Friday, November 13, 2015

I Can Do Anything, But Not Everything...

~David Allen
Last year, my motto was, "Not my circus; not my monkeys". Cute and relevant for those of us who are born the eldest child and besides that, are completely convinced that we can fix the world's troubles- one crisis at a time. I name no names. *cough cough* Me.

woolart Monkey
This year, I am adopting a new saying, "I can do anything I want, but not everything I want". We have less than a week before this year's pop up shop, Creatively Maine, opens in Bucksport with me in the roll of ring master and all around monkey wrangler. In the midst of trying to get ready for winter here, and doing all the regular activities it takes to help Sean make this homestead work, I have significant time and effort poured into promoting not only myself, but 45 (and that list is growing daily) other talented local artisans. Most of these folks are people I've met working markets and shows through the year. They are people whose craftsmanship I admire. They are people, like Jean Fink of woolart, or Shea Rolnick of Gentle Meadow Goat Farm that I genuinely care about. I know what this venture's success or failure means to our family and to the artisans and their families. Sean assures me it is not the case, but sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning, I feel that the success or failure of *all of this* depends solely upon me. On the choices I made on who is involved in this year's shop. On the price I negotiated for  the rent of our space. On the advertising and promoting I can do. On the appeal of our website and whether people "like" our Creatively Maine facebook page. On whether a shelf looks better on this wall or that. On each and every display arranged to encourage someone to spend their hard-earned money with us instead of at Walmart, Target, or wherever else they might be inclined to shop. Between you and I... I am not sure that I am enough.

I started getting massive tension headaches a week ago, stressed over trying to help everyone in my path. I took a couple of aspirin (okay, a bottle of aspirin) and ignored the headaches. "This initial set up phase is relatively short. Once the shop actually opens, the stress level and list of things needing to be cared for will ease", I convinced myself. Last Tuesday's full-blown migraine with all the bells and whistles, gave me the wake up call I was in desperate need of. Sean warned me I was taking on too much. I knew I was taking on too much. But, sometimes it takes a little "congnitive recalibration" to reset a body. Well, this body. I *am* the kind of person that sometimes needs to be "hit over the head" to stop and think about a situation and then make some changes.

Oh Rachel. What a face! ♥
One necessary change for me was learning to say the hardest word in the English language... "No."

I am still determined to make a success of all the projects I am involved with, but I sat down and mentally figured out some guidelines for myself and some boundaries. I gave myself "office hours" to care for things shop related. No one complained about my not being there 24/7. I said "No" to some special requests asked of me. And, the world did not stop. The people asking managed to work their issues out and life ticked on. I asked other artisans to pitch in when the need arose. And, they did. I allowed myself time to spend with Sean and our daughters. I threw a stick for Molly. The "chore" of feeding the animals (which I had released to Sean a week ago) was taken back. I like spending that time with my animals and releasing that to Sean made me feel disconnected from this homestead and my life. I captured some video and took some pictures to share with you. Without the unnecessary stress, I painted some new pendants and that felt wonderful. (They'll be posted to our facebook page later today). I added in time for myself to eat and sleep. This coming Saturday morning I have plans to spend time with our family in our ministry. So, it has only been 3 days. And, I know me. The other things will come encroaching. But, Sean is here to help me to be balanced and to take care of me, so that I can keep helping others.
Our Pop Up Shop is only open for 7 weeks, but I can tell you that it will be filled to the brim with wonderful, quality hand-made creations. We get the keys on November 19th and Open our doors for the first time this year on November 23 at 11 am. Local friends, we are looking forward to sharing our work with you in person. Far Away Friends, please visit us online. We'll gift wrap and ship! In contrast to last year, we won't be updating "shop news" here. This page is remaining dedicated to all things homesteady and farmish.

That is what is going on in our world. Thanks for visiting with us today, friends. I am so happy you are here.

~Sonja ♥

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sweater Mittens: A Gift to Warm my Heart (and Fingers)

 I got a package in the mail on Monday. I wasn't expecting anything and I didn't recognize the address. Strange. I opened the package to reveal hand-made sweater mittens, created by my friend, Jean Fink- just for me.

I have brown hair and often wear browns with purples, so she could not have chosen a better color combination for me. The sweet embellished flower on the cuff made me smile. I tried them on immediately and modeled them for Sean.

Sean remarked, "That Jean is good people." And, she is. Not because she took the time to make me a pair of mittens, but because in making me mittens, she took the time to show she cares about me. Every time I wear them, I will think of my friend, Jean, and remember her thoughtfulness.

Now, here is the irony. Sean and I planned to take the girls mitten and sock shopping this weekend. We already have coats, hats, scarves, and boots, but we could all use new warm socks for our feet and at least one good pair of gloves or mittens for our fingers. I hadn't publicized our plans. How did she know what I needed? Perhaps she didn't. Perhaps this was just a happy accident. I don't really believe that. I look at every opportunity to act in kindness as a way to be used as a blessing to someone else, therefore every kindness done towards me is a blessing, too. I doubt Jean knew how deeply touched I would be by her thoughtful gesture. I hope she knows now. Thank you for taking time to create for me my favorite pair of mittens ever and for reminding me to continue to look for blessings wherever they might be found.
If you know of someone in your life who might love a heart-warming, hand-crafted pair of mittens, Jean's creations can be found on her Etsy shop, woolart.

Thanks for stopping in for a visit today, friends. I am so glad you are here.

~Sonja ♥

Monday, November 9, 2015

Autumn Turkey Coop Prepping

Before Sean's Mom and Dad returned home to North Carolina this year, Sean, our friend, Matt, and Daddy Dale gave a mighty effort to move a large ice shack from its home in Swanville to our homestead. The building hadn't been used at all in a couple years, but it's last purpose was as a chicken coop. Vinyl siding and asphalt shingled roof in good condition, large windows for light, linoleum flooring for easy care, a door for people and one for the feathered animals, it would need just a little TLC to make this into a very serviceable Turkey coop for my babies. The only trouble? Getting it out.
Despite their best efforts:removing small Sumac trees and birch branches grown up around the shed and using metal runners as a lever, the shed refused to budge.

The guys attempted to use Matt's truck to pull it out. This moved the shed diagonally about a foot, but the stubborn shed refused to give up. Then the metal rings ripped out of the sill, taking siding and wood with it, there was nothing else to do, but call it for that day.

Matt suggested that he and Sean return with some tools another day to cut off the roof and the four side walls. With the shed dismantled, the guys would load it into the truck in large pieces and reassemble it once they got it safely to our homestead. I was not in love with this plan, but there did not really seem to be an alternative.

The shed on the left cannot be used another winter. The yard is a good size, but needs to be
moved to give the Toms more fresh greens- while they last. As you can see, the teens 
come and go as they please. 

So, the Turkey Coop project was put aside for the time being. We really need that shed for our turkey birds. We have been able to extend their yard to a decent size for them, but their shelter this summer will not work once the weather turns. They are using one of the small, square coop boxes gifted to us a couple of years ago. These are really no longer habitable. It was built with a flat top and after a few years of usage, that top is no longer in good repair. We'll still salvage any usable 2x4's, the vents, and any screws that we can from it, but the rotting plywood top and base will be burned in our next bonfire.

The weather this fall is cooperating with us and that is a blessing. I am worried, though. Winter is not long off and besides resolving the turkey situation, we still need to build new doors for the barn stalls, move Ebony up to the barn, and cut and stack our firewood for the season. It is the time of year when we start getting phone calls asking us to take on animals that need to find new homes. At this stage, we are full when it comes to providing for large animals. It is going to be a hard winter just to provide for those that we already are responsible for. We can do it and will, but only if we continue to be careful about our herd management. So, no new mammals being added to the homestead.

On the other hand, there was a little room for additional birds. In addition to our two new muscovy ducks, Chapelle and Boris, we agreed to take care of two new adult turkey hens, Riley and Maggie. Miss Riley has a tassel on her chest. They are a cross between a Royal Palm and a Naragansett. Right now, they live next to the main turkey area while they get accustomed to their new flock-mates. Also, I am given to understand that these ladies have a habit of roosting high up in the tree tops or on roof tops. We want to make sure they are happy with their new arrangements before releasing them where they can come and go as they please.

Besides these four, Sean and I went for an adventure day two weeks ago to collect our four new Silkie pullets in Augusta. Our lone Silkie has been living in our family room because the other hens in our flock bully her. The thought of living with a chicken inside all winter long was not one I relished. We hope that adding several other hens of her same breed will give her some companionship and stop the others from chasing her. If it doesn't work, the Silkies can take up residence together in the barn. Phase One went as planned. All the Silkies are getting along well, living next to the main coop. Phase Two will happen on Saturday and we'll see how that goes.

Billy Roo was very interested in the new ladies.
Yesterday, a neighbor friend stopped by to ask us to take his flock of six hens; four Rhode Island Reds and two Barred Rocks. His family is heading south for a bit and has decided not to have chickens at this point. They are large, lovely ladies. And, they help to solve the problem of having a few too many roosters on the homestead right now. We still need to find homes for a couple of boys that came with some straight run chicks earlier in the spring, but having a total of ten new teenaged-young adult hens to add to our flock will spread the attention somewhat.

We have not given up hope on our Turkey coop project. I will keep you posted with that saga as it unfolds!

Thanks for stopping in to visit with us, friends. We're sure glad for your company.

Sonja ♥

Monday, October 26, 2015

Faith and Trust

Jasmine, October 2015
This web site is mainly about the animals we care for, our journey balancing the caring of them and of ourselves on a small, rural homestead. I do not often post about the faith Sean and I share, but because our faith shapes us into the people we are, sometimes, it has a place here, too. Today's post has to do with faith and trust and how we feel Jehovah's care for us in providing for our needs.

Neither Sean nor I have taken a vow of poverty. We are not allergic to money. Sean and I work hard to provide for our family while maintaining a balanced view of material things. Sean could work more hours. I could work for someone else. But in our eyes, the trade-off in time makes that a bad bargain. We only have this time with our daughters once. Too soon, they grow and take on the world in their way. Our marriage is important; that takes time to care for, too. To be honest, we struggle financially- more than I would like to most days. There are times I question our choice to live life on a homestead. It requires so much more than strong backs and arms, a working truck and tools, and the grit to make sometimes impossible choices. It takes imagination to see what something might become and resourcefulness to make something from nothing. A spirit of contentment helps- being satisfied with what we have. And, for us, faith and trust that as long as we put God first in our lives, the rest of it will fall in line. We may not be eating filet mignon every night, but none of us are starving.

The left boot is nearly split in half!
Resting besides the list of things that NEED to be finished on the homestead before snow flies, has been the knowledge that my Goodwill-found boots from 2013 were now thread-bare and beyond wear. The near-new pair of boots gifted to Meg last fall were still too big for her feet and gave her blisters. Thankfully, they fit Kristen perfectly. I also needed new Wellies to wear while working in the barn or around the yard. One was completely ripped through; the other had a large slash and a small hole in them- neither were water-proof (mud-proof or muck-proof) any more. These were needs. We need proper, safe and warm footwear to preach the word and for working. We have a limited amount of funds. We gave priority to the good boots, the barn boots would wait.

Sean sent Meg and I shopping last Thursday. Our budget: $50 or less. We stopped at Walmart first. (We are thoughtful about where we spend our money. Supporting local, small business is a priority for us, but sometimes, it is what it is. This day, I needed 2 pairs of boots with the money that was available in my wallet.) At Walmart, we found some cheaper made boots for $19. and some better ones at $29. Ouch. We passed. Target was next. The least expensive boots that day were $44.99. No joke. Pass. We stopped at a Thrift Shop- no boots in stock at all, but I did find Sean a new pair of Wrangler cargo pants in really good condition for $3.79- SCORE! Then, we tried KMart. They had a Buy One, Get One 50% Off Sale. The prices were in the $24- $39 area, but the boots were better quality and the sale made all the difference. Meg found a pair she liked, that fit for $29. I found myself some boots for *gulp* $39- I have not dropped that much money on myself since before the girls were born. With the sale, our cost for both totaled $54. Slightly more than I hoped to pay, but we decided to get them. At the register, I got a happy surprise, our sale qualified for $10 in "Bonus-Cash". That meant our boots cost $44! I was thrilled to buy boots under our budget. Blessing #1.

On Saturday, we hosted our Apple Pressing Day. About 20 people came from the community to use the press and make themselves cider. We showed people around the homestead and visited with the animals. (Important side note: Sean's truck has been off road for a while. We raised some money to help pay for a new engine for it, but money is always tight and replacing an engine is costly. Sean's truck has been sitting at my Grandmother's house for months- waiting for us to move it to get repaired.) When my cousin, Jeramy pulled up in a flat bed truck, I pounced on the opportunity to see if he could pick up Sean's truck for us and deliver it to where we needed it to go. He agreed. Since the flat bed was not his, he had to clear it with his boss. With some creative bartering, it cost us 6 gallons of fresh apple cider and $20 cash, Blessing #2.

New Wellies for ME! :) 
Just after Jeramy left to get the truck, my Mother handed me a pair of striped Wellies and asked if they would fit me. Like. A. Glove. One of our guests who came by to use the press with her children, learned from my Mother that I needed some barn boots. She had just purchased some new rubber boots for herself and gifted me her old pair. Seriously. I teared up. And, did a happy dance. Blessing #3.

It isn't that faith is some lucky charm to be rubbed and wished upon. I try hard to look for the good in people and things, to remember the blessings that come our way and to be content with what we have been and are being given, to live a thankful life. Sometimes, I am blessed to be used to help someone else. As I see God's hand in our lives, the feeling of trust and security grows. Sometimes LIFE is more lemons than lemonade, but even then, it is comforting to know that we are worth more than many sparrows. Why should I worry?

At the end of the weekend, Meg and I had good boots to wear, I had been gifted barn boots, Sean's truck was delivered to the shop and we spent time with friends and family pressing fresh apple cider. All told, Sean and I pressed 23 gallons of cider. 3 gallons for our fall CSA shares- (Leslie, Sue, and Naomi, expect another half gallon this week ♥ ), 4 gallons to thank the people who allowed us to glean their apple trees, 6 gallons for truck towing and 10 gallons for us to freeze fresh to drink through the winter months. Sean has not preserved any of his cider yet and since we have used all our apples, we'll spend more time together picking apples this week. He plans on making 10 gallons of hard cider and perhaps another 5 gallons of apple cider wine. All in all, it was a good weekend.

Thanks for visiting with us today, friends. Your company is a blessing.
~Sonja & Sean ♥

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Apple Cider Pressing Invitation; Muscovy Duck Buddies

Last weekend was a marathon of moving things that we can use to our homestead. It started on Friday. Sean removed the seats of the van in order to bring home a free load of maple logs to split from one of his job sites. He piled the logs onto the stack of wood already waiting to be split. Molly was a great help. Look how low that van is riding. Yikes!(1). With the momentarily empty van, we went to pick up the cider press we are borrowing from our friend Jenny of Pebblestone Farm. We delivered the press safely home (2). In the afternoon, we drove to grab a quick load of hay for the goats- six bales tetrised neatly behind the middle seat (3). We dropped the hay at home, delivered our girls to visit their Dad for dinner and loaded the van for the final time that day with logs of white pine and butternut to add to our happily growing supply of wood for fuel.

On Saturday, we spent just slightly less time in the van. After spending the morning preaching the word together, Sean and I spent a little time in the afternoon picking all the apples we could gather from a neighbor's tree before the rain started up. Working together, we collected about 100 pounds of apples- a good beginning, but with me wanting to preserve 10 gallons of apple cider in the freezer for the winter months ahead and Sean wanting to ferment 10 gallons into hard cider, we'll need more apples*. Saturday night, Sean and I and my Mom took our girls to see the play, Mary Poppins at the Grand Auditorium in Ellsworth. It was charming and wonderful and an absolute treat to reward us for the previous two-day's strenuous work load. The cast was dead on, the sets were perfect, and the story borrowed from the original book and the Disney movie, meshing together a delightful 3 hour tale.

After Sunday's meeting for worship, Sean and I drove to Windsor to meet us a duck; Lady Chapelle's potential mate. On the way there, we encountered a raccoon sitting along the side of the road. While we would not welcome a raccoon to take an interest in our homestead, we did not wish to see this one hit by a car along the busy roadway. It was a concern that he or she was out and active during mid-day, a possible sign of being sick, injured, or rabid. Still, we couldn't just drive by and leave it to chance that it would cross the roadway safely. As we approached in the van, it was clear that this one had been injured on its rear leg- maybe broken? As we watched it, we thought it was probably only sprained or strained. Perhaps it had already had a slight encounter with a car. Who knows? Barring taking it to a vet, which could have placed us in harm's way, the only thing we could do was to watch it closely and see it safe into the brush when it tired of our staring. That didn't take long. But, its eyes were clear, wary of us, and alert. It did not cry out in pain as it walked and it could walk. We couldn't be sure, of course, of any of our suppositions, but we were glad to see it scamper into the tall grass under its own power. We hoped whatever injury it had would heal on its own in time. At least, it was in no danger of getting hit by a car on the road for the moment and Sean did not get bitten by the potentially rabid critter. Ain't nobody got time for that!

Boris standing in front of Chapelle.
All of the drakes available for sale were handsome lads, but it did not take too long for me to know that Boris was our guy. Sleek black feathers with a shimmering sheen of green along his back, big and healthy, Boris was our favorite. He wasn't terribly impressed with the idea of travelling, despite our assurance that he was going to love his new digs. After all, coming from a duck enclosure with 6 other Muscovy drakes into an enclosure where he was the main man and a lady all his own to love had to win us some points. He was unconvinced on the drive home. Boris quickly changed his mind upon seeing Miss Chapelle. It was duck love at first sight and the two have been inseparable since. We released them into the main coop area yesterday after adding additional fencing panels to expand the duck yard further. The duck yard area will grow in size and eventually the "pond" will be dug out properly to everyone's satisfaction. But, it is sufficient for now.

Sean spent a couple hours turning a large rabbit hutch into a new duck house. We removed the legs, took out the chicken wire walls and welded metal floor and installed new OSB interior walls. The roof of the house is finished with tar paper over wood boards. Next spring, we will remove them and install rigid, clear plastic greenhouse panels for a roof. This will let in sunlight and warm the inside of the house when the weather turns cold. The exterior will sport red aluminum siding to complete the house. The house sits off the ground, on three good wood pallets we found beside the road on our way home Sunday afternoon. I love breathing new life into repurposed finds. The total cost for this project will be 2 sheets of OSB and the price for the aluminum.

This is going to be an equally busy week around the homestead. We are getting ready for winter by splitting and stacking wood, deep cleaning the barn stalls, creating a new door system for the goats and horse, and Ebony needs to be moved up into the barn sooner than later. We have been gifted with the prefect chicken coop repurposed from an old ice-shack. It will do nicely for a turkey house for us. I just have to figure out a way to get it from Swanville to here. If anyone has a large truck or trailer available to help us move this in the next couple weeks, I would be very grateful- and so would our turkey birds. :) We are also looking forward to apple pressing here on the homestead and you are invited to join us...

*We will sharing our apple bounty with our friends and neighbors, opening our homestead this coming Saturday, October 24th  from 2-5 pm for cider pressing. Bring your own apples and containers and use the press for FREE. Or, for those who prefer to use our apples and containers, a limited supply of raw apple cider will be available for purchase for $5 per gallon. Our studio will be open, too. Gentle Meadow Goat Farm is joining us for the day as our special guests; they'll have goat's milk lotions and other farm goodies with them. I hope you'll try a piece of my Third-Place Apple Pie. ♥ Remember friends, this is a WORKING homestead with animals who poop... without notice... a lot. It is just a reality of life here. If you plan to walk around the homestead and visit with the animals. we strongly recommend wearing rubber boots and maybe bringing a change of clothing for children- in case they get "muddy". We'd love to see you and hope you'll stop in for a visit. Full details are available on our FB page HERE.

Thanks for joining us today, friends. We're very glad you're here.
~Sean and Sonja ♥

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Duck Chappelle Joins the Flock; Clipping Guinea Wings; Farm Selfies

Chapelle in her temporary new digs
A few days ago, our friend Shea of Gentle Meadow Goat Farm sent us a message asking if we might have a home for a Muscovy hen who had lost her flock to a fox and was in need of some duck buddies. Lady Muscovy was currently living at Twin Rivers Farm, but was lonely and beginning to be picked on by their turkeys and chickens. She needed a place to live with more other ducks and less foxes. Could we help? Back when we first discussed getting ducks, Sean wanted to have Muscovy ducks, but to be honest, they kind of freaked me out a little. They have reddish "waddily" bits on their heads and instead of quacking, they hiss. Of course, that reaction was before I met guinea fowl and fell in love with turkeys. I thought that I was (maybe) ready for Muscovies. So, we talked about it together. Before any most animals come to the farm, we discuss the pros and cons with each other and together reach a decision that we feel is best for our homestead. ("Love Dove" came home with Sean from work one evening and "Lex" showed up on my watch. The system is not flawless, but by and large, it works.) We think about the size of the animal in question. The animal's age and health is a factor. Do we have the room to care for the animal? Do we have the ability to provide for the animal? Do they have any special needs to consider? How will they help to support themselves and their retirement?

The consensus this time was that we did have room on our homestead and in our heart for this Muscovy lady. Assuming she is accepted by our resident ducks, we have plenty of room to add two more Muscovies to our flock. "Two?" you ask. Well, that is part of our consideration process. Ducks stick together for sure, but in our experience, they stick together best in groups of their own breed. Our China Buff Geese, Mallards, Black Swedish, and the unknown tawny breed we have acquired all live in the same pen, but they seem to separate themselves by breed. The exception to this are the two Black Swedish hens who were brooder buddies with our geese and spend most of their time with them. Sean and I were happy to offer a home to Ms. Duck Chappelle, but we feel it is important for her to have a friend. So, we are looking for a good candidate for her. Anyone out there looking for a home for a young (1-2 year old hen or drake)?

In the meantime, we set up a temporary pen right next to the duck enclosure. We introduced her to the largest tawny duck as a pen-buddy to start. She and tawny duck will live together for about a week. This will give them some time to get to know each other more closely. All the ducks and geese are able to see each other to begin getting used to the new addition. And, when the week passes, we'll reintroduce both ducks into the main pen. It is my hope that we can find another friend for Chappelle this week, so we can introduce a trio. I find adding birds in larger numbers helps with the acceptance of them. Less chance of any one bird getting picked on too much while they establish their pecking order, though obviously we'll keep an eye out anyway.

The main chicken coop area bears watching over the next few days, too. We introduced the 14 teen-aged guineas growing out in the back yard into it last night just after feeding time. There were four adult guineas in the coop and they took an interest in the new arrivals, but were too busy scratching for corn to really pay them much mind. Miguel, our adult chocolate male, is the most dominant of the group, but he gave a couple half-hearted charges towards the group of teens and then gave up in search for more grain and Maria's attention. This morning, I have been watching them from my studio window and everyone seems content to get along. That is good news. Six of these teenagers are for sale. We have a pair of chocolates and 2 pair of pearls for sale. (I am keeping the lavenders this year.) We'll offer pairs for $30. As bad as tick season has been in our area, we have not pulled any off of the barn cats nor the dogs all season. And, we haven't seen any on the humans, either. Guineas are loud, but they are worth their weight in gold when it comes to eating ticks. For that reason alone, we'll have a dozen or so roaming the property. Security alarm and Lyme protection.

Aquila (left) and Lazarus (right) are looking very handsome as the weather turns colder. They are taking on their vibrant fall colors. Look that the bronze and red sheen to Aquila's feathers! Gorgeous! Lazarus's colors have taken on a light brown hue, changed from the blue-grey feathers he wore this past spring. These lads will be three years old this spring. They weigh about 35 pounds each.

I usually spend a few minutes at the end of the day with the turkey teens. They have become so friendly. They often run to greet me and suffer my attention. They really need names, but I am still not 100% certain of their sexes yet, so they are each called "Baby" for now. There is one that is especially dear to me.

I thought you might enjoy seeing some teen turkey selfies. ♥
Me and my baby. 

Almost asleep in the setting sun.

And, we have sleep.
The teens have been jumping the fence to where the Mother hens and their chicks are living. The mothers do not like this and gave a couple of the teens warning pecks on their beaks. This has been enough enticement for the teens to retreat back where they belong or at least to wander the back yard.

We are waiting for the poults to completely feather out before we complete the expansion of the enclosure and attempt to have all the turkeys live together this winter. We've been successful in years past with keeping up to 10 turkeys in one pen. Their initial enclosure will be approximately 900 square feet to hold 14 turkeys to start, giving each bird approximately 64 square feet of room. Our building plan calls for their area to eventually grow to encompass 3200 square feet with the ability to separate out private 800 square foot sections, as needed, for breeding. Our overall design is to keep up to 4 toms (We'll see how that works in terms of them getting on and if it is necessary to have that many for breeding.) and 16 hens when our flock is complete. Some of these poults may be for sale in the spring, depending on gender, breed, and personality. Tom or hen, my baby will be staying on with us permanently.

That is what is going on in our world. Thanks for popping in for a visit. It is nice to have the company.

~Sonja ♥

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Our Apple Pie Recipe

The competition. :) 
Cutting the pies.
It is officially fall- my favorite season of the year. I love the colors, the scents in the air (which I think I captured really well in our "autumn woods" scent tart. Check it out on our Etsy Shop), and especially the warm, homey foods. The only thing that presents a delicious challenge to fresh salads of veggies picked and eaten cold and crisp from the garden on a hot summer day, is perhaps warm, hearty "fall" foods; soups full of garden veggies simmering all day, chunky marinara sauces, spicy salsas, fresh baked breads and dessert pies. Got your attention yet?

This past Saturday, I entered my first hometown apple pie baking contest at Searsport's Annual Fling into Fall celebration. Not as a lark. Not lightly. I trained for this event like a champ. My family was forced to endure apple pie upon apple pie in the weeks leading up to the contest. As they tried to enjoy their dessert, I peppered them with questions like, "Is the crust buttery and melt in your mouth delicious while maintaining its flaky integrity?" and "Do you think the Granny Smith's tartness is overpowering or complimentary to the Wolf River apple's sweetness?" Quizzical stares of the deer-in-a-head-light variety followed. That they came back for more of this kind of inquisition is, in and of itself, a testament to the deliciosity (coined word meaning: the highest state of deliciousness needing its own term) of these test pies. I toyed with my recipe, adding and omitting ingredients, experimenting with my technique until I felt I had found "The One".
Our Judges.

Here's How I Make Sonja's Official Third-Place Apple Pie~

Set oven to preheat at 425 degrees.

Sweet and Tart Apple Pie Filling:You'll need these ingredients:

4 Wolf River Apples (sweet apple)
4 Granny Smith Apples (tart apple)
1/4 cup Brown Sugar

1. Peel and core all the apples. Cut apples into slices. Place apple slices into a large bowl. Tip: Make sure to remove all hard pieces of the core from the apple slices.

2. Mix sliced apples with 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Set Aside while you make your pie crust. Some people add a little lemon juice to prevent the apples from turning brown while they sit, but I do not. I don't think it matters in this application.

3. Make your pie crust dough.

Thoughtful deliberation.
Flaky, Buttery, Melt-In-Your-Mouth Pie Crust
You'll need these ingredients:

2 1/2 cups Unbleached Bread Flour (I use King Arthur Brand)
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon All Spice
2 sticks of Butter cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 cup cold water (the colder the better)
2-3 tablespoons bacon fat

1. Combine the flour, salt, cinnamon and all spice in a large bowl.

2. Cut in the butter (Do not substitute margarine here.) until you reach coarse, pea sized crumbles.

3. Add almost all of the cold water to the butter/flour crumbs and work into a ball. Be careful not to over-work the crust. If the crust is dry, add the rest of the water. If it combines easily, you may not need all the water.

4. Add the bacon fat to make the dough soft and workable, but not wet.

5. Cut dough in half, roll into two balls with the palms of your hands. Set one dough aside in the bowl.

6. Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin. Carefully roll one dough into a circle slightly larger than your pie pan. Place dough into bottom of a pie pan so that the edge of the dough extends over the lip of the pie plate by 1/2-1 inch all the way around. Pour in your apple mixture from above and set the pie plate aside to roll out the top crust.

7. Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin. Carefully roll out a rectangle shape from the reserved pie crust dough. The size depends on your pie pan. The dough needs to be long enough to span the diameter of the pie and wider than the pie by about half.

8. Cut the dough rectangle into 10 even strips along the shorter side. You'll use these to make a lattice design on the top of the pie. (Not sure how? This video shows you how: Lattice Pie Crust.)

My pie was entry #1.
The Magic Step That Makes This Pie SING
You'll need these ingredients:

1 stick Butter, sliced into tablespoon pieces
3 tablespoons Unbleached Bread Flour
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon All Spice
1/4 cup water

1. In a sauce pan melt the butter over medium-low heat. Do not let it brown.

2. Whisk in the flour to the melted butter until combined and cook this mixture for 1 minute stirring constantly. This cooks the flour before it bakes.

3. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and all spice and stir until thoroughly mixed.

4. Add water and simmer until it reaches the consistency of thick maple syrup. Stir often. Do not let it burn. You want the sugars to take on a bit of caramel flavor, not burned sugar.

5. Carefully and slowly pour the sugar mixture into the openings of the lattice work of your pie crust and across the top of the pie. Be careful not to pour too quickly so that the sugar mixture runs off the crust and makes a mess. Most of it should live inside the pie with the apples. As the apples cook and release their juice, this mixture will absorb the juices to make your pie moist, but avoid it from becoming wet or runny. The sugar mixture on the top of the pie will brown and be amazingly delicious. Trust me.

6. Pop the apple pie into the oven. Turn down the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 40 minutes. Your oven make take slightly more or less time so begin watching it a few minutes before and check it often. Your pie is done when you can easily pierce the apples through the hole in the lattice work and the crust is a nice medium golden brown.

This is the perfect time of the year to indulge on pies. If you make my recipe, I would love to hear back from you with your opinion and feedback. Third place felt pretty good, but I have a whole year to tweak my recipe before next year's contest. And, I have my eye set on that sweet 2nd place ribbon!

Thanks for stopping in for a visit today, friends.
~Sonja ♥

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Baby Turkeys!

Molly is a great comfort to Sean's plague-ridden carcass.
Mary calling her young back. ♥
Our family has been sick with a virus that we're affectionately calling, "The Plague" for just under a week. Sean's fever broke yesterday; mine the day before. Now, Meg seems to have the first signs: sore throat and fever. Thus far, only Kristen seems to be unaffected. She has quarantined herself in her room with her notebook, some music, and her books resolved not to emerge until this passes. Smart girl.

Life on the homestead pauses for nothing. Sean's fever broke just in time to discover newly hatched turkey babies. Both nests hatched overnight. Mary is the proud Momma to five new babies. Priscilla hatched a single baby from her clutch of two eggs. Of course, we knew and tentatively planned that we would move the Mothers and their chicks to safer quarters once hatched, but what with being stricken for the past week, thinking about it was all we had done. We had not actually built any of the new fencing we knew we would need. And, as tired out as we both are, constructing fencing was not in the cards today. The easiest remedy we could conceive was to remove some of the garden fencing panels and add them to the already existing turkey fencing to create a safe and separate pen for the new chicks and their Moms. So, that is what happened.
Priscilla and her solo chick. ♥
Priscilla's chick is already walking all over mom. :) 
In the next few days, we'll have to do something more than pray that the dastardly trio of Abigail, Haddie, and Anna refrain from wandering into the garden and eating all our seeds for next year. Since the weather forecast is calling for three days of rain, it is a chance we decided to take. And, by "decided", I clearly mean, it is what it is. The fencing is down and moved. If we can muster the energy, we'll collect what we can for seeds today.

I am choosing not to focus on that. It is much more pleasant to think about new babies. I am so happy to introduce these new littles to you. :)

Thanks for stopping in to visit today. We're glad you're here.

~Sean & Sonja ♥

Friday, September 25, 2015

Unexpected Turkey Babies are a Cookin'.... Maybe...

Priscilla's turkey chicks July 2015
Look how they've grown! Sept. 2015
When people tour the homestead, one of the most common questions upon visiting with our heritage turkeys is, "Don't they fly out?" and "Aren't you worried that a Tom will come and lure them off?" These are reasonable questions and in truth I have worried about these possibilities. Just not enough to take the time to cover their pen or clip their wings. I love our turkeys and I want them to be safe. I, also, want them to be turkeys. It gives me great joy seeing them strut across the back yard and come investigate what we are doing. And, though I know it is safer to live in captivity, it just makes me sad to think of them entirely penned up. My honest and usual response to these well-meaning questions is, "They do fly out. But, they stay around the yard. The day may come when they wander, but so far, they are content to live with us." And they have been.

We had a bit of a scare a couple weeks ago. Mary, our blue slate hen did not put herself to bed with the other turkeys one night. A pattern that continued. We saw her wandering the yard early each morning and in the late afternoons, but when evening came, she was gone. This went on for several days. I worried a little about predators. As more than a week passed and her routine became habit; Mary always returning during the day and roosting in some unknown place at night, I found myself watching for her return each day with a sigh of relief. Yes, I know it would have been easy enough to cover the yard with bird netting. We talked about it. But, neither Sean nor I wanted to pen her in permanently. Besides that, based on her pattern of missing feathers on her breast and along her back, I had a strong suspicion that she was laying eggs in a nest. If that was the case, I wanted to give her every opportunity to hatch out chicks. Our intention was to follow her to wherever she was roosting to see if our hunch was right. I will tell you this, turkeys are as dumb as the day is long, but this old girl had NO intention of leading us to her nest. She just disappeared before we could follow her. Seriously. Fast like a freak.

About a week into Mary's new routine, Priscilla starting behaving in the same way. She'd disappear during the day for a bit and then not come back to roost with the toms at night. The difference with Priscilla was that she almost immediately stopped coming home every day. It was every other day and then, every third day- long enough to hop into the pen to eat and grab some water and she would disappear before we could throw on shoes to follow her to her roosting place. Frustrating for us. We were also relieved each time we spotted her, happy to know she was safe.

Last Monday, after I returned home with Angus from Ridge Runner Veterinarians, I caught sight of Mary in with the toms. I grabbed my cell phone and already had on my shoes and cannily followed her back to her nesting spot... the tall grass behind Ebony's shed. Standing 2 feet in front of her, I would have walked directly passed it, had I not seen exactly where she disappeared. Relieved to find her spot, I had no intention of disturbing her. I was happy just knowing that she was close by and that there was a possibility of more turkey babies this year. It took another 10 days before I had the opportunity to check the empty nest while Mary grabbed a bite to eat and drink. There
were 7 eggs in the nest and 1 that looked like it had no shell, only a soft sac encasing a partially developed chick. It smelled terrible and was covered with hundreds of nasty, wiggling bugs. It quite turned my stomach! But, I only had a small window and with the chance that the other eggs were growing normally and viable, I grabbed a large, green leaf nearby, scooped up the sac and removed it from the nest- just in time for Mary to return and me to beat feet in a hasty retreat. I am always sorry to lose any animal, but the excitement over the potential of Mary hatching out seven chicks soothed its loss.

Last Wednesday night, Sean and I caught sight of Priscilla. We quickly ran outside and was in time to watch her disappear into the alders near this year's fledgling guinea keet pen. Even with both Sean and I watching and following from two different sides, I lost sight of her in the brush. Sean had a better vantage point and directed me to where she had her nest. Can you see her?

No? How about now?

She blends almost perfectly into the scrub. Priscilla's nest is still in our yard, but on the edge of the woods- closer than I am comfortable with. But, with a nest of eggs underneath her, I dare not try to move her. Instead, Sean marked the area behind her and Molly spread her scent around the perimeter, too. We rely on the scent of larger predators to dissuade smaller ones from coming too close to our animals. It works decently. In six years, we have only had one loss due to a fox. Priscilla's nest should be close to full-term. As soon as it is, we'll move her and her chicks to a safer place. We'll do the same for Mary and her young. :) Tonight in a pleasant turn of events, I caught Priscilla off her nest and Sean was able to count her eggs. It seems she only has two in the nest. Whether that means she only laid a small second clutch or whether something bothered her nest already, we do not know. Time will tell and we'll keep you posted.

But as of now, we have the potential for 9 more turkey poults to hatch this year. If they all do, we'll double the size of our flock to 18 birds. We'll keep many of the hens since we are trying to increase our ability to provide turkey poults to local folks who would like to raise their own turkeys. Most of the toms will be for sale in the spring.

We miss Angus and I think of him often. The thought of new life growing brings some measure of comfort, though, something to look forward to in the days ahead. I owe you posts about entering an apple pie contest, one about making elderberry syrup- just in time to need some as Sean and I both came down with colds, and how foraged mullein seems to be helping with Meaghan's asthma and sleeping. And, I have a tale to share of Asher, the teleporting goat, messing with my breeding schedule. All these will come in the next few weeks. So, stay with us.

Thanks for the visit tonight, friends. It is nice to share your company.
~Sonja ♥