Saturday, November 30, 2013

Homemade Sausage!

Today is the last day of firearm deer season.  It is also the last day of November, and my last thankfulness post.  Honestly, I'm a bit thankful for both!

Deer season is a long haul, trying to squeeze in my normal work hours plus daily household/homesteading chores and still find several hours to sit in the woods and hunt.  It is two straight weeks of running hard and no sleeping in, not on Saturday, not on Sunday.

We could just buy more beef from the grocery store, and skip deer hunting all together.  Would be easier.

But not nearly as interesting, as healthy, or as good tasting.  Not to mention all the cool nature-observing stuff we'd miss out on by not sitting in the woods for 45-105 hours each November.

Plus, if we didn't deer hunt, didn't depend so heavily on deer season to provide us with the majority of the red meat in our diet, we wouldn't now be the happy owners of a sausage stuffer!

Two years ago we started making our own summer sausage.  First, using a boxed seasoning mix (and casings) and the stuffer attachment for a Kitchenaid mixer.  That worked, but not optimally, and took a long, long time.

Last year we tried again with the boxed mix and casings, and the stuffing tube that came with our meat grinder.  A little bit faster, but still time consuming.

Attempting to use it to make hunters' sticks, with casings we bought from our local meat counter (they sell hunters sticks, and were willing to sell us a sleeve of their casings when DH asked) was a big FAIL.  Oh, they tasted great, but we didn't have a small enough stuffer tube to use them with.  Ended up trying to stuff the casings using my cookie press.  2 cups of meat at a time.  Lots of air bubbles from refilling the press frequently, lots of frustration trying to hold the casing tight on the smallest end of the press, lots of grumbling.  More than a little marital strife.

This year, we  skipped the boxed spices and casings, instead purchasing casings in the two sizes we desired, and using my inventory of bulk spices to make our own recipes.  DH also went and bought a real honest to goodness sausage stuffer.

It holds 15 pounds of meat at a time, an entire batch of summer sausage or hunter's sticks.  And it came with small, medium, and large stuffing tubes.  Summer sausage size, bratwurst size, and hunter stick/hot dog size.

It stuffs casings quickly, cleanly, and easily.  No more grumbling, no more marital strife; only happy faces and lots of deer sausage!

batch of hunter sticks, stuffed and ready to cook

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Garden

An early spring picture of the garden, several years ago.  Each year, it begins like this.  And grows into something like this by late June or early July:

And then I get camera happy and take all kinds of picture of vegetables growing in the garden, and DH rolls his eyes because of all the space those pictures take up on the computer.  To be honest, I might just have more pictures of vegetables and flowers and animals than of family members. . . maybe.

I am really thankful for our garden.  Even though it is a lot of work.  It provides us with not just wholesome food, but also exercise (all the weeding!!) and subject matter for practicing my photography skills.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I see a lot of sunrises.  Nearly ever day of the year, I am up early enough to see the sun make it's daily appearance in the eastern sky.

You'd think it would get old after a while.  That once I'd seen a few hundred sunrises, I'd have seen them all.

But it doesn't.  Get old, that is.  Sure, getting up early every morning gets tedious and there are lots of days I'd much rather sleep in.  But the sunrises themselves never get ho-hum.  They are always changing, never the exact same color scheme often enough to get boring.

I'm thankful for all the sunrises I get to witness.

September sunrise at the horse farm

over the field at this little place here

foggy sunrise over the field

crystalline sunrise over the field

sunrise from the deer stand, Nov 15, 2013

November sunrise through the bedroom window

spring sunrise over the marsh

sunrise at the horse farm,
plane jet trails making a cross

another sunrise at the horse farm


It's been a while since I posted, and I'm quite behind on my thankfulness posts for November.

Last week, we were without power for 132 hours.  That is 5.5 days.  Even though we have a generator, not having electric power to the house put quite a crimp in things.  You see, we don't run our generator 'round the clock when the power is out.  And we don't power every single thing in the house with it either.  Plus, there's the daily run to town to fill the gas cans to fuel the generator with. . .

So, once the power was finally restored, there was a lot of chores to catch up on.  Hence my lack of posting.

I am really thankful to have electricity back, and be somewhat back into the groove now.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A New Perch

Well, not really new as in just now installed at this little place here.  New as in, new for me.  This particular 'perch' is a platform DH built about 18 feet up a huge maple tree on our east line back in the woods.  He has taken several nice bucks from it and a handful of does since it came into existence about eight or nine years ago.  But until this past weekend, I had never been up on it myself, had never sat and hunted from it.

Several stars aligned to make this suddenly happen, LOL.  DH had taken his 7-point buck on Friday evening (from the maple platform).  DS2 was home to hunt and would be using his own tree stand on the NW edge of the woods.  A good friend of DH's was staying and hunting with us that weekend, and had a stand hung about 2/3 of the way along the south line.  DD1 wanted to hunt, and she doesn't like being up in trees, which meant she got the apple blind (and therefore the playset was not available for me to hunt from because it is within 20 feet of the apple blind).  My only available option was the double stand, which is so close to the stand on the south line that if the apple blind or playset are also being used at that time, you only have one small area that is safe to shoot at.  Of course, I was not very happy about being stuck with that option.  Plus, Saturday was windy, and the double is close to the field, where most of the wind comes from.

So, DH, all ready having his buck, and being rather low on sleep, offered to stay in from hunting that morning, and give me use of the maple platform.  What an awesome husband!  (Reality:  he was tired, has all ready shot two deer this year and wanted to sleep in more than he wanted to hunt at 6:30 a.m.).

He showed me how to strap myself into the safety harness, explained where on the tree to attach it when I got to the top of the long ladder, and sent me on my way.  Apparently, he was more worried about me falling out of the tree than he let on, because I had barely walked to the far edge of this little place here, climbed the ladder, tethered myself to a branch of the maple, and gotten seated, when I got a text asking if I was securely strapped in yet.  Or, maybe he was just thinking how much more cool hunting stuff he could buy with my life insurance money. . . ;0)

Although the deer were scarce that day, I did enjoy getting the experience of being in the maple tree.  Being loose (except my 4-5' long strap from the top of my harness to the tree limb) on a 2' x 3' platform eighteen feet in the air is a whole different thing than sitting in a tree stand 12-15' above the ground with rails all around you.

looking down from my perch

view to the north

view to the west

I'm thankful I got the opportunity to hunt from the maple platform.  I got to see an aerial view of a part of the woods I had not yet hunted.  I also got to briefly fantasize about myself flying on my tether like a kite, should a big gust of wind knock me off the platform.  Luckily, that didn't happen.  Apparently I weigh enough to not be blown off by a measly 40 mph wind gust!  The thought did keep me entertained while the deer were few and far between (and out of shooting range, way off to the west in the brush).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

My New Hunting Hat

With hunting season here again, I was recently reminded of an ongoing problem for the two weeks of late November that make up firearm deer season:  DH can not identify his own orange hat.

Now, this is a problem because it means that there is a chance that when you go to suit up and hit the woods to hunt some deer, your orange hat will not be where you left it.  It will, instead, be on DH's head and he will insist that it is his.  Leaving you with two choices:  insist it is yours and then help DH find where his actually is, or give in and borrow the orange hat of someone who is not hunting that particular day (like, say, DS2 who is not around to hunt currently).  I prefer to use my own hat, for a number of reasons, including the fact that I have a small head compared to the rest of the family (I'm also the shortest, even though I'm 5' 7" tall!) which makes everyone else's hats just a bit loose on me.

Well, this past week I came up with a solution, at least for me.  Everyone else will still have to deal with DH's hat-stealing tendencies.  But for myself, I thought up something that will keep my orange hunting hat safely off DH's head:

I made myself a new one.  One that is small, and 'girly' with many small cables.  It won't fit his head, and it obviously is not his--it has the wrong texture and doesn't look like a hunting hat 'should'.

I got some bright orange yarn (yes, it can be found, I used Encore in worsted weight that is 75% acrylic and 25% wool), follwed a pattern out of the Fall 2013 issue of knitsimple magazine (page 74, #11 cabled hat--leaving off the pompom on the top and the french knots for decoration the magazine showed it in), and knit up my own new hunting hat.

It's not as blaze orange as the fleece gaiter I wear around my neck on cold windy hunting days, but it's close enough to work.  It is actually almost exactly the same shade as DH's hunting hat, which I think goes to show that there are variations of blaze orange.

Anyway, it works (keeps my head warm and prevents it getting shot off), and DH can definitely tell it is not his.  For this, I am thankful.  Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Glad to Have a Generator

I am thankful that last winter, DH finally bought a generator.  It was something we looked at purchasing when we built the house at this little place here in 2002/2003, but, well, construction always runs over budget (especially when the institution giving you the construction loan comes back 30% of the way into the project and cuts your funding 10%. . . and again when you are half completed, and again. . .) and so a generator got shelved to the 'someday when we can afford it' list.

Anyway, we didn't buy a generator until this past winter, when the power went out during a below-zero spell and the electric company said it would be three days before they got to us.  That was the straw that broke the camel's back, as it were, and DH went out and purchased a generator so that we could at least keep the heat on enough to prevent the plumbing from freezing.

Currently, we are running on generator power again.  A big storm blew through on Sunday afternoon, and our electricity went out about 4:30 p.m.  This time of year, when temperatures are a little more moderate than they were when DH bought the generator, we don't worry so much about the power going out because the pipes aren't going to freeze, and it is cool enough that our garage can be used as a giant refrigerator.  The chest freezer is full enough that it will maintain itself for about two days as long as no one opens it.  So we didn't fire up the generator right away; we lit the oil lamps, cooked dinner on the stove top (which is gas), and went to bed an hour or so earlier than we would have otherwise.

But the next morning, the electric company still did not have an estimated restoration time for our electricity.  Knowing how big of a storm it was, and that there are 100s of thousands of people in the lower part of Michigan without power because of that storm, DH pulled the generator out, filled it with gas, and fired it up.

Now, when we run on our generator, we are still roughing it a bit.  Because it is not one of those huge, expensive ones that can run a whole house like nothing is wrong at all.  No, it is smaller, and so we pick and choose what is on while the generator is running.  We can run the blower on the wood boiler (thus having heat in the house), the main fridge, and the chest freezer at one time.  But no lights, and not the well pump for water.  So, we cycle back and forth, getting the fridge and freezer cooled down to optimum temp again before cutting one or both of those, and turning the well pump on long enough to refill the pressure tank (from which we can get a limited supply of water without power).  Or, we run one room of lights and outlets so cell phones and computers can be recharged for work and school the next day.  Then, when we go to bed, the generator is again shut off, to save gas (and $$$), since while we are sleeping we won't be opening the fridge, or notice if the house cools off 10 degrees since there is also no heat.  But we don't use the oven, or anything else that draws a lot of current, and we don't get to shower much.  Last night DH shut off everything except the bathroom lights and the well pump and we each got to take a very quick shower--oh, that felt so good!

Now, nearly 65 hours after the power went out, and the electric company saying it might be Friday afternoon before it comes back on, I am really, really thankful that we have a generator.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Squirrel TV

Since it is deer season, I have been watching what I refer to as "Squirrel TV".  Squirrel TV is when you sit, in the deer stand, seeing no deer, but watching squirrels scamper around the woods going about their daily activities.

I am thankful for Squirrel TV because it keeps you from getting totally bored between deer sightings, it's educational, and because it can be downright funny.

Some episodes of Squirrel TV that I have been privileged to watch are:

Predator! About the time that three squirrels who were having a good time jumping around in the leaves together and running around on fallen trees were spotted by a barred owl. Who then sat silently watching them until. . . the owl suddenly swooped down out of its tree and attempted to snatch one of the squirrels off of a log!!  The squirrel saw the owl coming at the last minute, gave a mighty yell (yes, squirrels really can yell mightily!), and ducked sideways, falling off the log and avoiding the owl's talons.  The squirrel then proceeded to run as fast as it could into a hole in a nearby tree while the owl flew off, foiled.

Corn Harvest.  About the year that the field at this little place here was in corn.  By deer season, the ears of corn had dried down and hung heavy, upside down, on the corn stalks.  Resourceful squirrels, looking to add to their stores of winter food supplies, climbed the corn stalks, then climbed down to the silk-ends of the ears of corn, and hung there, until the ear of corn broke free from the stalk.  At which point the squirrels would carry the ears off to where ever it was they were caching their corn.  (Watching a squirrel hang by it's front paws from an ear of corn, body stretched full out and not touching the ground was something I had never seen before.)

Apple Picking. Where a squirrel repeatedly climbs up to the outermost branches of an apple tree , picks an apple, then carries the apple in it's mouth back down to ground level.  There, it proceeds to sit and eat the apple.  This can be quite a process, involving climbing nearby trees and jumping into the thin branches of the apple tree.  And sometimes missing and grasping wildly for anything to break it's fall (and amazingly, always catching onto some filament-like branch that is strong enough to bear the weight of the squirrel and save it from crashing to earth.)

Leaf Gathering.  In this episode, a squirrel chooses leaves to line it's nest high in the tree tops.  Apparently only certain leaves will do, sometimes they are found on the ground and sometimes they are picked from the tree they still cling to in their dead and brown state.  All leaves chosen must be dried crispy, but then stuffed into cheek pouches to be carried up into the tree top again to the nest, where they are unloaded and arranged just so.

Squirrel Identification.  Where you learn how many different varieties of squirrels live in your locale.  In this episode, two or even three different kinds of squirrels are shown within a ten-foot radius of each other.  The ones most often show are fox squirrels, gray squirrels, and black squirrels.  The smaller red squirrels are not usually part of the woodsy group, and are normally seen more in the trees lining the fencerows.  You can see the size difference between the gray ones and the fox and black ones.  You can also hear the slightly different voices they have.  And see that the fox ones seem to be the most aggressive and territorial.

Squirrel Location.  This one features hearing noises in the brush or leaves, and trying to locate the exact source of the noise.  Which 99.9% of the time turns out to be a squirrel, not a deer.  Darn it!

Saturday, November 16, 2013


We ate tenderloins for lunch today, after coming in from the morning hunt.  Tenderloins means. . . we have fresh venison hanging!

I am thankful that DH got himself a nice buck last night.  A wide-racked 7-point that really wanted to be a 10-point.  He had one brow tine broken off (which would have made him an eight), and had two more tines that were not quite an inch long (which would have made him a ten).

Good eating, no matter how many points he had, or didn't have.  :0)

Time To Sit

I confess, I'm falling behind on these thankfulness posts.  And the reason I'm falling behind is that the last several days have been challenging.  I either a) had no internet to post my thankfulness, or b) was in a mood this is the opposite of thankful, or c) in the deer stand.

So, now that I have internet and am in a better mood and am not currently in the deer stand, here is something I'm thankful for:

Time to sit in the woods, staring at trees, and watching for deer.  (You had to know I was going to work deer hunting into this month's posts somehow, right?)

Friday was Opening Day, and, as I have for the past handful of years, I took it off of work.  Even turned down a subbing job at the middle school.  Because I can.  I don't need that 3-7 hours of pay enough to miss out on spending a day deer hunting.

And for that, I am thankful.  There have been many times in my life when it didn't matter that it was Opening Day, we needed ever penny that I could earn in order to make sure the bills got paid.  (DH has, for the last 15 years, used one of his paid vacation days for Opening Day).  There have also been many years when I couldn't hunt because my kids needed a ride to school and back; making it pretty impossible, during the years that I had kids in the Lutheran Elementary School, for me to be in the woods early in the morning and middle of the afternoon.

Time spent sitting in the woods, waiting for deer to amble by, is not time wasted.  It is time that I spend relaxing, as well as observing nature.  I've learned to identify trees by bark rather than leaves, while sitting waiting for deer.  I've learned flight patterns of many different types of birds, as well as their songs, while sitting waiting for deer.  I've seen fox, and coyotes, and turkey while sitting and waiting for deer.

I've also written many Christmas newsletters during deer season, on a pocket sized notebook, while sitting and waiting for deer.  Figured out two weeks worth of menus while sitting and waiting for deer.  Read many books (including Anna Karenina!!) while sitting and waiting for deer.

I'm thankful for the opportunity to spend time sitting, waiting for deer.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Little Cat

Of the three abandoned kittens I brought into the house three weeks ago, one has survived and even thrived.  He has been dubbed "Little Cat", which was my attempt at not naming him because he cannot stay.  He still needs a new home, due to DS2's allergies, but my idea of not naming him kind of backfired.  Because now all of us call him Little Cat, and he recognizes it as himself and will come running when you call "Little Cat, where are you?"

While I am running into a wall with trying to find him a home other than here without resorting to listing him on Craigslist, I am thankful that he has grown and thrived.  Having him indoors and under my care has been an amazing experience.  To see him go from pretty helpless, not even knowing how to feed himself, wash himself, or even poop or pee on his own, to a nearly seven week old cat that is litter trained, eats anything he now finds on the floor in addition to his kitten food, climbs, stalks, pounces, wrestles, and seems to have an instinct for hunting that leads me to hope he will make someone a good mouser, well that has been incredible.

Unfortunately, it makes it harder, as the days go by, to not just say "Well, Little Cat, you can stay here, in my house, with me."  In fact, DH, the man who claims he doesn't like cats, has recently been seen playing with Little Cat, and letting Little Cat sit on his shoulder.

It's mighty hard to resist a face like this looking up at you after climbing all the way up the couch to sit on your lap:

It's also hard to resist a cuddly little bugger who looks adorable sleeping in the crook of your arm like this (the noise of the camera woke him up):

I am thankful to have Little Cat in my life, even though it will (hopefully) be a temporary thing.

Getting the Cabbage Taken Care Of.

Thankfulness #12 for this month:  I'm thankful that I got the cabbage-- lots, and lots of cabbage, this many, in fact --taken care of.  Some of it went to friends who did not have a cabbage bounty of their own, some of it became cabbage rolls (both for dinner and for the freezer to dole out into DH's lunch box in the months to come), some became freezer slaw.  Most of it got chopped into thin strands, salted, and packed into the big 10 gallon crock DH's grandmother gave me years ago, where it will spend the next six week s fermenting into sauerkraut.

Inside the crock:  cabbage salted and packed; after a little while the salt draws enough juice from the cabbage that it is submerged.  I then covered the cabbage shreds with muslin, tucking the muslin in well on the edges.  Then a plate is placed over that, and gallon baggies filled with water (for weight) put on top of the plate. The idea is to keep the cabbage itself submerged, so no air (and germs) can get to it during the fermentation process.

Then the crock itself is covered with a cloth, as shown above.  After that, I convince DH to carry it to the basement for me. The crock empty weighs probably close to 20 pounds, and it has about 30 pounds of cabbage stuffed into it at the moment, plus two gallons of water at 8 pounds each. . . 

The basement has an ideal temperature range for fermenting, keeping the cabbage around 70 degrees for the length of the fermentation process.

In the next six weeks, the making of kraut doesn't require much effort from me.  Mostly it's the hours washing and shredding and salting and packing in the beginning, and the canning at the end that need my attention.  Other than that it just sits and does it's thing. And smells a bit, which is another reason it's in the basement and not on the main floor of the house!

Monday, November 11, 2013


Today is Veteran's Day, and all over the internet and the media everyone is thankful for our veterans, our freedom, our military.  I am too.  Only, I am thankful more than just today. I am thankful for those who lost their lives in service to our country; who had a part in keeping these United States free.  But more than that, and what I am daily thankful for  are the lives that were not lost in military service.

I am thankful that my maternal grandfather did not lose his life in World War II, even though he suffered battle wounds that left him with a lift in his shoe and a slight limp for the rest of his life.  I am thankful he made it home from Europe alive.  Because had he not lived through his time of Army service, my mother would have never been born.  And without her, I would never have been born.  So I am very thankful that Grandpa's life was spared.

I am thankful that my father did not lose his life in the Vietnam War.  Because I was born ten months after he completed his service in the Marine Corps.  Had he not made it home alive, I would not have been born.  (See a theme here?)

I am thankful that my cousin did not lose his life in any of his many tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, and that he is about to retire from the Marine Corps at the ripe "old" age of 40.

I am thankful that my eldest son, DS1, has completed his active duty in the Marine Corps without harm.  Had he not returned from his deployments, not only would I forever mourn a son, I would not currently be a grandmother.

I am very, very thankful for the service of these particular men, and that God has spared them from the ultimate sacrifice to their country.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I am so thankful for the abundance of apples we have at this little place here.  DH and I are just in awe over the number of different types of apples we have growing wild.  I am still trying to identify them; I'm convinced that some are not just wild sports but might actually be named heirloom varieties.

These are from a tree located on our north fence line on the edge of the pasture/hayfield, 
and currently referred to as "the red pasture apple" until I find out exactly what kind it is.  
Ripening late, and seeming to be very cold hardy, it is firm with white flesh.

They are pretty to look at, tasty to eat fresh, but unfortunately made rather a bland pie.
So, mark this tree for storage apples, or maybe cider; but not pies.
There is another tree, maybe 20 yards away, that is also a very late season apple, but it looks and tastes totally different.  That one is a russet of some sort, with the characteristic yellow/brown coloration, flesh that is butter yellow and a very 'spicy' taste.  That one we've marked as a contributor to future batches of cider.

This apple tree is on a different part of our north fence line.  It is an early season apple, ripening in the summer, and if I remember right, it has a taste more like berries than apple.  I suspect it might be what is called a "Strawberry" apple.  Whatever it is, I want to try to harvest more apples from it in the future.  They seem to have a very short time from ripe to rotten, and not at all a storage type.

Mostly, so far, the wild apple trees at this little place here have fed the wildlife more than they have the human population.  As evidenced in this picture, where a very nice buck was snapped hanging out under one of the many apple trees where our woods meet our field.

And this squirrel, whom I watched climb the tree, carefully walk all the way to the very end of the branch this apple hung on, pick the apple, and climb down closer to ground level before enjoying the fruit of it's labor.

Even woodpeckers will eat the apples in the winter, not being put off at all by the brown, shriveled exterior of the mummified fruit.

In a bumper year like 2013 has been, I think there are plenty of apples for both the wildlife and the humans.  We will be watching certain trees in future years, and taking some of the apples for our own enjoyment--and cider making if we can get a hold of a real cider press!  Or even find one we can haul our apples to for the pressing.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


A few pictures of the horses I am thankful to have known.

My first horse.  He was a character.  It is because of him, I think, that I became a fearless rider and got into training horses.  He was an Arabian, and definitely knew more than I did when I started with him.  He used that to his advantage, and didn't care to work any harder than he had to.  And when I (or my trainer) told him he had to, well, watch out!  My very first year of showing horses, in my western equitation class at the county fair, he let loose with a bucking spell that sent me flying.  I tucked and rolled, hit the ground, popped to my feet, caught him, and was back in the saddle before the judge could really process what had just happened.  Although I did not finish in the ribbons, I did complete the class.

This horse in this picture, an Arabian mare, technically belonged to my mother, not me.  We bought her as a coming two year old, with the plans that she'd be my mother's horse and we would ride together, me on my horse and Mom on hers.  I don't think my mother ever did get on this horse, she was a quick little mare that could leave you hanging in mid-air when she turned and you didn't! This one was the first horse I ever broke out from scratch. She taught me to always pay attention! When Mom sold her, after I got married, this mare ended up becoming a lesson horse at a stable I had worked at.

This was my main show horse during my horse showing career, which lasted until 1991 when I moved far, far away (500 miles!) with DH. This gelding is the half-brother to the mare in the previous picture, foaled the same year, only his mother was an Arabian/Quarter Horse cross instead of a full-blooded Arab.  I started working with him when he was a 2 year old and purchased him when he was three.  He was the second horse I ever broke out.  We had quite a good show career together, until I sold him in early 1992.

Even though he changed hands a couple of times, I was able to keep tabs on him. He spent a handful of years on the Arab show circuit without me, and after surviving a bout of EPM which left him with a hitch in his get-along, he left the show circuit for a career as a horse in a therapeutic riding program for disabled people. In 2006 he came back into my life when I purchased him for my daughters to ride.  Much older, he had greyed out like many Arab and Arab-crossed horses do.  I refer to him in my blog as The Old Man, he is 29 years old now and pretty much retired.

The Old Man, spring 2013

Still loving work, just not as durable as he used to be.

For a brief time in high school I did gymkhana events, such as barrel racing, on the palomino in this picture.   It was great fun, and I earned many points for my high school equestrian team with her.  She was the "aunt" of The Old Man, being a half-sister of his mother.  With her, I found a love for speed and tight turns.

From doing gymkhana on the high school equestrian team, I turned my interests to learning dressage.  Three short years after the barrel racing picture was taken, I could be found riding a big Belgian/Quarter Horse cross at a dressage facility where I both worked and learned.  This horse was the biggest I had ever ridden, and she was like a freight train.  She could run away with me at the walk because she simply would plow right through my aids until I had learned enough to keep her from doing so.  She was a huge change from all the Arabs I had ridden up until that point.  They were easy to manhandle and make stop.  Her, not so much.  This mare, and the things I learned from her, were of great use when I bought my own dressage horse prospect many years (and three children) later.

The Pony, purchased for my children a week before DD2 was born.  I had known him (and ridden him a few times) during my 4-H years, he had been owned by several different families in my 4-H club, changing owners as his outgrew him and younger children came along.  We were his final family, he developed Cushings and I had him put down in 2004 when he was 32 years old.

The Mare.  A warmblood, Holsteiner to be specific.  I purchased her as a very green 12 year old (she hadn't been ridden since age 4, when she had been backed enough to go at a walk and trot). I have put in all her training since above the very basic of basics she got at age 4, and although we haven't shown (getting back into showing just didn't pan out for me what with family and time and finances and all), she and I work at roughly Second Level together.  Although, now that she's 24 years old, she's semi-retired.

This is The Quarter Horse.  The one I bought despite having been convinced, for decades, that I would never own a Quarter Horse because they just weren't challenging enough to ride.  This one changed my mind.  He has the best movement of any QH I've ever seen, he is a natural dressage horse.  He has a very quick mind, too.  So I bought him.  He is the young whipper snapper who is coming behind The Mare, her replacement as she gets closer to being geriatric.

I know at the beginning of this post, I said a "few" pictures.  Reading all this way, you're probably thinking "that's a lot of pictures!"  It is just a handful of the horses I have known through the years.  Most of the ones I have worked with, some just in-hand, some in the saddle, I do not have pictures of.  But they all taught me something along the way.

I am thankful for my teachers, the horses.


I am thankful for potatoes.  And for being done harvesting potatoes this year!

This picture is of most of my potato crop, minus what we have all ready eaten, and minus the 1/2 bushel DH dug for me a couple of weeks ago that is still sitting in the garage where he left them.  These seven baskets, equaling about three and a half bushel, are what I've dug this week.    They are sitting in the basement at the moment, where I left them when I hauled them in from the garden.  Considering that each 1/2 bushel basket weighs about 30 pounds, well, I think I can justify giving them a pit stop by the basement door on their way from the garden to the cellar!

Plus, before they go into the cellar for storage (where they will last until approximately April) I want to sort through them and fill the baskets according to size and color of potato, not just leave them in the jumble they became as I tossed them into the baskets when removing them from the garden.  The tiny ones are great just scrubbed and boiled as the base for potato soup, or for tossing into stews or pot pies without having to take the time to peel and dice large potatoes.  The biggest ones are for baked potatoes and french fries.  The medium ones are usually what end up on my table as mashed or boiled potatoes (skins on or off).  And the small ones make good steamed potatoes with herbs.

I think this is probably the best potato harvest I have gotten yet, and I've been growing potatoes pretty much all of DD2's life. (She is 16 now).  I had absolutely no potato bugs on the plants this year, and I'm convinced that had a lot to do with it.  I'm not sure if my lack of potato bugs was a fluke, or if it had to do with all the horseradish I planted in my potato rows this year.  I had heard that horseradish repels potato bugs, and last year I planted it at each end of each row of potatoes.  Still had potato bugs, but mostly in the middles of the rows, with the plants closer to the horseradish not being as badly infested.  So this year I put a little horseradish sprout about every four hill of potatoes.  Since DH had run over part of my horseradish patch with the tiller, he had chopped the roots and effectively spread horseradish plants around the garden.  Really all I did was take a trowel and remove them from where I didn't want them, and replant them in the potato rows.

Next year I will definitely repeat this technique, and see if I have the same results.  To never have to pick potato bugs again would be wonderful!

Anyway, I am thankful for our abundant harvest of potatoes.  We eat a lot of potatoes, in many forms.  This many potatoes will definitely carry us through winter and leave me with potatoes to plant as seed for next year's crop.

Friday, November 8, 2013


I am thankful that I was exposed to kayaking.  While canoes do not inspire any sort of interest for me, I do truly love kayaking.  Since I first sat in one last year, I have embraced every chance I've gotten to kayak some more.   Each time, I've done a progressively more challenging river.   I have gotten wet, but only because I have now kayaked through rapids and 'rock gardens',  under bridges, through culverts, underneath fallen trees spanning the river, through tight turns in currents running 16 miles an hour, and down drops as large as about three feet.  Kind of hard to do that without getting splashed once in a while.  And there was that one time this summer, when I got caught in the current while trying to avoid a kayak wreck immediately in front of me. . . That was the fast, tight river with lots of fallen trees as obstacles.  Did a lot of kayak limbo-ing on that trip.  (Kayak limbo is what I call when you have to lay backwards on your kayak to get low enough to clear a fallen tree so you don't have to get out and portage around it.  'Cause portaging would mean getting out, and getting out increases my chances of getting wet, even if it is just my feet and legs!)

When I began kayaking, I had a theory that if I could relate it to what I knew about riding horses, specifically, riding dressage, I would pick up on kayaking technique very quickly.  The more I kayaked, the happier I was to find that my theory held.  By taking what I know about balance, using individual muscle groups versus an entire side or section of my body at one time, and 'feeling with my butt' (you gotta be a dressage rider to understand that phrase), then testing that knowledge in my kayak, I just had more and more fun and quickly got more and more skillful.  My first major conquest was the Sturgeon River of northern Michigan in August of 2012.  DH confessed, when I had been the only one of our group to stay upright during the most challenging stretch of river (everyone else in the group has done this river yearly for at least five years), that I am the only person he has known to do that portion of the Sturgeon and not flip.  Was I rather proud?  Oh yes.  Mostly because it was clear he was impressed and proud of me.

I repeated my performance on the Sturgeon River this August,adding in a more expert level stretch that the majority of our group bowed out of, staying at camp while us die hards floated for five more hours .  And next year, if the weather is warmer, I think I will do the Midnight Float, which is a traditional part of the Sturgeon trip with our group (well, DH's group; he's been doing the annual Sturgeon trip since about 1999, I'm pretty much the newbie still.)

Since my first Sturgeon float in 2012, I have been exposed to even faster and more technical rivers.  I have loved kayaking more and more as the challenge level increases.  Guess that's the bent and twisted side of me :0)

Will I ever white water kayak?  Probably not.  White water rafting holds no fascination for me.  In fact, along with bungee jumping and going to a casino, it's on my 'over my dead body' list (the bungee jumping aversion seems odd when I tell people I'd love to try skydiving. . . but for some reason free falling is okay to me while free falling then getting yanked back upward to repeat several times is not).  I see white water kayaking in the same light. It's just not something I want to do.  But taking a kayak and exploring every windy, twisty, fast moving river in Michigan?  You betcha!  (But I'm still not gonna get wet if I can help it; I'm still the kayaking diva.)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Great Salsa Experiment

November #6 (yes, I was supposed to post this yesterday, on the 6th, but computer time was hard to come by).  I am thankful for what DH and I came to refer to as The Great Salsa Experiment this summer.

You see, our onions, tomatoes, and peppers grew very well this year.  So well that keeping up with them became rather a challenge.  Usually if we get enough of all three (well, four if you divide the peppers into hot peppers and bell peppers, both of which go in salsa) ripe at one time and can get a batch of salsa canned, we are grateful.  This year, we had salsa ingredients coming out our ears, taking over the kitchen, piling up in the garage. . .

So we set out on a quest to come up with the perfect salsa.  The recipe we'd used for years, which had originally been given to DH by a co-worker in the late 1990's, just wasn't the exact taste and consistency we wanted.  We'd tried tweaking it a bit, through the years that we were fortunate enough to have ingredients for making salsa with, but hadn't yet hit on our perfect version of salsa.

Enter about 100 pounds of vegetables just begging to be made into salsa.  We ate fresh salsa, aka pico de gallo, nearly every day for a month.  And we had a revelation.  The canned salsa we wanted wasn't much different from the pico de gallo I was making.  But could it be canned using the water bath method?  Or would it have to be pressure canned?  And if it was pressure canned, would those lovely pieces of tomato, peppers, and onion become just an unappetizing mush?

Thus ensued a searching of the internet for canned salsa recipes. Specifically water bath canned salsa recipes. And comparing those recipes, down to the tiniest ingredient, with my pico recipe.

Finally, we came up with a recipe that sounded like it would taste good, be high enough in acid to be safe for canning without pressure, and should also not be too watery once it was done with all it's processing (the biggest complaint of our 1990's recipe).

Batch number one was made.  It came out tasty, but the consistency still wasn't what we were hoping for.

Some more adjustments were made, mostly in size of veggie chunks and the addition of cooking down half of the tomatoes into a sauce-like consistency first.  Thus batch number two was canned.

Still not perfect.  Then DH had a light-bulb moment.  He got out the blender.  He pulsed some of my freshly made pico in it.

Aha!  That was it!  That was the texture he had in mind.

And so batch number three got whizzed through the blender before being put into jars and processed in the canner.

Now we have our taste, our safe level of acid, and our texture.  We have our perfect salsa to make forever more!

I'm thankful that we had the garden bounty to conduct The Great Salsa Experiment this year.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Garlic and Onions (November #5)

I am thankful for garlic and onions.  I love to eat them.  And I seem to have gotten the hang of growing them, so we are rarely without either one at this little place here.

Venison is awesome with garlic and onions.  My favorite beef pot roast recipe calls for big slices of onion cooked on top of the roast.  Sloppy joes also require onions, as do hot dogs and hamburgers.  And pizza!  Pizza just isn't the same without onions. Sometimes I just saute an onion in butter and eat that for lunch.  Mmmm.

Some people say not to eat garlic or onions because they give you bad breath.  I don't care.  They taste good.  Besides, they keep you healthy.

Yes, garlic and onions keep you healthy.  They boost your immune system.  They contain allicin (especially garlic), and allicin is a naturally occurring antibacterial and anti fungal compound.  Eat more garlic and onions, get less colds and other infections.

Good taste, and better health.  Sounds like a win-win to me.  Pass the garlic and onions, please!

Monday, November 4, 2013

My Eldest Son

Today is DS1's birthday, so my thankfulness #4 post is about him.

It was a rocky start, finding out at 17, and most of the way through my senior year of high school, that I was pregnant.  There was the being in over my head with the overbearing boyfriend, there was the whole 'you can't be visibly pregnant in school' thing of the late 1980's still happening, there was rocky times with my parents over whether or not I was actually going to have the baby.  From the moment I realized I was pregnant (one morning in the midst of a lecture during Algebra 2, lol) I wanted to have and keep my baby.  However, most everyone who knew my predicament tried to convince me against continuing the pregnancy.

I went round and round with the boyfriend, with my parents, with a few other adult mentors I respected.  Time marched on, and after a while it was "too late" for any of them to force me into terminating the pregnancy.

So, I hid it from the school officials, not wanting to be kicked out of school or made to attend adult ed so close to finishing my high school career.  Very few of my friends even knew until after graduation.  I graduated, with the rest of my class and with honors, in the fourth month of my pregnancy. Thank goodness the fashion was for baggy clothing!  My own brother and grandparents didn't even know until I was nearly six months along.

Anyway, my struggles to even be allowed to have DS1 (remember, I was only 17) and then to keep him, had a profound effect on me.  I realized what a jerk, loser, abuser, my boyfriend was.  I found the guts to break up with him.  I found my own voice, and the strength to stand up to others.  I worked hard. My son always came first. I vowed to myself that if I had to be a statistic--an unwed teenage mother--that I was going to be a success statistic, and not one of failure.

Well, today DS1 is 24 years old.  He is definitely a success statistic.  He is hard working.  He is kind, compassionate and loyal.  He is a veteran of the military.  He is a father.  He is someone I am very proud of, and thankful to have in my life.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Still Knitting. . .

November Thankfulness #3:  I am thankful that I am still knitting.  The lessons I took in January really turned me on to a useful hobby that I enjoy.

My knitting slowed down over the summer, with so many daylight hours and so much outdoor work needing to be done during those daylight hours.  I did manage to knock off a few dish cloths, a pair of socks for DD1's birthday, a pair of socks for DD2's birthday, a shopping bag, and a hat that I am donating to a charity that collects them and sends them to soldiers serving overseas in those months, but didn't spend nearly as many hours knitting as I would have liked to.

I also managed to talk myself into having more than one project on the needles at a time.  Having several different sizes and types of needles now makes this possible.  Because, of course, socks are done on much smaller needles than hats or shopping bags are made with.

Currently I have a shawl and another pair of socks (toe-up this time instead of the top-down method I stuck with for the three pair I made earlier this year) and pieces for making a stuffed horse.  And I have about three more projects I'd like to start, as soon as I have a set of needles free in the correct size.

Scylla patterned sock (pattern free on Ravelry)
Second sock in this pattern is about 1/3 finished right now.

To top off my thankfulness for knitting, yesterday was the 2nd Anniversary of the opening of the yarn shop at which my lessons began.  I stopped in for a while to join the festivities, eat the yummy treats and the chicken chili, to purchase some yarn and needles for a project DD2 is starting, and to knit a bit in the company of many of the other regulars at the shop.

As part of the anniversary celebration, the owner of the shop was doing drawings for door prizes once an hour until the shop closed for the evening.

Well, I just happened to be there for the final drawing.  And, guess who just happened to win the grand prize.

ME!  Two luscious skeins of 100% Merino yarn, pattern to make either a beret or scarf from those skeins, the needles needed for the hat and the scarf, a bag to carry the project in, and a $25 gift certificate to the yarn shop.  Wow!

Yes, I'm thankful that I decided, nearly a year ago, that it was time for me to learn how to knit. I'm thankful that I love knitting, and that I'm still knitting.  I'm thankful for my local yarn shop, and the generosity of it's owner.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Second Hand Stores

Thankfulness #2:  I am thankful for second hand stores.

Really.  I've been shopping at them for over 24 years now.  They've saved me a ton of money, and by being choosy at the second hand stores I've been able to outfit my family, and my house, with no one being the wiser that I didn't pay top dollar and buy those items brand new.  Not unless I told them, anyway.

Some people love to go to the mall.  Me, I love to go to Goodwill!  The selection is ever changing, you never know what you are going to find:  prom dresses, jeans that still have tags on them, luggage, baskets, yarn and fabric, end tables, sewing machines (my first sewing machine came from Goodwill, $20 including the cabinet it was in), heated water buckets for the horses, furniture for dorm rooms. . .

Friday, November 1, 2013

A New November

This is probably really corny, and most likely pretty cliche, but for the month of November I am going to (attempt to) post once every day and talk about something I am thankful for.  I confess, I got the idea off an internet forum that I am hopelessly addicted to and that has fueled my homesteading ambitions for more than a decade.

So, this November, I will not talk about deer hunting in the last half of the month unless it is also in conjunction with my daily thankfulness post.  A few posts being thankful for successful hunting would be really awesome!  We shall have to see how the season plays out for me.

I, of course, am thankful for all the usual things: faithful patient husband, children, grandchild (and grandchild-in-the-works!), my health, yadda yadda yadda.  But I am also thankful for some things that I'm pretty sure will be rather off the wall for most people.

So, here goes.

#1. I am thankful for hearing my own drummer.  It seems like all my life, I've been a bit, well, different.  Even as a child I remember questioning the status quo and thinking "But why?  Why is it done that way?  Is that the best way?  Are the people doing it that way really happy?  What if I did it this way instead?  Would that be terrible?  Would it harm anyone?  If it doesn't harm anyone, why can't I do it that way?"

I heard my own drummer.  And, very often, I've danced to the beat of that drum.  I say danced, rather than marched, because really, when I am doing my own thing, and not having to justify it to anyone, I am happy.  I do dance.  I sing, I skip, I even climb trees from time to time.  Yeah, I do.  41 and climbing trees.  Because I can.  My body is still able, and my personal drummer tells me to every once in a while.

What I wanted from my life was not what my high school guidance counselor, or anyone else in the 1980s was telling a female honor student she should do with her talents. Even the aptitude tests I took in high school, the ones where you entered your three areas of interest for a career told me I should do something different.  Apparently at 16 I was "overqualified" to be a farmer.  No lie, that is actually what one of my test results had on it.  I was very good at numbers, and organizing, and other related skills and was encouraged toward Accounting instead.  Which I did study, and was very quick at, I even enjoyed it.  But I realized at 17 that I didn't want to be an Accountant.  Accountants worked indoors.  With other people.  And, at that time, female accountants were still expected to wear skirts, pantyhose, and heels to work.  That was not me.

My drummer said farm work, not office work.  Jeans and boots, not pantyhose and heels.  People tried to steer me in the proper direction.  The college degree.  The prestigious career.  The big salary.  They tried hard.  But I knew, deep down, that that wasn't me.

Oh heck no. So I followed my drummer, and tried not to let too much doubt enter my brain and my heart.  Doubt planted by the words of disappointment from those trying to guide me in the conventional and proper direction.

I turned toward my drummer, listened to the beat, and did it. I did it with all that I had, and it has worked for me.  Will it work for everyone?  No.  In no uncertain terms, my personal path (of no college, of marrying young, of having many children, of homesteading) definitely will not work for everyone.  Everyone has their own drummer, and that is what they must follow.  Some drummers say college and degrees and careers and big salaries.  Some say work hard at more manual things.  The things that most of today's society considers to be menial.  But if that is what makes you happy, is it really menial?  I don't believe so.

To be happy, we all have to hear, and follow our own drummer.

I am thankful for my drummer.