Country Living Series

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Moose tracks

Don and I went walking yesterday, picking our way carefully amidst icy patches on the road. Suddenly we looked down and saw -- moose tracks.

Don put his size-10 snow boot right next to a pair (front hoof/back hoof) of tracks for purposes of comparison. Big mamas!

We traced the tracks up the road...

...until we saw where the animal jumped over a snow berm and headed off down a side road.

Besides sheer size, moose tracks are identifiable by a characteristic heart-shaped print. We've been having moose hanging around, so seeing prints isn't surprising. Just fun!

Don't let your guard down

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "Preparedness: Now more than ever."

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hope springs eternal

We traded a steer for a pig with a neighbor last December, and we've been thoroughly enjoying the change from beef. Here Don is slicing a ham for sandwiches.

He had a very attentive audience. We don't feed Lydia off the table, so to speak, but she knows meat when she sees (smells?) it ... and a dog can hope, can't she? Besides, I've been using the leftover bits of fat to disguise the pills she's been getting since her vet visit, so she knows she'll get some eventually.

"Don't bother me, I'm concentrating."

Yep, hope springs eternal.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Making a liar of me

Well, after my optimistic hope that spring was on the way, thanks to the presence of robins, the weather took a 180o turn and began another snow dump.

The photos just don't do justice to how hard it was snowing.

It's wet snow and may not last long, but it's a reminder that it is, after all, still February and we can't exactly start planting peas in the garden.

Ah, nothing like Mother Nature making a liar of me.

Monday, February 20, 2017

What do the robins know?

Yesterday Don and I started to take Lydia for her usual afternoon walk along the road, when suddenly he stopped and said, "Let's take her in the pasture."

When the cows are not in the pasture, we can just unleash Lydia and let her run loose to sniff, explore, chase, dig, or whatever. However that hasn't been possible since early December when we started getting the snow dumps. It was too deep.

But the snow has been slowly but steadily melting off, so for the first time in 10 weeks, we gave it a try.

Needless to say, Lydia was thrilled by the freedom.

We usually walk the perimeter while the dog explored. The snow was deeper than we anticipated in some areas, so it was a good walk/workout for us as well.

As we walked, we noticed birds. Flocks of birds. In fact -- robins!

These are the first robins we've seen this year, and suddenly they were everywhere ... and I mean everywhere.

"I wonder if they know something we don't know?" I mused.

Like maybe ... spring?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Friday roundup

I honestly meant to put this post up yesterday (Friday) but it turned into a surprisingly busy day, so sorry about that.

Friday Roundups (regardless of what day they're posted) are so we can all check in on what steps we've taken, big or small, to inch us incrementally toward greater preparedness. Since it's winter and outdoor work is limited, our Friday Roundups have been pretty pathetic lately, but here goes:

• We had our regular Friday neighborhood potluck (it was our turn to host). It was full house this time -- five families, 14 people total -- and we had a lovely visit. I know I've said it again and again, but I can't help it: we are blessed with wonderful neighbors. These weekly potlucks we've had for the past eight years are a cement that has bound us together in ways that are hard to describe.

Some people in our group are experiencing serious health issues, so as spring unfolds we'll be pulling together and pitching in on chores and tasks that need doing while they recuperate. It's what neighbors do. It's the third leg of preparedness -- community.

• Another of these neighbors experienced a first: making elderberry jelly. She has an elderberry bush in her yard and had frozen much of the fruit, so this week she decided to try her hand, for the first time, at making jelly. It worked and she was thrilled. Food preservation -- a good thing to know!

• This same neighbor and I signed up to attend a gardening seminar in March. Among the classes offered are pruning and permaculture. I don't know much about either subject, so it will help to increase our knowledge.

• I learned a tasty new way to cook legumes (specifically lentils). Since legumes are one of the best prepper foods available (cheap, nutritious, versatile), having attractive ways to prepare them is important.

• I took Lydia to the vet. She's coming up on eight years old, and suddenly started limping and lifting her left front paw. Turned out to be arthritis, so she's on some temporary anti-inflammatories, as well as more permanent glucosamine/chondroitin. If her antics and energy levels are anything to go by, she's feeling like a puppy again. The vet confirmed she's in excellent health.

• I made curtains to cover the clutter in the pantry, which is right off the living room. (Don't worry, Don intends to install barnwood trim to hide the curtain rod.)

I absolutely love how these curtains look. I keep stopping to admire them. As the artist William Morris once observed, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." These curtains fulfill both those requirements.

• Along the lines of figuring out what's "useful," I'm continuing the slow but steady purge of unneeded things in the house. I am floored by the amount of paperwork we had cluttering up corners and shelves. I emptied four file cabinet drawers...

...which allowed me to take all our remaining tax paperwork we must retain...

...and fit it neatly into the file drawers. Whoo-hoo, no more big honkin' banker's boxes taking up closet space!

• I also emptied TEN binders of paperwork (old articles, writings, clippings, seminars, workshops, etc.), some of which were 20 years old. Why on earth was I holding on to this stuff?

I kept a couple of the empty binders and donated the rest to a thrift store.

• I also took a trip down memory lane and purged our extensive collection of children's books.

Now before my kids see this post and FREAK OUT, rest assured I kept all our beloved childhood classics. We have a rich treasure-trove of excellent children's books, and I have no intention of discarding them.

What I got rid of were books they never had much interest in, or duplicates, or are so commonly available that holding onto copies was pointless (don't worry, I kept every Dr. Seuss book). You know how much all the discarded books weighed? Sixty pounds.

• I also took a good hard look at our collection of DVDs.

I withdrew the movies I thought no one was interested in. Then I had both Don and Younger Daughter hold back ones they wanted to keep.

In the end I got rid of 75 DVDs. SEVENTY-FIVE. How on earth did we accumulate 75 superfluous DVDs? The answer: thrift stores. Friends. Freebies. We kept the movies we thoroughly enjoy watching over and over (ahem: Jane Austen) and donated the rest.

• Don also took a dump run. We have no garbage service around here, and during the icy weather we couldn't take the farm truck on the road (too dangerous). Now the accumulated garbage is gone, leaving a feeling of "Aaaahhh."

So that's been our roundup over the last two weeks. What has everyone else done, big or small, to increase self-sufficiency?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Nice surprises

One of the pleasant side-effects of my ongoing purging efforts in the house is finding books we own but had forgotten about. Such is the case with this thin anonymous black album.

Turns out to be a book called "Young Bess," about Queen Elizabeth I's younger years, no doubt purchased at some long-ago library sale.

It was printed in 1945 and, as the inside page gravely informs me, it was printed "in full compliance with the government's regulations for conserving paper and other essential materials."

Regardless, it's turning into a fascinating read. I've always been enamored of English Medieval and Renaissance history anyway, so this rainy day finds me holed up with a good book, a nice surprise.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sleeping beauty

In contrast to my poor friend in Maine who is blitzed with snow, our weather has been moderating of late.

For about a week, we had the frustrating conditions of just-above-freezing days and below-freezing nights. What this meant was snow would melt just enough to form puddles, which then froze solid. This served to turn our 300-foot driveway, nearby 1.5 miles of dirt road, and cattle feedlot into sheets of ice. We couldn't take the dog walking for days because footing was too treacherous. We sowed ice-melt along paths to the shop and barn, and that was it. I was praying we wouldn't lose a cow to a broken leg from slipping on ice in the feedlot.

Any outside activities meant we had to shuffle along like Tim Conway playing the old man on the Carol Burnett Show (remember?).

Thankfully the ice is starting to melt. Our daytime temps have actually gotten to 40F (yesterday it was a dazzling 47F!), so we're finally getting bare ground and safer footing.

This is our pasture. A stream of water is trickling down the middle.

Just yesterday the drainage path was covered with snow; now the snow is thin and rotten, and shortly will collapse into this little temporary stream.

Yesterday I waded out to the garden for the first time in months to see what I should see.

Now compare this viewpoint:

...with a similar location taken October 12:

These are the beds where I planted the potatoes...

...on October 13.

Here are the strawberry beds:

...and how they looked in August:

Here's our startup orchard. We planted an experimental orchard (four each of apple and peach, and two of plum) in huge tractor tires last May (blog post is here), and this is the first winter for the young trees in their new location.

...and a photo from last August:

The trees have healthy-looking buds. This is plum:

And this is peach:

One notable thing was how dramatically the snow melted away from the tires, leaving large rings of bare ground. Here in the cold north, the extra heat reflected off the black rubber is an advantage.

I noticed this little spider in the snow and assumed it was frozen solid. Nope, very much alive. A spider on snow, go figure.

Here are the tires where I normally plant either tomatoes or viney plants such as melons.

Here's the garlic boat...

...with a garlic plant poking around the snow.

The blueberries...

...also have healthy buds.

Here's a brave Brussels sprout poking above the snow. Last summer these veggies got inundated by aphids and I got no harvest, but it looks like several over-wintered well. Brussels sprouts are biennials, so I'll leave one or two to produce seeds this upcoming summer. Meanwhile I'll plant some in the house within the next week or so (Brussels sprouts have a long growing season).

The raspberries. In early April, I'll trim out last year's dead canes.

Sage, which overwinters beautifully here.

Two of the young grapes we planted last summer. I've never grown grapes before and I'm curious how they'll do this year.

Right now the garden is like Sleeping Beauty, waiting for spring's kiss to wake up and come back to life. Can't wait!