Monday, January 15, 2018

Frigid Weather and Camping at The Shack

winter sunrise at the ridge
I loaded up the dogs and headed to The Shack this past weekend. It had been too long between visits and I missed the place. Despite predicted cold temperatures, we headed up. I was eager to check on the bluebirds, look at what the game cams have captured, and just hang out on my little piece of almost heaven.

Game Cams:

I couldn't wait to see what I had captured on the game cams this time. More bear maybe? Unfortunately, I had aimed both cameras toward the sun (one somewhat toward sunrise and one directly at sunset). So most of my photos turned out to be abstract sun glares. 

There are a few photos of the constant parade of does and young deer parading through my yard. I am starting to call my yard "the nursery".  I still don't have any photos of the big buck that scrapes up my trees. And sadly, my Japanese maple will likely die as the bark is completely scraped away.


It was so cold and windy that all the birds had made themselves scarce. I walked to the bottom of my land (a steep hill in the woods) and found bluebirds there. But none up near the nesting box.  Despite the lack of birds, I made a rope and bowl bird feeder, filled and hung my glass bird feeder, and hung a suet feeder for the woodpeckers. 

The rope and bowl feeder was made with things I had laying around up there. And I filled it with meal worms specifically for the bluebirds. Eventually I'll buy a "real" bluebird feeder.

I don't know what time of year is best to clean out the nest box. I didn't even try during this trip because everything else was so frozen shut.

As I was packing up to leave, I noticed an entire flock of Eastern Pheobes landing to peck around in the grass in my yard. I thought of my daughter-in-law. I believe she said that Eastern Pheobes are her favorite birds (is that sarcasm?). 

Good Eats:

One of the best things about cold weather camping - keeping warm with the wood stove and cooking at the same time. I made a wonderful roast beef and potatoes barbacoa meal.

YUM!  Barbacoa beef and potatoes on the woodstove

Staying Warm:

I'm getting good at getting that wood stove going in a way that lets me sleep for hours at a time. Instead of waking up freezing every two hours. That sleeping bag is also the best for my needs. It turned out to be one of the best purchases for The Shack I've made. It is roomy enough for me and both dogs at my feet.

The cold side of The Shack was 20 F degrees most of the time. I didn't move the thermometer to the warm side, but it was almost - not quite - t-shirt and jeans warm. During the day. During the night it was "see your breath" cold if you were outside of the sleeping bag.

Frigid Weather Lessons Learned:

I take care to not leave liquids there to freeze and bust the container, then leak as they thaw. But I didn't realize that everything else freezes.  

My game cams weren't wet...but they were frozen shut. The locks that secure them, frozen shut. The fireplace lighters I use, frozen. They only provided a very sluggish flame after I warmed them under my clothes. I almost didn't have a way to light the wood stove. And, don't think that in the heat of the summer you will wait until the cold to wash the windows. If it's too cold, the vinegar water just freezes to the glass!

I had so smartly stacked much of the wood on the deck, just outside of the sliding balcony door. Not thinking that the door would also freeze shut. Good thing I had that pile of wood inside. The rest I just carried around to the other door.

Does it sound like a miserable time to go camping?  Really, it's not. The dogs have their jackets. I wear my layers. The sleeping bag I chose was perfect for us. The night sky is clear and the stars are close and bright. There are no bugs. I can walk in the woods with no fear of snakes. And there are no spider webs to walk into.  I didn't bring home any poison ivy itchies. 

I'm glad to be back to the apartment, only for the hot running water. I look forward to the day I have a real bed and hot running water up on my ridge. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bluebirds and Bluebird Houses

The empty bluebird house 
I have always enjoyed watching birds.  Even though I don't consider myself a "bird watcher" really (because I can't accurately name many different bird species). Recently, I am very excited about birds I am watching. Bluebirds! A pair has moved into my bluebird box up at The Shack and I'm thrilled.

I don't recall ever having seen a bluebird in the wild as a child - strange since I can clearly recall Cedar Waxwings during a camping trip. So I was somewhat a bird watcher at an early age but I don't believe I had ever seen a bluebird. Even so, I knew that I liked them. I referred to them as the "bluebird of happiness".  I even made a bluebird ceramic refrigerator magnet. 

But that was the extent of my experience with bluebirds.

Then a handful of years ago, I was visiting some friends. The husband was complaining of the very little, but very loud, bird that was constantly perching on their flagpole and covering the flagpole in droppings. That was my first bluebird sighting. 

I secretly admired their wooden nest box and bought my own as soon as I bought my land.
My bluebird house close-up

In April 2016, I attached a bluebird nest box to a tree at The Shack. I was completely clueless. And only by accident did I place it East-facing. Then I watched. And waited.

And waited some more.

I waited until November 2017. I had all but given up hope that bluebirds would move in to my nest box. Then in November, in the cold, I noticed a pair moving in and out of the box. I spied on them with binoculars and was so happy. I was also very confused. What in the heck were bluebirds doing on a cold West Virginia ridge, in November?  Didn't they migrate?

No. They don't. Not in that area. They are year 'round residents. Woohoo!

Since then, I have been reading about bluebirds. And I'll share some of that information later. But for now I'll focus on the nest boxes.

I have since decided that I'm going to buy another nest box or two. I like my wooden nest box. It is the correct size and it has the predator guard around the opening. It also is meant to have a hinged side, so that I can open it and clean it out. However, the one time I attempted to open it and check it, the wood had expanded and I could not open it. It also does not have ventilation holes.

Good bluebird nest boxes consist of:

  • 4" to 6" square bottoms
  • 1.4" to 1.75" diameter openings
  • predator guards at the opening
  • ventilation holes
  • raised wire mesh floor
  • access - to clean old nests out

I have since discovered Duncraft and their bird feeders and supplies - including bluebird nest boxes. And have a few of their boxes on my wishlist.  

Duncraft Eco-Friendly Bluebird House

Perhaps you'd rather shop Amazon. There is a huge selection of bluebird nest boxes on Amazon to choose from. And some of the choices are less expensive. Just remember the dimensions listed above as you shop.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Treasure: Sunny Exercise Bike

Sunny exercise bike
The Sunny exercise bike comes in several different sizes and either belt or chain driven. I have been shopping for exercise equipment for my apartment for well over a year. I finally purchased this Sunny bike and I immediately am very impressed. I wanted to share my find with you.

Sunny Belt Drive Indoor Exercise Bike (SF-B1002)

Of the various Sunny bike models, I chose the SF-B1002. It seems the 3 differences with my model are: the 49lb flywheel, it is a belt drive, and holds a rider up to 275 lbs.  

Some of the Sunny bikes have a lower rider weight maximum. And a lower weight flywheel. I was looking for sturdy. And sturdy is what I found!

I was looking for quiet, in order to try to be kind to my neighbors in the adjoining apartments. While the chain drive models are reported to have a more "realistic" bicycle feel, I chose the belt drive model because it is reported to have be more quiet and produce less vibration.

Some Assembly Required

Yes. I assembled my bike. The tools were provided and the directions/diagrams were very clear. There was absolutely no guessing. It took me just an hour to assemble this bike.

I'm not sure how the delivery folks got the heavy box up 3 flights of stairs, but they did. The box was very large and difficult for me to move. But even the box was labeled in order to ease the unboxing and assembly process. 

Oh wow. They weren't kidding. And it was very helpful to unbox the bike in this manner. I struggled a little bit with the box.  But it was doable. Then with the clearly labeled tools, parts, and the instructions... I had the bike together in no time.

By the way, I apologize for not taking better (and more) photos. I was excited about the bike and didn't think about taking photos for a review. 

I have to pause and admit something. My bike was marked as "made in China". That almost caused me to not make the purchase. I don't expect mechanical items and metal items to be made well in China. I also did not expect the assembly directions to be helpful. But I was wrong on ALL counts. The bike is solid. I'm not a welder, but the welds appear to be done well. There were extra metal pieces that were bolted in the legs of the bike to prevent bending during shipping. The directions were clearly written by a writer who is fluent in English and can produce very clear diagrams.

I love everything about this bike so far EXCEPT... the seat. The seat is small and uncomfortable. It made the bony parts of my bum sore. Fortunately, I recalled that I had a old gel, spring suspension bicycle seat on my bicycle. And was very happy to find that I could replace the Sunny seat. Perhaps my overweight hiney is more tender than most folks' hineys, but I couldn't tolerate the seat.

Miscellaneous Information

Thank you. First of all, thank you to my son and his wife for the Amazon gift card that helped purchase this bike. I've been looking at a variety of exercise bikes and ellipticals for a long time - unable to make a decision. Your gift card helped me feel like I could make the purchase.

Online reviews. If you decide to consider a Sunny exercise bike, there are a variety of youtube reviews of many different Sunny models. After awhile, I became a little confused about the different models, but I did feel the reviews were helpful with my decision about belt drive vs. chain drive and etc.

Online spin classes. If you purchase an exercise/spin bike, there are MANY different video spin classes to help you out. Some are paid subscription and some are free. So far, I have found several spin instructors that are to my liking and my very beginner status.

Finally, yes I have a history of turning exercise equipment into coat racks. And the same may happen with this bike. BUT so far, I'm riding it every day and am already building up my stamina. So far, I am enjoying everything about having this bike in my apartment (now that I have the cushioned seat on it!).

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Lazy Day Biscuit Eggs Breakfast

Lazy Days Biscuit Eggs
There is a cold snap outside and I woke feeling lazy and hungry. I craved a hot breakfast but what I really wanted was to just stay under the blanket - with the dogs warming my feet. But my stomach was growling. In my extreme laziness, I stirred together some biscuit mix, cracked a couple of eggs on top, and slid it into the oven. Voila, I came up with a filling, easy, hot breakfast.

Lazy Day Biscuit Eggs

I grabbed the Bisquick mix and made about 1/2 of the recipe for the biscuit/dumplings as listed on the box.  I say about 1/2 because I no longer follow the measuring instructions on the box because I use the stuff regularly enough that I just eyeball it.

I put the single large "biscuit" in my copper pan (oven preheated to the 450 listed on the box - pan lightly sprayed with cooking oil).  I spread the dough out forming a well, similar to a thick crust pizza shape, thin layer of dough in the middle and thick ridge around the sides.

I cracked two eggs into the center and placed it into the oven for approximately 10 minutes. If you jiggle the pan and the entire egg jiggles, you know that it needs to bake a bit longer.

Out pops this Bisquick egg biscuit. A bit of salt, pepper, and a dollop of Kerrygold Irish butter on top. Next time, if I'm not feeling too lazy, I'll brown some sausage or bacon to sprinkle on top.

Lazy Day Biscuit Eggs - in the skillet and on the plate
I sure wish I was a better food photographer 

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you.  I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you

Miscellaneous Bits

Haven't heard of Kerrygold pure Irish butter? I hadn't until recently. A friend recently brought it along on a camping trip and I was sold! I used it in my hobo packs in the woodstove and used it on my smoked meats in my new Char-Griller smoker. This butter has a great flavor!


My Copper Chef skillet comes from the As Seen On TV sales. Technically, I bought mine at Bed Bath & Beyond, but I had initially seen it on an infomercial. On Amazon it has mixed reviews. But I really love my copper pan - almost as much as I love my cast iron skillet. Most of the negative reviews are related to food sticking. I've never had anything stick. However, I seasoned it and continue to use small bit of cooking spray during each use. It is a great option, for me, when I don't feel like using my heavy, over-sized cast iron skillet. The copper pan is nonstick, light, cooks evenly, and is very easy to wash. Perfect for lazy days cooking. 

Copper Chef skillet

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Making My Own Granola

This may be old news to you, but it is wonderful, breaking news to me. I can make my own granola at home! For far less than I can buy it at the grocery. Not only is it inexpensive and easy to make, I can adjust it to my own taste. If you like granola, and don't make it at home, you may want to give it a whirl yourself.

Homemade Granola

I cannot take credit for figuring this out by myself. In fact, I had no idea that making granola was this easy until I saw Patara making granola in one of her Appalachia's Homestead with Patara videos. 

The thought of homemade granola had me so excited and looked so delicious that I went to my cupboard and made my first granola with what I had on hand. It was that easy.


  • 2 c oats  
  • 1 c sunflower seeds (I use unsalted)
  • 1 c shredded coconut
  • 2+ Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • a pinch of salt

Mix the dry ingredients, then add the wet. Stir to coat. Bake on a cookie sheet, turning the granola several times during, at 250 degrees at about 45 - 60 minutes. 

In my second batch of granola, I used more honey than Patara adds, and I added some caramel chips! Not many. Just a few. I've also purchased a bag of sliced almonds for future batches. I also baked my granola a bit longer. 

Previously, I had not normally had shredded coconut or caramel chips on hand. Fortunately, I had purchased both for cookie recipes that I never ended up making. Into the granola they went! Everything else are things that I always have in my kitchen.  

My bedtime snack is yogurt with my homemade granola sprinkled on top.  Someday... I'll be making my own yogurt.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Related Links:

Appalachia Homestead with Patara video:

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Bernat Pipsqueak Yarn

Wonderful Bernat Pipsqueak yarn
WOW! I have just discovered Bernat Pipsqueak yarn and I'm in love! Okay, that was a little overly dramatic. But just a little.  Bernat Pipsqueak yarn is a soft, fluffy, and snuggly yarn that feels so good to the touch that I can't keep my hands off of it. As soon as I finish this project (a gift for a grandbaby) I am going to use some of this yarn for a throw for myself.

Bernat Pipsqueak Yarn - Pink Swirl

In the photo, you can see the typical worsted weight yarn - the pink and the white stripes. Then, at the crochet hook, you see yarn that appears to be fuzzy or frayed. I chose "pink swirl" to match this baby blanket and to add some more texture.  

My plan to use the Pipsqueak yarn is working even better than I had imagined. 

With this pattern, I am crocheting in the "spaces" rather than in the "stitches". In that way, I am able to work easily with the fuzzy Pipsqueak yarn. If I were doing a pattern that involved crocheting in the stitches, I would not be happy about using this yarn. It is so fluffy that it would be too hard (for me - maybe not for  you) to catch the loops on the subsequent rows. Fortunately, the Done In a Day pattern I'm using is loose enough to use a fuzzy yarn easily.

The Bernat Pipsqueak is:
  • machine washable and dryable
  • 100% polyester
  • a "chunky" (size 5) yarn

One more thing I like about this yarn is that even though it has the appearance of being "frayed" or fuzzy, the yarn is easy to work with and does not split while I am crocheting. What I mean is, some yarn strands pull apart easily and my hook constantly passes through a strand of yarn and gets snagged.  I was a bit worried that this yarn would cause that problem. But it does not.

*This article may contain affiliate links. If you shop via one of the affiliate links, I may earn a small commission - at no additional cost to you. I am very appreciative of every reader who visits my articles. Thank you.

Bernat Yarn Related Links:

In 2014 I used Bernat brand yarn for the first time. It was a super bulky chenille yarn. I enjoyed the Bernat yarn so much that I had it in mind when shopping for the yarn for the pink blanket. Clearly, Bernat makes a variety of wonderful yarns. You can see my thoughts about my crocheted cowl using Bernat Blanket yarn here.  

After starting my Bernat Pipsqueak blanket for my granddaughter, I found myself already thinking about other easy projects I could make. I went in search of other crochet patterns that would be easy enough for me.  I found this wonderful video tutorial by Yarnspirations. It is an easy Granny Square style pattern for a baby blanket. I think you will be able to see how extremely soft and thick this yarn is. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Plant Journal: Planted in 2017

When I bought my land (two years ago) I had made a goal to keep some sort of detailed journal of the things I plant at The Shack. Here we are, snow on the ground, and I've only documented one planting - my fig.  

I know that it is important to document what you planted and when. For many reasons. My primary reason for tracking my plants (both planted and wish-list plants) is because there are certain plants I love but then cannot recall the variety name. It is very difficult to find a specific variety if you cannot recall the exact name.

2017 is coming to an end. In this post I am going to document at least a bit about each plant I can recall having planted this year. This will likely be a "living document" and change as I find the photos and plant tags that I have scattered hither and yon. I hope to make more detailed individual posts about each plant later.

I did learn a lesson in 2017 - Protect EVERYTHING from the deer. Or try too. They are voracious eaters. They clearly view my yard as a dessert buffet. And what they didn't eat, the bucks are now using as rubs - peeling the bark from my trees. Except for the Pawpaws. Thus far, they continue to leave the Pawpaws alone. Thank goodness for that.

2017 Plantings at The Shack

Dwarf Alberta Spruce - Technically, I planted this in 2016. December 30, 2016 to be exact. This miniature evergreen had been my Christmas tree at the apartment in Baltimore. It survived the holidays and the trip up to The Shack.  I planted it in my "yard" with the plan that when I remodel/rebuild The Shack, this little tree can be my outdoor Christmas tree in the years to come.

Pawpaws - Sunflower

I purchased two Sunflower Pawpaw trees from Sun Nurseries. I bought the smallest plants I could and they lived on my apartment balcony before being moved up to the land.  The moving of them was rough on them - due to my clumsiness in moving such "large" plants in the small Jeep.  However, they are planted, the deer do, in fact, leave them alone, and they have not died where planted.

Pawpaws - Seedlings - Mango and Sunflower

I'm a little bit afraid to mention the seedlings. They are still very young and vulnerable to my non-green thumb. I had been trying to start my own Pawpaws from seed and after several attempts it seemed to be a hopeless adventure. Then suddenly this summer, in the very HOT part of the summer, I noticed that one of the seeds had started to sprout. (Honestly, I noticed when I was dumping the soil from the container back into my big soil bucket. I had given up again!).  Two Mango and one Sunflower pawpaw starts are here in the apartment - hopefully to be planted at The Shack next year.

Persimmon - Nikita's Gift

I planted the persimmon tree from Sun Nurseries the same day I planted the Pawpaws. It's branches were smaller so the actual trip in the Jeep was less traumatic for it. However, the deer stripped it of leaves the first night I planted it. Also, I didn't get this poor little tree into the ground straight. It has a significant lean. And then this fall, the bucks have clearly been using it for a rub. Poor thing. 

Mystery Japanese Maple

I have a thing about a Japanese Maple. Not all of them. Not even most of them. Just a particular Japanese Maple. I want the one that is in a friend's parent's yard. It is BEAUTIFUL and transitions from greens, to a rainbow of oranges and yellows, to a deep red through the year. I want that one. I have been searching for years to find the name of this particular tree. Do you have any idea how many different Japanese Maple trees there are? TOO MANY! And I forgot to mention that their particular tree doesn't seem to make/drop many (if any) helicopter seeds.

Finally, this year, (at a Wal-Mart of all places) I found a Japanese Maple that is very similar.  I planted it on the land and it seemed to be doing very well. However, the bucks have rubbed it.  

And guess what? I can't find what I did with the tag, so at this moment, I cannot tell you what type of Japanese maple this is. Hopefully, the tag is at The Shack in the pile of plant tags I have there.

Fig - Olympian

I planted a fig plant based on friends who love figs and who told me that I will love figs.  I planted it in the "flower garden" near the lilac and the rose. I did manage to journal about the fig already so I won't talk much about it here.  I will say that the deer have left it alone so far. 


The kind people who know I stalk their Japanese Maple have given me a crooked Seuss-like Holly seedling from their yard. I love it! I have planted it just inside the edge of my woods. Hoping it will someday attract birds that I can watch from my deck.

2015 - 2016 Plantings at The Shack

My very first attempts to plant things at The Shack began with an attempt to start a rustic "flower bed" of sorts. I chose a lilac and a rose to reflect two of my childhood favorites. I immediately learned that gardening at The Shack begins with a pick ax and hard work. But I successfully planted these two plants. And miraculously, they have survived.

rustic flower garden 2016 - lilac on the left and rose on the right


I chose a purple lilac from Sun Nurseries. Lilacs were part of my earliest memories. I caged it as soon as I caged the rose. So far, the Lilac is doing great.

Rose - Granny Grimmetts

Years ago I lived in a home that had an unruly but amazing rose bush in the side yard. The scent was so strong and wonderful that I looked forward to the blooms each year. I had no idea what type of rose that was. As soon as I bought my land, I began looking for that type of rose to plant in my yard. 

It has been impossible to find that particular rose. But I did find a wonderful place to purchase roses. The Antique Rose Emporium provided some patient answers to my questions about that elusive rose from my past. And I ordered this Granny Grimmetts rose from them.

As soon as I planted the rose, without protection, the deer stripped it immediately. I put a cage around it, and insects stripped the new leaves that grew. I was certain that rose had died. But it came up the next year. And it came up this year. I am hoping to find a way to nurture a rose or two on my land.

Assorted bulbs, perennials, and annuals 

I have planted assorted spring bulbs, perennial flowers, and annuals in my "flower bed". None - with the exception of annual marigolds - seem to have fared well. Likely, most of them have become snacks for the deer and squirrels.

This lovely marigold did great in that spot. The marigold showed no sign of pests, diseases, or deer damage.