Category Archives: Adventures in Homesteading

A Frog’s Life

One cold, windy and sunny day, Joe got up and wanted to grow some frogs.

“Mom, can we collect some tadpoles from the pond and grow our own frogs?”

High off the success of hatching our own eggs, we put are mud boots on, grabbed a glass jar and trekked out to the pond to collect a few tadpoles.

“We might not see many since it’s so cold,” I told Joe.

We saw just a few more than I thought we would.

“Our pond is going to have all these frogs!?”

“Well, not all of them will make it,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” Joe said. “Predators.”

Joe wanted to collect a jar-full, but I convinced him that we should start with 5.

He dipped the jar into the shallow end and carefully lifted it out.

We ended up with 10.

The boys wanted to rush back inside and put them in the fish tank. I wasn’t so sure that Bubbles and Fannytail would appreciate that, so we went in and researched how to care for tadpoles.

We picked a shallow container and covered the bottom with gravel. Jake picked out a few bigger rocks for when the tadpoles grow into froglets.

Then we filled it about halfway up with some of our filtered water and poured the 10 tadpoles into their new home.

A couple of the sites we looked at said that they would eat fish food. Since we already had it on hand, that is what we sprinkled in for now. It’s not an ideal diet for frogs, so I ordered some frog food.

It takes 12-16 weeks for the tadpoles to develop into frogs. We are not sure how old these little guys are so we may see frogs sooner…or later.

Tadpoles in a jar
Metamorphose into frogs
In a month or 4

Swooping

Today I saw a red-tailed hawk
Swooping ’round the hens
As I walked out to feed them
It dove straight for the pen

I ran in time to stop it
The girls were all inside
They shook with fear and terror
A hawk, they can’t abide

It circled and it hunted
It had no fear of me
I guess I’ll have to watch it
My ladies can’t run free

I told them they were prisoners
I told them they were fine
Just stay inside this prison
At least, until we dine

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Adventures in Homesteading: Revenge

The cats were angry.

They’d been skunked..

They’d been ousted from their warm home.

They’d had been humiliated.

However, Boots and Echo weren’t ones to take this type of abuse without a fight. Lissa was in for a surprise.

A not-so-pleasant surprise.

***

“Finally, the stench is gone,” said Boots as she angrily cleaned her face.

Echo just grumbled. Since she was in front when they encountered the foul beast, she had received the worst of the disgusting spray.

Then, they’d been locked out of the garage and not allowed back in until the stinky skunk smell had been removed. When Lissa finally let them back in, they were rigid with silent fury.

“I guess you’ll cooperate from now on,” Lissa had said with a smug smile.

Cooperate? Boots arched her back, preparing to pounce and hiss, but Echo swiftly intervened and, seeming remorseful, apologized.

“Oh yes. We are terribly sorry for not attending to the skunk problem.”

Taking Echo’s lead, Boots added, “And we’ve taken care of the skunk problem as proof of our remorse.”

“It’s the least we could do after our abominable behavior.”

Lissa, a little wary of their meek apology, shrugged, thanked them and headed back to the house.

“I expect full cooperation from now on.”

The two felines purred in agreement.

As soon as the door shut, the two immediately narrowed their eyes, an outraged purr rumbling from their chest.

Cooperation indeed.

“Come on,” hissed Boots. “Let’s go for a walk.”

Once outside, Boots led Echo toward the chicken coop.

“Uh, Boots…what do you have planned?”

With a sly smile, Boots turned to Echo.

“Revenge.”

Echo looked beyond Boots to the hens milling around and pecking the ground inside their playpen.

Her pupils dilated as she squinted at the birds, realization dawning slowly.

“The hens are off limits.”

With a flick of her tail, Boots stretched and turned back toward the pen.

“Correction. The hens were off limits.”

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Bloggy McBlogs-alot

Blog post number 603.

In just under 3 years, I’ve written 603 posts on gardening, homesteading, cooking, chickens, bug hunters, mice, writing, homeschooling and a pinch of everything in life.

I’m still learning.

Learning how to write a blog post that will appeal to multiple audiences.

Learning how to take the criticism–both constructive (which really helps me get better) and destructive (which really doesn’t help me. At all.).

Learning how to grow as a writer…as a homesteader…as a human.

I’m having fun.

I’m feeling a sense of accomplishment…a sense of pride at my stick-to-it attitude.

I’m writing!

I had traveled so far away from my original dream. The dream I’ve had since I was a kid. The dream to write.

But, my journey through life has given me fodder for the stories I share.

I’ve wandered back to writing.

I’ve walked back to my dream.

I’m telling my story one post at a time.

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A Newly Discovered Trap Crop

There they were.

Hiding in plain sight.

Munching on my beautiful amaranth.

The dreaded, destructive and disastrous…Japanese Beetles.

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I’m a little surprised that with all of the borage in the garden, these little devils have decided to attack the amaranth.

Last year, they were all about the borage.

They couldn’t get enough of it.

We caught around a zillion of them a day, dropped them in soapy water and fed them to the grateful chickens.

It’s a big reason we planted so much borage this year.

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So why are have they developed a taste for amaranth? Why did they bypass all of the borage that they so loved last year and instead begin to eat my amaranth?

Is it the sugar content?

Japanese beetles are attracted to plants high in sugar. The sugar content in amaranth is 3.3g per cup.

Maybe the height?

This year, due to the runaway squash and over zealous tomatoes, the amaranth has had to push its way through to get some sunlight. It’s taller than the borage and almost as tall as the dill. Maybe it’s an easy mark for the beetles.

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Whatever it is, I’m just glad they’re staying away from my tomatoes.

The beetles are back
They’re on the attack
They surround my plants
Immune to my rants

But little they know
That much to their woe
There’s a new plant in town
To knock them all down

Adventures in Homesteading: Skunked

“Meow!”

“What is it Boots?” asked Lissa.

Boots, then Echo twined around Lissa’s legs meowing, their backs arched and hair on end.

“Oh come on, just talk to me!” Lissa said in exasperation.

It had been some time since the two cats had willingly hunted for Lissa. She had dealt with any number of pests and threats on her own. She sorely regretted sending the mice packing. At least they did what they were told.

Boots, then Echo sat down daintily on the back deck. Boots licked her paws while Echo settled comfortably on her side.

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“There is a skunk in the garage,” Boots said matter-of-factly.

“A skunk!?”

Echo looked up at Lissa with a start.

“There’s no reason to yell.”

Lissa stared at the cats, her jaw dropping. After a few minutes of silence, she straightened her spine.

“Get rid of it.”

Boots and Echo looked first at each other and then at Lissa.

“Not in our job description.”

“I beg to differ. You live in the garage and there is an intruder. It is your job to take care of it.”

Both cats sprang to their feet with a swift swish. Their almond shaped eyes narrowed and they stared hard at Lissa.

“No,” they said in unison.

Lissa glared at them in disbelief, her face reddening in anger and frustration. She knew that she could not force these two to do anything they didn’t want to do. She had tried kindness, bribery and threats but nothing worked. Now she had to get rid of a skunk before it had a chance to stink up the garage.

She sighed.

“Bingo,” she whispered to herself. “I’ll show those two who’s boss.”

With a grim smile so as not to betray her excitement, Lissa turned on her heel and stalked back into the house.

The two sisters gracefully jumped off the deck and went to stretch in the sun.

Meanwhile, Lissa was inside putting her plan into action.

She grabbed a bag of mini marshmallows out of the cupboard and headed out front.

She opened the garage door slightly and made a marshmallow trail to the cats’ favorite spot in the vineyard.

When she saw the skunk peak out from under the garage door, she squared her shoulders and turned on the waterworks.

“Boots! Echo!” she yelled as she ran to the back of the house.

Boots and Echo lazily raised their heads and gave her a bland look.

“Yes?” they said without much interest.

“A family of chipmunks is in the vineyard, behind the pile of mulch!”

Instantly alert, the cats sprang to their feet anticipating a delicious feast.

Chipmunk was their favorite meal.

As the cats slunk slowly to the vineyard and disappeared behind the pile of mulch, Lissa watched behind the safety of the front door, hoping that the skunk had made it in time.

Suddenly, the cats hissed and cried. Lissa saw them jump out from behind the mulch pile and make a beeline for the garage. She was already waiting for them.

With an evil glint in her eyes, Lissa smiled.

“I guess it is my garage.”

Then she pressed the button, shutting them out in the stink.

 

 

 

Killers Unknown

The morning started just like any other morning.

Bleary-eyed, I started the coffee pot.

Yawning, I looked out the back door.

Uh. Oh. The chickens were out.

I forgot to put them away. Again.

Their coop had been open all night. Again.

Sighing, I started breakfast.

‘I have to start remembering to lock the hens up,’ I thought to myself.

Later, I went outside to move the little girls out to the playpen. After getting them situated (with only a few squacks and pecks), I did my morning headcount.

Nine pullets and six hens.

Wait. Six? Where were the other two?

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I looked around a little, not too concerned yet. They’d been out for most of the morning after all and they’d been getting braver, venturing further away from the coop. Surely they’d come back when they got hungry.

I went about my day, forgetting about the missing ladies.

Early evening, after eating dinner, I went out to pull the little girls back to the garage and shut the big girls in for the night. My niece came out to help me.

I only counted 6. I asked my niece to check too. She only counted 6.

Where were they?

I called out the troops.

Joe, Jake, Issabella, Cheyenne, Charlie and I walked the property searching for the two rogue hens.

We trudged up and down the swales, walked around the house, double checked the coop and peeked in the garage.

We couldn’t find them. They were gone with no sign of a struggle.

Even with the occasional threat of the freezer, they would not have run away. They have it too good…shelter from the cold and rain, all the food they can eat, treats, kitchen scraps and a steady supply of water.

No, the only plausible explanation is that these two unlucky ladies were late getting back up into the coop and a hungry coyote or two caught an easy meal.

Farewell Matilda and Enid!
(Or Hester and Henny, or Edith and Tabitha, or…well, whoever you were.)

I can’t say you will be missed, but we sure will miss the eggs.

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Goodbye my ladies
Oblivious to danger
You were gobbled up

Step Two: Create a Portfolio

While I wait patiently for my first writer’s workshop to start, I’m backing up all of my stories, editing them and choosing a few from each category to bring into the workshop for feedback.

I’m not going to repost every story I’ve ever written for this blog, but I did think it might be fun to share the first in each series.

Adventures in Homesteading
Joe the Bug Hunter
Mischief Makers
Audrey and the Bubblebath Kids

Adventures in Homesteading: The Tale of Three Tails 
(Originally posted 6-22-13)

Lissa was pulling the garden cart out of the garage one sunny afternoon when she first saw the mouse.

Actually, she just saw the tail wiggling away through the crack between the driveway and the garage floor.

She didn’t scream, faint or run. She stood frozen wondering how the cheeky little rodent dared to invade her garage.

Shrugging, she went back into the house and got a mousetrap and some cheese, thinking “there is probably just the one.”

This, of course, was a silly thought.

She set the trap and went on about her afternoon, watering and tending to the garden.

At the end of the day, she trudged back to the garage, tired and ready for a cold glass of water. Before she went into the house, she noticed a small scrap of paper next to the mousetrap she had set. She picked it up and saw a note. The writing was teeny tiny and hard to make out. She squinted and read:

“Dear Madam…nice try. Signed, The Three Tails”

Gasping, she looked down at the trap. The cheese was gone. Well, most of it. Someone, or something, had left one small chunk of cheese balanced perfectly on top of the un-sprung trap…as if to taunt her.

Confused a she was, she was certain of two things. One, she had more than one mouse. Two, they had chosen the wrong household to invade.

***

Lissa set out to defeat the clever mice.

She researched and researched and finally found a few…unexpected tricks to try.

They were obviously too smart to fall for traps or poison so she would have to go the way of natural remedies to get rid of this trio of troublemakers.

First, she tried cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil. She had read that mice could not stand the strong scent and that it masked the food scent that was so enticing to them.

The mice just wrote a thank you note for the “lovely perfume”.

Then she tried sticking steel wool in the cracks they always scurried down. The steel wool was said to be “impossible to break through” for mice…an impenetrable barrier.

The mice, mischievous as they were, broke through with no problem and placed the steel wool in front of the door in the shape of a smiley face.

Nothing was working. Sealing entries was impossible because they just chewed new holes. Using tubs of used kitty litter was out of the question because (1) where would she get them and (2)…gross.

Desperate, she wrote a note to try to reason with them. “Dear Mice, please leave my home or I will resort to drastic measures.”

Apparently, the mice were not frightened by her threat. They quickly wrote back. “We’d like to see you try.”

At her wit’s end, Lissa was contemplating going down to the pet store to get some dried snake poo when she found another note from the mice.

“We will leave quietly, if you teach us to cook.”

Could this be the remedy? Teaching the mice to cook??

After trading a few notes back and forth deciding what they would like to cook first, Lissa discovered that mice do not, in fact like cheese.

Sure, they will eat it if nothing else is available, but they actually prefer higher carb foods like bread, nuts and seeds.

In one particularly long note from the three tails, they explained that the story passed down through the mice pipeline was that cheese was stored in cupboards and easily available to mice, but they are not sure if this is where the myth came from.

She wanted to make something easy and something that they would enjoy so she picked “Easy Nut Bread” from one of her cookbooks.They seemed happy with her choice.

Easy Nut Bread
1 C. Sugar
1 Egg
1 1/4 C. milk
3 C. Flour, sifted once
3 tsp. Baking powder
1 tsp. Salt
2 T. Butter
1 C. Nuts

Mix all together. Bake in loaf pan for 1 hour at 350*.

She set all of the ingredients out and grabbed two bowls, a spoon and a loaf pan. Then she waited for the mice to show up.

Once they showed up, she started to write them a note explaining the first step, but the biggest mouse (she assumed he was the ringleader) said, in a rather squeaky voice that was hard to hear, “You know, we can talk as well as write.”

“Oh. Ok. Well then…uh, I guess we will start by mixing together the dry ingredients.”

As Lissa mixed the baking powder, salt and flour together, the three mice decided they needed to get a closer look so they climbed up the side of the flour canister and perched on the edge.

The smallest one, who seemed rather clumsy, fell in the flour spilling it all over the counter in a large cloud. Lissa made a mental note to throw the flour, canister and all, away when they finished this lesson.

“Next, we will mix the butter, sugar, egg and milk in this other bowl.” She glanced their way and noticed that a tiny paw was raised.

“Uh, yes? Do you have a question?” she asked.

“Why don’t you mix all the ingredients together in one bowl?”

“Well…if you add the eggs to the flour, then the butter, then the milk…the dry ingredients will not be able to absorb the liquid evenly and the flour may become overworked and difficult to stir. I guess you could add the flour last, but then the baking powder and salt might not be evenly mixed with all the other ingredients.”

Silence.

Lissa wondered if they did not hear her or if the explanation was too difficult to understand, but after a few minutes and some quiet squeaking as they talked with each other, each mouse nodded their tiny head and waited for the next step.

“Ok, so after you have the ingredients combined in separate bowls, you slowly add the wet to the dry until evenly mixed. Then you stir in your nuts of choice, we are using walnuts…yes?”

The fat one asked if pecans could be used instead as they were a favorite of his.

Once the batter was fully ready, with pecans mixed in, Lissa took the loaf pan and a can of cooking spray to show the mice how to grease the pan. She got a little overzealous and ended up accidentally spraying the smallest mouse off the counter.

After everyone was back on the counter and the small one was done crying, Lissa poured the batter into the greased loaf pan and popped it into the oven.

“And then you just bake for an hour at 350*,” she said, looking down at them. “Now, off you go.”

The mice looked at one another for a moment. “But, you can’t expect that we can recreate this recipe? We do not have tiny ovens and the best we can do for a bowl is an acorn shell.”

“Then why did you want to learn to cook!” asked Lissa, getting annoyed.

A fit of squeaking seemed to have taken over the mice and Lissa soon realized that it was not squeaking at all…it was laughter.

“What are you laughing at!?”

“We just wanted to see if you would try to teach us! You don’t actually think a mouse can cook do you?”

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The Workshop: Day 1

I signed up for a two-day workshop about a month ago – Writing and Publishing a Children’s Book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect that first day. I’d never been to a writing workshop before.

I came prepared and ready to learn with my notebook and a folder with a few of my stories from Joe the Bug Hunter, Adventures in Homesteading, Audrey and the Bubblebath Kids and Mischief Makers.

There were 7 of us in total, including the instructor, Dawn Malone. As an icebreaker we all shared what had brought us to the workshop.

We were all at different stages in our lives, careers and writing. We were there to learn more about what inspires writing, the writing process and, of course, how to get published.

Next, Dawn went through all of the formats for publishing children’s literature: magazine stories, board books, easy readers for the beginning reader, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult and picture books–the format I want to focus on.

Then we talked about what inspires us to write and Dawn said something that hit me.

People always say to ‘write what you know’, but that can be limiting and should be expanded to ‘write what you know and what you are interested in’.

By writing what interests you, you learn and grow both as a person and as an writer.

For example, the main character in Joe the Bug Hunter is based on my son and his interest in bugs. I don’t know a much about bugs, but I have endless material to use because I am interested in learning how to rid my garden of all pests. Extremely interested.

Story ideas can also come from childhood memories. The characters in Audrey and the Bubblebath Kids, for instance, are based on the imaginary friends I had when I was 6.

Inspiration can come from themes other authors have covered, present experiences and observation of others.

Nim and Lil were inspired by the Elf on the Shelf and the fun my kids had discovering their tricks every morning in December.

And, the stories of the mice in Adventures in Homesteading all sparked from the sight of a little mouse tail in my garage.

When the workshop ended for the day, I couldn’t believe three and a half hours had already passed. I was brimming with all of the exciting new knowledge I had gained in that short window of time.

As I climbed into the passenger seat of the truck, Ray asked me how it went. I smiled, overflowing with excitement and told him all about it.

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Feet First

With some encouragement from family and friends, I’ve decided to look into getting some of my stories published.

In looking back through all I’ve written over the past two years, I’ve found that I’ve built quite an extensive portfolio: Joe the Bug Hunter, Audrey and the Bubblebath Kids, Adventures in Homesteading and Mischief Makers plus all of the kooky poetry and haikus I’ve composed on gardening.

So why not give it a go?

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I’m just in the beginning stages of research, but so far I’ve found that there are two main options for publishing a book: self-publishing and traditional publishing.

In researching the traditional method, the common theme is that it takes time and patience…and a thick skin.

First, you have to find an agent, which takes time.

Once that’s done, the agent will want to revise your book before showing editors and publishing houses, which takes more time.

If said agent finds an editor willing to buy your book, you’re in for another round (or several rounds) of revisions before the book even goes into production. And then you may not even recognize the story as the one you initially wrote. The whole process could be a horrible experience…or a wonderful one. Which takes even more time.

In all, it could be a year or more before your precious book is published, and then…what if no one buys it? Or worse…it gets a really bad review?

On the flip side, going the traditional route has its benefits.

If the book gets picked up, you’ll have editors, an illustrator, a printer, distributor and promoters, plus a nice up-front payment. It may take a few years, but if the book is a success you’ll start receiving royalties and have only paid with your time and tears.

Then there is the self-publishing route. It’s the same steps as the traditional route, but you have to pay up front for editing, illustrating, producing, promoting, printing and distributing the book.

You, the author, also have more control over the book and content. No one can tell you to cut a scene you feel is integral to the storyline. But, as a stay-at-home mom, novice blogger, budding gardener and beginning writer…do I really have the time, money and energy it takes to self-publish with any success?

I don’t want to dip my toes in the water, I want to jump in with both feet and I’d like a guide (in the form of a nice agent) to help me on my journey.

On the other hand, I don’t want to limit myself to just one storyline, one editor or one publisher “guide”.

I want to keep writing and putting more content out there for feedback.

Then I realized, I don’t want to do traditional publishing or self-publishing…at least not right now.

I’m already putting my content out there. It’s on this blog. I share it on Facebook. And, some of my readers are kind enough to share my blog with others.

I’m getting feedback all the time. The next step is to start networking and sharing with other aspiring authors–gaining insight from their experience, giving and getting feedback in writing forums.

I don’t need to limit myself to one path right now. I’m not a professional author and my stories, while think are good, are far from polished.

For right now, I’m going to continue writing all of the stories that are racing through my mind. I’m going to be happy that I’ve found the writing bug again…that my creativity and imagination continue to flow.

I’m not going to limit myself and pull my focus away from doing what I enjoy…but I am going to start having the confidence to promote my stories and treat my writing as an art rather than just a hobby.