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Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Living a rich country life in a small Midwestern town.


Showing 14 posts from October 2010 for this blog.
The Chicks Get a Halloween Scare
Sunday, October 31, 2010

We had a flesh eating visitor today. It would have been Nightmare on My Little Farm in Town if not for the substantial bird netting we have over our chicken yard!

Our unwelcome guest was an immature Coopers Hawk.  It was sitting right in the middle of the netting that protects my chicken yard trying to figure out how to get at those nice plump hens. My daughter spotted the hawk first and I stopped her from driving it off long enough to get a picture.  

For more information, check out the following web site: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Coopers_Hawk/id

These birds seem to think my patio bird feeders are their private snack bar. They are usually unsuccessful because of the family of crows that consider my yard their territory and regularly drive off intruders.  My birdfeeders also are situated so that smaller birds can take cover quickly.

We’ve also been visited by Red Tail hawks in the past. Again the netting did its job. If you have chickens and don’t want to lose any to hawks, there is no substitute for a nice barrier between them and the cold cruel world. Begonia

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Worm Wrangling: Vermicomposting on My Little Farm in Town
Friday, October 29, 2010

I had a worm roundup a couple days ago on the sunny south side of the house before all this blustery weather blew in. I had two worm composters that needed attention before winter. I needed to empty both boxes, rebed one, and transfer my population of squirmies to their winter “digs.” (Get it? Worms, Digs. . . sigh.)

Worm castings are the real black gold. I dumped the bins into the big red sled that I use to haul all manner of stuff around the yard. Then I drew up a lawn chair and began separating worms and their cocoons from finished worm compost. (This wasn’t as hard as it sounds because most of the worms were in one layer of the box.) I dropped the worms and cocoons into a tray with some cover for them to hide in—worms hate light. I eventually put the remaining worms in the newly bedded box.  I dumped most of the contents of my vermicomposting boxes on the bed that will be covered by my newest cold frame, where I will plant next spring’s greens in March.

I learned about worm composting over 15 years ago when I read the now classic, Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.  I didn’t get around to actually doing it until after we moved back to Wisconsin from Iowa in 1993. I’ve been vermicomposting for about 10 years.

Vermicomposter—such a fancy word for a plastic box drilled with holes (one of my worm composters is a retired recycling bin) filled with leaves, chicken yard hay, and vegetable kitchen scraps with a piece of junk window screen in the bottom to keep the worms from escaping!  Boxes and worm beds can take many forms, but the most important thing is that you have a container with good drainage to hold the worms and their bedding and food. The bedding shouldn’t be too wet. It should be about the dampness of wrung out sponge. You can use shredded corrugated cardboard, black-and-white newspaper (don’t use bleached paper or colored newsprint—it poisons the livestock) and some dirt or peat, old hay, chopped up grass clippings and leaves, or some combination of all of the above about 8-10 inches deep.

The worms—buy red worms mail order when the weather isn’t freezing or from a bait shop. I bought two tubs of red wiggler bait worms to “seed” my latest box. This worm’s Latin name is Eisenia foetida. I tell you this because this worm has a lot of different common names. You  want to be sure to get the kind of worm that lives in the top 6 or 8 inches of litter not something that requires a permanent burrow like the night crawler (Lumbricus terrestis) or garden worm (Allolobophora of various types). You can find ads selling redworms in the back of outdoors magazines or on the web. You also might get a couple handfuls from someone who already composts with worms and is feeling charitable.

Worm chow—kitchen and garden scraps, coffee grounds including the paper filter, tea bags,  and crunched up egg shell are all good food for worms. Don’t try to feed them any fat, oil, or meat—this stuff just stinks and attracts pests. I pull back a few inches of bedding and add food and then cover it again so my worms can dine in the dark as they prefer.  

Location, Location—worm boxes are best located in a shaded area sheltered from the weather. You don’t want the sun frying them or the rain drowning them. I bring my worms into my semiheated garage as soon as the nighttime temps start to fall into the low 50sF. I bring them into the basement when my garage temperatures fall into the 40s and high 30sF. (I’ve even heard of people keeping a worm box under the kitchen sink, which I’d be tempted to do if I had enough room under there!) I’ve never had a problem with smell.  Every once in a while I might get a few fruit flies if I don’t bury the scraps deep enough in the box. By the end of the winter, I sometimes have to start a new box because the worms have reproduced so well in this ideal environment!

You probably have everything you need around the house to make and bed a vermicomposter right now. Add a double handful of redworms, and you’ll be a worm wrangler, too! Begonia

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Carmel-Dipped Fresh Cranberries
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The friend who gave me the two-pound bag of fresh cranberries commented on how good they are eaten raw dipped in melted caramel. I’d never heard of such a thing! Cranberries are so tart that I’ve always put them on a par with eating rhubarb raw—I just don’t go there.

Yesterday, I was in the grocery store and on impulse bought a bag of Kraft caramels. I melted them in my smallest crock pot, and using a fondue fork, dipped a berry in the molten caramel. After letting it cool a bit on the fork, I tried one. It was the perfect mouthful—totally dangerous. The fruit was as crunchy as a good fall apple but more tart, which complemented the sweet richness of the candy.  It was hard to quit eating them! Give them a try and I’m sure you’ll agree. Begonia

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Lingonberries, Goats, and Cranberry Sauce
Monday, October 25, 2010

A friend of mine gave me a two-pound bag of locally grown cranberries this past week. (Did you know that 60 percent of all cranberries in the world come from Wisconsin?) Usually, I would have made cranberry bread or some other baked good with them. I still don’t have an oven, however, so I decided to make some cranberry sauce instead. 

I had never made cranberry sauce before, so I turned to my extensive cookbook collection and ended up using a combination of a recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook I grew up with and a slightly more elaborate recipe from the 1977 Cranberry Cottage Cook Book from Nova Scotia!

It was very simple.

1.       Take equal parts sugar and water and bring to a boil in a heavy pan.

2.       Continue to boil for 5 minutes.

3.       Add as many cups of cranberries as you have water and sugar and simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. (I also added minced, frozen orange peel and could have substituted orange juice for some of the water.)

4.       You will hear the cranberries popping as they cook. How thick the sauce gets depends on how long you simmer and stir it. The cranberries are cooked after 5 minutes.

5.       Additional simmering thickens the mixture, and it sets up as it cools. This sauce is chunky, but you could puree it in a food processor at this point if you want smoother sauce. (I used my trusty stick blender.)

I am a lover of lingonberry preserves, but they are very expensive and not easy to find. (They are a type of mountain cranberry that grow in Sweden.)  I first tasted them at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Butik (the one with goats on the grass-covered roof) in Door County, Wisconsin, on their famous Swedish pancakes and have been hooked ever since. ( http://www.aljohnsons.com/  )

What does cranberry sauce have to do with Door County, Lingonberries, and goats? Whole cranberry sauce makes a great substitute for expensive imported lingonberry preserves! (Actually, another neighbor who also got hooked on lingonberries at Al Johnson’s put me on to this idea.) We ate this homemade sauce on pancakes, and it was wonderful. The sauce had a fresh fruit flavor that you don’t get from canned, store-bought sauce.

Cranberries are being harvested now and will go on sale around Thanksgiving. Try making some fresh cranberry sauce this year–it is quick, easy, and delicious. Begonia

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My Little Potato Patch 3: Dud Spuds
Friday, October 22, 2010

My potatoes grew luxuriantly all summer. I added compost and hay at intervals and made sure they were watered. I was expecting a bumper crop of nice big spuds! (See my May 3 and May 29 blogs.)

 I ended up with duds! I actually had a NEGATIVE yield! I planted more potatoes in the spring than I harvested in the fall. I showed my pitiful colander of taters to my neighbors, who looked at it thoughtfully and remarked that it reminded them of their 401K—“What happened to the other 75 percent?”

My chicken manure-based compost is potent stuff. Perhaps it was too much of a good thing. The green vines looked great and were at least four feet long in most cases. I wish that energy would have gone into producing potatoes!

I used half of my crop in the beef stew I served for supper tonight. The other half will become potato kale soup. There is nothing like a big pot of soup at the end of a blustery fall day. (I’ll just try not to think about just how much effort went into the two meals!) Begonia

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Caramel Apples Without the Caramel
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A few years ago we went on a family outing with some good friends to Maquoketa Caves State Park near Maquoketa, Iowa ( http://www.stateparks.com/maquoketa_caves.html ) . After scrambling around the rocks, woods, and caves for a morning, we were famished. We all ended up sharing snacks.

Our friends offered us salted peanuts and apples and said, “Here, try eating both at once—it tastes just like a caramel apple!” So I put a few peanuts in my mouth and took a bite of apple and chewed them together. They did taste like a caramel apple! The salt/fat of the peanuts and the tart/sweetness of the apple are a wonderful combination and one I had never thought to try.

Perhaps you have already discovered this treat. If you are trying to give up sugar, or just want a healthier snack, this is a good alternative to the traditional caramel apple. Enjoy! Begonia

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Pressure Cookers Use Less Electricity
Monday, October 18, 2010

I ate my first pressure cooked meal while visiting my sister many years ago. She cooked a pork loin roast in about 37 minutes.  After browning the meat and getting the pot up to pressure, all the cooking happened on the lowest heat setting. Supper was on the table in record time.

I recently received a small magazine from my electric coop with an article on small appliances that save energy. (I feel a warm glow because this just reinforces my natural tendency to acquire as many small appliances as possible.) Listed among the gadgets were pressure cookers, which cook stuff in 30 percent of the time it takes to do the job with regular pots and pans on a stove top.  Since pressure cookers also cook with less water in less time, food retains more of its nutrients.

My sister found her pot at a local garage sale, so I decided to keep my eyes peeled for my own pot while out saling. I still remember the sale were I found my Futura pressure cooker. It was a group “Coming of Age” sale.  A bunch of gals turning 50 years old decided to clean house and free themselves of tons of gently used or new stuff. My Futura pressure cooker still had the tags on it! I bought it for $5. (Yes, folks, I live in the land of plenty.) This cooker doesn’t twist or clamp shut; it closes like an aircraft door. As pressure within the pot builds, the lid presses up against the rubber gasket and the inside rim of the pot. I have no complaints except that parts have to be imported from India, which mean they cost more and are a hassle to order.

If you find a pressure cooker at a garage sale, don’t buy anything that is over 30 years old. Be sure that you are buying a newer one with a cover locking mechanism. The old cookers have a well-documented history of blowing up “real good.” You may need to replace the rubber gasket that fits inside the rim of the lid (it should be uncracked and flexible), but they aren’t hard to find online or at a farm store.  Always ask for the owner’s manual. If the seller doesn’t have it or can’t find it, you usually can download an owner’s manual from the manufacturer’s website.

Give pressure cooking a try! You won’t be disappointed. Begonia

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Bird Watching on My Little Farm in Town
Saturday, October 16, 2010

I learned to watch and appreciate birds when my Mom and Dad moved the younger half of the family Back to the Land in the 1970s. Up to that point, I don’t think that my Mom especially had much opportunity to watch birds with a houseful of eight or nine kids and a kitchen window that looked out on a thermometer, a  garage, a parked VW Bug, and a gravel driveway. 

All that changed when we got settled on our new place of 40 acres in northern Wisconsin. Birds where everywhere. The big farm kitchen had windows that looked out onto a valley and the rolling hills and woods beyond.  I don’t remember when my Mom and Dad started feeding them, but now they have hanging feeders, suet cages, and nectar feeders that attract 6 or 8 hummingbirds at a time, as well as orioles in great numbers that eat quarts of grape jelly and build their hanging nests in the ash trees that surround the pole building.

I began feeding birds when we bought our home in this little town. My first Mother’s Day gift in this location was the 300+ pound composite bird bath that we can see from the dining room window.  (My husband wrestled it into place with the help of an exceptionally burly neighbor.) When my daughter was small, I would set her car seat in the middle of the dining room table so that she could watch the cardinals and house finches eat from the window feeder.  One of the first things I taught her along with her colors was the names of the birds. She now has a better eye for spotting and identifying them than I do! (Her eyes are a lot younger!)

Now that the weather is settling down to serious autumn, I am filling my window and yard feeders again with black oil seed to attract cardinals, blue jays, and finches. Later, when it is colder still, I will begin to feed suet to the nuthatches, chickadees, and woodpeckers that haunt the yard because of all of our mature trees. I throw wild bird mix down on the patio for the ground feeders: juncos and mourning doves. I will feed continuously from now until the starving time of spring has passed and the world has greened and the insects returned. Begonia

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Pantry Pancakes
Thursday, October 14, 2010

I thought about going to the grocery store this morning for donuts—gasp! I know though that if I go into the grocery store I will end up buying more than donuts.  Most of you probably have more self-control than I can boast of. I always end up picking up a few more items than I went in for—list or no list.

You see, I love grocery stores and all the potential they hold. I even get into trouble in the outside aisles where we scratch cooks are supposed to do most of our shopping. The bakeries in most American grocery stores are on the perimeter!

I decided to be strong this morning and be my own grocery store. I practice the “pantry method” of buying food. I buy larger amounts when items are on sale or when I can get them cheaper in bulk. When I need something, I often “shop” from my own pantry.  

Here is what we ultimately had for breakfast this morning, served with maple syrup, butter, and cherry pie filling!

Orange Bran Pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup whole wheat flour,

2/3 cup wheat bran

4 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon minced fresh orange rind

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 large egg

¼ teaspoon almond extract

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups milk

Combine flours, bran, baking powder, salt and set aside.

Combine orange rind, oil, egg, extracts and milk.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just mixed.

Fry on lightly greased griddle or frying pan.

Makes about 24 pancakes.

These pancakes pack a wallop, you only need three or four and cup of coffee to feel full—maybe less if you are a light feeder. My husband ate SIX, but he has the metabolism of a blast furnace. (The cherry pie filling was his idea!) Enjoy!  Begonia

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Garage Sale: Vintage Tinsel
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I finally had that garage sale I’ve been talking about all summer but kept having to delay because of road work. They put down the last layer of asphalt and painted the lines early last week, AND it is Indian Summer (that magical time when the weather warms up briefly after the first frosts). We were selling all kinds of items we had outgrown: elementary-level homeschool materials; clothing; household items; toys; furniture; and all kinds of odds and ends. All were priced to go–except for my vintage tinsel.

You meet a lot of different kinds of garage salers when you put on a sale from hardcases like myself (I’d garage sale even if I won the lottery) to dabblers, dealers, and hobbyists. You learn all kinds of things when you talk to all these people. We had two older gentlemen who reminisced about having a radial arm saw just like the ancient Craftsman we were selling “as is” because we thought it was broken. Between the two of them, we figured out what was wrong with it and had it running before the end of the first morning! (My husband ended up taking it back into the garage!)

Every garage saler has their weakness. I met several “rocking chair-oholics”; one sheepishly admitted to having five already.  Another woman was obsessed with magazines. One lady loved to collect plants and commented that they were like children to her, “They’re my babies!” One gal gazed longingly at my complete set of Fire King Fleurette dishes but walked away empty handed because she had too many sets at home already. (Another blog about Collecting Things of Little or No Value in the wings!)

My weakness is vintage Christmas decorations. I rarely can bear to part with any of my decorations once I have acquired them. The one exception was the metal tinsel I had for sale last weekend. I should say the metal tinsel I tried to sell last weekend. (I was selling it because pets eat tinsel and get deathly ill, and we have a housecat.)  I watched person after person pick a package up, squint at it, then put it down and walk away.

Finally, I started talking up the tinsel to these people and every one of them would shake their head and tell a harrowing tale of being forced by some elderly relation to carefully remove each strand from the tree at the end of each festive season and carefully place it over a piece of cardboard, painstakingly smoothing each strand. One man laughed and said, “And you’d better not break even one!” Some folks even went so far as to iron the strands before storing them away for next year!

I came to the conclusion that there is no nostalgia attached to this type of tinsel because it was either something that drove you crazy or something that you threw away along with the tree. No nostalgia equals No sale, but I packed it up carefully anyway and saved it for next year! Begonia

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Cheap Apples and Other Wonderful Things
Sunday, October 10, 2010

This is the time of year to find apples cheaply. I have my favorite orchards for different apples and apple products.  My buy of the season was a three-bushel purchase for $10 a bushel from an orchard outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I shared part of the bushel of Honey Gold “eating” apples with friends and neighbors. The other two bushels of Cortlands will become baked goods and apple sauce.

I buy #2 apples because they are much cheaper and the best value is on buying whole bushels—but be sure to do the math because sellers  have figured out that people assume that bulk is cheaper and are raising their prices on bigger quantities. Number two apples are too big, too small, bruised, or imperfect in some other way but still too good for just cider. They won’t keep for long periods, so they are sold for quick use.

We go to Sunrise orchard in Gays Mills, Wisconsin for an autumn daytrip every yearhttp://www.sunriseapples.com/the-apple-orchard/  , mainly for their apple cider, cider slushies, and the most wonderful, warm apple cider donuts in the civilized world. Oh My Gosh—they make these donuts fresh every day at harvest time—by the thousand. They keep the cooking fat at the correct temperature always, so the donuts consistently have a crisp, golden outer shell crusted with white sugar and an almost creamy flavored, moist, dense, cakey interior that melts in your mouth.

The first time we visited Sunrise, we were on the tail end of a “tour d’cheese” and were returning home from our final visit, a cheese coop in Mount Sterling, Wisconsin, a little town nestled in the bluff country bordering the Mississippi. The ridge above Gays Mills is lined with orchards, and we were stopping at each one. The sun was shining and the air smelled of apples.

Other orchards had better prices on apples, but Sunrise was the cleanest and best run—and then there were the donuts. I first spotted them resting atop a small mountain of white granulated sugar in the glassed in kitchen area. The kitchen workers were putting them in a glass self-serve case to be sold individually with coffee and packing them into 12-donut containers while they were still warm.

I had been sent into this, the final orchard on the ridge to do a little reconnaissance. We had already bought apples, it was the end of the day, and we were all tired. I walked in scoped out the bins of apples, the gift shop, and the cleaning, sorting and grading machines and workers all operating at top speed, and then I went deeper to explore the bakery area briefly. (All of the orchards had a bakery.) That was when I spotted the sugar mountain crowned with golden donuts and decided to just get a cup of coffee and three for the ride home: one for each of us.

I carried my warm, fragrant purchase out to the van where my slightly grumpy family awaited me, and distributed the donuts. We all sat in silence after taking our first bites and exchanged glances. Then we all piled out of the car, went back in, and purchased more donuts! I learned from the lady who took my money the second time (a veteran seasonal employee of Sunrise) that it is common for people to eat their first dozen warm while waiting in line and then pay for the empty container!  I also noticed people with shopping carts full of 12 packs, who do fund-raisers selling these apple cider donuts every fall. Other people stock up and freeze a supply or share them with neighbors—talk about building goodwill! 

I told some good friends about the apple cider donuts at Sunrise, and now it has become one of their seasonal traditions as well. They grew up in Michigan and lived on the East Coast for many years until their children came along and jobs moved them back to the Midwest. They told me that all the orchards in Pennsylvania make and sell donuts, and these are on a par with the donuts they used to get at the orchards in Pennsylvania.

Do any of you have something special that you only do at this time of the year (September/October)? Feel free to share with the rest of us! Begonia

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Indian Summer: Peck of Peppers
Thursday, October 07, 2010

We are now experiencing Indian Summer in Wisconsin. We have had two frosts, and the weather has warmed up for a brief time before settling down to cool, rainy autumn.

There is always a big flurry of activity among gardeners at this time of year to harvest and store the last of the summer produce. My friend had bumper crop of end-of-season sweet peppers and no freezer space to store them. I was grateful that she gifted me with a plastic shopping bag of the bounty!

Peppers are one of the easiest vegetables to freeze. There is no need to blanch (boiling briefly)—just rinse, core, knock out the seeds, cut in half, and throw the pieces in a plastic bag. They keep well in the deep freeze until the next crop is ready to eat (saving you a lot of money midwinter when the price of fresh peppers skyrocket).

It is easy to take just what you need for a recipe or meal out of the bag and leave the rest in the freezer. The pieces are not so thick that it is hard to chop them when they are frozen if you wish. I use the frozen or thawed peppers in TexMex recipes, stir fries, casseroles, soups, and egg dishes.

Try freezing some peppers, it beats the work of pickling them! Begonia

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Time for Thyme
Sunday, October 03, 2010

The nighttime temperatures have been falling since our September 21st frost date. It smelled frosty late yesterday afternoon, the sky was clearing, and the wind had died down to nothing. Sure enough, there was frost on the lawn this morning.

I was very busy yesterday picking tomatoes, okra, green beans, and herbs and bringing in my worm bins, tropicals, and houseplants. Both my dehydrators are full of sage. I also harvested the last of my thyme.  I could have partially filled another dehydrator with thyme, but it air dries so well that I decided to save the electricity!

Bundling and hanging the herbs in a dry, dark place (or hung inside paper bags if your drying area is light) is the traditional method.  I found a triangular wire mesh basket at a garage sale last season that works very well for the purpose. It also looks good enough to use as a centerpiece on the dining room table while the herbs are drying. Cookie sheets or metal trays with wire cooling racks set in them to hold the herbs (so air can circulate around the them) would work just as well—they just don’t look as nice.

When the thyme is totally dry, I put the twigs into plastic zip-top bags and roll them between my hands to knock off the tiny leaves. Then I pull the bare twigs out of the bag and add them to the compost pile. The tiny leaves gather in the bottom of the bag. After skimming the last few twigs off the top, I transfer these to labeled jars or zip-top bags.

Herbs are a very good barter item.  This last batch of herbs will be used as barter for eggs in November and December. A friend of mine who raises organic eggs and meat will trade pullet eggs for herbs gladly. The dried herbs will keep just fine until her young hens start laying at about the time that I run out of eggs from my own hens. (I let the girls naturally stop production each year as the days shorten.)

The great thing about herbs is that you can easily get several cuttings per season, so there is plenty for your use and for barter, even if you only have space for a half-dozen plants. The trimming just makes the herbs bushier and more productive for the next cutting. Begonia

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Garage Saling: Free Electric "Wood" Stove
Friday, October 01, 2010

The garage saling season is drawing to a close here in Wisconsin. We are due to get our first frost this coming weekend, and I am enjoying the final flush of fall garage sales before having to resort to a winter of cruising the thrift shops (which I consider way too expensive for most things).

I found some great bargains: vintage Mother Earth News magazines for 10 cents each, a pristine rotisserie grill for $5, vintage stationary (I have a weakness for fine stationary) 10 cents, insulated flannel shirt jackets for $2 each, hard- and softcover cookbooks for 25 cents each.

But you know, the best things in life are FREE!

I was garage saling in a nearby small town that a lot of people overlook—I always do well there.  I had just paid for a miniature, decorative clawfoot ceramic bathtub for the bathroom counter that perfectly matched our newly installed Habitat ReStore sink and a large turkey candle for my growing turkey collection, when I spotted the little stove. It was set off to one side with a "free" sign on it. It was clean and bright and shiny. I love shiny things.

I asked the woman running the sale why it was in the driveway. She said the heating unit no longer worked. I replied that it was okay because I only wanted it for the beauty of its electric flame. (I’ll admit that I can be shallow at times!) I’d seen and coveted one of these pretty space heaters at a friend’s house. She hadn’t been using it to heat at the time, just enjoying the flicker of the “flames. “ I made a mental note to keep my eyes open for one of these little jewels.

I later found out that the heater was probably bought at a local big box home improvement store for about $100. It would have cost its previous owners some hassle (The manufacturer will only sell you a replacement part if you send them a picture of the stove first!) and $40 for a new heating unit and the expense of shipping it from Quebec, Canada.

I plan to put the stove in our guestroom/library space later in the year. We may even decide to fix it so it isn’t just a “pretty face.” Either way, I will get extra enjoyment from knowing that it was FREE! Begonia

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