Thursday, May 31, 2012

Our Youngest Generation

One of the most difficult decisions involved in the chicken keeping experience is also one of the first to be made. Choosing which breed of chickens to live in your coop is a daunting task. In my last post, I wrote about selecting the best breed for your backyard flock.

While I don't have any easy answers, I do have my own selections to share with you. It's high time that I tell you which breeds we added to our flock this spring. First, it seems necessary to list the breeds that have been living at 1840 Farm since we became chicken keepers in September of 2010.

Our coop is currently home to seven heritage breed hens. The queen of the flock is Bertha the Barred Plymouth Rock. She is joined by another Barred Plymouth Rock named Marigold. They share the coop with two Silver Laced Wyandottes named Fawkes and Sally, along with Amelia and Abigail the Golden Laced Wyandottes. Hedwig the Black Australorp is the comedienne and champion egg layer in the group.

There are ten chicks living in the brooding pen in our barn as I write this. We chose half of them based on their egg-laying capability. The other half were chosen to bring a little feathered beauty to the garden. This spring, we chose to add bantam hens to the scenery at 1840 Farm.

First, I'll start with the standard-size hens. It was an easy decision to add two Black Australorp chicks to our order this year. We have been thrilled with Hedwig's demeanor and egg production. She is friendly and agreeable, rarely arguing with her coop mates.

Hedwig reliably leaves us an egg almost daily. She has yet to exhibit any signs of broodiness. We're hoping that the two Australorp chicks will bring more of the same to our coop.

The Dominique breed was chosen due to its history. However, the history of this regal breed is not completely clear. As soon as I read an account of the breed coming to the New World with the Pilgrims, I would find a conflicting story. After reading several cases for and against, I can't definitively declare that the Dominique was on the Mayflower when it made land in Massachusetts in 1620.

That being said, I don't have any trouble believing that the Dominique was a common sight on New England Farms around the time that our farm was first built. From what I have read, the first written account of the breed was made in 1862. I'm willing to bet that Dominique hens were providing eggs for New Englanders long before that.

I chose a Welsummer chick for different reasons. First, I thought that the hens and roosters of the breed were beautiful. I'm not alone in this belief. A Welsummer rooster has been gracing the front of the Cornflakes box since 1957.

The Welsummer's plumage wasn't the only appeal for me. I knew that adding a Welsummer to the coop meant the promise of finding dark terracotta colored eggs waiting for me in the nest box. I have always wanted a breed that produces dark-tinted eggs, so the Welsummer became a perfect choice.

The bantams were chosen to satisfy my curiosity. I read a great deal about chickens, including profiles of specific breeds. Every time I came across a mention of bantams, the author spoke about their lovely disposition, their beauty and their friendliness. Most of all, I continued to read that they were a perfect match for children.

After I had encountered that opinion several times, I knew that we needed to make room on our farm for a few bantam hens. I understood that they would not bring high egg productivity to our farm, but I was willing to accept that. I was looking for these hens to have a much bigger task: helping to hold the attention and interest of my two children. I'm trying to raise two chicken keepers, and I'll use whatever means necessary to ensure that they remain involved in the raising of our hens. If a few fluffy chickens can help me meet that goal, then so be it.

Enter the two bantam Silkie chicks. My children carefully selected the Buff Silkie and Black Silkie when we were placing our order for day-old chicks. The Buff Silkie is a showstopper. The combination of dark markings on her head and the emerging silky feathers make her one of the cutest chicks in our brooding pen. She is outgoing and very vocal. I can see that she will be demanding attention from anyone passing by the coop once she is fully grown.

The Black Silkie is the smallest of our bantam chicks. Her feathers are so fluffy that she resembles a black cotton ball. She is quiet and tends to shy away from any sort of confrontation with the other girls. She has the makings of a fantastic lap chicken. I'm quite sure that my children will be happy to oblige.

My daughter was quick to choose a Mille Fleur d'Uccle bantam when researching breeds of bantam hens. I couldn't blame her: They were strikingly beautiful. It didn't take long for me to follow suit and add a chick of this breed to our order.

A Mille Fleur's feathers are amazing. It is easy to see why their name literally translates in French to "thousand flowers." I look forward to the day when we can watch our bearded and booted Mille Fleur d'Uccle hen happily scratching in our empty garden beds.

Last, but certainly not least, were the two Mottled Cochin bantam chicks. As chicks, they have us marveling at their beautiful creamy yellow feathers. We know that the buttery yellow color will pass in favor of the mottled pattern that gives their breed its name.

As adults, they will display the black and white feathers of their breed. Today, they are adorable and comical, chasing each other around the brooding pen. Their white wing feathers are just starting to appear and their appearance changes dramatically each day.

Watching these baby chicks develop into the hens that will provide our family with eggs and garden entertainment is a joy. They have been entertaining us since they arrived, and I don't imagine that changing any time soon. Witnessing my children grow up along with them is an experience I will always cherish.

Each time my children remark in amazement at how quickly these chicks are growing up, I nod in agreement ... knowing that I feel the same way about them. These chicks won't be babies forever, just as the youngest generation living at 1840 Farm won't be children forever.

It's simply the way of nature. I'll continue to enjoy the youth that brings our farm to life for as long as it lasts. I'll look forward to proudly seeing the adolescents that will develop alongside each other. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that our youngest generation will be chicken keepers for a long time to come.

You're always welcome at 1840 Farm. To make sure that you don't miss any of the excitement, giveaways or unending supply of cute photos of baby chicks during the A Year in the Life at 1840 Farm Series, follow us on Facebook to read the daily news from the coop at 1840 Farm.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jubilee street party

If street parties are your thing, get down to New Cross this weekend where they are celebrating the Jubilee on Saturday 2 June.

The reborn library organisation New Cross Learning, St James' School, the Hobgoblin Pub and local church have got together to put on a Jubilee Street party in Hatcham Village, New Cross from 2-6pm.

The street will be closed for the family-friendly day and people are asked to bring food to share for a street party.

There will be organised games and entertainments with a stage put on by the Madcap Coalition, starring local bands and schoolchildren, as well as a bar.

"We wanted to celebrate the Jubilee in style," said Gillian Hart, Chair of New Cross Learning. "And this lots of local organisations coming together to put on a party. If you think about how you'd organise a street party in a village, you'd want the pub, library, church and local school involved. We've got a strong community in New Cross so we wanted to do the same thing here."

Among the entertainments will be

-a tug of war
- human fruit machine
- tombola
- stage with street dance, acapella, and bands

Two local knitting groups have created a huge knitted Union Jack specially for the occasion, which will be on display. There are also original items from Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation on display in New Cross Learning, organised by the local history society.

"The flag looks amazing: it's been pieced together really painstakingly by our volunteers, and we're hoping to either raffle or sell it to raise funds for New Cross Learning," says Kathy Dunbar, vice chair of New Cross Learning.

One of the fire engines from the local fire station will be on display at St James Road.

At the same time, New Cross Learning will be holding a book sale to raise funds. 

St James Church is to host a free play reading by a local writer and journalist, Swordwater, at 5pm, as  part of a series of events across the country to mark the millennium of the martyrdom of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Alfege at the hands of Viking raiders in Greenwich.

Secrets of Deptford High Street

Shh! Deptford High Street is going to be in focus over the next few weeks, but there's an element of secrecy surrounding matters.

Next Wednesday 6 June BBC2 broadcasts the first episode in its new series 'The secret history of our streets', and the episode focussing on Deptford High Street will be first. It's difficult to know what to expect of this, considering that the programme makers seem to be trying to shoehorn 125 years' history into half an hour.

Time Out's preview gives some indication, suggesting it will be a mix of the usual cliches and some more interesting stuff such as the discovery of council documents suggesting the slum clearance programme that destroyed many of the streets in the northern end of Deptford were unnecessary.

Apparently regular High Street 'celebrity' Harry Hayward is not among the local characters interviewed in the film, so at least not all the cliches about Deptford are being trotted out. As for me, I'm looking forward to finding out which market trader thinks it's 'an angry high street' where 'no-one likes anyone'. I could put forward a guess of at least two or three miserable sods whom I wouldn't be surprised to hear coming out with something like that.

The first episode airs on Wednesday 6 June at 9pm on BBC2.

Meanwhile this Friday 1 June sees the launch of 'Secret Soundtrack', an audio artwork by Jay Harris, which will be accessible throughout June at The Deptford Project café, Bearspace gallery, Arch Materials and Deli X.

Jay's press release explains: "Secret Soundtrack uses '3D sound' recorded in Deptford Market, to create a theatrical atmosphere that people can experience as they wander around the market. Sound art, as a relatively undiscovered art form, seems like the perfect way to bring attention to one of south London’s lesser-known gems: Deptford High Street."

The main drawback is that in order to take part, you will need a smart phone with a QR Code reader and a pair of earphones (although Jay has suggested he plans to make MP3 files available on his website for people to download as an alternative for those who don't have smart phones). Scanning QR Codes on posters in the businesses named above will take you to the Secret Soundtrack website where you will be given instructions on what to do next.

Jay did give me an MP3 file to preview of his work, but he recommends that you listen to it while visiting the market, and I've not had chance to do that yet so I can't report on whether the work is successful.

He says: "You will be encouraged to explore the market while listening to the audio streamed from the website, making sure not to drown out the live sounds. You can expect to hear sounds recorded in the market, reproduced in such a way as to become something new when played in conjunction with listening to the live sounds around you." He has also created a separate audio atmosphere for The Deptford Project café which will be on display there from 1st – 8th June.

The background

I have only 4 nights left in Nova Scotia. If I sit back and actually think about what is happening I get overrun with emotion. This has been 4 years in the making. 

I am getting new lungs!

This is insane.  This is truly insane. 

Bye bye crusty lungs. You and I have grown apart. It's time to break up. It's not you, it's me....ya, lets go with that.

I was born with a chronic illness called Cystic Fibrosis. For those of you unfamiliar with CF, feel free to check out Cystic Fibrosis Canada's website:

When I was a little girl I remember doing aerosols, mom and dad giving me physio and mixing my enzymes in apple sauce. I was lucky, I had a little friend with CF named Laura, so I wasn't the only strange girl sucking back apple sauce before my lunch. As I got older I was able to do aerosols on my own, do my own physio and I ditched the apple sauce; I can take a lot of pills at one time. Does that make me cool? Absolutely.

High school was a breeze. I played a lot of sports and, aside from a couple of hospitalizations, CF stayed in the background - where it belonged. 

CF must have felt left out, like it wasn't getting enough attention. "Helllooooo, remember me? I'm CF. Aren't we like, best friends??!! In my early 20's it starts acting up. However, I think it was just lonely, because along comes a friend...Cystic Fibrosis Related Diabetes (CFRD). Ugh. Anything but diabetes. Gross. Controlling it with diet turned into controlling it with pills which turned into controlling it with tiny, annoying, painful needles full of insulin. 

Someone wanna pass along a message? "Go away CFRD, although you are crushing on me, you are not my type!"

2008 I got very sick. Hospital sick. ICU kind of sick. I will go in to detail in another post, but for now we'll leave it at - I was the kind of sick where your doctor advises you that you need a double-lung transplant to save your life (because you almost died and your lung disease has taken over your body) and you sit there staring at him/her wondering if this is it; did CF win? However, because I am super human, my health stabilized. 

For the last 4 years I've been monitored by the transplant team. I'm really good at pretending everything is okay and saying "I'm gooood, everything's fine". I really hate complainers and I can't stand people who look for attention. So, that's the last thing I ever wanted to be. I also have some sort of preoccupation with pretending I'm normal (go ahead - laugh). Who wants to be different? 

There it goes again. CF starts whining and comes screaming in like a banshee - Ya, hi, me again. I feel like an ignored housewife. I have needs too. I have neeeeds. This last year I've really felt it put on a squeeze. It couldn't be ignored any longer. My CF specialist felt it was time for new lungs and I agreed. (I will write more later about why it's time.) 

I flew to Toronto in March with my friend Lindsay for a week-long assessment. Four weeks later I received the call. Not to be confused with the call I'll receive from TGH saying they have an actual set of lungs on ice for me.

"We agreed you are a suitable candidate for transplant and now is the time for you to be listed".

I was rocking a pretty crazy cocktail of emotions. What???? For real???? It's my time???? Shut it! No......Yes!!!!

I move June 3rd. 

I'll be listed June 5th.

June 5th starts the wait for my new life. My second chance at life.

Live, Laugh, Lungs allows me to share my story and chronicle my adventures.

Live with me, laugh with me and follow along on my search for lung-term happiness.

Companion Poultry

by Jennifer Sartell

Lately I've been reading a lot about companion planting. It's a gardening technique in which different species of vegetables and flowers are planted together and they work as a group to benefit each other. In the Mother Earth News article Companion Planting With Vegetables and Flowers, the author Barbara Pleasant gives an example of the "three sisters," a group of vegetables consisting of beans, corn and squash that all work well when planted together. She writes, "The corn supports the bean vines, the squash shades out weeds, and the roots of the different plants get along nicely below ground."

This idea of companion planting can also be applied to different types of livestock around the farm. The article got me thinking about how our different animals, in particular poultry, help our farm find balance and harmony.

Variety is the spice of farm life
I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that farm animals are like potato chips. You can't have just one. There was a time when I had two chickens and a 2-by-4-foot garden bed so crammed with vegetable plants that nothing grew besides a disfigured tomato and some leggy peas. This was my farm. Now I hear myself saying things like "We need a cow ..." and the strange part is, it's not a joke! We've come a long way in the past few years, and looking back, it feels like it's all happened rather fast.

We get into "go" mode, and one thing leads to another. One experience sets you up with the confidence required to take the next step, and before you know it, you've processed your own chickens, milked a goat and planted a field of corn. Our two chickens became 50, which plowed the way for ducks, turkeys, fiber goats, dairy goats, fiber rabbits, bees and a garden filled with heirloom varieties that we've grown from seed.

The interesting thing about a farm is that when we ease up on our own controlling tendencies, stop viewing ourselves as the "farm managers" and allow our own domesticated ecosystem to work, we find that it does work, and it works well. With each new variety or species of animal that we integrate onto our property, we wonder sometimes how we ever managed without them. We've found that one of the keys to success on our farm is finding a balance of animals that help each other, and in turn help us. It's not something that will ever be completed or mastered, but complimentary animals do help. The nature of living things is that they are always changing, and so will our farm in that respect. But through the different combinations and varieties, we can find practical, beneficial relationships between the different animals on our farm.

Ducks Helping Goats
When we first moved here, Zach and I noticed that there was an abundance of snails everywhere. Most of them were a small snail with a tubular shell varying in color from tan to dark brown. We would wake up in the morning to a dewy lawn and snails would be everywhere. On the sidewalk, on the house siding. After a rain they would be in the garden, on the bushes, and spotted among the tall grass. We didn't think much of it.

It wasn't until I read the book Goat Song by Brad Kessler, where the snails started to grab our attention. In the book, the author writes about a horrible ordeal that one of his goats experiences. The goat is infested by a worm that attacks the spinal cord and the poor thing almost dies. He writes that the goat must have picked up the worm by accidentally eating a snail amongst the pasture.

I must admit, after reading this, I freaked out a little. I did a little more research on the "snail worm" and found that it is called meningeal worm, a parasite that lives in snails that have passed over deer droppings. The snails ingest the larvae of the meningeal and become carriers. When a goat eats grass, it can easily ingest a snail and become infected. We worm our goats regularly, but recently our Angora does have kidded and we're not using our normal worming regimen. The girls are still nursing and many of the wormers are not safe for lactating does. This lapse in worming prevention has me a little nervous with snails slithering all over our lawn.

One day I was out watching our ducks forage through the grass and noticed on this particularly damp morning that the ducks were slurping up the snails like candy. I did some research to see if meningeal affected ducks, and found that it didn't! Needless to say, we immediately moved the ducks to the goat pasture, and I have to say, I haven't seen a snail since. I know that the ducks won't necessarily get every last snail, but it makes me feel a whole lot better knowing that the snails that carry this parasite are being eaten by the hundreds.

The ducks, even more than our chickens, are perfect to range on our goat pasture, in that they don't tear everything up like chickens do with their scratching. Ducks have a minimal footprint on the grass, where our chickens have been known to tear plants out by the roots. It's a perfect balance!

Goats Helping Turkeys
While this relationship is in reverse, it still provides an example of how poultry can benefit from other animals, thus saving us time and money. Our turkey poults are getting larger now. They're feathering out and getting ready to be moved to their outside pen. The problem is that our property is an old hay field, and the grass grows with a vengeance. The area where we've decided to put the turkeys has remnants of an old concrete foundation where our barn used to branch out in an "L" shape, until a tornado took the wing off in the 1950s. We can't mow it with the lawn mower or the blades will hit that foundation and break. The grass has gotten so out of control now, that if we were to let our turkeys out, we wouldn't find them again until Thanksgiving!

A couple Saturdays ago, we decided we would weed whip the area. So, we got out the stinky, noisy weed whipper and started at the tall grass. Then we looked over the fence at the goats munching on the same green grass, and thought, Hmmm ... Maybe we should just move the goats? The grass would serve as free food for the goats, and at the same time, the turkey run would get mowed down a bit, without having to spend money on gas and waste a whole Saturday weed whipping. If you take it one step further, the turkey droppings will serve as fertilizer next spring for the garden, and the plants will benefit from the whole system ... Full Circle!

Chickens Helping the Garden
This is our first year having a garden at this house, but at our last house, we would let the chickens into the garden area in the fall to take down any remaining plants. They would churn up the dirt and their droppings would act as fertilizer for the plants the following year.

This year, we've started our large compost pile at the back of the property. It consists largely of chicken bedding and droppings. We are letting it break down a bit over the summer so that this fall we can spread it over the garden area to decompose further and work it into the soil the following spring. The nitrogen rich compost will fertilize the plants and add organic matter to our clay-laden soil.

We've also started bagging our grass clippings when we mow our lawn, and using it in the chicken coops as bedding. The green grass layers well in the compost heap with the straw and pine shavings. (For more great advice on how chickens can help in the garden, read Rebecca Nickols' series Gardening with Chickens.)

Geese Helping Chickens
If everything works out, we are due to get some goslings from our neighbor. When he offered them to us, my first thought was, "If we don't want to eat them, what good are they?" Until one evening we were on our way home from the store when we approached our neighbor's fence and saw that his geese were chasing a raccoon out of his yard. Like us, he raises some adorable little bantams and game birds, which would serve as a tasty snack for a raccoon, but that poor critter didn't stay over the fence for long. The geese charged, and squawked and opened their gigantic wings and flapped the raccoon right out of the yard. It was quite an intimidating spectacle, and I would challenge any predator animal to go against a gander of geese.

Guineas Helping the Dog
Any time you free range poultry in your yard, there is going to be the benefit of insect control. Our chickens pluck insects out of the air and gobble up grubs they find under leaves. But guineas are known to be the champions of insect removal.

I started thinking about raising guineas a couple of years ago when our vet recommended the Lyme disease vaccine for our dog. Lyme disease is a disease spread by deer ticks. Both dogs and humans can get it, and it is a very painful and debilitating illness. When we lived in the woods, we would vaccinate our dog every year. But I still had an unsettling feeling every time I would have to remove a blood-swollen tick from our dog's skin.

I started reading about raising a flock of guineas and found testimony on different poultry forums that a flock of guineas had wiped out tick problems for many families. We've since moved to an area where the ticks don't seem to be as prevalent, but we do have deer, so it's not out of the question. And with our new puppy Oliver, a flock of guineas might be in our future.

Ducks Helping the Dog
At our other house we also had a large pond, and it was surrounded by woods. A beautiful setting to be sure, but in the summer, a perfect combination for breeding mosquitoes. The mosquitoes were TERRIBLE at our old house. We couldn't be outside after dusk without soaking ourselves in some sort of bug spray that smelled like gasoline and left your skin feeling like slime. I always worried about our dogs, as it's not healthy to spray bug spray on animals. Our dogs would be covered in mosquitoes, and I would have to bring them inside every evening to escape the swarming. I was diligent about heart-worm prevention, and needless to say, we were constantly trying to reduce the mosquito population. We would turn over wheel barrels, 5-gallon buckets and any other vessel that might hold standing water as to not attract mosquitoes, which lay their eggs in stagnant water. But I always felt as though our efforts were rather pointless ... What's a 5-gallon bucket when you have a pond the size of a small lot?

One year we decided to raise some farm ducks. Going into it, we really didn't get the ducks for pest control, but after having them ranging around the yard, and swimming in the pond, we did notice a decrease in the mosquito population. The bloodsucking pests never disappeared completely, but when it comes to ducks, they are a multipurpose mosquito-battling animal. They will eat the larvae in the water and adult mosquitoes in the air, making our yard a more comfortable space for both ourselves and our dog.

Variety Among Chickens
Even if some of you are only able to raise chickens, sometimes it's beneficial to raise more than one breed. If you spend some time on the Mother Earth News Pickin' Chicken App, you'll find that each breed of chicken was bred to serve a particular roll on the farm or in the backyard coop. Weather it be prolific egg laying, broody tendencies and the ability to hatch new chicks, or heartiness in winter climates, each breed helps to round out the other. For even more information on picking a breed of chicken that's right for you, check out Jennifer Burke's post The Best Breed of Chicken for Your Flock.

Ask any poultry keeper and they can attest that fowl make great companions. Their quirky little personalities and set-in-their-way habits are as reliable and steady as an old friend. And while entertainment, and the joy that farm fowl can bring to a backyard is enough for some to go "chicken crazy," any keeper of chickens, ducks, geese or guineas can see that poultry can bring so many different and helpful additions to a home.

Do you have an example of companion animals on your farm? I'd love to hear about it! Feel free to leave a comment below, or on the Community Chickens Facebook page.

Don't Forget, Enter the Coop Story Giveaway!

Do you have a chicken coop? I'd love to feature it in a Community Chickens post! Fill out the 10 question form by clicking here and submit at least 5 photos of your coop to my e-mail at The photos can include the building process, a visual tour of the different elements, or anything else you'd like to share! If I choose your coop story, you will be featured on the Community Chickens website, and you will receive one of Iron Oak Farm's handmade Oak Leaf Key Chains, valued at $23! Feel free to elaborate on any of the questions. I will feature 1 coop per month. The more information you provide, the better your chances of winning! For more information read my post A Coop Story Giveaway.

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

This spring when educator friends went to IRA in Chicago I was jealous. As tweets came out about the advanced reading copies they found, there was one in particular I was dying to read, Capture the Flag by Kate Messner.

See when I first joined Twitter almost three years ago, I somehow found Kate then. Her new book, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z was coming out that September. I knew she was a teacher. I still remember going to Barnes and Noble and seeing the book on the shelves, taking a picture and tweeting it to her after I bought it. She said it was the first viewing of it in the wild. J

After reading and falling in love with Gianna, I shared it with my school librarian. She decided to base our family reading night around it and Kate agreed to Skype with our school. It was wonderful and cemented me forever as a fan of Kate Messner.

Along the way she has written more amazing books – Sugar and Ice, the Marty McGuire series, Eye of the Storm, Sea Monster’s First Day, and Over and Under the Snow. I have purchased and loved them all. So now you can understand my jealousy of the wonderful friends who were reading Capture the Flag!

Flash forward to yesterday.  John Schu had Kate visit his blog to discuss the new book. Kate even posted on the Nerdy Book Club discussing her love of reading and researching. (There is a giveaway of the book on both blogs!) I was quickly checking again to see the release date for Capture the Flag, had they miraculously moved it up to June 1st? Nope, still July 1st. Then someone tweeted gratitude to Kate, Capture the Flag had been delivered to their mailbox today. The seed of hope was planted. Sometimes Scholastic sends me copies of her books ahead of time, but they are delivered to school. I raced to school, said hello to our wonderful secretaries, and turned to my mailbox. I let out a loud, “WOO HOO!” which made them jump. A package! It was here!

Quick goodbyes all around and I drove home. I told their boys they were on their own for a bit and dove onto my bed to read.

How to quickly summarize this book is difficult. It reminded me of the National Treasure movies (and one of the kids even said that in the book.) Three children; Anna, Jose, and Henry, meet at the start of the book. All of them are from Vermont but are in Washington D.C. at an event their parents (or aunt) has been invited to at the Smithsonian. Once the event is over someone steals the famous flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner”. This is announced on the news the next day when the kids and their families are at the airport trying to fly home. However D.C. has been hit by a blizzard and all flights are cancelled. The children at this point meet each other and then eventually decide that if they are stuck, the culprits might be stuck too. At first they are only casually trying to solve the crime. But as they get personally involved, and the stakes rise, they race against time (and flight departures) to finish the job.

I loved the story. It was a fast paced adventure. There were small lessons woven in throughout the book that would make this an excellent read aloud to a class. My only disappointment was at the end of the book. I had grown attached to these characters but I was still wondering what was going to happen to them. To my great delight Kate tweeted yesterday that yes, there is a sequel. So thrilled about that. I could see this as a wonderful series. I think if you have students who enjoy this they would also like C. Alexander London’s Accidental Adventure series or Tom Angleberger’s hilarious Fake Mustache. I highly, highly recommend this book. 

It's Official!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Three-Season Summer House

Coop between the road and the hill
by Meredith Chilson

We have 5 acres of land here: a long, narrow strip that includes our house, garden and chicken coop sandwiched between a county-maintained side road and a wooded hillside. Because of the proximity of the road and the fox den and hawk’s nest on the side hill, I can’t comfortably let my chickens out to free range. The girls have a good-sized yard, bordered with wire and covered with netting, but they don’t have constant access to greens and bugs and all the neat things that can be found out in the Big World on the other side of their fence.

My husband is a handyman. In preparation for our first baby chicks, he spent the winter building an 8-by-12-foot Chicken Palace (to my specifications, using “found materials”) in his workshop. He figured out a way to move it to its permanent location, and then added a covered porch and the secure, fenced and covered run. When I told him I needed a summerhouse for the girls, smaller and portable, I knew he’d be able to build it.

I suggested an A-frame style covered in chicken wire, with an open bottom. It needed a covered area for privacy and shelter, as well as an entry door. It had to be light enough that I could move it around the yard, big enough to hold three or four chickens, and sturdy enough to keep daytime predators out … and inexpensive enough to fit into our small budget.

By October of that first year, he had worked his magic, again using materials he’d saved and gleaned from other projects: boards from a tree that had tipped over and which we had sawed into planks, chicken wire left from enclosing the hen yard, front wheels from a discarded riding lawn mower, a handle salvaged from an old push lawn mower, pipe from some swap he’d made with a neighbor. He’d nailed and stapled and welded and presented me with just what I’d asked for … and more.

The door locked. There was a “brake,” made from a pipe, that lifted and locked with a nifty wire/nail hole-in-a-board mechanism when the shelter was to be moved ... and stabilized when in use with another block of wood nailed next to the door frame.

He’d even made a handle for the brake and wrapped it with electrical tape. As I had requested, it was an A-frame, fashioned from 2-by-4s and covered with the wire. On one end, he had used leftover tin roofing and fashioned a solid roof, about 3 feet wide and extending to the ground. Both ends of the shelter were built with surplus plywood from yet another project.

On the end without the roofing, he fastened the old lawn mower handle to make it easier to push and pull the summerhouse around the yard.

Ready to roll!
He had tied the handle of the brake into the axle holding the wheels so that when the brake lifts, the front of the little building also lifts. Perfect! Just perfect!

Well … almost perfect. Every time I tried to move the shelter, the tires on the wheels were flat. After a couple of weeks of hauling the air tank out to wherever the building happened to be, my husband replaced the tires with taller, hard rubber wheels. Now, it really was perfect.

I’ve used this shelter in the spring, summer and fall for the past four years. In the spring, I roll it over my garden beds and let the hens do much of the tilling before I plant. In the summer, I put my “teenaged” chickens in it, shove it next to the covered run and safely introduce my young chicks to the older chicks. In the fall, I set it in various places in the yard and let the hens mulch leaves for my compost pile. I put it back on newly emptied garden spots, too, for more chick-tilling and fertilizing.

Every sunny morning, I add a water jug and two or three hens, and let them scratch away to their heart’s content. In the evening, I open the door to the shelter and the girls wander out and I pick them up and put them back in the coop for the night. There are a couple of the hens that always volunteer to spend the day in the shelter; there are several that prefer to stay in the yard. One hen always waits until she is back in the coop to lay an egg—as soon as she returns, she hops into a nest box.

After all these years, I can only think of one, maybe two improvements that could be made. Perhaps somehow it could be equipped with a shelflike nest box, and maybe it could be just a bit taller. (It’s not quite tall enough for me to stand up in, and when I have a bunch of crazy teenaged chicks in it, it’s hard to catch them, hold them and then turn around without bumping my head or dropping a chicken.) Hmmm ... Where’s my handyman?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Slice of Life - Practicing Gratitude

 Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers.

As I sat on my porch after a run yesterday I looked up at the trees and thought of what simple things can make us happy. I snapped five pictures of random items throughout the day (and one from the day before) that I am grateful for.

This one is actually from Sunday. We drove over to a nearby town to stop at the bookstore. I had several graphic novels that were not returned to my classroom library this year. I wanted to replace them before reading camp began and the boys wanted to read them. This makes me happy for many reason but the one that stands out is the happiness my boys have when I say we can go to Barnes & Noble. That and the fact that they both adore Babymouse. J

Monday was a running day. And while the run wasn’t pretty, to say the least, I fell into a chair on our porch when I got home and sat there to cool off. When I looked up at the trees and sky I remembered my trip to Colorado last year. I loved looking at the sky and the view in the morning. I wondered why I don’t appreciate my view here at home more, it was just as peaceful.

The boys asked for bagels for breakfast when I got home. Our daily dishes are fiesta gathered from my mom and great-aunt GG’s collection. I’m always happy when I get the light blue one, my favorite color, and the same color as our tile in the kitchen. Today I got the light blue one. A sign of a good day.

Finally, our pool opened today. That makes me blissfully happy. As a kid I spent a lot of time at our pool. I went to double swim team practices from 7-9 am because my friend and I enjoyed it. Then we went from the moment it opened, 12 pm, until close, 7pm. So although I don’t love putting on a swimming suit, I love going and so do my boys. I probably saw thirty students today. We talked about what they were reading. I gave out some book recommendations to some parents. And then I got to do my favorite thing – read poolside. The makings of an amazing day.

I know on Katie Davis’s podcast, Brain Burps About Books, they talked about gratitude last week. They mentioned that the research shows people who practice gratitude are healthier, happier, and often reach their goals. So this summer I’m going to attempt to slow down and pause, reflecting on what many things I have to be grateful.