Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Living a rich country life in a small Midwestern town.

Showing 3 posts from December 2009 for this blog.
Midwife Kits and Roast Turkey: Another Frugal Day on the Farm
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yesterday morning, after putting a 25-pound turkey in the Nesco for a home school potluck that evening, a friend of mine came over to put together midwife kits for Global Health Ministries. (You can learn more at We are both workers and like projects that result in nice satisfying piles of completed items. We had a lot of fun putting these kits together.

Most of these midwife kits will go to Africa. Lots of people feel overwhelmed or helpless about what is going on in Africa. You don't have to be a rich rock star to help alleviate some suffering. Each kit contains everything necessary to birth a baby, cut and tie the cord, clean up baby and mother, and dress and wrap the baby. (These kits consist of a 36-inch square of sheet, a regular-size bath towel, a thin wash cloth, one bar of Ivory soap, a pair of medium-sized vinyl exam gloves, a receiving blanket, a newborn t-shirt, a small newborn hat, and two 8-inch pieces of white cotton sting and a new one-sided razor blade in a zip-lock bag--all this is folded into the towel and stowed in a two-gallon zip lock bag and labeled "Midwife Kit".)

We put 32 kits together from the materials I had gathered over a summer and fall of garage and estate sale shopping. Everything I buy had to be in good shape: no stains, rips, or excessive wear. I generally pay 50 cents for a towel or receiving blanket, 10 cents or less for a wash cloth, 10 to 25 cents for a t-shirt, and a dollar or less for a sheet. We buy zip lock bags at dollar stores for a dollar a box and the rest of the items where ever the price is best. Both my friend and I crochet so most of the little hats are made from sport yarn left over from other projects or skeins I pick up at garage sales. Sometimes I tell people what I am doing and they give me stuff for free. I was given all the towels for my first batch of kits by our town recreation department--all came from the lost and found box of the local pool! Cut down and hemmed, a beach towel roughly makes two regular-size towels.

My daughter-in-law will drop off the kits at the organization's headquarters in the Twin Cities. I'm grateful that she will do this, because the postage to ship these kits would be beyond my means.

By the time we had finished with the kits, the turkey was beginning to smell pretty good! The nice thing about turkey is that it goes on sale for outrageously low prices at this time of year. I usually pay about 39 cents a pound. I put about four turkeys in the freezer every year and pull one out whenever cash flow is bad. (A 25-pound turkey will feed us for at least a week, if not a couple of weeks if used carefully.) It only takes about 10 minutes to get a turkey emptied of giblets and neck, rinsed, the cavity salted, and the whole thing popped into a cooker or oven. I used broth from the neck, drippings from the pan, and some flour to make the gravy, and the Betty Crocker recipe, dried herbs from my garden, and some day-old bread to make the dressing. I also brought some canned cranberry jelly I got on sale--just because I don't like to eat turkey without it! I figure the whole thing cost my family about $17.00. It would have been less than $10.00 without the three cans of cranberry jelly and the triple-batch of dressing--but why be stingy?

The potluck turned out to be quite a holiday feast, we had punch, chips and dip, salsa and corn chips, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, homegrown ham, homemade mac and cheese, fruit salad, mixed green and apple salad with raspberry dressing, raman salad, cranberry jelly (!!!!), challah bread, and chocolate covered popcorn for dessert. We did a white elephant exchange and the house was warm and nicely decorated. It was snowing lightly when we drove home.

There were leftovers, so all I have to do is make mash potatoes today. I've had plenty of time to write to you today. Take care and don't let the turkeys get you down, let them fill you up! Begonia



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Frugal gifts: It's the Thought that Counts
Sunday, December 20, 2009

I had a wonderful afternoon visiting with neighbors and giving and receiving gifts. I find most of my gifts at garage sales and thrift shops. Other presents I make from things that I find at garage sales and thrift shops. When I find something I think a particular friend will enjoy, I set it aside for them.  I have a gift closet where I put all of these things so I can easily keep track of them. I suppose that a lot of you do the same kind of thing.

I was brought up in a big family with very little money. My first job was cleaning a neighbor's house each Saturday morning. I'd get up early and watch as many cartoons as I could, and then I would go across the street (I was in second grade)  to Mrs. Shoppe's house and clean for a couple of hours: vacuum, sweep, wash dishes, make beds, clean the bathroom, and dust. She would pay me 50 cents, give me some hard candy, and send me home. This is not meant to be a sob story--it's just the way it was and I was glad to have the money.

I'd use some of this money in December to buy or make Christmas presents.  My mom taught me to think of the person I was giving the gift to and let the gift fit the person.She was brought up during the Depression when a piece of fruit or a fountain pen was a wonderful gift. If I didn't want to or couldn't afford to give everyone a gift, it was okay. No one in our family took offense, and we were all taught to appreciate any gift given to us. I remember giving my mom a wooden spoon for Christmas one year, and she treated it as if it were gold. She knew that I'd had to work hard to earn the money to buy that simple gift and she knew how much I loved her.

Here are just a few ideas for thoughtful gifts: 

  • Family Box: This idea came from my pen pal in Kentucky. Fill a box with things that families can do together and give a family gift rather than a bunch of individual gifts:sledding/skating--mittens, hats, scarves, hot cocoa mix, marshmallows, candy canes, everything needed to dress a snowman; game night--board games, snacks, small prizes; movie night--DVD or VHS family movie(s), popcorn, a liter or more of pop or drink powder, candy; nature outing--trail maps of local county or state parks, water bottles, gorp, some inexpensive guide books or info downloaded from web sites.
  • Books! Check out the web sites of libraries in your area. Most of them have books sales annually, and some have them monthly. A good book sale in my area sells children's books for 25 cents, hardcovers for a dollar, and soft cover books for 50 cents. (If you volunteer to sort or carry books for these events, you are usually given an opportunity to have "first picks.") You find books at these sales that are out of print or so unusual that you wouldn't have guessed that they existed--I found a book of bridges with pictures and schematic diagrams that cost me one dollar for the structural engineer in my life. She was thrilled--I was too! There are also the independent and chain book stores that take books in trade and sell them for half the cover price. Sometimes I buy books when I find them in good condition for 10 cents each at garage sales and then trade them in at these stores for cash, more books, or gift certificates.
  • Custom Cookbooks: I made one of these for a friend today. This friend was a bit downhearted because they found that her husband  was allergic to dairy and nuts this year, and all her favorite family Christmas cookie recipes contained butter and nuts! I bought a can of butter flavored shortening then got on the computer and searched using for  recipes containing butter flavored shortening. I filled a binder with free recipes and used a piece of Christmas stationary to make a cover. It is all wrapped and under the tree right now.
  • Food Kits:There are lots of make-a-mix recipes for soups, muffins, bars, cookies, tea breads, drinks, flavored rice, etc. on the web or that you can get from the public library. I like to give these kinds of gifts to the mail carriers and neighbors. They make good "guy" gifts. I have quite a library of these types of books and pamphlets that I have picked up at book sales and garage sales. I "mine" them regularly for gift ideas.
  • Things you make or grow: I have been given gifts of seeds, garlands of pine cones for my mantle, strings of popcorn for the wild birds, favorite poems in handmade cards. My mother likes to get gifts of herbs from my garden. This year my sister and I with my daughter's help picked apples from a tree that we had given my dad for Father's Day over 20 years ago. I dried a half bushel of them and returned some to my mother as a gift.

I'm sure that you have other great ideas for thoughtful gifts. If you want to share them, feel free to respond to this post.

Merry Christmas, Begonia.



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Just How Complicated Can Five Chickens Make Your Life?
Friday, December 18, 2009

Seventeen inches of snow fell on my neighborhood last week, complicating all of our lives immensely. Then the temperature dropped below 0 F. We had received one or two inches a few days before so I had already been pulling the big tarp over my hens' straw-bedded yard (previously three raised garden beds) each night to keep it relatively snow free. The Girls don't like the feel of snow on their tender chicken feet. They refuse to leave the coop if I don't sweep the snow off the run between the house and yard and put a little straw down to buffer them from the cold.

My five "girls" retreated into the coop before the worst of the storm hit. To further complicate all of our lives, one of the gals decided to molt almost bald before the storm. I entered the coop one chilly morning to what looked like the aftermath of  a massive pillow fight. Since the girls are essentially working pets and she would go out if her sisters went out, I felt I had to coop them and start using the ceramic heat emitter bulb to raise the temperature enough to keep her alive until her new feathers emerged.

In other respects the gals are surprisingly hardy. I purposely chose Dominiques for the color and tightness of their feathers, ability to forage, and their calm dispositions. I liked the idea of a bird that could stand cold, resist frostbite, blend in, find it's own food, and get along with each other and me. My girls will chose to stay outside in 14 or 15 F with a windbreak and some scratch!

Another complication of raising chickens in town is that they cannot be a nuisance. That means no excessive noise, no smell, no flies, no vermin, and no eye sores.  Needless to say, there are no roosters in my small flock. I had to carefully think through my backyard "system" before I even brought the chicks home to brood.

I already had a big two-bin composting system in place to handle my garden and vegetable household waste, so manure disposal has never been a problem. I layer kitchen scraps that I don't feed the hens and the droppings from under their roost and the floor of the coop each day with rough garden material. The benefit is more finished compost more quickly.

How to prevent flies and smells? My extremely handy husband built a very stout, dry coop. (I traded hostas with my  generous brother-in-law for 80% of the building materials). Dry manure doesn't breed flies. Bedding the yard with seedy grass hay keeps the girls busy, and as they scratch to find bugs and larvae under the dark moist cover, they turn their manure into the soil of the yard and into contact with all the decomposers in the soil, eliminating odor. From time to time, I rake up the broken-down bedding and add it as a rough layer to the compost bin or use it as a feeding mulch on one of my garden beds.

Idle beaks are the devils workshop! Busy birds are generally quiet birds. Unless they see a strange dog or person walking by on the street below, or a bunny in the next yard, or they are working on laying an egg! Noise management complicates our lives the most. Five angry hens can make quite a racket. Distractions in the form of food sometimes works, but I can't help feeling that I am the one being manipulated!

Vermin problems have been minimized so far by raising the coop, burying wire in the ground, and fastening it to the bottom of the structure. Hardware wire between the floor joists and the floor of the coop keeps mice and rats from gnawing their way in easily.

The coop is sided and shingled, and next spring it will be painted to match our house. The yard has lattice I obtained from various sources (my favorite pieces were free or purchased at garage sales) fastened to the wire on three sides. It makes the yard more attractive and breaks up the birds' patterns, making them less attractive to loose and roving dogs--the biggest killers of urban chickens.

My husband just woke up long enough to comment that blogs are supposed to be short, so I'll stop here. Stay Warm, Begonia.

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