Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas ride

  After all the gift opening this morning, I decided to go for a ride on Bonnie.  It was a nice sunny cool day today; couldn't have asked for better.  I've been driving her so much lately that I figured  a little change of scenery would be nice.  What fun!

  Yesterday, Bonnie pulled her first piece of farm equipment (with me anyway).

It was a four foot spike tooth harrow that weighed about 80 pounds or so.  I was amazed at how easy she pulled it.  I tried dragging it myself and made it about 10 feet before I quit.  Horsepower is really amazing.  We ended up dragging the whole arena...

The drag marks weren't really pretty but I think that was more my driving than Bonnie's pulling.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lucky shots

Ever see a picture unfolding in front of you and wish "Man, I wish I had a camera"???

This morning...

And yesterday...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Animal updates

  The biggest news is that we got a new cat from the animal shelter.  I've been going there for the last two months to see if anybody found our missing kitten, Liza.  I finally came to the realization that we probably aren't going to see her again so we decided to get another.  They had a beautiful seal point short haired kitten that was already spayed so we took the leap.

*E* loves her to death.  She plays just as much as Liza but isn't nearly as scratchy.  I think we're going to name her Holly since she joined our family at Christmas time.

She's got some pretty cool colors on her and is very affectionate.  I just hope that she's a good mouser for the homestead!

  Bonnie's training (and mine) is coming along well.  I drove her all last week in full harness and even took her out of the arena and around the stable grounds both days this weekend.

  I think she remembers her Amish training because she's sure making me look good.  I can get her harnessed up in about five minutes now and she hasn't been freaked out by the tug chains dragging on the ground behind her.  I need to make up some chain extensions so I can hitch up the single tree when it gets here.

I'm dying to hitch her up to the little harrow/drag that the stable uses to groom the arena.

  DW and I tried our hands at cheese making again last night.  Meijers had milk on sale so we bought a couple extra gallons.  Our original intention was to make soft farmer cheese but DW decided to take another shot at mozzerella.  We used whole milk that wasn't labeled as "ultra-pasteurized" but I suspect it was more pasteurized than they let on.  We used some expensive hoytey-toytey milk from Whole Foods last time so we figured we'd see what would happen with regular old grocery store milk.  The mozzerella flopped bad.  Ironically enough, it came out like a nice soft farmer cheese and is very tasty.  She also discovered that you can reheat the left over whey to just boiling and make ricotta.  It worked like a dream and we ended up with almost a pound and that means LASAGNA on Thursday...Yum.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Auction action

  I LOVE auctions!  Ebay is OK but there's nothing like being there, looking the competition in the eye and finding surprises every time you turn something over.  We had the opportunity to go to one yesterday.  It was a collection of mostly kitchenware and tools.  I needed a crock to increase the amout of Sauerkraut I can make at a time and it looked like lots of other interesting things were available as well.  The auction didn't disappoint and we ended up with this...

1)  A plain Jane white six gallon crock that we tracked down to Pfaltzgraff from the very worn mark on the bottom.  Doesn't have a lid but I figure I can make a nice wood one along with a kraut weight.

2)  Oak hall tree.  The coats are getting out of control with winter here.

3)  An old Rapid Washer.  I figure that this could come in handy as a backup on those off-grid days when little power is being produced.

4)  A butter crock with a nice homemade wood lid.  We're looking at trying our hands at butter now that DW has broken the cheese barrier.

5)  A hand crank apple pealer and some kind of neat small pulp press.  Not sure what we'll do with the press but we go through lots of apples around here.

6)  A stairway basket.  A ton of other baskets went for lots of cash but this was one of the last and we got it for a song.

7)  An old hand corn planter.  I definitely want to do this by horse but it may be a while before I get a planter (and a second horse).  This will have to do for now.

8)  A harness repair vice.  It needs some of the leg cross-braces replaced but all in all it's an awesome piece of work.

9)  A beam auger and two bits.  Not sure if I'll ever do any post and beam construction but it is on my list of things to do before I die.

10)  Some miscellaneous items in a box lot including these strange things...

I'm not sure what they are but judging by all of the leather working tools that were there, I would say that they are leather forms or molds of some sort.  If anyone can ID them please let me know.
  Of course *E* was irresistably drawn to the auger...

It was fun to watch him play with it until he started sticking his fingers in the gears.  The auger was banished to the basement immediately before the screaming commenced.
  All in all it was a great time.  Some of the stuff will need a little love to put it back into useable condition but, Hey, that's half the fun!

  The other big thing happening around here is Bonnie's training.  I've been working with taking her horse collar on and off.  Usually she's sort of a stinker the first time and then relaxes.  Today, she let me do it almost immediately and was letting me take it on and off like she was an old pro.  I decided to take a chance and Voila...

She let me put the whole harness on her.  I was really rusty since I haven't done it since my April horse farming workshop.  The harness was adjusted for a much smaller horse so it was pretty slow going while I got everything reset.  She stood there absolutely still and patiently let me do my thing.  I couldn't believe it!  I walked her around on the lead rope for about 20 minutes or so.  She was a little spooky at first because the two bottom spreader rings on the hames were jingling like crazy but after a few times around the yard she calmed right down.  I got her driving lines in yesterday so we'll be ready to go with ground driving as soon as she wears the harness a few more days.  This was a very big deal to much planning and working and studying to get to this point.  It's really something special taking an actual step toward one of my life's goals.  I wonder what cubicle people are doing today?!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Summer homestead flashback: Draining issues

  Probably the biggest issue we faced this summer was a total drain blockage in our farmhouse.  We had planned for a lot of issues and upgrades but this one hit us from out of left field.  You can have all the pressurized water in the world but if it has nowhere to go, you're in big trouble!

Everyday mundane activities that become nearly impossible include bathing, washing dishes, cleaning house, doing laundry and of course anything to do with the toilet.

  Before tackling the house's lack of drainage, we addressed how to work around our family's needs.  First of all, all housecleaning, dishes and a little laundry were done with tubs or buckets that could be hauled outside to dump.  We then made an hour and a half drive to the nearest Walmart and bought a port-a-potty.  The last and most difficult fix was the construction of an outside shower stall built around our Sun Shower.  I've always thought these were neat and figured that I'd be building one eventually anyhow.

  This was version number one and it went through numerous improvements over the summer.  It was really nice to take a shower in if you knocked off work early enough to beat the skeeters.  *E* was a different issue.  He was too small to shower in the stall so DW came up with an ingenious solution...

With all of our needs band-aided, we moved on to solving the plugged drains.

  My dad came to stay with us for a few days and was the real brains behind Operation Mudslide.  First thing we did was locate the septic tank and pop off the inspection hatch.  We dipped the level and found that the tank was nowhere near full.

Incidentally, the dipper was forever known as the "dookie stick" after this.  This told us that the blockage was in the pipes.  The house pipes were a combination of PVC, cast iron and copper; all connected with rubber sleeves.  We started disconnecting joints on the second floor to drain the system and inspected for blockage.  This was an absolutely HORRENDOUS job.  We eventually tracked the issue to the second-to-last elbow before the pipe exited the basement.  I hammered a steel rod into the blockage from the top while my dad did the same from the bottom.  We worked for about twenty minutes before we started getting chunks of concrete to come out.  CONCRETE?!!!  I couldn't believe my eyes.  We knew that there was a mobile home next to the house at one time and finally figured out that they dumped Quickrete into the drain when they attached the trailer house's septic into the farmhouse's tank.  This was to keep sewage from flowing back into the house if the septic tank filled up.  We finally got it all cleared out and I'm happy to report that water (along with other less pleasant things) is flowing again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Horse collar intro

  Made some major progress with Bonnie's training today.  I laid out her new horse collar and harness on the hitching post in front of the stable and walked her past it a few times to introduce her to it.  I made sure to let her sniff and look at the pieces as much as she wanted.  I put her into the round pen and slowly brought the horse collar up to her face.  She shied away so I slowly touched her face with it and brought it up over her head.  The collar hung up on her eye ridges so I had to turn it upside-down to clear.  It took about 20 minutes but she finally accepted it.  I found that she closes her eyes when it's her time to let me put it over her head.

The collar is a little big even though it's adjusted down to its minimum size.  I'm going to have to get a collar pad to keep her from getting blisters.
  I took the collar back over her head with very little resistance and walked her around the yard and back to the pen.  We repeated the procedure and this time it took about five minutes.

I pulled the collar and walked her around one more time and repeated the collar exercise a third time.  This time it only took about two minutes.  This was outstanding progress so I decided to call it quits for the day.  I like to keep training at a half hour to keep Bonnie from getting bored or frustrated and I always stop with a success because I think that the last thing she does is what she remembers best.

  I had some more time to kill so I tied her up to the hitching post again and worked on cleaning the harness up.

I figured that hearing the harness buckles jingle as I was cleaning would help to get her used to being around it.  I was told that she had been trained to drive by the Amish so I held some outside hope that this would all come right back to her.  Unfortunately, it didn't but I couldn't be happier with how everything went today.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Horse driving equipment

Hooray, one step closer to driving Bonnie!  Her new horse collar just arrived...

It's a 24"-26" adjustable collar and boy was it expensive.  It's one of those things that I could have  probably found at an auction given enough time but I'm ready to go now.  I measured Bonnie out at 26" so this collar gives me a little leeway if she leans out from work or if I decide to use a pad.
  I've been using Lynn Miller's "Training Workhorses, Training Teamsters" as my guide and having good results.  For the last four days we've been working in the arena instead of the round pen because of all the rain (blech!).  I've been "roping her out".  This involves asking her to walk around me in about a 20' circle and stopping and standing on the whoa command.  After a few successful times, I put a lariat (to all my friends, yes I have a lariat) loosely around her neck and repeat the exercise.  Whenever I stop her, I throw the rope over her back and wiggle it and run it along from her rump to her neck.  This trains her to stand still and accept whatever you're doing behind her where she can't see, which is really important for when you put the harness on with all of its straps and jingly buckles.  At first, Bonnie was really spooky about this but she has learned very quickly.  It's almost become boring so I think we're about ready to move on to doing round pen work with the harness on.
  I've only been riding Bonnie up to this point and she's turning into a really nice trail horse...

She's still a little spooky around water but she's getting better.  It's quite an experience riding her at a gallop...kinda like sitting on a charging Wooly Mammoth!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cheesy post

  What a beautiful chilly fall weekend.  Christmas lights hung on house?  Check!  Stable duties complete?  Check!  Cheese made?  Check?!!!  DW finally took the plunge and made her first cheese.  She chose a mozarella which I guess is a relatively simple recipe.  I wasn't here to see the process so it's still all pretty mysterious to me.  Here's a picture of the proud mama and her baby...

I was really surprised that it took a gallon of milk to make this.  The leftover material (whey, of little Miss Muffet fame) is good for making bread; we'll see.  She froze it anyhow until we figure out what to do with it.  I suppose if we had pigs, they would get it.  So how did it turn out?

We tested it on a salad for supper.  It was made with the last lettuce and spinach from our fall garden.  It was pretty good but had a couple of issues.  DW missed the "salting" step so it was kinda blah.  I guess the acidity wasn't quite right either so it came out a little rubbery.  I didn't mind because it reminded me of "squeaky" cheese curds.  DW said it was like eating pencil erasers but it wasn't that bad.
  This is all pretty exciting since we've wanted to try cheese making for a long time.  I must confess to having had a bit of fromagiophobia when it came to learning this skill!  We've been talking about the pros and cons of getting a milk cow or two out at the homestead but we couldn't justify it for only milk and butter...have you seen the price of butter lately?!!!  Cheese definitely makes the milk cow a viable option.

  Little man *E* has learned how to move and climb onto chairs to reach what he wants.  He has also learned how to defeat the "child proof" locks on the cupboards.  I guess I assumed that they would still be effective with a 16 month old.  Nothing is safe from him anymore!

Here's *E* helping mama with her coupons.  Enjoy!