Friday, December 16, 2011

Small Town Christmas

There are some things that just make you warm and fuzzy during the Christmas season, especially in a small town.  Goochland county was having its annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the local YMCA, so the Good Wife, the three boys and myself headed down to participate.

We got there a few minutes later than the official starting time so the tree was already lit and there were carolers signing around the tree.  Before heading over to the tree, we had to check out the activities around the parking lot.

First there were a few fire pits for making s'mores.  Next to the fire pits was a table with zip-lock bags filled with individual s'more making ingredients, including two graham crackers, a piece of Hershey's chocolate and one jumbo marshmallow.  After making our s'mores, we headed over to the hot chocolate line, which was also the cookie line.  (If some sugar is good for the kids, then more sugar must be better!)

Then in the distance we could hear the sirens of a fire truck.  It wasn't just blowing the siren now and then, it was running them full blast, and they were getting closer!  And then they pulled into the parking lot.

Nobody was burned from the fire pits or falling into a coma from sugar overdose.  This is how Santa arrives in Goochland!  He then went over to the Christmas tree and allowed all the little boys and girls to sit on his lap and let him know what they wanted for Christmas.

My kids let me know they are all "too old" to sit on Santa's lap.  They have never been too enamored of Santa, the Easter Bunny or any of those other fantasy characters.  Although we do have the "Tooth Angel" in our house.  I don't think they really believe it, but they play along with us because they end up with cash as long as the game keeps going.

Then we headed over to the craft table and the Middle Son and Youngest Son made a mitten craft relating to the book "The Mitten" by Jan Brett.  One more pass by the s'mores table to realize they were all gone before heading home.  Everyone had a good time and enjoyed our small town Christmas celebration.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Molting Poultry

We have been wondering when it was going to happen.  Other blogs have been talking about their chickens molting and not laying eggs any more for the winter.  Fortunately, that hasn't happened to us...until now.

We are only getting three eggs a day right now out of our six chickens, which still isn't too bad.  The only chicken that we can tell is actually molting and losing its feathers is the Black Australorp shown above.  She looks so pitiful with her neck feathers all falling out and her body feathers looking a bit spotty.  Fortunately the other chickens aren't bothering her and she is still able to stay with the others in the same coop and run.

We have been wanting to get a ditch dug between the house and the coop so we can get some electricity down there.  When the Chicken Condo was built, I installed a light bulb fixture and an outlet inside.  When we ran an extension cord, the neighbor's dog ate through two of them that were linked together.  The only problem now is that the chickens roost in the Guinea Ghetto instead of the Chicken Condo.  Aaargh!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Firewood and Fires in the Fall

There is something rewarding about looking at a pile of split firewood, knowing that you did all the splitting by hand with an axe.  Knowing that wood will be used in the future once it is seasoned to warm your home.

My BIL in Knoxville is to credit with a good portion of the pile of logs in the background.  He was the one when visiting in July for a little R&R recommended I check out Craigslist for free firewood.  It's amazing how much is available with a little effort.  I can't imagine paying $9.95 for about 6 logs at a grocery store.  After a quick search, I had volunteered my BIL to go with me and pick up a load.  It was hot out but we loaded up a trailer full of wood about as full as it could safely go, and unloaded it back at home.  And there it has sat until now.

Luckily, because the wood takes time to season or dry out, we already have a stack of wood ready for the wood stove and the fireplace.  Lately it has been in the 20's in the morning and then up to about 50 during the day.  The wood stove in the basement has been kicking it up a few notches and taking a load off our heat pump, which doesn't work so effectively when it is really cold.  We have also been having a fire in the fireplace in the family room.

There is something cozy about a fireplace with a warm fire burning during the Christmas season.  It makes time slow down a bit and makes everyone a little more calm and peaceful.  Ahhh.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Deer Processing Class Review

Earlier I posted about the deer processing class that I took a few weeks ago at Nodalski's butcher shop here in Goochland.  The picture that was used in the Powhatan today article blocked me out and all you could see was a part of my left arm.  Well the article also made it into the Goochland Gazette and you can actually see me in the photo!  I'm a star!  Well, actually I just happened to be standing in the right place during the class.

And just in case you are wondering, no, I have not gotten my first deer yet.  With my limited hunting time of Saturdays and then usually only a few hours in the morning before family plans kick in, I need to set up my tree stand next to a deer farm.  Hopefully I can get some more time in during Christmas break.  Season ends January 7th, so time is running out!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Old Trees and Big Leaves

A few posts ago I mentioned how much I like fall and the colors that accompany this season.  In case you can't remember, I'll give you another iimage of the season.

The other day we were out at a golf course doing a video shoot for some of our product and the leaves were falling around us with every breath of wind that came through the trees.  However, a few of the leaves seemed exceptionally large.

I've never seen leaves that big, at least not from a tree that wasn't a palm tree!  Do these leaves come from a particular species of tree or are they just really old trees which tend to grow larger leaves?  Amazing!

Friday, November 25, 2011

So close, but no deer yet...

Oldest son and I set up a tree stand in the woods behind our house, hoping to take advantage of all the deer we see in our back yard on the edge of the woods.  We know they come out quite a bit because the apple trees we planted last fall have felt the wrath of hungry deer.  Another reason to turn the tables and put the deer ON the table. I wonder if the meat will have a hit of apple flavor?

The Oldest Son and I have taken turns in the tree stand.  He has taken some of the week day evenings since he gets home from school in time to get up in the stand and the hunting time is over by the time I get home from work.  I get the Saturdays and an occasional weekday morning.

Oldest Son in the tree stand with the muzzle loader.

Last Saturday was the first day of shotgun/rifle season in Goochland.  But we are still using the muzzle loader since I feel that we need to get at least one deer with the new gun to make it worth while.

There were quite a few hunters out and about in the woods behind our house so I figured they may push some of the deer towards our house.  Positioned in the tree stand a few hours before closing time for the day, I sat quietly, anxiously awaiting a deer to pass by the tree stand.  Sitting, waiting, sitting quietly, waiting patiently.  Nothing.  Then at about 5pm footsteps could be heard behind me.  I was upwind from the deer and it was to my back, so I could only sit and wait for it to pass by and then try to take a shot.  Unfortunately, what sounded like about 15 feet behind me, the deer spooked, probably smelling me and ran off to my right where I couldn't get turned for a shot.

And that was the end of the day.  I've lost track of how many times Oldest Son has gone out, but I am now 0-4 on my hunting attempts.  No trophy buck is necessary, any deer will do.  A young doe will have better tasting meat anyways.  I have all the training, now I just need an unaware deer.  Do you think there are any of those deer out there?  Time will tell, the season ends January 7th.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

This post is being written Tuesday morning during the 13-1/2 hour of a 14 hour road trip from Virginia to Wisconsin.  We are heading up to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family where I grew up in SE Wisconsin.  The kids have done great and the Good Wife is currently in command of the ship allowing me time to write.

I want to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving.  We all have so much to be thankful for, particularly if you live in the USA.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in everything that is going wrong, that we forget about everything that is right.  Take a few minutes and think of everything you are thankful for.  It is a great way to start of this national day of Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's official, I'm a blogger!

Since the blog started, the question in my mind has been how do I know if I have become an official blogger?  Are these musings and stories just for my close friends and family?  Does anyone else out there care?  My blog was given the Liebster Award from another blogger, as recognition of a starting blog that is liked by others.

But the other day I got the ultimate recognition of my official blogging status.  I got a mention in another blog, along with one of my pictures and official recognition of my picture.  And this wasn't just some little blog being run by a teenager from his bedroom.  This is a big time blog!

I'm not sure how I came upon this website several years ago, but the host, Eric Rochow, started doing video blogs of general DIY and cooking stuff.  It was a sort of eclectic mix of topics.  The best part, is that Eric didn't profess to be a trained profession, he was an ordinary guy with a day job that enjoyed showing people, via his videos, how to do things.  Not being a professional, often times his videos were humorous with mistakes that we would surely encounter.  But thanks to Eric leading the way, it was mistakes we could avoid, if we had really been paying attention!  Eric was one of the many inspirations for me to start my blog.  If you are subscribed to his blog, be sure to check it out.  His videos are on iTunes and are a lot of fun to watch, especially the token Labrador Retriever shots.

Back to the topic at hand, my mention on his website.  Following him on Twitter, he mentioned about preparing his bee hives for Hurricane Irene.  I replied to his tweet that I used dog run stakes to hold down my hives with straps during the hurricane.  They easily screwed into the ground and wouldn't come out, no matter how soft the ground got with the rain.  Eric decided to mention my tip in one of his posts.  You have to scroll to the last picture in the post, but there is my picture and my mention.  Validated!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Deer Processing Class

Being the engineer that I am and wanting to gain as much information as possible when learning something new, I took a class on "Deer Processing made Simple" at Nodalski's Butcher Shop, the local butcher in Goochland.  It was put on by the Center for Rural Culture, which according to their website, their mission is to educate, promote and inspire members of our community to sustain a culture that supports agriculture and the local economy, protects natural and historic resources, and maintains our rural character and traditions.  They have some neat programs throughout the year.  The Good Wife is planning to take their wreath making class in December and make our house festive with the small of a fresh wreath.  Ah, the rabbit trails these posts take me on.  Back to the task at hand.

I arrived at Nodalski's in the evening for the 2 hour class hosted by the owner Jonathan Nodalski.  A very friendly man willing to take time out of  his busy schedule to show a dozen people how to get the most out of their deer this fall.

Once we were ready, Jonathan brought out the deer that he would be demonstrating on.  It had been killed earlier in the week and was gutted and skinned already and hanging in the cooler at the butcher shop.

Being presented in this form, it brings more of a domesticated meat look to the deer, waiting to be butchered.  Not exactly how most people do it in the field.  Jonathan stressed that all the same cuts you can get out of a cow for the most part are present in a deer, albeit on a much smaller scale, particularly on the sample deer.

Many of the cuts are laid out on the table and here Jonathan is showing how a roast could be butterflied and then folded over spices and other additional seasonings, and then tied up with butcher twine to be ready for cooking.

It didn't take long for the deer to be full processed.  One of the more humorous points was that Jonathan had a hand saw for making the cuts through the bones.  However, due to the limited class time, and having already put in a full day at the butcher shop, after making a few cuts with the saw he would turn around to his band saw and make quick work of the rest of the bones.

Jonathan is not only a butcher, but also an excellent chef.  As many of the people would throw questions out, Jonathan would give his recommendations on how to prepare the various cuts, not only from what spices or sauces would work well with the cuts, but also how to cook them.

In case this post left you wanting more information and a better written description of the class, you can check out an article at the Powhatan Today website. In the second picture above, the lady in the background is the reporter that wrote the article.  Unfortunately I was blocked in the picture in the Powhatan Today.  I'm in the dark blue shirt right behind Jonathan.  My moment of fame gone!

If you are in the Goochland area and have not been to Nodalski's Butcher Shop I highly recommend it.  During the week he has prepared meals that you can reserve and pick up after work, either already cooked and ready to go or prepared and all you have to do is heat or do the final cooking.  I can personally attest that they are fantastic!  Or if you are looking for some great cuts of meat, Jonathan can take care of whatever you need.  They get a good portion of their meats direct from local farmers that raise their meat naturally without all the hormones and antibiotics.  One day they had Prime Ribeye and the family was out of town, so I went down and got a nice thick cut and went home and put it on the grill.  Best steak I have EVER had!  But that is another post...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fall Colors

In case I haven't mentioned it yet, I love fall, and particularly October and November.  In case you are wondering why...

Need I say more?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

First Deer Hunt

The time had come.  Muzzle loader season had started in VA.  A new CVA Optima was purchased due to the odd rules of Goochland county.  This is the first year that rifles are allowed, and only from a tree stand.  Otherwise, Goochland is a shotgun only county.  However, muzzle loaders are allowed during a separate muzzle loader season between bow and shotgun season, and they can be used during shotgun season, so that seemed like the right weapon to buy.

After getting dressed in my fairly new hunting gear, I headed over to one of our friends that was going to guide me on my first deer hunt.  He had already set up a couple tree stands behind another friend's house.  We headed out in the afternoon and got up in our stands by 4:30pm.  We sat quietly waiting for a deer to come strolling through.  It was a good spot next to a stream and a couple large deer had already been taken on this lot.

After two hours of sitting still and enjoying nature, darkness descended and hunting was over for the day.  We saw more hunters than deer as it was opening day of muzzle loader season.   I'll have to wait until next weekend to give it another try.  Hopefully we'll be more successful and be able to put some natural venison into our freezer.  Although it wasn't a successful day as far as bagging some game, it was still fun and I am looking forward to giving it another try soon.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pumpkin Time

October is pumpkin time.  So off we went and headed up to Carter Mountain Orchard.  Not only do they have great apples, they also pumpkins this time of year and a whole lot of festival every weekend.  It took us about 45 minutes to get up the road to the orchard, but parking was quick and they really know how to process a lot of people.  

After the three sons each picked a pumpkin, we picked a few apples, bought an apple cider slushy for each of us, and a dozen apple sauce doughnuts.  Being gastronomically satisfied, we headed home.  

First step is to cut open the top and get the guts out.  We weren't prepared to roast the seeds like we have in the past, so the Good Wife figured the chickens and guinea would enjoy the spoils of their work.

The initial processing took place down by the Chicken Condo and Guinea Ghetto so the ladies wouldn't have to go far from home to get the goods.  It took a couple days to finish it all, but they seemed to really enjoy the pumpkin inners.

Once the inside was cleaned out, each of the boys sat down to work their artistic magic on their pumpkins.

Oldest son went for a traditional face.  The triangle eyes and the fanged smile looking back at him as he worked his magic.

Middle Son used sticks on the sides to add arms to his pumpkin.  He made a traditional face on one side and a more modern robot face on the other side.

Youngest son went to work and cut multiple face on the his pumpkin, if you can call them faces.  There were eyes, a mouth and what appeared to be a lot of extra wounds on the pumpkin face.  I guess he was going for the scary look with his pumpkin.

For some reason a final photo was never taken of the pumpkins.  They are still on the patio to enhance our fall atmosphere, but they are slightly wrinkled and somewhat compressed as they have not handled the heat of the midday sun very well.  Carving pumpkins is a fond memory of mine growing up, and I hope it passes down to my boys.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Deer Hunting

Living in the country, the Oldest Son has several friends that do a lot of hunting, and particularly deer hunting.  Since I grew up in a family that didn't really do any hunting, it isn't something that I am able to pass on to my sons.  But Oldest Son requested that we go deer hunting.  So where to start?

First was the hunters safety course.  Since I had never had a hunting license, I needed to take the class with Oldest Son to get my license.  For the record, Oldest Son only got one question wrong on his test, and his father still did better!  Now we were licensed and ready to hunt, but the season hadn't started yet.

Virginia has a youth hunt day before the regular season starts where anyone with a license between 12-15 years old can take any deer on one day.  Oldest Son went with some friends to their cabin to give it a try, but didn't see any deer that day.

Several friends we have made here in VA go deer hunting, and several were more than willing to take us out and show us the ropes.  But being an engineer, I like to get some hands on instruction before being set loose in the woods.  Too many things can go wrong and I wanted to be sure that I was prepared.  So it seemed appropriate that a class was in order.  Luckily for me, Jackson Landers teaches a class up in Charlottesville.  This is a two day, hands on class that goes through hunting tactics, shooting range experience with various caliber rifles, actual hands on butchering of a deer, and cooking of the deer that the class butchers.

WARNING - The below photos may be graphic to people that are not used to hunting or butchering animals!

There was a surprise snow storm up in the hills west of Charlottesville on the Saturday that we were at the rifle range.  We went up to a public range in the George Washington National Forest southwest of Staunton.

The trees were still in color, the grass was green and the slow was covering the ground.  This made for some postcard photos, and a cold day at the range.

It turned out to be a cold day, but the sun was out and our minds were more on the range than the weather.  We got to shoot all sorts of rifles, including .30-06, .30-30, .270 Winchester, .22 and .308 among others.  Not sure what other calibers were there, as these were the main ones that I tried.  We started with a .22 out a 25 and 50 yards, then moved onto the higher power rifles at 100 yards.  At the end, a few clay disks were stuck out at 150 yards.  Jackson had a new hunting knife as a trophy for whoever could hit one of the clay targets in the fewest shots.  One guy hit it on one shot.  My first shot I anticipated, and pulled it to the side.  My next shot was dead on.  One shot too late.

The next day was butchering after some more class time.  One of the additional instructors, Fergus Clare, got a fallow deer from a deer farm.  Unfortunately, the deer farm will be closing this year, so Jackson will only be having two more classes this year.

Everyone in the class got a hand in skinning the deer.  It was done in a worst case scenario on the ground, without hanging the deer in a tree.  He told us that if we could process a deer on the ground, we could do it anywhere.

Everyone took turns as Jackson and Fergus showed us what to do.  I got to cut off a quarter and take out a backstrap, along with assisting in the skinning.

Interestingly, there was a lady filming our class as she is working on a documentary on Jackson.  We'll have to wait and see if any of us in the class move on to become a star.  Although one of the students is an actor, I'm not sure if this class would help his career.  Surprisingly, she stuck right there with everything as we processed the deer.

This class is geared towards adults that want to start hunting deer.  It has appealed to the slow food and locavore movement, where people are wanting to take responsibility for where their food comes from and have meat that is not stuffed with hormones and antibiotics.  A wild whitetail deer is as free-range and natural as it gets.  This class showed us how to use all parts of the deer.  As you can see below, by the time we were done, there wasn't much left of the deer.

Now that the deer was processed in the field, it was time to head to the kitchen.  Jackson showed us how to clean up the cuts of meat and how to get a much meat as possible from the deer for consumption, including grinding the lesser bits for use in things such as tacos, etc.

We started out with a few medallions pan seared with some olive oil and salt and pepper and some fresh thyme.  Then it was on to the backstrap with some butter, salt, pepper and thyme.

Backstrap being prepared for cooking.

The hind quarters were then cut up to show us how to get the most out of that portion of the deer.  For being a smaller doe, it did provide quite a bit of meat.

The meat was delicious.  We talked a bit about the misconception of the "gamey" taste of venison.  That is due to the poor handling of the meat between the death of the deer and getting the meat into the freezer.  Picture Bubba driving around town with his deer tied on the hood of the truck over the hot engine for a few hours showing all his friends his prize buck.  If handled properly, you can not even tell the difference in the taste of the meat from very lean beef.  The meat that we ate was incredibly tasty.

I can't say enough about this class.  It gave me the confidence to go out and try to take a deer by myself, although I hope to go with one of my experienced friends at first, just to have the backup assistance if things go wrong.  This will be something now that I can pass on to Oldest Son and later Middle Son and Youngest Son if they have the interest.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

China Trip Recap

My apologies for going silent for a bit.  A trip to China for two weeks interrupted my flow and kept me busy once I got back home.  Several of the last posts were done ahead of time and posts while I was gone, since China does not allow internet access to Blogger.  Before my posts get back to the usual items of the Haphazard Countryman's life, I wanted to go over a few items from my recent trip to China.  If you follow me on Twitter, DWAinAZ, you would have seen most of these items already.  (I realize my Twitter name refers to being in Arizona, but the account was started before I moved to VA.

After arriving in China at my hotel, I like to make a quick trip to the store to get some snacks.  My favorites are Pringles.  However, while there, I like to take a look at the other available flavors of potato chips.

Like "Finger Licking Braised Pork Flavor" or "Black Pepper Rib Eye Steak Flavor".  

And my favorite, "Numb & Spicy Hot Pot Flavor".  Not sure exactly what this would taste like as I wasn't feeling too brave at the time.

When you arrive at a factory to see how your production is going, you never want to see what I saw below.

Fortunately, that was our product flying part way down the makeshift slide before falling off and impacting on the ground!

Do you ever wonder what happens to all the manufacturing equipment in the US once they change the format, such as for soda cans?  Remember the old pull tabs that you would fully remove from the can and then stick back into the can.  Parents always warned you not to swallow the tab.  Answer found, they ship everything to China and they use it.

While in the airport, waiting for a flight in one of the lounges, there was a machine called the Popcake.  It was push button service for pancakes.  The photo below was taken so I could make fun of the machine.

Push the button for how many pancakes you want, and out the pop on the right side, dropping right down on the stack of plates.  They are Made in the USA.  No wonder the trade deficit is out of balance so severely if we are relying on this machine!  

However, after trying a couple, and going back for seconds, I can't complain.  They are really good!  I wish we had one of these machines in our office at work!

The Chinese also seem to be more efficient at using their resources.  Such as getting new cars to market.  In the USA, it is one row of cars stacked on top of another row of cars and shipped to market.  In China they are able to stick two rows of cars on top.

And the last bottom van was hanging halfway out the back of the truck.  Not sure this would fly in the USA.

On the way back, I flew through Beijing.  That is one polluted city.  The picture below is from the airplane on the way down into Beijing.  It was mid-afternoon and by the time we landed, it was dark and the lights were on all over. 

Once the sun gets down at any angle, it gets dark fast due to the sun not making it through the clouds.  This always makes it good to be home.

Now back to my home and the chickens, bees and deer hunting.  Yes, you read that right.  Keep following to see what I have gotten myself into now.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Storms and the Guinea

Last week we had some pretty heavy storms come through our area.  They were isolated and not wide spread, but they were strong.  From our house, the lighting was making the clouds glow, so I set up my camera on the deck and did a few time lapse photos.  Most just made the cloud look like it was lit up, since the lightning was inside or below the clouds, and not on the outside facing us.

There was a clear sky above our house and the stars were shining, but the big, puffy white storm clouds were alive with light.

At the same time, the guinea was there on its patio chair, enjoying the cooler night air.  He didn't seem to mind the storm clouds in the distance, or bother that we were there with the camera on the deck taking photos.

The only bad part of him being on the deck, is he tends to leave a pile behind in the morning.  Not sure if we can train him to go over on the side yard when he has to do his business like the dog does.  Nice thought though.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fresh Eggs

Fresh eggs are hard to beat.  Everyone said that once you get used to fresh eggs, you'll never want to eat a store bought egg again.  The first fresh eggs we ate was good, but it had a unique taste.  More than just having a unique taste, it had a taste.  Store bought eggs are more of an egg looking item that just takes up space.

Fresh eggs have such bright yolks.  It is one of the things you notice right away with fresh eggs.  After a little while, you get used to it, and then when you end up at a hotel buffet with scrambled eggs, you notice the dull color of the eggs languishing in the Sterno heated tray.

Fresh eggs to go with the pancakes.

The exciting thing is that we seem to get more double yolks than with store bought eggs.  Not sure if that means we have defective chickens, or they are still getting their systems figured out with this whole egg laying thing.  

The main point of this post is how easy it is to have a few chickens and get some fresh eggs on a daily basis. While living in Phoenix we had thought about having chickens but were weary about all that was involved.  In reality, we could have made a Chicken Condo like the one we have here, changed the door to a ramp underneath the coop and closed in the bottom with chicken wire and we would have been set.  It would have been a perfect home to two or three chickens.  Why did we wait so long?  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Guinea Staying Home

Now that we are down to one guinea, it seems to have gotten the idea that it is safer close to home.  So much so, that the last guinea has decided that even the Guinea Ghetto is too far from the house.  Instead, it has decided that the best place to "roost", if you can call it that, is on the patio furniture on the deck.

Guinea "roosting" on the patio furniture.

Luckily the patio chair cushions are stored inside, or the guinea may get so comfortable it would never leave the deck!  It doesn't bother me having the guinea on the deck, except for the extra guinea poop that seems to be accumulating underneath the chair.  That will be a good job for the Youngest Son to spray off the deck now and then.

Not only is the guinea hanging out on the deck during the night, it likes to spend a bit of time up on the railing.  Maybe it is the better vantage point of the yard that the railing provides.  Looking out of the kitchen window above the sink, the guinea has found it's perch.

Guardian of the yard.

As long as he stays around for a while and doesn't magically disappear, he is welcome to hang out on the deck.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bee Update

One of the two original hives didn't have much honey reserves so I started to feed it some 2:1 sugar syrup.  After the long days of rain we had the other week, that hive was doing good after being fed for a week or so, and the strong hive had used up a lot of its food while it was stuck in the hive and couldn't get outside.  I took off all the supers on the hives that still had them and put feeders on all three hives.

After about another week of feeding on all three, they are all coming along strong now.  The hive at Possum's garden seemed the most active.  It is in full sun, so it may think that summer is still hanging on more than the other hives that get some shade during the day.

After sitting down and looking at the entrance to the hive and watching the bees for a few minutes, I noticed that most of the bees on the outside were drones.  Apparently the ladies were kicking the drones out of the hive.  Some were down in the grass at the front of the hive, some were on the face of the hive box.  Others were making a landing on the entrance to the hive, only to be pushed back away by the worker bees.  No more free loaders allowed.

The bees are so fascinating to watch.  Every time I tell the Good Wife that I am going to make a quick inspection at the hives, she knows now that it will be an hour or two before I am home again.  The inspections get done, which is why I went to the hive, bu then I also spend a bit of time just watching them.  Seeing what they are bringing back to the hive.  Are there legs full of pollen?  Are the guard bees checking them out at the entrance?  What is everyone doing in the hive?

The Good BIL (Brother-In-Law) was talking about getting a hive.  Maybe when I do splits this spring I can give him one of my hives.  He has a great garden with lots of veggies, fruit and flowering plants all around his house, even though he lives in a suburb.  After having the bees this first year, I now want a hive at the house, knowing that they are gentle and don't bother people because they have work to do.  I'll keep you posted as to what comes of the Good BIL and his potential beekeeping.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Virginia State Fair

Originally being from Wisconsin, the state fair is a huge spectacle with all sorts of food being the focus of the event.  Some of these foods are corn on the cob, grilled in the husk, then peeled back and dipped in an old coffee can full of melted butter, ten sprinkled with salt and pepper.  Another is the hand made cream puffs that are made inside a refrigerated building you walk through to get your creamy delight, enjoying not only the sweets, but also the cool temperatures.  And of course, there is the brat.  If you say it while you are pinching your nose closed, you will get the nasally accent that a true Cheesehead will have as they order up their brat, with or without kraut.

So the Virginia state fair rolled into town and we got a great deal on season passes through Groupon.  Have I mentioned how addictive Groupon is?  Car detailing, restaurant deals, and now the state fair!  Some friends of our grabbed the deal on Groupon along with us, so it was off we go!

This year we made it to the fair for two days.  We had the season passes, so we had to use them more than once.  The first trip I convinced all the people involved, five kids and three other adults, including The Good Wife, to check out the animal pavilions before going on the rides.  Partly because I don't like the rides, and partly because I wanted everyone to get a real feed of what a fair is all about.  Although I did take a photo of the kids on the display board simulating a roller coaster!

We checked out the chickens, the ducks, got a bucket of mini donuts, looked at all the displays of vegetables that were entered into the competitions, watched a cow judging, which I have no idea what the judge is looking for.  Of course some time was spent with the kids climbing all over the farm tractors on display.  We also checked out the calving barn, and there was a newborn calf less than 24 hours old laying there next to its mama.

There was the arts and crafts pavilion, which wasn't appreciated by the kids, but the photos entered into the competitions were fun to look at.  By the time we looked at everything that wasn't a ride, it was time to go!  The only thing that kept the kids at bay, was a promise that we would come another day.  And so we did.

The next trip to the fair was all about the rides.  When I commented that we needed to check out the animal pavilions before going on the rides, I thought we were going to have a mutiny.  Off to the rides we went.

Each child got a wristband for unlimited rides.  From one ride to the next, watching them toss and turn, flip and fly and spin and roll.  My stomach was loosening up just watching them, and both of my feet were firmly planted on the ground.  After a little bit, they were hungry again, even though we had eaten at home before going to the fair.  So some french fries were bought and shared with the group.  Then more rides.  And more rides.  And...

Apparently french fries from a state fair and rides at a state fair don't mix.  At least not inside the stomach!  But after about a half hour, he was back at it and in the rides with the rest of the kids, and nothing left in his stomach.

Overall, we all had a great time at the VA state fair.  It isn't the size or food spectacular of the WI state fair, but it is still a lot of fun.  Of course, my favorite part is the animals, but I know the kids loved the rides!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pressure Washing the Deck

The Good Wife suggested that we clean the deck and then put a sealer/stain on it.  It has been a long process, partly because there hasn't been that sense of urgency.  We are borrowing a pressure washer from some friends, so there isn't the urgency of needing to get the rental back to the shop, so we have to get it done this weekend.  That's why it has been more than a month since we started and we still aren't done.

At first I didn't think it needed to be washed, but after starting, the Good Wife was right.  It was horrible.

The dark portion is the deck before washing.  The wood colored decking is after washing.  Don't ask me why I started the deck on the left and then decided to do one of the benches from the right to left.  I'm not even sure why that happened.  It may have been that I was trying to show the difference between washed and unwashed.  Regardless, it was hard to argue it didn't need to be washed after the project was started.

We're not done yet.  All the deck is pressure washed, and the railings from the deck side are completed.  All that is left is the railings from the outside and the framing around the outside.  It is just going to take a good day of work to get it done.  And now that the cooler temperatures are coming, we better get it done quick so we can get it coated before the winter weather comes and the sealant won't cure.

The question now is what sealant should we use?  We like the wood color of the deck, so we don't want to use a stain that is going to change the color of the wood, but we want it to be weather sealed.  And I definitely don't want to be doing this again next year, so I want something that is going to last.  If anyone has any suggestions or had good experience with a particular brand, please let us know.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Plane View of Thunderstorms

The other week I made a quick trip for work up to Boston.  On the way back there were several storms along the way and the plane felt as though it was winding its way through a forest of trees.  Looking out the window there was a great view of the thunderstorms, so a few pictures of the clouds seemed in order.

The pictures don't do the storms justice.  I could see the clouds growing and billowing as we flew by.  Even though it looked sunny in these photos, once it was time to land, that was not the case.  Only once has the in-flight sickness bag been necessary with all the miles that I have logged.  By the time we finally got on the ground, it was close to being the second time.  Luckily, the pilot decided just in time to get the plane on the ground and the unused bag was gently tucked into the seat back.  Ready for another passenger on another day.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chicken Gone!!

This chicken thing is fun and frustrating all at the same time.  Fun is seeing them grow up from chicks and get to know us, so that they come running to me when I get home from work.  Fun in lifting the lid on the nesting boxes and finding fresh eggs waiting for us every day.  Fun in listening to them talk to each other and us as they wander around the yard, eating bugs and grass, free-ranging to their hearts content.

Frustrating in watching them wander over to the neighbor's yard and hang out over there.  Frustrating in watching them start to roost in the Guinea Ghetto instead of the wonderful Chicken Condo I created for them.  Frustrating in watching them disappear, which is what happened this time.

At last count, we were seven chickens and one guinea.  One of the Black Australorp chickens went missing.  This time there was no evidence as to what my have happened.  No feather trail through the yard like there was when we lost four of the guineas.  Nothing.  Not a trace.

Last Black Australop left in the flock.

The feathers on the Black Australorps have a green tint when the sun reflects off them.  They are really a good looking chicken.  We started with pairs, and now the Black Australorp and Buff Orpington are singles.  The Ameracauna and Barred Rock chickens are still pairs.  Not that it matters since they are all hens and all seem to get along fine.

The most disappointing part is that they are all laying eggs, so we were getting a solid seven eggs a day, and now we are down to six a day.  Nothing to shake a stick at, but one less than before.  We're a little more cautious now with the chickens, keeping them in the run if we are going to be gone all morning and letting them out in the afternoon when we are home.  This seems to keep them closer to the house than if we let them out first thing in the morning.  It seems to be working and they are all hanging around closer to the house.  Hopefully, this means we will be at a steady six eggs a day until winter comes.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Brunswick Stew at Possum's

Today was a sign of fall.  Yes, it is technically fall, being after September 21,  but it sure hasn't felt like it.  There are a few trees starting to turn colors, and we had a few days of cooler weather, but this week it has been raining almost every day and it has been about 80 degrees this week.  It's hard to feel like it is fall when you are still in shorts and tee shirts.  My long-sleeve tee shirts have been silently crying to me to get some use.

But this was the day that Possum selected for his Brunswick stew party.  For those of you not familiar with Possum, he is the one that saw me working my original two bee hives and asked me if I would put some bees at his 3 acre garden. He starts the stew around 6am in the morning cooking over a wood fire fueled by only hickory.  He says it adds flavor to the stew.  The main ingredients are tomatoes, butter beans, corn, celery, potatoes, chicken, turkey, stock from the chicken and turkey along with water and a selection of seasonings and spices.  Mixed all together and cooked in a monstrous pot over a wood fire.  The pot is so large that he doesn't have have a matching lid.  Instead, he uses a piece of plywood cut to a matching circle with a handle screwed on the center for lifting.

Possum filling a serving bowl from the main pot of Brunswick stew.

It was delicious.  The Middle Son and Youngest Son chose not to partake and Possum had hot dogs and sausage for them, cooked up in his smoker to add some extra flavor.

A lot of people were coming and going.  Possum said about 80 people were invited, and the party started at noon and goes until the pot is empty.  That's the way to have a country get together to celebrate the changing of seasons and the coming of fall.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Somebody is Watching!

From checking the blog stats here, it is known that a few people here and there have been checking out my blog and following my haphazard adventures to living the country life.  But now it is proven.  Concrete2Chickens has been given the "Liebster Blog" award by the nice couple over at Broken Road Farms. It was the bonding we had over waiting for our first eggs this summer from our first chickens.

From "Our Life on the Broken Road": "Liebster" is a German word meaning dear, sweet, kind, nice, good, beloved, lovely, kindly, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.

The Liebster is awarded to spotlight up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers.  Concrete2Chickens definitely fits into that category with less than 200 followers!

There are a few rules associated with the Liebster Blog award.  So without further ado, here we go.

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.

     Thank you Broken Road Farms! This award may seem insignificant to some, but it means a lot to me to get some kudos from someone other than family and pre-blog friends.

2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.

     This is not an easy task as there are a lot of blogs I watch and I don't want to offend those that are not listed below.  There will actually be six mentions, but one of them gave the award to me, so I assume I can't give it back.  With that in mind and Broken Road Farms already mentioned more than once, my top 5 picks are as follows:

     1 - Haphazardly Coherent - Full disclosure: Cookiedough was my college room mate and we worked together at my last job in Phoenix.  Even with that going for him, his blog stands on its own.  Most of the posts focus on two of his favorite things: mountain biking and food.  Not just any food, but unique combinations of food, and a lot of it on the grill.  His photography is excellent and I know he works hard to get better and better.  In 2010 he challenged me to do a Photo a Day with him.  Well, I made it through about May which is when we moved to VA and everything got really busy and I got distracted.  He powered through and completed the entire year with only missing about two weeks total.  If you haven't tried this yourself, you can't imagine how impressive that is!

     2 - Life in a Little Red Farmhouse - Although I have not met Kim, I feel a bit of a bond with her as we both have three boys and have moved to the country from city life.  Her posts are filled with great pictures, and that "Little Red Farmhouse" is awesome!  Her and her family built the house by themselves and made it the way they like it.  Some country, some modern and a little bit of whatever they want.  They also have patience beyond measure.  They have been taking horse riding lessons and spent a lot of time just training the horses without even riding.  I'm not sure I could have been that patient to wait.  And their menagerie of animals on their farm keeps me coming back to find out what they are going to be doing next! (After I wrote this glowing review, I realized that Kim has over 200 followers.  I still think she deserves the award though, so I am going to keep it listed here.)

     3 -  Rurally Screwed - I'm not sure how many followers Jessie has, so I am including her.  Jessie is another one that left city life and moved to the country.  And her husband is over in Afghanistan serving our country in the US Armed Forces.  She is also getting settled into country living and her posts are loaded with photos.  And Jessie tells it like it is.

     4 - The Locavore Hunter - Again, I'm not sure how many follower Jack has, but his blog is intriguing.  I just ordered his first book "The Beginner's Guide to Hunting Deer for Food".  The oldest son has a lot of friends that are into hunting and he wants to give it a try.  This is a whole new topic for me that I won't get into here.  Jack is also working on a new book called "Eating Aliens".  Although it sounds odd, it is all about hunting and eating invasive species that can actually make natural species go extinct in certain areas.  And I love reading his hunting stories.

     5 - Apple Pie Gal - I have just recently started following Apple Pie Gal, but I have spent a little time checking out some of her older posts.  She definitely has variety, from hunting, to gardening, to canning, to chickens, to bees, to just about anything.  And the best part, they have a tractor that any homestead would love to have.  They have done a lot of the things that I hope to do and her blog is a wealth of information to be learned.  Looking through her blog I noticed that she has already received the "Liebster Blog" award, but hey, people can get multiple Grammy's and Emmy's, so why not multiple Liebster Blog's?

3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.

     Done above.

4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.

     I'm sure they will as all of them have been friendly and welcoming.  

5. And most of all - have fun!!

     Sometimes my posting has gaps due to either work or personal life, but I try to catch up, even if everything isn't in chronological order.  I hope that all of you have enjoyed following everything that is going on here at our home, and please, feel free to leave comments.  It is the small affirmation that what I am writing resonates with someone else out there!

Friday, September 16, 2011

20th Wedding Anniversary

August was a busy month.  Other than the Good Wife's family reunion, there was also the earthquake and the start of school.  But the big event was the Good Wife and my 20th wedding anniversary.  20 years!  That seems like such a long time ago.  It was three kids ago, two dogs ago, three houses ago, two states ago and about seven cars ago.

A little while before our anniversary, the Good Wife got one of those timeshare calls asking us to come and visit a resort in Williamsburg.  For our time, we would get two nights and three days in Williamsburg.  Why not?  It would only take 90 minutes of our time.

The weekend came and off we went, along with the three boys.  They joined us for the first night there since it was a Thursday night.  Friday morning, some friends met us part way and took them until Saturday evening.  The Good Wife and I were celebrating.  Now what?

You never know what you will see in when you get into a tourist infested area.

On the recommendation of a co-worker, we went to find Edward's Virginia Ham Shoppe.  We happened to come across one in Williamsburg and got a sandwich from their deli.  It was excellent.  They were friendly and kept offering us samples.  We could have stayed there and had a full meal.

But apparently that wasn't the original store.  We were on a quest.  The original Virginia Ham Shoppe was across the James River.  And the best way to get across the river is by the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry.

Although it looks foggy, it was smoke from the Great Dismal Swamp fire.  It was a nice ride across the river.  Something different.  Once on the other side, it was a few miles down the road and there was the original Ham Shoppe.

Surprisingly it was smaller than the other shop in Williamsburg.  We had such a good sandwich the day before, we decided to get another one for later.  We asked for the same sandwich we had at the first shop, and they wouldn't give it to us!  We wanted the pretzel bread but didn't want a hot sandwich.  They refused to make it for us.  They said they only make the pretzel bread in a hot sandwich.  We told them we had just had a cold sandwich with the pretzel bread the day before at the shop in Williamsburg, but they still refused.  I don't understand how stores can stay in business being that rude.  We selected a different bread, got our sandwich and headed back to the ferry.

Before getting back on the ferry, we stopped at a dollar store for some oyster crackers.  We wanted to feed the seagulls that followed the ferry.

They were everywhere.  And most of them were very talented and would catch them up in the air.  Several families came back to watch and we shared our crackers with the kids.  Everyone had fun.

Then it was time to go to our timeshare meeting.  We had no interest at any point, and were only fulfilling our obligation.  Three hours later, it was finally over.  Yes you read that right, three hours!  The only good thing was that our salesman took us on a drive through Williamsburg to show us the sights and told us a lot of the history of the area.  That was worth it, but that is about it.

We drove the entire Colonial National Historic Parkway.  It is a nice road through the woods between Jamestown, through Williamsburg and on to Yorktown.

We got to see the Yorktown Victory Monument and walk along the beach and have some ice cream.

Too soon it was time to head home.  We had fun, even though our "free" hotel was horrible  I don't even want to mention the name.  We had originally planned to go to Las Vegas and get our wedding vows renewed by Elvis.  We did that for our 10th anniversary and wanted to do it again, but that was when we were still living in Phoenix and much closer to Las Vegas.

I rented a tux, the Good Wife slipped back into her original wedding dress, and Elvis presided.  It was just the two of us and Elvis.  We had a lot of fun.  Who knows, maybe for our 30th!  I'm sure Elvis will still be alive and kicking in Las Vegas.