Friday, March 30, 2007

Grateful Shabbat

I hope your week was wonderful, fulfilling, and vital!

I am grateful for family, friends, the Almighty and His excellent care, freedom, sore muscles, health, newly growing things, birdsong, laughter, loving embraces, warm food, hopes and dreams, the things that got done and the things that didn't. I am thankful for having had another day to wake up and see the wonder that is all around, if only I will stop to see it.

I am thankful for this past week of work, and this night and day of rest, together at home. It is the crown of our week.

I am thankful for those who came before me, who often paid so high a price to walk their path.

To all who come here, this blog is at rest until sundown Saturday night. Have a beautiful and relaxing day! I am so much better for knowing you.

Shabbat Shalom :)

Picture credit& link, from Yad VaShem archives: Shabbat candles being lit in the Warsaw Ghetto

Thursday, March 29, 2007

It Feels Like Spring...

and the Whippoorwill's thoughts have turned to love.

I'm enjoying his nightly courtship serenade, too...

Here's a link to his song, though my night friend seems to call in a more relaxed drawl than the recorded one. You'll probably find some of your feathered friends' songs here, too...


I've been brushing up on some reading, and was happy to find that potatoes love petunias. (And being such a hardy hot-weather trooper, who wouldn't?)

I'm so happy to be seeing how so many gardeners are raising their plants, and now that the winter in so many areas is either over or abating, how they're starting off their gardening year.

Willa's recent entry, and James' recent entry are two good examples of great solutions in potato-growing. Willa is using the cardboard box idea, and James is recycling used tires (tyres!)

I do have a box, and I do have potatoes getting pretty sprouty (wonder if those can be planted?). I decided I could start with the box idea, since those are pretty easy for me to find around here.

Then I read that for a companion plant, petunias "heart" potatoes.

If growing them in a tall container...tall box, stacked tires, wire mesh/hay/soil, then to accomodate a companion plant, since the potato, which starts out in the lower levels of said planters and then is mounded up-up-upwards as it grows?

Perhaps I can "cheat." I did this in my wee flowerbed back in Tennessee, when I got so sick of pulling weeds and had a schedule that didn't allow for much in the way of free weed-pulling time. I partially sank pots right into the ground and then mulched the heck out of the surrounding ground. If you mass enough plants this way, half-sink them into the ground as opposed to setting them right up on the surface, somehow it seems to conserve the moisture more so they don't dry out much. And when they get big enough, they cover the top of the pot edges so that it look like they're growing right out of the ground anyway. A border, such as monkey grass, and the effect is complete.

Well, I have plenty of those thin plastic pots...the sort plants come in when you buy them at the (ahem) garden center. The sort that get tossed in the corner of the shed because they're not so pretty or sturdy, but they're still plenty servicable and you just know you'll use them later.

I'm thinking if I plant a start of a petunia in one of those flimsy but good-sized black plastic pots, I can sink that into the soil of the "boxed" potato plant at one corner. As the soil gets added to and mounded higher, I'll just pull the pot out, readjust it down in the higher soil level each time, and hopefully by the time the potato plant is big and going great guns, the petunia will be, too.

And then they can live happily ever after, side by side.

Or at least until we eat all those little Mr. Potato Heads.

An Untapped and Very-Available Resource

OK, here is something I've been wondering about for a longggg time.

The use of public grass areas along roadways.

Part of my childhood was spent in Mississippi, and where we lived required driving if you wanted to get anywhere else. At that time, there were long stretches of highway split by long broad grassy areas. At some point, probably in the sweltering summer heat, I remember actually noticing those areas because they were a beautiful, softly undulating carpet of crimson clover. This imprinted indelibly on my impressionable mind. With few billboards as competition, and with long stretches of Nothing Much between populated areas, it was simply a beautiful sight.

Thankfully, and through some foresight on the parts of beautification committees in different areas of the country, the practice of planting attractive and useful ground covers or wildflowers has caught on. You'll know it if you are fortunate enough to live in one of these areas. Were it not for the probability of body-slamming insects with stingers, you'd just want to run out into one of those idyllic fields of blooms and extend your arms and fall backwards right into them. (I tried that in a farmer's wildflower patch once as a kid, though, and discovered the concept of Chiggers. I think they thought I was a free buffet.)

I absolutely love crimson clover and I also love long stretches of roadway planted in wildflowers.

I've been paying more attention to all the work that seems to go into maintaining these roadways, probably because of the little fine print on our yearly tax bill that makes me gape at its cost. I see the great equipment (state-of-the art!) they're using to keep those areas of grasses and weeds mowed, too. While stuck in nose-to-bumper rush hour traffic, those guys on the upgraded mowing machines are doing circle eights and having way too much fun zipping down the green stuff. Free suntan, too.

That led me to wonder why all that land goes to waste...literally. The old wrappers and cans that somehow drift to the road's edge despite the Litter Fee warning signs, also have to be picked up. Unless there's an "adopt-a-highway" group actively volunteering this on rotation, that cost goes into the tax burden, too.

And if you love grazing animals, especially domesticated livestock, AND if you've ever priced the cost of that good grazing land, you begin to see all that green green overgrown grass that extends on roadsides and median fields with a verrrrryyyyyyyyy different eye. (A somewhat Green eye??)

It was news to me that there are already areas, usually with difficult-to-maintain issues, where grazing animal herds are utilized for keeping the grasses and weeds down. There are herders who specialize in doing just that. Fascinating! It would seem that the cost of "rent-a-sheep" comes in well below the cost of humans doing it by hand or machine in those areas. Maybe it's being utililzed on a larger scale than I'm aware, but it's not being utilized along those hundreds of miles of highways in my area.

Why can't those areas be used for profitable and "green"-friendly purposes, since there is SO much of them? Here are some of the types of things I've thought of to use those areas for...I know there would be specific challenges to overcome with each, but with land as such a precious commodity, couldn't these things REALLY benefit our community, or at least be used to bring DOWN our taxes by adding to our cities' coffers?

Ideas for those long stretches of grass areas bordering/in the median of roadways:

1. Wildflowers, YES! already being done? Why not harvest the seeds for sale or re-sowing? Why not put honeybees in a fenced area here and there (for safety), or allow beekeepers to, and have loads of honey from it? Maybe not in the most congested and polluted roadways, but think of all those stretches of road that go through less-traveled areas.

2. Trees, trees, trees. Think of how this would offset the effects of pollution and emissions. I don't have statistics, but someone could come up with them.

3. Along that line of thinking further, what about income-producing trees?
Maples, for maple sugar.
Nut orchards.
Fruit orchards, where possible.
Woodlot trees for harvesting on a rotational basis every-so-many years for sale, lumber, pulpwood, etc.
Large stands of native trees for wildlife preservation.
A tree farm...raising starters-to saplings for reforestation elsewhere. Or saplings of species that take a long time to grow.
Ornamentals, preferably a good mix...for beauty and also their pollution-offset potential. This is being done somewhat in urban areas, such as the use of crape myrtles, etc, but I'm talking thick stands of them. Maintenance a worry? Let some sheep graze there with moveable fencing?

4. Moveable fencing and small livestock. WHY isnt all that grass being EATEN??

5. Easy crops. There's the land, folks. If you have to drive off the road because Dude-in-the-Semi is barreling down on you too fast, how about a great buffer of cornfield, or beanfield, or miles and miles of blueberry bushes?? What if people could feel free to pick-your-own in certain areas? What about growing flowers for cutting, or bulbs for sale, or niche crops like ginseng or ginger or echinacea or elderberry?

6. Grains. Like I said, this is prime cropland. Make it sustainable and use organic sense, but grains could be grown. How about non-altered grains? How about harvesting can't cost more than what's spent on those mowers and machines that mow grass with NO profit as a result. They could be sold as feed for humans or animals, or at the very least, hay.

7. Hay. Its own category. This seems to me to be the easiest one yet, for the less-adventurous. That should really cut down on all those hay shortages.

8. Here's a big one. Crops for alternative fuel manufacture. That's a lot of land out there for the politicians who are of the Can't-Do mindset. I don't know HOW any of these ideas would be implemented, but surely if we can put a man on the moon and clone things, someone can figure out how to do this.

9. In certain areas, make it a wind farm. No, I'm not meaning cramming turbines-on-towers across America's picturesque heartland, but here and there, why not do it for supplementing or replacing existing power sources?

10. Butterfly plants, grown in a naturalized way. Think of the peaceful and healing experience this would be in areas where there is not quite so heavy traffic.

11. OK, I know nothing about this subject, but surely along hilly or incline areas there could be man-made streams whose downhill force could move baffles and power small energy collectors. (Sorry, don't know the official word for those)

12. Harvesting the sun. I'd only want this if it could be done aesthetically, because we don't need one more nasty piece of stark technology to stare at. But if moveable solar panels or some such thing could be used, think of the very large areas that could harvest the sun.

13. Sunflowers. For so many reasons. But mainly because I think they're beautiful! (ha) They raise sunflowers in many parts of the world en masse. I saw them in Eastern Europe growing hundreds of acres at a stretch. They're useful for oil, fodder, so many things. And So beautiful. And therefore deserving of their own category ;-)

14. Coppicing. Growing large stands of trees such as hazelnuts or willow whose branches can be harvested at a certain growth stage for many uses, and then the plant regrows new ones in a recurrent cycle of harvest and regrowth.

15. The Hedgerow concept. Fast-growth and mixed plantings that will grow very tall, providing much needed shade, pollution off-set, wildlife habitat, and privacy, as well as being very good for the soil in that it reduces the wind's tendency to make certain areas a dustbowl or too arid for many things to grow. These would form dense "walls" of green and also would be a safety measure for cars that run astray.

16. Non-profit organizations "adopting" certain areas (by a drawing? permit?) for use in doing any of the above.

17. Depending upon the access conditions, community gardens.

18. Additional pasture rental to existing farmers. I'm thinking about those large areas near bridges and overpasses, requiring a big big triangle of land in between. Any areas that are large enough to be fenced but are never pedestrian areas or close to the side of the road. All that wasted pasture...

Ok, there are so many more, and I know this sounds like my fairy-tale world, except it's not really because in my fairy-tale world there would be no long commutes and everyone would have land for their own mini-farms.

Lah-luh-lah-luh-laaaaahhhh....(happy little mind dance)...well, guess what? All the great solutions in the world had to start SOMEWHERE. :)

Many of these are probably being done in different places, but I'm just not aware of it.

What ideas do you have for how these areas could be used?

How about one lonnnnggggggg open-air local farmer's market?? :)

Uh oh. I hear wind chimes ringing briskly. I'm guessing the raccoon is doing gymnastics to get to the bird feeder (see prior post...feeder and wind chimes are attached to same shepherd's-crook plant post). I better see what's up before he decides my newly planted flats are open for exploration, too...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Planting More Food!

Went to Home Depot today in search of a (as in ONE, UNO) basil plant and a white eggplant I saw the other day. Maybe some sale annuals for attracting pollinators (see how easily these get justified now, instead of admitting "because I WANT flowers!" heh heh)

I put my blinders on and made it through the towers of bougainvillea on display and determinedly strode straight to the vegetable section. I just cannot spend a lot of money. The lavender was looking a bit too appealing. Hmmm. Maybe just one?

There were no white eggplants left, but there was some variety of green one. No other sorts of eggplants were on the rack. I dutifully put one in the cart. Green eggplants?

OK, so far so good...sorta. Then a lady parked her cart where I was trapped amongst the plants (there were no complaints :)), and I scrutinized some of the other green things. Look, cinnamon basil! In it went. Some other sort of basil. Well, sure!

"And now we're done, " I coached myself. The lamb's ears flopped innocently nearby, all fuzzy and clustered and needing a home. In one went. No, I need a clump. In went another.


I was getting happier by the minute. That's a huge warning sign. There's some short in my hardwiring between my gardening center impulses and my finance neurons. I tried to focus. I was Dorothy trapped in a field of poppies just before reaching the Emerald City. I was quickly succumbing.

Saved by the Big Gulp! Detour necessary, and not a moment too soon!

My head cleared as I made my way through the maze of aisles like a mouse on a mission. The further away from the gardening center I got, the more sensible I got. It's just a good thing we don't need replacement windows, updated light fixtures, or flooring, or I'd have been sunk. Am I A.D.D. in that place, or what?? I know it's a big conglomerate, but I have warm fuzzies husband and I feel like we're on a date when we're in there together. My daughter usually groans when we escape to Home Depot. She knows there's no guarantee we'll make it out. She's gotten really close to having to send in the canine search and rescue team before.

Thankfully, on the way BACK to the garden center, I saw the seed packet display, which is NOT located in the garden center (they know their market!). And that's when my heart did a little dance...40% off!! They certainly had basil, and eggplants...and so much more. And with the seeds I can get way more than what I would have for the price 1 or 2 live plants. I threw in some nasturtiums, cosmos, sunflowers, peppers, and all kinds of zinnias. THAT should take care of any "need" for companion planting for pollinators. Woohooo!!!

I bid adieu to the live plants. And escaped Home Depot with bank account AND conscience intact.

Now I have a LOT to plant. There are many things I've never tried to grow before, and I'd rather have the experience of trying from seed. It's already in the 80s here right now. There is just no good reason I can't wait a few weeks for seeds to sprout before I pop them into the ground, or whatever container.

On the way back, and after a grocery run, I circled the backside of the businesses looking for empty discarded boxes. I nabbed two great big box tops, much bigger than the flats I have at home that I'm using to sprout the lettuce. The box tops were waxed, too, so they'd at least bead off water a bit. I threw in a few more box finds and made my way home.

Several kinds of sweet peppers (all in one packet of seeds) are now planted in one of the cardboard box-top "flats," and four varieties of eggplant (again from one packet) are in the other, all moistened and tucked in for the evening.

I've run out of big pots, so if that's still the case when these little guys are bigger, I may just cut down boxes to the 8 or 10 inch level, fill with soil and compost mixed, and make neat rows of those. By the time the boxes decompose, hopefully the harvest will be over and the plant matter along with box can be used out on the area of ground where I'm using cardboard and brown paper grocery bags for a weed barrier. I like trying different approaches to see which is going to work. ALL of the approaches have to endure the Florida summer and fall, which means any extreme from Sahara drought to prolonged monsoon. Let's see what sort of weather this year will continue to bring. So far, it's getting hot and there's no rain.

My blog friends are inspirations, and I'm really grateful for their sharing their experiences and ideas, many of which I'm trying to implement. So that I can grow four different kinds and colors of eggplant, y'know. ;-)

It's funny...

I don't even know how to cook eggplant!

Bee Happy

I remember an especially enjoyable of those you happen upon, thinking it is one thing, but after opening it and discovering it's quite something else, you're already hooked...and happily so for hours, or maybe days, in stolen happy moments.

Such a book for me is Sue Hubbell's A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them.

I'd gathered it up with some other general beekeeping books with the intention of familiarizing myself with some honeybee basics. What I encountered in Hubbell's book was a departure into a fascinating combination bee knowledge repository, personal journal through the beekeeping year, irrepressible individuality, and writing par excellence.

I left this book wondering if, in my desire to someday include a diversity of native plants/grasses/forbs, etc in an acreage, if I could not neglect to include as many bee-loving plants as possible. Honeybees, and many other sorts of bees and wasps, make pollen their business, and this boosts the plant life to no end...and the harvest.

I did some basic Googling to see what plants are especially beloved of the honeybees, since I think I'd like to keep some one day, and there is quite a list. There are also some plants to be avoided, being poisonous to honeybees, or others that simply don't attract them.

I was wondering if the concept of bee-loving plant and livestock-loving plant might be merged, and list created of plants beneficial to both. I havent yet compiled THAT list, but it's on the idea board.

In the meantime, while trying things on a tiny experimental scale during all the planning stages (and not investing a lot into our current property since we're hoping to be elsewhere before too long) I did decide that mints are easy. I'm trying my hand at finding out as much about certain plants, one or two at a time, ones that might be really easy to start with. Mints definately qualify, and in many areas would soon be considered pests. I put mine in an area that's a long way from ever being concerned with an aggressive plant takeover. I've done our "brown paper grocery bag" weed barrier experiments with these, too, since they grow quickly and I can gauge better if the grocery bag barrier is durable enough to not only keep the weeds OUT, but also keep the mints IN.

Well, anyway, so far my bee plant collection is simply a very healthy clump of lemon balm, orange mint, and bee balm, and some dianthus. I have anise hyssop seed, and borage seed. With my recycled containers I've been saving, which are now threatening to take over the entire laundry room if I dont start using them right away, I'm going to be starting these to add to the Bee Garden. (That's just a fancy term for "the mint patch.")

I wonder if livestock are ever attracted to nibbling on any of these plants, and if they'd be beneficial, or otherwise. Basil is also supposed to be a good bee plant, and I'm going to try to find some in the garden center to plant near my baby tomatoes. The other diversity/companion planting thing I want to keep going is to include flowers with all my veggies and herbs. I've done this so far, even if it's only a marigold here or there (there are a few tucked at the feet of some of the tomatoes) or other tough-and-pretty flower, and I truly think it has helped keep a good balance.

I'll be tucking a few things into this Bee Garden as my little continuing experiment. I'd eventually like to encourage an even broader "salad pasture" when we have livestock, and also tuck beneficial herbs and flowers in the waste areas and fencerows both for bees, beauty, and selective animal nibbling.

If anyone out there is already incorporating a particular herb or plant in your grazing areas or woodland forage, I'd love to know which ones work best. And among those, I'll be checking them out to see if any of them are bee-friendly. I love the idea of honeybees humming around the fields and trees with lots of plants and flowers to choose from. I'm trying several clovers right now to see how those do mixed in with existing grasses.

Hope to see some very happy bees! :)

Hay Bale Silage

I'm not well-educated as to the terms or the methods related to grass-based livestock management. I have a lot of questions.

A few years ago, when I was attempting to purchase a 10 acre parcel in Missouri (it fell through, but that's ok), I was trying to find out more about native grasses and rotational managed grazing. At that point, since it was in an area that got really cold for months out of the year, I was thinking along the lines of raising Highland cattle.

That journey is probably much of what's sparked in me a desire to do what I'm doing now, only the nice thing about it is that God introduced me to my husband, who also has had the same thoughts along those lines for most of his lifetime. And the funny thing is that it wasnt until later in our courtship that we even discovered that fact...the other "crucial" factors had to be in place, and it was an unexpected joy to find out that we'd been on the same path in other important areas, such as this one, too. (I love that!!)

I digress. Anyway, back when I was researching native prairie grasses and trying to address the challenges of that particular piece of land in question (water source, droughts, very cold winters, coyotes, previously used for hay, etc) I wandered down many happy donkey trails. One was investigating the plants and grasses native to the area, because I had the idea of a diverse pasture with grasses and forbs and herbs and wildflowers, but one palatable and beneficial for livestock without it being a monoculture grass patch.

I became very interested in the properties of wild chickory, both in what it does for hardpan fields (mines with a taproot, breaking up the ground and adding nutrients) and as a nutritional element in a healthy and diverse natural pastureland. I was also trying to find out what herbs might be naturalized within such a mix, for more selective grazers to have available to boost natural healing and dietary deficiencies.

It was fun trying to find out more about those things. It particulary riveted my friends whenever I got all excited about the subject (ha, this said a bit tongue in cheek!) ;-)

Anyway, during all of that was the question of 1. How to keep things as simple as possible and 2. How to feed naturally with the least expense possible, yet most beneficial to the animals. I'm not sure how realistic my rationale was on that subject, but my idea with the Highland cattle is that they are suited for a fairly rugged winter and pasture dwelling as long as there is an available dry basic shelter. But I was unsure what they would eat during the winter, unless I gave them grain.

I was trying to answer that question when I happened on a website that dealt with chickory. I think it was an Australian website, and they'd done great things with supplementing patches of chickory in swathes in pastures...the cattle seemed to show a real benefit. Then I saw the mention of baled hay silage. From what I remember, care has to be taken in the process, but some hays can be harvested in bales at a certain moisture content (that's the tricky part) and tightly wrapped in plastic 4 to 6 layers thick so that oxygen is prevented from entering, and the result is an ensiling effect (is that the right term?) that turns what would have formerly just been a nutritionally marginal bale of hay (winter feeding, remember?) into a rich silage that could be fed instead. Basically, it looks like the bales keep for a season, if not damaged, and can be split apart and fed in the field as needed through the winter.

I got excited about that idea, but it was about that point that it became evident I wasn't going to be moving to Missouri, so all those ideas got stored away in the wee recesses of my mind for later use.

I'm in a much hotter climate now. But in enjoying the reading about grass-based farming, I again ran again the mention of hay bale silage. Again, it looks like it has to be done right, or it could be more harm that help. But done right, it looks very promising.

And I wonder if anyone out there in homestead land is currently using it either for cattle or sheep or goats.

Very curious! If anyone knows someone who uses this method for winter feed, I'd be really interested in knowing more about their thoughts and advice, the pros and cons.

Here's a small article on the subject. Havent yet found my original article from the good ol Down Under :)

Thanks in advance for any leads anyone might have on this topic!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Lettuce is Up!

Wow, I've never grown lettuces before. A few days ago, I planted a mesclun mix in a couple flats and around the bottoms of my infant tomato plants. They're up!!

And they're soooo cute!! (Sorry, can't think of any other description) I think for fun I'll fill a box top with some more potting mix and write messages with more lettuce seeds for my daughter and husband and watch an "instant message" grow for them...ha!

The Roma tomato plants (2) that bit the dust and then came back after our Two Days of Freak Freeze (that's our equivalent of a blizzard here in Florida) not only came back strong, but now they're erupting in blooms and tiny tomatoes....already! I counted fifteen today!

I've got to get a camera. I know people have seen lettuce before, but it's just so much FUN watching things sprouting. I've got them in a piece of shade that gets a little sun in the afternoon. The tomatoes are further out, in pots, to get more sun. Still hoping the recent Mr. Stripeys and Beefsteaks will continue hanging in there. They were looking a little disgruntled when I first planted them, but they seem to be perking along now. We'll see. They're only six inches tall, or maybe eight so far. I just put little twigs in a little teepee around them to keep them from being windblown. As they get larger, I'll figure out how we'll best support them.

My grandma used old bits of pantyhose to secure hers to supports. It never broke or scarred the tender vines.

Easy Southern Fried Chicken

This is what I fixed tonight, along with corn on the cob and flat Italian green beans. It's my daughter's favorite meal. So easy!!

She always hints about this meal, but I don't fix it that often because it's fried. But it was time. It's my old standby, but not from anyone else. I know most people can fix this sort of thing without even needing a recipe. I dont USE a recipe, but I just wrote down what's come to work for me after trial and error throughout the years.

Fried chicken, for me, did not start out being a very easy fix.

In those long ago years, with visions of stalwart platters of fried chicken dancing in my new homemaker head, I started by trying to fry a whole cut-up chicken.

I ended up with not only a huge kitchen mess, but with beautifully-golden breaded fried chicken that was bloody and "leaky" at the bone...YUCK. By the time I'd cooked the daylights out of that poor thing, the rest of it was a greasy mess.

I tried again throughout the years, but by the time you pre-bake it and THEN fry it, etc etc, it's just about rocket science. Or a cholesterol death sentence.

Then came along my daughter, whose entire palate for several of her adolescent years was attuned to chicken. So I ditched the (then abandoned) fried chicken recipes of yore, and went straight to nuggets...or my version of them.

I never try to fry whole pieces on the bone now. Now I only work with chicken breasts that are deboned.

I can go one of three ways with them, and if my daughter had not come along, I'd not have bothered with any of these ways. But they're quick (important!) and easy (more important!) and actually pretty YUM (all-important).

The first way is simply to take any pent up aggressions out on the poor chicken breast, put it on a firm clean surface, and beat the daylights out of it with a mallet or other blunt kitchen utensil. Do this till you're thinking kind thoughts of everyone and the meat is flattened but not completely pulverized.


Don't beat it (on those days when you're pretty happy with life in general) and cut it into strips.


Cut it into 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inch chunks.

Chicken has to be clean, so let it rest briefly in some salted water, and drain.

And here's the easy part, for me.

Chicken pieces
Spices -- salt, garlic powder, pinch of thyme, two pinches of cumin, grind of pepper
Plain flour
Oil (I use canola)

I use paper plates for some of the steps, if I have them on hand. It keeps the kitchen mess down a lot.

Step One:
Take the clean chicken pieces and put them into a bowl. Then cover them with buttermilk and let them soak at least a few minutes. The longer the better. In another bowl, put your flour, and sprinkle a little salt on the flour and stir with your fingers. Plop the buttermilk-covered chicken pieces, one by one, into the flour and turn to coat. It will look like a clumpy mess. That's ok. As you coat each piece with flour, plop them on a paper plate to "rest." You'll soon have a stack of floury raw chicken pieces, very wet and messy. You have succeeded so far :)

Step Two:
Plop them back into the former bowl that had the buttermilk in it. It should still have some in there. If not, pour a little over the floured chicken pieces so they're all mooshed and moist again. While they are there, looking all sad and mooshy in the bowl, sprinkle a hearty amount of garlic powder, a light sprinkle of salt (not loads), a very faint dusting of thyme, a little bit more dusting of ground cumin, and a grind of pepper over the top of them. Mix this goopy mess about with your bare hands and remember how much fun it was to play with mud pies.

Step Three:
Begin heating oil in a large thick-bottomed skillet or saucepan on your stovetop. Make sure any handles are pushed to the don't want to be flipping the pan by bumping stray handles. Eek!

You'll need to pour the oil to about an inch deep. My skillet/pan is about 14-16 inches wide. I use canola oil. Heat on medium, or just above. You don't want a Dante's Inferno, but you don't want it too cool.

Step Four:
Take each piece of chicken and plop it back into the bowl of plain flour. Coat each and set on another clean paper plate till all are coated.

Step Five:
Test oil by taking a tad of the clumpy dough left in one of the bowls and putting it into the oil. The oil should fizz and bubble merrily around the little clump but not make a huge WHOOSH sound when you put it in. If it's too hot, push the pan to the side off the heat till it gets to the right level and adjust your heat setting, then put it back. You do want a good fizzle going around the piece when you put it in, though, or the oil isnt hot enough and will make things really greasy.

Take each piece and place gently into the hot oil with a fork, till you can't fit any more side by side. Cover skillet and keep an eye on these. Very quickly the bottoms will get golden. Check using the fork. When the bottom of a piece is golden, flip it over to cook the other side. Once both sides are golden, put them on another paper plate with a couple layers of paper towels. As you take them out, only put them side by side, but not on top of each other, to cool. As you fill one paper plate/paper towels with a full layer of fried pieces, lightly salt them and cover with a paper towel. If you're cooking a lot of pieces, just continue putting them on additional paper plates with paper toweling to cool. The paper towel soaks up the excess oil, and keeping them in a single layer keeps them from getting soft and greasy from other pieces touching.

The paper plates are easy to clean up. It sounds like more work than it is...making these is pretty quick and tastes great. You can experiment with your favorite seasonings and coatings. I experimented with seasonings for a long time before arriving at this as my favorite. For a little "heat" you can add a little cayenne pepper to the spices if you like.

Thought I'd pass this along. Not rocket science, I know, and I know it's not fancy gourmet fare. But it's one of our repeat request meals around here.

You can pair it with something traditionally southern, like buttered corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, and gently cooked Italian green beans. Or you can top a fresh crunchy and tender mix of salad greens and a great vinaigrette. Or a mix of roasted vegetables--potato, onion chunks, and root veggies tossed with a tad of olive oil and garlic and rosemary, etc., and some hot cornbread (not the sweet kind, but the salty buttery cast iron skillet kind)

Any of these menus is made better by adding to the table a plate of sliced homegrown tomatoes and fresh green onions.

Always eat it with a cold, cold glass of fresh homemade iced tea!!

Those Moments

Last night, twilight, and the wild turkey. She tread a carpet of fine grasses. She was beautiful and unexpected.

And after dusk, the magic of a whippoorwill, only yards from the bedroom window. I opened the window and its solo hung there for minutes in repetitive and plaintive beauty.

Those moments.

And then they are gone.

You catch your breath and hold it and have that moment, moments.

In time, they vault your sky with stars.


A Buffet O'Bookery

What are your favorite books related to homesteading-your-way (any topic, style, etc)?

I'm delving into the limited selection at my local branch library while waiting on the arrival of some highly anticipated interlibrary requests to make it here soon.

While I wait, I nabbed these, a couple of which are on my Most Wanted list:

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Gene Logsdon's Practical Skills
One Man's Garden by Henry Mitchell
Let It Rot! by Stu Campbell
All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
White Trash Gardening by Mike Benton (don't!)
A-Z of Companion Planting by Pamela Allardice
Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison
Crockett's Victory Garden by James Underwood Crockett
Stillmeadow Calendar: A Countrywoman's Journal by Gladys Taber
The Yankee Magazine Book of Forgotten Arts by R. M Bacon

The permaculture book is already a favorite of mine. I've checked it out so many times, it's really getting some mileage. I got the Skills books primarily for my husband...give him diagrams and building plans or sketches, and he's all over that.

Even as limited a selection as this is, it's still a feast for me.

Especially The Omnivore's Dilemma. I've dived wholly into that one and am taking the others in turns. I'm finally beginning to understand the concept of Slow Food. Loving this book!! (twirllll....reading and rereading it and still can't get enough)

More to come when the others arrive. In the meantime, I'm oh so happy...

Monday, March 26, 2007

WalMartians...Little "Green" Men?

I have a weird sense of humor, so please don't take half of what I write seriously, or personally. I find irony and incongruence to be chuckle fodder. Even when things irk me or strike me as inane.

In my rooting around for a job within a decent driving distance, to help further our goals to GTHOOD (get the heck out of Dodge), I was summoned to Wallyworld's employment wonderland. A few months ago, I sent legions of online applications zipping into the ethersphere -- a smorgasborg of every conceivable local business possible having openings either full or parttime. After all, most places around here won't even take paper applications. This area has FEW if ANY real mom-and-pop businesses, and those that are here employ, well, Mom and Pop. I had to approach some of the Takeover Conglomerates if I hope to have any sort of gainful employment.

The wait has been nerve-wracking, and of course in the meantime has been the unfolding progression of interviews for The Job I Really Want. I'm down to two more left for that one before I know for sure. Drumrollll.....

But since there's NO guarantee of ANYthing, and since we reallllyyyyyy need the benefit of some shekels in the coffers, I'm interviewing at any and all available places.

Some of the folks I applied with months ago are now beginning to call me for interviews. Some are overlapping. I felt I needed to say this before mentioning that today I ventured into the vast monstrosity of mega-retail commonly referred to as WalM*rt. Yup. I feel like a traitor every time I go in there.

It's not that I don't like to buy on the cheap, or that I'm a purist to the degree that I'll decry any store with a paved parking lot. Yes, I've bought there. But I either have a twinge or an outright kick in the stomach to some degree doing so.

I've never cozied up to the salesman's soul. It all smacks of snake oil, slick willies, screaming advertisements, corporate sprawl, and meganopoly. There is nothing lovely, to me, about this sort of "progress." Especially when it equates into the buying up of rural America and the forcing out of regional tradesmen and distinctives.

Yes, we've all heard this rant before.

Cutting to the chase. I arrived early, in interview clothes. (Defined by me as Clothing Requiring Pantyhose)

A woman I'd never have pegged as a managerial sort came loping through, nabbed me, hustled me through The Secret Bowels of WalMartdom, and plopped me at a plastic table. She plucked a Ms. Doe from her floor station long enough to have her interview me from questions on a sheet of paper she'd never looked at before, and the said Ms. Doe circled her responses to my answers as I gave them. Just the general What Would You Do If sorts of interview queries.

As this process unfolded, there were stages of waiting. There were other people cycling through the room, and just overhead, from a TV suspended from the ceiling at an angle, was the constant drone of motivational speaking. A man, likely someone I should have recognized as An Important WalMartian (lol!), was trying to whip up enthusiasm with the typical hype. He was nearly at Old Tent Revival pitch, and I recognized the predictable Whip-It-Up charisma watch-the-birdie stay-with-me-folks manipulative business-speak. RAH, WalM*rt!! (I expected bunting and banners any minute) I did an instant tune-out, at least as much as possible with it being piped in from overhead.

During the first interview, I heard in another room what must have been a very large group of people, listening to a real speaker. There were no discernable words, and I'd not have known they were in an adjacent room but for the intermittent whoops and applause, all in concert...a little too much in concert? On cue? (Skeptic I am) Unless someone were running for office, this was a bit overly enthusiastic applause for the pre-caffiene hours of the day. Was someone internally on the campaign trail?

Then, from the overhead TV's nonstop preaching came the word that drew my attention back to the TV screen. "Sustainability!!!"

The Walpreacher was saying something along the lines of "Sometimes, from complaints and seemingly bad feedback we can learn something. You might have a whole lot of bad feedback, (blah blah blah) from people who seem to have nothing good to say about anything, but there are times we can hear that one that has some truth to it (blahblahblah)...such as SUSTAINABILITY!!"

He had my attention now.

And then he began the WalM*rtSaviorOfTheWorld has embraced Sustainability (and so on and so on) with a whole slick sell on the virtues of WalM*rt's leading the Saving of the World through its SUSTAINABILITY efforts blah blah blah.

It went on and on but I was filling out forms. I blanked after a couple of paragraphs from TV Man, but it had been enough to convince me that for some reason WMart is now using sustainability as it new cover slogan.

Does anyone remember the late 80s and early 90s when there was such an emphasis in the press about Made In the USA? WalM*rt was one of the biggest mouthpieces. I always look. I've never seen more Made in Chinas, Taiwans, Koreas, The Phillippines, etc in any one place. In fact you have to LOOK HARD for a Made in the US.

The word Sustainability rolled off me like an oiled slicker. It had the simple ring of Opportunistic Sales Approach written all over it.

I was sent back to a seating area in the store to await the availability of a manager for the second interview. I was joined by 4 other people. The Meeting should be over soon...all the managers were in it.

An hour went by. Sat, we did. And sat. And sat. Every once in a while, someone would appear to apologize for our having to wait so long. Inside, the managers, their meeting now exceeding two hours and going into the third, were still rapt and occasionally erupting on cue into little blurs of noise.

The young man seated beside me, also waiting for his interview, wondered aloud when the Sealed Room Meeting Participants would be done. ("After all, THEY were the one who had scheduled OUR interviews for precisely this time..." he said under his breath. How much longer would it be?)

After they've passed the Koolaid? I wondered... ;-)

(chuckling again...)

Non-managerial employees trailed faithfully in and out of the back rooms like soldier ants. Finally, we were summoned.

The rest went fine, but there was a tone to it all of having signed up with an evangelistic group. I get this feeling about some companies when seeing their intial line-up of cheerleaders. You have to kind of spray yourself down to not get caught up in the foreign language of it all. It's a mighty special Club, after all. I wondered if I would hear B movie zombie music at some point?


I dutifully drove to the lab to offer my recycled beverage for drug screening.

I exited the Fort Knox of bathrooms and was dismissed by the lab tech.

It's good for them to be thorough. You do not want to assist part-time in KitchenWares under the influence.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Making Your Own Clay or Cob Pots and Planters?

Ok, here's my question: If making adobe tiles or bricks from the stuff you find in your own piece of ground is not that hard (the instructions seem pretty straightforward), I wonder how hard it would be to make flowerpots from the same? Rather than having a whole pottery setup with wheel, etc., couldnt very large planters be made somehow by hand and dried in the sun?

Or would that be too fragile? When I was looking up the adobe-making process, adobe bricks are simply seasoned in the outdoors for a prolonged drying period rather than fired. I know the material is very wet when it's first put out to dry. I wondered either if the same could be left to dry around forms that are the shape you'd want a planter/pot to be, or if flat homemade clay/adobe bricks could be joined to form them.

Anybody had any experience with this? Also, perhaps cob? I know there are cob ovens out there (at least I think that's the name of the material) Would it withstand the frequent watering, if used as a material for very large pots or planters?

Just wondering! :) Suggestions welcome!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I Shall Ride a Horse Even if I'm 89 When it Happens

I've always wanted a horse. That's something that's been packed away with a lot of other impractical things included on my youthful wish-list. (Who cares? Well, it's part of what comes later in this entry.)

I nearly deleted this whole post. Frankly, rereading it has bored me. I sound like an oldster in front of the post office playing chess and counting passersby.

I'm putting it here, though. This blog is supposed to be a somewhat chronicle of our attempts in the realm of homesteading and the homesteading mentality, and this is my real life. My real life is not always fascinating reading. If you read further, at least you've been warned.

I 'm sometimes a stubborn creature who has to learn things the hard way, again and again. If I don't heed more subtle warnings, other not-so-subtle ones appear. Such as physical repercussions.

I am now at full attention.

The last appointment of the week on Friday was to the nutritionist, who is my resource for advice on doing the right thing regarding blood sugar issues. I've never been to an official nutritionist before, but oh the diets I succumbed to in so many of my younger years. After countless years of that, with no visible health benefits to show for it, I concluded that I should never DIET again. That resolve, also cemented after an entire year of an unidentifiable condition that put me flat on my back and in incredible bone pain throughout my entire body. It was constant, till it went away months later, as mysteriously as it had arrived.

When you have any condition that is not readily diagnosed, it gradually becomes suspect that this is "all in your head," at least by folks who've never walked in those shoes before.

It was the kind of pain that made me out of breath if I did anything for more than an hour, including even sitting up...I literally had to lie down and concentrate on relaxing my body to endure it. And we'd reached a cutoff point of our ability to finance any more doctor trips. I vividly recall being so tired of being stuck with needles for more blood tests, etc.

So, maybe in a fit of desperation, or maybe circumstantial depression (?), I declared a moratorium on pharmaceuticals, special "diets," and any other experiments that needed me as the guinea pig. I don't fault anyone for using medicines, so please don't misunderstand, and I DO believe medicines have their place. After a few months of having my life halted and having more quality time with my pillow than my family, I said ENOUGH. I was afraid I had cancer or MS or something else they'd not yet diagnosed. But I was sick and tired of being sick and tired...and of seeing the looks of doubt cross my friends' faces when I was not "better" according to their timetables.

That was back in the day I thought I had to be indispensable. I got stubborn and opted out of that, too.

All that to say that when I "gave up" and decided that no matter WHAT was wrong with me, I was NOT going to be anybody's guinea pig, I stopped the craziness of waiting rooms and trying meds nobody was sure would work, for something noone was sure what it was.

I started walking. I did what I could and did not apologize for the things I couldn't. I delegated or bowed out of so many supposedly important "extras" that really didn't end up being that important. I said no to things I had been "indispensable" for (such as at that time functions and social events I'd always organized). And sometimes I was a total!! This, from the southern gal who would've died a thousand deaths before offending ANYONE even inadvertently...who learned manners because "my mama raised me right" and NEVER stepped on anyone's toes. Well, I now have an appreciation for the endurance it takes when a person is in prolonged pain. It didn't mellow my made me realize "Life Is Too Short." It also caused me to find a way to laugh. Especially at myself. ;-)

I was so surprised at how disappointed many acquaintances were. I homeschooled at the time. I remember one homeschool mom, who for the umpteenth time was probing me for ideas and curriculum creativity and arranging group activities, and her frustration that I was not my former enthusiastic partner-in-crime companion in planning and implementing them. She always wanted to know "Why??" when I opted out (trying to do so inobtrusively), and became angrier when the same answer was repeated during those months "I feel too bad and I need to keep things simple."

"But what is wrong?? The doctors haven't found anything," she asked, in a tone that was like an accusation.

I sighed internally and replied the reply I hated to reply...again..."SOMETHING is wrong with me, and I just CAN'T do some things." She didn't hide her frustration well. She didn't relate. She said, "If this were an A. A. Milne book and I'd have to choose a Pooh character you're most like, I'd have to say you're Eeyore. You're just not a fun person anymore." And away she flitted to her perfect house and perfect 2.5 children, having summarily written me off as a depressed Hundred Acre Wood stuffed donkey.

I am not an Eeyore, though I did want to give her a swift kick about then. And like other peripheral acquaintances, (rather than the handful of tried-n-true friends I so love) she went her own way, and I entertained during dreary moments a Fear That I Was Eternally An Eeyore.

I have a tendency now to an internal "Bite Me" response towards those who snipe and run. This period also furthered inside of me, like the flourishing of a stubborn weed, a growing impatience for Suffering Fools Gladly.

I don't like mean people. No matter how nice they are.

I don't mind cranky ones. I often identify.

Don't know how I got off on that, but where this was all leading is that there are times life forces one to simplify...or else. Despite what they think....(they who? The Infamous They.) I'm trying to live without apology. It's hard to get past the gauge of others' expectations. It doesn't always happen, but it's easier to live with myself this way.

This brings me to a point I was going to make. I'm just going to have to circumvent my insecurities as we simplify things, if I really want to enjoy the journey.

The nutritionist was a person I really liked. She's in her sixties, and pulls no punches. She invited me into her tiny office, closed the door, took one look at me and said, "You're not my usual client. You're not sixteen and pregnant. I'm going to enjoy having an adult conversation." She loves her other clients, so this wasn't a slam. It simply means I'm probably the oldest person to come through the door in a long time, heh heh.

We talked and talked. I liked her for the very reason that she isn't burdened with an overload of niceties of conversation. I'm not so good at small talk, and we got right down to brass tacks about the subject at hand.

She asked me to tell her some things I feel strongly about as we try to develop a plan of how to address the blood sugars. I told her I'd rather have natural things rather than pills, that I'm never going on any sort of diet in my life again, that it's my intention to eat as organically as possible, that I will not eliminate any food group entirely, and that I won't eat engineered foods or fat substitutes.

She lit up.

I told her I need more exercise, expect to lose weight that way and in the process of implementing natural foods/making them myself, and that we're trying to work our way to farming, slowly.

She was engaging, lively, and very intelligent. She was enthusiastic about those choices. She'd had a long road reclaiming her health in certain areas over the years, too, and affirmed the benefits of what we're trying to do. We talked like old friends, and she was direct.

Finally, she asked me to list anything I'd consider a major change in my life over the last two years. I gave her a brief bulleted verbal list. "Your biggest problem is not foods or's stress. Your Fight or Flight response is really working overtime, and your body is in survival mode...all the time. It's fighting, and your sugars and all the other things are going haywire. What do you do for FUN?"


I listed the things I do now.

Aside from spending time with family, writing, reading, cooking, she wanted to know what I wanted to do for fun just myself.

I listed the things I want to do "someday"...such as the things I want to do when I've lost more weight, knocked out some recent projects, etc

Swim. Bicyle. Fish. Paint again. Take night classes. Ride horses. Farm. Have animals. Canoe. Ride horses. Ride horses.

"It's important for your health that you include some of those now," she said.

"I'm not young and fit like I used to be," I said. (In my mind's eye flashed the mental picture of my no-longer-svelte self trying to revisit past avocations. Not impossible. But daunting. I'd either never tried some, or had grown out of the habit. Mostly not wanting to embarrass myself in front of others. Ever had a nightmare about being flung from the Spinning Teacups at Disney?? Told you. I have issues related to needing to lose the rest of my unwanted
weight. ;-))

Here's the punch line:

It was then that she leaned forward, and said dead seriously, "Well you're not NINETY, either, ARE you??"

That's really stuck with me.

There are "right" stresses and "wrong" stresses, and something's always going to stretch you. If not, you're either overmedicated or six feet under. Simplifying is simply tossing the unnecessaries overboard. There's still the voyage.

I just need to remember that the fun stuff isn't over. Those aren't luxuries, they're the tradeoffs for what gets left behind.

I'm so thankful for the reminder.

Our homesteading frame of mind has to do with leaving the ratrace as we can, but not in checking out of life. My body needs and my life needs that connection with childhood wonder and joy. This is, after all, LIFE, and we only get one shot at it.

I'm glad to live deliberately. But I've been so serious about my life's meaning (and my family's) that I've lost some childlike qualities. You know, like when we're kids and we'd fall backward into the deep end of the pool for the sake of that one glorious moment of heat, cold, glare, water, spray, air, abandon, and SPLASH! (and then get out and do it again) :)

The question has been repeating in my mind:

"Well you're not NINETY, either, ARE you??"

No. No, I'm not.

Thank you.

And when and if I ever am 90, I hope this same lady is there to remind me to push the numbers to 120.

Falling backwards into pools at that age might be a bit risky, but then what a way to go...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Grateful Shabbat

Here's wishing a restful night and day to all.

This blog will be on hold each week from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday.

I'm recounting only a few of the many things for which I am grateful...

God's provision and kindness. Family. Friends. The work that got done this week. The work to be done in days to come. Health. Nurturing through illness. Unexpected kindnesses. Beauty. Laughter. Wonderful and inspiring people I know in person and also online. A time for rest and reflection. Reading the words that always speak wisdom and guidance.

May your homes be filled with peace and rest!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Little Progress

A little progress was made today:

1. Feeling Better, Or LESS BAD :)

I'm now back among the living. Many thanks for the well-wishes :) I don't know if it was the flu or just a week-long Yuck that got progressively worse till I was knocked off my feet, but I'm fighting back now. Still have deep ear pain and throat infection, but it's SO much better than yesterday...hooray!

2. Got Rest Without Too Much Guilt

Morning was a Nap of Death after the early taking-of-daughter to school in the wee hours. I kept dreaming the phone was ringing but I couldn't get it. The phone HAD been ringing, but I was so gone all I could do was dream (ahhh :)).

3. Bumped Off Yesterday's To-Dos

Yesterday's big news was that I bleached down everything in the kitchen and got things under control. Including the tile floor. Myself.
This, after having gone with my husband to the attorney's office to AT LAST finalize a will. We've been trying to do that for months now. I just didn't want to postpone again, no matter how rotten I felt. So hubby, my virus, and I went to the office an hour away. Mr. Legal Man regaled us pleasantly with tales of his recent vacation to Iceland while we signed documents. I'd normally have had a lot of questions and curiosity about that, but I was a dullard. Or maybe at $150 an hour I was just wondering about how many miles he could log on his next vacation with what he was making off us. (I'm cranky and jaded when I'm sick...or when I'm well?? lol) I was counting the minutes till I could be back in the truck nursing a Big-Gulp-sized fizzy drink long enough for my stomach and me to be driven BACK HOME.
The sight that greeted me in my kitchen was enough to make me want to go to bed and not get back out. I've been out for the count for a while, and in cleaning denial. To halt the further petrification and putrification, the bleach came out, everything got fume-blasted and scrubbed, and then I medicated and went to bed. I was in an ill humor about it -- I was having nothing of Mrs. Cleaver and The Beave -- and there was a lot of therapeutic clash and clatter as I whittled down the pots-n-pan tower in the sink.

You know you're not a kid anymore when you're actually looking forward to bedtime.

4. Comfort food, on minimal scale, was consumed. By Me.
I was in serious need of some chicken soup and blanket. With their hours, my daughter and husband have hardly been home, and I just couldn't bring myself to do the whole Chicken-Carcass-and-Homemade-Everything-Chicken Soup...just too long, and I don't have any reserves frozen. So I made the only thing that is warm, comfy, and takes less than 2 minutes. Grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, it was the plastic cheese on potato bread sort. My cholesterol might have gone up, but the sandwich went down nicely in the absence of any warm soup. That and many hot mugs of Sleepytime Tea kept me feeling nurtured, even if this time it was self-nurture.

5. Slowly Shuffled Around and Made Good Food for the Fam

Did another of the apple cakes, only I substituted canned and drained blackberries. Good, but not as good as the apple.

Did a saucepan of seared chicken breasts rumbling with some pesto, canned chopped tomatoes, Italian herbs, white wine and broken spaghetti pieces, dusted with grated parmesan. This turned out great.

Homemade pizza dough with individual's choice of thinly sliced cooked (leftover from above) chicken, marinara sauce, garlic, mixed shredded cheeses, basil pesto, thinly sliced raw red onion, torn fresh spinach leaves, grated parmesan.

DELICIOUS and EASY chickpea recipe from Molly at Orangette. Her entry promised that this Chickpea with Lemon and Parmesan meal would take 5 ingredients and 5 minutes to make, and it delivered! (It takes even less time to scarf down before making another batch...) Her recent post, where I found the mention, made me crave Lebanese food, which I've never had before. What an excellent site to visit (have fun, you'll get lost!)

But I digress...

6. Killed Most of the Week's Appointments Even Though I Didn't FEEL Like It

(Whine, whinge, mutter, shuffle...;-))

So much is happening, this week has been fraught with nothing but appointments. Those have been fulfilled now and crossed off, and though I don't have a lot to point to in practical terms having been accomplished, I DON'T have to worry about rescheduling a dozen things that got postponed. I just got them out of the way no matter what. DONE! :) I have one more scholarship to help my daughter pull things together for by the end of tomorrow, and a couple of letters to write for J in his attempts to do a property-trade. Yes, that is also happening. We've never heard back from the guy about the land and house, and have kept looking for other opportunities if that one falls through. J has also been job-hunting since his jobs are by assigment, and he has only been given 25 or fewer hours a week right now. That does not pay the bills. I have two interviews next week, an appointment with the nutritionist tomorrow about blood sugar related stuff, blah blah blah. And we're supposed to be getting ready for Passover....EEK!!! The time always creeps up on me this time of year! :)

7. Planted tomatoes and lettuces!!!!

This is one thing I feel realllyyy good about. I determined that in addition to my afternoon grocery trip, for which I was making an effort though I could have easily have gone right back to bed (just me and my buddy Nyquil), I thought I should stir myself, stock the fridge again, throw together some simple things for our next few meals, and call it a day. But visions of plum tomatoes were dancing in my head, and the empty large clay pots out back along with the beautiful weather were taunting me everytime I looked out the window.

I'll boil it down. I reasoned I could pull it all off in an hour, the trip to the garden center and then to the market, and home. I could do that and if I felt bad, call it a day. Or if it rejuvenated me, I'd throw some food together and then pot up all those bad boy wannabe planters. I kept this vision in my mind.

The suckage of buying plants at a garden center is probably the reality of having to stay on a budget and passing up thousands of little green and flowered things that are calling to you as you walk the aisles. I WILL be going to far away places to garner treasures of compost, wood chips, old leaves, throwaway cardboard boxes, etc, to construct my wee trial garden, but in the meantime, the empty pots I DO have already need some basic good potting soil and some plants to put in them. I've not ordered seed. I've never grown anything FROM seed (yet). I shall. But in the meantime I feel the NEED to be DOING SOMETHING rather than waiting for all those "somedays."

I bought 8 little tomato starts whose labels promised they were heirlooms. HD only had two types of heirlooms, neither of which would have been my first choice if picking from a seed catalogue. But there they were, amidst the hybrids, looking like they needed a home. Welcome, heirloom Beefsteak and Mr. Stripey!

I'm probably going to regret this, but since my pots are so large, I've planted two tomato plants per pot on either side of a stake. I want to construct support towers that stand on the ground outside of the pots as they get larger, or at least that's my present idea. If I try to anchor any sort of support within the pot, it may get topheavy and keel in a good wind. The amateur still fiddles :)

THESE are the visions that are dancing in my head at the moment... (I know, it's nowhere near the list of dozens I have going that I still plan on starting from seed..someday. But these are the first little guys who'll be kicking the bigger things off)

Heirloom Beefsteak vision...I'm thinking full-bodied flavor and heavy vines that need a nice tower and the benefit of daily private tomato-and-moi conversations.

Mr. Stripey vision. Hmmm. Beautiful streaks of red and yellow, like...Tigerella. Tigerella was on my Streaky wish list of tomato seeds. (I have lists for red, yellow, streaky, black...don't prefer pink). The picture looked similar. I was excited! The name Mr. Stripey conjures images (to me) of the loud trousers-pattern of a circus stilt-walker, while Tigerella sounds spunky, with a Grrrr. I looked up Mr. Stripey on the internet when I got home. Some folks interchange the term for Tigerella. I was elated...the same tomato? Other folks swear that Mr. Stripey is a bland beefsteak-sized version that underperforms and tastes like wall paste. Well, the suspense will last about 80 days if it's the larger, or less if it's truly the Tigerella. I'll report back when I know for sure.

I will talk to you, too, Mr. Stripey. If you are good to eat, I will save your seeds. If you are not good to eat, I will not save your seeds, but shall console you with some spectacular moments of airborne freedom as you're organically lobbed at my rascally and prolific raccoon midnight raiders. Or I'll just eat you unripe, because I was raised in the South, and Southern women WILL have their fried green tomatoes. (And you thought the green in that julep was mint??) lol

My 2 Romas that bit the dust in The Two Nights of Barely Freezing are back! And they set a LOT of blooms and came back much thicker. HOO plus RAY! I don't have TV reception where we live. I'm watching my veggie version of Survivor with rapt attention.

8. In doing the planting, experimented with the Milk Crate Planter Idea.

This sounds so lame, but I've been dying to try that experiment! (See some of my past posts, early on). I took an intact (what else?) paper grocery bag that was folded flat, laid it on the bottom and up one side of the mild crate. Perfect fit, the grocery bag top edge came just to the top edge of the crate side and was flat against the bottom. Next grocery bag was laid on the bottom of the crate facing the next side, and folded to be flat against that side, and so on till all sides were covered. This made a four layer bottom and single layer sides. In went the potting soil and amendments. I sowed lettuce for starts in this. If it holds up, I'll be using this for tomatoes or other veggies or herbs. I watered the soil and bags very well, and it contains it perfectly.

I'll be watching to compare how it weathers during the heat compared to the pots and the in-ground plants. I'll also be checking for affordable ways of picking up more of them, since they can easily be grouped together Square-foot-Garden fashion, each crate being its own square...and portable. I'm thinking of doing a bunch of strawberries in 4 or 5 since I could pierce small holes in the sides a' la strawberry pot style and double my harvest.

Maybe :)

It all took only an hour...I was jazzed! Now I have a total of 10 tomato starters, two flats and one milk crate of mesclun mix and frilly mesclun mix lettuces.

FINALLY...something got done!

Now...if I can do this, despite the work schedule, etc, each time I do my weekly grocery shopping, we can actually have a real garden this year! Yippeee!!!

9. Initial Layout of Supplies (sigh) :)

I paid for the soil amendments and already-started plants. I hate to say how much, but I have to have a figure to work with so I can bring it down from there in the future. It wasn't cheap.

It was about $60 all told. That also counts about $20 in seeds that were not planted today.

But that's not the worst part.

I'm ashamed to fess up.

There is the matter of today's "hidden expense" that can only fall under the category Tragedy of Idiocy. I paid a lot more for that NyQuil haze than expected. After loading bags of potting soil as big as a pony into the trunk of the little car, I went "Whew!!" and then slammed the trunk closed. And experienced the sick realization that I'd just locked my purse and keys right in there with them. Daughter could not be reached by cell phone and husband was at work far away...for hours to come. No one local to call. This was not part of my quickie trip to the store and back plan.

I was SO NOT a happy camper. If I ever go to another garden center, I swear I'm going to wear my car keys from a chain around my neck.

Yep. The Pop-A-Lock guy was very friendly, and is a huge fan of tomatoes. The $45 dollars I paid him should get his garden off to a good start.

To view tomato photos, please visit their home sites (Mr. Stripey tomato pic)
and (where you can find Heirloom Beefsteak pic)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fully Nyquillated






The County Fair!

I'm a bit late at updating here. The flu...yuck!!

Thankfully, it didn't strike me down until AFTER Sunday, the date of the county fair!!

Little fair, big fair, I don't care. They are still my one of my favorite things to do. I'd rather do a county or even state fair rather than going on a cruise or to Disney, and a lot of other destinations. (Ok, not over going to Europe.)

When I was a really small child, in Memphis they had the Mid-South Fair, and my memories were those of someone knee-high gazing up at a noisy and colorful melee of fun. The smells, tastes, rides, colors, overload of childhood glee! I remember the cotton candy, the corn on the cob, and the frozen chocolate-covered banana that didn't quite taste as good as it looked, but I got one every time anyway because the only place you could get one was The Fair. Cotton candy and salt water taffy. Popcorn would crunch underfoot as we navigated the carnival wonderland.
My mother always had my sister and me sit at the boot of the lady who did the paper silhouette cut-out portraits, and every year we had one done, she'd frame it later in the year for a holiday gift to my grandparents. We loved the booths, the rides, the games. But most of all, I loved the livestock barns.

Leave me there forever! (that was my sentiment...I was a country girl even when I lived in the city)

It's been decades since I've gone to the fair. In fact, I don't know if I've been to one since I was about 6 or 7 years old. There's always some reason. I mentioned to my husband two years ago as a newlywed that the one thing I realllyyy wanted to do for fun each year is to go to the fair...county or state matters not...just take me to the fair! Last year we tried. The day before we were scheduled to travel there, his mother fell and broke her hip. The fair lasted two weeks. She had to be rehospitalized during the two weeks for an emergency operation for clots in her lungs, and had a lengthy rehabilitation. You see, some years the fair is just not meant to be.

We couldn't do the state fair this year, nor even the closest one, but we DID get to go to one within driving distance Sunday!

It was smallish, but with a bit of something for everyone. Except horses, they didnt have horses. Or sheep. (pout) The agriculture exhibits were mainly 4-H and FFA, as were the livestock shows. The day we went happened to be the beef cattle show...paint me happy!! J and I sat in the stands watching, and being a small county fair, the cattle show was on a very small scale. And so much fun!

We're wannabees. We've not raised any cattle, or any other livestock during our lives. We're preoccupied with trying to get to the point we have any sort of land to try it on, right now. So we watch. We're by now seated in the stands, surrounded by folks who've done this a lot more times than we have.
I watch quietly, trying not to raise a red flag of ignorance. My husband is less suave. The youth competition is in the arena. The young girls and boys are trying to please the judge, align their heifers, and keep their animals still, which is proving difficult for some. A girl with a flashing rhinestone belt repositions her reluctant cow for the third time. Cattle are turned to their best advantage. Cattle feet are prodded to just the right position. Cows moo and shift. Competitors try their best to give attention to both cow and judge.
One cow issues a steaming stream of urine on the feet of the next competitor. As if cows can time their bathroom relief, my husband stage-whispers an alarmed,"That cow just peed on her feet!" The show goes on. Other cows do their business at various points in the proceedings, each time met with more excited whispers from the husband-front, "it's pooping right while the judge is looking!" Men and body functions. I kept shooting him looks of "What, are you five years old??" while he continues in undertones his fascinated cataloguing of the fertilizer process during the stretches of time the cattle are being led and displayed before the judges.

I endure the hushed byproduct fascination commentary, and my husband endured the entire stock show...because he loves me. We start mini-wagers on which animal we think'll win. My husband starts bets on which cow will behave the worst. Oh, the drama of it all :) (My pick wins several prizes, yay!)

The chickens and rabbits were in a separate area, and there werent that many of them. Maybe a few dozen. I liked the dwarf rabbits and was happy to note that among the few chickens there, they did have two New Hampshire red hens, 1 Amercauna, and 1 Buff Orpington. Several RIRs. The rest were fancy breed chickens and other sorts of birds.

Everything else was secondary. We toured the dairy barn. There were three holsteins and two jerseys. There were two unindentified full-sized dairy goats, about four Nigerians, and four pygmies. So cute!! There were no other barns to tour.

So we toured the food, though we mostly smelled it. Gosh, someday I'll go just for the food. But we were both sort of feeling semi-puny (and now that I have the flu, I know why) so the food was really enjoyable just being smelled. We saw great exhibits of all sorts. It's all fascinating! Old tools, different sorts of engines and fuels, gardening. They had a gardening exibit featuring this fellow's patented self-watering contained planter thingy that you could grow vegetables or flowers in...sort of an "it has it all" kit...and the vegetables were enormous. Of course the kit cost about $40 just for a 3x3' kit.


We bumped into a couple of master gardeners who had an exibit for a community garden, and we passed some very pleasant time talking and exchanging ideas, etc. They gave me their card, and it will be fun seeing the new garden they're setting up. The last one they set up improved the "bad area of town" so much that now it's prime prime that the city doesnt want to keep the property tied up with a garden. Hmmm. So they're on to greener pastures and an area that won't be so easy to be bumped from next time around. And better situated to be available to more people, too. A great bunch of folks this is who have pooled their efforts and talents for this great garden!

We loved visiting the area for arts and crafts. That's the place they had all the baked and canned goods (with prizes), the drawings, quilts, and every sort of visual or handmade art...just so much fun to see the variety and creativity! A man did my name for free in calligraphy. Then we went on to the science fair exhibits. One kid had done his theorizing that since his dog licked its wounds, perhaps dog spit has healing chemicals or properties. So he tested dog spit's healing properties in comparison to a certain antibiotic's. Interesting! (I homeschooled my daughter part of her me weird, but I think kids have THE most interesting perspectives that are too soon squelched by adults).

We didn't hurry through any of this. We zig-zagged, backtracked, ambled, and lingered...and laughed. We really needed that time together!

The last building was the commerical exhibits...i.e. an anything-goes flea market sort of atmosphere. The smell of essential oils and potpourri knocked us over just inside the door. Then we traversed the tight aisles where were subjected to every salesman's hawked ware, philosophy, religion, and invention. On a single aisle alone, you could get your ring cleaned for free, get a free carpet demonstration, insurance, a cure for male pattern baldness, and preached to about your soul's eternal destiny. Everyone was pushy. I smiled and declined giving my wedding ring to the ring cleaner salesman. No sooner was the "No thank you" was being formed by my mouth, he had actually reached for my glasses (my contacts have gone kaput recently) and was trying to take them off me to clean. LOL! My walk upgraded to a determined trot. Trot trot past the vacuum guy. No eye contact with the trinket hawkers waving me down. Picking up speed at Fundamentalist Witness Person #1 who thrust a tract literally into my NON-outstretched hand, and SAFE! lunged and caught my husband's jacket and trailed in his wake. Uhoh...he lingered a moment too long at one booth. I saw them coming. Aisle #2 people were poised and waiting for us to round the corner. I said "Hang on, honey!" and plowed along determined to come out on the other end with my wedding ring, person, and private salvation intact. I suceeded. Right in front of the unmanned Libertarian Party booth. Maybe the folks at that booth were getting their rings cleaned or buying a custom-blended aromatherapy oil?

We got out of there and made for the hills...laughing!

We'd spent most of the day seeing the sights. It was our short version county fair trek, just enough to wear us out and yet leave us wishing for more the next year around.

With all the great blogs out there and folks trying new recipes, handcrafts, soaps, etc, maybe I'll get good enough at something by this time next year to try my hand at entering one of my own at the fair. I'll find SOMETHING to test and experiment with and personalize enough to give it a go. Won't that be FUN?? I'm all happy at the thought of having some canned goods or pickles or such to try entering.

In between cattle shows where my husband is pointing out poo, of course.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Pic'n up the Blog Page a Little

My page has had a dearth of photos since I don't have a handy cam of any sort, though I will be using the INSTAMATIC (oy!) to try to snag some shots now and then to post. I did a search for free pics, and found some that represent what my area down here in Florida looks like on a good day. I figured everyone knows we have fabulous beaches and sunsets, so I passed over the Palm Tree and Sunset on the Beachfront ones and instead honed in on the lush vegetation that can still be found in many areas here.

Sure, there are the bulldozed areas that look like any other vacant dirt lot. There is a lot of overgrazed pasture, too, in the outlying areas. But if you leave Florida to itself long enough, you'll get what's in these photos.

I only moved here about 2 1/2 years ago, in the aftermath of Hurricand Charley. (Or is that Charlie?) The whole place looked beat up. You expect manmade structures to look damaged, and they certainly were...that is, the ones that remained. But the landscape took a mighty wallop, too. That was the sight that greeted us as our truck made the trek down the state. Not being used to seeing ANY palm trees, palmettos, or tropical plants growing freely in the outdoors, I was wondering what all the fuss was was certainly not what I'd thought of as tropical beauty. My husband kept reiterating the fact that this is not how this normally looks. "It's usually so thick with green that you can't see through the trees," he said. "This is nothing like true Florida."

Still being reluctant and homesick for my home state of Tennessee at the time, I was grumpy about the whole thing. Give me a choice between beach or mountains and mountains it is for me. My daughter chooses beach :)

Well, he was right. The first year, everything was still pretty ragged. The palm trees were limp and halfhearted, looking like a teenage boy trying to grow his first straggle of a mustache. But now, 2 1/2 years later, creation has rebounded and it's lush again. I can't imagine what it will be like in 2 1/2 more years. The landforms themselves still lack the rolling hills and personality I'm used to in a more northern state. But the plants...oh, NO complaints there! Water has its charm, too, and wetlands, though I don't want to live ON one, are simply beautiful.

Anyway, I posted a few copyright-free pics to give folks an idea of what it's like around where I live here. My current home is on a lot in an area where residences are displacing slash pine and palmetto forests. Immediately around my house are nothing but tall palmettos and clumps that hug the ground, slash pines, and tall burnt pine logs sticking upright into the air after a burn that must have happened well before we moved here.

I'll find some other ways to post pics here, but till then, these are a little taste of my place. The oaks, though few and far between, really do have hanging moss, and all the green trees and plants are full of teeming life. Stir in water and wading birds and herons and it's tranquil...and lovely.

(Especially in the cool before the mosquitos want to share the view) :)

Alright, all for now. More pics later. Let's see how the INSTAMATIC (oy) does. I tried taking some shots of the recipes I made last week. We'll see if it's up to it. It might be a series of "Hey, Vern!" bread shots, or up so close that the foreground is a blur and the background is in focus.

Lessee... :)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Soay Sheep

I'm so interested in these sheep, and I'm guessing a lot of other homesteading-minded folks are, too...or will be.

I'll be listing reasons I like these sheep, but there's no accounting for one of the primary ones...their charm. They're just so darned beautiful! And about knee-high, depending on how tall you are.

In investigating types of sheep and suitability for small acreage, it was my good fortune to run across the Soay on a rare breeds list. Its keepers and enthusiasts are a very loyal and enthusiastic bunch. They are also very helpful towards prospective and first-time owners.

The Soay has a lot going for it. It is considered a primitive breed, hailing in origin from an island chain off the coast of Scotland. It has survived for a long time as a hardy breed of small sheep thriving in the wild. It has its own distinctive behaviors and characteristics, and certainly its undeniable charm (at least to folks like me!).

Soay sheep have wool that sheds itself (see picture of ewe shedding), and can often be plucked, rather than sheared. The wool consists of two distinct fibers prized by handspinners and handcrafters. There are a variety of wool colors and patterns, and some breeders specialize their focus on a particular "type" through line or traditional breeding practices, while others allow herds to breed as they would in the wild. Each practice preserves a particular emphasis within the breed, and all help assure its survival.

Soay are said to have mild and delicious meat, prized in gourmet and specialty circles. Their herding instinct is not common to most domestic sheep, and they range more loosely than in tight clusters. Their conformation is delicate and deer-like, and they are very small in stature. They are useful in browsing underbrush, and have been used in conservation efforts since their small size allows for minimal damage to plants and pasture. They can consume unwanted invasives as poison ivy and poison oak, yet are not destructive to the larger plants.

Soays can be managed in small pastures, since they gain a sense of safety in small areas rather than large pasturage. Livestock guard animals must be bonded to the sheep slowly, and herding dogs must be adapted to the special instincts of the Soay, herding it from a distance loosely rather than trying to confine and move the sheep in a tightly packed herd.

The Soay ewes are said to be very hardy, and lamb without assistance. They can produce singles or twins, and are attentive mothers to their young. The ewes can be horned or polled. The rams are horned. The breed is hardy, and while needing basic sheep care and nutrition, is vigorous and low-maintenance in comparison with many other sheep breeds.

Fencing must have no gaps near ground-level and must be to at least a height of 4 feet. Shelter can be very basic, and does not have to be large.

I was hoping to post some pictures of Soay here so folks who've never heard of this breed might see what initially caught my eye when searching for small rare breeds. The beautiful pictures you see here are used permission Julie Suffolk and Janette Beveridge of the Soay Sheep Society in the UK. Please enjoy the link on my sidebar for further information from the Society. They are an invaluable group and resource for anyone in pursuit of Soay research and animals. Thank you, Julie, for your help in making these photos available to the homesteading community.

This brief blog summary only scratches the surface of the fascinating history and research available about the Soay. I'm hoping I might meet or hear from others who have a similar interest, from any location, as there are no Soay breeders this far south in the U.S. as far as I'm aware.

Hope you enjoy knowing more about these little guys as much as I am :)