Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Baby Chicks Arrived Today --- Ahhhhhhhh

Not everyone gets their babies at the Post Office!!

Early this morning, I received a call from the Post Office that our baby chicks had arrived! Baby poultry can be shipped with relatively few problems because of how nature has designed hatchlings to survive. Just before they hatch, they absorb nutrients from the egg, which allows them to live a few days without food or water. They are boxed and into the mail stream within a few hours after they have hatched.
The chicks are packaged in a box with bedding and holes for air. Should it be very cold when the chicks are to ship the hatchery will include a heat pack. Ours arrived all warm and peeping.

I opened the box and there were my 10 little chicks. Aren't they adorable? They are healthy and active. The black chicks are French Marans with the cuckoo pattern meaning a barred pattern in their feathers and the light colored chicks are Easter Eggers. They made the 3 day trip from Purely Poultry in Wisconsin just fine!

We have set up the nursery again in the laundry room so we hear peeps throughout the house. We have a clean box filled with pine shavings and a heat lamp with fresh warm water and chick feed. Before putting them into the nursery, I have to take each chick and dip its beak into the water so they know where to get a drink. They seemed to find the food just fine and within 30 minutes were exploring the box, eating & drinking.

Our new babies include 5 Easter Egg Chickens that lay blue & green colored eggs and 5 French Cuckoo Marans that lay chocolate colored eggs! We presently have 3 hens from our original 5 Easter Eggers which have continuously laid blue, green and olive colored eggs almost every day since they started laying last August. The Easter Eggers are so sweet in nature and excellent layers of such unusual color, I just had to get more. And then I learned about the French Marans breed, which originated in western France in the town of Marans, and is best known for its dark chocolate colored eggs. If you are a James Bond fan, you know he preferred eggs laid by the French Marans hens. The French Marans chickens are supposed to get along well with people and have a calm disposition. Our egg cartons later this summer should be a beautiful thing to see.
On the left is the French Cuckoo Marans and on the right the Easter Egg chick.

This is what the French Marans eggs are supposed to look like!! We'll see in August when they begin laying.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Exciting Alternative Energy News...The Artificial Leaf

Artificial leafDebut of the first practical 'artificial leaf' article from CATCH THE BUZZ* newsletter.

ANAHEIM, March 27, 2011 — Scientists today claimed one of the milestones in the drive for sustainable energy — development of the first practical artificial leaf. Speaking here at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, they described an advanced solar cell the size of a poker card that mimics the process, called photosynthesis, that green plants use to convert sunlight and water into energy.  
"A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades," said Daniel Nocera, Ph.D., who led the research team. "We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station," he said. "One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology."

The device bears no resemblance to Mother Nature's counterparts on oaks, maples and other green plants, which scientists have used as the model for their efforts to develop this new genre of solar cells. About the shape of a poker card but thinner, the device is fashioned from silicon, electronics and catalysts, substances that accelerate chemical reactions that otherwise would not occur, or would run slowly. Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day, Nocera said. It does so by splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen.

The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce electricity, located either on top of the house or beside it.

Nocera, who is with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, points out that the "artificial leaf" is not a new concept. The first artificial leaf was developed more than a decade ago by John Turner of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. Although highly efficient at carrying out photosynthesis, Turner's device was impractical for wider use, as it was composed of rare, expensive metals and was highly unstable — with a lifespan of barely one day.

Nocera's new leaf overcomes these problems. It is made of inexpensive materials that are widely available, works under simple conditions and is highly stable. In laboratory studies, he showed that an artificial leaf prototype could operate continuously for at least 45 hours without a drop in activity.

The key to this breakthrough is Nocera's recent discovery of several powerful new, inexpensive catalysts, made of nickel and cobalt, that are capable of efficiently splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, under simple conditions. Right now, Nocera's leaf is about 10 times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf. However, he is optimistic that he can boost the efficiency of the artificial leaf much higher in the future.

"Nature is powered by photosynthesis, and I think that the future world will be powered by photosynthesis as well in the form of this artificial leaf," said Nocera, a chemist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
Nocera acknowledges funding from The National Science Foundation and Chesonis Family Foundation.
The American Chemical Society is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

This is the most exciting news about alternative energy that I've heard in some time. It is not destructive to man or the planet and is relatively simple and cost effective. Now I ask you, why don't we hear about this on the evening news instead of the latest drug wars, gang arrests, murders and political shenanigans --- or Charlie Sheen?

I love the natural world and I love to garden therefore I have a passion for the environment.  In the state of Nebraska, an oil company wants to put their crude oil pipeline through one of nature's greatest natural resources---the Ogallala Aquifer which underlies approximately 225,000 square miles in the Great Plains region. Of course, all the "experts" say its safe. It's always safe until the unexpected happens, e.g. Gulf Oil Spill, and then in this case, its our drinking water that is compromised. When will we learn?

The artificial leaf....who knew? artificial leaf solar power  This link is to an article about another artificial leaf concept in the solar industry.

*CATCH THE BUZZ newsletter is about beekeeping - another developing interest of mine.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Signs Of Spring

The wild turkeys have returned from the river...
Here's a Tom strutting through the yard

Bulbs are waking up and the grass is greening...

Tulips poking through the straw mulch and chicken
wire. I'm going out every day to clip the wire away
from the plants emerging from the ground. The chickenwire
is working to keep the chickens from scratching the beds.

Lilac buds are beginning to swell...

And, the snow has returned...
This is what we woke to on Friday morning. By
afternoon it was mostly melted.

  This is our back deck where we're trying to keep
  Lacey off thus the trellis. However if you look closely
  the trellis has fallen off the nail and there is a clear
  spot in the snow which means Lacey spent the night
  on the deck sleeping in the snow instead of in her new
          ...and this is what we woke to this morning!
          The good news is all the moisture in the snow
          that we really need right now.

     The snow continues to fall. Oh well, the spring
     peas will just have to wait to be planted.

The exciting part of spring is all the sudden changes as you see here. Every day reveals something new...
whether it is spring flowers
or bluebirds beginning to check out the birdhouses
or snow.

"I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden." ~Ruth Stout

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Saving For The Future

Last year during apricot season, Mark asked me to save some seeds for him to plant. I gave him a pie tin filled with seeds and he put them in the barn. One day this winter he noticed that the pie tin was empty! Where did the apricot seeds go?

This week he reached for his rubber boots and they were very heavy. He tipped one boot, and there were all the apricot seeds! The other boot was filled with corn kernels. Can you imagine the time it took for a squirrel to haul the apricot seeds and corn kernels one by one to fill two men's tall rubber boots? That was one busy squirrel saving for the future!

hummmmm --- If a squirrel can do it.....

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nebraska and Thailand Came Together Today

Our granddaughter, Kelsey, is back from Thailand and treated us to a wonderful Thai supper tonight.
She has returned from six months in Thailand that is a part of her junior year of college. She has been sharing her experiences with us this weekend including cooking Thai food. Tonight our cottage was filled with exotic spices, ingredients and smells.  She arrived with the ingredients and wok! What a joy to watch her cook and help as her sous chef!

If you'd like to try this tasty dish, here's the recipe. It is a delight to the senses.

Chiangmai Curry Soup (Kao Soy)
Egg noodles
2 large chicken breasts cut into strips
2 T cooking oil
2 Cups coconut milk
3 chopped shallots
2 T fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp Indian curry powder
1 T red curry paste
1 T finely chopped coriander leaf and spring onion
1 lime, cut into quarters

Boil water for the egg noodles and put them in to cook according to directions
Mix the red curry paste with the Indian curry powder
Place the wok over low heat, put the oil and red curry paste mixture into the wok and stir continuously until fragrant
Add chicken with 1/4 cup of coconut milk and stir constantly until the chicken is fully cooked (add some water or chicken broth if it is too thick. This is soup and not a sauce.)
Add the remaining coconut milk, turn the heat to medium and continue to stir constantly
Add fish sauce and sugar and stir to blend.

Drain noodles and place in the bottom of a soup tureen or large bowl
Pour the curry chicken mixture over the noodles
Serve with a quarter of lime for each person; the lime adds a wonderful finish to the soup. Delicious!

Tomorrow she is treating us to a Thai Pumpkin and Egg Stirfry. Now that sounds unusual. We prepped the ingredients tonight including the butternut squash since she said the Thai pumpkins were more like squash, lemongrass, and peppers - as in spicy or hot peppers. Mmmm, can't wait to try it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

God Bless The Japanese Nation

I can't imagine the horror and shock this nation just experienced. The people that are so tuned into nature culturally have experienced natures power at its worst in this disaster. I will do what I can in my small way so far away. God bless them all.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bringing Out The Noodle Fan

I wanted to be outside today because of the beautiful weather, but it's too muddy in most of the yard, and still snow covered in other parts, so there isn't much to do outside yet. That said, it was a great day for making homemade pasta. Yum!!

Pasta making is satisfying and easy with a pasta machine. The recipe is so basic... 10 oz of flour, 3 eggs and 1/2 tsp salt from which the delectable pasta emerges after a little stirring, a little kneading and then 30 minutes of rest. I made one batch of egg noodles and another with whole wheat flour and flax seed. By making my own, I ensure that there are no chemicals in the pasta. Check it out ---
Weighing the flour

The whole wheat dough being worked in the pasta

Cutting the pasta

Egg noodles drying on the oven handles

Noodles drying with the help of Mom's Noodle Fan

The day's work drying

When we were growing up our Mom would make homemade noodles especially for chicken noodle soup. Both her noodles and her soup were just delicious and considered a treat. After the noodles were made she would dry them with her little "noodle fan" which she gave me. It's a lovely touchstone with my it does a fabulous job of drying the pasta. I thought about her a lot today.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Winter Is Ideal Time For Feeding The Mind

I've read some great books this winter and have told you about some of them and here are a few more. Enjoy!

I just finished the eagerly awaited memoir by Margaret Roach, And I Shall Find Some Peace There.  I personally loved the book since I'm an avid follower of her very practical and funny garden blog, A Way To Garden. Check Favorite Links on the right side of my blog if you'd like to check it out---and I highly recommend that you do. Margaret was a senior executive with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia where she began as the first garden editor. She had an illustrious career in publishing working as editor for the New York Times, Newsday and then MSLO. She also wrote an award winning gardening book, also called, A Way To Garden.
And I Shall Have Some Peace There by Margaret Roach: Book CoverMargaret is an eloquent writer who easily grabs you out of your chair and sits you down with her directly on her little acreage. There she tells her story of leaving her high flying & hugely successful career in NYC and moving to her place in the country. It's not quite that simple though. You learn how gut-wrenching and downright emotionally scary it is at times for her, how she second guesses herself at times,  how she becomes self sufficient on her small hilly acreage through all seasons including frigid winter and summer thunderstorms; and with great charm explains the creatures who share her "little piece of dirt road"--- the toads, the snakes and Jack the demon cat. It is a warm, heartfelt, deeply personal, funny and hopeful memoir. Certainly worth the time to read. If you're thinking of chucking it all for a different life, this is a great tutorial. I experienced many of the same emotions and lessons when I made the decision to retire from my career. I'm happy with my decision and resonate with Margaret in how she has through everyday living come to that content place in her soul.

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff: Book CoverAn amazing historical biography, CLEOPATRA - A Life by Stacy Schiff who is a Pulitzer Prize winner. Ms. Schiff is a remarkable researcher and author. In this biography she brings to dazzling life the times and persona of the last queen of Egypt. I was amazed at the imagery she used to describe Egypt during Cleopatra's reign where women were full citizens with full rights and where the sciences, beautiful architecture and literature were highly valued. Cleopatra had a first rate education for the times and was considered an expect military strategist and exceptional leader with a remarkable work ethic. Of course there was all the palace intrigue one would expect, love affairs, children, and murders which made for interesting reading too! I found the story spellbinding. If you are a biography buff, you will find it a great read.

Straight Man by Richard Russo: Book CoverStraight Man by Richard Russo, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Empire Falls. "[Russo] skewers academic pretensions and infighting with mad a clear and muscular prose that is a pleasure to read...I had to stop often to guffaw, gasp, wheeze and wipe away my tears." - Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun-Times.  I couldn't say it better myself. A fun read.

The Investment Answer by Daniel C. Goldie: Book CoverThe Investment Answer by Daniel C Goldie, CFA, CFP & Gordon S. Murray. A little book with a huge punch of advice.
This is an excerpt from the New York Times review that compelled me to get the book.
"There are no one-handed push-ups or headstands on the yoga mat for Gordon Murray anymore. No more playing bridge, either — he jokingly accuses his brain surgeon of robbing him of the gray matter that contained all the bidding strategy. But when Mr. Murray, a former bond salesman for Goldman Sachs who rose to the managing director level at both Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse First Boston, decided to cease all treatment five months ago for his glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer, his first impulse was not to mourn what he couldn’t do anymore or to buy an island or to move to Paris. Instead, he hunkered down in his tiny home office here and channeled whatever remaining energy he could muster into a slim paperback. It’s called “The Investment Answer,” and he wrote it with his friend and financial adviser Daniel Goldie to explain investing in a handful of simple steps.

Why a book? And why this subject? Nine years ago, after retiring from 25 years of pushing bonds on pension and mutual fund managers trying to beat the market averages over long periods of time, Mr. Murray had an epiphany about the futility of his former customers’ pursuits.

He eventually went to work as a consultant for Dimensional Fund Advisors, a mutual fund company that rails against active money management. So when his death sentence arrived, Mr. Murray knew he had to work quickly and resolved to get the word out to as many everyday investors as he could.

“This is one of the true benefits of having a brain tumor,” Mr. Murray said, laughing. “Everyone wants to hear what you have to say.” He and Mr. Goldie have managed to beat the clock, finishing and printing the book themselves while Mr. Murray is still alive. It is plenty useful for anyone who isn’t already investing in a collection of index or similar funds and dutifully rebalancing every so often.

But the mere fact that Mr. Murray felt compelled to write it is itself a remarkable story of an almost willful ignorance of the futility of active money management — and how he finally stumbled upon a better way of investing. Mr. Murray now stands as one the highest-ranking Wall Street veterans to take back much of what he and his colleagues worked for during their careers."

Mr. Murray passed away in January of this year.

Room by Emma Donoghue: Book CoverRoom by Emma Donoghue. Have you met Jack? ROOM is the remarkable story of Jack, a five-year-old boy who has lived his whole life in a single room. The story is rivoting. Give it a read - it's worth the time.

Dear Reader;
I enjoy hearing from you about your favorite books. Thank you for sharing. If you don't want to miss a post, you are welcome to get current updates of Country Life Tales by Subscribing (on the left of my blog) or signing up as a Google Follower (on the right side of my blog).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Country Finds

One of the joys of the encore phase of life (aka retirement) is that you can have spontaneous outings on any given day.  Today we went exploring and scavenging the nearby prairie.

Mark found old bricks in a cattle pasture at what was once a homestead so that was our first stop this afternoon. We use bricks to outline the ground beds surrounding the garden. Last year we found used bricks on our ranch in one of the pastures but not enough for the entire garden so we're always on the lookout. Our haul today filled in the asparagus bed but we are still lacking some for the west side of the garden.

It was fun to uncover the bricks and think about the lives of those who once
lived on this remote homestead. It was easy to visualize children playing on the prairie there. It must have been difficult to get in and out of their place when the ground was muddy or icy with all the hills and distance from the nearest road.

This was the only building left standing. There were a few foundations so we could see how the farm was laid out. The inside of this building was full of fallen timbers and bricks.

It took some time and effort to gather the bricks and load them into the pickup.
Once we got home we lined the asparagus garden bed. A lovely usage of these old bricks, wouldn't you say? The bricks help keep the grass out and protects the plants when I mow. This is another step in getting ready for spring!
On the way home, we saw an old prairie cemetery sitting high on a hill and decided to explore. With all the overgrowth, it was obvious that it is not visited anymore. We discovered why as we looked at the dates on the tombstones - mid-1800s to early 1900s- so it probably was the families that settled this area. I took pictures of a few of the granite tombstones that we thought were interesting or beautiful - you can see the dates for yourself. It really got us thinking about the lives these folks lived in the harsh prairie during their lifetime.

Died 1899
Died 1897
Just a few of the small monuments to people that lived here before us. I wish I knew their stories.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spring Migration in Nebraska's Central Flyway

One of the harbingers of spring in Nebraska is the spring migration of Sandhills Cranes and geese of various types in the central flyway.

Our friend Gary B and me at the Sandhills Crane
Center next to the species that come through
Central Nebraska. They are magnificent!
"From February through April each spring nearly 500,000 Sandhill Cranes crowd together along a short stretch of the Platte River in south central Nebraska.  This migration event is one of the most spectacular wildlife happenings that can be witnessed anywhere. Several years ago National Geographic magazine named this annual crane migration through central Nebraska as one of North America’s two greatest natural wildlife phenomena – the other one being the Caribou migration in Alaska. The world's foremost authority on birds, Roger Tory Peterson, wrote "It is the largest concentration of any species of cranes, anywhere in the world.” He listed the Central Platte Valley as one of his twelve favorite birding hotspots in North America." An excerpt from an article on the migration in Grand Island @

Yesterday while doing chores, Mark called me to step outside onto the back deck and listen. We live about a mile and half from the river. The cacophony of sound from all the migrating birds on the river was thrilling as you can imagine. I feel privileged to experience this wonderful season of nature.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Magnificant Trees and Our Environment

Arbor Day Farm
When Mark and I travel to new places, we investigate the local trees and try to locate some of the areas biggest trees. We went to the sequoias in CA and stood by General Sherman, an amazingly huge and beautiful ancient sequoia supposedly between 2300 and 2700 years old;

Mark with General Sherman sequoia

A giant sequoia
we saw one of the largest oak trees in the state of Kansas; Santa Barbara, CA, has an incredible huge old Moreton Bay Fig tree that is now standing nearly under a freeway overpass but at least it still stands with roots coming out of the ground taller than me;
We're standing at the base of the fig tree

Mark and young Kelsey standing between the roots

The full canopy of the fig tree in Santa Barbara
and below is a picture of me standing with the old Angel Oak tree we saw on Johns Island in South Carolina. They say it's 1400 years old. It left us speechless. See if you can see me standing near one of the huge branches of the tree on the left. I'm wearing a yellow top. Click on the picture to enlarge it. Magnificent tree, isn't it? This too started out as a mere twig sapling.

We are planning to visit the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, NE this spring. I'm sure you've heard of the Arbor Day Foundation which has been responsible for planting millions of trees in our country. Are you living in a Tree City? That program was originated by the Arbor Day Foundation. Arbor Day Foundation partnered with Duke Energy in NC with a goal to have 100,00 more of its customers switch from traditional billing to paperless online billing in 2010. Duke Energy exceeded its goal and has fulfilled its pledge to the Arbor Day Foundation to donate $100,000 for trees to be planted on public land in the states it serves - North and South Carolina, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Isn't that wonderful news?

When you become a member of the Arbor Day Foundation, you are offered ten free trees. They are small but all trees begin small, right? We have planted many new trees on the ranch from Arbor Day for the future. I have to admit, that feels really good.

If you are looking for a place for a business conference, you should check out Lied Lodge & Conference Center at the Arbor Day Farm where recently participants of 32 nations came together for the Connecting Children With Nature Action Forum.

The Arbor Day Farm is definitely a place for people who love trees. Check out their website:
                           Arbor Day Foundation Logo
SkyBluePink --- right outside our windows