Two of My Favorite Things

Sous vide. I’d vaguely heard of it, was mildly interested in the way I am always attracted to cooking/kitchen things. But I never actually got around to checking into it. Until, that is, I decided my air fryer was too small and I needed to upgrade. (Air frying, btw, is the BEST. And America’s Test Kitchen has the recipe for homemade fries that will blow your mind. Better than restaurant fries!)

So I went onto Amazon as one does, and was looking at air fryers when Amazon suggested I might like to look at a Ninja Foodi. I trust Amazon’s judgment, so I looked. Turns out a Ninja Foodi is a combination air fryer/pressure cooker/many other things. The one I ended up getting was a $200 machine on sale for $70 and it does EVERYTHING, including dehydrating and yogurt making and guess what? Sous Vide.

I donated my old air fryer and gave my Instant Pot away to a friend. As soon as I test the yogurt maker, I’ll probably be getting rid of that gadget too. But the Sous Vide button is my new best love. It’s a method of cooking that involves sticking your steak or vegetables into a zip lock bag, pressing out all the air, and cooking it in a water bath at a low temperature for 2-3 hours. And it is marvelous. The restaurants use this method because it makes food turn out perfectly every single time – exactly the same results with zero risk of under or overcooking. And it’s so friggin’ easy!

Steaks have always been temperamental in my kitchen. Sometimes they are successful, and sometimes they…are not. With sous vide, they are tender, juicy, just to the stage of doneness I prefer – and there’s no problem with trying to gage how long it will take so you can get your sides finished at the same time. With sous vide, they stay in the water bath until YOU are ready to take them out, and then you just finish them off in a hot skillet or grill for a minute on each side to give them a lovely crust. No stress, no rush, and the only work you have to do is season them, stick them in the bag/water bath, and walk away.

You can buy sous vide cookers individually, or you can get a Ninja Foodi. I highly recommend getting the Ninja. I cooked a Cornish hen in it yesterday. I put a frozen bird under the pressure cooker lid for 15 minutes, then took it out, seasoned it, and popped it under the air fryer lid for another 10 minutes, and I had a delicious, tender crispy skinned bird ready for the table. Freezer to table – boom! Just like that.

The other piece of tech I am loving lately is my Quest 2 virtual reality headset. It is marvelous and mind-blowing. And although you can hook it up to a gaming computer, it is complete on its own, the only thing you need is access to wifi to download the apps (and in some cases, to use the apps). Honestly, I bought it for the gaming and the virtual travel, but while both of those are amazing, I ended up loving it even more for a different reason: the exercise.

I am not a girl who exercises. You will never get me into a gym, and every attempt I’ve made at some sort of focused, regular exercise has ended in abject failure and total disinterest. But VR exercise? Okay, I not just love it, I am addicted to it! I can’t wait to get off work so I can hop on my stationary bike and explore fantasy worlds, Paris, fly through space, or pedal underwater with orcas and dolphins. Holofit is a monthly subscription fee, but it’s so worth it. They regularly update with new environments and new challenges. My favorite (so far!) is the underground mushroom kingdom.

Or I pull up YouTube VR and bike along to a real-world video. I’m particularly fond of biking the alps, I’ve discovered. I also found a bike ride along the Chicago lakefront at sunset that is spectacular. And then there’s Beat Saber, an exercise “game” that is great for your arms and brain. I started out completely hopeless at even the ’easy’ setting, but this week I managed to get through a complete song at expert level without missing a single beat. It’s so much fun. There are a bunch of others along a similar vein – my other favorite is Ragnarok. Race a Viking ship through really cool environments by beating drums to a rhythm.

Then there are the travel/educational experiences. I love the National Geographic app. There are only two destinations on it, so I hope they will add more, but their Antarctic one is brilliant. You paddle a kayak through the ice bergs hunting for a penguin colony and meeting whales and seals along the way. Do a little ice climbing, survive in a blizzard, and take a photo for the cover of the Nat Geo magazine!

Or, just travel to a place. This video is beautiful in 2D…just imagine it surrounding you as if you were actually there!

I also enjoy Real VR Fishing. I never was a fisherman in real life, but somehow there is nothing more relaxing than fishing in VR. After I level up a bit, I’ll be able to do ocean fishing which I hear is extraordinary, but even the river fishing is beautiful. There are a bunch of different destinations – night with fireworks, sunset with murmurations of birds, or a sitting in a rowboat with a rain falling lightly. You also get a lodge with a realistic fireplace and full-wall aquarium stocked with the fish you’ve caught!

And what do I say about the gaming? Goodness. It’s almost indescribable to be in the game, able to wander and create and fight and touch. Regular gaming is completely ruined for me now. I could never go back to a PC. There is a game called The Room that might have been perfectly designed for me. Egyptology, puzzles, old temples, herb witch’s cottages, and cathedrals – wow. These video clips I’m showing you can’t possibly show what it’s really like to be there. It’s so much more beautiful than it looks in 2D. 

I also love Vader Immortal, because I love Star Wars. Getting to use the Force and wield a lightsaber, getting to stand next to Darth Vader and have him attempt to lure me to the Dark Side…  And if you like a bit of fear, there is nothing like VR. Layers of Fear is a psychological horror game where you explore a dilapidated Victorian house trying to solve the mystery of the tragedy that happened there. Unlike a PC game, the VR headset knows exactly where your line of sight is at all times, which means they can play some really eerie tricks on you: doors that disappear and reappear the moment you look away, pictures that flicker with movement just at the corner of your eye, and numerous other things that simultaneously awed me and freaked me out. There are three potential endings in this game. I’ll have to play it again and someday when I decide I have enough courage to do the options that made me say nope no way the first time I played. I was genuinely afraid while playing this game, literally had cold chills running down my spine. Even though I knew I could just take the headset off at any time, it didn’t feel like I could. It felt like I was there, in that house. Another favorite is I Expect You To Die, where you play a spy completing various escape room type challenges. It’s snarky, creative, and I love that they allow you to come up with your own possible solutions, rather than there being just one solution like a lot of games. A Wolf in VR has a youtube series where he plays through various VR games, and I love his sense of fun. Below is one of his play-throughs – bonus that he begins the video in one of the Star Wars VR games…so you can see how fantastic that is!

I love that I can face my fears in VR, and do all the things that I can’t do in real life. Either because it’s too dangerous, or too expensive, or literally just too impossible. Visit outer space and float above earth. Walk across a narrow plank at the top of skyscraper – and then jump off and fly. Battle gigantic spiders, or demons, or aliens or zombies. Visit penguins and whales in their own environment. Learn about history by going there and experiencing it. Learn about biology by going inside a cell. Be anywhere in the world just by speaking its name. And, by doing all these things, keeping my brain active and alive and learning.

The library where I work has had VR headsets for the YA sections for awhile now, and I’ve been campaigning to use them in adult programming. We’ve been hampered by Covid and safety/liability concerns, but it looks like soon we’ll be offering free trials with the VR here at the library, and headsets to check out. Some places are taking VR to assisted living facilities, and it’s wonderful to see how the residents react to seeing places they never though they’d see again or experiencing something completely new. Maybe we’ll also be able to do that someday. This new technology will be so beneficial to many different people, whether they are older or disabled or like me, just want to stay as physically and mentally healthy as possible.

Hey, It’s Me Again

So I’ve had a few readers of this blog reach out to me lately, wondering if I’m ok. I guess I did kind of disappear off the map, didn’t I? No, it wasn’t because of anything bad. The opposite, actually. My last post mentioned that I’d gotten a promotion at work. Well, I’m no longer in *that* position any longer! An opportunity came up for a full-time job with amazing benefits. My boss really wanted me to go for it because I would be her right-hand woman and she knew we could work together as a great team.

And apparently I completely rocked the interview. The head boss was leaning hard toward bringing in some new blood and didn’t want to hire in-house but I overheard him talking afterward about how I’d shown that ‘experience really matters’. I was the hands down top pick of everyone on the interview team, even the ones who had never met me before.

So I am now a full-time employee at the Library which means benefits, more money, and…not nearly so much free time. Do you see where this is going? Yeah, no time to blog.

But I’m starting to figure out how to get my life into a new sort of balance, so I hope to get back to blogging at least occasionally. I like this blog for me, too. I like having the record of what I’m doing, and pictures of all my critters to look back on.

So here’s a catch up.

Last time we spoke, I had a goose.

I really did love that goose, but she was an experiment that didn’t work out. She bonded too strongly to me, and started trying to keep the chickens away from me. The chickens are my favorites, and when she grabbed a chicken by the wing and shook her, even though the chicken wasn’t hurt, I knew the goose had to go. I found an awesome home for her, with a family that wanted to raise a few friendly geese. Last I heard from them she had been given a clutch of fertile eggs, and was happily preparing to hatch out her own little flock.

I still have everyone else. The pigeons, the quail, the rabbits, the guinea pigs, and of course the chickens. I have also added a pair of turkeys.

The tom is a White Midget, and I originally had three poults I bought off a local. I was hoping I’d end up with a pair. Nope. All three were toms! Dang it! I saved the nice one, and put the other two in the freezer. This type of turkey won the blind taste at Mother Earth News, and wow, were they right. I have never tasted such a glorious and tender turkey. I generally am not a particular fan of turkey meat, but I definitely was of this particular turkey!

Turkey Boy (as he is known around the farm) is very protective of his Turkey Girl. She’s a Royal Palm, since I was unable to get another White Midget. He does NOT like me petting her, but she wants to be petted all the time, so he struggles with jealousy issues. I can handle him strutting his stuff to intimidate me and occasionally giving me a wing slap, but if he gets aggressive, he’ll have to go too. I won’t tolerate aggressive animals…even when they act aggressively only out of love. Right now I like him, because he doesn’t bother the chickens at all and doesn’t care if I pet them. He also goes charging to the rescue if anyone (even the chickens) sounds the alarm, so I like having him as a potential guard in the flock.

Everyone always asks about Ellie, my special miracle hen, so I’m happy to inform you that at thirteen years old, she’s still alive and as much of a diva as ever.

She’ll be turning fourteen this summer, and while she’s visibly slowing down, she still demands the best of everything. Every morning she comes out of the coop and goes to the gate, waits for me to open it, then goes and stands at the kitchen door – loudly complaining if I take too long feeding the other animals. She then struts her stuff into the kitchen, and waits (impatiently) for me to fill her special bowl with leftover treats. She’s been enjoying raisins and banana bread lately. Sometimes she’s happy to go back to her run after that, sometimes she tugs on my pants leg to let me know I need to sit down so she can have a cuddle on my lap. If it’s cold outside, she wants to get underneath my jacket for a little extra warmth. She has me on a schedule, and heaven help me if I don’t follow it exactly!

I decided to change up the back patio a bit this Spring, switching out the pots for raised beds. I was going to build some, but then I remembered the cost of wood has skyrocketed – and I don’t have time, anyway. So I bought some metal ones.

The wire over the top of the first one is temporary – Ellie liked to get up in it and scratch the dirt out while waiting for me to come let her into the kitchen. The “box” in the other is a Subpod.

I don’t have the worms yet. I’ll be getting those when things get a bit warmer. One of these metal beds will be for herbs. There is a special magic about setting outside your kitchen door when you’re cooking to cut a few herbal sprigs. The other three will be for hardier greens, things I might want to overwinter, or start early in the year. I have little greenhouses to fit over them.

And, speaking of greenhouses, I’ve been promising to build the chickens one for two years now. I was going to make a nice one out of wood and greenhouse siding, but now I have a lack of time. So temporarily at least, I bought them a cheapie one.

It won’t last forever, but I’ll be able to see how it works out, and if they will actually use it to escape from the weather. Our winters are becoming more severe here, with temperatures sometimes going as low as 4 degrees F.

I know. Those of you in other parts of the world are laughing, but it’s cold for us. It’s rare for us to go below 20 degrees, and most of the winter we’re above freezing. And we’ve been getting more snow, which my chickens hate with an unholy passion, delicate little divas that they are. I’m hoping to grow a bunch of comfrey in their greenhouse over the summer, then open it up in fall, let them eat the comfrey, then use the added warmth of the greenhouse to give them a more comfortable winter experience. Especially for the older girls.

Things coming this year? New digs for the quail and pigeons (I’m going to get a pair of fancy fantails to add to my White King pigeons, and drip irrigation for the raised beds.

Work + Pandemic = Fun

Some of you know I’m a librarian to support the garden and the critters. Since the pandemic hit, the library building has been closed to the public, but we’ve been doing curbside pickups of books and other things, like personal shopping, “Blind Date with a Book” and craft kits. A few months back, my boss said, “We should do a mystery game, something like Clue”. I’m still not sure exactly what she originally envisioned, but man-o-man are we ever doing a mystery game!

It began with a invitation to our patrons, followed up by this letter from a private detective:

Hello.


Thank you for responding to my plea for help in solving this mystery. As you already know, I am
a private detective and my name is—well, actually, I would feel more comfortable remaining
anonymous until I know you are someone I can trust. There are dangerous people searching for
me and I cannot risk my name being spoken carelessly in conversation. I will only say that I have
been retained by Todd Pearson, a Mount Vernon local, to clear his name and recover his family’s
stolen jewels.

For those same reasons, I have been forced to abandon my usual office and the librarians have
been kind enough to allow me to set up a temporary residence in the library, and here I sit,
surrounded by books, while you, dear reader and puzzle-solver extraordinaire, must be my
associate detective.


As the clues come into my hands, I will pass them on to you through my friends here at the
library, either through curbside pickup or by email. In each packet I give you, there will be one
critical clue that you must solve and return to me in order to remain eligible for a share of the
reward. Please return these promptly – lives might hang in the balance! There may also be other
puzzles included – if you solve these, you will win more immediate rewards.
I have determined that the library book drop is a secure location so you may drop your
completed clues inside—or else email them to me directly.
I look forward to continuing our association.


Yrs,

The Library Detective

P.S: If you choose not to aid me after all, please destroy this letter immediately. It must not fall
into the wrong hands. If it should, something far more catastrophic than a theft may result.

P.P.S: Beware of anyone with the initials JHM.

What followed after that was four weeks (to date, with three more weeks to go) of letters from the detective, interviews with various suspects and witnesses, and lots and lots of faked documents – everything from autopsy reports to arrest warrants, to boarding passes, to historical letters, to postcards from India.

Each week, there is a primary puzzle to be solved: a crossword that proves an alibi, a sudoku that reveals an address, a cryptic coded message that must be solved. One of those coded messages revealed an entire website, that I built for one of the suspects! Each week also has one or more bonus puzzles to be solved, and these were purposely designed around trying to drive business to the Downtown Mount Vernon stores. We had a few snotty store owners who refused to participate (names will not be named!), but most were delighted to play their part, and a few even donated some great prizes!

This week was particularly fun, because we staged a murder in front of the Lincoln Theater, and took crime scene photos.

And, for a bonus play, as our murdered victim had a pet squirrel, we made our players chase the squirrel the entire length of 1st Street, following squirrel prints that a co-worker and I spent two hours one Monday afternoon carefully applying to store windows, and sign posts.

The reaction from the public has been amazing. We weren’t at all sure how it would go, or if anyone would even want to play, but we had 75 sign up and have about 30 that are VERY devoted players, solving all our puzzles and sending extremely fun emails and photos to the Library Detective (we set up his own email account!). Some are playing solo, some are playing in husband/wife teams, and some are playing as an entire family group. One such family group even left us candy and flowers as a thank you, and raved for probably three minutes straight about how much fun they were having…and said it was exactly what they needed right now.

It’s been such fun for us, too. It’s me, my boss Laura, and my co-worker Reina who is running it – although Andrea in Youth Services was kind enough to play our murder victim! Laura is discovering a real talent for making the documents I write look genuine, Reina is primarily our continuity editor, proofreader, idea generator, and enthusiastic partner-in-fictional-crime – and I am the writer. It is great fun to create all these little stories told through snatches of interviews and letters, and it’s also fun to research all the details for things like arrest warrants in order to have them be at least passably correct.

It’s also a lot of stress, lol. None of us imagined it was going to turn into this massive thing, with so many moving parts, and as a result, we are just barely able to get each packet written, fabricated, and ready to go before it’s time to send it out!

But we’re already planning to do it again in the Fall…and Reina already has the plot.

Chicks and Penguins

After the USPS started allowing live animals shipments again we checked in regularly with the farm stores, and when Coastal finally said they’d gotten 25 Freedom Ranger chicks in, we rushed right down. They don’t start selling the chicks until 11am, so we made sure we were the first ones there at 10:30am. When the chick lady told us we were too early, I said, “I know. I’m here to wait, to make sure I get my chicks – I want 15 of the Freedom Rangers!”

And then, guys, when 11am rolled around, the chick lady told me she was only going to sell me five chicks. FIVE. After she KNEW I’d been standing there half an hour to buy fifteen! She said “there are other people here who want chicks, so I can only sell you five.” I said I was here first, and I’ve been waiting here half an hour. And anyway, the only other person here just wants six.” The Coastal lady was clearly trying to do the math in her head: 25-15-6=? It took her a few seconds of visible effort, but she finally came to the correct conclusion that even if she sold me 15, she’d still have more than enough for the other lady to have hers, too! But even as she reached for boxes and packaged my chicks, she was obviously disgruntled at allowing me to buy them. It was so very strange. A store employee can’t just randomly decide that the person who has been waiting to buy their product, cannot buy their product! Even if I had wanted all 25, that wouldn’t matter. Unless there is clearly a limit posted, anyone can walk in at any time and purchase the store’s entire stock of an item! I thought I was going to have to dig deep for my inner Karen and ask for the manager.

But the chicks themselves are lovely.

These are, of course, my yearly meat birds. I’ve tried other breeds, but Freedom Rangers are my favorite. They aren’t franken-chickens like the cornish cross, unnatural creatures that will literally just sit in front of a feeder and eat themselves to death if you don’t restrict their food. They also are capable of surviving longer than 8 weeks without breaking a leg just by trying to stand, or having heart attacks from the stress of growing so large, so fast. Freedom Rangers are just like normal chickens, except they grow considerably faster than your typical layer. They are also super docile and sweet as chicks, and very easy to manage right up to adulthood. The roosters at that point do become a little ornery, but that’s all to the good. It’s easier to butcher ornery birds!

But right now…they’re so cute it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever reach that point.

It’s good to have them here on the farm. With all the USPS nonsense, I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to get them this year!

Last week I had three yards of compost delivered, and I spent about a day and a half shoveling compost into my new strawberry beds and also the container vegetable beds.

And yes, I did put straight compost into them. It’s a myth that you shouldn’t plant directly into compost. As long as the compost is…composted…it’s a perfect planting medium. Charles Dowding, the British no-dig garden guru says you’re making a mistake if you fill your beds with anything else. Of course, he prefers homemade compost, but I simply do not have 3 yards of spare compost laying around, lol. I wish!

The picture above is of my front yard vegetable garden, grown in containers because of the horrific bindweed infestation I have that makes in-ground gardening virtually impossible. That is about to change, however. By the time these containers wear out – or even before they do – I expect to have bindweed eradicated from my garden. How, you ask? Harnessing the power of pigs!

Guinea pigs.

The ONLY way that works to get rid of bindweed is to nip off every last bit of leaf that dares attempt to grow. I know it works, because last year my mom got rid of the bindweed in one tiny part of the backyard by daily pinching off every sprout. Our yard is far too large for that to be feasible, but here’s where the pigs come in. Guinea pigs love to eat bindweed! They will happily scamper around, eating every bit they can find. So this front vegetable patch is now the territory of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, our two male pigs.

Notice the ramp on the front of their coop? In the mornings, I open the door, and they come out, and eat everything in reach (Hence the raised containers for the veggies! Guinea pigs, unlike rabbits, don’t dig or jump). In the evening, they go back up the ramp and put themselves to bed in exchange for a scoop of timothy pellets.

In the back yard, I have a second vegetable container garden, this one patrolled by the original two pigs: Fiona and Freddie.

And in the far back corner, I have the last two pigs: Fancy and Phoebe, who are responsible for the medicinal herb garden. In the below picture, the cage straight ahead is Cocoa the angora rabbit’s home. You can see the ramp leading to the pig’s coop on the left.

I’m thinking after a couple of years of piggo patrol, the bindweed will be gone. Then I will have to reconsider my options. I still want the pigs to patrol for stray dandelions and bitterweed, because there is something so pleasant about gardening in the company of animals. I nearly always have the pigs or chickens or ducks working beside me! But I might want to dispose of the containers, and start building simple raised beds. Just tall enough to keep out the pigs! We’ll see if I’m even still here in two years…this world is rapidly coming to an end, and Jesus Christ is just about to remove his church off the earth and bring down his judgement! But until then, my job is to be a good steward of the specific piece of earth he has given into my care.

I’d like to end this with a couple of awesome things I recently purchased. The first is this DIY Garden Hoops kit.

It’s cheap, and I don’t expect it will last forever, but it will last long enough to be worth it. You get a number of plastic hoop sections and connectors that you can put together in any way you want, then cover with either plastic for a mini cold frame or with netting to keep cabbage moths off your cabbages.

I’ve bought three packages (so far) and I’ve set up one raised bed on the back patio for future winter growing of lettuce and greens.

And I used the rest to make mini ones for the some of the container veggie beds.

I love that they are so easily customizable, and changeable, too. I want to be able to protect certain vulnerable crops from caterpillars and aphids without actually killing those bugs. I WANT them in my garden, just not devouring my cauliflower and cabbage!

And my FAVORITE new thing is the Egguin. Oh my goodness, you guys, I LOVE this thing! Someone posted it in my local poultry facebook group, and I immediately went to Amazon and bought it. And it was delivered the next day. It is a thing of cuteness and extreme usefulness!

One of the problems I have with hard boiled eggs is that they are always getting mixed up in the fridge. Once I actually sold a dozen eggs to a co-worker…only to have him come laughing to me later saying he tried to crack one of the eggs, only to discover it was hard-boiled! The way the Egguin works is…you put your eggs inside, then put the whole thing in a pot of boiling water, cook them to your satisfaction (and the eggs don’t crack while boiling because they are cradled safely by the penguins!) and then when cooked, you simply put the whole thing in your fridge. It’s seriously genius. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve bought…in my whole life. It amuses me, and makes my life easier. It even fits all sizes of eggs – even X-large Muscovy duck eggs.

I’ll leave you with one last picture of Spring. I have lettuce growing outside!

Beginnings of the Bantam Coop

The weather here has been…unpredictable, to say the least. We’re past the snow and the below freezing temperatures, I’m happy to say…but literally we can have all four seasons within a two hour period. Last Sunday, it was cloudy with a couple of stray showers, and I was trying to build up enough enthusiasm to go outside and work anyway. But then the skies abruptly opened, and TORRENTIAL rain poured down…and out of nowhere it got windy, and the road outside my window turned into a lake, and the wind was blowing the water down the street and up into the air, and it was…kind of cool, actually. My mom asked, “Are you still thinking about going outside?” And I said, “I think that dream is over.”

And then. And THEN. Five minutes later, the wind went away, the rain went away, and the most glorious sunshine you ever saw came pouring out. Friends, I grabbed my chance, and went outside!

Over the next couple of days (none with such glorious sunshine, however) I did a few things that needed to be done. Including setting the foundation for the new bantam coop.

This area, back behind the pigeon coop, is definitely a work-in-progress at the moment. It’s looking pretty terrible. Actually, maybe you should just pay attention to the cute corgi! There used to be a compost pile back here, but I’ve decided my new method of composting will be to throw it all in the bantam run, and let the chickens do the work. So I moved the third guinea pig coop back here.

It is currently wrapped in plastic to keep out the winter wind. But eventually, the pigs will be bindweed patrol for the herb garden further behind it, and this area underneath and in front of it.

And this is the foundation for the bantam coop.

The chickens will be able to go underneath, but I primarily want it raised off the ground to keep rats from burrowing under it.

And here’s a view from the other side, looking down what will eventually become a covered bantam run.

No corgi in this picture. 😦

And I’m happy to say I will quite possibly be getting turkeys again this year! Last year’s turkeys were an accident (the breeder sent me turkey eggs instead of the chicken eggs I ordered) but this time I found a local breeder of White Midget turkeys. They are the smallest breed of turkey, the females are about as big as a large chicken hen, and when Mother Earth News did a turkey taste test these guys were rated the best tasting by far! I plan to get around 4-6 poults (baby turkeys) and keep one pair to breed, and harvest the rest. I love having sustainable, humane sources of meat on my urban farm. Did you know that those butterball turkeys you buy at the grocery store have been commercially bred to pack on the weight until they can barely stand on their own by butcher date? The female turkeys have to be artificially inseminated to be bred, as the turkeys themselves are incapable of breeding naturally due to their size? As Joel Salatin would say, “Folks, that ain’t normal.”

Forget Winter…Spring is Coming!

The snow is all gone now, and good riddance! I will never, ever be a winter person. There are really only two things I like about winter: getting to wear my Icelandic sweater, and watching the trumpeter swans migrate directly over my house. Sometimes they honk as they fly, and that is one of my favorite sounds in the world. Sometimes they are silent, but fly so low I can hear the soft flapping of their wings over my head. I love that, too. I am so grateful to live exactly where I am! While the snow was keeping me from working in my garden, I baked. Woman Scribbles is the ONLY recipe blogger I follow, and she’s amazing. I have tried several of her recipes and they are always super easy to make and turn out fantastic. All but one have been “I MUST make this again!” successes, and the one I tried last week…oh, my goodness. I am addicted to it. I made a loaf two different times during that week, and I’m making another tomorrow! It’s her Cinnamon Roll Bread Loaf and look how complicated it looks. Don’t believe it…it’s the simplest thing ever. Seriously.

And after it bakes? Gorgeous! I’m drooling just looking at it.

The other thing I did while I waited out the snow was get started on my seed planting. I have tomatoes, onions, and leeks started now, with brassicas to follow tomorrow. It is so satisfying this time of year to stand in my greenhouse, hands in the dirt, with that lovely warm smell of spring filling the air.

Especially when your view outside of the greenhouse is this:

I mentioned last time that I made a new strawberry bed as a trial, using a non-pallet version of Lovely Greens’ design. Here it is.

I will line the inside with landscape cloth, then punch holes for the strawberry plants as I fill it with compost. Like hers. She used straw in this particular photo, but I shy away from straw because so much of it is contaminated with herbicides these days. People of ruined their gardens, using straw (or even cow manure) from non-organic places.

I’ll be able to grow around 40 strawberry plants in this. If it does well, I’ll build a second one next year. I’m also testing out a couple other methods, because you can never really have too many strawberries! I bought two of these garden grow bags. I’ve heard good things. We’ll see!

I also bought a Mr Stacky planter.

And lastly…to get ready for spring, I set up the brooder for the meat chicks.

I was hoping to get them this week, but the USPS has gone all villain-ish and put an embargo on all live animal shipping. This is a truly tragic thing, because the hatcheries have already put those hatching eggs into the incubators, and whether or not they are allowed to ship, those chicks WILL be hatched. Hundreds of them, across the USA. The hatcheries can’t delay this, and once the chicks hatch, they are either forced to find local homes for them, or kill them. The hatchery I got an email from said they were fortunately able to find local places to accept their chicks THIS week, but if the embargo doesn’t end by next week, it will quite possibly mean those chicks will be killed. And of course the hatchery will have lost a lot of money, and some of the hatcheries are small family businesses, and won’t be able to survive. This embargo is NOT about the weather. According the USPS, it is because they are behind in their deliveries and have decided to prioritize non-living packages over living ones. This is, of course, is the complete opposite to what they should prioritize! It makes me so sad. I’m really praying the embargo is lifted next week, and those chicks can be shipped. Every life is a precious thing, and shouldn’t be wasted.

So I don’t have to end there, on that note, I’ll tell you about one more favorite thing of mine. These seed sprouting jars. I love them. My mom got them for me for Christmas, and they are the easiest way of sprouting seeds I’ve tried.

This week, weather permitting, I plan to get started building something. Not sure what. The new greenhouse for the chicken yard that I’m going to plant with comfrey? Could be. Remodeling one of the old quail coops to hold two of my free-ranging herd of bindweed devouring guinea pigs? Needs to be done soon! Or maybe start work on the new bantam/pigeon coop? So much I want to build! Come on, sunshine! Or least…please don’t rain. Or snow.

Oh, yeah. And I also need to put my rabbits together for a play date, and get some new baby bunnies started! 😉

Snow Day!

Where I live in the PNW, snow is rare. We can go years without anything but the lightest dusting…if we get anything at all. Today I woke up to about five inches of the white stuff, which was enough to get me a paid snow day off at work! As I write this now, it’s still snowing, and we’re up to about eight inches. Tomorrow, it’s supposed to start melting, and the temperatures are supposed to stay above freezing even at night, so this is basically the perfect kind of snow. It comes, it looks gorgeous, then it goes quietly away within a couple of days, without turning into crusted ice.

Dexter, my corgi was extremely excited. He loves snow. We took him a long walk, and he enjoyed every second…even though the snow cmpletely buried his legs.

What was strange though, is I let the cat, Bundy, out into his catio, thinking he’d avoid the snow…but he loved it too!

Predictably, the ducks were ok with it, and they looked mighty pretty out roaming about the garden.

The chickens were less impressed. They HATE snow. Absolutely hate it. They took one look and refused to come out of the coop…even though they normally can’t wait to escape the coop every morning.

Goosie (who assumes she is a chicken because she was raised by a chicken mom with chicken sisters) thought she’d hate it too. But once I shooed her out into it, she couldn’t figure out why the chickens were being so weird about it.

I was going to show you the new raised strawberry planter I made, but now it’s covered in snow, so you’ll have to wait. Though it doesn’t look like it at the moment, spring will be here very, very soon, and I am rushing to get ready. I have my tomato seedlings growing in the kitchen window, and tomorrow I’m starting more seeds. I made a 3D paper mockup of the new bantam coop I’m building, and am so eager to get started building the actual thing…but first priority are some other projects. Update on those in my next post, once this white stuff goes away.

Oh, and if I needed anymore proof of spring on the way? Watch this:

New Additions to the Farm

I had a birthday last Sunday, and it was raining, so of course I went to the local nursery and picked up four new blueberry bushes: a Chandler, a Duke, a Kathren, and an Olympia. I have a row of blueberries in the front yard, and last year they did well enough that I actually got to freeze a nice sized bag of berries. So we decided to pull out the gooseberries that were nearby. Three of the gooseberries were replanted in the chicken run, and two others I gave to a friend for her chicken run. This left a nice place to plant more blueberries. Which I did. In the rain. On my birthday. This is how an urban farmer celebrates her birthday…playing in mud!

You can barely see the blueberry plants in there…they are just bare twigs at this point. The area in front used to be the Shuksan strawberry bed, but there is too much bindweed here for that to work out well. Also too many wild rabbits, but another project this year was putting black chicken wire all along the bottom two feet of the perimeter fence to keep them out. I like cute little bunnies as much as the next girl, but there is a nasty disease they can carry and spread to my domestic rabbits, so I want to at least keep them off the property. So I still need 1 -2 more blueberry bushes for here, and I’m moving the strawberries to a version of Lovely Greens’ raised strawberry planter.

She uses reclaimed pallets, but I don’t have those (and I’ve heard many of them are contaminated with chemicals) so I’m using regular wood. Hopefully it works out well. It would be nice to get the berries off the ground – no rotting berries, and no slug damage! I also have an order in with Raintree Nursery for a few more Shuksan plants.

Looking slightly further ahead to Spring, I’m making plans for which eggs I’m hatching out this year. Since I lost my sweet little cochin bantam hens (who were supposed to be my broodies) I’m starting out from scratch. I want to hatch out some more cochin bantam eggs, as I’m building a new coop/run that will be safe from hawks. I also found an amazing guy on Ebay who sells serama hatching eggs. He lives in a place that gets really cold winters and really hot summers, so he’s bred his birds to be extremely hardy. My winter/summer conditions are not so extreme as his, but I do love the idea of seramas that don’t need special care. If you’re not familiar with seramas, they are the world’s smallest chicken. So freaking adorable!

I’ve always been interested in these, but resisted for two reasons: the lack of hardiness, and the fact that they are so small I worried about predators if I just mixed them in with my full-sized flock. They are just so so so CUTE though! (If you’re on instagram, follow mad4hens…she has a mini flock of the most adorable little snuggly serama birds.)

Also, because I’m down to just one hen left of my original four bobwhite quail (old age took the others away) So I’m hatching more. I won an ebay auction for 12+ Snowflake bobwhite eggs, and those are my favorite. They are so beautiful.

I had a Brinsea mini incubator that I was happy with, but the automatic egg turner on it stopped working, and it’s just a little small. So I decided to upgrade slightly to a Harris Farms Nurture Right Incubator. Unlike my old one that could hold 8 chicken eggs, this one holds up to 22. It also has an egg candler build right in!

As so many of my eggs are fancy breeds that need to be shipped, the usual hatch result is 50% of however many eggs you incubate. Eight eggs in means only four hatched…and two of those could be roosters! Not great odds! I’d like to have enough chicks so I can choose by temperament/color which ones to keep and which ones to sell. The new incubator is coming today in the mail, and I am excited! Wish I could pop some eggs in right away…but it’s still a bit too early for chicks.

I have so many projects this Spring – it feels a bit overwhelming, honestly! I already have a ‘honey do’ list as long as my arm…and the problem is, I’m the honey. Besides building the new bantam coop/run, I’m remodeling two of the guinea pigs coops, and a former rabbit hutch into a broody hen coop, building a new moveable pigeon tractor to put those birds to work, building a greenhouse in the chicken run, and building numerous raised strawberry/garden beds – oh, and building a small raised pond for my goldfish. Plus there’s all the ‘fun’ projects like birdhouses, guinea pig chalets, and yard furniture I’d like to make.

Lots of building. So much building. Strange to think that a few years back I hardly knew how to use a hammer!

Favorite Things of 2020

This is going to be a bit of jumble post. A little bit of urban farm update, plus some of my favorite things of last year. I know 2020 sucked for a lot of people, but I’m going to focus only on the positive!

First off, in urban farming, I am so hopeful for this coming season. My biggest issue in the garden has always been my persistent and overwhelming bindweed problem. Then I got a team of partially free-range guinea pigs, muscovy ducks and a goose, and I watched my bindweed literally disappear. So this year will be more of the same, plus some changes/adaptations I’m making to work around the bindweed-eating critters. Because ya’all know…if they’ll eat bindweed, they’ll eat everything else, right? Well, almost everything! The guinea pigs are fenced into three areas of vegetable/herb gardens. Because they don’t dig or jump, I’m doing container gardening in their areas, and letting them eat all the weeds in the ground, including the bindweed. The pigs are EAGER to get to work!

For the larger garden, I’m planting more of what the ducks don’t eat (roses, peonies, herbs, etc) and fencing off a section that doesn’t have bindweed to plant a few treasured plants that they DO eat.

Because it’s right in the middle of their coop/run entry, I had to leave a walkway for them to come and go. One thing I’m planting here is more wild violets. Besides being beautiful, they are edible. I bought some from Box Turtle Seeds, and they arrived today in great condition.

Speaking of seeds, if you haven’t yet ordered yours, you’d better get on that. Last year, many varieties were sold out, and this year is shaping up to be even worse. I’m hearing that supply is already getting limited, and lots of my favorite companies are actually closing to orders (at least temporarily) while they catch up on the tremendous influx of orders they already have! Personally, I bought most of mine months ago, enough for both Spring and Fall planting. I even bought an awesome storage box for them.

It’s actually meant for photos, but it works perfectly for seeds. Most people seem to get the clear colored one, but I got the rainbow, because I can use the colors to visually sort the seeds. Green for lettuce, yellow for squash, red for tomatoes…you get the idea! I also used a sharpie to write on them, rather than messing with labels. A bit of rubbing alcohol takes the sharpie right off, if you need to change anything!

It’s like it was made for seed packets!

It’s hard to believe, but in about a week, I’ll be starting the first seeds, breeding my rabbits, and picking up the first batch of chicks! I hope we’ll have an early Spring…and the garden seems to think we will. The clematis is budding out, and the bluebells are coming up!

I also am experimenting this year with different ways to grow strawberries. One thing I’m testing out is Mr. Stacky:

And I have bought a new variety of strawberries from Scenic Hill Farm to put in it. They are called Eclair, and they are so scrumptious-looking.

2020 has actually been a good year for me, despite all the stuff happening out there, and as I said before I’m only going to talk about positive things. So here are a few unexpected things I have enjoyed.

  1. Social distancing. Maybe I’m the only one out there, but I like the whole not-shaking-hands and wearing a mask. It is NICE not to have to have some guy crush my rings into my fingers, or suffer through one of those ‘limp noodle’ handshakes far too many women seem to give…you know that type…when they just lay their fingers limply in your hand and leave them laying there? *shudder* Plus, I always have cold hands in winter, and it is awesome not to hear “cold hands, warm heart” every time I shake hands. Gets old fast, lol. And masks. Yeah, sometimes they got a little stuffy in summer, but in winter? LOVE. IT. So cozy, and I can mutter under my breath without anyone thinking I’m crazy. And no worries about spinach stuck in my teeth! Plus there’s the whole no-getting-sick thing – and I’m not just talking about Covid. You would not believe how many people across the counter from me at work used to just cough and sneeze IN MY FACE without any attempt to turn away or cover it. Now they have to be masked AND stay six feet away. It’s brilliant.
  2. Shopping. Curbside pickup is the BOMB. Love it with a passion. Never, ever want to go back to the way I shopped before.
  3. My job. I’m deeply saddened that so many of my co-workers were let go, and I do miss seeing and talking to a bunch of my favorite customers face-to-face. But since the library is now closed to public and we are only doing curbside pickup, I’m not going to lie…there are a number of things I really, really love. Most of the things that were the most stressful and aggravating about my job have just…disappeared. The drug addicts sleeping in the reference room and causing periodic ruckus and 911 calls and fears of someone being stabbed…no longer a thing. Fighting with customers over not taking off their clothes/bathing/doing drugs/unmentionable things in the bathroom…no longer a thing. Angry people throwing books and library cards in our face…no longer a thing. Dealing with poop/pee/vomit/blood…no longer a thing. Instead, there is a calm, quiet building full of books, and I can eat my lunch out in the stacks in the cozy chair by the window, or leave my projects spread out on the tables, or shout back and forth across the building with my co-workers. The only nasty people I have to deal with are those idiots who refuse to wear a mask or follow the rules at curbside pickup. It hasn’t happened to me, but my co-workers have had people deliberately pull down their masks to cough on them, or twirl a mask between their fingers while screaming”You can’t make me wear this!” like a five-year-old child having a temper tantrum. I honestly don’t care if you believe Covid exists, or not, or what your political views are. If you can’t respect me and my co-workers enough to put a piece of cloth on your face for the five seconds it takes for us to confirm your ID with your driver’s license, you are a terrible person. Okay, that got a bit negative. But overall, my job has been great these past months. We are even doing fun things with our pickups, like offering personal shopping for books, and right now, we’re working on setting up an interactive puzzle-based mystery for our patrons!

Lastly, I wanted to share a few of my favorite things I’ve discovered this past year. First off, I was having some issues with inflammation in my knees and back. The knee thing was on-and-off, but the back pain got pretty bad, to the point where I would wake up every morning feeling like a 95 year old. Not fun. I did some research, and discovered turmeric can help. You do have to be careful that it comes from a good source, and in order for it to be absorbed by your body, it needs to have black pepper added. I found NatureWise Curcumin Turmeric, and started noticing improvement in the first week. By the time I’d gone through the first bottle (a two months supply), my back was almost back to normal, and so were my knees! This is a keeper, for sure.

If you have critters, you know the struggle of keeping them in clean water. I found these RentACoop waterers, and am a convert. They don’t leak (as long as you screw them together REALLY tightly) and are so easy to keep filled. They make them in several sizes and styles, and I’ve been switching the quail, pigeons, guinea pigs and finches over to them. Still need to buy a few more!

And lastly, my four favorite books.

The Book on Pie: Everything You Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies. I am a sucker for pie books. I buy them all. Do I actually bake any of the pies? Sometimes.

Meat Illustrated: A Foolproof Guide to Understanding and Cooking with Cuts of All Kinds. Also a bit of a sucker for books about meat. I want to learn how to cook all those cuts I see in the grocery store and never know what to do with! You can’t go wrong with America’s Test Kitchen. Not only to do they tell you EXACTLY how to do it, in order to make it turn out, they tell you WHY. It is one of my pet peeves when a book says “Don’t do that thing”, but doesn’t say what will happen if you do. If I ever burn the house down, it will be because a book told me not to do a thing, and I was feeling testy and did it anyway just to see what would happen. Because I want to know. America’s Test Kitchen will never put me in that situation.

The Fat Kitchen: How to Render, Cure & Cook with Lard, Tallow & Poultry Fat. If I could convince everyone to do just ONE thing in their kitchen, it would be to throw out all their margarine, canola oil, and Crisco – and start cooking with animal fats. Those medical studies that convinced you animal fats are dangerous? Outdated and wrong. The NEW studies show it’s exactly the opposite: man-made fats are the dangerous ones, while grassfed animal fats are good for you! And they taste SO incredibly good…I mean, if you’ve never had potatoes cooked in duck fat, you haven’t lived.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. I have long been a fan of V.E. Schwab, but this particular book…it’s the book that is going to make her career. Indescribable, beautiful, haunting, and deeply thought-provoking, this is the book I recommend to my literary book snob friends who look down their noses at mere ‘genre fiction’.

Wow, that was a longer post than I thought it would be…I guess that happens when I don’t post for weeks….

LitJoy Magical Subscription Crate

Every now and then, I treat myself to a subscription…for at least a few months. I’ve done healthy snacks, lipbalms, and snacks from around the world. Now I’m trying something a little more pricy than my usual, but it’s so quality that it’s worth it! Meet the LitJoy Magical Crate.

Last week, I got my first box, and even the outside was magical.

Inside, was a fantastic collection of magical items, and the packaging was just as beautiful as the actual things. The first thing I pulled out was this metal tin filled with individual tea bags. I’m not a huge tea-drinker, but the smell of this tea was extraordinary! Just like chocolates and raspberries. Yummy!

Next was a glass perfume bottle. Again, look at the packaging!

They gave me a print of the design on the box, which I love, and a bookmark.

There were three metal pins. I particularly love the two alley ones.

A very thick and heavy coin, demonstrating the proper wand movement for a wand spell.

And the wand itself. In a gorgeous box.

A magical pet toad (and this one was my least favorite, just because I don’t think the toad is very cute. I love toads, but this one is just…blah.) But still adorable packaging!

And this contraption. Again, I am so impressed with how quality everything is. This is made of some very solid, heavy metals.

And it works!

Even the sheet of paper explaining what each item is, and who made it, is a work of art.

Over all, I’m deeply impressed, and looking forward to my next book, which will arrive around my birthday in January. Perfect timing!