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Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Living a rich country life in a small Midwestern town.

Showing 11 posts from February 2010 for this blog.
I'm Listening for Robins
Sunday, February 28, 2010

I woke up this morning listening for Robins. They usually return to My Little Farm in Town March 1—give or take a day. I usually hear them for a few days before I see them. My sister in East Texas watches them flock and fly away. I listen for their return.

As I lay in bed this morning, I heard hairy and downy woodpeckers, cardinals, and our murder of crows, the sentinel crow alerting the rest. The blue jays made their usual squeaking garden gate cry.

 I’m waiting for the morning I hear the robin break the silence first.

That is the thing about winter in this part of the world. You know it is coming when the birds fall quiet. Even the ones that stay the winter have different conversations. It allows you to hear other sounds. We have eleven mature evergreens bordering our lot and a half, so I listen to the sea sound of them all winter as I walk out to take care of the girls each morning and evening.  I hear the dry scraping of blowing snow mix with the little begging noises the chickens make when I go out to collect eggs midday.

Living in town there is always the noise of cars, dogs, and the highway when the wind is out of the south or west. I like the days best when the wind blows from the north.

Even though  the north wind is colder, it blows away the highway noise. In the spring, it brings the sound of tractors and the smell of dairy (manure)—and the calls of robins sheltering by the lake in the wooded valley below my neighborhood.  

Are you listening? Begonia.


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First Sale of the Season and Garage Sale Journaling
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I went to the first garage sale of the season this past weekend, and I believe that I have skunked all of my sisters and my DEAR mother in having attended the first sale of the 2010 season. True—this was a sale held in a church basement, but it was listed in the local ad shopper as a “HUGE 9-Family Sale.”

We have a friendly competition within the family every year for who will be the first to attend a garage sale. At this time of the year in Wisconsin, these sales usually take place inside! I did pretty well. Here is what I got for $15.50.

  • NEW One pair Wool men’s Wigwam socks  (for my husband to use cross country skiing)—50 cent
  • NEW Home Interiors Very Berry column candle—25 cents
  • NEW Tyler Candle Co. Limelight votive—25 cents
  • Five newborn t-shirts (for Midwife Kits)—$1
  • Vintage flower pot—25 cents (I collect)
  • Vintage ice cream scoop with red Bakelite handle—$1 (I collect)
  • Stainless steel measuring cups: 2 cup, two 1/3 cups, ½ cup, 1/8 cup, and ¼ cup—$1
  • Jergens and Victoria Secret lotion—2 tubes for $1
  • Two short Gap hooded and zippered sweatshirts: black and white—2 for $4
  • Trendy, short, black and white sweater with three-quarter length sleeves, shawl collar—$2
  • Two V-neck shirts for layering—$1.50
  • Two camisoles: black and white—50 cents
  • Three black shirts for layering—$1 (All ten clothing items are for my daughter who just went through another growth spurt—I keep trying to avoid taking her to the mall.)
  • Two knit cotton dishwashing cloths—$1 (I know—a princely sum, but I wanted them.)
  • Faux pearl multistrand necklace—25 cents
  • FREE quilted zipper shoe bag (Gotta love those free boxes!)
  • FREE hair scrunchy

How and WHY do I keep track of all this stuff? How—I keep a journal of all the stuff I buy, the date, sometimes the place, my impressions of the day, and how much I paid. WHY—I get most of our household goods, craft materials, books, entertainment (CDs/DVDs), clothing, and home improvement items at garage and estate sales. (I’m not an auction gal, although I love auction-goers’ sales!) In order to budget, my husband and I need to know where the money is going.  Also,  some sales are consistently good or bad, and I like to remember where they are located—to get there early in the first case and to avoid wasting time in the latter case! (I know that this isn’t very noble, but sometimes I just like to reread the journal just to gloat!)

Have you been to any good garage or estate sales yet?  I’d love to hear about your latest best deal! Begonia

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Death by Chocolate
Sunday, February 21, 2010

I participated in a Death by Chocolate Event (baking contest) at my local library last night. It was a very nice example of an activity that doesn’t cost much but really brightens the dull days between Valentine’s Day and Easter (which also involve large amounts of chocolate here in the United States).  It was an adult event, so most of the people where there with their dates or friends.  Over 200 people came to taste chocolate candy and baked goods and enjoy the Big Band music and an evening out.

The chocolate fumes alone were seizure inducing.

It was judged by one pastry chef and two chocolatiers, as well as by all the people who came to taste.  There were 39 participants giving out samples in seven categories: professional, cookies, candies, brownies, cakes, cheese cakes, and hodge podge. Each category was judged by the public tasters and the professional s.  One entry per category was allowed and each entry cost $5. The public could make a donation if they wished. Otherwise, tasting was free!

I entered what I called my Chocolate Raspberry Dream Cake and won the People’s Choice Award for Cakes.  I was really surprised because I had entered  a Chocolate Truffle Sweet Orange Marmalade cake in a previous year—It was a volcano of chocolate that I was sure would win—and failed to score. My entry this year had a vanilla icing on a extremely dark chocolate cake with raspberry preserves between the layers (I had made the preserves  from the fruit of a dear friend’s raspberry patch).  I had a relaxing afternoon putting it together and figured, I would have a nice evening visiting with friends and getting to know a few new people.

My personal favorite of the evening was a Tennessee Whiskey Bacon Truffle.  It was flavored with essence of bacon—I never knew such a thing existed; yeah, I’m from the sticks—and a very fine aged whiskey. The combination sounded revolting to me, but I decided that trying something new was almost as good as a tropical vacation. First, I tasted chocolate, then the whiskey, then a smoky/salt flavor, and finally the fat of the cream—then it all mixed together. That woman took home a trophy.  

One of my neighbors won the Judges Choice for Cakes. More Bacon! Again, it sounded odd but tasted fine. It was called The Elvis. It was a big, multilayer banana cake, with a layer of peanut butter and a layer of chocolate between each cake layer. The Icing was chocolate, and there was very crisply fried bacon sprinkled generously on top.  The King would have approved. According to my neighbor, Elvis’s favorite sandwich, peanut butter, bananas, chocolate, and BACON, inspired this cake!

Here’s my recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Dream Cake.


½  cup cocoa (I used dark chocolate/dutched blend—your choice.)

¾ cup strong coffee (You shouldn’t be able to see through it, and it should be brewed from a dark roast.)

2 cups brown sugar

½ cup butter

2 eggs (I use the nice brown ones with the extra rich yokes that my hens lay for me—good girls!)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt


2 cups raspberry preserves (Slightly warmed to spread more easily between the layers)


1 cup cold water              

2  heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour

½ cup unsalted butter (8 ounces)  (The unsalted butter gives the icing an almost cheese cake or cream cheese taste)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour baking pans.

Cake: Dissolve cocoa in hot coffee. Set aside to cool. Then cream butter, sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Beat in dissolved cocoa. Sift together dry ingredients and add to batter alternately with buttermilk.

Bake cake until it tests done (toothpick or cake tester inserted in middle comes out clean), about 30 minutes.

Filling: Warm preserves slightly.

Icing: Mix water and flour and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until it is thick and smooth. Put in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Press wrap into top of mixture so there is no air space and cool. Scoop flour and water mixture into a larger bowl and add the rest of ingredients. Beat until thick, white, and fluffy.

Assembly:  Cool cake layers in pans then turn out onto a cake plate, spread slightly warmed preserves between layers, coat top and sides with icing, and garnish top with shaved chocolate or raspberries or both. (Hint: I slipped my Raspberry Chocolove bar into my apron pocket while I cooked, and it was just the right temperature to make nice shavings when it was time to garnish.)

If you decide to make this cake, let me know how it turned out for you. Happy baking! Begonia.

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The True Nature of Chickens
Friday, February 19, 2010

You may be thinking after reading my last blog about “What Chickens Want” that I am a few bricks short of a full load and that I don’t understand the true nature of chickens. Always keep in mind that I live in town,  I have a small flock, and they are basically “working pets.”  I have a lot of people watching and enquiring (sometimes daily) about the health and well being of my “girls.”

Here are a few characteristics of chickens that they don’t tell you about at the feed store when you are admiring those fluffy little chicks:

  • Chickens Are Birds and All Birds Are Naughty. Our chickens scold, jump, and peck at us from time to time if the snacks are present but not being dispensed quickly enough.  They are not as bright as parrots but can be just as ornery. My Grandmother’s green parrot, Mike, used to bully my mother whenever she came to visit. My grandmother doted on the little terror, and he could do no wrong. He would nip at my mom’s ankles and drive her up onto a chair and then chuckle and knuckle walk around it until my grandmother took pity on her,  picked him up, and fondly chided him. For all his antics, he was good company for my widowed grandmother.                                         We have one hen, Saucy Sally, who is always trying to get our attention for one reason or another by pecking. We sometimes pick her up and tuck her under one arm while doing chores. This gentle domination seems to settle her hash temporarily. Sure, she’s spicy, but she’s a good-looking hen who lays nice eggs, and we feel she is worth the effort.
  • Idle Beaks Are the Devil’s Workshop. Chickens are hardwired to seek and peck. If they are under- or overstimulated, crowded, or malnourished,  they seek and peck each other. This can get so ugly that I won’t even elaborate on it here.  Keeping  birds busy with toys, chicken Kongs, and things they can peck and eat is just common sense from the standpoint of controlling noise, as well as controlling carnage. The goal is eggs for our table and manure for the compost bins, not casualties.
  • Chickens are miniature T-Rexes with Feathers.  This is related to my previous point. Chickens are like killer reptiles with warm blood. Watch them gobble up anything that moves, and you will know what I mean. An acquaintance of mine picked up a board in her coop one day and uncovered a colony of mice. The chickens got right to work and killed and ate them as efficiently as good mousers. Chickens also move abruptly, compete fiercely, and are harder to read than mammals, which makes some people uneasy.
  • Roosters Can Be the Spawn of Evil. I have no roosters because I live in town and minimizing noise is very important. I’ve run into a few of my chickens’ country cousins, though, and it wasn’t pretty. Roosters are very good at challenging and attacking what they consider threats whether it is you, your child, or another bird. They seem to fluff up to three times their normal size and come hunting red meat.  They don’t respond like mammals to yelling and posturing; they just keep on coming! Many people have had experiences with roosters that have colored their view of chickens for a lifetime.  Roosters do, however, do a wonderful job of warning the flock  and deflecting danger, so the hens  and chicks can get to safety—often at great cost to themselves. 


All in all, I enjoy my hens just the way they are and have very few illusions about them. They keep me on my toes and are absorbing to watch and work around. I like the little noises they make and how their eyes get shiny when they are about to do something bad.  They are one of my dreams come true. I hope you are as fortunate. Begonia

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What Chickens Want
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We are having a snow storm, so I won’t be uncovering the yard and letting the girls out today. I went out a little later than usual this morning with the daily scratch and cleaning implements.  I could see immediately that the gals had been busy. There were four eggs in nesting boxes, the area in the northwest corner had been scratched down to shavings for dust baths, and the straw around the door was beaten flat by big chicken feet.

While I unbolted and unclipped the door, I could hear them inside scolding and making excited “give me scratch” noises. Their dear beady little eyes dilated when they saw the other object I carried: baked pumpkin in the half shell! I put it in a white plastic tray I keep in the coop for serving such delicacies and put it down among them. They fell to at once, greedily slurping up the squash.

This distraction gave me time to clean under the roosts and clear the water font of waterlogged feed crumbs. It wasn’t long before a couple of the girls were looking for scratch and tugging at my trousers with their naughty beaks.

This is my cue to throw some scratch (a couple handfuls each of oats and cracked corn) into the straw/hay and wood shaving bedding that covers the floor of the coop. The girls will spend a good part of the afternoon pecking every atom of corn they can find, and it takes them a little extra time to hull the oats before eating the kernel.

The bedding itself is also a source of nutrition and distraction for the gals. I occasionally put a few flakes of seedy hay or straw in for them to tear apart. They eat the weed and oat seeds, mummified bugs, and green parts of the grasses. What is left breaks down and insulates them from the cold floor of the coop during extreme winter weather. When the bedding becomes really poopy and chopped up, I use  it as a carbon layer for my winter compost system, which makes room for fresh bedding and the cycle begins again.

I sometimes bring them a treat of a few crumbled bread heels while they are out in their yard. They will seek out every crumb, digging very energetically. They are such energetic diggers that I don’t feed bread in the coop because they kick up geysers of bedding and dust, totally fouling (ha!) their water.

I leave a little bit of scratch in the plastic coffee container and turn it so that the scratch falls into the handle. The hollow handle is too small for them to get their heads trapped in, (this might not be the case if your birds are a bantam or smaller variety, so be careful),  but it does trap some of whatever dry treat I put in it. It acts as a kind of chicken Kong, making them work to get that last bit of feed out. It is quite entertaining to watch them scratch and knock the container around the yard or coop, excited by the delicious rattling sounds.

Sometimes I will put a handful of dry feed into a brightly colored Frisbee disk. They seem to like the contrasting colors and the tapping noises their beaks make on the hard plastic. Our first chicken, The Budge, enjoyed the larger bright, crinkly Mylar ball cat toys. She was a tiny hen and would push them all around her portable coop. My present flock of big birds were absolutely terrified of the same type of toy! (We always make sure we never put any nonfood item in with the chickens that they can pick apart and swallow.)

I also have a large, square suet feeder that I fill with cabbage and hang in their coop from time to time. It swings around as they peck, and they have to calculate the swing of the cage in order to feed. A new suet feeder is pretty cheap. I wouldn’t advise using a used suet feeder; wild birds carry a ton of viral diseases that you wouldn’t want to pass on to your flock.

You’re probably thinking that my hens are some of the most spoiled chickens in the United States of America.  You may be right. They are working pets that give me eggs and manure for My Little Farm in Town. I figure that the least I can do is give them a good chicken life. Begonia

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What Chickens Need
Monday, February 15, 2010

What DO chickens really need? I ask myself this questions daily. I've been keeping chickens in town for four years—just a year or so before the big chicken craze hit this country. My neighbor across the street had been raising chicks from eggs for 3 or 4 years before that. We would go over and visit her brood. She would encourage us to just DO IT. I was hesitant. I wanted to do it right. . . I'd witnessed too many sad situations where ignorance was misery for animals. (A good overall book on raising and housing chickens is Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow. It's worth the money, just buy it.)

We finally borrowed an incubator and fertile eggs from a friend and managed to hatch our first bantam chick. We named her The Budge. (That is short for bugerigar, or parakeet for those of you who are not bird fanciers.) We brooded her in our basement office. My husband, an extremely patient man, listened to her cheep nonstop for weeks. I would sometimes come down to find him holding the tiny chick in his lap, gently rubbing the top of her head with the tip of his finger to quiet her. Chickens really need company. We had to supply that care and attention because hers was the only egg that hatched.

Our second batch of chickens are the five Dominiques that we now tend. We also brooded them in the basement (but not in the office this time!). I got them from a farm supply store in an adjacent county. I had already successfully brooded a chick, so I knew what to do and had the brooder set up and at the right temperature so I could pop the chicks into it as soon as I got home. I transported them home in a small pet carrier lined with paper towels and swaddled in several thick towels with the car heater on high. I sweated all the way home, but they were just barely warm enough. Chicks need warmth as much as they need food and water.

Chickens need a safe, dry, draft-free place to roost and get out of the weather. Most breeds can handle some cold weather (mine handle very cold weather). People wack together some pretty pitiful hovels to house their chickens and then wonder why their feet freeze or the racoons get in and kill them all. Building a stout and (in our area a well-insulated) properly ventilated coop is a must, because we have hot, humid summers; long, cold, and snowy winters; and plenty of vermin and wandering dogs. (Our neighbors call our hen house the "Robo-Coop" but we prefer to think of it as our "Litltle Fort Knox.")

My husband built a mobile coop from plans I found ina book by a wonderfully precise British fellow by the name of  Michael Roberts (Poultry House Construction, Gold Cockerel Books) ( They lived in this coop on the backyard lawn until they got too crowded and started picking feathers out of each other because chickens need adequate space.

We detached the coop section from the mobile coop and put it in the fenced poultry yard that used to be our backyard vegetable garden. They lived in the yard, retiring to the little coop at night, until my husband finished building the permanent coop adjacent to it. As soon as I moved the pullets into the chicken yard, the aggressive behavior stopped. My chicken yard is a fenced 15- by 20-foot space surrounded by a 1- by 2-inch wire mesh fence with 2-foot high chicken wire partially buried around the bottom to reinforce and exclude digging predators. I also have poulty net over the top because we have red tail hawks that love to snack on birds. (One day shortly after installing the netting, I found one of these hawks roosting on the peak of the coop roof surveying my chickens. It swooped down, was brought up short by the netting, and flew away in disgust!)

I bed my chicken's yard with seedy hay and straw. This provides them with plenty of material to scratch and peck because chickens need things to do. Boredom can lead to all kinds of bad habits. Leading causes of cannibalism in chickens are inadequate nutrition, crowding, and boredom. You don't think of chickens of having enough brains to get bored. I think that so much of their behavior is hardwired that they have plenty of space left over to think of other things like: "Where's my snack?" and "What have you done for me lately?"

Chickens need decent food and fresh water at regular intervals. They can get along on scraps and odds and ends, but that is just survival—don't expect peak egg production and lots of wonderful tasting meat. Water is especially important. Chicks' growth is slowed if they don't get enough water, and hens may go into a molt and stop laying if they are deprived of water for a day and a half according to The Chicken Health Book by Gail Damerow (Storey Publishing, (This is another book that is worth owning.) When the weather is hot, chickens need additional cool water fonts and shade.

I'm about chickened out (please ignore the pun) for now. And I haven't even mentioned that chickens need a place to take their daily dust bath! Maybe that will be the subject of another chicken blog! Begonia.

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Energy Saving Cooking Tips
Saturday, February 13, 2010

Trying to save money on electricity? Our electric rates have risen 50% recently! Electric stoves use a lot of energy. Next time you have to cook noodles, try cooking them this way and lower your electric bill a bit. Bring the water to a boil and then add the noodles and stir. Cover the pot and turn off the heat. Set a timer for 20 minutes and leave the pot of water and noodles set. When the  time is up, stir and drain the noodles. They should be done to a turn! (Spaghetti may take a little less time. )

The same method can be employed when hard cooking eggs. Cover the eggs with one inch of cold water and rapidly bring to a boil, then cover and take off the heat. Set a timer for 22-24 minutes. When the time is up, drain and cool in cold water.

Hope this tip helps you offset the rise in your electric bill a little. Bon Appétit. Begonia

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Another Use for Empty Cereal Bags
Thursday, February 11, 2010

One of the tips for the day recently on concerned reuses for the extremely stout inner packaging of  breakfast cereals and crackers. These bags can also be used to freeze food. When I buy chicken or ground turkey in bulk, I divide the meat into meal-size portions and place them in one of these bags, squeeze out the air, and fold it closed, and tape it shut with masking or freezer tape. These bags don’t leak and are tough enough to bump around the deep freeze without breaking.

This tip was one of the first things I learned from a good friend of mine when I was part of our Frugal Friends group. The group is disbanded now, but I picked up a lot of good information and have made contacts to coop on food. I still share halves of beef and get tips on bargain shopping food with one of the friends I made while in the group. 

You might think about getting together with some other kindred spirits to share information and pool resources. It is a good way to offset some of the rising costs of living. Begonia

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Are You One of the Ten Percent?
Tuesday, February 09, 2010

We live a quiet life here on our little farm in town. We are one of the Ten Percent of American households who do not have any form of dish or cable television service.

I heard this statistic on NPR while sitting in my recliner drinking my morning cup of coffee. I don't know where they got this number, but it made me think.

I thumped down my mug of coffee and thought, "Oh my gosh! I think I've become one of the counter culture!"

Ever since we had to install one of those goofy little black boxes to get any TV at all, I've been watching less and less regular TV and more of my own programming. I have a lot of movies, TV shows, and documentaries on VHS tapes (OK−I admit to having a few extra VHS players squirreled away in odd places around the house against the day they quit making them) and DVDs acquired at thrift stores, garage sales, used book stores, and library book sales. We get movies free (sort of) from our public library and watch on line for free at places like (Internet Movie Database) and Internet rental sites that have some free content.

Sometimes we will go whole days without watching anything at all. In the winter, you might find us reading books, creating art or crafts, and writing letters (yes, by hand). In the warmer months, we are apt to spend the days gardening and visiting with neighbors. (The Fine Art of Neighboring--that ought to be another blog.)

I can't count my family among the (probably statistically tiny) number of people who don't watch any visual media, but we have taken responsibility for what we do watch. It's a rich and varied life. Are you one of the ten percent? Begonia

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Make Your Own: Room Scents for Cents
Sunday, February 07, 2010

My good neighbor down the street is a truly green person. (She earnestly tries to treads as lightly on the earth as an American can.) She introduced me to making my own non-aerosol room sprays.

I used to buy orange spray and other scents of spray from time to time from home decorating parties (or from the garage sales of people who had attended these parties). These sprays consisted of some kind of mysterious liquid and scent.

It turns out that (in my neighbor's recipe) the mysterious liquid is water and the scent is essential oil. I reuse the glass bottles and spray pumps of some room sprays I found at garage sales for fifty cents or a couple of dollars. (The original price was $10 at a home party--I imagine they are more expensive now.) I have a stash of essential oils that I amassed during a period of potpourri making years ago. I also find bottles of essential oils at sales for a dime or quarter. (I don't like to pay more than 50 cents.)

I pour 12 or 13 drops of essential oil into the empty spray bottle and top it up with water from the tap. You can add more oil depending on how strong you want the scent. You can blend oils or use only one scent at a time. I like lavender and  cinnamon but have also used and blends of evergreen oils.

It's nice to know exactly what you are spraying and breathing.  I also enjoy tailoring the scent to the season. Happy spritzing. Begonia

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Clean and Thrifty: Cheap foam soap refills
Sunday, February 07, 2010

I stocked up on shampoo this past week at out local variety store. Eighteen fluid ounces cost me a dollar. I have a child with hair almost to her waist that she washes daily. We go through a lot of shampoo!  I employ the "pantry method" of buying. When I find a good deal, I buy enough to last until the next sale or the next YEAR!

We use shampoo for more than hair. . . we also use it to wash our hands. On our little farm in town, we pay for our water twice, coming into the house as well as leaving it.  Water and sewer rates are rising like every other household product and service. One way we found of saving in both areas was to start using foam soap.

Foam soap saves on water because it is wet already, being mostly water and just a little soap. You don't have to run the water to get you hands wet. You only have to run the water to rinse.

The refills are expensive for the same reasons: mostly water and just a little soap. I've gotten around this by reusing the empty dispenser. I squirt a couple of tablespoons of shampoo into the dispenser container and fill the rest of it with water. I usually buy a store brand to get the first batch of soap solution and dispenser as inexpensively as possible. (Watch for sales of a dollar or less on foam hand soap.)

The beauty of shampoo is that it is economical and comes in so many wonderful scents. Shower and bath jells and even dish soaps also work. All these products are concentrated, so a little goes a long way--one bottle can last for months!

I hope this saves a few of you a few bucks. Every little bit helps these days.  Begonia.



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