30 June 2012

Who Needs A Teddy Bear?

Evelyn's new love are the chickens her grandmother sent home with us.  I don't know what is so fascinating about the poultry but she'll spend literally hours running in the yard with them.  Lily, an Ameraucana hen, has quickly become her favorite.  Ameraucanas are also known as Easter Egg chickens because of the wide range of color of eggs they lay, from green to pink to brown.  To add to Lily's charm, she was also hatched on Easter.

I'd seen Evelyn cuddling Lily abundantly the last few weeks.  She'd lay her on her back and coo at her while Lily conceded defeat and didn't bother putting up a struggle.  I didn't think anything of it until I walked outside and saw Evelyn playing in the gravel patch that was to be our new patio and Lily lay lifeless nearby.  "Oh, great," I cradled my head in my hands, "she's dead."  I was afraid I was going to have to explain to Evelyn (and my mom) why the hen was deceased.  Just then, Lily popped up and walked back over to Evelyn.
Oh, Evelyn and your perpetually dirty face.
She had been training her little hen to lay quietly until Evelyn decided she wanted to go do something else.  I asked Evelyn to show me how just how she did it so she agreed to a video tutorial:

 
Who needs a teddy bear when you've got an Easter Egg hen to cuddle?

28 June 2012

Waffle Iron Hash Browns

If you're making a grandiose breakfast and hash browns are on the menu, this is a great method to get them nice and crispy while you're busy preparing the rest of the meal.
Simply heat your waffle iron, spray it lightly with cooking spray and spread evenly a few cups of frozen hash browns.  Season lightly with pepper and salt if desired.  Close the lid and in about ten to twenty minutes (depending on how crisp you like your hash browns), they'll be ready just in time for your meal!
Enjoy!

27 June 2012

Chicken Claws and Kitty Paws


Monday turned into a whirlwind of a day.  I painted our bedroom.  We fed a dozen farm animals.  Next, we moved pea gravel around the house for the landscaping.  Later in the day, what was supposed to be two additional guests over for dinner ballooned to thirteen.  Thankfully there was plenty of food and it was, as usual, the more the merrier.  And in between class and our dinner party, Jack decided to pour our patio.

When Jack returned home from his two year missionary stint in Mexico, he took a job pouring concrete.  I always knew it would come in handy.  After he formed it, I helped move gravel and tape tarp on the siding and the beloved new air conditioner to protect it from splashing concrete.  Then Jack's cousin came over to help with the pour.  It only took about five minutes for the cement truck to unload and maybe half an hour to spread, level and smooth it.
Then Aloysius, the new rooster, decided to take a stroll across it.
The chickens were all banished to the coop for the remainder of the day.

We enjoyed a hearty picnic dinner and other than the invasion of sap beetles, the atmosphere was quite pleasant.

Then Snickers decided to slink across the wet concrete despite my warming to her.
Everyone yelled a collective, "No!" at her.  She responded accordingly, dashing off the patio and leaving her dainty little footprints behind.
The rest of the evening, Jack sat out back and watched the concrete harden.  Other than the surrounding dirt work and landscaping that needs to be done, we have a gorgeous new patio without any new footprints.

25 June 2012

24 June 2012

We All Miss Him

One of the things I knew I was going to dread coming back to was the absence of RJ.  He died an untimely death just a week after we left for our excursion in Texas.  Claire doesn't remember him and Evie only does vaguely.  To Jack, he was just a nice cat but other than my occasional sadness, the most notable difference are RJ's siblings--Hercules and Snickers.  They don't interact at all the same since RJ has been gone.  The three used to romp and play frequently but now Herc and Snickers barely acknowledge each other.
We all miss him.

Tastes-Fried-But-Isn't Chicken

This recipe is a snap and tastes a lot like fried chicken but--SURPRISE!--it isn't!  The crunchiness is thanks to the cracker crumbs so there's no oil or frying involved and with only seven ingredients that are usually in stock, it's an easy last-minute meal idea.

Ingredients:

4 large or 8 small chicken breasts, thawed
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, coarsely crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup milk
3 cups cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon dried parsley

Place the cheese, milk and cracker crumbs in separate bowls.  Add the salt and pepper to the cracker crumbs.
Dip each piece of chicken into the milk, then the cheese, then the crackers.  You may have to press firmly to get the cheese and crackers to stick.  Place chicken in a greased or foil-lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with parsley flakes.
Bake at 350F under an aluminum foil cover for about twenty minutes.  Remove foil and bake for another ten minutes or so, until chicken is thoroughly cooked and crackers are browned.
Enjoy!

Recipe modified from Jamie Cooks It Up!

22 June 2012

We Are Country Folk

Though I technically grew up in the city and Jack spent his childhood in them, we are country folk.  Definitely.  I couldn't help but chuckle at a comment the renters emailed me after their short stint in our home.  Basically, he said his wife had been cured of any romantic notions about rural living.  While I'll be the first to admit the hardships that we've faced from mountainous snow drifts to gale-force winds and deafening thunder to intense, humid heat on top of caring for occasionally ornery animals in a less-than-perfect home, for us, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

On the summer solstice, I wandered outside to watch the sun glide behind the horizon.  The family of bats were already swooping about, the horses and sheep curiously pricked their ears towards me and a few fireflies flashed lazily.  Those are our evenings more often than not.

Popped Wheat

Jack and I have wheat as part of our food storage, packed airtight in white, lidded buckets.  Usually, we just use it to grind into whole wheat flour for our bread baking but Jack's family has been making this as a healthy treat for years.

Ingredients:

1 cup whole wheat kernels
1/4 cup oil
Salt and/or pepper to taste
Combine the wheat and oil in a pan over medium high heat.  Stir frequently while the wheat pops and continues to cook to a golden brown.  Dash with salt and/or pepper to desired taste (you can also try any other flavorings available for popcorn such as ranch, barbecue or cheese powder sprinkled over your popped wheat).
Enjoy!

21 June 2012

Back To Normal

It's coming up on a month since we've returned from Texas.  Picnics are once again a regular occurrence.  There are horses, chickens, sheep, cats and wildlife at every turn.  The weeds in the pasture are being subdued.  The lawn looks like a lawn again, instead of a tall grass prairie.
Entertainment is always just outside our door.  We sit down every evening, exhausted but satisfied by the hard work.  We're surrounded by corn and the sap beetles are incredibly populous this year.
The cats are content we're home.  They're no longer feral and come when they're called.  At least when they feel like it.
We all get ample amounts of Vitamin D straight from the sunlight and are getting all sorts of bizarre tan lines.  Baths occur much more regularly.  How could they not with the number of animals we touch and how hard we work and play all day?
I have been the recipient of multiple wildflower bouquets.  The latest from the girls consisted of white clover, milkweed and catnip.  Home improvements and renovations are in full swing.  I've had a few meltdowns wondering how we're going to pay for everything and have already seen a few miracles that make me reflect on why I ever doubt.
Everything is definitely getting back to normal.

20 June 2012

The Cow Whisperers

We don't have a lot of neighbors around but fortunately the ones we do have are pretty awesome.  A young couple lives just across the road and lucky for us, shares our enthusiasm for animals and agriculture.  We frequently exchange favors when we're out of town because let's be honest, finding a babysitter to come over and feed your horses, sheep, cows or chickens isn't quite as simple as it is for a dog or cat.
The girls are always more than eager to come help do the chores and in the morning, we make the rounds to all the animals.  This week we've been taking care of the neighbor's place which is always fun since we don't have any cows of our own.
Their current set of cattle aren't quite as friendly as the last few they've had.  They weren't interacted with as closely as calves and still are a bit wary of humans as they've grown larger.

Enter the cow whisperers.

Like me, the girls are rarely content to just look at an animal.  Part of the experience is to be able to make physical contact with the creature, though that sometimes goes awry.  Though the bullocks were a bit standoffish at first, they eventually warmed up to the girls who somehow knew just how to invite them over.  They grabbed tiny fistfuls of food and dropped their gaze so as not to make eye contact with the cattle.  It didn't take long for them to win them over.
Once they realized Claire wasn't very threatening and she was standing next to their meal, they were alright with letting her touch their fuzzy muzzles.
Someday I'd love to have a cow or two of my own especially knowing the girls are naturals with bovines.

19 June 2012

Naughty Snake

I have always been fascinated by snakes.  While most people cringe at the thought of letting one wrap its smooth, scaly body around their fingers, I find it rather interesting.  Garter snakes are probably my favorite because of their striking design and the fact that they're a fairly friendly, non-venomous type.

I've read before that children are most likely to glean their own fears from what their mothers fear.  If a mother climbs up on the table and screams when a spider darts across the floor, it wouldn't be surprising if later in life, her children did the same.  As for snakes?  Well, we love snakes.
Last year we didn't spot many garter snakes and if we did, they were always too quick to escape.  Imagine my surprise when one slithered frantically by in the short grass as we returned from feeding the horses.  He knew he'd made a mistake being out in the wide open because there were no trees or bushes or holes to escape to.  I reached down and grabbed him and though he tried to put up a fuss, realized he was caught.

He was sure one feisty garter snake.  He wriggled and writhed and when it didn't work, latched on to my finger.  Garter snakes do have teeth to help them pull down their meals and though I'm sure he was giving it his all, he had the biting force of a cotton puff.
Evelyn and Claire naturally squealed with delight and giggled as they ran their fingers down his smooth back.  After a few minutes of playing with the snake, I announced I was going to release him and asked if Evelyn wanted to hold him.  She reached out her hands and was doing her best to be gentle with the delicate creature.
It was all chuckles and grins until the snake decided to try again a previously unsuccessful tactic:
Claire had already lost interested and was trying to lure the cats out through the kitty door.
That garter snake seemed convinced he was a rattle snake.  He struck quickly but Evelyn reacted just as fast.  She shrieked her surprise and I caught the snake as she dropped him.
She cried in shock that her new friend would do something so unkind to her.  We talked a minute about it and when I asked whether or not she'd hold a snake again, she contemplated and said, "Only the good snakes.  Not the naughty ones."  I don't know that I'll be able to tell the difference when we come across the next snake, but I'm sure she'll tell me.

18 June 2012

Cream Cheese Fruit Dip

This is a slightly sweet, creamy dip for any kind of fruit you may be craving.

Ingredients:

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
12 oz whipped topping, thawed
1 teaspoon vanilla
Blend the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together until smooth.  Fold in the whipped topping.  Chill and served with fresh, cut fruit.
Enjoy!

17 June 2012

Magnus' Dream Job

He was just a baby when he came to us.
Magnus loves to headbutt things.  The fence, rocks, unsuspecting shins, hollyhocks, trees, passing cars within his reach, the neighbor's dogs . . . he isn't picky.  He used to challenge his twin brother to playful duels but after Cardigan's untimely death, he turned to other sources for entertainment.

He wasn't always as quick to ram things as he is now.  Magnus and Evelyn used to be best friends.  See?
But, just like people, animals grow up too.  Ramming is a normal part of life for a maturing young Shetland buck.  Sometimes it absolutely is meant aggressively but more often than not, it's for fun or to say, "Hey," though it's usually too hard for people's legs.  I got the brunt of an amiable swipe once after Magnus really learned to hook with his horns and it took months for my shin not to be tender.

After our return, Magnus spent much of his time harnessed on a line to eat down the weeds where we needed him to.  The girls, my mother and I went out to feed the horses early one morning and Evie came running to catch up after checking on her beloved hens.  I turned my back for a moment and she stepped just within Magnus' reach.  The next thing she knew, she'd been knocked to the ground and Magnus was well aware he was in trouble.  Though he'd meant his gesture to be friendly, it was a tad too rough.  He took two steps back while Evelyn sobbed.
I put up an ad for Magnus and a few days later I was contacted by a man interested in buying him for breeding.  Though he's considered livestock and agricultural animals change hands all the time, all of a sudden, I felt conflicted..  Each pet I've ever owned lived a long, happy life and were eventually buried with great tenderness when the time came.  Magnus was the first I'd ever put up for sale.

I told my mother of my doubts when she reminded me of Evelyn's last encounter with Magnus.  I joked that it seemed to be a right of passage for farm kids to be knocked down a time or two by a ram.  My mom wasn't amused.
"I'm almost sad to see you go," I lied as he was loaded into the back of the man's truck.  Watching him drive away, I didn't bother to slow my tears.  I was terribly upset to see him go.  Jack grabbed my hand and said he didn't know why but he was a bit distraught because he'd gotten quite attached to Magnus too.  When he wasn't being a dork and trying his hardest to escape, he was pretty entertaining and useful.
The happy part of the story is that at least Magnus went to his dream job.  Instead of becoming another person's lawn ornament or weed eater or worse, someone's dinner, he gets to run with ten beautiful ewes, some Shetland like him and the rest Dorsets.  I count it an incredible blessing that he went to a great home.
I just hope there's something there for him to headbutt.

16 June 2012

Cinnamon Berry Salad

Come summertime with the ever-present heat, salads sound more and more appealing.  This one is easy to whip up and is slightly sweet, complimenting the taste of the veggies.  It's a beautiful side to any dish or if you add some grilled chicken or sliced steak, it can be a meal in itself.

Ingredients:
Romain and iceberg lettuce, chopped
Carrots, shredded
Red cabbage, shredded
Strawberries, sliced
Blueberries
Dash of cinnamon sugar and nutmeg
Salad dressing
Croutons (optional)

Toss together the veggies, top with the fruit, sprinkle over the cinnamon and nutmeg and drizzle with the salad dressing of your choice.
Enjoy!

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