Monday, November 10, 2014

Departures on the Unfarm

I have sad news to report: another departure from the Unfarm. This time it's Beauty that we lost. Over the last few days we had noticed her being less active than usual, and it worried me but then she seemed to recover the next day and was out chasing squirrel treats with the other ladies. Today, though, she was back to sitting around hunched up on the deck or under the eaves by the duck pools which was where I found her this evening when I went out to close up the chicken coop. I brought her inside, wrapped her in a towel and curled up on the couch with her in the hopes that warming her might help as it had a few months earlier when she was under the weather. We sat together for a couple of hours with her softly breathing when she bowed her head and stopped. 

She was always a fairly skittish chicken - we adopted her when she was already four months old so we missed out on the early days and weeks of life when we spend lots of time with the chicks getting them accustomed to us - but she was a nice hen nonetheless and we will miss her. 

With this loss we are down to only two hens now, and going into the coldest months when the girls huddle together in the coop at night to keep warm. I worry about how Sakari and Penny will handle the winter without Beauty, who was probably the biggest, fluffiest of the three. I am afraid I might have to spend the next few weeks knitting chicken sweaters, comb covers, and wattle warmers just to keep the girls cozy. In thinking about it, with all the rain we get I should probably break out the sewing machine and whip up some ponchos and rain hats while I'm at it. Now, where does one look for patterns for the fashionably minded hen? 

Beauty, curled up on the couch with me this evening

Rest in peace, Beauty. We will miss you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Upheaval on the Unfarm

Life on the Unfarm has been rather more chaotic than usual of late due to the fact that we had to refinish the wood floors last week. These would be the floors in the kitchen/dining room and on the landing, which also meant we would lose access to two of our three doors to the outside.

We were told that the crew would start sanding the floors on Tuesday so we spent Monday evening cramming all the dining room furniture into the living room. This annoyance for us proved to be a blast for Maximus: so many places to hide, so many new things to jump on. Tuesday we spent the day rearranging our schedules so that someone would always be at home when the crew arrived. They never did. Wednesday was more of the same: the crew said they would show up in the morning, then in the afternoon, and then in the evening. They didn't, they didn't, and they didn't. The less than reliable crew finally showed up on Thursday and then the real upheaval began. 

It's blurry, and this is after half the furniture is back in the dining room, but this gives an idea of the mess that was the living room/Max's playground.

The dogs and cats were moved downstairs where we had our only access in and out of the house, through the garage and out into the (unfenced) front yard. This meant that every time the dogs had to go out we had to round up the leashes and walk them out - which I realize is probably what people in apartments have to do every single day, but we are unaccustomed to this inconvenience and in addition we had to deal with Maximus who was determined to launch himself through the doorway the second it was opened. Our indoor only cat was then outdoors and we had to chase after him and fetch him back again from whatever bush or plant he had hidden himself under.

The other problem with the downstairs is that the whole thing is in laminate flooring which means that the trouble Maia already has with walking - or even remaining upright, at her advanced age of nearly 19 years - is made even more difficult by the slippery floors. In an effort to combat this problem we ended up laying out all of our rugs, blankets, yoga mats, and dog beds in a line from the main room, down the hallway, and up to the garage door. 

The finished dining room floors. Hallelujah! Bring on the pets! (Literally - the pets can finally walk on it.)
Needless to say, everyone was more than happy when we were finally able to walk on the floors again: the dogs returned to the (largely carpeted) upstairs and greatly appreciate the freedom to come and go as they please (unless Una is on the deck, in which case the dogs have to wait until she finishes her meal.) The humans on the Unfarm are enjoying the ability to once again access the kitchen and the backyard. Una also appreciates our ability to access the kitchen as that is where we keep her sunflower seeds and almonds, and the window she looks in to let me know she is hungry. Mynx is relieved to have the downstairs returned to her so that she can enjoy the relative solitude again. The only one who seems unaffected either way is Max, who enjoyed both the play land that was temporarily set up for him in the living room, as well as access to the kitchen where he can sit on the counter to watch Rat TV. As for his excursions in the out of doors, his view on the floors finally being finished appears to be that he once again has three potential places from which to escape the boredom of the house so we have to step up our game again to block the black streak that is Maximus on his way out. I am embarrassed to admit that Max wins more times than I would like. We are at times little match to his speed and flexibility.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The duck days of August

I finally managed to set up my pool today. Sadly, the Unfarm is not blessed with the in-ground infinity pool my mom and I have been drooling over, and as I would rather have a colonoscopy than wear a swimsuit in front of even one person at the public pools I must content myself with cooling off in our small inflatable pool. Swimming is pretty much out of the question for me. It is another story when it comes to the ducks. The pool that barely fits an adult fully stretched out is an aquatic wonderland for the ducks, and they are well aware of the potential of this giant oasis of wet. When fully filled, it is too high and there is no way for the ducks to get into the pool. Before that, however, for a good hour or so while the pool is filling up with water it is vulnerable to invasion by ducks and they know it. This then necessitates me to stand guard poolside during this time period. And even then, if I am not careful, the ducks will hop in at any opportunity. Despite the fact that the ducks have two year round pools of their own, they know a good deal when they see one.

Maggie peeks over the edge of the pool, checking to see if I'm looking.

"How long is Mom going to sit there?"

Maggie sits on the edge of the pool. This allows him to stay near the pool without actually breaking any rules, and thus avoiding a spray from the hose. Not that getting wet is that serious a punishment for a duck.

Maggie is pushing the limit a bit here, but still not technically in the pool. Ducks have a very good grasp of the rules.

I turned my back for a second and Maggie took advantage of the opportunity. He was in the pool before I could even turn around. Ducks: 1, Mom: 0.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Updated weather report

I am relieved (to say the least) that the weather seems to have taken a turn and sunnier skies appear to be in our future. The grouch storm is dissipating and the glasses are starting to look like they might be half full again. Hallelujah!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's not all sunshine and roses

Life on the Unfarm lately is not all sunshine and roses, despite the fact that the sun is actually shining and the roses are actually blooming. No, the dark cloud over the Unfarm is coming from inside the house. Dad has been cranky of late. Cranky with a capital C. And R. And A, N, K, and... Y. This then makes life somewhat miserable for the rest of us. Any bit of happiness or enthusiasm on any subject is met with a gruff, if not downright surly, response on why we can't be enthusiastic, happy, optimistic, excited, etc about such and such or thus and such. It's not realistic; it will cost too much; I don't approve; no; I won't allow it; not gonna happen; because I said so and I am the king of everything; etc, etc. Nope, on the Unfarm the glasses are all half empty and there are no silver linings and nothing we can do will have any impact on the situation. Believe me, we've tried. All we can do now is try our best to weather this grouch storm and hope it somehow passes. Soon. Very soon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chocolate chip zucchini bread

It is summer and time for fresh vegetables, which means that we have an abundance of zucchini and we need to find something to do with it all. My mom likes to roast it and eat it seasoned with other vegetables but that doesn't work for me as I do not actually like zucchini unless I can't taste it. Enter zucchini bread. But even that is too healthy for me so I added chocolate chips to the recipe and it turned out pretty good - edible, even. In case you are also suffering from a glut of zucchini here is the recipe to try out.

2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups of peeled, shredded zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl beat the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla together until well blended. In a separate bowl combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking soda, and baking powder and mix well. Slowly beat the dry mixture into the wet mixture until the dry mixture is well incorporated. Stir in the zucchini and the chocolate chips. Grease two 8x4 inch loaf pans and split the batter between the two loaf pans, filling them approximately half way. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the loaf comes out clean. Let the loaves cool for 10 minutes and then turn the loaves out onto racks to cool completely. If you want to bake mini loaves, try cutting the baking time down to about half an hour.

This produces a loaf in which you can't really taste the zucchini and you get little bits of sweetness from the chocolate chips throughout the loaf. Enjoy!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Projects on the Unfarm (an illustrated account)

In an effort to make this a productive summer, I have been working on knocking out a few of our bigger projects that have been sitting around on the to-do list for longer than I care to mention. With that goal in mind I tackled a patio and a barbeque restoration a few weeks ago. I didn't think to take a "before" picture of the area where I installed the patio but let me assure you that it was your standard weed-choked patch of dirt strewn with bits of old fencing from a defunct vegetable garden that never quite got enough sun to thrive. After several days of weeding, tilling, raking, smoothing, and hauling large loads of sand, cement, and bricks in very hot weather I managed to produce a fairly decent patio.

A view of the patio from above. It ended up being somewhat avocado shaped, which I didn't realize until it was finished.
The patio from ground level.
I should mention that my preferred method of patio building is rather informal: I level out an area, set out path liner to create the desired shape, put in sand as the base and smooth it out, then place bricks inside the border. After that I pour dry cement on top of the bricks and use a broom to sweep it into the cracks. Once the cement is in place I set the hose on mist or fine spray and wet the whole patio down until the water pools on top of the cement. Then wait for it to set and voila - (not so) instant patio. The amount of patience you have when it comes to doing the prep work (getting a perfectly level base) and how uniform in size your bricks are will determine how smooth your patio turns out. I am not generally blessed with an abundance of patience, but more than that I like to use recycled materials when possible so my patios tend to turn out less than perfectly smooth. (This is my third patio built in this style.) This doesn't bother me - they still function as intended and I like the rustic look and the fact that the bricks each have their story: some were extras from when the neighbors built their walkway; a few came from the construction of the new local library; and others are over a century old - rescued when a nearby cannery was closed down years ago.

Project number two: a barbeque restoration. This time I did get a "before" photo:

Our grill, before the restoration.

Our grill was in bad shape. We had gotten it years ago second hand from a garage sale. It was old at the time and it is even older now. And years of exposure to weather hadn't helped the situation. In truth, at this point the grill consisted more of rust and holes than it did of metal. This begs the obvious question: why bother? Why not just get a shiny new grill that has a functioning temperature gauge and doesn't have an ash tray so rusted out that an old license plate is the only thing keeping the deck from burning down? Why indeed.

The answer is simple: it is my mom's grill, and it is just like her father's grill, so it reminds her of him. He used to grill fish and corn on the cob out on the covered patio overlooking the lake in the summer at the Lakehouse. When all of us - our family, and my mom's sister and two brothers and their family and my grandparents - gathered at the Lakehouse we would sit down around the huge picnic table that grandpa had made and eat the dinner that grandpa had cooked. Grandpa is gone now and the family is fractured - fighting over money and control - I'm sure Grandpa approves. (That was sarcasm, by the way.) So that is why Mom loves the grill, and that is why the grill stays, no matter what the condition.

Thus began the monumental task of sanding and scrubbing and sanding again. For hours. And then taking apart as much of the grill as I could and finding new parts: screws, trays, planks, grill plates and thermometers. I bought special paint and repainted the grill, inside and out. I bought sheet metal and made a new ash tray, retiring the old license plate. The grill did not come out perfect - I was afraid that if I continued sanding until there was no more rust there would also be no more grill. So I did the best I could and had to settle for less than perfect - a difficult task in and of itself, to know that there was still rust under there and I could do nothing about it. At any rate, the finished product:

The "after" photo. It isn't perfect, but it's better than it was.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

The list of things we need to accomplish here on the Unfarm this summer is slightly massive, due in part to several large projects that have been put off for the last few years (or more): paint the exterior of the house, rebuild the back deck, and fix the retaining walls that were built with the wrong material to begin with despite my insistence that said materials were - in fact - wrong. My dad insisted on building them anyway, and now they are falling over. Do you sense an "I told you so" moment? My dad, conveniently, claims to have no memory of my previous advice. Ahh, the convenience of living with ADD.

At any rate, the huge list of summer chores has had me busy outside and neglecting my blogging duties. But today you're in luck, because I managed to find some time to get this photo uploaded. 

Sadly, we are not preparing to raise a new generation of chickens. We were under the assumption that the chickens were no longer laying, in fact. Sakari is ten now and has earned her retirement. Beauty has decided that she will never lay, despite the fact that she is supposed to be a good breed for egg laying. Penny, however, has historically been a fairly reliable layer but seemed to be on an extended strike, having apparently unionized. That was until we caught her hopping out of the little coop that sits empty since none of the girls seem to have taken to it. Checking the coop to see what Penny was up to, we discovered that she had been secretly laying an egg each day and had amassed a dozen eggs in her little nest. Chickens are wily creatures - it is embarrassing to admit that they have outwitted us more than once, and will likely do so again in the (near) future.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

MORE ice cream sandwiches: lemon cookies with vanilla ice cream

I already posted a recipe for gingersnap ice cream sandwiches, but I have to admit that gingersnaps are not my favorite cookie and after making a batch of sandwiches for my dad, I felt the need to make a batch that my mom and I could enjoy. Enter: lemon cookies! The only problem was that I didn't have a good lemon cookie recipe so off to the internet I went and I managed to discover this treat on this blog:

These lemon cookie sandwiches with vanilla ice cream are delicious!

Lemon crinkles

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
powdered sugar for rolling

Note: If you are planning on chilling the dough you won't need to preheat the oven yet.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, egg, lemon zest and lemon juice. Scrape the sides if needed. Stir in all the dry ingredients until combined. If desired, chill the dough for easier handling. Roll into balls about 1 1/2 to 2 inches across and then roll in the powdered sugar. Place the balls onto greased, dark baking sheets about 3 inches apart. Bake for 9-11 minutes until the bottoms just start to turn golden and the cookies start to crack. Remove from oven and let cool on the sheets for 5 minutes or until well set, and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely. 

More notes: the original recipe says to mix the dry ingredients until just combined but I mixed them well and they seemed to turn out fine. The original recipe also says to use light baking sheets but I did my batch half and half, on both light and dark sheets and the batch on the dark sheets spread out less and kept a slightly thicker, rounder shape that worked better for me.

You can find the original recipe here:

Time to make the sandwiches! Let some vanilla ice cream thaw out a bit until it is slightly softened.
Set out pieces of plastic wrap to be ready to wrap your sandwiches. Take one cookie and place it upside down. Use an ice cream scoop to scoop out a ball of the slightly softened vanilla ice cream and place it on top of the cookie. Take a second cookie and gently press down onto the ice cream, flattening out the ice cream and spreading it to the edges. If excess ice cream squeezes out of the sandwich just take a knife or your finger and smooth around the edges. Place the sandwich in the center of the plastic and tightly wrap the sandwich and then place into the freezer. Freeze for a couple hours and then enjoy. If you, like me, have trouble waiting for a couple hours for anything containing sugar, then you can also set aside one to have right away. These are delicious and well worth the little bit of work it takes to make them.

Ice cream sandwiches: gingerbread cookie with vanilla ice cream

In honor of father's day I decided to make these ice cream sandwiches because of the many things my father likes (cheese, broccoli, beets, chocolate, taffy, etc), gingersnaps and ice cream are also high on the list. So for a father's day treat I decided to combine these two loves into one delicious treat. I briefly contemplated making beet cookies with cheddar ice cream but decided I wasn't ready to be quite so adventurous. I don't think my dad was too crushed with my choice.

Yumm... It may not look perfect but I find that taste buds care about personality more than looks.

Gingersnap cookies

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger (totally optional)
Sugar for rolling dough in

Note: if you are chilling the dough, you don't need to preheat the oven yet. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg and molasses. Stir in all the remaining ingredients until well mixed, scraping the sides if needed. At this point you may want to refrigerate the dough to make it easier to handle. Roll the dough into balls about 1 1/2 or 2 inches across. Try to keep them equal in size. Roll the balls in sugar to coat them, then place them 3 inches apart on greased dark baking sheets. Bake cookies for 9-12 minutes or until the edges are set and the tops have started cracking. Remove from the oven and let them cool on the sheets for at least 5 minutes. When they are well set, move them to racks to cool completely. 

When they are totally cool you are ready to make your sandwiches.

Set out pieces of plastic wrap to be ready to wrap your sandwiches. Take one cookie and place it upside down. Use an ice cream scoop to scoop out a ball of slightly softened vanilla ice cream and place it on top of the cookie. Take a second cookie and gently press down onto the ice cream, flattening out the ice cream and spreading it to the edges. If excess ice cream squeezes out of the sandwich just take a knife or your finger and smooth around the edges. Place the sandwich in the center of the plastic and tightly wrap the sandwich and then place into the freezer. Freeze for a couple hours and then enjoy.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

Max stalks his fat mouse/cherry

Cherries: they're not just for eating - they are also for playing with, according to Maximus. 

This morning found Maximus on one of his typical haunts: the kitchen counter. Despite being told (repeatedly) that he is not actually allowed on the counter he maintains that we must be mistaken. This is, after all, the best place from which to view Rat TV (which, despite our efforts to the contrary, is still airing occasionally), and how else is a small cat such as himself to get any milk, yogurt, ice cream, butter, etc if he is not where the food is: on the counter? 

Also on the counter this morning was a colander full of fresh cherries. Max sat in front of the colander and contemplated the cherries: they were small, and dark, and had tails (aka stems.) Just like his favorite wand toy, which he has currently chewed down to a disappointingly small nub. But fate has presented him with an opportunity - here sits a bowl full what can only be fat mice. He fished one out with his paw and dropped it onto the floor. From there he hopped down and batted it all over the kitchen. He then picked it up by the tail and carried it off into the living room to continue playing amongst his many other toys. He seemed quite proud of himself, and despite his multiple transgressions (on the counter, stealing food, throwing cherries around the living room carpet) our reprimands were half-hearted at best. Can you really be mad at someone so cute? So far the verdict is "no."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

Not all of our living happens on the Unfarm. We leave comfort of the Unfarm for visits to the vet (more often than we would like); fun outings like hikes, camping or trips to the beach; and the not-so-daily dog walks. Yes, it is true, I am at times a terrible procrastinator and don't always get around to walking the dogs every single day, although I am trying to do better. (Says every procrastinator that ever has or ever will live, probably, but I really mean it.) At any rate, when I do get around to walking I face a dilemma: do I bring Maia along and move at a pace that would have snails passing us by, or do I leave her behind with her sad little eyes watching Axel get leashed up while she stays home? Clearly neither option will do. Maia deserves to go with us, but at 18 years old it is unfair of me to expect her to keep pace with Axel who is half her age. The solution was clear: buy a stroller/trailer (it has handlebars but can also covert into a bike trailer) made for dogs that Maia can ride in. This photo is taken from the back of the trailer (she calls it her dog sled), with her sitting inside while we go for a walk. That way we can go at Axel's pace without straining Maia or leaving her out of the fun. At the end of the walk she gets to hop out and finish it alongside Axel but the rest of the time she is content to sit inside on her dog bed and enjoy the view. She seems to like it, and certainly prefers it to being left at home. I prefer it because then I don't have to suffer the horrible guilt of leaving behind such a loyal companion of so many years, and Axel still gets his exercise.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Recipe: elephant ears

I don't know about you, but I have a serious sweet tooth which makes fried bread covered in sugar almost irresistible. Unfortunately, these sugary treats are sometimes hard to come by, unless you happen to live next to a year round fairgrounds - which I don't. Fortunately, I found a recipe. My sweet tooth is happy with this discovery, my waistline is less so. Make these at your own risk.

Elephant ears

1 1/2 cups milk  (3/4 cups)
1 teaspoon salt  (1/2 teaspoon)
3/8 cups (6 tablespoons) coconut oil  (3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons sugar  (1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons yeast  (1 tablespoon)
4 cups flour  (2 cups)
1 quart of oil for frying

Melted butter/margarine (at least 1/4 cup)
Cinnamon sugar: mix sugar and cinnamon to achieve the desired (this amount will depend on the amount of topping you want - probably 1 cup at least for a good layer of sugar)

Put the milk, salt, sugar, and coconut oil in a small saucepan and combine over medium heat. Heat until the coconut oil melts and the sugar is dissolved. Take it off the heat and let it cool until it is about 110 degrees F. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let sit for a couple minutes before stirring in the yeast. Wait for the mixture to proof, becoming foamy. Pour the mixture into a larger bowl and stir in the flour until a dough forms. Flour a surface and knead until smooth. Cover it and let it sit for at least 30 minutes while it rises. 

In a large saucepan or heavy skillet, heat the oil to 375 degrees F. Keep an eye on the oil - you don't want to overheat it. Meanwhile, roll out small balls of dough into thin sheets. The size of the sheets will depend on the size of the pan the oil is in: the sheets need to be smaller than the pan, with room to flip them. Place the sheets, one at a time, into the oil and let cook until the underside is a light golden brown (this will not take long.) Use tongs to flip the sheet and let the other side cook. Once the sheet is cooked, put it on a plate and brush it with the melted butter and sprinkle on the cinnamon sugar. Do the same for the other side. Repeat for the rest of the dough. Best served right away.

Some notes: The amounts in parentheses are the amounts you would use for a half batch, which is what I suggest making unless you have a large number of people that are going to help you eat the results. Even with the half batch you should have help: it makes approximately 10 ears 6 to 8 inches in diameter. You can wrap extra dough and store it in the fridge for a day or two if needed. Let it warm up again when you are ready to use it. If I don't feel like melting butter I will sometimes use that spray margarine stuff, it seems to work just as well.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


We lost our sweet little Wyandotte, Daisy, today. She was slow to leave the coop this morning and spent the morning sitting on the deck. I became concerned and dug out our Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow and started searching for causes of lethargy and diarrhea (no one ever said the life on the Unfarm was glamorous). I also double checked the chicken first aid kit supplies recommended over on the Fresh Eggs Daily blog at and decided that Kocci-Free sounded like it might be what we needed, or at least it couldn't hurt. I started calling around to our local feed stores but no one seemed to have Kocci-Free in stock. I had decided I needed to set out to the feed stores and see what else they did have but I wanted to check on Daisy again first. I went out the the back to see how she was doing and that is when I saw her. She was lying on her side in the pathway, between the honeysuckle and the china blue vines. She was already gone. 

Daisy will be greatly missed, as she was one of our friendlier hens, if not the friendliest, and she was quite sweet and gentle as well. So sweet and gentle that the other hens tended to pick on her and she was usually last to get any treats during a feeding frenzy. I will miss seeing her up on the railing, stealing squirrel food; or running behind the other hens with her funny little gait; or jumping for blueberries under the bushes in the summer. 

This brings our hen population down to only three, none of which are laying. Beauty has never laid a single egg, despite being an Australorp, a breed reputed to be good layers. Penny has historically been a good layer, but seems to have joined a union and gone on strike. Sakari, the last of our original three hens (and my personal hen) is just plain retired having reached the age of 10 years. How this little workhorse of a chicken has made it so long when everyone else has succumbed to one illness or another is beyond me, but I am glad for it - she is the matriarch of our flock.

I hope that we can add a new chicken or two to the flock again soon. I miss going out to the coop to collect eggs, and it seems lonely in the coop now with just the three girls.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Love is in the air...unfortunately

It's springtime. The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, and the ducks are... mating. Yes, it's true, while rabbits are widely considered to be the great multipliers, from what I have seen it's the ducks that actually try the hardest. Under normal circumstances this would not be a problem but Minna and Maggie are two different breeds of duck: Minna is a mallard mix and Maggie (despite the name, Maggie is actually a boy) is a pekin, and is at least twice as large as Minna. In addition to putting in lots of practice, Maggie also never seemed to learn that no means no, which means that Minna is frequently not in the mood when Maggie comes calling, and tries to wiggle away.

A couple of weeks ago Minna caused some alarm when she seemed to be under the weather. She wasn't eating much and she seemed to be unable to move very far without resting. I rushed her off to the vet and waited to hear the results. Is it a gut upset? Is she egg bound? Is she sick? Is it curable?? Often the news from the vet is worse than we had expected so I am rarely surprised now when the bill comes out in the hundreds of dollars. I am sure we have single handedly paid for the new wing at the vet hospital. One of these days I fear I will find myself on the street corner holding a sign that says, "Have 14 pets. Sold the house to pay for vet bills. Anything helps." 

When the vet came back with the verdict I held my breath and braced for the impact. "She sprained her leg. A week of Rimadyl and she'll be fine." What? Could it possibly be true? A vet bill under $100 and a problem so easily fixed? My luck must be changing. The vet went on to explain that it was most likely caused by her trying to stand up and get away while a giant pekin stood on her back. I was told to give her the medicine and keep her separated from Maggie at least until her leg healed. Minna was thrilled. Maggie was not. 

Minna got to spend the week lounging in the bunny room, getting private meal times and sleeping on a soft bed. Maggie spent the week standing outside my window quacking at me to let me know what he thought of this new arrangement. Aside from mating related injuries, Maggie is actually very protective of Minna and likes to stay where he can keep an eye on her and know that she is safe; that he couldn't even see her did not make him happy. Maggie is also very good at figuring out where in the house I am, and going to whichever window or door is closest to make his presence known. 

Below the second floor bunny room is a patio, and the yard slopes upward and away from the house beyond that. So while the patio is closest to the window, it is also farther down than the back section of the yard. Maggie decided he needed to be on the patio, but higher up somehow. His solution to this dilemma was simple: he got into the livestock tank that serves as their pool, and stood on the four bricks that are stacked in the pool to facilitate easier exiting from the pool, then stretched his neck all the way up and quacked under my window. He seemed quite proud of himself for discovering this solution - despite what you may think, ducks are very smart animals.

I am surprised that Maggie didn't lose his voice with all the complaining he did that week, but despite being out of sorts he managed to survive. Minna healed up quite well and has rejoined Maggie in the yard. Life on the Unfarm returns to normal - which is to say that it is in a constant state of chaos.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

In all fairness, when I started writing this post, it was still Monday. And it would have been posted by Monday if the internet hadn't crashed, sending my post into the black hole where all things lost on the internet end up. So here we go again.

Last week I the blog took a hiatus while I worked on a pincushion for a Mother's day gift, with bee pins that turned out pretty cute (although mine is probably not an unbiased opinion); biked around the town and to work on account of the fact that my car was out of gas; worked on some art; and impaled my leg on a metal garden fence. Not to worry though, the prongs between the gate were large enough to get my calf wedged through, but not small enough to break the skin on both sides. As it was I escaped with a cut on only one side of my leg and L-shaped bruises on both sides, where the fence went on, and where I had to rip it back off again.

At any rate, it is Monday (sort of) and time for another photo from the Unfarm.

Today I managed to catch the ducks sleeping under the lilac tree, in a patch of lily of the valley. Unfortunately, Axel walked past and set off Maggie's protective instincts, causing him to tear out of the flowers and chase Axel off until Maggie determined that Axel was now at a safe enough distance from Minna. Maggie takes his job as Minna's bodyguard very seriously. So the picture I had intended to get - of both ducks sleeping with their beaks tucked under their wings - ended up becoming a photo of Maggie returning to Minna, quacking his "qua-qua-qua-qua-qua-qua-qua" chatter that he uses to reassure Minna and calm her down. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

Beauty and Daisy enjoy a break in the rain and take a stroll through the garden. They may look innocent enough but it will only be a matter of time before they are terrorizing small plants or kicking mulch everywhere except for where we intend it to be. A garden with chickens is never without a little chaos.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

These are a few of my favorite things

How does that song go again? Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens/ Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens/ Brown paper packages tied up with strings/ These are a few of my favorite things... I don't know about copper kettles or woolen mittens but I do love a good kitten. Or a mischievous kitten. Or any kitten, for that matter. And while we're on the topic, I don't mind ducks, bunnies, dogs, grown up cats, horses.... who am I fooling? I like pretty much any animal, baby or not. Especially badgers. And most things containing sugar - I have a huge sweet tooth. But what does the rest of the Unfarm enjoy? Do ducks even have a favorite thing? Stay tuned.... 

Cheetos: These cheesy, crunchy treats are a favorite of Mynx. I have no idea where she picked up the Cheetos habit but there is no denying that she loves them. I am the only one who eats these on occasion and whenever I do, Mynx can be found sitting in front of me, waiting for me to break off tiny pieces of Cheetos for her. Also high on her list of favorite things is sleeping on my stomach at night.

This picture pretty much explains itself

Car rides: No one loves a ride in the car more than Axel. He especially loves to ride with his head sticking out the window and spends the trip whining in the backseat if he is not allowed to. I have tried to explain that I will not open the window if it is a) raining, b) cold, c) the car is traveling down the freeway at 65 miles per hour, or d) all of the above. He has informed me that he doesn't care: that is what fur coats are for and he will continue to complain, thank you very much.

Axel and his friend Stella hanging out in the car after a hike

Blueberries: These are a favorite of both the ducks and the chickens, but they have different strategies when it comes to harvesting these treats. The ducks go for a quantity over quality approach: they grab whatever bunches are within their reach whether they are ripe or not. Usually not. The chickens take a more precision approach: they stand beneath the bushes, get a berry in their sights, and then jump straight up into the air and grab one berry at a time. 

Grapes: Similar to the blueberries, the chickens and the ducks both go after my grapes. The chickens have a distinct advantage here, though, in that they can fly up into the grape arbor and eat at their leisure. We generally consider ourselves lucky if the humans on the Unfarm manage to get any fruit. 

A young Belle sits in the grape arbor
The kitchen: This room is endlessly fascinating to the chickens. Who knows what wonderful little bits they might find on the floor in here - pieces of dog food, bread crumbs, bird seed, a random vegetable piece or bit of fruit. (Perhaps we do not sweep the kitchen as often as we should, but I'm going to look at the positive side - it's not a lack of cleaning but actually an opportunity for chicken enrichment activity.)

Daisy, Penny and Sakari raid the kitchen
Sakari checks out Buddy's food bowl for leftovers

Jumping: No surprise here - this is a favorite of the bunnies. Ginger and Clover are especially fond of jumping which means that they are not allowed out in the grape arbor run as they can clear the fence and escape into the yard. This is great fun for them but means that we then spend at least half an hour chasing them around the garden trying to catch them. This is not fun for us.

Ginger prefers hanging out on TOP of her cage rather than inside it
Making the bed: Or more accurately, unmaking the bed. Max is quite fond of hanging out on the bed when I am trying to make it. He is convinced that the true purpose of this activity is to entertain him by playing blanket monster. While I am trying to straighten the blankets, he is diving underneath them. Or jumping on top of them. Or hiding beneath one and attacking my hand whenever I move near enough. 

Max is an expert at making simple chores take twice as long as they should
Getting treats: everyone on the Unfarm enjoys treats. You can't shell peas around the ducks without losing at least half of them to Maggie, who is tall enough to reach the bowl on your lap. The chickens come running whenever squirrel food is being doled out, or the compost bin from the kitchen is taken out, or the leftovers no one wants are brought out. (Spaghetti is considered "pasta worms" by the ladies.) The cats always enjoy a bit of tuna (or tuna sprinkled with Cheetos.) The dogs are fond of just about any treat we give them and especially enjoy it when I bake for them - carob brownies area  favorite. And then there's the bunnies - despite the fact that rabbits are regularly depicted as having a serious carrot habit, they actually prefer dandelion leaves (organic, of course) or bananas. Speaking of treats...I think I hear a mini batch of chocolate chip cookies calling my name. If they are also calling your name, feel free to make a batch. The recipe is on this blog under the title "Chocolate chip cookies mini batch." Enjoy.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

The photos above offer definitive proof that Maximus is a true cat: no cat that I have ever lived with could resist sitting in a puzzle box. I must admit that Max is the first cat who has decided to entertain themselves by diving across the table, knocking half of the puzzle onto the floor. The first, also, to eat the pieces. If Maximus seems to be showing up a disproportionately large amount of the time in these photos from the Unfarm it is because he is a kitten, and by definition he can be found doing something amusing approximately 78 percent of the time. The rest of the time he's sleeping. He walked on the stereo in the master bedroom today and turned on "Dancing Queen." After he spent two minutes playing with the curtains he decided he'd had enough of the music and he turned it back off again.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Rat TV, cancelled until further notice

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about Rat TV, our local special interest show, airing nightly here on the back porch at the Unfarm. Unfortunately, despite great ratings and loyal viewership, the show has been cancelled. This note, which I found taped to the kitchen door in the morning (at Maximus height), explained the abrupt cancellation:

 "From the owners of local TV station CAT....
We regret to inform our loyal viewer that the popular program 
has been cancelled until further notice.
Unfortunately, the 3 principal stars of the show met with
untimely deaths. It's not know if the show will be available
in the future. We sincerely hope not!"

After several weeks of using peanut butter bait with no results (other than providing free food to the rats) we decided to switch things up and used canned dog food as bait instead. It proved too tempting a treat for the rats and they finally succumbed and took the bait without the proper amount of caution. We were fairly surprised to find three rats in traps the next morning as we had only been aware of one rat. Maximus, I am sure, will miss his nightly entertainment and will have to amuse himself with raiding the kitchen counter for food he shouldn't eat or things he shouldn't knock off onto the floor. The ducks and chickens are considerably less distraught at the prospect of no longer having to share their food, water and nest boxes with the rats.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

It's Monday, folks, which means that it's time for... pictures from the Unfarm of course! I call this one "You snooze, you lose." This is another common sight on the Unfarm - Maximus knows that the dogs get some canned food mixed in with their dry food during dinner time and he wants in on the action. The canned food is actually an incentive to get Maia to eat as her appetite has shrunk over the years - she is 18 now and entitled to a little special treatment. For her part, Maia is convinced that if she holds out long enough something even better will magically appear in her bowl. These items might include ham, chicken, eggs, cheese... you get the idea. So while Maia procrastinates Maximus takes advantage of her lapse of attention and scarfs down bits of meat and gravy until he is caught and sent out to the living room with his consolation prize of canned kitten food.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tasty Vegetarian Chili

I'm not usually a huge fan of chili but this one is pretty good. A few notes: I tend to like my food more on the mild side so I only use one tablespoon of chili powder and I like my vegetables best if they are small enough that I can't recognize them as actual vegetables unless viewed under a microscope so I tend to chop the pepper and onion pretty small. I have also found that I like the chili a little bit more moist than this recipe turns out so I just add in a small amount of water (approximately 1/8 cup to 1 cup chili) into my individual bowl before I eat. That way people can choose the amount of liquid they want with their chili. I eat this plain, but it would probably also be good with a little bit of shredded mozzarella sprinkled on top and melted, or sour cream.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 chopped bell pepper (3/4 to 1 cup)
1/2 chopped onion (about 1/2 cup)
1 (15 or 16 ounce) can of 50% less sodium garbanzo beans
1 (15 or 16 ounce) can of cannellini beans (white kidney beans)
1 (29 ounce) can of gold hominy
1 to 2 tablespoons of chili powder (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 (14.5 ounce) can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 (15 ounce) can of tomato sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook until tender, about 4 or 5 minutes. Drain and rinse well both beans and the hominy and add it to the pot along with the chili powder. Stir and cook about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce and roasted tomatoes (undrained); add the brown sugar and stir. Bring the chili to boiling then reduce the heat, cover the pot and let it simmer 25 minutes. Stir occasionally. Serve warm. This recipe makes enough for about 4 servings.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

Pip, taking a nap
Pip again, cuddled with a towel and heating pad
This one is Squeak, she was a little bit older than Pip
Squeak, look how tiny she is!

These are a few photos of Pip and Squeak, honorary Unfarmians who were with us for a short while. They were wild baby cottontail rabbits that the neighbor's cat (Chico, the terror of the neighborhood  I've mentioned before) caught somewhere and brought, still alive, to the neighbor's doorstep. They gave the bunnies to me to take care of but they were very little - Pip didn't even have his eyes open yet - and they both passed away last week. It takes very little time for me to fall in love with an animal and both of these two wriggled their way into my heart in a matter of minutes. Squeak lasted several days but even top notch vet care couldn't save her. I am having them cremated together and the urn will be placed in my room next to all my other children. I fear that by the time I am 80 I will have to add another room to my house simply to store all the urns from my pets. At any rate, I hope you enjoy looking at these two cuties as much as I do.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rat TV

Maximus has always been a fan of quality entertainment. He finds great joy in sitting down in front of the TV to watch whatever might be on. And I mean RIGHT in front of the TV - he sits two inches away and blocks half the screen. This situation is advantageous to him because it satisfies two cat loves at once: being entertained an making a nuisance of himself. Of late, however, he has found a new channel to capture his attention: Rat TV. Now before you go checking your cable listings, I regret to inform you that it's a local channel, only available here on the Unfarm. 

It is a regrettable fact that if you have animals, especially chickens and ducks, who eat their food outdoors, or you regularly leave food out for birds and squirrels, you are at risk of attracting rats. The fact that we are near both a forest and a pasture, and that we have a shed the rats can hide under doesn't hurt either. So in the evenings, once the kitchen is quiet, our resident rat (I would not go so far as to name him an Unfarmian, though) can be found scurrying around on the back deck, fattening himself on what little bits of seeds or duck food has been knocked onto the ground. While the humans on the Unfarm look upon these nighttime forays with dismay, Maximus finds it quite entertaining. He will plant himself in front of the large sliding glass doors and watch his regularly scheduled programming of Rat TV. And thus far, his program has not been cancelled as this particular rat has been quite crafty at avoiding any traps we have put out. Either that or he just has no taste for peanut butter. 

I should note that I do not approve of killing animals, but it is dangerous to have rats in such close proximity to us and our animals because of the diseases they may carry (and the chickens have absolutely no interest in taking on a rat for a roommate, as they are keen to do when the winter cold sets in.) So when we find it necessary to rid ourselves of rodent interlopers we use the snap traps because they kill quickly, as opposed to poison which is slow and painful. Plus, given our success rate (which is low), it would seem that the traps give the rats a sporting chance. More often than not, the rats get away with a free meal. 

So until our rat gets sloppy, or develops a craving for peanut butter, Maximus will be spending his evenings watching his favorite show. After all, it's somewhat interactive and there are never any reruns. The only thing missing now is the popcorn.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

Dos, not to be confused with Una, showing off her mastery of energy conservation. Why bother sitting up to eat when you can lie directly in your food, cutting out all that bothersome bending and reaching? Dos was the only other squirrel who would come when I called and take treats from my hand, and could be recognized by the notch missing from the top of her right ear. Sadly, Dos passed away a couple months ago and I buried her under the beauty berry bush in the front yard. I still miss that little squirrel!

Interior design on the Unfarm

I generally consider myself to be a fairly decent, if amateur, interior designer. I can organize, tidy and toss furniture around to create something that most people are generally happy with. I am well known for my regular, minor furniture rearrangements - we have a summer look and a winter look for the living room. I am also well know for my major room rearrangements, which may or may not include new furniture, wall colors, and decorative painting. These transformations typically take place when I am left to hold down the fort on my own while the rest of the family is out of town for a few days. If you are a regular reader of this blog you may remember some of those projects. The kitchen, office, and TV/sewing room have been the most recent victims of my I-think-I-can-handle-it-itis. It is a terrible affliction that warps my thinking causing me to actually believe I can pull off a complete redo in only a few days with no help, and not have to spend the last few hours before my parents get home running around the house frantically trying to get paint to dry and clean the disaster zone I have created of the rest of the house. Spoiler: I am never found relaxing with a glass of lemonade or reclined on the couch with a good book when my parents pull up in the driveway. Sweating, breathless, and hiding rags and cleaner behind my back is a more accurate image. It may take a few days for my parents to come around to the new look, but as far as I know, they always do. 

"This placement will do quite nicely. Yes, the chi is good here."

Unfortunately, not everyone has been pleased with my designs. Apparently, my skills as a designer do not translate over for the lagomorph crowd. The rabbits are decidedly unhappy with where I choose to place things. The litter boxes, for instance, are always placed under the water bottles to catch any drips, the carpet is on the opposite side of the cage and the food bowl is in the middle. This is clearly not where things should go, and Ginger makes sure to let me know what she thinks of this arrangement. As soon as I put a fresh litter box in she will grab it with her teeth and hurl it about her cage. This almost always ends up with the hay strewn about all over the cage floor, the litter box on its side in the center, and her food bowl is often dumped out and can be found under one of the mounds of hay. Having done so much work redecorating her house she will then plop down on the cage floor previously occupied by her litter box, stretch her body out and kick her legs to the side. This is Ginger speak for, "I am thoroughly satisfied with how things are."

Ginger playing "king of the mountain" sitting on top of her upside down litter box. She thinks this is the best way to arrange her cage. As you can imagine, I disagree.

My response to her redecorating is to uncover and right her bowl, put her litter box back in its place, scoop up all the hay, and deposit it back into the litter box. The entire time I am doing this Ginger is squeaking and grunting at me and charging at my hand. This is Ginger speak for, "what do you think you're doing?!? I just got that all arranged and now you're messing it up! The feng shui was perfect! How is the chi going to flow in here now??"  I suppose I shall just have to resign myself to the fact that in all likelihood I will never be hired as a professional interior designer for the lagomorph society. I will have to content myself with maneuvering couches and painting walls. Speaking of which, the hall closet really could use a remodel...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Life on the Unfarm: an illustrated account

The chickens will sneak squirrel food whenever they get the chance, so the sight of them walking along the deck railing is a fairly common one.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Maximus: our newest arrival on the Unfarm

As you may remember, last year the Unfarm took several hits including the loss of Aspen, bringing our cat population down to one. Or half, maybe, because Mynx is rarely seen by anyone but myself and you cannot really pet her, let alone pick her up.  She is convinced that any attempts at affection are in truth a thinly veiled threat: surely we mean to harm her in some horrible manner and she screams bloody murder until we set her down and she can bolt back under the bed. 

Mynx's attitude combined with the loss of Aspen six months prior had me thinking: perhaps it might be time to start contemplating the addition of another feline to our household. Mynx did seem to be lonely, after all - she had taken to spending an unnatural amount of time outdoors hanging out with Chico, the neighborhood riffraff who technically resides next door but is regularly seen throughout the neighborhood terrorizing other cats and all small creatures that creep, crawl or fly. Hardly the kind of character we want Mynx associating with, even if he does seem to have a soft spot for our spotted softie.  

It seemed, therefore, serendipitous that last November I should receive an email from our local cat shelter, announcing that they too would be participating in the Black Friday madness: all of their black or mostly black cats would be available for adoption for the bargain price of $10, a whopping 90% off the usual price. Being the good bargain shopper my mother taught me to be, I could hardly pass up a deal like that now could I? The only real question was this: how to narrow it down to just one...? 
Maximus in a rare moment of stillness

My sister and I spent an arduous hour trying to decide which cat would become the newest member of the Unfarm. There were all manner of choices: sleepy kittens, playful kittens, striped kittens, spotted kittens, solid kittens, male kittens, female kittens and every combination thereof. Holding kitten after kitten was a tiresome, tedious task but we somehow managed to persevere, eventually settling on a small, black kitten who was in a kennel by himself, sitting quietly beside the door. (We had learned our lesson, you see - we chose Aspen because he was the "spunky" kitten in the litter, and I am pretty sure that most of his adult life was spent plotting ways to inflict harm upon his human captors, so this time around we went for calm and quiet.)  Acknowledging that this would be a companion for our Mynxy cat, we were also looking for a younger, male cat who might pose the least possible threat to Mynx. 
Max loves to play with plastic bags

The name Maximus was settled on in part because it went so well with Mynx and we headed home with our newest family member, bracing ourselves for the fallout: we had not asked permission to adopt Max knowing that had we asked we would have been told no. Mom's reaction was fairly predictable: she feigned dismay but spent an awful lot of time cuddling with something that "we can't possibly keep." Dad's reaction was exactly as predicted. We told him to close his eyes and hold out his hands. He did as requested and the second we set Max into his hands he burst out with, "Oh no!" and looked crestfallen to say the least. 
Max enjoys kitten food, long walks on the beach, and watching TV

Despite the odds, my parents came around to the idea of Max becoming a permanent fixture here on the Unfarm (this process was likely easier for Mom than it was for Dad) and part of the deciding factor may have been the effect Max had on my sister. She had been in something of a bad mood - which is putting it mildly to say the least, and she can be quite scary when she's in a bad mood - earlier in the day and Max was more effective (and faster acting) than Prozac on her sour mood. Kitten adoption fee: $10. Kitten food, toys, and assorted supplies: $54. Changing my sister from a fire breathing dragon to a cuddly teddy bear: Priceless.

Footnote: Thus far, Mynx has not appreciated our efforts to give her a companion to spend her days with and looks upon Max as some kind of tiny terror with ADHD whose main goal in life is to ruin hers. 
Despite what Mynx thinks, Max really does look up to Mynx. He is often seen making a careful study of her and trying to follow in her footsteps.