Saturday, January 29, 2011

My Gardening Goal

As we struggle to feed our family on a monthly, sometimes weekly basis, I am forced to remind myself of reality. Like everyone else it seems, we are forced to tighten our belts even further.  I don't honestly know how much more we can go, but I fear we may find out soon.  We go through mini feasts with prolonged famines.  Which, brings me to my goal for gardening.  The main reason for gardening is for fresh clean food.  Now the more recent realization is simply to help us survive.

No longer will I think it necessary to plant only a couple of zucchini, a few yellow squash, half a dozen tomatoes, easy on the winter squash or scrimp on peppers!  No more.  Now my goal is to plant lots of 'em!  It's time to let the zucchini come out our ears.  Let the tomatoes 'over-produce.'  I plan on freezing as much as possible, while doing some drying, and if I'm ambitious enough, some canning.  We'll see...

I figure, let the heavy producers like summer squash and tomatoes do their jobs and reap the bounty.  Use that to feed the family through as much of the winter as possible.  It's worth a try.  Definitely another learning experience waiting to be explored.

Here's another brainstorm, Edamame.

Judging from my research, I can actually grow several varieties.  These soybeans are so good for you.  My sister turned me on to them because they are tasty, the kids like popping them out of the pods into their mouths, and they are filling.  The plants are about two feet tall, and the pods apparently all ripen at the same time.  So all you do is pull up the whole plant and strip off the pods to harvest them!

English Thyme, Marjoram, and a struggling Lavender were all rescued from my old garden.

I have no root-cellar, so I am probably unable to keep carrots long, but I'll grow them anyway.  Winter squash, Butternut is my favorite, is on the list for this summer.

As you can see here, I don't dream on paper much, I scratch around in the dirt instead.

Perhaps I'll have to place nothing but cinder-blocks for garden beds.  Whatever we have, because we cannot afford to buy anything for planters...all way too over-priced.  These lines in the dirt are the tentative plans for this year's garden.  If I can get these done and filled up with good soil (another challenge), I should have a generous space for vegies.  Either way, my plan is to pack in as much as possible for the maximum harvest.

Tomatoes, Peppers, Squashes, Cucumbers, Carrots, Onions (never enough space for them), Green Beans, Tomatillos, Corn, Potatoes, Artichokes, Edamame, and whatever else I can dream up.  I still plan on growing Cabbage, Lettuce, and Spinach.  Along with all this, hopefully a healthy variety of herbs.

My garlic is making an appearance!

All my boys helped with the planting, and are thrilled with the green shoots.

Something else making an appearance, the sun!  It's staying up longer!  It's rising higher in the sky!

Soon after Christmas the hens began laying.  Since they were relatively new to the barn, they began laying in the corners or the horse's feed bins.  Never mind that we laid down buckets for them and even a couple of cat carriers to lay in.  No, too easy.  Now recently, they have taken to laying under a favorite bush outside the barnyard fencing.  Dismayed, I did a little research and found that chickens are a lot like cats, they come and go as they please.  I figure if I want to let them free range for maximum happiness and health, I need to take this in stride.  We could build something special for them, but research tells me they wouldn't take to it any more readily.  The only hens I want to eventually keep penned up will be some brooders.  Hopefully we can begin producing our own chicken this way.

By some miracle, or a constant series of miracles, we're still here in God's beautiful country.  I'm becoming more and more aware of the reality that I am truly, merely, a pilgrim, no matter where, or if, I end up 'settling down.'

Heb. 11:13-16
Eph. 2:19-22

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Truffle Experiment

I've always been interested in the process of making chocolate treats.  Until now, I've never had the nice big kitchen to try it in.  Now that I do, I decided to try one of Ree Drummond's recipes over at The Pioneer Woman for easy truffles.  Check out her recipe Chocolate Truffles with Sea Salt.  You won't be sorry.  And you'll be in heaven if you actually make these sinful delights!  The best part is, they're so easy to make!

Thank you Ree!  Thank you!

 If you check out her recipe you'll see you need a pound of chocolate.  Like she said, the combination of semi-sweet and bittersweet is, well, awesome.  She said it makes a great deep chocolate flavor without going too far with the dark chocolate flavor.  I agree, it was scrumptiously rich.

Dump in the sweetened condensed milk and heat it all over boiling water.  I am thankful for her suggestion, I won't be buying a double boiler, this worked out just perfectly!  But what I do want to do is get a nice set of Pyrex glass mixing bowls someday soon.

Get it all nice and melty...

And just like she said, it was about the same consistency as marshmallows!  Adding the vanilla added a beautiful gloss to the mixture!  Very difficult not to take some samplings, but I did....don't hate me.  But at least I shared some samplings with my eager boys!

We had a lot of fun! 

Thankfully Ree mentioned she refrigerated the mixture over night.  I needed to know that, since I was drafted by my husband to help load up and relocate equipment for an upcoming job.
So, today I shaped the truffle guts (forgive the goofiness, I live with boys...and we call honey "bee-barf"... just so you know) into balls.  I let it warm up close to room temperature until it was the consistency of firm clay.

This is how easy it is to shape them.

Then I popped them into the freezer to stiffen up and guarantee they wouldn't melt while rolling them in the milk chocolate.  Probably not a necessary step, but I wanted to assure myself as best I could, of some success.

Notice this is only one package of 3oz. milk chocolate....  If you note the recipe, unlike me, you really need 8oz. of this decadence.

Yep, very lacking in the milk chocolate department....

Now here's the surprise, for me at least.  I've never had salt on sweets.  My brother-in-law apparently loves salt on things like watermelon and strawberries.  So I thought, hey, he can't be totally nuts (yes, he can, but that's beside the point...never mind we're both Aquarians, and so is my husband, oh and my nephew... my poor dear sister...).  And since this is chocolate we're talking about, I gotta see what all the fuss is about.

Roll the truffle in the milk chocolate then sprinkle a bit of sea salt as soon as you place it on the wax paper.

Isn't this sad?  Only 15 truffles were coated.  That's how far the 3 ounces went.  The rest will have to await their fate, either go into the freezer until more milk chocolate can be acquired, or eaten with abandon.  I have a strong suspicion the later will be true.

Despite my not reading the recipe carefully enough to note the amount of milk chocolate needed, the experiment was obviously a success!

These are so easy to make, the recipe flexible enough to make on separate days that there is no reason for anyone not to try this out!  Unless you don't like chocolate!  Even though I waited for a large kitchen to do this, I didn't need to.

And here's to you Rick, you're not so weird after all (wink, wink), salt is very good on chocolate!  So you must be on to something with your salt and fruit!  Love you bro!

Thanks Ree!  I'll be back for more recipes, you can count on it!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Little Gardening Inspiration

As I was visiting Lorie over at Gotta Dig It I was inspired by this photo of carrots in a clay pot.

Don't these look wonderful?

You can find more inspiration here at Reasons for Building Your Own Container Garden

What inspired me the most about this was how this may actually prevent the bunnies from just hoping over and nibbling at anything their furry noses come in contact with at ground level.  Maybe I'm just exercising wishful thinking, but I want to think that it might mean too much work for them to rear-up and nose around in the pot.  The reason I was thinking this was that last time I grew carrots, they simply gnawed at the carrot shoulders.  They didn't seem to bother with the greenery and they seem to me to be lazy foragers, going for delicacies that entice them at nose level.  I don't know, but it's worth a try!  Not only that, but I can start the seeds indoors and simply place the pot outside when the weather permits!

Yeah, I'm inspired!

Friday, January 21, 2011


Since we are doing this care-taking stint, we now are able to enjoy sunsets!
Living on the West face of the mountain affords this simple delight.

All these pics are from the first two weeks of January, 2011... enjoy!

Sensory overload...I'm almost speechless.  I love this mountain!

Life is to be lived at a level where the norm becomes meaningful in the light of eternal values, rather than interpreting eternal values according to what is normal for us.
                                                                                     -Ravi Zacharias

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Not for the Squeamish!

Before I begin relating this story, I must warn you, this might contain some disturbing photos.  So if you're not feeling well or can't handle graphic, painful situations, just don't scroll down!!!  Please.

When you homestead with animals, you have to accept that once in a while you will have to deal with occasional gross moments.

Firstly, we were only in the new house for about two weeks.  Secondly, we were also given two milking goats at the same time we were making the move.  So, just as humans and animals alike were all settling in to new environments, something bad happened.

We had a Queensland Healer mix pup who was just about an adolescent.  Not the sharpest tool in the shed.  As a new-born pup, he was around all the animals from the beginning.  But since the move, we were loosing cats and didn't know to what.  We figured the older cats didn't like their new environment and struck out on their own.  Then my favorite cat disappeared.  Then only a couple of days later, the mystery soon unraveled.

My oldest went outside to take clothes off the line before we started school, on Friday, November 26th.  My hubby had just left out fifteen minutes ago to go to work.  My oldest comes back in right away and tells me something is going on down at the barn.  A goat is making a lot of noise.  So, I step out on the front porch to have a listen.  I couldn't see her, but I heard her crying out.

I ran down the hill and found our dog hamstringing one of our new goats!  He ran off knowing full well he was in deep doo-doo.  I took a closer look at the goat and realized it was time for a trip to the vet.

Thankfully I was able to hook up to the horse trailer our neighbors left with us to help us move, and I took her in to town.

Too much flesh had been ripped out of the back of her leg to sew anything together.  The vet did say that her artery was exposed and could have bled-out if it was damaged.  He managed to put two stitches in to cover the artery, and gave her a shot of penicillin.  He sent her home with a two week regimen of antibiotic and a bottle of hyper-oxygenated water spray which kills all the nasties (such as staph, salmonella, e-coli, you name it). 

He said in four weeks it should be filled-in and nearly healed completely.  Here's the succession of her healing...and remember, not for the squeamish....

This photo is to ease you into the idea of the damage...

This next photo isn't even from the first couple of days, it was taken about 11 days after the attack.  I was too busy nursing her wound to think about taking a picture of it while it was real fresh...

As you can see, it is unmistakeably a dog bite.  The vet said dogs will hamstring their prey to get them down.  Here, the wound is already drying over and the process of filling itself in has slowly begun.

Isn't this remarkable?  We are in awe over the capacity a body has for healing itself!!!  Forty nine days later this is how far it has gotten!  I still spray it after cleaning off what I dare to.

This sweet goat (her name is Tigger) nuzzled into my side as I held her for the vet.  It's as if she knew we were helping her!

Here is the miracle solution.  It was key to the healing process.  I found it being sold at the feed store and I had to buy some.  I knew we were going to run out of the bottle the vet gave us.  I'll continue using it until she's thoroughly healed.

This goat along with another one will soon be providing us with fresh milk if all continues to go well.  The point of having animals like this is for good, clean, healthy living.  The same reason for growing your own fruits and veggies.  Since every animal has a purpose, and is not exactly a pet, each has a role to play.  Dogs are not exempt, they in fact ought to be protectors.  Like I said, he wasn't the sharpest.  So the cold hard reality is that we put him down.  The barnyard has found peace and tranquility once again.  I am delighted this sweet goat survived and that my son was able to alert me before she was killed.

Ah, I love happy endings!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Not What You Plan For...

Few, if any of us go through life depending on a lottery winning to come our way.  If something of this sort of magnitude does come into our lives however, everyday folk such as ourselves look upon such things as blessings, or miracles.  No we did not win the lottery, we rarely ever buy a ticket anyway!

What did come our way was a unique opportunity filled with hope and opportunity.  We signed a three-year agreement as caretakers of a neighbor's property.  What this means is that we can pop the family out of the tiny cabin we built and move into a much larger home.  By doing this we are able to fix up and complete the cabin in preparation for sale or lease.  We owe a friend and need to sell it.  We do not know where we will be exactly after three years, but we simply must take each day one at a time.  The possibilities are endless.  If something as amazing as this has happened to us, why not view the future with equal optimism?

We are still living within the same mountain community and still enjoying the beauty surrounding us.  We and our neighbor are mutually benefiting from this arrangement and I am humbled by their trust in us.

The light in this house is crisp and beautiful.

A luxurious tub!

Their kitchen is about the same size as our living room is at the cabin!

A whole dinning room without encroaching into the living room!  What a novelty!  It's a relief not to have to live on top of ourselves.  We can do school work, and still have lunches at the bar without having to clean up before eating!  Multi-tasking is easier when you don't have to be ultra concerned about clearing one thing away before doing another thing!  Don't know if I'll enjoy such luxury in the future, but I'm gonna enjoy this while I can!

The owners took out the central heating and installed this pellet stove.  It actually heats the entire house!

Here you see the barn and the solar arrays (far right).  This solar system is GREAT!  Both arrays are on trackers which increases the solar input.  Miracle Worker isn't here right now but I think this system averages something like 11 kwh/day 30 kwh/day!  Needless to say, the batteries are not beaten up since they never run low!

One of the challenges I will face this summer is the installation of a garden.  Either way, homesteading is still our goal and requirement for more sustainable and healthy living.  It will be an adventure to be sure!  What's the old saying?  "Life is what happens to you while you're making plans!"  And what a blessed life it is!

Update 1/23/11: now that hubby is home he corrected my guess on the 11 kwh per day!  Even better, ay?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Sister

Despite having painted a doodle of a Christmas tree and my intentions of using it as a Christmas card, life had other plans.  Unlike most years, I did not send any cards out this time around.  Business is always at its slowest this time of year and I could not even buy stamps to mail the cards!  This financial pinch caused us to get creative in celebrating the season.  We cut down our own tree out here on the ranch.  We developed our own little family traditions that do not require financial expenditures, such as baking cookies, sharing some hot chocolate, listening to Christmas music, and reading stories.  Togetherness was all that mattered.  The kids thought of gifts they would give to baby Jesus and presented their own drawings and cards to Him.

The kids enjoyed decorating their harvested tree.

We then received some payments from customers a few days before Christmas.  We still decided that we would keep the gifts down to a bare minimum.  So each child received one gift from Santa!

My sister then did something amazing to lift my spirits this season!  Remember how I was going to do the Sketchbook project?  I never did - life, busy, etc.  However, she sent me a sketchbook for Christmas.  When I opened it up there was a large sticker inside the front cover on which she wrote, "Two Sisters Sketchbook Project - Swap Date December 2011.  I have one, you have one - have fun!  Work w/any medium, pick any theme, be brilliant, release, exhale, pray."  I cannot describe the joy at having received this creative and inspiring gift!  What fun!  A chance to share our work with each other!  She is not an artist who paints and draws so much as she is an artist who loves to design and decorate interiors.  In fact, she finally got into the field professionally.  So I look forward to seeing how she will fill up her sketchbook!

Now that I am sufficiently inspired, I can move on with the year.  Life is unpredictable as I mentioned last time.  I have many more stories to share that have taken place in the last two months.  Some are not for the squeamish, and some are miraculous.  I hope you'll join us!