Friday, October 21, 2016

Almond Butter Pretzel Spiders



SPOOKY!


It has been a weird month….definitely vexing and just WTF at times. Maybe it’s the ramping up of the election, maybe it’s the fluctuating seasons, maybe it had something to do with the big, fat full moon we had this month, whatever it is, I’m ready for October to be the awesome month it usually is.

I won’t get into any rants about all the aggravations I’ve been dealing with this month, all I’ll say is that it was high time my luck started running low, but I’m trying to remain in a positive and grateful state of mind…after all, IT’S ALMOST HALLOWEEN!!!

We got a couple of pumpkins, and decorated the house this week. Lily had a lot of fun doing that. Tomorrow she goes on a hayride with her new Girl Scouts Daisy troop! She’s SO excited! Then there is a fall festival at a local church on Sunday, so perhaps things will start looking up…



The cutest little witch





During the fall season, as soon as the air gets even the slightest chill, it’s like something inside of me awakens from its deep summer hibernation, and has the impossible-to-ignore desire to bake and create. This month I’ve already made 2 Healthy Apple Crumbles, 2 casseroles, 2 rounds of No-BakeChocolate Peanut Butter M&M Ballsyummy banana oat blender muffins, and the ADORABLE Almond Butter Pretzel Spiders below!

They remind me of...

...these little guys from Spirited Away, no?

I got the idea after making the No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter M&M Balls and realizing that the possibilities for variations were endless, and due to my desire to make something cute for Halloween with Lily.



So here’s what we did:

Almond Butter Pretzel Spiders
(makes between 24-30 spiders)

Ingredients:

2 cups almond butter (or other nut butter)
½ cup melted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tbsp coconut oil
Around ½ cups M&Ms minis
About 2 cups broken thin pretzel twists (directions for breaking below)

Will also need:

A few small bowls for separating ingredients
Toothpicks for picking up the balls, or a small fork
Parchment paper to lay balls on
Baking sheets



Mix the almond butter or other nut butter, melted butter, and powdered sugar until blended and malleable; add more powdered sugar if mixture is too sticky, a little at a time, until consistency is similar to that of cookie dough. Roll about a spoonful of mixture into little balls, and place on parchment-lined baking sheet(s), then place baking sheet(s) into freezer. Freeze for about 30 minutes, or until hard.

Melt the chocolate chips and coconut oil in microwave for about 45 seconds or until melted, or in a double-boiler until melted. Take the pretzels, and break into pieces so you have many small, curved sticks that you can use for spider legs. Set melted chocolate, M&Ms, and pretzel legs out in bowls. Remove almond butter balls from freezer, and stick each one with toothpick to dip into chocolate until completely covered. Set each back onto baking sheet then stick 8 little pretzel legs on either side, and 2 or however many M&Ms you want on the top. Use the tip of toothpick dipped in chocolate to add pupils to M&M eyes if so desired.

Lily's creatures

Getting melty real fast in this warm weather!

Once entire tray is complete, stick it back into the fridge until chocolate and pretzels are set, then you can put them all in a container in the fridge. Now, I had an issue with the almond butter balls getting soft as I went because it’s been so warm this week, so if that happens to you, just put them back in freezer as you go until they firm up again. It will be a process, but I promise- as evidenced in images! –it will be worth it!

SOB trying to sneak away...

Lily had a lot of fun putting them together with me, although hers looked a tad bit more like mutant octopuses. They all still tasted delish!


We'll just keep monkeying around ova here...



Friday, October 7, 2016

Rainy Friday

It’s a rainy day. Hurricane Matthew is upon us, already wreaking havoc in Haiti, the DR, Jamaica and the Bahamas, and I am keeping my friends in Florida in my thoughts and prayers. We’re expecting/hoping for nothing more than rain and wind tomorrow here, but we shall see.

I went for a jog this morning anyway, despite the wet roads. Saw this white below beauty munching on some grass. Having animals so common a part of my daily routine makes my life so incredibly better, it’s indescribable. Between my dog, my cat (I mean, my Grandma’s cat), my chickens, and all the farm critters and wildlife down here, I’m in Heaven…



However, making friends has been a slow process, and I am missing my social life. Tomorrow is also the semi-annual potluck at Lily’s Kung Fu school, so I really hope the weather doesn’t do anything to change that, as we have been looking forward to it. I have been getting to know one of the moms whose son is also a student there and in Lily’s rank, so I’d like to continue to nurture that budding friendship, and I also really dig the vibe of all the instructors there overall. Everyone is so chill and friendly and open-minded, it’s very refreshing.

Doing some type of ninja-style running at Blue Ridge Kung Fu Arnis

We do have fantastic neighbors, most of whom I’ve known since I was kid; living right next door or across the street from them has been an easy transition and blessing. Not to say I didn’t have awesome neighbors back in NJ (I’m looking at YOU Sidney, Dima, Sandy, Dave, Peter, Barbara, Lorraine, Vasliv!), but it’s different when you get to have neighbors that are like family. The only thing is, they’re all…a tad older than me, so as cool as they all are in their own rights, it’s just not quite the same as having some peer-aged friends to chat with over coffee/tea/wine/vodka/whatever. (*Side note: Gawd, I miss getting drinks with certain ladies in my life…).

BUT, I am closer to family I rarely got to see before moving south! My aunt and cousin came for a visit this past Sunday, and it was such a lovely day! We caught up, had snacks, played Yahtzee- wait, excuse me, Toy Story 3 Yahtzee –with Lily, played with the chickens, and even made dinner together. Weather was absolutely perfect. Just a perfect Sunday.

So, there’s that. But, these relatives, who live the closest to me, are still a good 2 hours-drive away from me.

The Guineas guineaing

I keep myself plenty busy, though, TRUST ME. Getting the house organized/redecorated/cleaned up is a constant work-in-progress. My Grandma has so much stuff, as do we, so it’s a lot of shuffling, re-shuffling, and packing and unpacking. It’s coming along nicely though, and I am confident it will all be in tip-tip shape by the time our brood of guests arrive for Thanksgiving (which I am mostly looking forward to, but also very much nervous about having so many people of varying backgrounds under one roof for…future blog post ahoy!). I am also keeping busy with all the more technical transitioning, like updating health insurance info to reflect new location, researching new cell carriers as T-mobile don’t work too well out here, finding the best home insurance package, studying for my NC Broker license exam, helping Paul find work…and that’s just a bite of the many tasks keeping us busy.

Then there’s my little blog here, and trying to stay in the writing-swing as much as I can, while I still can. I’d really like to have something published in this lifetime. I attended The Festival of Books & Authors a few weeks ago and it was awesome! Really helped to inspire and motivate me…a portion of one of my short stories was even read aloud to a panel of editors and agents, along with a small crowd of people attending the workshop along with me. And they didn’t hate it! I actually received mostly positive constructive criticism, and it was one of the few pieces of prose they read that they didn’t start attacking after the first two sentences. Yay, me!

Again, I am keeping busy, so a social life might be challenging, anyway…but, I’d be willing to work on making the time. I’ll let it evolve, as I like to say…

I am happy to be able to make each day what I want of it, and have my stress levels currently so greatly reduced. If only I never had to work again…that is just one reason on my list of reasons to write. That is something I could spend the rest of my life doing: writing, taking care of a homestead, and enjoying time spent with loved ones. That’s all I really want.

The lovely Lovely, basking in all her glory


The only stress I have is worrying about my Grandma, who is currently undergoing physical therapy at a rehab clinic in WASHINGTON. She was visiting her sister in Vancouver and started getting such bad cases of dizziness, she fainted and hurt her back. Not only is she far away and hospitalized, but a lot is uncertain now, and things may get less peaceful when she returns, but I will be happy to have her home. Let’s just hope things continue to go well, for all of us and everyone, especially those riding out the hurricane right now…



Thursday, September 22, 2016

Our Flock

Things are crazy this week in the USA. Bombs in NY and NJ, people getting shot while their hands are up in the air, protests and riots erupting less than 80 miles away from us, the tensions of the upcoming election are getting stronger and stronger.

I try to remain focused and at peace, because time and time again, in my world, in my family, I find that the best way to deal with things is to just to continue to pray and radiate peace and love as much as possible in this often cruel and crazy world. The weight of the terror and fears being emitted by others is often almost too much to bear, and some say I should be outraged, be a voice for the voiceless, but all I want to do is curl up in a ball and hide sometimes, hold my Lily tight and never let go.

Again. I find the best thing to do is to pray for peace and radiate love and light in the darkness. I pray for all the innocents being harmed and their loved ones who feel helpless and/or afraid. I hope things do get better- for everyone ­­–and that we can still find the beauty in the world amidst all this ugliness.

Lily finding her peace

It’s a dark and dismal day today, and 2 nights ago we lost a dear family friend, but I have to stay strong and remember that life goes on.

You know what makes things better? Taking care of animals. Ever since I was a child, I have enjoyed creatures of all kinds, and have always had pets of all different varieties: cats, hermit crabs, hamsters, fish, gerbils, snakes, rats, lizards, a dog. And now we have chickens. We have 2 lovely Red Star hens and a small flock of mixed Guinea hens. The Red Stars are truly like pets to us and we even named them (Betty and Lord, the latter named by Lily after "Lord Darth Vader") and can tell them apart based on personality alone. They’re also great eggs layers; we haven’t bought eggs in over a year, and often have enough of a surplus from just these two layers to share with friends and family.

Betty, who has a more lively and friendly personality, hoping for a treat while hanging in her run.

"Have you got a snack for me?... No?... Well, then BYE."

Lord is such a good girl, keeps to herself more than Betty, and doesn't really like to be handled. She's content to just sit on the eggs.

The Guineas are newer additions, being only around 1 month old. They are, at this point, mostly on their own as far taking care of them goes. They fly up into trees and are very nervous, meaning they don’t like to be handled, and are happy to just wander around the premises eating up whatever insects or other bits of plant they find to be tasty. Most people tend to have them on their homesteads and farms to help keep the pest populations down for garden-maintenance purposes.

Paul chose them because he thought they’d help keep the flea, mosquito, and tick populations down, which is yet to really be seen since it is already early fall and those pests are now on the decline naturally. Once this breed does get to laying eggs, they don’t tend to lay in the same spots like our Red Stars do, but may just lay them wherever they happen to be hanging out at the moment when they’re ready to pop.

The Guineas look like cute baby vultures, though once they get older they look a little less cute. Our dear friend Bruce from upstate NY had a flock of Guineas that originally got us familiar with the breed, and he filled me in on some tips and experiences in dealing with them. He informed me that they tend to have a “community nest” where they all lay together and one bird becomes the main hen to the sit on the eggs until they hatch. We don’t know if we’ll do any chick raising, but we shall see…it’s nice to just let things evolve sometimes.

Current Guinea hen flock
The first time they discovered they could fly up into the trees




Paul is generally fascinated by the varied breeds, especially the exotics. We had a few Silkies earlier this year, which we really enjoyed. Unfortunately, they were all killed by some kind of animal before they were even of egg-laying age. It was terrible, but we learned a lesson in chicken coop construction and where to place it (i.e.: not too far into the wooded areas!). Despite how secure Paul thought he’d built their home, something had managed to slip in at night and kill all 5 of the pullets. Luckily, our Red Stars, Betty and Lord, survived, albeit perhaps a bit traumatized by the experience, and are now with us here in NC.
 
The rare Lily Hen

Me, personally, I like any breed that is docile, hardy, and easy to manage. I’m interested in getting 1 or 2 Barred Plymouth Rocks, which are common and similar to the Red Stars in everything but coloring.

Image from cacklehatchery.com


This is our current homestead situation, our bubble away from all the worries of the bigger world out there. We like it here, and hope it stays this way. Next year we’ll be doing more gardening, and who knows what else. We’re letting things evolve, and grateful for the chance to do so.




Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Morning Musings aka Chasing Chickens

Usually after I get up in the morning and put Lily on the bus, I go back to bed for a little while, another half hour, at least. But, today I stayed up and greeted the morning full-throttle. I fried myself two eggs and two circles of turkey sausage, along with a cup of coffee, and poured myself a glass of orange juice. I read some of my current read, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, while I ate breakfast, wishing that the entire book was told from young Oskar’s perspective, because when told from either of his grandparent’s it is just too sad.

After I read the particularly moving scene where Oskar first meets Abe Black, and after I had wiped my tears, I figured it was time to feed the chickens and let them out into their runs. It was after 8 a.m., after all. We usually let them out earlier, but the dawn was still rather dim due to the fogginess in the air.

I put my black outdoor slippers on over my black polka-dotted gray socks and set out to open their cages. I checked on the young guinea hens, which are only weeks old, first. I let them out into their run, all were accounted for. We have lost nearly half of them since we got them back in July: 1 chick got a few strands of hair wrapped around its little days-old legs and didn’t make it after that, 2 found dead from unknown causes one morning, 2 found disemboweled by some unknown predator, 1 that just wasn’t doing well and suddenly died, and 1 that just disappeared one day- likely taken by a bird of prey. But, these surviving nine are doing just fine.

Guinea chicks then...



 Guinea chicks now...



Then I let our two “big girls”, Betty and Lord, out, our little red hens. (Side note: in case you’re wondering where the name “Lord” comes from, Lily named her. And, no, not after Lord Jesus or Lord Vishnu or any royalty or the singer, but after Lord Darth Vader). They were nipping at their cage door when I got there, their beady eyes watching me expectantly. They rushed straight to their layer feed dish as soon as they were freed, pecking away at the plastic red container, as if they hadn’t been fed in days.

Betty is our special girl, our first hen who has been with us for over a year and bustling with 
more personality than I ever thought possible from a common chicken.

Lord brooding over an egg, no doubt.

"Have you got any special treats for me?" (this girl moves so quickly, 
it's difficult to get a good portrait of her with a simple cell camera)

The guineas’ food dish was empty when I got to their coop, so I went back to the garage to refill it. They eat layer feed now, too, but crumbled up instead of in pellets like the big girls do. As I entered the garage, I heard the familiar sound of crickets in the corner, chirping away, as if practicing for a symphony they haven’t quite gotten right yet. I know they’re only practicing, because it doesn’t sound like they’re quite in sync with each other, but maybe that’s just how they’re supposed to sound in the morning, a bit muddled together like most people feel when they first get up. Typically, I pay more attention to them at night, and they sound more in sync then. When I was a little girl coming into this same garage, I’d always try to find those musical crickets, but never could, even though I knew where they were by sound alone. How did they do that? Hide like that? I decided to try and search them out again this morning, their tiny violin legs growing quieter with each step I took towards their hiding place. Once again, no luck in finding them, and I wasn’t about to start turning things over just to catch them now.

Just something cute

Not a cricket...

I collected the guineas’ food, which wasn’t much, noting that more pellets would have to be ground up today for later. But, this small handful would be enough for breakfast. I left the empty bucket on Paul’s desk for him to find.

Walking back to where their run was, I thought about Lily, who was at school in her homeroom class. I thought about what I gave her for lunch (leftover penne with meat sauce and cheese, applesauce, yogurt, carrot sticks, and chocolate biscuits), and how she was getting so big, and how the bus had come a little early today, so I didn’t have time to wash her face off after she ate breakfast. However, my little girl did make time to reach up on her tippy-toes with her rosebud mouth puckered-up and plant a quick kiss on my lips before dashing off to the bus. I told her I loved her as she did so, then stood on the front porch as she ran up the driveway, arms crossed over my chest, watching as the bus then pulled away and stopped at the next corner, while I turned to go back inside.

When I got to the guineas’ pen, five of them had escaped the fenced-in run. I hadn’t noticed that a small opening in their fence had been left untended to, and by untended to, I mean Paul did not close it back up before putting them back into their coop last night, just as he had left Betty and Lord’s food out overnight, which he told me he wasn’t going to do anymore because some nocturnal critter like a possum or raccoon might get to it. I let out a sigh, and started to follow them.

I would now have to herd them back into the run, which was no easy task. They were too quick now to catch, and they hated to be caught or touched in any way. I had to wait until they were all grouped together and not paying attention to me, then sneak up on the side of them and slowly, patiently, follow them until they were near the run again, and then- hopefully! –manage to herd them back into that opening in the fence. I started to get them together, but then turned and saw that the other four had now gotten out, too. Sigh. This is why I usually just go back to bed; it’s too early to deal with this crap.

This time, out of impatience and simple foolishness, I tried to corner them and grab at them, thinking maybe I could catch them now that they were a little larger. But, alas. That only made them scatter, and now I had to herd them again. I took a breath, and began to walk slower behind them, gradually gathering them into a single group and getting closer and closer to the pen step by step. We got to one side of the run, and I lifted up the fence so the opening was bigger for them to squeeze through. Once I did that then herded them back to that spot, they all ran in. And once they saw that I had refilled their food, they surrounded their dish happily, because that was why they really escaped their run in the first place- they were looking for breakfast.

Next time I’ll remember to keep the coop closed until I get the damn food first.

And there she is, Lovely aka Queen of Sheba, Master of Adorable,
leaving all those who cross her path unable to resist petting her soft, velvety fur.

I went back in-but, not before stopping to pet the cat on the back deck -noting that the toes of my socks were now wet from the dewy grass, and went right to my iMac, wanting just to express these things, because my mornings used to be so very different. They were always rushed and groggy and annoying and disappointing. Disappointing because I was no longer asleep in dream land, away from the harsh reality of the 9-5 lifestyle, and having to get Paul to the bus and Lily to school on time, and then take care of the animals and then lock up the house after getting myself together, and hopefully be able to stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and make it to work on time. One day, it may be like that again, but right now it’s not. And I intend to savor every second of it, and be at peace in my no longer constant worry, stressing about all the things I had to do- Did Lily do her homework? What can I give her for lunch today? Is it acceptable to just give her cold cuts? Did I call so-and-so about such-and-such? I better confirm my 1 p.m., and make sure I have all the paperwork ready. Is Paul cranky because of something I did, or is he just in one of his moods? Dammit, I need to get my nails done.

Looking back, none of those things mattered, but they were all perpetually on my whirly-gig mind as if they did not so long ago, and I still have days when I start thinking too much and get overwhelmed. But, it’s easier to calm myself down now, and just breathe, or stretch, or refocus with a task I can actually enjoy.


Missing her every moment she's not with me



It’s just so nice. And I’m just so happy, 
to be up early feeding chickens in my backyard.