31 January 2012

Looking Back

I'm starting to become nostalgic about our time at the acreage.  Though I fear it, leaving is inevitable and we're coming closer every day.  Jack's job or further pursuit of education will cause us to leave our sanctuary in someone else's hands.
Looking back, life here has rarely been easy, though that doesn't mean unenjoyable or miserable.  When I'm working on a project, there are few days that I don't get frustrated to the point of tears (a sure sign of my immaturity--getting angry at a hammer that didn't swing itself at my thumb is pretty childish) but for some reason, I still prefer the challenges of a homestead over that of living in a comfortable home in town.
While many lessons are the same, there are some that are learned much easier while in the country.  Shoveling ourselves out of a snowstorm is a lot more involved than sweating over a twelve foot driveway.  Human interaction beyond our family is sparse and trips to town are consolidated to save time and gas.  Food could often be traced back the garden, from a hen's nest box or a neighbor's bullock that just yesterday we were petting.

That's not to say that we are completely cut off from the grocery store or the mall, but the circle of life is evident, especially when the cats are on a roll keeping vermin under control, dragging the evidence up to our sidewalk.
Of all the challenges, our residence has been the toughest.  It has taught the value of hard work, doing it right the first time, weaseling out bargains, not being shy about asking for help and experimenting to see what works.  It has been incredibly satisfying watching the rundown house transform into a home.

It's not all sweat and tears either.  I actually think a majority of time is more enjoyable than not.  Kids are always out to ride horses with Evelyn and Claire, I get my fill of animals every time I go out to feed our flocks and herds, we frequently relax without television and most days, Mother Nature is kind.

I know we'll be a happy family wherever we land.  I'm just already fervently praying that our next home will also be a humble homestead that affords us to drag our animals and lifestyle with us, creating many more rich and unique memories.

30 January 2012

Fried Pasta

I'm sure I'm not the only one around who occasionally has extra pasta stored in their fridge.  Of course I could always dump spaghetti sauce over the top and heat it up, but once in a while, I want something different.  Like fried pasta.

Despite being called fried, there's really nothing unhealthy about it since it's skillet cooked in a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  It makes a quick, tasty side dish and will rid your fridge of extra noodles.


About 3 cups cooked pasta (Rotini works well but anything will do)
2 cloves garlic, minced/About 1 teaspoon pre-minced garlic
About 3 sun dried tomatoes, preferably in olive oil
1 Tablespoon dried basil
2 Tablespoons olive oil (if your sun dried tomatoes aren't stored in oil)
1/2 to 1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
Cook garlic in a skillet until almost brown.  Chop sun dried tomatoes and add to the garlic with oil and basil.  Add pasta and toss until generously coated with oil (you may need to drizzle on more oil if there is not enough to add from your sun dried tomatoes).
Once pasta is browned, mix in Mozzarella cheese and stir until melted.  Serve hot.

29 January 2012

And Then There Were Two

The cats and chickens got along great.  Thankfully.
One of the staple livestock of any hobby farm are chickens.  It wasn't long after we settled onto our acreage that neighbors and coworkers were offering dozens of varieties of poultry for free.  We took one woman up on her donation and inherited forty hens and one old rooster.
The flock's king and queen: Derek (the big guy at the left) and Queeny (far right)
Our flock consisted of everything from Barnevelders, New Hampshires, a pair of buff ameraucanas sisters named Henrietta and Georgeanna, a benevolent silver-laced Wyandotte called Queeny and a gentle giant blue Cochin rooster named Derek.  Overwhelmingly, our collection consisted of leghorns who spent their retirement from commercial production hens at our farm.
The twins: Georganna and Henrietta
With such diversity, the eggs we collected were naturally as colorful as an Easter basket and fresher than anything served at the grocery store.  At peak production, a hen can lay an egg every 26 hours.  Even in their old age, the girls produced more eggs than we could possibly eat.  We collected recycled cartons and handed out farm fresh eggs by the dozen at church, work and around the neighborhood.

Once Derek went the way of all the earth, we picked up another gratuitous rooster.  I should have known by the crazy look in the young leghorn's yellow eyes that he'd be a handful.  Robbie quickly became infamous for chasing down small children, stalking unsuspecting victims and sparring them from behind.  Still, he did his duty watching over the hens and crowed occasionally to make our farm feel a little more quaint.

As long as the girls and Robbie had fresh food and water, hay in their nest boxes and clean bedding, they were content to wander about without much attention.  In a way, that was their downfall.  Before we noticed that their numbers had been severely reduced, we had less than half the hens we'd started with.  Once in a while, a hen died of old age but our flock was beginning to be culled by a clever predator.

Though the hens figured out how to climb a rickety ladder to roost in the rafters for safety, the sneaky fox or weasel figured out how to scare them down.  There were never any bodies in the morning--they were just gone.  I closed the door at night but it was to no avail.  One by one, they disappeared.  The morning Robbie didn't crow was the morning we knew he'd met his fate.

And then there were two.  Our once flourishing retirement community had been devastated in a matter of weeks.  As sad as it was, that's life on a farm.  Without a dog to protect them, there was little standing in the way of the mystery killer and a quick meal.
We'll have hens again someday.  When we do, I'm hoping we'll have learned a thing or two about keeping any tricky predators from making dinner out of our hens.  That or get a reliable watch dog.

27 January 2012

Hot Dog Hanzel

Having a soft spot for short, elongated dogs since having a basset hound as a child, the girls and I decided to take Hanzel out for a stroll today.  It was kind of late in the day but we were able to find a quiet spot by the river to walk.

Hanzel is such a good boy.  He was a bit intimidated by the noise of cars by the parking lot and wasn't a huge fan of the car ride so he sought solace on my lap.  I reassured him with a scratch behind the ears but reminded him to stay on his side.  He conceded and curled up on the passenger seat.  Even in his rush to get out, he listened when I asked him to stay until I was ready for him.

He obviously loves his walks.  Those squatty legs had no trouble keeping up with us and he wasn't phased by bikers, joggers and the one motorized cart that zoomed by.  In the kennels and out on the trail, he keeps his opinions to himself by playing mute.
I tend to think he's housebroken by the fact that he didn't even think of taking care of his business until all four paws were on the grass.  He was ready to go on his merry way once finished.
The girls thought he was soft and though he didn't want to admit it, Hanzel enjoyed the attention and hugs.  He even decided he'd rather hang out in the backseat with the girls rather than me on the way home.
Hanzel was a bit reserved the entire time, but he has been at the shelter for a good while so he's probably not received a lot of one on one attention recently.  It's a shame really--he's a gentleman and I think would come out of his shell more and show his personality once he got to know someone, making him a wonderful companion.  Until then, he'll be welcome on more outings with us.
***I'm happy to report Hanzel has been adopted!  He waited a long time but has gone home with a very special someone.***

Homemade Upholstery And Carpet Cleaner

With small children, a farm (and the inevitable mud/dirt/etc that accompanies it) and the occasional intruding animal, we're constantly going through carpet and upholstery cleaner.  Fortunately, my mom shared this simple homemade recipe using two ingredients that are usually already at home.

How To Make It:

1 cup rubbing alcohol
1/4 cup white vinegar
(It may be diluted with water if you'd like a gentler formula)

Mix together and either store in a spray bottle or dab onto a stain with a cloth.  Let soak if necessary and rub out with an old rag.  And, of course, test in an inconspicuous place to make sure no discoloration occurs.

***As superb as this cleaner is, it is not to be used on painted surfaces--you might end up with missing paint on your walls***

26 January 2012

Ten Minute Cheesy Garlic Bread

Instead of plain old garlic bread to go with our pasta and meatballs, we dressed things up with cheese.  It added just a little something extra the way only melted cheese can.  Plus, it's quick to put together and will be crunchy and steaming hot in the time it takes to boil the pasta.

(This recipe can easily be doubled if you're feeding a larger crowd)

1/2 loaf bread (French, Italian, etc)
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 block Mozzarella cheese, sliced

Preheat oven to 350F.  Slice bread thickly, but not all the way through so slices stay attached at the base of the bread.
Melt and stir butter with garlic powder and parsley.  Generously spread over bread and in each slice.

Stuff bread with Mozzarella slices and put in the oven for seven to ten minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the bread bakes to a crunchy, golden brown.


24 January 2012

Foam Masks

Since making our recycled piggy bank, we had plenty of craft foam left so we decided to make some quick, fun animal masks.

What You'll Need:

 Several sheets of craft foam
Popsicle sticks
Hot glue gun and glue sticks
X-Acto knife and cutting board
Any other decorative flowers, jewels, etc

1.  Freehand or trace and cut out circle for head
2.  Freehand or trace nose/mouth, cutting out details with X-Acto knife.
 3.  Cut out ear pieces (to make them symmetrical, cut out one, flip it over and cut out a mirror image).  Attach nose/mouth piece and ears with hot glue.
 5Carefully cut eye holes.
 6.  Attach a Popsicle stick with hot glue to the back of the mask.
Have fun!
***Just a tip: If any of your masks have long pieces, like the bunny ears, glue Popsicle sticks between the ears and head piece of the mask to help them stand up better.***


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