Double yolk fancy-pants ramen! I’m chicken-sitting for Dave Snyder at one of the Heartland sites while he travels for the holidays… stopped by today to get a coop tour and keys and took a couple eggs home. Thought I’d make myself a little snack before cleaning house in preparation for the farm dinner this weekend … cracked open the biggest egg (so. Hungry…) to find this. I love bonus surprises!
Where’d we go? Explainations forthcoming. Spring is in the air, the egg avalanche continues, seeds are planted and many more want planting. Planted seeds want watering. Coops need cleaning. Dogs walking. Sunshine to bask in. Budgets to reconcile. A house and a two-flat to remodel… more on that later. A studio full of
crap treasure to liquidate. Relationships to heal and nurture. And always, always, so much work to be done. And yes, we’re crazy but wouldn’t have it any other way. But it’s all good. Here are some pictures of some of the fun you’ve missed while I wasn’t sharing. More drama to come, dears, and more back-dated updates…
Had a false-alarm scare this morning when I went out to feed the chickens and collect eggs… the older, mega-matron Maran was not out clamoring with the other girls at the feeder. I looked around the coop, cooing loudly *chook chook chook chook!*… hoping, oh, hoping that she was getting busy in the nest box and not dead somewhere (paranoid? probably, haha). I even banged on the side of the coop before I opened the door… and there she was, sitting on some eggs with her beak open, giving me a nasty look. Must have heard the soup pot rumors. Atta girl! Their eggs used to be dark brown, but now are much lighter, with an even paler dappled bloom to them. Good to know… when we had fewer hens, it was easy to tell which ones were laying, but now other than the Ameraucana (haven’t had any green eggs in months, but they’re notoriously poor winter layers) and the Cali Leghorn (who lays as many white eggs as the rest of our slackers combined most weeks), it’s hard to know exactly whose buff-to-brown egg is whose, especially as the color can shift slightly as they age. Three eggs again today! Spring’s coming.
And guess what else came to our neighborhood? I half didn’t believe it when I got the leaflet in the mail a couple weeks ago, but they showed up on Tuesday, delivered in a blizzard (by a company from Minnesota? WTF? All this outside contracting is driving me batty, Mayor OneTerm. Chicagoans couldn’t do that? Did you ask?). But I digress… Blue Carts! We now have alley-pickup recycling, instead of having to schlep everything 5 blocks away to the Center for Green Tech (or just throwing it away like most folks did before). Woohoo! That will eliminate at least 4 bins of crap, I mean recyclable treasure, from our back porch and hopefully help keep our alleys cleaner and encourage more of our neighbors to sort their trash. Huzzah!
I ordered a new camera yesterday, after doing my best to resurrect my point-and-shoot, and discovering that I can’t get the fella’s camera to upload files to my laptop, or to the cabin computer… his has pretty poor image quality compared to what I’m used to, and I need my own for work, etsy, and simple photo fun. New images coming soon! Also, my spring resolution is to do my best to track and document how much food we manage to produce this year at home… look for the new sidebar if you’re curious!
Things are pretty good here, though amazingly busy, hence the lack of updates. Unfortunately, bad news brings me back here… nothing other than a chicken murder mystery this morning. I knew something was off when the speckled sussex was out of the coop when I let the dog out for the second time this morning. I quickly put the (very excited) dog away in her crate with some breakfast and headed back to the yard to re-coop the errant fowl. She had been joined by two of her sisters (the red stars), in the garden path outside the coop run, and I started noticing more clues… I haltingly followed a trail of feathers and then with now-nervous steps, bloodspots in the snow, until I found our buff orpington in the yard by the woodshed (or what was left of her)… something pulled her under the coop-run gate (the hardware cloth was pulled loose from the bottom fence post, and there was a litter of blonde feathers where she was dragged through the wire, poor thing, then down the path, under or over the garden fence, and then found a private spot for a snack. Unfortunately the snow is days old, hard and crunchy, and already covered with tons of tracks, and I left quite a few on the garden side before knowing to look carefully. Not sure if it was our dog when the fella let her out earlier this morning before heading to his man-date doing guy things with his guy buddies (he has Pulaski Day off work), or if it was something else later this morning before I let her out again at 11ish.
I couldn’t see any heavy dog-paw prints on the garden-side of the fence leading to the coop, and am nearly certain it was a raccoon- we have them in the neighborhood, and it looks like the scuffle-signs and missing feathers start *inside* the run and maybe even in the coop itself (the coop scrub brush was knocked off its hook on the wall, there were a few loose feathers, and chaff in the cobwebs on the ceiling- signs of a midnight scuffle? Or a nestbox nabbing?), which would expunge the canine guilt-potential as there are no dog-sized openings in the fence. Whatever it was dragged the hen through and under the fence wire, which seems like typical raccoon m.o… I did hear a bit of squawking around 10:30 am, which I thought was just normal egg-song or them fighting over some tasty bit of scratch… but in retrospect might have been more ominous. Kicking myself now for not going out to check sooner. We do have raccoons nearby, but would have to be pretty ballsy to grab a chicken in broad daylight from a yard with a big dog often about… but this time of year, could easily be hungry enough to try it, or have kits to feed… or perhaps the crime happened in the cover of night and the dog was too entranced by the remaining escaped chickens to care about the carcass or drag it out in the yard (maybe she hoped we’d not find it and she was saving it for a later snack)… though I think she would have hopped the low garden fence to get at the girls in there if they’d been loose earlier- I know she’s capable and would have no qualms about it fence-hopping and chicken chasing, given the possiblity of a chicken caper, she’d choose it. Or maybe it was a really bad-ass alley cat, sick of rat-hunting and going for a bigger snack? My bets on raccoon though. RIP, chicken. Thank you for your contribututions to feeding us, and for being such a willing chicken-ambassador at the Urban Livestock Expo. You are already missed.
Urgh. Now I’m just debating what to do with the remains so I can let the dog out again… and really hoping that it wasn’t the dog’s work- though I wouldn’t put it past her! The ground is frozen solid with a light layer of snow, so this chicky may have to get a burial at the landfill, which seems like such a waste, and trash day isn’t till next Friday. At least it’s freezing out and not August… though if it were August she’d get a shallow grave with a stout rock on top near an apple tree. Oh, sigh. We’ve had a bad run with Buff Orpingtons. Such sweet birds… but lost the first to heat stroke (because the dummy was too dumb to leave the coop and nest box and go out into the fresh air like the other hens) and now this. Time to shore up chicken-Gitmo and be more vigilant about locking up the girls at night… until now we’d been pretty lucky with the dog-deterance-defense and Nite-Guard red blinky light (supposed to scare away predators), and had been putting off coop-renovations as the whole shebang is going to get moved and rebuilt when we (hopefully) close on the vacant lot next door. Need to decide soon… of course poor chicky is right in front of the woodshed entrance, and it’s time to feed the fire. There’s one big log still inside… we try to save those for banking the fire at night though maybe I’ll use it and hopefully the fella will deal with remains removal when he gets home? In that case, better get some hot vittles ready to sweeten the deal for the guy… roasted salmon with oyster mushrooms? Or oyster mushroom empanadas? Or cream of oyster mushroom soup? Are you noticing a theme here? Whatever we have for dinner, it will be fungal-flavored…
On a lighter note, we had another excellent installment of Kedz-mart yesterday… Adela Red, the Finder Things, and I were joined by Safara, with beautiful scarves and textiles from Turkey, Squasht Boutique with hats and knitware, and some other regulars who display their wares with The Finder Things. Bot Bakery brought us their excess vegan snackies from the Logan Square Farmer’s Market- thanks for the baked goods, Betty Bot! I sold some soap and other goodies, and traded soaps and brown sugar scrubs for a super-cute crusher hat from Squasht (it’s reversible, with basic grey chambray on one side, and a green, brown, and white floral on the other side that is sorta girly-urban-camo like… I likey!). Traded a bottle of patchouli oil and some egg futures for a screenprinted and handmade cat pillow that I’ve been eying for awhile, and made a couple homemade pizzas to share. Got to hang out with some old friends and neighbors, and meet some new ones. Good times! Hope to see you all at the next one… Bring handmade or vintage goods and goodies to sell or trade, and tell your friends!
It finally looks like winter, for real out there- we got a couple inches of white stuff this morning to dust off the single digit and teens temps we’ve been “enjoying” this past week. I must say, I’m enjoying the change of scenery! After a fair number of dismal gray days, the bright sparkle was most welcome!
We tucked in early last night, after stopping into Revolution Brewpub for a pair of pints to cheers our friends’ John and Steven formerly of Grid Chicago as they announced and celebrated their blog’s virtual move to Streetsblog Chicago. Had a slice of awesome arugula pizza with shaved parmesean and lemon-infused oil to go with my ESB and Coffee Porter… we almost stopped in at a friend’s for their homemade pizza as well, but missed their street while cutting through the park, which was a minor bummer but for the best. We had planned to come home early (and the Bella Wooski was eagerly awaiting our return, and her bathroom break and dinner), as we fully intended to get to work… but were overcome by a powerful and undeniable sleepiness. Best laid plans… and sometimes the nap wins.
So instead, we got up with the sun and the chickens, the fella at five and I at six, got caffeinated and got to work. We rearranged a bunch of materials on the second floor, and the fella used the newly assembled tablesaw to make a pretty badass rolling cart for the pair of sawhorses organizing most of our framing lumber, which will soon have foam stacked ceiling high on top. I made us a breakfast of Tribble and Eggs- we had a bumper crop of Lion’s Mane mushrooms last week, so I finally got to bring one home to try… and they DO taste like lobster! Only cuter. And less crustacean-y. I caramelized half a minced onion in a goodly pat of butter, chopped and sauteed the mushroom pieces, broke three eggs in the pan, added a sprinkle of cheese, and served it up. Awesome. The fella commented at 7:57 that he had three minutes till he had to leave for work, still furiously loading wood onto the cart… I joked, great. Three minutes till I can get back in bed! Just kidding… and took over the wood-loading duties, then put on my mask and swept and shop-vacced the whole second floor, took out the trash, shoveled and salted the front walk, took down the christmas decorations, fed and watered the hens (see pic), rescued a cat the dog had trapped under the woodshed (really, I just distracted the dog so the cat could make a break for it…), a bolt of fluffy black lightening so fast that dumb-dumb dog didn’t even see it get away, and spent the next two hours wedging herself behind the fence and under the shed as far as she could fit, alternately, trying to find the thing. Oh, Wooski…
Time to feed the fish before I head back to the studio to cut soap- I’m really happy with that new Orange Chai batch. I checked on them this morning in the molds, and they look and smell fantastic! Can’t wait to start cutting them- it’s always a surprise to see how they look inside, especially these marbled batches!
We’ve finally broken the longest stretch of snowless days here in Chicago in a looong spell (290!!!)… outside is a blustery, gusty, wintery mix of wet streets and fat blowing snow. I gave the chickens extra bedding this morning- straw for the nest boxes (where two hens have been roosting at night… can’t say I blame ’em but I sure wish they wouldn’t… luckily the few eggs we’re getting these days are mostly clean regardless) and a thick layer of coffee chaff from the Bridgeport roastery. Trust me, no chicken coop ever smells nicer than one freshly blanketed with fluffy coffee chaff (it’s a remainder of the roasting process which flakes off the beans while the morning magic is happening). I finally put the submersible aquarium heater into the chicken waterer bucket and plugged it into the thermo-cube that turns it on when it’s below freezing, and traced the snake of extension cord back to the porch and plugged it back in. I filled their feeder, tossed them their bag of bolting arugula from the farm and an extra handful of scratch.
Bella has added Houdini to her looong list of names (not all of them suitable for a family-friendly website)… I usually crate her when I’m doing chicken chores, otherwise she’s unmanageably bad. I was tying up the coop gate and looked up to see her on the other side of the fence, all drooly and foamy-lipped and waggy-nub-tail excited… we clip her wire crate door with two carabiners and the two latches, and have zip-tied all the sides together because she’ll get out otherwise (she’s STRONG)… apparently this time she squeezed between the door and top of the crate and bent it out a bit more than before, leaving her id collar behind in the process (thankfully she’s chipped now, and for just this sort of reason- she’s fond of sticking her head where it doesn’t belong and losing her collar on the way out). Bad dog! Now she gets the carabiners, latches, and two leash ends holding door corners tightly to the crate sides. Oh, anxious beast… I went thrift shopping on my way home from work today and got her a blanket for her solstice present- baby, it’s cold INside! I found a blue gingham shirt, a cute cardigan sweater, and two pairs of pants for myself (since I’m down to one pair without patches and/or holes, and spent two hours mending a pair last week… three dollars for two pairs of perfectly good pants seemed a sound investment) and a beautiful woolen handwoven lap quilt from the Handcrafts College in Berea, Kentucky also for THREE dollars. So what if it needs washing? Woolen blankets are like gold around here, especially ones in multi-hued jewel tones made by hand! What luck! I left early-ish from work to beat the snow, but by the time I’d stopped for butter, bacon, eggnog, and orange juice (just the essentials!) and spent too long at the thrift store, the snow caught up with me. Luckily the pavement was warm and wet, and the city was antsy to send the salt trucks around. The ride wasn’t bad, and I found myself grinning most of the way in spite of the ridiculous bags strapped to my rear bike rack which swayed from side to side and caught the wind gusts, almost blowing me broadside into the curb a few times… blinking away the snow that blew around my glasses, taking it nice and slow (wet rims don’t brake well), and actually enjoyed the ride. Warm mittens, tall boots, and a lot of layers meant I was mostly cozy even though I could have been miserable. All about the preparation, and a little bit about your attitude…
And then, Home! Let the gratefully happy and wiggly dog out, started a load of dog laundry (her crate towels, and the sheet we keep over the armchair she gets to sleep in… man, she is a dirty dirty dog. Which is to say, A dog.). Got a fire going in the woodstove, and thought about drying my socks and changing my boots… but first to work! Did a sinkful of dishes, fried up two slices of bacon, and started caramelizing an onion in the bacon pan… brought up a handful of potatoes from the basement that were getting sprouty and soft, and decided that an Irish fry-up was in order. While that was going, I pulled the pot of vegetable stock I’d made but not strained a few days ago from the fridge and poured it from the pot into a colander over a big bowl, and pulled the other pot of rabbit stock, also needing straining, but jiggly and semi-solid with meaty goodness. Our friend makes amazing dog jerky treats with 100% rabbit and brings us an extra bag of bones once in awhile- Bella gets a bunch of them but I always make a pot of dynamite stock for us as well! If you cook the bones long enough, they’re soft enough to crush between your fingers, so I feed those back to her too… I figure if they’re crumbly, she can handle them… they’re not going to splinter and hurt her if I can smush them with a fingertip.
And now, the good part! I finally thawed my feet by the fire, put on some dry boots and wiggled my toes to get the blood back into them (the tall wellies keep you dry from OUTSIDE puddles but the self-generated ones are another story… haha). The bacon didn’t last long enough to make it into the dish, but I tucked into a hot bowlful of lightly curried fried potatoes and caramelized onion redolent with bacony-goodness, washed it down with a whiskey-spiked vanilla eggnog with a dash of cinnamon on top, and got to catch up on some email, do some reading and writing… bliss! Hey, what can I say. I’m a simple girl.
I’m looking forward to the sunrise- Mayan calendar or not, it’s the birth of a new season and while winter is finally here, the sun is on the way back, and it’s longer light from here on out. The darkest days are on their way, out. Happy beginning of the world, again… and happy solstice to you all!
10.5 at work. More time from home reading, writing, and answering emails.
4 hours on my bike (28 miles).
7 or more hours shoveling wood chip mulch after work (a truckload or two at least? The pile has sort of mushed together so I’m not sure how many loads there are…).
2 dog walks.
2 pots of coffee.
9 eggs from the hens.
in the kitchen: raspberry custard pies, blanched tomatoes for salsa, dehydrated 10 trays of eggplant and other veggies, sauteed and froze two gallon bags of eggplant, sliced cukes for pickles, and of course dishes, cleaning…
Whew! Now back to the kitchen- need to make those tomatoes into salsa and can it up, check the stock that’s in the crock pot, fill the dehydrator with more onions or potatoes, check the bees, take the salsa scraps out to the chickens, do a load of laundry, feed the worm bins, make something for dinner and the fellow’s lunch tomorrow, maybe surprise him by stapling up some insulation in the ceiling before he gets home, and if there’s any daylight left, work on stripping the front door trim for a bit.
I just finished taking an online class with Sharon Astyk called “Adapting in Place”. I’d highly recommend it, or any of her classes! Lots of hard questions from Sharon and informative discussions with the other folks in the class. One of the wrap-up prompts was, “What is your dream? What would you want if there were no constraints?” At about the same time, Jenna from Cold Antler Farm posted again imploring readers to write down their dreams and carry them around with them, and not to be afraid to ask for the moon and take small steps to get there. So here we go…
City mouse, country mouse dreams- city mouse: First, finish our little cabin- with lots of insulation, LED lighting and energy efficient appliances, and reused materials wherever we can find or employ them so we can stay warmer in winter, cooler in summer while using as few resources as possible. The first floor is open and you enter into a broad space with the fellow’s wood barrister bookcases and the rolling library ladders surrounding the wood stove lined with all our favorite books, the big barn wood dining room table in the center and the kitchen in the back all open to each other… a small bathroom added and a big pantry where the old bathroom was so we can feed all our friends. Good music, good food, and a trickling stream of good company fill our days as our friends stop in to say hello. The front bay window is a captain’s bed nook where our friends who’d like to stay longer or who came from afar can crash out…
We somehow buy up a bunch of the vacant homes in our neighborhood (there are a LOT of them), do energy-efficient retrofits and rehabs on them, and rent them inexpensively to other urban homesteaders willing to commit to growing at least some of their own food, reducing their car usage, and interested in learning real life skills and building a resilient and vibrant local community of all colors, ages, and avocations. Actually start teaching the classes that I’ve been dreaming and debating about for years- cooking from scratch, canning, food storage, backyard farming, brewing, soap making, etc. etc… Organize a goat-herd co-op, where member-neighbors take turns tending a small flock of Nigerian Dwarf goats and grazing them on vacant lots with portable fencing. Start a store that sells actual food in our neighborhood- bulk staples and fresh produce, canning jars and tools, not bags of chips and ho-hos, white owls and mad dog. Reach out to the neighbors we already have, who we’re starting to get to know better, and bring them along on the crazy ride.
Country mouse? At least ten acres, mix of wooded and tillable land, preferably with a clean canoeable river either bordering it or within walking distance (or rather, portaging distance), and/or a large lake nearby. The fellow has had his canoe stored in his parents’ garage for years, and I’ve never been out on a small craft, though I grew up a short bike ride from a lake where we spent most of our summer nights. Nothing is more freeing or refreshing on a hot night than floating and splashing, working up a shark-like appetite, and then cooking a simple dinner on an open fire on the bank. Somewhere with more stars than you can count on two hands. Same goats, chickens, bees, gardens, and classes… plus I can have a large pony or a small horse and learn to ride, oh, bliss! We’d have room to grow veggies and staples- potatoes, onions, even a pancake patch (we’ve been joking down at the Plant about planting a pasta tree… but everyone knows that bread comes from grass. I think Whitman told us that… bread is life, and all flesh is grass).
We park a shipping container or two for storage if the property doesn’t come with outbuildings, and put up a yurt while we build a strawbale or earth-sheltered house if there isn’t already an old farmhouse to restore… or if it’s near the Catskills, our cousin can build us an Earthship… if we have an invisible zoning/building inspector forcefield, that is. Hey, we’re dreaming here, we make the rules! For that matter, we could have 100 acres, divide it up, and recreate the family farm where I grew up (now mostly sold except for my dad’s parcel), hopefully somewhere with a better climate and bring everyone I love together. Reaaal hot down in the southern Ozarks now… and I’d get to see my family more than once or twice a year, work with them, and watch my baby nieces and nephew grow up in real life and not just in facebook photos, to really be a part of their lives and not someone they see at holidays.
This land would be within ten miles of a liberally-minded small to medium sized town with a good coffee shop, a cafe or three, and two small grocery stores. A theater would be nice, and a small college with a big library. It snows enough for snowshoes (and sleds! and sleigh rides!) but not all the time. The spinach and kale are sweet and fine in the shelter of the hoophouse, and it gets hot enough in the summer to grow good tomatoes and a tan. There are other farmers nearby using “real” horsepower who will teach us to farm with drafts… my grandpa (“Poppy”) had a mule but it was long before my time. My dad remembers it, but he was barely old enough to walk behind the plow and search for arrowheads, and it was retired for a tractor while he was a small boy- I have a few of these hand-hewn sharp points of flint and lime, and I treasure them- a link to the past even older than the hundred or more years my family farmed that land… a reminder that others once lived off of and loved it too.
Ok, someone pinch me. What’s your dream? Your perfect place? What would you do if there were no one to tell you no, no budget woes, nothing between you and your ideal life? And what can you do to start making it real?
For us, starting small- we’re holding open studios, a space for exchange of goods, ideas, and good will, starting this Sunday, Sept. 2nd from 11-4. The next will be on the 16th. And we’ll continue every first and third Sunday assuming all goes well. Possible BBQ afterward at the farmhouse… let me know if you don’t know where we are and want to stop by!
Ok, time to pack it up here, head to the studio, and make soap! I’ve been scheming on a new recipe for awhile and it’s time to jump in and do it… coming soon… Treehugger! A blend of spruces, pine, a touch of patchouli, tea tree, spice, and other woodsy goodness, speckled with blue spruce needles… still need to tweak the blend but it should be a nice addition to the line! It will be cured and ready by the second open studio… something to look forward to! But first, some glam shots from today’s back porch photo shoot… and there will be more tomorrow!
This is the sunrise I woke up to yesterday… I shuffled out to the coop with my coffee, to supervise the dog’s chicken surveillance, and was half tempted to get back in bed with a book for a bit… until I looked up. Whoa. Gorgeous! And, with the distant rumblings, a tad ominous. The top of the day’s to-do list was muck out the chicken coop bedding, spread the composted outside stuff on the garden, move the cleaner stuff from in the covered run to outside, and spread fresh straw all around… and if I was going to get that done before a possible downpour, that book would have to wait. This was the sky a few minutes after the first picture:
The dead tree behind the neighbor’s house makes this look like a January shot, not late August, eh? A good reminder to get to work, woman! Three hours later, the coop was fresh and I had a whole ‘barrow full of black magic for the garden, which is finally recovering from the rocky start this year: