Sunday, December 23, 2012

Our latest visitor

The wildlife around here continues to entertain us.  Our latest visitor was this Great Blue Heron.
I went outside to get firewood when all of a sudden the chickens and turkeys started running around making lots of strange noises.  I looked up to see if a hawk was nearby and saw the heron flying over the house and then landing next to the stream.  He/She walked up the stream for a couple of minutes then flew away.  I love to watch Great Blue Herons fly; they look so prehistoric. 
We have not seen any fish in our stream, it's too shallow and fast moving I think.  But we have seen frogs, so maybe that is what the heron was searching for.
After the heron flew away we noticed that we couldn't see any chickens in their yard, except for our rooster.  Apparently the rooster's noises made all the chickens hide under and in the chicken house.  Way to go Cassius!
When my daughter uploaded the pictures of the heron onto my laptop she found the pictures she took of our one, very brief, snow fall. I was at work that day and asked her to take lots of pictures since the weather report made it likely that the snow would be melted by the time I would be home and it would be daylight.
So here are a few:

The weather forecast is calling for 1-3 inches starting Christmas Eve so hopefully we will have a white Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Around here

Around here life is moving along.  Our youngest daughter is now home for winter break.  But the week before finals we got to see a great concert by the Collegium Musicum.  Max has discovered a love of Renaissance music. And any concert with a Viola da Gamba playing has to be great.
Yesterday morning when I went out to feed a hawk flew up in front of me as I rounded the corner to the garage.  A pile of feathers led to the body of one of our Mottled Java hens.  The hawk looked like it could have been the same one who attacked a hen earlier. I guess as long as the hens are running around outside the pen they are at risk, or they are just keeping the hawk from going after the hens in the pen.
One of our hens is molting and is pretty pathetic looking.  She looks cold and could probably use a jacket, but how does one put a jacket on a chicken?
Christmas preparations are ongoing.  Shopping is nearly done and we bought our tree yesterday,  For years we have bought a tree from our neighbors' nursery down the road from the old house.  We could literally walk five minutes down the road, cut down our tree and walk it home (or use a cart depending on how big of a tree we felt like dealing with that year) in about half an hour.  And the trees have been $15 for at least the last 15 years.  We figured this would probably be the last year we would get a tree there so we picked one up on the way home. When we got it home, Alan set it in the garage while we get everything ready inside for the tree.
Even the outhouse has a touch a Christmas spirit.
It is supposed to be a rainy day here, but not yet.  So we finally got the last of the leaves raked up.  There always have to be a few trees that want to hold onto their leaves well beyond any reasonable length of time.  While raking out the vinca I found a lovely little surprise on this December day.

Still waiting to see my first snow at the new house; hopefully this month.  We also have what looks to be a great sledding hill.  Maybe while the girls are on winter break we can go sledding.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I couldn't have said it better

Sometime you read something that so speaks to where you are in your life experiences that you are amazed that someone else could put into words exactly what you are feeling. I had just such an experience while reading "This Organic Life".  The book chronicles Joan Gussow's move from her old, huge Victorian home of many decades to a smaller home on the banks of the Hudson River. Their "new" house ends up needing to be demolished and a new house built on the site, but it is the site that has drawn Joan and her husband to the location any way.

"September 27- Terrible, rainy day. No work on the house, obviously. But having just come back from Piermont, I need to reflect on the astonishing change of mood that place created. Nothing more has been done. The rain prevented work today, and prevented us from being out in the garden. But the place (was it the changing weather? There was a stiff wind off the water, and the sky kept changing, going silver and gray) just made me elated. When we got back to the car, we drove out the pier to look at the wild weather and I realized my mood was totally changed.  I have been depressed for days-partly the weather, I think, but its not only that. I simply love it in Piermont. I feel so wonderful when I'm there. It's just elating to be where you can connet so intimately with the weather every day. In this big house, we know if its raining or gloomy, and sometimes at night, when I get up to pee, I can see the moon so I know whether or not its full.  But there, you are aware of every nuance, every changing cloud, you feel the weather all the time, and its wonderful, sometimes even frightening as it almost was today with the wind driving heavy waves against the peir. We are going to live there, and I'm going to love it.

Earlier in the summer, a friend who was studying landscape suggested an explanation for the deep affinity I feel for this spot.  She had encountered in the writing of a scholar Jay Appleton the idea that two qualities in the landscape were particularly reassuring to relatively helpless mammals such as humans: refuge and prospect. Refuge for hiding out, and prospect for watching out- for enemies and food. Congers (her old house) had no prospect. We never sat out on our lawn, only on the porch, and then only "in season." I had enclosed the porch view- with a grapevine and evergreens close to the house and with shrubs around the property- to protect us from the corner traffic.  But Piermont offered us both refuge (note our reluctance to lose the shelter of the old house) and prospect of the river from the terrace and from the boardwalk.  It was not merely foolhardiness, but mammalian longing that made us buy a house we had to demolish."

I could not have written my feelings about both the old house and the new any better.  People keep asking how we could leave our old house after all the work and time we spent there.  Now I just have to give them these two paragraphs to read.

And Joan's garden has been plagued with flooding.  Here are a few pictures of her garden before and after the flooding of 2010.  And her little town of Piermont was devastated after Hurricane Sandy.  I hope she will be able to rebuild her garden again. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Making lemonade from lemons (or lumber from a walnut tree)

We have slowly been dealing with all the trees that fell thanks to Hurricane Sandy, both at the new house and the old house.  We have literally tons of fire wood in ash, walnut, oak and a little cherry.  The largest tree that fell at the new house was a huge walnut tree.  The diameter was so large that just cutting rounds would be difficult, let alone splitting it.  Alan's brother knows a man with a sawmill and he has come to take away the walnut and it will be milled into useable lumber. Its great to have something constructive come out of all that devastation.
Alan just came inside with good news.  The walnut taken away was worth three 16 foot beams to build a bridge across our stream and $70.  And it is gone!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The fox

We've had a number of sitings of the fox in the past week.  He/She always is walking up from the stream, along the edge of the goats' pen, towards the woods on the north side of our property.  So far the fox has left our chickens and turkeys alone.  Although, I've probably just jinxed them.
My daughter got some great pictures of the fox hunting mice or chipmunks in the field.  It looked just like a nature film and we felt very special to be able to see the fox in action (as long as no poultry are harmed in the process).

Hopefully, the fox will leave our animals alone.  However, if we start having poultry attacks we will need to figure out something.  After much searching on the web I found out legally we will be able to trap the fox and either "euthanize it within 24 hours or release it within the same county with the owner's permission."  But only if we have property damage.  Turns out Alan's brother's property includes one acre located in Berks county so we could trap and then release the fox there.  So let's hope we won't have to buy a really large trap for the fox.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Today was an interesting day of predators.  Our three Mottled Java hens do not like to stay in the pen and can fly pretty well, so they spend most of their day outside the chicken run.  They like to hang out under the bird feeder and clean up the sunflower seeds.  This morning I saw a lot of flapping going on at the edge of the stream on the other side of the bird feeders.  A Red Tail Hawk was attacking one of the Mottled Java hens, and she was putting up a pretty good fight.  There was lots of squawking going on as well.  When I opened up the patio door the hawk took off.  The hens hid under some arborvitae for the rest of the morning, but all of them were back to their normal activities by the afternoon.

When I went out to feed later this evening I spied a red fox moving slowly through the meadow near the chickens.  I was able to grab a quick picture, then we scared it away with a lot of very loud noise.
That;s the fox in nearly the middle of the picture.  He/She is about 50 feet from the chickens who insist on staying outside the pen every day.  I guess they need their wings clipped again to keep them in and safe.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

More on the turkeys

The turkeys have been testing my patience lately.  First it was sitting on the laundry:
Then the girls decided the roof was a great place to hang out:
And sitting on the power line coming into the house is definitely not a good idea girls!

Flying was really what was getting the girls into all kinds of trouble, so on Sunday Mackenzie and I clipped their wings.  I have not seen this yet, but my husband says they are really funny when they try to fly.  They get up about four feet in the air then bank sharply to the left and end up back on the ground. The males were happy, though, to have the females sticking around them.

In other turkey news: one tom went to the butcher's this morning along with four hens from the old house.  One hen at the old house was attacked over the weekend and needed to be put out of its misery, so only four old stewing hens for the freezer.  But they finished their job at the old house, doing a nice job cleaning up the vegetable garden there.

The butcher's farm is a quintessential Mennonite farm; two buggies in the garage, well pump powered by a large windmill, and great gardens.  And the price can't be beat.  Only $2 per chicken and $3 per turkey.  At these prices I may never want to butcher my own birds again.

It was fully dark by the time I got the call that the birds were ready to be picked up.  It was dark at the farm, guess they don't have outside lights, and the path to the butchering room was between two dark buildings.  Two people were standing outside the door waiting for their birds.  As I opened the door there was a rush of warm moist air laden with the scent of wet poultry feathers.  The whole family was involved in the butchering.  The turkey and chickens were put straight into the cooler, no bags, and then he dropped in the hearts and livers.  A quick stop on the way home to get bags big enough for a whole bird and then we spent a half hour packaging the birds. Can't wait to try them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Snow in the forecast!

I am sitting here with a cat on my lap writing this blog post secure in the knowledge that our little place is a s ready for the coming snow as we can reasonably be.  Yes, I would love to have all the leaves raked up, shredded and spread in the chicken run.  And it would be great if the poplar tree was not hanging over my garden, cantilevered out 15 feet in the air on the root ball of a large walnut tree.  But the goats have new hay and straw put away in their hay hut, fresh straw bedding in their house, and new clover hay in their manager.  The turkeys have a place to get out of the wind and snow and the chicken coop is snug as well. There is a wagon load of firewood on the patio and lots of kindling by the wood stove.

All the plants I brought from the old house are now in the ground.  The last seven Rose of Sharon shrubs were planted by the stream this morning.  And I didn't find one rock, stone, or pebble while digging the holes. I even did a few test digs in the area I want to turn into my raspberry patch and that was pretty nice digging as well. The soil here continues to amaze me.

I found a butcher for my five old laying hens who've been busily cleaning up the garden at the old house.  They are nearly three years old and have pretty much reached the end of their productive lives.  They will make great stewing hens since they have only ever eaten organic feed and garden plants and produce.  He even butchers turkeys so one of our males will go along for the ride.  Last Tuesday night two of our tom turkeys must have gotten into a fight. One of the toms was not doing well with multiple gashes around his face and neck.  Maddy butchered him, with the help of a friend, on Wednesday and he now resides in the freezer.  The other two tom turkeys had to be separated when they started fighting.  Never thought I would have to break up a fight between two turkeys!  The most dominant turkey also had to be separated from the chickens since one chicken was relentlessly pecking at his back side and he was starting to bleed.  He is fine now and enjoying having his ladies to himself. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandy's Aftermath

At least I can say everyone is safe, including the animals, and our house was not damaged.  We had nowhere near the devastation of coastal New Jersey and New York.  But Monday night was eerie with the tremendous winds and we could hear trees falling down but couldn't see where they were landing.  Occasionally we could get an idea where one ended up but really had no idea of the damage done.  Once the power went out we really had no idea what was happening outside.  We could hear the wind howling and an occasional "whomp" as some tree or large limb hit the ground. 

The winds died down just after midnight, but then the phone calls began.  My husband is the facilities manager for a lab and they were also without power.  We got up around 4AM (another phone call) and ran the generator for a while to cool down the fridge and freezer and catch up on the news and weather.  Alan left for work then and I went back to bed.  Alan came home again around 11AM to run the generators again and see exactly what had happened outside.

We lost quite a few trees, of course not any of the ones I want to take down.  Most just lifted the whole root ball out of the ground and fell over.  The largest tangle began with a couple trees from the game lands toppling into a few of our trees and everything landing on my garden and chicken pen.  The garden fence along the back wall is shot (it had seen better days anyway and was in need of replacing) and so are two sides of the chicken pen.  Our 14 foot metal gate is a twisted pile of unrecognizable metal.  But the trees missed the chicken coop and no poultry were harmed.  And everyone is happily running around the yard eating grass and any other bugs they can find.

The goats seemed rather annoyed this morning and wouldn't come out of their house until this afternoon.  They were happy to stay warm and dry and eat their clover hay.

The stream is running faster and more full than I have ever seen.  The sound is wonderful and it is staying pretty much in place.  And we have an island!

We are staying warm with our wood stove, although its not that cold, upper 40s  to lower 50s.  The wood stove is also our cooking appliance as well.  I sure do miss my gas range.  Things will be better during power outages when we have the wood cook stove installed and can make small hot fires to cook and then let go out.  The Vermont Castings stove needs a good bed of hot coals to make enough heat to do any cooking and that heats the house up a lot. Its been running in the upper 70s inside the house.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

We spent the weekend preparing for the hurricane.  Saturday we shopped, and then spent the rest of the day battening down the hatches at the old house and picking up  a few storm supplies, like the generator.  Sunday we got things ready at the new house.  We really have no idea how the storm could play out at the new house.  At the old house we had no basement so no flooding worries.  We knew which direction the winds usually came from, and we had a simple conversion to the generator in case of power outages.

Our new house is a new entity for us.  What will 4-8 inches of rain do to the stream?  That little leak under the basement steps? What will it do with a large amount of rain?  Is the sump pump big enough to handle a large amount of water? Can we even get to our house? What happens to the bigger creek that our little stream feeds?

I left work at 4PM today and made it home safely with only a slightly longer travel time.  The little covered wooden bridge was fine, although the Saucony Creek was beginning to flood.  My daughter had a cozy fire going in the wood stove and was washing the dishes when I got home.  There's no apparent damage anywhere, yet.

My husband just got home from work and told me that I-78 west bound is closed at the exit to get to our house.  When I came home and exited the interstate it was a parking lot beyond the exit.  My son, who is staying at the old house, said a minor power line came down just beyond our property and started a fire, but the fire department put it out quickly.  And we didn't lose power at the old house.

So we are ready to ride out the hurricane.  We have a generator, gas, lots of food, wood for the wood stove, candles, flashlights and batteries, and of course lots of kitty food!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The turkeys

Can I just say how much I love my new hen turkeys?  They are so sociable and friendly.  At least one is always outside of the poultry pen just wandering around and eating grass.  Whenever anyone goes outside the hens just want to be around you.  They like to peck at whatever is hanging off your person; clothing, fingers, shoelaces, etc.
We spent last weekend at a 17th century event in MD and while packing one of our turkeys really wanted to come inside the house.
Then the cats saw her and were also interested.
The other day the turkeys followed me to the garage.  When I came out of the garage I found them here:
They are so much fun to have around.  They almost follow you around like a dog would.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Old Order Mennonites

Sunday night, while taking my daughter and her friend back to West Chester University, we drove by this little building and saw about 15 bicycles parked outside.
On the way home, about 9:30 PM, there were about 30 bicycles and all the lights were on inside.  Apparently it is a grocery store and welding shop.  And maybe a hang out for local Old Order Mennonites on Sunday evening?
I had to check it out today.  It is the cutest little discount grocery store.  They have a couple of froaen food displays and then you are "welcome to the cooler."
You can buy a 5 gallon bucket of ice cream, local eggs, local goat cheese, and they had a big wooden crate of local apples.  Other things looked like seconds or out of date things, like the mayo dated June 2012.  There's a big sign over the door that says "If you don't like the way the food takes bring it back and we will kindly refund your money."  The girls working there were all Old Order Mennonites and so was the older woman who was checking out ahead of me.She and the clerk had a lively conversation in Pennsylvania German.  Then she walked out the side door and went into the house next door. Even with the rain, it's still Monday, time to do the wash.
I bought some chevre spread with smoked habenaro, dried apricots, tin foil and pickle and pimento loaf.  And two pounds of nice looking Jonagold apples.  I think I'll be stopping in occasionally.

Monday, October 15, 2012


The temperatures on Friday night here went down to 29 degrees.  We woke to significant frost and much damage to the annuals.  My zinnias went from looking like this one day:
To looking like this the next day:
OK, so these are not the exact same zinnias, but it's raining outside and I can take this picture from the front porch. The marigolds also took a hit from the frost. I was planning to pull the zinnias and marigolds this morning, but the sparrows and finches have been eating the seeds so I guess we'll keep the seed heads around a little while longer.

 I was worried about the raspberries freezing so my daughter, home from college, and her friend picked all the ripe and near ripe berries Friday evening.  Then into the freezer on a cookie sheet they went.  Once frozen they were placed in a freezer bag.  These individually frozen berries can then be taken out one at a time to be used as needed.  And they taste like little frozen oranges!

The walnut harvest is huge and the squirrels are having a field day.  They have been kept very busy hiding their nuts for the winter.  I watched one squirrel dig 6 holes in one of my flower beds before he "planted" his nut. 

This is the first fall in a while that I have not canned something.  There just isn't enough time in the day or energy in this body to do any canning this year.  But I have harvested quite a few seeds.  Yesterday, while cleaning up the vegetable garden at the old house, I harvested seeds of these pretty little sumflowers and seeds from my purple coneflowers. Of course pictures of those flowers are on the computer at the old house.

Our new hen turkeys are settling in nicely.  My husband found the three of them roosting on top of the chicken coop last night.  The toms spend the day displaying to impress them and are making some very interesting noises.  The hens are quite tame and love to come up to see what you are doing.  Last evening one pecked at the water coming out of the hose as I was filling their waterer.  They will eat from your hand and are not afraid to come up behind you and peck at the back of your legs.  And they make the sweetest little noises.

My husband has been busy moving the firewood to the new house and has already brought over three trailer loads.  We've used the wood stove a number of times and we are very happy with the way it warms up the house.  Nothing beats a wood stove on a cold night!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My trip to Moscow

Moscow Pennsylvania that is.  This past weekend confirmed that all my turkeys are male. So I found some Narragnsett hens on Craigslist and went to get them today.  Don't ever try to get directions from a teenage boy.  Moscow is a lovely little town, and only a little out of the way. Turns out the road I was supposed to turn onto has no road sign, urrgghh.
The three male turkeys have been busy displaying for each other, but haven't started fighting, yet.
But they spend most of their time trying to show off to each other.

The new hens are the same age, but a little smaller and not as distinctively marked.
They make the sweetest little hen noises.  I spent the morning turning my cattle panel greenhouse into a quarantine pen for the new hens.  They will spend the next few days in there, then,....let the turkey courtship begin! 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Yay, the wood stove is in!

I love my wood stove.  My husband loves our wood stove so much that we had to move it to the new house.  There was a Russo coal/wood stove with a metal flue in the new house, but it is really meant for coal first and we both agree we don't like burning coal.  Too dusty and we don't like the smell.  We really like our Vermont Castings Vigilant wood stove.  Bought about 20 years ago it has been the perfect size for heating our school house. Last year we didn't turn on the heat until December 23rd, just used the wood stove to take the chill off.  We don't really know how well this new house is insulated (if at all) and don't relish paying a large oil bill.  So we are hoping we can keep the house warm mainly with the wood stove.
We had our first fire last night and we were very happy with the way the stove warmed the house.  At the old house our wood stove was in a room with 13 foot tall ceilings.  It took quite a while for the heat to start warming up the first floor, even with the ceiling fan.  In the new house we could feel the heat almost immediately.  With the addition of a small fan to blow the warm air into the rest of the house we had the kitchen up to 70 within one hour.  While going down the stairs you could feel the heat rising up.  My daughter's bedroom is above the room with the wood stove and she was warm last night.  We actually had to stop adding wood to the fire around 7PM or we would have been too warm to sleep well.

I don't think I could ever be without a wood stove.  With the weather and number of power outages we get it is necessary for heat and cooking.  I use the wood stove to help dry laundry in the winter.  I have a great floor clothes drying rack from Lehman's that works great in the winter when I want to dry clothing in front of the wood stove.  A load of laundry will dry in a couple hours and the largest size is big enough to hold two large loads.  And drying the laundry in front of the fire puts humidity into the air. 

I am not the only one who is happy to have the wood stove burning again.  Lily is too.
And for the old house, we bought the exact same stove to put back where we took this one out.  It's a couple years older but the same model.  We knew the stove would fit well and I really wanted to sell the house with a stove in place.  And no we couldn't have just put the same model stove in the new house.  My husband knew who owned our stove before us and how they took care of it and how we took care of it. He was in love with this particular stove, not just any old Vigilant!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fall is here

Fall is here; and bringing with it chilly  nights, and days sometimes too.  The goats are getting frisky with the cool temperatures and the leaves are beginning to change.  Some signs of summer remain, though.  The zinnias continue to bloom like mad and the fall gold raspberries show no signs of letting up. 
I found a nice stand of bittersweet and cut a few strands to decorate around the house.
 I've always wanted a lamp post.  Now I have one and I get to decorate it as well.  And the bittersweet helped liven up the front door. (The lovely shade of green didn't photograph well.)
We are looking forward to when the trees in the hills around us begin to change colors, until then we have to be content with smaller touches of color.  Our dogwoods are really beautiful right now.
Yet another sign of fall; my husband moved the wood stove over from the old house and is hooking it up as I type.  Good thing as it is supposed to go down to 38 degrees tonight.  I can't wait to have my wood stove going!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The garden notebook

The gardens at the new house have been a real source of joy and inspiration and have me dreaming of future plans.  I can't wait to see the bulbs in the spring.  Every time I plant something I dig up a few bulbs.  I figure they must be just about everywhere.  The previous owners left me a garden notebook and receipts of fruit plants they had bought in the past.  I started reading the garden notebook this week.  It is priceless! It notebook itself predates their purchase of this house in 1985.  The first 4 pages are expenses from 1974. The garden notebook begins in 1988 on May 8th.  It's just a simple diagram of the vegetable garden.  Turns out the gate was there in 1988, that explains why it is starting to fall apart.  And they had strawberries, quite a few, but none are there now.

 The above drawing is interesting because it diagrams the bulbs that she planted in 1993 around the back patio. 
 One of my favorite parts of the garden notebook is when she went back later and wrote in how things did.  For example, I know they had lots of rain in 2000, the beans did well, and the white corn- "don't bother, yuck." I may not bother with lima beans as they were "awful."  I also know that I should plant my onions before May 27th since the ones planted on that date in 2002 didn't do well and she recommended planting earlier. 
She was still planting and writing in the notebook 3 weeks after we signed our sales agreement.  Her last entry is dated May 19 and there are still at least 20 pages left in the notebook.  Guess I need to keep it going.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Boy have I taken for granted how easy it was to do the laundry at the old house.  I planned to go to the laundromat this morning, then bring the washed clothing back to the new house to hang up to dry.  Well, I realized I had no laundry detergent at the new house so I had to drive to the store to get some.  Then coming back from the laundromat I realized I had only a few clothes pins; so back into town to get clothes pins.
The laundromat was nice and clean and bright.  And only 2 other people at 9AM on a Monday morning.  Once the clothes were in the machines it was a nice half hour of reading.
 I love to hang our clothing outside.  Sheets are the best.  Nothing beats climbing into bed with sheets fresh off the line.
 My childhood memories of hanging clothing outside include watching my grandmother hang her clothes out (after using her wringer washer.)  She had a cool umbrella clothesline and solid wooden clothes pins.  So, of course, when I found similar clothes pins at the hardware store I had to get those.
As a child we didn't have a dryer until I was in 9th grade.  When it was raining we hung our clothing in the basement and I remember bringing in frozen jeans that could stand up on their own.
Hopefully, the washer will come to the new house this weekend and I will have everything I need in one place to do laundry.