Thursday, September 22, 2016

Our Flock

Things are crazy this week in the USA. Bombs in NY and NJ, people getting shot while their hands are up in the air, protests and riots erupting less than 80 miles away from us, the tensions of the upcoming election are getting stronger and stronger.

I try to remain focused and at peace, because time and time again, in my world, in my family, I find that the best way to deal with things is to just to continue to pray and radiate peace and love as much as possible in this often cruel and crazy world. The weight of the terror and fears being emitted by others is often almost too much to bear, and some say I should be outraged, be a voice for the voiceless, but all I want to do is curl up in a ball and hide sometimes, hold my Lily tight and never let go.

Again. I find the best thing to do is to pray for peace and radiate love and light in the darkness. I pray for all the innocents being harmed and their loved ones who feel helpless and/or afraid. I hope things do get better- for everyone ­­–and that we can still find the beauty in the world amidst all this ugliness.

Lily finding her peace

It’s a dark and dismal day today, and 2 nights ago we lost a dear family friend, but I have to stay strong and remember that life goes on.

You know what makes things better? Taking care of animals. Ever since I was a child, I have enjoyed creatures of all kinds, and have always had pets of all different varieties: cats, hermit crabs, hamsters, fish, gerbils, snakes, rats, lizards, a dog. And now we have chickens. We have 2 lovely Red Star hens and a small flock of mixed Guinea hens. The Red Stars are truly like pets to us and we even named them (Betty and Lord, the latter named by Lily after "Lord Darth Vader") and can tell them apart based on personality alone. They’re also great eggs layers; we haven’t bought eggs in over a year, and often have enough of a surplus from just these two layers to share with friends and family.

Betty, who has a more lively and friendly personality, hoping for a treat while hanging in her run.

"Have you got a snack for me?... No?... Well, then BYE."

Lord is such a good girl, keeps to herself more than Betty, and doesn't really like to be handled. She's content to just sit on the eggs.

The Guineas are newer additions, being only around 1 month old. They are, at this point, mostly on their own as far taking care of them goes. They fly up into trees and are very nervous, meaning they don’t like to be handled, and are happy to just wander around the premises eating up whatever insects or other bits of plant they find to be tasty. Most people tend to have them on their homesteads and farms to help keep the pest populations down for garden-maintenance purposes.

Paul chose them because he thought they’d help keep the flea, mosquito, and tick populations down, which is yet to really be seen since it is already early fall and those pests are now on the decline naturally. Once this breed does get to laying eggs, they don’t tend to lay in the same spots like our Red Stars do, but may just lay them wherever they happen to be hanging out at the moment when they’re ready to pop.

The Guineas look like cute baby vultures, though once they get older they look a little less cute. Our dear friend Bruce from upstate NY had a flock of Guineas that originally got us familiar with the breed, and he filled me in on some tips and experiences in dealing with them. He informed me that they tend to have a “community nest” where they all lay together and one bird becomes the main hen to the sit on the eggs until they hatch. We don’t know if we’ll do any chick raising, but we shall see…it’s nice to just let things evolve sometimes.

Current Guinea hen flock
The first time they discovered they could fly up into the trees

Paul is generally fascinated by the varied breeds, especially the exotics. We had a few Silkies earlier this year, which we really enjoyed. Unfortunately, they were all killed by some kind of animal before they were even of egg-laying age. It was terrible, but we learned a lesson in chicken coop construction and where to place it (i.e.: not too far into the wooded areas!). Despite how secure Paul thought he’d built their home, something had managed to slip in at night and kill all 5 of the pullets. Luckily, our Red Stars, Betty and Lord, survived, albeit perhaps a bit traumatized by the experience, and are now with us here in NC.
The rare Lily Hen

Me, personally, I like any breed that is docile, hardy, and easy to manage. I’m interested in getting 1 or 2 Barred Plymouth Rocks, which are common and similar to the Red Stars in everything but coloring.

Image from

This is our current homestead situation, our bubble away from all the worries of the bigger world out there. We like it here, and hope it stays this way. Next year we’ll be doing more gardening, and who knows what else. We’re letting things evolve, and grateful for the chance to do so.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Morning Musings aka Chasing Chickens

Usually after I get up in the morning and put Lily on the bus, I go back to bed for a little while, another half hour, at least. But, today I stayed up and greeted the morning full-throttle. I fried myself two eggs and two circles of turkey sausage, along with a cup of coffee, and poured myself a glass of orange juice. I read some of my current read, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, while I ate breakfast, wishing that the entire book was told from young Oskar’s perspective, because when told from either of his grandparent’s it is just too sad.

After I read the particularly moving scene where Oskar first meets Abe Black, and after I had wiped my tears, I figured it was time to feed the chickens and let them out into their runs. It was after 8 a.m., after all. We usually let them out earlier, but the dawn was still rather dim due to the fogginess in the air.

I put my black outdoor slippers on over my black polka-dotted gray socks and set out to open their cages. I checked on the young guinea hens, which are only weeks old, first. I let them out into their run, all were accounted for. We have lost nearly half of them since we got them back in July: 1 chick got a few strands of hair wrapped around its little days-old legs and didn’t make it after that, 2 found dead from unknown causes one morning, 2 found disemboweled by some unknown predator, 1 that just wasn’t doing well and suddenly died, and 1 that just disappeared one day- likely taken by a bird of prey. But, these surviving nine are doing just fine.

Guinea chicks then...

 Guinea chicks now...

Then I let our two “big girls”, Betty and Lord, out, our little red hens. (Side note: in case you’re wondering where the name “Lord” comes from, Lily named her. And, no, not after Lord Jesus or Lord Vishnu or any royalty or the singer, but after Lord Darth Vader). They were nipping at their cage door when I got there, their beady eyes watching me expectantly. They rushed straight to their layer feed dish as soon as they were freed, pecking away at the plastic red container, as if they hadn’t been fed in days.

Betty is our special girl, our first hen who has been with us for over a year and bustling with 
more personality than I ever thought possible from a common chicken.

Lord brooding over an egg, no doubt.

"Have you got any special treats for me?" (this girl moves so quickly, 
it's difficult to get a good portrait of her with a simple cell camera)

The guineas’ food dish was empty when I got to their coop, so I went back to the garage to refill it. They eat layer feed now, too, but crumbled up instead of in pellets like the big girls do. As I entered the garage, I heard the familiar sound of crickets in the corner, chirping away, as if practicing for a symphony they haven’t quite gotten right yet. I know they’re only practicing, because it doesn’t sound like they’re quite in sync with each other, but maybe that’s just how they’re supposed to sound in the morning, a bit muddled together like most people feel when they first get up. Typically, I pay more attention to them at night, and they sound more in sync then. When I was a little girl coming into this same garage, I’d always try to find those musical crickets, but never could, even though I knew where they were by sound alone. How did they do that? Hide like that? I decided to try and search them out again this morning, their tiny violin legs growing quieter with each step I took towards their hiding place. Once again, no luck in finding them, and I wasn’t about to start turning things over just to catch them now.

Just something cute

Not a cricket...

I collected the guineas’ food, which wasn’t much, noting that more pellets would have to be ground up today for later. But, this small handful would be enough for breakfast. I left the empty bucket on Paul’s desk for him to find.

Walking back to where their run was, I thought about Lily, who was at school in her homeroom class. I thought about what I gave her for lunch (leftover penne with meat sauce and cheese, applesauce, yogurt, carrot sticks, and chocolate biscuits), and how she was getting so big, and how the bus had come a little early today, so I didn’t have time to wash her face off after she ate breakfast. However, my little girl did make time to reach up on her tippy-toes with her rosebud mouth puckered-up and plant a quick kiss on my lips before dashing off to the bus. I told her I loved her as she did so, then stood on the front porch as she ran up the driveway, arms crossed over my chest, watching as the bus then pulled away and stopped at the next corner, while I turned to go back inside.

When I got to the guineas’ pen, five of them had escaped the fenced-in run. I hadn’t noticed that a small opening in their fence had been left untended to, and by untended to, I mean Paul did not close it back up before putting them back into their coop last night, just as he had left Betty and Lord’s food out overnight, which he told me he wasn’t going to do anymore because some nocturnal critter like a possum or raccoon might get to it. I let out a sigh, and started to follow them.

I would now have to herd them back into the run, which was no easy task. They were too quick now to catch, and they hated to be caught or touched in any way. I had to wait until they were all grouped together and not paying attention to me, then sneak up on the side of them and slowly, patiently, follow them until they were near the run again, and then- hopefully! –manage to herd them back into that opening in the fence. I started to get them together, but then turned and saw that the other four had now gotten out, too. Sigh. This is why I usually just go back to bed; it’s too early to deal with this crap.

This time, out of impatience and simple foolishness, I tried to corner them and grab at them, thinking maybe I could catch them now that they were a little larger. But, alas. That only made them scatter, and now I had to herd them again. I took a breath, and began to walk slower behind them, gradually gathering them into a single group and getting closer and closer to the pen step by step. We got to one side of the run, and I lifted up the fence so the opening was bigger for them to squeeze through. Once I did that then herded them back to that spot, they all ran in. And once they saw that I had refilled their food, they surrounded their dish happily, because that was why they really escaped their run in the first place- they were looking for breakfast.

Next time I’ll remember to keep the coop closed until I get the damn food first.

And there she is, Lovely aka Queen of Sheba, Master of Adorable,
leaving all those who cross her path unable to resist petting her soft, velvety fur.

I went back in-but, not before stopping to pet the cat on the back deck -noting that the toes of my socks were now wet from the dewy grass, and went right to my iMac, wanting just to express these things, because my mornings used to be so very different. They were always rushed and groggy and annoying and disappointing. Disappointing because I was no longer asleep in dream land, away from the harsh reality of the 9-5 lifestyle, and having to get Paul to the bus and Lily to school on time, and then take care of the animals and then lock up the house after getting myself together, and hopefully be able to stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and make it to work on time. One day, it may be like that again, but right now it’s not. And I intend to savor every second of it, and be at peace in my no longer constant worry, stressing about all the things I had to do- Did Lily do her homework? What can I give her for lunch today? Is it acceptable to just give her cold cuts? Did I call so-and-so about such-and-such? I better confirm my 1 p.m., and make sure I have all the paperwork ready. Is Paul cranky because of something I did, or is he just in one of his moods? Dammit, I need to get my nails done.

Looking back, none of those things mattered, but they were all perpetually on my whirly-gig mind as if they did not so long ago, and I still have days when I start thinking too much and get overwhelmed. But, it’s easier to calm myself down now, and just breathe, or stretch, or refocus with a task I can actually enjoy.

Missing her every moment she's not with me

It’s just so nice. And I’m just so happy, 
to be up early feeding chickens in my backyard.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Peace in Books and Gardening

Today is Sunday. Yesterday I went to this amazing books and authors festival in downtown Winston-Salem, and got a big bag of new books. So, my intention is to spend the better part of what’s left of the afternoon rocking on the back deck swing while losing myself in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It seems fitting to start with that one since it has been 15 years since 9/11 changed the lives of Americans forever*, and inspired Foer to write the book.

I did get a few chores done this morning, so I don’t feel completely unproductive. And there’s nothing wrong with getting lost in a good book. A big part of my reason for moving here was to bring more peace and relaxation to my life, anyway. One of the ways I have been helping myself to remember how to relax is gardening.

Since moving down here, my typically very brown thumb has been growing greener. By that, I mean, I have killed aloe plants and cactuses in the past, and haven't killed any plants since relocating to NC! Maybe it’s the extra greenery or the fresher air or just having the extra time on my hands to just enjoy nature, but I wanted to do some kind of gardening, despite it being a bit late in the season to get a full garden going.

Lily sure loves being surrounded by Mother Nature

I have been seeing these cute little succulent plants at various stores we’ve visited, and seen them potted on interior design offerings on Pinterest in fun ways. While unpacking and organizing all the kitchenware, I set aside a couple of especially lovely bowls that I thought would make the perfect planters for succulents or bonsais. I got my hands on some of what was left at the local Walmart a couple of weeks ago, and got to work.

I perused a few different DIY succulent garden articles online, then combined what I’d read to make this cute little set-up:

Here’s what I did:

First, I put a layer of sand on the bottom of each dish, about half an inch high. This is important because the dishes I chose to use do not have drainage holes on the bottom, so the sand will stop the succulents’ roots from staying wet, which I read is what can cause them to become over-watered, and possibly die. If you have a pot with drainage holes, sand isn’t necessary, but it won’t hurt.

I also read that the best soil to use is a potting soil mix made primarily for cacti and succulents. Luckily, the mini planters the succulents I purchased came in already contained cactus-friendly soil from what the labels on them read, so I just put the plants into the dishes with that soil, and added a little basic planting soil on top for filler. I added a splash of water, just enough to make the soil damp, and voila- my mini succulent garden is now complete!

They all seem to be very happy, still...

I would’ve liked to get some more colorful plants, but there was less of a variety to choose from this late in the gardening season. I still think they are pleasing to the eye, and anytime you bring extra plants into your life is a good thing!

I’d like to expand my quest to turn my thumbs entirely green by adding air-purifying plants and mosquito-deterring plants to my homestead’s repertoire, so that is next on my gardening agenda.

What does this image evoke when you look at it?

Are there any plants you’d like to recommend? I prefer plants that are easy to manage and look appealing to the eye. They can be hanging or just sit on tables or counters, I have space! Thanks!

*I didn't want to make this post all about 9/11, but still would like to bring honor and attention to the memory of those who we lost that fateful day, and to all of those first responders and everyone else who helped in any way they were able to, making them forever heroes.

Monday, September 5, 2016

All the fun stuff we did this summer...

It’s Labor Day weekend! Hurrah! And we have…no plans. But, that’s okay, because we did plenty of fun stuff this summer, despite the record-breaking high temperatures and humidity. We’ve had to work hard to find fun things to do as a family that wouldn’t make us keel over from heat exhaustion. As much as we enjoy the outdoors, there had been certain times of the day when one simply cannot just enjoy being outside…namely, between the hours of 10 am – 6 pm. This makes a couple of pretty small windows of family fun opportunities.

However, we have done quite a bit, in between settling in, unpacking, and getting organized. I took Lily to see The Secret life of Pets, which she really enjoyed. We got her a cute new bike to ride around on when the heat doesn’t melt her in her tracks. We’ve gone on a few local hikes (picture post regarding that coming up soon), and taken in a few of the local places to visit.

Taking off with Daddy. She just got the training wheels taken off this morning!

One of the first places we went to was SciWorks, which is a children's science museum located in Winston-Salem. There was a nocturnal nature exhibit featuring live animals, a few interactive body-themed exhibits, a bunch of science experiment-types exhibits, musical things to play with, and a planetarium show! We didn’t take too many pictures because we were too busy chasing Lily around as she tore through all the exhibits.

Grandma took Lily and I out for mani-pedis at her favorite local nail salon. This was a first for Lily, and she enjoyed feeling a little pampered! We had lunch and then Grandma bought her a new toy that day as well, so Lily was a happy camper!

Getting her pedi while playing with her NEW Betty Spaghetti doll (remember those?! They have new ones!)

Shortly after we arrived, people were telling us about this great local park, called Tanglewood, near us. We finally got around to going in mid-August and soon wished we’d checked it out sooner. They have it all- acres of preserved forest, camping, picnic areas, paddle boats, golf, nature trails, playgrounds, BMX ramps, a huge pool with water slides…and we haven’t even explored it all yet! It’s like a mini Central Park, and now Lily’s favorite place to visit (and ours, I think…).

At this same park, our dear neighbors invited us to a big family picnic hosted by their church. It was great- several bouncy houses, free food, live music, raffles, and lots of kids to play with. Also, nice adults to talk to (Hooray for adult conversation!). Spending the extra time with our new neighbors was a real treat, too, and Paul and I were so glad we went.

Summer may be coming to a close, but there are sure to be more adventures ahead…

Now, I’d better get back to cleaning and unpacking…enjoy the rest of your holiday, everyone!