Friday, July 25, 2014

New Rabbits; and Winter Heat From a Summer Storm

So here they are! A trio of New Zealand Reds I found through a Craigslist add.

the does

the buck

No papers, no pedigree; heck, I don't even know if they are all siblings or not. At this point, I really couldn't care less. They are healthy, meaty, and will produce babies of the meat variety - which is of course, the whole point. Despite their largely unknown parentage, I do think them rather attractive. I did see their father, who was a very impressive rabbit - in size, conformation and color. They had already sold the mother, since they were in the process of downsizing, but I suspect she wasn't 100% NZ Red.

But like I already said, they are rabbits. And they will make more rabbits. And we will finally eat rabbits.

This is their current living arrangement, situated inside what was the duck pen. They will live here in quarantine for 6 weeks, until they are ready to join the Creme boys in the rabbit shed. 

The solid red doe has the nicest color, and is the most outgoing of the three. So she is the first to be named: Acer, the genus for maple trees.  I have since decided on Cardamom, for the broken chestnut doe, and Ichigo (Japanese for 'strawberry') for the buck.

The breeders were willing to trade the smaller Klubertanz stacked cage for two of them, and while we were there, I decided to go ahead and buy a third doe. I really think the cage was worth the whole trio, but they did seem to hold their rabbits in high esteem. And really, they are lovely. So no real complaints here.

In the meantime we can get the rabbit shed set up with hanging cages, now that we've freed up some space. Aaaannnnnd, we can build a worm bin underneath to catch and compost the manure. That I am really looking forward to. Emptying cage trays and buying substrate for them is a real pain. For me, anyhow. I can see how stacked cages would work better for an indoor setting, like a garage. But hanging cages offer a much simpler management system overall.

The other night we had one wicked storm. Usually it's the straight-line winds that cause all the damage during those summer storms up here on the ridgetops. But this one was just heavy, heavy rain. And a lot of lightning. 

Over a year ago our home phone got zapped by lightning (well, not directly). Lighting storms are a little scary up here. As the trees get struck around the house, the outlets in the back bedroom arc and pop. It's that quality state wiring, you know. 

This was a maple that got struck right in front of our house, one summer. Blew most of the bark off. We were home when it happened, and let me tell you, it was LOUD! It literally rattled my insides.
So anyhow, that phone bit it. We went over a year without one, and really, didn't miss it too much. It's either sales calls or park guests locked out of their cabins. I know it's helpful to park visitors, but we are one of two land lines and 3 ranger cell phones people can dial after hours when they need help. It just so happens our residence number is the first on the list, so we get the most calls. At ALL hours. Most everybody thinks they are calling the "ranger station," and seem confused when I try to explain to them that this is a residence. Oh well. One of the perks of living on the park I guess.

So anyway, Mark decided to go ahead and get another phone, a couple of months ago. And Wednesday night's storm killed that one too. I'm guessing we will be getting a surge protector, in the near future.

The rain fell in torrents so strong, it hammered my corn to the ground and ripped branches off the trees. It also happened to uproot a big tulip tree in the campground, causing it to come crashing down on site #10, taking two smaller trees, an elm and a sweetgum, with it. 

Luckily nobody was camping there, but it did crush the corner rails pretty good. Naturally this was after a long-awaited campground renovation that took nearly a year to complete. Well, complete is relative, considering the contractors ran out of money and only replaced about 1/3 or what needed to be done - but I digress.....

A nice by-product would be all of this firewood:

.... which still needs to be split and stacked. And aged. But hey, it's a start. Mark is still pretty green when it comes to splitting wood, and of course, one of the trees in that pile is elm. Elm is notoriously difficult - nigh impossible to split, because of it's twisted grain. But Mark is of the determined sort, and I know he will prevail.

This will come in handy when we buy our wood stove later this year, in an effort to reduce our gas heating bill (which the state has deemed we must now pay ourselves).

We've created more work for ourselves, with these new acquisitions. But it's the rewarding kind of work - the kind that builds muscles and character. The kind that puts food on our plates and warms our home.

The kind that brings us that much closer to that which we strive for:

... self-sufficiency.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

13 Things Nobody Ever Told Me about Cloth Diapering

So we cloth diaper, around here. Well, you know, for the baby. (Incidentally they do make cloth diapers for adults. I know because I Googled it one day out of curiosity, although I couldnt bring myself to click on any of the links.)

I guess it’s no surprise that people like us would want to use cloth diapers. We like to buy organic produce, cruelty-free meats and use natural cleaners. We go out of our way to buy plant-based wood stain and avoid noxious chemicals when at all possible. We’re all about conserving the environment and lessening our negative impact on nature.

Although that really wasn’t my number one reason for choosing to cloth diaper.

I was mainly interested in saving money, and avoiding exposing my child to the nasty chemicals found in disposable diapers. So these things I already knew...

Cloth diapers:
  • save money
  • reduce exposure to nasty chemicals
  • are better for the environment

But there are plenty of things I learned along the way that nobody ever told me about……

ONE:  There are so many choices!

When it comes to cloth diapering options, the choices are pretty overwhelming. Pre-folds, covers, pocket diapers, all-in-ones, Snappis, wet bags, snaps, velcro, disposable liners……

And of course, there aren’t any cloth diaper stores to just walk in and have a look at the products and get a handle on how they work. I had to do a TON of research to decide which method to go with.  In other words, lots of You-tubing, my friend. I felt like such a dork looking up how to cloth diaper a baby.

My sister-in-law handed down some pre-folds, plastic pants and pocket diapers (which he’s still too small for).

I ultimately decided to go with pre-folds and covers, since it seemed the most economical. (I’ll write another post later on about my cloth diapering system.)

TWO:  They are an investment

No matter what you decide to go with, it will be an initial investment. To anybody who has bought huge packages of disposables for $12-15, the price tag for cloth diapering can be a bit of a shock. I paid upwards of $17 each for my covers. Two packs of prefolds were around $30 each. But let’s keep the big picture in mind. You do realize how fast you will go through that pack of 100 diapers. Pretty quick my friend. Believe me, cloth pays off.

THREE:  They are hard to find

Basically, you aren’t going to find any. Well, at least not around here. Those packages of “cloth diapers” you find at Wal-mart are good for nothing more than burp rags (although some have said they make good cheese cloth).

If you want to cloth diaper, you will probably have to buy everything online (although sometimes you will luck out on Craigslist or LSN).

FOUR:  They require more storage space

You will definitely need a good place to store them. We decided to invest in a dresser style changing table, and I'm so glad we did! The  two drawers and the shelf are plenty of room for all my pre-folds, covers, wipes, wipes warmer and diaper creams. Besides the fact that it looks nice enough to be used as a regular house furnishing once our diapering days are done.

FIVE:  Unbleached pre-folds aren't necessarily the way to go

I’m not entirely sure why I went with unbleached. Maybe I was just thinking they were a more natural option. Maybe I just like the way those ivory colored diapers looked on Amazon. Whatever the reason, I ended up with 2 dozen. I had to wash them about 5 times before the natural oils were stripped enough so they didn’t repel liquid (kind of important for a diaper). They also are much coarser than the bleached ones. At times they feel really rough. I ended up having to get another product (Ecover) to soften them. (This could also be an issue with the type of water we have.) The only good thing about them being off-white would be that they hide poop stains better. But, are stains really an issue here? I mean come on; they’re diapers, not dinner napkins.

SIX:  Don't feel like a failure if you don't user cloth diapers from day one

Let’s be honest. Those first days are HELL. I mean, I certainly look back with fondness over cuddling that sweet newborn. But those days were exhausting (is there is stronger word than exhausting? How about GRUELING), scary, and fraught with many tears. In my case, Ian was unable to latch for 10 days after birth. For a first-time breast-feeding mom this is, er – stressful, to say the least. The last thing on my mind was slapping a cloth diaper on him.

Besides that, I had already planned to use disposables the first week or so, to catch the tarry meconium. Disposables turned out to be a godsend, during those first weeks. There is so much adjusting going on, that the simpler things are, the better. In fact, he was at least a month old before I attempted cloth diapering. 

Ian in cloth diapers for the first time

Then I discovered something else nobody told me…..

SEVEN:  Make sure to get the right sized liners for your covers

I got two newborn covers. Just looking at them and then looking at my pre-folds, I had my serious doubts that they would fit. Yeah, they didn’t. And yet I couldn’t find anything that would fit in that tiny cover and actually absorb anything. Looking back I probably could have made something, or taken some extra pre-folds and cut them into strips and sewn down the edges. Oh well, maybe for the next one.

EIGHT:  Make sure you have the right-sized pre-folds to fit your baby

So the pre-folds I got were categorized as “newborn.” My plan was to wrap them around him and fix them in place with Snappis, like this Youtube video demonstrates.

Unfortunately, when he was a newborn the diapers were so bulky on him, they swallowed half his body. And there was no way those Snappis were going to work. When I did try to attach them they pretty well cut off his circulation. He finally grew into the pre-folds, and I just had to forget using the Snappis all-together. This system is still working fine to this day.

NINE:  Buy bigger clothes

Cloth diapers are bulkier than disposables. In the case of covers and pre-folds, a LOT bulkier. If onesies aren’t long enough in the groin area, there is no way they are fitting over his butt. Overalls have never worked for me (which made me sad because they were so cute!). All but the stretchiest of pants and shorts won’t fit over his derriere (I'm having a fun time trying to think of all the different terms for "butt").

And then of course there’s the aesthetic factor. His bottom half is considerably larger in a cloth diaper. Perhaps this wouldn’t be as extreme for some types of pockets and all-in-ones. His lower end looks especially funny in shorts.

This really isn’t a big deal. I know people aren’t looking at him thinking “my God, what a huge butt that kid has!” People are undoubtedly focused on his beautiful face and cheeky smile. It’s just a mom thing, I guess.
Ian's extra padded derriere

TEN:  Washing diapers really isn't a big deal

Once you get into the swing of things, throwing an extra load of laundry in the washer every other day or so isn’t that hard. You learn pretty quickly to think ahead, and watch that pile of dirty diapers in the pail. Get the right detergent! You can’t use your average Arm and Hammer on diapers. There are several detergents available that are safe for diapers. Charlie’s Soap was the one I went with, since it is the most economical choice for me. Again, only found online in this neck of the woods. Luckily everything: covers, pre-folds, wet bags, cloth wipes – can all be thrown in and washed at the same time. I just dump the bucket in, and that’s that. I highly recommend a second rinse, to make sure all of the detergent is washed out before putting them on sensitive bottoms (lesson learned here). They may also take an extra cycle in the dryer to fluff and dry sufficiently.

So I suppose if you are in a desperate need to save water and electricity, you may need to weigh out expenses.

ELEVEN:  Get the right diaper cream

Diaper cream is undoubtedly one of those little extras you will get at a baby shower. I got like 4 different brands. Pretty much any diaper cream you buy at the store is not safe for cloth diapers. Even Burt’s Bees or Aveeno. I believe it is the zinc that is the problem. I made that mistake and a few of my  pre-folds are not only stained, but the places where the cream rubbed on are crispy and brittle. They aren’t ruined, per se, but I suspect it will shorten their lifespan significantly. This is what I use and love it.

TWELVE:  Traveling can be a hassle

Short trips into town aren’t a big deal, really. But extended trips where you are staying overnight can be a bit complicated. It will take up a lot of space in the car to pack all those diapers, as well as the diaper pail. Then of course you have to have access to laundry facilities to wash them, and then (depending on your situation) sit around for about 2 hours to wash and dry them sufficiently. We’ve done it, but I think the next time we go on vacation we will grab some disposables. It’d be nice to spend those 2 hours doings something more vacation-ishy.

THIRTEEN:  How much I would love it J

I certainly don’t mean to shed a negative light on cloth diapering. It’s just that, all the information I encountered online is gushing about all the positive aspects, without mentioning the nitty-gritty, day-to-day realities. Some of these things would seem like no-brainers, but it’s easy to overlook the obvious when you are completely absorbed in learning to be a parent. Maybe I could have avoided some bumps in the road if I was surrounded by more cloth diaper-ers.

But with that said, my experience with cloth diapering has been exceedingly positive. I have no regrets.

Ian having a little post-bath playtime before his night time diaper

So if you’re a first time mom, and your first experience with cloth diapering is awkward and frustrating [raises hand], don’t despair! It’s just like any other facet of learning to be a parent: you don’t really know what to expect until you’re in the midst of it. You pretty well learn by doing. And that’s totally okay.
It’s a painful, tear-stained, heartwarming, frustrating, and beautiful road we travel. And it’s all worth it. J

Monday, July 14, 2014

Make Way for More Rabbits?

While I’ve kept myself busy with gardening, kombucha brewing and business in the kitchen (oh yeah, and chasing, feeding and diapering an active 8-month-old), I still mull over my rabbit situation from time to time.

Namely my overall lack of rabbits. I like the two I have, and am loving what their poop is doing for my plants; but no matter how hard I try, two male rabbits just won’t make more rabbits.

 I’ve still been in contact with the breeder, and she’s still going to supply me with two replacement Crème does, but that won’t be at least until late summer or fall, and those does won’t be ready to breed until next spring (and that’s only if her latest breedings produce litters). We could be enjoying rabbit on our plates much sooner if only we had a female rabbit.

So I’ve kept a casual eye on the LSN, and an ad finally piqued my interest. One, because they’re only 30 minutes away, and two, it’s another breed I like the looks of: New Zealand Reds. Originally I was desperate for any rabbit of the opposite sex, so long as we could have baby rabbits in the nearer future. But I’m thinking of getting a pair or trio so I can have a pure line. I’ll also have the option of crossing with the Cremes, if I so desire. I really have plenty of space, and I just want more rabbits, dagnabbit! (teehee)

I also need more rabbit POOP! I’ve seen improvements already with just a few light applications here and there. Two rabbits don’t make a whole lot, so I have to ration it carefully between my plants. I find myself chasing after every runaway berry that escapes while cleaning under the cages. It’s just too precious!

Of course, these kits are just now 8 weeks old, so they won’t be ready to breed until October, at the earliest. But that’s still sooner than next spring/summer.

So after we get back from our trip to Roan Mountain, we’ll be setting up a separate area to quarantine them for at least a month. I’m not taking any chances after my last bad experience.

Hopefully we can also modify our rabbitry in the meantime. Things would be simplified wonderfully if we switched to the hanging cages. I do like the spacious cages in one of the stacked units, so I may hang onto that one. I had the thought of offering to trade the smaller stacked unit for the New Zealand Reds. I know rabbit breeders are always looking for excuses to have more rabbits (points to self).

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What's Brewing at Our House?

A new organism has taken up residence at the Taylor house.

It’s pretty quiet. Doesn’t need daily petting or attention. Exercise is unnecessary, and there’s no waste matter to deal with. It just floats in its jar, uncomplaining, while fermenting tea and sugar into a healthful beverage rich in probiotics and detoxification properties. 

Meet SCOBY, the kombucha culture.

I met somebody via a local Facebook group willing to give me one. It just so happens we get milk from the same milkman at the same drop-off in town. So one day there was not only our milk waiting for us in the coolers, but a bag holding a snotty pancake floating in a pale brown liquid.

Kombucha, by the way, is actually quite good. It tastes somewhat like apple cider, only a little less sweet. This taste can vary, depending on ambient temperature, location and brewing time. Supposedly even the phase of the moon can influence it, as well as chaos in the household. It is, after all, a living thing.

I brewed kefir on a regular basis a couple of years ago. It was easy enough. The hard part was slinging the stuff back. Then, of course, I sort of left my kefir grains in the fridge and forgot about them. They weren’t too happy. Well, they were dead, actually. So we’ll see how long I can keep this critter alive. I’m sure it will depend on how much we enjoy the finished product.

It is usually finished in 7-10 days, depending on all the aforementioned factors. In the process it also forms another culture. (SCOBY by the way stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast.) This second SCOBY is called the “baby”, and can either be used in brewing additional batches, given away to people (e.g. my adopted culture), fed to livestock, composted, or even eaten yourself (um, gross).

We also tried out the lacto-fermented ginger ale recipe from Nourishing Traditions. This stuff was STRONG! We found it was best enjoyed 3-1 in seltzer water. I also found that some honey improved the flavor. Some fruit juice mixed in would have been good too.

So that’s what’s brewing on an aerobic level. I also have some simpler, anaerobic processes happening….
… basically just tossing stuff in vodka. In other words, EXTRACTS! These are so simple to do, I can’t imagine ever having to buy an over-priced extract from the store again.

Vanilla, orange, and mint (spearmint, I think. Whichever mint is taking over my mom’s flowerbeds.)
These will all be complete within a couple of weeks.

Another critter I’ve tried (and failed) with in the past is sourdough. Well, I didn’t even try, to be honest. It just sat in my fridge and died along with the kefir grains. (Of course there was that one time, long ago in 4-H that I baked a successful sourdough loaf.) Let me just get something off my chest right here and now:


(There. I feel better now.)

Bread baking is messy, time-consuming, and SO unforgiving. I can screw up even the simplest, most foolproof of recipes. There is much weeping and gnashing of teeth (lots of swearing, in other words.)  It always seems to end with me throwing my flour-pasted hands up in exasperation and swearing I will never do it again. There has been one success on record. Many years ago. None since. I’ve baked bricks that could knock out a gorilla. 

My latest escaping loaf. End result, not so good. Neither was cleaning my stove.

Unfortunately though, we do eat bread. And my husband loves fresh-baked bread. (So do I, when it turns out to be edible.)

So once the flour settles from my latest attempt  failure, I resolve to try yet again.

This recipe seemed easy enough. And look at all the happy comments heralding success!

I think I broke the record for the world’s heaviest loaf.

I’m sure some bread-baking artisan could approach me and tell me all the things I’m doing wrong. They are probably laughing at me right now.

Maybe I’ll give it another go, some day. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get it right.

For now I’ll stick to what I’m good at. Hopefully brewing kombucha is somewhere on that list.

*UPDATE* The kombucha turned out great, and I have started my second batch!