Monday, September 29, 2014

Five Good Things



Chango. He has us so well trained it's scary. But he's such a dear old man, how can I refuse him?

What a weekend! It was so full of activity, projects, events, and make-work, it was like an endurance run... not that I could literally tell you what "endurance runs" are like! As constant, relentless and dizzying as it got, I found a good groove, settled into the rhythm, and had a great time. That dining table of ours has a few more dents, lots more paint flecks, and loads of stories! Is it Monday, already? It's almost a relief! Usually, Monday feels like the start of the "work" week, but I am catching my breath, today, and enjoying the simple pleasure of sweeping, washing clothes, buying groceries, and planning an autumn inspired dinner of vegetable soup and roast chicken. Hopefully I can squeeze in time to go through our pictures and eek out some kind of post to share a few the things we've been swimming in... like carving, molding, shaping, modifying, sewing, and painting!

Good Things...

1. Letting go of worry, and immersing myself in the activities at hand. Yes, the house is a mess, but we got so much accomplished, and had such a happy time at it!

2. Connecting with our community, with goats! Ada and Tasha visited a start-up school farm, and were darling ambassadors to all the visitors!

3. Everyone participating... making, thinking, tinkering, creating, improvising, and encouraging.

4. The look of my trunk this morning... full of orange zinnias, pumpkins and a gorgeously odd gourd, a Viking sword and shield, helmet, too, and bread, milk, carrots, leeks, celery, oatmeal. We have plenty.

5. Feeling tired in a good way, pleased with all that has come together, happy to be healthy.

*6. Help. It's so much easier to be la-de-da about all the domestic perils this morning, because I am getting cleaning help!
*Definitely a bonus Good Thing!

Are you glad it's Monday? What's good in your life? I hope you will share~

Friday, September 26, 2014

{this moment}

A single photo, capturing a moment from the week.
A special moment. A moment I want to remember.

:: Inspired by Soule Mama ::

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments, for all to find and see.

Mama Thomson in the garden~ She is the broody Cuckoo Marans~

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What's In Your Color Palette?




What's your favorite color? It seems like when I was younger this was a significant question, one that invariably came up when making a new friend. What's your name? And then, How old are you? And sooner or later, What's your favorite color? Early on, I was blue. Firmly a blue, but secretly, and passionately deep sky blue with rose pink. When I was six, those two colors, side by side, pink and blue, made my heart flutter, gave me ideas about possibilities and loveliness for which I had no words. I was smitten. I had a long and devoted purple phase, and it's still dear to my heart and soul, but so is green, and blue with green, and I also adore a good, deep cranberry, almost hinting at maroon. Just when I think that sky blue and rose pink have lost favor with me, nature shows me a sunset sky in those tones, and I am six, again, struck by that passionate affection, which feels sweet, and limitless.

I still love blue. I cannot live without green. Green's no good without red. A white wall soothes my mind, gives me room to think. Teal, lavender, mustard, aquamarine, a rich chocolatey brown... all welcome, all good one place, or another. But which is my favorite? It is my current obsession to settle on a few colors for hearth and home. Alex gave me the decorating word I needed: Palette. I don't have to choose a favorite color, but for our home I feel like I need to settle on a color palette, because... because it would be nice. For me. I think. I've been a lot of places, in many homes, where I am instantly aware that the colors, the decor, the theme are good, comforting, pleasing, nice to be in. It impresses me, makes me happy, and inevitably makes me feel utterly lost and confused about my own taste, style, theme, and favorite color. You see, at the moment I have painted no less than six things different shades of blue. All of them "pretty," all of them chosen because I liked them, but looking around the yard, thinking about the composition of the whole space, it's making me a bit discomforted, kind of like blaring improvisational jazz, when I am more into a romantic aria. I crave harmony. I want to feel a flow, have some continuity. No surprise, I am mixing metaphors here... like my taste in colors, my taste in music is wide open, and impossible to pin down. But, please, no improvisational jazz, or day-glow, or leopard prints, for me, thank you.

Okay... so, back to the bit about the palette: I am trying to realize a family of colors that make me happy, that I can focus on for our house paint, exterior, and paint for interior rooms. Colors that I can use when we replace our weary and worn sofa, and paint to restore the wood table on the porch, the old potting bench. Colors I can bear in mind when I go to replace our twenty-five year old bath towels. I'll never be match-matchy, no one will ever suspect I hired a color specialist, or enlisted a team of decorators, and I won't lay down a strictly nautical-modernist-contemporary-rustic-aesthetic. But six! different shades of blue?? I'm sort of ranch, kind of cottage, a touch farm house a lot modern-clutter and terribly contemporary confused. My eclectic phase is out of hand! Color palette. Obsessively, I declare, the key to my domestic harmony and satisfaction lies in the discovery and embracing of my color palette!

This is a trivial pursuit of utmost insignificance! I am fully aware of the superficiality, the utter inconsequence of establishing an Aesthetic Me, of discovering my color palette. Not only have I taken to labeling boxes and drawers, shelves, and doors, but soon I will carry swatches, and paint chips, know my Prairie Grey from Seaside Buff, and I will be resolute in discerning the difference between Cozy Cottage and Completely Cluttered. That will be a good day, I think. It will feel settled, and I'll be less confused, less frayed and torn over decisions. But how to reach the point where my palette and I are united, confirmed, agreed? How do I decide my favorite colors for home and hearth, and also the style that goes with them? For to be truly trivial, and at peace, I feel compelled to declare at least a general decorating style to complement my color palette. These questions are filling the empty spaces in my day, talking to me in my sleep, and mocking my six different shades of blues. What is my favorite color? What colors should be in my color palette? Obviously, I am compelled to open a new Pinterest Board. The laundry, and litter box will have to wait. Pressing matters are at hand.

This palette notion, by the way, is very interesting. As soon as I opened up Pinterest with the search for "palette colors," I uncovered a whole new world. Maybe some of you are nodding your heads and thinking, "Uh. Yeah. Didn't she know?" Maybe some of you do know that there are neutrals, and bases, and accents. I am learning a lot. And seeing more. For now, I am drawn to the beach, with all the shades of blues, blue-grays, and suggestions of soft greens, the calm sand tones, with rich accents like the golden kelp. You would think that this would settle the matter, but as soon as I see one winter cabin, or daydream on a Swedish summerhouse... then I am six, again, and struck by a passionate affection for something altogether different, sweet, and comforting. It is... dare I say? Kind of fun? Geoff wants a decision, and soon. He votes for Hunter green, white trim. Said and done. But I plan to add my Pinterest account to his iPhone, and oh-so subtly I am going to lure him into my indecisive, obsession with colors, so we can be confused, together.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Because Awesome Things Happen

If you didn't know what I meant when said I made hencakes this morning, then this picture might clarify things. Hencakes have been a breakfast {lunch, dinner, snack} tradition for quite some time, but never-ever have my hencakes been so marvelously honored and appreciated as they have been today. Without further ado, I offer you Sarah C's exquisitely illustrated Very Small Man Riding Giant Rooster:

I didn't know this day could get much better! Sarah, for seeing the magic in the Hencake, you are officially the first recipient of the Chickenblog Hencake Circle of Awesome, with honors and benefits.

Early Hibernation and Other Autumn Pleasures

We are in fog. It's wonderful. Our neighborhood, the view from the bedroom window, is blanketed, soft, grey. Autumn is really here. There are trees with red and golden leaves, there are pumpkins in home gardens, the markets, dotting the farm field on the bluffs by the sea. Last night I lit a candle, set it in the hallway, and was inspired to organize the counter, there, dust the photographs and vases. This morning I made hencakes... that may have more to do with a good night's sleep than fog, but I am so blissfully pleased and content I will assign all good things to fog, and God. For a moment, my thoughts are insulated, too, and all the worries and sadness of the world are a safe distance away. For me, this season means calm, reflection, whimsy, gratitude, and it fills me with the happy anticipation of peace and light, of home and family holidays, of getting quiet, of giving. If this were a season for making wishes, I would wish that all of our best intentions, all of the lighthearted, and peace-minded celebrations would spread from home to home, from each of us to everywhere, for everyone.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Five Good Things

Tasha Tudor Goat & Ada Lovelace Goat

Good things...

1. No losses, except feathers, when the bobcat came to call.

2. Being invited. {Even if you cannot play, but especially if you can... it's just feels so nice to be included.}

3. Being invited and knowing when to, graciously, say 'no, thank you.'

4. These cool days, the grey, the mist, the relief.

5. Max planning a birthday celebration for his good friend Lucas, and seeing them happily immersed in their card game.

No, I don't love Mondays. And this one is being particularly crushing. I suppressed all the voices and urges to skip the good things, to itemize all the aggravations, and frustrations, and... it sort of helps? Who am I kidding? Sometimes a Monday is just too much, too soon, and it's a good thing I can get breakfast, lunch, clean clothes, brushed hair, a backpack, shoes, and two children where they need to go, all in twenty minutes... without any collateral damages. I sure hope you are having a serene, organized, healthy, and rested Monday morning. Please share some of your good things.

Friday, September 19, 2014

{this moment}

A single photo, capturing a moment from the week.
A special moment. A moment I want to remember.

:: Inspired by Soule Mama ::

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments, for all to find and see.

William is helping me refurbish the old ratty house.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Five Good Things

We put in an art studio! It was just one of those typical weekend warrior projects where you add a new room to your home, then decorate it, and settle in. Not really. What really happened is this... we let Maria decide if it was time to let go of her play kitchen in the closet beneath the stairs. A big part of me was ready to hear her say No! No, please don't donate this play kitchen that I tower over, because I am nearly ten years old, and not a toddler any more! Please let me keep it and remind you of all the young child play we've enjoyed here! But, apparently she is better adjusted and more rational about these things than I am, and with just the right amount of sentimentality and respect, she agreed that she was ready to recreate the nook beneath the stairs, ready to let go of some things she has {sadly} outgrown.

Once she hit upon the idea of having an art studio, she couldn't wait to sort everything out of her kitchen and into a trash bag, a recycling bag, and a donation bag... and one modest box for some of the dearest kitchen treasures {I was so relieved.}

It was a lot of work, and in this awful heat wave, too, but never mind... I will spare you most of the details.

Have I implied, yet, that this was an emotional process for me? She's my youngest baby. The last baby... besides that imp of a cat we call Mister Foo. Apparently, when she hits that double digit, t-e-n, she will be a "tween." Good grief. Not only am I not emotionally stable enough to cope with that time is passing reality, I am not cognitively, nor culturally, receptive to the notion of "tween." Let's just say, I think children are worthy of a childhood, rich, challenging, and evenly paced, and I have no interest in nurturing or hastening the cultural phenomenon of "teens, rebels, angst, and the too old for this, too young for that void" that is thrust on our young people.

Was that a rant?

A little bit, maybe.

Have I implied, yet, that this was an emotional process for me?

Like Maria, I am really excited about this new addition to the Bird House. Drawing, painting, and clay art supplies are now housed in the studio, the space that Maria wanted to create and use. Collecting useful pieces from all over the house, and adding two new sets of pullout drawers, the studio is a tidy and inspiring space, much better suited to her growing love of art. Which is not to say that she's done with cooking or her life long Flower Garden's Restaurant dream: Those dreams and skills are alive and well, and have moved into the real kitchen, with real appliances, real food, and cooking!

Our art-craft-making interests are many. Many! And our supplies are an embarrassment of riches. There is hardly a media, theme, or interest we haven't dabbled in. Metal, welding, blacksmithing, jewelry making, felting, crochet, painting, drawing, stamp making, carpentry, leather, carving, quilting, tailoring, clothes design, sculpture, candle making, polymer clay, mold making, robotics, craftapalooza... and more. So much making, tinkering, playing! Luckily, Maria was clear that the studio space would be for painting and drawing. "Especially drawing." All other make supplies, tools, and treasures will be stashed, stored, and stuffed throughout the rest of the Bird House! And the studio, cozy and tidy, will be the place to find paint, brushes, paper, and Maria, at her table {which she may outgrow in 6 months! Good grief.}

I used to have an utter disdain for labels. I was certain that printing "the obvious" was ridiculously pointless. No more. I have turned completely in another direction, and I am labeling everything. Nothing can be "too obvious." I should label my purse, my toothbrush, my keys. I have labeled my kitchen drawers, and the box I keep on my nightstand. There's no telling where, or when, I will stop identifying all things and spaces, and things in their spaces. I am keenly wagering on this labeling habit to make me a better person, a tidier, lovelier human being.

Foo approves.

When you live with a cat, you know you have something good, something worthwhile, because they will show up and sit on it. This is their way of saying, "Yes, this is a good book. These are important papers. You are right to be interested in this task, so I will lay across it, so you know I approve."

Mister Foo also seemed to be communicating his willingness to be the subject of the first studio art. The inaugural art, if you please.

He can be so obliging. Sometimes.

This morning I found Maria in here. The morning light shines across the hall, from the laundry closet. It's nice. Maria did her homework in here last night. It's nice to see her enjoying her new space happiness.

It's dear to see her embrace her interests, explore new ones, too.

A portrait of my fur baby, by Maria. He looks, almost sweet.



Good things...

1. Spaces to call our own.

2. Going out to dinner with friends... and air conditioning.

3. Cold showers, fans, ice cubes, and the fervent hope that this heat, too, shall pass.

4. Letting go, gracefully, and making way for new things.

5. Care packages from my mommy, because I love being her baby.

Mondays are so much easier to face when I think about the good things, and I love to hear what you are thinking about, too.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Cottage Day Dreams and Dill



The onion is going to flower,
how sweet for the bee.

Collecting dill seeds is soothing meditation.
They slip off cleanly, neatly.
The ease of the task so satisfying
I wish I had more dill weed, dry, and done.


{this moment}

A single photo, capturing a moment from the week.
A special moment. A moment I want to remember.

:: Inspired by Soule Mama ::

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments, for all to find and see.

Maria and Natalie, into the lake! It was a good thing~

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Our Chickens Our Pets

I love chickens. Just the sight of them makes me smile. Even when I haven't been able to keep some as pets, I have enjoyed seeing them in art, on farms, on salt shakers, and tea towels. This blog is Chickenblog, because when I started blogging I wasn't all too sure what blogging was all about, but I just got my first chickens and they were about all I could think about! Now it's been many years that we have, off and on, kept chickens, and maybe I've gotten enough experience that I am actually in a position to offer advice, to counsel, and to strongly suggest. Today, I am here to strongly suggest to all my chicken keeping friends that they consider taking some steps to protect their chickens from predators. This is serious business. And I hope that our lessons, hard learned, some, will save you losses and heartache in your backyard flock.

Chicken keeping has become a mania! It's the hobby du jour, and I can't blame anyone for wanting to jump on the farm wagon. Chicken raising is fun and easy! You will see this sentiment expressed all over, in book titles, blogposts, and it is true, but it's not the whole story. I think it's only fair to the farmer and the chicks to add some addendum's to the "fun and easy" statement: Chicken raising is fun, when you have time, interest, and resources. Chicken raising is easy, when you are prepared.

Let's say you brought home your chicks, and you kept them happy under their heat lamp, and you guarded their safety throughout their youth, and now! Now, at last, you have big fat hens, and they're laying, and life is beautiful... but if you haven't done this before, if you only skimmed through a book, or glanced wistfully at some pastoral farm scene on a postcard, please go through our checklist, and double check that your dear hens, your backyard flock, are as safe as can be. Predators are lurking. I am particularly addressing friends in Southern California, because a surprising number of people forget that we have: Bobcats, Coyotes, Raccoons, Hawks, Feral Cats, Skunks, and Weasels. We have encountered all of these, and we have suffered losses to some of these. These predators love chicken (and cats, bunnies, ducks, dogs etc...) They are smart. They are persistent. They will, sooner or later, find your darling coop and kill your chickens. You will sleep better at night if you take some precautions.

For a long time we were lucky. We kept hens, and had no problems, whatever precautions we took were sufficient and, so naturally, I patted myself on the back and assumed I had it all figured out. But then we lost a rooster, and it was devastating. I loved him, and I felt like I had let him down. Unfortunately, I failed to comprehend that as "secure" as I believed our chicken housing was, it was inadequate, and the bobcat that killed Zoltar came back for Kamen. This time Alex and Max witnessed the bobcat with his arm in the cage, pulling her through the bars. We called the horse fence wire cage the "shark cage," and it seemed impenetrable, but spaces were plenty big enough for a hungry bobcat, and wily weasels. Weasels were responsible the next losses (please, follow this link to see pictures of the shark cage and to appreciate how ineffective that chicken housing was.) Yes, there are weasels in Southern California, together with raccoons, they have no trouble at all getting through or opening up chicken wire.

Okay. So, we've seen it all, and we've learned the hard way. Some of those predators really took us by surprise, and I appreciate that there will always be a chance of losing pets to predators, but I feel a whole lot better doing as much as I can to protect them. We all sleep better at night, since we've built our enclosure. It's our pride and joy, and I won't deny it cost a lot in time, and materials. It houses goats and chickens, and it's wonderful, but I understand it's not always possible to make a chicken Shangri-la. That's okay... there are still steps we can take to make our hens comfortable, safe, healthy, and happy.




Our Southern California Chicken Safety Checklist


1. Shade, wind cover, rain cover. Don't let your hens overheat, or get blown away. They need protection, even here where we have mostly mild weather. Be sure they can dust bathe in a shady and dry place, and that when they go to roost they will be safe from rain and wind.

2. Roosts. Hens roost. It's good for their feet and posture, it's what they do in the wild, and it's what happy hens do in their coop. I think HenCam is a wonderful resource on all matters Chicken, and Goats! HenCam suggests giving your hens at least six inches of space, per chicken, on the roost. And remember to keep those roosts sheltered from sun, wind, and rain.

3. Airtight is not right! Maybe you live in a colder region and are thinking a tightly sealed coop is going to keep your hens happy and snug, but that's a bad choice. Air circulation is essential to good chicken health. Be sure your coop has vents, a window... these are necessary to move out damp air, to bring in fresh breezes in hot weather, and to help reduce the build up of ammonia gases (chickens poop, all night, it doesn't take long before noxious ammonia fumes can foul the air.)

4. Wire. This is the part that is easy blow it on. We did. Chicken wire is cute, it's chicken wire, and looks like the ideal choice, but it is a poor choice. Chicken wire has an opening large enough for rats and small weasels to enter. Rats can harass hens and kill chicks, and they will ruin your feed, and water. Weasels eat chickens. So, unless you have an enclosed coop in a chicken run, and the coop is solid, with no openings, except the doors you open and shut, and screened windows, do not use chicken wire to keep chickens in and predators out.

Your wire should be 1" x 1/2" welded hardware cloth. Period. No gaps. No gapes. We attached our hardware cloth to posts with a staple gun. And if you can, consider burying the wire at least 12", maybe 18" down, because predators dig. Another option is to create a deep path of heavy stones or pavers around the perimeter of the shelter, to discourage digging under. When we kept hens in our Ikea picnic table, I used two layers of chicken wire, making them overlap to create smaller openings. This was a bit of work, but easier to do on a small coop.

5. Close the coop! If it's easy to remember, then it's easy to forget. I have left many coops open over night, and thankfully those were nights we escaped predation, but it leaves me feeling awful to discover that I forgot to close up the chickens, safe for the night! Now, I have my mobile phone set with an alarm, and I change it when the sun sets earlier in winter. Every evening, just before dusk, the alarm on my computer and my phone alerts me, and I am reminded to count chickens, check feed, and close up for the night. We also have a locking device on the latch. I like to use carabiners to secure the latch on our run. Use good hardware, and imagine you are trying to outwit burglars. Raccoons are crazy clever and dexterous... they will open simple latches with uncanny ease.

6. Free-ranging... it's some of the best parts of keeping chickens. I love to let our hens out, to see them dash across the lawn, and settle in for a spastic, euphoric dustbath. We cannot make our safeguards 100% foolproof, and when they are free-ranging they are vulnerable, so this is an activity we take with an understanding that it is risky. I lost a favorite hen to a hawk, and we were in the yard at the time. Be sure your hens have places to duck and cover when they are loose. Shrubs are good, a wood crate, even a picnic table will give your hens a place to escape. Besides the hawks, we have had bobcat visits in broad daylight. The bobcats are strong and brazen, and we've seen them hang out even after we chase them off, so it's not enough to just give them a scare. Our hens are eager to return to their enclosure when the bobcat has been around.

These days I only let the hens free-range when I am home, and preferably when people are in the yard. So, when I am weeding, or planting, when we can sit and read, or do homework, when outdoor projects are going on, the chickens are out, too. Also, the hens have the goats, Tasha and Ada, for company. I'm not saying our goats are fearless defenders, but they do make a lot of noise and get quite scandalous when something is amiss, so that much is a big help!

7. One more thing... I always talk about my big fat hens, but that's just an aesthetic amusement. Fat-overwight hens are not really easy to detect, but they are easily susceptible to fatal health problems when they are overweight. Again, HenCam has a great post on feeding chickens. A really important thing to know is that treats, like scratch and corn, are just that, treats. I only use scratch, and very sparingly, to call my hens in when I want them to come before they are ready... as a bribe, in other words. In winter, if we are getting cold-cold days, I give them a little more. But if you are feeding your chickens a scratch mix, if it has lots of corn pieces in it: Stop! Yes, they love it, but it fattens them, slows their metabolism, and compromise their health. Chickens don't show that they are overweight in the same ways other pets do, but please believe me, they need a healthy diet, including fresh greens, and even bugs, and a balanced, organic lay crumble for a staple, and the cracked corn and scratch as their special treat.

We love our chickens. And it feels good to do our best for them. Of course, there are many more things to know about raising chickens, caring for them, but I am eager to share these specific safety points, as the bobcats have been on the hunt in our area. I know I am still learning new things, running into new problems, and it is always a relief to find more information and advice. I hope this post is informative, and brings safety to more chickens, and peace of mind to more of my farming friends.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Before Fall, Summer

Summer is good, when the children are out of school, when there are adventures to be had, and roads to travel. I like summer when we can go to see fireflies, visit grandmothers, pick garden tomatoes, and play in the surf. But as soon as classes are back in session, and we've unpacked the last of the camping gear, I wish for it to be fall, body and soul. I crave brisk mornings, foggy evenings, overcast days, and stormy nights. I pine for the kind of weather and activities we aren't likely to ever enjoy, here. Not in Southern California. Not during a drought. And perhaps most especially, not when it's mid-august, or early September. Summer is good, and I say this with a smile that is slightly forced, because what I really like is fall. And what I really know is that "fall" in Southern California can be the hottest, driest, most wind-blown, fire prone, parched and anxious season of the year, and very little like the Pinterest boards I pin to, with frosted, fallen leaves, wool wraps, mist covered lanes, tree lined and romantic.

Yes, I do seem to mostly endure this time of year, the heat, the hotness, the heat. I do pass many moments in reverie of sights and weather that may not come until December, or March. And I bide my time, imagining the first cold day and the first baked pie, the first night when I can lay a quilt on the bed, and tuck myself under it. Those thoughts make me shiver in happy anticipation. And in the meantime, I say to anyone within earshot, the best part of summer, here, is the sky, and those back country views, where the summer storms hover above the mountains, with thunderheads that rise into towering giants. I love looking east, and seeing the show, the grandeur of cumulonimbus. We have lots more summer to go, maybe clear into November, and Santa Anas, those scorching winds that blow off the deserts, through mountain passes and into our homes. But hopefully we'll get more of those billowing clouds and colossal thunderheads that fill the eastern sky. Maybe we'll chase one down, and get rained on, thoroughly soaked, and charged with the goodness of summer.

I love our summer skies.

Those clouds. The hope that a summer storm may wander our way.

Summer has it's merits and good points, but I am so very ready for fall.

Mister Foo understands my state of mind, body, and soul. He knows what it means to endure these days that press us with heat, and lay us flat. Hang in there, Washburn Foo. Before fall, we just gotta survive summer.