Friday, March 24, 2017

Suet Cakes are for the Birds

The weather is finally starting to warm up again. The first day of spring has passed, and lighter jackets are relevant once again. All kinds of spring and Easter events are popping up at community centers and local churches, and I am ready to emerge from hibernation/nesting mode and get back into the sunshine!

"Pretty Boy" and one of the girls

To the chickens’ delight, the bugs have even started to appear again, but it was only until recently they weren’t able to find protein sources without human assistance. We typically feed them their layer feed, along with a mix of oyster shell for digestion and omega blend for laying, plus scraps and treats that they enjoy, such as corn and lettuce. Something I learned to make that is beneficial for them during the colder months, and convenient to make for me, are suet cakes. They are little “cakes” made of grease from animal fats- such as bacon and burger grease –with bits of goodies mixed in. By goodies I mean small pieces of bread, oats, corn, herbs, seeds, nuts, etc.

Waiting for their cakes!

They are easy enough to make, as long as you have enough grease. That’s what takes time- the collecting of grease. Animal fat is best from what I’ve read because it’s food waste that would otherwise get thrown out that can be used to supplement livestock’s diet when they can’t forage for themselves. We live in a no-food-waste household since having chickens because they eat just about anything (no citrus or processed sugary foods though). I have made it a habit to just pour any leftover grease into mason jars once it has cooled after cooking. This is the only part that takes time, because, for those of you who know me well enough, I don’t eat a lot of fatty meats or feed them to my family, so it can be months before I have enough grease to make a worthwhile batch of cakes. If you want to make suet cakes without animal products, I have read you can use nut butters, such as peanut butter. I have not tried, and it sounds messy, but there are vegan options!

I use muffin tins to pour the ingredients into. First, I decide what I’m going to use as the main ingredients in the cakes. For this batch, I used corn kernels, herbed croutons, cilantro, sunflower seeds, and rolled oats. The cilantro is a great natural antibiotic to help the birds fend off viruses and infections, and the sunflower seeds (other than them being tasty for any bird) are beneficial to egg production. The corn, croutons, and oats just provide nutrition that the birds enjoy the taste of (apparently). They REALLY go crazy for corn!

After choosing my ingredients, I put an even amount of each into each muffin cup, then pour the liquefied grease on top of each cup to make the gross, gooey mess you see below. I keep the grease either frozen or in the back of the fridge while collecting, so keep that in mind if you make these babies you’d better make sure the grease is soft enough for pouring before making these. Last step before serving, is to freeze, then you can pop ‘em out to feed to your birds whenever it’s feeding time, or just as a treat, depending on what you think they need. I have to make so many more now that we have more birds, they all fight over them.

As you can see, the one in the back is a little crumbly.
That's okay, they'll eat it right up anyway.
Come and get it!

Feeding frenzy

Pretty Boy likes to eat on his perch

All the hens have been pretty healthy this winter; a few were sharing a respiratory virus for a few days, but they all made it through with minimal intervention. When this does happen, immediately separate the sick hen from the rest of the flock, then keep them in a warm, dry place while you make sure they are getting enough to eat and drink. Fluid intake and warmth are probably the most important factors when nursing a sick hen, we have found. We did not even administer any store-bought medicine; however, I did make a blend of cilantro and garlic in purified then boiled and cooled water, which they hated, but we forced it down their little beaks and I think that really helped them get over the virus. Poor things had crusties all around their nostrils and eyes and didn’t want to eat. If you have ever heard a bird sneeze, it is the most adorably pathetic sound!

That being said, if you ever do have a flock and get a sick bird, some might recommend you get rid of the affected hen right away, meaning kill it. We decided to take the more humane route, and see if we could nurse our sickies back to health, and we did! Catastrophe avoided! I’m sure some people who have larger flocks than we do who don’t want to risk losing their entire livelihood from a cold virus don’t even want to risk it, but we are still doing this more or less as a hobby until we gain more experience and might be able to sustain ourselves with the birds even more, or even make a profit one day.

Only three of the birds have been laying so far with the warmer weather, but most of our girls are still pretty young. We’re hoping to see more eggs within the next month or so, though. Then our neighbors will really love us!

Jumping in excitement for spring!

Friday, March 17, 2017

In Search of my Pot o' Gold...

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day. What seems like so long ago, I used to get together with friends on this day to do what most people do on St. Patty’s- wear green and drink booze. This morning, I wasn’t thinking about what time to meet so-and-so at the bar tonight, dreaming of all the algae-colored beer we’d guzzle, or which cute green top/dress/skirt/whatever I should wear. I was thinking about the cute green top with the sequin shamrock and matching bow with a Leprechaun on it Lily has, priding myself for actually remembering to put it on her this morning before breakfast, and before she was already at school (that often happens, that moment in the middle of the day that feels like a rock sinking into my stomach, that moment of remembering something I was supposed to do for/give her before sending her to school…and it’s usually the thing her teacher sent a minimum of three reminders home regarding so us silly parents wouldn’t forget…but, there’s always at least one who does, am I right, teachers?).

And it’s these small acts of “getting it done” that keep me going these days. The daily goals and accomplishments met, no matter how small or insignificant when described to others, such as finally remembering to put a note in the garden from Lily’s pretend fairy, Caitlin, AKA me. Remembering to remind Grandma to call her insurance company to get her meds filled. Remembering that Paul does like mayo on his sandwiches now (he used to tell me it made the bread soggy, and he swears he never said such things, but, even you know better, don’t you??). 

Notice how none of those things have anything to do with me personally?

See, that’s the big change when you become a mom that you don’t think much about at first as you do the changing of diapers, midnight feedings, kissing scraped knees, first days for school, etc. Mom never comes first anymore. The things to do for yourself are at the bottom of your to-do list, unless taking a shower counts (many don’t even do that every day…we’ve all been there, I’m sure).  And, I think that needs to change.

This week I attended the first Toastmasters meeting I’ve been to since early January. I haven’t been going because either I felt too crappy from my first trimester sickness, or I was busy doing something else that took precedent, such as taking Grandma to a doctor appointment or making a deadline on something more of a priority…or else I was just too damn tired. But, this week I really wanted to go, needed to go. Needed to be around adults and hear adults talk about adult things in an intelligent manner and maybe even have some conversation that didn’t involve my daily life and to-do list.

I was a welcome sight by all the members who I had gotten friendly with since first attending in the early fall of last year, but that tired feeling still lingered, so I did not engage in as much conversation as I had hoped. And then the speeches began (they usually do 2 per meeting). The first one up was presented by a women who does something really amazing professionally- she’s an art therapist who works with children in hospitals to assist in trauma recovery through creative expression. Her talk was on self-care, and how important that is. She spoke of how, as rewarding as her job was, she also has come home exhausted more nights than she can count, completely drained with only enough energy to watch a few television shows before falling asleep on the sofa. She one day realized this was affecting her happiness and daily performance, so she started focusing on doing things for herself that made her feel good. The things she chose were running and art, or reading when she truly felt too tired to do either of those things. She’s also a dedicated mother and wife, so her life is pretty full.

She provided examples and situations that could apply to us, the listeners, and even handed out this mini self-help poster:

This speech really hit home, so much so, that I started feeling a little emotional (which has been extremely common for me these days due to this doozy of a pregnancy), and felt myself getting uncomfortable in my seat. I wanted to leave the room and go get a coffee somewhere quiet where I could digest all the thoughts filling my mind. Thinking about how tired I was and how I wasn’t focusing on the things that mattered. I’m pregnant, dammit, but all I can think about is everything I’m not getting done everyday!!!!

I stayed though, but didn’t even get to tell this woman- we’ll call her Beth –how much her speech touched me. I will be sure to tell her next time I see her, instead of darting out of the YMCA as soon as the gauntlet adjourning the meeting is thrown.

And I did go get that coffee…and I took my time with it. Then I did some window shopping (in between I was coordinating calls between the admin at the VA office to schedule a meeting about my Grandma’s military benefits, so there’s always something getting done…) and took my time getting home (picked up the requested oatmeal cookies for Grandma on the way).

And last night Grandma and I went to bingo. That classic bingo I have only heard about, or seen parodied in movies involving the 65-and-older crowd, where everyone sits at tables with there bright-colored dabbers and numbered cards laid out in front of them like treasure maps, surrounded by good luck charms and in their silly hats or lucky necklaces or whatever, and a man with a mic stands at the front of the room spinning the big metal bingo ball cage, while each player holds their breath in hopes of a winning number being called. I was giddy with excitement over this Thursday night trip to the VFW, grinning like an idiot as I picked out my dabber colors and chose from the burger and dogs menu like I was at a gourmet restaurant (I got a cheese burger and fries for $2! I wouldn’t shut up about it all night).

We ate our classic American fare and then we bingoed. We bingoed for three damn hours! When she’d told me we’d be there until close to 10 o’clock, I thought she was mixing up her times again. Nope. Grandma remembers what’s important to her, and gambling is one of them. We didn’t win anything- not any of the small or large jackpots, or the door prizes, or even the Bavarian Orange Crème cake (I swear that is what Grandma was most excited about). But, we had a good time.

Last night was my self-care. Just doing something silly to forget about all the nagging bills and jobs and chores and friggin’ unpacking that still isn’t done. Today I feel renewed, with better energy (I started writing this post at 7:45 am). Also, this morning my dearest friend- and new mom! -posted this article entitled “To the Mom Who is Exhausted”. Damn did it ring that bell home. You should read the article, even if you’re not mom (you obviously know one). Here is the part that hit home hardest for me:

“For some reason, as moms we feel like if we aren’t super woman each day, we are failing. We put an immense amount of unnecessary mom guilt on ourselves. We wear ourselves out by running around like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to get it all done and never really doing one job well. We need to realize we ARE enough.”

Today I salute you moms who do it all and still feel like you aren’t doing enough! I salute anyone who feels that way as well, however when you have to take care of a child (or 2, or 5, or 10), it is like taking care of another form of yourself, so your workload is automatically doubled. And, even though I am still not working yet (another post on that will likely be in my future), I am working harder than ever these days…it just never ends when you become a responsible adulting parent. And that’s okay. 

Borrowed from HuffPost (click it!)

Today is Saint Patrick's Day, but I often feel like my luck is running out (losing at bingo made me think that like 10 times before the night was over). Like I am still searching for my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I thought getting this house in NC would be it, though things have not gone exactly to plan (they rarely do). But, I have it so good, so much better than so many people in this world. I came here expecting amazing things, and not everything has gone according to plan, but I’m here and I’ll do what I gotta do to make it work. And that’s enough.

Thank God for the love and family I have in my life.

My pot o' gold