Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Winter and My Canning Shelves...Where Did It All Go?

Oh my...I get sad when I go to the basement this winter and look at my canning shelves.

Most winters, they're still mostly full!  Jars and jars of tomatoes, salsa, pasta sauce, applesauce, green beans, grape juice, etc.

This is what happens when you lose a couple of months over gardening/canning season.  The shelves get empty really fast.  There are about six jars of applesauce...a dozen or so jars of green beans...a dozen jars of grape juice...a dozen pint jars of tomatoes, and a few jars of pasta sauce, thanks to my Mom who canned some for me in September...


We'll be eating plenty of pickles...


...and I have an abundance of empty jars ready to go for next summer!


No...we are not about to starve or come anywhere close!

We are blessed beyond what we need or want, and we have a freezer full of good home grown beef and some frozen veggies (thanks again to my Mom and my sister for picking, shelling and blanching my lima beans this summer!)

The store bought stuff just doesn't taste nearly as good, and it makes me sad to see the shelves so empty at the end of January.

Monday, January 12, 2015

DIY Dryer Balls...

Have you ever used dryer balls?

Have you ever even heard of dryer balls?  They're those wool balls that you put in with your laundry to help the clothes tumble and dry more efficiently in the dryer.

I hadn't until a few months ago, but I can tell you that I'm now convinced that they work...and that they're ridiculously easy to make!

You start with 100% wool...either old sweaters or wool yarn.  I went with a friend to our local Goodwill store the other day, and scored a pile of 100% wool sweaters for just a few dollars.  Our local store has a "bargain room" where all clothing is sold for $1.39 per pound.  You've got to be willing to dig, but if you have time, it's worth it.

Adult sizes work best, as you get a larger piece of wool to work with...


Lay the sweater out flat, and cut out either the front or the back.  You want to cut off the waist band and cut around the seams, ending up with a large, relatively rectangular piece of wool.

Then begin cutting in a spiral, starting at the outside edge.  I like to cut a spiral about 1 1/2" - 2" wide.  I tried it cutting a more narrow spiral, but I like the finished look better this way.  When you get to the center, leave a small square of wool.  This will be where you begin wrapping...


Bunch that small center square into a ball, and begin to wrap as tightly as possible...


When you're finished...wrapping the wool as tightly as possible as you go...tuck the ends in wherever you can...


The ball on the bottom is what it should look like when you get to this point.  (the top ball is completely finished...just so you can see what the finished product looks like next to it)


Next...put your wrapped wool balls into an old nylon stocking as snugly as possible and tie knots tightly between them...


Then...toss them into the washing machine with some old towels or dark colors and wash in hot water.  Throw them into the dryer (still snug in their stocking) with the wet laundry and start it up.  The hot water and hot dryer "felts" or shrinks the wool and keeps the balls from unraveling.

I recommend running them through several hot wash and dry cycles, to be sure that they're completely felted and that they don't unravel in the dryer.

In the picture below, the white ball on the right is made of wool yarn.  This was one of the first dryer balls that I made, and I wouldn't recommend this method. It was harder to get the yarn to "felt", and was considerably more expensive to make...


I usually toss at least three of the dryer balls into the dryer with my wet laundry.  It shortens the drying time, and helps to prevent static.  You can even occasionally put some drops of essential oils directly onto the balls if you want a lightly scented load of laundry.  (It's a lot less expensive than fabric softener!)

I didn't wash the sweaters first, but that was a personal decision.  I figured they'd be washed in hot water soon enough and get clean that way.  If they are noticeably soiled, wash them in cold water and lay flat to dry before cutting, but don't wash them in hot water yet or they'll be felted before you want them to!

There you have it!  A simple, fun project for a cold wintry day.



Thursday, January 8, 2015

Baby It's Cold Outside...

Brrr...

We've been spoiled this winter with mild weather.  It's the second week of January, and this is the first bitter cold that we've experienced...and it brings back memories of last winter.  Thankfully, it's not to continue for too many days!

Our barn sits on a rise, and has absolutely no protection from the west winds. When the wind blows, it gets really cold on the side of the barn where the heifer pens are.  There's no good way to insulate the water lines over there, so we have to be proactive to keep them open.

Yesterday afternoon the temperatures began dropping and the wind picked up.  We drained water lines on the west side of the barn after evening milking, and headed into the warm house.  We could hear the wind blowing when we went to bed, and we hoped that we wouldn't find trouble this morning when we got up...


This was the temperature at 7:00 this morning...


My main job right now in the barn consists of keeping those water lines open and/or making water available to the heifers.  I run a hose from the main water line in the cow stable to a tub in the outside pen several times a day. There's a tub at the end of the entry way, on the other side of that gate, and the heifers learned quickly where it is...


Jolyn hangs out with me, and often sits on my shoulder while the hose is running...


If water bowls have frozen, I fill calf bottles with steaming hot water...


...and pour the hot water over the water bowl valves to open them up...


The cows' body heat keeps the actual cow stable pretty warm.  It was 60 degrees out there last night at bedtime!  The outside pen water line will probably remain drained for a while yet.  The box pen water lines will stay drained over night, and be opened each morning for a while.  Even the youngest heifers learn quickly that they need to drink when the bowls are open and running!

Meanwhile at the calf hutches...


The youngest calves are kept warm and dry with fresh bedding and they each wear their insulated coats.  I had to bribe this little one to stand still by letting her suck on my fingers.  That was a cold choice...and it's also why she looks a bit goofy.  (The hutch is also a lot bigger than it looks here...)


This was what remained in their water buckets from over night...


We're just thankful that even though it reached the single digits overnight with a windchill in the minus teens, the wind has remained calm today, and that makes all the difference!

Stay warm, wherever you are!  There are only 72 days 'til spring...but who's counting?!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Some Fiddling Fun...

So...this year for Christmas, we got Jenna a fiddling book, at the recommendation of Jim's cousin Durelle, who is a gifted musician.  After our extended family gathering on Saturday, he stopped over...with his guitar...and the two of them had some fiddling fun.

Keep in mind that this is all simple sight reading, and it's their first time playing together.  After all the classical training Jenna's had, it's fun to try something different!

Here are two short videos, just for fun.

The first one is slow...


...and this second one is faster and catches my ear.  Part way through, my memory card got full, so it's rather short...



We're looking forward to hearing more, as time allows.  Maybe I'll have to pick up the guitar and practice a few chords!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Years Babies...

It wouldn't be a holiday without something happening on the farm!

Last night two new calves were born...New Years Eve babies...


 And this morning, another one...a New Years Day baby...


Two Holstein bull calves, and a Holstein/Jersey cross.  They're enjoying their straw beds and their warm bottles of colostrum!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!


Monday, December 29, 2014

Family Time...

It's been a relatively busy couple of weeks here..

The five cows that were due to freshen within a few days of Christmas all had their calves a week or three early!  We had three heifer calves, a single bull and a set of bull twins.  It was nice to have the cows freshen early and get any potential freshening "problems" out of the way before the Christmas festivities began!

Since I've been out of commission, the kids have really stepped up to the plate.  Eric's been getting up early and feeding most mornings before school and helping every day over break, and Jenna's been feeding calves before school and helping more in the barn over break as well.  We also have a neighbor who helps, but we're trying to give him some time off before the kids head back to school.  We couldn't do it without them!

Here are a few pictures of our family Christmas at my parent's house.  It might be family photo overload, but we had fun with a photo booth that my sister set up in my parents' basement.

This is a picture of me, my sisters and my Mom. I don't think she looks like she's 81, does she?  (bottom right)


A silly one...


...and then the girl cousins took a turn...



...and the boys, minus one...


Here they all are, outside after lunch.  The weather was so nice...we actually had sunshine!


And just for fun, we had them line up from tallest to shortest.  The second oldest nephew is "only" 6' 5.5", and the youngest is only 11 years old, so it will be interesting to see how this line might change in the next few years.  I doubt anyone else will become the tallest, but the order of the others might change a bit...


On Saturday night we all went to my oldest nephew's new house to have a hot dog roast and watch football.  The impromptu back rub line could have gone on for a lot longer, in my opinion...


It's been good having family around.  Some have already left, but the others will be here for a few days yet.  I'm feeling a little blue since surgery...feeling really good physically, but a bit out of sorts otherwise.  I think it's probably somewhat related to the fact that I'm not allowed to do some of my regular work, and I feel a little useless.  I'm worried that since I'm feeling good, I'll get careless and re injure my back, which would be bad news.  I guess I need to work on making the house inviting and comforting for those who have to do my work!  I see the surgeon tomorrow for my two week post op visit, and I'm curious to see what he has to say.

I hope you all had a nice time with your families and friends over the holidays!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Catching Up...

Well hello!

It's been a while, but I thought today might be as good a day as any to catch up on what's been happening here.

First of all, I promised that when the new barn cleaner elevator was put in, that I'd post about it. It finally got finished on Thursday morning. However, all I have is pictures of the finished product, not the process.  I wasn't able to be out when they were working on it. It took longer than expected to put it in place because of some glitches, but it's finally complete...


It doesn't wobble or shake...there are no rusted holes for manure to leak through...and it's the cleanest now that it will ever be again!  In case you forget what the old one looked like, you can see it here...


Late this afternoon, I was piddling around the house, doing random clean-uppy things, when I happened to look out the window to see a beautiful sunset. This must be the most photographed view I have...the silhouette of our Amish neighbor's farm to the west...


Soon after, I heard the dogs barking and looked out the window again.  Our neighbor Ruth Ann came on her scooter to deliver a Christmas gift for our family.  She's always so creative.  This looks like something you would see on Pinterest, but of course that's not where she got her idea!  I like it, and I think I might have to copy it sometime.  The bottom jar contains hot cocoa mix...the middle jar contains candy canes...and the top jar contains marshmallows...


And now I'm in the warm house while the rest of the family is out doing the milking and feeding.  I ended up having surgery on my back this week to "clean up" my herniated disc.  By looking at the MRI's, the doctors seemed pretty certain that although the pain had subsided, it would return at some point and so we opted to do the surgery now, when it's not quite as busy for us, as opposed to waiting until it became an emergency in the middle of one our busier times.  It went well. Other than the expected aches and stiffness, I'm feeling pretty good, but have some restrictions on lifting, bending and twisting for awhile.

So for now, I'll work on having supper ready when they come in from the barn, and I'll listen to the Eagles game on the radio.  Right now they're trailing the Redskins by three.  Hopefully that changes!