2016 strawberries

First big bittersweet garden moment of the summer: today we consumed the last of the strawberries that were still in the fridge. Like most things you grow in the garden, you are inundated for a few weeks and have to figure out what to do with it all before it goes bad. Before this and overlapping by a week or so, we also had our asparagus boom, but I’m not counting the “end of the asparagus moment” because I’m just not a huge asparagus fan.

I’m estimating that we got about 50 pounds of berries this year, definitely up from last year. I froze a bunch, made a few batches of jam, made popsicles and strawberry shortcake, gave some away, and of course ate a bunch right off the plant. Oh, and Steve made a trial batch of strawberry mead with the remaining honey we had left from last year.


I think this is the day we were out picking until almost dark, and I had already picked a bunch that morning.lots_of_berries

Teacher gifts:jamBest popsicles ever!popsicleWe’ll miss eating those fresh, sun-ripened berries for sure!

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We planted kind of a lot of garlic in the fall, mostly hard-neck, but also a couple rows of soft-neck. It’s pretty easy. You just plant individual cloves. We usually save some bulbs from the previous year to plant. The two rows on the left in the photo below are the soft-neck type (don’t know the exact varieties anymore), which are smaller partly because many of the plants got eaten by cutworms in the spring and partly because they do not do as well in cold climates (something I just learned). So perhaps we will just stick with the hard-neck type or decide based on a taste test.

The hard-neck varieties produce a stalk called a scape (so hard not to say snape, like Professor Snape), which would eventually become a flower if left to grow. It’s common to cut them off so that the plant sends more energy to the bulb.
garlic2 garlic3 garlic4

In previous years, we have only eaten a few like you would use a green onion, but this year I made all the scapes into pesto (garlic scapes, olive oil, parmesan cheese, salt, lemon juice in food processor) so as not to waste them. Almost all of it went into the freezer since it is super potent. This was quite possibly the most exotic food I have ever made.

Steve dug up the soft-neck garlic today since the leaves had started dying and some had fallen over. Here they are freshly washed and set out to dry. Many of them were decent sized bulbs, so we were quite pleased!
garlic6 garlic7 garlic8

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I didn’t really like this song in the beginning, when she first chose it for this year’s recital piece. After hearing it countless times though, it grew on me. I could imagine a complete storm in my head, literal or figurative, from the increasing darkness and pouring rain to the clouds breaking, rain letting up and light shining again. It makes me think about the relationship between music and emotion, not quite knowing which creates the other, the sound or the feelings.

I love to hear and watch her play, especially since it is something she loves to do. I hope she will play for me when I’m old.

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around here

A few of my favorite photos from May & the first part of June around here.
2016asparagus2016strawberriesbee_yellowcloverbaby_peaches4eggs raised_bed_berries

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chicken math

It’s been a little over a year since we got our first chickens. Since then it’s been a bit like a math story problem. It goes like this:

A family started out with six chicks. Over the next few months, two of them were eaten by a fox. Then they acquired three more chicks, but two of them were roosters, which were eaten by the family. Several months later, the family got six more chicks, but as they grew the family realized that at least two were roosters, possibly up to four. Meanwhile, one of the original hens suddenly died without any symptoms. Wanting to have about a dozen hens eventually, the family got six more chicks, all believed to be females. How many chickens does the family currently have?

Let’s start with the oldest, which we call the “large chickens,” all hens (2 Rhode Island Reds + 2 Buff Orpingtons, 3 of which are from the original group):


Buffy, Little Red, Irridessa, Queenie

Sometimes if we are gone most of the day or don’t get out to look for eggs, we find this:


I always wonder how they decide which nest box they are going to lay an egg in, and if there’s a line on days like this, just like a busy bathroom.

Next are the “medium chickens” (3 Speckled Sussex + 3 Blue Laced Red Wyandotte, now 10-12 weeks old):medium_chicks medium_roosting1 medium_roosting2

Steve built a small separate coop since they had outgrown the crate in the garage and were too small to throw in with the large chickens. We have just started letting them out of their coop when we are able to watch them outside. They have beautifully colored feathers, especially one of the speckled sussex roosters named Hookbeak the Bold (a pirate-like name given because his top and bottom beaks don’t line up perfectly and he was the first to jump out of the coop). It’s up for debate whether or not we keep him.

Hookbeak1 Hookbeak2

Now for the “small chickens.” There are six, hopefully all females (2 Isa Browns + 2 Golden Laced Wyandottes + 2 Americaunas/Easter Eggers, now about 3 weeks old):


This Isa Brown baby is the most easily held. She pretty much walks into our hands while the others run away.

I don’t think we can go to any of the farm stores for a while or we might end up with a few more.

And if you haven’t figured it out yet, the answer is 16!

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season’s greetings


“Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”

Season’s Greetings to our friends and family!

When I stand on our bridge and look out at our stream these days, it doesn’t look nearly as pretty or peaceful as when covered with fresh snow, but we’ll take the warmer weather while it lasts.

As always, the year seems to have slipped by in no time, despite the feeling of having all the time in the world at the start of each new season. I don’t think I’ve ever written a “Christmas letter” and don’t always get cards sent, but always enjoy keeping in touch with  those we don’t see often. So, here’s my attempt at a little update:

Natalie (14), has been busy with piano, choir, school musicals, and is just starting Science Olympiad for the first time. Cale (9), loves to read, roam around outside with his imagination and a stick of some sort, and has been taking karate lessons for the past year.

Steve has been self-employed and working from home for the last 18 months and is busy with all kinds of projects around here, from chicken coop building to beekeeping to garden expanding to mead (honey wine) making to firewood cutting. His flexible schedule has also allowed him to volunteer his time in helping others.

I am most often found looking after the chickens (which are incredibly entertaining and checking for eggs still hasn’t lost it’s thrill), taking photos around our property and documenting our happenings, baking just about anything, and generally searching for what I should be doing with my life.

Wishing you all the hope, joy, peace and love this season brings.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2016!

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A common thread

Today marked the end of an era in our household, as an otherwise unassuming little item moved on to a new home, and its legacy and impact on us is now just a memory. Things of this world aren’t really all that trapping to me, but this one has a deep and rich history bringing together numerous friends lives in ways I never imagined. This, then, is a tribute to the little red rifle (it was pink, but became red, as you’ll read), and those who have been a part of its story while it was ours.


DSCN1183It all begins with me wanting to share something I enjoy doing with the wee bugaboo,
Natalie. Around her 5th birthday, Gander Mountain had a sale on a “youth sized rifle,” which happened to come in both black and pink. Given that a pink-stuff theme was alive and well in our lives at that time (little girl and all that), I pounced. Natalie now had her own single-shot, bolt-action 22 Long Rifle chambered rifle. The trigger was not too bad, and the action was pretty easy to operate (it only took her a little while to figure out how and muster the strength to pull the firing-pin plunger back on her own). All was pretty well, but she had trouble seeing through the peep sights, and who really likes iron/peep sights with fancy optics available in spades? So, I decided it needed something, like a small red-dot sight. The problem was that the rifle itself had no clean way to mount such a device, and no sufficient aftermarket accessories were available to help. Cue the man with the means who chose to fill the need.

The Work of a Craftsman

DSCN1487At the time, a coworker of mine had also become a friend—rather a great friend—with which I shared a common passion for shooting sports. We spent many an hour at the range firing a variety of weapons at steel plates, eventually getting around to timed competitions for 6-plate knock-downs with .22s. I think I still hold the record at right around 2 seconds from buzzer to last shot, but needless to say, we had loads of fun over the years. Well, he also was supportive of this new father-daughter venture that I was trying to start, and happened to have both the skills and the tools necessary to hand craft an optic mounting rail that fit the pink rifle. Long story short, several hours of precise measurement, equipment prep and machining later, the pink rifle now had an optic rail capable of supporting commonly available red-dot optics. What is clear now, but was not then, is how far that one act of generosity and kindness would reach dozens (perhaps triple digits) of others. It may not seem like it matters, but having a red-dot on that little rifle lowered the barrier to entry from having to learn how to focus on a front sight while looking through a rear peep sight and aligning all of that on a target, to simply lining up the dot on the target. This, then, enabled many first-time shooters to have successful interactions with a rifle, which typically had the effect of making them smile ear to ear, but more importantly I believe it demystified firearms for them (which is known to reduce the likelihood of a curiosity-induced mishap), gave them a confidence boost (successes do that, and kids need them), created a great memory (think like Pixar’s Inside Out: a fun event with mom and dad [typically] where they did something brand new, that involved shooting stuff, and they did awesome), and through all of that likely made them less apt to mindlessly adopt the opinion of the hordes of influencers that will, for the rest of their lives, try to convince them that guns are evil.

Time Together

DSCN3932The next several years passed with a dad and a daughter he loves more than life getting an occasional chance to hang out, just the two of them, shooting, collecting missed clay pigeons from the trap range, setting them up and shooting them, rinse, repeat. Our typical hangout was a 300 yard rifle range in Byron, MN where I would do all the necessary preparations for Natalie, but after that hand it over to her, and she ran the rifle like a champ until she either ran out of ammo or targets. In the mean time, I would go about my business planting lead for future generations to harvest. Sometimes we’d stop by the ice cream shop on the way home, and I like to think in the end that she realized I cherish her, am proud of her, and believe in her ability to do anything she sets her mind to. Perhaps, though, she really just remembers the clay pigeons and the Oreo flurries.


IMG_0387Somewhere along the line, two things happened: Cale was born (this one has a definite date associated with it), and Natalie developed a love for the color red. Realizing that it just won’t do to have Cale eventually firing a pink rifle (planning years in advance, I know), but also playing to Natalie’s tastes, I painted the stock of the rifle red. A very shiny and tasty red, in my opinion. This had the side effect of eliminating the hesitation-causing “boys can’t use stuff that’s pink” dilemma for others who crossed our paths. During the time we owned this rifle, I used it as a “shooting station” in a couple of youth-centric events, permitting kids to put it to use (under my tutelage) to shoot some targets in a fashion similar to what Natalie typically did. The color change was a boon for these times for the aforementioned reasons, but it was also something unique… a bit more “ours” and not just an off the shelf product.

Wide Impact

IMG_0015Where and when the reach of this little rifle really grew was circa 2009 at a family picnic and shooting extravaganza that I and another fella put on for folks at the home of some good friends. They had the space and safe location for such activities, but more so had (have) hearts that welcomed us like we were their own kids. Age-wise, it’s not quite right, but they could almost be our parents. They sure treated us like family, anyway, and on this day (like many more), they extended that treatment to a host of others. There’s a back-story that fills in more of the motivation for this event, but the pertinent part is that anyone who was willing and able to could choose from a variety of weapons and (again, under supervision) engage targets. The specifics are a bit fuzzy now, but as an example of what transpired, I believe in that one day an entire family of 6 (or at least 5 of the 6) fired a gun for the first time. 3-4 of them used the little red rifle. Many others did the same.

Changing of the Guard

DSCN6860Eventually, we moved from MN to MI and finally had a shooting range of our own (sort of). Natalie had more or less outgrown the little red rifle, but Cale had grown into it. On a cold day in 2012, Cale took up the red rifle and splattered his first “jug” (OJ, in this case). He, too, learned to use the rifle well, though he had less time on the trigger than his sister. He’s a meticulous detail guy, and he is great at getting the gun to rest in the rear bag so that the natural point of aim is on target. I’d like to claim credit for teaching him that, but he really just did it on his own and I had the miraculous burst of wisdom that kept me from getting in the way trying to “improve” on what he was doing. In time, that’ll come, but for now, he’s got it enough to enjoy it.

We used this rifle here and there over the next couple of years, and then finally took it to the Marksmanship Training Center for a “family day” that I and another member put together. The idea was that the range was effectively closed for that day+night so that members and non-members and their kids could shoot together, camp together, etc.. The longer story is still a good one (and it involved ice cream), but the shorter version is that Cale used the little red rifle for approximately the last time then. A good friend was present with his kids, and it turns out that it was just about perfect for them. They used it, loved it, and it really just fit with them given their age and size. Cale, being able to use the rifle that Natalie moved up to (which happens to be “dad’s”), didn’t need to hold on to the red rifle any more, so we made it clear that if they wanted it, we could work out a deal. Well, today, October 11, 2015, that deal transpired. We all fired a few more rounds at some very satisfying-to-hit steel targets, and then sent it home with its new owner(s). In a sense I feel like Frodo Baggins in The Return of the King: handing off the Red Book of the Hobbits to Sam… “The last pages are for you.”

In Closing

It is just a thing, in the end, and it is part of a world where things deteriorate and are gone, but in the case of this little red rifle, an otherwise unassuming object has been the catalyst for a number of great memories spanning a large number of families. It’s not always been my mindset to consider things as consumable and use them without worrying about scratches, dings, etc., but someone once demonstrated to me that “stuff” isn’t really anything special if it isn’t used to bring people together, build bonds, make memories, etc. Well, it didn’t get scratched or dinged (I am who I am, after all!!), but it did build bonds, make memories, boost confidence, win over the unsure, etc. Perhaps it would have done all of that without that “fancy” red-dot mounted on it… but I honestly don’t think so. The ease of use is what made it approachable. JLF and his work making that special little mount is, therefore, the cornerstone on which nearly 10 years of incredible memories were built, and I am indebted beyond measure.

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the pen

In order to avoid another fox vs. chicken incident, the chickens had to lose some of their  freedom and are now relegated to the pen. We’d been planning to move their coop further away from the house anyway, but ended up choosing a different location. Steve, with some help from his dad, did the hard work of putting in the posts and fencing. As usual, I document stuff.

pen1 pen2 coop

The older chickens who had seen the “world” usually feel desperately trapped while the 3 younger ones (now 17 weeks old) who had previously been contained all their lives think it’s a great playground. A big bonus is that we no longer have chicken poop everywhere!

reds dust_bath 3buffs

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After our last honey extraction in August, Steve put some of the frames with empty honeycomb back out for the bees to clean up. They eat all the remaining honey until it is pretty much pristine.


cleaned up comb


close up

This comb was then scraped off the frame and we melted, filtered, and molded it. It’s a messy process and it’s best to use old pans that are dedicated to wax from then on because you can never seem to clean it all off. An outdoor sink with hot water would be handy to keep wax from going down the drain. We’ll have to add this to the wish list.

The wax, produced by worker bees, melts around 143-147° F and is best heated slowly so that higher temps don’t discolor it.


molded wax

If anyone needs some wax for homemade lotions or lip balm, let us know. We’re trying to figure out the best form for ease of processing and selling small quantities.

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A few weeks ago a fox took another of our chickens. This time I actually saw the fox coming out of the woods in broad daylight, right at the edge of our driveway, on the tails of two chickens who made it back safely. I yelled and it turned around reluctantly, but managed to find Tira (short for Tiramisu, the dessert, but I like Cale’s spelling better – see pic below) further out in the woods.

Of our original six chicks, two were Isa Browns, both taken by a fox (not sure if it was the same fox). The first one we lost earlier in the summer, and while it was upsetting, it was nowhere near as sad as losing Tira, probably because she was younger, hadn’t started laying eggs, and we weren’t as attached to her. We hadn’t even named her yet because we couldn’t tell the difference between the two Isas.


The two rust & white colored chicks were our Isa Browns.

Tira was our first egg layer and had gotten to the point of reliably laying a large brown egg every morning between 8:30 and 9:00. She was also very curious. For most of the summer Steve had mitre saw set up in the garage for various projects and we could not keep her from jumping up there. She was obsessed. Unfortunately we don’t have a good picture of this. Eventually he put a towel up there and we thought maybe she’d lay an egg there.


Tira’s first egg, about 2 weeks earlier than we expected, so we didn’t have a nest box set up in the coop yet.

We actually don’t have a recent picture of her, only this one with the other chickens that Natalie took.


Tira is on the right.

The day it happened was shortly after my surgery, so I couldn’t go walking through the woods to look for her and Steve was on his way back from up north. We weren’t sure if she was hiding somewhere really good, but we suspected she was gone. He did find a clump of feathers and lots of tears were shed.

Shortly after, I looked out the window to see everyone watching (and guarding) the other chickens out front. I didn’t open the door because I didn’t want them to know I was taking this picture.


The other chickens often hang out in the Front Circle, as we call it.

Later that night, Cale must have still been thinking about it, because he had been upstairs drawing without us knowing about it. He came down to show us this (pretty much the reason for this whole post):


I adore everything about this, especially Cale’s spelling of Tira’s name.

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