Saturday, January 10, 2015

# 540 - Acorns as Food

Our acreage is covered with towering oak trees. I can somewhat identify the Red Oaks and the White Oaks. We are very careful in working to partially clear our land to not excessively remove too many of these valuable hardwood trees, especially the more mature oaks.

Since the United States has over 60 different oak tree species that vary according to the part of the country you live in, it can be difficult for an ordinary person to figure it out. Usually, a certain species of oaks will be native to their geographical region.

I have been studying this topic in nature so that I can better understand the ecology of our acreage. Also, I have always had a garden journal and am eager to do a sort of "botany" map of our acreage, which would mark areas of towering oaks on the land along with their species.

An oak leaf is the easiest indicator for identification. We seem to have a lot of White Oaks on our land; there leaves have rounded lobes and the bark is often lighter colored and somewhat grayish than the Red Oaks that can appear so dark that they sometimes almost look black. White Oak bark can appear scaly, while Red Oak bark can have deep furrows with zigzag grainlines.

Identify Oak Leaves Step 2.jpg
I think of White Oaks leaves as rounded, like an angel's halo, then I think of
Red Oak tree leaves pointy as the Devil's horns. Easy to remember.

The number of lobes on each side of the leaf's stem is also important. Growing a tree from an acorn...easily done. We have purposefully planted a few oak trees from acorns throughout our acreage. There are some evergreen oaks, but the oaks on our land are deciduous, meaning they go dormant in the winter/cold months. Some of the Red Oaks, referred to as "Scrub Oaks" have smaller leaves as indicated below, but normally deciduous Red and White Oaks have much larger leaves.

Identify Oak Leaves Step 6.jpg

Red and White Oaks can reach 100 feet tall, but White Oaks mature at 75 ft. in height and have a wider spread that can reach up to 100 feet wide, and Red Oaks mature at 80 feet tall with about a 75 foot spread, and Red Oaks can grow faster.

White Oaks produce acorns once per year and have fewer tannins which makes them less bitter and better tasting to wildlife. One year may provide a bumper crop and the next might find acorns to be on the spare pickings side. But, one "grandfather" White Oak tree can produce over a thousand acorns in a season and these are extremely valuable to wildlife because they contain large amounts of carbs.

White Oak acorns have bumpy caps and are more elongated or oval-shaped, while Red Oak acorns are wider and more plump with caps that have smooth, overlapping scales. By the way, acorns are considered to be in the "nut" family. White Oak acorns matures to have a brown cap with the acorn remaining greenish white; Red Oak acorns mature to be brown in color.

The small oak tree there in the center was grown from an acorn.
We had planted several in pots, years ago, and most of them slowly
grew into trees large enough to be transplanted on the acreage.

The Southern Red Oak is a squirrel favorite and suited to other smaller wildlife because the acorns produced are smaller than the White Oak's. Southern Red Oaks are great to use for interior construction projects where the finish is important as their growth ring pores are very open and porous, but White Oaks have pores plugged with tyloses, making it more dense, which is the reason White Oak wood is great for water-tight vessels, and White Oak wood is more resistant to rot and decay. White oak is often used to build outdoor furniture and for boat construction. Therefore, of the two, White Oak is usually a bit more expensive, especially since it is more slow growing.

Red Oaks are shade tolerant trees usually can be found on dry uplands and can commonly be found invading upon Pine Tree sites.

On the flip side, as for acorns, Red Oaks often take two years to produce mature acorns, which are more bitter because of the increased tannin. Because of the need for two growing seasons for acorns to mature on Red Oaks, there will always be differing stages of acorns growing on the tree. Red Oak acorns have tiny hairs growing on the inside of the acorns, and these are not found on the inside of White Oak acorns. However, wildlife will still eat them, especially the Fox Squirrel. Other names for Red Oaks in this area are: Spanish Oak; Swamp Red Oak; Water Oak, and Turkey Foot Oak.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

# 539 - A Football and a Grandbaby

Christmas is always sweeter with babies in our midst. Being able to be with my first grandbaby, Coraline, for our Christmas gatherings has been pure joy.

Yes, my grey/white hair is shining through,
for now, it stays. For now...

Coraline has Texas A&M parents who love football and their daughter is a football buff as well.

And here is her touchdown dance...

If there is a football around, Coraline wants to get her hands on it.

Yes, I have such fun with this little one around. God knew what he was doing when he created grand-children.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

# 538 - Moving the Grown Baby!

Just after Christmas, we helped Stefie move out of her apartment. Stefie is our youngest daughter, a 24 year old who just finished all academic requirements for her Master's Degree. She is amazing.

It was nice to help move her out of her apartment that takes about four hours to reach by Texas Highway. She was happy to move back to Greater Houston, especially since she was born in Houston. Now, she is again close to many family members and old friends.

We had quite a great time getting her moved out, maybe a bit too much fun.

While packing, we gals are members of the Pony-Tail Club!

Our guys, Sgt. Dave and Officer Brice soon showed up to do the heavy lifting.

There won't be any complaints from us gals about cleaning and dealing the details of packing as the guys poured sweat while carrying heavy furnishings down a long flight of stairs.

Stefie had a lot to do. She had final, straggler items to pack at the last moment, but we parents had to head out for our long drive home, so the young kiddos wrapped up their final moments in San Marcos on their own.

We parents did as much as we could, as much as the kids were ready for us to do, until we headed back home while pulling a flatbed trailer carrying the bulk of the apartment items...the living room furniture, dining furniture, bedroom furniture and lots of boxes. Sgt. David and I drove for hours with no tail lights working on the flatbed trailer, in spite of every effort to make them work, so I drove lose behind him, protecting him and other drivers from pulling behind him. At least we had mostly highway the entire way home as the tail-lights could not decide whether to stay on or off. That is another project for Sgt. Dave to tackle...looks like the wiring has passed its life cycle and needs to be revamped.

Brice stayed with Stefie to help finish packing and to load the remaining boxes and items into their U-Haul style truck that they would also bring to unload in our immense storage building the following day.

Brice putting back a light fixture the apartment
complex installed in the WORST front of
the cable connections. He had removed it so they
could see the television. Here, he is using what he
can to reach the 9 foot ceiling fixture for a reinstall
of the light, but standing on a chair and then a bucket
while dealing with live wire was interesting.

Throughout Stefie's college days, we provided her with a Nissan Frontier as her's an old, but reliable gal. Lately, the truck had been chugging. Turns out, there were clogs in the fuel pump/filter or whatever. Since Brice is an rookie Officer and my husband is a Sgt., poor Brice ended up on the ground doing all of the icky mechanical work and he was covered in heavy grease and grime, but Brice said, "I couldn't let the Sgt. do it." One thing is for sure...Brice is a smart young man.

Thank goodness storages come in all sizes, but we had plenty of
room in ours to allow their furnishings and boxes to be included,
saving money that would been wasted on another storage room.

Our family is so unique. Brice will indeed soon be our son-in-law and we are thrilled, we love Brice, but the poor guy in law enforcement lives at work and at home with ranking respect that is in his blood to honor. He is such a good kid. We are blessed to have Brice in our lives.

Since Stefie was having problems with the Nissan, her daddy let her drive his Dodge while we took the chugged along the way, but it pulled the trailer loaded with furnishings and made it. I admit, there was a bit of breath-holding along the way. Stefie's daddy will be doing work on the Nissan over the next few weeks to get it in tip-top shape. It's been a GREAT truck that helped provide transportation for both of our daughters as they went through college.

At one point, Sgt. Dave and I gave each other a kiss and said, "Thank God we had our children young!" Neither of us could imagine doing this at 60 instead of in our 40's. Having kids young worked out for us.

We were also glad to get home to our furry babies...they were so good, even though they were left at home all day long.

So, both of my daughters are finished with college, at least the portion that we helped support them through.

A celebration for us PARENTS would be awesome, but we are too exhausted!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

# 537 - RV Life Considerations

It looks as if we might be starting construction by the end of January. This past week, Sgt. Dave signed paperwork for the lender to truly get things underway. It will take 5-6 weeks, due to holidays, for us to close on the house.

We are hoping and praying that all goes well. So far, it seems we qualified for much more house than we need or want to finance, so we are going to take the middle road and do a tad more than we might need, yet still far below the amount the bank WISHES we would use.

There is always so much to do and I have been not feeling so great...will need surgery soon...that will be an issue, but I don't plan on letting it hold me back. I might be confined to bed rest for a couple of weeks, but that won't stop me from taking care of things I can tackle from bed.

Anyway, I wish the house would have been finished before I have the surgery, but this might work out perfect since I should be healed by the time I need to start painting, staining and polyurethaning! It is best for me to feel great so that I can be mobile and have fun making our dreams come true.

So, I thought I would make a list of all the things I will NOT miss with this year-plus of RV living! I will NOT MISS:

1) The small frost-filled refrigerator/freezer that is NOT conducive to living approximately 25 miles round-trip to the nearest grocery store.

2) The lack of a bathtub to soak sore muscles and aching bones or to ward off the Texas chill.

3) The three-burner stove-top dependent upon propane and without much room to use normal sized pots and pans. Why have three burners when you can hardly place the pots next to one another?

4) Not having a "bed-side" that I can WALK UP TO and actually SIT on the side of my bed without kissing the wall. Not having a "bed-side" that gives plenty of room for a side table to hold a lamp, books, my drink and such.

5) Not having privacy. I love my husband, but the closing of an RV pocket door still does not offer much privacy. When our kids come visit, we have the "courtesy" television noise that must be running as we take turns in the rest-room.

6) Not having a full-sized oven. I have not used a regular-sized lasagna pan or cookie sheet in over a year. Everything is mini-sized and this means that even making a batch of cookies will take numerous extra baking rounds instead of it being easier with large cookie sheets.

7) The air-conditioning in our RV has one main, powerful unit located in the ceiling of the living room area, yet the cool air goes to each room and area through ducted vents. However, the living room area has enormous air-conditioning racket that interferes with simple things, such as watching a movie.

8) I miss having all the extra counter space for food prep and cabinetry storage space for food and dishes, even though our RV has much more room than most RV's.

9) The closet space in our RV is much better than usual, but it still can't compare to a walk-in closet and my side of the closet is the most inaccessible. I think that each time I try to get something out of my closet, I take on the vocabulary of a sailor. It will also be wonderful to again have full-sized bed-side zones.

10) I hate carpet. It's a personal thing for me. There are areas of the RV that have carpet and it is simply stupid to have carpeting in an RV for people with our lifestyle, but it is difficult to find an RV without some carpeting. After the house is built, we will likely pull up all the carpet in this RV to either replace it for selling the RV or put down more linoleum "tiles." No matter...I can't stand carpeting for all the dirt, dog hair and grime it matter how much you vacuum, it's like throwing down a sweater and walking on it. Doesn't make sense to me. If I need a carpeted area...I will use a rug. Once we move out of the RV, I will be FREE from carpet!

11) BREAKER BOX keeps tripping because the electrical loads for RV's are not adequate for full-time living. I would LOVE to run the blow-dryer and the microwave at the same time. Because it creates so much trouble, I have literally gone over one year with rarely doing my hair beyond the "let it dry naturally curly" phase. One day, I will again have my bathroom zone with my blow dryer, my curling iron and my make-up ready for easy daily use. For now, I LOOK 100% country.

12) Oh how I miss having my washing machine and dryer inside the house instead of having to walk a good distance to an outdoor shed that may or may not have snakes or other critters inside. I won't miss having to carry baskets of clothes or walking with hung clothes as I try to dodge free-ranging chickens. Lately, Sgt. Dave has taken on the bulk of laundry-duty so keep me from carrying heavy loads or from doing too much as I await my surgery. Yet, this has been a LONG year of frustrating laundry duty. During the hot months, I step into the shed and the 130 degree temperature inside creates immediate sweating and the cold months or rainy weather make doing laundry extra unpleasant. I realize how spoiled we are in our organized lives that keep us from having to be outside for extended periods of time to wash our laundry.

13) I actually miss the activity that a full household requires and the space that a house offers with the cleaning chores being easier to handle because of the space. I have learned that the more crammed you are, the more difficult it is to maneuver around things. It is also confirmed that I am rather claustrophobic and there are times when I feel very thankful that I have all this acreage to explore and to enjoy. Since we still have an active life and a good-sized family, the extra-small space is not always practical, except for this limited time.

Stefanie, our youngest daughter visiting.

14) It doesn't feel right to have to wash my "house" like a vehicle. Well, it is a vehicle, so it does have tires and it CAN go through an RV sized car wash, as soon as it is not being used as a full-time residence.

15) I can't wait to have guest bedrooms!

My niece Shaye staying for a visit.

16) Soon, I will have an art room. Living in an RV means you must be creative with utilizing space for doing any kind of project.

Teaching my oldest daughter, Heather, to sew with the machine
we gave to her for a birthday present.

I do like these aspects of our RV for this phase of our lives:

1) Love the foot pedal toilet method of flushing --- hands free and brilliant!

2) The cocoon feeling that comes with being tucked into a comfortable space that is designed nicely.

3) I love the freedom that came with living in an RV so that we were not forced to rush into building our permanent residence on the acreage until we had been living on the land for a year and able to witness the changing seasons and the impact upon the land with heavy rains, etc. --- this is one positive aspect of living in an RV that carries great weight. I have indeed enjoyed this phase of our construction process.

4) I love that an RV can be as TEMPORARY AS YOU WANT IT TO BE!

Regardless, I still think that a manageable RV is fantastic for traveling and to be free from hotel rooms, especially if you enjoy being outdoors. However, I am very excited about finishing the process to get closed so that construction begins...then, the real fun begins!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

# 536 - Country House - Dream Home Confirmation!

One of the houses that we considered for our own country home was personally toured a couple months ago, and the moment we drove up, we knew this house was right for us.

The house has the potential look I have dreamed about, and the floorplan had been just right with a bit of customization.

The major thing I knew that I wanted changed from the house I toured would be the exterior siding. The one we toured has a "log-cabin" rustic finish, but I want ours to have hardy-cement siding painted white and the front windows to be white divided light-framed and spaced just right so that they can be accented with black shutters.

But, I had such unsettled feelings about how this particular house would look with white siding and black shutters. Was I making a big, ugly mistake?

Then, by chance, I came across an almost IDENTICAL floorplan on one of Martha Stewart's Pinterest boards! The front porch is even the same with the extra large side porch, which we have already drawn to have door instead of a window that leads from the Master bedroom.

My jaw dropped open. I even liked the roof color on this house.

It was as if a MASSIVE sign crossed my path, confirming my mental picture for this house to be exactly as I thought it would be...PERFECT for us!

I had been apprehensive that this house design would not look right with my exterior preference, but this house proves it will be just fine!

Our house plans have an extra dormer and it does not have the chimney in the center. In those regards, I prefer our house plan more than the other.

In fact, we are thinking of not building a standard fireplace, but putting in a vented wood burning stove as a back-up to heat the house. After all, our acreage has PLENTY of firewood available to fuel the wood-burning stove. The only problem I'd have to figure out is the placement of the stove and the design that would include a decorative wrought iron surround to keep little arms and hands away from the hot metal.

Since our main heating for the house will be electric, I would also like to have an "off the grid" option for heating the house, but my oldest daughter thinks I should build a regular fireplace. However, wood-burning fireplaces do let more smoke through the house, even if built properly.

Regardless, I am feeling extra wonderful about this house. Things are coming together, as they should. It's been a long road to build a custom home on our acreage in the country, but worth it.

# 535 - Incubator Chicks Hatching!

This past week, we have been shocked to find that our first attempt at using the incubator has been a success! We actually had hatchlings this week!

The first chick to start pecking through an egg brought me tremendous excitement. WHAT? It's really working?!

This egg is the first to have a chick start to hatch. Sadly, this chick
was obviously hatching prematurely, and this chick died after the first
24 hours following hatching.
Of course, we had a couple of eggs that didn't make it. We had to candle the eggs, which is really easy to do, then take out the eggs that did not contain a growing chick.

But, we missed this one, and it soon began to be a potential mess, so I removed it quickly.

After a while, I could see that the first egg that had begun to hatch was having problems. Soon, the chick behind it began to hatch.

To my surprise, the second hatching chick would be the first to fully hatch. The concern for the first chick that was trying to hatch became more intense. The chick was peeping loudly from the first egg that was not making progress, as hour after hour passed.

I also knew we needed to remove the egg holders, so we did it quickly because I was scared it would hurt the chicks.

The process of hatching seems to go like this, in my experience...I first heard peeping, which scared me as I looked around the room carefully and then it dawned on me that the sound was actually coming from the incubator, even though the shell had not yet been cracked. The chicks peck an initial hole, then they make a "zipper" line, and if all goes well, the chick pushes the top of the shell upward with a burst of mighty strength and then they are BORN!

The chick works to hatch itself, then falls asleep, then suddenly perks
up and wiggles around, then falls back asleep. It is precious.

However, this in an exhausting process for the chick, it will peck for a while, then sleep, then peck, then sleep, and it can take a few hours. Then again, there are other chicks, as our third chick, who pecked the initial hole and was fully hatched with ten minutes.

Since we had no idea these eggs would be hatching, Sgt. Dave and I had no choice other than to work very quickly together to get the egg-rotator out of the incubator. I carefully cradled the chick so that it would not be pulled any direction that would affect hatching, he took out the rotator and I carefully laid the hatching chick back on the grate for it to finish its hard job of being born.

I must say, it was an unexpected, yet amazing experience to hold a hatching chick, but not one I want to do again. It was completely nerve-wracking, but I didn't want the chick to be caught in between the rotator trays. Back in the incubator, after another hour or so, it hatched face down and fell back asleep as we cracked up.

Sweet baby.

This chick would be the first to hatch and is now strong and healthy!

This is how an egg shell looks after a chick hatches from it...the top of the shell that is white is the air bubble area where the chick's head had been and is the zone for it to start pecking the zipper.

The other 2/3rds of the egg shell had a membrane that had blood vessels, kind of like a placenta. This membrane holds the chick's blood circulatory system until the final stage of hatching as the chick develops its own vessel system and the blood can be absorbed into its own body. This is fascinating to me. There is also a yolk sac at the bottom of the chick's body that is absorbed before hatching and that provides nutrients so the chick can recover from hatching over the next 24-48 hours...this egg yolk goes into the body of the chick and the abdominal hole is closed. If this process is not complete before hatching, you will likely have a chick that won't survive. You can see the "umbilical cord."

God's plan with nature is so incredible! I'm glad we had an incubator to help it along.

The little black feathered chick was the first to crack the shell and to zip, yet it was still in the shell nearly 24 hours later, with its peeping becoming more faded and weak. I researched the matter and found that chicks can literally get stuck in their shell. I checked the egg and found the area that the chick zipped was as hard as glue...the chick and the shell felt as if glue had dried everything in place. The solution was to slowly and gently rub warm water on the area and to even use Neosporin to keep the area moist and hydrated because the water will still eventually evaporate. I had Neosporin and helped the chick out a bit so it could move again.

Even with the assistance it needed; the fact that the chick needed ANY assistance was a really bad sign. After the chick came out, the yolk sac was still attached and to make a long, horrific process short, I will say that the egg sac suddenly filled to enormous proportions and I knew that the internal parts of the chick had prolapsed...the intestines were soon visible.

It broke my heart. The chick lived about 24 hours. It was a very difficult Farm Life Lesson.

All I could do was make the chick as comfortable as possible and to keep it protected from the healthy chick pecking, especially because we had a third chick making a rapid hatch.

As the third chick hatched, the strong, dried out, found-its-legs chick was in a pecking mode, so I put the newly hatched chick into the bowl with the chick that was struggling. This seemed to work out. Soon, the newly hatched chick could join the other strong chick.

The good thing is that out of the first three chicks we have ever hatched with the incubator, two are thriving.

I am very grateful these two chicks have each other as cuddle-buddies.

This Farm Life Lessons chick loves those two little fuzzy chicks!