Friday, January 31, 2014

Challenge #4: Have a Party

But wait, you say, I'm not a party person.  Or maybe you say, but I don't have any money for a party.  Or maybe you say, I have no room for a party.

Let me clarify "party".  By party, I do not mean some raucous drunken bash.  By party, I don't mean a soiree for dozens of people, complete with table linens and wait staff.  By party, I don't mean coughing up a chunk of change for fancy eats.  Nor do I mean inviting a bunch of people--or even one person--to your home.

Unless you want to.  Then, by all means, go right ahead!

What I am thinking of is more along then lines of planning something that is out of your normal routine.  For us, and why I chose to make having a party this week's challenge, this means changing up our normal menu and dinner time regimen for the Super Bowl.

We don't invite a crowd to our house on Super Bowl Sunday.  Normally, we don't invite anyone at all.  But we still call it a party because on that day, DH, I, and whichever of our offspring are home, eat stuff we don't eat very often, and we eat it not at the dinner table but in the living room in front of the TV.

Maybe eating in front of the TV is not out of the ordinary at your house.  In which case you'll have to figure out something different for your 'party'.  ;0)  For us, however, meals are eaten together at the table, so to eat in the living room is somewhat a special event.

This year our Super Bowl menu seems to be evolving to look like this:

  • buffalo chicken wings (from scratch, using wings from chickens I raised last year--on butchering day I always put the wings from parted-out chickens into a separate freezer bag just for Super Bowl), 
  • either a cheese ball or a dip made with cream cheese & sour cream with herbs and garlic, 
  • crackers, 
  • a rather bland batch of homemade venison hunter sticks cut into pieces and doused in BBQ or chili sauce (think cocktail weiners), 
  • probably some carrot and celery sticks
  • pickled hot peppers and dill pickles
  • cake or cupcakes or brownies  (in other words, some sort of dessert probably involving chocolate)

Definitely not our ordinary healthy dinner fare.  But, you know what, that's what makes it a party.  And we're not spending tons of money on ready to serve chicken wings and cocktail weinies and cheese balls.  Nope, we're taking stuff we all ready have and making it into party food.

If you don't want to do Super Bowl, your party can have some other theme.  Maybe you want to have an Olympics party.  Or a Valentine's Day party.  Or maybe invite a good friend over for lunch any old day.  Or have a weekend baking session with the kids.  Or get together with your parents or siblings on a day that isn't a holiday.  Maybe your party is just being alone for an afternoon while your spouse takes the kids out for some activities without you.  Ahh, peace and quiet!

Point being, a party can be whatever you want it to be, as long as it isn't your same-old-same-old.  It is something you plan, look forward to, and enjoy while it's happening.  Have a party.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Something I Learned

I have a confession to make.  All the lovely cabbage I grew last summer?  I forgot about some of it.  When I first harvested it, some became cabbage rolls for dinner and for the freezer.  Some became slaw for dinner and I tried my hand at freezer slaw too (and then promptly forgot I made it, so it has now been in the freezer about 4 months. . .). Some I made into sauerkraut.  Some DH gave away to friends who didn't have their own beautiful homegrown organic cabbage.  But the rest I left in the garage and forgot about.

Being that we are now in the most frigid part of winter, that cabbage left in the garage has frozen.  Which DH was none too happy about, let me tell you.  To be honest, when he jogged my memory about those garage cabbages, I was rather mad at myself for wasting them by not bringing them to the cellar or otherwise eating or preserving them before they froze.

But wait!  I had a thought!  The cabbage I had made into freezer slaw had not been blanched (as is the common treatment of veggies) before going into the freezer.  Maybe all was not lost!

So I Googled it.  And I found several sources that said frozen cabbage could still be used.  Phew!  Guilt trip cancelled!

Just in case that was unreliable information (cuz you know you can't believe everything you read on the internet), I tried using some frozen cabbage in a recipe that called for fresh, chopped cabbage (which was then cooked with sausage, potatoes, onion and carrots, yum!).  I did not thaw the cabbage first, just brought it into the house, rinsed it in tepid water, peeled back the first few wilted leaves, and chopped the rest.

It worked!!  Yahoo!  I left the remaining four frozen cabbages in the garage.  I'll get to them later this winter.  Until then, they are perfectly fine right where they are.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It's Cheap, and Filling

Chicken teriyaki, that is.  I made it for dinner on Saturday. I would have posted about it sooner, but I had this crazy idea I would do a cost comparison between the frozen chicken teriyaki at the grocery store and my homemade kind.  Or my homemade the way I did it, and homemade if you bought: boneless skinless chicken breasts, minute rice, and a bottle of teriyaki sauce.  I even started to do the math, but finding prices on the local grocery store websites for fresh chicken and frozen chicken teriyaki (so I didn't have to drive 8-20 miles to a grocery store and price it out)  proved to be pretty impossible.  So you get a late and not so detailed version  ;0)

What I did was:

1. Take a whole chicken out of the freezer and let it thaw 2 days in the fridge.  Then I cut off the breasts. I now had two boneless skinless breasts which run about $4.99 not on sale at the store. (If I remember right, whole chickens run $1.49 to $1.99 a pound depending on the store). Say the breasts actually weighed one pound; which I'm not sure they did, because I didn't get out the scale and weigh them.  In any case, they were plenty of meat for the meal.  I cut the breasts into chunks about 1/2" thick and 2" long.

2. Make 2 cups of white rice (so, 2 cups water plus 1 cup of rice, 1 tbsp butter and 1/2 tsp salt). Real rice takes 30 minutes to cook on the stove.

3.  Cut up 2 stalks of celery and add to steamer along with one bag of Florentine blend veggies (aka frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots from the store--were it summer and if I could get carrots to grow in this clay soil, I would have foregone the frozen veggies for freshly harvested ones).  Anyway, I think the bag of veggies is $1.25 every day price.

4.When the rice was 1/2 done, I turned on the burner under the steamer and started the veggies to cooking.  I also cooked the chicken in a skillet in about 2 tbsp veggie oil until cooked through (10 minutes??).

5.  When veggies were steamed to crisp/tender state, chicken was cooked through, and rice was done, I threw the rice and veggies into the skillet with the chicken, added 2 cups of homemade teriyaki sauce (for recipe, see my post Terribly Yucky Sauce) and let the whole thing simmer another 10 minutes or so.

Done!  A meal to fill four hungry adults for roughly the same price as a bag of frozen chicken teriyaki that only fed two of us the one time I bought it.

The rest of the whole chicken, after I cut the breasts off for teriyaki, went into the crockpot where it cooked on low for about 9 or 10 hours.  Then I deboned it, shredded the meat, and gave the skin and fat to the barn cats, who could use the extra calories during this cold weather.  The shredded meat became chicken enchiladas on Monday.  I still have the 'broth', ie. melted fat and water from the bottom of the crockpot, in the fridge to use in other recipes or maybe as soup stock, I haven't quite decided yet.  Anyway, three meals from one chicken, as is the usual at this little place here.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Da U.P.

I am thankful for Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  More specifically, I am thankful that I had the chance to live there for nearly two years (Aug '91 through May '93).  The U.P. taught me so much and, I can see now, had a profound influence on my adult life.

It was the first place I moved to when I left my parents' home.  Not just a move to an apartment across town; no, this was a move of 500 miles, to a place where I knew no one other than my DH and my son.  And not to an apartment, either, but to a rental trailer on the outskirts of town.  Our mailing address was a rural route, the post office was in a town that had a different name than the stretch of land on which that rental trailer stood. Which is not uncommon in the U.P.  There are lots of places with "Location" in their name (Superior Location, Boston Location. . .) that are just tiny cross roads without their own post office.  And many places that used to be towns, 100 years ago, but now are scarcely populated, too scarcely to merit a postmaster.

Anyway, living in the U.P. I was exposed to a different way of life than is the norm for lower Michigan.  In the U.P., you need to expect to be responsible for yourself.  Your very life depends on it.  That's not to say that people in the U.P. aren't helpful and don't look out for each other.  Because they do.  Very much so.  But in the U.P., you need to plan ahead, you need to not be afraid of physical labor, and you need to be aware of what is going on around you.  You could be mauled by a bear, eaten by wolves, or fall off a cliff while hiking.  You could drive off the road into a snowbank, you could be snowed into your home by a blizzard, you could be carried off by black flies.

Well, from my personal experience, falling off a cliff while hiking, driving into a snowbank, or experiencing a blizzard-- I've been there, done that, for two out of the three, and came really close to the third-- are much more likely than death by wildlife. Although the latter is not out of the realm of possibility.  The black flies are vicious in season, bears abound (and tend to frequent the dumpster at the grocery store--park in front of the store, not behind!!), and I have seen wolves several times just going about my normal daily activities while living in the U.P.  The majority of carnivorous wildlife runs from humans more often than not.  Black flies being the exception.

Mostly, though, living in the U.P. taught me to not fear snow.  Snow is a fact of life up there, as sure, six months out of the year, as the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening.  Snow is not a howling monster.  Snow is a blanket, an insulator.  Snow is a friend, making tracking deer during hunting season much, much easier.  Snow is a necessary ingredient for winter fun.  For skiing, both downhill and cross country.  For snowmobiling.  For snow shoeing.  For building snow sculptures as large as houses, and just as detailed as the carved woodwork in most of the old buildings up there.

life size snow sculpture, Jan. 1992

Snow is way easier to drive on than ice and slush.  That is something that people in the Lower Peninsula don't seem to understand.  They go crazy salting the roads to melt the snow off of them, and cars go whizzing into the ditches from lack of traction in the mush.  Snow, properly maintained, can be driven on quite well.  And is, for months, in the Upper Peninsula.

In order to have snow, there must be cold.  Cold also is not to be feared.  Cold should be respected, and met with adequate preparation, both in terms of heating ability (often wood--many native Yoopers talk of "making wood", which is cutting and splitting and stacking firewood in the seasons before they need to actually burn it) and in clothing that is right for conditions.  Warm trumps fashionable.  Then again, U.P. clothing is it's own fashion.  Ear flap hats and plaid flannels are a must.  Big, clunky boots with thick linings, yes, got to have them!  Face masks for the windy and coldest days, and thick gloves.  Bibbed overalls with linings.  Snowmobile suits. And that's just to go to the grocery store or the school bus in December!  During a real windy and cold snap, say, in January, you might find it advantageous to 'grease' your face before going outside in order to protect any exposed skin from windburn.  When I first moved there, I thought the person who told me to rub Crisco into my cheeks was kidding.  They weren't.  And it helped.  So, grease your face if you need to.

Cold enables ice skating and ice fishing.  Luge run building.  Both winters that we lived in the U.P., DH iced down the snowbank that continually grew all winter at the house-end of our driveway.  He crafted a track in that snowbank that was just the size to fit DS1's sled.  DS1, being 2 and 3 years old during his winters in the U.P., would climb that snowbank (which sometimes reached eight foot tall), jump on his sled, and fly down the iced track.

DS1 at 2yrs old, going down his 'luge run'

  We even had a cat that loved to ride on the back of his sled and experience the luge for himself.

DS1, at 3yrs old, and our cat, at the end of a luge session

It's been over 20 years since DH and I moved back downstate from the U.P.  The engineering jobs might be down here, but our hearts have remained up there.  We often find ourselves at odds with the mindset and lifestyles down here in the lower part of the Lower Peninsula.  We don't subscribe to the panic when the weather man says "Snow!  Wind!  Cold!"  We just plan to stoke the wood boiler twice a day, make sure all our warm winter gear is ready to put on, and watch out for all the people on the roads who have no clue how to drive in snow.  There is always food in the cellar and freezers, no need for daily (or weekly!) store runs.  And on nice clear, frigid, below zero 
winter weekends, we head out to our woods and "make wood", keeping ourselves warm by cutting and stacking the downed and dead trees that will heat our home in winters to come.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

More Sewing Going On

In addition to finishing a UFO, I've been working on a mystery table runner since the 17th.  I did my first 'mystery quilt' last winter, and it was such fun that I've kept my eye out for more mysteries that might fit into my schedule.  With it being winter and no garden to tend to, my schedule is a bit more open for sewing right about now.

When I heard of this upcoming mystery table runner, it fit right into what I was looking for.  I'd been wanting to make a few table runners, you see, and to have a mystery one was just too much fun to pass up on a cold and snowy week in January.

To make it economical, I decided to limit myself to only fabrics in my stash--no new purchases!  That actually made it quite challenging, because I not only had to use stuff I all ready own, I had to find 4 coordinating fabrics that not only went with my dining room color, but were in large enough pieces (I tend to save even small strips, you never know when you'll need a 2" wide piece for some bias tape. . . or a string quilt. . . ).

I did find four fabrics that worked, plus a fifth that I really really wanted to actually be one of the four for the top side of the runner but it didn't fit as well with the other fabrics I found.  I ended up using it as backing though, so that worked out perfectly.  Now my runner is reversible, since I love the backing fabric so much!

Anyway, here is what my finished mystery turned out to be. I added a few extra blocks from what the instructions called for in order to extend it to better fit my table, which is 72" long without its leaf.  It isn't the kind of table runner that hangs off the ends, rather I wanted it to be something you could leave on the table and still have room to set dishes for eating off of.  I can put serving dishes on it if I wish, and they don't contain anything that might stain the runner if things drip.


close up of top


close up of back

Not only was it fun to do, and make my dining room a little dressier, it has given me an idea for a birthday or Christmas gift for a few ladies I know. . .  

Friday, January 24, 2014

Challenge #3 Capture a UFO

Anyone who crafts should be familiar with the term "UFO".  We're not talking space aliens (well, maybe we are, but a different kind of space, LOL) as in little green men from outside the Earth's atmosphere.  We're talking Un-Finished Objects.  Projects you started, and, for whatever reason, set aside before they were completed.  So in that sense they are space aliens--they are taking up space in your home without really belonging there.

That set of place mats you started to sew that sit in your craft room and not on your dinner table. . .

That quilt you started for your child when they were younger and now they are not so little but the quilt is. . .

The counted cross-stitch project that was going to be a gift for your mother. . . five years ago. . .

The scrapbook you were going to make throughout your child's school years, the last completed page of which is fifth grade, and Junior currently has his driver's license, a part-time job and a date for the Prom . . .

Those are all examples of UFOs.  You still have them.  They take up closet space, or counter space, or drawer space, and are gathering dust.  Not only are they using up valuable space in your home without contributing anything to it, they are using up space in your head.  You know, that little voice that says now and then "hey loser, when are you gonna finish what you started?"

I have several UFOs.  Okay, more than several.  Enough that I made a list at the beginning of this year, and I was shocked to see just how many.  Some of them are huge UFOs that I can't possibly finish on my own (like, say, finishing off the inside of the barn with horse stalls).  So right now, let's skip any UFOs you have that require

 a) the cooperation, assistance, or labor of another person in addition to yourself and

b) more money than you have available in your budget this week to finish.

I recommend starting with the smallest UFO you have, or, the one that is closest to being done.

This week I tackled one of my bigger UFOs.  It was the one causing me quite a bit of mental stress, and it was also the one closest to being finished.  I had set it aside because I wasn't doing as perfect of a job on it as I had wanted.  I was frustrated with it, as well as disappointed that it didn't look exactly like I had envisioned. (May I say that yes, I am a perfectionist.)

It sat, untouched, for a year.  It was untouched, but not forgotten; it nagged at me.  And DD1, whom it was for, also nagged at me, wondering when in the world I was going to finish it.  Finally, this week, I said "Screw it.  It won't be perfect, but it will be finished."  And I got it out, spent about three hours doing the binding--which was all that needed to be done once I decided the quilting itself was as good as it was going to get--and it was a UFO no more.  Now it is a much loved t-shirt quilt residing on DD1's bed.

She's overjoyed.  I'm happy, and feeling accomplished.

Now I'm ready to tackle the next UFO on my list.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Quit Yer Whinin' (A Primer For People in Michigan)

It's cold out right now.  Like single digits cold.  Add a little wind, and you have negative temperatures when the wind chill is factored in.  Most people I've run into in the past week have been moaning and groaning about the weather.  "Oh, it's so cold!"  "Don't go outside, it's too cold!"  "Are you tired of the cold yet?"  You can't even turn on the TV or the radio without hearing how dreadfully cold it is; how miserable the weather is here in Michigan at this very moment (and yesterday, and the day before, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and next week. . . )

Well, Dear Reader, I've heard just about enough of all the bellyaching.  So, today you get the dubious honor of hearing me speak my mind.

Hey, all you people here in Michigan whining about the weather:

Quit Yer Whinin'!  I've heard just about enough bitching.  I've heard enough sensationalizing about the cold temperatures, and the snow, and the wind.

Listen up, all you wussies, and let me educate you on a few things.

1.  This is Michigan.  It is one of the northernmost states in the U.S.  As such, in the winter, it gets COLD.  Don't panic.  Put on some extra clothes when you go outside.  Like pants.  And a coat.  And a hat.  And gloves.  Boots, not flip flops. Duh.

2.  This is Michigan.  In the winter, when it is cold, SNOW happens.  It is nothing to panic over.  It's just frozen rain drops.  In fact, when you are complaining about the foot of snow in your driveway, be glad it's frozen rain and not liquid rain.  A foot of liquid rain sitting in your driveway (or on your roof) would be much more disastrous.

3.  This is Michigan.  Right now is January.  In Michigan, in January, there is always a period of days or weeks where cold air from Canada comes to visit.  As a result, there will be temperatures on the negative end of the thermometer.  Don't panic.  Wear a few more extra clothes when you go outdoors, add a scarf over your mouth and nose, and don't stand still when you go outside.  Keep moving.   When you move, you stay warmer.  It is actually possible to sweat at zero degrees and lower.  But you have to be moving, not huddled up bellyaching about how cold the air is.

4.  This is Michigan.  This is January.  When the wind blows, there will be a wind chill factor.  But, hey, newsflash--if you aren't outside, the wind chill doesn't pertain to you.  Wind chill is only a phenomenon you experience when you are out in the wind.  So if you are in your house, or your place of employment, don't say a damn thing about the wind chill outside.  It doesn't matter.

5.  This is Michigan. This is January.  If the air is 'warm', it will be cloudy and we will have snow.  If the sun is out, it will be cold, really cold. You can't have sun and warm air, not this month, not in Michigan.

To summarize:  Michigan gets cold in the winter.  Michigan gets snow in the winter.  January in Michigan is supposed to be cold.  Damn cold.  This is normal.  Deal with it.  Or move south, your choice.

Oh, and if you really want your mind blown, and something to worry about, ruminate on this: there is such a thing as too cold to snow.  From my memory (and experience living in the Upper Peninsula for a few years) too cold to snow happens somewhere around actual temperature of -20 F or so. That is the air temp on a dead calm day, not the wind chill. That is when the air is so cold there is not enough moisture in it to form into snow.

So if it's snowing outside, be glad.  Because that's warm.  And if it's snowing, don't you dare complain to me that it's soooo cold right now!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Goodwill Treasure!

The other day I was out doing my shopping in the town about 15 miles away, and I stopped in at the local Goodwill store.  I tend to browse Goodwill once a month or so, mainly because it sits next door to and shares a parking lot with the farm store where I buy my chicken feed at.  Convenient, one stop shopping, LOL.

Anyway, I tried to tell myself I really didn't have time to wander through the aisles at Goodwill that day, especially since there wasn't anything in particular I was looking to pick up second hand right then.  Yet, a little part of me really wanted to go in Goodwill.  That little part of me was drawn to the store despite the tight schedule I was on.

I am so glad I gave in to that little part of me!  I found a mini tea pot in my wedding china!  The exact brand and pattern that was discontinued only a couple of years after I got married, before I had a chance to get very many pieces other than place settings.  It is in perfect condition, still has it's lid, and only cost me $1.99!!  (When I got home I looked online to see prices for identical mini teapots in that pattern and they were $36!!)


DD2 happens to be infatuated with tea, and so finding this little tea pot is made extra cool because now she can use it to steep her tea in.  When I brought it home and showed it to her, I think she may have actually been even more excited about my finding it than I was.

Lesson learned:  always listen to the little voice that tells you to go in Goodwill even if you are strapped for time.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fresh Kraut

This past weekend I had DH lug the crock of sauerkraut up from the basement and into the kitchen.  It had been done fermenting for a few weeks, but being as there is no real rush to can the finished kraut, I hadn't worried about trying to squeeze a canning session in with our power outages and Christmas parties and ice storms and deep snows and bitter cold weather that we've so far experienced since the kraut reached it's six weeks of fermentation mark.  In the old, old days, people left the kraut in the crock for months and just dipped out of it whenever they wanted to eat some.

I, however, have always canned mine once it was done fermenting.  That way I was sure it would stay clean (always a challenge when you have a houseful of kids) and good, for as long as we wanted to wait between being done fermenting and eating the very last bit of that year's batch.

We ate the first of it on Sunday, along with potatoes from the cellar and some Polish sausage DH and his friend had made right after the New Year started.  It was go-oood!

I confess I am not normally a fan of sauerkraut.  In fact, before I started making my own (solely because DH loves it), I refused to eat sauerkraut at all.  I had never tasted any brand that I liked.  But that first batch I made, back around 1999 or so, I found somewhat tolerable.  I mean, I could choke down about 1/4 cup of the stuff with kielbasa cooked in it.  (Sauerkraut from the store I refuse to cook all the kielbasa in; reserving a couple chunks of meat that I fry up separately for myself).  Hmmm.  That was a big deal in itself--the fact that I could eat even 1/4 cup of sauerkraut without gagging.  One more thing that is definitely better homemade than mass produced for the grocery store.

Anyway, on Sunday we had fresh sauerkraut for dinner.  And I think it is the best batch yet.  I mean, I ate an entire cup of kraut!!  I will actually say I liked it, actually called it good.  Out loud.  To DH, who has heard me berate sauerkraut for 23 years.

Now I'm wondering if this year's awesome tasting kraut (I can't believe I used awesome as an adjective to sauerkraut!!) has anything to do with the varieties of cabbage that it was made from.  In 2013 I went totally away from the common cabbage that I'd grown for years with varying success (some years we had enough to make kraut, most we didn't) and I grew three varieties I had never heard of before.  One in particular was marketed as being a really good cabbage for kraut. I got the seeds from an heirloom/organic seed type place.  And they grew well. This picture was taken in October when I harvested the vast majority of the cabbage:

Yes, that is a tractor bucket full of cabbage.  Probably two-thirds of that cabbage went into my crock, all chopped and salted and packed down for kraut.

weighted down with bags of water to keep cabbage submerged in salt brine

covered and ready for fermenting in the basement

And here is the finished product:

canned for storage

leftovers from Sunday's dinner become DH's Tuesday lunch

The best kraut I have ever tasted, hands down.  I will definitely be growing those 'new' varieties of cabbage again.  In case you are interested in checking them out for your own garden (and kraut!), they are Fiedlerkraut, Copenhagen, and Perfection Drumhead.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Challenge #2 Pantry Raid

This week's challenge may or may not be something everyone can do.  It shouldn't take long, but I'm aware that not everyone will have unintentional food in their home.

Here's the challenge: Look in your pantry, cabinets, etc, and see if there is any unexpired food that you know just is not going to get eaten by the residents of your home.  Then donate it to the local food bank.

Doesn't matter how it got in your house, what matters is that, truthfully, you know nobody is going to eat it.

Maybe you bought it during a fit of good intentions to eat healthier, and, well, months (or years) later it still sits in the cupboard untouched.

Maybe someone gave it to you.  My mother-in-law tends to periodically give us a box of miscellaneous food and it doesn't always contain things we eat.  Some of it has ingredients one or more of us are allergic to.  Some of it is stuff we don't like (we'd have to be pretty starved to eat canned fruit cocktail, and, well, as long as we have a garden and game running around in the woods, we're not going to reach that point of starvation).

Maybe you bought a case of it when it was on sale, and you are down to the last two cans (or boxes) and are just sick to death of eating it.

Maybe you had no idea it was in your house and have no clue where it came from.  It happens, especially is you share your house with others.

What matters is that you aren't going to eat it before it goes bad.  Someone else could.  Take it to the food bank, even if it is one can of fruit cocktail, or one box of yucky 'healthy' crackers.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Opening a Can of Worms

I just took the top off a can of worms this morning.  It's something that's been gradually building for a few years now, but in recent months has really picked up pressure.  I've been dancing around it because I know it's not going to be fun, or pretty, once the lid blows off.  Has to do with my working down at the horse farm.

However, recent events over there kind of pushed me into a spot where I realized that can of worms is going to open sooner or later, and now is a time of change, so I might as well grab the can opener and see just how big of a change how rapidly. . .

On Friday we had to put down one of the older horses.  She had gotten to a point where when she laid down, she just couldn't get back up again.  For several weeks I have been getting her back to her feet on just about a daily basis, but on Friday she just couldn't do it.  She didn't have the strength or the oomph to get up.  It was time to call the vet out to bring the giant hypodermic of pink juice.

Which, is, in itself, a stressful thing for us humans to have to deal with.  Putting down a horse is never a task you do without thinking, before, during, and afterward, if you could/should have done something differently to make the outcome different than ending a life at that point in time.

It also, has an affect on the rest of the horses at the farm.  Now that horse's partner/pasture mate is in need of a new buddy or group to go in.  So the farm owner/boss and I are discussing who should go where, and when, in order to not just get the now lonely horse a friend, but also to set things up so our summer groups will be ready to go live outdoors 24/7 when the pasture grass is tall enough.

And here's the rub.  That lone horse is special needs.  Also elderly and with teeth problems, it and the now deceased horse were both on special easily digested feed.  Which is why they were buddied up.  They were perfect for each other.  None of the other horses on the farm eat or need those special rations, and neither of the special needs horses were overly aggressive in a group.

One of my horses, the Old Man, is 30 this year.  He's gotten tough to keep weight on, and he is getting some special senior feed, but not nearly the same amount (nor does he get the other supplements) as the now lone horse.  The Old Man is also a wimp when it comes to defending his food in a group setting, much, much more of a wimp than the lone horse.

So, in the course of conversation about which of the remaining horses might be a likely candidate to live with the lonely horse this summer, the Old Man's name was brought up by the farm owner/boss.  I had to say "Don't consider any of my horses to be an option.  I'm not planning on having them here this summer."

Which of course required an explanation of why.

You'd think that someone who has known me for more than two decades, someone for whom I've had nearly non-stop contact for 19 years, someone for whom I have worked the last 13 1/4 years straight, would know that I've always wanted to be able to keep my horses at home.  That they would remember that keeping horses at home was the biggest reason DH and I bought the land that became this little place here.  That they would remember all the years we have wanted to finish the barn at this little place here and fence in the pasture/hay field but that finances again hadn't worked in favor of doing that yet.

That they wouldn't be offended when I said I'm (finally)going to move my horses this summer.  That they would be happy that I am finally going to be able to realize my long-time goal of having my own horses at my own farm.

Apparently not so.  Apparently their need for me outweighs my own needs or plans.

The can is open.  Now I'll just have to see how far the worms spewed, and move through the mess.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Football Fantasy

I'm sticking it out here, fully aware that I am opening myself up for some major flaming.

But now that we are so close to the end of football season (as in NFL), I can't hold it in any longer.

For months now, the TV has played football all weekend, every weekend.  And I have lost track of how many times I've seen the commercial that asks "What's your football fantasy?"  It is some kind of competition, I think, probably to win some great football prizes.

I, however, will not enter.  Because I know without a doubt that my 'football fantasy' will not win.

Nope.  Not a chance.

Because the first time I saw that commercial, and it asked me what my football fantasy was, I instantly replied, without having to think at all:

"That it would go away."

August until early February is just too dang long in my book.  Too many weekends, too many hundreds of hours, where household projects don't get done, where conversation can only take place during commercial breaks, where meals are affected by what time kick-off or half-time are.  Way, way too many hours for my liking.

Football fans, I'm sorry.  I just don't get it.  I've tried, for 23 years now, to like football.  I've tried to understand it, and still can't see a play develop.  I've tried to follow it, and all I've managed to do is very rarely correctly answer other than "he's a football guy, right?" when DH gives me a specific name in a question.  Coach, team, player, doesn't seem to stick in my head.  Stats, forget it, not happening.

I also have a tendency to say totally the wrong thing in regards to football.  Strange things come out of my mouth during games.  Things like:

  • "Don't Cleveland's new uniforms make you think of Tootsie rolls?"  (Apparently not.  Apparently this is only a figment of my twisted imagination. The brown jerseys do not look like Tootsie Roll wrappers.  At least, that's what I was told rather grumpily.)

  • "Oh, hey, that dude with the big teeth?  He used to play for the Broncos a long time ago, right?"  (Yes, yes, John Elway did play for the Broncos.  Apparently I should have known his name because he is so famous.  Sorry, all that stuck in my head in the 1990's was the teeth.  I also was supposed to know he's a big shot VP now.)

  • "Is 'Omaha' some sort of code word for 'forget all that' or 'hey listen up'?  Because Peyton Manning has said it in every play so far this game."  (Yeah, I understand plays are called in code.  And that's why, when my ears picked up the word Omaha in play after play, I figured it must be something other than a specific directive like go left or drop right.  Because no QB would call for the exact same thing play after play after play. . . Apparently I am still football stupid.  Because all my question got was a long boring lecture on play calling that basically reinforced the little I do know about it and I still don't have an answer to what I asked.)

  • "At half-time can you give me a hand with. . . ???"  (Apparently half-time is not your chance to take a break from staring at the TV for the past hour and a half and accomplish anything with your day.  Nope, it is when you get a recap of all the other games that you didn't see, or maybe that you did.  You must not leave the couch.  You might miss something important.)

  • "I'm rooting for the Giants and not the Patriots because Eli is better looking than Tom Brady".  (WRONG.  Do NOT ever say this to your football fanatic husband.  It would take too long to give all the details on why this is a bad thing to say.  Just don't do it.)

So, as you can see, my life would probably be a lot smoother if football didn't exist.  And so, my football fantasy remains that football would go away.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Winter Sucks Again

This time last week, it was snowing and blowing (literally, near white-out conditions) and the temperature was plummeting well below freezing.  I loved it!  Now that is what winter in Michigan is supposed to be like.

This weekend, the weather went the opposite way.  Temperatures soared to nearly 40 degrees.  The snow evaporated, melted, and otherwise generally disappeared.  Not that it's totally gone, but anywhere windswept or plowed is now grass and mud again.  Looks more like March than January.  And I'm hating it.  The damp chill is back.  The temperature might be 40 degrees higher (we won't even factor in those -20 and -30 degree wind chills), but I'm a whole lot colder than I was a week ago.

So, despite our 'wonderful' weather--as most people I know in this part of Michigan are calling it today--I have spent most of the weekend in the house.  All the Christmas stuff has been taken down and packed away until next Advent season.  I baked our weekly bread.  I made a batch of cookies.  I sewed together a ragged denim quilt that a friend and I are collaborating on (she wanted one, but doesn't sew.  I volunteered to sew it if she would cut out all the pieces needed, and she is also doing the ragging). I cast on for a new pair of socks in a pattern I'd been thinking of since last summer.

Maybe this weather doesn't totally suck.  I mean, looking at the above paragraph I've obviously gotten a lot accomplished.  But I sure wish we could get below freezing and stay there for a few months, complete with knee-deep snow cover, like we are supposed to.  Those kind of conditions sure make outdoor activities a whole lot more possible in the winter.  Sledding, skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling, snow shoeing, ice fishing. . . Things you can't do in slush, or on mud, or on spongy ice from temperatures fluctuating in and out of the forties every five to seven days or so.

top of denim quilt, seam side up for ragging

quilt showing flannel backing

toe and four pattern repeats on Waterfall socks 

Friday, January 10, 2014


This year has been challenging for many people I know.  There have been snow storms and bitter cold temperatures, beloved animals gone missing or put to sleep, human illnesses, car troubles or accidents, even a house fire.

I've had many challenges hit me in the first ten days of 2014 also.  There have been times all ready that I have felt so overwhelmed I just laid on my bed and stared at the ceiling.  But, so far, I've kept on going.

This afternoon, another challenge came my way.  One of the older horses at the farm went down this afternoon and did not have the strength to get back to her feet.  We ended up having to call the vet out and put her to sleep.

It was a sad situation, but it did get me to thinking.  Thinking about challenges that are not so stressful or depressing as storms, dying animals, and car problems.  Challenges that are actually enjoyable (or, at least leave you feeling really good when you have finished them).

So, for the rest of this year, I'm going to attempt to post one challenge a week.  Join me in it, if you will (and if it applies to you; I can't guarantee all challenges will fit all readers).

I am going to hopefully post a new challenge each Friday, so that it can be worked on over the weekend.  You can, of course, work on it any day that fits your schedule (or not at all--no pressure!).

Here is Challenge Number One:  Take down and put away the Christmas decorations if you haven't all ready.

Mine don't usually go up more than a week or two before Christmas, so I leave them up until Epiphany.  Well, Epiphany is January 6th, which means this week I should have packed them up and put them away.  Did I?  Um, not yet.  I thought about it a few times this week, but so far everything is still right where it was on Christmas Day.

This weekend I need to get off my butt and take care of that project.  So I chose it for the year's first challenge.

How about you?  Have you cleaned up all your holiday trappings and gotten them safely stored away yet?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pullet Eggs!

In the midst of our bitter cold and snow, my pullets have begun to lay.  What a great surprise it is each day that I go out to tend the chickens, and find a miniature egg in the nest box along side a big brown egg.

After a few weeks of laying, the 'new girls' will have matured and adjusted size, and their eggs will become the same size as the brown one in the above picture.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Last Deer of the Season

Here in this part of Michigan, late antlerless deer season lasted until January first.  DH braved the very cold temperatures, and went out hunting, as we were only at 2 deer in the freezer for the season.  Because of my work schedule at the horse farm, the holidays, and our trip down to SC to visit with DS1 and his family, I hadn't made it out to the hunting blinds at all for late antlerless.  First time in at least six or seven years.  So we were not up to the quota of venison we'd like to be at when deer season ends.

Thankfully, he was successful that very last day of season, taking a medium sized doe (she dressed out at 100 pounds).  Then we faced the dilemma of late late season hunting:  what to do with her!  It was bitterly cold outside, with quite a strong wind, making washing her out with the hose after gutting a difficult task (a hose is kept in basement during hunting season, and when needed, hooked up to the laundry sink and run out the door of the laundry room to the patio, where the deer get rinsed once it's too cold to use the outdoor faucet on the south side of the house). We knew that once hung in the barn, even out of the wind, she would be frozen solid if we left her to hang and age the meat our customary 2-5 days before cutting her up.

So we hung her in the barn overnight, DH got off work an hour or two early on the 2nd, and we set to skinning her as soon as he got home and put some warm outdoor clothes on.  Her hide was frozen stiff at that point, and she had red icicles where the rinse water had frozen even before it had a chance to run clear the night before.

Both DH and I were pretty dang cold by the time we got her hide pried off.  Not the best skinning job we've ever done, and I ended up with deer hair in my face, which is not a good thing since I am allergic to it.  The meat doesn't bother me, and I can touch the hides, but if a loose hair gets in my face, I'm done for!

Sure enough, I could feel my right eye swell, my nose start to run, and the sneezing fits began.  DH decided we should just take her in the house to quarter her, and so he took her down from the hook the gambrel was on, and carried her to the house while I ran for my bottle of Benadryl!

Here's one great example of how we at this little place here are not quite typical.  Because typically, you would never find a decapitated, skinless deer laying on the kitchen island with it's front legs cut off at the knees and it's hind legs still hooked through the tendons to a gambrel.  But at this little place here. . . .

Since we did want to let the meat age a bit before we went ahead and deboned it, cut it up and packaged it, all that we did that day was to remove the hind legs at the hocks (and laugh at them sticking hoof-first out of the trash can--butchering can make you a bit loony.  Or maybe the cold had reached our brains. . .), and cut the doe into quarters.  Each quarter we put into a plastic bag and then set down in the cellar, where the temperature was closer to 40 degrees than zero degrees.

tools of the trade, washed up and ready to be put away after quartering out the deer 
(and ingredients for a batch of granola about to be made sitting on the island)

The quarters aged in the cellar sat until the fourth, when DH finished cutting them up.  He decided that he was going to take all the burger meat and make sausage out of it.  So out came the spices and the curing salt, and we mixed up nearly forty pounds of meat for hunter sticks.  (Yes, I do think that was rather overkill, I mean forty pounds?!?  Guess what DH is going to be getting in his lunch box for the next year!)

Then, after the meat had sat with its seasonings mixed in for 24 hours, DH and DS2 set to work stuffing the sausage casings.  Unfortunately, the hunter stick casings DH had bought in November with his brand new stuffer were not enough to stuff 20-some pounds of hunter sticks in November and another forty in January.  In other words, he ran out of casings shortly before running out of seasoned meat.

But never fear!  We have a dehydrator!  And lots of people make jerky out of ground meat (just never us, at least, until that point).  So he just grabbed a couple of dehydrator trays and continued cranking sausage meat out of the stuffer and onto the trays, sans casing.

Well, after 'cooking' in the dehydrator, we had some sausage/really tender jerky that tasted wonderful.  Even if it does look rather more like something your cat leaves in it's litter box than anything you'd voluntarily eat.

Such is life at this little place here ;0)

Monday, January 6, 2014

It's Really Winter!

I have to say, I am loving this winter day more than I have any in the last two decades.  It actually looks and feels like winter in Michigan!  The last four or five years, especially, have been atypically warm.  It sure is nice to get a good accumulation of snow again.

Here are a couple of pictures to show what it looks like at this little place here today.  At least, in the minutes I took the pictures.  Because with the wind what it is, the snow is continually blowing and shifting.  We have had several white outs in the last two hours.

The teenager parking, complete with snowed-in vehicles.  DH can be seen in the background, plowing snow so I can get to the chicken coop without carrying the waterer through thigh-deep drifts.

A view on our deck.  Snow has blown up there (floor of this deck is about 10' off the ground, above the basement walkout) and is higher than the seats on the picnic table.

Meanwhile, all the schools are closed, as well as a large number of the local businesses.  Even DH did not have to go into work today.  I, however, did, as horses still need food and fresh water no matter what the weather conditions.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I Find It Amusing

Saturday evening, the leading edge of a large snow storm had reached the mid-Michigan area.  On the news, and personal accounts of friends on Facebook, there were reports of runs on the local grocery stores, with the shelves of milk, bread, and toilet paper being left bare.

Now, stocking up on milk and bread in anticipation of being home bound for a day or two, I can understand.  Most people seem to pick up groceries on a whim, sometimes even daily, rather than by doing the sort of planned grocery shopping I do (which is a large shopping once a month, and picking up 3-4 gallons of milk at a time making it unnecessary for me to go to the store more than once or twice a week and some weeks not at all).

What I really don't understand, and find somewhat amusing, is the urge of society to buy toilet paper in preparation of a spell of snow and cold that will most certainly leave the schools closed for a day or maybe two.  Maybe my lack of understanding is because I buy the giant pack of 36 (or is it 48?) rolls when it is on sale in my preferred brand, which makes us at this little place here rarely ever have to worry about running out of toilet paper. 

Honestly, I can give people a break who just happened to be out of toilet paper and bought some while they were at the store to get their emergency stash of bread and milk.  But those who purposely buy extra t.p. because of a predicted spate of inclement weather?

I just don't get it.  I mean, do they really crap so much more during bad weather that their normal weekly supply of toilet paper is not enough to get them through 2 or 3 days until the roads are again passable enough to get back to the store?  Or do they worry that out there on the interstate, out in the elements of nature, in the fury of the storm, the toilet paper delivery truck is going to crash and burn, cutting off incoming shipment to the local stores?

Do they not know that in a pinch, a piece of paper (ala the old Sears and Roebuck catalog) will do?  Or a napkin torn in half?  Or a paper towel cut down to size?  Or a facial tissue?  Or, heaven forbid, a wash cloth????

I mean, once upon a time there was no such thing as toilet paper, all neatly cut to size, with perforations to tear into tidy squares, rolled up on cardboard tubes.  And people still did their business without it, even in snow storms.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Best of Intentions

Isn't that what we all start the new year with?  Lists of things we want to do better, or more of, or less of, in the coming year?  We start with what feels like a clean slate, and we're off to the races. . .

. . . to fizzle before January is over.

Or maybe we hang on a little longer, because some of that list has to do with our garden, which can't even be started until around April or May.  In which case things look peachy until roughly July, when the heat and drought hits and the weeds take over and the veggies fizzle right along with our enthusiasm for growing enough food to stock our larder for an entire year.

Earlier today (while waiting for the dough to rise for the cinnamon rolls I was making for breakfast--OK, lunch, since after feeding horses this morning I went back to bed for two more hours) I was perusing my computer folder labeled "Lists and Projects".  I found several year's worth of good intentions.  Most of which, you could say, have been 'recycled' every few years to show up on a new list.

For instance, in 2008 my goals were to:
  • ride often
  • have horses at home
  • publish my book
  • lose 15 pounds
  • have an orderly house
  • work for myself
None of which actually happened.  In 2011's list, I find:
  • RIDE (yes, in caps)
  • submit book for publishing
  • quit my job 
  • time with DH regularly
  • finish HT quilt (blocks I won from a forum quilt in summer 2008)
Well, the riding regularly, let alone often, still was eluding me three years after it appeared on my 2008 list.  And, truth be told, as I welcome in 2014, I'm woefully lacking in a regular riding schedule.  Guess which item again tops my list of good intentions for a new year.  

The book, and it's sequel and then part three of the trilogy that it became, still sits in my computer unseen by any potential publishers.  I'm unsure how to go about submitting it, and, since we're into truth telling this afternoon, I'm a bit afraid of rejection.

Quitting the job hasn't happened (in large part to the horses still being boarded away from home), although it really really needs to.  The job has become something that weekly attempts to eat my home life.

The quilt is an unfinished top, in need of borders.  The backing and batting have both been purchased, in about 2012, and wait in the sewing room for me to get off my duff and make the darn quilt all ready!

Time with DH comes and goes.  His work and travel schedule really ramped up in 2011, and 60 hour work weeks plus travel 7-14 days nearly every month made it hard to find time to do things just the two of us.  In 2013 he did start keeping track of his hours per week and taking a personal day when he'd earned it. Being salaried, he gets no overtime, and if he doesn't remember to take a day off for every extra 8 hours worked, well, the company isn't going to remind him.  He just ends up working for a lower wage per hour is all.  They don't mind a bit.  But I do.  Because all the time he isn't home means less things he gets done at this little place here.  Things that either I have to take up the slack on, or we end up paying someone else to do (making DH's wages go less far), or they just don't get done at all and pile up.

Having an orderly house has yet to be obtained.  If anything, my house is less orderly with just two 'kids' at home now.  They don't listen as well at 16 and 19 as the did at 6 and 9.  Or, maybe, they've learned that Dad's brain is nearly always on his work, and Mom is frazzled and they can dodge their responsibilities easier than when Dad was checking the list every night before bed.  Or, there are less hands pitching in every day to get the floors swept and the dishes washed and the animals cared for.

So, here  it is a new year.  Another clean slate.  Another new start.  More good intentions.  2014 holds the prospects of:
  • implementing a riding schedule
  • an orderly house
  • finally submitting my book(s) for publication
  • keeping the garden weeded
  • quitting my job at the horse farm to bring my horses home and board the horses of others for income
  • losing the 15 pounds I gained in 2013 (after losing 27 in 2012 *sigh*)
  • finishing that HT quilt
  • finding time to relax/recreate with DH on at least a monthly basis. . .
Here we go again :0)