Old Red Bricks

Is There A Bear In My Genes?

Jane MHappens every year about this time. The trees start to show some color and the farmers are taking the beans off the field. I start preparing for winter. I have tried for years to control these winter panic attacks. But taking down the hummingbird feeders, putting the garden to bed, stacking hay and gathering buckets just add fuel to the fire. It all sounds like chores that need to get finished. But it is the urgency at which I rush to carry out these projects. In the back of my mind the snow is coming at any moment. And I need to be prepared. Similar to a bear trying to put on as much fat as possible. Like Yogi, who needs to find a den, I need to get the house, barn and pantry ready for the first big blow. I guess somewhere in my families DNA we got a little bear spliced in. Next it’s removing the screens off the windows, getting the fruit trees trimmed and heaters put in the water tanks. When will that first blizzard hit and will I get my reindeer in the front yard or the wreath on the chicken coop. All big questions that I don’t have an answer for. It doesn’t matter that Thanksgiving hasn’t even arrived. All the bed comforters are hung out on the line for what could be the last time of the year. At the store I begin picking up extra bags of flour and sugar for holiday baking. The silly part of this whole scenario is that we really haven’t been snowed in around here since the big storm of 1976. So I have no clue what possesses me to be this way. As I squirrel away extra gloves and hats and buy another pair of muck boots.


Photo by Fotolia/perfectlab

But when the winter does hit, I am ready. I have plenty of cookies baked. A freezer full of veggies and meat for those chilly nights.And just like a bear, I will put on a couple of extra pounds to keep me warm. I’m not going to worry about that. Anticipating the addition of long underwear or wool sweaters that will cover it up till the thaw. The snow shovels are out and ready to go, and the hose is put away and the chickens coop is insulated. So I’m ready for anything. Only thing missing is the snow.

Where Did The Time Go

Jane MFriday night I lay in bed and constructed a list of projects to do Saturday. I made it very specific. The list was then divided into three categories, barn, home and myself. I was quite proud and fell asleep knowing that I had a plan in place to conquer all my chores. Waking up early Saturday morning I headed to the barn, to get a start on my day. I was finished feeding the horse and steer. But then I discovered the steer had a large chunk of skin ripped off of his ear. That’s where the list started to dissolve. So the bum ear meant a trip back to the house to get ointment. While checking the cabinet I saw that I was running low on laundry soap. The ointment was almost gone to so I decided to grab my wallet and head to the store. Once I got to the shopping mall I decided to get my hair cut. The salon was right next door. It shouldn’t take long and the day was still early. Getting home it only made sense to take the time to make the soap. While washing up dishes, the window screens are just screaming at me that they need removed. Winter is right around the corner so why not, it should only take a few minutes. It really feels good to get something done. And there is still some day light left. Done in the house, so let’s go outside and feed the ducks and chickens. But while filling the bucket with grain another great project jumps in my head. Such a nice day, why not get that raised bed for the tomatoes done. I know I can do it, all I need is a drill, saw and a few screws. And guess what, it only took two more hours. Wait, it is starting to get dark now. Where is the time going?

My newly constructed tomato bed

Now I notice that I haven’t gotten one darn thing done on my list. Why not? I have been at it all day. I even have it written on a piece of paper. What is happening here? What went wrong with my plan? That is when I find a tube of ointment in my back pocket. So I grab a flashlight and head back outside. Maybe I can try to work on my list tomorrow.

So You Think We Stink

Jane MShowing livestock at the fairs was something my son and I looked forward to every year. Some lasted a day or up to a week. What was irksome was a certain type of visitor who came to the show barns. It never failed that they would wander in and immediately grab their noses, wave their arms and declare how bad the smell was. What are they talking about? Generally those animals are probably the cleanest they will ever be. 

The majority of people exhibiting have clipped, shampooed, fluffed and powdered these animals for hours. I know from experience that if any of these critters decided to poop, it was shoveled, hauled and outside before it ever hit the ground. Those animals and pens are a source of pride and also a great place to lay down and catch a nap or spend the night.

Show pig

Photo by Fotolia/pearlguy

But it did make me think of all the aromas found on a homestead. What they tell us or what memories they bring back. Yes, there are the bad fragrances of course.   The dog getting sprayed by a skunk and making it all the way to your bed before you realize it. Opening the stall door and knowing immediately that your bucket calf has the scours. But so many are pleasant, evening walks in the fall with the scent of  fresh cut hay. Autumn means bonfires at the neighbors, the wafts of smoke and burnt marshmallows. The compost pile gives a rich earthy scent.  A freshly cleaned stall bedded with fresh wood shavings is something to love. But it is also time to  clean the barns one more time before the snow hits. Honestly each barn down the road is doing the same, so none of us really notice.

Now I laugh about the dog and realize that he will do it again, that won’t be the last time. I will never get use to the stench of a rotten duck egg when stepped on. How can one egg reek so badly? Standing at the back door in the early morning, you take a deep breath of the morning air. Could it be that subconsciously you’re taking a quick inventory of your surroundings? Taking note from where you’re standing that the tomatoes are ready to pick, red and ripe. Or a whiff in the breeze revealing that a raccoon got in the trash again. Well, that is a whole other form of ripe.


Rednecks Have Duct Tape, We Have Hay string

Jane MOne of the most commonly used pieces of recycling around our farm is the ever reliable hay string. Some of you who might not know what hay string is. It is used to hold the hay or straw together in bales or rounds. On the homestead it is used for everything from taking the dog to the vet to making rows in the garden.


Used on my farm mostly as a temporary fix on about everything. The latch on the gate, to hold up tomato plants or keep the deck of the lawnmower in place. But hay string is so reliable that the temporary fix often become permanent. And one way you can tell this is by the color. I don’t know if it is planned or just something that happens. But each year the gentleman I purchase my hay from uses a different color. So by looking across my property I can tell that the cherry tree was put in sometime in 2014. In 2013 I tied the neighbor’s mailbox up after the snow plow hit it. And I think it is going to stay that way a little while longer. Haystring is made from a very tough nylon that really holds up well to the weather. Years ago it was all made from hemp. And chances were that when you picked up that last bale on the bottom of the stack, it would have rotted out or was eaten by a mouse. Often it would break apart sending hay to the ground and you falling backwards. But if you did need to cut the hemp it was easy to do with the head of a shovel or whatever else you could find laying around. It is a little tougher when you’re working with nylon. So I have a knife tied to a piece of hay string and wrapped around a post.


There is a manner in every barn on how to store your extra pieces of hay string. Some use a nail, others hang it over a door. Some barns toss it into a bucket or drum. I have seen massive supplies of hay string hanging around some barns and sheds. These people obviously know how to use a hammer, screwdrivers or other tools. So the rednecks can keep their duct tape, it won’t tie up a chicken while butchering or keep a blanket on the calf that has a chill. This must have been a very busy season for me, because I am seeing a lot of 2015 blue around here.

More haystring

A Weekend Visiting With Mother Earth News

Jane MI have to tell you about my exciting weekend. After a 4-hour drive, I arrived to the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. It was 8:30 and the parking lot was filling up fast. The shuttles were hauling busloads of excited participants to the venue. “People Watching” could have been an event in itself. Needing to stretch my legs, I decided to walk, taking note of license plates from Kentucky, Arkansas, New York, Canada and Texas to name a few.

Everyone has their schedules in hand to select which workshop to attend first. Choosing the Paw Paw class, I head over to the Modern Homesteading stage. Only to find it already standing room only. This many people really want to raise Paw Paw? But this is how it will play out at every lecture. So you really need to arrive quickly to each class. I did promise myself that this year I would speak to every person sitting or standing to my right and left. Not once did anyone hesitate to answer any question I might toss their way or tell me their life story on their piece of land. Whether it was 1 acre or 40, there was a story. I picked up as many little tidbits from these talks as I did the lectures.

Check out the animals! 

The next adventure was the vendors and there were so many. Visiting with homesteaders selling livestock to tasting gluten-free brownies made from hemp. Other popular stops were the solar ovens and booths selling seed garlic. The bookstore is another interesting place to visit. Tables loaded with varied selections to choose from. Keep in mind that they do sell out fast, so don’t wait too long to find a favorite author or topic. Moving on I purchased at least a dozen heirloom seed packets, hating the fact that now I have to wait until March to plant. Picked up a new knife for butchering chickens and of course you have to buy a Mother Earth News T-shirt.

Visiting vendors at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania.

If you’re considering one of these awesome fairs remember these hints: Book your hotel early, bring comfortable shoes, don’t try to attend every workshop if you plan to do any shopping. There just isn’t enough time. Enjoy talking to everyone about everything and don’t forget to try the brownies.

Don't forget to visit the MEN Bookstore!


Our Dog Loves the Sunday Comics

Jane MJak has been a member of the family for eight years. A true friend, loyal and protective, good with children, livestock and snuggling when you need that special friend. He is a pound puppy of mixed ancestry, one would guess maybe a little Golden Retriever and a dash of German Shepherd. Your guess is as good as mine.

He believes deep down that he is what other farm dogs are modeled after. Every morning rain, shine or blizzard, he is out there with me. He will trek through the mud, break a path in the snow and protect me from all monsters that may be concealed in the trees and bushes. The truth of the matter is that just having him out there is a big help. It is always nice to have company.

But his biggest enjoyment in life are his walks. Every day we try to work in a trip down the road and across the creek. A chance for him to catch up on the news of the day. Reading the path the coyotes took and scanning for vermin. Then checking the raccoon’s obituary recently hit on the road. But the chase is on when he comes across a feral cat. Sadly the headline always reads the same, dog loses cat in bean field. But after a while this probably all becomes old news to him and possibly a little boring.

So once a week we hop in the truck and drive into town. While one of us shops at the grocery, the other heads down the street with Jak, decked out in his Sunday-go-to-meeting blue collar and matching leash. As he excitedly walks down the street, he checks out the news on every telephone pole, tree and mailbox. He sniffs up and down and all around so as not to miss any gossip. After reading the news articles on who was here, who ate what, he leaves his own editorial and moves on. You can easily see that this is a big deal and we try not to rush. We finally pack up and head for home, his head hanging out the window. Filled with all the news of what’s happening in the world of dogs. I would have to guess it is a lot like the Sunday comics, something to look forward to and enjoy until the next delivery.

Jak at the mailbox


Sawhorse Addiction: Can It Be Treated?

Jane MThe sawhorse is something that will always come in handy on the homestead. You could spend a day listing all their uses. Holding up rabbit hutches, drying herbs, and a convenient place to put a saddle. A simple DIY project that can be thrown together with scrap wood, a few nails, hammer and a saw. None of this is news to any of you and you’re probably wondering where this is going.

My husband is the master of sawhorses, a great collector, builder and hoarder of these useful pieces of construction. For 30 years he taught construction trades at a local vocational school. Each year this project was used to teach a very important lesson – measure twice, cut once. Consider that many of these students never worked with power tools, let alone a ruler. This project could be a total work of art or kindling.

measure twice, cut once | Fotolia/Jeffrey Banke

Photo: Fotolia/Jeffrey Banke

Unfortunately not everyone saw the need to take their projects home. Their teacher, my husband, couldn’t imagine letting them go to waste. So every summer a new batch ends up in the back of his truck. Now you might think this is a good thing. But I have a barn filled with 30 years of unwanted, rejected sawhorses. And the challenge is finding a pair to match. You would be hard pressed to find two sawhorses out there that are the same length, width or even height. Even more difficult to convert some so they are usable. Adding one more nail could cause the whole thing to shatter. And of course there are others that just will not stand the test of time or weight of a crate of potatoes.

That doesn’t deter him from bringing home another year of rejections. Some do have personalities. Several have names scratched in with a screwdriver. Some have splats of paint or saw cuts that just do not make sense. There are my favorites, like a little guy with the wide top that works perfectly for washing windows or the one that is painted red and holds my garden tools. So all are put to good use and with a little modification. I have tried several times to adopt some off to friends. But I have learned that when trying to do this, go for the man in the family. To men sawhorses are like a plate of ribs, you can’t stop at one. If you ask the wife, she will quickly walk you to the garage, barn or shed to show you the little addiction that someone in her family has also. So you may have made a little room in the barn, but now you have to find a place for that used tractor tire.

construction | Fotolia/onepony

Photo: Fotolia/onepony