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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Summer Day With Nana and Papa

I just realized it has been almost two weeks since I have written a blog.  It isn't that time stands still, it's just that history repeats itself, and I have already written about most of the topics in previous blogs. I see the same birds, I make the same food and although I am getting older my world remains very similar year to year.

Speaking of history repeating itself, we usually have our grandchildren for the day some time during the summer.  With school starting in less than two weeks, we thought today would be a good day.  About 8:30 this morning all five of them arrived.  We have a granddaughter who will be 16 in two months, a grandson who will be 15 in two days, a grandson who is 12, a grandson who is 8 and our youngest grandson who is 6.  A lot of different ages and a variety of personalities.

I tried to get a picture of all of them together but it reminded me of wack-a-mole.  I never got them gathered in one place all day long. 

Here is how Melissa spent most of her day.  She watched TV,  she had her ipod in one hand and her iphone in the other and she drank her large bottle of Starbuck coffee drink.  She is the only girl and playing hide and seek and running through the woods wasn't her thing.  I am just honored she wanted to come spend the day again. 

The two oldest grandsons, Dylan and Sam, played outside with the younger boys.  They did come in for a while to play an electronic game.  It was pretty hot outside and they came in to cool off.

The two youngest grandsons Jack and Ewan wanted to do a project.  So after lunch Papa took them out to the workshop, but first I spoiled them all.  I had a short order kitchen going for a while.  I made fried potatoes for Melissa, dumplings for Sam, a ham and cheese sandwich on a homemade hamburger bun for Dylan, hotdogs and a cinnamon roll for Jack and chicken soup for Ewan.  I said they all are unique personalities and obviously like different foods.

I wasn't sure what the project plan was but I followed them out to the garage with the camera.  They were making something interesting.

With safety glasses on they began sawing wood.

Jack didn't like the screeching of the table saw so he found ear protection.

Ewan learning about the drill press.

Jack drilling his board.

The "project" is being assembled.

After using the nailer, the projects came together.  This is what they each made.  It is a Candy Dispenser.  We had to make a little trip to the store to buy some M & M's to see if it worked.  Jack wanted regular M & M's for his Dispenser while Ewan wanted peanut butter ones for his. 

Hopefully they don't get too sugared up tonight, but they were both proud of their project with Papa.

Before it was time to go home, Ewan had one more thing to do.  He counted eight squirrels in the yard and was determined to eliminate a few.

I spotted  this serious hunter with a shovel on the trail camera.

The trick is to be sneaky.

Alas, the squirrels won again. 

After a very nice day, it is again quiet in our house.   Who knows how many years we will be able to make this happen.  Soon the older kids will be off to college and starting their own lives, but for now we will appreciate days like this.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Healthy Homemade Version of Chocolate Syrup

Every other Tuesday this summer, we have had two of our grandboys for the day.  It broke up the summer a little for them and gave us a chance to see them.  Yesterday our granddaughter came along.  She will be 16 in a couple months so I think her day was quite boring, but it was very nice to have her here.

The boys like chocolate milk, but I didn't have any.  I had some Trader Joe's organic chocolate syrup, but it was almost gone.  We eeked out enough for one glass, and I promised to get some before next time.

I dropped the kids off late in the afternoon and had to stop at the grocery store on the way home.  I looked at the Hershey syrup and another brand.  I was shocked to see the first ingredient was High Fructose Corn Syrup.  They still put that junk in products.  Needless to say, I didn't buy any.

This morning as I was putting the empty syrup container into the recycle bin, I remembered a recipe I had seen a few months ago.

Jill from the Prairie Homestead has a lot of great information and recipes.  I had all the ingredients and in less than five minutes, I made chocolate syrup.  This isn't as tasty as the recipe we all have made with real butter and cream, but it will work fine for making chocolate milk.  I put the finished syrup in the Trader Joe's container and the boys won't know the difference.  They are very visual and if the food or the container looks a little different from what they are used to, they balk.

Here is the recipe from the Prairie Homestead:

Homemade Chocolate Milk Syrup

  1. On low, in a medium saucepan, mix together the maple syrup and water. Bring to a simmer.
  2. Whisk in the cocoa powder. Remove from heat.
  3. Add vanilla extract and let cool (syrup will thicken).
  4. Simply add your desired amount to a glass of milk and enjoy. Keep in the fridge for up to three weeks.
It seemed that 1 cup of cocoa powder was a lot, so I used 3/4 cup.  It still had a very strong chocolate flavor.  This also doesn't seem as sweet as the high fructose product but it is so much better for everyone. 

I didn't want to throw my sample away so I embellished it.  I added some vanilla protein powder and some instant coffee.  Yum, there may not be any chocolate syrup left for the boys when they come next time.  I will have to make more.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Start Your Campfire With These Little Fire Starters

Sundays are always long boring days for me.  I don't know why, but it has always been that way.  My house is clean enough and the laundry is caught up.  My husband is working on a big project so there is no hope of going anywhere or doing anything fun.  I had to occupy myself.  I grabbed some iced tea and went outside to start a campfire.  It was a beautiful day to just sit and relax.  As I was starting the fire, I noticed I was down to my last two fire starters.  I decided I could multi task.  I could sit by the fire and make more fire starters.  Quite a while ago I wrote about giving away egg cartons.  It has gotten to the point where I can't find anyone who wants them.  You would think with the popularity of raising chickens, I would easily be able to give away cardboard egg cartons.  Since I have a bunch, I didn't feel bad about re-purposing a couple.

I make these fire starters with old candle wax, sawdust and egg cartons.  Since I discovered essential oil diffusers,  I don't burn that many candles anymore.  I have kept a few of the jar candles that have the wick burned up but still have wax in the jar.  It sounds like I'm a hoarder, but I don't think I am.  I just keep things I know I can re-purpose.

When making this type fire starter, the first thing you do is melt some wax.  Whether it is a block of paraffin or used candle wax, it really doesn't matter.  I tried a new approach today to melt the wax.  I filled an old kettle we had in our Goodwill donation box with water and placed it on the campfire grate.  In the water, I placed a used jar candle.  My husband thought melting the wax outdoors was also a lot safer.  It worked great.  If I spilled, it was no big deal.

I sat and relaxed while the hot water melted the wax.  Then I went to my husbands workshop and gathered some sawdust off the floor.  While working on his project, he made a pile of sawdust that hadn't been swept up yet.  I filled a box with sawdust even though my project will only take a small amount.

This box of sawdust will last for a very long time.

I gathered an old metal coffee can and cut the tops off the egg cartons.  I just threw the tops in the fire.

At this point I filled the coffee can about half full with saw dust.  I took the saucepan off the fire and let it cool off a little bit.  The wax will stay melted for a long time.  I found a stirring stick and poured the melted wax into the sawdust.  I mixed it completely so all the sawdust was moistened with wax.  Then I took an old cookie scoop and placed a scoop of mixture into the egg cartons and pressed them down firmly.

That is all there is to it.  I intended to fill three egg cartons, but I miscalculated and half a coffee can only makes two dozen starters.  Using two egg cartons won't put a dent in my stash of cartons, so I will still have to find a home for them.

To use these fire starters, just cut them apart after the wax has hardened.  When you want to start a campfire, just place two starters in the fire pit with some kindling.  Light the cardboard carton and the wax will begin to burn.  There is no need for lighter fluid or a lot of paper.

I just store the starters in a covered container and grab what we need whenever we have a campfire.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Happy Ending To Our Bluebird Summer

Every summer I write about the bluebirds in our yard.  Every year is different and every year I learn a lot.  As many of my friends know, this year has been a struggle.  It all started in early Spring when a pair of bluebirds came to look at our property.  As I have mentioned several times, we have two houses about fifteen feet apart.  Every year the Tree Swallows occupy one house and the Eastern Bluebirds occupy the other.  For thirteen years it was always the same.  Apparently this bluebird couple is new to the neighborhood and didn't get the memo.  After a lot of deliberation, they chose the tree swallow house.

Mrs. Eastern Bluebird

Mr. Eastern Bluebird.

This pair arrived in March and began building their first nest on April 14, 2016.  The weather had finally gotten warm enough.

Building a nest in the Tree Swallow house.

She laid only two eggs.  Bluebird eggs usually take 12-14 days to hatch.  She wasn't very good at sitting on the nest, and I thought it was strange particularly when the weather was still cool.  Maybe she knew they weren't viable.  Then, a couple weeks later,  I began seeing her bringing in more nesting material.  I had not removed the old nest and unhatched eggs but she started building a new nest on top of the old one.  She took a lot of time making this nest perfect and eventually laid five eggs.

Then early in the morning on May 30th, the bluebird pair were unsettled. The male would go into the house and pull out pieces of nesting. They were chattering.  I went to look and all five eggs are gone. They weren't on the ground like they would be if a wren had gotten to them. They had disappeared completely.  We speculated as to what happened.  It could have been a raccoon, a snake, a chipmunk, a red squirrel or a cat,  but we really didn't know. 

For six days, the bluebirds remained in the area. They would sit on the house and briefly go in. They would chase other birds away. Eventually they were more active and stayed nearby. I checked the house for a new nest because I had removed the other two. There was no nest but one lone egg was laying on the wooden floor of the birdhouse,  I really didn't know what to think at this point.  I left it for two days trying to decide if I remove it or just see what happens.

This egg sat unattended for two days.

On June 10, before I got a chance to remove the egg, she started building another nest.  Five days later she laid the first egg.  This time she also laid five eggs.

Things were going well for a few days.  After the first egg was laid, we put the wren guard on the birdhouse.  Wrens have been a problem for us and other years this guard protected the nest from the nasty house wren.

Then disaster struck again.  This time the eggs were pulled out of house and destroyed.  The wren guard was actually ripped off the roof.  The house is old and the roof wasn't very sturdy.

Again I cleaned out the old nests,  and we repaired the house.  At this point a bluebird expert suggested we put a Noel Guard on the house.  A Noel Guard protects the birdhouse hole so a larger predator can't reach into the house and a wren can't fly directly in to pierce the eggs.  It was worth a try. We have never had a bluebird lay more than three batches of eggs in a summer, so I thought this was the end of the season.  Maybe we would have better luck next year, but we installed a Noel Guard just in case.

Much to our surprise, around June 27th, our bluebird pair tried again for the fourth time.  She worked hard building a nest.  By this time she was a pro.  She got used to the Noel Guard quickly and laid four eggs.  I held my breath for the first few days, but things went well.  On July 16 all four eggs hatched.

Newly hatched Eastern Bluebirds.

Both parents worked very hard keeping the babies fed.  I don't know how they got this big fly into bite size pieces.

Four day old babies

Nine day old babies.

Twelve day old babies.

Today is August 2.  The Bluebird babies are seventeen days old.  They were ready to fledge.  The parents are usually very tolerant of me peeking into the birdhouse, but this morning they actually dive bombed me when I walked across the yard.  They get very protective when it is time for the babies to leave the nest.  I watched and saw one little bird peeking his face out.

I knew the time was near so I grabbed a chair and started watching.  On my way outside, I saw one leave.  I had my camera with the zoom lens on.  The mom went in for a little encouragement.

I watched for a while and then the baby bird flew directly at me.  He landed on the tree about two feet away.  Too close for my zoom lens.  I took a couple photos anyway.

What a wonderful ending for us and this Eastern Bluebird family.  I think the Noel Guard was the secret.  Next Spring we will start out with it on the house and maybe we will have even more success.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Growing Your Own Lemons

Every time you turn around these days there are articles about the benefits of lemons.  Many months ago I started making lemon water for my husband.  I wrote about this in previous blogs.  He suffered from acid reflux, and I read that lemon water helps.  People who have acid reflux and take acid reducing medicine are actually shutting down the acid receptors in their stomach,  Acid is necessary for good digestion and health.  Recently these medicines have been linked to kidney problems and other side effects.  We decided to try to get off the acid reducing pills.  The drink I make is easy.  I just buy organic lemons.  I peel them and cut them up in slices.  The seeds come out easily slicing them this way.  Next I put about three of them in my high speed blender with one peeled orange.  I add 4 -5 cups of filtered water and blend for a couple minutes.  This is like juicing, but you are also getting the benefits of the fiber.  I also wrote about making raw lemonade ( and an electrolyte drink  (  It is about the same recipe without the honey or salt.  The added orange takes a little of the sourness away.  Within a short a amount of time my husband was able to discontinue the pills completely and now he very seldom has a problem.  He warms a cup of prepared lemon water every morning and drinks it first thing.   There are many theories as to why lemon water works.  Some of them don't make sense if you aren't a scientist, but it works for him.

Last winter I planted some of the seeds in a little flower pot.  Apparently they germinate easily because now I have a bunch of plants to re-pot.  If I lived in the south I could plant these plants outside, but I will have to settle for indoor plants.  Hopefully I can actually grow my own lemons eventually.  I saw this method on Facebook recently.

These lemon plants must be easy to grow.  Recently I went out with some compost.  I throw all the lemons seeds in my compost bin.  This is what I saw.  There are tons of little lemon plants growing in my compost.  I know they won't make it through the winter, and I won't be able to re-pot them but it was fun to see.

I have friends who have been very successful growing their own lemons.  Stay tuned, and we shall see if I can also produce some.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

How To Build A Chipmunk Trap

A little more than a week ago, on June 23, 2016, we noticed broken bluebird eggs.  This was the third bluebird nest that was destroyed this summer.  The other bird nests in the area have thrived.  The tree swallows fledged yesterday, the mourning doves fledged two young ones and the Baltimore oriole eggs have hatched.

Male Baltimore oriole feeding young ones.

The bluebird pair is trying for the fourth time.  She has been busy building yet another nest.  The next few days she will be busy laying another clutch of eggs.  She only lays one egg a day and the last two attempts each produced five eggs.   Hopefully in another week she will be incubating more eggs.  Today she has three eggs in the nest.

In order to help reduce a predator problem, we installed a Noel Guard.  It is designed to reduce a predators ability to reach the bird eggs through the birdhouse hole opening.  You can see a pattern on how to build one from the website.  We have used a wren guard in the past, but we are trying this Noel Guard because the Wren Guard wasn't successful for larger predators.  I wrote about the Wren Guard a year ago for my 600th post.

A Noel guard installed over the birdhouse opening.

We tried to decide what had caused the problem with our bluebird eggs.  Some people suggested that chipmunks or squirrels could be the problem.  The predator is usually a wren or a raccoon, but we saw a Red Squirrel in the vicinity.  When researching this little squirrel, it appears to be quite aggressive and capable of stealing and destroying bird eggs.

Looking somewhat like a chipmunk, this is a red squirrel.

No matter who the culprit is, we decided to set live traps.  Our main goal was to relocate some chipmunks and hopefully the red squirrel.  A few days ago we set out the traps.  We had purchased a small animal trap and had one made by my husband many years ago.  He had a co-worker who gave him a pattern, and my husband made one over thirty years ago.  We used it off and on until it got too weathered and rickety.  He made a new one and made a couple more for family members.

The purchased small animal trap

The homemade trap.

In the past few days we have caught twelve chipmunks.  We caught one in the purchased trap and eleven in our home made trap.  Obviously our own trap was the most successful.  After we catch one, we put the trap in our vehicle and take it five miles away from our house to the other side of the river and release them.  If they return, I will just catch them again.  Many people believe we should drown them or kill them, but I just can't do that.  Yesterday we took the journey, opened the trap, the chipmunk jumped out and ran across the grass, I closed the lid and put the trap back in the truck.  When we got home, I took the trap out and set it down.  I heard some scratching and looked.  There was another chipmunk in the trap.  Apparently we had caught two at once and only one jumped out.  So we got back in the truck and made another trip.  Twenty miles total to relocate two chipmunks.  It's a good thing gas prices aren't as bad as they were last summer.

If you want to make one of these special traps, I think it's time for me to bring in the Count of our Cabin.  What would a Cabin Countess be without her Count?  He agreed to provide a small tutorial on how to build this chipmunk trap.  Here are his instructions for the small animal trap in honor of my 700th blog post.

How To Build A Chipmunk Trap
By the Cabin Count

Since blog writing is a little bit foreign to me, I will try to make the instructions as clear and concise as I can.  My wife tells me not to use too many unimportant little details, so I will try to get to the point.

The first thing you need to do is gather some supplies.  I just used scraps of wood and supplies I had on hand.  You can always go to the Habitat for Humanity Restore store.  They may have everything you need at a good price.  If you want to go to the lumber yard and buy cedar boards and fancy hardware, that is up to you.

Pieces of plywood, small boards and some wire mesh.

The measurements are not set in stone, they can be adjusted to what materials you have.

If you don't have scraps on hand, the trap can be made from one 1" x 6" x 6' board.

Additional materials needed:

Screws (or nails), hardware cloth (or some type of screening), a hinge, a weight, a drawer pull, 3.25" x 3.25" piece of masonite or stiff cardboard, and a dowel cut to size for your trap (stick).

Directions using a 1" x 6" x 6' board [Actual size is .75" x 5.5" x 6']


1. Cut three pieces @ 15" in length [two for the sides, one for the bottom]

2. Cut one piece @ 10" in length [top]

3. Cut one piece @ 5.5" in length [door]

4. Cut (Rip)  four strips @ .75" in width and 11" in length

5. From the four strips cut six @ 5.5" in length and two @ 4" in length

6. The remaining strip should be approximately 1.5" in width  Cut one piece @ 4" in length


1. Attach the bottom to the sides [Screw (or nail) through the bottom into the sides.]

2. Attach the .75" x 1.5" x 4" piece to the sides [Screw (or nail) through the sides into 4" piece.]

3. Attach the top to the sides [Screw (or nail) through the top into the sides.]

4. Cut hardware cloth ( screening) to size to cover front and back [These will be different sizes]

5.  Attach the hardware cloth to both ends using the six 5.5" strips and two 4" strips

6. Attach the door using the hinge [Allow for opening and closing of the door]

7. Attach a weight on front end of door [Holds door down so critter can't escape.]

8. Attach a three inch screw or nail to the bottom [Should be placed in the center of the door opening]

   Set the trap [This takes patience and practice]

1. Place some bird seed on the bottom of the trap

2. Balance the piece of masonite (or stiff cardboard) on the screw

3. Place the dowel (piece of stick) on the masonite

4. Lower the door onto the dowel [A little notch in the underside of the door may help.]

How it works:

Through the open door the critter will drop down tipping the masonite, dislodging the dowel, slamming the door shut.

Hats off to the Countess for 700 blogs. The Count finds this blogging difficult to do, so this may be my first and last guest blog.

We hope you enjoy your new surroundings little fella.