“Walking ‘Round in Women’s Underwear,” Happy Solstice, and the Latest of the Duh Vignettes

Ever since I was a little kid, whenever it really starts looking seasonal out, the following song goes through my head. As a kid it was just funny – walking ’round in women’s underwear? how silly! – but I love it now that I’m older because, essentially, it’s about proudly and unabashedly cross-dressing (with your co-workers, even!) to a favorite Christmas tune. What’s not to love, am I right?

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that we woke up to a winter wonderland this morning (and I also happen to be walking ’round in women’s underwear, but that’s a different story).

20121221. Snow banks and chicken wagons.

Snow banks and chicken wagons – the wind was brutal last night and today, and I had to refresh the frozen chicken waterer four times today.

20121221. I have a remarkably steady hand. The chickens' first snow.

Notice there are no chickens out yet. Smart girls stayed inside and cozy for quite a while this morning.

20121221. With all the wind, I blocked off one side of the coop's ventilation with a towel.

This is our first cold weather with the chickens, and I was really glad I covered one side of their ventilated roof with a towel. It has been SO windy, the entire coop would have been snowed under!

I also keep hearing that chickens are supposed to slow down or stop producing as daylight hours wane. We assumed we wouldn’t see an egg until the spring thaw, our girls were so… REMEDIAL about the whole thing. Our first chicken laid her first egg one month ago today; Boo followed soon after, then Edgar waited until two days ago. Beaker apparently felt like a total loser for not having laid anything yet, so, on the shortest day of the year, she defied all wisdom and gave me her first little pink egg. I am pretty sure this is proof-positive that our chickens are weirdos. Lovely, endearing weirdos.

20121221. Beaker's little pink egg.

12/21/12 – the world didn’t end, and Beaker’s egg laying began.

20121221. Shortest day of the year, and Beaker decides to lay her first egg.

Go, Beaker, go! They finally braved the cold to scratch around in the straw.

Finally, the latest in the ‘Duh Vignettes’ series relates to selling eggs. We bought a bunch of blank cardboard egg six-packs so we can start selling to friends on a small scale. Since they are blank, I want to spruce the cartons up a bit, and I was lamenting to Chris how ridiculously expensive it is to have your own stamp made via the place I bought the cartons from (really? $45 for my own stamp? that’s cray).

Cue “duh” moment: I Google “custom stamp making,” and come across the following Pinterest board in, like, one of the first links: http://pinterest.com/arteveryday/make-your-own-stamps/. HELLO! I took two block printing classes last year. I have block printing supplies, including corkboard. Block printing is basically creating a giant stamp, for goodness sakes!

Hell, WE TALKED ABOUT MAKING STAMPS IN THE DANG CLASS. What is wrong with me?! So tonight I plan on drawing out a nice little stamp of a chicken silhouette in a space helmet for the tops of our cartons (and maybe a few others). Lovely, right?

20121221. Oh, right. This is what cold feels like.

So finally, on this last day of work, this first day of winter, and this first blast of cold weather and beautiful snow, I think I’m in the Christmas spirit. Who’s with me?

The “Duh” Vignettes, Edition One: The Grass Is Always Greener

A friend recently asked me if our girls’ eggs taste immensely different from store-bought eggs. To be honest, they don’t.

Wait, what? No, really. Don’t get me wrong – they taste fantastic, and they are about as fresh as you can get. They are also a lot stronger-shelled than store-bought eggs, and we often have to use a butter knife to break through the inner layer once we’ve cracked the shell.

Maybe it’s the fact that we have typically bought “higher end” eggs and not the 69 cent/dozen ones in the white Styrofoam containers. Maybe it’s because the chickens haven’t really been free ranging as much since the weather got colder. Who knows.

Anyway, this conversation got me thinking about fresh food for the chickens during the winter. I’ve been feeding them the pulp from my juicer, which they love, but how could I get them free range goodness without having to freeze my ass off supervising them in the open air?

Then it hit me, my greatest “duh” moment of late: open your eyes, girlfriend, and look at what’s right in front of you!

20121214. Cover crops as chicken snacks.

DUH! Green stuff everywhere!

We planted winter rye this year as a cover crop in a couple of beds, just for kicks. A local farmer was telling me that, in the spring, I’ll likely need to cut it back before turning it under, it grows so voraciously. Or, instead, I could use it as a tasty green thing to supplement the chickens’ diet all winter long.

20121214. Cover crops as chicken snacks.

Say it with me: DUH.

20121214. Cover crops as chicken snacks.

The chickens are not complaining about my recent discovery, although they did seem a little ruffled it took me so long.

In other news, we are trying to get into the holiday spirit over here at Space-Farms. For a variety of reasons, this season has been fairly stressful and a tad devoid of holiday cheer.

However, we both get over a week of much-needed time off work starting December 24, and I think the break alone will give us time to think, enjoy life, and maybe start considering some plans for the future.

20121208. Boombox hates everyone when we put the antlers on him.

Boombox is in the spirit!

20121215. We had an extra card and couldn't figure out who to send it to.

What should one do when one has an extra Christmas card and no more people to send it to in his/her address book? Why, Google “White House address,” of course! I hear Michelle has a thing for chickens.

Shape Up or Ship Out!

It’s like the chickens KNEW I was planning to make chicken soup out of them if they didn’t get off the proverbial pot soon.

20121121. FIRST EGG! From Dino Puppy.

Two days after posting about Boo’s suddenly-impressive comb and threatening backyard chicken genocide on the whole lot of them if an egg didn’t come soon, not one, but TWO beautiful little green eggs appeared in our nesting box!

20121121. FIRST EGG! From Dino Puppy.

20121121. FIRST EGG! From Dino Puppy.

That’s right – our first eggs! After all that we’ve gone through with these girls (and their predecessors, rest their souls), seeing that first egg this morning was… strange. I had kind of convinced myself that our chickens were forever broken and that we were horrible chicken-rearers, to be honest. So getting that first egg was surprising but not… bittersweet but full of excitement… just weird.

20121121. FIRST EGG! From Dino Puppy.

One of these things is not like the others…

Not only is Dino Puppy laying beautiful green eggs (two eggs in two days in the middle of some of the darkest days of the year?! Exquisite, chicken!), but she and Boo had matching “hunkering down” behavior this evening that I’ve never seen before. Others had told me that once chickens start laying or are about to lay, when you reach out to them, they’ll plant themselves and sort of hunker down. Could we soon have white eggs from the leghorn to add to our sweet green array soon?

Two little green eggs! Halle-freaking-lujah!

I found her first egg at 7 this morning (she probably laid it yesterday). By 10 am, she was laying another one!

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for beautiful little jewel eggs appearing like magic in the backyard, having the parents over to our house for Thanksgiving for the first time ever, and boyfriends who send me freaky-assed cornucopias of fall floral arrangements (with cards to match) to celebrate the season. Blammo, indeed!

20121121. I'm ready to reap this freaky-assed harvest.

Mmm… Tastes Like FALL Up in This Piece!

I don’t know about you, but I love rediscovering fall/winter favorite food-stuffs. You’ve just spent the long, hot, dry summer sweating it out, caring for sick chickens, watering garden plants just enough to keep them alive, brown dead lawns crunching under your feet, and sucking on cheapo generic Popsicles all summer just to keep your brain liquids from boiling.

Suddenly, almost inexplicably, the temperatures start shifting. The sun drops lower on the horizon. Frost revisits your backyard and your breath each morning. And suddenly – MIRACULOUSLY! – hot tea and slippers replace generic Popsicles and sweaty cutoffs.

Therefore, it is with great joy that I have found the need to write this blog post. Yes, NEED. I needed to write this entry to document some of the amazing fall recipes I’ve found – and want to be able to RE-find this time next year.

First up: two words. SCALLOPED TURNIPS. I grew both beets and turnips for the first time ever this year. The beets were an immediate win. The turnips, however, required a little more work to fix up in a tasty, non-bitter fashion.

20120811. Mutant turnips!

20120825. TURNIPS.

But oh, people, I have found the most magical turnips recipe ever, courtesy of Simple Recipes. The only substitutes I made were to use soy milk instead of milk, layer on a whole lot more turnips and onions, and add a nice cushion of shredded cheese (YUM).

Next on the list: the best drink to sip in front of a toasty fire. THE NOR’EASTER. Here’s how the magic happens: Combine 2 oz. bourbon, 1/2-oz. maple syrup, and 1/2-oz. lime juice in a shaker. Fill with ice, shake, strain. Top with ginger beer. Drink. Make another.

NOR'EASTER, the best fall drink ever.

And finally… ROASTED CAULIFLOWER. This is a winter staple. Sometimes, roasted cauliflower and a beer = dinner. This time around, it was roasted cauliflower with an orange pepper that wasn’t doing so hot and a little dried rosemary from the garden.

20121113. Tastes like fall.

In short… HAPPY FROSTY BREATH-TIME, BITCHES! Snuggle up in a handknit sweater with a doggie on your lap, and let’s all hunker down for the winter together.

20121104. We are the best snugglers.

It’s Decorative Gourd Season!

Maybe it’s weird to be making plans for the future in the fall. Everything around us is dying back. Once screaming-intensity desert temperatures are suddenly dropping into the 30s at night. Scarves have  been busted out, as well as handknit wool sweaters smelling of cedar. Hell, we had our first fire last night – and it was delightful.

However, a new life plan has manifested itself as of late, and I think it’s a damn good one. My new plan is to offer whatever services I can (aka whore myself out) to all the people I think are doing super-fantastic things in this town until one of them either hires me or adopts me… OR I learn enough that I decide I can move forward with my own thing. At the very least, I will meet people who I think are doing awesome things, learn a ton from them, and maybe, just maybe, make something out of it. At the worst? Well, I don’t really think there’s a downside, to be honest.

With that in mind, I’ve volunteered my time twice so far over at Big City Farms Indianapolis and had an awesome time. I’m hoping I can continue picking Matthew’s (head farmer/owner) brain about how he’s gone into business for himself and, well, everything there is to know about farming an urban plot. Right… I’m sure that would take me my whole life. In addition to gleaning these nuggets of wisdom, though, I’ve also been enjoying sharing stories about plucking turkeys, what happens to the chickens when young couples break up, missing the caramel apples of old handed out at Halloween, and how jumping into piles of leaves really is what a six-year-old should be most excited about re: fall.

On Thursday, I worked a full eight hours at my job, but I didn’t really feel as though I had accomplished much until I got to the farm and spent a few hours weeding. I think that’s saying a lot.

So yeah – new life plan: surround myself with awesome people, doing awesome things that I want to be doing, too. Seems simple, right? How did it take me so long to get here?

20120920. Big City Farms Indianapolis.

I came out on Thursday to start weeding the “disaster zone” by myself… and I was super excited to be able to take a few shots of the space without feeling like a total creep/dork. And yet, I still feel like a creep posting these shots.

20120920. Big City Farms Indianapolis.

It’s the quintessential urban farm plot: bordered on one side by the highway and an old factory-turned-antiques mart, a view of the skyline in the background, and a very active, noisy train bordering the other side. I kept thinking, “It’s so peaceful,” and then a giant semi would go wailing past on the highway. Ah, nature.

I also discovered today that just past those train tracks is Flat 12 Brewery, which makes fantastic beers (like Sushi Saison, a delicious Belgian IPA, a cherry stout that almost required chewing as you ingested it, and… some others I can’t remember because I sampled a few too many this afternoon).

20120922. A true lady always leaves lipstick stains on her plastic glass.

When we got home, it was time for the chickens to have some outdoor time of their own.

20120922. We hang. Me and my best bitch on a Saturday evening.

My favorite bitch, Beaker, came to chill in the late afternoon sun. She really does get this cozy every time I hang with her.

20120922. Me and Little Red.

Little Red is still quite little. We’re beginning to think she might be a bantam.

20120922. Boo.

Boo in high relief.

20120922. Dino Puppy says HEEEEY.

Dino Puppy, coming in for her closeup.

And this about sums up how I feel about my whole new life plan:
20120920. Happy!P.S. I almost forgot the whole point of this post. Would you like to read my favorite piece of prose related to fall and the changing seasons? Warning: it’s delightfully FILTHY in the language department. “It’s Decorative Gourd Season, M*therf*ckers,” by Colin Nissan.

There’s Apples in the Trees, Let’s Take All that We Need

With some fantastic rains, temperatures solidly back in the double digits, and evenings dropping down to the 70s and even 60s, suddenly life is flowing back into everything. The garden, the grass, the chickens, and, yes, even me.

I’m starting to think wistfully of my scarf and cardigan collection, of jeans and chilly mornings wandering the last days of the farmers’ market with a steaming mug of coffee in my hands. I’m fantasizing about these things, really. While I hate to wish away time, I am quite content to get lost in daydreams that include the smells of crunchy leaves, wood smoke, and wool sweaters.

With these daydreams in mind, Chris and I ignored the fact that the temperature would get up to 91 degrees last Saturday and braved the beautiful orchards of Anderson Orchards, just west of Indianapolis.

20120825. Anderson Orchard.

20120825. Anderson Orchard. Right about when Chris was saying, "This is the dorkiest thing ever."

I have had visions of making more apple sauce than I know what to do with since last fall when we left the orchard with over 20 pounds of apples. I made jar upon jar of apple sauce and the best apple butter I’ve ever had (with a few apple crisps thrown in for good measure and to keep me going through all that canning), and we still ran out fairly early in the winter.

20120825. Anderson Orchard.

Chris’ new favorite joke: “What’s the favorite dessert of gang members? APPLE CRIPS.”

20120825. We picked a peck.

A peck of apples: 12 pounds, to be exact. We came home with TWO of these.

Fast forward to tonight and round two of apple processing. I got through 3/4 of one bag last Saturday. First, I busted out the trusty apple peeler/corer/slicer tool of utter MAGIC my parents gave me for Christmas last year.

Then, I peeled. Oh, how I peeled. I peeled like there would never be an end to the apples I had to peel, like peeling was my new purpose in life. And it was good.

20120830. More apple sauce.

My apple sauce recipe calls for water and apples – that’s it. The step by step: peel and core six pounds of apples. Throw into large stock pot with 1.5 cups of water. Boil for 30-40 minutes, stirring often, until the apples are broken down and fluffy-awesome. In the meantime, prep your water bath canning getup. Blend the liquid-magma-hot apples to your desired consistency in a blender, return to stock pot, and simmer gently another five minutes. Ladle into hot jars with 1/2″ headspace, then process in water bath canner for 15 minutes. Let sit for five minutes in the water bath canner, then remove to a cutting board for 12 hours. Label/store and/or guzzle said apple sauce straight from the jar.

Other signs of life and of impending fall: drying Northern Sea Oats grass seed to plant along the back of the house.
20120825. Drying Northern Sea Oats seeds to plant in the backyard.

Worm feasts of turnip and carrot greens.
20120825. Snacks for worms.

Baseball-sized turnips!
20120825. TURNIPS.

Sunflower parties.
Happy.

So far, we’re up to 10 jars of apple sauce. I think another trip to the orchard is in order to do up apple butter. Apple butter or bust! Apple butter til we puke!

Hello, Old Friend: Telling the Seasons by Knitting

I know it wouldn’t be rocket science to be able to tell the season based on the content of this here blog. Summer is easy, since it’s all non-stop, all-garden action. Chicken updates will likely be a year-round phenomenon.

However, I’m beginning to think that one could also discern the more subtle shifts in seasons by one other thing: my knitting progress. Way back in February, I posted a bit about recycled yarns and the general awesome factor of being able to knit your own clothing. In my mind, being able to knit yourself a sweater / looking at a sweater and understanding the construction of it really is in line with knowing how to kill and skin and part out your own chicken – albeit far less bloody and maybe a tad prettier to do in public.

Getting back to the seasons: by the time football season is over, seeds start going into potting soil, and garden planning commences in March, my knitting productivity drops off dramatically. Yes, I knit in front of the television nearly every Sunday during the cold Indiana winter, watching football (go, Colts?). All summer long, though, when things are BUSYBUSYBUSY outside, the only time I manage to knit is during my pub knitters group meetings (you can imagine how productive I am at actually knitting during those meetings – one member proclaimed at our last meeting that, “We are drinkers with a knitting problem”).

However, now that much of the garden has died back in the heat and drought and the temperatures have cooled down to a level where I don’t have to be on high-alert re: the chickens, I’ve begun to ease back into the knitting again. So there you have it, folks: just keep an eye on my knitting productivity, and you’ll be able to tell if we’re in the dog days of summer, full-on football knitting season, or somewhere in those in between days.

Would you like to see what items have been moving slow like molasses off the needles this summer? In June, Chris and I flew out to Colorado to visit family, meet my new nephew, and celebrate my older nephew’s third birthday. Guess what he got…

200120627. Cape for Ben.

A SILVER KNITTED CAPE, of course!

Zachary got a couple of bibs, as well, for when he gets a tad older / begins drooling on everything in sight. This is the Modern Cabled Baby Bib pattern by Andrea Pomerantz.

200120627. Bibs for Zachary.

In my last knitting-related post back in February, I mentioned I had started knitting this sweater, using yarn made from the bits and pieces in a mill that might otherwise get tossed (check it out: Knit Picks Full Circle yarn). I love the concept of that – new-to-me yarn that is absolutely luscious and reduces waste all in one fell swoop. I finally finished the beast! This is the Cobble Hill Pullover pattern from Interweave Knits.

20120810. Cobble Hill Pullover, aka the coziest sweater of all time.

Totally unique construction – this will be my go-to cozy pullover if we manage to get some cold weather this winter.

20120810. Cobble Hill Pullover, aka the coziest sweater of all time.

Finally, I used up some wool tweed yarn I bought on super sale ages ago, but could never quite figure out what it wanted to be. I swear, yarn often WANTS to be something, and it’s just a matter of figuring out what that is. I’ve ripped out nearly completed garments because the pattern is just not right for the yarn. It wants to be something else (and, yes, I know I sound like a crazy person. Knitters, back me up here, please!). This is the Bryn Mawr pattern from Interweave Knits.

20120818. Handknit skirt, using the Bryn Mawr pattern.

20120818. Handknit skirt, using the Bryn Mawr pattern.

Yes, people, as sure as the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, knitting season has officially begun. Along with it, I’m hoping for frosty breathed mornings, cardigan and scarf weather, apple picking at the orchard, and crispy leaves to kick through on sidewalks.