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 ♥