We have eggs!

Leghorn the Rooster and his happy harem

Leghorn the Rooster and his happy harem

The chicks have reached laying age, and we now have eggs coming out our ears! We have reached the point where no matter how many times a week we have Breakfast for Dinner, we are always running about 2 dozen eggs in the fridge. It’s getting crowded in there! So it’s time to start selling.

This year I’ll have about 3 dozen eggs a week available on a first-come first-serve basis. $3.50 a dozen picked up at the ranch, $4 a dozen if I meet you or can easily bring them to you on my other travels around town. Subscriptions available for less if you want to commit to them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

Call or text first to let us know when you want to come.

Referrals welcome. And if you can collect cartons for me, that would be super helpful!

Thanks, and I look forward to doing business with you.

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With New Eyes

Last look before the laser

Last look before the Laser

Thirty years ago, the summer of Mary Lou Retton and a crazy backyard gymnastics routine in her honor that excused me from the first week of 5th grade while I recovered from a severely broken arm—a little earlier that same summer, I got new eyes.

As a ten year old, I hadn’t even known I couldn’t see. I assumed everyone lived in a bubble of clarity that dropped off about two feet away. But I did notice the TV always worked better for me if I could bring it within the bubble. So I would sit on the floor close enough to touch the screen, enjoying Muppets and Knight Rider and whatever my parents would let me watch, from the very front row of the home theater.

One day my mom took me for an eye exam. I couldn’t read the big E at the top of the chart. Didn’t fully understand there were letters on it at first, to be honest. Mom told me later how mortified she felt as the poverty of my vision became clear. But that was already the hardest year we had faced as a family; my dad’s medical condition had escalated just that spring and she had her hands full just holding our little family together. As a parent now myself, I understand all too well the sense of responsibility a mother carries toward her children, and how hard it sometimes is to pinpoint every potential area of concern and address it promptly. The grace of motherhood is that usually our kids turn out fine despite our human limitations. Good enough that she got me in there when she could.

A week or so later (before the Lenscrafters glasses-in-an-hour days) Mom took me back to the ophthalmologist to pick up my first pair of glasses. According to my new-millennium sensibilities, they were hideous; in 1984, kid-proof glasses had not yet acquired fashion. But better than fashion, that first set of glasses gave me the world.

From the moment I put them on, my perspective on life changed. Things out there, beyond my bubble, were so clear! That afternoon, I remember walking around the backyard marveling at every tree and bird and blade of grass that I could see. I spun in circles, watching the grass beneath my feet blur from the speed, then come back into sharp relief the moment I stopped. The simple thrill of seeing the ground beneath my feet–who knew I had been missing out on this!

I have never stopped being grateful to live in a place and time where the understanding of lenses and refraction allowed me to compensate for poor eyesight and lead a fully normal life. For thirty years, corrective lenses have been enough.

Now I am about to get new eyes all over again, and it seems so much like science fiction. Thirty years after that fateful eye exam, we now live in the place and time of permanent vision correction. Imagination fails to prepare me for what comes after this, because I don’t know what it is to see perfectly without correction.

Tomorrow I will experience LASIK, a now routine, outpatient, low(er) risk procedure. Tomorrow a laser will sculpt the lenses of my eyes so they can see on their own, without correction. This feels intense, because poor eyesight is part of the tapestry of me. Who am I, if not the girl with the glasses? But this is an opportunity to set aside a barrier and take advantage of a technology that seems as close as it has ever been to no big deal. Even NASA and the US armed forces are now doing it, so it must be safe and predictable, right?

A host of what-ifs jostle for dominance in my mind. What if I go blind, is it worth it to have tried for perfection? What if I have a total anxiety attack while looking at the laser? I sure hope that Valium is big enough. What if I find I don’t like being able to see the ceiling when I wake up every morning? What if reading is never easy again? I still the tiny panic, and choose to focus on the good: I will now be prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Tomorrow, my bubble grows again. I am really (really) nervous to look that laser in the eye, but I know I will be on the other side of it so fast. The time has come for a new chapter.

SEE you soon!

Berry Treasure

This year's berries are so big!

This year’s berries are so big!

Just as Texans anticipate bluebonnets as a herald of spring, we wait all year for the dewberries to ripen a month later so we can make jam and cobbler to last until next time. The delicious challenge is that these blackberry cousins are generally not cultivated; rather they grow in bramble patches along fence lines and in empty fields.

Because picking strawberries last week only inspired me, I made a playdate with a mom friend who claimed to live near apparently dewberry mecca. I figured if she over promised, we at least had a fun road trip playday with a houseful of friends. So we piled in the car and drove an hour to the house of our friends who have kids the same ages as all my kids. That’s always a bonus in playdate world.

Instead of disappointing me, she over delivered on her promise. We drove a couple blocks from her house, and for an hour ten of us (8 kids ages 4-12) picked gobs of dewberries from an empty field. When we finally had to break for lunch because of the little ones, I was pleased to have collected 5 pounds of berry treasure.

But then.

After lunch, my friend offered to watch the four youngers, and sent me back to the field with the four big kids for another picking session. Great day, we found a patch with bigger berries! That time out we picked 6.5 pounds of berries. Our playdate went from great to AWESOME!

My helpers in the bramble patch

When we returned with our treasure, my friend surprised us with fresh Dewberry Cobbler for an afternoon snack. Whaaat? It was divine. Not only that, she shared the family recipe with me. That’s a privilege right there. See my hand behind the recipe card? It is stained purple from berry picking. That’s how awesome this rite is, you will brave brambles and stains to collect every last berry you can.

Grandma H's recipe--a treasure on its own.

Grandma H’s recipe–a treasure on its own.

Tonight my kitchen smells heavenly as another cobbler prepares to reward us for making it to Friday. My cupboard overflows with jars of dewberry jam, to add to last week’s strawberry jam. My freezer hides five bags for future pies and cobblers. And my heart is full with the success of having navigated the rapids of this spring’s heavy rainfall and stored up jam for my family for a year.

Cobbler, a sweet reward!

Cobbler, a sweet reward!

Strawberry Fun

May means berry season in Central Texas, and we are enjoying the fruits of the season very much this year.

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The littlest helper fills her basket with ease

Monday we went strawberry picking with a friend, Cathy Cox of Cox Family Farm. For the curious, we visited an organic farm in Plantersville called Jollisant Farms. Between us and the kids, we harvested almost 50 pounds of organically grown berries!

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Everybody helped!

We brought all the berries back to my place and spent Tuesday making strawberry jam for her store. The kids all helped top the strawberries. I washed lots of dishes, then strawberries, then added sugar and berries to two giant pots; then Cathy stirred the pot for two hours while we slow cooked those berries to coax out maximum sweetness. We also enjoyed an afternoon of friendship, while the kids swam and played together.

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Stirring strawberries

Wednesday I enlisted my littlest kitchen helper to process my own strawberries. We turned 5 pounds of berries into 10 half-pints plus a bit left over. My house has smelled like fresh strawberries for days, and I love it.

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Next week we will set out to collect dewberries (a southern blackberry cousin), and repeat the delicious job all over again. Can’t wait!

Aquaculture Experiment: Dribbleponics

Sunday morning at the ranch means leisurely coffee on the front porch with the man, and dreaming about what we want to do around here next. Today, we decided to build an aquaponics prototype. Using our existing fish pond, a few simple supplies we already had, and one quick trip to Lowe’s for a single item, we were able to create a working lettuce garden before dinner. Want to see how we did it?

It's country, but it works

It’s country, but it works

First we gathered supplies. We found the old aquarium pump that’s been knocking around the place for a couple years; the window box basin from my old herb garden; coffee cans that have been piling up and pleading to be reused; a piece of foam from a hot/cold insulated bag that needed to be discarded; and leftover irrigation hose and nozzles from my recent garden irrigation setup.

Irrigation underlayment

He attached the pump to irrigation tubing, then connected a spray nozzle for each container of the system. Here, you see how the nozzle is fastened inside each container. Also, he cut the bottom off of each can to allow for unimpeded drainage and greater root space.

Coffee Can Irrigation Mechanics

Coffee Can Irrigation Mechanics

To modify the lids, he used a circular drill bit to punch holes. (I won’t bore you with the details of our search for that doggone bit). Much later, a spare piece of foam was cut to fit inside the lid. Then we marked the center of each opening and cut a slit from there to the outside edge.

 

The roots from underneath

The roots from underneath

I pulled up 2″ lettuce plants from my traditional garden, and carefully threaded the roots through the slits. Placed the lids on the containers and–voila!–we had a water garden! Thanks to the $14.98 timer purchase, naturally nutrient-rich water from the pond sprays the roots for 30 minutes, then rests for 30 minutes.

Timer with 48 interval options

Timer with 48 interval options

Our system combines two types of closed irrigation. In aquaponics, plants are grown in a soilless medium and go through cycles of flooding and draining. The water ecosystem draws from a fish pond, and the plants and fish each feed off the byproduct of the other. Aeroponics, on the other hand, is a system in which the bare roots are sprayed with nutrient water for 30 minutes of every hour. Using the best of both ideas, we are spraying fish pond water through sprinkler nozzles. It was the solution we could do in the least time, with the least investment. Did I mention we built it all today, with a single $14.98 expense? That’s so much better than our usual.

Predictably, the nozzles were clogged within an hour. Time for a few quick modifications.

By the time we were done, we had discarded the long box in favor of a wood plank. He even added sides for stability on a windy day. Next he removed the nozzles entirely. Now they spray straight up on the foam, which soaks and wicks water down into the roots.

Nozzle removed for a simple steady stream

Nozzle removed for a simple steady stream

I am so impressed with my MacGuyver’s ability to troubleshoot and problem solve. If everyone could do that, the world would be full of happier people. He has even come up with a name for our custom solution, and I think it works.

He calls it dribbleponics. I call it just right.

We even have room for more!

We even have room for more!

The Sentinel

cat in treeWhen spring arrives, the woods around my house sing with birds, each busily foraging, nesting, and otherwise minding its own business–other than the raucous blue jays, of course, who as nature’s security guards are busily minding the business of everything else.

Caution. Danger. Take cover!

Today bestowed one of those rare temperate gems that lure me outside, so I linger on my front porch listening to the birds and enjoying a magnificent spring breeze. My saucy Tortie cat is ready to go inside but I am not. Grudgingly, she waits with me.

Running up the gravel path, the family dog returns from playing with kids in the sand arena; the flustered feline hastily flees up the nearest tree to avoid him. On cue, a gaudy blue jay appears from the tangle of forest to investigate the elevated kitty.

Perching deliberately just out of reach, the jay, whose very posture declares I see you, says nothing for a full minute. Then he starts a regular chirp, soft yet insistent like a ringing telephone.

Chiree, chiree, chiree.

Although I have not heard a jay make this sound before, I easily discern its meaning. In a moment, a second jay swiftly adds his presence to the scene, then a third, then a fourth. All now watch the cat, daring her to make a move.

We see you.

Uneasily, Tortie shifts on her perch, and a single (more familiar) call of alarm–the blue jay’s inborn duty–escapes one of these guardians.

Obviously, the cat has triggered an audit by the early alert system. She stares back at the security guards, unsure how to pursue the birds any higher. Her tail telegraphs frustration. Then in a moment, the tension dissipates. Kitty’s threat to the woods has been rated minimal at this time. One by one the secondary birds return to their other duties, leaving the first sentinel on a branch just out of reach.

In the manner of foiled cats everywhere, Tortie casually gathers her dignity, descends the tree, and returns to the front porch as if that were her plan all along. Losing interest, Jay fades back into the yaupon undergrowth, and I exhale. As expected, the early alert system has performed its job and the woods have been pronounced secure at this time.

Hopewell’s Pride

You could call me a cat person.

My lovely, practical husband helps me avoid becoming the “crazy cat lady”; but I am certain that in later years, if he leaves me alone too long, I will progress to that as well.

For now, this cat person has had a difficult cat week.

We moved to the country with a single, socially awkward housecat. Luna is beautiful, her part-Siamese points blending with a hint of grey tabby for a stunning full-moon appearance. She has the softest fur in the world. True to her Siamese heritage, she despises human contact; but insists on couch-perching just a few inches out of reach. This makes her useless as a pet, in my opinion.

But she’s also not much better at being a cat: on one occasion a few years back we caught a mouse and put her in an empty 75 gallon tank with it. Two hours later we found her lounging, with the mouse running freely over her paws. Another night, I heard a gigantic splash in a darkened bathroom. I had neglected to drain the baby’s bath water, and for some reason she jumped in the tub just to receive the shock of her life.

Luna has proved hilariously inept at keeping her dignity intact, but I love her just the same. Truth be told, it’s kind of nice to share my living space with a creature that wants nothing of me but to keep her bowl filled with dry cereal, and to open the door for her periodically throughout the day.

We started letting our ornamental cat outside for a few supervised minutes at a time, which turned into her training herself to use the outdoors instead of a litter box, and spending occasional nights outside. I’ve considered making her a fully outdoor cat, but I just love the idea that there might be a little furry body in a corner of my house somewhere.

Since moving to the country, we added a pair of barn kittens to make a herd. Or more properly, a pride. It took Luna a few months to get used to company, but they have taught her a lot about catching mice, sharing space with possums and raccoons, and other important cat functions such as being playful, and tolerant of human contact. She has made great progress since the beginning of the year, and the kids and I have all loved the constant playtime waiting for us whenever we step out the door.

Hopewell's Pride

My difficult cat week started Friday morning. Sunny, our energetic boy kitten and the best hunter of the pride, missed morning muster and has not been seen since. My eyes ache to see him. I have tried to tell myself  he’s just gone walkabout, but we do live in coyote country so I have a pretty good idea what’s been keeping him. I keep asking for a miracle, but on this third day my hope is about spent.

Then this morning Luna also missed greeting me at the front door. We did have a big thunderstorm at midnight, and though I looked outside for her at the time she wasn’t at the door so she spent the night outside. And now she’s still absent.

I try to be a big girl about this whole move to the country, but today I’ve lost my nerve. I knew the pursuit of abundant life would bring more exposure to death and loss; but the reality still makes me sad.

Life is full of bigger and more significant challenges than the size of my pride or the life of a single furry friend. We are working our way through the process of becoming a farm/ranch family and will surely grow thicker skin as time goes on.

But today is a hard day.