Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Chrismas & Happy New Year!

Whatever is meaningful.

Whatever is beautiful.

Whatever brings you happiness.

May it be yours this holiday season

and throughout the coming year.

Best Wishes,

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Meet the New Girls in The Dot House

All the Christmas preparations are done so now we just wait for our guests to arrive. I love this time of year.

Today is a good time to catch up on the latest happenings around the ranch.

I heard that a couple of my young readers are concerned about Buddy living out in the cold. Well, if you think about it, Mother Nature is very wise and she makes sure that creatures that live outside in cold places grow lots of extra hair or fur to keep them warm. Horses grow a thick winter coat to protect them, and so do dogs which they then shed when it begins to get warm again. Buddy has an amazingly thick winter coat and he sleeps in his doghouse on very very cold nights. I have seen him in his house and also the hay in his doghouse has a dent in it where he curls up. The hay on the floor and the small space of the doghouse help Buddy keep warm; and, his coat is so thick and warm that oftentimes he chooses to sleep outside on the plant bedding next to the house probably because his house is too warm for him. So Buddy is fine and is truly thriving and growing into a wonderful pet (and watchdog!).

We took the old hens, both the Dots and the Rhode Island Reds, to market last week because they had quit laying due to their age. We got seven new pullets from our neighbors who had them as show birds at last summers County Fair---and they are beautiful as you will see in the pictures below. We now have one Wyandotte, two Speckled Sussex, two Buff Orphingtons and two additional  Americanas - so along with our six Black Copper Marans, one Cuckoo Marans and four Americanas, we have a beautiful, colorful flock.

The birds merged so peacefully and the Dot House is now relatively quiet with much less bickering than with the old hens. Here is what we got the first day after integrating the new pullets with our remaining flock. I didn't expect to get any eggs for a few days.

Once the old hens were gone, I put a big bowl of food and one of water in the pen while I cleaned The Dot House in preparation for the new residents. When I finished cleaning and went into their pen to reopen their door into the Dot House, I noticed the food bowl was empty! I filled it again and within the hour it was empty again. That tells me the old hens were bullying the young pullets and keeping them from full feed which explains why the egg production was off and we had NO eggs from the young pullets---another lesson learned.

Meet the New Girls in The Dot House...
Speckled Sussex - pretty, huh?, we now have two...

Two lovely Americanas...
Two Buff Orphingtons - big and fluffy... and
supposedly the ScarJo of the chicken world!...

And, one Dot (Wyandotte); the namesake of the flock!

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It Looks Like Winter

It's still fall officially but it looks and feels like winter. We had another snow and it has stayed cold so the ground is still white and after a warmer day yesterday the icicles formed on the lean-to and the trees are glistening with ice crystals.

I've begun decorating for Christmas. This year we decided on a small tree that will be a part of the snowman village and focus the holiday attention in one place. I like how it turned out...
Family will be visiting soon so it's time to bake and get all the Christmas goodies ready. Packages have been mailed and it's beginning to feel like Christmas.

Happy Holiday Season,

Saturday, December 3, 2011

First Snow

We woke this morning to snow and I was so happy. It felt much like when I was a child only then it was more wonderful when it happened during the week so we'd have a snow day and NO school! It's a silver day out today with the falling snow and bluish light as the primary color scheme.

When we were out doing chores this morning, it was cold and really beginning to come down. I snapped some pictures to share this lovely day on the ranch.
This is Buddy's first snow. When I opened the drapes this morning, I saw that he was playfully jumping around in the snow, throwing his favorite rope toy in the air, pushing the snow with his nose, eating it, and running around at full speed. That looked like pure JOY to me!

We moved his doghouse to the back of our house since he sleeps near the house most days. His food is in his dog house to keep it dry and he goes there to eat but we haven't yet seen him in it to sleep since he was a really little puppy. He's seven months old now and beginning to get his adult shape with elongation of his face and thickening of his body. His winter coat is so thick and shiny, just beautiful ---I'm sure he's warm enough. His heated water bowl is setup nearby so he's set for the winter.

Buddy rolling around in the snow
I shoveled the sidewalk and he barked madly at the shovel. Everything is new and exciting today.
I opened the chicken door on the Dot House this morning and the chickens began to run out as always but some of those little chicken feet barely touched the snow on the ground and they turned back into the Dot House! It was hilarious. One of the black copper Marans must have wanted to be alone because she stayed outside on the top of the chicken door. I'm sure she'll be back in the house in no time. It's cold outside.
I caught a few more lovely snow shots around the yard I thought you might enjoy...
This is one of the tomato cages being used
to protect a Goldenraintree sapling in front of
the Dot House.
My winter garden chores included planting new saplings from Arbor Day Foundation, mulching them, protecting them with the tomato cage and putting in a steel post to ensure the cage doesn't blow over in the wind or get knocked over by deer. We've seen no deer on our property since Buddy has lived here although I noticed some bedding spots in the tall grass on the north side of the garden that look like deer may have slept there. He was barking in that area quite extensively last night so hopefully he has run them off. They are beautiful to look at but so destructive to gardens, trees etc.

When one renews your membership to Arbor Day Foundation, you are usually offered a number of free tree saplings. We welcome them so that we can plant them here with an eye to the future. Most of them will not be trees of substance while we live here but they will be in the future. We are planting them to replace all the 'weed' trees that form the largest composition of deciduous trees on the ranch. Someday this will be a glorious tree garden with a wonderful healthy variety. You know, you can get trees from the Arbor Day Foundation to plant anywhere in the USA. Check it out.

I participate in Re-tree Nebraska which is a program designed to encourage the citizens to plant a million trees in Nebraska in 10 years. The windbreaks that were planted around the farm places in the early days were mostly one or two varieties at most so if that variety gets diseased the entire windbreak dies. Since that has been happening along with new diseases spreading cross country that are also affecting the city treescape, the Re-Tree Nebraska program was started to help replace those trees but with many different varieties that are suitable in this climate so our tree population in the future will be protected. I am personally so excited about this program that we decided to participate by restocking the trees on the ranch and making sure they have an excellent chance for survival.

And, finally, the wild birds are feasting here today. All the feeders are full and the water is warmed and ice free so it's a great place to come if you are a bird. As you will see in the following pictures, Buddy doesn't bother the birds but sits on the back deck and watches them. They seem to have found a peace between them so he watches and they continue to do their thing.

Buddy watching the birds
Cardinal waiting for feeder
Robins at water; Juncos on ground...see the snow
piling up on feeders and deck railing...
White breasted nuthatch eating the suet
Have a cozy day,

Monday, November 28, 2011


Whenever Mark helps our friends with farming, he leaves early in the morning so I am then responsible for 'chores'. He streamlined some of the chores in order to accommodate my abilities and since I've been doing them regularly I have become much stronger. There is something quite fulfilling in feeding the animals early in the morning. The animals are all happy to see me and the world is so peaceful then. It sure beats working out in a gym!

I grain the horses...
and the miniature donkey, Oats. See Buddy in the background? He's working on his 'stay' command. When he does, he is quiet...and so are the horses. If he's not 'down' with the 'stay' command, he barks and runs around excitedly which excites the horses. When I'm graining them, its best if they are calm. We're all learning!

The studs are peacefully eating at this point when the picture is taken. They vie for position at the feed bunks so it can be quite aggressive and lively until they settle into their social position. All the jockeying for position reminds me of the executive suite in corporate life!

The mares are calm on this day. As new mares were introduced to the mare pasture, it resembled the "mean girls" at school while they learned their social position. Lots of kicking and pushing. The boss mare is Boon. She's always been at the bottom of the pack in years past but this year she was in the pasture first so she holds the boss position. She's a sweet horse so the dramatics are minimal. If you recall, she is the mom of Duley who was born this spring here on the ranch.

These are the babies with Oats, who share a large corral. It was a beautiful warm day so after eating they sunned and relaxed until late morning when they ran and played around the corral. They are young so they are very playful and curious. When I am in their corral getting the grain for the other horses, the babies will come and bite my coattails, sniff around me and stand close to watch what I am doing. They can be a nuisance when they are soooo friendly but I love being around them.

It's then time to let the Dots out of their Dot House and to feed and water them. They are getting along now quite well but the Dots aren't laying eggs much anymore which is typical in the winter. I only have three spring chickens (born last spring) left and they've quit laying with the cold weather; and the black copper French Marans won't lay until spring so I don't get many eggs now.

I open the door to the Guinea Shack so the guineas can come and go as they please during the day. As you can see in the picture, the babies are growing and looking like miniature guineas now! There are 5 left and one has an injured leg so it stays in the Guinea Shack while the others venture out with the adults.  One day recently, Buddy was curious and went near the babies to check them out and one of the adults screamed, flew to Buddy and landed on his back. He now gives them a wide berth which is great so I don't have to worry about the safety of the little guineas. I feed and water the guineas in the Guinea Shack but they still like to eat weed seed heads, spilled grain, etc. They are still pretty wild but do return to the Guinea Shack often during the day for water and to check themselves out in the mirror (whatever that is about in the guinea world) and definitely every night where we lock them in.

Last but not least is to feed Buddy. He follows me everywhere in the morning doing chores. He is settling into the watchdog of the place which is good.

The chores takes me about an hour to accomplish and then it's time for the rest of my day. My garden chore today was to continue watering trees, this time the fruit trees and berry bushes. I will continue to deep water the saplings, small trees and then the established fruit trees - cherry, apricot and mulberry. We may be getting our first snow on Wednesday so I'm on a schedule to get the deep watering finished.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. My sister, Sandi, was here again this year and we had a marvelous time just hangin around the house --- cooking, eating, playing with Buddy, doing chicken and guinea chores, playing Sequence, visiting and of course, drinking some wine.

We made a beautiful bay and lemon brined bird this year that I failed to capture in photographs (why oh why didn't I think of it?). I've never had a turkey with such a rich mahogany color plus the turkey was moist. I will brine again.

Sandi furnished a delicious sweet potato recipe that was the hit of the meal since it was a different twist to the traditional sweet potato recipe. Here's the recipe...

Sweet Potatoes
1 (28 oz) can cut yams, mashed or better yet, 3 cups fresh sweet potatoes that have been roasted first, then mashed
1/2 cup sugar
2 T butter
2 eggs, beaten (or egg substitute)
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup milk (or non-dairy creamer)
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans

Combine mashed sweet potatoes with sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and milk.
Spoon into greased 8 1/2 by 11 inch baking dish.
Mix topping ingredients together and sprinkle on top of the potato mixture. Bake for 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until topping is lightly browned.

Makes 10-12 servings

Our meal also included dressing, my fresh cranberry relish with wine and star anise, green beans with wild mushroom sauce, fresh sweet peppers, and finished with Midnight Pumpkin Pie which is the traditional pumpkin pie only with chocolate! Yum! Tradition with a twist.

We had the good fortune to have two Thanksgiving meals this year. We celebrated with our dear friends and their family on TG day with a bounty of food that was delicious and company that was lively.  Sandi arrived late on Thanksgiving Day so we had a small supper and had our Thanksgiving meal together on Friday.

I try to feel gratitude every day not just at Thanksgiving. I love and appreciate my friends, some who are Family of the Heart. I feel gratitude for my relatives and family including my three wonderful special sisters--- Marcine, Bonnie and Sandi; also for my husband, Mark, for the gift of his love and friendship. I know that I have so much as a citizen of the United States - I am grateful for the freedom and abundance. I love my simple life surrounded by nature.

Speaking of nature, today I'm watering the saplings since we haven't had rain in a long time. The birds followed the hose to each sapling to drink and play in the water. We put a tomato cage around each of the small saplings so the deer and Buddy won't chew on them this winter.
For all this, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bird Watching

When I was younger, I thought bird watching was lame, something nerdy that people without a 'life' did. But I've loved birds my entire life. I was always aware of the birds in the area in which I lived and loved to be still and watch them. Once retired, I learned about Project Feeder Watch through Cornell University's Ornithology Lab and felt I could finally put my interest to a good use and it doesn't feel lame at all. In fact, it feels rather great to be helping scientists track what is happening to our North American birds. Can you imagine a world without birds? Unfortunately some are disappearing so if I can help in my little way, then it's worth the time spent.

The citizen scientist program doesn't take alot of time - just some time of your choosing on two consecutive days per month at the least; and as much more as you desire with some scheduling restrictions. With this process, I've learned the names & habits of common birds for our area of Nebraska, the thrill of seeing a predator swoop down to catch one of my feeding birds not always successfully, or seeing and identifying an unusual bird for our area.

For instance, today is a count day for me. It is in the low 20s with some freezing rain and wind. I've only seen 5 chickadees, 1 white breasted nuthatch, l blue jay, 5 juncos and 1 house finch so far. The rest, I'm sure, are tucked in somewhere warm but these ventured out for water and food.

If you have school age children or grandchildren who visit, this can be a wonderful introduction to bird watching and nature. Children are drawn to birds and so the educational part is easy with them. Project Feeder Watch has a program for school kids too. It can be an interesting way to get a kid interested in science too.

When I watch Lucas, now almost 2 1/2, he loves to sit at the french doors and watch the bird activity. He also loves to run after my chickens! The above picture was taken last winter.

Consider this contemplative nature activity in your life and check out Project Feeder Watch in the video above.

Happy bird watching,

Monday, November 14, 2011

Buddy and Friends

Buddy @ seven months
A handsome calm dog
Here's Buddy! He's really grown hasn't he? We've been working on training and he has mastered 'down' and 'stay' if it isn't too long a time. That's the big push right now, to get him to stay. He's actually doing quite well and is a pretty mellow dog.

I hear him occasionally at night really barking so he's obviously tuned into something that shouldn't be here. Although I've noticed since we've had Buddy that we don't see turkey's like we used to and there haven't been any deer visible on our property and squirrels are rare. We haven't had any snow this season as yet so once the ground is covered with snow and the deer are foraging, we'll see how effective our Buddy is! Although we haven't yet had snow, it does get very cold at nights and some days so Buddy's coat is very very thick since he is an outdoors farm dog. He has a house but he prefers being out on the ground or on the deck.

He loves his tennis ball and I play fetch with him at least once a day. He's just learning the Frisbee. One of the annoying puppy behaviors is bringing all his 'toys' to the front yard. Those toys include huge beets that disappeared before I could chop up for the compost pile, acorn squash he found ---must have been volunteer squash in the pasture since I didn't plant them this year, bones, branches, horse manure, tennis balls, and his all time favorite cloth braid with which to play tug-of-war. I clean it up and new items appear such as squashed cans, bits of plastic, pieces of get the picture! I can't wait for him to grow up to adulthood with hopefully less of these behaviors. But as Mark pointed out, he is cleaning up all the debris he finds in the pastures.

Playing fetch all out
He loves his tennis ball
Listening for trespassers

Mellow Buddy
These are the baby guineas or keets. They are growing so quickly and can fly so they fly to one of the upper decks in the guinea shack to sleep with the adults at night but fly down to the floor where they spend the day. We provide food, water and a heat lamp so it's a good environment for their safe growth. With the seven keets, we're back to a dozen guineas. They don't like humans in their pen so the pictures are not the best since I have to point and shoot while defending myself from mama but you'll see that they are growing in their adult feathers. It doesn't take long for these birds to grow up.
Not such little guys anymore

And the season for Project FeederWatch has begun so I'll be counting birds for Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology again this year. The key is water and having the country birdbath (skillet!) with a heater to keep the ice from forming on freezing nights. We're seeing lots of birds bunched up, like the robins today. They have been monopolizing the birdbath.
At one point we had robins, blue jays, chickadees, yellow finches, cardinals and waxwings! It was a beautiful sight but I couldn't get the camera quick enough to capture that mix! Buddy lays in the warm sunshine on the back deck near the birdbath and feeders and he ignores the wild birds which is a relief.

I'm starting projects like deep cleaning and soon window washing. There is something satisfying about cleaning since there is instant gratification. I'm still thinking about creative projects I want to do this winter. More on that later.

Have a great week,

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fall Garden Chores DONE!

We've been blessed with a few mild days so I have been working to get the fall garden chores done before the weather turns. We haven't yet had our first snow but it could happen at any time.

I turned the voluminous tomato vines and pepper plants into compost material by using a mower and grass catcher to chop them up small. It worked beautifully! This method was recommended by Margaret Roach, garden coach extraordinaire from A Way To Garden blog. It worked so slick. Those huge mounds of debris became wonderful small bits of compost fodder in no time at all. It made me so happy to have that chore done - thanks, Margaret. It's important to keep the compost pile aerated and moist. I've noticed that the chickens have been helping me with the aeration by scratching around in the pile. It is getting easier to turn with all their help.

My compost pile that will turn into wonderful DIRT
Also got the garlic bed planted with three varities - Chef's Italian Red, a softneck with mild flavor; Georgian Crystal, a hardneck with large, buttery cloves perfect for roasting, and Erik's German White, another hardneck with a spicy flavor that stores well. All are organic and from Seed Savers Exchange.
Under this 6" hay mulch are my garlic bulbs
After preparing the bed, I planted the individual cloves 2" deep about 6" apart, then covered them with 6" of hay mulch. I followed SSE directions exactly so hopefully with the reliable source of the garlic this year and the specific planting instructions, I will have an abundant crop of garlic next year. I use so much garlic in my cooking, and as my regular readers know, I had to plant my own so I'm not stuck with garlic imported from across the globe.

For those who don't know, softneck garlic has the small center cloves with around 12-16 cloves per bulb and hardneck has a hard center stem and about 4-6 large cloves around it.

I transplanted the daylilies from the peony bed to one of the outside ground beds in the garden on the south east where they can multiply to their little orange hearts desire. I don't want any competition to my peonies. The blueberry bushes (well, they look like sticks now but will be bushes one day!) have been moved to the south ground bed in the garden. Asparagus is in the north east ground bed and the garlic is now in the south west ground bed and come spring, the north west ground bed will be lush with cosmos, one of my favorite summer flowers. I can see it all. The garden will have some lovely flowers within it for my pleasure as well as the bees. I need to attact more bees next year since we seemed to have a shortage this summer compared to what I've seen in previous years.

Yes, this is a blueberry 'bush' of six. Now
in a bed on the south side of the garden
protected from critters with the tomato cage until
spring. The blueberries will get marvelous sun here.
We have several little saplings from Arbor Day Foundation that we planted in a large tank last spring because we weren't sure where we wanted them placed in the yard. I have chosen spots that will show them off in the future once they reach full maturity and today planted them all. We will protect the bark from the mice & other critters including deer that look to saplings in the cold barren menu of winter. I've used the tomato cages that Mark made early last year to protect the saplings from big merauders this winter.

Our cottage is nestled among many trees which is wonderful but most of the desiduous are Chinese Elm which is a 'weed' tree meaning it is like a weed in that it puts out a zillion (yes a zillion) seeds that the spring winds carry so there are little seedlings everywhere. In other words, another weed to pull!

We won't be here to see these new trees grow to a size of substance and certainly not to maturity, but I can visualize how they will enhance the ranch in the future. Hopefully they will eventually replace all the elms around here. We have several beautiful mature evergreen firs, pines (Austrian, Scotch, and Ponderoso), and Norway Spruce which all contribute a lovely structure to the tree story in the yard. Today, we added Washington Hawthorn, Tuliptree, Sargent Crabapple, Viburnum, Kentucky Coffee Tree and Bur Oak so one day there will be a great stand of valuable trees.

BTW, those homemade tomato cages worked beautifully for the tomatoes last summer. They are strong enough to hold up the tomatoes but need a steel post to ensure the wind doesn't blow them over when they get top heavy with foliage and fruit. We'll correct that next summer.

Well, the garden chores are DONE!!!! Yeah! Now I'll look to other creative endeavors to pursue this winter.

Let it snow - I'm ready!