Thursday, April 29, 2010

labor of love

For those of you who are curious, here are a few pictures of the birds in the finished coop. It feels so good to have it completed.

The overall dimensions are 12x8, the door clearance is just a bit over 5 foot - 5'4", maybe. The dolly we're using is on the back enclosed end, and in order to move it, we take the wheels out of their 'storage' position on the front and slide them into braces on each of the bottom corners.

The inside has four nest boxes on the back wall, a hanging waterer, and two three-foot feeders (PVC with the top 1/3 cut out) secured to each bottom side. This means I don't have to take anything out of the pen to move it. The branch you see is their perch, and the top corner is open and wired for ventilation.

They love it - and I (Anna) really can move it by myself - at least forward and back, anyway. By my calculations, it can accommodate 24 birds...though that seems like quite a few. I'm content with eight...for this season.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Ins and Outs of Chickens

April 27 – We had a brush fire last Wednesday evening. I was riding my bike back from work when I rolled up our gravel drive at just after eight p.m., and as I headed towards the blue garage I noticed a trail of smoke billowing up behind the old barn. The thought crossed my mind that Joe might be back there – burning off some leaves or eliminating one of the many piles of trash on the property. But, then the adrenaline began to kick in, fueled by biology and the hidden memory that smoke of any form is not good for forests and humans … or old barns – for that matter. Old barns that seemed to be precariously close to where the smoke trail ascended.

I hurriedly dismounted from the road bike, switched over to the mountain bike and peddled through the yard. As I swerved to the east side of the barn and stared down into the creek bed and across the way I could see a ring of fire moving outward in all four directions. It looked like what happens when you put a lighter underneath a piece of paper and light it right in the middle: glowing orange at the very edges pushing ever-outwards leaving a black emptiness behind. Uh-oh.

Thankfully, my fears were larger than the present danger. And in the next hour, we managed to contain the fire – thanks mostly to Grandpa Joe deftly maneuvering the Bobcat in between trees and dumping piles of dirt on the source of the fire. I will not mention in this post just how many similar brush fires have been ignited on this land in the last three months.

Secondly only to the excitement of fire is the thrill of now having all eight of our chickens in our A-frame chicken coop. The movable coop is working fairly well, so far. Although, movable is really a relative term. The earth is movable, I suppose. And while the coop is a bit more manageable than that, it usually requires Anna and me together grunting and pushing and lifting. Although, just this morning, I found a new technique which makes the process potentially a solo person job: a combination of pushing the dolly down with the left hand while pushing against the boarded frame with my right. Farmers must exhibit the deftness, strength and flexibility of samurais.

I told our insurance agent about this chicken coop today, and she laughed when I said A-frame. “Why?” I wondered. But, I had forgotten that what is abnormal and bizarre to others is commonplace in our family. I swear that we have not purposefully set out to live the life that falls under the labels of “hippy,” “granola,” and “different.” It’s just what happens when you throw our two lives together: a mishmash of sustainable living, SoCal culture, Christianity, Putnam County, farmer’s markets and living off the land.

Anyhow, the “girls” are doing well – nestled away in the frame at night and pecking at dandelion weeds during the day. They seem to do a good job in mowing down the lawn, although it’s hard to tell given the extravagance of those weeds all over the place (again with the hippie-thing: we don’t spray the yard).

I was not too pleased, however, when I bent down to pick up a slug in the coop – thinking I had found a delicacy for the chickens. When my fingers went to pinch the slimy slug, they instead went through. It was then I realized that this nice, oozing mess was nothing less than – you guessed it – chicken s&%! I mumbled the very same thing as I stepped outside the door.

With still much to learn, this is Wes signing off for the Kendall family. Until next time … be well and live well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

celebrating 4 years

Wyatt recently turned four. We had lots of family out to the "farmette" for the celebration. When I asked him what kind of cake he wanted, he promptly replied, "A big brown cake with brown icing and fruit in it." Made to order.

The boys spent a bit of time in the baseball diamond...

We all enjoyed the glorious weather...

The kids had a hard time parting with the golf cart...

And the birthday boy talked for days about how fantastic the day turned out to be.

***Since posting this, I've had a request for the cake recipe I used. It's my own adaptation of the Magnolia Bakery cupcake recipe. I think I've managed to find a recipe the adults like and that I don't feel *as badly* about giving to my kids. Here goes:
Chocolate Layer Cake
2 c. whole wheat white flour
1 t. baking soda
3/4 c. good quality organic butter (or 1 and 1/2 sticks)
1 c. maple syrup
1 c. brown sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 c. buttermilk or sour milk (I actually used almond milk with a teaspoon or two of vinegar because that was what I had)
1 t. vanilla
Combine flour and baking soda. Cream brown sugar and butter. Add maple syrup. Add eggs, one at a time. Add melted chocolate.
Add dry alternately with milk and vanilla.
Pour into two 9 in cake pans and bake at 350 for 30 - 40 minutes or until cake tester is clean.
1/2 c. good quality organic butter
powdered sugar (start with 4 c. and add from there if needed)
1/2 c. milk (again, I used almond)
2 t. vanilla
melted unsweeted chocolate or cocoa to desired chocolaty-ness
I iced the first layer, put on a layer of raspberries (reserving three for garnish), then squashed the top layer on and iced the whole thing. Garnish with a dusting of cocoa powder and the three left-over raspberries.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Signs of Life

April 17, 2010 - We are well into the growing season now, albeit the early pubescent stage. Outside in the garden, little shoots of spinach, snap peas, loose-leaf lettuce, and even a few broccoli plants are snuggled in the rectangular beds Anna has fashioned. Rather than till up a large portion of the front yard this year, Anna has laboriously carved out about ten smaller beds - working in old manure from the old barn as fertilizer, turning it into the soil through shovel, rake, and one of those handy weed extractors that is like a eagle claw at the end of a pole with two handles.

She has also been finishing up the chicken coop this past week - including tacking up chicken wire around the open frame. Much to her dismay, she's learning that the malleable nature of chicken wire makes for one great way to frustrate yourself, especially when your "self" likes clean, seamless, modern lines. I tried to help her a bit this past Thursday evening - pulling the wire down or over or up while Anna used the staple gun to fix the barrier in place.

At one point in this stapling process, Anna said incredulously, "The learning curve is so high with this whole process." And shortly after that, she began talking about how she would build the next one. She is destined to build the world's most efficient, modern, and attractive free-range chicken coop.

I, meanwhile, have gotten back to painting the house ... finally. By the end of last fall, I had managed to make my way around the perimeter of the house, coating the old boards in tan and the trim work in a deep ruby red. However, the ladders I had only extended up to about twenty feet or so - not enough to reach the four corners of the house that come to points at "never eat soggy waffles." So, as winter approached I gave up.

Wise move. Wise move because this week I called Jeremy Black, a friend and man of many talents, one of which is as a general contractor. I asked Jeremy if he had a ladder that could get me up to the twenty-five foot range. "Oh, yeah," Jeremy assured me. "Are you going to be around tonight," he asked while editing about twelve hundred wedding pictures he had taken (one of his other talents).

And so I ended up meeting Jeremy on this past Tuesday just after dinner, and within an hour we had two twenty-five foot ladders up against the east side of our house with a walk board running the length between the ladders - making a perfect platform to finish painting the apex. And after we had the ladders up, I ended up drinking a root beer on the front porch with Jeremy - soaking up the natural leisure of dusk. It's all about the value of friendship.

Yeah, it's been a beautiful week in so many ways. Begun with Wyatt's fourth birthday party - celebrated with family out in our yard - and ending today in an opportunity to ride in the DePauw Little 5 alumni race. In the middle: bright, endlessly sunny days; the discovery of Greencastle's best pizza (in fact, it rivals any pizza slice I've ever had); some great moments wrestling with Wyatt and Elise yesterday; and even the opportunity to say congratulations to Brad Stevens in person on Tuesday.

I am blessed.


Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Cove

Every two weeks or so, a movie shows up in our mailbox (the wonder of Netflix!) and the excitement of the red envelope quickly turns into bewilderment when I realize that this is yet another movie that I have never heard of. Sometimes, it's the other way around, and it is Anna who says, "Why did you put this in our queue? This happens because Anna and I like to add movies that we hear referenced on This American Life, from friends who are even deeper into the world of arts and culture, and from an insatiable desire to watch movies that are amazingly depressing, but also - so we believe - very important.

Last night, I watched one that falls in that last category, what may be called "Depressing Documentary" (the Oscar winner in this category may just be "Deliver Us From Evil" about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church). The one I watched last night is right up there with "Deliver Us ...": The Cove - the story about the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan.

I am not typically upset by much, but - boy - this was disturbing, especially the ending. I am planning to never visit a "family-friendly" dolphin park again, and - yes - that includes SeaWorld, kids. Shoot: I even found myself at 11:15 pm last night thinking, "I'm not sure I can eat another piece of sushi."

For me, that's huge.

But, even with that warning, I want you to watch it.

I want you to watch it, specifically, because I think this movie is an incredible lesson on what "social justice" honestly looks like. I believe it heart-wrenching-ly shows you the struggle that any conscientious, concerned individual has to go through in addressing a wrong in the world (and, yes, there are still plenty of those). It makes you realize how truly sadistic and fallen can be the ways of industry, and how inconspicuously communities, nations and even you and me can get caught in the death-dealing gears of productivity and progress.

Plus, you cannot watch this movie without realizing how this is indeed one of the enduring legacies of human civilization: the slaughter of innocents for the sake of human comfort and gain. I know: not something you want to watch with a bucket of popcorn!

But, this is how wrongs are righted. And maybe that would be reason enough to watch it: maybe it would spark some desire within you to make a change. As one of the heroes in the movie said, "Either your an activist or an inactivist."


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Easter weekend

Wes and the kids and I spent Saturday coloring salmonella eggs (aka eggs from the grocery store - the only white ones I could find around here) with some natural dyes...very fun. Sunday, the kids scoured mom and dad's yard for them...
...and found them. We also enjoyed good food...

Wyatt's usual intensity...

And some baseball in the yard with Grampa Joe.

Hope yours was fantastic, too!

Monday, April 05, 2010

little ladies

The chicks are now two weeks old. Another week and we hope to have them out in the portable coop. That will be another post once the thing is finished. Almost there. In the meantime, meet Lucylle:
She was definitely one of our favorites from the get-go...named after my beloved great grandmother who we swear still walks around our property keeping snakes at bay and flowers growing in abundance.
And a few more of the girls...they're definitely losing their cute-factor - getting more of their pin feathers and losing their down. I'm now starting to figure out which is which, though - slowly identifying each of the six different breeds, which was somewhat difficult in the first week. For those of you who are curious, I have two Ameraucanas, two Rhode Island Reds, a Welsummer, Golden Buff, Golden Laced Wyandotte, and Black Australorp. That means we'll have blue/green, brown and speckled exciting.