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Country Lifestyle

To Everything There is a Season



I love how Oklahoma definitely has all four seasons. Sometimes it may not seem like much of a break in between season’s. The weather can be blustery one winter day and the very next day it’s eighty degrees and we are wearing shorts, wondering how we skipped past Spring. Hang on, because lo and behold, the next day we wake up to the sound of Spring showers!

Spring is refreshing. Time to open up those windows and let the house breathe a little. Spring also represents fresh starts, new life. Spring to our soul, is the season of our youth. We celebrate our little sprouts and they quickly start growing like weeds. Full of energy and reckless abandon. This is the time when we instill firm foundations, so their little roots can grow deep and strong. If cultivated and fed properly, these baby birds will be happy and healthy when they leave the nest.

Remember the little rhyme we chanted on the last day of school, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks. school is over, school is done, no more learning, lets have some fun.” Everyone looked forward to Summer. Summer is the time for enjoyment, rest and to just simply be in the moment. Summer to the soul means you have arrived; Adulthood.  Adulthood where, more than likely, most have chosen a career and are married with children. You are in the prime of your life, you can get up from a chair without making a noise, creaking or groaning. Summer isn’t hurried or worried. The summer season is fun and not heavy. If you fall you have time to get back up. If you’ve made some bad decisions, some financial mishaps, married the wrong soul mate, or can’t seem to move from your mother’s basement, if you have steered your ship in the wrong direction, do not fret, it’s still summer and you have time to turn around, get back on course or choose a new one. 

When you have children, you relish the time when school starts back up in the fall, if only for the mere fact that routines get established and lives get organized. Fall to our soul is as much of the same thing. We know what we like, we have our routines, our life is organized just the way we like it. There is so much beauty in the Fall, the air is crisp, and refreshing. If you are a football fan, you have been waiting with anticipation all year, for kick off. That’s the same feeling we have when we finally reach the Fall stage of life. If you have planned well then the saying “Autumn carries more gold in its pockets than any other season.” has two meanings. In this season of life most generally we are setting our minds on retiring. Readying ourselves to reap everything we’ve been sowing. We’ve given our children roots to grow and wings to fly. The nest is empty. You can walk around your house naked. This is also  the time to check your storehouses and make ready for the winter. Fall is my favorite season, what’s not to love, sweaters, scarves, jackets, boots, apple cider, comfort food, cool breezes and bonfires. A time when we slow down and relish the beauty in the landscape. Not only do the leaves change colors but more than likely so does our hair.

 In the fall stage of life you reminisce about the good old days of summer, but not near as much as you do when you reach the winter season of life. If you spend your time harvesting wisely during the fall, then winter will not be a bitter cold season. Winter is the time we usually retreat indoors and aren’t as active as the seasons in the past. Winter of the soul is a time for us to extend grace to our families. Winter wraps up the calendar year, it’s also the last of our season’s of life. Winter holds my favorite holiday; Christmas. A time when my family comes together, in one place.  The festivities of the holidays build all month long. Christmas dinner has been lovingly prepared, eaten and all the dishes are washed and put away, gifts have been opened and the wrappings in the trash. Any time all my family is sleeping under one roof, is when I sleep the best. Everyone is home safe and sound. Christmas night, it seems everyone sleeps in peace. That’s how I hope that it will be when my winter is over, resting in peace.

I would say the season I’m currently in is late fall. I’m slowing down. I’m reminiscing more. I’m about halfway through, scrapbooking my life. I’m trying to do a little everyday so I can finish up before I start forgetting where we were and what we were doing. This is a very relaxing part of my season. I don’t put as much pressure on myself as I used to. Somedays I just curl up in my chair and read.

I rejoice in the fact that I’ve loaded my last load of cows. It takes way too long for my body to recoup after a day of working cows. I have said this before but, this time I mean it. So when my Redneck Romeo gets around to reading this article, he will see it in writing and ya’ll are all my witnesses. I’m a retired ranch hand, from here on out.

One big thing I’ve noticed, in this season of my life is my calendar is pretty empty looking, except for doctors appointments and mani/pedi appointments. So I guess it looks like I’m retired. With new ailments you have new doctor’s appointments. A line on the paperwork that really stood out to me recently was where it asks for your occupation. I studied this for a moment, and wrote the words “retired.” In my summer season, I wrote “housewife” where it asked for my occupation. After many years of marriage and three children in their late teens, I changed my occupation to “Domestic Goddess” which usually brought a laugh and a little conversation. I thought that would make me stand out, you know, be remembered easily. Now that my kids are all grown with children and lives of their own, I felt it would be legitimate, in my fall season to write “retired” the next time I came across this question.

At the hospital for a stress test, the paperwork was placed in front of me, I breezed right through it, and proudly wrote “retired” on the correct line. While on the treadmill, the nurse asked me questions, which is about the equivalent as the dentist expecting you to answer a question with his hands in your mouth. The treadmill had just elevated in the front and increased its speed. I’m doing my best to keep up the pace and breathe, when she decides to chit chat, “Your paperwork says you’re retired, where did you retire from?” The whole time we’ve been chit chatting I’ve been giving one word answers, now I realized I would have to squeeze out five words, “I was a Domestic Goddess” and I tried my best to look her way with a smile. This is where things got a little fuzzy, the next thing I remember is laying on the gurney with oxygen in my nose, and the ladies smiling down at me. As if nothing had happened, I immediately explained, “I started out as a housewife, was promoted to Domestic Goddess, and now I’ve reached the age of “retired.” Yes, I did make the little quotations with my fingers when I said the words “retired.” I felt an awkward silence except for my heart beating in my ears, from now on, I’m just going to claim my occupation as “Old but Gold”

 Life’s seasons are full of mountain top highs and valley lows. We often hear  “Life is short… better enjoy it!” But don’t miss this, “Eternity is long… better prepare for it!”

We all make mistakes, and no one is perfect. “Bloom where you’re planted” is great advice but, sometimes flowers that need full sun get planted in the shade, no matter how much they want to thrive it just won’t happen. Be courageous and make changes!  For me, I have found that living at the end of this dirt road is where I bloom the best, in the peace and quiet, where the cows outnumber the people. I pray each of you bloom during each season of your life. Wherever you find yourself at this moment, take time to drink it in and savor the moment.

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Country Lifestyle

Poinsettia Partnerships Will Make Your Holidays Beautiful




Norman Winter

Horticulturist, Author and Speaker

National Poinsettia Day just passed, December 12 to be exact. While I am sure the powers to be wanted a celebratory type day, from what I have been seeing this year is this may have been a deadline day. This most likely applies to poinsettia partners too! If you are asking what a poinsettia partner is then put on your thinking cap and gather around.

Proven Winners got most of us to thinking partners when they introduced the concept of combining poinsettias with Diamond Frost euphorbias. This is one of the best ideas ever and we now actually have three choices, Diamond Frost, Diamond Snow with double flowers and Diamond Mountain that is the taller of the three.

To a horticulturist like myself this combination is so special because both the Poinsettia and the Diamond Frost are Euphorbias. That’s right, they are cousins. Just like Christmas, families visiting and long-lost cousins getting together. Of course, the main reason we like this idea is that the red, pink, or variegated poinsettia looks incredible, it’s as though it is sitting on a bed of snow or frost. I have found these to be more available at fine florists.

But if you are going to create your own and go plant shopping then keep in mind some other options you might want to-try. For instance, a couple of years ago Jenny Simpson of Creekside Nursery in Dallas North Carolina introduced us to not only using caladiums at Christmas but even in combinations with poinsettias. She used the Heart to Heart White Snowdrift caladiums which turned out to be a perfect partner with red poinsettias.

My time as Executive Director at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah GA taught me there are opportunities for outside use with poinsettias, particularly if you are astute at long range weather forecasting. First consider that Savannah is technically zone 8B with a proclivity to lean into zone 9. We used poinsettias in large planters surrounded by Silver Bullet Dusty Miller or artemisia.

A similar application gave me the opportunity of photographing pink poinsettias mass planted in an atrium-like setting and surrounded by gray leaved Icicles helichrysum. But the most obvious and perhaps easiest if you are getting a late start is to combine your poinsettias with another Christmas plant like cyclamen. White cyclamen around a red poinsettia can be simply breathtaking.

This year I have also been watching what I call the professional garden club ladies walking out of both florists and floral departments with holly berries. We all think of hollies on swags above the fireplace or front door, but two or three preserved branches loaded with red berries stuck in a pot of white poinsettias is quick, easy and unbeatable.

Red berries for Christmas, landscape beauty, and of course feeding the birds is a prime reason to grow winterberry hollies like the compact Berry Poppins. Consider also growing Berry Heavy Gold winterberry holly. Cutting branches of the gold berries to be used with red poinsettias makes a stunning partnership. Go to Proven Winners site, Winterberry Holly: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Colorful Berries. If you don’t have poinsettias yet make today your shopping day! Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy for more photos and garden inspiration.

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Country Lifestyle

Homesteading Skills: The Essentials for Self-Sufficiency and Sustainable Living



Homesteading, once a way of life for our ancestors, is experiencing a resurgence in today’s world. As people seek greater self-sufficiency, a deeper connection with the land, and more sustainable lifestyles, homesteading skills have become not only practical but also deeply rewarding. In this article, we’ll explore the essential homesteading skills that can empower individuals and families to live more self-reliant and sustainable lives.

1. Gardening

At the heart of homesteading is the ability to grow your own food. Gardening is the foundation of self-sufficiency, and it’s a skill that can be cultivated no matter the size of your property. Key gardening skills include:

Soil preparation and composting

Seed starting and transplanting

Crop rotation and companion planting

Pest and weed management

Harvesting and food preservation techniques like canning, freezing, and drying

2. Animal Husbandry

Raising animals for food, fiber, and companionship is a fundamental aspect of homesteading. The skills related to animal husbandry include:

Care and feeding of livestock, such as chickens, goats, cows, or pigs

Breeding and reproduction management

Livestock housing and pasture management

Animal health and basic veterinary care

Dairy and meat processing if you’re raising animals for consumption

3. Food Preservation

To make the most of your garden’s bounty or the harvest from your livestock, knowing how to preserve food is essential. Food preservation skills include:

Canning fruits and vegetables

Fermentation for foods like sauerkraut and kimchi

Dehydrating fruits, vegetables, and herbs

Making homemade jams, jellies, and pickles

Smoking, curing, and other methods for meat preservation

4. Foraging and Wildcrafting

Homesteading often involves making the most of what nature provides. Learning to identify and use wild edibles and medicinals is a valuable skill:

Identifying edible wild plants and mushrooms

Harvesting herbs for teas, tinctures, and salves

Sustainable foraging practices to protect local ecosystems

Preserving wildcrafted items for later use

5. Beekeeping

Keeping bees not only provides a source of honey but also contributes to pollination on your property. Beekeeping skills include:

Setting up and maintaining beehives

Handling and managing bees safely

Harvesting and processing honey and beeswax

Identifying and addressing common bee health issues

6. Food Self-Sufficiency

Beyond gardening, you can work toward greater food self-sufficiency by learning skills like:

Seed saving to preserve heirloom and open-pollinated varieties

Raising and harvesting small livestock like rabbits or quail

Cultivating perennial food crops like fruit trees and berry bushes

Aquaponics or hydroponics for year-round food production

7. Basic Carpentry and DIY Skills

Homesteaders often find themselves needing to build and repair structures, tools, and equipment. Carpentry and DIY skills include:

Building raised beds, chicken coops, and animal shelters

Basic woodworking for constructing furniture and farm implements

Repairing and maintaining machinery like tractors and generators

Fencing and infrastructure construction for property management

8. Water Management

Managing water resources efficiently is crucial for sustainable living. Key skills include:

Rainwater harvesting and storage

Drip irrigation and water-saving techniques for gardening

Proper well maintenance and water testing

Building and maintaining ponds or water features for livestock and wildlife

9. Energy Independence

To live off the grid or reduce your environmental footprint, consider energy independence skills:

Solar panel installation and maintenance

Wind turbine installation and maintenance

Energy-efficient building design and retrofits

Off-grid living strategies for reduced reliance on public utilities

10. Soap and Candle Making

Homemade soaps and candles can reduce reliance on store-bought products. These skills include:

Making soap using cold or hot process methods

Crafting candles from beeswax, soy, or other materials

Adding scents and colors naturally

11. Herbal Medicine and Remedies

Homesteaders often turn to herbal medicine and remedies for self-sufficiency in healthcare:

Growing and harvesting medicinal herbs

Making tinctures, salves, and herbal teas

Natural remedies for common ailments

Basic first-aid and emergency care skills

12. Sewing and Textile Arts

Basic sewing skills are essential for making and repairing clothing, linens, and more. These skills include:

Hand and machine sewing techniques

Mending and darning clothing

Knitting, crocheting, and other textile arts

Crafting items like blankets, rugs, and quilts

Homesteading is not just a return to simpler times but a way to embrace self-sufficiency, sustainability, and a deeper connection with the land. While mastering all these skills may take time, the journey itself is a rich and rewarding experience. Homesteading is about learning, adapting, and continually improving your ability to live more independently and in harmony with the environment. Whether you have acres of land or a small urban plot, these essential homesteading skills can empower you to live a more self-reliant and sustainable life, fostering a sense of fulfillment and purpose in the process.

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Country Lifestyle

Raising Chickens for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide



Raising chickens can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, whether you’re a homesteader looking to become more self-sufficient or a backyard enthusiast seeking fresh eggs for your family. Chickens are relatively low-maintenance animals, making them an excellent choice for beginners in the world of poultry farming. In this step-by-step guide, we will walk you through the essentials of raising chickens, from choosing the right breed to ensuring their health and happiness.

Selecting the Right Breed

Before diving into chicken-raising, it’s crucial to choose the right breed that suits your goals and environment. Different breeds have various characteristics, including egg-laying capacity, temperament, and adaptability. Here are some popular options for beginners:

Rhode Island Red: Known for their excellent egg production and hardiness.

Plymouth Rock: Friendly birds that lay brown eggs and adapt well to various climates.

Australorp: Record-holders for egg-laying, known for their docile nature.

Silkies: Unique and fluffy birds often kept as pets; they lay smaller eggs but are adorable companions.

Research the specific breeds available in your area and consider factors like climate and available space when making your selection.

Coop and Run Setup

Before bringing your chickens home, you’ll need to set up a safe and comfortable living space for them. A coop and run are essential components of your chicken-keeping setup:

Coop: The coop is where your chickens will sleep at night and lay their eggs. It should be well-insulated, predator-proof, and provide at least two to three square feet of space per chicken.

Run: The run is an outdoor area where your chickens can roam during the day. It should be fenced and covered to protect your birds from predators and provide shade.

Make sure to include roosting bars, nesting boxes, and adequate ventilation in your coop for a healthy environment.

Feeding Your Chickens

Chickens need a balanced diet to stay healthy and lay eggs regularly. You can feed them commercial chicken feed, which comes in various forms:

Starter Feed: For chicks up to six weeks old.

Grower Feed: For chicks aged six weeks to 20 weeks.

Layer Feed: For hens producing eggs.

Additionally, you can supplement their diet with kitchen scraps, vegetables, and grains. Ensure they have access to clean, fresh water at all times.

Care and Health

Regular care and monitoring are essential to keeping your chickens healthy. Here are some key aspects of chicken care:

Regular Health Checks: Inspect your chickens for signs of illness or injury daily. Common issues include mites, respiratory infections, and injuries from pecking.

Disease Prevention: Vaccinate your chickens against common diseases to keep your flock healthy.

Egg Collection: Collect eggs daily to ensure they remain clean and prevent hens from brooding.

Clean Coop: Regularly clean the coop to prevent the buildup of waste and odors, which can attract pests.

Handling and Socializing

Chickens can be friendly and enjoy human interaction when handled gently. Spend time with your chickens, hand-feeding them treats to build trust. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises, which can startle them.

Understanding Egg Production

Egg production varies by breed and age. Hens typically start laying eggs at around 5-6 months old. The amount of daylight, diet, and stress can affect egg production. You can use artificial lighting to simulate longer daylight hours, which can encourage consistent egg-laying.

Dealing with Challenges

Chickens, like any animal, come with their challenges. Here are a few common issues and how to address them:

Predators: Invest in a secure coop and run, and consider adding motion-activated lights or alarms to deter nighttime predators.

Broodiness: Some hens may become broody and stop laying eggs. You can break this behavior by isolating them in a separate enclosure or providing them with dummy eggs to sit on.

Feather Pecking: Chickens can sometimes develop a habit of pecking at each other’s feathers. Ensure they have enough space and distractions to prevent this behavior.

Raising chickens can be a delightful and educational journey. By selecting the right breed, setting up a proper coop and run, providing a balanced diet, and offering care and attention, you can enjoy the rewards of fresh eggs and the companionship of these feathered friends. Remember that every chicken has its unique personality, so get ready to be charmed by your new flock as you embark on this fulfilling adventure in poultry farming. Happy chicken-keeping!

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