I promise, I’m not going to become a mommy-blogger. But let me just say this: when a 4-pound mini-human makes her home in your abdomen, promising with each passing day to make her debut through your…well, you know…it’s hard not to become preoccupied with the idea of having a baby. It’s an even harder reality to ignore when you have amazing friends that insist on throwing you a baby shower and celebrating your transition to parenthood.
In honor of the hot air balloons that fly above our house in the warmer months (you can see them over the yard from the baby’s room, above), we decided to go with a hot air balloon “theme” for the nursery. Back when we didn’t want to find out the gender, it seemed apropos - sweet, but not cloyingly so, fun without being babyish. There’s truly something enchanting and nostalgic about hot air balloons, I think. And our dear friends Glenn and Ashley so beautifully incorporated our theme in the shower. Here are some highlights from a really fun day:
Our glorious host and dear friend, Ashley, preparing some paleo-style cupcakes that the hubby could enjoy. If you are ever offered a party at the home of Ashley English - SAY YES. You are guaranteed amazing food, equally enchanting company, and the occasional raunchy joke when the toddlers are out of earshot. Balloon centerpieces brought the room together, and very excited grammie-to-be takes photos!
I almost cried when I saw the cupcakes - they looked like balloons floating above clouds! This is me insisting that the hubby take some photos.
The food was potluck style with a Spring theme - lots of asparagus, peas, ramps and rhubarb. Amazing. And I got to go first!
Then we opened gifts, played games, visited with our incredible friends and family, and felt fully showered and loved. We don’t throw ourselves birthday parties or do much for special occasions (we forgot to go out to dinner for our anniversary this year. I mean, it was on a Wednesday), and the last time we celebrated with our friends and family was our wedding four years ago. So it felt pretty extravagant to be honored in this way. We left feeling so grateful - for the beautiful place where we live, the amazing people already in our lives, and the wee one about to join us.
What a week in the world of beekeeping around here!
After spending the winter gazing longingly at the empty beeyard, we scheduled the pick up of our 2013 nucleus colony last Thursday. Being very knocked up lately, we agreed that the beekeeping duties this year would fall on the hubs - both protecting me from potentially dangerous stings and building up his confidence behind the veil. We also agreed that one hive was enough to get us through the year; it’s our 3rd year of beekeeping, and we have a good sense of what to look for. One would cut it.
But now we have three. Here’s how that happened…
The story of swarm #1 is messy.
A friend and fellow urban beekeeper was posting some gorgeous pics of her swarms on Facebook this past week, and I casually commented that if she needed a home for some swarms, we’d snatch them up. In years past we haven’t been so lucky to become the new home for free bees, so we didn’t have our hopes up, but this year was different. She called us up on Wednesday afternoon and we dropped everything to run out to her place to catch a little swarm. Frustratingly nestled in the crook of a tree, they weren’t out of reach entirely, but they weren’t easy to catch either.
They tried shaking the bees.
They tried brushing the bees.
Finally, they just sawed off the crook of the branch and carried what remained to the waiting cardboard box. They were irritable, as swarms go. I’m sure the shaking and brushing and sawing didn’t help matters.
As the time passed, the weather grew ominous. Rain clouds threatened, and the air started to chill. We knew time was short, but this was a stubborn swarm. We couldn’t find the queen, but we knew she had to be clustered somewhere near the tree’s elbow. And when it comes to swarms, making sure you get the queen is key.
We taped up the box just as it began to rain. We packed up the car just as it began to pour. We thought the Gorilla tape would hold, but as we drove onto the interstate’s ramp, I noticed there were a few wayward bees flying to the back of the Forrester’s window. I wasn’t nervous (we usually lose bees in the car when we’re transporting nucs), but then we hit a wall of traffic and four lanes at a standstill, just half a mile from our exit. Every passing minute released more bees into the car. And the rain did not relent.
And we were totally missing our birthing class’s hospital tour. Priorities, right?
We finally made it home, and the hubby did a fabulous job of dumping the swarm into a waiting hive. They seemed to take to the aroma of our old brood comb overnight, and have stuck around since. An inspection this afternoon unfortunately did not prove that a queen inhabits the hive at the moment, but we’ll give her a few days and see if she successfully mated. We did find about 5 square inches of fresh comb, packed with nectar, so we know they’re very industrious girls.
Swarm number two was easy peezy, lemon squeezy. It couldn’t have been more different.
This morning the hubby got a call from our dear friends just down the road. Their hive had swarmed, as they reliably do each year, and settled on the ground in a stinging nettle patch. The cluster of bees must have been the size of a basketball. It was massive, and they were calm. It probably weighed about 3-4 lbs, the current weight of our 30 week prenate (though I’m carrying around a lot more extra weight than that, but there’s a story for another day). There was no shaking, flinging, brushing or sawing necessary…the hubby simply scooped them up by hand and placed them into an empty swarm trap, ready to come home.
We watched and chatted as the bees marched into the swarm trap, allured by their queen’s pungent pheromones. Other bees in the swarm, aware of the queen’s presence, helped their sisters by fanning the queen’s pheromones to the lost and confused. Lined up like spectators at a marathon, these bees stuck their butts in the air, fanned their wings and seemed to declare, “Nice work, sisters! You’re heading the right way! She’s right in here!” I’ve never seen anything like it.
It was a beautiful, glorious sight.
And now our weekend ahead has us stopping by the beekeeping store (I LOVE having a beekeeping in our town), and stocking up on some equipment for the latest swarm. Not a bad way to spend an April weekend on the homestead.
Meet the homestead’s new Fab Four! In keeping with our poultry tradition around here, we named them all after ladies (and a gent) featured in Beatles songs.
Julia is our sweet little Welsummer chick. She’s tiny, timid and you just want to snuggle up to her. Like her namesake song suggests, Julia’s a pretty good lookin’ gal.
Jude will be our homestead’s new rooster. As a Light Brahma, he’s already towering over the other girls, fearlessly protects his chicks, and struts his stuff like he rules the roost…at barely 2 weeks old!
Polythene Pam is such a little shit (and yes, she does look like a man). Unlike her breed (Silver Laced Wyandotte) she’s loud, bossy, and shows no one mercy. Her favorite thing to do is perch - on my hand, on the feeder, on the top of the water font, the edge of the cardboard box…
And finally, you have Michelle. She’s our belle. She’s a Cuckoo Maran, a French breed (which seemed fitting, don’t you think Beatles fans?). She’s had a rough start to life, struggling to stand and appearing ill, but we think she’ll make it.
The downside to keeping chickens that lay such beautiful eggs? You get really lazy when it comes time to dye them. Happy Easter everyone!
This past weekend, the hubby and his dad helped set up our rabbitry away from the house. Rabbit manure is garden gold, but bunny urine is the most caustic natural material I’ve come across on the homestead. I have to admit, it was pretty awesome to not be doing everything outside myself (the garden and homestead is typically my terrain). Being 6 months pregnant makes moving several hundred pounds of rabbit hutch a little harder than it used to be!
We’re trying out a few different styles and designs of rabbit hutch, and each have their pros and cons. The one on the left and the one in the middle are Amish built hutches, the long one on the right was made by a local rabbit raiser about an hour away. The Angoras are currently in the left hutch, and all three New Zealand meat rabbits are in the local hutch, with a wire divider between the boy and girls. We’re setting up the center hutch as the breeding barn for the two New Zealand does and the long one will be the bachelor pad for the buck (and as we put all three to use, I’ll write a review of which we like best and why. I do love writing reviews!).
So the set up went pretty well, with only one hiccup that had the hubby trembling in his Wellies. Until they reach sexual maturity at about 6 months of age, male and female bunnies can chill together without repercussions; they like the company and the time to snuggle and groom each other. At about the 6 month marker, though, they’ll start doing whatever they can to become…”intimate”…in other ways. It’s about that time around here, so we brought in the last hutch and started setting it up.
In the process, the hubby had to temporarily house the bunnies in two cardboard boxes - the buck in one, and the does together in the other. He cross-folded the tops of the boxes and placed them side by side. Once the hutch was in place, back he went to get the rabbits and he opened the box to a surprise. The buck was gone. Just vanished. There were some parts of the cardboard that were soggy and clearly chewed, but otherwise, both boxes were just as he left them - with the flaps folded and everything. The hubby started to panic, knowing the wrath he’d face from his pregnant wife at the news of having lost a rabbit.
His dad started the search in our woods and encouraged the hubby to put the does away and finish the set up. But when he opened the does’ box, he found another little surprise: there was our buck (formerly called Rodney Dangerfield, btw) was snuggled up next to his ladies. Faced with the choice of infinite freedom or the company of his gals, he chose to stick around. Romantic? Maybe. Opportunistic? Absolutely. It was certainly a rare endearing moment on the homestead. Either way, I think we may change his name to David Copperfield.
Clearly, I couldn’t wait for summer to bring home a baby, so meet one of our new additions! This little guy will grow up to be the gorgeous Light Brahma rooster that will protect our flock.
And yes, he did shit on the table.
Oh, the mason jar. A solid, utilitarian little piece of kitchen ware that I simply can’t live without. We had a few stragglers when we first moved to North Carolina; remnants of jams and cookie mixes we had been gifted with over the years. But it was when I started canning in the fall of 2009, when quick runs to the grocery store for yet another 12 pack of wide-mouth pints (while the canner bubbled and boiled on the stove) were a regular occurrence, that the Ball mason jar made its way into our kitchen as a staple. Like any other obsession, it started out innocently enough. At first, the jars were just used for canning. As we found them immensely convenient (we had literally dozens sitting around the house any any given time), we started using them for more scandalous purposes….as vessels for gifts, dry food storage, leftovers….even non-food items like buttons, and paperclips…crazy, I know!
It wasn’t until the coating on our drinking glasses began to peel that we realized we needed a safe alternative for drinking at home. A few odd jars (like the ones with the smudges and glue residue from labels that never truly came off) made it into rotation for juice and water. Then I started taking quart jars to work with me, receiving endless jokes about moonshine and white lightening all the while. We permanently made the switch to drinking out of canning jars last summer, just before I got pregnant. I made a comment to the hubby how nice it would be if Ball made tinted colored jars just for fun - it had become so difficult to tell the drinking jars apart from the canning jars (oh, the hardships of country life).
Then I saw this bad boy and couldn’t resist:
Ball listened! My country prayers were answered! Vintage styled! Safe! Made in the USA! What more could a girl ask for? I ordered a few boxes and they just arrived today. They are a bright, beautiful blue and I can’t wait to start drinking from them. Never again will we have to figure out if a jar was used for pickles, or yogurt, or if it will taste like either (or both) when we drink a glass of water. Hip hip hooray for Ball’s blue jars!
1. Until I was in high school, my grandmother drove a cherry-red two-door Camaro, and dropped me off to elementary school in it every day. After she got off her night shift as a nurse in the psych ward, of course.
2. When I was 14 and decided to pierce a second hole in my ears, grandma thought it looked cool and decided to pierce a second hole in her ears. Only she didn’t go to Claire’s or some wimpy place like that - she pierced them herself. Because she’s a total badass.
3. She texts. Not only does my grandmother still work the 12-hour night shift at a psychiatric hospital, she texts me while doing it. Granted, they’re long diatribes about the gossip of small-town living, but she responds promptly and uses abbreviations. Who did what?! LOL, grandma, LOL.
4. Though naturally a brunette, she has fire-engine red hair. And has for my entire life. To match the Camaro, perhaps?
She’s the coolest grandmother that ever lived.
For snow days.
(Henry Bursill, 1858)
After nearly a year of coddling, fertilizing, re-potting and pruning, we have our first (and only) homegrown Meyer lemon. The $80 lemon.
Lots of homegrown food tastes better than store bought, but was this one worth it?
Note to self: just go buy a damn Meyer lemon next time.
The year 2012 was nothing short of a roller coaster ride, in our personal lives as well as on the homestead. Here are a few of our accomplishes and shortcomings from the year:
Next year, I’ll kick off my third decade of life, become a mother if all goes well and hell, maybe even write a book. Oh, and I’ll definitely make that lavender peach butter I made last year. It was so good.
2013’s gonna be pretty amazing.
Today we lost a sweet, feathered, fowl friend. Penny Lane, one of our two Rhode Island Reds, spent her last hours warm, and hopefully comfortable, in our guest bathroom today. The hubby found her with a very bloody and mangled comb yesterday and isolated her in the tractor right away. We treated her outer wounds the best we could, but we suspect she was sick in another way. She seemed to be broody for the last week or two, spending much of her time secluded to a nest box. She had also recently gone through a molt (where a chicken loses all of her old feathers and regrows new ones) so we wondered if her system was taxed from that process, too. We won’t know for sure what ailed her, but we know that it was her time. We gave her a good life while she was with us and have been grateful for her cheerful presence and curious personality every day.
We’ll miss you, Penny. RIP.
Murray Christmas, y’all!
A very Homesteader Christmas
I absolutely love where I live. It took me over three long years to get to this place of love and appreciation for Asheville, but I’m here. It isn’t that Asheville is inherently uncool (quite the opposite, in fact). We’ve just had a hard time of it in the move from Brooklyn to the Back Country. But with a great new job, projects rolling in for the hubs, and homesteading falling into place, I’m finally excited to call this place home.
This Saturday morning found us lazily making our way to breakfast with the in-laws. We frequent a cute brunch place on the east side called Cafe Azalea, and yes, they’re awesome cause their food is awesome. But they’re also awesome because they source nearly everything locally. After gorging on rosemary buttermilk biscuits (made in house, of course) with local raspberry jam, and NC shrimp and grits with local goat cheese, we made our way to a sweet little homesteading shop called Small Terrain. I want my mudroom and garage to look like this shop. They carry everything from gardening, chicken-keeping and beekeeping supplies to hard-to-find canning jars, organic manure, dried organic herbs and so many homesteading books, I’d think I’d died and gone to heaven. I’ve been chatting with the owner, Natalie, for a few months now, and it looks like we’ll set up some time this spring for me to lead workshops at Small Terrain on a few homesteading subjects near and dear to my heart.
But I can’t walk into a store like that and not walk out with anything. Since I saw pics of her shop on a certain social networking site, I’ve been drooling over her selection of candle-making supplies. So I brought a small bounty home with me. An hour on this Saturday afternoon has been spent with this loot:
In case you weren’t sure, this is my idea of a thrilling time. Ready-to-use candle wicks; squat mason jars; natural, untreated and unadulterated beeswax — in two forms! (who knew they made beeswax into small pelleted form!?). It’s time to make some candles, y’all.
Usually, I prefer to do things the most natural and traditional way imaginable (read: the hard way), but I just don’t have the time or energy these days. In walks pelleted beeswax. This little project was so unbelievably easy, it doesn’t feel like a homesteading project in the least. Here’s what you do:
Make ‘em for holiday gifts, school projects, power outages or just sheer boredom. Your kitchen will smell amazing!
*Some candle-makers swear by using two small wicks instead of one large wick. If your jars are wide, such as the Ball jelly jars above, consider using two wicks. It’s trickier to get them to stay in place while “cooking”, but two wicks will heat the wax more evenly across the surface of the candle while burning. This results in less wax waste when the candle is kaput and a longer burning time overall.