The Life of Cornish Cross Chickens (on our farm)

I think my husband thought I was crazy as we stood outside in our pajamas, me with a walking stick, at 2:00 am.  This morning, I even googled the sound a raccoon makes just to make sure I wasn’t actually hearing a cat fight.  But I have lived in the country, I know what raccoons sound like and they were definitely outside my window.  But they were long gone by the time we adrenaline rushed it outside, thanks to Gandalf.

The raccoons surely heard about the amazing buffet we were putting on.  I don’t bother closing the chicken door at night because Gandalf is outside.  But, he is not in the chicken yard so the raccoons could have braved up and had quite a feast.  The Cornish girls and their Basset hound-sized boyfriend can’t get up on to the shelves so they are just sitting there in a clump waiting to be chicken a’ la gross.

Last week I went out to the coop and found Dixie.  She was the smallest of the Cornish cross chickens we rescued.  She had somehow died on her back.  Bob (the rooster) sat sweetly next to her.  She had no trauma, she was just dead.  Her vent was clogged, so she probably died of toxicity.  There was no rigor mortis yet, but I still was barely able to pull her from under the shelf because of how heavy she was.  Her legs wouldn’t touch, so I couldn’t use them to help me move her into a bag.  The glamour of a farm wife, I tell you.

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Cornish Cross chickens were developed to be broilers.  At five to eight weeks old, they are processed and become the adorable Cornish hens one might find in the grocery store.  I seem to have imagined that Cornish hens were some type of miniature breed.  Well, now the chickens are five months old.  They are grossly huge.  Their legs are splayed so when they run, they wobble.  They can’t reach their backsides to preen, so we may lose others in the vent-clogged battle.  They don’t seem to have any natural chicken behaviors, like scratching, dust bathing, or running.  I have moved their water thirty feet from the coop to encourage walking.  They are a sad lot.  It is terrible that we humans have done this to a really cool species.

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Bob is a handsome fellow.  His chest is body builder ginormous and shaped like a heart.  He tries to chase the ladies but he can’t catch them.  My hen (honest to God) was crowing one morning trying to teach the young lad but alas, he only croaks and seems to be too tired to crow.

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I am astounded at the difference between my laying hens and the meat chickens.  Perhaps it wasn’t kind to keep them alive after all, but they do enjoy the sunshine and they got a pass.  Living as one of my chickens isn’t too bad of a life.  They bark like dogs and are the size of turkeys.  They have very sweet temperaments.

I will probably stick to the petite laying hens from here forward.  It’s too sad to see these giants trying to be chickens.  But there is still nothing better than sitting out in a lawn chair on a warm evening with a drink watching the comedy show.  Chickens are nothing if not hilarious.

Painting 101 (just for the fun of it)

It doesn’t matter if you think you are a good artist or not.  Art is subjective.  What might affect my emotions in a painting may not be the same as what style someone else is attracted to.  I have stood adoring many a painting in museums and in homes and I am in love with southwest oil realism.  Or anything from the sixteenth century.  My friend has a painting in his dining room of blue brush strokes that he no doubt paid hundreds for.  See, none of that matters.  We are painting because it is fun.  Creating and using your right brain helps your brain function better, breaks up the daily schedule, and helps us be like children again.

First grab a canvas, acrylic paints, and a set of brushes.  These things are found easily and inexpensively at Walmart.  Acrylic is easy to clean up.  I adore oil but I do not love the fumes or clean up.  Watercolors are also nice.  I have carried watercolors with me with a small canning jar of water in my purse before for a stint, capturing moments in coffee shops and parks.

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Find a photograph that you love or something out of a magazine.  In your mind, imagine a cross through the photo evenly splitting the photo into four blocks.  Now do the same on your canvas and use that as your scale.  Use pencil.  Here is a great trick that my seventh grade teacher taught me and I will use it forever: if you get stuck, turn the photograph or picture upside down.  That’s right, turn it upside down.  You will start drawing it as you see it not as your mind sees it.  Big difference.  You will be astounded by your accuracy!

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Use an egg carton as a palette.  It’s easy clean up and you can blend twelve to eighteen colors at a time!  Start with the background.  You are building from the back to the front, otherwise it will look confusing to the onlooker.

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Have some fun with it!  There are no rules with art.  These koi fish could have been purple and blue and maybe would have looked even better!  Look for sparkle paint to highlight pieces of your painting; the scales, or a sunset, or fireflies.

My paintings take about two hours.  If I have to create them over months, they will end up in the pile of unfinished knitting and other projects.  Remember that your painting will never look like you imagine.  Art has a mind of its own- even for the great artists of the world- and art looks like it darn well wants.  You cannot manipulate it.  Just go along for the journey and see what creates itself.

Spray with a protective spray for paintings, sign, and hang on the wall!  Be proud of your work.  We are all artists!

Tea Time (and brewing and blending the perfect tea)

Tea has been a long standing tradition in every culture around the world.  Many times the teas were medicinal, other times sacred.  Mostly shared in moments of friendship or sometimes as a break from the day.  From Japanese tea ceremonies to 4:00 tea time, tea is a lovely custom.

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Despite my family being on American soil for three to four hundred years now, our European DNA hasn’t altered much.  For me, 4:00 and 8:00 are automatically timed within me to make a spot of tea.  Sharing tea is wonderful if I have someone over.  My mother always drinks tea in lovely tea cups throughout the day.  I do as well.  My daughters followed suit.  The cup is important.  Drinks taste different in varying cups and always taste better shared.

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This is my new tea set.  I love Japanese gardens and I adore ponds of koi.  This sweet set reminds me of our travels to gardens and it reminds me to take a moment to breathe.  In this set, you put the loose tea in the pot, let steep, then pour through the strainer into the pitcher and serve in tiny cups.  This tea pot calls for Genmaicha tea.  It is a fragrant green tea with toasted rice.

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I was given my first tea set when I was ten years old for Christmas from my Grandma and Grandpa.  A miniature tea set with espresso-sized cups with pink rose buds.  I had a Tuesday Tea Party where I was allowed to invite a friend over and my mother made us tea with real sugar cubes and small snacks.

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One of my favorite teas is a good black tea like Earl Grey or Assam, with agave and cream.  Or maybe brewed with honey and orange peel instead.

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Use 1 teaspoon of loose tea per cup of near boiling water and steep for 4 minutes.  You can use dried herbs like mint, roses, or yarrow.  I grow my own jasmine as a houseplant and it is lovely as tea.  Combine herbs and teas and enjoy to your heart’s content.  Tea is low in caffeine, filled with antioxidants and health benefits, and is good for the spirit.  It makes you slow down, breathe, and take a moment to be present.

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Two Pressure Canners (and inventorying the freezer and root cellar)

When I closed my shops, everything went into my basement.  I am slowly swimming my way out of it.  I set up a homestead shelf in the root cellar and organized the things I had brought home from my not-so-popular homestead shop.  With this lifestyle, I will use them or use them up at some point.  Soap making supplies, extra boxes of canning supplies, cheese presses, and loads of candles are carefully organized on shelves so that I can see what I have.  I now have two canners and two pressure canners, which really came in handy yesterday.

Now is a good time to empty your freezer and take stock of what you have and what has been lingering for years and what needs to be replenished this gardening season.  Out went several bags of way-too-spicy peppers and half opened this and thats.  Into the ginormous soup pot went all the frozen veggies and odds and ends that I had saved; wilted celery, a few carrots, ends of onions, and all the bags of frozen veggies I thought we would eat; eggplant, Brussels sprouts, green peppers.  Some things are better fresh.  Some herbs and salt and pepper and two hours of simmering later, I had a beautiful vegetable broth waiting to be canned.

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20 pint jars of aromatic liquid were put up.  Usually I would take all day to wait for the canner to come to pressure, can the jars, wait for the pressure to come down, and then do it all again.  With two canners, it was done so fast that I am looking forward to canning season!  I really boosted my production while saving time with just one more pot.  The extra six cups of broth from the pot went into the fridge to use in recipes this week.  A pressure canner fits 10 pint jars or 9 quart jars.  I never freeze broth.  It takes up too much room and I will never remember to take it out in time for supper.

This is a great time to start your canning.  Get some stocks and beans done now on rainy days and before the rush of summer veggies and fruits.  While you are at it, take stock of your root cellar items too.  Start eating some of those canned foods and make room for new ones.  A full cellar is a thing of great comfort and joy!  And it turns out, a second canner is too.

How to Make Broth (and for the record, we have thus far failed at eating roosters and Bob is quite safe here.)

How to Can Beans

Bocce! The Ultimate Family Game

According to my DNA test, I am not Italian. but one might think I was and I feel I should be!  What, with my Italian convertible Fiat (I mean, pumpkin shaped mini-farm vehicle), my great love of homemade Italian food, my extensive knowledge of Italian wines, my closest friend is even Italian!  Oh, and so is my favorite game.  Here I sat down to write to you about bocce and how to play it because it is portable, easy, and so much fun.  But, it turns out I already wrote about it, four years ago Easter.  So I will link that one so that you can see the details and photos of my little Maryjane as a two year old ball runner.

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This year for Easter the kids all came down to Pueblo.  We took the dusty bag of bocce balls from the shed and set them on the front porch.  For some reason, we haven’t taught Reed (who has been in the family three years and is Italian!) how to play yet.  Maryjane threw the small white ball (the jack) and then ran off to play.  Aunt Bree opted to hold Ayla so the teams would be even.  We played on the side of the house, a bit more demure than we usually are.  We tend to like to throw the thing into ravines and over small hills.  Andrew and Emily were deep in conversation the whole time, but still managed to win.

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Do pick up a set of Bocce if you see it at sporting good stores or garage sales.  The game is great for picnics, family get-togethers, or just with two people, a glass of limoncello, and a dusky summer night.

Here is the rest of the story..

Talks, Events, and Big News

We are in the midst of Spring here, warm and breezy, and filled with bright sun.  Everything is coming to life and there are lots of events I want to share with you!

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Talk on Remedios, Medicine, and Healing at the Trinidad History Museum will take place on Saturday, May 4th at noon.  I am honored to be speaking at the opening of the museum’s newest exhibit, Borderlands.  It is fascinating exhibit showcasing art and artifacts which tell the history of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.  I will be speaking on indigenous plants as medicine in their new medicine garden.  Free!  The museum is hosting fun, free activities the whole day to celebrate the exhibit opening.

Trinidad History Museum link

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Herb Walk around the Riverwalk for El Pueblo History Museum in Pueblo, Colorado.  I will be leading an herb walk around the Riverwalk as a part of the Modern Homesteading series put on by the El Pueblo History Museum on Monday, June 10th at 11:00.  Tickets are $10 and are available through the museum.

El Pueblo History Museum link

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Urban Farm-to-Table Dinner

My daughter, Emily, and I will be hosting a pop-up dinner party Saturday, June 15th at 6:00 on our mini-farm in Pueblo, Colorado.  Four courses, all fresh from the gardens, wine pairings, and tours of our homestead.  Visit Bob the rooster, see how our solar works, check out the root cellar, walk through the medicine gardens, and enjoy a beautiful evening with great food and fun.  Tickets are $45 and are available through me.  Katie@PumpkinHollowFarm.net

Pumpkin Hollow Farm link

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Master Certified Herbalism Course- Autumn Session

I will be teaching a 12 week Master Herbalist course at our farm every Saturday beginning August 24th at 10:00.  Autumn is the best time to take the herbalism course because all of the plants are still in bloom and identifying and herb walks are much more helpful.  Learn dozens and dozens of medicinal herbs, their uses, identification, many ways to turn them into medicine, practitioner training, animal medicine, and the traditional treatments of every common ailment known today.  This comprehensive class is only $650 (plus $30 for the text book if you do not have it)  Sign up today!  Class size is very limited.  Katie@PumpkinHollowFarm.net for a registration form.

Class info link

Certified Herbalist Correspondence Course available for $250 plus text book.

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We are busy around here and life is just spectacular.  I have very exciting news to share with you!  Our daughter, Emily, and her long time boyfriend, Reed, are engaged to be married this summer!  Our beautiful family just gets bigger and more bonded and what an amazing blessing it all is.

 

How to Make Dandelion Wine (and any other you can think of!)

“Honey, you want to harvest these dandelions before I mow?” my husband called out.  Why, I didn’t even know the dandelions were here yet, and there they were in lovely carpets of gold; their lion manes of spring feeding the bees and dotting the yard with color.  I love dandelions.

Using my thumbnail, I simply pop off the tops of the flowers.  Like a little bee myself, I flit from flower to flower.  I filled a quart jar and a half and still left some in the garden beds for the honey gatherers.  The next thing you want to do is to pour the golden flowers into a paper bag and leave it on the porch on its side.  This allows the stragglers to escape.  No one wants ant wine.

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Wine is, in its essence, fermented sweet tea or juice with yeast that feeds off the sugars turning it into a delightful and medicinal drink.

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Bring flowers, one peeled orange, and 16 cups (1 gallon) of water to boil.  Turn off heat and cover with lid and let sit for 15 minutes.

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Strain into a gallon container used for wine making.  Leave a few inches headspace. You will have some tea left over.  Add 4 cups of sugar (I prefer organic, unbleached, raw sugar) and 2 cups of brown sugar (molasses is what makes it brown).  Stir to dissolve.

Dandelions taste particularly good with orange and caramel notes.  I like to add orange extract and butterscotch extracts when making dandelion jelly.  In this case, we are using fresh orange and brown sugar to create those notes.

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Let cool to 90 degrees then add 1/4 teaspoon of white wine yeast.  Stir.  Replace lid and carboy.  Pour a smidge of vodka into carboy to specified lines.  Let sit in a cool corner and bubble away.  It will bubble (the yeast is eating the sugar) for 10 days to 3 weeks depending on what kind of wine you are making.

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When the bubbling stops then it is time to siphon the wine (all but the bottom 1/2 inch of sediment) into super clean bottles.  Place in root cellar for 6 months to a year or more.

You can use any fruit or herb to make wine.  If there is enough juice and sugars in the fruit (like in grapes) then you just add yeast to the juice.  Most things will be made into a strong tea like the above recipe as well as my chokecherry wine and rosehip/lavender mead.  Have fun and experiment.  Use 4-8 cups of sugar.  Use 1/4 or 1/5 of a teaspoon of wine yeast, red or white.

My chokecherry wine was pretty dang strong after a year, but after two years, lord it was smooth, and I highly wished that I hadn’t given away all of the bottles!

30 Days of Real Food (and the science of food)

I wonder when we as a whole forgot how to eat?  I doubt my Depression-era great-grandmas ever had to overthink it; what do we have to eat?  Women all over the world wake up in villages and towns and prepare food every day dictated by culture and availability.  The women in Okinawa make sushi and rice dishes, in Sardinia pasta is being made, in India a curry can be found, in America (and probably other places), we don’t know what the hell we are eating.  Most of us have lost any cultural identity we had and foods are so prevalent, shipped in from everywhere, that we haven’t an inkling of seasonality or even health.  It is incredible that we have forgotten how and what to eat.  Convenience and big companies dominate.

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You can find a fad a minute and I trust none of them.  Keto?  Come on.  Extreme veganism?  Not healthy or realistic.  Paleo?  Don’t get me started.  I might be a housewife, but I do research like a University professor.  I want to know what we should eat, why, when, how, and I desperately want to stop overthinking it.  My theory (which is not a new one) is that we are dying and sick from sedentary lifestyles, stress, loneliness, and chemicals.  Aka: fake food.

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Doug and I decided that in May we would do a 30 day Real Food challenge.  Is that the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard?  Can you imagine great-grandma saying something like, “You guys eat fake food?”  It sounds like a sci-fi movie.  Most of the food that we eat is indeed chemically altered and processed.  For example, my day yesterday: coffee (real!), cereal, almond milk, a cookie, a previously frozen breakfast sandwich at the book store, 3 dates (real!), and a breakfast bar.  I did make a mean Shepherd’s Pie from my daughter, Emily’s recipe.  Instead of lamb, as she called for, I used Beyond Meat crumbles.  Delicious, convincing, but my intuition screams that these new fangled veggie meats are not what they seem.  And they are, in a nutshell, chemically altered.

30 days of Real Food.  Which means, no eating out, and I need to conquer my lack of creativity in the realm of lunches.  Cookies are not lunch, y’all.

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While I figure all that out, I have two great books to share with you.  One is called, 100 Million Years of Food by Stephen Le.  It studies the eating habits from then to now and how in each area of the world, our enzymes and needs changed.  Much of his research comes out as, damned if you do, damned if you don’t, but it is fascinating information.  Yes meat will make you stronger, more fertile, and fast, but you will also peak and die early.  Yes, being vegetarian extends lifespan but at the expense of energy and nutrient deficiency.  Yes, dairy makes you grow strong and tall, but also increases the risk of hip fractures.  (Incidentally there are only a few places in the world that the people developed the enzymes to process dairy; Nordic, Celtic, and some African regions.)  Fruit is good for you unless you eat too much, then you increase your risk of Pancreatic cancer.  The whole book is like that but I enjoy the research and the ideas it triggers within myself.

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The second book is called, The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  You all know I wanted to attend cooking school, and I have even toured a few, but let’s be honest, I probably won’t work in a restaurant, I just want to be a better cook.  I saved roughly $9000 by purchasing this book!  It is the science and exact how-to’s and why’s of cooking.  Love it.  I can’t wait to cook my way through it, not unlike the popular blog, book, and film, Julia and Julia.  I will have to, for the first time in my life, actually follow the recipe.  But there is no chemically altered food found here.

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Along with our food ideas, we are also walking 3+ miles a day around the lake in the evenings, completing the exercise stations at the lake on the weekends, and incorporating yoga into our routine.  Our hope is, not only weight loss, but more vitality, energy, strength, and overall health, as well as a shift in our thinking so that we can sustain a healthy lifestyle.  Perhaps you would like to join in on the challenge!

Five Decorating Elements to Create the Perfect Space (and taking life slow and easy)

When making a bedroom cozy, or a kitchen entertainment friendly, or in this case, setting up a reading nook, there are specific components to decorating a space to consider.  The addition of the following things will create a peaceful, flowing, and delightful space.

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1. Incorporate plants- Besides the obvious benefits of cleaning the air and releasing oxygen, they are beautiful live creations to share the space with.  Put a small rose in a pot from the grocery store.  Don’t be afraid to bring in big plants and some unusual ones.  I have a poinsettia year round and a large Asian aloe.  Use pots that please you.

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2. Add gentle light- Do not turn on the overhead lights!  Twinkly lights and candles make a space so serene.  Oil lamps add unexpected coziness.  My eyes have been a little funny lately so I begrudgingly hauled up a lamp from the basement and put it behind my reading chair.  It actually feels cozy as well.

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3. Add color- Add at least three colors and then repeat them.  Even if you are an austere type of decorator, add three different shades of white.  My pops of southwestern color all work together because at least some of the colors repeat themselves in the patterns.  The vibrant pink, reds, blue, and the yellow all are found in two or more items.  It doesn’t matter what the pattern is as long as the colors repeat; florals can mixed with stripes and other designs.

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4. Add comfortable places to sit.  We have our two god-awful recliners with chewed arm rests, but covering them with inexpensive blankets transforms them.  A rocking chair with pillows is always inviting.

5. Add things you love.  Like books, or souvenirs, or cats.

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Finally, take time to enjoy your space.  It’s a little crazy out there sometimes.  Everyone is in such a rush.  At the grocery store the other day there was a quite elder woman who moved slowly and kept adjusting her oxygen tube.  She stood in front of me in line and every few minutes she would mutter, “Come on!  Hurry up!” to the people in front of her.  She sighed exasperated and practically bumped the lady in front of her out of the way to get to the counter.  Why on earth was she in such a hurry?  And did she get there any faster?  On the way home, on thirty mile and hour roads, tailgaters checked out my bumper.

Listen folks, life is going to end before we know it and I know y’all trying to get there before it does, but slow and easy is the new beauty secret and anti-depressant.  You will get there when you get there.  We ought to cut everyone some slack and not schedule ourselves to the point of hysteria.  Take some things out of your schedule.  Take time to smile and chat with the cashier.  Drive safely.  If someone is driving in front of you super slow, pretend like it is your grandpa or your granddaughter.  Just easy now.

And after the supper dishes are cleared, pour a glass of wine and set down in your reading and resting area and enjoy the space.  The way you decorate can be a respite from the world.

 

Planting in Glass Jars

Planting in canning jars and other large glass vessels is such a fun idea.  I have seen these a few places now and I love the idea.  My bamboo is planted in a canning jar.  I love the idea of giving succulents in canning jars as gifts.

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I equally love the idea of using larger glass jars to showcase pine trees, like this one that we saw at a restaurant in New Mexico.  They really would have to be for a party or a few weeks of decoration because of the lack of drainage.  But they really are charming.  I can also envision miniature rose bushes in large glass jars lining a table.  The ideas are endless.

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My Easter bunnies

My Easter table this year will seat ten.  Bright colored oil cloth of reds and blues and my new Fiesta ware will be used at each place.  I am making a feast of enchiladas, chili rellenos, beans, rice, guacamole, and icy margaritas.  Perhaps a bit untraditional for Easter dinner but shaking things up is my specialty.  Succulents or miniature cacti in canning jars may very well complete the décor.

So grab those wide mouth jars and plant away!  Gifts and entertaining just got more creative and fun.