In the weeds, er, woods…the new normal seems like paradise
In the weeds, er, woods…the new normal seems like paradise

In the weeds, er, woods…the new normal seems like paradise

We love being outdoors, and this week the weather finally turns in our favor.

Kitty round-up; Lazy day

Sunday, March 22.

Casey and I make a run to the studio to round up the cats and gather a few other things. We work on our list of items to bring home, and I discover that someone has tried to kick in the back door. The steel bar across the door has prevented entry, but it was kicked so hard that the bar is bent and the door is ajar half an inch. I shut it and go back to our list. We gather my sewing machine, Mom’s embroidery project, Creek’s sewing box, our extra cordless impact and drill, the package of toilet paper from the bathroom, and the cat supplies: litter and food. We also clean out the fridge so that we can unplug it. Inside there are food items that are still good, several margaritas and some strawberry soda water. We find peanut butter, vodka, rum and DeKuyper’s in the pantry. 

Catching the kitten is no problem. The other cat, a white and grey girl that is about 6 months older, is a trick. She won’t allow us to touch her, much less catch her, and Casey and I have to pull out all the stops to get her captured and caged to bring her home. He ends up with a horrible scratch that won’t quit bleeding and a nasty bite, both on the same hand. I spray the hand down with OnGuard Hand Sanitizer, which smarts to say the least. We decide that maybe she is best suited to life as a barn cat.

We had planned to go to Whittle’s today to get started on our custom project, but I just want to NOT feel like we HAVE to do anything today. We all putter around at our own thing. 

The girls play at will. Creek sews doll accessories. Cale plays with her Kindle, supervises me and worries about the kitten.

Casey works on removing the last stud from the garage wall and replacing it with a 6×6 beam, and moving the electrical outlet from one side of the outer stud to the other.

The new wall is almost complete. We are able to be outdoors more now, so it has slowed.

I work on turning rusty harness rings into dreamcatchers, mess around with unpacking everything we brought home from the studio, set up my sewing machine, and get into my jewelry supplies that I brought home but haven’t really organized yet.

Turning harness rings into dreamcatchers.

Mom was here for awhile but went home; I hope she takes a good nap and relaxes. She has to go to work tomorrow, and I’m praying that the commissioners decide to allow her to work remotely.

The kitten is skittish of her new surroundings. She’ll come out for Casey and I, but she isn’t nearly as brave around Nev as she was at the studio, and she cowers when Cale thunders into the room. I work on threading dreamcatchers while watching Tiger King on Netflix, and the kitten lays on the bed next to me, batting at the ribbon I’m working with. Cale watches and laughs; she’s dying to play too. I finish wrapping a harness ring, and the excess ribbon that is left over, I hand to Cale and show her how to play with Bitsy, who bats at the ribbon, hooking it with her claws. Cale cackles with delight.

Tiger King is addictive. I stay up until I can’t stay awake anymore, which is until the last episode.

Starting a custom project; First Asparagus of the year

Monday, March 23

Casey and I take the girls to Whittle’s to work on the custom consult project. We start by mounting the countertop on the wall, then begin to frame in the shelving below. The girls play in the sand pile in the front yard, taking breaks to go in to warm up, playing on their Kindles at the kitchen table. Eventually they get wet, and we didn’t get the bag of extra clothes in the truck when we left, so they are stuck inside now. They ask for snacks, but we managed to leave the house without the snack bag as well, so we pack it in and head home for the day. 

Casey gives the horse fresh grass. I work on taking down the old chicken pen and building a new temporary one. When we built the coop and the pen, we had had several dry years. Since then, it has rained a lot more in recent years, and the coop is NOT in an ideal spot. We need to relocate it. After I get the pen built, I wonder if my asparagus patch under the pine tree is producing anything yet. I go investigate, and end up cutting several nice spears. I decide to check the patches out on the pond dam, finding a couple spears there, along with some really neat-looking flower carcasses from last summer. I think I can do a neat craft with the girls by painting these, so I pick a bouquet before taking the long way around the pond. Nev is with me, and we stumble onto a snake, sunning itself on the bank. 

See the snake? Catchin’ some rays, or whatever light it can absorb, as the sun isn’t really shining.

I have fresh asparagus with my dinner. It is juicy and delicious.

Fresh asparagus from our place. It grows under one of the pine trees and on the pond dam.

Casey and I finish Tiger King. He missed most of the episodes, but catches the last two with me. We decide every last one of the people on that show are shady as heck and deserve everything they get.

Progress on project; New flock comes home

Tuesday, March 24

Casey and I take the girls to my dad’s for the day, then Casey takes the hybrid and I my pickup to Whittle’s to continue working on the office space. We finished constructing the shelves and framing them in. Casey cuts the trim pieces while I tape off the floor and shelves in preparation for painting tomorrow. 

The office cabinets are ready to be taped off and painted. I persuade Susan to leave the shelves the pretty natural brown. They are made from the baseboards from the old house, and the back side of them is very nice. I’ll paint the front of the facing tomorrow.

We leave Whilttle’s and Casey heads for Lockwood with the hybrid to return it to his dad. I stop in Golden city at Produce Exchange to pick up some chicken scratch and horse feed, and end up also picking up onion bulbs, seed potatoes and a bag of potting soil. I forgot my cage this morning, which really messes up my plans for picking up some hens this evening, so I sweet talk the guys at Producer’s into giving me a couple of potato sacks to haul the birds home.

I head for Lockwood, pick up Casey, and we go to Muncy’s together. We have a short list of groceries to pick up for us and for Mom and Dad. No toilet paper or Texas rolls for Mom and Dad. Still no flour or yeast for us.

We run by Pump n Pantry for fuel, then run a roll of used chicken wire by my friend Kenda’s so that she can give her puppies an enclosure in the back yard, before going to my friend Sarah’s to get half a dozen hens. We stay a safe distance from everyone, and say good-bye without hugs.

The hens are huge girls, so it’s a good thing I was able to get two sacks. I get two black hens, so black their feathers look turquoise. One is so grey she is lavender. She’s gorgeous. One is a big white girl with faint black tips. One is black with copper tips on her feathers. The last one is smaller than the others and is brown with really interesting markings of black and grey on her.

We rush home with them, and I almost get stuck in the yard as I pull straight up to the coop to turn the girls loose. One of the black hens didn’t make it. The others all hit the ground running, but one of the black hens falls out, limp, eyes closed. I waste no time; I go to the house, grab my cleaver, and lay her out on the tailgate of the pickup, using the empty sack from the chicken scratch to work on. 

I take the cleaned bird to the house and prep her for the pot. We still have to take Dad his groceries, so we put her in a roasting pan and stash her in the oven until we get back. 

I screw up and roast her in my Dutch oven. The potatoes and onions are delicious, but the hen, while edible, is tough. I put the rest of her in the Dutch oven and cover with water to make another batch of stock.

I start a new series on Netflix called Letter for the King, of which I watch three episodes before calling it a night. I need to get up early to unload the truck and prepare for my day…I’m going to get out early and go paint the cabinet at Whittle’s. 

Return of the Sun

Wednesday, March 25.

Coffee. Cut up seed potatoes. Smoothie for the road.

Paint the cabinet at Whittles. Put two coats of matte poly on the countertop. Back home in time for lunch.

Casey mounted a new door in the chicken coop and made a new latch for the outer door while I was gone. 

The weather is amazing. The sun is out. It’s nearly 70 degrees.

He works on breaking a couple trailer tires off their rims, old-school style, using hammer and prybars, while I air up the tires on all of the bicycles and oil the chains. The girls ride around the driveway at the house, and beg me to ride down the driveway, but I don’t want to have a sore butt, so I work in the junk shed a little bit.

Casey and I work in the garden after he tires of the tires. I transplant the mustard from the yard into the garden. Plant 12 cabbages. 

We got 4 eggs today. I talk to my friend Jeri about borrowing her incubator. I tell her we will be over to get it in the next few days.

Mom and I take the gator out and check wild asparagus. One patch on the back side of the pasture has a couple white spears just beginning to surface. We clean the old stalks away, clearing the top of the ground so that the dark soil can absorb the sun’s heat, which will warm the ground and make the asparagus come up faster. We check another pasture patch, but it’s a later cultivar, and it’s not showing any spears yet. I’m wearing a tank top on the gator, and I’m not cold. It’s gorgeous evening. Casey is mowing the yard when we get back to the house; he can’t stand it any longer. Mom mentions that we should probably check out her mower tomorrow and make sure everything is working well. The rains are going to really make the grass grow this spring.

Crossing branches can rub and wound a tree. I pruned my Forest Pansy redbud tree for the first time since I planted it four years ago, and made pretty arrangments of flowering branches to deliver to a few neighbors.

The night knocker returns; so does the garden

Thursday, March 26. The night knocker was back last night. At 11:45 pm, something was knocking outside our bedroom. We didn’t go out to see if we could catch it, and I didn’t sleep very well the rest of the night. 

I got up around 8 and started coffee water before venturing outside. I’m in a tank top and it’s not even cold out. I let the chickens out into their run, then I pull the SD cards from the game cams. As I’m sipping coffee, I load the cards into the computer and check them. We have a fox. A wily little fox. It doesn’t look like a red fox in the pics, but it’s hard to tell. I wonder if this little critter could be making these noises we are hearing at night. The first night I went out to see if I could find the culprit, there was a small animal’s beady eyes glowing out by the pond. It was the same size as this little fox. A couple weeks ago, Creek forgot to take the trash from the studio out of the truck after we got home, and the next morning, it was scattered all over the bed. We have also been going through more dog food than normal out in our self-feeder. And now we have chickens on the place again. This will not stand, having a fox around.

Sneaky little fox. I wonder if our night knocker is this fox, attacking its own reflection in the basement windows?

We occupy ourselves with the garden for most of the day. It is the main thing on our list, and has been moved to the top because there is rain in the forecast for later in the day. We also need to build the cabinet doors for the Whittle project, but that can be done inside in the event of rain, so we focus on getting the gardening done first. We plant onions…SO MANY onions. I am sick of looking at them and smelling them by the time we get them all in. I seeded lettuce, arugula, spinach, dill, beets, turnips, carrots and radishes. 

We try the tire trick with our potatoes…We have a really cruddy area of soil behind the tack shed, so we are doing a little experiment there. Casey went to the farm and got ten tires out of the feed bunk behind the hay barn. He set them out in the space behind the tack shed. I laid 3 potato seeds on top of the ground inside each tire. We poured soil conditioner inside the tires; enough to cover the potatoes with 6” of material. I sprinkled Milorganite, my favorite fertilizer, a non-burning source of nitrogen, over the soil conditioner. Then Casey got the pitchfork and forked some really wet, decomposing straw on top, filling each tire up with material. Now, this could work really well and it could flop. My hope is for a couple things to happen: one, that the earthworms will find our organic material and start working the soil conditioner down into that poor soil profile; two, that when the potato plants start to die off, we can flip the tires over and easily harvest ourselves a bounty of potatoes. 

Potatoes wil hopefully grow here all summer and be easy pickin’s.

After the potato project is complete, we decide to knock off the garden planting for awhile. We have the basics in the ground. We need warmer weather for other things, and we suspect we will have a snow yet to come in early May. Thunder in February means snow in may, or so the old wives tales say. It thundered twice that I remember this February. Hopefully we get minimal May snow. I remember once in the last couple years I was farming row crops, my wheat got snow on May 7, and that was following a February thunder snow. 

We did heavy mulch between rows. Lettuce, spinach, arugula, radishes, carrots, turnips, and LOTS of onions.

We break for lunch, then head to the wood shop. I’m using the wood that we salvaged from the built-in cabinets in the Whittles’ old house, the one that was twisted off its foundation by the tornado last May 21. That house was built in 1882 by the same man who build the Barton County courthouse. The wood that came from the lower walls of the built-in cabinets is 4”-wide tongue-in-groove pine. The front side is coated in I don’t know how many layers of paint. I already know how tall to make the doors, and I cut the wood down to 26”, laying it facedown on the bench and grouping it up to form the doors. Facedown, it is really pretty, in my opinion, each piece having its own unique saw marks and coloring. I wonder how the cabinets would look with the door unpainted like the countertop, and I send Susan a pic of the wood. I tell her to hang on, I’ll sand it and send another pic, which I do, and she goes for it! It may sound like, hey, score, that just eliminated a lot of work, but it was actually painstaking, getting the wood to fit together tightly. I mentioned the layers of paint…well, that paint had seeped into the cracks between the tongues and grooves in every piece of that wood, and a hundred years of crusty paint was keeping the pieces of wood from fitting together seamlessly. I had to sand every groove edge and use a scraper to remove the paint crust from the tongue edge of every single piece in order to make the doors look right. We used the wide piece from two pieces of the window trim to make the horizontal pieces to join all the pieces together to form the doors. The back sides of those trim pieces had really cool saw marks on them, and we ran them through the planer to make them the same thickness as the wood from the built-ins. The doors turned out great. I routed a groove in the bottom of each one to run on the floor guides. I left the matte poly over at the Whittle’s house, so I’ll have to give them a coat tomorrow before we mount them on the cabinets. 

Cale always loves helping, but she decides she needs my assistance keeping the sander under control.

Mom had been working on finishing up a custom furniture painting project, and as I was finishing the doors, Casey was grilling us dinner. We all ate together, chatting about the doors, Mom’s paint job, and the plan for tomorrow. Before we settle in for the night, I reset the cameras, and we move the second cam over closer to the house, as we haven’t gotten any pics on it. 

I start the Tiger King series over so Casey can watch the whole thing. He caught the last couple episodes, and I think he needs to see the whole thing. It’s a totally engrossing, dramatic, crazy documentary that is hard to turn off once you start. 

People on social media are becoming predictable. I have a select few friends on facebook who still think Covid-19 is a conspiracy, that everyone is overreacting, and that we should carry on like normal and let it sweep the country. Missouri is slow to see the effects of the virus, I assume because we are very rural (Barton County is mainly agricultural, with a low population density), so we hear stories about groups of 75-100 people gathering in Joplin to play basketball. I personally feel that these gatherings will be responsible for the spread, like the “super spreader party” in Connecticut that was the brew pot for the east coast and even spread the virus to South Africa. My friends who post about how silly this all is, I feel pity for them because they are lacking in the heart department. While I can agree that it is possible that the virus has been present in our country for several months, I feel it is undeniable that we NEED to attempt to flatten the curve, as the postings from healthcare professionals, heartbreaking at best, plead for us to distance, quarantine, and prevent the spread of coronavirus. Two days ago, we surpassed all other countries in the world in number of cases of Covid-19. While some are saying that the numbers are the result of more testing than anywhere else, I find that difficult to swallow because I’ve also heard reports of people being denied testing because they don’t “qualify,” meaning they don’t show enough symptoms or they haven’t traveled enough. 

Photo-worthy finish; Foraging trip

Friday, March 27. Casey and the girls and I load up by mid-morning and head to Whittle’s new home to complete the office project. Susan is working on cleaning up construction dust and getting the cleaning to a maintainable level. Creek occupies herself by “helping” Susan, Cale is engrossed in her Kindle, and Casey and I set about hanging our first set of bypass barn doors; albeit miniature ones, this is a challenge. We definitely learned a thing or two about it and are ready to tackle the next project involving mini doors. The little natural doors, coated in matte poly, complement the countertop perfectly, and after they are hung, we stand back and admire them. 

I still need to mount the floating shelves, but it looks like an office area to me.

I LOVE doing this. I LOVE that my customer gave me a general idea, allowed me to just take measurements and draw something up, helped me edit the design, listened to my input and valued my advice, was understanding and supportive of just LIFE that happens for everyone. There was no rush to perfection, but more of a slow-cooker approach that resulted in a superior product in the end. Had we rushed along, we probably would have ended up with white doors, which would have look nice, yes, but I think what we did with the natural side of the tongue-in-groove material from the built-ins was key to the overall look of the finished project, and that detail was a result of not rushing into the shop to simply whip it out. 

I’m a sucker for saw marks, and I absolutely love this finish.

We cleaned up our tools and our sawdust in the garage floor, loaded up our stuff, arranged the details of delivering another piece of furniture for Susan, got paid, then headed to town to deposit the check. We needed Q-tips, which we had been out of for days, and we wanted to see if we could get a backup package of toilet paper. We aren’t quite close to being out, but we figure if we can snag a package when it’s available, then we won’t be scrambling or bartering for it when the time comes to re-up. While my mom had gotten TP at Dollar General earlier in the day (she and Dad were down to less than 2 rolls), they are out when we get there. I sat in the truck with Nev and the girls while Casey went in, and when he came out, he was only carrying Q-tips. He said there were only 2 packages of those. Wow. 

We decide that we need some outdoor time, and head home to unhook the trailer and grab a bologna sandwich before we head for the woods. We are hunting for red mushrooms that we call beefsteaks. They resemble a large red brain. What I’ve read on them says that a lot of people can’t eat them, but we haven’t had a problem eating them on pizza the last several years. We don’t find any in our usual spot, but Casey finds a large grey morel while hunting for sheds on our walk out. Sheds are deer antlers that the animals lose in late winter/early spring. The girls and I find a lot of a particular mushroom that we can’t ID, so we leave them behind until we do some research. I think they are Chicken of the Woods, but I’m not certain, as the pics I’ve seen of these in the past are of much bigger specimens. We can always come back and harvest them later, as they’re easy to spot.

Looking for sheds, Casey finds the first morel of the year.

We are planning on incubating some chicken eggs, but we need to borrow an incubator, so we stop by our friend’s house on the way home. They are out in the shop, and we practice social distancing by not getting close to them. We leave with the incubator and a book on identifying mushrooms, and we stop at the feed room to grab our live trap, as we have a fox to outfox. We get home in time to shut up the hens, reset the cams, and we bait the live trap with bologna and set it out on the west side of the house.

I’ve already fed the girls and eaten, so I am hanging out in the bedroom, watching the last episode of the first season of a guilty-pleasure type of show called The Letter for the King, when a weather alert pops up on my phone. It says it’s going to start raining in about 20 minutes. I groan, as good heavens, haven’t we had enough rain???, and I had set out some dry barn lumber out of the back of my pickup this morning so that I could pull the trailer. It was still lying in the driveway in front of the house. The lumber is for a project on the books, so I don’t want it to get wet. I slip my feet into my Dudes, lazily not pulling the heels up over the backs of my feet, and shuffle outside. I load the wood back into my truck, then pull around to the big barn, pulling far enough inside to keep the long pieces of wood from getting dripped on. It’s a tight fit, so my door only opens enough for me to squeeze out. It’s inky dark out here because there’s no light, and I remember the night knocker, so I grab my cheater pipe from the slot in my truck door. It’s an 18” chunk of pipe that I used to keep in the toolbox of my combine, which was super handy for reaching into the back end of the machine and manipulating the levers that controlled the opening and closing of the sieve and chaffer. It was too far up in there for me to easily reach, and the bar made it much easier. When I sold my equipment, I cleaned out the toolboxes on everything. The little cheater pipe could be handy, I thought, for loosening lug nuts on trailer tires, and, being about the length of a MagLite, it could come in handy as a whammy bar in the case I should meet a shady character in my travels. Or in my backyard, as may be the case tonight. I clutch the bar, exit the truck, and head out into the driveway. I hear my hens raising hell about 80 yards away in the coop, and immediately drop into a dead shuffle-run for the house, my shoes slowing my progress, cussing myself for not putting them on all the way. I bust in the back door and I don’t stop to explain, just holler “something’s in the henhouse!” as I fly by Casey, who is standing at the stove eating a cheeseburger. I head straight to our room, where I have a headlamp stashed for easy grabbing in the middle of the night, and I yank it on, grab my shotgun, which is right there by the door loaded with number 4 buckshot, and toss it at Casey, who just entered the hallway, saying “Pheriouphly?!” His mouth is still full of cheeseburger, and he’s trying to swallow it and ask questions at the same time. He catches the shotgun, turns heel, and heads for the back door. I have the whammy bar in one hand and the spotlight in the other (it was stashed next to the shotgun), and I light the way for him as we sprint for the henhouse. I can’t actually sprint, as my shoes are still not on all the way, and he gets way ahead of me, so I hold the spotlight high over my head, lighting the way for him as I lag behind. He unbolts the door and bursts inside. The hens are still raising cane. He doesn’t see anything, but when I get there and shine the light in, it immediately sparkles on the eyes of a huge blacksnake in the bottom row of nesting boxes. It’s very shiny, the whole snake, looking like it has just shed its skin after a winter in hibernation and it’s looking for its first meal of the spring. It can’t kill the hens but it has the capability of eating a lot of eggs. Casey beats a hasty retreat, as he hates snakes. I get the snake by the tail and remove it from the nesting box. I normally relocate snakes to the north barn, where there’s a hay pile and lots of mice to eat, but I have a feeling this snake will be right back here in the coop if we don’t relocate it even further away, so that’s what we do: remove it from our place permanently. 

After the excitement is over, Casey and I prepare also to bust our night-knocker, should it come knocking again tonight, before retiring to another episode of Tiger King. Season 3 of Ozark came out today, and I want to get into that, but I want Casey to watch the rest of Tiger King beforehand. Lordy that is a load of insanity wrapped up in 7 episodes!

The Flock Grows

Saturday, March 28. No night knocker last night. We haven’t outfoxed our fox; the trap is empty. The hens are all alive. We have arranged to purchase 5 more hens and a rooster from Sarah, and she messages me as I’m making Cale a cup of hot tea, saying she has the chickens caught and waiting for us. Casey prepares to go to pick them up. We have a cage, which I forgot the morning we were to go pick up the others, which resulted in one dying on us, and he needs to assemble it with zip ties before it’s fully functional. Mom had called me earlier this morning and said that Aunt Sandy was at Circle E down on 96 highway, and they have flour and yeast, which has been on our list the last two trips to the grocery store. I told her I’d take a 10-lb bag of flour, and 6 packets of yeast. I want to make my own yeast, but it’ll be handy to have some on hand. While Casey is outside working on the cage, Mom texts and says that Sandy left the flour and yeast on her porch, and that she will leave it alone and not touch it. We are concerned that Mom may have had indirect contact with the virus this week, so we are isolated from her and Dad now, until we find out for sure if the person in question tests positive.

Casey makes it home with the new hens and the rooster, King Tut, and we turn them loose with everyone else. As of today, we have 17 eggs to incubate. 

The incubator holds 48, but we don’t want to start that big, rather half that many, so we are almost ready to start incubating our first batch of babies. 

We go to the farm to get the 4-wheeler. While we are there, we stop at the granary, where Mom’s chicken coop is at. We need to put in a chicken wire ceiling so that raccoons can’t get in there, but otherwise, it’s good to go. I figure we can bring our first hatch over here once they’re old enough to be out from under a heat lamp, but not yet old enough to be in a chicken tractor out in the elements. 

Fast Fox; Hatching Dreams; More Foraging

Sunday, March29. We are so lazy in the mornings, sleeping all we want. We discuss for only a second getting up earlier, with an alarm. What’s the point? Enjoy this time to sleep more and enjoy our family while we have it.

Nothing on the cameras this morning, not even a fox, although the little so-and-so has gotten into the dumpster overnight AND robbed the live trap. The tuna can that I baited it with is even missing, and the door is snapped shut. There are pics on the main cam, but they are devoid of fox, so the little vixen is getting out of frame before the delay expires and the photo takes. The cams have a 5-second delay we can’t do away with, so this is our challenge: getting pics of interlopers before they exit the camera frame.

Creek swears today that there are fox tracks by the chicken pen, and I cannot deter her from her thinking even though the fox is the same size as Midge, our beagle, and we discuss taking one of the cams and locating it so that it’s focused on the coop.

After our new morning routine of  checking cameras, drinking coffee, and news reading is through, I open the box to the incubator, take the contraption out, and get out the instructions. I’m in new territory here, which is always scary for me at first. In my 40 years as a farm girl, I’ve never incubated eggs. Taking on a new knowledge base is frightening until I wade into the swamp, then I feel at home and confident, ready to fight the gators and snakes of obstacles that are to be faced in any endeavor involving life and death of a small animal. 

I have no problem cooking from scratch without a recipe or building a piece of furniture that I have merely sketched on a post-it, but when the fate of 24 precious eggs hangs in the balance of my knowledge base, I feel the need to be quite prepared.

So I start reading the instructions. The first thing is to plug the incubator in and wait two hours to see if the egg turners actually turn. There is no way to cheat the timer and advance it to two hours; you have to actually let the machine attempt to create the artificial environment for that two hours preceding the turning, which is by design, I discover, as the little alarm that sounds when the temperature is half a degree above or below optimum is REALLY annoying. I find myself constantly pushing the green button, as the instructions dictate, to get it to stop, but am very motivated to figure out WHY it is having so much difficulty maintaining a consistent temperature, and I sit down with the instruction book and read further. 

Letting the incubator cycle while I figure out how to keep it happy.

There’s a lot to absorb here. Temperature. Humidity. Turning the eggs. What happens in the 21 days to hatch. How to adjust the dozen different settings on the incubator. It says in here that you should let the incubator run for 24 hours, even a week preferably, before even putting eggs in it. What?? Dang. That’s a lot of electricity. I figure, within 24 hours, surely I’ll have this thing maintaining temperature and can get started.

I let it do a 2-hour cycle, and it fights to maintain 37.6 degrees Celsius. I have a stack of Edison phonograph records that need to be wiped down so they can be priced for West Bottoms, so I settle in at the table in the sun room and get busy. The thermometer in the incubator goes up to 38.4, the alarm sounds, it slowly goes back down, things are quiet for about 5 minutes, then it goes down to 35.8, and the alarm sounds again. Creek learns how to quiet the thing for me, pushing the green button when I ask her to, then without even asking. Good girl. Mom needs me to send her some Certo, jar flats and rings so that she can make jelly, so, since the gravel trucks aren’t running today, I send Creek on the gator to perform the errand. She wants to be in her Kindle, but it’s beautiful outside, so I put her behind the wheel, where I can see her all the way to Mom’s and back. She is instructed to leave the materials on the back porch and leave. She asks me why she can’t say hi, and I tell her we need to isolate from Mimi for now, as she may have been exposed to the virus. She doesn’t say anything, just shuts the door behind her and heads for the gator. She remarks upon returning about how torn up the roads are from the trucks. They are running on the gravel roads to avoid the Coon Creek bridge, which isn’t as sturdy as others that can deliver them onto their main route to the windmill site, and because we have had constant rains, the roads are boiled up in the center, with deep tracks, and the corners where the trucks turn are really jacked up. 

As the two hours ends, I am standing there, peering into the incubator, waiting to see if the turners turn as they should. They do! The trays rock to the opposite position. Perfect. Now to end this incessant beeping. 

I wonder if it will just magically level out and begin maintaining temperature. I hang up two burlap sacks over the window, thinking the sun shining in on the top of the incubator is making the temperature swing. I go outside, leaving the door open, just far enough away for the alarm to not drive me crazy, but close enough to hear it so that I can be paying attention. 

I need to pot up a bunch of aloes that have multiplied in the kitchen window, as well as an ice plant that I overwintered at the studio and some succulents that I bought at the greenhouse a couple weeks ago. These hardy plants always sell well at the spring shows. I save up containers for them year-round: vintage coffee cans, old teapots, cool ceramic pots destined for the dumpster, tobacco tins, enamel pots and pans; you name it, I’ll plant something in it and sell it for Mothers Day. 

So I set about potting up plants while the incubator alarm annoys me from within and my girls annoy me from without. Creek has taken to teasing Cale, and I’ve had enough when I catch her holding Cale’s water bottle over her head, waving it back and forth, just out of her reach. Cale had been pretending to ride the 4-wheeler, and had her water on there with her, but she has dismounted, distracted by something else, and Creek has climbed on the seat and is taunting her now. Cale is screeching like nails on a chalkboard, and Creek is sneering at her while saying “Whaaaaat?” I give her a scolding, pushups, and a cruddy job to do. That’s not how a big sister should act, terrible example, blah blah blah. 

I tend to let them get away with murder for a bit, giving them their own opportunity to right their behavior, before reminding them how to act right, and like my mother before me, I give reason to remember it. Not pain, just a bit of work. There is a tub full of stinky corn cobs that need to be hauled away, and I set Creek on it. After that, I have discovered that she did not, in fact, pick up all of her things out of the side yard yesterday after their play in the water table, and one of her flip flops is chewed up by a dog. So I tell her to put the flips in the dumpster, and for disobeying me, she can haul the bricks from the Whittle cleanup out behind the playhouse and dump them out. While Casey, Cale and I carry all of the potted plants into the sun room, Creek hauls bricks. We all finish our respective jobs at the same time, and she begs me to not give her anymore work. I concede, and tell the girls to get ready to go to the woods; it’s time to blow this popsicle stand for awhile.

Casey needs to run to Jasper for beer, so I grab the incubator instructions while he is gone and sit on the gator out in the sun, and try to figure out what I need to do to quiet this thing. I find the structionns on setting upper and lower parameters for temperature and humidity. I check the settings, and the lower parameter is 30.0. I adjust it to 37.2, and the upper parameter by a few tenths, and sit back. It levels out at 37.6 and stays there. Magical silence. No beeping. It maintains the constant temp, no swinging back and forth. Casey returns, and there is still no beeping. Let’s go to the woods.

We have asked our neighbors if we can stomp the woods on their property, and they consented as long as we share the mushroom harvest, should there be one. I honestly would love to find some fungus, but don’t really care as long as we wear our kids out. Creek is loud as usual; Freddy Kruger would have no issues catching her in the woods, as she moves slow and is definitely not quiet.

My hand atop an enormous bracket fungus.

As usual, Cale is very independent for the first 30 minutes, then wants to be carried everywhere after that. I resist until the last 30 minutes of the hike. We were out there for a couple of hours. We found a repository for a pile of old cream cans. Tragedy. We sell those for a mint. These are all still half buried, mostly rust, but still identifiable by their handles and telltale rims. Creek and I find an enamel pot, buried next to the edge of the creek, and she uses a bone that Cale picked up earlier to try and dig it up. It’s too deep, she says; it’s too big to be just a pot, and I speculate that it’s a chamber pot, explaining to her what a chamber pot is, much to her horror.

My first shed find ever.

Casey found a really cool bottle, with grapes on the side and a really long, hardly pronounceable name. We stuck it in my backpack along with a couple whiskey bottles that were near the pile of cream cans. I found my very first shed ever. It’s a little 4-point antler, off of a little basket-rack buck. Still exciting, as I didn’t expect it, least of all in the spot I found it. Shortly after that, Cale and I found a bracket fungus called Dryad’s Saddle, or pheasant back, growing on a dead log. We harvested them, putting them in a Dollar General sack and into the backpack. Shortly after that, I sent the girls both outside the treeline to the field to finish the trek back to the gator. They were tired and grouchy. I happened onto Casey right after, and as we emerged from the trees, the girls came around, and Cale face planted into a mudhole. Casey consoled her and cleaned her up as best he could, and we loaded up and headed home.

Dryad’s Saddle, or pheasant back. I add it to our chicken stroganoff for dinner.

When we get back, I pull out the chicken stock from the hen that died on the trip home, and start a batch of chicken stroganoff using a recipe from The Prairie Homestead Cookbook. I don’t have tarragon, but I think I can make it work. The recipe calls for mushrooms, so I dice up the pheasant backs and sauté them with the onions. For someone who hates onions, Creek has really come around in the last few months, and she emerges from the shower and sticks her nose right over the pot, murmuring about the smell of the onions.

I used gluten free noodles, which for their gluten free merits, are hardly worth the hassle, as their texture is grainy, and it’s difficult to cook them without having a mushy mess as a result. I cook them al dente, and they hold together well, but they still have a grainy feel, and I decide right there not to buy any more, gluten be damned.

After dinner, I reset the cams, take a quick shower, and prepare for bed. We are getting up early so we can get a decent start in the morning. We need to go to the studio to get some things, and we are taking the trailer so we can get the plaster that I scraped down over a week ago. 

President Trump conceded today that his hopes to pack the churches for Easter may have been a bit too hopeful. The virus appears to be spreading like fire all over the country now, and the estimated death toll is 100,000 at the least.

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