Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"The Adventure On Big Slough River", by Emily

Did you ever wonder what us country kids do in our spare time? Wonder no longer!

Let's see, it was a week ago Monday, I believe...the 23rd. While we were eating lunch, Ben, Jonny, and Brandon got the brilliant idea to go boating after lunch. "Boating? In what?" "Oh, don't worry," the eager boys assured Mom and Dad, "Brandon can ride in the big black plastic sled, and Ben and Jonny will ride in the big black plastic sheep tank!" You see, our whole slough is a humongous pond of icy-cold water. Mom was not too optimistic about the idea, so she and I tried to scare the boys, Ben and Jonny especially, with stories about people drowning and getting hypothermia. But, unfortunately for Mom, Dad didn't seem as worried. "As long as they don't go past the bridge, they'll be fine," he assured her. Since Dad seemed fine with it, I decided it would be lots of fun, too. After a bit of persuading, Mom finally gave in, but with one exception: "You have to wear life-jackets!", she told them. When I told her, "Ya, we will!" the boys said "we!", and soon made it clear that they didn't want me with. No fair.

We gave them walkie-talkies, and bade them farewell. It was hysterical watching them. Brandon, in the plastic sled, rocked dangerously, while me and Mom laughed and laughed up at the house, but he soon got the hang of it, and was drifting along pleasantly, with the aid of two sticks, Ben and Jonny on his tail.

Trust me, I was not very happy that they got to do such a fun, adventurous, dangerous thing, and I didn't. So I was determined to think of some way to go along. Mom and Dad couldn't think of anything, but I did. "Dad! How about one of those big plastic bins out in the garage!" He calmly assured me that it would sink. However, he agreed to let me try it. So on went the rubber boots, the life jacket, the rain coat, (it was raining) and the overalls, as I prepared to go gliding down Big Slough River. After searching for a bin, I was ready to go. Finding a stick, I carefully set the "boat" in the water, then stepped into it. Nope, that wouldn't work, it was stuck. So I moved it into deeper water, then tried again! YIKES! Talk about tipsy! I was rocking dangerously, and after about one minute of swaying from side to side, over she went! I was thoroughly disgusted by this time, as my right leg got soaked to the skin, and my right boot filled with water. Boy, was I glad Mom wasn't watching! "This is NOT gonna work." I told myself, and trudged dejectedly up to the house, very unhappy that the boys got to go boating, and I didn't. No fair! As soon as I stepped into the house, Mom said, "Are you giving up already?" That settled it! I marched back out! "I can't just give up!" I told myself firmly. Finding two sturdy sticks, I got into the bin and tried again. After a while, I got the hang of it, and confidently rowed out to the deeper parts. It seemed like as soon as I got deep, the boat started wobbling. Uh-oh! Then, it capsized. And I mean CAPSIZED!!!!!! Everything went under except my head. I was drenched, and only too glad to go up to the house, as falling into water on a cold March day in the rain is not extremely warm or pleasant.

The boys had a wonderful time, and claimed to boat in 5 feet of water. I'll just have to think of something else to use...any suggestions?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just another day on the funny farm

It was a life threatening day for me today! For the first time, Brandon took me for a drive to run errands. He just got his instructional permit. In order to "qualify" for taking his test he had to memorize the entire book of James. He quoted the whole book for Mike, from beginning to end, with only a couple mistakes! (He worked on it for a number of months.) Before we left for our drive today, I said good-bye to the children, told them how much I loved them, and told them what wonderful children they have been. :) Then we pretended to cry. Brandon just rolled his eyes. :) He is actually a very good driver and I wasn't nervous at all......at first. I got more nervous as we drove, only because I thought he was nervous. I drive a big bus--an Excursion, so it takes a little getting used to. Especially when he has been driving in a little tin can with his instructor. We ran some errands and had coffee together (our weekly "date"), and then he brought me home, safe and sound. :)

Mike was working in Granite Falls today. We just hate when he has to be gone. Having him working from home has spoiled us all! While he was gone Brandon cooked down 40-50 gallons of sap. It snowed on and off, and was very windy, but he managed to keep the fire hot enough to boil the sap. Mike is finishing off the syrup on the stove as I type. We'll fill the jars and add them to the collection in the root cellar. We tried to collect sap today, but it was all frozen solid in the buckets. So we brought some of the really full ones in to thaw out. One of the buckets had a strange grey object frozen in the middle of it. Benjamin chopped away at the ice until he got it out--a mouse! Mmmm, mouse flavored syrup....doesn't that sound good? :)

Milking was much better tonight. Everything is always better when Mike is here. :) It only took us about ten minutes to milk her, and she was almost perfect. She is giving about a gallon a day, but it is not enough for us and two kids (baby goats). Thankfully, Carl will be sold tomorrow. We had a man stop out today to pick up two kittens, and when he saw the kids he started petting them and commenting about how cute they were. So Mike asked him if he wanted one, and he said "Yes!" We had planned to sell Carl to someone else who would raise him for meat, but the children were very excited to sell him to someone who wants him for a pet.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Goat stew?

Life has been a whirlwind the past week! Our friend Myrtle, who has been living in a nursing home the past two months, had all she could take of living in what she called a "2 by 4" (that's a small room that two people live in that is divided by a curtain). She says rooms like that should be illegal. She's one hundred years young and not ready to live in a place with total assistance. She did not like paying them to do the things she can do herself. So she got on the phone and called around until she found an assisted living apartment that was available. We moved her this week. (I didn't know people moved out of nursing homes!) Monday, Emily and I packed up her room. On Tuesday, Mike and the boys moved all her belonging to her new apartment, including some things she had in a storage locker. Today we went shopping for the things she needed for her apartment and tied up all the loose ends at the nursing home. It's been a busy last few days, but to see the excitement on Myrtle's face has made it all worth it. She dozed off in her chair while Emily and I were unpacking her things, so we worked very quietly in order to let her rest. When she awoke she said, "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven"; she just loves her new place!

In the nursing home they always made her use her walker....she hated that thing! When the nurses would ask her where her walker was (when she would be walking without it) she would tell them, "It's where it belongs!" On Tuesday, after we got her all packed up, we were walking to the car to take her to her new apartment, and as we walked out the door of the nursing home she started to fold her walker up. I said, "Oh, Myrtle the car is parked way over there, why don't you fold that up after we get to the car." She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face and said, "You're just as bad as the rest of them!" We all laughed as we folded up the walker (but I always make her take my arm, which she will do).

I had Ben and Jonny bring their arithmetic along to Myrtle's apartment today. I figured they could work on that while we hung her shower curtain and helped her organize a few things. Well, whenever they had a question Myrtle was there to help them. I am not kidding! She used to teach school and she remembers everything. She told them every answer they did not know and was giving them tips on how to memorize their multiplication tables! She's amazing!!

When we got home today we had a lot of work to do. Our sap buckets needed to get emptied and there were plenty of other chores to get done. Adding milking and syruping to life has made the past two weeks....well......interesting! ;) Since we were gone for the past two days, we needed to get the fire under our sap pan going again. All the firewood was wet because it has been raining (and snowing) all week. Ugh! Mike was in the cities all day on business, so Brandon worked and worked on it and finally got it going. During supper Mike called and said he was just leaving the cities, and on his way home. Bummer! Another hour and a half before he'd be home to rescue me. Well, we finished supper and it was time to go milk Millie. By this time I was starting to feel a little cross. It was freezing (literally) outside and super windy. I was tired, and the last thing I wanted to do was go milk a goat! Not to mention, Millie has been quite challenging lately. Just before Brandon and I walked out to the barn, Emily says, "Oh Mom, I should warn you, Millie was acting crazy today." I said, "Oh great!"

When we started milking her she was behaving wonderfully and everything was just fine. I was thinking, "This is great! It's just what I needed after a hectic day.......a cooperative goat!" Well, not for long! She started lifting her legs and moving back and forth. These are the new tricks she's learned. She tried to kick our hands off her teats. Well, wouldn't you know it, she lands one foot (a poopy, straw covered foot) in the milk pail, then the other foot. Nice! At this point I am dreaming of goat stew!! And remembering how nice it was to drive to the goat farm and pick up our goat milk! So we got a different bucket to milk into and tied her leg so she couldn't kick. She continued to be difficult. And I continued to grumbled at her and called her names like "You old bag!"

I really do love country life, but I have to be honest and tell you that there are days when I wonder how this city girl ever got roped into this! Tomorrow the sun will come out (hopefully), I will have gotten a good nights sleep (hopefully), and I will enjoy my country life again.............................hopefully!! :)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mucking out the barn

With spring just around the corner (tomorrow to be exact), things are starting to thaw out around here. All winter long the sheep get new straw added to their pen to keep it clean and dry, but with the warm weather all the frozen deposits start to get soft, making it impossible to keep the pen in acceptable condition.

So, the menfolk here at the farm got out the pitchforks last week and pitched six or seven big skid loader buckets full of manure out of the barn. Ben and Jonny took turns with the second pitchfork, and even were allowed to dump the contents of the bobcat bucket into the pile, a thrill for them worth mucking around in the stinky pen.

This manure was piled up to compost, and will be spread on our gardens next year. Also, I every couple of years we spread some under our fruit trees. I'm considering selling some of the composted manure from last year, as I have a very large pile. Let me know if you need some!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Kidding Party!

Well, Millie Joy did not disappoint us...she kidded right on her due date! Around 5pm Sunday, Emily announced that Millie was pushing. So we all geared up and headed out to the barn. We called some friends (the Hendricksons and the Zeglens) who wanted to come over and see the birth. Unfortunately, Millie labored rather quickly (at least quicker than the sheep do), and none of our friends made it in time to see the birth. But they were there just minutes after the twins were born...yes TWINS! Millie delivered a boy first (Emily was so upset), but then to our surprise she quickly delivered a girl right after the boy. One of the families that we had over has one-year-old twins and their names are Carl and Claire, so that's what the children decided to name the baby goats. To be more specific, Carl Roland and Claire Belle, are their full names.

It was a sweet time out in the barn with everyone. We milked Millie and the children took turns bottle feeding the baby goats. Then some of us went out and collected sap. After all that excitement the ladies went in to get a meal put together for nineteen people! Everyone brought food along and after feeding the children, the adults enjoyed lamb chops on the grill (Mike's specialty)! The excitement ended sometime between 10-10:30pm. In a month we will do it again (with sheep). We have some other friends that are longing to see a lamb be born. :)

Millie and the twins are doing very well today. The babies are enjoying all that rich colostrum, and the children are enjoying feeding it to them! In a week or so we will have goat milk to drink..... and some to sell. :)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Boxelder Syrup (getting ready for the run)

Yes, you read that right Boxelder Syrup. The Boxelder tree has always been considered a "junk" tree in my book. They grow like weeds, have weak wood, and in general are just undesireable to have around. However, I have grown to appreciate them since we started learning how to make maple syrup. A little known fact is that the Boxelder tree is part of the maple family, and can be tapped in the same way for making syrup. Since we have no maple trees on our property (except for those I've planted for my grandchildren) this was welcome news for us. We've found the taste to be a little different, but still very good, and very sweet.

Since we moved out to the farm, most years we have tapped our Boxelder trees and made syrup. Last year in particular, we were very ambitious and made about seven gallons of syrup. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, that means collecting and boiling down over 280 gallons of sap. Approximately 40 gallons of sap produces one gallon of syrup.

This year we are planning to expand the operation, and see if we can produce some extra syrup to sell to our customers: so the preparation has begun.

A couple of weeks ago, we cut down a number of dead elm trees and ended up with about a cord of firewood to run the boiler. This was took most of a Saturday, to get it hauled to the house and stacked up where we boil the sap.

This year I decided to upgrade our operation, so I bought 100 used taps off of e-bay. However, in past years we have used homemade wooden taps. These are easy to make, but can be time consuming if you want to tap a lot of trees. We make them out of sumac branches. (You have to be careful to use the red-berried type, not poison sumac.) Find some straight branches off a live bush that are about one inch in diameter and cut pieces about 5 inches long. Drill out the soft center with a 1/4 inch spade bit. Then whittle one end down to a half inch in diameter, making sure to have a nice gentle taper.

To tap our trees this year, I got a bit more high-tech too, in that I hauled our generator around in back of our ATV trailer, and used a corded drill (translated: more power) to drill tap holes the trees, instead of a wimpy cordless. (I'm not so old-fashioned that I use a bit-and-brace.) We did this last Thursday, thinking that the warm weather would be the begin of the sap run, but alas we went back into the icebox on Saturday.

So, we are waiting for the warm weather....

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Trimming Hooves

So when was the last time you trimmed you fingernails? Are they getting a bit long? Did you know that goat and sheep hooves grow, just like your finger and toe nails? Well they do. With our sheep we have always trimmed their hooves annually, after they are sheared in early spring. However, with goats they grow quite a bit faster, so when I looked at their feet the other day it was quite a surprise!

So, off to the cabinet I went for the hoof trimmer. With our fancy new milking stand, we have the perfect place to trim our goats hooves, and they get a little snack at the same time. Trimming sheep and goat hooves is pretty easy (says the farm boy), you just trim the hard outer wall of the hoof down until it is flush with the "frog", which is the soft center part of the hoof. The heel of the hoof sometimes needs to get trimmed back a little bit as well to be level with the walls of the hoof. Sometimes there is a little excess growth between their "toes" as well that needs some trimming.

In no time our goats were as nimble as ever on their freshly trimmed hooves!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Baking Bread

There is nothing like the smell of bread baking in the oven, and it is hard to beat the taste of a warm slice of freshly baked bread smothered with melted butter! Thanks to my hungry growing boys, I've had a lot of practice at making bread. In this post I'll share with you how I make my yeast bread. Later, I'll post on my favorite bread to make-sourdough!

The first step in baking bread is grinding the wheat berries. The reason I grind my own wheat is because grains quickly go rancid after grinding, and you get more nutrition from freshly ground flour. Freezing your flour will help maintain it's freshness too. There are many different varieties of wheat berries. Hard wheat, as opposed to soft, is the wheat of choice when baking bread. Currently I am using a combination of hard red and hard white. I think most people prefer bread made with hard white wheat. I just happened to come across some hard red wheat berries at an unbeatable price!
Once I have put my wheat berries through my grain mill and have my freshly ground flour, I start adding the ingredients to my Bosch bowl. For those of you who are not familiar with a Bosch, it is a wonderful machine that simplifies all sorts of tedious kitchen jobs. Named after a German inventor, Robert Bosch, this machine has all the quality and performance you'd expect from something made in Germany. With it you can knead enough dough to make up to six loaves of bread. You can also get all kinds of accessories for it: a blender, slicer shredder, and food processor-just to name a few!
In my Bosch bowl I put my warm water, salt, olive oil, honey, and flour. I mix these together and then add my yeast. At this point, I leave my Bosch running while I add one cup of flour at a time until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Then I let the Bosch knead the dough for about ten minutes. (Of course, this could be done by hand too.)

Here you can see that the dough is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl.

After the kneading, I divide my dough into five portions. I weigh each one (a habit I started do to wanting my loaves exactly the same size for market).

Then I shape my loaves, put them in my bread pans, and set them in a warm place until they are about doubled in size.

In this picture you see my dough ready for the oven. It will bake for 30-35 minutes.

Voila! Homemade bread!
At this point, the entire house is filled with the aroma of fresh baked bread, and all the vultures, I mean children, come running into the kitchen declaring how hungry they are! :>}

Send me an email if you would like my bread recipe in detail.

Monday, March 2, 2009

"Valentine" by Emily

One day last summer, Mom and Jonny were in the herb garden, when Mom spotted a large green caterpillar in the parsley. Jonny brought it to me, (Emily) and I put it into a large jar that had sticks, grass, and leaves in it, as well as several other caterpillars. To our joy, one day, the green caterpillar was gone, and there was a cocoon hanging on a twig. We were thrilled! None of the other caterpillars in the jar ever made cocoons. Time passed. Soon everybody forgot about the big jar with the cocoon in it. The leaves and grass rotted away, and whenever someone mentioned cleaning out the jar, one of us would pipe up, "no! the cocoon is in it!" while someone else would reply, "it'll never hatch." But the cocoon continued to hang, undisturbed. ...winter came, and the cocoon was forgotten.....forever...

Until February 13th, the day before Valentine's Day. I was in the school room with Ben and Jonny, teaching them school. (Mom was gone shopping in town with Dad, so I was the substitute teacher) While deep in Algebra, (just kidding!) Ben suddenly yelled, "LOOK!!! OUR BUTTERFLY!!!!!!!!" Shocked, we looked up at the long-forgotten jar, and to our joy, there calmly sitting on a twig, was a beautiful black swallowtail butterfly.

For at least the next twenty minutes, Arithmetic was forgotten as we "oood" and "ahhhd" over our butterfly, snapped lots of pictures, and called Mom and Dad to exclaim the exciting news. We argued over a name for her for quite a while, as we searched through the name book, but couldn't decide on anything. Eventually, we finally got back to school, and Mom and Dad returned. When Dad mentioned something about "alcohol" we were horrified. "What!?!? Our butterfly!? But she's our butterfly!!!" Undoubtedly, our butterfly would have had this untimely fate, if it were not for a wonderful person who rescued her. =) The next day was Valentine's Day. We had Aunt Janell, Uncle Jay, and Grandma and Grandpa Housman over for a Valentine's Dinner. Of course, we couldn't wait to show them our butterfly, and Dad and Grandpa both agreed that she was going to die...but not Grandma! It was Grandma to the rescue! A day or so later, we received an email with a lot of information about feeding butterflies! So, our butterfly, whom we finally decided to name "Valentine" was rescued....thanks, Grandma!!!

About Valentine:

Valentine Joy Housman (full name) is so much fun! An extremely beautiful butterfly, she is black, with yellow spots, orange spots, blue spots, and purple spots. Valentine lives a happy life in our bay window, surrounded by Mom's potted plants. In the spring, we will let her go. Tonight, Jonny, who was "playing" with her, started shrieking as she climbed up his face and perched contentedly on his nose! It was really hilarious, as you can see in the pictures below!

Feeding Valentine:

Grandma sent us plenty of very helpful information about feeding our butterfly. Just in case any of you may ever "hatch" a butterfly, here's three tried-and-true ways:

The first way is lots of fun. Finger feeding. Make up a solution of 1:20 sugar to water. Next, dip your finger in the sugar water. Leave a drop on your finger and move it close to the butterfly's mouth. Usually it will stick out it's tongue and have a drink!

The second way is to use a cotton ball. Take a cotton ball, dip it into the sugar water, and place it on/in a small plate or container. Place the butterfly on it, and viola!

The third way is actually one that Mom thought of herself. Take an orange, cut it in half, and place the butterfly on it. Just this morning, when I peeked at her, she was sitting on the orange with her long tongue stuck in the orange.

About the Swallowtail Butterfly:

Swallowtails lay their eggs on Queen Anne's Lace, parsley, celery, and carrots. The caterpillars are bright green with black bands and yellow or orange spots. Uniquely, it has "tails" on it's hind wings, and it ranges throughout North America from Southern Canada into Mexico. The male swallowtail may guard it's territory by sailing around its boundaries for long periods. The next fact I learned from Grandma Housman, and it is: butterflies have tiny feathers on their wings, thus we have to be careful when we touch Valentine, so as not to brush any off, making her unable to fly.

If you have any questions or would like to leave a note or anything, please leave a comment! We'd love to hear from you!

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