The amazing story of two 40-something women on the path to matrimonial bliss

It just keeps getting better...

Monday, September 2, 2013

Introducing...Raggedy Hen Farm!

Hello, old friends! We have not intentionally been neglecting all the fine folks here at Lez Get Married, it is just that Teri and I have been up to our necks in entrepreneurship!  We have been working for several months on creating and launching our own small business and now, that dream is a reality!  Raggedy Hen Farm has evolved from our increasing commitment to urban farming and organic, quality ingredients for our every day food.  It really is about comfort foods and products--the kind of things that makes us feel heartily well-cared for--whether a nice bowl of hot soup, a warm biscuit slathered with fresh fruit jam, or a thick bar of goats milk soap. Comfort foods and celebrations from a farm in the city!

The name for our new adventure, Raggedy Hen Farm, came to us as the perfect moniker for this stage of our lives--besides our sometimes raggedy, opinionated flock of hens, the name pretty much suits our middle-aged selves as well.  We are not exactly spring chickens ourselves!

Having launched all our kids and scraped through the past several years of a painful, tough economy, I think Teri and I are very much like a lot of other folks--trying to figure out how to live well, build community, and create a more stable, creative, and soul-feeding livelihood for ourselves.  At this point, we still have our day jobs too, but Raggedy Hen Farm is where our hearts, minds, and shared passions are all being directed. Not to mention, it is a hell of a lot of fun!

We invite you to check us out--we are still telling our stories and sharing our lives--we've even added a YouTube channel where you can watch our slowly evolving library of videos. If you'd like to explore our products, we have a cute little online shop where you can purchase all sorts of tasty treats. We will still work to post and keep Lez Get Married going, but what do two gals do after tying the knot?  How about opening a little urban farm biz?!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Life on Overload!

 I have not intentionally been absent from blogging land, but life has been bubbling over with...well, life!  In addition to our regular work schedules, we've had kids graduate from college, a garden that has been happily twining and vining away, camping, visiting, and so much more!  The living has superseded the writing about the living...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, but I am trying to justify my neglect.  Here's a rundown of what we've been up to the for the last month:

1. One of our 3 young pullets turned out to be a cockerel, so we found a new home for him on a farm. It was either that, or we were going to have to butcher--so we were getting ourselves psyched up for that possibility!
2. We picked up 3, day-old chicks and these young'uns are now 4 weeks old and spending their days outside in a wire run we built from recycled PVC pipe (and coming in for the nights.)
3. We had two kids graduate from college, which involved a decent-sized little garden party hosted at our home, a long ceremony, and one of our other daughters (the one who works for the Conservation Corps in the Southwest) spending several days at our house for a too-short visit.

3. Our honeybees continue to thrive--pouring in and out of the hive on sunny days and continuing to build comb, raise brood and collect pollen and nectar.  I've only had one more sting--and that was from accidentally stepping on a forager bee with my bare feet!

4. We've started preserving--canning, freezing and even dehydrating to keep up with the garden!  Strawberry and blueberry jam, frozen carrots, peas, and berries and we've been eating and even trading and sharing gobs of veggies from the very happy garden beds in our back yard.

5. We continue our work in the garden--much of the spring stuff is done: broccoli, peas, lettuces and we have been stirring in a bunch more compost and replanting with late Fall crops.  Meanwhile, we are starting to harvest the summer squash and we bit into our first two cherry tomatoes just yesterday!

6. Meanwhile, DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) has been declared unconstitutional leading to some great leaps (and predictable backlash) in the land of LGBTIQ rights inevitable.  Since we live in a "domestic partner only" state, we are not yet really included fully in this progress, but it has been exciting and surreal movement nonetheless!

So, you see, it isn't so much that I've meant to neglect the blog, but life has been super duper incredibly busy and I haven't forced myself to sit down and take the time to keep y'all in the loop!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Lord of the Chickens

It only LOOKS calm and cooperative.

Things have been a bit chaotic.  Well, not so much chaotic as they have been driven by the forces and wills of nature and not necessarily by the forces and wills of me. The six supposedly fertilized eggs that we had incubating under our broody Buff Orpington did not hatch and after 24 days, we made the executive decision that it was time to encourage her to move on and off the nest.  Chicken embryos take 21 days to incubate and hatch and after 22 days of steady setting and no sign of "pips" or cracks in the eggs, Teri bravely broke one open to find a runny, goopy, unfertilized yolk and white.  We decided to give her a couple more days just in case the others might still be developing.  Well, Hilda is off the nest and finding her way back into what I loosely call the flock and the eggs got bagged up and tossed.

In case you are wondering, Hilda did not exactly run passionately across the yard to be greeted with the open wings of her other chicken sisters.  Indeed!  While she actually did seem to be a bit relieved to be off the nest and back to foraging and scratching, her return was heralded by being chased down and pecked by alpha Mean Girl, Trudy (a.k.a. Gertrude Stein) and her trusty goon Virginia Woolf.   Seriously.  Of course, it was only a few more moments before Hilda let the teenagers Jolene, Marilla, and the young rooster-in-training formerly known as Sadie know that she was back in the mix and they better steer clear.

Sheesh.  Last night, Teri and I sat out in the lovely backyard under a darkening clear sky and while the bats fluttered and screeched over our heads, the chickens enacted what has become their nightly Machiavellian ritual of coop intrigue and power play.  Otherwise known as the chickens are going in to roost.

Here's how the chicken poop goes down: the younger pullets, who are in the lower grades, go into the coop first, nearly an hour before dark.  We've noticed that Male Sadie, has started to be the one who leads them into the coop--an activity we have come to learn is typical rooster action as the roos have the job of keeping the hens safe so they signal when it's time to go to bed.  So far, only his two peers pay any attention.  They get themselves all safely and calmly settled into the coop and then, after a while, here comes Hilda.

Hilda gets all up in their business, crowds them out and with a few cranky squawks, all three of the teens come strutting and fluffing back out of the coop.  They mill about, a bit agitated and calculating what their next move should be, while Hilda has the coop roosts all to herself.  Right about this time,  Trudy and Virginia start milling about and blocking the entrance to the coop like high school alpha bitches blocking the entrance to the restroom. 

The teens try to run in and get by, only to find Hilda holding court when they get in there. After stops and starts, sneaking in and running out, all those chickens eventually get themselves into the coop.  There are some clucks and squawks, shuffles, and sounds of bumping and tussling.  They have feet and feet of roost space in there to spread out and find safe spaces to sleep for the night.  When we go over and check to see that everyone is safe and sound, opening up the side door, there are six chickens taking up about two feet of space--they are all pressed and piled up against each other like clowns in a Volkswagen! I kid you not.

We don't really get it.  Sometimes, we feel like we need to intervene and our over-developed senses of humanitarian fairness inspire us to try to get the chickens to play by our rules.  Obviously, despite how barbaric and random it all seems to us, there is a system at play in Chickenville that we are not privy to. When folks talk about the "pecking order" that make it sound so...well, orderly, but it doesn't really appear to having any smooth order to me.  There is posturing and stalking and pecks and alliances...and then they all climb into bed together.  There isn't a Shakespeare play or daytime Soap Opera that can hold a candle to life as a chicken!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Planning a Party!

I don't know if I've mentioned it here before, but we've got a couple of new college graduates coming up in our kid clan. It has been exciting (for us) and stressful (for them) as both Lucy and Leah are wrapping up their undergrad careers this Spring.  Lucy officially graduated in March, but plans to walk and celebrate this in, three weeks away June.  And, yes, we are hosting a wee bit-o-celebration here at the house!

 I actually really like planning events and I've done a bunch of it--for work and for play.  As a matter of fact, this whole blog got started as a way to keep in touch with far-away folks when we were planning our wedding!  I have been in a bit of a lull, lately, and this graduation garden party will be the first we've done in a while.  And what a fun purpose for a party!

Since we are officially hosting Lucy's party, and she wants to "just show up" as she put it, she created the initial vibe at a meeting we had where she yay or nayed my suggestions.  Truth be told, she mostly nayed them! Her directive? Simple! And nothing that will make anyone feel awkward or uncomfortable.  And, by anyone, she mostly means her world of scientists, computer programmers, and people who don't particularly like stuffy soirees.  Okay...we can do this thing. music, games, fancy food, or embarrassing walks down memory lane.  Lucy has banned a photo montage of her academic career, slide presentations, and anything remotely weepy and nostalgic. No elementary school photos of her holding test tubes or collecting water samples in bright pink rubber boots! She wants food that makes her happy: a taco/tostada bar with fresh, homemade ingredients (including my salsa and guacamole), summer beverages with some boozy choices, a graduation cake that pays homage to both her degrees (Biology & Economics), and absolutely no speeches! It's going to be a garden party because she wants to wear a Summer sundress and we think it will be less stuffy--and so no one will get trapped inside with an inquisitive elder wanting to know what he or she is going to do with the rest of their life.  She's thought this thing out!

She and I created her announcements and invitations since she had some specific ideas about wording and such.  I'm not particularly craftsy (but she is) and it was fun. The greatest thing about this party is that Lucy's personality is all over it and it is truly a celebration of her accomplishment, with a nod to all the folks who have helped her along the way. It will be unique and oozing individuality...just like her!

A little piece of her announcement...and the pride is all ours!


am proud to announce

my graduation from

the University of Oregon

with two

Bachelor of Science degrees in Biology and Economics

on March 23rd, 2013.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

May by Numbers

It has been a while since I've done a "by the numbers" blog.  You know, where I sketch out how things are going down by assigning numbers to stuff.  I'll bet you've been wondering how things are stacking up around here in terms of how many and how much!  Well, here is how May 2013 looks by the numbers...

25...Number of sugar peas we picked from the garden tonight to have for supper
6...Number of times I've been stung so far from the honey bees: 4 times on the hands (my fault), 1 time on the side of the head (a forager gal got stuck in my hair and I couldn't extricate her before she stung me) and 1 time on the foot (sort-of my fault, since I was bare foot over by the hive fixing a fence to keep the chickens out of the squash & bean garden)
0...Number of times Teri has been stung
3...Number of pullets who are now...11 & 12 weeks old
3...Number of hens who are now over a year old
17...Highest number of eggs we've had in one week before the Broodies took over
6...Number of hopefully fertilized eggs we've got under Hilda the hen
9...Number of days left until said eggs should possibly hatch
13...Number of times we've mowed the grass since Winter ended
10...Number of happy raspberry plants blossoming that we transplanted from our friend, Susan's, garden
1...Number of attempted fruit tree grafts of 4 attempts that actually looks to have taken/worked
1...Number of cherry trees that blew over in an early Spring wind storm
26...Number of tomato plants we've got in the garden currently
1...Number of tomato plants that fell victim to a scratching chicken
4...Number of times we've peaked in the bee box
14,000...give or take...Number of bees we hopefully have in our hive

So, there you have it...I may be a little off all things considered (and that's what happens when you put an English major in charge of the math!)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Notes from the Maternity Ward

We have been calling Hilda's Broody Cage "The Maternity Ward" since she is determinedly setting away on the the six hopefully fertilized eggs were gave her over a week ago.  She comes off the nest once a day around noon to drink, eat, scratch around a little, and take care of any other non-nest business.  She's been incredibly predictable.  The rest of the time, she sits on her nest and turns the eggs a few times a day, shifts her position, growls at anyone or anything that gets too close, and remains undeterred from the task at hand.
For our part, we've been following what ought to be going on with the embryo development using some online charts and images.  I tend to like the more graphic, sciency, and actual dissection images, but we've settled on this one for our regular joint check-in, since the images are sort-of cute and that seems to suit Teri better.   As of today, day 9, if the eggs are developing properly, there is actually a miniature, oddly-chick-looking creature in them there eggs!
So far, Hilda is still sitting on all six eggs and none have cracked or broke.  This does not mean they are all healthy, fertilized, developing, etc. and the only way we will know is when we get to end of this adventure (in approximately 11 days) and see what hatches. We have been trying to stay cautiously optimistic but embrace reality as well.  Just because Hilda is good at setting, doesn't mean she will be a great mama; just because she is setting today, does not mean she will remain on the nest tomorrow.  There are so many unpredictables and all we can do is support the process, do our part to ensure safety, fresh food and water, etc. and prepare to adjust to whatever!

Meanwhile, Happy Mother's Day to all those Moms, Moms-to-Be, Grandmoms, Mamas, Aunties and Mom-like folk!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

How to Unbrood a Broody Hen? Maybe...

Trudy--at the left--sits in an empty nest box, while Ginny lays.
Remember, gentle reader, a few weeks back when we were excitedly pulling three eggs a day out of our nest boxes?  Well that feeling of free-flowing abundance was short-lived.  We currently have one hen who is steadily laying--Ginny, our Black Australorp; Hilda is a full time egg incubator and Trudy...well Trudy is being a pill.

Trudy is sort-of broody, but not nearly as determined, committed or dedicated as Hilda.  She is broody enough to have not laid any eggs for 3-4 days, so we are in the midst of a bit of power struggle.  It feels a bit like battling it out with a pre-teen--she's not committed enough to stick to it and win, but she is definitely acting out!

We are trying all the tricks recommended by books, articles and experienced chicken-keepers to, maybe, break a broody spell.  I say maybe because the most seasoned folks say that sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.  Eventually, a broody spell should run its course in about 3 weeks, but every hen and every scene is different.  Meanwhile, things get a bit kooky...

Trudy--at the back--tries to crowd into a nest box with the younger pullets at bed time. She usually sleeps on the roost.
Trudy has been smooshing herself in to the nest box at all sorts of interesting times. We pull her off whenever we find her on there, and after Ginny lays for the day, we've taken to closing up the coop door, so she can't get in.  This generally distracts her for a while, but occasionally, she fusses and clucks and marches around the coop trying to find a way in.  When she gets particularly fussy, we've also tried giving her backside a dip in cool water--something that should help to lower her body temp (which, I guess, gets warmer when a hen is trying to get a nest ready to brood.) The cool water doesn't hurt her and, the side effect has been that Trudy has the cleanest, poop-free backside she's had in months...

Teri & Trudy have a little pool time.
Through it all, Teri and I are total novices.  Like all farmers--urban or other--we're learning as we go.  I think one of the requirements for anything from gardening to chickens to dairy goats is a willingness to bumble, ask questions, and learn as you go.  If you asked Teri--the consummate East Coast city girl--if she'd ever see herself picking up a 9 pound hen and dunking her butt in a bucket of water, she would probably have laughed heartily in disbelief and yet, when the time came, she answered the call.

Chicken and Chicken Keeper get a little wet.
Here's what we know--those calculations you read about how many eggs a certain breed of chicken lays are not always the most reliable; the charts that show you which chickens will go broody and which will not are not always reliable. Hens lay early, lay late, take days off, go broody, get sick, moult, and as Teri says, they behave as if they didn't read the books!

So, maybe we'll succeed in getting Trudy to give up her half-assed ideas about setting and maybe we won't. Eventually, the young pullets should start laying (in about 9-10 weeks or so) but we don't know exactly when that will be.  Who knows if Virginia might decide to get on the broody wagon?  Really, we've decided to just keep going and try to do the best we can by our animals...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Busy Bees

Life has been picking up speed around here--not just for the bees...and the chickens...and the garden...but for us as well.  We're all pretty darn busy. Days seems long with work and life and "farming" as Teri calls it.  As cliche' as it sounds, the rhythm of our life has changed since embarking on some of our sustainability efforts.  We get up at 5:45 in the morning, tending to the critters, getting coffee and breakfast and shuffling ourselves out the door by 6:45 am. Lately, we've somehow managed to even get a load of laundry hung up on the line before leaving for work!

We both work full days, often followed by a trip to the grocery store, an errand, a board meeting, an event, or some other post-work obligation, getting ourselves home as soon as possible to tend to the critters, water the garden, and manage whatever other chores are on the docket.  I know...typical and rather dullish, eh?  We are exactly like a zillion other folks! I do think there is a different tempo that owes itself entirely to the season, however--it is late Spring and there is much to do.

I'm finding the bees to be a grand guide and a marvelous metaphor for life.  Their commitment and work ethic are rather inspirational, but they are also completely led by the seasons. Right now, they are building comb, gathering pollen, tending young, and, yes, making honey!  Our weekly check into the hive dazzles us with the 7-day accomplishments of several thousand bees.  Those girls can work!The whirring buzz that comes from the bee box starts as early as we do and there are determined little foragers venturing in and out of the entrance until dusk.  Pretty darn studly!

I could not predict how impressed I'd be by bee operations.  I mean, I knew I wanted to give the whole beekeeper thing a hearty go, but I didn't know I'd become completely enamoured, entranced, obsessed, and smitten by the actions of our bee colony.  I love the sound of the hive, the warm honey smell that permeates from our home-made box, the site of our bees foraging nectar and pollen throughout the garden.  I even caught myself lifting up a tiny, furry bee from a blade of grass this past weekend.  She was obviously in the final moments of her life--stumbling, disoriented, unable to fly and yet I couldn't take my eyes off her perfection in miniature.  She had been born somewhere else--a pioneer who'd settled here and worked up to her last trip from the newly-built hive and I was absolutely oozing with appreciation. This old gal was going to die with her boots on and I couldn't help but hope that I will be so lucky.

So, yes, things are busy around here--every day is a new adventure in how-much-can-we-get-done and yet, at the end of the day, when the sun sets and we lock up the chickens and tuck ourselves into bed, I sigh a big 'ole Spring loving sigh.  I love this time of year!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Broody Trudy

Seriously?  No sooner have we got Hilda settled on her nest of six fertilized eggs than our Jersey Giant, Trudy (A.K.A. Gertrude Stein or Trudy Phillips) has decided to get in on the action.

Teri's response? No flippin' way.

Honestly, neither one of us is eager to spend the entire summer battling broody hens.  After all, Trudy just started laying two months ago!  Besides, her brand of broody seems a bit more neurotic and less confidence-inducing than Hilda's.

So, we are trying some of the suggestions we've heard from other chicken keepers.  Alas, the fact that we are away from home for 10-11 hours, four days a week doesn't really lend itself to due diligence in breaking up a broody hen. Yesterday, we took her off the nest and gave her backside a good soak in a cool tub of water.  I did this again this evening when I came home from work to find her on the nest.  To be effective, however, I think this is something we'd need to do a few times a day and we're just not here to do that.  We are also lifting her off the nest and closing up the coop.  This only works if Virginia has already laid, so we have to leave the coop open when we head off in the morning and this must look like a big neon Motel 6 sign to Trudy!

When we close up the coop, Trudy gets cranky and cases the joint trying to break in.  She pecks, scratches and even tries to jump up as if she'll magically pass through the coop walls like she's rushing for a train at Platform 9 3/4.  Honestly, I feel a little bad for her, but we're just not up to having two broodies.  For goodness sake, we only have 3 hens of laying capacity anyway! Maybe...someday...she'll get a turn, but for now, we keep removing her eggs (which she is still, thankfully, laying), scooping her out of the nest, and dipping her bum in a cool sitz bath--hoping hard we'll be able to break up this broody spell!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Summer Home!

After a week plus of 70-80 degree days; warm sunshine and afternoon breezes, Teri & I decided it was time to whisk out the last of cozy, Winter House and welcome in breezy Summer House.  For us, this means a combination of cleaning, furniture moving and art swaps.  Teri has been craving color and I have been craving creamy neutrals and whites.  Somewhere, there had to be a happy medium!

First of all, I confess we are both chronic furniture-movers.  Six months seems to be the maximum length of an arrangement era.  We just can't help ourselves and it becomes time for change...

The warm months open us up to new possibilities since we don't have to arrange the furniture to accommodate the baseboard heating.  We strive to move things away from the windows (I love cotton curtains waving in the breeze), clear away the warm blankets and create flow and open.  Colorful vintage tablecloths come out to play--serving as valances in the spare bedroom windows and fun runners for the coffee tables. Windows get washed, we switch out the shower curtain and we even clean and arrange outdoor tables and seating areas.  We may be the "average woman's" Martha Stewart, with our upcycled, recycled and softly worn, but that doesn't stop us from shaking out the damp and cozy and bringing in the light and airy!

So, the curtains have been washed and hung on the line to dry, the wood floors washed in vinegar and essential oils, and all the windows flung open to let the sunlight and warm air move through the house like music!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Green Eggs & Hilda

It took exactly one week, and, like most things in life, it wasn't without its bumps and twists, but Hilda the Hen now has a supposedly fertilized clutch of a half dozen eggs to set. Of course, that is the synopsis, but not the whole story...

As many of you know, I originally ordered eggs from Ebay--choosing a seller with a high satisfaction ranking who could ship small batches of eggs, in breeds we would appreciate, in a time frame that would work for us.  Without going into too much aggravated detail, that didn't work out.  The eggs didn't get sent, we weren't notified, I followed up, promises made, promises broke, I demanded a refund, and Hilda was still sitting on a few plastic Easter eggs.

I felt like I was failing as Hilda's steward and Teri and I both felt a little frustrated about the whole process.  So, we had a "Plan B" confab: Do we let her keep setting on the fakies until her broodiness runs its course? Do we take her off the nest and try to break her broodiness? Do we look for hatching eggs elsewhere? Do we get a couple chicks in a week or two and sneak them in under her at night?While we tend to feel like total hayseed beginners with everything farm-related, we realized that we already knew more than we had a year ago.  First, Hilda is inclined to be a seriously determined mama-to-be.  If we take her off the nest, there is a good chance she will get right back on in a day or two.  If we let her set, hatch and raise some babes, she will likely get back into the flow of egg laying and living life among the flock sooner than if we keep battling broodiness all summer. Teri mused that she didn't particularly like the idea of trying to "graft" a few chicks onto her because if Hilda should choose not to adopt them, we'd have chicks in the house, in our brooder, in June. Also, Teri isn't convinced that Hilda won't know they didn't actually hatch from eggs. So...we decided to try again to find some fertilized eggs for Hilda...this time closer to home.

A search for "hatching eggs" on Craigslist in the "farm & garden" section turned up some possibilities.  I perused the possibilities and decided to reach out to a few with breeds we'd appreciate and see who was motivated to get back to me for a "next day" pick up. This was all late Thursday night. By early Friday morning, I'd arranged to pick up what I thought would be 4 Araucana and 2 Orpington eggs at 5 pm that evening--when the seller farmer got home from work. Teri promised that if I procured them, she'd be the one to go into the maternity ward and do the swap out with Hilda.  We were cautiously optimistic.

When I got to the urban farmette, the woman I'd been arranging with, wasn't home from work yet, but she had her older father on alert for my arrival.  He was super apologetic that he had only pulled one Orpington egg out of the hen house that day, but showed me a carton where the hatching eggs were and said I could have more of something else.  He didn't know what the other eggs were though!  In the spirit of giddy adventure, I took one of the dark brown eggs as substitute and thought we'd just see if and when the egg hatched.  When I got home, we put an "A" on all the Araucana eggs, and "O" on the little Orpington egg and a "?" on the other one.  And, out we went to see what Hilda would think.

Hilda was not happy to be lifted off what she thought was her clutch of eggs, but Teri soothed her and moved quickly--tucking the new eggs up into her nest.  Hilda immediately started rolling them under her fluffy chest using her beak.  It was pretty cool to watch! Anticipating pecks and squawks, we were surprised that Hilda seemed to be working with us and Teri didn't really need the bee gloves she'd worn for protection after all.

As of this morning, Hilda is sitting proud and determined on her eggs.  I know I might be making it up, but there seems to be a happier, calmer, more content air about her--as if she knows she's really in the egg hatching business now!

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Timeline Vs. The Universe's

Things have not been going according to plan lately.  To be more succinct, things have not been going according to my plan.  And, if there is one thing I could never be accused of, it couldn't be living without a schedule, a calendar and a plan. Alas, even at this stage in the aging game, I still struggle a bit with the realization that the rest of the world, nay, the universe, is not exactly adhering to my plan of how things ought to be going down!

I know this may come as a shock to some of you (trust me, it shocks me too), but the weather doesn't answer to my bidding, nor do coworkers, grown kids, the US Postal Service, the chickens, the plants growing in the garden, my neighbors, stoplights, or even my digestive system.  Seems all these and more are operating within their own rhythms and reason.  My tenuous access to personal flexibility and my ability to, I'll say it, control the world are definitely at risk at here.

One of the phrases I say all the time is "Flexibility is my middle name!" Who am I kidding? It is really more of a mantra to remind myself that I need to chill, than it is a fact that anyone who knows me believes.  In fact, Teri is usually quick to point out that if I have to keep saying it with such emphatic determination, it might not actually be true.

Here are some current personally-invented challenges that owe entirely to the fact that the Universe is refusing to get in line with my very apt attempted manipulation of time management:

  • airline schedules
  • telephone messages, emails and customer issues at work (seriously, how am I going to accomplish my goal of cleaning out all my incoming messages if they keep, well, coming in?!)
  • chicken egg-laying, egg-setting, deck-pooping, fence-trampling, etc. 
  • my kids' schedules--I could so give them checklists & calendars & daily planners and their lives would be sailing along s-m-oooo-th! 
  • Teri's schedule--ditto on the task lists.Sheesh! Could she be efficient with my scheduled offerings!
  • sunny days vs. rainy days and optimal temperatures
Needless to say, you probably see what a set-up this is? It may come as a bit of a surprise, but none of these folks, critters, institutions, and natural systems has as much confidence in my ability to manage time, tasks and schedules as I do.  In fact, they all seem to be operating on counter schedules and timelines of their own--ones that often seem in direct opposition to my desire to bring order and peace to the little world around me!

As I also am inclined to say, If I was in charge of the world...which, of course, I'm not (a fact Teri seems to think is a pretty reassuring reality)--but, If I was in charge of the world, we'd be getting a whole lotta stuff done and there wouldn't be this willy nilly wandering, wars and time wasting we've got going down right now. I wouldn't need plans B & C because folks couldn't get it together to adhere to my plan A.

For whatever reason, the Universe has decided to not put me in charge, despite my natural propensity for order (I think, maybe, Martha Stewart is the one I need to bump out of the corner office), and the albatross around my Outlook calendar is learning to accept what minimal control and apparent chaos really exists in this crazy world I call my awesome life...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Like an Old Mother Hen

Hilda, our Buff Oprington hen, determined to at least sit on some eggs--which just 
happen to be plastic Easter eggs at this point.
 Our Hilda is not old, of course, it's been just over a year since we brought her home as a tiny yellow fluff ball.  And she's not a mother  yet.  I'm thinking the phrase "like an old mother hen" may best apply to Teri and me at this point as we tend, fuss and cluck over our living charges. We take the responsibility pretty seriously, I suppose, and find we have to remind ourselves that we can't exactly control nature...neither do we always understand it!

Our attempted solution at a temporary coop in which Hilda can explore potential motherhood.
Most of what we've read in the urban and chicken farming books focuses on how to "disrupt" the urges of a broody hen--a hen who wants to sit on a clutch of eggs.  After all, the assumption is that most folks are just in it for the eggs and a setting hen is not a laying hen.  Our neighbors are forever asking us "how many eggs?" we are getting by the day, as if that is the only reason for having the flock.  They never ask us how much fertilizer they make, or how many slugs or snails they have eaten, or how quickly they clean up the sloppy fruit that falls from our fruit trees?!

Well, as Hilda started getting her broody hen on, we did more research.  Among those who suggest letting hens follow their instincts, there were those who advocate removing her from the flock altogether and putting her in someplace dark and quiet; those who were all about just letting the hen set where she settled in the midst of the chicken coop; and myriad other suggestions.  I realize now, typical for Teri and me, we went with a little bit of a few suggestions and let common sense--and Hilda--be our guide.  We adjusted it to fit our scene.

We started by letting Hilda stay in the nest box she'd chosen in the regular coop.  After all, we didn't know if she was serious or not. Seems some hens will be inclined to get broody, but they'll lose interest in a few days or be somewhat haphazard about it.  We figured, we'd give her a couple days to see how determined she was.  After setting overnight one night, she did come off the nest late the next morning and wander around the yard, take a dust bath, and puff and cluck at all the other chickens.  We thought that might be it.  But by midday, she was back on the nest.  There were some snarky tussles with the other hens who wanted to get into their favorite nest box to lay, and we started thinking that maybe if she was determined to do this thing, it could end up like a middle school rest room up in there and we might need to make some adjustments.

Some folks suggested putting fake eggs under a hen for a few days to see if she's serious, and then swapping them out for fertilized eggs--of course, this applies to hens who aren't already setting on an accumulated clutch.  This seemed to make a bit of sense and match our timing too.  Since it would take a few days for us to acquire the fertilized eggs, we decided to give her four fake eggs--a combination of plastic Easter eggs and one of the clay 'Inspiration Eggs" we used to teach the hens where to lay in the first place.  We tucked those up under her in the first nest box so she could get used to having four eggs under her, since we'd decided we were only going to get four for her to set (despite the fact that big 'ole Buff Orpingtons could comfortably set 12-18 eggs--what in the world would we do with that many chicks?!)  We figured with four eggs, there was a good chance that at least half could be roosters we'd need to re-home, and if we had to incorporate 2 new chicks into our flock, we could.  Besides, they might not all be viable eggs anyway. We're working on a small scale here!

At this point, we still weren't convinced we would have to move Hilda out of the nest box.  We hoped things would settle down and the other hens would just go about laying their daily eggs in the other nest box.  On about day three, we realized that was probably not going to happen.  Hilda trilled and screeched whenever any of the other gals came near, and the other galls squawked and clucked and tried to bully her off the nest.  It was time to come up with a new plan.

As Teri said, "We just don't know if we're doing the right thing!" and she's right. There are so many suggestions, dogmatic declarations by experienced chicken folk, and livestock rules that apply more to big operations than to evolving little backyard flocks. We remembered our neighbors had offered us use of their chicken tractor and thought this might work decently to make a protected, but adjacent space for Hilda.  We decided we did not want to separate her from the flock because we didn't want her to lose connection or have to reintegrate. She's already slipped to the bottom of the pecking order with the big gals.  We thought if we could keep her close, they'd all still hear, smell and see each other and, if chicks hatch, they wouldn't be foreigners either. 

We moved in the tractor, which is completely open on one end and placed it right up against our coop.  We had to add some boards and screening, as well as a tarp to make it somewhat weather proof, before constructing a comfortable, if a bit makeshift new nesting area for Hilda.  We put it closer to the ground so that, if she does hatch chicks, they won't tumble out of a high nest, but still up enough so she could feel safe and secure.  She can see in the coop and outside and all the other chickens can still see her too. She's got her own food and water and room to stretch her legs and poop without fear that someone will mess with her nest.

We still didn't know what would happen when we moved her in there.  She could decide it didn't suit her needs and fuss to get out, or we imagine at any point, she could change her mind about wanting to set on eggs at all.  She didn't.  She had a good meal and drank some water and then settled right back onto the new nest.  Her determination, at this point, is pretty amazing.  I think she looks stoic and Zen; Teri thinks she looks sad and isolated (I imagine we are both bringing some of our own mythology about motherhood to this.) Regardless, she quietly spent the night in her new digs and was sitting all plump and purposeful when I went out to tend the critters in the morning.

We still don't know what will happen.  The eggs should arrive in a couple days and, if she's still determined to set, we'll begin what could be a three-week wait and watch to a possible hatching.  Stay tuned...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bee Tea, Bee Stings & Hilda Wants to be a Mom

Checking our bee hive after one week...right before I got stung four time!
Things are getting just a tad bit kooky around here--while other folks may have a predictable, mellow and static urban yard with tidy lawn patches and well-pruned shrubs, we've got some dynamic chaos and forces far beyond our attempted molding.  While we don't feel like we are in over our heads...yet...we have definitely found ourselves commenting on the amazing learning curve.  Even Teri has found her level-headed self caught up in the ride!

Our bees seem happy. They are buzzing in and out of the hive entrance, building combs, and we are starting to see them foraging all over

Our beautiful, plump Buff Orpington, Hilda Doolittle.
the garden. After two very mellow visits before they really had anything to protect, I was inaugurated into the realities of our tenuous relationship last weekend, when I got stung on the hands four times.  Damn, those stings are still itchy red patches on the backs of my hands! Teri thinks my smoking technique could use a little practice, whereas I kindly invited her to take the lead on our next visit to the bees and show me how she thinks it should be done!  The stings were secondary, however, to our discovery that there was brood in dem der comb cells!  Brood being young bee larvae.  We are going to go back in this weekend--after I get my thicker beekeeper gloves on--and check for capped brood, which will be our solid indication that we will have new bees and a growing hive in another week or two!

Just to be on the safe side, or maybe because it seemed like a terribly earthy and progressive thing to do (or as my son would say, a hippy thing to do), we have made the bees some tea. Gunther Hauk, of the Spikenard Farm Bee Sanctuary in Virginia offers up this tea recipe for providing a little extra healthy goodness for bees in transition. Okay, so I can sort of see where my son is coming from. Anyway, we had all the ingredients, except the Rue, so I decided to brew some up and put it out in the yard in a baby chicken water feeder filled with rocks so the bees could drink without drowning.  Truth be told, I'm probably trying to bribe them a bit so they will be less inclined to sting me!

Meanwhile, in the Lord of the Flies re-enactment that is our evolving chicken flock, Hilda Doolittle (yup, named after the poet & writer H.D. in an homage to my English major roots--we named all three of our inaugural chickens after modernist lesbian authors) has gone broody. She has taken to one of the nests with a Zen-like determination and is refusing to budge.  We're patting ourselves on the back a bit, because, beginners as we are, we saw it coming.  Starting with finding some of her chest feathers scattered about the nest a little over a week ago.  Then she just started acting particularly cranky--squawking and snapping at the young pullets, puffing herself out in stoic fluff for no apparent reason, AND, I actually caught her moving eggs around in the nest the other day.  Usually the hens just climb up, lay their eggs, make a noisy fuss, and clamber back down for a hearty drink and a return to foraging about the yard.  As of yesterday, Hilda has taken to the nest and seems determined to stay there until something maternal happens.

Teri and I knew this was probably coming~we knew when we chose to give the Buff Orpington breed a try that there was a very good chance she could go broody as they are one of the most motherly-inclined of the heritage breeds.  We'd had some preliminary chats but found ourselves in an emergency confab over a glass of post-work wine: Do we force her out of it? Do we let it run its course with some fake eggs? Do we move her?  After a bit more research and reminding ourselves of our mission, so to speak, on this urban farming adventure (to allow and support these animals to live as true to their nature as possible), we decided that if Hilda stays broody, we'll let her set on some fertilized eggs. 
Some of our recently-gathered NOT fertilized eggs
Now, we don't have a rooster (at least we don't think any of our new trio of pullets are male...yet) and it is, in fact, against the rules to have one within the city limits.  We are so within the city limits as to be within a mile of city center! So, we have to scramble and search for some fertilized eggs in breeds that we are potentially interested in--just in case we end up keeping a chick or two.  Big hatcheries sell hatching eggs, but a person has to order a minimum of usually 10 or 15 and the order time is at least a couple weeks out.  We do NOT need that many and the wait is too long. 

Lo and Behold...Ebay.  Don't ask me why or how I thought of it, but the light bulb went on and I thought, crap, this is an Internet World and surely...maybe? Sure enough, there are all sorts of small-time folks selling fertilized hatching eggs on Ebay and a person can order as few or as many as one likes.  I realize it's a gamble, who knows what we'll get, but four fertilized eggs sent priority mail from a Northern California back yard for $15 is better than 15 eggs mailed  in three weeks for $50.  First choice, of course, would have been someone local, but we realized we don't really know the sort of folks who would run over here with 5 or 6 fertilized heritage breed chicken eggs...yet.  In the end, we're only out $15 and, as Teri pointed out, if Hilda loses interest in setting before the eggs arrive early this next week, the eggs will still be edible and we'd pay $15 for a 4-egg omelet breakfast at a restaurant, wouldn't we?  Ah...perspective!

Honestly, despite all the books, movies, and articles we read, we are still making this up as we go along.  The kooky thing is that I sort-of feel like the animals are too so, in a way, we're all on this wild ride together!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Aging Choices

As you might imagine, Teri and I have the occasional conversations about this whole aging adventure.  As both of us are closer to 50 than we are to 40; with a few grey hairs, a wrinkle or ten and steady reminders that we are no Spring chickens, we tend to bring our unrelenting students' sensibilities to the challenges.  As far as we're concerned, how we age, to a certain extent, is a choice.

There is so much of life we have absolutely no control of: the weather, the economy, the way everyone around us drives, etc. The only piece we really get to manipulate is our philosophical approach.  When I think of the older people I know and have known who inspire me, they are the ones with a sense that time will run out before they do and there are some of their characteristics I've embraced as ones that I want to carry into the second half of my life:
  • Compassion
  • Open-mindedness
  • Engaged in community
  • Physically active (as active as physically possible)
  • Constantly learning
  • Willing to be a beginner
  • Silly
  • Reading, watching movies, going to plays
  • Embracing new music
  • Being a thoughtful, involved neighbor
  • Surrounding ourselves with diversity: folks of different ages, racial & ethnic backgrounds, genders, socio-economics, etc.
  • Refraining from giving/offering advice~unless specifically asked
  • Accepting our kids wholly for who they are, their choices, etc.~allowing them to be themselves without trying to influence or judge
  • Willingness to say "yes" and "no"
  • Every day is a new adventure!
As I've seen it, we have some choices about how we age.  There are those who become bitter and sheltered; retreating into familiarity and rigid days and schedules; and there are also those who reinvent themselves with a great leap of faith and change. I don't imagine I am really either of those sorts, but see myself more as an opening up of more and more layers of life and myself.  I don't want to abandon all that I am or have been, but I also have the constant sense that there is still so much to do, learn, and explore.  Every year of my life, I have met new people and had new adventures; There are constantly new people to meet, friends to make, books to read, places to visit, and recipes to try~but there are also relationships to deepen, skills to improve, and joys to experience again and again. There is excitement in change, but there is also a sense of maturity that comes from lessons learned deeply and relationships weathered over time and trial. 

As Teri and I have shared, we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow or next week or next year, but we have a pretty good idea of who we are going to be when it happens...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Critter Bonding

We are all getting to know each other: The new pullets, the old hens, Teri, Me, the three cats, and the bees.  Throw in our wild critter neighbors (squirrels, jays and chickadees) and we've got quite the tribal settling going on over here on Cedar Street. As Teri declared the other day, there is always something going on in our back yard!

So, here's the low down on merging the young chicklets with our existing Macbethian flock of gals--it's a process.  Many of you may already know that chickens live contentedly with a social hierarchy.  What we've learned, is that the pecking order shifts depending on interesting things: for example, if one of them goes into a moult and stops laying for a while, she tends to lose a little ground, while someone else gets a promotion.  So far, we have seen all three of the big girls take a turn at being in charge.  Currently, it appears Trudy is calmly in the CEO shoes (after being the scraggly late-bloomer, we're thinking she's enjoying her turn in the bossy seat).  Hilda, our Buff Orpington, is presently at the bottom of the trio and, we're noticing, she has the most to gain with the addition of the three rookies and she's making sure they know it!

The other hens (Trudy and Virginia Woolf) pay little attention to the three new squeakers running around, but Hilda really needs them to know she's a rung above them on the ladder of success and influence.  She isn't terribly physical, she tends to use an obnoxious squawk and some jolty posturing to intimidate. Teri, ever the fair-minded humanitarian, finds all of this bossing and mild bullying disconcerting; she can't figure out why, if they know what it's like to be on the bottom, they aren't all nice, helpful and egalitarian to one another.  My philosophy is that we're probably not the ones to tackle and change what Nature has created; there are obviously things at play here outside of our realm of logic and human psychology.  That said, I also think that as long as they all have plenty of room to get away from each other and make their own alliances, fresh air, treats, and attention from us, things will settle down and our miniature animal kingdom will be relatively peaceful.

Now enter bees...
I am surprised at how quickly I have become enamoured of our buzzing little hive. Yesterday, I couldn't wait to get home from work when I realized we were having an extended sun break, just to check in with the busy ladies and see what they were up too. My lack of fear has me a bit perplexed.  Strangely enough, I actually feel a sense of calm when working around the bees.  It might have something to do with the fact that I am trying to be slow, respectful and deliberate when working around them; I don't want to startle, crush or traumatize any of them--they are all working so hard and so focused on their tasks at hand! I love the buzzing sound when the sun warms the hive and they all get active and I am fascinated watching them fly in and out of the entrances, speeding along the flight path and heading up and across the garden.

The chickens pay little notice to the bees, although they are benefiting gastronomically by cleaning up the dead ones they find amidst the grass.  The cats quickly learned to give the hive a respectful berth, although Teri reports that Bad Toby did jump up on the top of the hive the other day, only to look a bit confused and jump himself back down.  I don't think the bees have enough of an investment to protect yet, so they are pretty docile.  I imagine when they've got brood and honey stores, they will likely have less patience for furry intruders!

So amidst all this intentional critter action, we've got a half dozen squirrels who have been racing across the back fence and one determined little thing who has been hell-bent on robbing us of every bit of hemp twine we have in the garden.  We watched the thing grab one end from a ball and take off across our yard, over the back fence and through the neighbor's.  I finally cut the yards long trail with my garden clippers so we could salvage some for ourselves. The jays are stealing straw and bits of whatever they can get away with to line their nests, and after watching our chickens devour a big, crunchy snail, and watching the young pullets gobble a couple gooey slugs, I'm happily realizing that we are not going to have a slug and snail problem this year!

We're all figuring it out, we're cohabitating, and, honestly, I sort-of think we're all making it up as we go along...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bee Poop

There are always things you can't learn in books.  I say this more of a reminder and affirmation for myself because I am definitely a reader and student long before I tend to be ready to take the plunge into new adventures.  No matter how much I read and study, however, the proof is always in the doing!

After about a decade of reading about bees and beekeeping, watching documentaries, listening to interviews and getting up the courage, yesterday I officially became a bee keeper and was inaugurated in various ways--none of which included getting stung.

Just between you and me, I have to confess that when the experienced beekeeper set that box of buzzing bees down at my feet, he might as well have been handing me a shredding scroll written in Latin.  I looked down and forgot every book and video and wondered how I would ever get the damn thing open and the bees deposited into our lesbian-built bee hive!  It seemed far more complicated than any six-sided object should ever be...

I'll spare you the stories of my adrenaline combination of excitement, glee, and panic and get right down to what the books don't tell you: shaking the bees into the hive does not result in a nice, tidy pile of newly-homed bees and bees poop.

As soon as the can of syrupy whatever capping the bees traveling berth was lifted off, bees starting buzzing out.  I had to try to slip the queen cage out and get her hung up in the hive and get the box tipped and shaken relatively quickly and that was a bit of a bumbly challenge.  I actually dropped the queen into the box accidentally and had to leave her there while I did my gently, yet authorative shaking.  I then used my long-handled screwdriver to gently lift the cage and get her hung up on one of the bars of our top bar hive--holding her in place with another bar.  Meanwhile, bees were a-buzzing!

Looking into the air and trees above our yard, thousands of bees were flying about.  They quickly honed in on the hive box and as I closed it all back up, the cloud of bees was already starting to dissapate.
Within about an hour, things had settled down quite nicely in our back yard, but that's when we started to notice little brown spots on EVERYTHING.  What the heck?  My clothes, all the lawn furniture, the deck, even Tillie, our teal-green PT Cruiser parked in the front driveway, were all covered with the little splots of brown.  I should have been more curious when my 23-year-old daughter, Lucy, who was beekeeper number 2 for the adventure, asked if it was raining in the midst of the great bee dump. Raining? I thought for a second, naw, the sun is out!
Turns out, (I think) that bees relieve themselves when they fly.  So all those 14,000 bees (give or take) were probably so happy to be let loose over a nice green garden after their long journey! I can honestly tell you, dear reader, that not one single book, article or movie warned me about the bee poop.  So, all of you aspiring beekeepers out there, I'm laying down a little realness for you.  I can't help but wonder, if my neighbors are wondering what the little brown spots are on their lawn furniture?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The 'Pause: Hotflashes, Wiggly Nights & The Crankies

Our Hen Hilda is bold, sassy and looking good after her raggedy Winter moult.

Teri and I are no Spring chickens...we are more like early Fall chickens in the midst of a raggedly moult.  In our late forties, we are both waste-deep in what I've decided to call "The Pause" (not sure why we need the word "men" in there; no offense to any men, but really?  This is a Female Adventure!)

There are days when we are both grateful we are so close in age and get to share in our transition. Truth be told, it is nice to have someone who gets it and with whom one can make comparisons and bitch without being accused of whining.  On the flip side, we have house that just may catch fire from the hotflashes of two cranky women and we are waging a full-fledge war with our sheets and blankets every night (window open? two windows? one blanket? two? who put all these pillows on here? flannel--hell no! I think you get the picture.)

The other day at work, in a room full of 20 and barely 30-somethings, I had a nice, toasty, head-on-fire, sweat-dripping hotflash and even though it only lasted a couple minutes, it was enough to make me feel a hundred years old and cranky as hell.  On my break, I texted Teri with: had a nice hotflash out of nowhere and know she was commiserating from her own red-faced work day on the other side of the county.

Now, before you offer us remedies and advice--we've read the books and articles, we're drinking our tea and using herbs and doing what we can.  We really feel quite healthy and it is more of a discomfort, rather than an overwhelming assault.  Besides, we don't want to hide or ignore it--we both see this time as a right of passage and while we're ready to move through and get to the other side, we don't want to pretend it's not happening altogether.

So while our periods are irregular now and have been distributed unfairly--I haven't had one since before Christmas, but Teri seems to be doubling up and taking my shifts; and we seldom sleep through the night with the uninterrupted sleep we used to know; and there are moments when we could leap over a store counter and shake bratty young clerks by the neck like a dog with a floppy toy; and while we haven't learned how to make a statement like "you're so hot, you're actually red-faced and sweat-drenched" sound sexy, we are still in this thing as a team.  We're rocking the 'Pause!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Our Scary Life

Me being terribly threatening and queer with the also sweetly scary Hilda.
Recently, I had a hateful and homophobic post show up in my Facebook newsfeed, posted by a young extended family member.  It caught me a little off guard because, well, I think I've let my guard down since the elections ended and I've been happy to take a break from seeing and reading things people wrote and posted that reminded me how many folks in "America" really feel. They may smile to my face when they see me in person, but in the comfort of their own sheltered worlds, who knows the extent of what is said and done! Well, actually, thank to social networking, many of us know the extent of what is said and done.

My initial reaction to these things is to feel sad and disappointed in myself.  After all, wasn't one of the reasons for all of us to "come out" to give the younger generation ordinary non-scary role models and  might that counter the bigotry and bias they were learning in other places (including their own homes?) It makes me sad to know that while many young people have been somewhat liberated from their homophobia and hate, there are still some who have been not only allowed, but also encouraged to carry on the tradition of being bigots. That feels sad and wasteful to me. These are the same people I sent birthday cards and Christmas presents and other ordinary familial well-wishes to over the years, so I quickly move from sadness and disappointment to a bit of crabby frustration.
Teri being equally horrific with the iridescent Virginia.
Yes, I get that it is ignorance and fear, and yes, I understand we still have a long way to go but, seriously?! I would be horrified and ashamed if I ever heard of my kids--grown as they may be--saying or doing something willfully hurtful, racist, homophobic, sexist or bigoted.  I worked hard as a parent to do whatever I could to make sure the bias I grew up with stopped with me.  Teri is a bit better at shrugging her shoulders and chalking such things up to "the way things are" or the fact that "some people will never change." Me? Not so much...

So, despite the fact that I feel we have an inherited obligation of advocacy and modeling work to do, I've become increasingly liberal with the "unfriend" button.  Maybe I could be accused of trying to live my own version of a sheltered life, but I'd like to minimize the hate, bigotry, racism, homophobia, and whatever other ickyness that I have to read or see while sitting comfortably in my own home. I am still sad and disappointed and frustrated, but there is also some self-preservation involved. If I am completely honest, there is also a great deal of defensive solidarity with all of my awesome friends and loved ones who are also the targets of hate, bias and bigotry: not in my house, not on my screen--you've made your choice and now I'm making what choices I can.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Spring is Sprouting!

Two-week-old Marilla (a Plymouth Barred Rock) plays among the rosebuds and calendula flowers

As Teri and I had our first "picnic" of the year yesterday--eating sandwiches while sitting in the sunny warmth of our little bare-limbed orchard, we chuckled as the seeming suddenness of kooky wild spring: The cats are acting kooky; the neighborhood children were out in force, loudly whooping and screaming; the sound of lawnmowers was popping up in every direction and our own chickens seemed to have turned into ravenous, laying-focused hens over night.  As I told Teri, "the natural world has done lost its mind!"

We watched yesterday as all three of our hens tromped in and out of the coop, clucked and squawked around the yard, climbed in and out of the nest boxes, and just generally let the world know that they had things to do. Meanwhile, the baby chicks seem to grow an inch or more every day!  The past couple days they have taken to playing a chick version of leap frog--flying at each other clumsily--trying out their fast-growing new wings. Everyone is starving and we are forever scooping food and filling water bowls.  The cats are chasing squirrels, the squirrels are chasing each other, and the jays are stealing straw from the chicken coop to seemingly build a straw house.  Things have gotten busy!

Despite the frosty nights, the garden is starting to sprout as well.  The early peas are up--even if they have only just stretched their sturdy pea stems above the wet ground. The daffodils are blooming among the fat, prickly artichoke leaves, and the chives are stretching their tender, fresh green shoots up among the decaying leaves in the herb bed. I was delighted to find the hop vines sending out new buds and the raspberries getting promising green buds along the short, leftover canes. The currant bush has bright pink, drooping blossoms and the cherry tree is thinking hard about coming to life too!

This time of year is always a bit volatile--the weather can do anything; the garden could be anything; and while there is such a relief that winter is over, there is also a sense of panic.  When the natural world wakes up, we start feeling like we are already running behind!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ready for Bees...

Our bee box is ready...we think...we hope...we'll see!  After fussing, reading, pricing, drawing plans, and, finally, taking the leap and building what we hope will be our foray into the world of beekeeping.  Now, we just have to wait for bees.  Well, that isn't really all we have to do, but that is the next step in our adventure.  The way we see it, the arrival of bees will actually be the true beginning!

Just between you and I, we are actually pretty proud of our top-bar bee hive.  We built it from both new and reclaimed materials and it cost us around $40 to build.  This is in contrast to the $250-$300+ priced ones we were looking at before we looked at each other and said, "Sheesh, we can build a box for a lot cheaper than that!" Sure, it doesn't have fancy scrolls, or custom-made legs--we figured a couple milk crates might work just fine for the time being.  The very top (painted the sassy purple) is actually a recycled protest sign; I painted over the revolutionary-inspired words with purple spray paint.  The box itself is painted with a lime-ish yellow paint--we probably spent as much on that paint as we did the lumber for the box--we got a little carried away in the paint aisle!

We were advised to let it "off-gas" after building it, which as far as we could tell, is just a fancy name for letting the paint dry and the box age and air before the bees move in.  In cooking terms, we needed to let it cool. About a week ago, we moved it from it's creation home in the gayrage to it's new home in a sunny, south-facing corner of our backyard--in front of the fig tree. We also put up a new bamboo fence along our side of the open-slatted fence our neighbors have up.  We decided that the less they see our future bees buzzing in and out of their hive, the better for our continuing neighbor relations!

So far, the current "farm" creatures are finding it temporarily useful.  The chickens can hide under it when it rains and the cats find the purple top heats up nicely in the sun--making an excellent napping spot.  We've been warning them to enjoy it while they can, as hopefully soon it will be a-buzz with busy bee comings and goings!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Chicken Babies!

The house is alive with the tiny peep, peep, peeps of brand new baby chicks again.  While our best laid plans of bringing home a Welsummer and a Dominique didn't happen, we figure we got the girls we were meant to have!

For the past three months, we have had the date of February 27th circled on the calendar.  This was the date our nearby urban farm supply store listed as the arrival date for newly hatched Ameraucana, Welsummer and Dominique chicks.  From our studious research, these were the next three breeds we wanted to try--Dominuqes being one of the oldest heritage breeds in the United States.  We scrubbed our brooder tote with vinegar water, washed all the gear from last year (water and food dishes) and weaned the pepper starts off the heat lamp so it could be used for the new babies and then we checked the days off on the calendar.

On the morning of February 27th, I called the Fancy Urban Farm Store (not its real name) to make sure to reserve our chicks so Teri could pick them up after work, only to find out that none of them were in and it wasn't known when or if they would be in.  What?!  Disappointment.  Sad faces.  Regrouping.

That night, Teri and I had a heart-to-heart about whether we wanted to wait and hope and search for those breeds or whether we were open to the adventure of trying other chickens and expanding our flock regardless.  Guess what decision we made? We decided we weren't that snobby and that it might be fun to be a little more spontaneous.

The next day, Teri called the Fancy Urban Farm Store just to see if there was any chance for the Doms and the Wels.  Turns out that sometimes eggs don't hatch.  The best-laid plans of farmers and schedulers just don't matter and for whatever reasons--genetic or environmental--incubated eggs don't always hatch cute live baby chicks.  We were told there would be some Ameraucanas in that day, however, and there were various babes almost a week-old from the previous week's hatch.

What little we know about chicks is that you want to get chicks close in age to increase the chances they will get along and not pick on each other.  Teri picked me up at 5:30 pm after both our long work days, and we stopped first at our local farm and ranch supply store where we picked up a tiny Rhode Island Red from one of the few tubs they had.  She chose it and paid while I called the Urban Fancy Farm Store to see if they still had any of the newly-arrived Ameraucanas.  We were in luck, but we had to get there by 6 pm!  We promised the farmy ranchy folk that we were not going to raise just one lonely chick and zoomed off across town, sliding into the parking lot at the Urban Fancy Farm at five minutes to six.

We chose our Ameraucana and, on the spot, decided a Plymouth Barred Rock would round out our trio.  After all, we thought we remembered them to be black and white like a Dominique so Teri would have her wish that all six would look completely different!

So, we are forgetting why it seemed so important to have the original breeds we chose as we get to know our new babies and they get to know each other.  They are already sleeping in a pile and playing an exhausting game we call "Chick Rugby" with each other (they take turns grabbing a tiny piece of cedar shaving and chase each other around trying to grab it.) As a mini-flock and as individuals, they all seem different from our current hens (and last year's babies.)  Feathers are growing in before our eyes and we have plodded headlong again into the delightful world of raising pullets...again!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Just Cuz I'm Getting Older, Doesn't Mean I'm Getting Dumber

I turned 46 on my last birthday; I consider myself on the young side of middle-age, but yes, solidly middle-age.  It's been almost thirty years since I graduated from high school (thank the Good Laura).  I've raised kids, built a career, traveled across the world, been published, and learned to use just about every type of computer and dozens of different software programs since the eighties.  I've kept up.  For some reason, however, I've hit the age when those under the age of thirty assume I must be unable to either understand or learn new things.  There seems to be a little confusion over what is youth and pop culture and what is actually knowledge...

I don't mean to sound cranky, obnoxious or egotistical, but just because I'm not staying hip to new bands and music artists,  doesn't mean I don't know how to Tweet or create an event page on Facebook.  Surprise!  And guess what else I can do?  I can create and manage a big 'ole budget, decipher financial statements, chair a board meeting, write and/or edit a book, write from just about any angle, point of view, style or "voice" imaginable, book and manage international travel for two dozen people, bake a pie, build a bookcase, change the oil in a car, and carry on an extended conversation without slang or curse words.  Truly.

I worked on my first ad campaign when I was sixteen and it was fine, probably even somewhat creative and sassy, but it was in no way the best work I've ever done.  I wrote my first grant proposal when I was 22 and it was definitely not the pinnacle of my proposal-writing efforts. I have had to morph, change, learn, and let go. I may not know computer programming, but I was working on web sites when it meant copying in html and codes and spending a day getting photos, links and texts to behave the way they were supposed to.  I learned then and I'm still learning.

Ageism is an interesting thing--I've definitely been that young person trying to carve out a place in work and the world. Strangely enough, I've always most enjoyed work scenes where there was the most age and other diversity.  I've worked with brilliant people who were much younger than I and those who were amazing and 80. They all knew things, they all had great talents and knowledge and experiences to bring to the table.  I would like to hope that as I continue to get older, there will be a place for the experience, knowledge and energy I've got as well.  If not, I'm going to get damn cranky...

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nature Ain't Reading My Calendar

This week has been a good reminder all around that all the lists, calendars and datebooks in the world don't exactly dictate the schedules or behaviors of the natural world.  We've got plants coming up in unsuspecting places in our garden, chickens working together to get through fencing to devour newly-planted cauliflower starts and our 3-month-long anticipated arrival of our well-researched new breeds of baby chicks has been upended by the mere fact that the eggs haven't hatched.  What?!  We've had the date circled on our kitchen calendar!  We did our part and got everything cleaned and ready!

I don't know if I speak for other gardeners and farmer sorts, but I think the unpredictable frustration is part of what gets us hooked.  We just never know what's going to happen.  This time of year always reminds me of my late Grandpa Darrell--he was a plant-early-take-risks sort of gardener and I remember many chats about frost damage, replants and battles with time and weather.  I must have got the bug from him as I am forever taking chances, wrangling disappointment and wondering what to try next. 

It is good to be reminded that I'm not really in charge--I may have bursts of control and the best of intentions, but in the end, there is a natural world that doesn't operate by my check lists and datebook scribblings.  Damn.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gardening with Chickens?!

No one promised us a rose garden...or, more aptly, no one promised us that having a vegetable garden, a mini-fruit orchard and a free-ranging chicken flock would be an easy merging.  In fact, we read books, we debated, and we strategized and then we finally just took a leap of faith and decided we'd figure it out as we went along.

Well...we're going along.  Last year was easy peasy--first they were chicks and then by the time they were out in the fenced back yard, the garden was big enough that they couldn't really do much damage.  This spring is a whole different situation!  Now, our veggie garden is a series of grates, fences, plastic coverings and any other sort of barriers we can come up with to keep those persistent henpeckers from our tender plants!

Yesterday, as I was attempting to plant out the Brussels sprouts, and as I was getting one jumbo flat planted, I was not only pushing the girls away, but trying to keep them from devouring the other flat I had on standby to plant next.  Just so you know, "Shoo!" doesn't really work with chickens--especially tame ones who pretty much think they rule the yard.  They aren't dummies--they want the worms unearthed while I dig, the tender leaves of the sprouting plants and to get their big 'ole scratching chicken feet into the soft, yummy compost.

I remember  how adorably cute I thought it was last Fall when they followed me around as I did my garden clean-up chores--having them under foot, ready to snatch up a freshly planted onion bulb isn't nearly as adorable. So we're back to talking about whether to build a run--at least a temporary one while the veggies are getting started.  We love the idea of letting them free range and they've come to expect it; but we'd like to have some vegetables survive their feet and beaks too!  Meanwhile, we are facing off and we are two gals trying to outsmart a trio of determined hens...stay tuned!