The Clucks Love Strawberries

I am so grateful for the strawberry-picking job I had as a kid. Now I have my own strawberry farm. This was last night's haul (representative of what we've taken out of there for the past three or four nights):

I've kept some of them out and made strawberry shortcake, but the majority of them are going into the freezer.

[I just had to interrupt the writing of this blog post (at 6 a.m.) to go yell at a deer which was standing on the other side of the electric fence, sticking its tongue out at the dogs. The deer know exactly how close they can get, and they stand there and torment Rusty and Lila. It's a good thing we live in the country, because I am often out there wandering around in my green velour bathrobe yelling at forest animals early in the morning. It's quite a picture.]


I've also been culling out the overripe berries or the ones with a lot of slug damage (thankfully, not that many) and taking them and the hulls out to the chickens. The clucks dearly love strawberry hulls. Putting strawberry hulls into the chicken yard is like putting some minnows into a pirahna tank. I try to save the whole berries for the rooster, but sometimes those Camilla chickens will swipe the berries right out of his beak and take off. The husband thinks I am spoiling the rooster by feeding him strawberries. Probably, but he is the rooster and he is very handsome. 

The teenage clucks—all Buff Orpingtons—have been making it difficult for the husband to close up the chicken coop at night. They like to stay out until it's completely dark (which at this time of year is pushing 11 p.m.), and then when they do come in, they do this:

They like to perch on top of the door, so he has to lift them off and put them on the floor so he can lock up the coop. This, despite the fact that there are lots of lovely roosting bars in the coop.

This one doesn't like the roosting bars, either:

As a matter of fact, only about three of the birds actually sleep on the roosting bars. The heat lamps seem to be the prized pieces of real estate. 

Why, yes, our chickens do live in a palace. Why do you ask?

The mama turkey has had the babies out several times. So far, she has kept them on the far side of the coop, but last night Lila caught sight of them so I had to go out and have a talk with her about not eating defenseless baby birds. This is an ongoing problem. The robins have stopped building nests in the porch rafters, happily, because when they did, we always had a few casualties when the baby birds were learning to fly. It was too stressful for me. 

There are also a couple of spotted fawns in the woods. They generally have enough sense to stay out of the yard (or at least on the other side of the electric fence). I have also seen mama deer bluff charge the dogs. 

The husband and I went for a quick hike last night after dinner. We scored a handful of ripe huckleberries. It's early for hucks—last year we were picking the first week of August—but these bushes were in full sun. I think it's going to be a few more weeks yet on the rest of the crop. It felt good to get out and stretch my legs. I love those hikes. It's a great way for us to do a quick check on where we are for the week in terms of our to-do lists. We talk about a whole lot of stuff while we're traipsing through the woods. Talking also scares away the bears. We stopped at the occasional mud puddle to look for tracks. Last night, all we saw were dog tracks and horseshoe marks. Whew. No bears or mountain lions. 

I'm off to the ranch and home store to load up on chicken feed, but first, I will change out of my bathrobe. 


Baby Turkeys!

I went out to the chicken coop this afternoon to check on the clucks, and I noticed their waterer needed refilling. I gave DD#2 a bucket of scratch grains and told her to distract them while I filled it up (there have been occasions when they have tried to make a break for it when the husband is filling the waterer). As I was wrestling the waterer back into the coop, she calmly noted, "We have baby turkeys." 

Yes, we do. I have to give DD#2 credit—she called it. When the turkey disappeared about a month ago, she said, "It's mating season. The turkey went out to find a male turkey." I then opined to the husband that the turkey would likely be back with some babies in tow, and she is. She brought two babies back, presumably to teach them how to be chickens. 

Of course, now I am worrying about how she is keeping them safe at night, how she will keep them away from the dogs, etc., etc. The husband is calling them the welfare turkeys. 

They're terribly cute. And they whistle. It's the funniest thing to hear. 


We are about to be treated to a week or so of scorching hot temperatures. I am going out tonight to cut the spinach before it bolts. Hopefully this will be good for all the hot-weather crops. Some of the zucchini plants have already taken off, but the cukes and the melons could use some warm weather.

I have to give up weeding for a while (I see one of those Whiz Bang hoes in my future). Yesterday both of my wrists were bothering me. I loaded up on the ibuprofen and the left wrist felt much better today, but the right wrist is going to need some rest and relaxation. 


Driving Defensively

My goodness but I am vocal this week. And cranky.

Yesterday afternoon, DD#2 and I headed into town to run some errands. We had an appointment at Wells Fargo Bank at 4 p.m. 

I hate hate hate driving through Kalispell in the afternoon during the summer. The traffic is insane. The cars are bad enough, but throw in a bunch of huge RVs on top of it and it makes driving especially nerve-wracking. It used to be that I did all my errand-running on the morning, when no one is on the road, but now that I am working, I am stuck running errands in the afternoons. Bleh.

So there we were, sitting in a line of cars at the stoplight in front of the Wal-Mart shopping center, waiting to go straight through the intersection to turn into the Wells Fargo parking lot. DD#2 and I were talking about something when all of a sudden—BAM!— something hit the back end of our car. I looked in the rearview mirror. (I may also have said some bad words.) There was a young woman in a black car behind me, waving her arms. I leaned out the window and looked back and asked her if someone had hit her—I thought we had been in a chain reaction fender bender—but she said, no, she had hit me. 

We pulled off the road and into a parking lot—no mean feat as we had been in the left-most lane and cars were zooming past us. The young woman was very apologetic. She got out her insurance information right away, but I said, "You know, this is the second time I've been rear-ended in this car. The first time it happened, I didn't call the police, and my insurance company had a heck of a time getting the other guy's insurance comapny to pay up. I am sure you're a wonderfully nice person, but I am calling the police just to get this all documented properly." 

So we stood and waited for about 20 minutes until the policewoman showed up and took down all of the information. She gave the young girl a ticket for following too closely, which I felt badly about, but at the same time, I am really getting tired of getting hit in my car while I am sitting at a stoplight minding my own business. 

The bumper is cracked. I came home and called my insurance company and filed a claim. We'll have it repaired at the same place we did last time; it's a local car dealer with a phenomenal body shop. 

I've been driving for 30 years. In all that time, the only ticket I have ever received was from a Pennsylvania state cop who had issues with my inspection sticker. (I had had the windshield replaced, and in between getting the windshield replaced and having the car re-inspected, I had the original inspection sticker propper up in the front corner of the windshield. He didn't like that.) I've never gotten a speeding ticket. I have never caused an accident. I don't take chances. I may be what my daughter calls an "aggressive driver," but that's mostly because I know how many other people out there on the road are not paying attention, and I am going to drive how I have to in order to protect myself. 

The husband and I went out for dinner one Friday night a few months ago. I always drive (he doesn't like to drive and I do), and that night there were no fewer than three times when some other person wasn't paying attention and almost hit us. After the third incident, he looked at me and said, "Wow, you're kind of a magnet for stupid drivers, aren't you?" 

Yeah, apparently I am. 


I am also getting tired of other people gaming the system when it comes to medical reports. I have no way to prove this, but I watch the queue of reports and I see certain things happening. Reports tend to come in groups—15 or 20 from the same doctor at a time. I will log on and there will be a string of reports in the queue. If the first group of reports happens to be from one of the crummy dictators, the reports will just sit there. I will start working on them, but they will disappear one at a time as I get them done. As soon as all the reports from the crummy dictator are gone—especially if they are followed by a group of reports from one of the really good dictators—the good reports will start disappearing faster than you can blink. It's as though other people are sitting and waiting for someone to do the crummy dictators so they can jump in and take all the good reports. It's happened a number of times in the past couple of days and it's really starting to irritate me. I have to take the reports in the order in which they appear, and it's incredibly demoralizing to work my way through a group of crummy reports, thinking I'll be rewarded by the good ones when I am done, only to have someone else get to the good ones, first. 

I have to think a bit on how to handle this. Today is the Fourth of July, so I am hoping that I will be the only person working. Perhaps everyone else will be out partying. 

At least the sun is shining. I see some weeding in my future this afternoon. 


Radish Pickles

Saturday afternoon, I sliced up a bunch of radishes and put them in a mild salt brine in the fridge. They were only supposed to stay there overnight, but Sunday was DD#2's birthday and I did not get to them in a timely manner. The extra day did not seem to matter, however. Last night after dinner I took them out, rinsed them off, and made these:

Five half-pints of radish pickles. They are flavored with fennel, mustard seed, and black peppercorns. I kept sneaking a taste while I was filling the jars. These are really good. 

The yoga mat actually works really well for weeding. I put it down between two rows of tomatoes, and I was able to sit on my butt and weed the rows on each side of me. When I finished a section, I just scooted backward. Much easier on my wrists. The tomatoes are almost done. I told the husband he could use it the next time he wants to lie down to weed the onions. 

We had a lot of strawberries, so last night I made strawberry shortcake for dessert. Normally I have a big box of Bisquick and use that for the shortcake, but I was out. I did, however, have a box of the Bisquick Gluten Free Mix, so I made the shortcake recipe on that box (it's not cheap—I think the box cost close to $5 and one shortcake recipe used 7/8's of the box). It called for three eggs. Naturally, I used ours, which have such bright orange yolks that the shortcake batter looked like yellow cake mix. The husband pronounced them "excellent." 

[I did not eat any because although they are gluten-free, they are not carb or calorie free. I am doing an experiment for a few weeks and am treating myself like a diabetic and watching my carbs very, very carefully. I'll eat a few ripe strawberries, but that's about as much sugar as I eat in a day.]

I suggested to the husband that he read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I read it last summer and I think he would like it. If you're not famililar with it, writer Barbara Kingsolver and her family moved to a farm in Virginia and decided that for one year, they would eat as "locavores" and only consume food that was grown close to their home. They produced much of what they ate on their own farm. It's a sobering look at the modern food system and how far it has come from the way things used to be. While it's easy to romanticize the past and forget that feeding oneself with one's own produce takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, it's also good to remember that modern systems can and do break down. I am watching what is happening in the mid-Atlantic, and it reminds me that we are tethered by some very thin ropes nowadays. 

Yesterday around noon, the server from which I download files to transcribe went down. I was unable to get any work for about two hours. (I don't know where the server is located.) I spent some time making and eating a salad for lunch, fed the chickens, and weeded tomatoes. It kind of threw a wrench into my day, because in order to make my line count, I had to work until about 5 p.m. We take a lot for granted, like the Internet being up and running when we need it to. 

I am about to log in to work. I hope the server issues are resolved. If not, I'll probably be out weeding again. 


I Need a Rototiller

I actually like to weed the graden. When the weather is good and the man-eating mosquitoes have not yet been let out of their cages, it is a very pleasant and meditative activity. I love to see how neat the rows look after I have yanked up all the weeds and tossed them aside. 

The problem is that I prefer to weed down on my hands and knees. It is hard on my wrists and that's not a good thing. I noticed yesterday that they were aching a bit when I was playing the piano in church. I have to protect my wrists and hands at all costs. 

I went out to weed yesterday afternoon and tried sitting on a 5-gallon bucket. That worked better for my hands, but it bothered my back. I am going to have to figure out a better system. I might take an inexpensive yoga mat out with me to sit on. 

[The husband is very creative when he weeds. The other day I looked over and he was lying on his side weeding the onions. He said it worked really well, but he doesn't mind getting up covered with dirt.]

After an absolutely beautiful day on Saturday, yesterday dawned rather cloudy and unsettled. When I went out to the garden to weed after church, it was actually perfect weeding weather: cool but not cold and no sun. After about an hour, though, the sun came out and it got blazing hot (it was probably only about 75 degrees, but that qualifies as "blazing hot" for me). I gave up on the tomatoes, which were in full sun, and moved over to the lettuce, which by that time of day is in shade. 

The husband had to go down the road a ways to look at a job. I suggested to him that he stop at a nearby nursery to see about getting some more rhubarb plants. I stopped at the nursery in Kalispell last week and they wanted $12.95 for—I kid you not—a gallon planter with a tiny, single-leaf rhubarb plant in it. This other nursery is not all that far from our house, but I have to make a special trip to go there and don't usually think about it. He came home with two enormous rhubarb plants in gallon containers, each of which was $13.95. Yay.

We have one rhubarb plant already, but it must be a petite variety because even after two years it has not gotten very big. It produces a small amount of rhubarb. It would be enough for one or two regular people who do not consume casserole dishes of rhubarb crisp in one sitting (that would be the husband) or people who don't want to put any in the freezer. We put the two new plants over at the end of the grapevines. One of the varieties says it can be harvested through the fall. Hopefully I can put away enough rhubarb this summer for rhubarb crisp this winter—"enough" being a relative term. 

So I have settled into yet another routine, that of working until about 3 p.m., getting dinner done, and then weeding until it gets dark. I feel like we are on top of things with the weeding, and maybe after we get it all cleaned up (and it stops raining constantly), we will have a few weeks where we won't have to have such intensive weeding sessions. 


I've been watching the grocery store ads and noticed that Super 1 (where I usually shop) had Pepsodent toothpaste on sale this week for $0.78 a tube. I stopped in there the other day and bought 14 tubes, which should last about eight months. I do remember, however, that in December of 2011, which was the last time they had a sale and I stocked up (I keep notes on these things), the price was only $0.68 a tube. Dear Ben Bernanke . . . . 

[Honestly, I am going to end up on an FBI watch list one of these days.]

Since I am probably already on an FBI watch list somewhere, I'm going to put on my tinfoil hat now and say that I think something is going to happen this fall, and it's going to make 2008 look like a birthday party in comparison. I have no idea what it will be or exactly when it will happen, but it's a gut feeling and I long ago learned to trust my gut feelings. They are almost never wrong. 


After I hulled yesterday's batch of strawberries, I took the hulls and one slightly overripe berry out to the chickens. They immediately began fighting over the strawberry hulls (as I knew they would), which gave me an opportunity to get the rooster by himself in the corner and give him the strawberry. Those birds are absolutely hysterical to watch. He stood there with the strawberry, making happy rooster noises, and one of the Leghorns (I call them the Camillas after Gonzo's girlfriend on The Muppet Show) came roaring past and swiped it out of his beak. She ran around with it until another Leghorn stole it from her. Then one of the teenage Buff Orpingtons ended up with it and dashed inside the coop, followed by six or seven chickens trying to get it away from her. 

They do the same thing with worms. Every so often one of them will score a big earthworm and run around the chicken yard with it dangling out of her mouth. I am thinking I might start growing some red mealworms for them. They dearly love worms. 

Time to get to work. I can't spend all day watching the chickens.