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Friday, February 27, 2009

Strange side effects of life at 55...


In an effort to curb our atrocious fuel oil consumption, mostly to reign in the exorbitant bill that inevitably comes with it, I set our thermostat at 55 degrees back in November and we have been freezing our buns off ever since.  Okay not really, but keeping our house at a constant cool 55 degrees in Wisconsin has brought about some unexpected side effects.

1.  Your plants die.
Apparently there is a reason palm trees grow in tropical regions.  Sadly, my 8 foot palm tree is half dead.  I should have pulled it into the interior of the house, but the solarium receives the most light.  I guess it needed warmth and light.  I am not sure it is going to survive the winter.

2.  Bread never rises.
Proofing dough requires warmth.  We have none, or at least very little.  Baking bread was a laborious weekend long project.  I would follow the sun; moving my bowl of dough from room to room, letting it rest on the floor in a sunny spot.  Eventually, it would end up overnight in the upstairs bathroom, seemingly the warmest place in the house.  Until you stepped out of the shower that is.  Holy sh*t it's cold in here!  Luckily, Santa brought me a bread machine for Christmas.

3. Room temperature butter.
Nearly all baking calls for room temperature butter.  Just whose room are they referring to?  Obviously not mine.  Room temperature butter in this house is still rock hard.  Frustrating to a budding baker who spends hour after hour asking, "Is this soft enough?".  Three hours is about as patient as she can be.  Her cookies always taste good, they just come out a little flat.

4.  Friends and family come equipped with their own slippers.
On the rare occasion someone is actually brave enough to visit you in "Siberia", they bring half their bedroom with them.  It did not take long for our family to start showing up with slippers in tow.  We do not wear shoes in the house, but several pair of socks and slippers are a must to prevent frostbite on your little piggies.

5.  Athletes foot.
This is something you would expect in much warmer temperatures.  All those socks and slippers I referred to above?  Pair that with leaping from the shower and getting dressed in less than 30 seconds.  Does not leave a whole lot of time for drying off.  My feet go directly from shower to socks and stay there indefinitely until the next shower.  So yeah, athletes foot.

6.  Clothes can be "forgotten" in the washer without becoming "funky".
You know what I am talking about.  You do a load of laundry late in the evening and are too tired/lazy to hang it.  I'll get it in the morning.  Morning comes and you forget all about it.  Two days later you open the washer to throw in a load and eww... What's that smell?  Funky clothes.  Damn.  Oh contrare monfrare!  Not in a cold house.  Clothes can sit in there for days without acquiring a musty smell.  Much like food in the refrigerator.

7.  Your washer freezes, along with the clothes in it.
Our laundry room is also our mud-room and entry to the house.  It is a small enclosed heated porch, but not insulated.  The only heat vent is directly beside the washer, about an inch away.  Last year this was never a problem, but then our thermostat was set slightly higher at 62.  Felt cold then, would be a heat wave now.  At 55, our furnace does not run nearly as much, which is the point, but on really cold days the washer will freeze.  Luckily we have had no accidents or broken pipes, only a few giggles when pulling frozen underwear from the washer.

8.  There is no need to apply blush.
My cheeks maintain a youthful rosy glow from the chill in the air.  I'm not just talking about the ones on my face either.  My hands, on the other hand, ha ha are an eery shade of purple.  Like a corpse, but that is another story.

9.  Steam rises from my Diva Cup.
Strange, but true.  That actually happened once and it totally freaked me out.  A sudden drop of 43 degrees and you can visibly see the temperature change.  Just like seeing your breath on a cold winter day.

10.  You are either asked, "Are you leaving?" or "Did I wake you?".
We dress in layers, lots of layers.  On any given day I am wearing long underwear, socks, jeans, multiple shirts, sweatshirt or down vest, fingerless gloves, scarf, and fleece jacket.  And of course, slippers.  But, that goes without saying.  Inevitably, surprise guests think I am on my way out.  Or, on really cold days we can be seen wandering around the house all hours in a bathrobe (over our layers clothes).  They really hold the heat in.

No, I've been up for hours.  Come on in - hope you brought your slippers.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Photosmart? Yes, indeed.

This Monday at The Green Phone Booth I discuss the purgatory of PH (Printing Hell) and a few surprises from HP (Hewlett-Packard).  Did you know printers now come with instructions on how to be green?  Now if they only told us how to make the damn thing work.


Friday, February 20, 2009

APLS, Naturally

This month's APLS Carnival is being hosted at The Green Phone Booth.  Stop on by to see how participants relate their environmentalism to their connection to nature.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Design on a Dime.

What do you do when challenged to come up with table centerpieces for a sports award banquet attended by 280 guests with a $5.00 budget? Oh, and you have seven days to accomplish your mission?

If you are wondering why things have been so quiet around here the past two weeks, my Monday post at The Green Phone Booth might give a clue.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Not so Never Neverland.

I may turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, but for now I am enjoying this fantasy of Spring. Another fairytale of mine is picking vegetables from my bedroom window. Now that would give a whole new meaning to breakfast in bed! Sprinkle on some pixie dust and fly on over to The Green Phone Booth to see what I am talking about.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Raising Poultry Successfully - Chapter 2 continued

Chapter 2

There are about 200 varieties of chickens, and they come in all kinds of sizes, colors, and shapes. They vary in size from a fancy, multicolored, 1 pound bantam to a Giant Brahma which can weigh 12 pounds. Besides white chickens, there are all black, greenish black, black barred, red, brown, buff, golden, silver laced, silver penciled, and blue chickens.

Some breeds of chickens have fascinating feather patterns. The Cochins have fluffy feathers running all the way down their legs to their toes. Others, like the Turken, have naked necks. And some, like the Golden Polish, have hoods on their heads, like little top hats.

Barred Rock and Wyandotte roosters produce hackle feathers that bass fisherman use for tying fishing lures. Both of these varieties are dual-purpose chickens, good for producing both eggs and meat. The hens lay large brown eggs.

The White Leghorn is the workhorse of the egg-laying breeds of chickens, capable of laying more than 20 dozen large white eggs per year.

The Rock-Cornish, or Cornish-Rock, is favored by the large commercial broiler factories because it develops quickly. This broiler chicken has a meaty breast, thick thighs and legs, and can gain 4 pounds in 8 weeks. The mature hens are poor layers of brown eggs.

Of course, the breed of chicken you will raise depends on what you want the chickens for: meat, eggs, or both. Then you should narrow down your choices to pick a breed that appeals to you, as far as color, size, and shape.

The problem is, how do you know what you like if your association with chickens is very limited? First, visit chicken farms and hatcheries in your area. You can ask your feed store dealer for names and addresses of local people who have small farm flocks. When you visit these people, ask them why they raise a certain bird, how much it costs, how long it takes for the birds to reach maturity, and the potential production of their flock in the way of eggs or meat. Also ask about any particular problems relative to the breed they raise.

If you can't locate any local small flock growers to visit, write to distant hatcheries and request their color catalogs. You can get the names and addresses of hatcheries from farm magazines, rural newspapers and the county extension service. Your state or county extension poultry specialist is, by the way, one of the best sources of information of all.

After you have visited chicken growers, talked to your poultry specialist, and scanned the gorgeous color catalogs from faraway hatcheries, you'll be more competent in choosing a variety of chickens to raise. Remember, it's not much fun raising white-feathered chickens if you really like red, brown, or black birds. Raising a small flock should be fun.

Largely ignored in recent years by the big commercial broiler factories and egg producers, medium-size chickens that provided both meat and eggs were the mainstay of the poultry farmer up until the 1930s and 1940s. Examples of this type of chicken are Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, Buff Oprington, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Barred Plymouth Rock, and Black Australorp.

Certainly one of these breeds could have been chosen to crossbreed with the Cornish Game chicken to produce a fast-growing meaty chick, just as well as the White Plymouth Rock. Except for 1 reason. Dual-purpose chickens are all birds of color with the exception of the White Plymouth Rock. At 8 weeks of age, when dressed out as a broiler-fryer, they can have tiny dark spots in the skin where their pinfeathers were removed. There is no such problem with the white-feathered White Plymouth Rock.

By the way, birds of color, once they have reached maturity and have their final plumage, will dress out very nicely, with no troublesome pinfeathers. Thus, they make excellent roasters weighing 6 to 8 pounds.

It is to the credit of our independent hatcheries that they are perpetuating these dual-purpose varieties and still supply the old favorites to the small flock grower.

For the most part, the straightbreds will take longer to reach optimum broiler-fryer weight. So it will cost more to feed them. There are exceptions, however. Some New Hampshire strains can match the Cornish-Rock hybrids, inch for inch and pound for pound. The big broiler factories don't push standardbred chickens because hybrids tend to be more uniform with regard to growth rate and livability, and there is less chance of undesirable recessive characteristics.

Jersey Black Giants, Jersey White Giants, Light Brahmas, Dark Brahmas, Buff Brahmas, White Cochins, Black Cochins, and Buff Cochins all fall into the category of heavy breed. These breeds and varieties are slower-growing than either they hybrids or dual-purpose types; but when fully developed, they have massive frames and make wonderful roasting chickens. They reach mature weights of 10, 12, or more pounds.

Why choose a slower-growing breed of chicken? They have quiet dispositions and are easy to manage. Due to their small comb, giant size, and heavy plumage, they can survive severe winter weather conditions. It would be unrealistic to raise these varieties in the hope of producing a 4-pound broiler in 8 weeks. And you wouldn't keep them for egg production as the hens are poor layers of brown eggs. They are a good choice for hobbyists, poultry fanciers, and those people who just like the way they look and act.

As a beginner, you should plan to start out small. Keep you venture into chickens within manageable bounds.

For those of you who are in a hurry to put meat on the table, chapter 3 offers a plan to raise 4-pound broilers in 8 weeks on 8 pounds of feed.

But those of you who are not in such a hurry can take things a little easier. I suggest buying about 25 day-old chickens. With that small number, it won't cost you an arm and a leg to raise them; the task of butchering them won't be overwhelming (you should do it yourself); and you can realize 75 pounds of meat from the project. It is not a long-range venture. If you don't like growing broilers, they'll be gone in a couple of months.

And I don't recommend that you go out and invest in a lot of cages, either. I can sympathize with commercial poultry producers who deal with thousands of broilers, whose living depends on programmed efficiency, and to whom time is of the essence. But, for small flock owners, not involved in commercial trade, who eat what they raise, cages and total confinement of the chickens is not necessary. I prefer the natural way: a rooster crowing at false dawn, broody hens and chickens running free - well fairly free, at least on fenced range. When you're a kid, bare feet on fresh chicken droppings is ok. When you get older, it leaves something to be desired and you build a fence.

If it is eggs you are primarily interested in, then I suggest that you start with a flock of about a dozen pullets. Keeping any more hens that this will usually result in a surplus of eggs during their peak laying season. Although, you can sell, trade, barter, freeze, or use surplus eggs in baking, it often takes more effort than it is worth to dispose of the surplus.

I recommend to novices that they start with a dual-purpose breed, as they have quieter dispositions than the lightweight breeds, and they give you a roast as a bonus. Even though they eat more feed, start laying eggs later, and may provide fewer eggs, I believe the advantages of raising dual-purpose hens outweigh the disadvantages.