Kindling, Tree Falls and Being Prepared

Howdy Y’all!

Here’s a fortuitous shot of the farm dog, Brady. He’s been extra attached to me since Covid started and I’ve been home almost 24/7. I was trying to take a picture of our hearth for you guys to write this blog post and there he was, glued to my face. He just loves me, what can I say? I tell my sons, “What’s not to love, I mean really?” Hahaha!

Well, we’re predicted to get anywhere from 6″-18″ of snow tonight into tomorrow, then some freezing rain on top of that. Now that’s covering some bases with that accumulation range, isn’t it? That’s because we are right on the line between the 6″-12″ and the 12″-18″ predictions. I think it’s because the meteorologists don’t want to be wrong. Which, if we are being honest, they often are. This is the first real snow storm we’ve had this winter, which is pretty unheard of in NH. The first day of February. Yes, very late for that first storm. We have had very little snow this winter thus far and we are predicted to get buried in it from February to the end of April. I was hoping for a nice early planting season, but it’s not looking likely. And I’m just not excited to be shoveling a ton of snow and having to rake the roof every 2 inches that fall. Just not looking forward to it.

But, I am well suited to this having lived this winter cycle for the last 43 years of my life. It is also a bit easier now that the boys are man sized and taller than me. I’m still stronger than they are, but they at least have better leverage for things now that they are taller. It’s great to have three men to help out around here when the need arises. They are basically in charge of shoveling all the paths and the driveway when it’s less than three inches of snow. They usually hope for enough to have the snow blower come out so they don’t have to do all that shoveling.

A large part of winter storms is getting prepared for them. There are actions that need to be taken to ensure that we get through it in comfort. I start with making sure the chickens have an unfrozen bucket of water and plenty of food. The animals always come first in a winter storm situation. My priorities are to get them squared away, then start on what we might need. I can get them comfortable and not have to go see them again until the storm is done. Their coop is very toasty, draft free and cozy.

I love how puffed up they are in this picture. They capture air between their skin and feathers and the air heats from their body and they stay plenty warm. This is why chicken coops don’t need to be heated as long as they are draft free. If the roost in wide enough, as you can see this one is and Ginger is taking full advantage of it, they can hunker down over their feet to keep them warm as well. No combs or waddle freeze bites happening and it has been 0 degrees the last few nights. They are just fine out there without supplying heat. Definitely helpful is to have breeds of birds that are cold hardy also, it pays to choose birds that suit your climate.

After those birds are taken care of, I move on to the wild feathered friends. I make sure the two feeders are filled that we have. As I was filling them, I heard the birds in the surrounding trees chirping their thanks to me for doing so. Or, maybe they were yelling at me for taking so long to get it done. You probably noticed that the suet cube holders are empty. I have looked at three stores to purchase more and have not been able to find them. So, I decided that I am going to be making my own. It is going to be my snowy day project tomorrow put those together, which I think will be a fun way to pass some time. I also have three books and a blanket to crochet. Did I mention that it has been a long time since we’ve had a snow storm? The last storm we got gave us about 2 inches, and I had my seed catalogs out, with the hot tea and candle going enjoying the day to not have be doing anything but what I felt like doing. One of the things I love about winter is the time to sit and do some relaxing activities during a snow storm.

As I walk by my sad little herb garden many times a day, I am longing for spring. Is this not so pitiful? All my pots are cracked and broken and in dire need of replacement. Another of my projects that I’m planning for spring is to make my own cement containers for my herbs. And I think I am going to to try to make them sit on this stump level, and since the man who cut it left the top tipping downhill, I will need to adjust the size of the pots to sit more level on the stump.

Here you can see another of the very large stumps that we have left from tree removal. This was the huge, ancient black cherry tree that was actually the towns tree as you can see how close it is to the road through the fence. I have been trying to get the town to cut it down since we moved in. When we had multiple trees removed before we moved in, I got a quote to remove this tree. Because it would require a police detail, it was quoted at $2,500. To remove that one tree? No, that was not going to happen on our dime since we don’t really own it. But it was hollow in the center and covered in poison ivy. It leaned WAY out over the road and was so dangerous. The night it came down, my son and husband heard it go. We ran to the door and opened it and went outside. There was a police officer already there, and we discovered he was just about 15 seconds from it landing on his car. The tree was twin trunks and only one fell, but with that one down, the other half was very dangerous because it didn’t have the other half to counter balance it. Scary stuff! Though it was laying in the street, the police let traffic go by anyways as it was about 48 hours before it was removed and the other half was also taken down. The town paid for it, as I held them to the fact that I had been told they would deal with it when it hit the pavement. It did take out a few rails on our fence and also crushed our mailbox.

When you can’t sink a post because the ground is frozen, you use some Yankee ingenuity and put the mailbox in a bucket. This works great because we just pull it in when we are going to get snow so the plows don’t knock it down. Looks a little finagled, but works just fine. You do what you have to do, right? We also got quite a lot of firewood from that huge tree. We had to be careful with what we kept to split for firewood because my husband is allergic to poison ivy and you might remember I explained the tree was covered in it. Make no mistake, the vines are also covered in the oil of this awful plant, and if he touches them, he will end up on steroids for sure. It’s kind of a pain in the butt honestly because our property is covered in this vine and it’s hard not to be in contact with it when doing any kind of clearing.

Let’s get back to storm prep, shall we? Okay, on the homestead, in NH, it is a pretty good bet we are going to lose power at least once every winter. The longest we have been without power was 8 days, that was a few years ago. The absence of power will be accompanied by the loss of our well water as well, along with furnace. We have a propane stove and oven, so we are still able to cook, but even if we didn’t we would still have an option to cook. We have a woodstove, which is, in our eyes, a necessity living in the north country. I think that woodstove heat is not only the best, warmest source of heat, it’s also necessary to keep pipes from freezing and keeping us warm in the event that we lose the power. There’s also the ability to cook on top of it if necessary. We lost power for 6 days on Thanksgiving back in 2014, and I cooked the whole Thanksgiving dinner, except for the turkey which my husband prepared on the grill, on top of the woodstove. We also keep lots of bottled water on hand this time of year so we will have drinking water in the event we have no way to get the water out of the ground. We do also have a generator, but it is not powerful enough to run the furnace and well at the same time. Getting a more powerful gennie is on the list, but for now, we make it work when we need it.

I added to my morning chores chopping the kindling to restock the kindling basket and get it ready for the fire we will be burning all day tomorrow. My wonderful husband brought in lots of wood yesterday, so we’re good for that for a day or so. The brave farm dog is terrified of funny things…the ping of the canning jars drives him under the bed (and he doesn’t fit under the bed!), or the beeping of the oven, or the insta pot or canner releasing steam, nope, he’s outta there! He is also afraid of the woodstove after a flaming chunk landed on him three years ago. He used to practically hug the thing when it was radiating heat before. This dog doesn’t forget anything that he’s afraid of, ever. So, he will not lay in his bed (which you can see the corner of in the above picture) when the stove is going. Nope, not even if the door is closed, just not gonna do it.

The squadron of shovels is ready for some teen boys to expel some of their youthful energy shoveling the copious inches of snow. I have the ice melt ready for the paths and sand for the driveway. I made sure there is plenty of gas for the snow blower and it’s ready to go. My husband is the one to use the snow blower, but it might be time for him to teach the oldest to use it so he can be ready to help when needed. It’s a blessing that my husband’s employer is letting him work from home two days a week, so he’s around more hours on those days without his hour-long-each-way commute. Of course, I also have a very well stocked pantry in the event that we need to stay put for days during a storm. I am not one of those people panicking at the grocery store buying beer, bread and milk before a snow storm. I might get a loaf rising in the oven, but I don’t feel the need to stand in those crazy lines for the basics. We always have it, and I feel like that is part of being a prepared homesteader.

Gonna wrap up here. Keep your chins up out there. Covid has us all not feeling quite right and stressed, but hopefully we will see an improvement in the near future. Until then, plan your spring, keep ready for your winter and keep on keeping on. Be well, be kind to each other and blessings to you all.

Holidays, College Visits and Crumpets

Hello Friends!

Been a bit since I’ve been here. Holidays this year were different for us as they were for a lot of folks. We spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas with just our little family unit of 4, which for us is different since we usually are able to visit with extended family and friends. We have one friend that hosts as Winter Solstice party each year that we particularly missed as we get to see and catch up with friends there that we may only see that one time a year. Of course, not seeing our extended family left a hole in the holidays for all of us. But, on the flip side of that, it was nice to just relax and spend time together without the rush or need to be anywhere. I made a nice roast duck for Christmas, which I have only cooked one other time in my life. It came out delicious and I took the opportunity to hone my skills with that particular fowl since I don’t cook them often. This Christmas, since the funds were a bit more limited due to a job loss for me, and the need to invest in a new-to-us used car for the boys, we went very low key on the presents this year. I came up with some other ideas so that the gifts weren’t the main focus. I had planned a nice hike in the morning before presents, but as it was raining here, that didn’t quite happen. I had also asked my husband to create a fun sports trivia quiz for the boys, the one with the higher score winning a nice shirt as a prize. We did this in the middle of gift opening and it was a hit. This is something I think we will continue in the future as they all seemed to really enjoy that. The men in the house are all pretty sports obsessed, so it was a fun way to add something new to the tradition of gift opening. It also added lots of laughter and fed right into their competitive natures, so definitely a hit.

During this time, we have also done some college campus visits for the boys. The oldest is going to college next fall, that’s the plan right now anyway, but since the youngest is also going to be choosing colleges and applying to them next fall we have been bringing him along to the visits so he gets a taste of what these schools look like and whether or not he would feel comfortable attending one of those. Most colleges are remote right now, so with the pandemic, it’s a good time to visit them and be able to roam around on foot. The down fall to this is that interviews are non-existent and you can’t really talk to anyone, so the tours are basically self guided tours and we just walk around the campus and see the outside of the buildings and the layout of the school. Though not ideal of course, it at least gives them the sense of the size of the school and the feel of the surrounding town. I will say, it is surreal to be walking around, what would in normal times be a bustling campus full of youth, and having it have literally no one in site. The only people we encountered were people walking their dogs from the community, very weird indeed. Our oldest is still waiting on a few admissions decisions from doing Early Admission, but so far, he’s fairing well with scholarships, which he certainly will need in order to navigate this experience without tremendous debt. The cost of college these days is a topic we could spend hours talking about, but if you aren’t in that phase of your lives right now, you might be utterly shocked at what it costs. It runs the gamut of course, from community college to ivy league (and there are ways around some of it if you get creative), but the average college cost… per year…in our experience…has been upwards of $45,000 a year!! Times 4 years for a bachelor’s degree…Yes, you saw that right…that’s a minimum of $180,000 for four years (times two kids!). When I was going to school, that would have put you all the way through medical school never mind just your average college degree. So, you can see that scholarships will be key for my guys because there’s no way that would be happening otherwise.

I have also been exploring and performing cooking A LOT during this pandemic (does anyone else miss the occasional restaurant dining experience?). I also did a bit of stocking up on food for the pantry as was advised. I have a lot of flour that needs to get used now so it doesn’t spoil before it is used up. Food is a serious investment now with prices soaring on a lot since the pandemic began. So, I decided to try my hand at a few things that I usually buy at the grocery store. We like to have English muffins here and since they are fairly inexpensive at the grocery store, I usually just buy them there. But, in a effort to maintain my goal of using the resources on hand to keep me out of the grocery store whenever possible, I decided to try to make a different but similar breakfast treat. Crumpets are just the ticket! Now, I have made them in the past, and they did come out well, so I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to try my hand at them again, but I figured why not? Thinking that perhaps maybe you would like to do the same and make some of your own, figured I would share the recipe with you. They are quite easy and in the end you have a very tasty treat! They will freeze well also just in the event you made too many or want to bake a big batch and have some to thaw out for later.

It begins by mixing together 1 cup of milk with 1 cup of hot water (you’re going for a bit warmer than luke warm, 85 degrees or so). To this add one egg and mix well. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, measure out 2 cups of all purpose flour. I have also made it with white whole wheat and though very tasty, they are not quite as light in texture. Now, the recipe I used didn’t call for any sugar or salt. But…any of you that actually use yeast in your baking know that a bit of sugar helps to feed and proof (activate) the yeast. So, I threw 1/2 tsp of sugar in there and a healthy pinch of salt, because that amount of salt compliments the flavor so well without being overbearing.

After whisking the dry ingredients until well combined, pour the mixed wet ingredients into the dry and whisk until smooth. Don’t over whisk or you chance making little hockey pucks instead of delectable little butter and jam vessels.

Then, it needs to be covered to rest and activate in a warm place. Our home is kept at 58 degrees all winter, so it is not warm enough for this to do much of anything. Since I didn’t have the woodstove going that day, I decided to use the newfangled button on my stove, “bread proof”. I was discussing making bread with my friend, Diane, and she asked me if I had this setting on my oven…ummm…not that I had ever noticed (or used obviously). I usually rise bread in my breadmaker…which sadly went to breadmaker heaven recently…so I never needed it. But there it was, in all it’s useful glory on the stove panel, so I tried it and it works splendidly! If you, too, have this setting on your stove, its great!! Give it a go!

I covered this with my favorite tea towel before putting it in the oven. Do you have a favorite tea towel in your kitchen? This one is about 15 years old and has a mate that is bright green. These two towels are reserved for this type of function, and they have also seen plenty of flour spread to roll pizza crust, pie doughs and anything needing rolling out. Flour the towel well and go to work! They keep the mess much more contained than spreading flour out all over the countertop, which then needs to be cleaned up. Just gather your towel and head for the compost pile. Voila! But, I digress…let’s get back to crumpets, shall we?

So, this recipe is best made with crumpet rings…but… I don’t own those. So, I just use the large rings from wide mouth canning jars. They work pretty well, but the only caveat to them is that you have to grease them very well so that the batter doesn’t stick to them when you flip the crumpets over and try to remove them. You wouldn’t want to see the crumpets I learned that lesson on, believe me. I actually think I threw them away, ring and all, I was so mad. These rings have ridges in them, which are necessary for their intended purpose but don’t help with making crumpets. So, heed the warning and grease them well. I actually keep vegetable shortening in my kitchen just for this because I don’t cook with it normally.

After your batter has risen for an hour, it should look just like this. See all those wonderful bubbles? That’s the yeast partying down and happy and ready to take a flying leap into a hot pan. I find that these cook so well in cast iron pans, which is a good thing because it’s just about all I use in my kitchen. Set the temperature on the stove to medium, butter your pan well (or spray, or bacon grease, whatever you chose to use to keep them from sticking), place your rings down and pour the batter carefully in each ring. Use care when putting the batter in the rings so that you don’t have a big mess on your hands with batter dripping everywhere.

Let them cook on medium until they start to look like this. You want them drier on the top before you flip them then is shown here. See all those big bubbles and craters? Oh, those are the butter and jam holders! So good! Once they are pretty dry on the top, flip and cook on the opposite side for about 1 1/2 minutes. When you flip them, the rings may come loose if they are greased well, it is fine to remove them and cook after the flip without them.

Sorry this is a blurry picture, but I include it to show you how the crumpets should look when they are cooked. These don’t look like they have risen much, but that’s partially due to the rings with ridges in them, and partially because they could have used a bit more batter. Once they are cooked, apply whatever your favorite topping is…ours is lots of butter with a jam or jelly or even maple or apple butter. Our favorite this year has been an amazing concoction called “tangerine butter” that my sister and her family (who live in Florida) sent us for Christmas. Oh, heavens! It is fantastic stuff!

I pair it with my favorite chai for an afternoon snack, but it would also make a wonderful breakfast food. An egg sandwich made with two of these and your favorite meat and cheese would make a hearty breakfast for sure. Any that didn’t get devoured when they came out of the pan (growing teen boys can eat a lot) went into the freezer to be enjoyed later. I did place a piece of waxed paper between them before freezing so I could separate them easily. I’ve put the recipe below so you can follow that more traditionally. I hope you enjoy them!!


1 cup milk

1 cup hot water

1 egg

1 1/2 tsp fast rising yeast

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp sugar or honey

pinch of salt

Mix water and milk and add egg, whisk until well combined.

In large bowl, put yeast, flour, sugar (if using honey, add to the wet ingredients), and salt. Whisk until well combined.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and whisk until a smooth batter is formed. Do not overmix.

Grease rings well. Place rings in pan on medium heat and spoon or pour batter into each. Cook until the top is bubbles pop and the top is pretty dry.

Carefully flip over and cook for another 1- 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from pan and remove rings if they haven’t already come off. Place on rack to cool slightly and then enjoy. If freezing, let cool on rack completely, place waxed paper squares between each and place in freezer bag. Makes about 12 crumpets.

That cute of cutest farm dog, Brady

Time to end here. I hope you are all fairing well during this pandemic and political turmoil. Please remember to take a break in nature if it all gets to be too much. I hope to be in touch soon. Until then, be well, be kind to each other, blessing to you all.

Political Fatigue, Grand Solar Minimum, Eye of Round Roasts

Hello Everyone! Back in the swing of life a bit, this Covid time has hit me hard for motivation for much creative right now. Over the summer, we had a good time spending time together, we went to a lot of outdoor, in-nature adventures together and I will admit, I really enjoyed that. The fact that my oldest will be an official adult in just a few short days, I have become very aware that we are at the end of our tight family bond time. Our boys are becoming men and it’s great to see and sad for me at the same time. I know you parents will relate to this! We did some college visits over the summer and he has begun to apply to his top choice schools, it’s all a flurry of activity right now for he and I mostly trying to cross all the t’s and dotting all the i’s to make sure that he’s doing all he needs to do to get there. In this time of Covid, him scheduling his SAT’s and ACT exams has been a complete nightmare. Cancellation after cancellation he was finally able to take the SAT twice and he finally got a date for his ACT for December. A lot of schools are saying they are test optional for next year because it’s been next to impossible to get the exams to actually take place when they are scheduled. Our take on it all? The College Board could have done a lot to handle that situation better an not make so many thousands of students be completely stressed out trying to get these exams done.

Well, like most of our country, I have complete political fatigue. I am so glad that the election is happening today. I have seen the worst of people attacking others because our political views may differ and apparently we can’t remain civil anymore when someone doesn’t agree with us. It’s exhausting for me, just trying to deflect the negative energy coming at me. I have also decided to just stay off the social media to help with this. Facebook has become so centered on this that I take fasts for weeks at a time. I belonged to a community Facebook page for my town, but people became too rude and mean to each other over it that I couldn’t really take it anymore and left the page. I don’t want to know that people like this, my neighbors so to speak (some of whom I consider friends) are so ready to attack each other over different viewpoints. And it didn’t help that the creator of the page fans those flames sometimes and doesn’t block the ignorance and hate. I live in a generally wealthy town where the demographic is well educated and it’s still happening here. I fear for us all and where this is all going to lead us. I want to be wrong, but it’s definitely not popular to have tolerance for someone with a different opinion than our own. What the heck happened to tolerance in our nation these days? And I say we go back to the day when you just didn’t discuss with others who your candidate was. It was like asking someone how much they earned…you just didn’t do this, it was considered rude. I remember as a kid there weren’t all the signs in the front lawns (never mind the pick up trucks with the flag of the candidate flapping out the back). I long to go back to that time.

So, I’m hearing more and more about the “Grand Solar Minimum” these days. Have you heard of this happening to our world that’s beginning now? It’s a lengthening of the cold seasons that will cut the growing season by about 10 days for each half of a degree of decrease in temperature. I am a proponent of climate change. I see that we have the ability to change our climate for the better with the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. The Grand Solar Minimum is a cycle that the earth goes through anyways, we don’t affect this. The last Grand minimum happened in the 1600’s, and it had devastating affects on human population, causing widespread food shortages and famines. There are lesser changes for shorter periods of time that have happened throughout history, these are just Solar Minimums. This one is predicted to last approximately 30 years and food security is going to get a lot more insecure because of it. The further north you live, the worse it will be as our growing season is already so short. I currently live in zone 5, and our growing season is pretty short. So, the recommendation is to make steps and efforts to increase our growing season the best we can. I have been doing some research on the issue of this event and there seems to be enough science behind it for me to perk up and pay attention. So, been putting some thought into a greenhouse situation for us here to not only have a warm place to get a change of scenery in the winter, but also to extend our growing season substantially. I have been doing some reading from experts on this like Elliot Coleman. He has been farming in Maine, including the long hard winters, successfully for decades. So, I’m in the planning stages of trying to solve this problem for our family. There are many ways to accomplish this and this winter will be I am going to get a firm plan in place for a greenhouse here on the homestead.

Do you have something that you cook that is just not successful for you? Any beef roast is my nemesis. I have tried them all different ways, crock pot, braised, instant pot, oven roasted…I have been successful maybe 3 out of 25 attempts. They always end up dry, tough as a catcher’s mitt and flavorless. So frustrating for me because I am a pretty decent cook for the most part. I receive very few complaints from my target audience around here. But roasts, well they just kick my butt. There was a great sale on Eye of Round so I thought okay, its been a while, let’s try again. So I consulted my friend who has a better handle on this than I do. She explained to me that this is kind of a crappy cut and will be tough unless you cook is slow. My beef is usually either flank steak for fajitas, steak tips and all it’s lovely marbling or just plain ground that I create lots of different things with. So, I researched different ways to cook this cut successfully, consulted many cooking pages and cookbooks and finally settled on doing it in the oven. Rubbed it in thyme and garlic and salt and pepper, let it warm on the counter for an hour, then blasted it with a 500 degree oven for 27 minutes (6 minutes per pound, it was a 4.5 pound roast. Then dropped the temp to 170 degrees and let it go until the internal temp on the roast was at 140 degrees. Now, it came out a bit more rare than I prefer, but it was the best roast I ever made! It was topped with a pan drippings, red wine sauce and turned out so flavorful and tender. Brava! Accomplished that goal in life and it was very internally satisfying for me to have finally figured out how to accomplish this. What is your nemesis in life that you’d like to have conquered? I say, during this time of needing to stick closer to home, it’s a great time to try these things for yourself. It gives you a sense of accomplishment and also improves your self confidence a little. You’ve got the time, go for it!

Gonna end here! Hope you are all doing well, staying healthy and safe. Until next time, be well, be kind to each other and blessings to you all!

A Return to Life

Autumn peppers just before I pulled the plants for the winter

I am back from the brink of chaos, and hoping to be able to maintain this blog with a little more consistency.  I had some very deeply personal challenges to overcome in the last two years and I was unable to juggle all the balls I had in the air.  So, I took a break from sharing my life through the blog for what I initially thought would be a short break that became an over a year long break.  But, alas, I’m back, because I love writing and I love photographing and I am making time for the things that bring me joy in life instead of constant “digging in the dirt” as it were.  Those things need to be dealt with, life would not have its richness and meaning without some trials and tribulations.  But, those that know me closely, understand that I have had more than my fair share of those experiences in my life, to the point of absurdity sometimes.  I have decided that I will do my best to stay in the positive side of things and not let the rest of it be an anchor around my soul anymore.  It took me a bit to figure out where I was going to drive my life after my latest foundation-shaker, but I am working that out and attempting to move forward with hope, grace and joy at the forefront.  We’ll see how it goes, eh?

Liam and his girlfriend, Jillian, before the Winter Dance

Now, none of those apply to what is happening with our world right now.  Being deep in the effects of a deadly virus that has to date killed more then a million people world wide has been something that none of us could have predicted, nor are many of us equipped to deal with this long term.  I had to leave my job at Lowe’s working as an associate in the paint department because I have three underlying conditions that could well, make me getting this virus, deadly.  So, my husband is working at home, my oldest had to leave his job in a grocery store for my sake and my kids are doing school at home.  Our world, along with so many other folks, has been turned upside down.  And yet…it has provided with an invaluable opportunity for our family to reconnect with meals, games, movie nights, talks and just being together.  Having two teenagers who are very  busy normally with school, band, Boy Scouts, sports, jobs, friends, the gym…well, it’s been hard to book any quality time lately, so I don’t hate that quarantining has brought some closeness for us that has been missing recently.  But it has been rough on the members of my family that are deeply missing their lives outside of our four walls, most especially the two pictured above.   How are you handling it?  We are trying hard to stay positive and are so grateful that my husband is still employed and that his employer allowed him to work from home.  He’s the glue that holds this homestead together financially, and we’re feeling thankful that his job is stable for now.

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Rory during the annual Memorial Day Parade

This year away brought many little things to our lives that have been great.  We got the house painted last summer and it’s adorable now!  I will post a picture of that in the next blog post, I promise.  I’m waiting to get some flowers around it to cute-en it up since we don’t have much in the way of greenery yet here, it’s still very early in the year for that here.  Rory got his braces off recently, and his teeth look fantastic.  It was a long road for him because they had to pull so many teeth and do more than just straightening them. But, we knew it needed to be done when he started to hide his smile from people behind his hand raised to his face.  He smiles so openly and with confidence now and I’m really grateful that he feels better about himself this way.  As you can see from the picture above, he’s a pretty handsome kid and now his confidence and smile matches that.  I got to have a wonderful visit with my sister and brother and part of my sister’s family last fall.  It prompted a big gathering for all of our extended family, some who haven’t seen each other in many, many years, so that was a nice coming together of souls in my life.  I mentioned that I got a part time job at Lowe’s, which fits our family and homestead life much better than being gone 11 1/2 hours a day did with the other job I attempted.  We got some more smaller renos done on the house including a back splash in the kitchen, which looks great.


The garden harvest last year was wonderful and we are looking for an even better one this year. Having put in the raised beds with fabric weed barrier underneath, we didn’t have any earthworms at all in the beds the first two years.  I added some amendments to it, like bloodmeal, wood ash, compost and Epsom salts. When I want to plant the sugar snap peas, radishes and beets recently, I found earthworms galore in those beds now!  Happy soil makes for happier and more nutritious food for sure!  With the state of affairs with our country the way it is, we are concentrating on planting food to feed us. Not doing much experimenting, mostly going for the vegetables and flowers that we know produce well here so that we can maximize the food on the table.  Times being this uncertain are scary for sure, but knowing we can grow some food on our own is a peace of mind everyone might want to be concentrating on right now.  I may also be getting some more egg laying chicks this spring so that we have the food security of eggs produced here on the homestead as well.  We originally had a game plan for this place of a few more years then perhaps onto the next, but that’s all going to depend on how the economy settles after all this is done.  In the event that we will be here longer than originally planned, we will need to produce food, and eggs are a great cheap and easy form of protein that just about anyone can have for their homestead.  Plus, chickens are just darned fun to watch!

Brown Chicken (yes, that’s her name) having a little refreshment

Well, this is long enough for a reintroduction post.  I am happy to be back behind the shutter and the keyboard, it’s been a part of me I have been missing.  Inspiration was a little hard to come by, but I’m coming back to my joys.  I thank you for sticking by my side and reading what my sometimes scattered brain comes up with to write about.

Be back soon!  Until then, be well, be kind to each other and blessings to you all.







Mud, Job and More Chickens?


Howdy Everyone!

Well, it’s a muddy, muddy mess here at Grace Note right now.  We have had such a wet winter and the arrival of the Spring Equinox a couple of days ago didn’t really relieve this at all.  Isn’t it funny how just as soon as that official day arrives on the calendar, we are all just ready for it to be spring RIGHT NOW.  Winter in New England tends to drag its butt for a long time and we will still get snow right into April (it’s not only my prediction, but also the prediction of the Farmer’s Almanac).  Don’t let that little warm up and rain fool you if you’re new to New England.  It’s just Ol’ Man Winter’s little joke.

Garden beds are waiting for seeds, too!


There has been more than one spring that I was fooled into believing that I didn’t need to wait for that last frost date.  This is in May here in Southern New Hampshire, but with one year was such a beautiful stretch of two weeks that I thought, eh, I’ll get the cold hardy stuff in.  Ha!  That left me scrambling when we had a SNOW STORM on MOTHER’S DAY.  Remember that?  It was a few years ago now, but oh, it really happened.  I covered my fragile little plants and prayed for the best.  Guess what?  I started them all over again after the actual last frost and vowed I would never make that mistake again.

Water and mud are EVERYWHERE!

Speaking of planting, are we all darn good and ready to get our hands in the dirt?  I know I am!  I have my seeds ready, the beds planned out and I’m just itching to get some dirt under the fingernails.  You know how you get that dark staining the dermal ridges of your fingerprints?  Yes, I want my hands to look just like that.  It’s a badge of honor for us homesteaders, isn’t it? It’s our secret code. When you meet a person in the spring, you can make some inferences on whether they might be your kind of people by if their hands have that slightly earthy cast to them.  A little dirt left under the fingernails is not a disqualifier to us homesteaders.  In fact, well, it can be intriguing.  I myself like to pose the question, “so, what are you planting?”.  More times than not, I get a slight smile and a person willing to go into great detail about their garden planning.  Yep, my kind of folks.


So, I told you guys I was going to be starting a full-time job soon.  I did, and unfortunately, it didn’t work out.  The complicated commute and then remote parking situation caused the total commute time to be a bit over 3 hours. And the job was 16 miles from my home.  These hours, already added onto the 8 1/2 hour work day had me away from my family and homestead for 11 1/2 hours a day, WAY too long.  Because my husband also works an hour from the homestead, it would leave my very active and busy teenagers sitting around after school and activities waiting for us, sometimes for hours.  Many hours with nothing to do is a recipe for no good for teenagers.  I was working in the largest city in New Hampshire, and though the people there were all great and it was a great company to work for, my family will always come first.  The culture shock of being in a city and dealing with the traffic jams was more than I comfortably want to do anymore as well.  Getting old, I guess.  Plus, my first job is as a mother and these guys aren’t done needing a mother just yet.  I have always taken my job very seriously and doing it to the best of my ability brings me more satisfaction then just about any other job I can think of.  Even so, the pull for earning some income for us is also strong, so I will be looking for something part-time that suits our family/homesteading life better.

The lure of more eggs is strong.

Hmmm…so pondering something…to chick or not to chick?  That is the question every spring.  My husband and I have talked about doing more meat birds this year, but as I am still trying to chisel out of the bottom of the freezer the last of the meat birds from the batch we did two or so years ago, I’m thinking perhaps we should wait another year.  Or maybe start them later in the summer when we have a better shot at them not having to live in our tiny house for weeks.

Teenage chicks in the “little girl” brooder/coop

For those of you who have never had new chicks…they are so adorable and cute the first two weeks…then they start to smell.  And they want to dust bathe endlessly, so your whole house will be covered in a fine film of pine dust no matter what you do.  As they grow they dump their water over when they try to fly and get bigger for their container and so you are changing wet, nasty bedding just about daily, chasing them around to catch them, all the while they are CHEEPING! at you like the devil’s got their butt.  It’s fine if you only have a few birds, but when we do meat birds, we go for the 25 or so to bring us through the year.  Yep, chasing 25 birds around, the dust that 25 birds create, the smell that emanates and all the while trying to keep them contained in the brooder (giant Rubbermaid bin in our case) as they WILL fly out.  This, along with not having the farm dog eat them.  Oh, yes, it’s not for the faint of heart.  But…that is ALL negated if you can just put them right outside in the “little girl” brooder as we like to call it.  It is big, has a nice outdoor space for them and a ramp so they can go up and down as they choose. So much nicer of a situation.  So why not just do that, you ask?  Well, because then you are harvesting them in the late fall/early winter.  Young chicks need to be warm, like 90 degrees their first couple of weeks.  This complicates things.  And, believe me when I tell you, that harvesting chickens, which takes a lot of water to do, is VERY cold in the late fall/early winter.  You end up with frozen little stumps for hands and lets just say frozen chicken…hmmm…how do I say this delicately?…parts, yes that’s it, parts, are very hard to work with as well.  So that’s your downfall and why we usually just deal with the 3-4 weeks that they need to be in the house in the spring.  I’m going to work on a happy compromise for that situation…perhaps the homestead just needs a proper barn!  No, NO!  Good Lord in heaven, we don’t need that complication right now.  Don’t anybody let me get that idea in my head or we’ll be in trouble.

Almost syrup!  Rejoice!

Alright, well, mud not withstanding, we’ve still got sapping going on here, lots of leaves to rake as we let them overwinter on the ground and plenty of wood stacking to keep us busy.  What have you been up to on your homestead? What has been keeping you busy and looking forward to the hard work and rewards of spring and summer? I know we’ll all be at it soon enough.  Until then, be well, be kind to each other and blessings to you all.

Maple Syrup, Maple Smoke and Chickens!

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Hello Everyone!

Well, I finally figured out the solution to my chickens being on strike with the egg laying.  I can’t remember if I told you about this, but my chickens have not been laying for about 5 months now.  They do usually take a bit of a break during the cold winter weather, but I will generally still get an egg or two every other day.  They have not given me anything in many months, and I know they aren’t young any more, so thought that may have something to do with it.  But, its so frustrating to be feeding them organic (read: expensive) feed and having nothing to show for it, not to mention having to purchase eggs either from neighbor farms or the grocery store.  I am a fan and watcher of other homesteaders on youtube, and one of them was having the same problem.  He was purchasing feed in bulk from an Amish farmer, and he had first year birds.  His chickens stopped laying last fall, so when he mentioned it to the Amish farmer, he said, okay, let’s try increasing the protein in their feed mix.  Bingo!  Within two weeks of feeding the increased protein, they were back to laying every day!  Hmmm, I thought…perhaps that’s the problem with my girls.  So, when I went to Tractor Supply to pick up their usual feed, I looked for one that had more than the standards 16% crude protein.  I found a Nutrena feed, though not organic, is an 18% crude protein.  Within a week, I was back in eggs!  Yay!  I was getting very discouraged, so I was so happy when my husband brought the first egg in 5 months into the house from the coop.  It was almost as exciting as seeing that very first egg coming from the chick you’ve raised since day old.  Now, we are getting multiple eggs.  I only have 6 hens left now, most of them are 3 years old, so they are slowing down anyway, but I am getting about 2 eggs every other day on average.  This is pretty good this time of the year from some middle aged ladies.  As the days get longer and brighter, they tend to increase their production, but we are still not usually in full eggs this time of year.  Overall, I’m very happy that we are getting eggs from them again and looking forward to when they are ramped all the way up and I can stop purchasing them in other places.

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Sap season is upon us!  Last weekend, my husband and I set the taps in our maples.  We went from only 4 taps last year, to 10 taps this year in 4 separate trees.  The first day we had the taps in, at the end of the day we had already collected about 2 1/2 gallons of sap!   maple tapping 2019 004

I had a lot of fun sugaring for the first time last year, and with dipping our toes in the maple water, as it were, so we decided to increase the number of taps this year.  Fun!  If you have maple trees, I honestly encourage you to learn to tap and boil down the sap.  Nothing in the store tastes anything nearly as delicious as the sap you make yourself.  I am one of those people who is deeply connected to nature, and when something this amazing comes from such little work, its one of those miracles of nature to me.  I don’t really need this syrup having scored a bunch at Ocean Job Lots for free (100% pure maple syrup!), but there is no way I am passing this opportunity up.  I think I am going to try to can some to save for later.  I also take great pleasure in the smell of the maple sap boiling down.  I like to call it maple smoke, though it’s actually steam.  I thoroughly enjoyed my maple smoke facial while it was boiling down, its a wonderful aroma!  Just one more thing that makes this whole experience worthwhile.

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Sap freezes in the jug hanging on the tree in 7 degree weather!

Since we have a snowstorm approaching tonight complicating the process, I decided to take the day to boil the sap we have collected down to create a batch of syrup.  We had collected about 7 or so gallons of sap, so enough to do a couple of pots on the burners for a while.  I started about 10:30 am and finished up the last of it at 4:00pm.  That’s almost 6 hours of running outside to check the burner and progress, stirring and measuring the temperature.  When I woke up this morning, it was 7 degrees out there, so I was concerned it would be too cold to make it work, but I managed to get all 7 gallons boiled down, and it created…one pint of finished syrup.

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Now, I do realize that doesn’t seem like much, but this is seriously amazing stuff.  It has character and its full-bodied, and has a wonderful undertone of vanilla to it.  It is cloudy and dark and not perfect, but I really do believe that the flavor is in the imperfection because store bought is clear and all, but it lacks the complexity of flavor that my home grown syrup does.

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We had some fun nature observations while we were drilling.  It was a beautiful, warmish day and we found beetles walking around on the maples.  Where there was a hole from last year, which has not yet sealed itself back in, there was a beetle taking refuge in the hole.  You can just see his head markings if you look closely in the hole.

Its always fun to take the time to observe nature when you are out and about or working on projects on the homestead.  Isn’t it amazing that this little beetle took up a home in this little hole from where we drew sap last year?  God is in the details, truly.  Nature is so symbiotic and opportunistic.  Wow!

While I was boiling sap, the farm dog was hanging out with me.  The picture on the right makes me smile.  He spent a lot of time sitting in the back trees just watching out the back of our property.  We have cows that live behind our property at a farm that our neighbor owns.  Brady is fascinated by them.  I really think he thinks they are deer or something, but he will just sit and watch them for a long time, with rapt attention.  He’s a goofball a lot of the time, but I do wonder what goes through his mind when he sees something so large.  These are angus meat cows, so they are quite formidable.  He’s such a smart dog, and I think he definitely is trying to work out just what they are.

Well, I am waiting anxiously for the arrival of spring…very ready for that!  I am sure we are all looking forward to it.  I hope you’re finding things on the homestead to keep you busy and not having cabin fever!  Until next time, be well, be kind to each other and blessings to you all.


Photos…and not much else

Greetings Everyone!

So, I have been taking photos for a very long time.  I enjoy many different things to photograph.  Mostly nature and my family, but also I find it fun to take pictures of things that are more the minutiae of life, the smaller things that I take notice of that most people might just pass by without a thought.  There is some wonderful life involved in these small moments captured in time.  I thought I would post a few pictures of a variety of things for you to hopefully enjoy.  Though not necessarily homestead related, just a little of my passion, shining through…

The door to the Seven Seas Street Inn on Nantucket, MA


Centuries old cobblestones on a Nantucket street

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A peaceful fall retreat

Stunning light following a late summer storm

Catching a surf on the wind

and one more of the amazing light following that same late summer storm

Okay, so don’t want to bore you with a bunch of these if you’re not interested in them, but taking pictures gives meaning to my life in a way nothing else does…so I hope you enjoy them.  Until next time, be well, be kind to each other and blessings to you all.


Elderberries, Honey, Planning


Good Day, Everyone!

Freezing cold has hit the homestead!  We had a stretch of a few days that were sub-zero temps here recently.  Now, the apple trees actually need some stretches of those temperatures in order to flower and produce apples correctly.  It’s a period of deep dormancy that’s required.  But, honestly, outside of these wonderful trees…no one else wants anything close to those temperatures!  We did manage to keep the washing machine line from freezing by employing a heater in the crawl space and banking snow up around the foundation of the house from a recent snow fall.  We finally got a little bit of snow, about 4 inches or so, which for us is a drop in the proverbial bucket.  I do know we will be seeing much more of that in the near future.  I am sure of it.

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The chickens did well and managed the cold.  I always wonder how it is for them, feathers puffed up trapping their warm air, sitting on the freezing roost, hunkered down well  onto their feet to avoid frost bite.  I am sure it is bitter cold just the same.  Since having the birds in the Fort Knox-like coop built by my friend, Chad, the birds have not suffered any frost bite on their combs or waddles, so we know they are toasty and draft free in there.  Back when we lived in a home where we had a nice big barn and coop for them, it was a drafty affair.  They routinely had frost bite on their combs, especially the rooster as his comb and waddles were large.  I resorted to lining the walls of that coop, which was really a small room in the barn, with empty grain bags in an attempt to stop the draft from blowing right through.  It did help stop the breeze and also was amusing to see all the different chickens pinned up to the walls.  It made me think of a teenage boy’s walls lined with pin-up girls…but for the chicken ilk!

After the third cold of the season for my youngest, I decided to invest in some dried elderberries to make some syrup so that we can all give our ever important immune system a good boost.  I pretty much never leave a recipe as I find it, and so added some oranges, lemons, cinnamon stick, cloves and honey to the basic recipe I found online.  Now, that’s some good medicine we can all be behind drinking every day!  It’s good stuff and I love that it is helping my crew stay healthy.  I made the batch in the pressure cooker my in-laws gave me for Christmas (that thing is the BOMB!), so it was pretty much done in about 1/2 hour.  I am going to do a separate post on the recipe for that for anyone that may be interested in making your own winter health tonic.  I just need to get the time together with my camera to take some step by step pictures.  I often find myself with the intention of posting something, and then go ahead and make it and end up completely forgetting to take the time to photograph everything along the way.  But I made the last batch and split it with my sister-friend, Diane, so I am already quite ready to make another batch.  With my youngest being sick, we’ve been going through it quicker than normal because he needs 2 tablespoons of it twice a day.


I have yet to sit down with the seed catalogs and get my order in.  It is on my plan for this afternoon, or tomorrow if that falls through. We are doing our traditional Super Bowl party at our friend’s house tonight.  Patriots fans abound here, as you can imagine being in New Hampshire and all.  So, I will need to create some yummy treats to contribute my touch to the pot luck style dinner.  I am going to be bringing a veggie tray as well as some cookies and brownies.  You need quick finger food style offerings since we plan on doing a lot of cheering, hooting and hollering in the wake of what we are sure will be yet ANOTHER Super Bowl win for our beloved Pats.  Now, confessing something to you all…I don’t care at all about the game, I go for the friends, fun and good food…and I’m not the only one in this crowd that does the same thing!  But, we all have a great time together and it really helps break up a long winter season to have these little traditions to look forward to, doesn’t it?  When you are dealing with a winter as long as we have up here in New England, it helps to have things to look forward to beyond yet another day of cold, snow and the daggone heat bill!

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We finally managed to get the fence up around the rest of the back yard so that we don’t have to keep an eagle eye on the farm dog.  Since we basically live in suburbia, we can’t have him taking off.  Not just because he’s a member of our family, really, but also because of our very close proximity to a road (about 20 feet from our front door), where people speed around the curve we live on not understanding just how lucky they are to make it around that corner.  We have fished three cars and their surprised drivers out of the woods on snowy, slick nights so far this winter season.  The dog has no fear of cars, nor common sense about moving away or avoiding them, so he would be dead very quickly if he got out onto the road.  And he’s a hound dog mutt, so the nose rules his universe and he doesn’t listen when he’s called, so the fence, though annoying, is necessary.  And I figure at best, it is helping to add one more challenge to the deer that snipped off the tops of a bunch of my carrots last year on their way through the back area!  Wildlife is no joke here, so it’s okay that we have the fence to slow them up a little bit.  One day a few weeks ago, I went to take the dog out for his walk and there was a huge beautiful fox nosing around the back of the compost pile.  Not sure what he was after, maybe the egg shells that are in there as there isn’t any meat of any kind in there, but he was stunning.  As soon as the dog got a whiff of him, he was off like a bullet chasing towards that fox…who was wholly unimpressed with the ferocity of said farm dog.  He stood at the fence until the dog got a bit closer, then turned and sauntered off into the woods.  Had he not been in such a healthy state, with good body weight and a gorgeous, shiny coat I may have worried about him being rabid.  We’ve had that happen in our area after all, but this boy was obviously in very good health, he just was unconcerned with the likes of our dog.  He did pick up the pace a bit when he saw the dog was not alone and had his human with him.  My husband has tried to capture him on the trail camera, but he’s been elusive to date.  Hopefully, we will have the chance to get him on there, as I’d love to show him to you.


  • Okay, time to get after the chores here.  Hope you are all in the final stages of your garden planning with lots dreams of summer and warmer temperatures.  Always in February, I am so ready for winter to be over.  What have you been doing to pass your long winter hours?   Have you had dreams of hands in the soil, too?  Let’s get each other through this long cold season, y’all!  Until next time, be well, be kind to each other and blessings to you all!



Seeds, Recipes and Frigidness


Hello All!

The winter has hit New Hampshire with a vengeance. Of course, I’ll not complain too hard because it is super late arriving here.  I got up in the middle of the night to my dogs insistent bark that some evil being was surely breaking into our house (no. no one was.) and noticed the temperature outside was reading 16 degrees.  This was about 2 a.m.  When I got up at 5:30 with my high schoolers, it was reading 12 degrees.  What the heck?  Shouldn’t it be going UP, not DOWN by that time of morning.  And the wind chill is much colder than that 12 degrees.  Walking the dog a few minutes ago elicited an ice cream headache.  Not my favorite time of year, for sure.  Since we are predicted to have two separate snow storms in three days this coming weekend, we’ll be getting in lots of roof raking, shoveling and snow blowing.  It was bound to happen, it is New England after all.


I was thinking that perhaps you might enjoy the recipe for the Cranberry Pudding that I made last weekend for our dinner guest.  This was a big hit, everyone enjoyed it.  It was nice to use up those extra cranberries I had hanging around from the holidays, too.  This recipe comes to you via the cook book, “Morning Glory Farm and The Family That Feeds An Island”.  A creation of the Morning Glory Farm of Martha’s Vineyard Island, I love this cookbook.  And Morning Glory is on my “some day” bucket list.  The only change I might make to the recipe is next time I will add some orange extract to the frosting, which would be a delicious compliment to the cranberries.  I love cranberries and orange together, add a little cinnamon and it just screams “winter holidays!” at me.  Now, though this is called a pudding, it’s actually a cake.  Not sure why they call it pudding, but there you have it.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Cranberry Pudding

3/4 (scant) cup sugar                      For Hard Sauce (frosting)

2 tsp baking powder                        1/2 c soft butter

2 c all-purpose flour                         1 c sifted powder sugar

1/2-3/4 tsp salt                                     1/2 tsp vanilla

1 c milk (not skim)                            1/2 tsp orange extract (optional)

2 c rinsed fresh cranberries

2 tsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease 8-inch square pan.

Mix together sugar, baking powder, flour and salt. Add milk, cranberries and melted butter.  Stir until it is well mixed.  Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes.  Let cake cool.

Meanwhile, prepare hard sauce (frosting):

Beat butter on medium speed in a small mixing bowl until fluffy.  Bean in sugar and vanilla and chill.  Spread on cranberry cake just before serving.

Super easy, and super delicious!  I hope you enjoy it!

So, been contemplating some changes here on the homestead. I have been applying for a full time job now that the boys are not needing me at home so much.  Since I am the driving force behind the homestead, I am concerned that I may not have time to do all that I have done in the past.  One because I will be away from the homestead doing a job and time is finite, but another because the stress and mental strain that going back to work full time will put on me.  With my medical health issues, I only have just so much energy before I hit a wall and can’t do more.  My body will only let me do what it will let me do.  And the frustrating thing is that I won’t ever know how much that is in advance.  Some days are better than others and it is an unpredictable business.  But, I think that since I have the garden beds in, I may be able to do the garden.  I was hoping to expand that this year, but if I am working full time, that likely won’t allow me the energy to handle more.  Hopefully, it will work out okay.


We also were contemplating doing meat birds again this year since the meat is so much better, but you really need someone to attend to them during the day.  They will get shavings in their water after about 3 minutes from changing the water and they make a mess.  We have also had them jumping out of their bins, even with the netting over the top of it.  If one of them got out, Brady would have a delicious chicken snack if no one was here to rescue it.  So, I don’t think meat birds will be happening for a while.  I will have a period of adjustment to deal with also- since raising my kids, caring for my family and this homestead have been my exclusive job for 4 years now, and leaving this for a full time job is a daunting thought.  We will adjust to this situation if it occurs for our family, until then, I’m just mentally adjusting.

Well, it’s a shorter entry today, but not much is going on that’s all that interesting around here right now.  I will get back to planning the garden this year soon.  Making some choices like I think tomatoes will be out for the near future.  The blight was so bad in our area last year that a couple of my tomato growing friends have been making the same decision.  It’s devastating to have blight take your plants after so much care and tending go into getting them to fruit stage.    So, might stick to the things I know will prosper and hit the farmers markets for the rest of the items we need.  Will be back in touch soon! Until then, be well, be kind to each other and blessings to you all!