Saturday, December 06, 2008

Feast of St. Nicholas

When we were kids, on the evening of December 5th we would carefully shine our shoes and put them all in a row, largest size to smallest, on the living room coffee table before going to bed. In the morning on the Feast of St. Nicholas, we would find our shoes filled with candies and dime store treats -- gifts of Little Christmas from St. Nicholas. Being children, it was hard not to get excited about Christmas coming, and celebrating Little Christmas was a sure sign that Santa was coming soon. I suppose my parents looked forward to some early Christmas season joy, too, as they always seemed happy during Christmas season.

This was also the time of year when Dad would pack up the old station wagon with his M-1 carbine and hunting clothes and leave for the Big Woods of Wisconsin where Grandpa and Grandma still lived on the big farm and all the uncles annually congregated for hunting season. Then, a week later, Dad would return home showing off a deer AND a Christmas tree strapped to the top of the car. All the neighbors would come over and admire Dad's cargo, and Dad would casually light his pipe and tell everybody his hunting tales. Later, he and Mom would work all night in the kitchen to butcher the deer, wrap it in freezer paper, mark the cut, and store it carefully in Mom's white 27 c/ft. Montgomery Ward freezer.

And while we were at school the next day, Mom would put up and decorate the Christmas tree. We couldn't wait to go home and see all the shining silver tinsel and bright fuse-busting light strands that burned our fingers if we touched them and that drew out the essential oils in the tree boughs and made the house smell so good. We knew there would be venison for supper.


We are now celebrating our 4th Christmas season in Wisconsin, our 3rd in our new house. It has been unusually cold for this time of year, but Tom and Eddy bundled up and found a nice Christmas tree to cut down and drag back to the house. Tom and I set it up in the tree stand and let it thaw out for a day, then the next day I decorated it. We like balsams because the needles don't drop the way they do on pine trees. Eddy likes to help decorate by hanging candy canes on the branches. I play Cristmas music on the computer to listen to as we decorate. A cup of hot chocolate for us with a shot of Peppermint Schnapps and marshmallows is a great ending to the day.

Today was very cold and snowy again, and the wind was whipping the trees all day. No birds or animals were in sight. The bird feeders looked lonely swaying in the wind. It felt good to be inside. Lara wanted banana nut muffins for breakfast, so after I made those I decided to bake two loaves of rye bread (I like baking bread by hand) as we were just about out of bread. Tom started a fire in the wood stove early. Everyone picked at Christmas fudge and chocolate peanut butter cookies. Ed and I exercised down in the basement, and I chewed on Eliot Coleman's Winter Harvest Manual again. I got out the 2009 Old Farmer's Almanac and figured out when we will have 10 hours a day of sunlight again at our location, and it comes out to be around the last week of January, so I will plan to seed onions, leeks, and carrots after the new moon in January out in the high tunnel. We will try some lettuces and radishes and see how they do, too.

Here are some wintry pics for you of dawn from the living room window, snow falling, and my garden boxes -- holding up so far but I think I'm going to add a top purlin to give the hoops a bit more strength.

I ordered the chicks the other day for March 1st delivery. I am getting 50 New Hampshire Red pullets from Mt. Healthy Hatchery in Ohio. They will go in the chicken coop. Because I ordered 50 chicks, I got 25 more (cockerels) for free, and as I am going to try my hand at Herman Beck Chenoweth's Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing model, I bought another 100 cockerels for $36 to fill one skid. So that's 175 chicks all together. And I got an early order discount on top of everything. That's a pretty good deal. Shipping cost $27. I think I will stop in and see Bernie at the Fifield Feed Store and see if he can mix me up some feed according to the recipe in Herm's manual and find out what that will cost. I was really torn about not getting more Dominiques, but I told myself I have to learn to be more business-minded. By getting a dual purpose chicken breed, I can cut future poultry costs by hatching my own replacement stock. New Hamps give a cleaner carcass than Doms because they don't have dark pin feathers and therefore should take less time to pick. They lay larger brown eggs than Dominiques and are slightly meatier. While not as good foragers or layers as Doms, they do forage and lay well, and they will set eggs. They are supposed to be docile birds. The ladies will stay by the house at the chicken coop where the nest boxes are, and the gents will rough it out in the field by the high tunnel. I will see if Brad the vet in Phillips can show me how to turn the boys into capons. If I am not overwhelmed with the chickens, I want to get some Ancona ducks and put them down by the marsh. We'll see how it goes. I still have to get out in the woods to cut wood for the skid, duck house, tomato trellis in the high tunnel, fence posts and hop posts. And with 50 layers I will need to make more nest boxes and add another roost in the coop. I plan on brooding the chicks in the garage, but if the weather is too cold, I'll put them in the basement like my sister does. I don't think I'll have any problem burning off extra calories this winter.

A big thanks to Bill and Linda Betz for sending the Thai basil, Asian eggplant, and hot pepper seeds. I can't wait to plant them. BTW, we got an e-mail from Sarah and she said she is sending you something but she would'nt say what it was, so be on the look out for that. Thank you for remembering her!

And another big thank you to the Butternut American Legion post. Sarah said she got your box and it was great! I don't know what you sent her, but she said she distributed all the "men" stuff to her section and everybody is happy!

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