Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Chicken Coop- The Finished Product

The chicken coop was our big thing to do this year.  Using recycled materials for the most part, we built a fairly decent, sturdy coop that has served us well so far this winter; only during a very bad cold snap in the beginning of December did we move the chickens back into the garage coop in order to keep a heater on so they could stay warm enough.  Other people told of of chicken losses during that cold spell; we did not want that.

Even then, keeping them warm was a serious challenge that one very very cold evening when the power went out for most of the night. Upstairs, the wood stove was kept running full blast, in the basement and garage a camping heater was lit, and when that was not enough, the camping cook stove was used on and off for heat! An exhausting night, but everything and everyone was kept warm, no chickens harmed, no pipes frozen, An overall win.

I know I have posted some of these pictures to the blog before, but we really need a start to finish retrospective. So here it is - the chicken coop. The coop itself was completely finished in late August, early September.

Preliminary layout of the floor, thinking it all out. The actual floor was totally different!

The foundation -built and level.  The blocks are cemented together, the boards cemented to the blocks.

Started, but the rain stopped us.

Finished floor!

One of the first things we did was paint the wall boards, This may seem backwards, but because the coop was put in the corner of an already existing fence enclosure, the boards would need to be put on the frame first before the wall was put in place.  I got two cans of paint from the "mistake" bin - this lovely purple, and a nice dark grey. Why pay $60 for paint when you can pay $14?

Painting assistants.

Since painting was happening, why not the door as well? Funny story about the door - I'd picked it up several years back from a house where I used to babysit the summer after my first year of college - this had been the front door of their house! Now, it was to be our coop door.

It rained while I was painting the door, causing the paint to peel off!  The finished door looks much nicer.

First wall frame!

Backing that frame.

First wall up - with the proud builder.

Checking the framing out for all the other walls - better to get it right the first time.

Second wall up, and it's getting dark! Tomorrow is a new day. You can already see the slope we put in place for snow and to accommodate the skylight.

Day two, wall three and the roof joists.

And now, the front wall and the skylight frame.  Rain was our nemesis; it kept us from this for days! And this was NOT the easiest wall to do.

But now, all four walls are up!

the skylight is so large, the actual roof space was rather small.


Roof tar papered, wooden frame tarred, ready to slide the skylight into place and screw it down.

Roof all tarred and sanded.

Now the rest of the work on this project fell to my husband, with a bit of help from daughter. I was working, and wen I came home, I was surprised with finished nesting boxes, roosts, poop board and chicken door hole.  Together, we got the doors up and ready.

Doors on!

And finally, after all our hard work, the girls get to move in and check out their fancy new digs.

First night in the new coop - yes, we did sneak out and wake them up by taking pictures!

Since then, they have figured out suitable arrangements for themselves - the younger set all sleep on the top roost unless its a warm night, then they spread out on the roosts.  Poppy, our poor omega chicken, sleeps in the middle left hand box, and all the older girls sleep on top on the nesting boxes, as pictured here.

Even the gates got up! Also thanks to my husband - another thing he did while I was at work.

We still want to do some work on the fence, and we want to use the remaining heavy floorboards to make a flat space under the gate and on both sides of it in order to make snow removal easier, but for the winter, this works well and keeps the chickens safe during the day when they are out and about.

We are very proud of it - we planned it and built it all by ourselves (with the wonderful help of scavenged supplies and a skylight from my dad. Thanks dad!)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lemon Cookies

This recipe comes from the Tangen House cookbook at Living History Farms, a very popular cookie with the staff! The recipe is from the 1860s, unchanged through to today. The dough is suitable for rolling and cutting out. or for making into small balls and baking that way.  My personal preference is  making small balls and slightly flattening them on a cookie sheet. After baking, they seem to remain softer, especially if placed in a zippie bag while still warm.

Lemon Cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon lemon extract

Cream together the butter, sugar, eggs, milk and extract.  When thoroughly mixed, add the dry ingredients and mix fully.  Either roll out or make balls, bake at 350 degrees for 5- 10 minutes; take from oven when top of cookie feels firm but before it gets browned.


I melt the butter. I find it mixes up better and makes a better cookie, but also mind that I am baking at high altitude.  I have used both regular flour and high altitude flour - it comes out the same to me.

In the past we have substituted other extracts for the lemon - we've used peppermint and almond.  Since we tend to make these for the holidays, we put a bit of red food coloring in with the peppermint to make the cookies pinkish and distinguish them from the lemon.  Imagine taking a cookie thinking you're getting peppermint and biting into lemon!

They are a bit addictive.  Enjoy!

Opinionated Me on "Stupid Habits of" Articles

Social politics at work here today.  I'm going to be my opinionated self here today, because these articles do nothing to help simplify and make our lives happier, They do just the opposite.

These articles that are all about what is WRONG with everyone.  You've seen them - "5 stupid habits" "10 stupid habits" "562 stupid habits" ( OK, I made up the last.) that people develop coming from being in a broken home, or parents who were together forever. or poor, or rich, or getting married, or getting divorced, or staying single,or having kids, or not having kids, or owning a dog, cat, flesh eating bacteria in a jar, or basically, just through being born and growing up.

First off, they start with telling you that you are stupid - if at any point, any of these habits fit you in the least bit, you're stupid.  Reason number one to not read these articles  Most people have doubts and self esteem issues about themselves, they do not need some author writing an article to meet a deadline and get paid, telling them what a bad person they are. Enough people think they're bad people.

Second reason - I've read many of these articles, because I'm curious like that. Well, tell you what - all kinds of people could have those habits without ever having that background.  One of my favorites from the broken home article - "trouble finishing projects". Not all projects, just some.  Well, my parents were married until my mom passed away, and guess what?  I damn near always have at least three different projects laying about unfinished.  I can point to three in this room right now, and that's not counting the unfinished projects bin in the basement. It has nothing to do with my parent's marital status, or my upbringing, it has to do with me sometimes getting easily bored, or my elbow injury - I can only do one thing for so long before it starts to hurt, so time for something else.

The bad habits of the poor? I've seen rather rich people do those things too. People I know who were raised rich and who have never been poor. Generalizations fail, folks.

Third reason? Whatever, whomever you are, those generalized "habits you develop" often do not apply to you.  But the article makes it seem if you are a green and purple transsexual alien who loves golf, you MUST have these habits, all because the author knows someone just like you has those habits. Wrong.

All of us are fallible, all of us have doubts about ourselves, our lives. All of us have played the "What If" game.  It doesn't make us a stereotype.

Realize that you are you - a good person, a decent person. Don't let a lame article tell you that you should hate yourself, that you should have habits that you do not.

And if you do have habits you don't like, ask for help in changing them. Trying to go it alone sometimes doesn't work, and a simple reminder from someone else close to you may help a great deal.

Consider this you reminder if your habit is to take those articles to heart.  We like you as you are, you are good person. Stop reading those articles.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Defining Sustainable Living, Defining Myself

On my kitchen counter is a large pile of books covering a range of topics on homesteading, animal care, farming, and everything that seems to fit under the heading "sustainable living". On the desktop is the results of a survey asking people how they define sustainable living.

What I am finding is that sustainable living has become a buzzword that covers a huge variety of topics. "Simpler Life" is another set of buzzwords, so is "Homesteading", in all its various forms. In fact, the term "Urban Homesteading" seems a misnomer to me.

To me, the term homesteader brings to mind people in the post Civil War on up through the early 1900s who came west, took up virgin land and tilled it, or put cattle on it, built their own homes out of sod or rock or timber - or even all three. People who came out on a land grant and who were required to make their land useful and productive - and live on it -  for a certain period of years in order to get free and clear title to it.  This was not an easy task; many gave up and moved to town, some even moved back eastward, returning to their home towns.  The number of successful homesteaders was actually rather small.

On that side of it, I'm not a homesteader. This main part of the house has been here since 1955, the rest added on and expanded through the decades, the last expansion in 1995.  I do a lot of the things an average homesteader would have done, but then a town wife would have been doing the same things, A heritage farm out east would have the farmwife doing the same things, Even city dwellers often had the same practices.  It was not a new concept.

I don't feel I can call myself a homesteader for canning food like I was taught as a child, or for owning and raising chickens, or cutting my own firewood, or sewing, or crocheting, or cooking our meals. Paying attention to what foods you are eating  and their ingredients isn't being a homesteader. But then again, it is.

For a time, a number of the things I grew up learning how to do were dying out.  People didn't repair or make their own clothes - you threw it out and bought new.  Premade foods,  going to restaurants became the norm and not the exception.  Canning, sewing, knitting, crochet, even housekeeping - for many folks, they are things done by other people.  Stupid myths and fallacies have evolved around these older practices; the idea that home canned foods are bad for you. That eating eggs and chickens you raised yourself includes killer salmonella.  That clothes made at home were bad - this one traces back to the 1880s, as store bought clothing was coming into fashion.  I remember being told as a child that my dress was not "good enough" because my mom made it. My dress, that looked better, fit better, lasted longer than the store bought clothes thought so superior. That a home cooked meal is nasty tasting, and restaurant food is much better. (To me, that just means whomever was in charge of food in your house just wasn't a very good cook.) And now, there is a growing movement to go back to those ways. And to reinvent them.

Even the online definitions do not really touch on what homesteading is.  Wikipedia calls it subsistence living. Subsistence living? Barely enough to keep yourselves fed, clothed, housed?  Not how I see those who are calling themselves homesteaders on the various blogs and facebook pages I read and follow.  Many of them are growing their on food, raising livestock, canning foods, have an abundance and are running their own home businesses to supplement their incomes. Some of them have home businesses that are their main, and very successful, incomes.  So that's not a fitting definition.

Sustainable living seems slightly better defined. An attempt to reduce their use of goods, to reduce their impact on the planet and society, to live within their personal means, whatever they may be. When I ask fellow bloggers and facebookers, this seems the consensus.  But it was hard worked for definition, for many people it took quite a bit of thought.

I think my goal will be to make the buzz words have meaning. I'm going to do my best.

I'm out of steam.  Any suggestions for my rambling thoughts here are appreciated.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Disenchantment: Food and People Related

I've been disenchanted all day. It really started yesterday,when I got home from physical therapy (messed up my elbow some) and daughter presented me with a pumpkin, as I had asked her for. She proceeded to tell me about how she gone to a certain big box store and there were 10 of those large pumpkin display bins full, all rotting.  She had to dig through to find this one, and when she took it inside, they told her to take it free.

Now free is good, but I am upset that in a smallish community like this one, with other small communities nearby that have a number of people in financial need, they just let this perfectly good food source rot away in front of their store. What? I'm just baffled. What a colossal waste.  I'm highly disgusted by that.

And then, I was talking about pumpkins on my Facebook page  - and this is a minor one - a friend posted about how normal pumpkins are icky and only the baking ones are edible.  I wandered the internet and canning sites, and found this is a common misconception, and no one could be clear as to why - several said this was just something they had heard, but had never tested it out.  Ignorance being passed on as fact - cause that is how people will take it. I have, from first hand experience, had wonderful success cooking up carving pumpkins.  They taste just as good as a baking pumpkin. But that's a side thing.

Then, I made the mistake of getting on the internet this morning. On one of my favorite pages about canning and prepping, a woman shared her son's experience with a high school science teacher who told the class that home canned foods cause cancer.  This is a mindblowing lie.  The kid was great, apparently - he stood up to the teacher yesterday and told her in nicer words that she was full of crap, and today got her to concede that home canned foods could be healthy for you.  But WHY would you tell people that stuff?

As that thread continued, another woman talked about how people won't eat the fruit off their own fruit trees, because apples from the store are better for you. And another talked about people she knows who have chickens -those people will not eat the eggs; they keep them on the table in a bowl for decoration.  Mindblowing waste.

And, of course, as these things will, someone just HAD to go and blame it on "liberals" and messed up teachers. I pointed out - politely - that the term "liberal education" actually means to teach children to become critical and independent thinkers.  And, of course, my having A: a college education and B. knowing the difference between liberal as an insult and liberal education means I too am a dirty liberal who does nothing but spread lies and be in general a horrible person. I was accused of being a troll, because educated people would NEVER want to learn more about canning, or eating or healthily or any of that stuff. (Those who know me are laughing right now.)  I told her I would go tell my chickens and canning jars that they could no longer live here cause they were much too conservative for me, and apologized to the page owner and used the lovely block feature Facebook has - I will never again be bothered by that hate spewing person.

And to top it off, another page I follow posted this message from a woman about how she was going to let her infant go without food until morning, because she ran out of formula and breastfeeding is so horrible and will likely kill her baby if she did it.  I know I'm saying that wrong  - I'm inclined to go find the actual wording... Be right back.

Ahh, here it is "It's times like these that tempt a woman to breastfeed, and I can see how women cold be fooled.  Yes it is easier and cheaper,but it is not more healthy and most certainly not normal as so many claim."

That sound you heard? My head just exploded.  What in the deepest hells is wrong with all of these people mentioned above? Misinformation in the schools, people allowing food to rot away in their yards and in the stores, people who think for themselves are the cause of ALL problems in this country, and allowing an infant to go without food for over 12 hours because someone is too misinformed (and a poor planner) about what is good for the baby and what is not?

And people wonder why some days I really want nothing else to do with other people.

Seriously - why is all this misinformation and outright hate accepted so much as a fact by people?  WHY is it still allowed for such a large disconnect between food sources and human knowledge to still exist?  All the people who get upset at hunters when they can get perfectly good meat at the grocery store, or who still tell their kids that vegetables are bad, or believe that anyone who does know something  clearly hates this country.  How did we get here?

I get that it is hard, for example, a kid growing up in NYC or LA to go see a cow being milked, or collect eggs freshly laid by a chicken.  I get that in certain areas of the country, people are hyper conservative and like it that way.  Well, folks, I am a lot more conservative than people think.  And yet, I am also for the facts of the situation. I'm for the facts in history; I haven't believed in the 1st grade representation of the Pilgrims or Columbus for decades - basically, not long after 1st grade, actually.  Blame my parents for teaching me to read so early, and instilling a love of learning in me.

I'm just ranting here, and I'm just baffled - as I always am - at the level of purposeful ignorance out there in the world. Note, when I rant, I'm not claiming a level of perfection.  I have wasted food by burning it, and yeah, sometimes there are leftovers in the fridge that got shoved to the back and molded instead of getting eaten. But that is not 10 bins of pumpkins, nor a tree full of fruit, or a bowl of apples.

I just...yeah.  I'm done.  My elbow hurts, my brain hurts trying to see the logic in any of this.  I'll get back to regular things tomorrow - I've got more tomatoes to can, some apples, and that pumpkin - mmmm, pumpkin butter!

I'm going to eat some homemade pumpkin cookies and go to bed. Sleep sweetly, everyone.

And why not – here’s a picture of my one chicken – Crow – who thinks that somehow, the top of this table is for laying eggs on.  It’s why the sheet is there; she’s not the only one. The eggs roll off the table otherwise.

What? Me, laying an egg? No, no - I was just checking your kindling supply!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Work Trips: A Random Ghost Town

On one of my work trips, I sidetracked by a few miles, as a just because. And along the way, I found not one, but two old townsites.  I also found a house with a cool surprise out front, but I'll get to that.

I have looked all over the maps, both online and in the public library - specifically maps made back in the 1880s through 1900s when the towns were likely built, and no luck so far.  Even stage stops had a name, so someday I will find it.

In the meantime - pictures!

First little townsite I found were these cabins and a barn.  The one on the right hand side is still lived in and used, as is the barn, which I discovered when a shaggy horse and burro gazed out at me.  Just a tiny bit up the road from this - and I mean just a tiny bit - is another house of this era, still lived in, but with an awesome display!

This is the house that's on the right hand side in the last picture.

Wagons from several different decades, and at least one carriage as well. A mail wagon,  a hay wagon, farm and freight wagons, all in excellent condition.

Even a horse dawn sleigh.  Awesomely cool.
I headed on further down the road, and the first part of the next townsite I saw was this - a collapsed building.

This townsite was on both sides of the road; nearer to Michigan Creek - the water that runs through the area - all the houses were gone or collapsed, leaving only the cutouts in the rock and soil where the foundations had been.  But on the other side of the road...

 The fist thing you see is this building - clearly a lodge or hotel, likely a stage stop hotel and home.

Then, this cabin and a barn.

Taken going the other direction down the road.

The barn is unique - it has a style of construction not often seen- rough cut boards running one direction, covered by a second set going another direction.

The cabin was/is interesting, in that it had a rather wide door. I wonder if it was not a cabin per say, but rather another barn or carriage house.

Barn and cabin roofs

The most unique building was of course the lodge. It was also in the best condition.

A view from the road.

The front porch, with one of the main entrances.

View from up near the barn. The lodge has some unique construction on the back side, likely added later.

A lot of entrance doors - one to the side here, one on the porch, one further down along the building, and one around the far side.  If this were a stage stop, likely the door on the side and the porch led to the house proper where the stage stop owner and the family lived, though they could have been renting rooms.  The second door along the front could well have been a waiting room - it attaches inside through other doorways; one leads into the house (which could easily be closed and locked) and another to a back room that could have been a lady's lounge area. It also attaches to what was likely the store or summer kitchen, added later. The slope of the roof in the back suggests an added storage shed.

Part of this porch may have even been enclosed at one point.

 Secondary door and likely stage lounges.

Doors to summer kitchen/storage.

Likely a storage room or summer kitchen, added later for weather protection. This section of roof purposefully almost touches the ground; the walls holding it up are solid.

 Main part of the lodge.  The staircase inside was gone, but looking closely at the pictures, there are at least two rooms upstairs, and looking through the windows and doorways, there is a main room at the front of the house,one to the side, one at the back and possibly another room on the other side o the staircase before the lounge rooms.

Shot through the side doorway into the main room; you can see the doorway in to what may have been a lounge area beyond.  Based on how the wall is there, the doorway at one time was likely larger and always open.

Since this is down on the road, it is likely the first carriage house, later a garage.  The tin roof on this building is newer, indicating it was used more recently than the barn and cabin/carriage house on the other side of the lodge.

I would have gotten more pictures, but I was conscious of time and the fact that I was by myself. And sometimes, large empty buildings can get rather creepy when by yourself.  But perhaps this coming spring, we will return, husband and I, and see if I can get some more interior shots (without going in) through the doorways and windows.

And maybe even find out the place's name!