I'm pretty sure those connections are not far off, though.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Happy Fall!

I'll be the first to admit that I often complain about our climate.  And John knows that whenever he decides he's ready to move to Honduras, I'm game. 

But, one day that I absolutely do NOT complain about having 4 seasons to contend with is the day I put out my fall decor.

I definitely don't go overboard, but I do love to put out some things in the house that signify the season.
Now, isn't this little pumpkin cute?  Thanks for the idea, Pinterest.  It really couldn't be much easier to do.  I just printed out a big B in a font that I liked, taped the paper onto the pumpkin, traced the letter with a ballpoint pen (hard enough to make a slight indention in the skin but not so hard that it punctures it), removed the paper, painted within the indentions with brown paint, and sprayed a quick coat of polyurethane over the finished product to keep the paint from running or fading in the elements.
Also on the front porch, my burlap wreath has a fall look.
You may recognize the fall wreath from this post about how I made the original burlap wreath.  All I had to do to give it a fall look was stick in a scarecrow and a few leaves.

Inside, I love this little grouping on the coffee table.  The harvest corn is in a vase that reads "The Lord Provides," the pumpkin reads "Blessings," and the frame holds a picture of my brood, the most amazing blessings the Lord has provided me.

Here, the driftwood log is wrapped in fall garland, and you can see our Thankful Tree.  Each family member got his/her own set of circles to fill with things we are thankful for.  I bet I don't even have to tell you which circle belongs to whom from the samples below.  ;)

Anybody want to try to guess whose are whose?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Update on Yesterday's Crisis

Here's Dexter in solitary confinement.  He's behaving himself for the most part.  I think the hardest part of the day for him was when he heard us at the bus stop, and he couldn't be there to see the girls off to school. 

We've decided that "innocent until proven guilty" does NOT apply to the farmyard.  We just know our animals too well.  Dex is definitely to blame.

We are still missing 5 chicks.  But, I am amazed by the resiliency of the ones who survived the attack.

As you can see, they're pretty roughed up, but they're all lively and eating and drinking now.

Here you can see the cute little exotic one at the top of the bunch.  I'm glad she survived. 

I was pretty shaken up by the events of yesterday.  Discovering the little helpless chicks strewn about the yard was horrifying and excellent fodder for the awful nightmare I had last night. 

John could tell I was pretty upset and asked me yesterday,  "You do still like this life we're living, right?  Because stuff like this is just part of it."

He's right. Our backyard is so full of life right now.  Milkshake, our new 6-week-old kitten is on our heels constantly; these precious chicks are chirping away.  But with all this life comes death.   Death is, after all, just a part of life.  And, I more than like this life we're living.  I absolutely love it.  And I will take the bad along with the good because the good is just THAT good.  ;)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chick Disaster!

So, this morning, John moved the little chicks from their box in the garage and to the chicken tractor in the backyard.   I was planning to post a happy little blogpost about their smooth transition. 

BUT . . .

I came home this afternoon from running errands and went immediately to the backyard to check on the new kittens and chicks.  I found the chicken tractor EMPTY and could see one chick lying limply in the grass.  I immediately called John who rushed home to help me deal with all this.

Even as I reached for the chick, I assumed it was dead.  But, when I grabbed it, it sprung to life and began chirping frantically.   It was pretty beat up and missing lots of feathers.  I took it back to the tractor, which is when I saw that the chicken wire had been pulled back on one side of the tractor.  I then went on a hunt around the yard and found chicks various places.  The ones in the worst shape were  splayed out in plain sight in the grass.  Others had been able to hunker down in hiding spots, and I found them in the flowerbeds, under the slide, under the kids' red wagon.  All told we were able to find 14 . . . all of them alive for the time being.  That means that 7 are still missing entirely.

We searched everywhere we could think of to look, knowing that if we didn't find them soon and get them back to food and water, they wouldn't have a chance at survival. 

Once back in the tractor (that John repaired) most of the chicks went for the water and food.  One just sat in the corner and rocked itself.  There was a very clear bite mark under one's wing that I wanted to photograph, but they were entirely too shaken up for me to open up the tractor. 

Will they make it?  Don't know. 
And, where are the other seven? 
Maybe they made it out of the yard and off to safety.  That's what I want to believe, anyway. 

So, does "innocent until proven guilty" apply to the farmyard?  If so, I can't lay any blame since I wasn't here all morning. 
So, I can't be sure who's culpable.  I do know that when I walked into the backyard, Dexter didn't come bounding up to me but rather tucked his tail between his legs. 

By the way, you still have until the end of the day to comment and get entered into this month's drawing!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Adorable Solutions for Icky Problems

Picture this: 
It's 5:30 am.  I make my way to the milking shed with pail in hand.  It's completely dark inside the shed.  The pull cord for the light is inside, so I have to blindly enter.  But, as I do so, I can hear the frantic scurrying of little icky mice!   . . . .Everyday.   And everyday, I shiver as I pull the light cord just in time to make out the ends of their tails as they scamper under the walls.  Ugghh. 

I hate mice!

I do not, however, hate these two little solutions that we brought home today.

Aren't they precious?

Their momma is an excellent hunter, so we're hoping for big results.

If Dexter will just leave them alone, we'll be good.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

How Will You Celebrate Rabbit Day?

Happy International Rabbit Day!  What?  You didn't know that it's Rabbit Day?  Well, it is.  It's official (don't believe me?  Look it up!) 

So, for your enjoyment, let's see some pics of our adorable Cocoa Puff! 

If you didn't have time to plan a more elaborate way to celebrate Rabbit Day, I guess looking at pics of this adorable gal can count. 
Isn't she sweet?

She loves her some garden-fresh parsley!

I do love sweet Cocoa Puff.  But, I have a confession to make:  I suffer from rabbit-related guilt. 

One of the things I love about our little backyard farm is that all of the animals that are a part of it are better off for being here.  For example, our goats are not livestock -- they're pets.  I mean Razz got her teats cleaned with wipe straight from the wipes warmer this morning (need I say more?).  Dexter basically has the run of the place.  The chickens get fresh grass, a clean house, excellent feed and snacks.  The only one who I worry about is Cocoa Puff.

Sure, she is well-fed and watered, has her cage cleaned weekly (Monday's Poop Day, remember?), and has a nearly endless supply of fresh garden goodness.  But, she VERY rarely gets to get out of her cage and stretch her legs. 

Yes, she has a harness that allows us to walk her, BUT she is very skittish.  She's fine once she's haressed and ready to go, but getting her out of the cage has left me dripping blood from my forearms on more than one occasion.  She's not intentionally scratching me, but she gets scared and starts kicking those super-powerful hind legs.  The bloody forearms combined with the fact that she can sometimes wriggle out of the harness make this not the best option.

Early on, we let her spend a lot of time in her playpen, munching clover.  But, now she's gotten so big that she can jump clear over the top and get free.

We do have this pen available most of the time.  We basically just use it to corral Dexter when he's annoying visitors, so we could put up some shade cloth and let Cocoa Puff spend some time in there.  BUT, the one time I tried it, Dexter just ran around it the whole time, terrorizing her.  And, though it's bigger than her 30x30 inch cage, it is concrete-floored, so she's still not getting to graze on greenery.
We thought about moving this pen onto the grass, but Dexter is a digger and would surely get in.

Hmmmm.  You sure do cause a lot of problems, Dex.

Anyway, perhaps in celebration of Rabbit Day, you could help us solve our rabbit dilemma and provide Cocoa Puff with a higher quality of life.  Thoughts?  Suggestions?

Friday, September 21, 2012

September Giveaway Time!

For this month's giveaway, I thought I would do my all-natural laundry detergent. 

I've been especially thankful for the money it saves me lately.  It seems that I am washing more clothes lately than ever before.  Take Girl 2 Wednesday -- she wore one outfit to school, a second one to tumbling class, and was about the change into a 3rd before an evening jog with daddy when I convinced her that she could just jog in her leotard (and shorts, of course).  Or, take Little Boy who is exceptionally excited about his new-to-him tennis shoes and wants to wear them all the time.  We take our shoes off when in the house.  He's got super-sweaty feet, so he doesn't want to put wet socks back on everytime he's ready to go back outside.  All this means that he may go through 4 pairs of socks a day.  (I know I could fight him on this, but I'm just so excited that he's mostly putting the socks and tennis shoes on by himself.)
The basic recipe for the laundry detergent uses these basic ingredients.  You could easily whip some up for yourself.

What makes my mix special, though, is that I don't use Ivory or some other ready-made soap.  Instead, I use soap shavings from my very own Coconut Laundry Soap.  This substitution to the regular recipe makes the laundry soap 100% all-natural and fragrance-free.

Whoever wins this month's drawing will receive a sour-cream-sized tub of laundry detergent.  At 2 Tbs. per load, it ought to last awhile!

So, how do you win?

I need some great CrockPot recipes for fall!  Fall means extra-curricular activities are back in full swing for our brood, and some of our weeknights are downright crazy around here.

Tuesday:  5:00-7:00 (including travel time) soccer practice for John and Girl 2
6:15-7:00 Hip Hop class for Girl 1

Wednesday:  3:30-6:15 dance team, jazz, tap, and tumbling for Girl 1
5:45-6:15 tumbling for Girl 2

Thursday:  5:00-7:00 soccer practice for John and Girl 2
5:30-6:30 ballet for Girl 1

What in the world will we do when Little Boy starts having evening activities, too?

Anyway, all this means that sometimes I am shuttling kids around during the time I would otherwise be prepping dinner and/or that we eat in shifts.  CrockPot meals solve both problems. They make it possible for me to be out of the kitchen in the hour before dinnertime and keep the meal warm for those who have to eat dinner at the later shift. 

And, yes, those of you who know me, I am saddened by the fact that we don't get to sit down together for dinner everynight anymore.  I guess we're entering a new season; at least we still get to have breakfast together.  Not having dinner together, though, means that important business, like our vote on what we're going to be for Halloween, has to be tabled until we can all be together.  (Yes, it's a very democratic process and a very big decision that we don't take lightly around here. :)

So, submit a CrockPot recipe or link to a recipe that you've tried out, and you'll be entered in the drawing for the laundry soap.

Please respond by Monday to be entered in the drawing.  Thanks!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Spinach and Goat Cheese Frittata

I love to find recipes that are not only delicious but also make use of some of the foods that we're producing right here in our backyard.  With goat cheese and eggs on the ingredient list, this Frittata turned out to be one of those recipes!

It's very similar to the Spinach Quiche that we love, but uses lots less cheese, more eggs, and is crustless.

1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and black pepper
5 ounces baby spinach
10 large eggs, beaten
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
 (If you don't have goat cheese stockpiled in your freezer, you could probably sub in Monterrey Jack or Gouda and yield similar results.)

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Heat oil in a medium ovenproof nonstick skillet (do those really exist?  We didn't have one, so I went with a well-oiled cast iron skillet) over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and 1/2 tsp. each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until golden brown.

Add the spinach and cook, tossing, until wilted.  Add the eggs and sprinkle with the goat cheese.  Give it a quick stir to be sure everything is mixed in.  Cook until the mixture begins to set around the edges, then transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until set, 10-20 minutes.

Voila!  A yummy frittata that all 5 of us actually ate (yep, even the pickiest one of us -- I'm not naming names)!

We paired it with a loaf of whole wheat country bread (why is it that the kids enjoy the bread so much more if they get to break off a hunk rather than eat a slice?) and a basic salad.
And, how many dishes did I have to clean once the Fritatta was gone?   -- one!

Now, THAT I like!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Most Spoiled Goat in the Tri-County Area

Meet the most spoiled goat in the tri-county area.
Who me?

Yes, Razz, I'm talking about you.

Last week, I posted a request on Facebook for a baby wipes warmer. Cousin Karen came to the rescue!  Yesterday, she (and adorable Ren) delivered the warmer, and for that Razz and I would like to say Thank You! 

Lately, I've been the one on duty for 5:30am milking.  Also, lately, it's been getting cooler, especially in the early mornings.  Once Razz jumps up on the milking stand, the first thing I do is use a baby wipe to wipe her teats and udder clean before starting to milk.  Now, I imagine that being woken up at 5:30am to have your teats yanked on everyday is unpleasant enough.  But, last week, when it turned cool, I touched her teat with that wipe, and she literally jumped!  Poor thing! 
She's providing us with our milk, yogurt, ice cream, coffee creamer, cheese, soap, and lotion.  It seems that, in thanks for what she does for us, the least we could do is make her milking experience as comfortable as possible.


Now, my hands and her teats will be much more comfortable during those early morning milkings!

By the way, here are all the gals this morning.  To say that they are enjoying the cooler weather would be an understatement.  They just loll about grazing then plop down in a big goat pile like this one and bask in the warming sun.

They really do the weirdest things with those legs.  Doesn't look that comfortable to me, but then I'm not a goat.