Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The children were nestled all snug in their bed!

Envision a sweet 2009! Wish best wishes from Busy Solitude Farm -- Johanna, Oskar, Ulani, Luke, Abe and all the chickens!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nummy Nog!

Please, won't you join me in a nummy nog? Use the absolute freshest ingredients -- I only use today's eggs.

To make a single large or two regular sized nogs, use

1 egg, separated yolk and white
1/8 cup sugar
3-4 oz. milk (any strength)
3-4 oz. half and half
enough whipping cream to daub on top
spiker of choice (I prefer dark rum)
nutmeg, orange rind

Whip the cream and set aside. Rinse beaters.
Whip the egg white and set aside.

Mix the egg yolk and sugar until blended. Slowly pour in the milk and half and half to blend. Fold in the beaten egg white to fluff everything up. Spike with rum, cognac, whiskey, brandy, whatever you prefer, if desired. Float the whipped cream on top, grate some nutmeg and/or orange rind on top.

Serve in a beautiful glass. Don't be afraid to use your finger to get every last fluffy drop!

(Adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe. The painting in the photo is by Debra Henderson.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Does your face hurt?"

Remember that old joke? One kid asks another kid "Does your face hurt?" The second kid says, defensively, "No!" and the first kid says "Well it's killing me!!!" Ha ha ha.

Except right now, my face IS killing me. That "peaches" blush across my cream cheek is actually a strep infection in the skin of my face. It's swollen and hot to the touch and very uncomfortable.

How on earth did it get there? I don't precisely know. True, I was exposed to a home (which will remain anonymous!) where there was a child with strep throat. Apparently I picked it up there, though I had no direct contact with the child. The next day one side of my neck swelled up, then it crept across the cheek and bridge of my nose, down the other cheek and into my neck on the second side.

Caring friends encouraged me to get in to the doctor. OK, pushy friends insisted I not let another day go by without being seen. The doctor was glad I did. Apparently strep on your head can be a little close to the main operations of your life for comfort. So she dosed me up with penicillin and instructions to take it easy, which I've kind of followed.

One side of my head feels better today. The other side, not so much. I am hoping that the penicillin cowboys will ride over there today and chase all those evil strep bugs out of there.

In the meantime, tomato soup and chamomile tea are the order of the day.

Don't touch me!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy anniversary!

Ten years ago today I flew to Montreal to meet Veronique and Oskar! I spent the evening at Veronique's little house in the country, surrounded by four adult and three puppy Briards -- it was an amazing experience.

The next day we drove back to the airport (poor Oskar got sick in the car on the way) and Oskar and I began our longtime friendship.

He's about 14 weeks in the photo above, here, just 5 weeks!

And now he's ten years old, a little bit slower but no less dear to me.

Happy anniversary, Oskar!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving Thanks

It's been a full month since I've posted. During this period a number of things happened to me, with me, about me, because of me. Not unlike the reader's days, I am certain. Nothing compelled me to write, however, until tonight. I contemplate Thanksgiving's arrival. We enter a time of reflection and remembrance, a time to appreciate. I realize I have photos to share and stories to tell. Read on.

Without doubt, the most dramatic happening of the past month was when I fell off the roof. Simply saying those words brings a wry smile to my lips -- how tough am I, I fell off the roof! Another take on the incident might be "how stupid is she, to go on the roof with no adult supervision!" But go I did, the painting had already taken all summer and the weather was clear for only a few more days. The section of wall above the entry roof was not large -- five safe minutes were all that was required. And I nearly, almost made it. If only it weren't for that split second where one's weight shifts from the roof to the ladder. That one infinitesimal moment where the Big Mo' glides one's hindquarters from the shingle to the step. Barely an inhale. And in that moment the ladder slipped, taking me with it on a quick drop to horizontal. The photo does not do justice to the colors that bloomed on my shins. Huge bumps remain beneath the skin along the path where the ladder hit, and should they connect with a chair, or the floor if I kneel, there is pain. But the worst harm was to my ego. How tough am I?!

The reason for the painting rush, of course, was threatened snow. November is, after all, the beginning of winter in southwest Michigan. No one questions it. First is bow season, then firearms, and right around the same time, snow. If you look carefully at my car, you will see two things that say much about me. Somehow the snow felt it was important for them to be visible.

Ulani enjoyed the snowfall immensely. Oskar, now 10 years old, not so much. He waited for me to shovel a path through the snow to the barn before he would venture out, preferring not to delve waist-deep into the freezing mess. I reminded him of his first winter, in Chicago. The snow that year formed deep drifts against the fences between our small backyard and those of the neighbors. Oskar and I played "fort" -- he dug trenches behind the drifts, then I tossed snowballs and he dodged them in the trenches. It was a terrific game, greatly enjoyed on both sides. Once I shoveled the paths this year, he played a version of bumper bowl with me, chasing the yellow squeaky ball down the path a few times. Then he was happiest to come inside, get a towel-down, and jump up on the couch, feet warmly beneath his belly, for a rest.

The next morning, as the sun rose red above the trees, we ventured out to play again. For this time we spend together, I am grateful.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Autumn at Busy Solitude Farm

We're on the left-hand side of the street, the grain storage buildings are the farm across the street. I took this photo on a morning walk with Oskar.

And here's the tree in front of the house (as seen in 2005). Spectacular!

Before we know it, we'll be taking a Christmas photo!

Hot biscuits!

Last Sunday I had a hankering for some apple biscuits. I sauteed the Honey Crisp chunks in some butter, cinnamon and nutmeg, then spread them on the biscuit dough with some raisins, walnuts and brown sugar. Ten minutes later, hot biscuits!

(OK, I'll share the secret, I use yogurt in the biscuit dough instead of milk or buttermilk. That's how they get nice and puffy with a brown glow!)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Snake in the...


I went to cut some flowers for my office this morning, and was greeted by this!

Imagine my surprise! I've seen a snake around from time to time, but always slithering across the grass. I did not know that they are able to perch like this!

Initially it was very still, so I tried to get closer with the camera. Then the tongue began to dart and just as I tried to catch a shot with the spiked tongue out, the snake dropped all at once off the flower and I gave it lots of room to run away! I guess now I could go out and get a few of the red zinnias, which were in the snake's territory, but I think I'll just leave the flowers alone for a while.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Not Dead Yet

This chicken is not dead.

But when you first walk into the coop and see her half-covered in shavings and dust, it might be difficult to believe she's happy.

On a hot summer day, chickens take dust baths. It is a blissful time for them.

They kick up their lizard feet, squirm and squiggle in the dusty litter on the floor of the coop, throw tons of dust into the air. It is hen heaven.

I believe that there is a drying action of the dust in their feathers that absorbs chicken sweat. Bugs are knocked off or smothered.

But more than anything, they seem to really enjoy the action.

Dead? Au contraire, Pierre!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

10 Years Old!

Ten years ago tonight, Leila gave birth to Charlotte, and then Oskar. In the wee hours of August 7, eight more puppies were born, so the litter got the 7th as their birthday. We always celebrate on the 6th, however, combining Oskar's big day with my sister Melissa's!

As a large dog, living into the double-digits marks quite an accomplishment. These days I hear more and more of Briards achieving 13, 14 or even 15 years. Oskar is a healthy 80 pound boy who still takes great joy in being outdoors, likes a walk, and enjoys a good bowl of dog food twice a day, thank you, right on schedule. One of his favorite activities is napping (we are quite alike there!). He is not cuddly, preferring his own space, but occasionally will lean up to me and smile, which absolutely warms my heart.

Here's to ten years, and many more to follow!

Look who's roosting where!

In the past couple of days, Tweedledum has made great strides incorporating himself into the flock. Just look where he's roosting this evening!

The chickens have always liked hopping up to the shelf made by the window flaps being open. It makes for quite a mess (they poop wherever they are). But I think they feel safe being up high, so I allow them to continue.

The hens don't appear to be thrilled with Tweedledum's joining them, but their need to be up high supercedes their reluctance to, well, sleep with him.

It's progress!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good news about eggs!

In the well blog in this morning's New York Times, Tara Parker Pope wrote about the positive health qualities of eggs. She quoted from the March, 2008 Berkeley Wellness Letter.

The sound bite is that eggs got a bad rap. It turns out that some folks are sensitive to dietary cholesterol -- about 1/3 of the population. For them, eating eggs can raise cholesterol. But not for the rest of us. And, when cholesterol rises in sensitive people, they form larger globs of LDL, which are less risky than the tiny suckers.

What's more, eggs are full of wonderful nutrients including lutein to protect against macular degeneration, vitamin A, B vitamins, zinc and iron.

So get out your frying pan (and olive oil, not butter!). If you want to read the whole report, here it is:

Friday, July 25, 2008

What a rooster!

This morning I took a couple of photos with Tweedledum. As I held him, I explained to him that he could make himself very useful in the barn if he would kill all the baby mice that are running around. Then I went into the other side of the coop.

While I fed the other hens I heard the squeak of yet another mouse. Aargh! Then I returned to Tweedledum's side and what did I discover? He had the mouse in his beak and was beating it to the ground! Left side, right side, back and forth until it was dead. And then, just like a snake, he swallowed it whole!

What a rooster!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Guy in the Barn

Although my broody hens have stuck for weeks, none of the eggs is developing, which says to me that Egglebert is not getting his job done. I had been thinking about adding a second rooster.

Then on Sunday I got a message from my friend Peg asking if I would like a rooster. Providence! Synchronicity! Put it out there and the universe provides!

There's always a catch. I got to Peg's house with my cat carrier all ready for transport. She told me she had gotten twenty chicks in the spring and four ended up being boys. Way bad ratio. She had two Ameraucana roosters and two banties. Well, of course the banties are really beautiful and she's keeping them! We caught one of the Ameraucana boys and then she said "well, why don't you take both of them?" I should have said no right then and there, but I was swept up in the moment so I allowed her to add the second one to my box. "Good luck!" she said. "I hope I haven't passed on any problems!"

No way do I need to have three roosters. I got the two home, put them in a wire dog crate to calm down. Tweedledee pecked Tweedledum, wouldn't let him eat, constantly fussed at him. Tweedledee's got to go. I sent out feelers. Did anyone even return my e-mails??? No one wants a rooster!

Today I moved Tweedledum into the chicken pen. My plan was for him to stay in his own crate in there for a few days, then go loose with them. But he had other ideas, broke free, and now Egglebert has his ladies isolated in one corner, fending off the marauder. I think they'll work it out in the next few days.

That leaves Tweedledee. Anyone want a rooster?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bodhi - With a Bullseye

Bodhi died today. He had suddenly lost lots of weight, became lethargic and jaundiced. The bloodwork showed very serious pancreatic issues, possibly cancer, as well as very high blood sugar. Complicated by his age of around 12 years, the kindest thing was euthanasia.

I will remember Bodhi as a pest. Lovely boy that he was, he throve on pestering all of us. He would come to my bed early in the morning to pat me on the face, nibble my nose, nip my cheeks in an effort to wake me and get me to the kitchen. He routinely attempted to mount Luke, pursuing the dream of someday rising from his place at the bottom of the totem pole.

Bodhi, whose tabby markings were of the bullseye variety, had the softest coat of all the boys. He was also the tubbiest, and, as mentioned, he was the cat-nerd of the family.

And I loved him.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Prairie Dogs


When we moved to the country, the house we bought needed its septic drainfield replaced, and because we are in a watershed with a high water table, it needed to be a mound system. Imagine having a four foot tall pile of coarse sand to look at out your living room window!

Usually septic mounds are planted with lawn grass to blend in to the rest of the lawn. But this requires regular mowing, and running a mower over the mound can wear it down and speed its demise.

Research informed me that cooperative extension services recommend planting prairie plants on your mound, so that you can avoid the weekly mowing. And a huge benefit is the plants provide food and shelter for wild birds and animals. (The downside is when rabbits put their nests on the mound, and the dogs find the helpless babies...)

So I got my hands on a bag of seed and planted. This will be the third summer of our septic prairie and it's really coming into itself. Right now the grasses are seeding and the coreopsis is in full bloom. I also have what I think is lead plant in a few places -- gorgeous! (Well, it turns out that the "lead plant" is actually cow vetch, a non-native that's probably drifted in from the surrounding farms. It's still gorgeous!)

There are times when the seed pods on the prairie plants become torturous in the dogs' coats, but most of the year the movement of the grasses and the changing colors of the forbs make for a wonderful living room view!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Spring Flowers

A few photos from the perennial garden on June 1. This pink blowsy beauty is Iris Beverly Sills. I'd wanted one for quite a while but didn't want to pay $12 for it, then last year I discovered that you can buy plants on eBay -- voila Beverly Sills!

Here's a view down one end of the perennial bed. In the foreground is a salvia, in the back is columbine. You can see the dark purple iris and some poppy buds, too.

Here is an iris that was a bonus plant in my order! I have the name written down somewhere, I'll have to find it because I think it's gorgeous.

Finally, the block of columbine, backlit by the setting sun. This bed is shaping up in its second season and I'm quite pleased with it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Someone finally got the message!

Since March I have been encouraging the hens to go broody, which means to sit a nest and hatch chicks. Earlier this week, my black Australorp hen began acting crazed. Majorly hormonal. Her tail was straight up in the air, her eyes (which normally appear larger than most of the hens because they are black) got a crazed glow as if all she could see was the nest box.

But the first few days she would set, then after a few hours I would find her running with the other hens. I guess it takes a few days for the hormones to stay level.

Now she's stuck to the nest. The only time she gets out is when another hen comes to lay in that box. Then the visiting hen acts as "egg warmer" so that the black hen can take a run around, eat, drink and poop, always keeping her crazed eye on the box so that she can sit when the visitor leaves.

On Friday I marked five eggs under her, but I imagine there are maybe eight now. She's a big girl and can keep them warm without problems, but I don't want her to have too many eggs under there, so I'm going to start taking any new eggs away.

Gestation is 21 days or so, so if there are chicks it will be around Friday the 13th of June. Auspicious for a black hen!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Oskar -- "OK!"

My yard is ringed with evergreen trees put in by other people. I suppose the idea was to screen the yard from the street visually, and maybe as a wind block, although the predominant wind is not blocked at all.

After my first winter here, I discovered one large pine had died. Removing it left a hole in the "pine-screen". For two years I pondered what to do. Replace it with another pine? No, the monotony does not appeal to me and I would much rather diversify. Add a few bushes for color and berries? The proportions didn't seem right.

So this spring I planted a river birch inside the fence but in line with the empty spot. When grown, its height will be appropriate, but because it is deciduous, the leaf texture contrasts with pine needles, and in the winter the bare, peeling branches will be lovely next to the evergreens. And a big plus -- river birches are accustomed to having wet feet, which a tree gets most anywhere in my yard at some point!

As you can see from the photo, Oskar is quite pleased with my choice!

Monday, May 5, 2008


Last summer I moved three mid-sized lilac bushes from an area of perennials. The weight of them almost put an end to the project -- I hadn't figured on how large the root balls would be! I installed two of them on the northwest corner of my house, near a bedroom window for the scent, and near the outdoor table for beauty.

Unfortunately for the lilacs, being on the outside of the fence dramatically reduced the amount of care they received, as well as the amount of sun.

As you can see from the photo, however, they pulled through, settled in, and are now in lovely bloom. These shots were taken in the evening, so they are a little darker than ideal. The bushes need to fill in some, perhaps a gentle pruning after the bloom would help that. It's important to me that they fill in a bit, and then add about a foot of height.

And that is important because my goal is to mask the view of the humongous silos across the street! While I do appreciate living in an agricultural setting, watching the farmers run their huge John Deeres through the field, driving slowly behind a cultivator or an overflowing truck full of hay bales, I also enjoy the notion that my house is oriented away from the guts of the neighboring farm. The picnic table is one of the few places in my yard where one gets a view of the silver silos. So I need another foot of height from these lilacs. Or else!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Vegetable Beginning

My second summer here at Busy Solitude Farm I had a terrific garden. I grew eight kinds of tomatoes, three kinds of potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatillos, brussels sprouts, something like twenty or twenty-five different vegetables.

Since the end of 2006, I have really not had a vegetable garden. An excessively wet autumn in that year left my plot standing under water, gradually forming a crust of cement-hard dirt, and that plus a foot injury made the prospect of digging in 2007 simply impossible. I suffered the lack of home grown tomatoes, chard, potatoes and on and on. My determination to fix the problem grew.

The autumn of 2007 brought Farm Girl Beth's suggestion that I dampen the crust and work through it. That worked enough that I got a raised bed of garlic put in, but again my painful foot slowed me down. Would I ever have a lush vegetable garden again?

This winter (2008) I met Jean, who introduced me via e-mail to Peg, who gave me Kasey's number. And this evening Kasey brought his old tractor and five foot tiller to my house.

It's not nearly ready yet, but with the sod broken up and everything at a relatively even texture, now I can begin building more raised beds and amending the soil with compost. In fact, Kasey's farm has a surplus of dairy cow manure available for the asking!

I have grand plans for this space. Keep an eye on it -- this is the vegetable beginning.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What's that Gonna Cost?

May I begin by saying that the policeman told me in no uncertain terms "you are not at fault"?

I was on my way to dinner at the Miller Bakery Cafe, a restaurant I'd often heard great things about but never been to. It is in Gary, Indiana, a town with which I'm not familiar. When I arrived on the street, the area seemed kind of abandoned. I wondered if I was in the right place.

The road has two lanes, one northbound, one southbound, with angled parking places on the outer edges. The sidewalk juts between parking places every six or eight spaces, making clear that those "lanes" are just for parking, not for driving.

Well I slowed to almost a stop, trying to determine if the restaurant was open. I signaled "right turn" and began to move into a parking place when "BOOM!" out of nowhere a car came zipping across the parking spaces, apparently passing me on the right.

I was shocked. The other car stopped a few parking places on. When I realized no one was getting out of that car, I grabbed my identification and approached. A middle-aged churchy woman peered out of her window. "Where did I hit you?" I told her the passenger front corner. She got out and we exchanged information in a very calm manner. At some point the bartender from the restaurant peeked out and said she'd call the police; it didn't really register at the time. Once we had all the numbers written down, the churchy woman left.

I went into the restaurant and sat at the bar to wait for my friends. The bartender told me she'd had two accidents and that filing a police report at the start was the best way to go. After a while my friends arrived, and while we were looking at my headlight, the policeman showed up. When I told him the other party had left, he said he could not take a statement. Apparently (at least in Indiana) the police can only take a statement when both parties are present. So we called the woman and it turned out she lives very nearby and said she would come back.

The whole reporting part took about half an hour. I stood outside with the churchy woman the whole time. We were polite with each other. Eventually the report was completed. The officer motioned us over to his car. Before the churchy woman got there, he gave me the information I needed, then as I moved away from his car he lowered his voice so she wouldn't hear and said "you are not at fault."

The headlight works, but the plastic that covers it is broken, the part that holds the light in is cracked, and the bumper and fender are both dented and scratched.

So the question is, what's that gonna cost?

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Flock of Cats

I had a dream a few nights ago. I sat in a comfy chair in my living room. In front of me swarmed easily 20 or 30 cats. Brown cats, black cats, speckly cats.

In my dream I thought to myself "I should get some more in brighter colors so they'll stand out more."

Now where on earth did that dream come from?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Since the 14th century, ice crystals interlocking on objects like branches have been known as hoarfrost.

A clear, brisk night sky above our marshy land brought Jack Frost to Busy Solitude Farm. The sun rises earlier and earlier, though, and with continued clear skies this frost won't linger long.

In the meantime, everything is set in a shade of gray, easing to pastels before the full colors of the landscape emerge.

Monday, March 31, 2008

In Memory of Leila

This is a photo of Am/Can Ch. Bigtree Bedlam Ice Cream Soda TT (Morgane), Oskar's grandmother and Canadian Ch. Lalou Ma Leila de Guérande (Leila), Oskar's mother. Leila passed away today at the age of thirteen.

I offer a toast to Leila, and all those beloveds who went before her. They depend on us, but we depend on them so much more. Our beloveds bring joy into our lives, fill our homes with laughter and dog hair, entertain us, work with us, exercise us and comfort us. They are love, simply and beautifully. Here's to all of our beloveds, still with us and gone, who make our world so happy. We can only do our best to do the same for them.

Clink clink!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


The proof is in the pudding.

Sunny side up seemed to be the best way to honor Chick-Chuck's first effort. While Ulani stared me down, I savored the first bite of that bright orange yolk. DEE-licious!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mystery Solved!!!

Today was the big day! Chick-Chuck's very first egg appeared outside a nest box this afternoon. (New layers often miss the mark as they're learning the intricacies of laying.) I spied her investigating the boxes yesterday and suspected she was making preparations, so while today's discovery delighted me, it was not a total surprise.

As you see above, CC's egg appears to have a greenish shell with a brown overlay, following perfectly the genetic guidelines! How soon will she lay again? Hard to say, might be tomorrow, might be a couple of days. It takes a while for these things to even out.

And the biggest question -- how does it taste? I'll let you know after breakfast!

Friday, February 29, 2008

A New Mystery

When Chick-Chuck was born, she seemed to be a pure Cuckoo Marans hen. Quite possible in my little flock.

However, now that she is 5.5 months old and nearly mature, it has become obvious that she is half Ameraucana, and since my only rooster, Egglebert, is a Marans, she must get the other from her Mama.

How do I know? Look at the combs on these Marans hens. They have full red combs and wattles, and smooth cheeks.

Now observe this Ameraucana hen. She has a pea comb -- very short and tight to the head, and she has earmuffs and a beard instead of any observable wattles. These are characteristic of Ameraucanas -- not to be confused with Araucanas, but somewhere in their background they come from the same stock.

Now take a look at Chick-Chuck:

Her comb remains tight to her head, and she definitely has earmuffs and a beard, almost no red to be seen around her head.

So what does all of this imply?

The Marans lay dark brown eggs. The Ameraucanas lay green/blue eggs. What color will Chick-Chuck lay? More on eggshell genetics to come....