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Seedling Time!

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I’m so excited! It’s time to start my first batch of seedlings for the year! If you’re like me, you’re probably getting excited, too! This year I’m moving my seedling nursery to the basement to keep the peace in the family. I usually take over the sun porch, which is everyone’s favorite room in the house. Once I get in there and start growing things, the room smells like old garlic and organic fertilizers. And of course, there are dirt and flats of plants in various stages everywhere, along with rogue tools and other accoutrements.  At that point it’s usually difficult to make your way to the seating, and it’s impossible to enjoy it if you manage to actually get there! LOL!

It’s bad enough that I like to do my garden planning out here, and as I type, my catalogs, graph paper, pencils, seed packets, etc. are strewn about the place anyway…

I’m doing something a little different this year. The garden has been a real challenge the last few years. Life’s been messy. We are gone for days at a time so frequently that it’s hard to keep on top of the harvest, and you can just about forget doing any long term storage that takes more than ten minutes. Pretty much everything we don’t eat fresh gets thrown in the freezer or fed to the animals. Sad, but true.

I’ve always said if I could only grow one thing … it would be flowers. I love my flower gardens. As I was thinking about the harvest problem, I got this brilliant idea that I would keep the veggies to a minimum this year — just enough for fresh eating and fall pumpkins — and concentrate on cut flowers. I’ve never stepped outside the realm of cottage gardens and landscaping. So this is an experiment kind of year. Ha ha ha! Okay, okay. If you know me, you know that every year is an experiment kind of year. But this is a *different* experiment kind of year.

I’ve already sown some asclepius (Butterfly Weed/Pleurisy Root) and they are stratifying right now. I’ll bring them in later this week to germinate. Wait. What’s stratifying?!!! I know, right? I’ve been gardening in some form or another for twenty years and I’ve never heard that before. It means pre-chilling them to aid in germination. That’s different from scarifying, which more of us have heard of – where you nick the seed to help it germinate better. Nope. This is a different thing altogether. From what I can tell, there aren’t a whole lot of plants that need stratifying, but this variety of flower does. So … we learn something new.

And here’s something else new — and cool! My friend Elizabeth is a fellow garden experimenter. When she throws herself into something, she throws herself about 175% into it! She and I are both setting up our grow-light stands now and we’re comparing. I don’t expect to have more than three or four flats total (probably!), but she’s going to have more than that. After I proudly hung my new light fixture, I sent her my tidy little picture of the shelf in the basement that I commandeered next to my potting bench.

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I put two flats on it, on top of two germination mats. If I need more space, I told her, I’ll add a light to the shelf above it. Cute, huh? Ahem.

She’s like, duh, you’re wasting space. Actually she didn’t say that, and probably didn’t even think it, but I would have! LOL! And it’s true. There’s a lot of wasted space there! I like her idea tons better.

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She sent me her pictures. Turn the flats sideways and hang two grow lights above the shelf. Now you can fit four flats in the space you were taking up with two. I can see that, because of the width of them, I can actually fit five flats on my shelves if I make some simple tinfoil reflectors for each end.

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Happy seed starting!!!

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Aspendale Farm Update ~ July 2015: Garden Fence Rebuild!

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It is shaping up to be a pretty nice summer here at Aspendale Farm! The last two years we’ve been a bit quiet — preoccupied with family matters, keeping up with my expanded responsibilities as an editor, and just trying to keep up with an altogether overwhelming schedule.

Although I definitely planted a few things last year and took a swipe at keeping the farm running, a lot went un-tended — or under-tended, anyway. This year I’m paying for it a bit. My orchard got a little out of hand and I’ve developed a few troubles here and there among different crops throughout the farm. But this year has afforded me a better opportunity to clean things up and to spend enough time keeping my sanity out in my garden. LOL! That’s what gardening is for me … it’s a sanity-saver. How about you? When I’m tense or overworked or grumpy, often the best remedy is to get outside, and it’s a doubly-good remedy when I can pull a few weeds or maybe spend some time hand-watering. I don’t quite know why I find that so relaxing… I deplored weeding as a kid!

Although early spring of this year was really too busy for me to do much at all in the garden — I didn’t plant anything until June 1 — I love that succession planting and season-extension affords me an opportunity to get some things in that I would have completely missed otherwise … spinach, carrots, peas, lettuce — if we’re lucky (and I can do a good job covering them when the first frosts hit) we’ll get a few pumpkins to ripen.

So this year I’ve focused on catching up with the things I’ve fallen behind on. My garden fence finally just gave up the ghost this spring. We built it in 2008 or 2009. Not too bad considering that even then we considered it a temporary fence at the time and didn’t expect it to last more than two to three years! So six- or seven-ish years later the sapling posts we had cut from our woods had finally disintegrated so much there were barely half a dozen wooden sapling posts left standing. Those probably were the newer posts we had replaced as some of the originals rotted away in prior years. We’d also mix-and-matched various other posts as the sapling posts rotted away — t-posts, step-in fiberglass electric braid fence-posts. It was not pretty! LOL!

You can see the jumbled mix of wooden posts (foreground) with the step-in posts, and t-posts we replaced the posts made from saplings that had rotted off at ground level. And the chicken wire was pretty unkempt, too!

You can see the jumbled mix of wooden posts (foreground) with the step-in posts, and t-posts we replaced the posts made from saplings that had rotted off at ground level. And the chicken wire was pretty unkempt, too!

The old fence was truly a wreck, but it did the job — keeping the chickens out. Oddly, those are the only critters I really need to worry about getting into my garden. The deer seem to ignore it, we never have rabbit trouble, and nothing short of solid steel walls and concrete foundation will keep the raccoons out… so I just don’t plant corn anymore and they don’t give me trouble. But once the fence actually fell over this spring, there was nothing I could do short of rebuilding the whole fence.

Although the two-foot-high chicken wire was still perfectly intact, it was definitely saggy and misshapen. The bottom six inches had gotten rusty, and this seemed the perfect opportunity for me to add something I’ve always wanted to my landscape … a white picket fence!

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My youngest daughter helped me shop for supplies and she and I got started removing a section of the old fence at the back of the garden. She has been as excited about a white picket fence as I! After clearing away that first section of fencing and the posts, we dug the two back corner posts into the ground before her twelve-year-old self was tired of the project for the time, and we were both pretty hot and sweaty. It was a good start but we had to wait a couple weeks before we could get back to it on account of a two-week vacation at the lake with some of our extended family. Vacation was great! But the poor fence sat, undone, waiting for us to return.

When we got back, I recruited the help of the other kids and it did go faster having two extra helpers. We would go out and work for half an hour in the morning before the sun got hot, and while the shade still covered the garden, making it much more pleasant to work there. We pretty much built a quarter of the fencing each morning. We’d dig in the 4×4 corner/brace posts and drive in two or three sharpened 2×2 posts in between each 4×4 post, doing one section each day. The side of the hay barn was the north boundary and didn’t need any work. This was a nice way to work and keep making progress!

The last day I let the kids help install the posts and screw the pickets to the posts, but I had to head into the machine shed and figure out the garden gate on my own. I didn’t have a plan I was working from, but I know enough about building and how gates work that with some measuring and cutting and fitting things together and eventually that afternoon, I had a gate.

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I love the new fence! Funny how something like that can double the pleasure of working in the garden for me, but it truly has. Instead of stepping over, or fighting with, the makeshift old gate, I happily swing the new one open and shut and latch it and relatch it! LOL! Like a kid with a new toy.

We have yet to install a new birdhouse on the tall corner post. We built around the old one, as there is a family of chickadees who haven’t quite finished with the old one yet. It’s beginning to lose pieces here and there, so a new birdhouse is definitely in order. Too bad, as we really like the old one quite well.

Like a kid with a new toy...!

Like a kid with a new toy…!

So … only one more month of summer left. I’m a good bit of the way through the school planning for the kids for this coming year, but I’m not ready to think about getting back into fall. I’m insatiably soaking in every warm, summery day. Hopefully by the time autumn does hit, I’ll have filled up my store of sunshine and warmth to make it through another Northern Michigan winter!

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Help for Empty Nest Syndrome

Goodness it’s been awhile since I’ve added anything here! Sorry about that! Frankly, I haven’t had much that I felt was worth sharing for quite some time. I’ll catch up briefly at the bottom of my post, but I want to cut to the chase for those who just want the nitty-gritty!

When my oldest son left for college in the fall of 2013, I admit to being devastated! I knew the structure of our family was changing. Permanently. Even if he came home for vacations, the dynamics would never be the same, and truthfully, I knew it was only a matter of time before he was gone for good, and the next child would leave home, too. The words themselves, the idea of kids leaving home, seem so … distant, I guess. Until you experience it directly for yourself. For some of us, it can be like a death in a way. Others handle it far differently. My husband, for instance, was thrilled to get this kid out of the house and on his own. He was too old and too young all at the same time. He was messy and full of teenage hormones that made him emotionally unpredictable, and took over most of his useful brain cells. All his Dad could see was this was a good thing! Others thought there was something wrong with me when I expressed sadness. They thought I should be happy for him. I was! I was happy for him, but grieving for me.

Mentally, I knew it was a good thing. I was super-excited for this new adventure my son was embarking on. I knew I’d done my job and he was ready. I knew college would be interesting and exciting and open him up to all kinds of ideas and inspirations he wouldn’t get at home anymore. Life was just beginning! Woot! But… it was beginning for him, without me. After all, my job for the previous 18 years had been to carefully train and nurture and raise this young man. I had experienced his day-to-day adventures alongside him all these years. His leaving was the reality that I had effectively worked myself out of a job. That’s the goal, right?!!!

But it left me with a huge hole in my heart. My boy was no longer going to be there to be part of my daily life. No more, “Hey, Mama, come here and look at this funny thing.” No more impersonations of King Julien (my son is the master impersonator and always makes me laugh.) He was forming his own separate life. And his siblings were all-too-eager to follow. And quickly if possible! It dawned on me. My friends were leaving! My kids and I have each forged friendships with each other. We love hanging out together and sharing things together. They are not just my kids. I enjoy each one of them as good friends.

What followed my oldest’s leaving, for those of you who react to this kind of life change in a similar manner, was grief. Deep, gut-wrenching grief. As if someone had died. I cried almost non-stop for two weeks. And then, as you do when you lose someone you love, you start having “good days” and realize you only cried once or twice during the day. Or you actually made it through a whole day without crying!

By Christmas-time, his loooong break from school proved to me that I had gotten used to this new, much quieter life without him in and around all the time. I enjoyed visiting. I liked texting back and forth. We got to see him every couple months. This was going to be okay. But I had to try really hard to suppress the nagging thoughts that my oldest daughter was noticeably hurrying through high school so she could go off to college, too. Preferably in China. Or Great Britain. Or anywhere exotic and exciting.

Fast-forward to November of 2014: The oldest tells me he’s decided to move to Colorado. Panic!!! I was pretty sure I handled it pretty well. But since I had him on speakerphone when he told me, the older daughter, who was listening, piped up, “Do it!  Do it!  Move out there and I’ll come join you as soon as I possibly can!” There was that dreaded thing I knew was coming. Of course it wasn’t only my oldest son. They would all leave. Ignoring the fact wouldn’t change it. A new wave of grief hit me. But not just grief – righteous indignation as well! I was indignant that I was going to have to go through this gut-wrenching heartache repeatedly until the last of my four children had moved on and I’d adjusted to being alone. Darn it! This was so not cool! This is the way it’s supposed to be. None of my kids has died. They’re not into drugs. They’re not dying of some incurable disease. They haven’t been hurt or lost or rebelled and cut off contact with us. They’re growing up and going off to start their own interesting lives the same way I had done. I was really steamed to be going through such intense grief at something that should have been – sad? Yes. Of course there should be some wistfulness. But not bitter grief.

Quite some time before the Colorado announcement, I had set out on a journey to re-craft myself into the person I wanted to be when my kids were gone. I’d read several books and journaled my thoughts and ideas and tried out some new things. It was a good growing process. I especially found books about retirement and second careers helpful because, well, essentially a full-time Mom ends up having to choose some kind of second career when her first career grows up and leaves home! I’d read several of Barbara Sher’s books and found them quite helpful in crafting the kind of life I hoped to have. But in all, you can’t necessarily use logic to chase away negative emotions.

So after my oldest’s Colorado decision (which the skunk reneged on, darn him!) and my second oldest’s determination to get out of the house and go have some adventures post haste, I decided to see what some of the flower remedies could do for me.

You’ve heard me mention flower remedies for dealing with exhaustion from overwork and extreme care (olive) and for fright of various kinds (mimulus, aspen, rescue remedy) or for plant diseases (crab apple). I’ve found them very helpful in the past for a whole variety of inappropriate or overly strong emotions in myself, my family, friends, and animals. I basically just put together a custom remedy that I labeled “Empty Nest” because that’s exactly what it’s for. There is not really just one emotion bound up in the children leaving home. There are a whole variety of thoughts and emotions that need to be dealt with. I only wish someone had handed me a bottle of this a year or more earlier to deal with the initial shock and grief of having my first child leave home. It basically took me only about three days of using the remedy before my mental state was put to rights and my perspective was much improved. Gone was the intensity. I was even-keeled and thinking about other, interesting, pertinent things instead of grieving. Some people, and some circumstances may require much longer daily use – up to as many as three or four months. But I had started out this time at a pretty good place. I suspect that, had I used these last year when he first left, I’d have been on them for a couple months.

Without any further delay, here is what I’ve put in my custom bottle. I didn’t use all of the remedies below, but maybe half a dozen of them.  I use the liquid version of each of these flower essences. (You can just google each of them individually, or start at feelbach.com who carries about 3/4 of them.) I use them in homeopathic form so I don’t have to worry about getting the quantity right, as they work on the principle of frequency of dosage rather than amount. I just add about four drops or so of the custom mix to my 20-oz bottle of water and drink it all day long. You can put it in any drink except coffee, which can have an adverse effect on the action of the remedies:

Chamomile – soothes, releases tensions associated with emotional imbalances. This is especially helpful in the early stages when grief can be so intense and bitter and the feelings are raw. It helps to stabilize emotions and temper mood swings.

Sagebrush – Supports detachment of old patterns and helps us take actions toward making a new path for ourselves. Can clear away energies that are no longer needed, such as the urge to protect and parent our child. Helps create energy toward a new way of life.

Walnut – Helps us feel safer while we get used to new changes, and helps us to accept the changes.

Agrimony – Helps us see the good in a situation

Larch – A great help when we want to learn new things or embark on a new journey, study something, or maybe start a new business or venture.

Bleeding Heart – Helpful during the cutting-the-strings period. Helps heal hurt associated with heartache. Helps to emotionally detach in a healthy way or release any possible feelings of possessiveness in relationships.

Honeysuckle – Helps us embrace the future instead of clinging to the past.

Mariposa Lily – Used to treat hurts caused by a sense of abandonment. Can aid healing of the loss of familiar family status. Can encourage acceptance and caring for the self, turning energies once focused on nurturing the children toward meeting our own needs at this time.

Wild Oat – Helps us find new direction and take the necessary steps to get there.

Willow – Keeps us from feeling sorry for ourselves and give us flexibility to adapt to a new lifestyle

Mustard – to lift depression or emotional wilt.

You can use any or all of these flower essences together. Get an empty dropper bottle and put four drops of each of the flower essences you choose into the bottle. Fill the rest of the way with distilled water or alcohol of some type (brandy, etc…). Shake gently to mix.

*Incidentally, many of these same remedies can be helpful in dealing with other separation issues: death, deployment, divorce, or other similar situations.


Update for friends and fans:

Okay, I promised an update. I haven’t tried anything new in the home farming arena. We’ve been just holding steady with the status quo. Same horses, chickens, garden, and orchard as usual. Got our hay and our beef and still don’t have our firewood, but working on it.

My attentions have largely been taken up by other priorities and interests in the last year: The biggest has been my Mom’s ill health, requiring many, many eight-hour round-trips back and forth to Toledo and a couple trips out to Cleveland Clinic for diagnosis. I’m still filling my position as team editor at Aspendale Communications, which tends to get busiest in autumn and stay relatively steady the rest of the year.

Fun stuff: I spent a fabulous week this last summer at a rock orchestra camp learning some groovy new ways to play with my violin! Woot! I didn’t do any athletic events, as I was put on health leave in April and was glad for the excuse not to train for any races this summer. But on the flip side, my health has improved vastly and I feel like a college kid again! More Woot! If I *wanted to* I could totally start training again. But I’ve focused much more on qigong and yoga with a little weight lifting to help just keep me balanced, prevent me from spending too much time in high gear (which is a real temptation and a constant battle with my Type A personality!).

The latest fun (?) project evolved when, on our last camping trip of the year, our travel trailer presented us with more problems than we felt we wanted to deal with at the time. So we passed it on to some people we love, and purchased a log lodge that was originally a post-WWII camp on a lake about an hour from us. It’s the same lake we had lived on during the winter of 2006-2007 when we trying to be sure we would enjoy the winters up in northern Michigan before we made a permanent move (we do!). The lodge has suffered some neglect and needs some updating and winterizing. If you know me at all, you know the chance to update a house is a challenge that makes me rub my hands together with glee! We closed on that mid-November and I’ve been working at it since. We will be renting it out in one-week stints just a handful of times each year to help it pay for itself, and we anticipate a restful retreat and many happy, fun memories with family and friends there! This week, I’m laying new flooring in the main living area.

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Good Ideas for the Home Farm

 

 

The snow has melted off the garden in the last two-to-three days. I got out there this afternoon and spread clear plastic over this year’s tomato bed, holding it down well with so it won’t blow off the garden, and I let it hang over the edges onto the adjacent pathways. The heat of the sun will be amplified through the plastic and do two great things for me. First, it will heat up my tomato bed. Second, it will kill off any weeds or grass starting in my garden paths.

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We still actually have snow. In the top left of the photo, you can see the raspberry beds, with snow still covering about 1/3 of them! I didn’t waste any time getting out and getting started warming my soil!

This far north our first frost-free planting days for heat-loving crops aren’t until early June. That can really put a crimp in my style in terms of tomato harvest. Well, okay, really it crimps my style — period — when it comes to heat-loving crops. But by warming the soil early, and starting my tomatoes a couple weeks earlier than I otherwise would, I can put them in the ground that much earlier. Aaaand that meeeeans … (say it with me) … I can harvest a couple weeks earlier, right? True story! I’m all about getting a few extra weeks of tomato harvest.

So how do I harvest a little early? First I warm the soil. Then, when it’s time to put the tomatoes in, I secure brown plastic mulch (brown plastic sheeting) in my raised bed from one side to the other, tucking it down in the sides to keep it in place. Now I can cut slits in the plastic and plant my tomatoes directly into the pre-warmed soil. The brown plastic mulch continues to warm the soil (which tomatoes *love*) throughout the season. But I’m not going to end there. The second step is an additional layer over the tomato plants — a low-tunnel, like this one they sell at burpee.com:

It’s important not to just plant-it-and-forget-it, though. If you want early tomatoes, you kinda have to be willing to work for it. Careful temperature regulation is important. On warm days, the low-tunnel has to be open, or even taken completely off the tomatoes if it’s really warm. It’s too easy to accidentally cook your tomato plants before you can say “oops!”. Think about how hot it gets inside your car on a sunny day, even when it’s cool outside. The sun goes in through the windows and heats up everything inside your car. The low-tunnel will do the same thing to your tomatoes. This is great on cooler days and overnight when the temperature drops. On nights where the temperature is going to drop really low, a layer of sheets or old quilts or blankets is still a great idea to keep them from freezing, or suffering a set-back due to shock.  Once frost-free days hit after the first two-to-three weeks, the low-tunnel comes off for the rest of the season.

Some of my girls are hoping I brought some kitchen scraps out to them! L-R: New Hampshire Red, Black Star, Black Australorp, Black Star.

Some of my girls are hoping I brought some kitchen scraps out to them! L-R: New Hampshire Red, Black Star, Black Australorp, Black Star.

Here’s another great idea. My inventor-kid Danny came up with this. He’s really a good problem-solver. He’s been thinking about how to create a magnetic generator that will take minimal input and produce a good source of backup power for years. The kid’s only 13. He recently bought himself an oxy-acetylene tank for welding so he can invent things. Granted, he doesn’t know how to use it. (I’m exercising my bragging rights, okay? LOL!) But this idea has nothing to do with backup power or welding. It has to do with minimizing chicken feed waste. I don’t know if you have this problem or if you’ve figured out a way to keep waste to a minimum, but I absolutely hate buying 50 lbs. of non-GMO chicken feed (read: expensive!) knowing that almost half of it is going to end up on the ground, scratched into the chicken litter in the bottom of the coop. All that wasted feed is not only costly, but it invites rodents into the henhouse and makes a pretty yucky mucky mess on the floor, too.

You’ll kick yourself when you see this. It’s so simple. But I hadn’t thought of it in the seven years we’ve been raising chickens. Here she goes:

Don't judge me for having a big pile of chicken dookie in the corner of the coop. I'm a procrastinator just like you! LOL!

Don’t judge me for having a big pile of chicken dookie in the corner of the coop under the roosts. I’m a procrastinator just like you! LOL!

Danny suggested putting the feeder inside a short container of some sort to catch the feed that the hens bill out while they’re eating. Genius! Seriously! They stand outside the black pan, which is about 18″x30″ (roughly), instead of in it (chicken poop in the food – yuck!), and reach across to eat out of the feeder. They still bill it out, but 95% of what they bill out ends up in the pan. When feed gets low, they’re happy to eat the billed-out feed right out of the black pan. If it gets yucky or wet, you’d have to throw it away, but I haven’t had that problem yet and I’ve been using this since the fall! I’m spending half the money I used to spend on chicken feed. That makes me happy! 🙂

Do you have any good ideas for around the farm to share with me or other Small Home Farm fans?

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Spring is Coming to Aspendale Farm!

My friend Linda of Turkey Hill Farm has some of the loveliest gardens I’ve ever seen!

Hello, friends! It’s been a quiet winter at Aspendale Farm. I’ve been taking the slow winter months to recuperate and build up a healthy reservoir of energy and enthusiasm for the upcoming growing season!

And I am getting enthused! I started three varieties of tomatoes … I’ve decided to give Burpee’s “SuperSauce” paste tomato a try as one of them. I’ll be interested to see if they really do get as huge as the company touts, and whether they have enough taste to make a decent pot of chili! I will not start peppers this year, but a friend has promised to save me her extras, and I can buy anything else I need from the Amish greenhouse around the corner. I do think I’ll root some geraniums, though. I’ve decided to hang baskets all along the front porch this year, instead of just hanging two on either side of the step up to the porch. It will save me a few dollars to root them myself.

In our neck of the woods, the ground is covered with snow from October or November (depending on the year) through the end of the first week of April. If you’d told me last week that we’d be seeing a lot of bare ground by the end of this week (as was to expected going by the previous years’ melts), I’d have doubted you. Last week’s temps were in the single digits and it snowed several times. But a warmer wind has been blowing this week. The snow has turned to rain, and there are, indeed, patches of bare ground growing larger every day. For the first time this year our little two-track gravel road is showing, where there has been packed snow and ice all winter.

Yesterday morning I went out to the henhouse where the girls were making a fierce racket. Usually they’ll do that if they need more water or food, and I figured it was probably a low-water scenario. But no, all the hens were outside, making a big ruckus. The first thing I saw on entering the coop was our good friend, Tookhees (two-keys), our Partridge Rock family pet, lying stretched out on the ground underneath the roost. She had gone to the Great Dust Bath Beyond not long before I arrived on the scene. She hasn’t laid eggs for several years, but she was a family favorite from our very first batch of chicks in 2007 when we still lived at Hawthorne Hill in Ohio. We brought her with us to Aspendale Farm in the Northwoods of Michigan. She has always been a character, and very sweet. Usually we think nothing of trading off the old hens and getting a new batch of chicks, but Tookhees and Violet (our Black-Tail Buff Japanese Banty-hen) have been special pets and we’ ve kept them on in spite of their non-productive status. So we gave her a proper burial in our pet graveyard behind the barn and sang “Shall We Gather at the River” which may or may not have been theologically correct. But thanking God for the pleasure she has given us these seven years seemed appropriate.

In less than two weeks our newest batch of chicks will arrive. Every year I have gone with a lovely assortment of heritage breeds and occasionally popular breeds. We’ve had Buff Brahmas, Black Australorps, as assortment of Rocks and Reds, banties, Columbian Wyandottes, and even ISA Browns, which laid well enough but had poor personalities and loved to bully the other hens. I do love having an assortment, and some of my favorites are the Australorps and Columbian Wyandottes. For personality, the Partridge Rock and Buff Brahma are the winners. But last year a friend gave me four Black Stars (also known as Black Sex-Links) and I have to say, they are docile and friendly, do not go broody, and have an excellent feed-conversion ratio. I get six eggs a week from each hen. Hard to beat that. So this year I will raise eight new Black Stars and see how they do for me again. They begin to lay a month earlier than the non-hybrids as well. But I must admit I am extremely partial to the heritage breeds and will likely go back to getting a good mix in spring of 2015. But I will probably include at least a few Black Stars again!

The house is still for sale, and now that it’s warming up, we expect to see activity resume, with the dreaded bouts of housecleaning-for-perfection (you know, to show it to prospective buyers), instead of the normal everyday housecleaning. But we are considering switching realtors or going FSBO again, as our current realtor renegged on her promise to keep our house listed on zillow and trulia. It lapsed on those sites just before Christmas, and in spite of my bugging her about it, she hasn’t relisted them. There are FSBO packages where you can list on realtor.com, trulia, and a bunch of other sites, and I’d listed our home on zillow, craigslist, and horseclicks myself anyway. But no, I really don’t want to move. LOL! If our house never sells I’ll be alright with that. But I do want a realtor who does what he or she has promised. After all 7% commission is huge!

Still, I love living here. I love the pace of life our Amish neighbors have. It rubs off on me, and I do need that. And I love their faith, trust, honesty, and humility. I’m sorry to say that you don’t find a great deal of Englishers with the same values. It is only found here and there, in small places — not infused in the very fabric of your community. There is too much hurry, rush, worry, and lack of deference out there — particularly downstate where we would probably end up if/when our place does sell. I like living where folks wave at each other as you drive by, rather than flipping each other off and laying on the horn. And we are a short jaunt from the river, with State Forest all around us, two hiking trails within minutes that follow the AuSable river as it winds its way toward Lake Huron. Well, there are many things to love about where we live now, and they make it hard to sell and move on.

I’ve gotten used to having my oldest gone to college. It was a terrible adjustment. But after a couple weeks of crying daily and a couple more weeks of just getting used to the new situation, I’m okay with it. (Yes, I’m a woman, I cry. Get over it.) To be honest, although I do adore many things about him, it’s been significantly easier to keep the house clean and well … it’s been quieter and noticeably less chaotic. Except the kitchen. Cecily is one of those of the “eat small meals six times a day instead of three large meals” persuasion. While it may be healthy for her, it drives me bonkers to have the kitchen in a state of chaos all throughout the day. ‘Cause she’s not just eating an apple and calling it a day, she’s cooking something. Chopping board, pots and pans, and all. But the rest of the house stays much tidier, and it only takes a few minutes to put things to right when they get out of sorts. Sorry JJ, truth hurts! LOL! And since he is an adult, I’ve been able to let go of worrying constantly about guiding and helping him. It’s a lot easier to offer suggestions when he’s willing, and let it go. Let him decide what to do. And I’m okay with that. His Dad? Not so much! LOL!

Other than that, the kids and I have amused ourselves by feeding the birds this late winter. The cat is quite amused by it as well. She likes to sit in the window and make little chirpy-mews that I assume, means she is telling us all about this interesting development out there. But if any one of them flies in too close to the ground under the window, Miss Sweetness-and-Light becomes Dagger-Eyes. Those little birdies are sometimes amusing, sometimes lunch. LOL!  Good thing there is a picture window in between Maple and the birds.

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Early Winter Aspendale Farm Update

Our front yard Christmas morning. What a way to wake up!

Well, I’ve been a bit absent for awhile, I admit. It’s been a whopper of an autumn in many ways, and extremely uneventful in others. I’d love to tell you all about the new, interesting things we’re doing here — unfortunately there is nothing new.  A lot has been happening, but nothing worthy of excited sharing, I don’t think. Still I’ve had emails, Facebook questions and person-to-person inquiries about what we’re up to.

Of course my oldest son moved on to college Labor Day Weekend. While I’m extremely proud of him and super-excited for him, it’s been a hard adjustment for me. After all, I’ve been the Mama around here for eighteen-plus years. That’s been my main drive and occupation, all other responsibilities and interests aside. I’ve enjoyed having him around. He and I have a good, fun relationship. So it was quite a difficult adjustment for me when he packed up all of his belongings (save for one box of grungy clothes that still live in his closet) and moved out. Not only have I grieved the loss of him as part of our everyday family life, but I found myself wandering around in this disconcerting haze of “what am I going to do with the next stage of my life?” My other kids are well on their way to independence. Cecily just dual-enrolled for classes at the local community college and next fall my third child will be in high school and learning independently of any need for me. So there it is, bearing down on me like a freight train. A huge adjustment for which I have been ill-prepared.

As you know, too, I sent my Saxton to a new home. He and his new family are loving it. His new owner adores him and has so much fun riding him. It was definitely the right move, albeit a painful one.

And the weekend before Thanksgiving I was struck with another blow that I had hoped to push off for a year or even several years. At least for some breathing room from the other losses. But no, down at the barn we found my beloved Lacy on the ground, unable to get up. She was old after all. We’d taken thorough and tender care of her while we had her, but we knew she couldn’t live forever. And we were forced to make the agonizing decision to put her down. It still hurts, as does losing anyone you love deeply. I’m grateful to her for the sweetness and balm she was while she was with us. She restored my faith in horses and has given me good memories.

A bit of a bummer, eh? Can you see why I’ve been a bit on the quiet side? We go through seasons, and some of them are hard to bear. This has been a hard one for me.

On the brighter side of things, when JJ left, my health deteriorated noticeably, which actually led to some surprising overall health improvements. It is a fact that trauma of any kind — physical illness, injury, high stress, emotional shock — can lower one’s defenses and knock you out of balance so things don’t work as well anymore. I can only surmise that the grief I went through at the ending of our family life as we’d known it was about the last straw for my Type-A personality.

I’d been working with a homeopath to solve my mystery hip issue, but the rest of my health started going downhill and I began to gain weight even while actively dieting. I was overtly fatigued and noticing a marked lack of enthusiasm for, well, anything, really. Through a serendipitous chance, we found out I was now hypothyroid. Who knew?  Stress is a big factor in hypothyroidism. And some of the “mystery” ailments I’d been putting up with for a couple years, edema, a hip that just wouldn’t let me run without it going out, a couple of episodes of severe back spasms… seem all to be related. I’m not one to jump on the allopathic medicine bandwagon if there’s any way to heal the body instead of relying on a chemical. After much of my own research, and working with a naturopath and my chiropractor, I’ve headed up the campaign to restore full body health, and I am seeing gratifying improvements. I’m doing close to a dozen things to support thyroid health, including natural supplements, chiropractic adjustments, homeopathics and Bach flower remedies, self-acupressure, a careful diet composition (lots of veggies, a fair amount of fruits and healthy proteins, and just a small, small portion of carbs – preferably whole grains like oats), I <<ack!>> gave up coffee (too stimulating), and have switched my work-outs so I’m now doing metabolism-boosting, body-healing circuit training (heavy weights or R&R workouts) between sets of sprint intervals instead of steady-state cardio which can actually depress your metabolism (who knew!), and Qi Gong to keep stress levels low.

I’m also doing a lot of restorative walking. Walking, while some people consider it exercise, really has the effect of lowering stress-hormone levels, particularly when done leisurely, in a nature environment. I’ve been out in the woods or down by the river every day I have a chance – and I love it! Except when someone accompanies me who happens to be stressed out or overly talkative. LOL! That doesn’t really lower my cortisol! LOL! I’ve also jealously guarded my sleep, and reduced my committments. It’s been a whole lifestyle change in a way. But I realize the need to work hard to restore myself to full health now, before I have something much more serious like cancer or diabetes or heart disease. So I’m taking it seriously. And honestly? I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying feeling good. I’m enjoying running without worrying about my hip putting me out of commission for days. I’m enjoying eating a lot of foods that I know are nourishing me. I’m enjoying having enough energy after dinner to take part in whatever’s going on. I’m enjoying having more balance

I still don’t know what the future holds. But I’m not really worried about it. There are many things I’m interested in. We’re still in a state of flux with our house on the market — not sure where we’ll end up or how long we’ll remain here.  I love it here and don’t want to move. Where else could we live where we are surrounded by so much beauty and snow and a mild climate? But for now it seems the right choice.

Fall is over. Thank goodness this time. And I’m relieved that the winter has gotten off to a great start. I am noticing that I feel a little better each week and have hope now of complete recovery. I’m shedding the extra few pounds that crept on after JJ left, without doing any silly diets. I’m just eating. We have a good 20-inches of snow out there and I’ve been cross-country skiing, walking out on the frozen river past all the ice-fishing shanties, I’ve taken the kids sledding, enjoyed many a wood-fire in our cozy new family room, got to have some fun garage-band jam sessions with some good friends and our instruments … it’s a nice change from the turmoil of earlier in the autumn.

Farm-wise, the hens took a two-month break from laying, and have finally begun to lay again. It’s disappointing to buy eggs from the grocery and feed for the chickens at the same time! That’s the kicker with keeping birds past their first year of laying, but it is what it is. We’re down to just three horses now. The orchard is asleep, shoveling and snow-blowing are a regular part of life here now, as is loading the wood-furnace and hauling split wood for the fireplace. The seed catalogs are arriving in the mail, and after the first of the year I know I will spend a few lovely, lazy hours poring over the pages, choosing what we will put in this next year.

And I pray that you and yours have a lovely, prosperous, healthy new year. May your times of sorrow and pain ultimately bear good things, as mine have. And may you live and love the beauty of the moments that make up your days in the next twelve months.

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Deliciously Depraved Brownies ~ (Wheat-Free)

You may already know that I have a love-hate relationship with wheat. I love it. It hates me. True story.

I’ve been working with a homeopath for about six weeks, trying to clear up a weird little hip/health issue that’s been plaguing me for a couple of years, and has been keeping me from running off and on. We’re making some progress., but now I get to spend the next month wheat-free while we give my body a rest and see if we can just get over it already so that when next race season comes around I can enjoy running again!

I’m not one to let a little dietary restriction hamper my creativity in the kitchen, and while there are some weird, and not very satisfying recipes out there for all kinds of wheat-free “treats” for people who are allergic or gluten-intolerant, there aren’t a whole lot of genuinely good, “I-just-don’t-miss-what-I-can’t-have” kinds of recipes. In fact, I hesitated to even put “wheat-free” in the title, because I was pretty sure that would make people give this recipe a miss before they ever gave it a chance.  It may be the mistake you’ll regret if you do! 😉

During my mission for a genuinely great, wheat-free chocolate dessert, I scoured the low-carb and gluten-free sites where many of those often-lacking recipes float around, then I played around in the kitchen to come up with some darn good brownies for Treat Night!  These aren’t sugar free, but I did lower the sugar content some without harming the taste any, IMO. Without mucking around any more about it, here goes:

Deliciously Depraved Wheat-Free Brownies

1 1/8 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

3 oz. baking chocolate squares

1/2 c. plus 2 Tbs. butter

1/2 c. unsweetened baking cocoa powder

4 eggs

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

1 c. sugar or 1 c. sugar/stevia blend like Domino Light

Chill bowl you’ll be whipping the eggs in and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt chocolate chips and baking squares in the microwave or over a double-boiler. Roughly chop the butter and stir it into the completely melted chocolate, heating an additional 20-30 seconds if needed to completely incorporate the butter into the chocolate. Stir in cocoa powder until well blended.

Whip eggs about a minute with a mixer, then add in the vanilla and sugar/sweetener. Whip an additional couple of minutes until mixture is light, but still liquid.

Make sure chocolate mixture is no longer hot (warm is okay, hot enough to scramble the eggs is not), and fold the egg mixture gently into the chocolate** until it is well incorporated. This takes me longer than it takes to fold into a souffle´, but I’m not sure why. It probably takes a good four or five minutes of folding before it was well-incorporated.

Spray an 8×8″ pan with baking spray, or rub well with butter, oil, or shortening.  Gently spread mixture into pan and bake in the 350-degree oven 20-25 minutes, keeping an eye on it toward the end to make sure it’s as gooey or as firm as you like it.  Remove from oven and cool.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (with or without Maple Flavor)

1 c. butter

3/4 c. bakers cocoa powder

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. maple extract (optional)

4 c. powdered sugar

3-4 Tbs. milk

2-3 Tb. corn syrup or thick maple syrup

Cream butter, cocoa, and vanilla/maple flavoring together. Gradually add milk and powdered sugar , 1 cup at a time, alternating between powdered sugar and a little milk.  Next, add corn syrup or maple syrup, and mix in well.  Spread on cooled brownies (if you can wait that long), and serve.

If you need to hold onto your frosting in the bowl for a little while, be sure to stick it in the refrigerator so it doesn’t start to melt or get too soft at the temperature in your kitchen.  When ready to spread, whip it up again and use.

*Note: This makes a pretty big batch of frosting, and you may do very well with a half batch if you aren’t inclined to spread a mongo-thick slab of frosting on yours.

**If you want to add nuts to your brownies (I really like mine with walnuts, but the rest of the family isn’t so crazy about it…) you can fold them in with the egg mixture, or simply sprinkle on top of the frosting.

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