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I’ve mentioned before this crazy type of bird that my parents have: Guineas. Well, not a lot of people have heard of them, so I figured I would enlighten the one or two people who view this blog. 🙂 First, because one can’t fully grasp how extremely ugly and endearing these birds are without seeing them, here are a few pictures!

guinea

guineas

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Ok, so the last picture isn’t ugly. They are totally cute as keets (babies), but as they grow, their body seems to enlarge while their head gets smaller and almost vulture-like. They grow horn-like protuberances on the tops of their heads, and large, cup-like waddles adorn their jowls. They are about the same size as your average chicken, and get along well if mixed in with a flock of chickens. However, they have VERY strong personalities, so if you plan on mixing your flocks you should start the keets with the chicks at the same time, preferably as day-olds.

So why would anyone want these freaky looking birds roaming around their lawn? There are as many reasons as there are spots on a guinea feather. Guineas are tasty birds who lay eggs comparable in quantity, size, and taste to the average layer hen chicken. The eggs are speckled, so they are easy to differentiate from the brown to white eggs of chickens. See the picture below. Guineas dress out to provide 2.5-3.5 pounds of meat, which (pound for pound) contains only 87% of the calories of chicken. Guinea is therefor classified as leaner than chicken. It is also interesting to note that guinea meat is neither a red meat fowl (such as duck), nor a white meat fowl (such as chicken) because the composition of the breast meat is a mix of each. Guinea meat is truly unique, but you probably won’t find it in the U.S. at your local grocer unless you are lucky enough to have a Japanese or Western European specialty market nearby.

aclutchofguineaeggs

As for its other redeeming qualities, guineas are excellent bug catchers. They are absolute hell on ticks. With just two guineas roaming their ~5 acre yard, my parents have seen a drastic reduction of ticks. Before the guineas started working bug patrol, nearly every trip outside would result in at least one tick on our skin or clothes. Within a few weeks we couldn’t find a tick anywhere, even if we spent half the day wandering in the long grass at the edge of the property.

Guineas are also very entertaining, although sometimes their antics can get rather annoying. They act as the guardians of the flock if they are mixed in with other types of fowl. They familiarize themselves with everything around them, and if there is the slightest change they will lead the other birds to safety then confront the newcomer with loud alarm calls. The newcomer can be anything from a new wheelbarrow to a new person, a new car to a crane enjoying fallen fruit in the orchard. These birds are the chihuahuas of the barnyard. They are loud, and seem to think that they are big and bad enough to challenge anything that comes onto their territory, even if that something could swallow them whole. This big bad attitude of theirs seems to extend over the rest of the flock as well. According to my parents, the guineas are the masters of the flock now. They decide who will set the eggs and who will roam the garden. Apparently their two guineas have chosen one of the buff orpingtons to be the official egg setter. Any time this poor hen tries to get off the nest to join the rest of the birds in picking over the garden or yard, the guineas herd her back onto the nest. My parents have had to start feeding this chosen bird when all the other fowl are out of the coop.

All in all, I think guineas are well worth saving a spot for on the homestead. Of course, you would have to have either no neighbors within hearing range or very understanding neighbors, because like I said before – these are very loud birds. I would compare their alarm calls to that of a peacock. One final note, just to add some fun to this post, my parents have decided to name and keep their two guineas instead of butchering them. Their names, you ask? Spaz and Schizo. Very appropriate, if you ask me.

I used to say that I would never become like my mom. I planned on being a cool, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mom who didn’t nag, pester, nor worry. Then I had my first baby in the middle of the worst ice storm of the year. That’s when this little nagging started in the back of my mind. How would I keep this new, precious little baby warm and safe if the power went out for a day, or even more… what if the power couldn’t be restored for two weeks? It had happened before, but the only person I had to take care of was me. I could bundle up. I could live on cold tinned food or travel to a restaurant to dine. I could light the house with little candles. And if it came to it, I could always haul myself over to a family member’s house for the remaining time. But this little baby whose enire existence depended on me? He wouldn’t last a few hours without heat in the middle of winter. And the fact that I became a stay at home mom meant that we didn’t have as much income available to spend on dining out and travelling.

The first and easiest obstacle to overcome was food. Before, we had kept a few days worth on hand at any given time. The grocery store was just down the road, and we made frequent trips there throughout the week. We ate a lot of processed, pre-packaged meals. A home cooked meal meant cooking boxed mac n cheese, heating up frozen tator tots in the oven, and microwaving hot dogs of unknown content and origin in the microwave. While we still have some meals that consist of processed items, I have taught myself how to prepare and cook meals from scratch, meals from a full pantry.

While I am still no expert, I have learned how to make things like bread, muffins, biscuits, cookies, casseroles, soups, stews, roasts, pies, empanadas, broiled meats, sauces, stocks/broth, salsas, jams, jerky, dehydrated fruits and veggies, and much more. I have purchased items like spices, flours, sugar, canning supplies, canned food, and other ingredients in bulk. I have mastered frugal dishes like pastas, rice and beans, homemade pizzas, soups, and other one-dish meals. I am still learning, but at this point I feel like I could easily nourish our family for a month if the need arose.

How did I learn to cook? How did I know where to start for building up a pantry? I have had lots of help – most of it from online sources. Below I have a few links that have proven invaluable to me and many others who are just getting started.

http://www.simplylivingsmart.com This website is chock full of information on preparing a pantry and living from it. You do have to register to see a lot of the videos, but the starter videos are all  totally free. The first thing you should do is click on the tab labeled “Starter Lessons” and select “Food Storage.” This will take you to a screen with several free videos to introduce you to the storing and use of things like water, grains, oils, fruits and veggies, and everything else you will need in order to prepare nutritious meals for your family. If you would like to register, it’s less than $10 for an entire year. Well worth it, if you ask me.

http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com This website is where I go when I need an easy, frugal recipe or meal plan. It’s a great resource for someone who is just learning how to cook and bake. They are constantly adding new material, new recipes, and fun anecdotes, so check back often.

I have found a lot of my favorite recipes online by googling for terms like “chicken and rice recipe” and “best cookie recipe.” It’s always a risk following an online recipe for the first time, because as you know anyone and their mother can post a bunch of nonsense and call it a great recipe. My advice is to always try the recipe before you decide to make it for a big family get-together. 😉 

Once you learn what kinds of food you like to prepare and eat, you can start accumulating the ingredients to have them ready and on hand when you need them. One piece of advice that can’t be said enough when it comes to food storage is this: Store what you eat and eat what you store. If your family hates tuna, then it only makes sense not to buy a lot of it, even if it’s on sale for a penny a can. If you like convenience foods, by all means store it up while you are learning how to cook things from scratch. This adage also means that you must rotate your pantry stock. Eat what you store. Don’t just let it sit on a back shelf for years. Eat it, then replenish it. Yes, some canned foods will still be edible after several years on a shelf, but they will have lost color, consistency, vitamins, and taste. It’s better to try to use up your supplies within 6 months to a year, and keep it in rotation.

Lastly, there are many great books out there that will help you to cook and plan meals directly out of your pantry supplies. These are the books I currently have:

  • Cooking with Home Storage by Peggy Layton and Vicki Tate
  • The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean by Sheryl and Mel London
  • The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery
  • America’s Best Vegetable Recipes by Doubleday Publishing
  • Woodstove Cookery by Jane Cooper

I got this idea from another blogger, and it got me all fired up to do one of my own. It’s nice to have a visual sometimes, and to see my goals laid out and organized. So here goes, my dream homestead:

To start, I would like 10-15 acres of partially wooded land.
dreamhomestead

I would like a small, earth sheltered home. Something 600-800 square feet would be perfect.
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Of course, we will eventually need a workshop.
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A greenhouse with a little pond and plenty of room for year-round herbs, vegetables, and citrus.
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A large chicken coop and run filled with dual-purpose chickens, like Buff Orpingtons.
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A few lawnmowers of the Kinder variety, also handy for milk and meat.
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A rabbitry with some New Zealand Whites for meat and pelts.
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Some little weaners to til up the garden plots and sell for meat.
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Speaking of the garden, I’d like to have at least 4 garden plots in rotation. Lots of veggies and fruits to eat and preserve!
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I would love to have my own little orchard filled with apples, peaches, pears, quince, raspberries, stawberries, currants, and blackberries.
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What good would an orchard be without an army of pollinators? All that free honey is a great perk, too.
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Since I am all about being prepared and we’ll be heating with wood, I would want at least a two year supply of firewood on hand at all times.
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Of course, since I am dreaming here, the homestead would be completely off the grid. Our water would be pumped using a windmill and a large reservoir. Our power would be supplied through PV panels and battery back-ups.
awindmill

THE 10 IDEALS OF A RATIONAL, ETHICAL PERSON

1. Always seek to minimize the harm you do. Always investigate the ethical implications of your actions.

2. Do your best to ensure the continuity of the human species and the biodiversity around you at the highest standard of living possible.

3. Do your best to ensure that everyone is granted the same maximal schema of basic rights and liberties compatible with the same schema for everyone else.

4. Always demand rational justification in consideration of all available facts before accepting any claim. Always remind yourself that you are biased. Try to identify your biases and correct your estimation of the situation accordingly.

5. Remind yourself: You are a part of the universe – asking yourself questions about yourself, others and this universe you live in – you are a part of nature reflecting on itself. Be that as best you can by learning, enlightening others and expanding the boundaries of knowledge.

6. Beware of ideologies, rituals, and placing value on symbols – in all cases.

7. Be reflective of your preconceptions – where they are met with criticism, distance yourself emotionally from them and assess them as critically as you can. Only if they withstand
even the most critical inquiry are you justified in continuing to employ them.

8. For every question we have about the world there are a multitude of legitimate routes of inquiry – consider all. For every scientific discipline you study, study what academic philosophy has to say about it. For every philosophical discipline you study, study what science has to say about it.
Try not just to expand our knowledge – try to unify it.

9. Meaning is not found – it is created. Only you can make this life meaningful for yourself – but you won’t be able to do so alone. Turn not to myth and fantasy – turn to friends and family, for what you can find in them is what you can give to them: Meaning … everything.

10. Try to be patient with others – or you’ll become bitter. Yes, the world can be a crazy a place – but one more embittered cynic isn’t going to make it better for anyone.

I did not come up with these on my own. This is the result of an extensive online search for “atheist 10 commandments.” I found a lot of others, but they all seemed really bitter against religion. I wanted something that spoke to an ethical, reasonable person, no matter what their background. THIS is a good set of commandments, one that I wouldn’t mind finding in a Court.

On a lot of the forums I regularly browse online, I have noticed a major trend. Massive numbers of people seem to be under the delusion that the United States had it’s beginings as a Christian nation, and should get back to it’s Christian roots. The following is my take on this subject, and if you know me at all you know I do not support either of the aforementioned “truths” that Christians hold so dearly.

First, the assertion that our forefathers created this country to be a Christian nation, based upon Christian principles. Yes, many of our forefathers claimed Christianity as their religion, but many were also deists who did not strictly adhere to any one religion, and many were also agnosticists who followed a religion out of tradition but did not want to jump to conclusions on whether or not there were such things as gods. Our country was populated by people fleeing persecution, mostly of the religious sort, in Europe. Does it make sense that those same people would fight for freedom from the persecution, freedom from European ownership, only to turn around and create a nation based on persecution of other beliefs? No, it does not make sense.

The founders may have all held their own beliefs, but they made sure that the United States was a country where people were not condemned for their religion. The founders created a Constitution, which was agreed upon unanimously, that granted each and every citizen freedom, equality, and justice. Let’s go over them, just for fun.

First, the preamble: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Now, if the Constitution of the United States was really meant to found a Christian nation, I would think somewhere in there it would state that God was the one ordaining it. Many Christians will readily argue that our rights are God-given, when in fact, according to the Preamble, they are granted by our fellow citizens, our forefathers.

The Constitution in its entirety can be found on Wikipedia. It’s far too lengthy to go over here. Basically, the Constitution has seven primary articles that address checks and balances, legistlative and executive power, ammendments and how they shall be ratified, the power of the federal system over that of the states, and the judicial system. The founders were well aware that changes would need to be made to the Constitution, and therefor left a way to do it. These changes are what we call the Amendments. The first 10 Amendments are grouped together as The Bill of Rights. They are as follows:

  • First Amendment: addresses the rights of freedom of religion (prohibiting Congress from establishing a religion and protecting the right to free exercise of religion), freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of petition.
  • Second Amendment: guarantees the right of individuals to possess firearms.
  • Third Amendment: prohibits the government from using private homes as quarters for soldiers during peacetime without the consent of the owners.
  • Fourth Amendment: guards against searches, arrests, and seizures of property without a specific warrant or a “probable cause” to believe a crime has been committed.
  • Fifth Amendment: forbids trial for a major crime except after indictment by a grand jury; prohibits double jeopardy (repeated trials), except in certain very limited circumstances; forbids punishment without due process of law; and provides that an accused person may not be compelled to testify against himself (this is also known as “Taking the Fifth” or “Pleading the Fifth”). This is regarded as the “rights of the accused” amendment, otherwise known as the Miranda rights after the Supreme Court case. It also prohibits government from taking private property for public use without “just compensation,” the basis of eminent domain in the United States.
  • Sixth Amendment: guarantees a speedy public trial for criminal offenses. It requires trial by a jury, guarantees the right to legal counsel for the accused, and guarantees that the accused may require witnesses to attend the trial and testify in the presence of the accused. It also guarantees the accused a right to know the charges against him. In 1966, the Supreme Court ruled that the fifth amendment prohibition on forced self-incrimination and the sixth amendment clause on right to counsel were to be made known to all persons placed under arrest, and these clauses have become known as the Miranda rights.
  • Seventh Amendment: assures trial by jury in civil cases.
  • Eighth Amendment: forbids excessive bail or fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Ninth Amendment: declares that the listing of individual rights in the Constitution and Bill of Rights is not meant to be comprehensive; and that the other rights not specifically mentioned are retained by the people.
  • Tenth Amendment: reserves to the states respectively, or to the people, any powers the Constitution did not delegate to the United States, nor prohibit the states from exercising.

Odd, isn’t it. Not one of the first ten Amendments resemble Christian foundations. The first Amendment, far from decrying us as a Christian nation, specificly prohibits the establishment of a national religion. At the most, it is telling Christians that they are welcome to practice their faith. The rest of the Amendments follow:

  • Eleventh Amendment (1795): Clarifies judicial power over foreign nationals, and limits ability of citizens to sue states in federal courts and under federal law.
  • Twelfth Amendment (1804): Changes the method of presidential elections so that members of the Electoral College cast separate ballots for president and vice president.
  • Thirteenth Amendment (1865): Abolishes slavery and authorizes Congress to enforce abolition.
  • Fourteenth Amendment (1868): Defines a set of guarantees for United States citizenship; prohibits states from abridging citizens’ privileges or immunities and rights to due process and the equal protection of the law; repeals the Three-fifths compromise; prohibits repudiation of the federal debt caused by the Civil War.
  • Fifteenth Amendment (1870): Prohibits the federal government and the states from using a citizen’s race, color, or previous status as a slave as a qualification for voting.
  • Sixteenth Amendment (1913): Authorizes unapportioned federal taxes on income.
  • Seventeenth Amendment (1913): Establishes direct election of senators.
  • Eighteenth Amendment (1919): Prohibited the manufacturing, importing, and exporting of alcoholic beverages (Prohibition). Repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment.
  • Nineteenth Amendment (1920): Prohibits the federal government and the states from forbidding any citizen to vote due to their sex.
  • Twentieth Amendment (1933): Changes details of congressional and presidential terms and of presidential succession.
  • Twenty-first Amendment (1933): Repeals Eighteenth Amendment. Permits states to prohibit the importation of alcoholic beverages.
  • Twenty-second Amendment (1951): Limits president to two terms.
  • Twenty-third Amendment (1961): Grants presidential electors to the District of Columbia.
  • Twenty-fourth Amendment (1964): Prohibits the federal government and the states from requiring the payment of a tax as a qualification for voting for federal officials.
  • Twenty-fifth Amendment (1967): Changes details of presidential succession, provides for temporary removal of president, and provides for replacement of the vice president.
  • Twenty-sixth Amendment (1971): Prohibits the federal government and the states from forbidding any citizen of age 18 or greater to vote on account of their age.
  • Twenty-seventh Amendment (1992): Limits congressional pay raises.

Yet again, nothing that tells us we are a Christian nation. Instead, we are progressively becoming a nation where every citizen is treated equal in the eyes of the government. Slavery is no longer accepted. Prohibition of alcohol was repealed after it was found unconstitutional. We are protected from dictatorship by limiting the presidency to two terms and the ability to oust the current president/vice-president. Now, while I don’t agree with everything in the Amendments (see the 16th), I do agree that these rules are a good foundation for a free country. The founders knew that times would change, that morals would shift, that our country would need to enact new rules to keep up with changes. It was for those reasons they set up such a fluid Constitution. They may have been religious themselves, but that is not how they created nor intended to create the United States.

If we were a Christian nation, we would see some form of the 10 Commandments legislated, since those are the laws that God set up for his followers in the Bible. There are three different versions of the commandments in the Bible, but I will focus only on the one that most Christians adhere to, as taken from Deuteronomy 5:6 – 5:21:

  1. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
  2. “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.”
  3. “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.”
  4. “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
  5. “You shall not kill.”/”You shall not murder.” (varies according to translation)
  6. “Neither shall you commit adultery.”
  7. “Neither shall you steal.”/”Neither shall you kidnap.” (varies according to translation)
  8. “Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  9. “Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.”
  10. “Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Well, look at that. Not one of the ten commandments have made it’s way into the Constitution. Thank goodness, too. The separation of church and state has (for the most part) kept religious pandering out of our lawbooks. While I do agree that one should not lie, covet, cheat, steal, or murder… I cannot reasonably accept the first 4 commandments as a citizen of the United States, because that would be promoting a national religion. It would be a direct affrontery to the First Amendment. If the commandments ever made their way into a court, as they have in the past, it is our duty, our right, to remove them. There is no place for religion in courts, just as there is no room for religion in legislation and politics.

My final comment on the subject is actually more of an open question for any theists/deists out there: If it just so happened that the majority of religious followers in the US were Hindus, Jews, Muslims, or Scientologists… would you like to be enforced to live by their ideals, beliefs, and religion-inspired laws?

Let Freedom ring!

October 2009
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