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Wednesday
Feb102016

Beep beep

After sitting on my hands for entirely too long, I ordered pullets yesterday. Then I spent some time thinking about how this was completely nuts. Then I got off my ass and herded the boys outside to play in the back and help me figure out the beeps’ transitional housing. You can’t just randomly add to your flock by throwing new chickens in with the old. Chicken flocks are as straftified as the Japanese Imperial Court, and they don’t use their words to maintain order. Newbies have to have some protection from the established birds until everyone gets used to each other and everyone’s status is determined.

Since the new girls are pullets (11-15 weeks old) and are fully feathered and of good-ish size-think the whole fryers at your market with feathers and feet and heads-we’re trying the playpen approach. Our neighbor gave us his granddaughter’s old dog crate, so we assembled that first:

I have no idea why the image is turned around! I know I oriented it correctly on my phone. Stoopid technology. Anyway, the crate is too big. So I made one out of welded wire and bamboo stakes:

There’s a top, and one of the panels has a little door, which I open up after a few days or so. We got a small feeder and waterer, and some chick crumble to see them through to 16 weeks, when they can eat layer pellets. This will go into the far end on the coop along the back wall, but away from the side and front walls and hopefully far from grabby hands of the human and raccoon type. It will sit in the sand, but will get the deep litter treatment for added warmth at night, and I’ll add bamboo stake for perching.

That black tub is the stock tank that will become the boys’ experimental planter. I’ll hang vertical pocket planters above it, which will shade that portion of the coop this summer, and help keep their water cool.

Since I waited too long to order coop-ready chicks (I wanted two Barred Rocks and two Black Australorps), the hatchery had sold out, leaving me with the choice of buying a breed I didn’t want, going up to pullets, or wating a month or so to see what was coop-ready then. So we have three Black Australorp pullets arriving Sunday. Yes, arriving! The hatchery is Dare 2 Dream farms, located on the Central Coast, and they deliver to the Bay Area. While we wait, we’ll tear up half of the front yard. We have French drains to install, Bermuda grass to dig out, paths to mark, and trees to buy and plant. I’ve been reading Ann Ralph’s Grow a Little Fruit Tree, and with her techniques, we should manage to fit eight trees into the front yard.

Quick shots of the back yard:

Patrick hauled off a bunch of debris, but there’s more (what else is new) off to the left. That’s the coop being eaten by the neighbor’s wisteria and creeping ficus, and all of my gardening stuff lined up against our other neighbor’s garage. We’ll eventually make a lean-to of sorts over there to protect the gear from the weather.

The gravel pit is in the right foreground. on the left is the site for the remaining play space, and the berry patch is all planted in in the background. There are eight blueberry bushes along the back half of the planter, and about thirty strawberry plants in the front, and I’ll keep adding to those when opportunities arise. the milk jugs you see poking up are being used as ollas, and I’m pleased to have an option for deep watering and feeding that didn’t cost an arm and a leg or require a bunch of new logistical planning. I do want to install a rain barrel and gravity-fed drip system, but this will do for now, especially if we get some more rain.

Off to deal with some more neglected parts of the house (aka the inside).

Friday
Jan082016

Wintertime, and the living is messy

Happy New-ish Year! I spent over a month trying to write a post about the holidays and whatnot, but it got long and life got crazy and then I read it over to edit it and bored myself silly. So, bullet points!

 

  • The holidays were a little nuts. I made a ton of gifts for the boys and Patrick, probably as a form of over compensating for depression apathy, and then was too tired to do much on Christmas day. Yeah. Lesson learned. But the jammies are cute and Seamus digs his new outdoor chess table. In fact, all of my gift making inspired Seamus to make gifts as well, which was really cool! He made Tristan a hat using a knitting loom, and stenciled a shirt for Patrick. He drew me a gorgeous picture which is in a frame and bound for our bedroom.
  • Patrick has taken on a ton of new work, which is both great and kind of a damn shame, because all of my volunteer time vaporised in December, and hasn’t returned, and the truck is still not running, which has a chilling effect on our bigger DIY efforts. And man, I’d like a more functional bathroom this year.
  • In response, I’m turning my focus onto things I can do without Patrick’s assistance, and with two kids in tow. Tuesdays are our big gardening days as a result. The boys and I put in the rest of the blueberry and strawberry patch a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve got a spot for their planter as well as my vertical planters, so it’s just planting left to do in back. The three of us have begun clearing weeds from the front. My goal is to clean up the lavender hedgerow, put a raspberry patch up against the house, close-plant several fruit trees, and get paths to the house from the sidewalk and driveway. The hedgerow is almost done, and the raspberry patch is next. 
  • Interior plans include painting the bedrooms and the entryway. Patrick’s mom gave us a copy of Mariko Kondo’s book, which has been interesting to look at, but I think will end up better off in Patrick’s hands, because I’ve been a lot better about letting go of discarded hobbies, and quite frankly, I don’t hoard. There is a line between having things and enjoying things, and I’m working very hard on staying on the enjoyment side of that line.
  • One of the chickens, Kili, died shortly after Christmas. Dumpling has just started laying again, and Fili is still dormant- she hasn’t laid since October, maybe. After thinking over all of our options, I plan on getting more chickens in maybe another month? I’d like to get either coop-ready chicks or started pullets, who will all still be young enough to be socialised a bit more to humans, and hopefully easier to monitor for health issues. The chook that died was our flightiest girl, and I think I only managed to pick her up once to check for mites and lice in the two and a half years we had her. I’d like our next batch to trust us a bit more. Our coop is built for five birds, so I’d like to have at least four. I like the Easter Eggers we have, but I’d like to check out other breeds that are typically high-yield layers with good tempers, like Black Australorps and Barred Plymouth Rocks. Since Fili and Dumpling are three years old now, they’re hitting the end of reliable laying as well as the average lifespan length for a chicken, so replacements will be necessary this year if we intend to keep this up.
  • I am awash in sewing and knitting projects, and baking like mad. I seem to have problems with bread I buy these days, and with the quick bread projects like muffins and coffee cakes, but I seem to be able to eat fermented breads, so I’m making a lot of no-knead bread. Next up is capturing wild yeast for a starter. I’m trying to streamline other parts of the housework so I have time to play with all of this stuff. I want to try canning and pickling this year, along with fermentation.
  • After years of avoiding over-scheduling, Seamus is now taking Brazilian Jujitsu, Ballet, and swimming classes, as well as pursuing his own interests (art, trumpet, photography, coding, and randomly jumping into the kitchen with me). I’m really happy he can dabble like this now, and still have unstructured play time with Tristan, but our weeknights are busy!

 

 

Tuesday
Dec152015

Sick-ish day

It’s noon, and we’re all still inside. This typically is cause for alarm and mayhem, but Tristan went to bed coughing last night, and he has a school event tomorrow night that starts right at his witching hour, so I’m keeping us home for the most part today. This will help ensure that I’ve gotten all the cat pee out of his bedding, as Agave decided to use his bed as a litterbox in the wee small hours of the night while he slept in my bed.

I suppose I should thank her. I’ve decluttered their room quite a bit this fall, pulling out the outgrown, unused toys and books, weeding out old clothes, and paring down random bits of…stuff. I’d planned on painting and getting their curtains hung, but Patrick put me off by talking about going ahead and replacing the trim and rebuilding the windows. Those are great projects, but you know, our boys have to live in there now, and I’d really rather make the house as comfortable as we can now, and then in the future we can renovate. 

Nothing’s perfect, and waiting for all the elements to align to create perfection will be the death of me.

So the kids can snuffle and hack on the couch and backyard today until I’m ready to head to Home Depot. Aside from masonry sand for the chicken coop, I have paint to pick out. And then back to Christmas-making! 

Sunday
Dec062015

Outside operations, part one

The house is a disaster and the kids have kidnapped the iPad. Clearly I’m supposed to grab ten minutes and write. Yay!

Of course, the house is a disaster. While we never replaced our awesome mother’s helper A after she went to Spain to do a gap year of au pairing, we did have Mr J, Shay’s former and Tris’ current teacher, come in from time to time, but not regularly as he charges more. And since Patrick’s lay off we haven’t had anyone over more than a few times, so I never clean the entire house at once anymore unless the kids have screen time in mass quantities.

I hate this.

Patrick isn’t too keen on it either, as the kids lose their minds when we try to transition them away from the screen. So the solution, as we see it, is to complete the backyard’s shift from lawn and garden to children’s playspace. Last winter we built a new chicken coop with better drainage and a raised garden bed; earlier this year we added a gravel pit. While we’re still contemplating some sort of climbing structure, we have decided to develop a loose parts play space. In addition, we’ll convert the 50gal stock tank into a planter for the boys. Since finishing the backyard hopefully meets our need to work on the house without letting the boys watch TV till their eyes bleed OR spending a couple hundred bucks for childcare every week, finishing it has become a priority for me. 

Here we are at the start. This is our garage wall, I’m facing the wall/corner a bit on the diagonal. The coop is behind me and to the left, the house to my right.

The summer garden was done, and that area had been a mish mash of gardening equipment and other junk. The gravel pit is in the foreground, but the boys’ toys were in big Rubbermaid tubs under the porch, so access sucked, as did clean up. They needed better access to their stuff, and they needed a reduction in stuff. So I decided to rearrange everything I could that wasn’t a structure, and get rid of stuff as I went.

Same corner, at the end of Day 1:

On the far right are their gardening tools (wheelbarrow, buckets, rakes, etc.), and in the Rubbermaid bin are all of their digging trucks, right next to the gravel pit where they belong! To the left of the bin are the beginnings of the loose parts play space, all of which were gleaned from the toy bins and gardening supplies.

I stuck the table in front of the good neighbor door to keep the kids from playing with it. Call me crazy, but I’m not sure letting my kids have access to a crumbling door, covered in flaking paint, installed in an unreinforced masonry wall is a great idea. My composter blocked it before, but it needed emptying and its resident black widow needed evicting.

On the table are flower pots of all sorts of things. Rocks and tennis balls and PVC connectors and clamps. One pot holds dinosaur skeletons. Below, bins have giant chunks of bark and scrap wood. The folded fabric on top is a play parachute and a painting tarp, and in the big flower pots are PVC pipes and bamboo poles from various garden projects. I’ve already bought some small blue tarps and parachute cord, and we’ll add to the PVC materials.

I raked the gravel and made plans for the next steps: prepping the raised bed for winter and setting up the new gardening area. Up next: black widow eviction and peat moss dry shampoos!

Thursday
Nov192015

Hands-on Tuesday: how it went

Not a bad first shot at officially “doing school” with both boys:

Seamus’ math warm-up. He makes some beautiful images. I think this is a mask. 

 

 “Where do Grandma and Poppy live, Mom?”

 

Seamus playing along with BBC School Radio’s “Instruments Together” program.


Tristan garnishing his brother’s work.


Train tracks, built by me under the supervision of the small engineer.

Seamus got all of his table work done, Tristan had no interest, and my mom visited, so there was lots of distraction available. But there were no squabbles and no screen-withdrawal fits. I think it was a good start.