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Sunday, June 28, 2015

In the Kitchen - Here We Go 'Round The Mulberry Bush

Except for the trees I just planted at the Station, there are none, save for the rouge, trashy Cedar trees and the Odd giant deciduous trees on the old homestead fence line.  The cattle rancher next door spent weeks this Spring knocking down hundreds of cedar saplings that have started to overtake his pasture.  Being allergic to cedar, I will not miss any of them.  I told him that he was welcome to take out the giant trash cedars on the fence line when he brought back the chainsaw this summer.  I told him just to make sure not to take the mystery tree near the garden or the deciduous  trees down in the lower meadow, as I didn't know what they were yet.








Sure, I've made many a pass with the lawn tractor this spring.  I even enjoyed the blooms, short lived as they were, and thought nothing more of it.  Fast forward to this past Monday.  The chickens were out and about as I was working on the overwhelming weed issue in the corn rows, when I noticed that they were congregating behind the compost pile.  I sighed, grudgingly put my tools down, and wandered over to the pile.  (The chickens for some disgusting reason love digging in the poo pile side of the compost pile.) Anyway, steeling myself to go in and chase Meriwether's Chicks out of what I consider a truly nasty place, I notice they WEREN'T in the pile, but rather massing far behind it, under the mystery tree.  BERRIES!  We'll they had been there for at least half an hour and no one was dead yet, or walking around drunk, and their faces looked like the cat that ate the canary, or a better description, like chickens who found a way into the corn crib.  My white pullets were covered in purple.  Beaks were purple.  The lawn was purple.  It was like a bank dye pack exploded.

I looked up and saw the culprit.

A giant mulberry tree.  It never dawned on me that it would be a mulberry.  I've never seen one this large, at almost 20 feet.  I'm used to a multiple trunk, more bushy mulberry.  Curiosity got the better of me and I wandered down to the lower meadow.  One of the giant trees down there is also a black mulberry. 
This one has a trunk of almost 2 feet in diameter.  She's old and slowly dying.  She must be ancient, dating back to the original homestead fence break.  A homesteader never would have taken it down.  Free food is free food.

Back up the hill I went and set upon planning for canning.  The Boy and I laid out clean garden sheets on the ground and started shaking the trees to free the loose ripe berries. (They stain ANYTHING they touch, so don't wear anything nice.)
   We then loosely folded the sheets in half and tipped them towards a 5 gallon bucket. I left the bucket outside for a bit to allow the spiders and other creepy crawlies a chance to climb out.  After, I brought the bucket in I sorted out any unripe berries and sticks, and twigs, and rinsed the berries off and placed them into a container into the refrigerator for the night.

JAM DAY!

For jelly and jam I really prefer the tiny 4 ounce jars.  Yes, they are more work, but we just don't go through that much jam very quickly.  I'd rather do a little more work at the beginning than to toss out perfectly good food later.

For each 8 cups of clean dry berries, I washed and boiled 12-4 oz jars and rings.



Into my heavy cast iron, enameled pot I tossed the berries, stems and all,  and 1.5 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar, and turned on the heat to medium as the berries started to break down, I hit the whole mess with my immersion blender.  (Make sure you do this on LOW speed, or you, the wall, the ceiling, and the counters will be purple forever!)
 
 
 
The immersion blender doesn't grind up the seeds, but it does take care of the stems, which are edible, just not a pleasant texture to hit while eating jam.  The seeds are no different than strawberry or raspberry seeds.

When the mixture reaches a constant boil I add the 5 1/3 Tablespoons of Low Sugar pectin, and mix it in.  I then allowed the mixture to come back up to a boil, one which cannot be controlled by stirring and boil for one minute.

I then ladle the jam into the jars to within 1/4" from the top.  Clean the rims well with a clean paper towel, and a little white vinegar.
  I warm the lids in near boiling water and apply to the tops of the jars, and screw on the lids to finger tight.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10-15-20 minutes depending on your altitude. 

If you haven't seen one yet, I really enjoy my giant Victorio water bath canner with the dial on the lid.  It's a heavy duty stainless Steele pot.  It's wonderfully large. And the dial lets you know when the water is really up to heat. 

We have really enjoyed the jam the past couple of days, and so few people get to enjoy them, as they aren't something you see at the market, or even the farmer's markets, as they are so short lived and fragile.  IF you can find a mulberry tree, I hope you can take advantage of this early summer treat.

Monday, June 22, 2015

In the Kitchen - Butter

I know. I know.

Before you think I've gone around the bend, or am just one step closer to falling off the grid, I've got to explain the pure pleasure of FRESH butter.  The rich, silky, smooth, slightly salty, bliss that crosses your taste buds is highly satisfying.  Even more so when paired with the extravagant richness of homemade bread, roll, or biscuits.



So why On EARTH would you bother making your own butter when you can just grab a one pound block of sticks from the local mega mart? Sure, I still buy those blocks of butter.  I use them for baking, where the quality will never be noticed, and I most certainly buy them during holiday baking season, when you can sometimes find a pound of butter for only 99 cents (HEY, there isn't a cent key on the keyboard anymore! - My petticoats are showing... I digress.)

So What IS the benefit?!

1.
As a homeschooling mom it is just darn spiffy to be able to show a child HOW something is done, or WHERE it comes from, or even better, HOW THEY can do it.  Sure, milk comes sterilized in those pretty white jugs that just magically appear in the refrigerator, right?  Nope.  It comes from dairy farm.  A trip to the local dairy is an eye opener for most people, and downright shocking for some grown-ups that, for some unknown reason, imagine the whole process happens in pristine sterilized conditions. 

A dairy, a real working dairy, is a stinky, smelly, muddy place, filled with giant bovine goodness.  We are lucky enough to have a CSA Dairy about 2 miles from the house, Branched Oak Farm.  They not only collect milk, but also make their own cheeses, and sell from a small retail outlet on the property.  Their milking room has a large viewing window, to allow visitors to watch, while protecting their milk supply and work area from them.  To an agrarian girl, it is a thing of beauty.  The whole place; barn, house, and outbuildings are covered with brown Fire glazed red/brown tiles, that reflect and glint in the sunlight and add uniformity and a sense of organic organization to the whole farm.   But the grittiness of the place tends to turn off the city folks who tend to look around, noses in a perpetual crinkle and then, upon entering their cars, strip their children of their shoes and wash them down in hand sanitizer.

Oh well, more for me.

There is something satisfying about watching a herd of Jersey Dairy cows slowly, happily, lazily, chewing their cud in the golden hour of sunset in the middle of a clover field. Sigh.....





So milk comes with hard work.  Tending livestock isn't easy. Milking isn't easy.  Separating isn't easy.  But buying that gallon at the market is a breeze.  It sure tastes better when you know, and understand, the amount of work that goes into it.

AND did you know the flavor of milk changes with the seasons?  Every new mom knows that what goes in, comes out.  Babies tend not to fancy their morning breakfast tasting of garlic.  Cows, mammals, same deal.  The flavor of the milk changes with the seasonal diet of the beasts.  I am not a huge fan of spring milk or creams, as I think they taste heavily of "green", as it should, fresh new green meadow grass, and clover.  It simply isn't a flavor I prefer. (Mega mart dairies use mega dairy farms, who usually just do feed grain, or food grade industrial by product to supplement their feed; crumbles from cereal manufacturers or, in one instance, from a candy factory.  The sight of a dairy cow eating reject gummy worms is a funny, but NOT normal!)


2.
Flavor
The flavor of fresh butter is just amazing. I can't describe it more than "it's just MORE buttery" than the store bought brick that is homogenized and ultra pasteurized, and that alone is better. 

3.
Texture
If you will be making butter and using that day, soft right out of the mixer, or churn, there is just nothing to compare.  It is light, airy, fluffy, creamy, smooth, and is something that cannot be achieved by allowing store bought butter to room temperature and whipping it.  Nope, can't be done.

Set and chilled butter, is about the same texture, but again the taste..... see point 2.

4.
Price
How on does it compare on cost?  Well if you ignore the time spent making it, and wrapping it, you just about break even.  BUT you get a bonus!

Let me explain that. I can purchase from the local mega mart, a pound of butter for $3.69.  I can also purchase a quart of heavy cream (NOT ultra pasteurized) for $3.69.

From this quart of cream, I get one pound of butter PLUS just over 2 cups of real, live, honest to goodness, buttermilk- the kind grandma and grandpa used to drink everyday. The kind with little chunks of butter still floating in it.

So, I not only get my fresh butter, but I get to have real buttermilk on hand for oatmeal, grits, waffles, sugar cream pie, buttermilk cookies,  pancakes, or the simplest, bestest, easiest buttermilk biscuits ever! (plus the hens like buttermilk mixed in with their feed as a treat every once in a while. They also like steak trimmings.  I swear, someday I'm going to see them chasing the herd next door!)

So here's how I make butter once a week.

I use a butter churn.  Shocking as that may be! You can also use your counter or hand mixer on a low speed, but you need to make sure you cover not only the bowl, but the area around it, as splashes will occur.  (I used to make butter in my 6qt kitchenaid, but I got tired of all the clean-up.)  DO not use a blender or food processor, I find that they just mix at too high a speed, and the blades end up spinning nothing before the butter is done.

I use heavy whipping cream, use pasteurized, but NOT ULTRA pasteurized.  And OLDER is better.  This isn't milk.  I buy it as close to that Sell By date as possible, or buy it and toss it in the back of the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

And here's the real trick.  Set your container of cream on the counter, and walk away. Simply walk AWAY.  Let it sit on the counter for a couple of hours.  You want it to be room temperature.  If you try to make butter from cold cream, you'll be churning, and cranking until the cows come home.  And if you don't own any, that's a LONG TIME!

My churn is a one gallon churn.  I never fill it more than halfway, you need the air space to allow the cream to move.  Those fat globules need room to party and find each other, and separate out from the buttermilk.




While my cream is warming, I clean my churn.  I use HOT soapy water, and bleach.  I wash every part of it and then rinse with hot water and let it air dry. (My churn also gets washed after use, but washing before use, makes me feel better.)

Time to make the butter.

I empty the cream into the churn and secure the lid.  At this point I start to crank, or better yet, hand it off to The Boy, who never seems to tire of making butter while watching TV.  Turning the crank at about 80- 100 turns a minute (I don't really count.  I just do what's comfortable.), I can have whipped cream at 10 minutes and butter in 12.  It happens in the blink of an eye.  One turn you have cream, the next: whipped cream, then butter and buttermilk! Magic!

My churn has a buttermilk port at the top.  I find it useless.  My lid leaks as you pour from it, more liquid come from the leak than from the port, so I don't bother.  I simply remove the lid and pour.  BUT WAIT, don't pour it down the sink!  That's your buttermilk!  The first pour I put into small lock-n-lock containers and straight into the fridge for future projects.

Now back to the glorious, yellow heaven in the jar.  I pour the butter into my large kitchenaid bowl, or 8 cup Pyrex measuring cup. 



The butter needs rinsed.  Add cool water, about 3-4 cups' worth, and stir and mash the butter with either a spatula or, in my house, my butter spoon/spade. The water takes up the loose buttermilk in the butter and turns milky white.  The butter will hold together.  Carefully pour the white water down the drain.  Rinse and mix and discard again.  Usually this is only done twice, but I do it as many times as it takes for the water to be ALMOST clear again.



Drain as much water off as you can.  Stir and smash the butter, and more water will work its way out. Discard this water.

Now you have butter- unsalted PLAIN butter. If you want salted this is where you mix it in.  I use 1teaspoon per quart of cream used at the start.  You can also easily add herbs at this point as well. 

 I use either small containers for table butter, or pour the whole pound into a rectangle shape container, smooth it and pack it tightly into the container, chill and cut into 4oz-ish sticks later.  I also have wooden molds to press it into lovely shapes or pats with lovely designs on them.



  Silicone molds for candies or ice are great for dinner party pats of butter.



When storing your butter, make sure you wrap it well, or keep it in a well sealed container, as fat picks up all the odd flavors in your refrigerator.

So there you have it...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Communications at Dunrovin Station

The internet is a telephone system that's gotten uppity. -- Clifford Stoll

What's a modern nerd to do without modern telecommunications?  Never mind that; what's a 21st Century American to do without being able to (if I may paraphrase AT&T), reach out and touch everyone?

The telecommunications systems that we've come to expect rely on substantial infrastructure.  Unsurprisingly, this infrastructure is more readily found where there are people:  the cities and the suburbs.  When we decided to move into the countryside, we knew that we'd be leaving much of that infrastructure behind us.  Some people might consider that to be a good thing.  As for us, we neither desire to unplug, nor do we have the luxury to do so.  So before we made an offer on our new home, I researched what would be available to make sure that it would fit our needs.

Electricity and telephone are the
only hardline utilities available
Naturally, the services of our youth are available.  The US Postal Service delivers our snailmail, and thanks to the universal service mandate in the 1934 Communications Act and the 1996 Telecommunications Act we have good old-fashioned landline telephone service.  Television?  Over-the-air TV signals still exist, but for people who need a few hundred channels there's satellite TV.  The Cable companies have yielded the rural markets, and this isn't too surprising -- without a subsidy similar to that afforded to the telephone companies (as part of the universal service program) the return on investment of laying the cable probably doesn't even reach parity.  We looked at two satellite companies, and the deciding factor wasn't cost or channel lineup but rather how they treated me on the phone when I called to learn about their service -- one answered my questions and the other kept trying to steer the conversation into a sale.
Having the TV dish at ground level
makes it easy to remove snow.
And, of course, there's ham radio, but while it's great fun for recreation and is remarkably reliable (which is why it's part of almost every emergency management agency's disaster recovery plan), it's a separate system from consumer telecommunications.

The face of consumer telecommunications has changed remarkably in the last twenty years, most of which has happened in the last ten, but a lot of it requires infrastructure that, understandably, is concentrated in population centers.  (I've already mentioned satellite TV.)  Cellular telephone service is a bit sketchy.  The coverage map for the cell carrier that we're on contract with shows that we're on the edge of "fair coverage" and "signal strength varies" for voice and "3G" and "off-network roaming" for data.  You'd think that with the popularity of the nearby Branched Oak Lake State Recreation Area, the cell carriers would want to provide good, strong 4G signals in our area (*cough cough*). (I love it when I send a text message up here and it tells me I am roaming - Internationally! Where's my passport?  Last time I checked, there was no border control between the kitchen and the living room.~Caryl)

For "landline" telephone service, we've elected to forego the traditional twisted-pair landline and use a VoIP (voice over IP) service; that is, one of the many companies that provides telephone service through the internet.  Why?  Cost, plain and simple.  Even after our first-year discount ends, the VoIP service is half the cost of the traditional phone company's service.  The downside is that it depends on our internet service being up, but I have battery backup for our electronics and I'm pretty confident that the physical link isn't going to be threatened by a falling tree or a wayward backhoe.

So what about that internet?  The options are limited when you leave Suburbia.  According to this map, we're among the unfortunate Americans who don't have access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband (full story here).  25 Mbps downlink, 3 Mbps uplink?  Wow, I remembered when I dreamt of having my very own T1 line -- we're talking wall-to-wall 64 kbps, baby!  Anyhoo... a "cable modem" isn't an option -- see the earlier comments about no cable service.  A "MiFi"-like device that provides internet through the cell company?  See the earlier comments about cell coverage.  DSL is available, at 768 kbps/128 kbps.  Yeah, I considered that fast, back in 2001.  There is satellite internet at 15 Mbps downlink (unspecified uplink datarate), but a radio signal requires .12 seconds to travel between the Earth's surface and a satellite in geostationary orbit.  House to satellite, satellite to ground station, then response from ground station to satellite and satellite to house -- that's a half-second of latency before we add switching and server latency.  The Boy's online school requires the occasional videoteleconference, and latency is a pain in the neck for real-time conversations; enough latency, and it's nearly impossible to hold a conversation.  Fortunately, there's another solution -- a Wireless ISP ("WISP").  WISPs place a microwave dish on your house, pointed at one of their hubs at nearby tall locations (such as water towers), to deliver internet service.  We got a 12 Mbps/1 Mbps package from a local company with good reviews.  They particularly impressed me when I called to get some basic information and the guy who answered was able to get into geeky details.  That might not be important to some people, but it gives me the reassurance that if I ever call with a problem, I'll quickly be able to talk with someone who understands the technology and won't have to climb the tech support tiers.  As it turned out, I'd spoken with the owner of the company after he'd returned from performing some maintenance on one of their hubs -- yup, there are certain advantages to working with small businesses.
In a former life, our internet dish was the
main deflector on the starship Enterprise.
Sure, we don't have the hard-wired infrastructure that we used to have.  As it turns out, we didn't need it as long as we managed our expectations.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Trees, Trees, Trees

Trees are great. They give us a place to avoid the blazing sun and toss a picnic basket, a place to hang a swing, a place to climb and play, and a habitats for numerous species of critters.  The prairielands are not known for their trees, hence prairieland.  If we had wall to wall trees, we'd be known as a deciduous forest.   When the settlers first started coming west from the tree heavy eastern third of the country, they were shocked at the lack of trees.  The only stands of trees were found tightly hugging the streams and rivers, cottonwoods, fast growing, soft wooded cottonwood, Riparian Prairie they call it.  Settlers bent on starting orchards brought seedlings of their old stock with them.  But fruit trees hardly make a home.

Settlers would send home for seeds and saplings to plant around their new homesteads.   In April of 1872, America celebrated their first Arbor Day, started by J. Sterling Morton - grandfather to the great salt empire.  On that celebratory day, over million trees were planted in the state of Nebraska.  In the town of Nebraska City, Nebraska, you can still visit the Arbor Day Farm.  It's an amazing place with education centers, walking paths, and historic areas.  You can even take home a small seedling from the greenhouse.  It's a wonderful place to stop and take a break on a road trip, or on the way to or from the UNL orchards at Kimmel Orchards, a wonderful u-pick it farm with a retail outlet as well.

I digress...

The National Arbor Day foundation sells trees to this day, as well as being a fabulous educational resource for tree lovers. 

When choosing shade and orchard trees for the Station, I decided to shop the Foundation.  By buying a membership, I was able to purchase the trees for a discounted amount that more than paid for the cost of membership, and also earned me 10 free seedlings. (Membership benefits change, read the details before joining.)

I know what trees cost at local nursery shops and big box stores, and the arbor day foundation trees where on par with, or slightly less than that cost, so I decided to support the foundation.

Now, this isn't a complaint or a warning not to buy, but simply an informative piece.  I ordered over $300 in trees.  I expected trees.   No where in the book or on the website does it tell you what, besides the species, you will be getting in the mail.  My hopes were lifted when a neighbor of mine received trees from a less than reliable mail order company and she received actual 3-4 foot trees, properly pruned and ready to plant.  Certainly mine would be just as nice.  I paid the same price.  30 trees were coming, and another neighbor actually offer to help me dig holes.

A week later a box arrived via the USPost; 6 feet long, 6 inches across, and 5 inches deep. At some point, the end two feet of the box had been folded completely over. But, Yippie! My first tree has arrived!  Boy was I WRONG.

This is what was in the box.  I can't even in good conscience call them sticks.  They were twigs.  Several of them had their tops snapped off in the shipping mishap.

 
Needless to say I was disappointed, annoyed, and yes, angry.  But these needed to get in the ground ASAP.  They certainly weren't going down into the meadow, where the hay would conceal them from the tractor view and be baled in July. So I created a 36 square foot area at the end of the garden plot, planted the trees, and put up its own electric fence to protect them from munchie crazed deer.  I then sent off a scathing, but nice, email to the Foundation.
 
 
I received back a canned answer that hardly applied to my email.  They are so annoying.  It stated that shipping problems happen, and that I should test the twigs for life by scratching the bark and looking for green underneath.  I KNEW they were alive, it was their quality and the damage I was writing about.  Grrrr.....
 
Last week I went out and the plants that weren't doing well, were now dead, as well as several others.  In fact, 14 out of 30 were very obviously dead.  I shot off another email and the next day, received yet another canned response.  This one went into planting and reshipping, which would now be in early November.  It went on to explain that I should pre-dig my holes before the ground freezes, making digging difficult.  But the ground wouldn't be totally frozen, not cold enough to ice skate on my local pond....WHAAAAAT?!
 
Or I could arrange for redelivery next Spring.
 
OR I could arrange for a refund for the dead "trees".  Well that choice was the obvious one.  When I called in to make that arrangement, I had the sweetest person on the phone.  In fact, every time I've called, ordering, questions, help, the person has been so sweet.  Note to the foundation, have your customer service people actually deal with emails on a personal level.  It's almost as bad as dealing with a useless phone menu when you call a business.
 
Anyway, that is my caveat emptor (buyer beware), moment of the day.
 
So I was on the lookout for trees.  I still wanted to support a local trusted business and ended up at the local Lanoha nursery. WOW, what a treat!  A garden center and botanical eye candy, all in one trip!
 
 
 
 
Next...
Dunrovin Station Orchard

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Day Trippin' - The Swedish Festival - Stromsburg, Nebraska

Welcome to the first of many Day Tripping' entries.  These are little jaunts around and about that will feature fun little destinations or surprises encountered along the way to other places. While these will mostly benefit local readers, I know my national and international readers will enjoy them as well.  I never know what I'll find while I'm out.

So, just in time for this years summer solstice, June 21st, I'm going to let you know about a great festival that is not only happening here, but also around the world.  The Summer Solstice marks the day of peak daylight hours.  From here on out, the days will be getting shorter, but NOT cooler.  Depressing, but instead of wallowing on the loss of available daylight, let's have a party instead.

The town of Stromsburg, Nebraska is a quiet little haunt of mine.  While doing family genealogy, including DNA testing, I found out that if you go back far enough on my tree, (on paper I can go back to the mid 1500s) we travel back to Scandinavia.  I looked up local societies and events and came across the annual Swedish Festival; picnics, dancing, shows, vendors, food, a fun run, church services, music, and all sorts of side events and carnival rides.



  There is also a Viking reenactment group that sails longboat up and down US rivers displaying their wares and fighting skills.




In the off season Stromberg, situated halfway between York and Columbus, is bespeckled with fun little nooks and crannies to explore.

I have several places to eat, but the Covered Porch CafĂ© is my favorite by leaps and bounds.  The place is immaculate, the prices are great, and the hamburgers and onion rings are outstanding! (As of December 2015 this business is OUT OF BUSINESS.)


The grocery store is completely remodeled.  A small mom and pop location no the town square, it caters to quick pickup items, not your weekly grocery trip.  It is great for a quick snack or picnic items, but tends to be on the pricier side.

The Daylight Doughnut shop.  Yes, it IS possible to mess up doughnuts, but this old time bakery has been doing it right for a very long, long time and it knows it.  Forget the big chain doughnuts, this place is what doughnuts are supposed to be.  Treat yourself to a long john or an apple fritter, or yum, a bear claw!

The town has several antique stores.  Jenny's House is located a block north of the town square in the old town library building and features the original woodwork and fixtures. That alone makes it a fun place to go.  Primative Chicks just opened on the 13th of June, and boasts a coffee shop as well as primitive art and antiques. 



On my last trip into town, I stumbled upon a yarn shop. At the 2014 festival, the sign was up, but the shop was empty, and I presumed out of business.  It turns out, Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle simply had not opened yet, and the sign was installed long before their November opening!  If you knit, crochet, or spin, or want to learn how, this place is like a candy shop.  Acrylics, wools, and exotic yarns and supplies adorn the shop which is fun by some seriously friendly people.



Next door to that is the Wine Colored Glass Wine tasting room.  I don't drink, but it is a fabulous shop in a historic building.

Stromberg, It's a great place to visit!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Curb Appeal

Yesterday was an impromptu project day.  The weather was setting up to be perfect for painting outdoors.  Of course it wasn't the watercolor painting day that I wished it was, but I had house painting to do. 

Earlier this week I had a little outdoor painting to do for a small coop project. The coop needed a screen door.  The weather was NOT cooperating for that project at all.  It needed done ASAP as 100° weather was fast approaching.  Building the door was no problem, but painting it in dew points that were hovering around 72° was darn near impossible!  It was taking over 5 hours for a coat of paint to dry.



Fast forward to yesterday.  The dew point was an amazing 55° with a light breeze. So even though the temps would creep up to 85°, this was too good of a day to pass up for an outdoor painting project.  The victim?  My front door. !




It is SO boring!  Tan, sand, mud, dusty gravel road, taupe, mushroom, call it what you will, but combined with the same color brick, the same color siding, the same color landscape stones, in the winter- the same color lawn, a brown roof, and tan venting.... the door just blended in and disappeared!  What was the designer thinking?  I know common, bland, easy to market to a mass of clientele.  BORING!

Colorless, soulless, and blah doesn't fly here.  I spent months playing with swatches.  All I knew was that I wanted BLUE.  But it had to be the RIGHT blue.  Too dark, and in its cove, it would look black.  Too light, and you deal with the light messing with the sub colors in the pigments.  It would look pinkish, or yellowish, sometimes green.  So it had to be bright without been odd.  Plus it had to work with the brick and landscaping.

On one of my weekly wanderings through the big box hardware, they were restocking some paint chips.  I took a chance and picked up a few.  BINGO! Valspar's Homecoming Blue!  It is definitely BRIGHT.  It is the color of the blue field on a nylon US Flag.  It's really a purple that leans far into the blues. 

First I had to clean the door.  A simple wipe down with a strong ammonia cleaner to remove any dirt, grease, and the ever present, fly poop.  I removed any loose areas of paint on the wood trim, and lightly sanded it.




Another quick wipe down to remove any loose dust and I was ready to prime.  I prefer Kilz brand primer/sealer, Kilz2 especially, as it is water based.  I taped off the windows with tape and applied two coats of primer, allowing an hour between coats.  I also made sure that all brush strokes followed the faux wood grain pattern on the door.

I've got to admit, even the white primer looked better than the original brown color.  Nothing white here stays clean for more than a day, and while it looked nice, it still lacked the sparkle of life.

Now for the moment of truth.  That first brush full of color is always an eye opener.  Shockingly bright, and I loved it!  Remember paint gets darker as it dries.  The first coat was exceptionally bright as it was sitting on a white primer base.  (Primer can be tinted to a dark base at the hardware store if you ask.  The day I was there, the trainee didn't know how to do it.)

This was going to take more than one coat.



After three full coats of paint.  I was done.  It looks Fabulous! Now it is the much needed, much deserved, focal point for the house!





Monday, June 15, 2015

It's National Pollinator Week

Yup, the little critters that flit from flower to flower so that we can enjoy spectacular blooms, delicious fruits, and farm fresh veggies have their own appreciation week.

Who knew?!

Here at Dunrovin Station, we are happy to have pollinators of all shapes and sizes.  We have a 4 acre hay meadow full of not only prairie grasses, but also many species of flowering wildflowers.

We also have  a half acre bee meadow full of wildflowers and clover, and the rows between the apple trees are allowed to go wild, which provides the pollinators not only more places to play, but draws them towards our fruit trees and then further down the hill towards the garden.


To further encourage pollinators, I have built a bee house.  Yes, that's a real thing.  I would LOVE to have a bee hive and enjoy the harvest of sticky, golden bee spit. The local community college even has a long term class on beekeeping, which ends with you having your own hive.  However, I don't think taking on yet another project or learning experience right now is the way to go.  So I might look into that for next year.

I still want to encourage pollinators, especially honey bees.  But until then, I will house Mason bees.  These little bees are fabulous things.  They don't swarm, and they don't sting.  They simply flit around pollinating things, all they ask is for a place to live.  So wish granted.

I built a shelter and provided a waterer.  The logs are covered in 5/16" holes, with no rough jagged edges.  They are situated so that they are out of the sun and wind, and are protected from the harshest of the rains.  And of course, are in the middle of a meadow!  The water container is an old chicken waterer, which had seen better days and was covered in rust.  I sanded it down and painted it.  We've had so much rain that I haven't had to fill it.  The edge keeps refilling itself.  Painted white and bright red, I've even seen hummingbirds stopping by for happy hour.




You can buy Mason bee houses, which are about the size of a bird house and filled with 5/16th" wood/ composite straws.  (I have no affiliation with any of these sellers.) There are some cute ones on Easy, and Pinterest, and are available all over the internet.  Either way, your Mason bees will love you for it.

For more information on how to encourage pollinators in your yard, contact your local extension office.  A simple google search will send you in the right direction, or check out the Pollinator Partnership.



UPDATE*****

I went out to take some sunset photos this evening (16 June) and found this..! The bees have found us and are moving IN!