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

It just keeps getting better...

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...