Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thank You, Turkey

Look how much Joe's turkeys grew since May, when they arrived as fuzzy chicks in a box at the post office.  In just six months those little puff balls grew to be big beautiful birds.  

These photos of them in their transport cage were the last I took of them while they were still alive.  I knew from the beginning that these turkeys were destined for the Thanksgiving table.  While I didn't get to spend much time with them, I did get to see them as they grew up, and because they are such curious and vocal birds it was easy to appreciate them as interesting animals in just a few visits, so I sort of understand how hard it must have been for Joe to kill them on Saturday.  He seemed to be dreading the job more than when we butchered his chickens, and mentioned that he may prefer to raise only white turkeys from now on, just so he can't tell them apart as easily as he could with this mix of heritage breeds.  

We used the same technique to kill the turkeys as we used with the big batch of chickens.  There is one difference though - all of the turkeys were so big they stuck up out of the killing cones, and the two biggest, shown above, were more out of the cone than in.  The cones still worked fine though.  

The last time we had a chicken butchering party, we used a rented scalder/plucker, which worked great.  This time, since we only had ten turkeys and eight chickens to process, we saved the expense of the rented equipment an did the scalding in big pots set on gas stoves, and Jamie and Brandon plucked them all by hand.  This also worked great, especially since I wasn't on the plucking crew!

The long plastic aprons are genius.  The chickens we harvested were some of the white cornish rock cross birds that were too small to harvest last time, but had grown into monster sized chickens, some weighing in at more than nine pounds!  When dealing with such big chickens, and even bigger turkeys, it was great that the plucking crew could rest the birds on their knees while they worked, and the apron kept them clean and dry, and is easy to wash off.  

Ashley and I manned the gutting table.  What can I say, I'm good with guts! 

The two black male turkeys were the biggest of the lot, weighing over twenty pounds with their feathers, and over sixteen pounds when they were finished.  In exchange for our labor, Joe gave me the second largest bird.  I have to say, this may be the most appreciative I've ever been for the holiday turkey.  There's something to be said for watching turkeys grow and hearing about the trials and successes of raising them and keeping them happy, then watching one die for my plate.  Normally, all my metal energies concerning the Thanksgiving turkey would be directed at the cooking and eating of the bird, and the only sense of accomplishment that would come with the turkey would be from getting the darn thing to thaw out on time and hopefully get some praise on my seasoning.  Not this year.  I'm proud of this turkey already, for reasons I've never considered before, and it's still frozen.  Imagine how excited I'll be if it tastes good too.  

Joe ordered turkey sized shrink wrap bags, and we put the heart, gizzard, liver, and neck in the body cavity so they will be handy for making stock for dressing and gravy.  Mmm... gravy... 

I think we are all getting accustomed the the process of making birds ready for cooking.  The things that were gross, smelly, and weird are becoming less so.  I can see how, over time, the work of removing feathers and guts, and cleaning up the meat so it looks appetizing can become a normal part of cooking.  Because I'm learning to accept this as a new norm, I decided to intentionally pay more attention to the part of the process that so far I've mostly avoided to see if I can get used to it too.  The part that involves a knife to the throat of a living animal.  Not that I want to become desensitized, or less empathetic, but I do want to understand that part of being a carnivore.  So, I stood and watched some turkeys die and I payed attention to the sequence of my thoughts and emotions while it was happening.  It's difficult to explain, but my first emotions were distress as I empathized with what the turkey could be feeling as it was bleeding.  I had a thought that wouldn't it be better to skip the roasted turkey and just eat the dressing and mashed potatoes, and not do this to the turkey and to myself?  But, I'm glad I didn't turn away and end the experience with that thought and those frightening emotions because I know that dressing and potatoes come with their fair share of death too.  Nothing lives without something else dying.  We are connected that way.  I don't want to get too deep here, but as the turkey's eyes were closing and it's blood flow was slowing, I was thinking about circle of life stuff, and getting a glimpse of how I fit into that, and I felt grateful.  Grateful to the turkey for sure, but also for the opportunity to get to serve a turkey that until just a few minutes ago was as happy as a turkey raised to be eaten can be.  I was also grateful to get to participate in my friends farming adventure, and grateful that when I closely examine the meat eating practice I've participated in my whole life, I find it acceptable, even the frightening part, especially under these conditions.  Good to know.  Thank you, turkey.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Helen's Shame

I have a very unfortunate looking chicken.  Poor Helen is molting, and this is the worst molt yet.  Or maybe the best molt, depending on how you look at it.  I try to ask myself if I would be willing to lose all my hair over the course of a month if it meant that it would grow back thick, shiny, and new, and look great for the rest of the year.  Maybe.  Unfortunately Helen doesn't get a choice, and even worse, she lost her feathers during the coldest autumn days we've had in a long time.  Even worst than that, she hasn't laid an egg since this whole thing started!  

The wind blows her remaining wispy feathers apart to reveal bald spots.  She shivers in the breeze.  I wonder if chickens ever wear sweaters, like fancy lap dogs?  

It won't be much longer before her new feathers fill in the gaps.  Right now they are still wrapped in their sheaths, so she looks like the love child of an ugly chicken and a porcupine.  

I kind of like the punk rocker look, personally, but I don't think Mrs. Hall approves and it's effecting Helen's confidence.  Normally she's first in the pecking order, but lately it seems Mrs. Hall has been asserting herself and getting all the choice compost scraps.  Of course, it could be that Helen is so cold she's just moving slower, but I'm pretty sure having a bad hair day that lasts for weeks can really put a dent in your self esteem.  

Don't worry Helen, it won't be long before you'll be back to your normal vain self.  Maybe I should let her read this post, so she can remember how beautiful she normally looks.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Buying Stuff I Didn't Know I Needed

It may be obvious from looking at my threadbare wardrobe that I don't enjoy shopping for clothes.  My style, if someone had to label me, could probably be described as a cross between a twelve year old who wants to grow up to be either a lumberjack or a comic book collector, and that nutty chemistry professor we all knew in school who favored comfortable shoes.  Maintaining my look sort of limits my shopping venues, as you can imagine.  I've never liked to shop for shoes either, since my experience is that a shoe that looks cute on a woman with a size six foot does not look anything but silly when enlarged to a nine and half and worn with pants with frayed cuffs and unmatched socks.  Because I don't like to wear shoes that would reduce my already slim chances of out running a bear, my shoe options are even more limited.  Without shoes and clothes to exercise my shopping muscles, I stay in practice by shopping for stuff at junk stores.  It's amazing how easy it is to find things I really want that I didn't even know existed!  And I get to keep my clothes and shoes on while in the store.  

On a quick trip to the big Peddlers Mall in town today, I managed to score this beaded wire dog wall thingy with two hooks for hanging things.  For just four dollars I am able to own this hand crafted beauty! Just think, some one made this, on purpose.  Four dollars is the price of a Starbucks coffee, so just imagine, I could have an aromatic hot beverage made from the scientifically roasted beans of plant grown in the tropics, which has been consumed by humans for hundreds of years and has evolved into the taste and mood stimulating perfection of Starbucks, or I can have this thing.  Wait...  When I showed it to Brandon this evening he looked for several moments before he said "it's... amazing".  Yes, yes it is.  

When I picked up a little cookbook called Welcome Back to Pleasant Hill, published in 1977, by the chef at the hotel that was originally built by the Kentucky Shakers, and I randomly turned to a recipe for breakfast bacon cookies, I knew I had to have it.  Published the year I was born, by someone just down the road, and featuring a cookie with bacon?  Three dollars is a bargain, right?  The book is organized by season, and includes the recipes for food that is ready in the garden during each season.  There is even a recipe for pickled watermelon rind, and wassail bowls, both things I've been curious about recently.  There are selected journal entries from the Shaker records, too, and most of them are about the weather, harvest, and preservation of the food they worked on that day.  It will be interesting to compare notes with folks from the 1800 who were gardening so close to home.  

In honor of the Thanksgiving season, I also bought a small horn-o-plenty for a couple of dollars, thinking I might be able to jazz up the holiday decor by creating a overfull basket, Hallmark pilgrim style.  It looks like a funny hat, but the kittens wouldn't model it for me.  

Puck was more accommodating.  Say Happy Turkey Day!  I've had two dollars worth of laughs torturing my pets with the horn already.  

My first table arrangement didn't have quite the traditional Martha Stewart quaintness I was hoping for.  

I got a brand new five foot long rag rug for eight dollars, a baggie of thread on bobbins for a buck, and a stack of felt leaves for two dollars.  Can you tell I'm proud of my thrifty finds?  My thought with the leaves is to use them as trivets for Thanksgiving dinner, avoiding putting my ratty looking pot holders on the table under hot dishes as I've done in the past.  I'm glad I started practicing with the horn arrangement now, because now I know a Chiquita banana sticker, almost rotten pears, and some crusty carrots just aren't enough.  My horn needs more o-plenty.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Breaking Lights and Busting Logs

What's the very first thing I did when I got the the farm house for our Saturday workday?  I broke the light we just put in.  I went straight to the newly painted bedroom to admire our progress and turn on the brand new ceiling fan light fixture, and when I pulled on the chain to adjust the fan speed, the glass globe in the light came crashing to the floor to shatter in a zillion pieces.  Of course.  sigh... But other than that, the downstairs bedroom is looking pretty snazzy even with a retina burning light bulb exposed in the room.  Thankfully, we still liked the sunflower colored floor after being away from it for a week, so we will proceed with a few more coats of paint on the floor at a later date.  We put up some trim around the top of the walls and painted the baseboards, window frames, and doors.  Finally, we have a room that feels clean.  With the change in the weather, the unheated house also feels cold. 

Working in the cold at the farm house has focused my house renovation planning on how to heat our house once we live there.  By "planning" I mostly mean half formed day dreams about alternative energy and quirky handmade stoves promoted by strange looking people on the interweb.  The house has a propane tank and a small gas wall heater and an old brick chimney with a tiny hearth that was probably meant for burning oil or coal.  At some point a hole was made in the chimney above the mantel so a wood burning stove could be used in front of the fireplace.  When the wood burning stove was removed someone thoughtfully stuffed an old pair of pants in the hole to block the draft.  Bonus pants!  

Since we have an abundance of trees at the bus, we are considering using wood as a source of heat, and maybe keeping the propane tank as a back up.  If we sprinkle in some electric heaters and our emergency kerosene heater and we should have all our bases covered.  With all this in mind, it seemed like a good idea for me to get some wood chopping practice by helping Jamie and Leigh cut and bust up some logs for mom and dad's wood stove.  

No big surprise, I guess, but it didn't take me long to realize that chopping wood is hard work!  Jamie made it look pretty easy, and Leigh managed to bust up a log on her first swing.  Not me.  I quickly figured out that I was most effectively utilized by picking up the pieces that someone else busted and stacking them in the cart.  But only if I wore gloves because you know what logs are made of?  Splinters!  Despite my inefficiency with an ax, and my fear of the chainsaw, the overall experience is very pleasant.  I love the forest when the leaves are thick on the ground.  The wood smells lovely, and the exercise kept us toasty warm.  I could get in to having a yearly chore that required time spent in the autumn forest.  Especially if Brandon does the hard part!  

Jamie and I even managed to figure out how to sharpen the chainsaw blade using a dremel tool.  This photo is supposed to remind me of the hours (yes, hours) spent reading the instructions trying to put this thing together and actually make the blade sharper.  Now that I have acquired this skill, I feel I have a responsibility to use it.  We need a wood stove for sure.  

I've become enamored with the idea of a rocket mass heater, which is a type of wood stove that involves a combustion chamber made from a metal drum over some brick architecture and a mass of clay and stone to absorb and radiate heat.  I'm attracted to the claims of it's super efficiency and the do it your self nature of the stove.  On Sunday, Brandon and I spent quite a bit of our day discussing the stove and trying to understand the hand drawn blue prints we found online.  Eventually I had to break out the wooden Jenga blocks from the toy box so we could create a mock up.  I know it doesn't look like much in the photo, especially since I used the plastic cup from my juicer as the combustion chamber, but this exercise really helped us understand.  At least we think it did. Either way, it was fun to play with blocks.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Kittens Help Me Blog About Snow Chickens and Pear Juice

After a long cold day of working outside, I wanted nothing more this evening than to cozy up with a blanket in a soft chair and spend a few moments writing about some of the many important things I've had on my mind.  You know, the really important things of life, like silly snow chickens and vats of fermenting pear juice.  But this crucial work was hindered by the interference of these wild kittens of mine.  

This is what I'm dealing with here, people.  How am I supposed to compose my prose with these pesky fur balls in the way?  They figured out that they could see each other through the little gap between the screen and the keyboard, and trying to paw each other through this gap became the most entertaining game of the day.  Which is saying a lot considering knocking a pumpkin off the table and breaking one of the slats in a window blind had already been thoroughly enjoyed.  

They can wreak all this havoc because they are so adorable and purr the entire time, which seems to lull me into an accepting mood.  That pumpkin is destined for pie anyway, and I should really replace those old blinds, right?   Purrrrr...rrr...  It's a genius design.    

While the kittens have been getting more and more comfortable in the house, the poor chickens had to figure out snow again.  And as we all know, a chicken wakes up in a new world every day, so the first snow of the year is like the first snow of their lives.  Maybe the first snow ever!  Mrs. Hall bravely exited the coop and with much trepidation, lead me to the breakfast area.  

Helen, on the other hand, refused to step from the coop onto the strange white world, and cooed and whined pitifully because Mrs. Hall was getting breakfast without her.  

I finally took pity on her and brought her a cup of food, but placed it just out of reach so she would have to step in the snow.  She finally took a leap and landed with her big clumsy feet in the tiny food cup, which resulted in spilling her food everywhere.  But, after that attempt, she realized the snow wasn't the absence of ground, and got a grip on herself.  Silly chicken.  

Remember the copper pot still I bought at the junk store in Spain?  Well, mom and Jamie helped me clean it up, and we practiced by putting water in it and putting it on the stove.  I can proudly say that I have made distilled water from scratch!  Whew, I can now check that off my list.  

I was practicing with the still because I have three gallons of pear juice fermenting in a crock.  Jamie and I used the juicer and used up almost all the pears I collected from the tree at the farm that hadn't been eaten.  In the photo above you can see the pulpy cap that rises to the top of the juice, and the bubbles that rise up from the yeast action when I stir the juice.  The photo below is what it looks like after I give it a stir, which I do twice a day.  

Looks yummy, huh?  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Moon Shadows on the Walls and Sunflowers on the Floor

Exciting news from the downstairs bedroom at our little farm house - paint!  Yep, we now have four painted walls and the first coat of paint on the floor.  This is so exciting to me because it means we are closing in on a single finished room.  It's a small room and the room that needed the least amount of work, but still, it signifies the beginning of the fun part of house renovation.  

Not only does this small room have paint, it also has a brand new ceiling fan that is connected to electricity and everything.  With a light!  It even has a working light switch, and, we managed to install it and wire it up with a minimum amount of frustration.  We didn't even have to take it all back apart and figure out what we assembled wrong because it worked on our first try.  I'm telling you, we are getting better at this stuff! 

Unlike the fan installation, we did not get the wall paint color right the first time.  We decided to use a dark color in an attempt to hide some of the imperfections in the drywall, and we have a blue room at our other house that we really like.  We selected a color swatch that we thought looked the same, compared it to the floor color swatch we selected, and had the paint mixer man make a gallon for us.  Well, as soon as we painted a few strokes on the wall we knew we didn't like it.  It was too... blue, and when adjacent to the white trim it looked like the color a twelve year old boy who was a fan of the University of Kentucky wildcats would select.   

We took the gallon of paint back to Lowe's and asked the paint mixer man if we could change the color.  You would think that a person who spends their days mixing paint colors would have some idea of which direction you can take blue paint in order to make it less blue.  Not so.  He laughed and told me he couldn't pick my colors for me when I wanted to know if it was better to select a grayer color, or something on the green or red side of spectrum.  He couldn't give us any clues and instead I just had to bring him swatches and let him check with the computer to see if it would work.  And it's not like Brandon and I don't have some experience mixing paint colors considering Brandon has even made a career of it, but the Lowe's paint man lives by strange computer generated color mixing rules, and will not just put a squirt of red it to see what happens as I suggested.  Eventually we landed on the color called Moonshadow, which he was able to tint our blue gallon to make.  

On Sunday, while Brandon started on the floor paint, my nieces came for their first visit to the farm.  We raced, explored, and picked and ate pears.  

The air was crisp and sky was clear blue.  The heat from the sun felt wonderful in the cool air.  I spread afghans on the outdoor seating and the when girls were snuggled in blankets on the lounge chair cushion, resting with their eyes closed and faces to the sun, the elder niece said in a tone of discovery, "Look, it's peace and quiet."  It was.  I could see it too.    

There is still work to be done in this room, including painting the trim that I so laboriously scraped of flaking paint.  The floor paint color I chose is called Sunflower.  With the blue walls, white trim, and orange floor I hope it doesn't feel like we are sleeping on a basketball court!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fall Foliage and Fallen Bat

I find it strange that I spent two days this week working in forests with all the range of autumn colors that a forest can offer, and didn't take a single photo.  On Tuesday I even traveled deep into the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky, and admired a florescent sunset over golden forest peaks and smokey valleys, and never snapped a shot.  

But this morning, on an office day, I found myself wandering the parking lot giving the few scraggly trees that stick up out of the pavement some much deserved attention.  These scrawny trees are really putting on a colorful display, which changes my entire early morning work mood.  

Normally, when I critique of the office parking lot, this is the image that I focus on.  Especially on a grumpy Monday morning when I'm not wearing my rose tinted glasses.  Uhg.  Cars on cracked pavement, utility lines, buildings devoid of architectural interest, and the icing on the cake - dumpsters.  I park near the dumpsters every day.  This is a fitting way to begin the work week, right?  

But today, even the normally unnoticed Bradford pear near the front door was a multicolored bouquet.  No rose colored glasses needed, this tree is beautiful.  

And right across the street, standing out against the normally unremarkable warehouses, is a red tree.  Not red-ish, or tipped with red, or mostly red, but a solid, fingernail polish red, tree.  It's perfect.  And to set it off, a green pine tree grows behind it adding nice contrast.  Sometimes it's nice to remember that I don't have to travel far to see lovely things, I just have to remember to look up.    

I may not have taken photos of the autumn mountains, but we did see an interesting thing yesterday while walking through the forest - a silver haired bat lying on he ground.  It's been several years since I caught a silver haired bat while working at night, and I have never seen one in the light of day, so this was quite exciting to see.  You can see in the photo why they are called silver haired bats.  It looks like he had is fur bleached on the tips.  

This is what the bat looked like when we found it.  It was just lying on the ground with it's wings tucked.  I thought it must be dead because it's not normal for these bats to be on the ground.  I didn't have any gloves with me, and I didn't want to pick up a bat that was acting abnormally anyway, since it could be sick, but when I poked at it, it hissed and spread it's wings.  I couldn't see any injuries, and it seemed alert, but didn't fly.  It's a bat mystery.  
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