Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chicken Stand Off

The following conversation took place last night.  

Helen: Step back!  Mrs. Hall, stand behind me, I will handle this.  Listen up, Food Lady, I am taking a stand, and want you to know that no longer will we be prevented from sleeping under the stars atop our chosen perch.  We enjoy dew on our feathers, and we prefer the elephant to be decorated with our night droppings.  We have no fear of rainfall, or predators, and our eggs should be allowed to lay where we choose.  We will not be removed!

Food Lady: Helen, I don't care how hard you stare at me, you are sleeping in your chicken tractor if I have to carry you there every night!

Helen: I said to step back, and I mean business!  Stare.

Mrs. Hall: Help! The Food Lady is trying to eat me!  Wait, no, it's worse than I thought - she is cuddling me like I'm some sort of living feather pillow.  Aak! This is humiliating.  

Food Lady:  Who's my good chicken... awww...such a good widdle chicken wicken... smoochy smoochy...

Mrs. Hall:  Just send me to the stew pot and end my torment!

Mrs. Hall:  Oh, why must I be imprisoned?!?  What did I ever do to deserve this fate?  Dejection.  Hey, is that food?   

Helen:  You may have won this battle, but the war is not over, Food Lady!  Ha!  I will run back and forth, and back and forth, inside my cell and push my head into every corner, over and over like an idiot, until I find the way out of here.  Wait, I think I see it over there.  No, wait, it's over there...

Food Lady:  Good night! 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Smiley Snake

Should we ever get the point where we actually live in our farm house, I am nervous that some folks who saw the pictures of Carlos, our house snake, may never come for a visit for fear of meeting him.  But, when I saw the smile on his shed skin recently left on the living room wall, in the photo above, I thought I should give Carlos some good PR by showing how friendly he seems.  I admit the smile does seem a bit smarmy, and those cute button eyes are a  tad over the top, but I'm sure he means well.  

Not only does Carlos shed a happy skin, he is very generous with his gifts, as you can see by the three large snake skins I collected from around the room.  I estimate that I have cleaned out at least seven skins from just two rooms, which tells me Carlos has been a long time resident, and that he is a good mouse hunter, since he seems to need to up size quite often.  Maybe he just left his skin in the dryer too long and they shrank, like my jeans.  

And maybe people would appreciate Carlos more, if they could really get a good look at the patterns that his scales make.  The long rectangular shaped scales are from his belly.  

And these honey comb pattern jewel shaped scales are from his back and sides.  Pretty, huh?  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Scoop Free Musings

I don't think I am the only person with slight hoarder tendencies, because I see other people do it, even if they aren't aware.  For example, Brandon tends to be attracted to containers.  Tool boxes, tool bags, nifty drawers for small objects, display cases, backpacks, army bags, and all sorts of specialty containers for his art supplies.  I think he gets just as much pleasure from having a cool container for something, as he gets from having the something.  Sometimes he has containers for his containers!  

I like containers of the glass sort.  I have canning jars, wine bottles, beer bottles, brewing carboys, crocks, gallon milk jars, honey jars, and an even an assortment of jars that are meant to be disposable, like oil bottles and salad dressing bottles, that have found their specific use.  Brandon knows by now not to question why there are disposable bottles in the dishwasher.  We all have our vices.  I have impulses to keep other disposable items, like the twisty wire ties from produce, clear salad boxes, and plastic zip lock baggies.  I'm often talking myself out of keeping something that I probably don't need just because I hate to throw it away.  And I know, logically, that a person who lives in a small house only needs a few twisty ties around for that perfect situation where a twisty tie is called for, such as tying up vines in the garden, but it's hard to toss something that has a use, even if I already have too many.  And what better way to store my twisty ties?  A pickle jar!  

So, while doing laundry tonight, and opening a new box of detergent, I had a moment when instead of throwing the old laundry detergent scoop in the recycling, I started considering alternative uses.  Dog food scoop? Measuring... stuff?  Oh no, stop me!  What I really wish is that I didn't get a new scoop every time.  It would save me from such complicated decisions!  Truly, why wouldn't every brand offer their product without a scoop?  I'm not even suggesting they would lower their price by the cost of a scoop, but if they offered it scoop-less at the same price, some of us that are aware of how much trash and recycling we generate, and are concerned about our mental health, may opt to buy it, given the choice.  I read that whirlpool did a survey of their customers and estimated that in the US we wash the equivalent of 1,100 loads of wash every second of every day, and most of us are using more detergent than is recommended.  Now, I don't know how to relate this to boxes of detergent with a scoop sold in each community, but I'm sure it's phenomenal.  Imagine if even a small fraction of those boxes were sold without scoops, how many scoops would be saved from the land fill.  Ah, if only I were a detergent executive I could do this and save millions of handy scoops from being wasted and save my company the cost of the scoops at the same time!    

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Plops, Jam, and Shots

The best thing about growing basil, beside the fact that bugs and chickens don't seem to care for it so I actually get to eat it myself, is getting to make basil pesto.  Basil grows big and fast, like a weed, and to make pesto I don't even have to turn the stove on.  This is my kind of food preservation!  

The past few years I've been storing it in small jars in the freezer, but a friend of mine says she likes to make it in ice cube trays so she can just pull a cube out of the freezer when she needs it without worrying about using up a whole jar.  That's a problem?  Instead of using ice cube trays, mom tried freezing the pesto by plopping scoops on a plate and putting it in the freezer.  The little frozen plops can be picked off the plate and stored in a freezer bag.  Introducing us the the ease of the now loved - pesto plop!  The plops in the photo above were made with mom's melon ball scoop.  

I tried my hand and some plops this weekend, and they did not turn out as pretty.  Actually, when Brandon saw them he said "something looks weird about these cookies." Maybe it was the green color?  If I hadn't been sure he would notice that they were frozen, I would have encouraged him to take a bite, just to watch his reaction.  

I don't usually spring for pine nuts, even though they make a milder tasting pesto.  This year I tried a batch of pesto with walnuts and garlic, and a batch with pecans.  Olive oil, walnuts, green leafy plants, and garlic - healthy, right?  Well, there's also cheese, but I embrace dairy too.  

Speaking of healthy, I've been turning healthy fresh fruit into sugary jam!  Actually, I made the elderberry jam with honey, and used the kind of pectin that doesn't require as much sugar to set up, so this elderberry jam should be one of the least sugary jams I've ever made.  I hope it's not the least loved.  

I didn't have enough elderberries left after jam making to make wine, so I covered the extra berries with some vodka, to make an infusion.  Elderberries have more vitamin C than oranges, so elderberry shots may be just what the doctor ordered, eh?  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Berry Picking and BLT's

Tonight, we picked elderberries while sitting on the sofa!  How great is that?  I coaxed Jamie and Brandon into helping me pull the tiny little berries from the stems of the elderberries that I picked on our last visit to the farm.  All I had to mention was the word "jam" and they were both willing to lend a hand.  Working toward sweet berry jam doesn't even feel like work.  

We watched TV and pulled the berries from the stems, and in less than an hour had at least six cups of berries, which is more than I thought I would have.  We tried hard not to get any stems, green berries, or bugs in the bowl.  I wonder how many purple stains I will find on the couches after this?  

My fingers were stained, but it wasn't hard to wash off.  I tasted a few of the berries, and I didn't think they had much flavor.  Supposedly they taste better after they are cooked, or fermented.  

Elderberries weren't the only in season food we enjoyed today.  I was reading a recipe on-line today and realized that I had all the ingredients without going to the store.  That never happens for me.  So, I cooked up some onions and some zucchini from the garden, poured in some home made chicken stock and quinoa, and when the quinoa was done put it in the blender with some fresh dill from the garden.  Brandon was skeptical, probably because it was green and smelled like a pickle, but we agreed that it was very good, especially since it was so easy.  

But, as good as green soup is, the highlight of today, and I mean the entire day, was the BLT sandwiches.  The giant lumpy tomatoes that I have been harvesting have been begging me for bacon, and I have been dreaming about BLT's all week.  I didn't take a photo, because they were so beautiful I didn't want anyone to feel bad for not getting to eat one.  Really, I just scarfed it down so fast I didn't even think about pictures until it was too late.   I had the perfect tomato reserved for my sandwich.  It was so large that a single fat slice covered an entire piece of bread, and still stuck out the sides.  Ah...I love bacon... I mean tomatoes!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tomato, Elderberry, and Pie Tree Harvest

Tomatoes galore!  I have been eating them for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.  Today, we even had a juice made with carrots, celery, and tomatoes.  

Ever since I started eating tomatoes from the garden I don't like the ones from the grocery, so I do without all year and then try to make up for lost time by over doing it when they are coming in from the garden.  It's wonderful.  The heirlooms really are better, even if they don't make as many fruits as the hybrid kind.  But really, I like them all!  

Brandon and I spent the evening at the little farm, and I got apples!  I wasn't sure if the apples were ready, but since the bugs seem to be enjoying them I decided to pick as many of the red ones as I could reach.  They are small, and very tart, but I think they are going to be worth the effort because these seem similar to the apples I used to get from Brandon's parents trees, and they made the best apple pies.  I half filled a five gallon bucket, but there are still plenty for the bugs and other wildlife since I couldn't reach most of them.  The poor tree has a wild grape vine growing over half of it that needs to be removed.  Maybe some day I will figure out how to prune the tree so it will last a long time.  I would hate to loose my pie tree.  

After picking apples I used some colored tape and flagged some of the baby ash trees that have sprouted in the fields.  The flags are supposed to let Brandon know not to mow them, but I'm not sure the trees are tall enough for him to see, and I think a few of them got cut anyway.  I wanted to save these because I've been told that ash can be cut for firewood in just a few years because they grow so fast, and that new stems will sprout from the cut stumps, so if managed properly, a small ash grove can be a good source of firewood.  I'm not sure a dozen trees constitutes a grove, but at least its a start.  

The elderberries were ripe too, so I picked several bags full.  Now I just have to decide if I should make jam or wine.  What to do?  Both, I think.  

Can you see the praying mantis? 

After many trips for supplies and much research, Brandon and his brother finally managed to change the tire on the tractor.  Who would have thought that it would be such a challenge?  The tire rim is so rusted and warped that the mechanic that Brandon took the new tire to couldn't use his fancy machine because he said it would just tear apart the rusted old rim.  Somehow Brandon managed to get the tire on the rim himself.  I have no idea how, but I do know that duct tape was involved.  So while I picked fruit and tied bows on trees, Brandon spent his time killing all the pretty flowers mowing.  

Recently I spread the pieces of carpet that came out of the house on the ground, in strips, which will hopefully kill the grass.  If this plan works, next spring I should be able to roll back the carpet and plant right in the bare soil.  No tilling, no soil prep - my kind of garden!  If this plan doesn't work, we will have enjoyed looking a nasty old carpet in the lawn all fall and winter for nothing.   

Now I just have to find the time to peel apples and pick tiny elderberries from a million little branches.  

Once again, we had a beautiful sky as the sun set.  

And even a lovely moon peeking from the trees.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Elephant Chickens and Baby Gnats

We are home, but everything is not the same as the way we left it.  Helen and Mrs. Hall decided, while I was gone, to stop sleeping in their chicken tractor roost and to stop laying eggs in the nest box, but instead are sleeping on top of my cement elephant (which was meant to be a fountain but has become a vine covered planter) and laying eggs on the porch and on the ground under the elephant. I think it's kind of cute to have chickens perched on an elephants head in the back yard, but I don't think it is the most sensible place to sleep while it's raining, nor is it the most safe place to sleep should a predator actually make it past the neighbors dogs.  Chickens do not have a reputation for being sensible, so I'll have to help them out by re-training them.  Party is over ladies, back to chicken behavior boot camp!  

I can tell by the variety of vegetables and herbs that I was able to pick from the garden on Saturday morning, that the garden hasn't missed me much.  The weeds definitely haven't missed me, since they are flourishing right along with the vegetables.  With some of the many eggs Helen and Mrs. Hall deposited in weird locations, mom created a veggie omelet masterpiece to give us energy while she, Jamie, and I cleaned the front porch and did other chores.  I always know when someone volunteers to help me clean that it's time to pay some attention to my housekeeping.  When mom messaged me while I was out of town to ask if I meant to leave piles of torn apart garlic bulbs on the front porch, I had a faint recollection of leaving it look more like a potting shed than a attractive entry to our home. The porch got the kind of deep cleaning that involved the serious elbow grease that can only be achieved under a mother's direction, so I shall no longer be an embarrassment to my neighbors.  Although I'm not sure even a squeaky clean front porch can compensate for chickens sleeping on an elephant head.        

We opened the second to last bottle of the Feb. 2012, Strawberry vintage, one of my home made favorites so far.  I'm sad that's it is almost gone, but I needed a drink after what I saw inside my house upon returning from our long absence.  

I've learned, the hard way, that it's important to take out the trash, and to not leave any fresh fruit sitting in bowls on the counter when I'm going to be gone for several days.  I have also learned that an innocent and not quite ripe tomato can ripen and turn to a varnish dissolving acid puddle on a quick trip away.  I once forgot a banana in the trunk of my car and was nearly convinced that I would need an exorcism to remove the unholy smell.  So, before I left for a month away I made sure to double check that I didn't leave anything fruity out where it could go feral.    

This blue jewel is the butt end of a loaf of homemade bread that I left wrapped in a plastic grocery bag.   Disgusting, I know, but child's play compared to what we found...  

I was just pointing out to Jamie that the sweet potatoes that were in the top of a colander in the kitchen, with some onions, had grown vines that were nearly two feet tall.  We were admiring their growth and I lifted the colander from where it was sitting.  This must have unsealed it from it's resting place, because a gush of back liquid ran from the holes in the bottom of the colander and spewed, like a fast motion lava flow, from the colander, over a chair, and across the floor.  A cloud of gnats swarmed into the air.  We screamed.  Both of us, and not just timid squeals of icky-ness, but real screams, because what our brains saw, sprinkled in the chocolate colored, foul smelling potato juice, even before our eyes really understood what we were seeing, were... baby gnats!  We took up a simultaneous cry of "MAGGOTS! MAGGOTS!", like it was some sort of fire alarm.  I quickly set the colander back down, like there was some hope to undo what had happened, but there is no going back once something like this has been released into the world.  My legs started moving on their own, in that way they do when the flight or fight instinct is triggered, but there is no place to run, so I just sort of jogged in place and turned in circles.  My mind automatically rapid fire rifled through, and then discarded, all my emergency preparedness training -  fire extinguisher? first aid kit? tourniquet?! -  before it really hit me that I have had no training for this emergency.  There is nothing I can do to save this situation.  There are maggots! In the kitchen!   And all I have to arm myself with is paper towels.  While all this is flashing through my brain, Jamie has begun to laugh, and I would argue that it's not just the normal glee of seeing a sibling traumatized, but the brittle laughter of someone who's brain is breaking, and the only way to release the pressure is to laugh dementedly.  At least that 's what it sounded like to me while I was freaking out.  

It's good to be home!       

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Gold In Them Hills!


My kind of gold - fools gold!  One of the streams we had our bat nets set up over had sparkly gold flakes mixed in the sand on the bottom of the stream.  Brandon found a sizable nugget, which, when I smooshed it in my palm, crumbled into the flakes shown above.  It's possible that we could have found real gold nuggets in the stream, because there are old gold mines sprinkled throughout northern Georgia.  Several local landowners have told us the history of their properties, which started as forty acre gold claims.  As their great, great, grandparent's neighbors gave up on their claims, they would purchase the land, expanding their land holdings.  Some of the people we have met have the original deeds that were issued from the government, proving that none other than the Cherokee has been on their land outside their families.  

With this picture I was trying to capture the reflection of my headlamp on the the gold flakes under the water.  When I would try to pick them up with my fingers, most of the time I would disturb the sand and lose site of the flake I was after.  I need a gold pan I guess.   

It fun to play in the creek after dark because I can usually find all sorts of critters that seem paralyzed in the glare of my headlamp.  This crayfish, which was nearly six inches long, must have recently molted because when I picked him up his shell was soft and squishy.  It sort of grossed me out because I'm used to them having a hard body, so I dropped him real quick.  I hope he isn't self conscious about his soft shell now.  

The site we set up tonight was challenging in so many ways.  Have you ever accidentally gotten a spider web in your mouth?  I don't recommend it.  Not only did we have a long walk through a spidery forest with all our gear, but the vegetation on the banks of the stream was so thick that Brandon had to assemble our poles and pulleys in the narrow stream channel just so he could stand up in a bramble free location.  It was so muggy in there!  My boot sprung a leak and quickly filled with water, but it really didn't matter since after a few hours it rained, hard, on us for about a half an hour and we ended up soaking wet anyway.  Then the rain stopped and we got to spend the next three hours cold and dripping.  I can't believe that I have been whining about the heat, and can now complain that I was cold!  Plus, we had to eat Subway sandwiches for dinner, again.  This will be the last site of the season, so I'm glad it's going to be a memorable one so I don't miss catching bats until it starts again next summer.    

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Creek Skulls and Caution Snakes

Look what Brandon found in the creek tonight!  A deer skull with attached antlers.  

When he first emerged from the forest brandishing his new treasure, I pulled my phone from my pocket and snapped this picture.  The eerie glow is from the sweat that was coating my camera lens.  I couldn't even find a dry spot on my shirt to dry it off with.  How gross is that?  It rained several times throughout the day, but the temperature was hot, and I am sure you can imagine just how muggy Georgia is on a summer evening after a rain.  It's like swimming through the air.  Trying to do physical work in these conditions, like hammering stakes in the ground and carrying twenty foot long poles, is good for my pores, I guess.  I don't know why we bother to wear our rubber hip waders when we are going to be soaked through with perspiration anyway.  We might as well swim in the creek.  But, the creek has dead deer in it, so maybe the rubber boots are a good idea! 

While we were all out working, Jamie texted us this picture from his bat survey site, which was in a park- Caution Snakes, the worst kind!  I have to say that I have talked to more people with intense fear of snakes in this state than any other I have worked in.  Nearly every person who grants me permission to set up on their land warns me of snakes.  One nice man insisted that Brandon and I stand on the back of his tractor while he drove us to the creek to keep us from actually putting our feet on the ground.  Because, you know, snakes live on the ground.  I hated to tell him that standing on the back of his rusted out antique tractor and dodging tree limbs was probably the most dangerous thing I have done in a long time, and that I would much prefer to take my chances with the snakes.  In all the weeks I have been here I haven't seen a single venomous snake.  I'm sure people are flocking to go to the park sprinkled with these signs, too.  Nothing says family fun like signage with a striking serpent.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Frogs, Whale Sharks, and Dolphin Show

Tonight's most interesting visitor at our bat survey site?  A beautiful pickerel frog!  These frogs are not known for their lovely calls, sometimes described as a "snore", but what they lack in voice they make up for in pattern.  The have nice square spots on their backs, which makes them easy to identify.  And if you aren't sure the spots are square and you think you may have a small green frog (it happens), just check their crotch and see if it's yellow.  Easy, right? 

Admiring the little pickerel frog made me remember this quote from Carolus Linnaeus, that I photographed in the frog display when we visited the Georgia Aquarium last week.  Linnaeus practically invented the classification system for grouping and naming plants and animals, and if you ever look at the scientific names of plants, you quickly realize that he named most of them.  He is probably the most famous natural scientist after Darwin, so I hate to disagree with him, but come on Carolus, aren't you being a bit harsh?  Frogs? Abhorrent?  I might have to agree about the cold body and cartilaginous skeleton, but other than that I think my pickerel frog defies his description.  The colors and patterns on the pickerel frog are quite striking, even jewel-like and shiny, and it was cleaner than my own hands.  As for fierce aspect and calculating eye - stop being such a wimp, it's a cute little froggy!  I admit I don't have an x-ray nose, like Brandon, but I didn't notice any smell, much less an offensive smell.  The pickerel frog does have slightly toxic skin, but unless you are planning on swallowing him, I can't tell that it's a problem.  Maybe Linnaeus didn't get to spend enough quality time with frogs to really learn to appreciate them.  I appreciate his poetic description regardless of it's accuracy.  

I thought the best part of the aquarium visit was the huge tank that had three whale sharks.  These sharks aren't even full grown, but they were gigantic and could grow to be the size of a school bus. The whale shark is a plankton eater, so we got to view a feeding where shrimp like food was dumped by guys in boats and the whale sharks sucked it up like giant shop-vacs.  

Since Jamie and Leigh are working in the same area as us, also catching bats, we were able to make a group trip to the aquarium.  

The rest of the aquarium was okay, but it was crowded and not as well organized as some that I have been to.  The dolphin show was terrible.  Not because the dolphins weren't up to par, but because the "show" was a Disney-fied attempt at theater, and the main character actually sang his parts while wearing a cape covered in flashing Christmas lights while standing in front of a giant screen with cartoons projected on it.  The show made every attempt to hide the interactions between the dolphins and dolphin trainers, which is what I enjoyed at the dolphin show we recently saw in Barcelona, and used the dolphins as dancing characters that at one point highlighted a violent fake fight between the main character and some hokey sea monster characters.  I was embarrassed for the dolphins.  Maybe dolphins shouldn't be forced to perform unless someone with some taste writes the script.  
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