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archives for 12/2008

Dec 2008
S M T W T F S
 
     

Hauling water on the golf cart in winter budThere's always so much work to do on the farm that we never seem to have time to be proactive, only reactive.  Water is a prime example.  Since the summer, we've had "bury water lines" on our to do list, but it never quite made it up onto the tasks we meant to conquer in any given week.  So when the first really cold spell hit, our lines froze and we were out of water.

Over the next week, Mark and I plan to get the water lines buried and the problem solved.  But in the short term, the dishes were piling up a foot above the sink.  So Sunday afternoon Mark and I set out in pursuit of immediate water.  We loaded some buckets into the club car and drove down to the creek through winter mud --- the kind that sits over half frozen ground and lets none of the recent rain drain away from the surface.

Half full bucketsOur journey occurred before Mark installed the ice chains, so it was no surprise that we got stuck a few times and had to work our way free.  Mark lifted up the offending portion of the golf cart with the spud bar while I hit the acceleration and also pushed the cart along with one foot --- kinda like in the Flintstones but with my foot sticking out the side of the cart instead of through a hole in the floor.  Soon enough we'd filled up buckets at the creek and strapped them in place for the slipping, sliding journey home.

When we pulled up at the trailer door, both of us splattered with mud and water, our buckets had lost half of the water they'd started out with.  But both of us were laughing and invigorated from the adventure --- our buckets were indeed half full!

Posted Mon Dec 1 08:37:00 2008 Tags:

We have had the Super Splitter wood maul for over a year now and it's already showingglue signs of fatigue. A few weeks ago the maul head came apart from the fiberglass handle. A bit of electrical tape helped it stay put for a couple of days, but now we need a more serious solution.

I have heard good things about Gorilla glue and for this application an adhesive that expands might just be the answer. If the handle was broke or cracked in any way I would switch to something wooden, but I'm willing to give this one a second chance.

The real test will be if it stays put under the intense stress of log splitting?

Posted Mon Dec 1 18:06:12 2008 Tags:

Drawing draftsDay one of my freelancing life --- I would be quite happy if every day was exactly like yesterday.

While the bone from Daddy's Thanksgiving ham simmered into a pot of bean soup, I drew a cartoon of a medical researcher marrying an academic for my first (second?) cousin once removed's medical research journal.  Then I took a break to split some wood, help Mark bring my broken car to the mechanic, and chat over email with the co-author of a natural history book I'll be working on for the next little while.  All while fat flakes of snow settled over the farm.

The late Helen and Scott Nearing, famous back to the landers, divided their days into thirds --- one part for "bread" labor, one part for the arts, and one part for social and civic interactions.  I know that my outlook on life is much better when I similarly divide up my time, though the happiest division for me (since my bread labor more often involves sitting in front of the computer) is one part bread labor, one part arts, one part physical work, and one part feeding our souls through home cooking.  I had lost sight of this happy medium over the last year, and I'm glad to have refound it.

(I admit I'm also thrilled that I managed to pull together some passable drawings of people, which I profess to being unable to draw.  I think I dreamed about that medical researcher last night after tossing so many drafts across the Atlantic Ocean to be perused.)

Posted Tue Dec 2 07:44:06 2008 Tags:

A simple worm binTomorrow, we'll be adding dozens of new livestock to our family.  Yup, it's time for worms!!!

Mark has been trying to talk me into worms for months, but I've resisted since I hate to take any scraps away from the chickens and I don't like using up indoors space.  (Outdoor worm bins don't work in cold weather.)  But I was won over by the promise of rich compost tea to help our houseplants thrive, and by the free worms being offered to us by Dennis from Florida.

The simple worm bin I built this afternoon is based loosely on Whatcom County's Cheap and Easy Worm bin, but is only a one tray bin with a large reservoir beneath to collect the compost tea. 
Filling the worm bin with leaves, dirt, and eggshellsMany sites recommend simply placing the lid of the container under your bin to collect the liquid, but that seems prone to spillage and I want lots of tea.  Also note the air holes drilled around  the sides and in the bottom of the worm bin tray.
Covering the worm bin with damp cardboard
I filled the bin halfway up with wet leaves, including a few handfuls of dirt and eggshells, then covered the bedding with a wet piece of cardboard.  Once the worms arrive and settle in for a few days, we'll begin to feed them.  I'm looking forward to learning about the wonders of vermiculture!

Posted Tue Dec 2 16:53:38 2008 Tags:

Turkey feetFor future reference, the best way to feed chicken or turkey feet to your dogs is whole and raw.  Unfortunately, the turkey feet I got a week and a half ago came with instructions to cook them for a long time until the meat fell off the bones.  So I did, using up all of the propane in our outdoor cooker's tank then finishing the feet on our kitchen stove where they stunk up the entire house.

Once cooked, turkey feet turn into a gelatinous mass which will stay on your hands until scrubbed extensively with scads of soap and hot water.  I gave up on trying to pick the meat off the bones after about five minutes and threw it all back in the pot to cook some more.  Eventually, I strained off the liquid to add to Lucy's dog food, wasting all of the meat, skin, and bones.  Next time I'll know better!

Still, Lucy adored her dog food, and I was thrilled to have finally taken the time to make a week's worth so that I won't have to feed her dry when I'm too busy to make up a batch.  It would have made two weeks' worth, though, if I'd stuck to raw!  So be forewarned!

Posted Wed Dec 3 08:24:45 2008 Tags:

glue handleThe Gorilla glue expanded out of the groove and has held up under some minor log splitting action.

It looks like another round of glue is in order. There is a tiny wiggle that I think can be deleted if I apply a small bead around the entire handle.

I'll wait till tonight for that step so I can get some chopping done this afternoon.

Posted Wed Dec 3 10:12:26 2008 Tags:

Guest blogger Errol is a long time social change activist.It's incredible to think that so many educated and intelligent people, who run large nations' governments and industries, can seriously believe that, in a finite world, infinite growth is possible and base an economy on that notion. It is not an overstatement to say that growth economics has led us to the brink of environmental disaster, or, that if we do not develop a sustainable economy, based on human needs, we will soon be on the downhill side of that brink. Unlike the people who in the cartoon abandoned their world to a trash recycling robot, we haven't another world to which we can escape.

Growth economies made sense when almost everyone was poor and a few million people inhabited a frontier nation. In a world with six billion residents, they make absolutely no sense. Pollution, global warming, depleting resources, a third world clamoring for what the developed world now enjoys all make the economics which won the cold war impossible to sustain.  Read more....

Posted Thu Dec 4 08:57:38 2008 Tags:

metalI was doing a connector upgrade on our irrigation pump today and discovered a small tip that could ease some friction trouble that can sometimes occur with plastic.

Some pieces are more difficult to couple when it's cold out. Toast the stubborn part over a fire for about 30 seconds... being careful not to let it get too hot. This will make it easier and give you a chance to warm your hands.

Posted Thu Dec 4 20:53:43 2008 Tags:

Longevity of bulk foodsThe seemingless endless line of unrecyclable empty cocoa tins in the barn pushed me over the edge into buying in bulk.  The concept of bulk food makes ecological sense (cut down on packaging), emergency preparedness sense, and financial sense.  Still, it took me a month after considering bulk food before I actually made the leap --- here's why:

First I had to figure out what to buy, and how much. 
I've summarized how long various foods can be expected to last in the table to the left.  I decided to start out with a "small" amount of a few items for our first experiment, skipping the sugar and pasta which seem to cost the same in the grocery store as in bulk, any items which last less than six months, and items we don't use enough of to merit a bulk purchase.

We live at least an hour and a half's drive from the nearest bulk food store, so I initially considered buying online.  M
ost folks recommend Walton Feed for online bulk food, and their prices did indeed seem to be perfect.  However, once you load up your shopping cart and proceed to checkout you'll find out that shipping costs are as high as food costs.  Not my cup of tea!  Read more....

Posted Fri Dec 5 08:17:05 2008 Tags:
Anna News bites

I hate to leave folks dangling, so I feel obliged to give a heads up on a few projects which don't yet merit a full post.
Trench to bury waterline
The wriggling worms didn't make it into my grubby little hands Wednesday, but our buddy promised to mail us some soon.  So hopefully sometime in the next few weeks I'll get the worm bin up and running!

In between cutting wood and a thousand other projects, Mark and I have been working on our water problems all week.  Mark got the big pump in the creek running again, so our thousand gallon tank is full of wash water.  Meanwhile, I figured out that the reason our well pump wasn't running was because it was unplugged, though I didn't get it pumping since there's ice in the line.

The biggest part of the water project is burying the lines, which Daddy warns must be done at a two foot depth to prevent freezing.  I'm so bad at judging the time it will take to complete farm projects, so I put that on my agenda to complete for Wednesday --- the picture here shows the 5% of the trench I've dug since then.  Currently, we're musing over whether it'd be cost effective to rent a ditch witch.

Finally, I got my web design, grant writing, and biological inventorying website up and running.  Check it out, and give me a holler if you have any projects to send my way!  I'm at the stage where I could really use some word of mouth pointing folks toward my consulting business.  Thanks in advance!

Posted Fri Dec 5 08:51:53 2008 Tags:

more glueThe additional bead of Gorilla glue eliminated the wiggle and is still holding up well. Now it's a question of time. How much pressure can the bond take and for how long?

Posted Fri Dec 5 20:41:55 2008 Tags:

The Bush administration has won another victory in its war on the Environment. The EPA approved a last minute rule change on Tuesday which will rewrite a regulation enacted in 1983 that bars the dumping of huge waste piles within 100 feet of any stream or creek.

The new rule change is opposed by both Kentucky andmountaintop removal Tennessee governors as well as other area legislators.

The regions most affected are some of the poorest in the nation and in our back yard. I can't help but to wonder what other midnight regulations the Bush team has in store for us?

Posted Sat Dec 6 15:39:17 2008 Tags:

Frosty windowHuckleberry is an indoors-outdoors cat, but yesterday he decided that he was most decidedly an indoors cat. 

When Mark and I came home from a day spent visiting, we were a bit surprised to find Huckleberry curled up on the futon.  Surely I'd put him out before leaving the house that morning --- but maybe he'd slipped back past us as we were leaving?  He seemed quite content to be inside away from the cold weather, so I didn't think any more about it. 

Until a few hours later, that is, when I put him out for the night and snuggled up in bed with a book.  Just as my book sucked me in, little feet came padding down the hallway and Huckleberry announced his presence with a pleased "Meow!"

What in the world?  I shot out of bed and did a little exploring, quickly discovering the new "cat door."  While we'd been gone all day, Huckleberry had deviously ripped the air hose to the outdoor wood furnace out of the wall, creating a massive hole through which he could easily prance into the house.  Thanks a lot, Huckleberry!
Chainsawing in the snow
This morning, I discovered that scientists are right --- cold hands make cold hearts.  Between Huckleberry's cat door letting in frigid air, the golf cart having frozen into the mud overnight so that we couldn't get the tires to roll and collect the wood Mark had cut at the other end of the property, and the chainsaw's gas having somehow frozen solid so that we couldn't cut any closer wood, I was cold and irritable.  Luckily for me, Mark solved all of our problems, even managing to start a fire out of wet kindling on a cold day.  As the interior temperature tops 60 F, my heart has begun to thaw. :-)

Posted Sat Dec 6 18:47:16 2008 Tags:

SnowFirst, the real point of this post --- congratulations to Andrea from Ohio, winner of our giveaway!  Now I will proceed to talk at length about the weather....

Which is snow!  A beautiful, though thin, sheet of fluffy white.  This morning Lucy romped about while I noticed deer and squirrel tracks.

Huckleberry and the hens, on the other hand, have taken the snow as a personal offense.  As I moved the chicken tractors this morning, our girls huddled on the patch of unsnowy ground until the last minute, unlike their usual rush-for-the-front as new greenery comes into view.  Cold feet for them this morning!

Posted Sun Dec 7 10:44:40 2008 Tags:

electric motorConverting your existing car into a Prius like hybrid just got a lot easier and cheaper thanks to an interesting start up company out of Connecticut by the name of Poulson.

For about 4 thousand dollars they will install a new type of external electric motor to each of your wheels that don't get driven by the car's transmission. The motors are used to keep you going once the gas engine has done most of the hard work. This can increase a car that normally get 30 mpg to 55 or better.

They don't sell the motor to do it yourselfers yet due to some legal issues, so you'll have to take your car to Connecticut or a participating dealer if you want to be one of the first to take advantage of this new technology.

Posted Sun Dec 7 16:48:05 2008 Tags:

Empty bread boardMark and I tried out a new bread recipe yesterday.  As the picture here shows, it hit the spot.  I had no time to get the camera before every slice was gone.

We don't eat storebought bread because the choices there are either insipid or way too expensive.  Instead, I usually make bread in the bread machine, which is definitely better than storebought bread, but could use some work in the crust department.

Unfortunately, I never seem to set aside the time to make real bread, so I was thrilled to see an article in the most recent Mother Earth News touting real bread which you can make in five minutes a day.  The recipe is enough for four loaves --- you mix the dough up in about ten minutes (no kneading required) and then cut off a quarter to bake.  The rest goes into the fridge where it can sit for up to two weeks.

I may tweak the recipe when I try it next time --- I like my bread a little eggier, a little sweeter, and a little less white.  Still, it was hard to argue with the loaf's crunchy crust and moist interior.  And the fact that I still have three more loaves to bake over the next few days!

Posted Mon Dec 8 08:30:34 2008 Tags:

Jeff LemireIf you like stories told with a farm as the backdrop then you might want to check out the lush work of Jeff Lemire.

"Tales From The Farm" has won several awards, but I was drawn to his work by this cover art, which brings back fond memories of my own personal Batman cape my mom made for my brother and me back in the late 70's.

I feel like his drawing style captures that magical space in a boy's imagination where anything is possible with a bit of time and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Posted Mon Dec 8 19:29:37 2008 Tags:

Rain is a perfect season to plant seeds.Anna and her siblings as kids
When the skies flooded the earth,
We stood strong, out of doors,
Where we could watch the birds swoop
For worms.

Our parents seemed to hibernate in a
Different world completely.
If they lived through us, warm, rain drenched
Soggy haired creatures,
It did not show.

We were immune to thunder,
We repelled lightening.
Mom and Daddy would stand
Out on the porch, barely braving
The roof, shouting,

"Come in if the lightening gets too close!"
The neighbors thought they were cop out parents.
We were glad for it.
We took five gallon buckets,
Filled them with gutter water,

Maggie's self portraitAnd dumped them on our heads.
We smelled our small southern city
Clean as the water washed off
The cars, the industrial grime,
And our own boredom,

All of which accumulated on roofs,
Ran into the drain pipes,
And journeyed to the gutter,
Where we would race sticks
To the bottom of the hill.

After the sticks circled around over the drain,
And the gushing water pulled them down
into the underworld, after that, neither me,
nor my siblings, could guess where our
Rain day stream must go.


style="font-style: italic; font-family: Nimbus Roman No9 L;">Maggie writes about her life in Appalachia on her blog at http://www.mugword.blogspot.com/.  The lower picture is her self portrait while the upper picture is a photo of Maggie, Anna, and their brother Joey at about the age they would have braved lightning to play in the gutter.

Posted Tue Dec 9 08:36:05 2008 Tags:

mud traction 2The traction chains started slipping after a few days of back and forth in the mud.

I took each wheel back off and doubled the amount of rope and weaves. I also secured the rope ends with some metal wire.

After doing a bit of research I discovered that for about 5 dollars per tire you can get 100 percent nitrogen pumped into your tires. Nitrogen is more stable and will not fluctuate when the temperature changes. It is also reported to decrease the amount of inner tire decay.

Helium might seem like it could make your vehicle lighter, but it won't.... and then you have to deal with your car talking in that high pitched tone.

Posted Tue Dec 9 16:26:39 2008 Tags:

I was supposed to have a meeting this morning --- the good lord willin' an' the creek don't rise.  But the creek did rise and the doppler radar called for much more rain to come, so I called to say I was afraid to leave home for fear of getting flooded out.

While chatting to the folks I was supposed to meet with, I learned that the creek which folks talk about rising was originally meant to refer to the Creek Indians.  Which would make the phrase grammatically correct after all --- I always thought the "don't" in the sentence was just
Appalachianese.

Anyhow, Lucy and I wandered down to the uncapitalized creek to perform a stick test on its depth.  Someday I want to install a long stick with graduated markings in the creek so I'll know the actual depth of the creek water, but for now I stick to a more quick and dirty stick test.  I throw the stick across the creek and see how well Lucy does as she bounds after it.  Today, Lucy showed me up for a wimp --- she could walk almost all the way across.  Still, I'm always glad to be flooded in, letting nature win the battle for once.


Posted Wed Dec 10 12:24:14 2008 Tags:

I never seem to have enough time these days, how do I create more of it?

Zemke, Pittsburgh PA.
time
Good news Zemke, we will all be getting an extra full second added to the official clock starting just before midnight on New Years Eve of this year.

According to NASA, time is slowing down, and 900 million years ago a day would only last 18 hours.

I would say the best way to create more time would be to delete most of your distractions and try to live more in the moment.

Posted Wed Dec 10 17:06:46 2008 Tags:

Avian Aqua Miser Please note: This giveaway ended in December, 2008.  Please go to our store if you'd like to buy a chicken waterer, chicken nipples, or do it yourself chicken waterer kit.

The day has finally come for us to announce and give away Mark's invention!  Introducing --- the Avian Aqua Miser!

Like most chicken owners, I used to moan and complain about the vagaries of watering hens in tractors.  Their waterers would tip and spill on uneven terrain and one of our hens died of heat exhaustion on a hot summer day as a result.  When the waterers didn't spill, it seemed like they got covered with poop within minutes of being refreshed --- ugh.

So Mark put on his thinking cap, and four or five incarnations later he's developed a product that I adore.  In our six hen tractor, half a gallon of water in our Avian Aqua Miser lasts for several days in cool weather and the hens seem to get a kick out of pecking at the nipple.  Clean, clear water for our chickens!

And time to share the joy with a giveaway!  Check out our usual giveaway guidelines (but note that this giveaway will end on Saturday, December 20 since I'm starting it so late in the week.)  In addition to an Avian Aqua Miser, we're going to throw in the e-books and video we developed to go along with it which are explained in our
store.  If you have chickens or think you want to get some, I highly recommend you enter this giveaway --- I can't live without our Avian Aqua Misers now!

Posted Thu Dec 11 08:58:30 2008 Tags:

I took this 15 second video yesterday to show our poop-free chicken waterer in action.

Our chickens will never drink dirty water again, and that's well worth the admission price because that warm and fuzzy feeling continues to grow each time you watch them drink with such enthusiasm.

Posted Thu Dec 11 19:11:50 2008 Tags:

Carolina wren beside the rain gaugeWith every inch of rain, our world gets smaller.  One inch Wednesday and I only managed to walk Lucy as far as the creek rather than our usual two thirds of a mile down the road.  Then another inch and a half yesterday and I only make it to the alligator swamp before turning back in search of dry feet.

But rain is good for making me settle down with the laptop and finally start plugging away on the natural history book I'm supposed to be co-writing.  I hope that beginning is the hardest part --- I spent seven hours yesterday writing version after version before finally settling on one page I like.  My usual rate is more like a page an hour for first drafts --- I'm putting the extra six hours down to figuring out the theme and tone of the book.  I hope....

Posted Fri Dec 12 08:27:16 2008 Tags:

I forgot to mention the fact that these last two videos are of one of the first versions of the Avian Aqua Miser. I started out with a small plastic honey bottle, but found on hot days it was just barely enough water to last all day.

The final product holds up to a half gallon of water, which makes it wider and heavier and eliminates the problem of swinging, which the hens seemed to not mind, but it made me dizzy after watching them longer than a few minutes.

This video demonstrates how several hens can share the same Avian Aqua Miser and be happy about it.

Posted Fri Dec 12 19:59:33 2008 Tags:

Black Friday photo from insidesocal.comI have a confession to make.  On Black Friday --- in the polar opposite of voluntary simplicity --- I not only bought something, but I bought something big.

When I quit working for my nonprofit, I had to return the fancy equipment I'd been using --- a zippy laptop, a stunning camera, a swell GPS.  I thought I'd miss the camera the most and had told myself I could splurge and buy one of my own, but luckily before I splurged I went back to my old laptop and realized that it was like returning to using a screwdriver after you've been building houses with a power drill.  I had gotten used to being able to manipulate 2.4 MB photos with ease or format big fancy documents.  Back on my old computer, not only was the broken hinge not as repairable as I'd initially thought, but those large manipulations would take 15 minutes of painful effort, the mouse lagging behind where I pointed it as the computer worked all out and still barely managed.

And so I told myself "if you can find a zippy laptop for under $500 you can get it", thinking all the while that the budget was too low and there was no way I'd find something zippy enough to tempt me so cheap.  But then on Black Friday I went online and found a 15% off sale at Lenovo along with free shipping --- and got a zippy laptop for under $500.

When the computer arrived yesterday, the creek was way up and the footbridge icy and lopsided, but I crawled across (literally), pushing the laptop box in front of me --- my version of risking life and limb for shopping.  Next week, Joey will set it up with Linux (at which point I will begin to love it --- right now it's running windows and I can't seem to force myself to touch it.)  And that is my confession --- we all fall short of the glory.  But at least I didn't fall in the creek!

Posted Sat Dec 13 10:09:46 2008 Tags:

TC1840H yard cartThe TC1840H steel yard cart with collapsible sides has proven to be a real work horse for us. We've had it going on two years now and it's held up under some serious abuse. I did seem to break one of the supports...but it was easy enough to repair. Like I said...we have probably overused the poor thing and it's a testament to its makers that it's still doing the job and doing it well.
wagon war

A friend of mine emailed me this photo of what looks like the same model cart being deployed in the secret tricycle surge in Iraq. This could be just the kind of secret weapon our troops really need to wrap up the current Middle East Crusade so that they can all finally come home and get some well deserved rest.

Posted Sat Dec 13 20:49:05 2008 Tags:

Cheddar-parmesan cheese crackersPart of my solution to the Christmas gift problem this year is going to be baked goods.  Everyone gives sweets for Christmas, and I did bake a lemon merangue pie with a cookie crumb crust for Mark's mom, but I've decided to go for the salty side of snacking for most of my presents.

The photo doesn't really do my Cheddar-Parmesan Cheese Crackers justice.  I've been working on this recipe for the past month, trying to come up with something to replace Mark's dependence on storebought snack crackers.  I finally succeeded a bit too well --- when I make a batch of these crackers, they're gone before the day's out.  Luckily, they're extremely easy to make.  Blend the ingredients in the food processor, roll out the dough into a cylinder, cut off slices, and bake.  You can probably make a batch in half an hour or less, including baking time.  Enjoy!

Posted Sun Dec 14 08:59:56 2008 Tags:

American GothicHere, before us, we have a pretty self-sufficient farm family, whose only wants outside what they produce are some metal utensils, glass, fine cloth, perhaps, refined sugar, flour and meal, coffee or tea. Up the hollow is a wired old coot digging some coal and iron out of the earth and, with his sons, building a furnace to smelt iron. Down the road is a little country store and water powered grist mill, where farmers can get their grains milled for a fourth of the product. You get the picture. It's a community in early nineteenth century Virginia or Ohio or New York. Many dozens of places. Little or no money used or needed. No great expectations.

How do we get from there to here in two hundred years?  Read more....

Posted Sun Dec 14 21:04:08 2008 Tags:

Division of labor in our householdSomewhere or other, I read that division of labor was one of the roots of human civilization.  When people began to specialize in certain chores required to keep the whole community alive, everyone got a little free time to paint cliff paintings or write in their blog.

I was a bit slower to come to terms with division of labor, but lately I'm startled to find myself falling into the typical gender roles in our relationship.  The honest truth is that while I can haul 50 pound bags of feed to the barn without much ado, when it comes to hefting the spud bar to dig deep holes I'll hack for hours at what Mark could do in minutes.  On the other hand, I sincerely enjoy the puzzle involved in keeping us nutrionally fed on a budget, planning the progression of roast turkey breast to pesto chicken salad sandwiches to fajitas.

While Mark was playing baseball with all the neighborhood kids, I was inhaling books in self-imposed isolation.  I was the kid who hated group projects and did most of the work for the whole group because I didn't trust anyone else to work up to my standards.  So it's no surprise that the teamwork in our relationship is primarily Mark's doing.  Some days I'm stunned by how smoothly our team runs --- Mark drives, I navigate, Mark saws wood, I load the golf cart and drive it home, Mark keeps the fire going all night, I sleep.  Oh, wait... :-)

Posted Mon Dec 15 10:56:24 2008 Tags:

Washing clothes in a wringer washerVisiting civilization, I load Mark's mom's washing machine with load after load of dirty laundry.  Every few weeks, I wash my clothes in the wringer washer, but Mark tends to throw his in a pile  in the corner of his room and wait for six months until he visits his mother.  The time has come for me to take the bull by the horns and take over our household's laundry rather than just my own!

In the summer, I wonder why anyone would do their laundry with anything except a wringer washer.  Standing in the hot sun, cold water dripping off my elbows, I wash my clothes with creek water and dry them with sunlight.  As the fall advances, though, I try to remember why I use a wringer washer, my hands freezing solid in ice water until I can barely feel them and they turn bright red.

The obvious reason to use a wringer washer is that they can be used without running water --- essential on our homestead --- and can be left outside to freeze with no negative repurcussions.  When done properly, using a wringer washer also saves water.  For the 0.05% of my reading audience who would ever consider using a wringer washer, I've compiled a list of wringer washer tips.  Enjoy!

Posted Tue Dec 16 10:18:27 2008 Tags:

mom's fieldThe picture is the field behind my mom's backyard in Ohio. This time last year it was showing signs of soil compaction as I walked up and down its trail. Thanks to some corn stalk mulching I've noticed a decrease in the mud and standing water.

I'm not sure how often one needs to mulch corn stalks, but I have always enjoyed gazing out at these fields.

The wind is the price you have to pay for such a nice view. On a day like this you might want to consider electric socks to keep the wind chill as far from your toes as possible.

Posted Tue Dec 16 21:14:52 2008 Tags:

Concord GrapesOne of my favorite things to do when I go to visit Mark's mom is to prune her grapevines.  She has four vines planted far too close together which grow up a netted wire trellis, so I can't prune them in a traditional fashion.  Instead, I play it by ear, trying to prune them so that they'll cover the whole trellis.

So I have to stick to general principles rather than following any hard and fast rules.  Except for the main trunk, a grape vine should be cut back to one year old canes since these are what will produce fruit.  A healthy plant should be cut back so that it has only 40 to 50 buds (from the 200 to 300 buds on the plant before pruning.)

Grapevine before and after pruningThe great thing about grapes is that even though I'm a rank amateur, they always seem to do fine.  The animation shows the grapevines before and after from this winter's pruning while the still photo is fruits which were on the vine this past summer after my last hack job.  I'm very curious to see how well the vines will bear this summer!

Posted Wed Dec 17 08:46:11 2008 Tags:

We're home from a wonderful visit with Mark's family in Ohio. As usual, I'm thrilled to be home, even though coming home to the farm is never easy.

We carefully picked warm nights to be gone, but we didn't think to check whether the warmth also equated to rain. It did. When we got home with two big boxes of frozen food, we found that the creek was nearly up to the footbridge --- definitely too high to drive the golf cart across. So instead we filled backpacks and braved the footbridge, slipping and sliding all the way home.

Luckily, everything else seems to have gone according to plan. The chickens still had plenty of water in their Avian Aqua Misers, though one set had scratched up the earth under their tractor into a mass of mud. Huckleberry seems to have caught a cold, sniffling and whining around the house, but after half a can of tuna he curled up to go to sleep. Lucy ran out to meet us, overjoyed as always by her adventures.

Posted Wed Dec 17 17:50:00 2008 Tags:

Nite Guard predator eyesAfter 4.3 inches of rain in eight days, I have to admit that I'm considering asking the rain gods to hold off for a day or two.  I wore tevas for my farm chores this morning --- no reason to soak my boots when mud will end up squelching between my toes anyway.  The yard is full of standing water, the creek is still far too high to drive out and bring in our clean laundry and linux laptop.

Instead, I installed the
Nite Guard Predator Eyes Daddy sent me for my birthday --- thank you, Daddy!  Despite the abysmal review on Amazon, Daddy swears by these solar-powered, blinking LEDs.  He tells me they keep away the deer, and at this point I'm ready to try anything.  Once I bring the laptop in from the car, I'll try to remember to post an image of my installation setup --- I decided to go a lot simpler than Daddy's tripod design, instead just putting screws at several locations around the yard and hanging the predator eyes from a wire.

In other news, today is my thirtieth birthday!  Joey gave me another stunning birthday present --- he fixed the comments system on our blog!  Check it out and leave me a comment --- I look forward to hearing a lot more from you all now that it's easier.

Posted Thu Dec 18 11:08:58 2008 Tags:

Predator eyesMark is hibernating today as he refills his mind with quiet, but luckily I have about twenty things I want to post about.  Tonight, you get the photos I promised you this morning. 

My predator eyes hanging method is simple --- a wire strung through the hole in the unit which slips over a screw I drove in various posts and tree trunks.  When scaring away deer with the predator eyes, it's essential to move them every few days so the deer don't get used to them, so I'm hoping the easy hang approach will make moving them simple enough that I'll do it in a timely manner.  I appreciate those of you who commented this morning about your good experiences with the product.  I hope I have equally good luck!

On an unrelated note, for those of you who have chickens, I highly
Chicken tracks in the mud recommend that you check out Harvey Ussery's website.  I've noticed recently that whenever I read an article I really like in the Backyard Poultry Magazine or Mother Earth News, Harvey is the author.  Specifically, you must check out his article about a Vermont composting facility which breeds chickens on mounds of compost and manure with no added storebought feed --- this is something I may have to try out on a much smaller scale once our manure source has their next load ready for us!

Tomorrow evening, we'll return you to your regularly scheduled male perspective of the farm.


Read other posts about alternative chicken feed:





We finally solved the deer in the garden problem, and the solution was so elegant we gave it a new website.  Check out our deer deterrent website for free plans!



Posted Thu Dec 18 18:32:39 2008 Tags:

culvert homeI'm always interested in low budget building methods that break away from the traditional square lodge approach.

If these concrete culverts were buried into a south facing hillside you might get a perfect year round temperature at zero cost?

This could also work as a root cellar and maybe even a small green house if enough sky lights could be added. The circular design would make it easy to roll into position when you get ready to bury it.
Trailersteading

Edited to add:


Trailersteading tells how to enjoy all the advantages of a tiny house at a fraction of the cost by living in a used mobile home.  Now available for $1.99 on Amazon.


Posted Fri Dec 19 19:46:13 2008 Tags:

Drawing of a red wormWorms!  Some slightly dehydrated annelids arrived Thursday.  Most had crawled out of the box and into the paper wrapping, which Dennis had luckily taped very well before mailing.  Thank you so much, Dennis, for the new additions to our farm!

I re-wet the leaves in our worm box and put the little wrigglers in.  Most sat on the surface, stunned, but a day later they had spread down among the wet leaves where I had to dig to find them.  They didn't seem to have touched the tea bags which I buried as starter food, but worm castings were in evidence.

For those not in the know, the worm of choice for vermicomposting is red wrigglers, a name referring to two species which are both a good deal smaller than the worms you probably dig up in your garden on a regular basis.  I've never tried vermiculture before, so I'll be sure to keep you updated about their adventures, though will try to refrain from my urge to poke at the worms several times a day to see what they're up to.

Posted Sat Dec 20 08:03:32 2008 Tags:

clark howardClark Howard is my favorite consumer advocate who always seems to have solid advice on saving money. I think he might be the best out there right now when it comes to looking out for the little guy.

Clark's latest piece of advice is something I've known about for years now, but am only now ready to blog about because I just assumed everybody already knew.

Internet Explorer (the browser most computers come with) is a deeply flawed product that makes surfing on the internet slower, uglier, and more dangerous than it needs to be.

It's free and easy to switch over to Firefox and importing bookmarks and any other data from Internet Explorer can be done in just a few clicks or less. You'll still have your old browser to use as a backup, but I doubt if you'll ever open it again once you realize how zippy the internet was meant to be with a program like Firefox.

Posted Sat Dec 20 20:40:44 2008 Tags:

DIY Avian Aqua MiserFinally, the moment everyone's been waiting for --- time to select the winner of the Avian Aqua Miser Giveaway!  The winner is....Cara Blocker from Colorado!

We had 22 entries, which was an all-time high for us.  I wish I could send a free Avian Aqua Miser to everyone, but for those of you who didn't win and would still like to pamper your hens, you can buy chicken waterers, chicken nipples, or DIY chicken waterer kits over in our store. 

The photo to the left shows how you can make a waterer for your chickens out of any reused bottle using our do-it-yourself kit.  This is actually the way we originally envisioned the product working before we discovered that no one in our area recycles plastic and that we wanted the water reservoir to be bigger.

Thank you all for entering, and I'll look forward to hearing from those of you who make the plunge about how you like your Avian Aqua Miser!

Posted Sun Dec 21 09:10:40 2008 Tags:

square watermelonIf you find yourself bored with plain old egg shaped watermelons then maybe you might be ready to take the square melon challenge.

The first thing you need is a collapsible square box, which does not look easy to build, but if you can spare 90 bucks you can have one mailed to you from Michigan.

A square watermelon sells for over 80 dollars in Japan and most people buy them as a decoration. If a guy could get half that here at a farmers market it might just be a new potential cash crop for your backyard.

Posted Sun Dec 21 18:41:26 2008 Tags:

Christmas ornamentsHere in the mountains, the winter sun peeks over the hill later and later every day until by the solstice it is barely hitting the trailer at noon.  Although I know I won't be able to notice the longer days for a couple of weeks, I can already feel the relief of knowing that we're on the upward swing of daylight.

Mark and I went to a solstice party at our neighbors' yesterday afternoon --- 2 pm to 5 pm, the perfect time of day to haul me out of my shell.  I succumbed to the impulse to show off, making chicken potstickers and cheese crackers as our potluck items.  We came home with three gift bags of homemade goodies --- jams and jellies, wound ointment, biscotti, dried apples.  That's the kind of gift I can reciprocate with joy.

At home, I put together gift bags for my family out of extra things I had around the house plus food items Mark and I won't eat but think they will.  (I become more like my mother every day....)  Then I decorated our plant shelf with homemade ornaments --- gingerbread cookies from my family, elves I made out of candy wrappers ten years ago, little figures Mark made out of clothes pins when he was in the cub scouts.  When it doesn't spiral out of control, I have to admit that I like the decorations and hidden gifts of Christmas.

Posted Mon Dec 22 07:45:05 2008 Tags:

Elmer the chickenHave you ever wondered what a world would be like where humans and chickens shared the top of the food chain?

Gerry Alanguilan has created such a world in his unique graphic series titled "Elmer". He actually makes a chicken look natural in a three piece suit, which might not be a good idea in the real world.

I'm sure the dynamic around the farm would be altogether different, and maybe you could expect to get bigger eggs, but the increase in attitude would be a high price to pay.

Click on the link in the picture to download a free copy from the artist.

Posted Mon Dec 22 19:48:39 2008 Tags:

Mural at the marriage registryYesterday was the big day no one but me and Mark knew about --- we ran off and got married at city hall!  For weeks, I've been holding my tongue whenever I talked to anyone I care about, dying to spill the beans but knowing I'd better not.  At night, I fought off nightmares where my friends and family forced me into dresses and veils and churches.

I'm the one woman in a thousand who never dreamed of her wedding day, who disavowed the notion of a church and state sanctioned relationship.  But after three and a half years living in each other's pockets, we decided to throw a big party for our friends and family --- kind of a commitment ceremony.  And that got me thinking, so I took a look at our taxes and realized we'd save $500 by signing the sheet of paper.

We set the date for the day after the solstice so that even I could remember when our anniversaries roll around.  I also like the symbolism of the light returning to the earth.  And, of course, there's the fact that we had to get married before the end of the year to get the tax break. 

Yesterday we set out, picture IDs in hand, to the county courthouse.  But ten minutes from home, Mark got cold feet.  Read more... (Like my cliffhanger?)

Posted Tue Dec 23 08:05:14 2008 Tags:

future muralThis Blade Runner like mural of the future at the court house was yet another sign that Anna is the right match for me. To me it's an excellent omen of how far our connection will take us.

I may very well be the luckiest guy in the galaxy, and with Anna as my partner I feel like there's nothing we can't accomplish.

Posted Tue Dec 23 10:44:33 2008 Tags:

I lined the bed with newspapers then filled it with compost.In my natural habitat, I am a frugivore, so I have slowly been building an orchard around our trailer.  My trees have faced varying success --- to be totally truthful, I haven't done a very good job with them in the past. 

It all started three years ago when we planted an orchard before moving to the land.  Apples, pears, peaches, and plums were pretty much totally eaten up by deer that summer.  Since moving in, we've continued to battle deer, which nibble on our apples and pears whenever I turn my back.  We've had better luck with peaches and nectarines, though, which may just be because the deer don't like them.  Or it may be because I read somewhere that peaches need drainage and decided to plant the
m in raised beds to battle our clay soil.

This winter, we're only putting in one fruit tree, a plum which Daddy ordered extremely cheaply from his extension office.  The poor tree got caught up in the holiday mails, and even though Daddy sent it priority mail it arrived a week later with dry roots and a bent top.  I soaked it overnight, then heeled it in while I prepared its new home.  The plum will be replacing a wild plum by the barn which finally bore this past spring in time for me to discover that the large stone and skimpy, untasty flesh made for a fruit even I won't eat.

The ground beneath the wild plum is the most recently reclaimed portion of the yard.  Baby plum trees and wild blackberries formed a thicket threaded through by Japanese honeysuckle --- a mass even the chicken tractors wouldn't quite knock down.  I skipped the area each time I mowed, but Mark bushhogged it with the lawn mower one day last summer, knocking down all of the tall growth. 

So yesterday I lined the bottom of my plum's new raised bed with deep layers of newspaper to prevent the honeysuckle from twining back up around our new tree, then scoured the yard for logs to form the sides of the bed.  After filling the bed with half frozen compost, I called it a day --- Mark was visiting a friend and there's no way I'm cutting down the old plum by myself.  Stay tuned for part two, the planting of the plum.

Posted Wed Dec 24 09:03:48 2008 Tags:

Pies and cranberry sauceThirteen months ago, I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner.  I was daunted by the task, so I made extensive lists with start times for each dish.

It's funny how far I've come since then.  Tomorrow, I'm having Mom, Maggie, and Joey over for Christmas lunch, and though I've made lists they're far less extensive.  This morning, I whipped up a cranberry raisin pie, two little pumpkin pies, peach turnovers, and cranberry sauce (all sugar free for Joey.)

I dried out some bread crumbs for stuffing and am slowly thawing out the free range turkey breast in some water in the sink.  In the fridge, I'm thawing green beans, corn, summer squash, apple cider, and chicken broth (for the stuffing), all homemade.

Of course, the hardest part is yet to come --- making the trailer and yard presentable for visitors!

Posted Wed Dec 24 14:26:08 2008 Tags:

fruit cake comicFood scholars date the dear old fruit cake all the way back to ancient Egypt. It seems to be one of the many things required to ease your journey through the afterlife.

I hope everyone reading this is having a happy holiday season.

It's raining right now, which means we missed having a white Christmas by about 16 degrees.

Posted Wed Dec 24 19:21:15 2008 Tags:

Mom, me, and Maggie (a few months ago)I prepare the turkey breast and throw it in the oven.  Chop up potatoes and sweet potatoes and onions and garlic and spread them around the base.  Baste the turkey and prepare the stuffing.  Baste the turkey and throw the stuffing in the oven.   Baste the turkey....

...and Mark comes in next to frantic.  Half an inch of rain last night and the creek has risen to mid calf.  The golf cart is mysteriously ill, the footbridge treacherous.  How will my family make it in to enjoy our feast?

I look at him with soapy hands, three different side dishes yet to be begun running through my head.  I don't know.  Can they wear boots and wade through the water?  Read more....

Posted Thu Dec 25 15:56:43 2008 Tags:

Full Moon FeastWhen Sheila sent me Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice a week ago, I flipped it open to peruse the recipes then got sucked in and stayed up until after midnight reading it.  First, let me be up front about the book's downside --- I don't think I would ever try a recipe out of the book since every single one calls for exotic ingredients I am unlikely to own.  (Orange blossom water, anyone?)

But the text, which makes up about three quarters of the book, covers a fascinating range of history, myth, and psychology about our relationship with food.  I particularly liked one of the winter chapters which asserted that electricity has changed our winter sleep patterns which in turn has changed our winter eating habits.  The author says that without electricity, we would sleep for fourteen hours on these long winter nights, half waking in the middle for a few hours of near meditation.  (In passing, she also notes that in nature most women give birth between midnight and 4 am for this very reason --- that at that point in the night, you are in a slightly altered state of consciousness and don't feel pain in the same way.)

I know that as the nights get longer and longer, my body wants to sleep more and more, and I have to poke it to get up right at dawn to match my usual summer wake-up schedule.  The book makes me wonder if perhaps I should be sleeping more in the winter.  I'm such a creature of habit and efficiency, I find myself pondering how I would get all of my winter chores done if I slept more in the winter.  And how sound is her science --- after all, didn't humans evolve in the tropics where the nights would have always been the same length?  Needs more thought....  Still, I recommend the book to anyone interested in how food affects our lives.

Posted Fri Dec 26 10:45:56 2008 Tags:

Lucy superspliterThe Gorilla glue bond was not quite strong enough to hold up against the heavy pounding a few weeks of wood splitting will tend to put it through. The wiggle is back, and parts of the bond are breaking away from the handle.

The maul has not flown off the handle yet, and as long as it gets the job done we will most likely continue to put it through the many paces of log splitage.

Lucy is often on hand for wood chopping, waiting for just the right piece to snatch up and carry off for safe keeping. We can never seem to get that kind of enthusiasm out of Huckleberry.

Posted Fri Dec 26 20:40:24 2008 Tags:

Mark cutting down the plumAnother half inch of rain fell yesterday morning, but by lunch time the sky had cleared --- perfect weather to go out and look around.  On Christmas, Mom noticed that some of my garlic were poking green shoots up out of the ground, so I mulched them with leaves to put them back to sleep for a couple more months.

While I was mulching, Mark came out with the chainsaw.  He was going to cut up some more firewood, but I side-tracked him, begging him to take down the wild plum first.  Now if the soil ever dries we'll be able to put our new plum in the ground!

Next, I gathered up masses of old bark from around the wood chopping station to scatter in the mud outside our trailer door.  The last few weeks' endless rains have turned heavily travelled parts of the yard into mud pits, and I hope that some judicious application of bark will make it a bit safer as we slip and slide our way in and out the door.

I moved the predator eyes to new locations, helped Mark split some wood then stack it by the stove, and gathered some kale for supper.  Life doesn't get much better than when I can spend an afternoon completely outside!


(Oh, yeah, and public service announcement to the one other woman in a thousand who buys fresh underpants once every four years --- the sizes on the outside of those six packs are not the same as your pants size.  If you buy the size which is the same number as your pants size, when you open your package of new underpants the day after Christmas and hold one up to your waist, you'll find that you could fit two or three of you in each one.  Turn the package over and read the size chart before buying!  Doggone it --- no fresh underwear for me!)

Posted Sat Dec 27 08:55:05 2008 Tags:

Ball of bread doughFinally --- the holy grail has been attained!  I discovered a whole wheat bread recipe which Mark will eat.  100% whole wheat, and he still cut off sliver after sliver to gobble up.

This webpage gives the recipe in great depth.  I don't know what made it work so well, but figure it was probably some combination of the extra rise in the sponge stage, the long kneading, the special Mennonite flour we used, and the half cup of gluten.  Ignore the fact that both the photos on that site and my photos here are subpar --- in actuality, the loaves are tall and beautiful.  Whole wheat bread
Now that we've found a recipe Mark and I will both eat, it's time to figure out how to fit such an elaborate recipe into our weekly routine.  But Mark liked it so much that he told me that he'd knead it himself if the thirty minute knead flares up my carpal tunnel, so it might just make the cut!

Posted Sat Dec 27 20:30:34 2008 Tags:

Mulched grape vinesIn a 500 square foot trailer, you have to be pretty quiet not to wake up a guest sleeping on your futon.  As a result, I wandered outside into the morning drizzle to stay out of my cousin's hair.

Squishing through the mud, I found myself drawn to those big trash bags of leaves Mom and Maggie collected for me this fall.  Various sources on the web had admonished me to shred my leaves before using them as mulch, but when I began to shred them with the lawn mower a couple of months ago the mower exploded.  Nix that idea.  Instead, I decided to experiment with using whole leaves for mulch.  So I spread some newspaper around each grape vine then doused the root zone liberally with silver and sugar maple leaves.

I ripped into bag after bag, happy as a couch potato opening up potato chips, until I came upon the first bag of black walnut leaves.  Then the second, the third.  Yikes!  Time to scurry back inside and figure out what can safely be mulched with black walnut droppings.

About a year ago at a party, someone who seemed very knowledgeable told me that the juglone in black walnut parts is really only detrimental to germination, but an extensive search of the internet showed no sources which agreed with that assessment.  Instead, most websites agree that the juglone produced by walnuts messes with the metabolism of other plants, causing them to wilt and exhibit stunted growth. 

Some plants are tolerant to juglone in the soil, including onions (and garlic, I hope, since it's in the same genus and I used black walnut leaves on two of my garlic beds), beets, cucurbits, carrots, parsnips, beans, corn, and the Prunus genus (cherry, nectarine, plum, and peach.)  So I moved on to my nectarine, cherry, and peaches to use up the walnut leaves.  I hope my unshredded leaves work well as mulch --- I've had terrible luck in the past with wood chips (even well composted) and am in need of a free mulch that really does the job.

Posted Sun Dec 28 16:05:07 2008 Tags:

ditch lineIt was warm enough to continue the ditch digging operation today which will be running from the hand dug well to the trailer through the garden.

The goal will be to prevent any future freezing of the line thanks to the warmer temperatures underground.

I don't think I'll miss carrying water in 5 gallon buckets, but it really isn't all that difficult once you get the hang of it.

Posted Sun Dec 28 17:23:28 2008 Tags:
Sugar Free Cranberry Raisin Pie

The holidays are winding down, and I'm ready to get back to my daily routine.  But for those of you who might like a bit more celebration, I've posted my recipe for Sugar Free Cranberry Raisin Pie

In our family, no Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is complete without this pie, made with honey for the sugar free folks.  Nearly equally good is a variation which uses apples instead of raisins.  Both recipes, plus homemade cranberry sauce, explain why I want to plant cranberries in my garden some day.  Meanwhile, I buy several bags of cranberries in the store every winter and pop them straight in the freezer where they last for a year or longer.

People either love this pie or hate it.  It's not your run of the mill pie, but I can't live without it!

Posted Mon Dec 29 09:10:19 2008 Tags:

mailboxIt was mostly cloudy today as can be seen in this picture of today's sunset out by the mailbox.

There's only a couple of days left in 2008 and 2009 is already starting to look like a fine year for the Wetknee farm. I guess these cloudy days bring out my introspective side a little more than usual.

Posted Mon Dec 29 17:58:25 2008 Tags:
carrot

Yesterday I received my last paycheck from my nonprofit.  From here on out, it's freelance or bust!

While musing over the above, and cooking our Christmas turkey bones into stock, I dug up this carrot in the garden.  Its split bottom, with the small side twining around and seeming to strangle the big side, reminded me of my life in the nonprofit world over the past year.  I'll leave the obvious symbolism to the reader to tease apart.

My resolution for 2009 is not to be that carrot.  Saving the world, keeping us fiscally afloat, visiting with friends and family, nurturing my own household with tasty treats, feeding my soul through art and long hot baths, feeding my body with wood chopping and digging in the garden --- I hope to keep all of the sides of my life in closer balance.  Meanwhile, that carrot went into our bellies. :-)

Posted Tue Dec 30 07:54:04 2008 Tags:

future coopMark Frauenfelder posted on his blog Dinosaurs and Robots this nifty new design for hens of the future.

This particular model is from the year 2070, which I assume will come equiped with some sort of laser guided feeding system.

I'm not sure how our hens would handle such a quantum leap in style and fashion, but I appreciate the extra effort by designer Maxime Evrard.

Posted Tue Dec 30 17:50:53 2008 Tags:

Meyers lemon bloomRemember that little book I'm supposed to be writing?  As I hoped, starting was the hardest part.  Despite ten thousand visits and visitors in December, I've now finished a rough draft for the first chapter and a quarter out of six chapters.  (So what if the chapter I finished was the shortest one....)

Yesterday, I spent most of the day researching the Arcto-Tertiary forest -- a vast expanse of trees which once spread across the northern portions of North America, Europe, and Asia, then got whittled down by changing climates until all that remains is a pocket of close relatives here in the southern Appalachians and a pocket in eastern China.  I think that my head is still somewhere deep in the Ice Age, watching the advancing glaciers batter the European forest against the Alps until every tree (ent-like in my mind) perishes.

Meanwhile, and far more relevantly, Mark and I spent our Christmas money from his mom's side of the family on replacing the stunning camera which I had to return to my nonprofit when I severed the knot.  You can look forward to vibrant photos again from here on out!  (This photo is of our lemon tree taken indoors at night without a flash.)  Thank you, Rose Nell and Jayne!

Posted Wed Dec 31 08:59:09 2008 Tags:


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