Category Archives: Life

Spring Plans 2017

Every year…every year, I have a list of things to build and do as long as my arm. This year is no exception.  Although it is still below freezing here, I’ll be starting my cabbage and kale seeds very soon. I’ve got all my seeds purchased and waiting…even the ones I won’t be able to plant for months yet. Two mail order companies I particularly love are Baker  Creek and Seed Renaissance. Both stock rare and wonderful heirloom seeds – sometimes ones you can’t find anywhere else.

Besides the seeds, I am making plans for parts of the property that have been neglected for years.  The colony meat rabbits will finally be coming this year. It’s perfect timing, because their housing will be paid for by a Victorian costume I sold to a Los Angeles “stylist to stage and screen”! I’m going to build it here, in this shady bit of space behind the old apple tree.

Before I can build this, however, I’m moving the pet rabbits out of the former duck house and into a place of their own. Here, at the side of the chicken coop.

The idea is, they will have a bit of outdoor space to run in, and – if they and the chickens get on together – they will be able to have access to the entire chicken yard, too. We’ll see how that goes…Antoinette is not a great fan of critters in her yard.

She chases squirrels out the coop, and once, when the rabbits were a lot younger and smaller, she jumped on one and attempted to thoroughly thrash it. (I’m not sure the rabbit noticed…)

Once the pet rabbits are moved into their new quarters, I’ll have the former duck coop available again…and this year, I’m getting a few Naked Neck chickens to raise for meat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Naked Neck, or “Turken”

I have decided against raising the traditional “broilers”, those unnatural frankenchickens. Instead I chose this traditional meat breed, partly because they naturally have 40% less feathers (and not just on their necks). Less feathers mean less plucking!

Since I will be butchering both rabbits and meat chickens here next year, I decided I need a sort of summer kitchen, with an outdoor sink and a place to process animals. I selected this corner, which has always just been a place to store excess junk.

One bonus, once I put up a new solid fence at the back, it will be very private and out of the way of nosy neighbors.

The frizzle cochins roosters are gone…into my freezer. Probably because of the time of year, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take them off my hands. It’s just as well, really. They were massive boys (I called them the “Turkeys”) and butchering them was good practice for what’s to come.  The larger one dressed out at just over 5lbs, and the smaller just under that.

I used my new Ballista bolt gun, and I highly, highly recommend it. Easy to use, and I loved how instant and humane the death was. I truly believe the roosters were dead without ever having any inkling anything was happening. Even mom helped with the plucking and gutting.  And one interesting thing I noticed while gutting them: they didn’t stink. It’s pretty commonly known that the insides of chickens smell pretty terrible – that was certainly the case with the one other rooster (belonging to a friend) that I butchered. Gah. Nasty. But because my chickens eat a natural diet of grains, bugs, and vegetables (plus some table scraps) their poop doesn’t stink…and so apparently…neither do their insides.

My hens were SO HAPPY to have the roosters gone. The girls generally would not put up with any roostery nonsense from the boys, but my shy little Barnvelder, Josie, was being terrorized by them. The last couple of days, she took to hiding all by herself in the back of the yard, and wouldn’t come to the coop even to eat or drink unless I was there.  Even after I saw this happening, and penned the roos up separately so they couldn’t get to the hens, she didn’t feel safe. Poor girl.  Today, the first full day the roos are gone, the hens are so relaxed. They are sleeping in the sun, stretched out and purring.

I am, of course, keeping their sister, the blue frizzle cochin Ophelia. She’s such a calm, pretty girl…and she loves having her picture taken. She’ll stand and wait, every time she sees the camera.

My little soulmate chicken, Ellie, hates the camera – but also gets extremely jealous of all the attention Ophelia is getting. She pulls on my pants legs, whining with increasing volume and anxiety, and if I still keep ignoring her, she stalks away and stands in the corner with her back to me until I apologize.

This is my life: fluffy frizzle divas and jealous Welsummers.

Advertisements

My Favorite Books of 2016

As always, I read a ton of books in 2016 – 155 of them, to be exact! Out of those, here is my annual list of the ones I loved the most. They are in no particular order…except that my Book of the Year is at the end.

#1: Bread Illustrated, a Step-by-Step to Achieving Bakery Quality Results at Home, by the America’s Test Kitchen.

indexMy new go-to bread book.  Love that it explains why it tells you to do a particular step, or use a certain flour, or whatever. The illustrations are amazing, and all the recipes I’ve tried have turned out perfectly.

#2: Thicket, by Joe R. Lansdale

51dijm6-dtlWow, this man can write. Beautiful book.

#3: How to Be a Victorian, by Ruth Goodman

2So very fascinating, and unlike virtually every other “how they lived” book out there, this author knows her business first-hand. She has spent months living in the Victorian world, and has personally worn, eaten, and done the work she writes about. No silly comments about corset-wearing women being unable to sit down in this book – she’s actually harvested wheat with a scythe while wearing hers! (And found it easier than when not wearing a corset actually, back support for the win!) I now want to try making some of the skin creams and other cosmetics; they sound much better than our modern ones – and much safer for our health.

#4: Crimson Peak Art of Darkness, by Mark Salisbury

crimson-peakI have been insanely obsessed with Crimson Peak since I saw the film; it’s quite possibly the most insanely gorgeous movie I have ever seen. I watched it twice in two days. Of course I had to buy this book instantly, and I found it nearly as amazing as the film. Gorgeous, gorgeous book on the making of a gorgeous, gorgeous film. Too many usages of the word ‘gorgeous’? No. Not possible, not for Crimson Peak.

#5:  Project Animal Farm, by Sonia Faruqi

index4

Absolutely necessary book – everyone needs to read this. It’s frightening how many people want to keep their heads buried in the sand, and continue supporting the torture, suffering, and extremely inhumane death of billions of animals every year, rather than wake up and realize what’s going on. And don’t even get me started on what this ‘food’ is doing to our own health, and the health of our world.

#6: Eat Dirt, by Josh Axe

index6And if you don’t know what our factory farming, incredibly over-sanitized way of life is doing to your health, this book will explain it.  A must-read, especially if you have children, or an autoimmune disorder of any kind. Or, really, if you have any kind of health issue at all. It’s amazing what sorts of things are caused by gut issues, things you’d never think of.

#7: What Ho, Automaton! by Chris Dolley

51ohvzw3xal-_sx322_bo1204203200_Jeeves & Wooster pastiche, with a steampunk twist. Loved this SO much!

#8: Introduction to Permaculture, by Bill Mollison

index4So inspiring. So many great ideas – some I can put into practice now, others that will have to wait until I get my country farm. LOVE the detailed line drawings. I could just pore over those all day.

#9: American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett

indexIf you like classic Stephen King, you’ll love this. Nicely thick doorstopper of a book, with all the character-building, slow buildup, and eerie storyline of the best of King. Loved it. And might I add: the cover is gorgeous.  I think I would have read anything that had this cover on it!

#10: The Black Belt Librarian, by Warren Graham

indexNow this one is very specialized, and if you aren’t a librarian, it’s probably not for you. But if you are, this book might just entirely change your professional life. I am a librarian, and my library has slowly become a place where no one feels safe either working or visiting. I’ve had so many long-time patrons come up and say they would no longer be coming in, because of the safety issues. Thankfully, the Mayor came to bat for us, booted out the leadership that was allowing this happen, and brought this book to our attention. It’s been revolutionary.  If you aren’t a librarian, but you visit a library where you feel unsafe, you might want to mention this book to your local librarian. It’s pricey, but worth every penny!

#11: The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud

indexEvery time one in this series comes out, it makes my favorites list. Every. Freaking. Time. The series is THAT good! Extremely well-written, fantastic world-building, and great plot and characters. Don’t be thrown off by the fact that it’s a ‘grade school novel’. It isn’t, not really. It’s just a truly wonderful book that happens to have young characters.

#12: The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, by David Asher

51vyqwkdjpl-_sx398_bo1204203200_Wow. Just wow. What a brilliant, needed book. A valuable read even if you aren’t interested in making cheese yourself. And he uses kefir for his starter! So grateful and delighted I found this book.  Do yourself a favor and make creme fraiche with your kefir. It is to die for. I could sit and eat it with a spoon. And then, use the creme fraiche to make cultured butter….oh, the silkiness! The flavor! You’ve never had butter like this. This book would have been my favorite of the year, hands down, except for the book below.

#13: The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs, by Joel Salatin

51jdpvtpql-_sx330_bo1204203200_This the book I have been waiting my whole life for someone to write. It’s brilliant, and captures my entire philosophy, world-view, and personal goals, all in one. There are really no words to describe the meaning of this book to me.

Christmas and New Year Cookery

This holiday season, I’ve been all about the cooking and baking.  I don’t know what’s gotten into me! In my family, we have three days of Christmas, and for each day, I made a point of making something new and yummy to eat.

On the 23rd of December, I made homemade (and full-fat) chicken alfredo, with from-scratch noodles.  Both were winners, although rolling out the noodles by hand convinced me I do want that pasta machine I’ve been eyeing at the kitchen store.  In the evening, I made apple pie cinnamon rolls, and they were delicious! I’ll be making these again for sure – especially since they freeze like a dream!

We opened some of our presents on the 23rd too, and my favorite two items were this pig pitcher:

And this clever bookmark. It’s a plastic stem and leaf; you put it in a book like this, and whenever you open the book again, it springs right to the page it’s “planted” in.

On the 24th, I made homemade pizza, using the fabulous thin crust recipe from Bread Illustrated, by the American’s Test Kitchen folks. The whole book is magic, and this pizza recipe is no exception. It was tasty!

For dessert, I made a vanilla souffle, using the perfect souffle recipe.

On the 25th, Mom made a fantastic ham dinner, and I was responsible only for the dessert. I made a triple berry pie, and went the extra mile in decorating the crust.

For New Year’s, I’ve been baking too. I made donuts – also from the Bread Illustrated cookbook. I won’t make these again, even though they were super easy, because I’m a Krispy Kreme girl, and these were just too heavy for me. Next time I make donuts, I’ll try one of the KK knock-off recipes. It sucks to be me, because our KK went out of business, so the only time I get them is when I travel. I was DELIGHTED to find them at the Victoria Station, in London!

I’ve also been cheesemaking once more, and I FINALLY cracked that elusive mozzarella! One of the best books I’ve ever purchased is The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, by David Asher. Finally, a book on cheesemaking that doesn’t require purchased starters, chemicals, fussy temperatures, or sterilization! It’s a book on cheese, the way it used to be made for thousands of years, before we all became afraid of our food. Brilliantly, it uses kefir as the starter, and it works perfectly. I made a simple rennet cheese, put half of the curds in cheese forms to age (still haven’t got to taste those yet) and turned the rest into mozzarella. Really good. Really, really good – and since I used raw milk, I got TONS more curd than I’m used to getting, with pasteurized and homoganized milk. And I’ll have whey left over to make ricotta, tonight!

And it’s not just cheese. Asher also talks about kefir in general; how to use it to make creme fraiche (I’m trying that tonight) and also naturally carbinated fruit drinks using kefir grains. I already started that, and as of this morning, it was already getting nice and fizzy. It’s great having so many uses for kefir, since it’s one thing I always have on hand.

In other news, I’ve been working hard on my next novels, and almost have books 1, 2, and 3 finished of the new steampunk series.  I could have 1 and 2 published already, but as I’m also photographing and creating the covers myself, that’s taking longer than the actual writing. I make it a goal to write at least 500 words every day, and I keep a running log of how much I write, and what the total number of words to date is.  Having a record really keeps me accountable, and makes me realize how “waiting for inspiration” is the absolute worst thing you can do. If you sit down and write, inspiration will almost always come…and even on the rare days when it doesn’t, or something crazy happens in my life to keep me from writing, I still manage something. And very frequently, I get over a thousand words a day – so frequently, I’m thinking of making the new daily goal. At the rate I’m going, book 3 will be done around the second week of January, and then I’ll immediately go into book 4.

And lastly…anyone want a rooster or two? The white frizzle cochin fluffy butts that I wrote about last time are, indeed, boys. They either need to find homes asap, or I’ll have two new chicken dinners in the freezer. I hate to butcher them, though, both because they aren’t up to size yet, and because they are so pretty and would make awesome roosters for someone who wants to bring the frizzle genes into their flock. I’m in Skagit County, in WA state. Hit me up, if you want a roo!

Free – this weekend only!

I haven’t really mentioned my writing recently on this blog, but besides chasing chickens and gardening, I’m also an author. The first three books about Molly Claire, time traveler and professional ghost hunter, are now available on Amazon.

GhostscoverHere’s a brief blurb from the first book:

Molly Claire was found aboard an abandoned boat in the San Francisco Bay, wearing an old-fashioned nightgown and a bloody jacket too large for her. The crew of the boat was never found, and the family of the girl never came forward to claim her. She was just five years old.

Now, nineteen years later, Molly Claire has no memory of anything that happened to her before that night – nothing remains of her early childhood except the screams that torment her nightmares. But that’s not the most unusual thing about her: Molly Claire can slip through time, an ability she uses as a professional ghost hunter.

But when she and her two partners take the case of another young child, also haunted by nightmares and screaming, Molly Claire’s current life and her past collide in ways she never imagined in her worst nightmares.

Will Molly Claire discover a way to save this little girl from the bloody future in her dreams? And will she be strong enough to save herself from a web of betrayal and conspiracy she has no idea even exists?

You can read the beginning on Amazon, and if you would like to try the entire book, it’s going to be FREE all this weekend.

I have also set up a facebook page, where I will post all the blogs from here, plus random chicken/garden/homesteading/writing goodness. You can find me on facebook here.

And, of course, if you like the books, and want to be notified first whenever a new one appears, please join my email list. I promise not to spam you – it’s only to let you know of new books!

Life and Death

It’s been a tough few days here in the backyard farm. First, one of my oldest hens, Sophie, got flystrike.  I’m not going to go into any details, but this is a horrible, horrible thing, and it happens FAST.  By the time I realized anything was wrong, she was too far gone.  We tried to save her, but I finally made the decision to put her down.

I did it myself, and it’s the first time I had to kill an animal that I looked upon as a pet.  It is possible (sometimes) to find a vet to euthanize chickens, but from what I hear, it’s not an easy process for them. It’s much quicker and less stress on the bird to do it at home, where they are familiar and comfortable.  If you look online, there are multiple ways people go about mercy kills, but I would never be comfortable with anything I didn’t feel was immediate and as painless as humanly possible. All those methods involving ice chests and chemicals? I’m not convinced that’s quick or humane – it’s just easier on the human. I don’t care if it’s easy on me. This isn’t about me; this is purely about the animal.  So I broke Sophie’s neck. I have a pair of pruning shears that do the job perfectly. I held her on the ground, petted her, said a prayer, and just did it. She didn’t suffer, and I was able to be in contact with her the entire time.

Rest in peace, Sophie. And I do honestly believe that’s plenty of Biblical evidence that animals get remade and reborn at the end with the rest of Creation. I hope I’m right. I think I am. I know God cares about each tiny little sparrow.

Sophie as a chick

Then, a few days later, one of my oldest quail died, and because she died, I made the decision to cull her mate, Peabody. He was the accidental white Texas A&M quail that hatched with my very first quail egg order. I never wanted A&M quail, and in fact, quickly learned I never would. Peabody was a difficult bird. He was hard on his mates (he went through three different females) and he hated me. He hissed and growled at me whenever he saw me, and would often attack my hand with his little bitty claws. It was cute in a miniscule bird, but still not a behavior I wanted to breed from. He had a big personality, and he made me laugh, but I really did not want to give him a fourth female when he was so hard on them, and he would be miserable by himself. So he’s gone, and I’m sad, but that was also the right decision. He had a terriffic three years – outlasting the “life expectancy” of a quail by about a year. His cage seems so empty without him in it, growling and hissing every time I walk by!

The fourth loss, was just now, when one of my snowflake bobwhite female died. I thought she’d been looking a little ruffled and slow for a couple of days, but couldn’t see any visible sign of illness. I’ve had sick quail before that recovered, but this time, it wasn’t to be. I went out to her pen earlier today, and I thought she was dead then – she looked asleep, and I couldn’t see her breathing. But when I picked her up, she opened her eyes, perfectly calm, and looked at me. She didn’t seem to be suffering, so I just put her back to die at her own choosing, which she did, about an hour later.

But life and death always turns in a circle, and as I write this, I have more quail eggs hatching in the incubator.  So soon, I’ll have new babies. And since I’m finally down to just Bobwhites and Golden Italian Coturnix, I’ll keep one of the new Italian males as well as the females.

Universal Hollywood Wizarding World

I have so much to write about the garden and the animals, and I’ll get caught up on that very soon – but first I just wanted to blog about a quick little trip I took to Los Angeles. I primarily wanted to visit the FIDM museum’s exhibit of Hollywood costumes (I’m completely obsessed with this one canary yellow dress from Crimson Peak) but since Universal just opened a Wizarding World in their Hollywood park, of course I had to visit!

hogwarts express

I was a little concerned that it would be too crazy busy since it just opened on April 7th, but since we bought our tickets in advance, we were given admittance to the park an hour before the general crowd was allowed in. This made for a lovely visit.

It was just my friend and I – and a small handful of others.

The amount of detail was astounding. And you really had to pay attention to see it all. For instance, the hog’s head in the Hog’s Head Tavern was animatronic, but only sporadically.

There were animatronic owls in the Owl Post.

And this is the sort of thing I adore – there was fake owl poop underneath them on the floor!

Some of the shops lining the street were genuine, others just fronts, but all of them had fascinating displays.

This picture didn’t turn out well because of the reflection, but that’s a cat. Made out of a measuring tape!

The icicles were completely believable. Even though this was Southern CA.

Hogwarts Castle was fantastic, inside and out.

It was really too dark inside to take good pictures, but the detail and fantastic whimsy continued flawlessly.

And the rides were wonderful. The hippogriff roller coaster is worth riding, even though it’s pretty tame and clearly for the kids – you are taken past a recreation of Hagrid’s hut that isn’t to be missed. And the Journey to Hogwarts 3D ride is the best of it’s kind. So much fun!

While we were at the park, we also rode almost all the non-wizarding rides (the Transformers ride is particularly good) and took in the shows. I enjoyed seeing a trained chicken as part of the animal actors show.

We stayed at the Millennium Biltmore hotel for most of our stay in LA, and it was gorgeous.

And perhaps our favorite part of the entire trip, was seeing A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder live on the stage.  I can’t even tell you how witty and fun this was – and it had the most brilliant staging I’ve ever seen.  If you get the chance to see it, absolutely do!

And if you have seen it, and wonder how the lead does all those amazing quick changes into different characters…watch this! Amazing costuming!

March Update, Quails and Garden

The newest batch of hatched quail are about 3 1/2 weeks old, I believe. They are about half the size of their parents, but nearly fully feathered, and far too active to be indoors in the brooder box. So yesterday, I moved them outside.

They have the full run of the largest coop, but I’ve put their EcoGlow heater inside the nest box area in case they still want some warmth.

These golden italian coturnix are so pretty.

Of course I’m eagerly hoping they will all be females, but it’s still too soon to tell. With this coloring, you can’t tell by the speckling (or lack of) on the chest. You have to wait for the distinctive head markings to grow in, and of course that’s the last part of quail to get adult feathering.

If I had to guess at this point, I’d say I have three girls and a boy, but I’ve definitely been surprised before!

So I was busy taking close ups of the quail, and I happened to glance up and notice I had a peeping tom observing the photoshoot…

Everything is growing so fast right now. The violets and peonies are up and running, and I just can’t wait until everything is lush and green again. I suffer in the winter, due to lack of green.

Yesterday, I got the last of the potatoes planted in under straw.

I’ve also been busy fixing up part of the chicken run to welcome muscovy ducks next Spring. The chickens (happily oblivious this means more dreaded DUCKS) helped me prepare the area where the duck kiddie pool will be.

I’m going to make that square slightly larger, fill it with pea gravel, and put the pool on top, with a drainage hose in it so I can send the dirty water out to the garden when I refill it. The holes of the blocks, I’m thinking I’ll plant with peppermint. Ought to be pretty and practical.

Inside the house, I’ve been experimenting with making soft whey cheeses (like mozzarella) and mesophilic heirloom yogurt varieties.  I’m excited because some of these yogurts (if you add rennet) can be used to make the soft yogurt-like cheese I fell in love with in Iceland: Skyr. I can’t make true Skyr without an actual Skyr starter, but maybe I can come close. And if I go back to Iceland…I’m smuggling home a little starter!  😉

I really want to get into making more things from scratch, so I can stop buying the really-bad-for-you storebought versions. Plus, homemade just tastes so much better! Today I made mayonaise, soon I’ll try mushroom soup (it’s a base for SO many of my recipes), apple cider vinegar, butter, sour and cream cheeses, and laundry detergent.

Dexter the corgi has learned the smell of cheesemaking. He ignores me when I’m heating the milk, but as soon as I put in the rennet, and the curds start to separate out of the whey, he’s right there, sitting at my feet.  He’s my taste-tester.