“We cannot live without the Earth or apart from it, and something is shrivelled in a man's heart when he turns away from it and concerns himself only with the affairs of men”
-Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Spring Has Sprung


Yesterday.  It was one of those days.  And I know you know what I mean.

Yesterday.  It was the day when that spring that has been tightly coiled for some time now, finally released.  It was a day, I knew was going to happen.

We came home last night after dinner.  I went out to close the chickens up for the night, assuming that they are perfectly safe in their yard; in the box of rock, wood and chicken wire that we painstakingly built.  I didn't take my flashlight with me, even though it was dark.  I've walked the path so frequently, I really do believe I could do it blindfolded.  But I knew something was wrong before I even unlatched the gate.  I couldn't see it, but I could sense it.  It was more quiet than usual.  At that time of night, the chickens have made their way into their coop and are roosting and making cooing noises and soft clucks and are settling in after their day.  I spy a dark mass at my feet as I go to lock up their inner door, and shock and dread and realization hit me all at once.  I run back to the house to get a flashlight.  One of Langshans is a dead mass of lifeless feathers on the ground.  Its body is in a hideous position, its neck broken.  

I quickly go into the coop and count the chickens. I'm relieved to see what I think are the rest of them on their roosts. And they all look unharmed, albeit more quiet and probably stunned. I count them...one...two...three...four...five...six...seven...  Three.  We've lost three.  I go back to the yard to find the other bodies.  I find one of the Golden Buffs on the other end of the yard, her feathers more ruffled, more violence done to her, eviscerated.  The last of the three, another Langshan, its claws sticking up toward the sky is in a heap by the hay stack, downed when almost reaching safety. 

What did this?  My first thought...raccoon or coyote.  No.  After this cold winter, they would have been dragged off to be eaten or eaten on the spot.  These chickens were killed for sport and left there.  It's the work of a well-fed pet...a dog.  

But how did they get in?  My husband and I walk the perimeter and find a hole about 12-inches off of the ground, the edges sticking outward after something squeezed its way back to the outside after its plunder.  We find three other places where the dogs had latched their teeth onto the wire, trying to find a weakness in the fence. They eventually did.  So tenaciously did they want at our chickens, they chewed a hole through the wire.  

I love dogs.  But if I may be honest, my first thought was to get our hunting blind and my 12-gauge and camp out near the coop again tonight and wait for them to come back and pop them.  My rage was barely contained and only so because I didn't want my son to see me go medieval. It's not pretty. And the feeling of violation made me want retribution and as soon as possible.  As usual, my husband is the reasonable one and had to talk me down from my vigilante mission.  He threw around words like "illegal", "sued" and ridiculous stuff like, "you just can't go around shooting your neighbor's dogs" as I rolled my eyes at him and wished that he would just get quit talking and get on board with my brilliant plan.

I eventually calmed down.  Grief and loss and resignation has replaced the rage.  In all honesty, this is what we signed up for. You can't control everything. You will lose animals. You will lose them a number of ways...and sometimes, by necessity, even by your own hands.  And it's not fair that my neighbors let their dogs run loose, and in a few minutes, recklessly disposed of animals that we have made every effort to care for and protect. But we are not guaranteed fairness in life. 

So we will go out there this morning and reinforce the yard, even more.  And when our neighbors drive by, we will smile and wave at them.  And eventually, the grief will turn to understanding, and we'll forgive them. Maybe, I already have.  





Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Light Bulb


Like much of the country, Oklahoma has been in a deep freeze.  One of the issues facing chicken husbandry is how does one keep their water from freezing without burning your chicken coop down.  I thought I had solved this problem when I went to my local agriculture store and begrudgingly shelled out $50 for a heated poultry waterer.  Paying that much money for a piece of plastic with a heating coil in the base was an experience I liken to what it must feel like to pass a watermelon - or a sizeable gourd. 
It kept the water thawed. 
It also leaked all over the coop floor...and it was $50 - onto plan B.

My husband's attachment to tools and hardware paid off.  The solution was in our workshop the entire time.
I priced out the materials, and if you already have the coop wired with an outlet, this set up cost no more than ten bucks. It's safe, if properly wired, and it works.

Take a standard porcelain light bulb fixture and wire it.  



 Chisel out a channel in a thin rectangular cinder block for the wire to rest into.

 Place the light bulb fixture onto the block.

Place a square cinder block over the light bulb, making sure the cord is resting in the chiseled channel.

 Place another thin rectangular block over the lighted well.
 Place poultry waterer on top.  The light from the bulb is just enough to heat 
the surrounding cinderblocks and keep the water thawed. 
 We've been through two major subfreezing spells with this set up and it has not failed us yet.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Erecting Fences

This morning, I sidle up to my blog, the one that I haven't seen in a long time - like an old friend that I haven't spoken to in forever.   

My husband, the bold and skilled, built from scratch, a chicken yard to rival Fort Knox.  If a chicken yard can be called beautiful, then it is a gleaming and resplendent thing of majesty.  And I titter with glee every time I look at it. It keeps in the good, and keeps out the not so helpful.  The hawks and owls perch on the branches over head and peer down through the wire ceiling.  Our neighbors' dogs walk the perimeter, sniffing and ogling the unattainable treats and playthings that could have been theirs; and the chickens, quite unperturbed and tranquil, stand at the fence boundary looking right back at them, secure in their security.



It has been the year of erecting fences, both the literal and the figurative kind.   It had been a summer in which I burned up and burned out.  Too many obligations, too many demands and expectations - all pulling me in different directions at once...and admittedly, many of them self-imposed.


 I think that most families are contending with this right now, but homeschoolers are especially vulnerable.  To some degree, people are watching our kids a little bit closer; some seem to be certain that we are dooming our kids to a life of peer isolation and social awkwardness.    Constantly aware of this stereotype, we misguidedly think that we need to prove them wrong.  We schedule, we overschedule, we join groups, we join too many groups, we enroll our kids in activities so that they will enjoy their lives, not realizing that it is too many activities that rob the joy from their lives.  All of this so that they will get to attain that Holy Grail called "socialization" that everyone seems to be so fixated on. 



 So we run ourselves, and our kids, ragged.  It dawned on me one day as I was out of breath, not because I was exercising, not because I had just received a shock, and not because I was being chased, but because I was just conducting my typical day.  And I was driving, and I was late, and my son was asking me a question, and my phone was buzzing for one of the several reasons in which it always seems to be buzzing, and I was sitting there in my car, not present, not engaging with my son, but just holding on for dear life and definitely not having a good time doing it.   And somewhere, in all the play dates, and art classes, mom's meetings, volunteering,  homeschool co-op's, swim and piano lessons...I had lost sight of why we were homeschooling in the first place...so that my family was not subject to other people's whims and schedules, so that we could have flexibility, so that we could have moments of calm, so that we could have the space to be present with each other - something for which I think is key to my son's education and his well being.      

It has been a year of lessons learned and reminded of...that I can't do it all, that I am not superhuman, that it is my responsibility to be the gate keeper of my life, and for the time being, my son's life, and to erect the fences that keep the boundaries on our time, of our space with our family, and on our peace of mind.   Fences between people are not necessarily a bad thing.  And the way we build those fences, the healthy kind, is by realizing that it's okay to occasionally say, "thank you, but no" or "I am not able." And it's alright to say, "Not now, buy maybe later."   


 

And now, we also have a picket fence, a long wished for one, and my son has a place to play with his dog.  I sit on the porch and look out at the pond just beyond the fence border and somehow, that pond is even more beautiful than it was before the fence came in. It has framed our home and our yard, giving us a place to take on the world in steps and stages, when we are ready to; to filter things in on our terms and after a bit of reflection and consideration.  And sometimes, we are only able to appreciate our blessings, the things that occupy our time, the friends and acquaintances, all that life has in store for us, when we can view it all from within the safe and secure confines of a selectively permeable boundary.




Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A House in the Trees

Me   Oh man, I love this song!
Son   What is it?
Me    Can't You See
Son   Who sings it?
Me    MTB man!  Every time I hear it, it makes me want to throw on a Mexican poncho, put ourselves and our German Shepherd into the VW van, head west to the mountains, park by a clear running stream and live off the land-
Husband     By van, do you mean our Honda Odyssey?
Me      I suppose.
Husband    And by Shepherd, do you mean our Boston Terrier?
Me      Yeah, alright - FINE!  What do you people want for dinner?

Some dreams don't and probably shouldn't happen.  But some do.  I've always wanted a tree house for my son.  In his 9 years, this has been the first place we lived where we could actually make it happen.  My husband methodically planned and resourcefully utilized scrap wood left over from our renovation and surpassed our expectations.  It is substantial, sturdy and beautifully nestled into two towering trees that surely started growing decades ago just for this purpose.







Sunday, May 12, 2013

Eggs

I present to you the world's most costly and precious egg:



No, not that one.

This one:

After one sizable chicken coop, several bales of hay, innumerable bags of feed, and months of waiting...we had our first egg this past week.  Besides gazing on the face of my son immediately after his birth, sighting this egg in the nesting box was among the most glorious things I've ever experienced.  It's like magic.  It's like a  miracle.  These birds squeeze these things out like it's no big deal. I am in awe.



We are now up to one dozen eggs.  I walk around town, my head a little bit higher, a little more spring in my step.  I check out at the grocery store and I wonder if the cashier knows who she's dealing with.

I think to myself, 

That's right, we have chickens...and they lay eggs.  Real ones.  And we even eat them.   Can you believe that?


 I don't need to buy your eggs.  We have our own. 


That's right cashier lady.  You'll be collecting no money from me today for eggs.


So you just think about that.  





Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Signs of Spring



About an hour ago, I was waking my son up from a solid slumber, wrapping him in a blanket, and leading him down to our basement.  The tornado sirens were blaring.  He is now thankfully back in bed, asleep, and I am sitting at my computer, occupying my mind as I try to stay awake with one eye on the computer screen and another on the radar - as I ride out the storm.  It's springtime in Oklahoma, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Other signs of Spring are two oft ignored plants, considered weeds by most, that are remarkably useful.  They are cousins in the mint family.  Pictured immediately below is what is commonly referred to as Henbit.  It's called "Henbit" because, well, hens like to bite it.  It's fantastic chicken food and it's free and it's everywhere.  People can also eat it.  The leaves, stems, and flowers are all edible.

Henbit Deadnettle
Lamium amplexicaule
Its cousin is called Purple Deadnettle, or sometimes, Purple Archangel.  Its tops and leaves are edible as well, and yes, the chickens seems to like it just as much.

Purple Deadnettle
Lamium purpureum

As long as it's in our yard, the chickens are getting a daily ration of both varieties.


And as long as the weather continues, I will be up.  It's going to be a long night.

Madame Ovary...you cheeky chicken.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

An Ode to Poo

Son:  Whacha doin' Mom?
Mom: I'm writing a poem.
Son:  About what?

(long silence)

Mom:  poo

(even longer silence)

Son: Are you putting this on your blog?!?
Mom: Thinking about it...
Son:  Mom, you don't need a blog, you need an asylum!
Mom:  They're the same thing, Sweetheart.




Oh poo…glorious poo
The magic you do doo
Whether your sire be cow, chicken, or horse
Your lovely stench swells like a chorus
It is you, oh crap, who metamorphoses
Our land into a verdant oasis
Though many may poo poo you scat
It is you who makes my bounty fat
Forever it will in this home be sung
The boon of the presence of delightful dung
For never shall I  falter and forget
The friend you have become to me, oh sh&*
Always, I will be mucking about in you
Oh, you poo…you wondrous poo


We built a wall to pile the horse manure against so that we can "cook" it properly.

Sylvia Plath, I'm not...but what we are - rich in poo...black gold...chicken and horse...on a daily basis.
There is an equestrian school near our home that is delighted that they now have a place nearby to dump their horse droppings every week, and we are delighted to take it.  We are bartering eggs for poo.  It's a good trade.


The chicken poo goes into the compost pile and the horse manure sits on the back 40 to cook for a couple of months until we can use it in the garden.  

Unloading our trailer full of free mulch
We also have a source for free mulch.  The city of Tulsa gives it away - as much as you want.  This will go on the garden to keep down weeds and retain moisture.

The garden is ready to plant.