Monday, November 30, 2015

Funky dancing


I love old Hollywood musicals, so when I came across this video, I had to share. It's clips from many old Golden Era movies set to a contemporary song ("Uptown Funk"), and it's easy to see why it's been viewed more than 9 million times since it was posted on October 6.

From this column came the following explanation:
DIY Network introduces the creator of this video:

"Michael Binder is what you would call a 'movie aficionado' through and through. He's probably watched just about every single movie you've ever heard of, twice. In fact, Binder loves movies so much that he's managed to make a career writing about them and talking about them for his hundreds of followers.

"But when he saw the mega viral hit that featured a bunch of dance scenes from popular movies matched up to the incredibly popular song, 'Uptown Funk,' he was instantly inspired to do a similar mashup, only he wanted to use dance scenes from movies that only came out of the Golden Age of cinema.

"It took him a long while to find the perfect clips which properly conveyed the energy and passion, but after he scanned through hundreds and hundreds of movies from 1953 and earlier, he finally edited together an absolutely stunning video featuring some of our favorite dancers and singers.

"Not only did Binder have to be aware of the dance sequence in his head, but he had to time it properly with the music without speeding up or slowing down the original footage.
Way cool stuff.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Silly hens

The Jersey Giant chickens we got last summer are quite big, and still growing.

The young hens have been laying "pullet eggs" (very small "beginner" eggs) for some time now. Once more we are awash in eggs, though most of them are very small (only our older ladies are laying full-size eggs).

One thing we didn't know when we got the Jersey Giants is how readily the hens would go broody. As it turns out, very readily. Two of our young ladies are setting.

Not that we're ungrateful for this instinct; far from it. Hens that will go broody are a valuable addition to a farm. But c'mon, girls -- at the beginning of winter? With temperatures in the teens? What are you thinking?

I jest, of course. Chickens don't think. It's all instinct. And instinct dictates that when a hen goes broody, she stays broody (for a long while, at least). It's very difficult to "break" broodiness.

This young lady has decided to make her nest on top one of the hay bales in the barn. Every morning she flaps seven feet up and settles herself on the nest.

And every evening I climb a ladder and gently pick her up to put her in the coop for the night. That's because she's setting on twenty eggs. The way our randy roosters have been acting, I can almost guarantee most of them are fertile. The last thing we need in December is 20 baby chicks to care for.

So the eggs freeze solid overnight (temps have been dropping to 11F), thus guaranteeing they'll never hatch. And meanwhile, it gives the hen a sense of duty and accomplishment to set on the nest.

The second hen who is setting chose one of the nest boxes in the chicken coop. Since I don't haul her off this nest at night -- thus risking the chance she may indeed succeed in hatching some eggs -- I swiped all the real eggs from underneath her and substituted a selection of wooden "nest eggs." Thus she, too, can get her sense of duty and accomplishment by setting on her nest.

After a few more weeks of pointless "duty and accomplishment," the broody instinct will finally fade and the girls will rejoin the flock. However I sincerely hope this instinct kicks in this upcoming spring. As I said, broody hens are valuable things, and I'd welcome their instinct during a time of year when chicks have a chance of surviving.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Our Thanksgiving

Like all smart cooks, I began creating our Thanksgiving feast the day before. Who wants to be so exhausted on Thanksgiving day that she can't enjoy the company?

Our menu was modest: wild rice stuffing, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, and cheesecake for dessert. If I got all this done, it meant all I had to make on Thanksgiving day was the turkey (and gravy, but I'm lousy with gravy so Don makes that).

I started with a fresh loaf of bread for the bread stuffing.

This recipe -- straight out of the Better Homes & Gardens red-checked cookbook -- is easy-peasy to make and just takes ten minutes (not counting cooking).

Lihn, Younger Daughter's Quaker parrot, got a piece of bread for a treat.

For the mashed potatoes, I decided to peel and cut up the potatoes (from our garden, of course) and just put them in water until the next day. Just one less step I'd have to worry about on Thanksgiving.

Kneading dough for the dinner rolls.

Out of the oven.

Don sharpened all our knives. True story: Many years ago, we had our pastor -- a kindly and wonderful man -- join us for Thanksgiving dinner. He graciously offered to carve the turkey, so Don handed him a knife. It was dull. He handed him another knife. Also dull. A third knife. Dull. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. We laugh about it now, but it was pretty embarrassing at the time. So it's become something of a tradition on Thanksgiving to clean out the knife drawer and sharpen every blade. Y'know, just in case.

Midday chaos:

Tally for the day: two cheesecakes (still unbaked), dinner rolls, wild rice stuffing, bread stuffing, and cut-up potatoes in water.

Just before bed, the cheesecakes came out of the oven.

As a result of Wednesday's efforts, Thanksgiving day was calm and relaxed. I put the turkey in around noon. Older Daughter called from New Jersey. We made sure barn chores were done early. We leisurely cleaned the house and set the table.

Our only guests were our friends Mike and Judy, who came bearing a pumpkin pie, a pecan pie, a (large!) bottle of wine, and a vegetable.

The only hiccup was the potatoes. I had put them (in water) in our "outdoor refrigerator" for the night (the top of the chest freezer on the front porch), forgetting it had dropped to 12F overnight. The result? Frozen potatoes. No worries, a quick rinse in hot water melted the ice, after which I plopped them in fresh water and boiled them into mashed potatoes.

The turkey, fresh out of the oven, on the beautiful maple carving board Don made me several years ago.

This is the last photo from our Thanksgiving feast because, quite honestly, we were having such an enjoyable time vising with our guests that I totally forgot the camera (doubtless to everyone's relief).

So I'll close with a humorous meme that's been making its way around the internet:

Above all, we remember this as a holiday expressly for the purpose of giving thanks to God for His glorious bounty. We cherish not just the food, warmth, and shelter He's provided, but the bounty of our friends and family as well -- which is why an essay entitled Why Thanksgiving is Inescapably Theological, sent by reader Rob, is extremely apropos.

A blessed (post) Thanksgiving to everyone!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Hittin' the Big Apple

Here's Older Daughter and her dear friend GG, who finally connected in the Big Apple. It was Older Daughter's first excursion into the city.

Older Daughter's difficulties in being so far away from home are greatly eased by the closeness of GG. They're only a couple hours apart by train. These two girls have practically grown up together and their friendship is a treasured thing.

Incidentally Older Daughter said people could tell in a moment they were not "native" to New York City. I blame their country clothes and country manners -- and believe me, that's not a criticism!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tea and snow

During last summer's long hot days, we often longed for snow and looked forward to the first snow fall. Today we got it.

Yesterday Don split a good-sized stack of firewood, which he and Younger Daughter stacked on the porch.

A flock of quail took over the driveway.

Today it's snowed lightly since before dawn. Not much by way of accumulation, but very pretty.

I kept the camera handy when I let the chickens out of the coop early this morning. This is because it's always funny to watch the birdies with their first snowfall. Most of our flock was born in June so they've never seen the white stuff.

The treated the snow with the deepest of suspicion and refused to venture forth.

An hour later, one or two brave ones tiptoed outside...

...but most stayed huddled under their coop awning, bewildered by what all this white stuff was.

I caught this young calf just ... staring, fascinated. He's never seen snow either.

Patient Matilda, upon being released from the barn, simply stood and looked. Another winter, she's doubtless thinking.

A small flock of turkeys minced by. Be careful, guys. Thanksgiving is near.

The quail we saw yesterday left a maze of dainty complex tracks.

Younger Daughter decided to go walking, with tea. Tea and snow. No finer combination, she concluded.

The surrounding area looked very picturesque.

You can see just the very tip of our house.

Tea. Yes, a cup of tea sounds like a dandy idea for the first snowfall of the season.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Windstorm 2015

As you all know, the Inland Northwest area was hard-hit by a windstorm on Tuesday, November 17. In fact, it was hit so hard -- hurricane-force -- that news people are now calling it (in suitably ominous tones) ... WINDSTORM 2015 (insert scary music).

But in fact this windstorm was no laughing matter. Three people died. It was the magnitude that caught nearly everyone unawares. We had brief warning of the storm's imminent arrival on Monday evening, so Tuesday morning I did laundry and we went around battening down hatches. As the day progressed, the wind got stronger and stronger. We have a number of dead trees in the feedlot, unnervingly close to the barn, that ironically we had scheduled to be felled by a professional (licensed and bonded) arborist on Friday. We called and postponed the appointment, since every arborist in the region is currently slammed with work, cleaning up serious issues.

Besides the dead tree that fell conveniently across the compost pile...

...we only lost a few smaller dead trees in our woods, so it wasn't a big deal.

The same can't be said for Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, or any other community in the region. Hundreds of trees came down. Power poles -- not just lines, but poles -- snapped all over the place. Almost the entire region was left without power ranging from a few hours to even now. Avista Utilities, which supplies power to much of Spokane, is calling this the worst disaster in its 125+ year history.

The effect on many urban dwellers was nothing short of devastating. Intersections were snarled with no traffic lights. Many streets -- some of them major arterials -- were blocked by downed trees and/or downed power lines. Lots of homes got smashed by falling trees or branches. To top it off, temperatures dropped to 20F, making a lot of people very very cold.

I can't even begin to express how thankful we are for the power crews who have been working in 18-hour shifts to restore power to everyone. Crews are coming in from many other states as well as Canada. The gratitude which should be extended toward these hard-working people (as well as emergency responders) can't be underscored enough.

We lost power at 6 pm Tuesday evening. Rather to our surprise, it was restored at 4 pm Friday afternoon. I say "surprise" because we're in such a small corner that I thought we'd be just about last on the list. As of this posting there are still around 55,000 customers in Spokane without power.

Needless to say, this was an excellent test of our preps and a way to determine our strengths and weaknesses. Almost instantly, the biggest weakness manifested itself: water.

We had plenty of water for household use in storage, about 50 gallons. This gave us ample amounts for frugal dishwashing, spot baths, drinking, and flushing. It did not, however, give us any water whatever for the livestock. Remember, we now have 23 head of livestock (we have three cow/calf pairs for sale as well as several animals slated for butchering, so we're livestock-heavy at the moment). It was imperative to keep the beasties watered. Livestock water became our overriding preoccupation for the duration of the outage.

Thankfully some friends with a solar system had enough juice on sunny days to power their well pump, so we brought barrels over and filled them.

We then siphoned these into a low tank. We use the low tank instead of the high tank because otherwise the calves wouldn't be able to reach the water when the other animals drank it down too far.

To fill the tub in the barn stall where Matilda, Amy, and Hector spend the night, I used a can to dip out of a barrel to fill a bucket...

...which I then used to fill the tub.

However as I was doing this on the second day, I heard the ominous sound of water leaking out. Turns out the plastic tub had developed a crack. With water so precious, there was no time to lose -- I snatched the rubber tub normally used for outside water for the chickens, knocked the ice out, and dipped the water from the blue plastic tub into the rubber tub. That's it, no more plastic tubs for me. Next time I'm in a livestock supply store, I'm getting a selection of rubber tubs. They last FAR longer.

With nights well below freezing, we were tasked with keeping the water in the barrels from freezing. Don rustled up sufficient insulation to keep one barrel wrapped (it worked). The other barrels -- well, we brought them into the house.

In all other areas, however, we fared very well.

Our biggest gratitude was having the woodstove and firewood. In this respect, nothing whatever changed regarding our comfort level -- we continued heating the house as usual.

Our kitchen stove is propane and does not require an electric starter, so we were able to heat water and cook as normal. In this photo, I'm about to put sausage rolls and cinnamon crust (for dessert) into the oven.

(As I prepared to clean off the bread board, I noticed this little doodle in the flour by artistic Younger Daughter.)

For dishes, I heated water in the kettle and distributed the boiling water (mixed with cool water) into the dishpan and a separate rinsing bowl.

The toilet worked fine -- we followed the standard "If it's yellow, it's mellow; if it's brown, flush it down" philosophy, and kept a plastic bag handy for used toilet paper. This kept our use of water for flushing purposes at a minimum. We were also prepared to transition to a bag-lined bucket (using sawdust for "burial" purposes) as necessary.

Filling the kerosene lamps was an afternoon task. We kept three lamps for evening use, along with a hurricane lamp for the chicken coop (see below) and two extra lamps in reserve in case our neighbors needed them.

Chickens don't seem to want to go into a coop at night unless there's a light to attract them (these guys aren't too bright). So I hung a hurricane lamp from a ceiling hook in the coop at dusk. The chickens obediently went inside over a period of time.

When they were all in and settled, I blew out the lamp.

Younger Daughter has a tank with goldfish, who were soon gasping for air in the absence of their pump. So she filled two gallons jugs with water from the barrels and brought them into the house to warm to room temperature, which she then poured into the aquarium. This worked fine and the fish were comfortable.

The cold weather, while brutal for those without wood heat, proved useful in one regard...

...namely, food preservation. We simply emptied the contents of the fridge outside and lost nothing (but did give me the excuse to clean the fridge).

I never thought of it as an advantage before, but having our chest freezers on the north-facing front porch was a blessing. We simply propped open the lids at night and closed them during the day, and lost nothing from our freezers. Two of our neighbors emptied their freezers, moved the units either outside or to their garage, and repacked the units. They also lost nothing.

In the evenings, we lit the kerosene lamps and spent many hours reading.

As avid and voracious readers as we are, however, these evenings got pretty boring. In winter, it's dark by 4:30 pm, so we had four or five hours of reading time before we could justify going to bed. Thereafter, we found a lively game of Life was a great way to spend the evenings.

Another huge benefit was these little flashlights. We get three-packs for about $15 at Costco, and they're wonderful.

Normally we keep four or five hanging by the door for outside excursions at night, but now we used them frequently to locate something in the dark. We have plenty of spare batteries as well as rechargeable batteries and a solar charger.

Now that power is back on and life is back to normal, this test has given us much to think about in terms of improvements -- notably, water for the livestock. Before anyone starts to make recommendations, please note we've spent years researching options for pulling water out of our well. Since the well is 610 feet deep with a static level of 450 feet, a hand pump doesn't work at that depth. Other options (solar or windmills) are far, far beyond what we can afford. After a summer of drought, our pond is nearly dry.

Our current plans include:

  • Build a heavily-insulated annex to the barn where we can store our 1500-gallon water tank (currently empty, since it would otherwise freeze in winter). Once full, this tank can be recharged by roof runoff.

  • Continue moving forward with our plans to harvest roof runoff to recharge the pond more rapidly.
  • When we can swing it, purchase a generator and supply of fuel for the sole purpose of powering the well pump and recharging the water tank only when necessary.

If anyone knows of an affordable nonelectric hand-powered solution for pulling water from 450 feet down, we're all ears.

This entire situation heavily underscores the need to be prepared. We're grateful we fared as well as we did, thanks to the generosity of our friends who let us fill water barrels for the critters.