Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Homestead Hygge, aka The Simple Life, Like It or Not

Hygge, the Danish concept of “conscious coziness” as TIME magazine calls it, is sort of like socially-acceptable couch potato-ism: curling up on your sofa with a warm quilt, bathed in candlelight, and drinking of mug of hot cocoa, which leads to greater happiness and well-being. Upon hearing about Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah) last January, I was so entranced by this whole cozy lifestyle I blogged about it (see my January 31, 2016 post with a recipe). I soon learned that you can practice Hygge by choice. Or not.

During a recent, protracted power outage at Berryridge Farm, John and I were all about Hygge—because we had to be. Without electricity, life gets a little too basic. But over the years we’ve gotten pretty well prepared for a power-less life, at least for a few days.

Kettles on top for humidifiers
With our woodstove, we can stay warm, plus heat up food on the top (after moving the kettles). We’ve got two 5200-watt generators, one for the well pump, and the other for the house and shop. Both can be connected to a “Gen-Tran” a kind of power transfer system that allows you to take your electrical system off the grid and connect it to your generator. 

During an outage, if we run each machine for an hour or two each day, we have enough power to 1) Have a minimal amount of water for cooking, flushing the toilets, plus filling the hens’ waterer, and 2) Run the refrigerator and shop deep freezer to keep the contents from spoiling. The generator connected to the house also allows us to briefly use the kitchen range and microwave, but you can only turn on one at a time! You’ll know if you’ve given your generator too much of a load: it’ll start “lugging”—making sort of a laboring noise—so you’ll want to shut off any of your bigger power-consuming appliances.

We were sort of under-powered when it came to house lighting, however, especially since the outage took place during the darkest days of the year. My small, LL Bean solar lantern proved woefully inadequate, the light dimming after only a few minutes. Some years back, John and I gave up on large flashlights that need several “D” batteries, but John did have a couple of weeny flashlights on hand so we could find out way to the bathrooms. To keep the house a little more cheerful, not to mention adding more of a Hygge vibe, I lit a few beeswax candles. Between those and my headlamp, the light

Forget the solar lantern
was enough to read by, so a bookworm like me was a happy camper.

We generally keep our fridge and pantry well-stocked during the wintertime, so food wasn’t an issue. Luckily, we also had a good supply of soup in the freezer, leftovers from a soup-making kick I’d been on over the holidays. John had a plentitude of meat jerky, one of his son’s holiday gifts, and definitely a boon for a carnivore when you can’t cook any meat. All in all, we came through the three power-less days without too much inconvenience, if you don’t count giving up your daily shower.

Our closest neighbors didn’t fare as well. Their generator repair guy was planning to come out to service their machine, then a blizzard hit the Foothills and our road was impassable. They’ve got a significant little poultry operation of turkeys and chickens, and by Day Two of the outage, they had to collect snow melt off their metal roof to keep the birds watered. What they did have was a pair of LED lamps you recharge via a USB port, and John and I vowed to buy one or two for next time.

Our biggest challenge: John had had hernia surgery three weeks before the outage. After waiting out 24 hours without power, we couldn’t put off getting the generator going. Worried about him pulling the generator starter cord, I gave generator-starting my best, super-duper effort. Problem: I could NOT start that dang generator to save my life. I just don’t have the upper body mojo. Fortunately, John was able to carefully pull the cord without straining his surgical site, and get the machine online. Even for a lover of peace and quiet like me, when we’re without power, the roar of our generator is music to my ears.

The secret to power-outage Hygge is all in the preparation. First of all, forget having elective surgery from November through February! (Note to self: I clearly need to up my strength-training game.) Also, get your generator serviced in the early fall, and start it once a month or so to keep the engine in good shape. And remember to keep a few gallons of fuel around too!

As it turned out, this outage was well-timed: John still had lots of “Christmas cheer” on hand—two bottles of wine he’d gotten for holiday presents. As he poured his first glass of local raspberry wine, he said, “You know, the booze makes you not care so much about the power outage!”

Find free books and more about my country-set novel, The Galway Girls, at www.susancolleenbrowne.com

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Goodreads Giveaway for my new Irish novel!

To start off the New Year, I'm giving the gift of reading--you can enter to win 1 of 100 ebook copies of The Galway Girls, Book 4 of my Village of Ballydara series, starting January 16, 2018! Here's more about my new novel:

A tender romantic tale
Two friends search for their heart’s desire in this small-town romantic story set in Ireland. Kerry has fallen in love all over again with her husband Stephen, and after their miscarriage, she longs to try for another baby. But will her long-held dream of having a farm bring an end to her marriage?

Her best friend Fiona has left her free-spirited life behind her. Or so she thinks—until she finds herself caught between Dublin artist Colm, the man she was once mad about, and the sweet, youthful passion of Davie, who can see the woman she’s meant to be. Follow this warmhearted tale of women’s friendship and love lost and love found among the misty green hills of the Galway countryside! 

Discover more book freebies and learn more about my Ballydara series at www.susancolleenbrowne.com

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Holiday Pause for This Is Us

Yesterday, the forecast was for epic rainfall—and we got a snowstorm instead. An unexpected snowfall at our place often brings concern, and this one, so close to Christmas, was no exception. My anxiety mounted as first the Internet went out, then the power. As the inches accumulated, a cottonwood tree bent sideways over our narrow private lane, blocking the roadway. I not only had to bite the bullet and cancel a needed trip to town, but fret about the soon-to-arrive Northeaster.

Then last night, after the power was restored, I watched an especially tender and heartrending episode of “This Is Us,” a moment when a man gently held his dying father’s face between his hands. The older man was frightened of what was to come, but his son just held him, telling him to breathe. 

Wrapped in an afghan, the Christmas tree lights glowing nearby, I was reminded of how small my afternoon’s worries were. Whether you’re focusing on everyday troubles, or your heart is breaking, you can take a moment and simply breathe.

Berryridge snowfall on the grape arbor
In that pause, you might notice small wonders. They say the devil's in the details, but perhaps it's the divine that's in the details—like the slanting winter sun through the trees, the kindness in your neighbor’s face, the gleam of a meteor shooting through the midnight sky. The Irish in antiquity were so attuned to wonders that they built a tomb, Newgrange, with an extraordinary design: sunlight can penetrate into a special passage and illuminate an inner chamber only at the time of the winter solstice.

Even if you’re giving traditional winter holidays a pass, what’s not to  love about celebrating the end of the darkest days of the season, and the beginning of longer daylight hours? Happily, snowstorms or traffic snarls or holiday stress, whatever it is, shall pass. So, as darkness falls on chilly these December nights, put your mind and spirit on pause, and just…breathe. Take in the marvels around you. And may you enjoy every moment of the season.

If you like tender father-son stories, you'll find my free short story, The Secret Well, at www.susancolleenbrowne.com...and here's wishing you all the best for 2018! 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Chickens Back at the Little Farm

I was afraid to hope too much.

For chickens, that is. I know that’s the reason I put off cleaning out the chicken run and yard. But when our hen-owning neighbors invited John and me to come by and check out their flock--a few of which we'd be buying soon--I knew time was getting short.

I moseyed over to Art and Ginny’s place during a break in the rain. First, they showed us a half-dozen full-grown turkeys hanging around a pen with a shelter on one end, the whole space covered by heavy fishnet.

Another fenced area held ten or so older chickens and twice as many young birds in a variety of breeds. To house their chickens, Art and Ginny had two well-built coops that looked straight out of a homesteader magazine. One of the coops was a brand-new, airy, A-frame structure built off the ground, with a protected space beneath where lots of the little birds were taking shelter. A large fenced run with a few stacked straw bales gave both flocks lots of room to roam and climb. I was so impressed--it was like a hen heaven.
New flock checking out the feeder

When Al proposed that we pick up our five chickens in a couple of weeks, John and I were like, “Yes!” Yet as I thanked Art and Ginny and headed home, I felt kind of inadequate. The chicken amenities at Berryridge Farm weren’t new or pretty or clean like theirs. And the weed-choked areas only made our set-up look worse. But it looked like John and I really were going to get chickens. 

So no more excuses.

The next day, John fired up the wood chipper so we’d have nice clean bedding for the birds, while I started clearing out the run. The weeds weren’t the daunting part. It was my fear that I’d find years-old chicken remains. After I finished the exercise area, I stepped into the run to yank and clip the six-foot high weeds. I’m happy to report that after clearing every inch of the place, I didn’t find any bones.

As the days flew by, John hand-sawed the coppices off an old maple tree that had taken over the entire area—the resulting stump would be our birds’ jungle-gym—then made a few tweaks to the fencing. Just before we were due back at Art and Ginny’s to pick up our birds, I brought in bucket after bucket of fresh wood chips for the coop floor and to spread around their run. At last, we were ready!

Art and Ginny were waiting for us, and had separated out the young birds we'd take home: 3 black Sexlinks, 1 Buff Orpington, and a reddish chicken that looked just like the breed of chickens we had before. John, being sort of a “hen-whisperer,” captured the birds easily and put 3 in one box, and 2 in another, then Art helped him pack the boxes in his Ranger. “So” I ventured to Art, “what do we owe you?” We hadn’t discussed the price of their chickens.

Art mentioned a far lower amount than I expected, so John and I persuaded them to take several dollars more for each bird. Then after more effusive thank yous, we headed back to Berryridge Farm, chickens in tow. After more than 4 years since our first flock was killed, John and I had chickens again.

The little birds were very skittish the first 3 days or so, and mostly stayed in the coop, even during the daylight hours. But they slowly became more comfortable in their new home, and now they come running whenever John and I go outside.

Hanging around the chicken run
Our birds aren’t hens yet, or even pullets; Art and Ginny said these young ones may not lay for a few more months. Still, it’s funny—it feels like these “girls” have always been here. Of course we’ve given them names: “Buffy” is the blond one, and the one I started calling “Red” turned into “Red Rosie.” However, the three black chickens are almost impossible to tell apart, and we were stumped for a while. Then one day, we were outside the pen, watching the girls peck at the scratch I’d just tossed out. All of a sudden I thought of the three “girls” on our favorite show, “The Big Bang Theory.” I turned to John. “Hey, what do you think of Penny, Bernadette and Amy?”

He got the joke immediately. “Amy Farrah-Fowler?” We had a good laugh, then John headed back to his wood splitting stump, and I ducked into the coop for its twice-a-week cleaning. I've jumped back into my chicken-wrangling routine without much trouble, but if you have any chicken tips or wisdom, I hope you’ll share it here!

Find free ebooks, fun Irish stuff, and my new novel, The Galway Girls, at www.susancolleenbrowne.com!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

New Irish Book and a Freebie!

If you like country love stories and fictional chicken tales, I hope you'll take a look at The Galway Girls, my 4th Village of Ballydara novel, now available! Here's more:
Irish love story

Two friends search for their heart’s desire in this small-town romantic story set in Ireland. Kerry has fallen in love all over again with her husband Stephen, and after their miscarriage, she longs to try for another baby. But will her lifelong quest of having a farm bring an end to her marriage?

Her best friend Fiona has left her free-spirited life behind her. Or so she thinks—until she finds herself caught between Dublin artist Colm, the man she was once mad about, and the sweet, youthful passion of Davie, who can see the woman she’s meant to be. Follow this warmhearted tale of women’s friendship and love lost and love found among the misty green hills of the Galway countryside! 

This novel is the sequel to Book 3, The Hopeful Romantic, with a new Ballydara heroine. It's no coincidence that many of Kerry's farm adventures in The Galway Girls have been inspired by my real-life experiences on my little farm. 

Irish romantic comedy
And if you haven't yet tried the Ballydara stories, you might take a look at It Only Takes Once, Book 1 of the series, about single motherhood, first love, and second chances...it's now  free on Amazon, Kobo, and at all other online stores

Friday, September 22, 2017

Chickens 2.0

After we lost our small flock to a cougar several years ago, John and I dreamed of having hens again. But as the months, then years went by, we grew accustomed to not having our girls’ entertaining company, or the freshly-laid eggs they gave us. We learned not to be quite so haunted by their absence, and the way we’d lost them.

Just recently, our neighbors decided to start a flock of laying hens, starting with chicks. Knowing we once had hens, they asked us, “Would you like a few?”

Are you kidding? John and I jumped at the chance to have more laying hens. And this out-of-the blue opportunity seemed like our getting chickens again was Meant To Be. The plan was, our neighbors would set aside 4 or 5 chicks, raise them for 8 weeks, then they’d be ours. Only we had one very big problem…

Our chicken “compound” of the coop and run was a disaster.

Those first weeks and months after the hens were killed, we were too sick at heart to keep the area cleared. And the whole place quickly went feral. As the weeds grew, the chore of weeding seemed more and more overwhelming. Pretty soon, we just gave up. And as the six-foot high fireweed and thimbleberry turned to a dense jungle, the whole chicken
compound seemed like a lost cause.
Scary coop entry area

But now that 5 young chickens will soon grace Berryridge Farm again, we have a lot of work to do. The two pics below are the chicken “exercise” area that John cleared a month or so ago, and the pile of brush he yarded out. The photo at right, taken yesterday, is the coop area/run that I’m taking on.
Semi-cleared chicken area

It’s not going to be pretty.  Watch for more about our chicken reboot, coming soon!
Brush pile

Monday, September 11, 2017

Apple Pest (yet another one of the Devil's Spawn) Plus a Free ebook!

Just when I thought it was safe to go outside...

When the wildfire smoke finally cleared, it was time to harvest our champion apple tree, the Akane. This is the one tree that faithfully bears every year, with beautiful fruit and great flavor and crunch, and no whining, sniveling or apple scab! So John and I ventured to our orchard with several big boxes and started picking, already tasting our homemade applesauce and apple crisp.

However, for the first time in the 8 years of bearing, the fruit was covered with little dots, with sort of dimples all over the apple. Well, growing without spray, John and I are accustomed to less than pretty apples, so we figured no problemo. I was so ready for my first taste of the season, so I washed an apple and cut it in half to share with John. I could feel the apple's crunchiness as I wielded my knife, but as the apple fell into two halves, my heart sank.
Coddling moth damage

The middle was full of trails of reddish-brown stuff.

Thanks to Ciscoe Morris, gardening columnist for The Seattle Times, I knew what I was looking at. Those of you who have read Little Farm in the Foothills know what I mean when I write "stuff" in italics. For the uninitiated, stuff in this sense means poo. To be precise, coddling moth poo. Orchard pros call it "frass" but why put lipstick on a pig, I ask you?

For some reason, I thought coddling moths wouldn't find Berryridge Farm (the same hope I'd entertained about cabbage moths but was destined for disappointment). Anyway, we ended up giving the crop to my sister who has 3 horses, who don't care if their snacks are frass-filled. I'm not sure what we'll do about next year's crop--we won't spray, and while I've read about securing a plastic bag around each apple, that seems extremely high maintenance. Not exactly our style, so I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, we have 3 huge honeycrisp apples on one of our baby trees, and so far I don't see any dots. John and I will have to draw straws as to who gets the third apple!
Free ebook at www.susancolleenbrowne.com !

On a positive note, I wanted to share my redesigned web site, www.susancolleenbrowne.com, where you can find a special offer: a free copy of my short story The Secret Well, part of my Irish Village of Ballydara series...I hope you'll take a look!