May Update – lots of animals, some baking, and a bit of gardening

It’s hard to feel isolated when you’re surrounded by animals. That’s one of the things that has helped our family during these past weeks of self-isolation. The pets keep us firmly set in our routines. They provide us with companionship. They entertain us. I’m beginning to view them less as dependents and more as contributors to our quality of life.

Which isn’t to say pet ownership isn’t without its drawbacks. We frequently chafe under all of the maintenance and care the animals require. But, I think for us, at least, the benefits outweigh the irritations.

With warmer weather here, it was time to give Kipper his annual cut. CPT A is getting faster, and, this year, we didn’t have to muzzle Kipper – instead, Ginger cajoled him into compliance with spoonfuls of peanut butter.

The backyard flock is down to four now. We lost another chicken to old age a couple of weeks ago. The flock seems strangely small, and we’ve ordered three ducks to round things out again. They’re due to arrive in June.

The turkey remains broody and has built a nest for herself on the other side of the back fence. She’s very protected and camouflaged. Ginger was the one who finally spotted her after seeing her hop the fence.

And, our first green frog appeared last week in the pond.

Followed by this toad who appeared on the chickens’ water.

We don’t see many toads, so this was a treat.

As to the cats, Mr. Wa seems to be growing more affectionate and friendly with age. In his younger years, he was much more aloof. These days, he wants to be involved in everything we do.

He finds Pepper’s craft projects especially intriguing.

And, happily, we’ve seen lots of bees this spring – both honey and bumble. Our apple tree should have a good crop.

I hope the bees will also visit the vegetable garden I put in on the south side of the house.

The girls teasingly said it looked like a graveyard, but I’m sure it will look a lot more garden-like once the plants start growing.

And, finally, a bit of baking. Ginger and CPT A went all out yesterday and made two batches of macrons.

If you’ve ever made these, you know how labor intensive they can be. But, the results were impressive, and I think they did a great job!

I hope you’re doing well and that you have plenty of interesting things to keep you busy these days. I hope, too, that your weather has improved as much as ours has. I find it’s so much easier to be cheerful when the weather is nice.

From the dining room table, getting ready to eat another one of those macrons before they’re all gone,

Mrs. Smythe

More Snow, a Dog’s Haircut, and Too Much Baking

Spring continues to prove elusive here in western Massachusetts. We’ve had snow twice since my last post.

Granted, the second time, it was simultaneously sunny.

So strange.

I refuse to be put off from yard work, though. Tired of waiting for warmer weather, I finally just bundled up and went outside to putter in the garden. It’s a bit like swimming in cold water. Once you actually “get in” and start moving around, it isn’t so bad.

It’s helped that the seeds I ordered finally arrived.

They took a while to get here, but they’re still well in time for planting. Most of them can’t go into the ground until after our final frost date – May 8.

So, what else has been going on?

Ginger and I have been playing cards regularly. Our favorite game is “Dutch Blitz.” Have you ever heard of it?

It’s a bit like double solitaire. No matter how hard I try, I can’t beat Ginger. She’s lightning fast. My only chance is to catch her first thing in the morning when she’s still half asleep.

CPT A gave Ursa a spring haircut. The entire process took about a week, as he sheared her in stages with a set of clippers that was less than ideal but eventually did the job.

We ended up with a grocery bag full of fur (which I scattered in the forest for the birds to use in their nests) and a much peppier dog. Also – vacuuming doesn’t take nearly as long now as Ursa seems to be our prime shedder.

The poultry are all laying right now, which means an abundance of eggs.

We share with a neighbor and then do our best to keep up with the outpouring. This means more baking than usual. We make things like…

French toast sticks:

These were CPT America’s doing and they were delicious. He used one of Pioneer Woman’s recipes – you can find it HERE . The recipe makes a lot. We froze the leftovers, and Ginger ate them for breakfast for the rest of the week.

I use egg in my pie crusts, so pie is another way we use up surplus eggs.

This was a “Classic Apple Crumb Pie” I found HERE. It was really good but calls for more apples than I usually use in a pie. I got scared when I was mounding them into the crust and so held some in reserve. I shouldn’t have worried – the pie shrunk down substantially and would have been fine if I’d piled them all in as the recipe directed.

Lemon pie also uses eggs – so we tried some of that too.

And, for Easter, I made cinnamon rolls. That took care of three more eggs.

The girls are doing their share of baking. Here’s a cake they threw together the other evening. The frosting they chose uses egg whites, so they get extra points for that.

If you’re interested, you can find the frosting recipe HERE. It made the cake taste a bit like a Whoopie Pie.

CPT A’s sourdough bread doesn’t use any eggs, but I thought I’d show you that his experiment with sourdough starter is going really well, and that his first loaf of bread, made entirely with his own starter, was a success.

Isn’t that beautiful?

And, finally, I’ve had requests for a recent photo of Manny. Here’s one taken this week.

That’s one of Manny’s favorite toys. He carries it around and grooms it, like it’s his child.

From the dining room table, getting ready to get out the colored pencils to do some sketching – a hobby I’ve happily rediscovered since self-isolating,

Mrs. Smythe

New Yard Visitors and a Traveling Turkey

Things continue to wake up in the yard and in the neighborhood.

These days, the corn we put out for the chickens draws a wide range of visitors – from chipmunks and birds to squirrels and, most recently, a rabbit.

Meanwhile, the azalea in the front yard – one of the few things blooming – has proven a popular spot for emerging insects. Last week, I saw this wasp…

…and also this bumblebee.

I’m always especially excited to see the bumblebees.

We’re also starting to see violets in the lawn – a sure sign of spring.

Another sign of spring – the turkey’s wanderlust.

Last year, around Easter, she disappeared for several days. Animal control finally found her in a neighborhood north of us, where she was spotted at a backyard bird feeder.

Last week, she hopped the fence again and was gone overnight, returning the following afternoon. The animal control officer we spoke with said he thinks that since this is the time of year wild turkeys nest and hatch their broods, our turkey might be heading to the woods to try to do the same. We’re hoping that as she becomes more and more attached to our flock, she’ll be less likely to venture forth.

Other excitement last week – the Super Moon! Did you see it?

Here’s what it looked like from our yard shortly after moonrise on the 8th.

Can you even find it? I know. It’s hard. Not very “super.”

By the time I put the chickens to bed, it looked like this:

Better, but not anything like some of the photos you see online.

And, this is what our flock looked like that evening, settling in for bed.

You’ll note the turkey is safely inside the barn. (We’re making extra sure of that these days!)

Around the house, it’s been pretty much business as usual. Ginger pulled out the sewing machine this past week to work on some blocks for her quilt.

And I’ve been doing a bit of sketching. The cats are never far when I do.

I hope you had a wonderful Easter. Ours was pleasant, with some nice sunshine, but today we’re getting the remnant of the storms that battered the South. It’s beyond blustery. I definitely won’t be walking the dogs today!

From the dining room table, getting ready to finish a crossword puzzle,

Mrs. Smythe

What’s Growing – in the yard and in the kitchen

The Glory-of-the-Snow has appeared. I think rather than Glory-of-the-Snow, though, it should be called “glory-of-the-leaves” – at least in our yard. So many leaves! The weather was nice enough yesterday that I was able to do some clearing of the front flower beds. But there are still plenty of leaves left. Here in New England you rake twice a year. Autumn and spring. Is it like that for you?

Other recent appearances…the peonies.

I’d almost forgotten about these. I planted them last year and put straws in the soil to remind me where they were – then promptly forgot about the straws. When these came up, it took me several days to remember what they were. They’re off to a good start!

Nearby, the daffodils have opened. Such cheerful little flowers!

These were a gift from a neighbor last year. I’ve never had daffodils before and am thoroughly enjoying them.

Across the yard, our forsythia has finally opened. It took a while because it’s more sheltered than other bushes in the neighborhood.

(The photo here is actually one of the more quick to bloom shrubs that I see when out walking the dogs.)

Cpt A took some time last week to prune our fruit trees (after carefully researching the process on-line).

And, I started lettuce seeds in a pot. They’re up, but very leggy, so I move them outside during the day so they will get more sun than they were getting in our living room.

I have to leave notes to myself so I will remember to bring them back in at the end of the day. I’m hoping to plant more seeds this week.

In the kitchen, CPT A is growing yeast. Self-isolation has brought out the baker in him, and he’s been experimenting with bread recipes and sourdough techniques.

Here, you see his starter in its early stages, balanced on the radiator to keep it warm. It has since moved to the oven where the oven light keeps it at the correct temperature while it develops.

While he waits for the starter to pick up, CPT A has been experimenting with no-knead breads. Here was his first attempt:

It tasted as good as it looked. Our baking has been temporarily suspended, however, as the heating element in our oven burned out a few days ago. We ordered another one and, hopefully, it will be here in time to bake the Easter ham.

And, how are the pets doing these days? Quite well, thank you. Here you see Mr. Wa, posed in front of the hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes that accompany us on all our grocery runs now.

Ursa (who prefers to walk with CPT A) is getting more frequent and longer walks. Here she is recovering from one of them.

And Shadow is…well, Shadow. Always there. Always lurking on the stairs. Always forcing her way into the bathroom. Always rummaging around in the cupboards.

I hope this post finds you well and that you are finding pleasant ways to occupy yourself these days. Also, I hope your weather is improving, as ours is. Hang in there.

From the dining room table, getting ready to pick up my knitting,

Mrs. Smythe

Chickens, Baking, and a Bit Too Much Knitting

Things have been a bit more relaxed around here of late. The other day, I caught Ginger with the chickens in our mud room. Chickens in the house!

Actually, I read somewhere that some colonists did keep chickens in their homes. And, as fun as the sounds, it would be messy. Thankfully, Ginger shooed the chickens back outside before they did anything that would require cleaning.

How are you spending your days? I’ve been knitting – too much. A little in the morning…a bit more in the afternoon…a lot at night…and the next thing you know, I wake up with my shoulder feeling wonky. It’s time I scale back the knitting and find some other things to do. But, first, I’ll show you what I was working on this week.

I started another sweater with the notorious green yarn.

You may remember this yarn from a post in December. I’ve tried two other patterns with this yarn. No good. Hopefully, this third time will be the charm.

And, the colorful afghan continues. I’m nearing the end. 32/42 squares done.

Have you, like me, been spending more time cooking? I’m finally finding time to try out some of the recipes I’d clipped “for later”. Also – I’m revisiting some of our old favorites. Here you see Creamy Cheddar-Potato Soup with Bacon – absolutely the best potato soup I’ve ever eaten. Try it! You’ll love it.

And, here’s something Pepper made the other day – chocolate chip cookies. I love these. They didn’t last long.

So, our weather is gradually warming, though we had another snow storm this past week that slowed things down a bit. Here you see the forsythia, just on the verge of blooming.

And, the daffodils are poised to open…just as soon as the snow melts.

The pond has thawed, and we have a fresh crop of goldfish…descendants of the three we popped into the water years and years ago.

And, when the sun does shine, the chickens and turkey have been busy dust bathing in a particularly sunny spot on the north side of the yard.

I like to visit the same spot in the afternoons to do a bit of reading in the sun. It’s hard to read unmolested, though. The chickens come over expecting to be fed. They’re so nosy! The pull at my shoes and nip my pant legs. Maybe this is what comes of Ginger letting them in the house.

Don’t let your chickens in the house. It gives them ideas.

From the dining room table, thinking perhaps I’ll make some bean soup today,

Mrs. Smythe