Monday, November 25, 2013

Bloody Cold

Okay.  Full disclosure here.  I grew up in Texas.  I am a total weenie when it comes to the cold.  I've learned to adapt (sort of) and live with it (complaining all the while, and enduring the mocking from my Alaskan friend) but I grew up in a place where they freaking closed the school system one time because it was too expensive to heat the buildings.

The temps have not gotten above freezing at night recently.  The days were in the high 20s, and once you factored in the wind chill, in the teens.  Bundled up in a drafty farm house, I've felt a little like A Christmas Story'Randy:  "I can't put my arms down!"  And I look about as cute.

Today is a heat wave of up to 36 degrees, so I'm managing with a tank, silk layers, blue jeans, a fleece sweater, and sheep-skin boots.  Inside.  When I go out, I add a cashmere scarf, a wool hat, and a long duster.  Oh, and the matching bronze opera length gloves.  In my defense, there is also some wind today.

This winter has been bloody cold so far.  Even the squirrels have fat rolls!  Yesterday, the Husband went to check on the girls in the morning (23 degrees, thank you!), and we found their water frozen solid.  Oops.  We  purchased a heated chicken water reservoir.  This required extensive rewiring and re-arranging of the coop.  (But you know what?  It is worth it.  LEIA LAID AN EGG!!)  And don't try to lecture me on it technically still being autumn.  I will throw some ice chunks at you.  Because we have ice.  Lots of ice.
Ice from the chicken water dish.
Oh, and my cute bronze leather gloves!
Iced frog pond with heater.
I saw a bird land on the heater
to drink the unfrozen water
at its edge.

The big pond with ice.  Small break at bottom left.
 I've been so cold that when asked to put together a Christmas list, the first two items were sweaters and long sleeve shirts.  And I admit, I couldn't wait.  See, there was a sale at Target with 40% off of some cute sweaters and long sleeve shirts.   (2 and 3)  At the rate I am going, I will be layering the sweaters by the time Christmas hits.  Again with the "I can't put my arms down!"

So, you are probably wondering why I don't just turn up the heat.  Our heating runs on propane.  That means, every so often, a huge truck comes and fills a 500 gallon tank, and we pay about a billion dollars for that.  So, we keep the house around 60 or so during the day, and around 55 at night.  What do I do?  I hang around in the part of the house that has radiant heat in the floor, or I just put on extra layers and force myself to get quite energetic if I want to take them off.  I vacuumed the whole house Saturday morning, and I was free of layers for an entire two hours!

And bed time?  Ha!  I wear my thermal pajamas and then crawl into a bed with flannel sheets, a comforter, a thick fuzzy blanket, and a velvety/fleecy blanket over me.  

Now, I do own a very useful garment called the Couch Potato.  It is basically a very thick fleece sack with long sleeves and little elastic bands at the bottom for my feet to stick out of.  It zips from the high collar down to about my knees.  It isn't really attractive.  I look like a waddling amoeba in purple.  I mention this because I have been resisting it so far.  I keep thinking I can get by with lots of layers over my lined jeans.  But I know it is coming.  And I am thankful to have it in reserve.

Just wait 'til I have to pull out the Dog.  But that is another post altogether.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Animals on the Farm

"All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."
-George Orwell, Animal Farm

Katt is much improved, and back to being the top cat.  She's regained her attitude, and she's certainly back to catting around.  I watched her bravely stalk a female cardinal... by sitting in a fierce pose and watching it until it flew away.  It's a shame, because that cat has got quite a set of claws.  She was an angel when I took her to get them clipped, but she mauled Wine Friend on Saturday night.  Evil beast... or as he said, "She's a cat."

Amy, on the other hand, is curious and adorable, and a threat to no one but the insane person who walks up to the door.  Then she turns into this fierce, slobbering Cerberus.  Children flee and huge men quaver in fear...until I open the door, and she suddenly becomes the world's most affectionate puppy, her tail wagging so hard her body contorts.  But otherwise?  She came into the chicken coop with me once.  The chickens backed into a corner, and one took a daring fly at Amy...who just kinda turned her head and went back to sniffing chicken poop.  They now ignore her.  Even squirrels don't run away much.

Now, Amy and Katt have finally settled on their pecking order.  They touch noses until Katt swats at Amy.  Katt will approach Amy sleeping on her dog bed and sniff at her until Amy gets up and leaves, at which time Katt settles onto the warm spot left behind.  Katt chases Amy around the kitchen island, her tail lifted in delight as Amy tries to escape with her tail tucked between her legs.  Oh, and this is the worst:  they get fed at the same time, and Katt will eat two bites of her food and then settle just outside the mudroom, watching as Amy finishes scarfing down her own food and then sniffs at Katt's food, at which point Katt saunters in again and forces Amy to slink off.

Ah, good times.

But, it isn't all hissing and scratches and a 70 pound dog scurrying away from a 10 pound cat.  Other times, they seem to be able to ignore each other enough to get along.  Very cute, right?

 In other news, the chickens are pooping and eating and STILL refusing to leave the chicken coop.  I'm getting one egg a day from Gandalf.  I eat two eggs a day for breakfast.  The Boy eats eggs for breakfast, and the Husband likes them as well.  Adding in the occasional need for eggs in baking or cooking dinner, we are about five chickens down in terms of production.  It might be time to add a few more chickens to the mix.  Or, maybe Leia and Vader could find the time between pooping and eating to try laying a little.  Snicker.

Prongs came home on Friday.  I am very pleased to announce that we had some challenges settling him into his new home.  As in, wow, that is a whole lotta packages in the freezer.  We came home with over a 100 pounds of venison, and the loin is as big as a pig loin!  And I can promise, I am pleased to have the meat.  Last night, we ate ground venison in some of the ratatouille I made this summer, when I was swimming in squash and tomatoes.  Amazing to think that most of that meal came from within 100 yards of the house!

And now I am planning the menu for Thanksgiving.  We will have a house full of people for that meal, and I am so excited.  I'll be able to use the butternut squashes from the summer, a local ham, and jars of relishes and sauces that were canned from our own garden.

I am still holding out hope for the Husband to bag Tom.  He's a big guy, and he's been all over the farm.  Turkey hunting is hard, and this guy seems pretty active.  But, he would make a lovely addition to Thanksgiving dinner.  (Way better than the back-up turkey taking up space in the other freezer).

And honestly, I would just love to have another animal in the house.


Monday, November 11, 2013

City Kitty Learns a Lesson

[Warning to other city cats, potentially objectionable content follows.  Country cats, feel free to proceed, and please don't laugh too much.]

Perhaps you are wondering why I'm posting later than usual.  I had planned another cute little entry about what a big old chicken I am, and how chicken the chickens are.  I didn't attempt to push them out into the light of day until Friday, and each day, they have refused to exit.  Elvis has still not left the building.

As my morning began, I had my day planned out.  Feed the Boy breakfast, drop him off at school, make breakfast for myself and enjoy my coffee, and then skip the morning walk since the Husband was hunting, to finally sit down and type out the new entry.

I made the Boy two pieces of cinnamon toast, and one fried egg (harvested yesterday from Gandalf, who is now using one of the nesting boxes).  I fed Amy and Katt.  I put a filter (unbleached, of course) in the coffee machine and was pouring the first scoop of fair-trade certified coffee (ground at home!).


I jumped.  I peered through the window and saw through the bushes beyond the lawn area a blaze orange Yeti walking.  The Boy shrugged and said, "Well, that was a surprise."  I then looked over my shoulder at Amy, who is ANOTHER chicken, and was relieved to see that she didn't hear the gunshot over the crunching of her hippy dog food.  A few minutes passed, and Amy whined to be let out for her morning constitutional.  Unsure how to proceed, I texted the Husband.

Me:  Didja get one?  And can I let Amy out?  
Him:  Maybe Prongs.  Yes, just near house.

I shared the news with the Boy, who said that he was proud of Daddy.  I took Amy to the front door and let her out, and thought about it.  First thought was that I was pleased for Husband, who hadn't had any luck yet this season, and anticipation of being able to cook with ground venison again, after three months without.

Him:  Found him.  He's a big son of a gun.

I took the Boy to school and came home, mostly looking forward to my jalepeno (canned from my own garden, naturally) and egg sandwich and my coffee.  And then came the request for help.  I emptied the truck bed, and then cautiously approached the top of the hill which slopes down to the upper pasture.  I saw Husband over a big object that could only be a deer.  I hollered down to see if he wanted me to drive the truck down.  Even from that distance, I could see the disbelief in his body when he yelled back that I should probably wait awhile.

Fine.  I made breakfast and enjoyed it.  I went out to the chicken coop to check on the girls.  I was considering starting the laundry when I saw him waving me over near the barnyard.

I went and saw Prongs.  I couldn't believe that he was just laying on the sled my husband was hauling.  He still looked so full of life...until I saw the other side of him.  Gulp.  He'd been field dressed.  I was just staring at him, when my Husband gently suggested that I go put on his car coveralls to protect my clothing (pretty blue lounge pants with matching jacket) from blood.

I am not going into all the gory details, or tell you all the things that disturbed my delicate sensibilities.  I simply had a rude awakening.  I love eating the local meats:  venison, the local sheep, goats, chickens and beef.  But I've still been getting it all in little plastic bags.  I've been separated from the reality of how that meat gets on my table.

At one point, I grasped Prongs' foreleg near the shoulder as we were attempting to haul him into the back of the truck.  It could have been one of Amy's legs:  muscular and softly furred.  Except it was cold.  Prongs was dead, and would never break into the hen house again, or lead a couple of does into the yard to munch on the bushes.  I'd never be able to expertly identify which of the three bucks we'd caught on the game cam, because we are down to two.

The Husband asked if I wanted to go to the processor with him.  I've been there several times, picking up all those little plastic bags of venison.  I'd never taken a deer there.  So I went.  They weighed Prongs in at 130 pounds.  He had a 9 point rack (8 normal ones, and another one inch spike beginning.  There were two more tiny spikes, but apparently you don't count those).  The processor began to cut off the rack with a saw, and I had to turn my back.  There are pretty cows there.  I started counting them.
The Husband got my attention, because he needed to know how I wanted the meat.  I turned back, and thankfully the worker had moved on to one of the other deer waiting to be processed.  I watched as he skillfully began to skin the doe.  It was okay to watch, if not fascinating.  But I had to walk away when he turned his attention back to Prongs.

I was quiet on the drive home.  Husband asked if I was okay.  I cracked some jokes:  I'm married to Voldemort!  Looks like Santa was hauling the deer this year!  I'm gonna have to kill off a supporting character on the blog!

It's been an interesting morning.  I'm okay.  I'm glad my eyes are no longer shut so tightly.  But my comfort zone wasn't stretched today.  It was totally breached.  Here I thought I was getting my hands dirty already.  I have my family so accustomed to pure venison that beef tastes weird to us.  I completely support the much-needed reduction in the local deer population.  But then I finally got to see just how a running, jumping, and fascinating animal winds up in my freezer.  I feel like a stupid city girl who might as well go sit out all night with a sack held open, waiting for snipes to crawl in.

Am I happy we'll have venison?  You bet.  Do I wish that I hadn't known Prongs?  Absolutely.  Do I think I am going to have the cajones to actually purchase some chickens for meat and then do what needs to be done?  I doubt it.  Apparently I might be too much of a tender-hearted, overly-sensitive little princess.  I always wondered how small farmers and 4-H kids could raise animals for slaughter, but in an abstract way.  Now I have a tiny bit of understanding.

So, tonight, I will raise a glass (of a medium body red that would totally work with venison) to Prongs, who was a lovely addition to my country adventure, who provided me with plenty of smiles, who will feed us for several months, and who helped teach me a lesson.

Never name your food.

Monday, November 4, 2013

I Am Chicken

Last Friday, the stork visited and left behind three bundles of joy.  

Okay, my girlfriend who has chickens came to drop off three chickens.


We did finally finish the coop.  It is kind of a chicken mansion.  Large enough for a dozen chickens at least. Six good size boxes filled with pine shavings.  Two layers of chicken wire buried under fresh earth and going up the walls for safety. A fancy stone ramp at the brand new chicken door.  An entire bale of fresh straw strewn liberally throughout the space.  A beautiful multi-level roosting system with room for several birds.  And new locks and updated latches at the repaired and renovated split door.  The only thing lacking is color TV.

And now we have three chickens.  Who are nesting on the floor in the straw.   And filling their water dish with straw.  And ignoring the roost unless I lift one up.  But at least I got some eggs.

Allow me to introduce the cast of this animal circus.

First, we have Gandalf.  We didn't name her, but I loved the gray and white reference, so we kept it.  Gandalf is molting, and a hard girl to catch.  She is also the leader of this motley crew.
Next, we have Leia and Darth Vader.  They look similar, but one has a black bum, and the other has a white bum.  Ironically, it is Vader who is the easy one to catch.  We are enjoying the birds.  I spent about half an hour with them yesterday, just watching them.  I am surprised by just how much of a mess three girls can make, but being a girl, should I really be surprised?

We have not let the chickens outside yet.  I am a little concerned about the whole free-range thing.  Of course, if you think about it, it would be smarter to go ahead and lose one to a fox/ raccoon/ hawk/ chicken-eating deer before I get attached.  But, I am a chicken.  

My girlfriend gave me some great advice (other than keeping them in their new home for a few days before allowing them to venture outside.)  She suggested opening the door, going inside and showing them the door, and then sitting back with a cup of coffee to see what they do.  I am going to follow this advice.  I will have a big mug of coffee.  Otherwise, I might go chasing them down to beg them to reconsider the great outdoors.... That mug of coffee might just need to be fortified.  

(Pity my son in a few years.)