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Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Living a rich country life in a small Midwestern town.


Showing 13 posts from December 2010 for this blog.
Wire Wrap Jewelry Rescue
Thursday, December 30, 2010

A friend of mine in England sent me a lovely Christmas present this year. The only problem was that it had a bit of a rough passage and arrived in a number of pieces. 

I read the customs declaration sticker and (thought) it said “Seeds.” I shook the package next to my ear, heard it rattle, and smiled. I decided to open it before Christmas because I just couldn’t wait, and my friend had already e-mailed and asked if the package had arrived!  Imagine my surprise when I found that the package contained an art glass pendant and matching earrings in a number of jingling chunks. I took another look at the label and realized it actually said “Beads.” (Don’t ask me how I managed to read it wrong; S--- your handwriting is fine.)

I sat in my recliner with my handful of attractive but broken glass and couldn’t bear to throw it away. Then I thought of my daughter who had made many wire wrapped pendants from beads and smooth hunks of semiprecious stone as Christmas presents for relatives. I asked her if she could do anything with the larger pieces of glass and she said, “Sure!” and spent a few hours making a long necklace out of the glass shards after smoothing the edges on a wet stone.  It turned out to be a beautiful and reversible piece of jewelry. (The back of the glass is green.)

I love my new necklace and it is doubly special because of the friend who sent it and the daughter who refashioned it! Begonia

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Frugal Family Fun: Christmas Road Trip Basket
Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When we go to see the bald eagles in January and February or when doing Christmas outings, we’ve found that it saves money to bring your own treats. Most frugal people bring snacks with them when they travel or go on outings, but we like to make it a bit more special.

I brought a special refreshment basket with when we went on our Christmas road trip to the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee with friends and family.  (Read my Dec. 12 blog.) I took a nice big basket with handles and filled it with International Coffees, flavored cocoas, peppermint candies, teas and honey, ceramic Christmas mugs (and plastic spoons!), printed holiday napkins. We also brought along a pump jug of hot water.  Sometimes we brew a pot of good strong coffee and bring it in a thermos, too. If a bakery is on the itinerary, I don’t bake. Otherwise, the basket may include cookies or muffins. Whatever the drink or baked good is, it just has to be something that everyone will enjoy.

Sometimes we pull over at an overlook and enjoy the scenery along with the refreshments. Other times, we have a snack as we drive along. In warmer weather, we might stop at a park or wayside.

Try putting together a special basket for your next family outing. It will be a source of good memories for your whole family. Begonia

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Frugal Family Fun: Christmas Light Tour
Thursday, December 23, 2010

We started doing Christmas light tours when our boys were young. One year there were an exceptional number of people decorating their homes and yards in our little town. The boys were antsy for Christmas to come, and it was Christmas Eve Eve (December 23). We wanted to do something especially “Christmassy,” and it was our last crack at seeing the sights and lights before going out of town for Christmas Eve to visit relatives.

We stopped at McDonalds and bought shakes and then started driving around town and enjoying the decorations on houses. Many people tend to leave the living room drapes open so that anyone going by on the street can admire their Christmas trees. One of the Lutheran churches puts on a live Nativity each year, and we all make a point of driving by to see it and honk the horn and wave.

We all have our favorite areas of town and over the years have worked out a route that takes us to these places and to houses that year after year put out the best and brightest decorations. Our grown children still look forward to getting a shake and taking the tour once again whenever they can make it home for Christmas! Begonia

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Frugal Family Fun: Christmas Movie Nights at Home
Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I was torn between listing this blog under FFF or Holiday Traditions because it is so cheap—I mean Frugal!—and yet it has been a tradition in our family for almost 20 years.  Every week we watch a favorite Christmas movie together.

We have gotten these movies as 99 cent rentals from the gas station (now we have Redbox), borrowed from the library, or been loaned them by friends.  As the years went by, I slowly began to acquire our favorites from garage and book sales; as gifts; or as they were retired from movie rental stores.

The first movie of the holiday season is always Ernest Saves Christmas. We watch it as we decorate the family tree in the family room. (It is also one of the best Ernest movies.) A Christmas Story makes me want to cover my living room coffee table with tidbits filled with cookies and fudge, eat sweets, and stare at the Christmas tree. (My living room tree is decorated with 30s, 40s, and 50s decorations, glass bead garland, and bubble lights.) It inspires me to bake and make candy!

I have a basket devoted to the Christmas film and TV genre filled to overflowing with our collection:

Some are old favorites: The Bishop’s Wife (with Cary Grant at his most handsome AND David Niven); Holiday Inn and its sequel White Christmas; Little Women (the 1949 and the 1994 versions); Miracle on 34th Street (with Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood); It’s a Wonderful Life; A Christmas Carol (with Alistair Sims); and Little Lord Fauntleroy (with Freddie Bartholomew) a story that includes Christmas—OK, I’ll admit that I watch it mostly because I just love Freddie.  

Others are children’s classics that I grew up with: Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman I and II, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. These were shows that were shown on television once a year when I was a kid and I never missed them. I watched for commercials advertising their coming and made sure I had dibs on the TV (most households only had one on our block) set for the time they would be on. We all knew we had only one chance a year to watch them, and it was serious holiday business, indeed! My boys came along during the era of VHS. Their favorites are also in the basket and include The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Muppet Family Christmas.

Some of the best my best Christmas memories are attached to Chicagoland children’s shows that only broadcasted certain shorts during the holiday season:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaUBpsn4QjQ&feature=related  Here Comes Suzie Snowflake

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDM6Bbt9WDY&NR=1  Hardrock and Coco and Joe

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU3SKtJbNu8&feature=related  Frosty the Snowman

(I don’t have these in my collection yet, but I’m working on it—for now they can be viewed on Youtube!)

Others were TV episodes I have recorded or on VHS: Little House on the Prairie: The Christmas They Never Forgot, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends: Thomas’ Christmas Party and Other Favorite Stories, The Twilight Zone: Night of the Meek, Red Green Christmas Specials, and Burt Wolf’s Christmas at the Biltmore.

We do have a few newer movies in the collection (and it continues to grow) like The Polar Express and Family Man, which is a favorite of my husband’s (sort of a combined remake of It’s a Wonderful Life and Groundhog Day with less humor and a harder edge.) I’d like to add the most recent A Christmas Carol to our collection soon. (It is the most like the book, thanks to modern animation, if you overlook the crazy, way-too-long Disneyesque hearse chase, which I will click through when I watch it). Take Peace: A Corgi Cottage Christmas with Tasha Tudor is my favorite recently produced Christmas classic. (I am slowly collecting all of Tasha’s Christmas books as well. She illustrated The Night Before Christmas at least four times—they are delightful, and I love her cats and owls.)

No Christmas season would be complete without at least one viewing of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians! I found my copy in a giant cardboard discount bin at a big box computer store some years ago. I love how they spray painted and glued together scuba gear and old football helmets (worn backward) to create the Martians’ headgear.  The DVD also features a collection of really dreadful shorts that I skip over to watch the1950s and 1960s toy commercials interspersed throughout the disc.

If you don’t already have this holiday tradition at your house, make some popcorn, dim the lights, and watch a favorite Christmas movie together tonight and start a new family tradition. Begonia

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Christmas Traditions: Gingerbread Houses
Wednesday, December 22, 2010

As a family we try to do seasonal things together that don’t cost a lot of money. That way we can do them each year whether the economy (or cash flow) is good or bad and continue to build a store of good memories in ourselves and our children.

One of the things we started doing a few years ago was to visit the historic District One School House in our town to view the entries in the annual gingerbread house contest. This activity costs us $1 per person and then we go out for a treat afterward and do a little Christmas shopping downtown.

Entries fall into several categories. For the entry fee, you can vote for your favorite. There is a silent auction of Christmas items from local merchants, and a special money gingerbread house is raffled off to raise funds for restoration of the school. Children can decorate a gingerbread cookie to take home or eat right there, and Christmas cookies are for sale as well.

We enjoy discussing the relative merits of the entries and seeing who won the rosettes each year. We also like to see the progress that has been made in restoring the building. Some years we walk downtown and back and others like this year, when the wind chill was 0°F and below, we drive even though it is only a half mile walk.

Perhaps you have something like this in your town. Feel free to comment and add your pictures to mine. The more the merrier, especially at Christmas time! Begonia

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Holiday Traditions: A Visit to the Wisconsin State Capitol Christmas tree
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Every family has holiday traditions. Our traditions include a yearly visit to the state capitol to see the Christmas tree erected in the rotunda. (It always seems like the coldest day as we walk up the windy street to the capitol after parking and feeding the meter!) The tree is always huge and beautifully decorated! They have to bundle it very tightly to get it through the entrance doors, and sometimes they break it in the process and have to mend it a little before they can decorate it!

This year’s tree was, as usual, huge and beautifully decorated with ornaments made by the state’s school children. One year we came early in the month and caught them decorating the tree. They already had most of the lights on and were in the process of putting on the thousands of handmade ornaments. The tree was ringed with scaffolding and the train wasn’t set up yet.

On the years when we viewed the tree on a weekend, there has always been some kind of musical event in progress. One year it was carolers and brass quintets.  Another year it was a huge gathering of tuba players (over 70!) all playing Christmas carols at an impossibly low register. (I plugged my ears to better hear the melody!) They and their instruments were decorated with stuffed reindeer antlers, shiny noses, and lights. This year a couple was getting married and a lone violinist was playing, among other classical pieces, Pachelbel’s Cannon in D.

The interior of the rotunda where the tree is displayed is dimly lit, so the impact of the multicolored LED lights covering the tree when approaching via the long entrance hall is rich and startling. (Sorry, my pictures don't do it justice.) The base of the tree has a train running around it. People’s voices echo as they talk to each other and their children, but it is never too difficult to hear the music, and there is always the low whirring sound of the large train circling the tree. The children are fascinated by the train and the size of the tree. I always like to study the ornaments. It is obvious that kids of all ages have made them. I hope some of their parents brought them in to see their creations displayed on this great tree. Begonia

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Scratch Cooking: Good Gravy!
Thursday, December 16, 2010

So you’ve roasted that chicken or cooked that chuck roast in the slow cooker, now what do you do with those thin drippings and juices? You have two choices: Freeze and save them for your next pot of soup or make gravy tonight!

The easiest way to make gravy is by simply thickening those juices. The easiest was to thicken them is with cornstarch. When I have a guest who is gluten intolerant, especially, this is how I make gravy:

1.       Stir together two tablespoons of cornstarch and ½ cup cold water. (The water must be cool or the cornstarch will clump into distressing little balls and not mix properly.)

2.       Transfer the juices from the crockpot or roasting pan into a sauce pan. Skim the fat from the top leaving mostly drippings. Add broth if you don’t have at least two cups of drippings. (The broth can be made from a bouillon cube or powder added to warms or hot water.)

3.       Add a third of the cornstarch solution (stir it up before adding) to the drippings. Turn up heat to bring mixture to a simmering boil stirring constantly. 

4.       Continue to stir as the mixture turns from milky looking to clear and thickening.

5.       Continue to add cornstarch solution while stirring constantly until the gravy is as thick as you like it. If it gets too thick, thin it with a little water or broth.

6.       You may want to add salt and pepper to taste or maybe some herbs depending on the type of meat. I use sage and parsley for chicken and thyme for beef.

I also use this method to make stir-fry sauce. When all the meat and vegetables are cooked, I push them to the sides of the pot and pour a cold mixture of broth, soy sauce, and cornstarch into the center of the pan and stir until it boils and thickens. Then I take it off the heat and stir to combine the sauce with all the other ingredients in the pot and serve over hot rice.

The other common way to make (medium) gravy is with two tablespoons fat and two tablespoons flour per cup of liquid:

1.       Melt two tablespoons of fat (skimmed beef or poultry fat or margarine or butter or some combination of the two) in a sauce pan over low heat.

2.       Sprinkle two tablespoons of all-purpose flour over fat, then stir or whisk continuously over medium heat until mixture is smooth and bubbly.

3.       Take off heat and add cup of liquid (in this case, drippings, broth, bouillon or some combination of these liquids). Return to heat and bring mixture to a boil stirring or whisking continuously until thickened.   

4.       You can add a little more liquid if the gravy is too thick, or add some cornstarch solution if it is too thin for your taste. (If you measure the flour and fat carefully, you shouldn’t need to do either of these things.)

5.       Add salt and pepper to taste or herbs depending on the type of meat drippings used.

A medium white sauce is basically medium gravy as shown above only you use butter or margarine rather than animal fat and use milk for all or part of the liquid. Add grated cheese at the end, and you have a cheese sauce. Add crumbled breakfast sausage or chorizo sausage, and you have biscuit and gravy sauce for breakfast. Add chipped beef, chicken, turkey, tuna, or salmon and some vegetables and herbs, and serve over toast or baking powder biscuits, and you have a lunch or dinner entrée.

  • For heavier white sauce, add more flour and fat per cup of liquid: ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup fat to 1 cup liquid.
  • For lighter white sauce, add less flour and fat per cup of liquid: one tablespoon flour and one tablespoon of fat to 1 cup liquid.

Cream soups and chowders can start from a light or medium white sauce base that is thinned to taste with more milk or broth.  The cream soup made from such bases can be substituted in casseroles for canned cream soups.  This can add up to quite a savings on the food bill over time if your family eats a lot of casseroles, soups, and chowders.

This last method of making gravy I discovered when cooking a nice lean pork loin roast on a bed of sautéed leeks in a covered Dutch oven. By the time the roast was finished, the leeks were pretty much mush.  The pureed  leeks and pan drippings with some added salt and pepper became the gravy! The pureed leeks thickened the juices wonderfully and made excellent (and in this case, low-fat and gluten-free) gravy. I have since used this method in other meat recipes where vegetables were cooked until very soft (as when you pressure cook or use a slow cooker to prepare a pork or beef roast). An electric stick hand mixer is very handy for pureeing in the cooking pan so you don’t have to use a food processor.

Now you are all set to make gravy, soup, stir-fry sauce, casserole, soup, chowder, or biscuits and gravy! Hope this helps you make some great meals and save money on your next trip to the grocery store. Begonia

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New (to me) Oven Just in Time for Christmas!
Tuesday, December 14, 2010

That gaping hole in my kitchen wall is now partially filled with a new (to me) oven! Well, it is actually a gaping hole in my kitchen and living room walls. My husband had to widen the opening by 5 inches to accept the bigger, newer oven and in the process had to remove paneling and move the living room portion of the wall by 5 inches as well. Nothing is ever simple.

I had found the oven about 3 years ago at a rummage sale in the parking lot of the Zwingli UCC. The oven was five years young and just about clean as a whistle. It cost me $25, and guess what? It works just fine and is self-cleaning to boot!

My old wall oven lost the victory about six months ago. We could have bought another heating element for $35, but why throw good money after bad when we had a perfectly good oven sitting at the bottom of the basement stairs? The old oven was at least 40 years old and 50 degrees off. My “new” oven preheats promptly and heats to whatever temperature I set it.

I used a wide array of small appliances to fill the gap while I waited for my new oven to be installed: crockpots, rotisserie, pressure cooker, bread machine, big Nesco cooker, and microwave oven and, of course, the outdoor grills! It only got tiresome when the cold fall weather hit, and I found myself planning meals and grocery shopping only to remember at the last minute that I didn’t have an oven!

The new oven was worth the wait. (I had urged my husband to finish the bathroom remodel before starting a new project.) Now I have a nice new bathroom/laundry room AND a new oven! Can’t wait to start baking Christmas cookies! Begonia

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Christmas Day Trips: Wisconsin Governor's Mansion and the Pabst Mansion
Sunday, December 12, 2010

We went to a couple of festive places this past week. The first was the Wisconsin Governor’s Mansion on Lake Monona, and the other was the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee.

My daughter and a good friend were the first people through the holiday display at the Governor’s mansion. (http://jessicadoyle.wi.gov/section.asp?linkid=440&locid=71) It was a bright freezing day in the teens Fahrenheit, and we walked briskly up to the front door as soon as the gate was opened. I pulled the door open, stuck my head in, and asked if we could come in because it was freezing outside!

The governor’s mansion was conservatively decorated. There was a tree in the dining room with ornaments from each county and another in the room next to it where the state’s First Lady Jessica Doyle was shaking hands. I was a bit surprised to be at the head of the receiving line—the poor woman had to introduce herself! There were a couple of trees in the living room area covered with Wisconsin products ornaments , another In the den/library, and then one in a sun room on the way out with ornaments representing nonprofit groups. It was a nice bright house, and it really felt like a family home in an upscale residential neighborhood with some extra big public rooms for entertaining.

There were nice lake views from every room on that side of the house. I saw geese, ducks, and a pair of big white swans feeding in the water. It could have been any wealthy person’s home on a nice lakeside, estate-size lot. (I can’t believe the incoming Governor is talking about selling it! Where are we going to entertain visitors to our state—in a well-insulated Morton pole shed or some tacky hotel banquet room?)

I’m a museum and historical site nut. The Pabst Mansion was grand! (http://www.pabstmansion.com/) This is one mansion I’ve always wanted to visit during the Christmas season. They had the music room filled with a collection of nutcrackers, and there were Christmas trees decorated like the family had enjoyed them during the early part of the twentieth century—totally covered with tinsel and old ornaments. One of the upstairs bedrooms had one of the neatest doll houses I’ve seen, complete with an attic full of bedsprings and trunks and a cellar with a boiler room and an old guy cracking crabs on newspaper for dinner! It had been the bedroom of a granddaughter they adopted and raised.  

The Pabst family had the mansion built in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style. Capt. Frederick Pabst only lived there for four or five years before his death in 1904. The family sold the mansion in 1908 to the  archdiocese of Milwaukee. The new owners painted most of the wood and fancy plastered ceilings above the first floor WHITE. They did leave the woodwork on the main floor alone, and the original colors and fixtures are still in place on the upper floors, though under several layers of paint. The upper floors are not totally renovated because a lot of the donations and grant money have been put into conserving the foundation and exterior of the building. The main floor rooms and the stairwells and the main hall on the second floor are all finished, and the master suite is the next area in line for attention.

One of the best things about the house was the guy who had it built: Capt. Frederick Pabst. You can judge rich people by how well they treat the servants. The servant dining room and butler’s pantry were much nicer than even than those I’ve seen in a Vanderbilt mansion. Frederick Pabst was by all accounts a really decent, generous, and kind human being.  What greater legacy can we leave behind than a good name and reputation? Begonia

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Thrifty Christmas: Christmas Greetings
Wednesday, December 08, 2010

I’ve been sending out handwritten Christmas cards since I was in grade school. I bought my cards through Current, Inc., because the price went down if you could get a big enough order. At that time, they had a wide variety of really lovely stationary and note cards. I used to send postcards because both the cost of the cards and the postage were lower (this is still true).

I send out 38 or 40 cards a year, and I keep track of who I receive cards from as well as who I am sending cards to. My Lang address book has a Christmas card record. Hallmark address books also have had them in the past. For years, I have used five-year Christmas card record books put out by Current. I keep my Christmas card record next to my address book all year so that I can keep them both update.( I will start using my new Lang address book for that purpose next year and that will eliminate the repetition!) If I don’t get a card, letter, e-mail, or telephone call from a person on my card list for two holiday seasons in succession, I don’t send out a card the following year unless they are elderly, sick, or family. It sounds Grinchy, but it keeps costs down and the number of cards I send out manageable.

 I like to enclose a handwritten note or letter with each card. I start on cards right after Thanksgiving. If I can personally wish someone a Merry Christmas, I don’t send a card. I make some time to greet them in person. My husband and I keep our cards separate. He already had an extensive Christmas card list when I married him. I have met but don’t have a personal relationship with most of the people on his list. He likes to send a yearly Christmas letter, which I help him with by addressing envelopes and keeping track of his list along with mine.

I found half of this year’s Christmas cards (20) at the St. Vincent DePaul thrift store for $1.70. They have a vintage Christmas sale every year in November at their westside Madison location. I used to wait in line for it until they started raising their prices and selling off the best stuff on eBay! (Times are hard, and I don’t blame them for trying to make the most money for charity—but I do miss the great stuff I used to find there!) Since they start the sale midweek, I usually go in at some point on the first day, and there is still plenty to pick through. 

I also pick up a lot of my cards (stickers and note paper) at garage sales during the summer. I run across whole boxes of cards at garage sales for 25 and 50 cents each!  Most people don’t like to send out the same card two years in a row (or ever!), which means there are always beautiful cards to pick up for very little. (The same holds true for wrapping paper and gift bags!) I hold my odds-and- ends cards for three or four years and then use them again. Most people don’t remember the design of the card they sent out three years ago much less the one I sent out!

I donated a bunch of cards I’d found at garage sales to my church for their Christmas Basket kindness this year. (They weren’t spreading any Christmas cheer sitting in a box in my basement!) Then there are the freebie cards, address labels, gift tags, stickers, and note paper that come unsolicited in the mail. It pays to open some of your junk mail! Begonia

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On Self-Sufficiency: Hubbard vs. Hayes
Sunday, December 05, 2010

One of my hobbies is reading autobiographies, journals, and handbooks on thrift and “self-sufficiency.” I was reading Payne Hollow Journal by Harlan Hubbard last night and something about the guy bothered me.  He wrote about all the various tasks of “simple living” in tune with the seasons and the land: gathering and chopping wood, gardening and gleaning, animal husbandry, and painting and observing nature, with some musical evenings and infrequent trips to town for minor shopping and cultural events. Sounds nice doesn’t it?

He also related how he was really out of sorts before and after a visit of any length to another’s home or anyone’s visit to his home. He mused on how he was able to act cordial until the second either he or they were out the door and then he was back to his previous grumpy mood.

I couldn’t pinpoint what was bothering me—depressing me really—about Hubbard’s worldview. That was until I started reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes. To paraphrase her description of a Radical Homemaker, all “radical homemakers” were able to do a lot of things that enabled them to live on one income and save money by not needing it, but none of them could, or tried, to do everything.

Although Mr. Hubbard’s prose was wonderful, his outlook was too self-sufficient. He observed the natural world as interconnected, but he was emotionally disconnected from the greater world around him, which included people (with the exception of his wife) and just about anything that happened in town!  The key things that the Radical Homemakers had in common, besides all being great cooks, were their ability to connect with each other. They were interdependent. They all valued and nurtured community and relationships. They helped each other and learned from each other, and it made their lives richer and more satisfying.  

Last year, a friend of mine found a good deal on beef, and we bought a side of beef together. This week, my neighbor gave me two shopping bags of vegetables she didn’t want from her winter vegetable share from a local CSA.  Last night, I made a big pot of beef vegetable soup for my family. That pot of soup that fed my family was really a group effort with two other families!

Are you doing everything you know how to be thrifty and self-sufficient and still not succeeding? Perhaps you are failing because you are trying to do too much alone! Begonia 

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Frosty Chicks: Baby It's Cold Outside!
Friday, December 03, 2010

The temp is due to drop into the single digits tonight and 5 to 7 inches of snow is predicted for Friday night and Saturday, the first major storm of the season. I went out to the coop at sundown and unplugged the heat emitter and plugged in the oil radiator. The heat emitter can only raise the coop temperature 10 degrees, so it isn’t enough when the temps drop into the single digits Fahrenheit. A person with a bigger flock wouldn’t have to worry, but I have only four sadly molting hens in a fair-sized coop, and supplemental heat is necessary.

I’ve had them cooped up for some weeks now. I have opened the pop door on warmer days when the temperature gets in the 40sF, but they tended to come out for short periods and then go back inside to warm up. I run the 250 watt ceramic heat emitting bulb most days and will gradually run it less and less as they get more plumage.  By late January, they will be outside on sunny days in the teens when they are fully feathered again!

Inside the coop I’ve been giving them more and more layers of “chicken straw” to spread around the coop floor. It insulates the floor which is quite cold because the coop is up on brick footings to discourage vermin.  The oil radiator is up on bricks as well. It has no open flame or heating coil, but it’s never a good idea to have something hot too close to something flammable!

I won’t close up the north side vents until the temperature drops down into the low double digits and single digits consistently. Air circulation is really important in the closed up winter coop because the birds give off so much moisture when they breathe. If the “wet” air doesn’t circulate out of the coop, the birds can become damp. A damp bird is a cold bird, and a cold wet bird becomes a sick bird very quickly. 

I’ll also sleep better tonight knowing that my girls are cozy even during a bitterly cold night. You stay warm, too! Begonia

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Basket of (Mostly) Home Grown Christmas Gifts
Wednesday, December 01, 2010

 My mother is not a hard person to give gifts to. She is gracious, appreciative, and undemanding. She is also 86 years old and doesn’t need any more “stuff.” So she is a terribly hard person to buy gifts for nowadays.

This year I decided to give her a gift of stuff that I had grown in the yard, canned during the summer, or that she could watch grow and bloom in the house. I found an amaryllis on sale in a color that she’s never grown before and added it to a big basket I found at a garage sale for $1.

I filled in around the edges with herbs I had dried and packaged in repurposed jam, jelly, and mustard jars from which I’d soaked and scrubbed the labels. These jars have interesting shapes and can be reused or returned to me for refilling! This was a good year for herbs with its abundant rain and warm spells of weather. I harvested and dried a lot of sage, parsley, dill, thyme, and oregano.  

My mom enjoys eating hot breakfast cereal, so I got out my trusty little manual grain mill and ground her some farina from wheat I’d bought at our favorite bulk food store. (See my Nov. 24, Grinding Your Own Breakfast Cereal blog.) This cereal is great with some cinnamon added just before serving on a cold December morning.

I did a little bit of jelly making this year: cherry and wild black raspberry. I added a jar of each of those. I also made a couple batches of salsa, so I added a jar of that as well. (I would have canned a lot more tomato products if I could have gotten my hands on some more tomatoes! )

I also did a little drying this year. I included a couple of small jars of dried cherries (a neighbor generously supplied the fruit) and cherry tomatoes. I think those cherries are going to find their way into some hot breakfast cereal pretty soon!

Since my mom loves cats and letter writing, I added a box of Lang stationary packaged in a nice reusable box with a hinged lid. She can use up the stationary and have a practical but pretty storage container for paper clips!

I guess the key to giving the best gifts is thinking about what the recipient really enjoys and how the gift will fit into their life. (I don’t know what my recent request  for a rice cooker says about me!) Begonia

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