Friday, October 21, 2016

My Father, the Psychic Painter

 And now, a moment for art.

The walls of the grain bin house remain  primarily bare but as weather cools and time allows we're finishing up more of the detail work, making decisions about the artwork we'll keep and what we'll pass on.

Recently one of my sisters unearthed a couple more of my father's pieces, done within the last couple years of his life. She offered them to her siblings and I took one while younger sis took the other. The one I choose, a simple oil of a lone country mailbox surrounding by the muted plants and colors of Fall  looked familiar to me, but I could not recall ever seeing it in my parents home. The date on the back was July 1990, two months before he died.

For me it is a comment on solitude, just short of loneliness. A week or so before he passed he told me the process was similar to "dancing with oneself, there is no one for you to lead and no one to lead you". Each day was a struggle to breathe and although we had him in hospice care where he received both oxygen and nebulized morphine, his passing did not come easily until the last couple of days. He was only sixty-three but a long time smoker, most likely started at age nine or ten where smoking was a common way of coping with post-depression poverty and later the stresses of his service during the Korean War.

Donald G. O'Shaughnessy
He always reminded me of a young Kurt Russell

It's been over 26 years since dad died, so seeing this painting, now referred to often, in this country at least, as "folk art"was surprising to me. I was sure I had seen all his work.

For days after bringing it home I found myself tracing the brush strokes with my fingers, wondering where his inspiration lay for it. Was it a place in his childhood? Something he'd seen while on a drive? There was no way to know.

Then about a week ago, I went out to get our mail and found myself full-on with a feeling of deja-vu. I went back to our grain bin house, grabbed dad's painting and brought it down our lane and up to our mailbox. There it was. Apparently our father who was skilled in many things, like making the best popcorn and telling the best scary Halloween stories, was also a psychic, being as we moved here 24 years after he painted this scene.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Pendant Lights in The Loony Bin

IMAX Home 87617-3
Image from IMAX Home
Set of 3 Pendant lights for a mere $149.35

I wanted pendant lights for my kitchen, like the ones above.  I needed them to shine down brightly on my food prep areas. I wanted them to be very cute. But I needed them to be cheap.

I want, I want, I need, I need.

Keith once again came through by repurposing not only a few blue canning jars, but a pressure washer as well. I know. Who'd have thunk?

When we searched Pinterest and the rest of the net for ideas, we found tons of pendant light kits ranging from $15 to $60 each, and many included only the wiring and socket., no bulb, no jar, no additional wiring.  Complete lights like the ones above were ridiculous in pricing, $149.50 as an example. So Keith inspected his hoard of shop stuff and found old (but still of this century, we think) pressure washer wiring, and sockets some other farmer guy threw in for no cost when we bought supplies from him a decade ago (the details-as always- are sketchy). I added the canning rings, canning lids  and blue Ball canning jars I am partial to.

Once he completed the wiring to the sockets, he cut a whole in the canning lid to slip the socket through, then added the metal canning ring. I spray painted all the bits and bobs a glossy black to match the wiring.

At the advice of our son, we bought the LED bulbs to keep the heat low within the jars. We chose the white bulbs (as opposed to yellow) at 500 lumen strength which is roughly equivalent to 60 Watts of a standard bulb. These bulbs were the most expensive item of the whole project at $15 for two, but they are projected to burn for 15,000 hrs. Unlikely that even I will continue to burn brightly for that long.

To attach to the ceiling we used metal boxes $1.50 each, already on hand. The wiring to the boxes had already been paid for with the initial wiring of the Grain Bin House done last year.

Thus, total additional cost was just the bulbs or about $7.50 for each complete pendant light. Yes, even the spray paint was a leftover can.

 I love them! 
                                                     And the man who installed them. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Relocation of The Farm Store

 As we continue to clean up and divide out the farm in Chatsworth, we have been faced with many decisions about what to keep, what to sell, what to store, ad infinitum. One decision made; to move the building we used as our retail farm store for nearly seven years, up to The Poor Farm. The picture above was taken just minutes before it's departure.

Countryside Barns of Eureka, Illinois originally built the structure for us and then moved it to Chatsworth back in 2010. It was through the generosity of one of our customers (who offered to loan us the money for it) that we were able to have a farm store at all.  We all benefited. They invested in a small farmer with a modest return in interest, while we were able to sell our products from a safe and secure building, rather than out of our basement freezers as we had been doing.

The building measures 12 by 24 foot and was solidly constructed, so moving it yesterday went well One young fellow (Ernie) arrived with a big truck and the coolest piece of equipment called "The Mule". This device allowed capable Ernie to maneuver the building easily onto the trailer.

 Fifteen  miles later, with me leading the way flashers going and all, (I felt so official) we arrived at The Poor Farm where Ernie unloaded it from the trailer and then maneuvered it up our very narrow drive. Quite a difference from the wide open and flat areas of our Chatsworth farm.

Once the building was turned up the drive, the task became tricky as the young man had to maneuver between electric fence lines and several metal posts.

Finally up the drive he had to motor it over the ups and downs of our very unlevel land. leading to the buildings final parking spot. At one point I thought it would tip over for sure!

But that Ernie, he maintained complete control and backed the building down the hill, nestling it in the same area we parked our Shasta camper last year which is near center of our property and several hundred yards from our grain bin house.

Welcome to your new home old farm store now turned guest house/writers retreat. Wait until you see the remodeling plans I have for your insides. Gonna gut you baby and dress you up like an old  library I am. If anyone has a weathered leather club chair, preferably the one Dylan Thomas sat in, please send it my way.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Saponification Saturday or is it Sunday?

Took a little overnight trip up to the Quad Cities with my three sisters and so lost track of the days. That's my excuse for this weekend anyway.

Pumpkin is all over our farm and in my kitchen so why not put some in my soap as well? I found a recipe on line and it worked real well. Using 4 oz of pureed pumpkin to replace 4 oz of water in my lye water and using cinnamon and orange essential oils plus a small amount of clove powder, resulted in a wonderful autumnal bar of soap.

The soap is two layers varying only slightly in color intensity and has a textured top. As with my other soaps they are a hefty 5.5 oz and only $5 each plus shipping. Each bar is made of Coconut, Olive, Castor and Sweet Almond oils. There are only seven bars available. Please email me ( to order and be sure to tell me your address so I can give you the total amount. I take Paypal or check.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Great Pumpkin Arrives

 With food production as a major focus this year, we added pumpkins to our garden areas. We roped off a section of the area our horse grazed in last year, tilled it and presto chango! Horse turds evolved into orange spheres. 
Organic gardening is so cool.

Stop with the frowning. Ennnis' manure was well rotted and mixed in with dirt, straw and other organic materials which created the perfect environment for squash, pumpkins and various corn varieties. The sugar pie pumpkins ripened last week and we've stored much of them in our small feed shed, but since I want to get it used up before things start freezing around here I'm been busy cooking with it, freezing it, and even making soap with it.

I'll show you the soap next post.

Preparing it for use takes some time but not much skill. Bingo. I'm in. I halved the globes, removed the pulp and seeds, the seeds were salted and roasted separately, and put the two halves in the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes or until the flesh was fork tender. Then I scooped out the soft innards (after letting it cool) and pureed them in my food processor. 

To freeze, just put the pureed pumpkin in any kid of freezer container. I use old cottage cheese containers. We have enough pumpkins that I hope to can some of the puree as well. Haven't made a pie yet, but I will, I certainly will. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Chicken Coup Finito

Yesterday Keith wrapped up some of the details on our repurposed, remodeled, recycled chicken coop and so for all practical purposes of providing winter shelter, the coup is finished. 

There are still a few holes in the roof and another small window to put in above the door and a couple of poles to attach to the front of the nest boxes for easier bird access, but the coop is functioning well and eggs are now routinely appearing within the big metal box on the wall. Naturally the birds did not just read an instructional brochure and then just start using the coop, no, we had to catch them while roosting in other parts of the farm, then toss them in here under house arrest. Once they catch on this is the place to go for fresh food and water they'll be allowed to free range outside as they please.

I especially love the design of the chicken  roost. Made from tree branches just lazing about the yard Keith built it so it can be lifted up and hooked to the ceiling, allowing easy access to the manure gold that will accumulate beneath it.

The round wood wheel at the end of the roost is part of the old belt and pulley system of the building when it was-we assume- a woodworking shop. 

The opening to the left of the window will be the chickens own private door so they can come and go freely after they complete orientation to their new facility. We don't worry much about raccoons or other predators getting in the coop as our livestock dogs, Fannie, the Great Pyrenees and Ashland the German Shepherd, live outside year round. They are excellent at keeping trespassing critters away from their farm animals. 

On the other hand, they have no bathroom manners at all, often making their huge doggie deposits directly under my clothes line. It's hard not to take that personally. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Subsidized Housing For Chickens

We believe  all birds have the right to adequate cold weather shelter  regardless of their income, breed, color or sexual preference. Therefore we pay for everything for these slackers, some of which we know are not even laying eggs as per our agreement.

But we've been rotten landlords so fair is fair.

Since we moved here in April 2015. our feathered flock has had to tolerate all kinds of temporary housing. At first they took shelter in the trees (last spring) then a converted pig farrowing building, then here and there in the feed shed. Everyone and their brother, chickens, guineas, ducks are totally free range, meaning that right now, they are laying their eggs every which way and loose.

So we'll forget where their most recent drop site is and then "SURPRISE" we'll find a nest of 10-12 eggs with no sentry and wonder just how old those eggs are. Did I collect from this place just a few days ago or was it a few weeks ago.? If there is any doubt the eggs go to the pigs, so they are never wasted but still, it's nice to to have to play Russian Roulette with your eggs.

Soon though, the foul on our property will have their new housing project completed. At first this wooden A frame building was probably a wood shop of some sort based on the antique pulleys and wheels still intact within.

At some point in its past,  the bottom third was hacked away and the abbreviated structure became the well house, covering and protecting the original 19th century well from creature explorations. This must have worked well for 80-90 years but by the time we arrived, the building was beginning to fall apart.

Plus the well had to be repaired. So the shop turned well house soon to be chicken coop was hoisted onto a hay wagon and moved closer to the grain bin house. For the last few days Keith has been remodeling the structure for its final purpose of housing chickens and ducks.

Of course as is our annoying trademark, the rebuild has been with 100% recycled and repurposed items. The wood is ever present, Keith has been collecting it for decades, truly, decades. The windows came off a relatives mobile home when she put in new windows this summer. The door was created by Keith, nice and wide to accommodate the third window allowing lots of southern sun to enter the abode this winter.

We have an old set of metal nest boxes which will be moved in soon and plenty of limbs around to craft roosts. The roof does leak in several area but we have shingles on site to repair it. Of course they won't match the shingles already in place but only the very tall visitors and the very low flying pilots will find that design flaw.

I'll up date you as the project progresses. Don't bother about asking for blueprints or plans to follow to build a similar chicken house. Keith pretty much makes it up as he goes. He's a wild man that way.