Since I no longer have a real job, and have allowed myself the freedom to schedule my days, I will now add the writing habit to my regular morning routine. After my morning house and barn chores are done, and I have had my coffee and some breakfast, I will ensconce myself downstairs on my writing couch and write for at least an hour each day. I will free write at least 500 words on anything I choose, then I will edit the previous days writing. I can do this.
Now that I have my distraction free writing space set up, all I need is my laptop, with the wireless off. No dings, no calls, no excuses. Getting up earlier will not work for me, since if I get up much before dawn, my brain takes way too long to function properly. After chores is better. I will not waste time reading emails, or going on Facebook, until after I have finished my writing time.
My New Writing Habit Begins
Most mornings I wake with the sun and then start my work day at about 9:00. I am either out in the pottery, gardening for clients, or at my part time gig, cleaning the church in town. Writing from 8 until 9 should work fairly well. Ok self, 8 a.m. it is. No distractions. I will not be distracted.
Today, we are having a nasty ice storm, which makes me want to stay in bed. The sun is not even getting up, do I really have to? I pull myself from my warm bed anyway, and go through my morning routine, knowing that the critters still need breakfast, especially in this weather. Luckily, the church cleaning can wait another day, but I need to go online and switch back to my old cell phone, and then figure out how to return the new cell phone that can’t get a signal here. No distractions at my house.
Distraction Free Writing
At 1:30, after walking around outside taking cool ice photos, I finally settle down in my writing space and find that I can keep writing for hours. The difficult part is getting a finished piece ready for posting to my blog. I edit, then I re-edit. Two hours later and I am still editing yesterdays writing. Am I the only one who takes this much time? I want to post to my blog at least once a week, but my posts tend to run long and my photos are organized by date, not topic. I had started to sort them into folders by type but ran out of room on my hard drive. Retrieving and renaming pictures from the external drive is yet another chore on my list. I will not be distracted.
I spend 30 minutes looking at Microsoft Publisher, where I had apparently saved some blog posts last winter. Maybe I should use that instead of word? More research. More distractions. This is me trying to stick with an organized writing challenge. I will keep writing. I will not be distracted.
This post was inspired by a writers group daily prompt and was supposed to be about food. I suppose it is, but it starts at the very beginning of a foods’ lifetime. I am not a fancy cook. I tend to cook according to what is available to me now. Dinner will be found either out in the garden, on the canning jar shelf, down in the deep freeze, the pantry, or stored in pots in the garage. I grow a good bit of my food and it is only when I am feeling lazy that I plan a meal around a trip to the grocery store. I hate shopping.
So, to write about food, from the beginning, I started with my constantly growing pile of seed catalogs. It takes a lot of different catalogs to make good decisions about what to grow next. Some have better selections, more interesting blurbs, better photos, cheaper prices, better websites. My mind begins to wander to warm spring days and more interesting dinner choices.
Learn to Fly
It is so easy for me to get sidetracked. I planned to look for seeds to grow as sprouts and winter greens, but when I pulled the drawer out, the “Learn to Fly” magazine grabbed me first. I must have picked this up at the little Leesburg airport when I bought Jeff a flying lesson on his 50th birthday. I sat there and read all about the necessary study materials, ground school, the cost of the instructor and airplane, the flight hours you would have to accumulate… Hmmm. The places we could fly! My dad was a pilot and I love to fly, but it is an expensive hobby and would start us down an entirely different path.
Back to seeds and growing food. Oh, wait. A cup of tea would be nice while I sit by the fire. Better bring in some more wood…Okay, kettle is on. Fire is stoked. Feet are up.
A Scattering of Seed Catalogs
I sort my catalogs into piles. One for fruit trees, and berries, one for poultry, one for fencing and farm supplies, one for perennials and bulbs, and one for garden seeds.
With 21 laying hens, about 45 pullets that will start laying in March and 38 roosters ready to eat, I have more than enough chickens, so those can go back in the drawer.I am looking for sprouts, greens and garden seeds now.
Ahh, the kettle is tick-talking over on the wood stove- time to fill the teapot I made recently. A slice of that apple pie I cooked up last night will taste good with some Earl Grey.
Seed catalogs are great for researching the different seeds I can grow on my fodder shelves. Currently I am growing barley and winter wheat sprouts so the chickens can eat greens this winter. They love fresh greens and it keeps them laying. I have 8 plastic bins in the sequence and it’s an easy morning chore to feed one out, refill it with fresh seeds, and then rinse the other 7. I started buckwheat seed in the empty bin today, left over from the patch I grew for the bees last year.
We humans need some sprouts too, so I started a small tray of leftover Kale seed to soak this morning and I will start some alfalfa (in a jar with a mesh lid) soon. We could clip the wheat for smoothies but I have not done that yet. It only takes a few days for each bin to sprout and then they start to grow tall greens, like little bushy lawns. The roots all mat together and you peel them out of their bin like a carpet. I have the grow shelves by the sliding glass door in the basement, looking east, and have not needed to add lights.
I spent the next few hours studying the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog. They can be expensive but many of the seeds are organically grown, and they breed good varieties for flavor and disease resistance. I grow all my veggies organically although I don’t always start with organic seeds. Cost is a factor, and quite often I end up buying my seeds at the local feed store, a few at a time, even though I pour over all these catalogs in the dead of winter. The catalogs are inspiring and make me think I might actually grow something unusual. Generally, I stay pretty tame in the end.
A actually started reading the catalog in the middle and worked backwards, but here I will put my entries in Alphabetical order.
From Johnny’s Selected Seeds Catalog ,A-G
I planted 150 Asparagus plants the spring before last and should have a good harvest this year. One bed will last for years. I have to get out there, cut the stalks down, and then put some manure on them when I clean out the barn.
I want to grow some kind of Pole Beans that are good fresh, canned and dried. Last year I grew Fordhooks on the (baling-twine-woven) hoops of my mini greenhouse frame. No more bending over to pick bush beans for me! I think I might try a round, brown seeded (Fortex) and a flat white seeded variety (Northeaster) this year. I want to grow an old heirloom variety for dried beans too.
There is a deep red Beet called Moneta that is touted as a mono-germ (one embryo per seed) so it will not have to be thinned as much. You can eat both the greens and the root.
Arcadia Broccoli is good for fall and winter, tolerant of cold and makes a lot of side shoots too. I like to go out and just pick a few shoots for dinner salads.
Diablo Brussels Sprouts are fun to grow and I might try some this year. The little baby cabbages grow from the bottom to the top up a long stem and look alien. The hard part for me is remembering to start them in July so they will be ready in November/ December. They are so good, roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.
I may grow some Cabbage (Storage #4) this year, one that keeps well. I might go back to making my own sauerkraut too. The seed needs to be started in June and I will probably have to grow them under row covers to keep the cabbage moths out. That is why I don’t usually bother. I need to let my chickens in to the garden once I see the worms. It is hard to figure out how to do that and not have them scratch other things up. I see some kind of movable panels in my future. Winter meals of ham, cabbage and potatoes, or pork, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes would be much tastier with home grown cabbages.
Carrots can be a pain to grow because they have to be zealously thinned and weeded, but once they get some growth on them, they are worth it. Bolero is good for storage and looks like a good solid choice. I don’t need anything fancy, or colored, just tasty and a good keeper.
I might grow some Romanesco type Cauliflower this year. Puntaverde is green and does not head to be blanched (leaves tied to cover) when heading up, but it may not be happy when it gets really hot here in August, so I might pass. We don’t use that much cauliflower.
Celeriac (Mars) might be fun to grow this year. It tastes like celery but grows like a beet, and stays tender, which is easier to deal with. I have not grown it since the 70’s.
Sweet Corn is a must and this year I hope I can grow some tomatoes early enough to eat them together. I have been starting my corn under row covers, in early April, the last few years, to avoid the major plague of Stinkbugs, which usually arrive about July 15th. They were not too bad last year though. I think they have hightailed it on south. Regardless, I will plant corn, maybe the Extra Tender and Mautauk, both bi-colors, at least twice and will certainly have tomatoes ready for the second harvest, if not the first. I like the super sweet varieties because the sugars do not turn to starch as quickly. We can put 3 dozen ears in the fridge and it is still good a week later. The old types of corn lasted less than a day.
Right about now is when I tell myself that I should downsize the garden a bit. I have a hard time keeping up with all the weeding and thinning, and then in July it gets really hot, and we go on vacation and it totally gets away from me. Every year. Luckily, even when the weeds look bad, I still get great harvests and manage to put up a lot of food. It is not always pretty out there, but I never run out of things to do. Last year I expanded outside the garden fence, instead of downsizing. I guess we will see. Planting is the easy part.
Diva Cucumbers look like a possibility- and they are seedless and non bitter. I could grow them on the perimeter fence…
Orient Express Eggplant looks good. Long and narrow. I wonder if I could keep the flea beetles away with row covers? Hmmm.
Ah, finally got to the micro greens and sprouts section of the Johnny’s catalog. Looking at the prices, though, I think I will have to search around some more.
I will keep using all the leftover seeds I can find and search around in my cupboards for other possibilities, like lentils, or quinoa. I can clean my cupboards out at the same time. Experiments in mass seed sprouting commencing…now.
And on that note, I am out of chicken feed and need to get to the feed store before it closes…
You finally get your car started and when you get to work you have to search around to find all of the kitchen and wait staff hiding in the walk in cooler, because it is warmer in there than in the kitchen. All the power is off, the heat is off, the pipes are frozen and nobody is getting breakfast. It was minus 25 degreesF that morning. –Wintergreen Resort, Nelson County, Virginia, 1981
You can’t start your car until you first crawl under it with a torch and heat up the oil pan enough that it can move into the engine. 70’s and 80’s in West Virginia
You can hear trees exploding in the woods. 2018
You would rather give birth to your third child on the floor next to the woodstove rather than leaving that warmth to make your way upstairs to the bedroom. -1984, Freshwater Cove, Va
Your horse has ice whickers just from breathing -2018
The ducks feet have frozen to the ice on the lake. -1960’s on Mimosa Lake, NJ
The eggs in the outside fridge have all frozen solid.- 2018
You have to ride your brakes across the creek to keep your brakes from freezing up as you drive the Midwives to a birthing and then you have to carry a torch to thaw them out anyway. -1977, Stewarts Run, WV
You have to get dressed standing practically inside the woodstove. -Lots of winters
All your fingers on your right hand freeze to the metal handle on the sliding glass door, after you have just spent an hour trying to fix the hot tub-out there on that deck- on top of that cold mountain -so other people can party after they come in from skiing
Grey winter days can be challenging. I hate grey. It doesn’t matter if it is the color of a comfy pair of corduroy pants, grey depresses me. Grey skies that go on for days at a time, coupled with extreme cold that keeps me in the house, will eventually drag me down.
For this whole first week of January, not only has it been grey, but the night time temperatures have been down in the single digits, as low as -1 degree Fahrenheit yesterday. During the day it has been hovering in the teens. One day there were winds gusting to 40 MPH from a storm the weather people were calling “the Bomb” which dumped snow all along the East coast. It brought snow to Florida and Georgia, with Charleston, South Carolina getting a foot. We only got about 2 inches of the (at least pretty) white stuff, mostly we just got grey.
Out in the Barn-Chickens
It is amazing to me that my chickens do not seem too bothered by this cold. They have heated water buckets, and I spread hay for dry bedding, but still. I feel my nose hairs freeze as soon as I walk outside to do chores and I have to breathe through my fleece collar. When I open the barn door, the younger chickens are all spread out like a down filled, 84 piece, patchwork quilt.
They are all talking up a storm as I wade through them and refill their feeders. Barred Rocks, Araucanas, Buff Orpingtons and Golden Comets all scramble over each other as I toss some yummy 5 grain scratch on the floor. Then all grows quiet as they work on scarfing it all down. The pan of sprouted wheat and barley I give the laying hens disappears faster than water drops on a hot griddle.
The chickens prefer the long pulls of water they can get from open water, but the one-gallon plastic ice cream buckets quickly freeze solid. The heated waterers have little metal nipples the chickens have to press in with their beaks and they only get a drop or two at a time. Water is better than ice at washing down breakfast though, and the clicking sound of beaks hitting nipple waterers tells me they are drinking.
A Natural Type Horse
My horse, Mara, comes and goes in the barn as she pleases. Her meals of hay and grain are served there, and she has her own heated water bucket, but she mostly prefers to be outside. Her favorite spot is out back with her butt parked up against a big multiflora rose bush.
The morning sun, if there is any, can reach her there and the bush blocks the west wind. She grows a thick coat of fur every winter which does a good job keeping her warm. The only time I lock her in the barn is during ice storms or when we are expecting rain and then a quick deep freeze. There have only been a few times when she stupidly stood outside in the rain, right before a cold wind storm, and I needed to dry her off with a towel so she would not get cold. Usually she regulates herself fairly well, moving naturally between the shade of trees and the sunny open pasture.
I have seen Facebook posts declaring it cruel to not put winter coats on horses. That is ridiculous and must be coming from people who have no actual experience tending livestock. A horse blanket, or coat, prevents a horse from growing a good natural coat of fur and can do more harm than good. Imagine what it would feel like to wear a soggy, wet coat outside in the winter. Supplying a run in shed where your horse can stay dry and out of the wind is what works.
I can see using a fresh, dry blanket to warm them if they occasionally manage to get wet just before a sudden temperature drop. In that case you need to rub them down, dry them off, and get them warmed up quickly. That is why you have to sometimes lock them in the barn until the wet stuff stops falling. I don’t think a blanket should be substituted for shelter.
My horse will occasionally stand outside and get covered in snow just to see if I care, I think. She knows I will go out and brush her off and give her extra hay in the nice, dry barn if I see her at risk of getting cold. She does not like to be locked up in the barn though, so unless it is really bad outside, I let her decide. Last year when we had 42 inches of snow all at once, I locked her up, and the snow sliding off the roof created walls on the open south side. I had already stapled plastic up on the east side, because the storm was blowing in from that direction, so the extra snow wall made it nice and snug in there. Usually our winter weather comes in from the northwest and the barn has solid wood walls on those sides.
White Snow v. Grey Skies
The bad thing about a deep, deep, snowfall is worrying about the weight of all that snow on the roof. A wet snow can be really heavy and could collapse the barn, or the house. I keep a ladder out by the barn so I can get up on the roof and shovel it off if I have to. In the last twenty five years, I have only had to do that twice, but I slept better knowing the barn would not crush the critters overnight. So far this winter we have not had a substantial snow, but we have a ways to go yet.
Today, it is not only a dreary grey, they are calling for freezing rain. The temperature has gone all the way up to 26 degrees F and would probably feel almost balmy, if the sun was out. So I am inside, by the woodstove, doing inside things like cooking, writing, and drinking hot tea. It is not windy and I am starting to see a few snow flurries, which would be way better than freezing rain. Maybe we will have a fresh layer of bright, white snow and the sun will come out tomorrow highlighting a clear blue sky. Here’s hoping.