Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Do you hear what I hear?

Posted on | March 3, 2017 | 1 Comment

It was time to burn the gourd vines and the honeysuckle off the 8′ tall chain link fence surrounding the garden.  Since that side of the garden faces the neighboring property I let the wildness grow and flourish from spring through summer and even late into winter.  But it has to come down eventually or it starts to pull at the fencing.  So I pulled down the last of the gourds hiding in the brush, careful to leave their stems and a bit of vine intact.  Then I moved them to the other side of the garden and hung them on the fence facing the driveway.  Leaving them there to stay dry and and out of the soil until I was ready to scrub them and use them for crafts.  I was surprised at how many I found lurking in the overgrowth.  And I was also pleasantly surprised at how appealing they looked on the fence.  Kind of natural and funky and arty, silhouetted against the winter trees and blue skies.

That night I enlisted Big in burning down all the leftover vines.  Clearing the fence involves him managing the propane tank and the weed burner while I follow him around with the hose.  We do this after dark so we can see any sparks left behind.  And to keep down the spectators.  Because sometimes it seems like a safe and effective way to remove brush.

And sometimes it seems a little more burney than safe.  Water hose or not.

It does work, though.  Now the neighbors will just have to hope I come down to work on the garden in a bra or at least a pair of garden shorts that don’t have holes in private places until the temperatures warm up and the greenery reclimbs the fence, restoring a bit of privacy.

With that taken care of, I spent the next several days working on the spring garden,  I got a dumptruck of compost and spent an entire day freshening the raised beds.  8 cubic yards of poop spread out one wheelbarrow at a time.  Which sounds horrible except that the compost was right outside the garden gates.  As opposed to all the way up the driveway and in the barnyard, where I usually get my compost.  It wasn’t easy but it was easier.  And sometimes that’s easy enough.

The next day was spent getting the spring garden planted—lettuce, mesclun, chard, kale, spinach, beets, onion, potatoes, peas, and carrots.  I found a particularly genius way to mark the seed beds this year.  I’ve given up on plant markers that get faded or blown away or buried in the dirt.  Once the seeds are in I usually just leave them alone.  When they are grown enough to harvest they are recognizable and that works just fine.  But this year I stole some transplants from the last remaining fall bed.  Which is just barely holding its own against the chickweed.

I pulled up baby spinaches and made a row of them next to the spinach seeds and pulled up baby lettuces and planted a row of them next to the lettuce seeds, etc, etc.  Now I will know exactly what is planted where, even before the seedlings show their little leaves.  Then, because I am not fooled by 80 degree days in February, I covered all the new seed beds with frost proof floating row covers.

The next day was for ripping up all the burned brush and laying down weed control along the fenceline, around the fruit trees, in the asparagus patch, and in the herb beds.  For this I went to our small town newspaper office and collected stacks of free, old newspapers.  Then it was just the matter of spreading papers out, wetting them with the hose, and covering them with straw. And spreading papers out, wetting them with the hose, and covering them with straw.  And spreading papers out, wetting them with the hose, and covering them with straw.  And all that bending and kneeling and standing back up made me long for the easier wheelbarrow and compost day.  But it should make a pretty effective barrier against the blackberry brambles and honeysuckle vines and clumps of Johnsongrass that grow thick against the fence and try to choke out the fruit trees.  One can hope.

Because this is the first year that the peach tree….

and the cherry bushes….

are blooming.  So I hope to keep the weeds down in order to help them out.

But this post isn’t about all the oh-so-exciting-garden-stuff I do on my days off.  Although, it’s true: all that free newspaper is very exciting!

Almost as exciting as all the preying mantis egg cases I found while I was clearing brush.  Last year I hatched 5 egg cases and released the itty bitty mantids into the garden.  I didn’t notice a decrease in the squash bugs and I only saw 2 or 3 adults in the garden later in the season.  But so far I’ve found 11 egg cases.  Not exactly a 54 billion dollar increase in defense spending but a good return on my $8 investment!

But this post is not about all that excitement.  It is actually about those gourds.  Remember those gourds that I hung on the fence?

While the spring sunshine waxed and waned, while temperatures rose to the 80’s and dropped back to the 50’s and rose again, while the spring garden slowly emerged from winter’s detritus, the gourds hung on the fence.  Tapping against the chain link in gentle breezes.  Knocking into each other with sudden gusts.  A random yet distracting backbeat to my efforts.  The sound drew my attention again and again as I worked.  An orienting response that just wouldn’t quit.

Scientists recognized the orienting response as early as the 1800’s but I only really learned about it when I read Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior by Temple Grandin.  Essentially, the orienting response (or orienting reflex) is a being’s response to novel stimulation or change in environment when that stimulation is not aversive or sudden enough to cause a startle or defensive reflex.  The being’s attention is focused on the stimulus, using a variety of the senses to process, identify, or categorize it.  So my ears led my eyes to the sounds that I heard—-the tapping, the knocking—-and my brain told me that it was just the gourds moving in the wind.  Just those gourds again.  Natural, funky, arty gourds.  Just gourds.

Just a normal orienting reflex to a new sound in the garden.

But then something odd happened.  I kept looking.  I kept listening, even when I didn’t look.  It was only a small sound.  Yet I could hear that gentle tapping even above the louder music of the radio playing in the garden.  I heard it over the mockingbird singing in the crepe myrtle, the mourning doves cooing on the telephone line, and the rooster crowing in the barn.  I heard it over closer sounds like the scraping of the shovel, the crackle of the newspapers, the swishing of brush as I pulled it away.

The reason that’s odd is because a repeated stimulus (that is not harmful) usually results in habituation.  Habituation means the stimulus no longer elicits the orienting response—I knew what was causing the noise, I didn’t need to look at the gourds anymore.  I knew the gourds didn’t cause any threat to me—-I didn’t need to listen to them anymore.  And still….

It was that sound.  It was so….familiar?  So reminiscent of….what?

At first it reminded me vaguely of wind chimes.  I have a set of wind chimes that hang off my deck.  My mother-in-law gave them to me years ago and I hung them off the deck so I could enjoy the sound but the kids couldn’t break them get their hands on them.  They are large wind chimes with wide aluminum tubes and a wooden clapper and wind sail.  Like most manufactured wind chimes, my wind chimes can produce recognizable notes and pitch, even though the sounds occur at random intervals.

But regardless of the sounds produced by my wind chimes, its music produces a wealth of memories.  The deck has been the location of almost every playgroup, every coffee klatch, every birthday party, Easter egg hunt, Halloween bash, every gathering of my children’s younger years.  All the while, those chimes jangling in the background.  In a quiet moment by myself on the deck, the wind chimes will strike their chords and I can immediately hear the clamors of my children and still feel their sticky cupcake frosting hands.

Every person can probably relate to the flood of memories attached to a particular sight, sound, or smell.  Scientists have proven that the sensory cortices in our brain don’t just store the information necessary for survival, but emotional meanings of sights, sounds, or smells related to our experiences as well. There are actually locations all over our brain that record and recall sensory memories.  And it felt like those gourds were triggering something in my brain.  My mind was digging for the connection.  Searching…searching….

But the gourds didn’t ring as clear as my wind chimes.  Their sound was muted and solid.  A thunk.  A thud.  A low resonance.  A tap on a wooden door.  A stick run along a fence.  A finger roll on a tabletop.  What was that sound really?  Where had I heard that sound before?

Like most people I’ve heard gourds used as music instruments.  The rattle of maracas or shekere, the cascade of rainsticks or rasps, the thrum of a drum.  But this sound wasn’t that recognizable.  It was something else, something more primitive, less refined.  But….what?  Gourds may be an ancient source of sound but gourds on a chain link fence?  Well, chain link fence wasn’t around until the mid 1800’s so….not so much ancient as industrial.  Maybe it was just that the sound was a disruption in the usual soundscape of my garden.  In a discussion of ecomusicology Jeff Todd Titon noted:

“Although specialists debate finer points, the basic idea of soundscape—it’s a back formation from landscape—has to do with the environment of sounds that surround living beings, and inorganic things too for that matter….So the soundscape is always with people who are hearing, and with all creatures. People are not aware of soundscapes very much. But of course if you think about it, each place has its characteristic sounds—the place that you live, your schoolroom, this building, the hotel where we’re staying—where they’re doing construction, some of you probably heard that. I think we can take some lessons from the natural world. One hundred fifty years ago Henry David Thoreau understood that species in the natural world adapted by more or less carving out a niche in which they could communicate through sound. Of course, sound isn’t the only way through which creatures in the natural world communicate. They do it through sight and smell and touch too. But sound is a very important way: in terms of frequency and timbre—that’s the tone quality that makes a trumpet and a piano playing a note of the same frequency sound different from each other—and in terms of duration and rhythm and silence and so forth, each species carves out its own particular niche in which to communicate with other members of that species. Today we call that the acoustic niche hypothesis.”

Perhaps the garden’s acoustic niche was thrown off by hanging those gourds on the fence.  Maybe that’s why their sounds kept drawing my attention.  Maybe that’s why I couldn’t help but stop and stand, watching them sway in the breeze, feeling their music tapping on my ears.  Because that’s what was happening.  Sound is heard because sound is actually touching you.  Daniel Bernaud Roumain, a violinist, says in The Power of Music by Elena Mannes :

“You know when someone says that a piece of music ‘touched me’ or ‘moved me,’ it’s very literal. The sound of my voice enters your ear canal and it’s moving your eardrum. That’s a very intimate act. I am very literally touching you, and when you speak to me, you are literally touching me. And then we extend that principle to the sound of a violin.”

Or the sound of a gourd on a chain link fence.

The attention-grabbing skill of those gourds on the fence is still a mystery to me.  I still can’t exactly place that sound.  Which makes it just another mystery in the sometimes inscrutable, always magical, place called the garden.

I assume the noise will eventually be absorbed into the soundscape of the garden and I will become habituated to the gourds’ tapping and knocking.  But who knows?  When those gourds are finally pulled off the fence, scrubbed and painted, off to other locations and uses as birds nests or bowls or decor, will I notice their absence?  Research says I will.

“…In the 1950s, another Russian scientist, Eugene Sokolov, systematically studied the OR [orienting response], and the consequences of repeated presentations of novel, but inconsequential events. Sokolov carefully documented what Pavlov had found: With repeated presentations of a novel event the OR becomes weaker and weaker until it no longer occurs. Sokolov termed this gradual decrement in the OR with repeated presentations of a novel stimulus ‘habituation’. You might recognize this as a process called ‘familiarization’. Indeed habituation is simply the process of becoming familiar with the environment around us. So what’s the big deal?? Well, is it true that once we become familiar with things, we no longer ‘pay attention’ to them? Is orienting and habituation really a matter of attracting (or losing) one’s attention…While we are at it, if we come to not even notice inconsequential events, do we no longer perceive them?

Sokolov considered this last question, and made one of his most important discoveries. Let me describe one of his experiments in some general terms. Sokolov presented a novel tone to some of his subjects and recorded an OR. As predicted, with repeated presentations, the OR gradually disappeared. You may not be surprised to find that if he changed the tone (made it higher or lower pitch, for example) the OR reappeared. By the way, he termed the reappearance of the OR due to a change in the stimulus ‘dishabituation’. You may also not be surprised to find that if he made the tone slightly louder dishabituation also occurred. However (here’s the important one) the OR also reappeared if he made the tome softer (less loud).

What’s the big deal??? If one learns that the tone is unimportant and no longer processes it, then how is it that a change can be detected? While we may not consciously process the tone (and it no longer gets our attention) our brain must be processing the tone (albeit at a subconscious level) in order to detect the change. One could imagine a gate-like mechanism that would only allow a different or louder tome through, but this won’t work to explain dishabituation to the softer tone.”

Sound is a tricky thing.  Apparently we are even hearing the things that we don’t hear anymore.  Which makes us almost as magical as the garden.  That’s good.  Because I think I’d like to be the garden when I grow up.  Fattening gourds with the heat of summer.  Sprouting lettuces as crisp as the fall temperatures.  Sheltering egg cases safely through the winter.  Dregs consumed by fire.  Impetuous blossoms bursting forth in a precarious spring.  Maybe then I’ll understand the Morse code those gourds are tapping out on the chain link fence.  Maybe it’s just a message from the next life.  Or the past one.

Can you hear it?

A Little Life.

Posted on | February 22, 2017 | 2 Comments

Last night a patient asked me where I lived and when I answered, she looked at me quizzically.  She repeated the name of my town to her husband and he also looked at me blankly.  I live about 17 miles from them.  In the same county.  Granted they live in the larger, neighboring town—a town with a population of about 60,000 people including the many university students living in a dorm or off-campus apartment.  But, really, 17 miles isn’t that far away.  I had to chuckle to myself.  Because it wasn’t the first time I’ve gotten that blank stare.

I usually volunteer at my friend’s fiber farm each spring during the county’s annual farm tour.  People get out of their cars with backpacks and water bottles, stretch their arms and legs, and ooh and aah at the fields and farm animals.

“It’s so beautiful out here!”  they say.

“I just can’t believe this scenery!”  they say.

“Look at the sheep!”  they say.  (While pointing at the Angora goats.)

Then they sign in at the farm table and I see that they live in the city just outside of the neighboring town.  The city with about 245,000 people.  And about 20 miles away.

It makes me laugh.

I wouldn’t even dream of mentioning the name of my town when I am in the state capital (a whopping 40 miles away) and expect any recognition.

Oh, I realize I live in small town.  I live a little life.

And today was such a great day in my little life in my small town—I got home late from work so The Other Half had to pack the kids’ lunches.

Image result for nelson muntz ha ha

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Are We There Yet?

Posted on | February 19, 2017 | 7 Comments

The most time-consuming part of MegaTrip II is over.  That would be the planning part.  It started last year a couple weeks after we came back from MegaTrip I and I booked reservations in the National Parks.  Which needs to be done almost a year in advance.  Then I started collecting Fodor’s and Frommer’s and Lonely Planet from the used bookstore.  Then I spent hours online with Google Maps and TripAdvisor and Yelp.

But the hardest part isn’t figuring out which path to take and which stops to make along the way.  The hardest part isn’t finding sites and activities that appeal to the interests of 6 very different people.  It isn’t juggling the National Parks pass, Groupon, Yipit, and other discounts to keep down the costs.  It isn’t searching through hotel sites, and VRBO and airbnb.

The hardest part starts now.  The waiting.

Because once you have looked at all the pictures and read all the reviews and have printed your 12 page travel guide—-with mileage and drive time; sites and hikes; restaurants and lodging—-you need to go.  Now.

As a matter of fact, it seems like every minute that you are not on MegaTrip II is a waste of your life.  If it wasn’t for the fact that it takes 6 months of work to afford a MegaTrip, I’d be on the road right now. Read more

Livestock Rotation.

Posted on | February 13, 2017 | 2 Comments

Let’s say your garden needs some new layers of compost in preparation for spring and summer crops.  Ideally, this compost comes from the barnyard, where manure has been mellowing for months.   It’s just waiting for someone to haul it to the garden.

In addition to being a great opportunity for  a 4 hour Shoulder, Back, and Leg Day workout, this is an excellent time to rotate your livestock.

Here how it’s done properly. Read more

And again….

Posted on | January 29, 2017 | 1 Comment

I knew it was coming.  It always does.  The kids were excited.  The Other Half got the generator running.  My dad reminded me that if we ran the generator every month like we were supposed it wouldn’t always be broken when we needed it.  Although he is beginning to give this lecture to Big because he has given up on my generation.

I filled water pitchers in the kitchen for drinking and a water trough outside for toilet water.  Perhaps you associate ‘toilet water’ with eau de toilette or the old fashioned name of perfume.  Nope.  ’Toilet water’ has to do with living in the country with a well pump.  A well pump that only works when the electricity is working.  Figure it out.

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Before I Had Children.

Posted on | January 21, 2017 | 17 Comments

(This is a political post.  Feel free to skip if you can’t handle any more politics.  Don’t get triggered :) )

Before I had children I knew everything. Read more

Dug In.

Posted on | January 6, 2017 | No Comments

Speaking of the New Year, I had some catching up to do on my To Do list.  ”Weed the perennial bed” and “Transplant bushes” had been on the list for all of 2016.  That’s because I meant to do it in the winter of 2016 but I missed my window of opportunity.  I find it best to transplant bushes when they are dormant and there are lots of winter rains to soften the ground.  Ditto with pulling the Johnson grass when it is yellow and weak and its massive roots are in loose saturated soil.   All of that requires cold winter temperatures and winter rains.  We always get the rain but sustained cold temperatures to make the plants dormant are harder to come by.  Either it didn’t get rainy and cold for very long last year or when it was rainy and cold I was hunkered down in front of the woodstove.  Hard to say.  But I’d put my money on the woodstove.

However, 3 days of rain with dropping temperatures meant it was finally time to get it done.  That and the fact that the pampas grass in the front yard had almost swallowed the Knock Out roses.

I knew when I planted those immature roses that they were too close to the fledgling clumps of  pampas grass.  The problem is that I have difficulty following the spacing directions on plants.  Since I rarely buy anything bigger than a 1 gallon pot (and sometimes smaller than that) off the discount rack, the tiny plants look ridiculous spaced 4-5 feet apart.  Plus, plants off the discount rack are already struggling and spindly—if they aren’t planted close together they tend to just get lost in my wild and wooded environment.  Besides, all that spacing requires weeding or mulching between the plants and, people, that ain’t happenin’.  Better to plant them close together and let them help each other shade out the weeds trying to creep between them.

The downside is that if the plants do survive they eventually have to be moved and spaced out properly.  In this case, the roses really weren’t getting quite enough sun for a good bloom anyway.  So I dug them up and moved them down to the garden fence.  Ordinarily I don’t plant tall, bushy plants against the garden fence because I don’t want to shade the vegetables.  But I’ve found roses against the fence help hide the chain link and also let me grown lettuce, spinach, and other shady crops in the first row of the garden much later into the season (even July), by providing a bit of break from summer sun. They should be happy there.

With the roses gone, I decided to go ahead and prune the pampas grass.  I love pampas grass because its appealing even into winter with its feathery plumes.  But I hate cutting down its razor sharp leaves in the spring to help it grow.  Since it was cool and rainy, the pampas was more dull and wilty than usual so I decided to go ahead and take care of a spring trim.  The clumps can be daunting but I just started in with hand clippers, grasping a small bundle of stalks at a time, cutting them, hauling them out, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

My dad has a pair of hedge clippers that are great for this job but that involves a lot of noise and fumes and gasoline.  I was just happy slowly but surely trimming away.  It’s old fashioned, I know, but I find repetitive, mindless work isn’t always as tedious as it is just simple and calming.  Especially listening to the Battle of the Roosters.  My dominant Delaware rooster, Michael, does not generally tolerate crowing from the smaller Silky rooster.  But the Silky had slipped out of the pasture into the front yard as soon as he saw me with the shovel.  Chickens realize quickly that garden tools mean fresh, turned earth which means fresh new bugs, grubs, and worms.  The Silky felt quite safe, shadowing me in the front yard and crowing happily.  Which forced a challenging crow from Michael inside the barn yard, which got a response from the Silky, which got an angry response from Michael, which got another reply from the Silky, which got another from Michael, etc, etc, etc.  Eventually the rooster a few houses down got into the action (which made Michael apoplectic!) and a crowing symphony broke out.

Maybe you hate roosters.  Maybe you hate the thought of pulling that pampas grass out a handful at a time.  But you’d have to laugh if you heard that Silky joyfully crowing up a storm and then ducking under the pampas grass while Michael stormed around the barnyard, hunting for his challenger.  The Silky had a great day…..

and the pampas grass got trimmed.

I headed down the driveway to clip the grasses growing by the road.  I have a variety of pampas and miscanthus planted along the property line with the street.  Once I got down there, though, I remembered that those grasses were over 10 feet tall and 4 feet wide.  So I made a mental note to call my dad about those hedge clippers. ‘Cause old-fashioned is not the same as stupid.

By the road I noticed some more plants that needed new digs.  A lilac bush near the back was clearly being overshadowed by the mock orange and my prickly pear was withering away under the tremendous growth of the Rose of Sharon.

I have always loved prickly pear because it reminds me of my years in Texas.  I have been trying to get a large stand of the cactus established for years, but it grows slower than the bushes and shrubs off the discount rack so it always gets choked out.  I have a long raised garden bed that I have slowly been filling over the years with plants off the discount rack.  I got a discount on a bushel of daylilies one year and they have gradually been naturalizing from from the eastern edge of the bed toward the middle.  On the other end I add perennials as they show up on sale.  I have some salvia and some trailing verbena, some shasta daisies and some ice plants, some yarrow and some guara.  I’ve planted more than that, but sometimes discount plants are too dead to salvage.  And sometimes you plant discount plants, forget you planted them, and don’t water them for weeks.  Those ones die, too.

I keep the section of the bed that is not in use covered with leaf debris to keep down the weeds.  It doesn’t work perfectly but it’s better than nothing and it gives me a place to toss the leaves from the yard when I rake in the fall.  I went to where the guaras ended, pulled back some of the leaves, and dug in the the scruffy survivors of the prickly pear.  The nice thing about cactus is that all you need is one bitty live part in order for it to regrow.  The pieces that look dead and dried up, or soft and slimy, will still grow green cactus sprouts as soon they get a sprinkle of dirt and a splash of sunshine.  So even though this cactus looks rough in its new home, it should do just fine here.

The even better part of prickly pear is that baby cactus sprouts are adorable.  Awwww.

While I was in that garden bed I thought about digging up the cedar trees that are growing in it.  Like I said, the leaf debris is not a perfect mulch and the cedar trees seeded themselves there years ago.  I let them grow because of The Other Half.  He loves cedar trees.  I personally hate cedar trees.  Walk through the woods around here and the snapped off lower branches of a cedar tree are just waiting to poke out your eye.  I picked up a kid once that hurt himself climbing a tree and had a puncture wound in his calf all the way down to the bone.  I knew even before we arrived in the ambulance, that we’d find that kid sitting at the base of a cedar tree.

Yep.  Just as I thought.  Cedar trees might smell nice.  Or make nice fence posts.  But only after you clean off the blood and chunks of flesh.

As luck would have it, my sheep and goats quickly cleared our woods of most of the cedar trees by peeling off the bark so that they died.  The Other Half was miffed and so I have let the little cedars grow in my garden bed.  Eventually he can transplant them somewhere away from the critters.  Which I would have done myself this year, except I do not know where there is any space away from my critters.  So they’re still there.  Better luck next year, cedars.

I did dig up the crowded lilac bush and moved it to the front yard by the rosemary.  There’s not a lot of sunshine in the front yard because there are so many mature oaks.  I actually only planted the rosemary at the base of this tree because I had to prune my rosemary in the herb bed and I couldn’t bear to throw baby rosemary starts away.  I actually expected the rosemary to die.  But it flourished and if that spot gets enough sun for rosemary then it should be fine for the lilac.

This variety of lilac is supposed to get 7-10 feet tall but I’ll keep it trimmed into shape.  Or I won’t and it will eat the rosemary the same way the pampas grass tried to eat the rose bushes.  Or the rosemary will shade out the lilac bush and suck up the little bits of moisture in the ground that the oak doesn’t get and the lilac will quickly wither and die.  Hard to say.  Don’t let people tell you gardening is the for the tender-hearted.  This is practically a rosemary-lilac cage match.

With the prickly pear and the lilac bush gone I had a big open space for weeds to grow.  So I divided up some of my creeping juniper and transplanted the clumps into the space front of the mock orange, the Rose of Sharon, the peegee hydrangea and forsythia.  I planted them close together so that they would fill in quickly.  Also, because planting things close together is my specialty.

With all that digging done there was nothing left to do except weed.  I weeded the leaf debris of everything except the cedar trees, pulled up chickweed from around the perennials, trampled down the dried up stalks of wild ox-eye, and yanked Johnson grass out of the rest of the juniper.  The good news was that I found several preying mantis egg cases in the ox-eye.  I left those sections intact in the hopes that my preying mantis population would continue to increase.  And my squash bugs decrease proportionately.

Which just left that annoying pine tree in the middle of the juniper.

I tried to cut through the stem with the shovel but it refused to yield.  So I had to hike up the driveway to get the tree loppers.  But the worst part of the tree loppers isn’t the trek up the driveway.  The worst part is that once you have the tree loppers and cut down a pine tree, you can’t stop.  You want to cut more stuff.  You need to cut more stuff.  I looked around and settled on the crepe myrtle.  I figured cutting it back would give it more blooms.  And I chose the height to cut to based upon the limbs I could reach without having to go get the stepladder.  Then I cut away.

The first tree wasn’t so bad.

But I might have gotten carried away with the second one.

Good thing I made nice, clean careful cuts.  Kinda.  Sort of.  Eh.

On the way up the driveway I trimmed the peegee hydrangea, the beautyberry, and the weigela that are stuck between the leland cypress.  Those bushes are close to getting squeezed out by the leland cypress but are way too big to transplant.  So I just used a little transplanting hack.  I left some of the longer branches in the front of the bush.  The I roughed up a patch of soil, pulled the long branch down, and pinned it to the soil with a rock.

Seems simple, but it really works.  The branch will root itself and if the back of the bush eventually gets choked out, the front will be an entire new bush, further away from the shade of the leland cypress.  Of course, that’s only if you remember why you put the rock there and don’t throw it in the woods and then mow over the fledgling bush while you’re mowing the lawn.  ’Cause sometimes that happens.  Also, sometimes you just mow over the rock and it tries to take out your eye or tears up the mower blade.  Like the plant’s way of fighting back.  Told you gardening was not for the tender-hearted.

I thought I was finished, but then I remembered that the cold and rain was perfect for the tulip bulbs I had stashed in the drawer of the farm fridge.  I got the bulbs off the sale rack a couple weeks ago so it was a random assortment of color and styles.  But random is good.  And getting Little to help plant all 125 bulbs was even better.

I dug the trench and he put in the bulbs.  The he harvested some lettuce and broccoli while I covered up the bulbs.  Cold and rain makes some beautiful, bright green lettuce and broccoli.

The row of planted bulbs wasn’t  as pretty.  Just a leafy strip of mud, hiding all it’s bright colors for spring.

But all that transplanting and weeding and pruning will be worth it.  Getting everything dug in now should pay off with healthy plants in the spring.  And with the cold getting even colder (a forecast of sleet and snow just a few days away!), I had all my outside work done.  Which still left lots of time for hunkering down in front of the woodstove.  With the last of the chocolate from my stocking and the bottle of Jack Daniels Tennesee Honey that I got for Christmas from a friend.  Oh,…wait a minute!….maybe that’s what happened last year. ;)

2017.

Posted on | January 2, 2017 | 3 Comments

Well that was fun.  Kinda.  Sort of.

The best part of a year that starts off good and then spirals out of control is:

1.  It has to end eventually.

2.  You’re ready for anything by January 1st.

So when I woke after working my New Year’s Eve shift, I wasn’t too surprised to find that I had washed an ink pen in my uniform pants along with Middle’s brand new Christmas wardrobe.  Under Armour and Nike and a Sergio Aguero jersey all smeared with swaths and spots of black ink.

Happy New Year to me.

Luckily, January 1st is also my wedding anniversary so I drowned my sorrows over lunch with The Other Half at Red Lobster.  Free Red Lobster due to the gift card my parents gave us for Christmas.  And by the time I finished, ink removal didn’t seem too impossible.  Because anything seems possible after free lobster. And those cheddar biscuits.

When we got home I started in on the ink removal process.  There are lots of suggestions online.  All of them, of course, suggest that you treat the stain immediately and certainly before putting the clothing in the dryer. Hah!  My ink stains were nicely heated into the fabric by the dryer so the ink stains laughed outloud at a lot of my attempts.  But hairspray did actually loosen the stains so that they could slowly (slowly, slowly, excruciatingly slowly) be dabbed away.  Once I figured out that saturating the stain with hairspray and then holding a clean cloth over it with lots of pressure was the best way to get out the most ink, I set up a work station on the kitchen table.  Spray the stain, put a clean dog towel over, it, cover with a heavy can, let sit for 4 or 5 minutes.  Repeat, using a clean section of dog towel each time.

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Do Better.

Posted on | November 8, 2016 | 2 Comments

So this is what happens when you sell your dairy goats.  When you cut that powerful tether to the farm and cast off into the wide weird world where no one milks twice or day.  Or hurries home from the store in case a doe is kidding.  Or rushes off for dewormer after checking eyes and lips with the FAMACHA charts.  Or doesn’t bother to leave the farm at all because one reeks of buck odor by 6am.

Without a dairy operation to check in on every minute of every day, I didn’t bother with hatching eggs and just let the grown hens wander around under the care of livestock guardian dogs.  If they managed to hide eggs and hatch chicks then they were also responsible for raising them.  I sure as heck wasn’t going to bring in a ram for the ewes when I had already shipped out all my own bucks to other farms for breeding purposes. My last remaining Muscovy duck, at 10 years old, was way too old for fertile eggs so she and her male runner duck companion simply wandered around calmly between the pond and the barn.  If they showed up in the front yard while I happened to be outside I tossed them some dog food out of the container on the deck.  The freezer was way too full of pork to bother raising pigs.  That’s all folks.

Once the dairy goats were gone, I only needed to stroll into the barn once a day.  Just once a day—-morning or afternoon or night or whenever.  Check the waterers, feed the livestock guardian dogs, drop off the chickens’ scraps and pick up their eggs, pull down fresh hay for the sheep.  15 minutes max.  Usually less than 10.  Such a short period of time that it wasn’t enough to hold me to the farm all day.  And I had plenty of time to explore that strange and all-consuming world out there.  You know, the one everyone else is living in.

And…really, people,….what the hell?

I threw a back-to-school party in August and instead of going with just the usual, I tried branching out.  Because I had the time and the energy to do something more, something different.  I actually stood in line at Lowe’s with a bunch of 2X4s and waited patiently for them to make a hundred million cuts in those 2X4s so I could have giant Jenga! game on the deck.  Which I will never use again and that sits there looking at me and that I have to straighten up every time I walk by because, you know, I have time for worrying if the Jenga! pieces are crooked.

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August.

Posted on | August 24, 2016 | 2 Comments

Are you kidding me?  It’s August?  End of August?

I had some suspicion that summer was full on when I went from gleefully eating a tomato sandwich 3 times a day to averting my eyes from the rows of tomatoes slowly starting to rot on the counter.  I should have realized summer was at its peak when every meal involved some combination of bread and veggies from the garden—tomato pie, pesto pizza with roasted peppers, brushetta, eggplant panini.  The Other Half started cooking himself a pound of venison sausage every weekend and nibbling on it throughout the week for a protein fix.  And everyone ranted and raved ecstatically when I made meatball subs one night in an effort to finish off the crockpot full of homemade tomato sauce.

Although in their defense it may not have been the sudden appearance of meat that they appreciated as much as the fact that I made dinner itself.  ’Cause the night before I just sat on the couch with crackers, cream cheese, and a jar of  freshly made hot pepper jelly.  As everyone wandered in looking for dinner, I looked at them blankly and continued to shovel in creamy, sweet, spicy goodness without comment.  And the night before that they came in to find me eating a homemade chocolate cake smeared with coconut pecan frosting (don’t get excited—it was box cake mix and a tub of store frosting).  Which, at least, counts as cooking. Read more

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