Monday, February 28, 2011

Another perspective of seeds....

While out shopping the other day for some upholstery fabric (yes, another project), we ran into an uncommon situation. The woman measuring our fabric was politely chatting with us about being new to the area and the location of our home in the historic district. Suddenly, a co-worker of hers burst out with 'Well, my mama and daddy lived here when those homes were built and they never liked it one bit.' The 1st woman tried to continue with the things she liked about the little houses but the 2nd woman was not to be hushed. 'Those houses were just given to people and it wasn't right. My parents had to pay for their house.'

My thought was 'hmm....well, we certainly paid for our house, so I don't understand why we're being inflicted with such harshness'. I said something about the museum reflecting that folks in the homestead houses worked for the opportunity to live in the homes and did not own deeds for the property until they had paid for them. I suppose that I was foolish to think that no one had ever mentioned this to the woman before.

Continuing as if I had not spoken, the woman said 'AND those people weren't even from Cumberland county - they came in here from all over the place' Visibly agitated, she then grabbed a few rolls of fabric and stalked from the room.

Getting the hint that counter information was not going to pacify this poor, angry woman, neither I nor my husband said anything else to her. We continued chatting with the 1st woman as we made our purchase.

On our drive home, we spoke of the poor woman and the deep bitterness that was apparent in this exchange. I truly believe that woman was going to remain angry for the remainder of the day. Misinformation planted within her family over 80 years ago still remains and leaves within her a spirit of anger over the believed injustice of it all. She reflected at least two generations of bitterness over the matter.

With our preoccupation of garden preparations, seeds came to mind and my thoughts turned to God's designs for us. Whatever is planted within our hearts as seeds surely produces a full grown plant later on. We all would like to have the lovely appearance of beautiful flowers or healthy vegetables, wouldn't we? How easily ugly weeds can be the evidence of what is rooted within. We all are vulnerable to reflect bitterness just like that poor woman. In a moment of anger, we reflect that aspect of ourselves rather than much more attractive features of our character.

The Bible says in Eph. 4:31-32 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

This post is not intended to bash the poor lady that is already so angry, nor to portray that I am 'better' than she. I've certainly had my own occurrences that made me angry and planted bitterness in my heart. I have been thinking of her off and on the past few days and hoping that someday she can release this bitter root within her. I also take the example to heart, to think carefully about what dwells within, to question sources of information that provoke anger and to take heed to this passage that holds the key to reflecting the love of Christ. By demonstrating kindness, tenderness and forgiveness that is only possible through His alteration of our imperfections, we can be sure to not allow this type of ugliness to take root within us, depriving us of peace and joy.

Seeds! It's planting time!

What is it about seed packets that are so attractive? I've never planted much of anything from seeds - not enough patience! The packet covers are always depict such perfection and promise! Well, we'll test our patience soon as we just placed orders with three different seed companies for a large variety of vegetables for our garden. I should definitely take photos of 'before' and 'after'. First,we must overcome the challenges of growing something from 'scratch'. Going in, we have ignorance and lack of experience as a huge hurdle. Then, the standard gardening issues of digging, planting, weeding, harvesting, watering, weeding...The more advanced concepts of composting, mulching, pollinating make sense to us intellectually, but without the timing or skills, we're a bit overwhelmed. Then, add in the complications of raccoons, deer, rabbits, birds, some type of mole that runs around under the yard, bugs and we're really up against it to come out with something to eat!

Here's the stack of books alongside my perch at the moment:
The Kitchen Garden: a complete practical guide to planting, cultivating and harvesting fruits and vegetables
Garden Planning (a book that is 95% flower beds, 5% vegetable and herb gardens)
The Backyard Homestead (that promises to help you produce all the food you need on just a quarter of an acre)
The Complete Compost Gardening Guide: Banner batches, grow heaps, comforter compost and other Amazing Techniques for Saving Time and Money, and producing the most flavorful, nutritious vegetables Ever!

Armed with all this information, you'd think we'd be all ready to go! We attended a one hour seminar conducted by an experienced gardener in town. She provided a handout with a list of vegetables, including the seed supplier and variety that she personally recommended. We're going with her list as a starting point. Next is getting a spot ready for the early seeds to get a head start as plants by the time the predicted frost has passed us by. We're hoping that window of time allows us to prepare the soil!

I'm so overwhelmed with the overdose of helpful hints that I'm ready to pitch the books aside and start digging! Oh..well, I guess I'll wait until it stops raining and the seeds arrive....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ugh...out-of-shape body, meet JILLIAN

After hearing two friends speak positively of this dvd workout, I picked up a copy at Walmart over the weekend. Promptly, on Monday morning - I plugged in the dvd and my dh even joined me for the first 20 minute workout. I'm proud of myself for not doing my usual thing of watching the workout first from the couch before getting started. We just plugged it in and got going. The workout was very challenging for us and today, we're very sore - but it feels good to get moving! I like that the workout is short - there are NO breaks, so it's a solid 20 minutes of strength, cardio and abdominal exercises. Today, we stuck with it even though some of our body parts ache. We'll see how our resolve lasts. I'm not aspiring to show off my mid-section like Jillian does, but having a bit less of that mid-section would feel great!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Oh LOOK! It's a dogwood tree!

During our travels, there were several things that would make me gasp. Tight squeezes between 18 wheelers while driving 60 mph on the interstate, someone pulling out in front of us - not realizing that approximately 10 tons of truck and trailer cannot stop on a dime, and last, but not least - a beautiful dogwood tree in bloom. Of course, these gasps were not terribly helpful to my husband as he drove and he never knew which was the cause - potential accident, close call or breathtaking beauty. I tried, I really did. I tried to be self-controlled to be a better helper for him with the tremendous task of getting us safely down the highways. There's just something about those early spring blooms in the midst of an otherwise drab forest backdrop!

My husband remembered my fondness for dogwoods and acquired one for my Valentine's gift. We've read that transplanting a dogwood is very tricky, so we hope that we can keep this one going.

Once again, the guys were hard at it with the shovels and a handy post hole digger:
One of these days, maybe we'll get the rare shot of me working on something ;)

Here we have it - nicely braced and freshly watered. Please, please grow strong and bless us with those beautiful blooms!
I've loved dogwood trees for as long as I can remember for their simple beauty alone. I remembered that some find symbology in the blossoms and found this summary online at (I like the last paragraph the best!):

Dogwood flowers have found their way into a good deal of legend, and have also long been touted for their many uses. One of the better known legends – which is still of unknown origin – states that the dogwood plant was once the size of an oak tree, and was considered one of the largest trees in Jerusalem. The bark of the dogwood was used as timber for crucifixions, and from one such cross Jesus was hanged. The trees, though, felt the pain of all that were hanged from them, so Jesus took pity on the poor plant and said, “Because of your regret for my suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross.” And so the tree shrank to the petite size that it is today. Another myth tells of a Native American princess who was killed by a jealous brave whom she had scorned. As she lay bleeding, she blotted her wounds with the petals of the dogwood flower. Because of this – according to the story – many of the blossoms carry trace amounts of red on their petals.

As for their variety of uses, early American settlers used slivers of the bark to clean small crevices of watches and lenses – they also used it to create tools such as hammers, knitting needles and even printer’s blocks. American Indians used the bark to fashion arrows, and the spring blossoms to predict the time to begin planting their crops.

In North America, dogwood flowers are considered an all encompassing religious symbol. These flowers are often given as gifts for holidays – especially Easter – as the four bracts can represent the four points of the cross; small indentations along the outer edge of the bracts represent the marks left by the nails; the spiky yellow and green flowers at center are related to the crown of thorns, and the fruit is indicative of the blood of Jesus. These flowers may also be given for a number of other symbols, such as sacrifice, regeneration, and enduring love.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Good news from Washington!

Now, how often do you hear that? Usually, the news from our capitol involves elected officials being innovative regarding spending tax dollars that have not yet been collected. I'm not aspiring to be a journalist, but this news was such a refreshing change from the repeated disappointments of the past few years, I must say something!

The first good news was that the House voted to stop federal funds for Planned Parenthood. In the words of Mike Pence, the sponsor of the amendment:

"The largest abortion provider in America should not be the largest recipient of federal funds under Title X. The time has come for this Congress to act upon the values of the American people. The time has come to deny any and all federal funding to Planned Parenthood."

Here's a link to his article: It's Time to De-fund Planned Parenthood

The issue of the rights of the unborn child is near and dear to our hearts. While Planned Parenthood denies spending federal money to perform abortions, the large boost of federal dollars every year certainly contributes to their 'success' in being the #1 abortion provider in the nation. Their other 'services' pale in comparison to their #1 function - taking innocent lives of the unborn in the name of preserving the rights of the mother. A defender of Planned Parenthood, Ms. Moore from Wisconsin, even stated during discussion of this amendment that abortion of unplanned infants was better than raising them on Ramen noodles and mayonnaise sandwiches. I wonder what type of food Ms. Moore would approve as being substantial enough to allow the child to live? Beans and rice? Generic mac and cheese?

The second good news was the passage of an amendment that would not fund at least portions of the Health Care law that has now been declared unconstitutional.

Representative Steve King's statement:
“It makes no sense for federal funds to be spent on a law that Americans have rejected, that the House has voted to repeal, and that two federal courts have ruled unconstitutional,” said King. “By passing my defunding amendments, the House of Representatives has taken another important step toward uprooting the law from the U.S. Code.”

Amen! Now, we need the Senate to pay heed to the American people and to all that is just in our country.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Coop Update

The coop is really coming together now!
Our oldest son constructed the cupola to add aesthetic appeal and ventilation.
The weather cleared enough for a good day of work on the roof and installing the cupola - looks terrific and the weather vane functions well!The automatic door from Murray McMurray arrived - some assembly required...

YouTube demo of the door in operation: coop controller

Then, the electrician arrived to route power from the garage to the coop. Craig and the boys dug a long trench to bury the wiring.

And it all can't happen any too soon - we've already had to double the cardboard brooder to accommodate the growing chicks:

Remember how tiny and cute they were just 2 1/2 weeks ago?
Now, they are not as cute with their growing feathers, long legs and mottled coloring!

Today is warm and sunny, so hopefully work on the roof will be finished! Next, add the doors and maybe moving day for the chicks to leave the brooder and take up residence in the coop will be within the week!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy Birthday to my Sweetheart!

Today is my husband's birthday! He's amazing in so many ways and I am one blessed woman to have him as my partner in all things. Today will be an official 'holiday' from home school lessons and we will simply just have fun as a family. We started this tradition some time ago. The birthday honoree chooses the activities for the day as well as the menu. Everyone's going to get out their firearms for some target practice, we're going to kick the tires on some tractors, and watch 'Hoodwinked' (no, I can't explain why that's a favorite - it just is!) The boys prepared a delicious breakfast, we'll eat out for an early supper and I will make a turtle cheesecake. Thank you, Lord for blessing us so with this wonderful man in our lives!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Prefab shed vs. custom build


When we finished packing up the Christmas decorations at the beginning of the year, we knew it was time to begin making a home for our chicks. After all, they were going to arrive in about a month! We checked some prefabricated buildings in town and found a few that would work. The first photo above was one of our favorites. It cost about $1000 and would require a foundation, paint and shingles. Product reviews were terrific, but mentioned that the floor needed some additional joists to make the flooring stable. Considering all this, we decided that building something ourselves would be better built and might cost less.

Now that we're well along our way, I just did the math using receipts from our purchases of materials thus far. The tally for our more substantially constructed coop is about $150 less than the prefab model with the necessary finishing.

That's good news - we have a better product for less money. Now, I did the math for how long the chickens will need to work at supplying eggs for us to break even with the cost of buying eggs at the grocery store! The hens need to lay all the eggs we need for at least 2 years to break even with the construction costs so far. That doesn't include the cost of their feed during those two years or other expenses that we're unable to quantify at this point due to our inexperience!

I'm sure the flavor of those fresh eggs will count for something and we have three families that have mentioned being interested in buying eggs from us when the hens get going. That will help us feel better about our outlay of expenses!

Signs of SPRING!

I noticed a new development in one of the flower beds a week or so ago.

The flower beds are very brown and have been since before Thanksgiving, except for the monkey grass that looks more wilted than brown. Can you see it - the green specks on the ground in front of the monkey grass?

Here's a close up!

I think it's daffodils! I'm absolutely delighted! I've had daffodils once before and loved the instant cheer from seeing those blooms amid the winter dreariness. We wanted to live in a four season world and we most definitely have that. The phrase 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' comes to mind. When living in South Texas, at least some floral interest could be found even in the dead of winter. So could the mosquitoes. Spring didn't bring as drastic a change as in other parts of the country.

With the several months of brisk to downright bone chilling days, the warmth of spring looms ahead and we'll be so happy to see it come!

Now to hit the books on gardening. I think I'm behind on some things that are supposed to be done in the pre-emergent time frame!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

My, how they grow!

I can't believe it's been a week already since the chicks arrived! They're growing so fast! They all have quite a few wing feathers showing now and some have tail feathers. They stand more frequently with their head held high and have started flapping around in their temporary cardboard home. So much so that we found some unused window screens to cover the top of the box so we don't find any escapees wandering around the garage!Our mystery chick doesn't have as much wing feather growth, but it is standing taller. We've shown the bird's photo on a forum (Backyard Chicken) and more experienced folk have advised that the likely breed is Silver Laced Wyandotte. We'll still be anxiously waiting to see if this is a girl or boy.
The chicks continue to eat....and sleep.....and sleep...

They also drink, poop, scratch around in the pine shavings and preen themselves. Now here's a current photo...
and a week ago....I can't imagine what they're going to be like next week! Better get after the completion of that coop!I had left out this shot that shows what supplies were needed to get the chicks started. We have a box, newspaper, pine shavings, chick feed, 2- 1 qt. waterers, 2 - 1 lb. feeders, parakeet grit (we couldn't find chick grit), a heat lamp with a 250 W. bulb. Several sources recommended using a red bulb to reduce the chick's tendency to peck one another, so we followed that advice. They only need about 1/2 sq. ft. per chick to start, but their space requirements will be increasing rapidly!

Off to work on the coop roof while the sun shines - later will be the Super Bowl. I have no idea who we're rooting for, but I usually like the commercials and the snacks the best!

Next project: the vegetable garden! I'm seeing some signs of daffodils in the flower bed - spring's coming!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Things that make you go 'AWWWW!'

Let me introduce you to our new chicks. So far, anyone that has looked at our pictures or the IPod videos my son created, or has viewed the chicks with Skype has had the same response. An immediate, prolonged 'Awwww'. Furthermore, most of those 'aw's' have had at least 3 or 4 syllables and pitches. All babies are cute. Actually, critter babies are always cute. Human babies are amazing, but most times - they really aren't what you would call 'cute' until they've gotten past that red, pruny faced stage. Before you start arguing about how cute your babies were from the get-go, we'll set that aside and get back to the cute baby chicks.

Last Sunday morning, the phone rang at about 7 a.m. The local post office was calling to advise that we had a box of chicks and we could pick them up before 9 a.m. We were floored. We knew that we might get a call on Sunday a.m., but were expecting the call on Monday. We threw on our shoes and coats and with great anticipation, drove straight into town to retrieve the small box from the kind postal worker. We had placed the order for these chicks in November from Murray McMurray Hatchery. We had no idea that a box that held 25 chicks would be that small! The cheeps from within let us know that at least a good number of the chicks were very vibrant. The box rode back to our home between our two boys in the back seat. The guys tried to catch glimpses through the 1/2' diameter holes in the box lid, but couldn't see much.

We hurriedly put our cardboard box together to create a brooder, set up the heat lamp and monitored the temperature. We added a couple of inches of pine shavings, then topped them with newspaper. The hatchery had advised that covering the shavings would help prevent the chicks from trying to eat the shavings rather than their feed. Once the temperature was consistently 90-95 F, it was time to open the box and meet the chicks!

We immediately burst into laughter as all the chicks were piled on top of one another in half of the box - at least 3-4 chicks deep. The 'king of the mountain', or should we say 'queen' was ready to hop off! We set about dipping each chick's beak in water, then feed and setting them in their new temporary home.
Now - honestly...didn't you want to say 'awwww' as you gazed at these photos? How much cuter could anything be? In person, they are absolutely mesmerizing!
While we mixed up a product called 'Gro-Gel'. The powder is mixed with a small amount of water and immediately becomes the consistency of sticky Jello. Here's a link to the details of the nutritional benefits and contents of the product.
The green blobs in the feed are bits of the Gro-Gel and obviously, the chicks like it!
We also purchased a water supplement called 'QuikChick'. A teaspoon per gallon for the first two weeks adds helpful vitamins and electrolytes to assist in recovery from stress during shipping and give them a nutritional boost. For the first two days, we also added 3 T. of sugar to each waterer.

The hatchery only sells baby chicks in batches of 25 so that the they can keep each other warm with their body heat until they reach their destination. A company rep told me that they can easily handle 2-3 days without food and water, living off the last bit of yolk the chicks consume before hatching. We ordered 25 Red Star females. As extra insulation and a live marketing tool for the hatchery, a bonus chick can be added to your order at no charge. The shipping invoice identifies this chick as 'rare exotic chick'. The dark chick in the above photo would be our bonus chick. We look forward to sorting out the breed and gender of this little beauty!
One last photo of the chicks in their growing quarters. The essential elements: a box with tall sides for draft protection, a heat lamp to create the appropriate temperature, a couple of quart size waterers and a couple of one lb. feeders, a layer of changeable litter and there you have it! Here they'll stay until that coop is finished. Stay happy, chickies - we're working on it!

Friday, February 4, 2011

More progress!

A few days ago, the weather cleared enough to work outside again on the coop. The walls and roof trusses were all finished except for doors. First, the guys put the plywood floor down. We put a water sealant on it, hoping that future cleanups would be a bit easier. The plywood may have been so absorbent to negate any water-proofing effect, but at least we tried! Notice the short sleeved garb. Spring is surely on the way?
Well, not exactly. The cold weather returned but to a lesser degree than the cental and northeast regions of the country. At least we had a window of some dry weather for a day, so the walls were hoisted out of the garage and to the coop site!
Looking more like a building with each completed step!
The doorway on the right is about 6 ft. tall. The opening on the left is what we hope to use when cleaning out the chickens roosting and feeding area. We think a compost pile would be ideal about midway toward the camera!
Why is this photo through a screen? Because it's darn cold outside, now! We managed to get the four walls placed and roof trusses atop, but didn't get the roof on before we ran out daylight and energy. We put a tarp over the roof trusses, but high winds (gusting to almost 60 mph) loosened the tarp. The next day, we were able to place bungee cords to better secure the tarp and here the coop sits until the next opportunity of fair weather!

Coop work to be completed next:
  • cupola
  • roofing
  • doors and shutters for windows
  • contract electrical installations
  • install automatic door for chicken access
  • wire apron around foundation
Future work:
  • install perches
  • build interior dividers between chickens and storage areas
  • build and install nesting boxes

Next big step:
  • Build a secure run for the chickens to enjoy exploring outside!
Welcome to retirement! We're busier than ever!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Building a chicken coop - from scratch!

Tons of resources are out there along with 1000s of variations of how to build a coop. We first looked at modifying a modular built shed or one built from a kit. As we compared costs, we found that with either of those options, we had to build a foundation. For the kit, we would have to also include painting and roofing materials. Also, either option would require customizing the interior with perches and nesting boxes. So with all those additional costs, we decided it would be best to build from scratch and picked up this book from the local Lowe's.

Checking several books from the library and websites, we found the following to be consistent guidelines. The coop must provide:
  • protection from predators,
  • dry roosting quarters with perches and nesting boxes,
  • room for feeders and waterers and very importantly,
  • adequate ventilation - but protection from drafts.
Many sources agreed upon 4-5 sq. ft per bird inside the coop if a run provided more space (at least 8-10 sq. ft per bird.) Knowing we had 25 chicks on order, that meant we needed at least 100 sq.ft. for the chickens alone. We also wanted to devise a way for us to collect eggs from the interior of the coop, so we incorporated a 'people only' area. We will store chicken feed and other supplies within this area as well. Our layout, to be posted later, is 12' x 12' for the coop. Our run will then need to be approximately 12' x 25' at a minimum and cannot be too large.

One step at a time - first the coop, then the run! The foundation is treated lumber joists supported on precast Dek-Block. These are pretty foolproof and make it easy to adjust for slightly uneven ground. We didn't have the best weather for work, but the guys were steady workers to get this far:

The next steps involved building the walls with untreated lumber, so the work moved into the garage. For about a week, the guys were very busy constructing the framework for the walls and building roof trusses. We selected siding that was primed, so painting was a breeze.

They look busy, don't they! Well, they were and did a fantastic job!

Next step - when the weather clears a little, put the flooring down, erect those walls and roof trusses!