Chickens everywhere

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We put my desk in the dining room next to the French doors that look out over the backyard.  While I sit here trying to think of clever things to write, I can look out and see what kinds of insanity my birds are getting up to.  Half the time they are on the back porch looking in at me, probably trying to figure out why I would just sit there when they so clearly need treats.  We have one that comes in now to lay her egg.  She is a young hen, she just started laying a week ago.  She watched a different chicken come in the house a couple of times and figured it would be worth trying.  So one day, when the door was open because we were carrying something in or carrying something out, she waltzed on in like she had done it a million times.  Whatever beacon guided her there, I don’t know, but this hen sauntered over to the dog crate we have on the outside wall of the kitchen and hopped on top where we keep a cat bed, typically for the cats.  She kicked and wiggled her butt and threw straw around in that bed for a while, then she went outside.  She repeated this the next day.  And the next.  On that third day, she laid a perfect, teeny tiny, brown fairy egg.  That’s what they’re called when they are small and are usually either laid by a hen that is brand new, or starting to get old.  After she left her present for us, she hopped down and wanted back out.  That was 6 eggs ago.  She comes in every day, rain or shine, to lay an egg in that cat bed.  And then she goes right back out.  So we basically get breakfast delivered to our kitchen.

Chickens are funny.  We don’t really know what possessed her to try that out, to even try coming in the house.  The other chicken does it because she knows that’s where people treats are kept and she gets put right back out.  We have another hen, a small brown girl, the same age as the egg in the house chicken, who waits at the door to the coop every night until you come out to close them up.  She wants to talk and talk the whole time you are in there gathering the eggs and getting the coop ready for nighttime.  Then she gets up in her favorite spot and tucks in for bed.  We have chickens that would follow you all over this property, but the minute you acknowledge they are there, start pecking around like they weren’t just following you.  You’re not fooling us, chicken.  We have a chicken, that when you sit down, she gets in your lap and demands to be held.  Not just to sit with you, she wants to be held.  Put down your phone, human or I will put it down for you.

And they’re smarter than people give them credit for.  They learn and they figure stuff out.  If a chicken really wants something, it will find a way to get it.  Even if that something is just a warm, dry place in a kitchen to lay an egg.

 

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We butchered two of the roosters yesterday.  Before you get too emotional for them, our hens are looking a little bald and a little beat up lately.  Poor Sookie even has a hole in her back the size of a nickel.  So we kept the sweetest one and the other two are freezer birds and stock right now.  I will be canning a ton of chicken stock we are getting off of these guys sometime tonight.  Anyway, so I decided I would try to learn how to do the actual processing.  Usually Hubby brings me the whole bird dressed out and cleaned up and all I have to do is separate cuts of meat and put them in baggies.  I decided it’s time for me to learn the process before that.  If you ever decide to raise your own chickens or ducks for meat, let me offer you a tiny piece of advice for butchery day.  Leave your mouth closed.  What kind of crazy advice is that?  Well, you leave your mouth closed so that when the wind kicks up you don’t end up with feathers in your mouth.  Trust me, you don’t want this to happen to you.

I managed to impress my husband with my willingness to learn this part.  I can’t kill them, I am not even close to being there.  And I don’t know if I ever will.  He and I have talked a lot about this part of homesteading and he is willing to do that part of it.  I would like to be able to help him more, and I am learning new things all the time in order to do that.  If he can get the process started and then hand it off to me, that opens up a whole new range of options for what we can get done.  He worked on his blacksmithing yesterday while I worked on the first rooster.  He was nearby to give me pointers and answer questions, but he also got some of his work done.  The more we can do that, the more successful we will be.

Heck, maybe this week he will show me how to use the chainsaw.

Maybe…

Farm Life

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I’m having a hard time focusing.  It’s been this way for a couple of weeks now.  The weather isn’t helping; it feels like spring some days and it looks like spring some days.  The peach tree thinks it’s spring.  And the chickens are more actively free ranging, searching out the tender shoots of grass and ripping them from the cold ground.  But then the winter-like days return for a few days.  It’s maddening.  Not that I am quite ready for the return of warm weather; warm weather means that oppressively hot is just around the corner, and I have a feeling this year is going to be a hot one.  We have so many different things going on right now that I could turn in circles all day and not do anything productive.  But that doesn’t mean that I am getting any relaxing done either.

The pig pen needs to go up, the chicken run needs to be finished, the coop cleaned out, 10 gallons of broth need to be canned so we have room in the freezer for meat, the house could use a good scrubbing, the lawn desperately needs attention, the flower beds need tending, I need to write, I need to take a thousand and one pictures and I need to sketch us some designs for the homestead logo.  In addition to work, and the other every day things that need doing.  We aren’t any busier than usual, honestly, I am just having a hard time finding a thing and sticking with it.  And every day that the weather changes, it makes it worse.

Today I spent some time taking pictures with my chickens and my husband while we walked the property and talked about gardening plans.  I am also working on some of the pictures I took today with new editing software I found.  This is my happy place, honestly.  As I ease back into my home and my routine here, talking shop with my hubby and taking pictures of my chickens, I remember why we live here and not in the city.  I have lived in the city.  And for who I was when I was there, it was fine.  But now, the city makes me high strung and antsy.  It makes me cranky and it makes me unfocused.

But this week I’m going to focus on fixing my scattered.  I’m going to hang with my chickens and take way too many pictures.  I’m going to cook with my hubby and find new recipes.  I’m going to learn more about photography and editing.  And I’m going to forget the hustle and bustle of the big city.  Well, at least until I have to go back to work.

 

 

Keeping Up With the Jones’

I read something the other day that really resonated with me.  Basically, it said that the economy is geared to make us unhappy.  Because if we are unhappy, we buy more stuff.  Unhappy with the way you look?  We have something you can buy for that.  Unhappy with your house?  Redecorate it with this stuff you can buy.  You get the idea.  And we feed into it.  We (pun intended) buy into that way of thinking hook, line and sinker.  We declutter at the beginning of a new year because we have accumulated a lot of stuff that was supposed to make us happy.  We have whole sections of books in libraries and bookstores, whole websites and seminars, and job titles dedicated to the idea of decluttering and organizing all of our stuff.  But does our “stuff” make us happier?  My new coffee maker makes a better cup of coffee than my old beat up one did.  But it takes up twice the room in the kitchen which makes it harder to keep the kitchen clean.  My new comforter looks nice and suits the bedroom better than my old one, but does it keep us warmer?  Now the old one is being stored, which takes up more room in the closet.  I can donate it, or have a yard sale.  I recently took three large boxes of books to the library to donate them.  And then I quickly filled up their spaces on the bookshelves with new books that have been purchased or gifted to us.  As a society, we have so much stuff, that we design houses with storage in mind now.  Bigger closets, bigger kitchens, bigger bathroom cabinets.  At the end of the day, how much bigger does everything have to be to make us happy?  Better yet, when is enough enough?  How many thousands of dollars do we have to spend on Christmas?  Or birthdays?  How much do we need to be like Dudley Dursley to be happy?

Is there a better way?  Do we have to keep up with the Jones or the Kardashians?  Do we absolutely have to have the newest, shiniest, biggest thing?  In addition to everything else I resolved this year, I think I may have to add a late one.  I want to resolve to accumulate less stuff, buy fewer things, and learn to find my happiness in moments, memories and time with my family.  Instead of buying a new kitchen gadget that I might use three times this year, I am going to be present in the moment of kneading bread while my husband preps stews.  Instead of worrying about how new my jeans are, I’m going to focus on the fact that they have paint stains from when we made our master bedroom our own.  Instead of buying piles of new books by the dozens, I am going to read the ones I own that are sitting in stacks around the house, waiting for their worlds to be discovered.

This year, I resolve to find my happiness outside of consuming.  To be present and notice the texture of a moment.  To be aware of sounds and smells that permeate this existence and find my joy in them.  No, I really don’t need a new car, or a new wardrobe, or a new gadget.  I need to enjoy what I have, but more importantly, who I have.  We sometimes forget that it’s the people and the memories that make us happy, not the things.  It’s hard to focus on the moments when our entire world is geared towards reminding us of all the things we don’t have.  And filling us with an urgency to go acquire them.  But at the end, it’s the people that make life memorable.  And it’s the people that make you happy.

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New Year’s Resolutions Folks

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Here it is, 2017!  Welcome New Year!  Some of us are really happy to see you.  We don’t really want to talk too much behind her back, but last year was a little brutal towards some of us.  We lost family, we lost artists we loved from our childhood and we got beaten up, well, a lot.  But here you are!  New Year!  The days are already starting to get longer, the holiday stress is behind us (unless you count trying to get rid of the holiday food from your backside), seed catalogs are in our mailboxes and Resolutions are being made.  Of course I have some, and I am really hoping this year I can keep a couple.  Resolutions that is, not extra pounds.  You know, past February when most resolutions get the boot.  Last year, I had an easy one to keep, “Love More”.  Oh it was what great resolutions are made of; it was lofty, elegant, vague and open ended.  Heck, if I increased the “love” by just 0.5%, I have resolution success!  That could mean 15 minutes one day of being nice to someone.  Woohoo!  We made it!  Good job, pat on the back.

Well this year, I am adding a “plan” to my resolutions.  This should make them more measurable outside the vague cloud of last year’s resolution.  What do I have planned for this year?  What fresh torture am I going to subject myself to?  Starve and exercise until I am my high school weight?  Get rid of all sweeteners?  Or, (ick), go without all carbs?  Nope, not this girl, not that dramatic.  Instead I think I will try to get into better shape.  Vague, right?  That’s why I am adding the plan of a couch to 5k.  Get rid of sweeteners?  No thanks.  I like sugar, and yes I know it’s terrible for me, but I don’t care.  But I am going to get rid of sodas.  I want to grow 100% of one of our vegetables that we eat.  100% of what we use for the entire year, and preserve it so we are eating our own vegetables in winter.  I want to commit to writing more and growing my craft.  If I wrote half as much as I talk, I could have three novels published by now.  I want to put money into the savings, and I have a small amount already set aside each paycheck starting now.  I want to organize the homestead endeavors better.  And to keep up with the danged homestead binder this year.  I want to pay off a student loan this year, and I have already worked it into the budget.

None of this seems that outrageous at this time.  And with the exception of the couch to 5k, I’m pretty sure I can work towards those goals with 5 minutes a day to devote to them.  We have changed some of what we do and how already, but I want to take what progress we’ve already made and build on it.  We don’t change over night, and none of this will be easy every single day.  We went to Lowe’s today to buy some goodies for the house and I asked Hubby if he wanted to split a soda.  He was the wiser of the two of us and said no, we are sticking with this.  But at least he’s in it with me.  And as long as I can change my attitude, I can change anything.

Happy New Year!  May your year be full of love and good food.

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2016, You’re a Bitch

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If this year has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is sacred, not even childhood.  We started off the year losing Alan Rickman, who has been a favorite of mine for a long time.  And as a Harry Potter obsessive, he was the best person they could have chosen to play Snape.  So needless to say, that broke my heart.  Then Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Gene Wilder (screw you 2016!), Robert Vaugh and the list goes on and on.  But seriously, 2016, what was the meaning of you taking Kenny Baker away from us?  Why go after the droid?  What’s your problem?  This year was brutal in celebrity deaths.  It was also a tumultuous disaster year.  Two hurricanes, flooding, mudslides, drought, tornadoes in November and the wildfire in East Tennessee that devastated that area.  2016 would not stick to national news, either; it came after my family.  Well you know what, 2016?  You better really enjoy your last gasps because the end of you is on its way.  And I know plenty of people that will be glad to see you go.  So much negativity in the news can really wear a person down, don’t you think?  And then to come home to your sanctuary and realize that bad news can strike inside the walls of your haven, well, that’s just down right hateful.  It makes for a hard time.  But I have to say, there is always something good that comes along and reminds us that all is not lost, very much like the rainbow after a bad storm.  If that storm decimated your environment, stole your water, killed off some of your favorite famous people and family, and oh yeah, did I mention?  Killed a chicken.  Man that rainbow is a little more muted this year.  Instead of vibrant colors, it’s closer to shades of mauve.

How do we combat this?  How do we recover?  It’s not easy, and it’s not straightforward either.  There’s a saying, tough times make tough people.  I guess that’s true, but you could also say tough times break tough people.  I know, I know, I’m a ray of sunshine right now.  But I want to share with you something that happened not that long ago that made some of this go away.  A friend of mine is a born and bred city girl.  And she told me recently that for the first time ever she is going to be moving into a house with a lawn that she intends to grow food on.  And what makes this conversation special is she told me that through what I do and what I share with her, it made her get excited about learning how to do those things.  Will she have 22 chickens?  Maybe not, but maybe.  Maybe she finds out how amazing and rewarding growing tomatoes can be, so she tries something else, then something else, then something else until she is living just outside of town on a couple of acres of ground with some chickens in the backyard, gardening her little heart out.  Or maybe she sticks to her backyard garden in town and enjoys giving fresh tomatoes to friends and family.  Either way, she was inspired by somebody talking about something they are passionate about.  Why can’t that be what we all plan for 2017?  Let’s all strive to enrich someone else’s life, because I can guarantee you that through that effort, our own lives are enriched.  When you lift up others and share your passion with them, you are healing part of you, too.  It’s our response to adversity that makes or breaks us and it’s our response to those around us that either pulls them up or knocks them down another rung.  I didn’t say, well I guess you could grow something in the city, but that’s such a small goal, and a lot of work; instead I went with, do you know how much food you can grow on 1/4 acre?  You could feed yourself for a year and then some!

This has been a beast of a year.  Let’s make 2017 something amazing.  Let’s make 2017 a year for inspiring others, not tearing each other down.  I for one am going to keep trying new things and failing and crying and getting back up and dusting off my kitchen apron.  And just maybe I can convince some of you to try something new with me this year.

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The Homestead Wasn’t Built In A Day

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The weather is weird for November; I want to close the windows not because it’s cold but because I want to turn on the AC.  The tomato plants are producing better right now than they did all the way through the conventional tomato season.  The winter squash are growing fine, but I worry that the lack of chill in the air might make them not as sweet.  The change in daylight hours has made the chickens lazy; they are laying less.  This is a seasonal thing, it happens every year when it gets darker earlier, and the only way to combat that is to put a light in the coop.  We are currently discussing it.  So what better way to make ourselves feel good about our progress (or make us feel guilty about our lack thereof) than to sit and listen to the Mother Earth News online Homesteading Summit?  We couldn’t think of one either.  As we sit and listen to presentations by legends like Joel Salatin and John Kohler, and so many others, we are finding ourselves in each of the stories about how things didn’t always go well, and what it taught them.  We are laughing along with the woman who struggled with fencing to keep her goats in at the same time that we are figuring out poultry fencing.  We are learning what happened to our original tomato harvest and why the tomatoes didn’t make much fruit while listening to a guy talk about compost.  This has genuinely been a good couple of days of presentations to listen to.  And it makes it easier to understand in a practical way instead of a theoretical way as we are in many of the situations being discussed right now.  Instead of taking notes and thinking about how this will change the way we do things a few months down the road, we are putting the techniques in place now, and hoping to see results in the coming year.

The thing about this whole homesteading thing is, even if you’ve done it for years, there is always something new to learn.  And the moment you think you know everything, your homestead or your farm or your garden will find a way to prove you wrong.  So far we have been lucky; we haven’t had any major catastrophes take out our entire flock of chickens, or decimate the garden.  But we also have had some hard lessons learned.  For one thing, putting a bleeding chicken in the bathroom so you can clean her up and try to save her comb is a bad idea.  Thankfully we were planning on redoing that bathroom anyway.  But in all seriousness, we have frequently had something throw a kink in our plans and drive us off the road we had plotted for the day, week or even month.  We planned to finish securing the fencing on the duck yard yesterday; instead we spend a lot of time in the kitchen processing a mean rooster.  Had he not attacked me, the duck yard might be crossed off the to do list.  As it is, we are hoping to finish up tomorrow.  Then it’s back to work on the chicken yard expansion, starting the pig yard, we still have floors that need to be put down in two bedrooms, the garden to prep for next year, trees to cut down and cut up, and the list goes on.  But as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a homestead.  I’m going to put another load of laundry in and turn on another presentation.

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Hashbrown Casserole Potato Cakes

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I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but man, I have been on a roll lately.  I am a cooking machine!  I have been trying to make sure my husband stays fed because he’s one of those that when he gets busy, he slams a couple cups of coffee, chews up a Tums and calls it dinner.  So when I can I have been making sure he eats.  A few days ago, we made a hashbrown casserole.  It was good and crunchy, looked amazing, but when it came out of the oven, we had done something a little wrong; it was layered instead of all incorporated, more like a lasagna than a casserole.  While the flavor was excellent, the texture wasn’t quite what we wanted, so we put the whole pan in the fridge and forgot about it.  Flash forward to tonight, I’m making my Panko-Parmesan crusted chicken nuggets, some mixed veggies and I spy the casserole still hanging out in the fridge.  My little lightbulb goes on, and I dig it out.  Everything was there, except something to bind it.  I added two eggs fresh from the backyard courtesy of my girls and mashed it all together.  I ended up with an almost batter that had some crunchy bits in it.  So I patted them out into cakes, and put them in a hot skillet.  Brown on both sides and heat through, and you have yourself a Hashbrown Casserole Potato Cake.  Delish!  And they went well with our meal.

I can’t possibly be the first person to think of this, but when they came out so great, I was awfully proud of myself.  I have had a couple of good ideas lately.  Not to toot my own horn, seriously, because when it comes to meal planning I am as predictable as a Lifetime Movie.  Pork chops, potatoes and a green vegetable; chicken, rice and a green vegetable.  You get the idea.  I don’t know if it’s the addition of the Death Wish coffee, or the fact that almost every day for a  week I’ve had an energy drink, which is seriously outside my norm, but I have been sharper and more focused lately.  Who knows.  It doesn’t really matter what has caused the evolution of my cooking, because the end result is that I am expanding my skills and we are both eating well.  Maybe I can keep it up.  But for now, I’ve got to run, while there are still potato cakes left to eat.

Pie oh Pie!

 

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Some of you know that I worked in a pie shop many years ago, and that for a long, long (very long) time I wouldn’t touch a piece of pie if you paid me.  Face it, there is only so much of a thing you can eat every day before it is gross.  So it was a long time before I tried to bake pie again.  Then along came this guy I wanted to impress, so I baked for him.  I don’t remember what kind now, and he swears up and down that I have never baked him a pecan pie, which I don’t think sounds right, but you know what?  He married me, so I guess the attempt to impress him with my mad baking skills worked.  Or he liked me as a person, whatever.  Well this week I was feeling that little bit of chill in the air late at night and you know what that means; time to wreck those summer bodies with holiday goodies.  What better way to do this than to bake a bunch?  Pies, bread, I want to bake it all.  But I stayed calm and baked just a little bit.  So maybe I made four loaves of bread and a pie, but that is totally reasonable.

While I was digging around in the cabinets for spices, I found a container of shortening that I haven’t used in a hot minute.  I switched all my shortening needs over to lard, which ironically is healthier for you than the vegetable shortening.  But I got to thinking- there had to be a reason everybody started buying Crisco instead of lard for their pie crusts, maybe it’s better after all.  So I put it to the test.  Which is better, lard or shortening?  Here’s how they stacked up:

The lard has a higher moisture content right out of the gate; this means you can add less water when making your dough, but it also means that it is stickier and harder to work with at some points.  The shortening is easy to spread and mix into the little pea sized balls they want in the flour, but what they did to it to make it that way is part of the reason it isn’t good for us.  So the shortening was easier to work, but the lard didn’t crack as much when I rolled it out.  It did, however, fall apart when I went to put it in the pie pan.  Here’s where lard outshines shortening- if it falls apart, that’s ok, just squish it back together.  It tolerates that kind of treatment.  The shortening doesn’t like that as much, it’s drier.

So I got my doughs in the pan and my hybrid pumpkin filling into the crusts and then baked away.  Honestly, if it just came down to the taste, lard is the winner all the way, no question.  It’s flakier, richer and just down right delicious.  If you can tolerate a little more work and schmoozing your crust, lard is the hands down winner.  And it lets us use up even more of the pig in a sustainable way.  If you’re interested, the recipes are below.

Pie Filling:

2 cups cooked down pumpkin, pureed

2 eggs, whisked

2/3 cups packed brown sugar

1 can evaporated milk

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

pinch of nutmeg

Pie Crust:

1 cup AP flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon lard (or shortening)

2-3 tablespoons cold water

  1.  Mix the flour and salt in medium bowl, cut in lard with a pastry blender or two forks.  Sprinkle with cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork until flour is moistened.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Gather pastry into a ball and shape into flattened round on a lightly floured surface.  You can wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes, this will ensure the water has time to absorb and helps the lard chill again, which will make it easier to work.
  4. Roll on lightly floured surface into a circle 2 inches longer than a regular pie plate.  Place in the pie plate and press gently but firmly against the sides.  This is also where lard excels- it handles being torn and smushed back together really well.
  5. Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl until smooth.  Pour into pie crust
  6. Add fancy doo-hickeys, if you prefer.
  7. Bake at 400 for about 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the filling comes out clean.
  8. Enjoy, and you really don’t have to share.
  9. Recipe for the filling was adapted from an AllRecipes post.  Recipe for pie crust adapted from Betty Crocker.

Living Room Brooder

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I have just come home from a busy weekend at work and I am stretched out on the couch, enjoying some down time.  As I’m laying here, about to nod off, the feeling of being watched overwhelms me.  I open my eyes to five ducks staring at me, chins resting on the edges of their brooders.  This is an attempt to alert me to the fact that it has been 1 1/3 hours since they’ve eaten and they are fading away.  Probably not going to make it.  I can try rolling over with my back to them, or closing my eyes, but that will just elicit a cacophony of peeps, chirps, squeaks and whistles as they convey the urgency of their situation.  So I fill their food and water bowls for probably the 1,237th time today.  And since I’m awake now, I might as well make a cup of coffee.  The ducks are aware that the kitchen is where treats come from.  Hubby shook a bag of chocolate chips to prove a point, and they lost it.  He then rewarded this behavior with frozen peas, their favorite.  So why in the world do I have nearly grown ducks in my living room?  A couple of reasons.

First of all, we brood all of our babies in the house.  I’ve talked about this before; it makes them comfortable around us and helps us to handle them calmly.  And as we found out the other day when we had a duck escape out the back door on their way to the temporary yard, they will follow us when they are in new and scary scenarios.  Which makes catching the poor decision makers easier on us and them.

But we also haven’t gotten their duck yard done yet.  Every time we think we have a spare minute to accomplish this task, something comes up.  I have started precepting nurses at work, so I spent a lot of extra time in classes.  My husband currently has 16 knives he is working on, trying to keep up as the orders keep rolling in.  We had to spend a little money we didn’t plan on to purchase a band saw because one of the orders is super special and the chef wanted a saya (think wooden sheath almost).  The cat is almost bald due to licking all of his hair off so we had to take him to the vet.  There is always money being spent on feed and bedding.  So between a budget and time constraints, well, the duck yard has been put on the back burner.

This is not the best scenario, however, and we have this week to fix it.  Then insanity settles in again and the putting off would kick into high gear.  We need to get these ducks out of here.  They don’t have enough room and the house is full of feathers right now because one of them is molting.  Anybody need a down pillow?

I honestly can’t complain about the crazy that is our life right now, because we are up to our ears in projects and jobs and fun stuff that are of our choosing.  There are not a lot of people that can say that.  I am in the process of making my husband’s knife shop a little more organized, so we know what orders he has and what needs priority.  We are planning on pigs in the spring.  We want to set up a farmer’s market booth during the week next year.  My job is continuing to challenge me as a nurse, and now as a teacher to other nurses.  We are both growing and learning in our messy homesteading education.  And there are new and exciting projects that are on the horizon that I am not quite ready to talk about yet.

I’m going to go ahead and get the ducks some more peas, and maybe crash on the couch for 30 minutes while I have time.  We have so much to do, but the rest of our lives to perfect it.

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