19 Oct


An out-of-this-world October post from danspace77! Follow his Instagram – an awesome photo and mini-lesson in astronomy every day.

Originally posted on danspace77:


Photo Credit & Copyright: NASA/STScI Digitized Sky Survey/Noel Carboni. CLICK photo for full size and see below for links.

Let’s keep Halloween week rolling! Every year in the northern hemisphere as summer begins to cool and the nights begin to grow longer, IC2118 or as it’s known, the “Witch Head Nebula” begins to appear nightly. Located approximately 900 light years distant in the constellation of Eridanus (yep, not Orion), the Wicked Witch of the Winter (as I call her) is actually a 50 light year-long reflection nebula that’s being illuminated by the famous blue supergiant Rigel (not shown) the lest foot of Orion. If you have a photo of the constellation Orion and it’s at an anatomically heads-up position, at the bottom right you will find Rigel and to the right of the star you will see the witches face. It will however be upside down though so you may…

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Stephen King’s Family Friendly Apple Orchard

18 Oct

Growing up, trips to Maine in October consisted of weekends at my parents’ IMG_8853‘Maine House,’ the Fryeburg Fair, and marathon apple-picking sessions at McSherry’s Orchard in the town of Sweden.

I’d run through the trees, plucking macs, red delicious, and cortlands from low-hanging branches and gradually gaining confidence on the ladders, reaching higher and higher with every tree for bright, red fruit on the highest boughs.

I revisited the orchard on Columbus Day weekend; today, it’s known as Pietree, and there’s another Octobery aspect to it in addition to the apple harvest. In danger of being razed and turned into condos a few years ago, a certain horror-writing duo stepped in and bought the orchards, making a slew of improvements along the way.

Some betray my memories:  bare flatbeds towed by tractors that we used to run and jump on to as they passed have been replaced with wagons with benches, stairs, and regular stops. The ladders have given way to hand-held fruit-picking poles. And the wooden bushel boxes we used to fill are now $18 plastic bags.

Others, though, are welcome additions: the rocking chairs in the front yard, the IMG_8865warm cider donuts, and the hand-painted outdoor murals, to name a few.

After picking far too many apples for two people to consume without gastric distress, we moved on to a tiny Fall Festival at the Lovell Historical Society, where a dollar donation bought you all the treats you could eat, fresh-pressed apple juice, and a tour around the society’s collection of antiques and displays of how Maine life treated the locals in the 1800s.

It was all very bucolic … and a nice dose of nostalgia, harkening back to the days when life was as simple as staying put on a wooden ladder and filling a box with apples.



Blogtoberfest Guest Post: The Art of Happy Hens, by Terry Golson

16 Oct

The Art of Happy Hens:  How to Keep Chickens Healthy and Happy in An Urban Backyard

How to Keep Chickens Healthy and Happy in An Urban Backyard

Increasingly, urban dwellers are choosing to raise chickens and embrace their inner farmer. There’s good reason for this — hens are the smallest of the domestic farm animals and the easiest to keep in a backyard. They are friendly birds that lay eggs and contribute nutrients to the compost pile. That said, chickens only thrive if they are provided with the right environment and care.

Home Sweet Home: Setting Up the Coop

Your chickens should live in a coop, but before you set up shop, keep this in mind: Chickens need more space than you may think. Set aside four square feet of floor space per hen, minimum. Less than that and hens will have behavioral issues, such as feather picking and bullying. Even if you have a small backyard, it’s not a great idea to keep just one hen. Chickens are flock animals and need to be with others of their kind. Start with a minimum of three chicks. By the way, a rooster is not necessary for the hens to lay eggs or to get along with each other. It’s okay to keep it to just girls in that urban flock.

Best Breeds For The Backyard

The coop should have height, too; a low box won’t cut it. Hens don’t sleep in nests, but on roosts. Since chickens have best friends, they like to cozy up next to each other (and stay away from the hens that they don’t like). At bedtime your chickens will jostle for a favorite spot next to their buddies. Ideally, the coop should accommodate several roosts at different heights. A wooden ladder, leaning against the wall — make sure to attach it so it doesn’t fall — makes an excellent roost. Plan on a minimum of six linear inches per hen. The lowest roost should be at least eighteen inches off of the floor of the coop. This is because chickens poop (a lot!) when they sleep. Chicken manure is 75 percent liquid, which evaporates and dampens the air in the coop. As the manure decomposes, it gives off ammonia fumes. You don’t want your flock breathing any of that in as they sleep, because too much exposure can lead to respiratory diseases. The further from the manure the girls are, the more healthy the environment.

Space Needed Inside Coop

Fresh and Clean: Maintaining the Coop

To improve air quality and control flies, cover the floor of the coop with absorbent bedding, like pine shavings, and remove manure before it piles up. A fine-tined pitchfork is a great tool to keep the manure skipped out. Set aside just five minutes each morning to pick out the waste. Once a week do a more thorough cleaning, and every few months, remove all bedding and start fresh. Even a small coop in a city yard requires tools, including that pitchfork, a muck bucket, and a scrub brush for the waterer. Plan on a storage space for tools, feed,and shavings, in or near the coop — it will make chicken keeping that much easier.

Fresh, dry air is essential for your flock’s well being. Good ventilation makes a huge difference in air quality. Install vents along the eaves, windows that open, and, if possible, a cupola that pulls air up and out through the roof. But ventilation is a slippery slop since hens should not be housed in a drafty structure. This is why the chicken door (often called a pop hole) is only slightly larger than the hens themselves. The door allows hens to go in and out, but keeps wind and driving rain at bay. Conversely, it’s not good for the flock’s health to have a closed-up coop, as the air will be dusty, damp, and harbor pathogens. Even in the winter, don’t be tempted to seal it up tight.

Windows have additional benefits beyond letting in fresh air. Sunlight is necessary for egg laying and to stave off disease. Chickens can’t see in the dark. If your coop looks like a windowless doghouse, your hens will stay put on their roosts, even if the sun is shining outside. They won’t eat enough to be able to make eggs. And if your hens are in the dark, they won’t lay them either. If they’re not up and about and exercising, chickens are prone to disease. Sunlight is also a natural disinfectant. So plan on a coop with windows and let that sun shine in.

Hens lay eggs inside of the coop in nesting boxes. These should be lower than the roosts (so that the hens won’t sleep in them) and about 16-inches square.  Three boxes are plenty for a flock of up to a dozen hens — they’ll all try to crowd into one even if the others are empty.

Chickens need plenty of room to roam outside of the coop, too. Most urban chickens are confined to a fenced run (for predator protection and to keep them in place — hens do wander.) Eight square feet per chicken in the pen is the minimum allotment, but more is better. Hens spend most of their day scratching the ground and the dirt in the runs packs down into an impermeable base. Occasionally turn the soil over with a pitchfork and add coarse sand to improve drainage. Loose earth makes the hens happy because they take dust baths in it, which is a communal activity that the hens enjoy. Dry dirt under the feathers also helps reduce any external parasites that the hens might harbor.

Space Needed Outside Pen

Safe and Sound: Protecting the Coop

Unfortunately, there are many predators that want a chicken or egg dinner, including foxes, raccoons, opossums, and black snakes. Hawks and owls are hunters from above.Good fencing is a must — rats can gnaw through chicken wire. Urban flocks are best protected by wire hardware cloth. Extend it below the ground by eight inches to deter digging predators. Cover the run with more hardware cloth or hawk netting as well. Keep away burrowing animals by installing a gravel trench around the perimeter of the pen. To deter mice and other vermin, keep the sides of the coop clear of woodpiles, clutter, and other things rodents like to hide in.

No fencing is secure against nighttime predators (weasels can slip through a 2-inch gap!). Always close your hens inside the coop at night. If you can’t be home at dusk, purchase an automatic door. But don’t worry, the chickens happily put themselves to bed as soon as it gets dark, and will all be inside before the door closes behind them.

Healthy Hens: Feeding Your Flock

Beyond keeping your chickens safe, the next order of business is food and water. It is best to have dispensers inside the coop where the pellets will stay dry. If there’s no space inside your coop for a feeder and waterer, then hang them outside under shelter during the day and store the feed inside a galvanized can each night (so you don’t feed mice and other critters).

Hens need proper nutrition to produce eggs and regrow feathers during the molt. Start with a quality laying hen pellet, which should have the optimum protein content of 16 percent. Although chickens love scratch corn, it isn’t necessary. In fact, feeding too much corn can lower your flock’s protein consumption, which can lead to thin-shelled eggs and may cause liver disease. Feed your flock corn and other carbohydrates — such as bread and leftover pasta —sparingly. On the other end of the spectrum, too much protein (often given in the form of mealworm treats) can cause kidney disease. Healthy additions to a hen’s diet are vegetables and fruits, such as pumpkins, zucchini, and apples. But don’t chop them up — pecking at whole vegetables can keep your flock busy.

Chickens require two supplements to their diet: oyster shell for calcium (to build strong eggs) and granite grit (to aid in digestion.) Offer these items to your flock free choice. A source of clean, fresh water is of the utmost importance. Dispensers designed for poultry will keep the water flowing and clean.

The average six-pound hen will eat upwards of four ounces of feed and drink four ounces of water a day. She’ll also produce four ounces of manure daily and her egg weighs about two ounces. Keep her glossy and healthy with a balanced diet.

Healthy Hen Eating

Coop Comfort: Managing Temperatures

Your hens will be stressed by extremes in the weather. Although you can’t control Mother Nature, you can house and care for your flock to minimize the negative effects of bad weather. Chickens are prone to respiratory diseases, so it’s essential to keep their housing dry. As mentioned earlier, ventilation inside the coop is key. It’s crucial to keep their pen dry, too. Standing around in muddy pens will leave your hens susceptible to illness, so do what you can to improve drainage and give them outside roosts to get out of the muck.

Most new chicken keepers worry about their hens staying warm during the winter. Actually, cold is rarely a problem. A chicken has about 9,000 feathers, which keep her plenty toasty. Don’t use a heater, which is unnecessary and is always a fire hazard (chickens create a lot of dust and the air in the coop is highly flammable.) Hens do need to stay out of strong winds and they appreciate it if you shovel snow out of their pen. The most important winter chore is to keep the waterer from freezing. Even a couple of hours without fresh flowing water can cause health issues. A heated metal pad designed for use under waterers is available at most feed stores.

Do worry when the temperature soars. Chickens are prone to heat stress and will die in extreme hot weather if there’s nowhere to escape the sun. Put up a shade tarp if necessary. Chickens won’t drink warm water, so provide cool water in a shady spot. When temperatures near triple digits, cool things off by hosing the roof of the coop and the dirt in the pen. Some coops can benefit from a fan to move the air.


Chickens are curious, active animals that get bored and will develop bad habits (like eating feathers off of each other) if kept in an improper environment. However, they’re easily entertained and there are plenty of ways to enrich their lives. If their enclosure doesn’t have loose, dry dirt to dust bathe in, put a kitty litter tub filled with sand into the pen. Provide outside roosts or a stepladder and stumps for the hens to stand and roost on. Give them a hard winter squash that requires hours of pecking to eat. Hang a wild bird suet feeder in the coop and fill it with kale and other greens. Also, spend time with your hens — they really do like human company.


Terry Golson
Terry Golson has kept a small flock of chickens for twenty years. For the last ten years she has shared those hens (and goats, dogs, and rabbit) with a worldwide audience via, where she has live cams on her animals, writes a daily blog about the goings on in her backyard, and provides sensible advice for the backyard chicken keeper. Terry gives chicken keeping workshops and does school visits (with a hen in tow!) She’s appeared on The Martha Stewart Show, and has been featured in numerous magazine and newspaper articles. Terry is the author five cookbooks, including The Farmstead Egg Guide and Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) a picture book starring her hens, Tillie Lays an Egg (Scholastic) and postcard books of vintage photographs of farm animals. You can contact Terry through HenCam.

Blogtoberfest Guest Post: Soul Mates: The Myth, The Legend by Roberta Karant

15 Oct
I Miss my Soulmate, by PhoenixLily via flickr

       I Miss My Soulmate, by PhoenixLily via flickr

Since the beginning of recorded time, we know that people couple and pair up for a variety of reasons.  It is only a recent phenomenon that we have put all of our desires into one individual whom we refer to as our “Soul Mate.”  I think that what this is supposed to mean, is that we are pre-ordained in the cosmos to search high and low among the 6.5 billion people in the world, until finally, one day, Eureka! We stumble upon each other and call ourselves “Soul Mates.”  Sounds to me like some invention of the Hallmark Card Company.  They should stick to making those sappy Hallmark Hall of Fame movies – movies that I love by the way (more about that in another article).

The definition of “Soul Mate” that I like best is “you have now found the ONE person who truly understands you.”  There’s a ton of assumptions here – the first being that you truly understand yourself!  How many of us go through our lives totally unaware that we’re unaware? We have excuses upon excuses why we do what we do without ever looking inward to see what makes us tick.  And are we taught to believe that somewhere in our early lives, we can connect with the one person who “gets” us? That all works until the first time your “Soul Mate” pisses you off by walking out of the room before you finished telling him (in painstaking detail) about the argument you had with your sister over how you’re going to cook your Thanksgiving turkey, and all the sides.

As a sociologist, I always look to see who these ridiculous social constructions serve? Who’s getting the most out of this “Soul Mate” thing?  Well, as I said before, it makes for a good greeting card.  But beyond that, how did we get to put our life partner into this package that included: best friend, exclusive sexual partner, only parent of our children, sole supporter (both financially and emotionally), and our loyal and trusted confidant?

Until recent history, the concept of marriage served mainly the upper classes so that families could form alliances, and produce heirs.  Inheritance was protected and remained in the family.  With the rise of the middle class, and the diminished influence of families in mate choice, marriage selection put the power into the hands of the individual.  Marriage also went from being merely a religious institution to one where the State claimed a stake.  Therefore, the state was able to step into the role that the family had previously taken and it served as a means of social control.  Who you could marry became the interest of legislators and policy makers rather than individual predilection.  The concept of “Soul Mate” was a means to connect individuals for the purpose of long term unions that wouldn’t be easily broken.  Well, they never figured into the equation the social changes concerning divorce that have taken place in western civilization.  Given that “love” is such a fragile emotion, and given the greatest invention in human history – no, it’s not fire – it’s birth control – women now have more options than ever before.   And by the way, it’s mainly women who initiate divorce, two to one.  For many “forever” lasts only as long as the “love” lasts.  I don’t mean to frivolous, falling out of love is not the only reason for dissolution of a relationship.  I am well aware that there are many other variables to consider.  But getting back to “Soul Mate,” we can see how the concept can continue to influence and play a role in coupling for individuals.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I thought my first love was my “Soul Mate” but I was mistaken?   Now that I’ve met this person, I really know the meaning of the term “Soul Mate.”  It continues to serve as the litmus test for mate selection even though its meaning has become watered down as we engage in the activity of serial monogamy, which seems to work for most of us.   Since we are tribal people, most of us go through our daily lives with a metaphorical chorus commenting on our behavior.  This is similar to the collective voice much like that in ancient Greece.  This chorus serves to underscore and give commentary to our actions.  It’s a way of enforcing social customs and emphasizing the way things are done.  Because of this, very few of us would admit to our family, friends, others in our milieu that we’re marrying for money, or security, or as an antidote to loneliness.   We claim that we found our “Soul Mate,” and that satisfies the masses.  Now we can buy our expensive engagement ring, and pay for an unbelievable party that, depending on what your social and financial circumstances are, can cost upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So let’s get back to the question “who does this serve?”  Hmm I think you know the answer.  If you’re still not convinced that the State has an investment in your marriage, try getting out of the contract.  That’s when your “Soul Mate,” becomes a flesh eating virus who relies on the legal system to do what they do best.  And that’s to make sure that if you didn’t uphold your part of the bargain that you pay “until death do you part” in one way or another.

Just one more comment about “Soul Mate.”  Yesterday was a rainy TV watching day for me and my “Soul Mate.”  On 3 separate shows, they used the term “Soul Mate.”  The one we liked best was the Lucky Dog Show, when the adoptive doggie mommy met her new pet she referred to him as guess what??  You got it!  Her Soul Mate!

Roberta Karant

Roberta Karant is a writer and a sociologist based in New York.

Blogtoberfest Guest Post: The Tattooed Ladies of the Mohawk Trail, by Ralph Brill

14 Oct



*In 2014, about four-in-ten females aged 18 to 29 years old have tattoos. This Look-At-Me phenomenon along The Mohawk Trail was not in place in 1914. Lots of other things have thankfully changed as well for these ladies over these past 100 years: Women were allowed to vote for Presidents, Women were allowed to study at Williams College, Minority Women were allowed to enjoy the resorts in the Berkshires, Women were allowed to buy their own cars, etc.Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 3.24.12 PMMost of the Five Nations Confederacy Chiefs of the Iroquois including the Mohawks were Tattooed as were the Chiefs of the various Atlantic Tribes. It was like their personal signatures. The above is a detail of Mohawk Chief Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow’s portrait by John Verelst painted in 1710. Some Native American women were also Tattooed. For the first time in American history, in 2014, more women than men along The Mohawk Trail are Tattooed. Our Tattooed Ladies are a connection to this historical art form along The Mohawk Trail.

The Mohawk Trail started out as an important Indian Trail connecting the Atlantic Tribes around Boston with those in Upstate New York. In 1799, the Massachusetts Legislature established a toll road along this Path – officially known as The Fifth. Eventually, cattle were driven from Western New England Farms to the Boston Markets along this Path as were wagon loads of various goods. Horse coaches brought visitors from Boston to the Berkshires via The Fifth.

In the early 1900s, as more families owned Model T Fords and wanted to take long country drives, The Fifth began to become known as the scenic road to explore. In 1914, The Fifth was widened to accommodate the increasing number of vehicles and was officially designated as the Mohawk Trail by the State in that year.

Ralph Brill owns the Brill Gallery in North Adams, Mass. Have a Blogtoberfest Guest Post you want to submit? Email it to writerjax – at – gmail – dot – com.

Apple airs new iPhone 6 ads “Huge” and “Cameras” featuring Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake

8 Oct


So, did you know who voiced these new Apple iPhone commercials? If not, watch them again after finding out and see how or if it changes your opinion of them.

Originally posted on 9to5Mac:

Apple has started airing two new iPhone 6 ads starring the duo of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. Tim Cook unveiled two ads starring the pair during the iPhone 6 announcement earlier this month with ads that focused on the Health application and size of the phone.

The new ads, dubbed “Huge” (above) and “Cameras” (below) started hitting airwaves tonight and focus once again on the size of the display and the upgraded cameras with enhanced image stabilization, slow-motion and time-lapse capabilities.

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The Fearsome Five: 2014’s Weird October Food Post

4 Oct

Kanikko, the world’s crunchiest baby sacrifice.

Every year, I compile a list of Octobery foods, be they weird and wacky or healthful and harvested. Each item may not be brand new, but has somehow infiltrated the headlines, and made its way to my Google-searching fingers. I’ve shied away from the Halloween-ized foods that otherwise aren’t so different from their year-round counterparts, like orange donuts and boo-ritos. Below, though, you’ll find some foodie finds, fast-food anomalies, and slightly scary snacks culled from various places … often Japan. Read on!

1. According to The National Restaurant Association, ‘forbidden rice’ is an emerging foodie trend, along with emu eggs and black garlic. If blue tortilla chips, then why not purple rice? It may not thrill your kids when served up as a starch but it’s popping up in fine-dining restaurants all over the world.

2. Kanikko, seen above, is one of Japan’s many, many weird contributions to the global food scene. This tasty snack combines seafood and sweets in candied baby crabs, which are described as sweet, salty and “majorly crunchy.”

3. In keeping with the Japanese theme, the island-nation’s fast food chains never disappoint this time of year. McDonald’s was first out of the gate with its Halloween menu item this season, an orange and black hamburger that’s not stomach-turning at all.

It’s colored with squid ink and orange chipotle sauce, and joins the Ghostly Camembert Chicken Filet Sandwich (Camembert?) and the Pumpkin Oreo McFlurry, which needs to come stateside ASAP.

4. For the entertainer in all of us, I picked this horrifying meat and cheese platter that will leave visions of Hellraiser dancing in your head.

These are called Meatheads and are being created by slightly-off event planners everywhere… a quick image search will haunt your dreams for days.

Surprisingly, though, they’re likely to be a crowd-pleaser featuring cold cuts, cheese, olives, and hard-boiled eggs … the latter two ingredients make up the unnerving eyeballs. One website even suggests that turkey and prosciutto work best as the undead flesh.

5. As someone who used to live on Mulberry Street — the actual Mulberry Street that inspired the book — I’m a fan of all things Seuss.


This year, HuffPo identified 13 foods that were, or could’ve been, inspired by Dr. Seuss himself including and beyond Green Eggs and Ham. My choice for this list is number eight — spinach cake, which actually looks great. (See what I did there?)


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