Home-made Holiday Gifts; Wood ornaments

Every year we try to make holiday presents for Yule. This year is no different. This year I borrowed a wood burning kit from my sister to use for making these;

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These ornaments or keychains (or however you want to use them) are extremely easy to make. You simply use a saw (I used my circular saw) to cut slices of a stick. Then you drill a tiny hole in the top, and burn in your design. When you’re done, slip a ribbon through, add and secure a wood bead (if you like) and tie it closed.

You can see several different designs here. A star and a snowflake are simple and generic but they get more customized than that. One is a paintbrush and pencil crossed for an artist friend. One is a computer screen with YULE written on it in binary code for a friend who is a programmer. A third is an ornate cross and has a crown of thorns on the other side for a friend who is deeply Catholic (but celebrates my heathen holidays with me anyhow). There’ll be many more by the time I’m done. We usually have around 20-25 people over for Yule and each one receives a gift of some sort as a spiritual requirement for the holiday. That adds up, even if you only spend $10 per person. So we try to aim for home-made gifts as a frugal but thoughtful alternative. Plus it’s very in-tune with both the natural focus of the holiday and our desire to re-use and upcycle common items.

Here’s a step by step of how to make these neat little ornaments.

You’ll need…

  • A relatively smooth, straight and evenly round stick or small log of appropriate size
  • A saw of some sort to make clean cuts in the wood
  • A drill with a very small drill bit
  • A pencil
  • A scarp of thin cardboard with a straight edge
  • Sandpaper
  • A wood burning kit (These run from $25-$50 depending on what you get)
  • Ribbon, string or wire for the loops
  • Beads or other stringable decorations (optional)
  • Tung oil or other wood finisher (optional)

First, find a stick that you want to use that’s straight and smooth.

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Some notes about the kind of stick you should use. The wood type isn’t really as relevant as the literal shape of the stick. You want to pick a stick that has a fairly consistent width and is as straight as possible with very few knots and knobs. Make sure it’s long enough to cut enough discs of the sizes you’d like with enough extra to hold safely while you’re cutting. You also need a stick that is VERY dry and has been stored indoors for some months. A wood that’s very dark in color will have less contrast then a wood that’s very light, especially if you choose to oil it.

Next, pick a consistent width for your tokens and mark off one disc of wood. Cut and repeat until you have as many as you want to make. You can wing this but if consistency matters to you it pays to mark and cut carefully.

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Inconsistent cutting because I winged these means wild angles and different widths.

Next, put your drill to work making a small hole in the top of each one. Be careful about your angles. If your drill goes between the wood and the bark, the bark will probably peel away.

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Note the red staining on the lower disc on the right. That came from the blade of the circular saw. It’s just a surface scuff and will be sanded off later.

Bring your discs to a flat work surface and start to sand them. Sand both sides and lightly sand the bark edge as well. This makes the surfaces smooth and clean and nice to handle. it’ll also keep the wood from flaking. If you cut a piece wildly uneven (like I did), you can use the sandpaper to help even those out. Don’t over-sand the bark edges. You’re just trying to rub away some roughness, not take off layers of the bark. The whole piece of wood should feel almost soft.

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Now you’re ready to burn in some patterns. You’ll need a good wood burning kit. Choose a simple round pointed tip and set up your wood burner. I was using a Walnut Hollow kit, but there was a serious problem with it. The cord is extremely short, and it pulled itself off of the table onto the floor. One of the nibs broke and it snapped off inside of it. I have yet to restore the functionality of this wood burner. I had a backup, but in general, be very careful not to make my mistake.

A wood burner is just a hot metal pen, so you can draw anything with it if you’re careful. I did lots of designs, you can get extremely creative. I did a bear, a cat, a fox, a computer, a cross, theater masks, stars, etc. Just draw it out with a pencil first and then burn it in… But right now I will be showing you how to burn in a simple but pretty snowflake.

First, burn the ends of the hole open so they are clean and easy to work with. Then line up your straight bit of cardboard in the middle of the wood disc, across the hole to the bottom. I used a torn off tab from a box of cookies. Anything is fine as long as it’s straight and disposable.

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Burn a straight line from top to bottom, then do the same thing at a 90* angle so you have a big cross in the middle. At 45* angles from that, still using your straight edge, burn an X shape that’s about half the length inside it.

Next, you simply start filling it out with the crystal structure. Whatever you do on one long line, do the same thing to all the others. They can be straight lines or at angles pointing outward or even X shapes, so long as they are symmetrical across all the long lines. On this one I went for pointed angles on the long branches, and then pointed angles on the ends of the short branches, with straight lines under it. A good rule of thumb is two branches on each line.

I filled up some of the extra space with a moon and some stars. Stars generally have five points so a simple round, pointed nib can make a fuzzy star shape by simply burning five equally spaced points as tightly together as you can.

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At this point, I oiled all of the pieces I was doing. I used some tung oil that I had sitting around and an old scrap of towel to apply it. When you apply an oil like tung oil to the wood, it will dramatically change the base color of the wood. It will make it dark and rich, but it will also reduce the contrast. You may want to go over your wood burn again to make sure it comes out dark enough.

When you are done oiling you may find some of the edges of the wood are a little flaky, especially if you have a large grain sandpaper. That’s OK. Just use the side of your wood burning pen to burn those edges down flat.

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You can see what the oil looks like on these various patterns as well, and you may notice some flaking on the edges. Note that the very center of the wood may absorb the oil differently than the rest of the wood disc. If this is very bothersome, gently and quickly burn over just the center to darken it just a bit.

Now I’ll show you how I attached the bead. Start by deciding how low you want the ornament to hang, then double it (because the ribbon will be a loop). Then add an inch or two depending on the size of bead you’re using, and another couple inches for the knot on the top. These were a larger sized set of beads so about 2 inches would be right. I just guessed at a ribbon length, personally. Cut your ribbon and run it through the hole. You may have to fold it or use a needle threader or some such to make it go through if the hole is very small like mine were. String your bead over both ends of the ribbon.

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Part the ends of the ribbon down over the top of the bead, then bring them up through the bottom of the bead again one at a time so they form loops on opposite sides. Then simply tighten the loops with the beads close to the wood disc and it will hold very securely. Tie a knot at the top and you’re done!

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Let them sit for a time to absorb the oils, but at this point your gift is done. Cute, pretty and simple. Possibly most importantly, nearly free (if you don’t completely break your wood burning tool in the process).

I hope you enjoy crafting these!

 

BUT WAIT!

What if you make a mistake!?

If it’s a deep enough burn, you should probably just start over with a new disc. I mean, these are made out of sticks from your wood pile, after all. But if you have a light burn or don’t want to make a new disc you can actually just sand the burns out. It may take a while to actually get through the burn marks, but any blemishes on the surface of the wood can simply be sanded out with a little elbow grease and then re-oiled.

Happy crafting, friends! Until next time!

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My door is open, if you want it to be.

Content warning for conversion therapy, suicide and politics.
Today I read an interesting political article that lifted my spirits a bit. This post has a happy ending if you can make it through, for me at least.

The article talks about a man who is a farmer, protesting a republican political candidate. A good ‘ol boy if I ever saw one. He stood with his preachers, and his community, as they banged on their pulpits, preaching not of love but of how human beings simply existing were perverted and distasteful. They were speaking of gay people in this case, a community I am a part of.

This regular occurrence was common in his home. But one day he found out his daughter, Patti, was gay. A friend of hers told her family, “outing” her. This was a daughter that he loved and cherished. That he’d raised in a church that pounded their pulpit and called his child a pervert. A child who had only ever done good. He devalued her, repeated back what he learned at his church. Hate and anger. He apologized, he regretted what he said, but the damage was done.

Patti came to him crying, asking him to help her get help to stop being gay. Nobody asks to be born a certain way, of course. This was someone in pain, told that who she was was terrible for her difference. She didn’t want to BE different, so she asked her father to get her “help” to fix her. Of course, that’s impossible. It’s like asking for someone to get you help to stop enjoying eating food. Such things can only cause trauma to a person.

The father in question took Patti to see doctors, but these things have been studied again and again. You can never “cure” or even CHANGE being gay, only create trauma around the experience. So they told him what any sane person driven by scientific evidence would do. They told him there was no such thing as a cure, that it was normal, that they couldn’t change who she was. Every medical professional they went to said the same thing. And the reality is, it’s the truth. We have no way to rewire an entire biological system. We have no “cure” for “experiencing the world differently”. Nor do we truly need one. But everyone around her treated people like her as a monster… What other option did she have but to seek a “cure” for being who she was?

Her father found his daughter, Patti, on March 22nd. She had committed suicide. He said that she did it because she was tired of being gay, not because she was tired of loving other girls, but because she was tired of how she was treated. Of being ridiculed and demonized.

When he tried to return to his church, after so much loss and suffering, there was a guest preacher. And after a mere 10 minutes the preacher began to tell the church about how terrible being gay was. There was no sympathy and compassion for his loss, no comfort after the death of his daughter Patti. Only more hatred.

Sometimes, I hear some pretty terrible things from the farming and homesteading communities. I hear questions that stem from ignorance, like “Why do liberals hate farming?” “Why does the left hate Christians or families?” “Why do *insert generalized city/left folks here* hate *insert generalize country/right folks here*?”.
I want you to know that the answer is really simple. We don’t. I know countless city folks who love farming and farms. Many of the people I know have “farmers make food” stickers. They’re interested in how agriculture effects our country. They’re parents with children who love nature. They want to see “flyover” territory be secure and successful. They want to see farmers get fair wages, the want to see red states have wealth. They want people in small towns to have local businesses and for those same people to have equal rights. They care a LOT.

There is an anger there, however. The kind that stems from years of abuse, the kind that admittedly leads to many being abusive right back. The anger isn’t personal towards individual people or specific groups, like farmers or Christians. The anger is towards the anger they’ve experienced from others. They rage at a system that causes a community to demonize differences. They hate teachings that cause other people to live in fear. They hate a hatred that makes a father treat his own daughter with hate. They hate a world that pushes a young girl to commit suicide. They hate the voices that end their lives, and countless others across the world.

This story is tragic. That system, that hatred ingrained in those communities, OUR communities, causes people to die. It causes families to be ripped apart. It caused a father to loose his daughter. I hate that. We hate that. It disgusts us and it should disgust everyone.

This story has a quiet little high note at the end, however.

This father suffered a tremendous loss. But after that day at church he stopped going back to that church. He couldn’t believe that his God would send such a loving child to hell simply for how she was born.

The reason his letter came to my attention was he is now advocating for people like his daughter in his deep-red state. The politician in question referred to members of the queer community as perverts and sinners. The politician in question also has a high profile set of sexual misconduct accusations. And this father sees the hypocrisy in his words. He hopes that people will think twice before voting for a man that calls his daughter a pervert, and emboldens the people that drove her suicide. He regret his past actions deeply and pushes back against anti-gay movements in his own small towns and farming communities. He’s a farmer. He’s one of US, and his suffering deserves to be heard.

Nathan Mathis. You’re a brave soul. There was a point in time when I would have probably been disgusted by who you were. There may be people you’ve hurt who will probably never forgive what you’ve been, a straw on a camels back, a drop in a bucket of anger that can never be forgotten. They’re not obligated to, we’re not obligated to forgive people who have hurt us, and that’s OK. But *I* forgive you. I’ll mourn with you. And I think you’ll find that, in general, we hateful leftist perverts are a pretty forgiving bunch all around. Even the bible says “reform ye, therefore, and turn back, for your sins being blotted out”, by and large, we’ve learned that we live it. We don’t actually WANT to hate anyone, and, indeed, we rarely do wish ill on others. We’re willing to see someone who has changed for the better and care for them again, to embrace them, to love them again. Nathan, you’re welcome in MY house any day, even if your neighbors won’t let me into theirs.

I recently heard somewhere that doing the right thing is a choice, a choice to do the right thing followed by an action doing the right thing. That you can’t do the right thing unless you are consciously trying. People’s mistakes happen in offhand ways, swept up in the moment without consideration or reason, they do bad things. It’s easy to end up on the wrong path, doing things that are wrong, without even realizing it. “Oops! Sorry I hurt you, I didn’t mean to.” By contrast; “I did the right thing without noticing!”, “Why, the next thing I knew, I was doing good things!”, “in a moment of carelessness, I helped someone! Whoops!”. You never hear those things. Goodness cannot exist without the intent to be good. You can’t do good things unless you actively try to.

My door, and countless others, are open to anyone who genuinely wants to be better, to anyone who decides that they want to do good things and who tries to. To anyone who wants to know how they can stop hurting others, to anyone who wants to help others. To anyone who genuinely wants to connect and share compassion. If you want to be good and then you do it, my door is open to you. I believe that Nathan has decided that he wants to do good, and is trying to do it.

And Patti Sue Mathis. I’ll say your name. You’re a victim as much as any other. You didn’t deserve the end you had. I hope your name will be remembered by many people. But I also hope you know that, wherever you are, there’s a little more light in the world because you were in it. Because of your legacy of loss, there’s a few more people who will see love instead of hate. I hope wherever you are, you’re at peace. And I hope you know that you mattered.

Someday, I hope that we have more Nathans. I hope we have more people who decide to do good in the world.

And you don’t have to take my lefty feminist words that it’s a good thing to do. This old man, a farmer, a father, a christian and a republican, is asking you to do good as well. I hope his message spreads, far and wide.

You can read his letter here;
http://www.dothaneagle.com/news/letters_to_editor/letter-soul-baring-thoughts-on-gay-bashing/article_a1a6b423-82df-5bff-92fd-46e1e1a12ece.html

And the article about his protest here;
http://theweek.com/speedreads/742788/alabama-farmer-who-lost-gay-daughter-suicide-speaks-near-roy-moore-rally

Good luck, Nathan. I’m rooting for you.

Yuletide Greetings

Hello! With the advent of December (if you’ll excuse the pun) my mind starts planning out my annual winter celebrations. In our household we celebrate Yule, a pagan and Wiccan tradition and one of about a dozen major religious winter celebrations in the US.

Yule is a really fun holiday, that was subject to heavy Christianization into the celebration we know today as Christmas. Many of the traditions were lost in the process and are hard to understand.  A lot of the history of this celebration has been lost to the ages and is slowly being pieced back together.

Modern celebrations have a few big elements in common with historical accounts of the celebration. The first being the purpose of the Yule celebration. Yule celebrates the spiritual embodiment of the Sun. Yule takes place on the shortest night of the year, and is a celebration designed to be so festive, happy, joyous and bright that it reminds the Sun itself of how wonderful the earth is, and begins the cycle of days getting longer again. This deep connection to the sun is intrinsic to ancient pagan celebrations of Yule, regardless of the specific faith that was celebrating it. In those times, celebrations were shared across cultures and many sects celebrated the same holy days in similar ways, just worshiping different gods. Because of this, nearly every major religion has a winter festival of lights, and it was this celebration that layed the foundation for Christmas as we know it.
The other thing these modern celebrations have in common with ancient ones are many of the broader traditions and symbology for the celebration. Filling the home with lights (in those days, specifically it was candles), and bringing a tree indoors to decorate with candles was meant to make the world bright and inviting and also depict the sun. The exchange of gifts and a grand feast was meant to make the season joyous and festive. Decking halls with boughs of holly, mistletoe and pines were a reminder of the beautiful green growth of spring. Wassailing was singing door to door, which evolved into caroling, but also was an exchange of song and alcohol from the poor for gifts and food from the rich. Usually, the poor also offered blessings to the rich if they received their gifts, and curses if they didn’t. This history lives on in some Christmas carols, such as “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and it’s references to carolers demanding a figgy pudding.

We celebrate Yule with these traditions in mind, and conveniently that’s pretty easy since most Christmas traditions are based off of old Germanic Yule traditions. We put up an evergreen tree (a fake one from my sister) and decorate it with baubles, ornaments, and lights. We hang wreaths of evergreens (Ok… They’re plastic too) over our bay windows, and put lights on the walls.
We also throw a big party on the 21st. This is my equivalent of Christmas, both eve and day, all wrapped into one. We invite a multitude of friends and family over to celebrate, 20 or so of our closest companions. At dawn I wake up to bless the Yule log (another old tradition we have a variation of) which is a massive chunk of wood. After that I spend the day prepping for the party. We enjoy a huge feast, an exchange of gifts, drinks, and a ceremony where we burn wishes for the new year over the blessed log in our fireplace, asking the spirits of the world to grant them to us.

Because of the nature of the celebration, it requires a lot of advance planning and a lot of resources. Like much of America these days, cash is in shorter supply than time, so we DIY many of our gifts. In the past we have given out trays of home-baked goods, home-made candies (including these really great caramels I made), some mushroom jars I made once, apple butter, etc.

Once again we will be giving out apple butter this year (we ended up making 3 gallons of it this year, after-all), but we’re adding some other home-made gifts to the list as well. This year we managed to make 13 half pints of home-made salsa, much of which will become gifts. There are other gifts we plant on making to give away that I will hopefully be detailing throughout the month.

We are also planning our feast and exploring options for our Yule dinner. This year we have two small(er) chickens we were planning on roasting, a pair of rabbits, and chickpea stuffed portabellas with pecans and carrots (for our vegetarian friends), roast veggies, stuffing, and deserts. But specifics are undetermined yet (beyond the vegetarian meal. We don’t eat holiday-worthy vegetarian meals often, so we pick recipes for that dish from the internet). Over the summer we made a Jamaican jerk chicken that was a big hit… Should we make that again? Should we go for something classic, loaded with sage and onions? Should we do a nice citrus pair of birds? Should the carrots be sweet or savory? The mashed potatoes plain and smooth, or lumpy and garlic filled like 2 Chainz famous mash? (We had those potatoes for Thanksgiving by the way, and they were excellent!)

There’s a lot of options but one things for certain, as the ability to leave the house recedes into freezing temperatures we’ll have more time to make those choices.

Do you have a favorite holiday dish? Share it with me! Yule is primarily about community and joy in literally dark times. I’d love to add a bit of your community and joy into mine!

The Killer

Today I would like to tell you about my beloved monster, a husky named Nukka. Please note that this post contains some graphic imagery in both pictures and words, so carry on only if you are strong of stomach.

This is Nukka. And this is a story of a monster, reformed.

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Back before we lived on this property, Greg and I lived in an apartment. We’d been living together for about a year, and we had two wee little pet rabbits and one big ‘ol dog named Persy. Greg grew up with a Jack Russel as a kid that was a nightmare. It would bite him and literally eat his homework. He did not like dogs, but after a year with Big Dog he had grown quite fond of them, and we decided to get a puppy together.

There was some drama and a falling out with a very negligent veterinarian, but ultimately we ended up with Little Dog. Nukka is a 40lb AKC husky. People are surprised because she seems small for a husky, but she is breed standard. Huskies seem to have one of two personalities. Either they are graceful, serious, intelligent, devoted dogs…. Or they are absolutely nuts, mouthy, wild, neurotic, and not necessarily too bright at all. We were hoping for the first. Nukka was the second. Alas, but her love of live was infectious and we loved and love her anyhow. She was a permanent fixture of our home, from the moment we brought her home.

When we moved to this property, we acquired rabbits and then chickens in somewhat short order. And in somewhat short order Nukka devoted herself to destroying them. She would chase them through the cages and try to bite them. It was a monumental effort to keep her from killing everything in sight. Sometimes we won. Sometimes she did. For a bit, she seemed to be killing every kit that slipped it’s confines. It was a problem. I was heartbroken. How on earth could I keep animals without having her kill them? How could I keep her on a farm at all? No matter how hard you work there will always be something that slips up eventually and something will die for your negligence.

And I speak of this in casual or perhaps inoffensive terms, destroying, chase, bite, kill… But these don’t do justice to describing her shockingly brutal actions. She picks animals up and shakes them with extraordinary violence, snarling, beating them on the ground, biting them over and over again. It happens in seconds. Bones snap, skin tears, a drumming sound as the animal hits the ground while being shook as hard as she can. It’s a terrifying sight and when a rabbit is caught this way it screams. Rabbits scream, and it sounds so horrible and almost human. It’s like it cuts a hole it your soul. It’s heartrending. It’s painful. It must hurt terribly, though in reality it’s over as quickly as it starts and takes no longer than broomsticking or other methods of dispatch. Even large hens don’t stand a chance. Their hollow bones simply shatter and they fall with shocking ease as their rib cage simply collapses in her jaws. I will not shy away from this, it is a disturbing sight.

Over the years, we have kept our monster in check, with ever-increasingly tight fences, cages, leashes and ropes. We have a tie-out in our back lawn wrapped around a central tree that we can hook the dogs to in a pinch. We’ve had to use it on our monster more times than I can count because she could not be trusted to leave the animals, secure in their cages even, alone. We even purchased (though never used) an electric collar. We had to find a way to keep her from eating our animals. We were struggling. We were constantly trying to train her to leave the animals alone.

Then, a breakthrough, two years back. A chicken got out and Nukka charged. “NUKKA NO!” I shouted across the lawn in the most angry voice I could. She stopped. She looked at me. “Nukka! Come here!” I said cheerfully. She turned back to the hen… “NUKKA NO. Leave it. Come here!” This time, she turned around and came back. For the first time in her life she didn’t attack and kill my chickens. Many kisses and treats were given that day.

After that it was like something had clicked in her. To this day the rabbits are still a process, but the transformation was dramatic. Some animals are off limits. No chasing, no killing, no biting. She stops. She leaves it. She comes to me when I call.

She’s still a monster, though. The last year has been a brutal one for local animals. You see, last year we had a problem with a groundhog. Groundhogs are HUGE. They are hulking, massive creatures that you really don’t get an appreciation for until you are staring an angry one down, it’s massive front teeth chattering, both of them yellow and each one as wide as your thumb nail. A bite from those teeth could break small bones and will rend flesh as easily as any dogs. The rabbits have given me a healthy appreciation for teeth like that.

This groundhog slipped into our garage one day and we used a broom to show it the door. We like to be polite to animals who aren’t bothering us. We let the bluejays rip up our trees and pull strings for their nests, and we were happy to let the groundhog leave under the same fence it came in.

But little did we know we’d created a problem for ourselves as the groundhog began eating our garden to the ground. Heavy logs blocking gaps under the fence were insufficient to keep it out. And I watched with sorrow as my cayenne plants and corn were devoured by hungry jaws every morning.

Then, one day, the dogs went out at the same time as the groundhog. And our monster decided she had found her calling. She grabbed the groundhog and to my great distress began an epic war with even Big Dog getting angry and joining in. Together they tried valiantly (and in vain) to dispose of the hulking beast. They’re thick bodied and Nukka is not actually a big dog. No amount of biting or shaking deterred this hog. It kept coming back and the dog’s efforts to remove it got more brutal. At one point the whole chicken fence was torn down on one side as the groundhog broke through it and the dogs followed, straight through the whole flock. Chickens went flying in the air all around Nukka, the monster, the killer of chickens, yet she touched not a feather. She had had her eyes on a different prize, the groundhog pinned in the corner. Another time each dog had half of it and they were biting and pulling but it broke free. Yet another time Nukka flipped it over, dived in and tried to rip it’s stomach apart, earning some small, bleeding bite wounds for her efforts. Somehow the groundhog lived and still walked away. Despite being hurt she tried to dig under the fence to follow it. Groundhogs were now The Enemy. Nothing else mattered. When the dogs were let into the lawn to pee and play, their first order of business was scouting for the groundhog and attempting to kill it. Bathroom breaks only came after their lawn was secure.

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The groundhog ran into the back corner of the pen because it had dug a hole as an escape route. I had blocked the hole with logs and it became trapped. The dogs broke down this fence and another section to get at it.

Nukka’s rage did not stop with the groundhog, though. She also took on predators attacking the birds and simply any wild animal that dared cross our threshold. She dragged possums out from under chicken coops to drop (still very much alive, just playing dead) at my feet, and once I watched with horror from the other side of the lawn as she snuffed the life out of a stray kitten that thought my chicks looked like a snack. (The rest of the kittens got live-trapped and rehomed that month and the mother cat got fixed and returned to keep other strays away. Huge shout-out to the awesome rescue lady who helped with that when other rescuers turned me down.)

These incidents layed the groundwork for her efforts this year. And while part of me is heartbroken by the loss of life, I can’t help but be impressed by her. Her efforts have saved as many lives as they take.

This year, Nukka proved herself to be the most reformed monster of all. She’s killed more animals this year than ever before, yet just today she stood sniffing the ground for rodents while the ENTIRE flock of chickens loosed themselves from their pen not 3 feet away from her. I was terrified for them. I watched her. She saw them, she sniffed them, she knew they were there, and she just didn’t care. She wanted to find a mouse instead. I was so proud (and terrified). I called her away and she came right up to me, her tail brushing the chickens as she ran past. The chickens were put away, the fence repaired, and not a feather was harmed.

But the rest of the animals around the lawn…?

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They have not stood a chance.
My dog is a legend. Many dogs chase squirrels. Nukka catches them. Songbirds too.

And the groundhog saga? It continues as well. And the groundhogs are none too pleased about it.

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That is a groundhog, a baby one. The groundhog from last year was a mama. And she was back. My garden demolished. My peppers (once again) devoured. The dogs remembered, though. And they were angry. Both of them were enraged. I can only assume they remember being bit from last year. They killed two baby groundhogs and beat the mama groundhog up so badly that she hasn’t been back at all since. Even after the baby ones were dead they wouldn’t stop trying to rip it in half. Even Big Dog stood barking at the dead groundhog for minutes. Even after it was buried in the compost pile they did not give up trying to dig it back out to bite it some more. It took them the whole day to calm down. I have never seen them so angry.

And the tiny animals? Have you ever seen a dog throw a live vole eight feet across a lawn just for the joy of it? I have. That vole got away, I heard it squeaking still very much alive afterwards. Some of them have not been so lucky. Baby wild rabbits have also paid dearly for trying to eat our garden this year. Nothing is safe.

And lastly, Nukka has taken on another kind of monster entirely as of late. And she’s been getting better at it.

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We had 16 rabbit kits and 40lbs of wheat berries, until these monsters got to them. Now we have no wheat berries and 4 rabbit kits. We are waging a war, and our monster’s killer instincts have gone from being our greatest source of losses to our best defense against future losses.

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This one was MASSIVE!

So while Nukka is still a killer, a monster in her own right, constantly set on the violent destruction of other species, she has really found a place on the farm. I no longer question her role on the homestead. She truly is reformed, walking right past the farm animals, her brood, her wards, without a care in the world. They’re off limits and she has greater ambitions. Her face says it all. Her eyes filled with excitement, she destroys only the disease-spreaders, the garden-wreckers, the kit-eaters and the chicken killers. She does not even try to eat them. She just kills them quickly, drops them and leaves them for me to dispose of safely. It’s the hunt that she lives for, and loves. And it’s the hunter that we need right now.

She’s still a killer, she will never not be. But I love her deeply. And I couldn’t be prouder of my little monster.

Seed Starting 2016; Tomatoes Edition

Whoa. I went to make this post and noticed that I have been doing this blog and this homesteading thing for 3 and a half years. I have butchered countless rabbits, kept a dozen different breeds of chicken, tried out more plants than I can count… And yet I STILL don’t really have this whole gardening thing down yet. I’m not really sure what I am doing wrong, but I am. This year I have a new strategy.

I am attempting to make ONE plant a major focus of my life. I have collected more mason jars in the past year than I know what to do with, see, and I want to fill them with at least one successful crop of something. Last year I picked up a lot of some 100 dirty and used mason jars, mostly wide-mouth quart size and mostly lacking rings for about $40. Then for Christmas this past year I got a box of six old-fashioned blue mason jars, two dozen pint jars (to go on top of my 2-3 dozen I already have), a ton of lids and rings and some dry-goods caps. So that brings my jar count up to some ridiculous number that I haven’t actually counter around 150. Maybe a dozen or so of those have food in them.

As such, I am seriously focusing on tomatoes this year. Very seriously. I want to fill those jars with tomato paste, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, and if I get lucky enough that my other veggies come up, some salsa as well.

My hope is that by growing a LOT of one plant, and by learning intensely about that ONE plant, I will finally get something to grow with serious success. And so I have this massive number of tomato seedlings just starting to come up.

Tomatoes

So the first thing I learned from my previous failures; I am terrible at keeping plants watered, and preventing them from drying out. This little pre-made cheesecake lid keeps all the seedlings watered from below. I just fill this up with an inch of water and walk away for a couple of days. The fact that the seed cups are all so tightly bunched together also helps retain moisture. The natural materials of the seed cups wicks the moisture up to the seeds (like a paper towel with the corner dipped lightly in a pool of water sucks it up into the whole towel), while gravity keeps them from being over watered. I do not water the surfaces, I just pour some water down one of the sides between the seed cups. So far this has been a success. I am using old seeds and don’t expect all of them to sprout.

In previous years I tried multiple different methods for growing seedlings that ended in various forms of disaster. Lamps in the basement where I forgot about them, plastic covered boxes in windowsills that grow mold relentlessly, spaced out containers that dried out, containers that were too big or too small… I have bought potting mix, seed starting mix, sterilized my own compost…. Bleh. So much work that amounted to a fat lot of nothing. I want plants that will live with easy to use methods that work for me. There’s a concept in rabbit raising; get rabbits that are already living and reproducing in the conditions that you want to raise them in. So I want to try to grow plants and start saving seeds that will handle my growing methods. But I also need to understand that just like rabbits can’t eat a diet of nothing but bananas, I have to cater to my plants. And the plants need light, heat, water and air. They need care that they just won’t get in my basement or in a grow box. I need something that’s easy and idiot proof and plants that will grow under those conditions.

This year I decided to hell with if my neighbors think I am growing something sketchy in my windows and set up the plants in my living room, right in my front bay window, with nice bright, hot, lights on them. Since I don’t have enough lights, when I get a lot of sun I just shift them into a window that has light coming into it. The windows in my house are really awkward. My street is approximately north/south, which means the front of my house faces the west (sunset) and the back faces east (sunrise). And my south facing windows face my neighbor’s house right across their driveway (maybe a dozen feet away), which blocks a huge amount of the light. I have a grand total of TWO south facing windows in my whole house, and they are both pretty useless. So in the morning the plants go in my kitchen/dining room windows if there’s a good deal of sun shining… And in the evening they stay in the bay windows. During mid-day, if the stars are aligned just so, I get light in my singular first-floor south-facing widow and they go there (as they are in the first picture).

Unfortunately I did manage to screw up even that. After the seedlings sprouted I put them under a bigger, brighter lamp than my little desk lamp I was putting precariously close to them before. But the lamp put out TOO much heat and managed to crisp 2/3 of the seedlings in a cup to death. I didn’t notice it until I went to take the pictures… Which made it a great time to take photos of my failure in action. Yay? The third seedling in that cup, despite the heat stress, is now bouncing back. Mostly.

lamp

Too close!

lamp2

Just right!

The other downside to this method has been fungi. I used last year’s failed empty pot soil mixed with some organic potting soil that has been sitting outside for a while and I didn’t sterilize any of it. I don’t want to have to bake my dirt in and over at 200*F for 20 minutes or some other nonsense in order to grow plants in it. So I didn’t. And while I’m getting some mushrooms, it’s NOTHING compared to when I was trying the whole plastic grow box method that retained moisture on every surface. So far I have just pinched off the various fungi and removed them. They’ve been sparse at best.

I also have a tray that you can see in the background with some other veggies. Even I know better than to put all my eggs in one basket as it were so I’m still giving the other plants a shot. But I’m not really as invested.

otherseeds

Peppers (hot and bell), zucchini, watermelon, cucumbers and corn are all making an attempt to grace my garden this year… And I tried direct-seeding some “purple” broccoli in my front lawn where I am attempting to grow some flowers in a newly made bed. I have a tiny bit of one zucchini peeping out from one of these pots (third from the left, top row) if you look closely.

I chose watermelon because I really, REALLY would like to get some fruit this year! I will also me attempting to build a small(ish) strawberry bed again this year… Once it’s officially not snowing anymore that is. That could be another couple of weeks since we had snow, oh, yesterdayish? The last bed of strawberries got trampled by dogs. Alas. This one will need better protection.

Fingers crossed I get some delicious produce this year!