Archive for February, 2010

Sunday Photos…Childhood Photos

Once upon a time, we were all little munchkins. Today we thought we’d share photos of us as kids to prove we were cute at one time.

I (Susy from Chiot’s Run) grew up in Colombia, South America, so I had quite a few fun and exotic pets, birds, snakes, monkeys, etc. This was a coati that my sister and I were looking at, it wasn’t our pet, but it was fascinating.

This was one of my favorite dresses as a girl. I’m wearing it just about every photo of me during this age. I remember always looking through my closet to find this dress. I’m a pretty ornery looking little girl.

I loved these little footed sleepers as a kid, so comfy cozy! I probably still look like this when I get up in the morning.

Growing up with a sibling you don’t end up with a ton of photos of just you, that older sibling is always in there. I had an older sister and we had tons of fun together. My mom always made matching clothes for us. I have a younger brother as well, but somehow he must have been a little camera shy, he’s not in too many photos. My dad loved taking photos of us, so we have a lot of great ones of our childhood.

Kim, the inadvertent farmer here

OK…confession here.  These are all pictures of pictures, my scanner is on the blink!  And there is no way any of mine are gonna be as cute as the one of Susy in those sleeper pajamas!

Here I am at two…not exactly sure what my mom was thinking with that haircut!

I went to a tiny Christian school and this was my 8th grade graduation…I was with my dad.  I don’t have any pictures of my classmates.  There were none…nope I was it!

Oh…and I made the dress.

Me and my dog Benji…he was a a Bouvier Des Flanderes…my mom was into big dogs.  We had a Great Pyrenees next!

This is what is private boarding school will do to you…dork!

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Lebanese Lentil with Greens Soup

This is what we had for dinner last night with fresh bread…it was delicious.

In fact I also had it for breakfast too!


1 Large Onion Chopped

4 Cloves Garlic minced

1 Tbsp Salt

1 Cup Lentils (I used a combo or red and brown)

6 Cups Water

1 Bunch Greens (I used Swiss Chard) stemmed and thinly sliced

1 Tbsp Cumin

1 tsp Cinnamon (yes, really!)

1/3 Cup Lemon Juice

Olive Oil

Saute Onion and Garlic in Olive Oil in the bottom of a large saucepan until slightly soft.  Add lentils and cook for 1 minute.  Add Water and salt.  Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer.  Cook until the lentils are tender (15 minutes or so)

While the lentils are simmering.  In a large skillet saute the greens in olive oil until they are wilted.

When the lentils are tender add the greens, the cumin and cinnamon.  Simmer 10 minutes.

Add lemon juice before serving.

This was a great quick soup for a chilly February night.  The flavor was so fresh and unusual with the cinnamon.  My kids loved it.  My hubby liked the flavor but hates greens so he picked his out, lol!

Great change of pace…will definately add this to my ‘go to’ list of soups!

Recipe modified from a recipe found on All Recipes

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Chickens in the Burbs

We have a guest writer today.  Nathan and his family keep chickens in their backyard in the suburbs of Portland OR.  They have been at it for about 9 months now, and were willing to share some of what they have learned.  You can see more of their adventures with chickens, urban gardening, raising bilingual children, and xerascaping on their blog Five Chickens.

When you think about backyard chickens it is easy to imagine horrors. A pervasive stench, angry neighbors, rats, and the mess of a bird killed by raccoons come to mind. We have been chicken owners for 6 months now and have managed to avoid or at least minimize these problems. For the most part chicken ownership has been a fun adventure. We love watching our curious birds turn kitchen scraps into eggs and garden compost. The keys for us are, 1) prepare, 2) set up a system, and 3) enjoy.

1) Prepare

Ahead of getting our birds our aim was to over prepare. We didn’t even come close but we were super glad for every bit of preparation we did do.
Here is what worked for us:

Talking to friends and acquaintances. We discovered that there are chicken owners and former owners everywhere. As we have traveled this journey we have sought advice from friends many, many, times.

Reading all the chicken books in the local library. There are a lot of books out there. We got a nice foundation from them. Building the coop and tractor (more on tractors later) before the chickens arrived. Technically our tractor wasn’t done until the day after they arrived and the whole coop/tractor system evolved over the next two months, but having a place for them to go upon arrival was essential.

Getting chicks that were already a month old. I don’t think this was essential but it was nice to avoid the whole tiny baby phase. By the time we got them they were big enough to be outside in the June air. We didn’t have to mess with heat lamps or keeping them in the house.

If we were to do it again there are some things we would do differently. Here is where our preparation didn’t work:

We did not locate a feed store before we got our birds. We didn’t anticipate how difficult
this would be in our area. The feed stores all seem to be way out in the country. Imagine that. We didn’t have food for our chicks before they came home and with no feed store close it ended up being FIVE days before we got proper food for them. They ate dry instant oatmeal in the interim (I am not sure whether this is a recommended practice for one month old chicks but it got us through).

Get a chick waterer. We put their first water in a pie tin on the floor of the coop. They immediately soiled it and tipped it over.

Our original coop design had the chicken door at floor level with no threshold. There was
no way to keep the wood chips we used for bedding in. The chickens tracked them out as fast as I could put them in.

2) Set up a system

We have worked hard to set things up so we can get the most out of our chickens with a reasonable amount of work. Our system now requires 15 to 20 minutes of daily attention and a little more on weekends. Not bad by my way of thinking. The main thing we wanted from our chickens is eggs which they are producing nicely. Also important to us was healthy, clean chickens and a way to use their poop in enhance our garden soil. Here are the highlights of our system:

We use a combination coop and tractor. The tractor is a light wood frame covered top and sides with chicken wire and an open bottom. The tractor can be moved anywhere in the yard that we want the chickens to scratch.

In our system the coop is for sleeping and laying and the tractor is for eating and exercise. We keep the tractor up against the coop with doors matched up so the chickens have free access to both most of the time.

On sunny afternoons if we are home we move the tractor over a patch of weeds. The chickens get greens and we get weeding done. We use deep litter in the coop. So far this has worked to keep the smell minimal and makes clean up a snap. We brush off the roosts and either fluff up the litter or add a little new each day. The poop and litter slowly build up over time. We reworked our original coop so that it can accommodate up to 10 inches of deep litter. If things continue as they are we will need to dig the whole thing out about four times a year. The plan is to compost it when it comes out.

 Semi-permanently we keep the tractor over a garden bed with the coop just off the bed. The plan is to rotate to a new bed about every three months. We hope the chicken poop will help us grow nice big vegetables down the road. We have just made one move so far as of October and haven’t tried to plant anything yet. We will this spring. We keep a container in the kitchen to capture all the food scraps that otherwise would have been thrown out. The chickens eat everything; vegetable peels, scrapings off of the dinner plates, leftovers that aren’t being eating by us. We find that we need to rinse our container off each time we empty it. It has
not worked to wash it with the dishes because it is usually full at that time. We supplement the kitchen scraps with pellets form the feed store. I put out food/water and do the cleaning in the evening when I get home from work (10 minutes or so).

 I would gather eggs at this time too except my kids have usually already done it. Then once the birds are bedded down I come back out and put out the food/water for the morning (another 5 minutes). We use a light on a Christmas timer to keep the chickens laying. I guess chickens stop laying when the days get short in the winter. A light keeps them laying. The timer we use automatically senses when it is dusk and turns on the lights. It says on for a set number of hours. We have gradually increased the hours through the fall. We have tried to keep a total of 15 hours of light for them. We have added all our time in the evening and not bothered with light in the early morning. We use spring loaded rat traps. Yes, we have attracted rats. We have killed three so far. It seems this will be an ongoing part of raising chickens. Once I catch one it goes in the trash, trap and all. We hope that regular trapping will keep the number low and keep them out of the house.

3) Enjoy

We got into chickens for the eggs. We have stayed with them because they are very enjoyable. Here are some highlights:

Fresh eggs every day.

Satisfaction knowing that what was trash is now being turned into eggs and garden compost.

Great fun for kids. Chickens love bugs and kids love finding them.

Weeding done with no effort.

Hours of fun watching them scratch and chase and generally act like chickens.

With a little preparation and a thoughtful system you too can enjoy backyard chickens.

The book I would recommend is, Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil, by Andy W Lee & Patricia L Foreman

We’d love to hear about your chicken raising adventures too.  Especially if you live in the city.

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The New Kid

Greetings fellow dabblers! I’m Jennifer, also known as whirliegig, and the newest writer around here. You’ll usually find me over at Unearthing This Life where I track our challenges of moving toward sustainability and responsible living and otherwise trying to follow the lessons my grandparents and mother taught me. I also document daily life and the beautiful things I find to share with my family and friends who are spread out across the globe.

plant collage

I grew up 30 miles outside of Chicago on the outskirts of a semi-suburban town, surrounded by cornfields. I was raised by a botanically-obsessed and crafty mother and heavily influenced by my grandparents, foodies and farmers themselves. Thirteen years ago I moved 500 miles south to the Nashville area – practically on a whim – to follow my dream of becoming an artist. I fell in love with the land and a fellow and got hitched, and the one year I intended to stay somehow turned into much more.


Many of those years were spent in restaurants and as an event photographer. Just as one thing leads to another, marriage turned into parenthood. Life took a different path and instead of pursuing a career in art, we decided that I’d stay home with our baby. After our daughter was born we returned to my husband’s rural hometown where I have ample space to experiment with what I’ve been taught. Out here I keep my organic gardens, preserve food, cook mostly from scratch, knit, paint, photograph, and make crafty projects with the Kid, now six.

countrylife collage

This is a year for big plans: we’ll be getting chickens in a few weeks, building a greenhouse, doubling our garden size, planting lots of heirlooms, studying under a beekeeping mentor, reducing our reliance on processed foods, and doing a bit of touring while I learn to ride a motorcycle. I’m sure there will be quite a few bumps and scrapes! We also plan to start homeschooling this fall. I’m a bit of a foodie, but I believe I’m in good company here. I hope to be able to share what I learn with each step further away from normalcy.

orach seedling

Thank you all for having me!

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Last year was our first year sugaring our maple trees. We started late in the season and didn’t really know what we were doing, so we made a few mistakes. We learned a lot and are looking forward to putting that knowledge to use this year. I’m still reading a few books to refresh my memory and learn some new tricks from home sugarers. We’re really looking forward to being able to sugar through the entire season this year and adding a few more taps. Hopefully we’ll end up with a few gallons of maple syrup from all of our hard work.
Sugaring season will be here before we know it, so I’m getting everything ready now. We’re going to buy a few more spiles/spouts this week and I’m getting all my jars washed and ready to go. I can’t wait to spend my days gathering sap and boiling it into delicious syrup. We’re hoping sugaring season coincides with the Winter Olympics since we’re planning on taking time off during those two weeks. That way we’ll be able to empty the sap buckets and boil down the sap in between our favorite events.

If you’d like to tap a couple of your maples trees you’d better start looking for some supplies. You want to make sure you have everything in order so you’re not caught off guard. If you don’t need tons of supplies Tap My Trees is a great place. I go my local Lehman’s store to purchase what I need. All you really “need” is a few spiles, you can use mason jars or milk jugs to collect the sap in. We use a big waterbath canner over our firepit to boil down the sap and we finish it off inside on the stove.

Do you or have you considered tapping your maple trees?

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The Heat is on…still.

The snow has been piling up here at the Roost.  8 more inches this morning.  It’s a warm snow, almost up to freezing at mid-day, so we don’t mind.  The kids love to play in it.  It looks nice.  It will (we hope) recharge the ground water in the area a bit as it SLOWLY melts this spring.  It is also a great exercise program.  Moving more than 10,000 lbs of snow this morning so CC could get to work burned a lot of calories.  So, all in all the snow is a nice thing, but… while it is piling up, the wood pile is dwindling rather quickly.  The heat is on, but I don’t know for how much longer.

We heat primarily with wood.  We have kept the oil furnace turned on this year, set between 45 and 50.  That keeps the pipes from freezing if we are gone or if I don’t get up in the middle of the night to feed the fires.  We have used less than 100 gallons of oil this winter, which is good, but a lot more that we would like to use.  We have used about 6 1/2 cords of wood so far this winter.  But it is going fast.  I didn’t get as much put by this past year as I should have.  We are going to run out. 

Wood is readily available in our area.  Trees grow like weeds here.  But, we have almost no trees on our farm.  In years past it was all cleared, and has been mowed religiously for the last 25 years.  We have a few trees started but not a wood lot.  Our problem is space.  We have plans for all the space on the farm, and filling it up with trees conflicts with all the other uses.  So, how do we produce our own heat?  Fedges.  I got this idea from Stuart at Permaculture in Brittany.  He has some truly lovely living fences from willows, and a link to a site about living willow structures and coppiced willows for fire wood.  So this spring we will be planting willows and Osage Orange as wind break fedges that we will coppice for firewood.  It will take a couple of years to get them established, but we should be able to produce most of the wood we need here in a sustainable way.

How do you heat your home?  What steps are you taking to gain more energy independence?

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I’ve spent the last week making mental notes of which prepared foods I will be replacing with homemade, and those that will be leaving all together. Getting ready for our Real Food Challenge.

I have gathered some cracker recipes to have on hand for crunchy snacks.  I have also dug out the old air popper and stocked up on organic corn for popped corn instead of chips.  My oat jar is full and standing by for homemade granola and my grain bins are full ready to be ground into flour for bread and cookies.

I have also been looking around for any information about processed foods and their health effects…

In my recent TIME magazine under the large article called ‘The Science of Living Longer’ one of the suggestions for health was “Choose foods that look the same when you eat them as when they come out of the ground…”

The nutrition magazine that our local health food store has called ‘Better Nutrition’ had a little blurb in it that stated “Eating lots of vegetables, fruits, and fish boosts mood. In contrast, processed foods contribute to depression, according to a study of 3,486 civil servants in the United Kingdom, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry’

Interesting…I always know that you were helping you body with good nutrition but I never had considered your mental state getting a boost from avoiding processed foods.  When you think about it anything that is good for the body surely is good for the mind!

And when you have a little time (it’s a long article) you might want to read this article in the New York Times by Michael Pollan titled ‘Unhappy Meals’

A couple of his tips for eating well are…

Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,

Avoid foods with ingredients that unfamiliar, you can’t pronounce, have more than 5 ingredients

Get out of the Supermarket whenever possible…you won’t find high fructose corn syrup at the Farmer’s Market

Pay More, Eat Less.  Eat foods that are grown well and organic even though they may cost more.  Then eat less…

So I am slowly gearing up and getting ready…how about you?  Have you thought about the changes you are going to make for our challenge?

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