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Author: Robin

After My First Cup of Coffee

After My First Cup of Coffee

I was on a roll this morning. After my first cup of coffee I shoveled the packed snow from in front of the hen house door. Steve usually plows a wide path past the hen house and firewood tunnel, and then on to the edge of the woods. Not this time. There’s too much snow. Officially we got 24″ during the blizzard but after being out in it this morning, I disagree. I’ve shoveled and roof raked, walked on and through, and measured in several places. It’s closer to 30″.  The ducks came out through the people door to get to their water in the path but got distracted and headed for their pen. They won’t be in their pen until most likely April. It’s too much snow to shovel to get to their little door into the pen.


blizzard 2017, after my first cup of coffee
after my first cup of coffee, mailbox in snow

Roof Raking. It’s a Thing.

after my first cup of coffee, hen house door, blizzard 2017With the birds tended to for the day I raked the porch roof. Metal roofing helps snow slide off but it’s not as helpful as I expected. The roof doesn’t have enough pitch, something we can’t change. Had I known I’d still be roof raking I’d have voted for a much more attractive traditional roofing. Anyway. I also shoveled the snow off most of the back porch. The ermine has a tunnel through the snow that’s about 18″ off the ground, and I was careful to leave it as intact as possible. Most of the cleaning up from the blizzard is done…just in time for the storm that starts tomorrow afternoon. We’re supposed to get another six to twelve inches. Yeah. <—sarcasm I’m going to need more coffee.

I’m not complaining too much. We had bare ground under big softwoods two weeks ago and little snow after that. There were frigid days here and there but no long cold snap. It was an easy winter up until the blizzard. I’m protecting my work time carefully these days as I write, and I’m enjoying the new routine I’ve set up. Being snowed in is nice.

After my now third cup of coffee, it’s time to hit the book.

It’s a Blizzard Out There – Blizzard 2017

It’s a Blizzard Out There – Blizzard 2017

It’s a Blizzard Out There

It’s a blizzard out there. I’m sure the weather service will call it officially. Conditions must be winds of 35 mph for three hours and visibility reduced to a quarter-mile or less due to falling or blowing snow. We’ve got that. I turned into a human plow to get through the drift on the back porch on my way to the hen house this morning. It’s worse since then. Steve is off work due to weather for the first time in 26 years.

We’re well prepared with firewood, water, and gizmos plugged in to be 100% charged if the power goes out. There’s always more than enough food to last until the plow can get out. Speaking of the plow, I haven’t seen it since last night so it’s likely grounded until the storm starts to slow.

Blizzard 2017 Photos

The hen house is about 125′ from the house.

it's a blizzard out there, blizzard 2017, hen house
it's a blizzard, porch, blizzard 2017
blizzard 2017, blizzard out there
snow in window, blizzard 2017, it's a blizzard
white out, blizzard 2017, Maine, it's a blizzard
it's a blizzard, out the window, blizzard 2017, blizzard conditions

Present in Winter

Present in Winter

Present in Winter

There’s a blizzard coming. I watched the moon set in a clear sky, setting behind bare birch and maple trees this morning. It was 0°F when I went out to do chores. It felt like 0°F but not colder. No wind, not even a breeze. “Phoebe Phoebe Phoebe” from the chickadees caught my attention. I’ve been reading a lot of excited “_____ happened, spring is coming.” And lots of groaning about cold and snow and winter. You see where this is going, don’t you? Lots of not being present in winter. Alive and well but not really participating in the moment at hand.

The only time you can see a stunning winter sunset is in winter. Right now. Well, unless you’re on the other side of the world… You won’t want a blanket to cozy up with by the fire in August. There will be no snow days in July.

winter sunset, present, be presentYes, spring is coming. In spite of a blizzard that’s going to drop upwards of 26″ of snow on us, bring us 50 mile an hour winds, and build drifts that could reach ten or more feet, spring is coming. So is summer. Autumn is also coming. And so is winter. Next winter is coming. I’ll just duck now while the virtual snowballs fly.

present, snowshoe, JetsledThe chickadees are singing songs that start in mid-winter, the time we’re presently in, and carries into spring and summer. I enjoy the song as it is right now, a mid-winter jingle that makes me smile. The American goldfinches are getting a little brighter now, a sign that daylight is getting longer. My Khaki Campbell ducks are laying, another sign of extended daylight. Yes, spring is coming, but the birds are doing what birds do in the dead of winter. They’re present in the moment.

I’m not dreading the blizzard (but do dread the wind, as always). I’m planning to spend the day writing by the fire, probably without electricity so I’ll write by hand. We’ll get to the work of preparing for it in a little while. The storm will start this evening and not end until early Tuesday morning. It’s a long one. We’ll over fill the wood rack so we don’t have to bring wood in until Wednesday. I’ll fill buckets with water, bring fresh straw and warm water to the hen house just before dark, and make sure the dishes and laundry are done. If the power goes out I don’t want to have a pile of laundry or any dirty dishes in the sink. We’ll be preparing for the near future while being present in the moment.

Be present in winter. It’s here for however long it decides to be so why not make the most of this season? Snowshoe, read, knit, write, binge on television and music. That’s my plan. Plan? More of the garden. Plot shenanigans. Think ahead. Look forward to spring but be present in winter and don’t wish time away, eh?

 

Mac n Cheddar Cheese

Mac n Cheddar Cheese

Mac n Cheddar Cheese

Baked Mac n Cheddar Cheese is a favorite for lots of us. I never tire of it. This is nothing like the bright orange powdered cheese mac that comes in a box. I used Clothbound Chedder from Grace Hill Farm in Cummington, MA. I found the cheese at Boston Public Market on a weekend trip with Taylor to visit Kristin. You should use your favorite cheddar. Or, use Gouda. If a cheese melts well and you like it, use it. You could add a little Mozzarella to make it stringy. I wouldn’t use all Mozzarella but maybe 25% of the total cheese would be great.mac n cheddar, mac and cheese, homemade, macaroni and cheese

Changing it Up

If you want to change up your mac and cheese you can add two teaspoons of dry mustard, or a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. I like to saute mushrooms and onions and add them to the cheese sauce. Remember those “helper” boxed meals you add a pound of ground burger to? You can fry your burger and add it to mac and cheese. Or, how about some slightly steamed broccoli? Variety is good!

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Chicken Marsala – Great with Upland Game Birds, too

Chicken Marsala – Great with Upland Game Birds, too

Chicken Marsala Recipe

When I mentioned to a friend that this week’s recipe is Chicken Marsala she said, “I thought you weren’t going to get complicated.” It sounds a little fancy, doesn’t it. This is a simple recipe. It takes a little time but it’s worth it. The Marsala is wine.

There are a few steps to Chicken Marsala but they’re more time-consuming than complicated. It’s worth the effort! Read the recipe a couple of times if you haven’t made it before. Then follow it step by step and you’ll catch yourself agreeing with me – this is simple. This works well with grouse, pheasant and other upland game birds.

If you’re cooking for a large group you can make this ahead of time. It will warm nicely in the oven. Great served over mashed potatoes or noodles, it’s a recipe most everyone will love.

Chicken Marsala, noodles, On The Fire

Keep Poultry Water Thawed Longer

Keep Poultry Water Thawed Longer

Keep Poultry Water Thawed Longer

Disclaimer: I learned how to keep poultry water thawed longer from Staci at A Chick and Her Garden. Check out her blog. I found her when she shared this method in a Fb group and then couldn’t find her again weeks later. Thanks to Staci for emailing me this morning. I have to tell you how gracious she is – she’s humbled that so many people appreciate her method. I’ve added her blog to my Feedly so I don’t miss new posts. Although I’m not writing many entries here these days I am reading quite a few new-to-me blogs.

I was skeptical. It gets really cold here! The closer the temperature is to 32°F the longer the water stays open, of course, but this makes a big difference as low as 0°F. My ducks and chickens get their water in a Fortex pan in the pen and a small Fortex bowl in the hen house. I doubt this would work well in the solid plastic water with a white top and red bottom that I use in the warmer months.

Fill a 20 ounce drink bottle with 1/4 cup of salt and hot water. Place the bottle in the water pan. It won’t keep the water from freezing but it will keep it accessible longer. It took two days for the birds to figure out that if they pecked at the open water around the bottle they could get to more. The water in the bottle never freezes but the water in the pan does eventually freeze solid on the coldest days.

Switching Bottles

I have two sets of bottles. One set is always in the pans. When it’s very cold I bring the second set in and warm them in the pot of water kept on the wood stove for moisture. The water pans are very cold so I take hot water. By the time it’s poured into the cold pans and the birds are let out it’s cooled down to warm. Instead of making three or four trips a day to the hen house and pen I’m making only two, morning and evening. Animals need to be well hydrated to stay warm most efficiently.

A few people have asked if I’m making the birds less hardy by giving them warm water. I don’t believe so. They’re surviving -25°F nights so they’re certainly hardy. I do believe I’m making those long nights easier by keeping them well hydrated and healthy.

poultry water, chicken water, winter

As simple as this!
Fortex pan, keep poultry water thawed

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Homemade Italian Sausage Recipe

Homemade Italian Sausage Recipe

 Homemade Italian Sausage Recipe

When I look for recipes for sausage I find recipes using sausage, not making sausage. It took me quite some time to come up with our homemade Italian sausage recipe a few years ago. It takes trial and error, and we have to consider the freshness and quality of the herbs and spices we use.

I tucked this recipe away two years ago after we raised a couple of pigs out near the orchard. At that time I asked the butcher to grind our sausage meat for me. It came back in neat five pound packages ready to be seasoned. This year our pig was raised for us and went to a different slaughter house. I asked for our trimmings to be packaged and sent back to grind myself.

homemade italian sausage, recipe, Weston meat grinderThe trimmings had more fat on it than I wanted in our grind so a lot of it was trimmed away. I used the Weston meat grinder we bought when I shot the bear in September for a blend around 80% meat, 20% fat. Once the trimmings are ground it’s time to add seasonings. That’s all there is to it.

We have Italian sausages pan fried with onions and bell peppers during grilling weather. I love Italian sausage in spaghetti sauce, and at Gundy’s suggestion, in meatloaf. This recipe is mild enough that the sausage can also be used at breakfast.

Winter’s Middle – We’ve reached the half-way point

Winter’s Middle – We’ve reached the half-way point

Winter’s Middle

We’ve reached winter’s middle, the half-way point of the season. It finally feels like a real winter this morning. When I went out to let the ducks and chickens out, bring them water and yogurt I don’t like, and a drink of water water that will melt the ice in their indoor pan, it was 0°. Some days zero doesn’t feel bad but today it’s sharp and stinging. I thought I’d go for an early morning snowshoe through the woods to look for animal tracks but came back inside instead. I’ll see how well it warms later on this afternoon.

winters middle, february 2, groundhog's day, imbolcAs I type I’m watching a blue jay resting in the hydrangea bush, recovering from a crash into the window. It’s awfully cold to not be at their best. He breathed hard and hunkered down, and I waited for him to fall off the branch into the fresh snow. The blue jay pictures were taken through a layer of plastic over an old farmhouse window and two pains of glass. I thought they were a lot more clear than they are.
winter's middle, blue jay, February 2

Inventory Day

February 2, inventory day on the homestead. A well-stocked homestead still has at least half of its needs on this day. Firewood? Check. We have more than half of the winter’s supply and all of next year’s cut, split and partially stacked. Vegetables?  Check, but close. The absence of fresh greens and roots from the high tunnel is missed. How I’d love a fresh cut salad with spinach, tender beet greens and winter-hardy lettuces, thin slices of just-pulled carrot and turnip, and onions from the pantry… The snow and rain is washing the soil this winter. We’ll recover it when I decide the soil has had enough spring rain.

Meat? This date doesn’t apply to meat for us. The bear went into the freezer in September, the chickens and partridge in October, turkeys in November, and half a pig in December. I hope we have more than a year’s worth of meat now. I hope in the spring we add four wild turkeys (we won’t, but one or two might happen) to the larder. We won’t hunt for meat again until September when bear season opens again. We intentionally put up more than a year’s worth of meat because I’m not raising any this year.

More Daylight

Daylight is 65 minutes longer now than on Winter Solstice. It’s noticeable and welcome. The ducks started laying again late last week, first one and now two. It shouldn’t be long before there are for or five duck eggs each day, and then for a short time seven. The chickens are doing well too with none of them broody and trying to hatch straw at the moment. It’s the first time since November that there’s been a full carton and more in the fridge.

After a while the blue jay noticed me watching through the window, turned as though to say goodbye, and flew away. I think once its aches and pains are gone it’ll be just fine.

My plans for the day were changed at almost last minute so I’m going to plow through writing work. I’m attending a workshop on Saturday and have a lot of reading and critique left. This weekend’s On The Fire recipe (homemade Italian sausage) has to be written. And there’s a big piece due on Monday that I’ve only scribbled notes on so far. I wish I were at the half-way point of something in the writing work right now. Maybe by lunch!

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Feeding Deer in Winter – Keep it Natural

Feeding Deer in Winter – Keep it Natural

Feeding Deer in Winter

(My February column in Maine Woodlands) Feeding deer in winter is tricky. We mean well but we can kill deer with kindness if we aren’t careful. Farmer’s Almanac said we’d have a lot of snow this winter, and they were right. We had more snow on the ground in December here in Talmadge than we had all last winter. Steve built a new food plot for the wildlife and the deer came. There were three bucks at various times, an older doe that’s usually without a fawn, a doe with twins and a doe with a singleton. Up the road a quarter-mile, neighbors had a doe with quadruplets eating under the apple tree most evenings. Most of the deer moved toward Grand Lake Stream to yard up together but a few stragglers have stayed behind.

The deer stopped eating the forage radish and turnip in the food plot in the last few days of December when a thick icy crust on top of 18″ of snow stopped them from pawing their way to the food. They occasionally walk through the plot and pass by the game cameras. They’re getting thin. Whitetails put on about 90 days’ worth of fat and their 90 days is running out. It’s hard to resist the urge to feed them. Deer will starve to death with a belly full of corn. You can’t change their diet, especially this late in winter without dire consequences.

feeding deer, deer eating cedarWhat you can do is drop a cedar tree for them. If the deer have eaten what they can reach you can bring the food down to them. We did this with good results in April of 2014. The deer returned from their winter yards to deep snow. Two cedar trees tided them over until the snow melted. The snowshoe hares also fed off the trees. The deer will most likely be fine without our help but if you want to give them a hand, keep the food natural.

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Musings on a Mid-Winter Morning

Musings on a Mid-Winter Morning

Musing

mus*ing: a period of reflection or thought. I’ve been musing a lot lately, even more than normal for these quiet winter times.

I seem to be at a loss for good words here right now. I write, think it’s pretty good, and then delete. My winter writing was planned with a four-month long workshop and gathering of creative minds but that’s been cancelled. It’s disappointing but something good is coming. Hang with me until the end. I’ve been musing a lot lately, mostly about the state of the world. I’m grateful for a strong husband who takes care of us and many others, for daughters and sisters I love dearly, and to live where I do in spite of our current “leader.” The work relationships I’m developing are fun and rewarding. Lots of things spinning around in this brain of mine.

Let’s Go Outdoors

I took the dogs out for a walk to get some fresh air and clear my mind before I sat down to write. We started in the food plot. The deer have been gone for a few weeks. There are no tracks or droppings from anything, not even the over abundance of snowshoe hares. The pumpkins are still there, barely nibbled. There’s another coyote, bigger than the last.

musing, pumpkins in snow, food plot

We got enough rain this month that combined with snow melt the pond’s water level up three feet. If the trout survived the low water and early freezing that limits oxygen in the water, they now have a better chance at survival. If I weren’t a klutz I’d be skating!
musing, pond, ice skating pond, homestead pond, small farm pond

Ava, looking for a bunny trail. She didn’t find one. Zoey did her zig zag search and also came up empty.
English shepherd, musing

Red squirrels’ winter stash. I saw apples stashed in trees all around me while we were out. Putting food up is a smart thing, especially these days.
frozen apple, musing, squirrel, stash, winter food

I did a bit of collecting while we were out. Usnea, a lichen commonly know as Old Man’s beard, drops from the trees in winter. Deer eat it as a last resort in winter but since the deer aren’t here I felt free to gather quite a bit. I brought in another moss I don’t know the name of and a handful of small spruce cones. The snow was littered with tiny seeds from the cones.
musing, lichen, old man's beard, usnea, spruce cone, nature

Where and how and with the amount of freedom I have isn’t lost on me. Where and how and with the amount of hate, pain and suffering others live in also isn’t lost on me. The beauty around me, even in the dead of winter when the evergreens are dull and hardwoods bare, and there’s little for color other than the blue jays, isn’t lost on me.

On Writing

Someone good has come my way. I’ve realized this week that I need help with this book I’m writing about this life I’m living in these woods I own. I’ve started working with Brenda, the energetic, creative, encouraging editor and writing coach behind Forest North Books. I’m looking forward to spending time with her this winter. Know that if I’m not here in the blog often it’s because I’m writing “the book” and making real progress. Or I’m staring out the window at the birds in the feeding station. Writing. Yes, let’s go with writing.

I’m starting a few herb and greens seeds today! What are you doing?

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