Saturday, December 19, 2009

Uh, I don't think we're supposed to eat that...

We cleared out the mostly dead garden today and saw this "thing" next to a rotting tomato (I think a mouse was busy eating that tomato at one point). What the heck is this thing anyway? Mold? Fungus?



Here's a zoomed in picture.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Partial Lime Fail

Speaking of lime trees. The one in the photo mentioned in one of my posts below is a Key Lime. We managed to harvest over a dozen of the little green gems about a week or two ago. But, then what? I mean, here we are with a fist full of limes... We tried juicing them for cocktails and... Well, let's just say that was hardly worth the effort. We got a ton of pulp, hardly any juice, and what juice we did get was not the right flavor for mixed drinks. Next time, I guess we'll have to go with a pie.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Photo Block

Ever since I missed the final day of my photography class (I literally FORGOT to go. How sad is that?), I've found myself taking fewer photographs. No, I haven't stopped completely. In fact, I took some really neat pictures using only the light of a full moon (see this one of my lime tree in our back yard).

Perhaps it the colder, wetter weather causing me to leave the camera in the bag.

I have a vacation coming up and I'm hoping that some time in the snow and beautiful landscape (New Hampshire) will help me perk up.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

End of the Season

So we had several days of very cold (for us, here in the Bay Area) weather and our giant tomato plant finally kicked the bucket. That was the last holdout in the garden. The rest of the plants stopped doing anything worthy of interest a month ago.

So, we can finally just toss everything and get ready to rebuild it for spring.

We have some good ideas about how to increase our garden from 32sqft. Also we hope to move the compost bins to a better location. Currently we have to go through the "chicken zone" to get to the compost. That means we have to change shoes/etc. every time.

Speaking of the chickens, they seem to be doing fine in the cold, even though we're always worried they'll freeze.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hay!

Earlier this year, when we built the coop and run for our urban chickens, we dutifully went to the local feed store and picked up a bale of hay. We wanted to have a layer (heh, see what I did there?) of hay on the floor of the run.

Being almost exclusively "city folk" we had no idea just how much hay was in a bale.

"They look heavy on TV, you know, the sweaty farm hands throwing them around... Maybe 40 pounds? But I bet they have smaller ones for us," I guessed when my wife left in her minivan to go pick it up along with the cat litter and a few other pet-related goodies.

My wife returned a short time later with a car FILLED with bits of hay. Apparently hay bales start to break down once they get in your car -- some sort of radioactive half-life thing. Anyway, interesting side note, it took her hours to get the little bits of hay out of the carpet in her car...

But back to the hay story. I pulled the bale out of her car and it was big. I called it a regulation size bale. Jokes about buying in bulk seemed a bad idea.

We wrestled it into the backyard and realized that it would not fit inside the run in the nifty little space under the coop. Long story short, we had to leave it out of the coop and eventually it got rained on, turned moldy a bit, and started to decompose.

And we had used about one quarter or so of the whole bale. Now I have a huge pile of hay in the staging area for our compost bins. I'll need to mow a LOT of lawns to get enough greens to get the hay turned.

And so this weekend we had to go buy new hay. But this time we'd be ready!

We brought a tarp in the car, to limit the bale-shedding.

We set up a place where we can keep the hay out of the rain and up off the ground, so it might last through the winter. If it does, we figure we will literally have enough hay for two years. Unless we find a neighbor who needs some.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Orange House... In the middle of the street...

We did it. Yes, we painted our house orange. I wanted to paint our house ORANGE, but we went with a more subdued orange.

Or pumpkin pie, if we're feeling festive.

The neighbors? Well, some say "I see you got your house painted."

Others say things like "Good for you!"

Who knows what they're saying when we're not there. But we're happy with it. Still! It's been orange for a week or two, and I still love coming home and saying "Yep, that's ours, the orange one!"

The door isn't painted yet, though.

Check it:




SUPPLEMENTAL

Now our street goes: Tan, Beige, Green, Gray, Lt. Blue, Gray, Orange, Gray, Beige, Green, Lt. Blue, Tan.

50k!

Wow, 11/25, and 50k words. My nanowrimo work is done for this year.

I have one more scene to write, but I don't know if I'll get to it before the end of November. The fun part for me is next: turning this into a book I can print out over at lulu.com and read to my kids. Of course, they're going to want to read it themselves, but it's fun (and a little tedious) to read it to them myself.

That's where I find the most typos.

Anyway, if I decide a third book is in the cards, it will be next November, and then I'll be free to head back toward some of the story ideas I've had recently.

Oh, and finally get around to real editing on last year's nanowrimo...

Phew!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nanowrimo Progress

Things are progressing nicely. Today, as I tend to do nearly every day I write this November, my MC seemed to be running out of stuff to do. Then, suddenly, a flash of inspiration and another 1100 words.

The fun part for me is that these flashes often stem from some childhood memory of my own. These things ooze out of my brain, they leak onto the paper, and seep into the story.

And while I'm writing these scenes I spend a little time in fond remembrance, visiting that weird store next to Mervyn's that sold sea shells and rocks, or that weird fountain in the mall, or that little bit of forest between my cousin's house and the neighbor.

Of course, in my story they become grander, or eerier, or stranger. The little shop now also has some magic ingredients hidden in amongst the crystals and sea snail shells. The fountain is the scene of a massive brawl amongst holiday shoppers, and the forest.... Oh, that lovely forest, so filled with possibilities!

32k words and counting!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

17k Words

I commented elsewhere that it would take me about 40 sodas to finish this year's nanowrimo as I tend to drink two per day while writing, and do most of my writing during the week. Alas, I don't have much time for writing on the weekends.

I've pretty much stuck to that schedule.

Things are working like clockwork and I'm not even all that embarrassed by my story. I let my older daughter read the opening chapter and she was in love with it, so we're golden.

Things always get tough around Thanksgiving, it's basically a 4 day weekend. I hope to start building my cushion this week.

If you're doing nanowrimo this year, what's your motivation? Will you eventually publish your story?

SUPPLEMENTAL

Make that 19.5k words!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

High Velocity Novelling

Yes, I'm participating in Nanowrimo again this year. This is my 5th year, and I hope to tuck a 5th 50,000 word novel under my belt. Literally (almost).

When I finish my novel each November, I spend some time in December tidying up and then I have it printed as an actual book. I have 4 of them at home right now. ~140 pages of bad writing, each of them reminds me of a year in my life.

Last year's story was one I wrote for my daughters. They liked it so much that this year I'm writing a sequel. I can't wait to give it to them to read in just a month or two.

Three days in and I'm about on pace.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Damp Run

We spent this morning working on the chickens' run. We raked out all the hay and let the place air out. We still had one low spot that was a bit damp, so it was nice to clean things up.

I ran to the local landscaping material yard and picked up about $12 worth of pea gravel and we spread that out on the floor of the run. It gave us a good two or three inch layer. Then we put down a nice dusting of DE and threw on a fresh layer of hay.

We have enough dry hay for a couple more run changes -- I'm not sure that will last us through the winter though.

Between the run cleanout and mowing the lawn, our compost bin is quite full.

The garden is still sputtering on, but the squash leaves are getting mildew, and I think it's time to shut it down for the rest of the winter. We have plans for an expanded SFG this spring, so I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On Strike!


Well, it must be winter time or close enough to it because our flock of urban chickens is on strike. They've laid just a single egg this week! They don't appear to be molting, so it must just be the shorter days and maybe the colder temperatures.

Somehow, I bet this ends up making it into this year's Nanowrimo story...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Of Words and Weather

This year, nanowrimo plays right into my hands. Yes, I cannot wait! Typically, I don't do much if any writing on the weekends. In 2008, nanowrimo started on a Saturday and ended on a Sunday, providing only 20 non-weekend days in which to write. This year is slightly better, providing 21 non-weekend days. (but see below, I did ok on the first weekend, netting over 1900 words)

But I think there's more to my optimism than just the lone extra day. I think I'm feeling so good about it for several reasons. I've "won" the last 4 years in a row. I have a stable of known characters and a brief plot outline for this year. I'm motivated to write this year's story.

Of course I could be fooling myself. I could be setting myself up for failure. I suppose a lot of things "could" go wrong, but I've got a really good feeling about this year. My fifth grade daughter wants to write a 5k word story while I'm writing mine. I think that would be extra cool, but I don't want to pressure her. Yet. Maybe when she's in 6th grade...

Another factor could be weather. Recently I asked on twitter whether the weather mattered.

I was wondering if there was any correlation between the weather and my nanowrimo output. In other words, do I write more when it rains? Well, I looked up the rainfall for last November and...

It only rained about 2.5 inches all month, and that came on just 6 days. I couldn't find any kind of a trend in that data. I know that I don't write well when there's music playing, and I don't think I would do well writing during a real rainstorm. That'd be too much of a distraction; however, a slow drizzly day might be ok.


DateRainfallWords
11/11.32900
11/2.531029
11/3.193114
11/4.112609
11/8.081477
11/26.20N/A (Finished)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Point, and Shoot!

So much for my career as a photographer!


We went to a local farm (Ardenwood) on the weekend to get some pumpkins and just generally poke around and see the animals. This place has a huge chicken coop and lots of chickens. They also have another aviary with all sorts of colorful and odd birds. And of course, they have all the usual farm animals like sheep and pigs. Kids love that stuff.

I brought my new DSLR camera. I was giddy with the expectation of all the great shots I'd get. You know, the kids playing with pumpkins/etc. etc. I took 30 or 40 shots while we were there and...

... they all look like this:




Yes, I had my light set to "Tungsten" because that's what we were doing in photography class on Tuesday! I had forgotten to set it back! I'm bummed. There might be a way to fix this in Photoshop, but I'm throwing in the towel.



And, if you want to know why I didn't catch it until now, the pictures look fine on the LCD screen, and it wasn't until today that I had a chance to look at them on a monitor.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Almost Novel Time

Wow, Nanowrimo zooms towards us at FTL (faster than life) speed. Less than 10 days to go! Ah, but I'm ready. I have characters, plot points, settings. I have sub-plots and antagonists. I should be good, right? Maybe even strutting around... But I'll let you in on a little secret. I'm nervous. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. You know, the one that plunks down right when you're getting started on the writing. The one that lurks there in the back of your mind, interrupting you with the occasional clearing of its throat.

Oh yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

I wonder what it will be this year. What could possibly go wrong?

Some years it's an internal thing. "What am I going to do with this plot? Where's it going? What was I thinking?" And some years, it's external. Work gets extra busy, relatives visit. Kids, pets, spouses.

I look at it like these distractions are always around us. Things always come up. But we notice them more during Nanowrimo because they add drama. Some folks say to use the distractions, incorporate them into your novel. Others offer elaborate means to dodge them or lessen their impact.

For me, though, I figure it's just another day in the life. Another opportunity to defy gravity and friction and other miscellaneous evil forces and conspiracies. Another win against chaos.

8 days to go!

SUPPLEMENTAL

Now, on to more important things, like "how to make a novel banner?"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rainy Chickens

A chicken update...

The birds are starting to slow down, laying-wise, as the days get shorter. That's ok, though. We're still getting a dozen a week. The coop held up well during the first storm of the season. The ground inside the run got a little wet, though. We threw a bunch more hay down on top of it and the birds are fine. We had planned to rake out the run and put in a bunch of gravel as preparation for the rainy season, but we got lazy and that storm came a bit sooner than we had hoped. Still, knowing our area, there's a good chance it will dry out between now and the "real" rainy season. We'll tackle the run then.

The kids are not nearly as motivated to feed or water the chickens now that the mornings are colder. For the most part, they still love feeding treats to the birds and checking for eggs.

If we could legally keep more, I'd sure like to. Of course, the coop isn't big enough for more birds, really, so that would be a whole separate issue.

January will mark one year with chickens. So far so good!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Selfishness

Sometimes you cannot be selfish. Even when my parents tried to explain it to me back when I was knee high to a giant burrito, I didn't get it. Sure, I nodded my head and tried to not let my eyes glaze over. And I certainly wanted to please them... Wanted to assure them I "got it." But I didn't get it. Then I was a teenager and no one could tell me anything. Then I got older and presumably wiser--if by "wiser" I meant "more selfish."

And then I got older still. I got married, we had kids, careers, family. Still, I didn't get it.

But Sunday night, tired from playing ice hockey and tired from dealing with kids who know everything and for some strange reason refuse to listen to me, I got my lesson. Sunday night, tired, heaving and pulling; a body that had given in, a spirit that had given up. Straining against 80 years of life, and 40 years of neglect, there in the spare bedroom with the urine smell and the damp spots and the messy futon. I understood selfish.

The three of us "count of three"-ing our way from the walker to the floor--a devastating detour. The buckling knees, the uncooperative muscles. The futon so close! My bravest face and calmest voice a flimsy front. Terror, selfish and internal, lending my back and legs the strength to pull again. The strength to stay in the spare room for one more try. One more heave.

Is it selfish to stop caring? Is it selfish to let the atrophy begin and to just stop? Is it selfish to want to run from the room and wash your hands? Selfish to blame?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Note to self...

Note to my ninth grade self:

  • Keep up the running.

  • Don't be a dick.

  • Do the hard stuff, yes, it's harder, but doing it now will help you later.

  • Try something new, you're too young to get stuck in a rut.

  • Listen to David Gerulski.

  • Don't let work, or having a job, define you.

  • Eat healthier. You'll never be in better health.

  • As you get older, your computer skills become much more important, wrenching cars less so, but don't abandon either. Also, learn some home improvement skills while you're at it.

  • Your mom is awesome. But not infallible. Be nicer to your dad.

  • 90% of your friends from High School are gone and forgotten by the time you're 20. This is ok.

  • 80% of the friends you make after High School are gone and forgotten by the time you're 30.

  • The remainder? PRICELESS

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nanwrimo Prep!

We're fast approaching November and the fun that is Nanowrimo. This year I coined a new term: Nanogasp: that sudden jolt you get at the end of September when you forget about October and think #nanowrimo is a week away.

I'm better now, thanks.

What I love about Nanowrimo is all the "meta-wrimo" stuff. The blogging and outlining and plot-agonizing and twittering. I love the "Are you doing nano this year?" and the "What's your main character's biggest fear?" I love that I have an automated Python script that writes a status line to the CMD window every second. I used this for the first NaNo. I've made a few updates to the script each year. That's the fun part. The current version of the script provides 4 methods of status output:

  • A CMD window status. The status info includes:

    • Words per day/days remaining (but it includes the current day, so really the number is deceptively low)

    • Percent complete. Every 500 words is 1%

    • Amount of time ahead of or behind pace.

    • Number of words ahead/behind of pace car (running total) changes every x seconds (x = 6, I think)

    • Word count

    • Delta for midnight total. Similar to number of words ahead/behind pacecar, but rather than pacecar, it's the amount you should have at 11:59 that night, and it goes down by 1667 at midnight. Zero or a positive number means you're done for the day, if you're shooting for 1667 per day.

  • Log file output. This is the status line, pipe delimited, with the date/time prepended.

  • Web page update. A friend hosts a web page where a group of us check in with our word counts. The script updates that page with the word count once an hour.

  • Twitter.

    • The script sends a message like the following to my twitter account at noon and midnight: 'Nanowrimo Update: 1234 (#nanowrimo)'

    • Also added for 2008 is a histogram. The script makes a histogram twice a day and then compares the two. Words showing up for the first time are singled out and one is randomly selected to be posted to twitter with a message like 'badgerpendous just used the word "taco" for first time' or similar.

    • Twitters the last hour's progress if the wordcount > threshold. For example if I type, say, 900 words in an hour, a twitter entry is sent. But not for a low number like 300. Depends on the value, currently hard coded...


While I do love the fall, and pumpkin-gettin' with my kids, the real fun is getting ready to write!

Monday, October 5, 2009

One Down

Ok, so the garage door is in. Yay! Here's the house back when we purchased it.



And here it is with the new lights, windows, and garage door. Next up is the front door and then the paint. Then we can finally tackle removing that giant lawn and replacing it with something less thirsty and mowy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Broody Again!

Ok, this is getting crazy. The same hen, Mohawk, is broody again. This time, we can't blame it on hot weather, or on a change in routine. No, she simply goes broody at the drop of a hat.

Our cure for broodiness is to put the hen in a smaller cage, elevated off the ground. The cage is upside down so she has only the mesh ceiling to walk on. We give her food and water and just leave her in the cage for three days and then she seems cured. She goes several weeks or months before getting broody again.

I wonder if we could get some fertilized eggs and let her hatch them... Our city won't let us keep them, but we could hatch them.

Monday, September 21, 2009

To Quote SouthWest Airlines, "It is on!"

Or something.

The contractors have come and gone, leaving a wake of estimates, proposals, and brochures. Products were pushed, services were offered.

One thing my wife and I like to do when dealing with simultaneous projects is divide the "responsibility." Typically this means that each of us will "own" a project and be responsible for scheduling contractors/etc.

For this round, my job was the Garage Door project (my lazy wife is handling the front door, side door screen, and house painting).

I'm happy to announce that the contractor for the garage door is hired, the door ordered, and we're now just waiting for delivery/installation. The screen door is ordered and will be finished off this week. The front door is ordered and we even bought the new house address numbers.

All that remains is the paint, and I think we're all set there, too.

Now, where did I put my spare jillion dollars?

SUPPLEMENTAL

Alas, no doubt the next several posts will have to do with home repair and contractors. You have been warned.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Contractors...

We're about ready finally to paint the house. But before we can do that, we need to have our incredibly weak/inferior/deteriorating front door replaced. Also, the garage door has seen much better days and is rotting a bit at the bottom.

So, having these three uber-chores on the list, we have had to call in an army of contractors to give estimates. We'll end up talking to at least 9 (3 for each project, most likely). I never ever like this part of the project. Granted, I could paint the house myself, but I'm at the mercy of the garage and front door folks.

And then there's the part where they try to gauge how much they can charge for the work. I want to tell them "Look, I'm not trying to put you out of business, I just want a fair price for quality work." but it always seems much harder than that.

SUPPLEMENTAL

It is funny when contractors enter the back yard and look at the chickens. They never expect that, though I bet it's getting more common these days.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Yum?

Today I was out in the back yard with the kids (we were weaving palm fronds into various shapes, because, well, just because) and the chickens started making a lot of noise. Turns out one of them had something in her beak and was running away from the other two chickens.

Luckily I had my camera. Unluckily, I'm a terrible photographer.

At first I thought, and really really hoped, it was the mouse in her beak. A rather pesky mouse has taken up residence behind our compost pile. It comes out and eats our tomatoes the second they begin to ripen. (Alas, that's a whole other post...)

But this wasn't a mouse. And not a big worm either. No, it was a salamander. Poor guy. No idea how they caught him, but he's gone now. I sure hope the eggs don't start tasting... reptilian...



Of course this isn't at all new behavior for chickens. I remember reading when a fellow chicken owner caught her birds eating a small frog!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Long Weekend

I'm home with the kids this weekend as my wife head up to Lake Tahoe for some well-deserved vacation time. I asked my older daughter (9) what she wants to do this weekend. Here's her list:

1. Archery
2. Block Party
3. Library
4. Push Mower
5. Play Catch (Softball)
6. Movie
7. Ride Bikes
8. Play "Water the Kids"
9. Eat my chocolate sucker
10. Just Plain Daddy Time


No good movies out right now, so basically, archery is $20/kid/hour and the rest is free... Yes, she really did say that she wants to use the neighbor's push mower. I always try to find a way out of attending the block party, so she put this on the list on purpose.

I can't wait to see what my younger daughter's list looks like.

I wanted to surprise them with something cool, but I suppose in this case coolness is in the eye of the beholder...

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Pro

Ok, here she is.



She's been fearing learning to ride for years and then suddenly, in literally 3 minutes, her older sister taught her how to ride.

Now, we cannot get her off the new bike. Yes, it's really big for her, but I stand by the decision to get one that big. She'll ride it for years, no doubt.

In other news, I'm looking at a local place that lets you borrow lenses so maybe I can get an even better action shot of her riding. I like this one, though. Dig the smile and the fairly unblury shot.

SUPPLEMENTAL

She crashed into a car in someone's driveway yesterday afternoon. She was banged up and the car was not injured... She's determined to get back on the bike today, though. Funny, another kid in the neighborhood ran into the same car in the same driveway and broke his leg two years ago. Note, the car was completely legally parked and we're all at a loss to explain it. I feel bad for the car owner though!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bugs. And Stuff.

The house was empty today, everyone off riding bikes or running errands, so I took out the new camera and tried to get some photos of stuff around the yard. While the quality of the photographs is dubious (the pictures look much better on the camera, but I saved them off very small for the web), I still had a great time exploring via the lens.

A bumblebee?



Here's a little butterfly-ish guy:



Not sure what kind of bee this is:



And finally, a paper wasp. These guys are always building nests under my eaves and I'm really tired of them (even if they don't seem to bite/sting). All the neighbors have the same issue.



I've signed up for a photography class (you're welcome!) and so I hope to improve dramatically in the next few months.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Broody Again?

Grrr. What is it with the heat and Mohawk? Every time we get a heat wave here in the Bay Area (so, when the temperature reaches 95 - 100F) Mohawk becomes broody. Her comb hasn't gone completely pink, and she laid yesterday, but then she would not leave the nesting box for the rest of the day.

Friday, August 28, 2009

More on Crater Lake and Camping

(Warning, vacation slides!)

We really had a great time on our vacation.

First a weekend in Oregon at my cousin's place. I ate a thousand of these:



And the kids ran wild. We spent some time swimming under this covered bridge about 1/2 mile away:



The it was off to Crater Lake. We stayed here. We all really liked the Pumice Desert:




The kids were utterly fascinated by my near mystical ability to make a fire. I swear, they were entranced. Should I be worried? Seriously though, they thought I was the coolest.

This trip was our first camping experience outside of the back yard and the kids handled it like pros. They easily entertained themselves and I never heard anything resembling "I'm bored!" In fact, I think they could have stayed in the exact same campsite for another week before they had exhausted naming every ground squirrel and jay. Every pinecone or branch or piece of moss begat a whole conversation, even though they'd seen all of those things before.

We're not the "trailer" types, but aren't these trailers cool? We saw a couple of them during the trip.

On the way back we stopped off for a night at Mount Shasta -- more awesome scenery and a little hiking.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Simplification

My recent visit with my cousin in Oregon caused me to really take a step back and examine things. He's got about 3 acres of gorgeous land. A creek runs through it, he has blackberries, thimble berries, salmon berries, and huckleberries. He's a self-sufficient kind of guy. He can fix anything. He can make just about anything. He has no concept of the fear of failure. Oh how I envy him!

For a year or so now, I've had this quiet nagging voice in the back of my head asking me what I'm doing. What am I doing with my life, with my family's life? Is this all there is to it? Just wake up, go to work, come home, be a consumer? Am I satisfied with that? Is that the life I want my children to have?

Spending that time with my cousin seems to have made that nagging voice a tad louder, a tad more _confident_.

But I'm just so darned comfortable here in my modern life. I like my modern conveniences -- every one of them. I love that we have some disposable income (hello new camera!) and some of the "freedoms" that affords us.

But at what cost? We have our three urban chickens and our 30 square feet of vegetable garden, but that's hardly a dent in our carbon footprint, mere lip service.

We have our comfy excuses for not making a radical change in lifestyle: We're not getting any younger. Our kids will have a more comfortable life. What if we fail?

But that voice...

Lately we find ourselves having discussions that start with "If we did sell everything and go buy some land..." Like we are discussing it by approaching it from an obscure angle. We're joking, but we're not. Occasionally I'll grouse about how I don't have any skills that will translate "after the apocalypse" -- things I could do to earn a living if the economy every totally collapses. "You can cook and sew and stuff," I complain, "but all I can do is manual labor. There won't be much call for Technical Writers..."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back from Crater Lake!

We had a wonderful vacation driving up from the Bay Area to Sweet Home, OR and then back home via Crater Lake.



While the highlight of the trip was camping at Crater Lake and Mount Shasta, the heart of the trip was a visit with my relatives in Oregon. I was hesitant to make the trip -- not because of the long drive but because I had (and still have!) such idyllic memories of the place, I was loathe to return and find the place unable to live up to my lofty expectations.

But I needn't have worried. Our daughters took up right where I left off over 25 years ago. They had two cousins their own age to play with and they explored the forest and ate the blackberries and stomped the creeks and breathed the air. They made lifelong friendships in the course of a single weekend. It was a success in every way imaginable.

We made blackberry jam to bring home. And as we all sat around the kitchen waiting for the jam to cool, we alternated between talking and watching our kids running through the yard. I lived through them, a bit, I admit; however, I continued making my own sweet memories of the place.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Well-Oiled Machine

One week after "curing" the broody Mrs. Mohawk, we have an efficient team of hens again. Mohawk started laying again yesterday. Woo! So now we're getting as many as 3 eggs per day. We were curious about when she'd start laying again, considering she was broody for a month (we'll handle the next one better). Of course, I attribute Mohawk's recovery to my inspirational talks:

ME: Hey Mohawk! Make with the roundies already!
MOHAWK: [scratches and pecks interesting specks on the ground]

The new and improved roost I built is working out well. They're no longer sleeping over the nest box, which is nice. Now the coop really is finished. Unless I think of anything else to do...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Progress on the Broody Bird

Wow, after almost 4 weeks of constant broodiness, we finally decided to get serious about Mohawk. Most of what we read said to confine the broody hen in a smaller cage with a wire floor for several days until the bird got back to its usual self. Well, we were reluctant to try it, but ol' Mohawk did not seem to be coming out of it on her own.

So we put her in a wire cage inside the run for a couple of days and finally let her out today. She hopped out of the cage and immediately joined the other two hens in scratching for bugs in the raised bed. I checked on her several times during the day, and she continued to avoid the nesting box.

Finally, the big test: would she head for the roost or the nesting box at night?

Well, I'm happy to report that she's on the roost just like the good ol' days and we're crossing our fingers it sticks.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New in the Neighborhood

We saw a pair of Nuttall's Woodpeckers in our yard today. We joked that they were attracted by their much larger and practically land-bound cousins' barred feathers.

My new goal is to try to tale a decent photo of them. We first heard the woodpecker pecking noise a few months ago, but this is the first time they stood still long enough for us to get a good a look at them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Are Urban Chickens Right For You?

In the last couple of weeks, what feels like dozens of people have come to me to ask "Are Urban Chickens Right For Me?" While I'm far from an expert, I have been keeping some notes and guidelines.

This, then, is for them:

The urban chicken craze is still accelerating, flapping and pecking its way through cities from coast to coast and across the globe. While some see it as a fad, others see it as the next logical step in living a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Done correctly, keeping urban chickens has many benefits. For children, they learn where food comes from and how to care for animals. For the chickens, life in a nice backyard is light years better than life in a factory farm or "battery." For the eggs, they're healthier, some say tastier, and they're not trucked in from distant places. And for your garden, you can compost the chicken poo and really add a boost to your soil.

But before you decide to take the next step toward hen-related happiness, ask yourself "Are urban chickens right for me?" You'll find the answers in the cosmos...

Laws of Space and Time

To keep things above board, you'll need to find out whether your town allows urban chickens. You'll have to learn the rules: how many can you keep? Are there rules about where to place a coop? Does it have to be a certain size/height? A certain distance from the property line or other structures? Are roosters legal (probably not, and besides your hens lay eggs whether or not there's a rooster present)? You should also share this news with your neighbors before you bring home your new feathery friends.

You'll need space for a coop and for a run. You can get smaller chickens, called Bantams, but you'll still need some space for a run and some shade. A good rule of thumb is 2 to 3 square feet per bird for the coop, and 4 to 5 square feet for the run. And while you're at it, the coop has to be predator proof. You'd be surprised at the number of urban predators out there. In our neighborhood in the Bay Area, we have hawks, possums, raccoons, dogs... And those are just the ones we've actually seen in our back yard! It's up to you to determine if any existing pets will cause problems. Coops can cost thousands of dollars for fancy pre-built ones, or you can make your own out of recycled materials. Chickens don't care much about the aesthetics, just as long as they're safe.

Keeping chickens is actually a relatively low-maintenance task, so you won't need a ton of time. Daily chores include feeding and watering (yes, you can get automatic waterers and feeders) and checking for eggs. Folks also like to let their chickens out of the run to stretch their legs, too. More infrequent chores include cleaning out the coop and run, and inspecting the birds, coop, and run. You'll need to purchase food (and other treats/supplements like flax seed, oyster shell, scratch, cracked corn) and pine shavings or hay. Chickens also love to eat bugs, weeds, and kitchen scraps.

And so, that's it. Are urban chickens right for you? Chances are that someone you know or someone in your neighborhood is already keeping chickens. Further, the amount of help, advice, and support available on the Internet is nearly overwhelming -- just search for Urban Chickens. But you might want to set aside a few hours, first!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chicken Update, (na na na chicken update)

A bit of a status post:

Mohawk, one of our three Barred Rock hens is still broody! It's been 3 and a half weeks now. Sheesh! I suppose we're making some progress though, because if we kick her out of the nesting box, sometimes she'll stay out for a while (10 - 45 mins) before heading back in.

Our little Urban Chicken operation was mentioned in the San Jose Mercury news: http://www.mercurynews.com/topstories/ci_12854860?nclick_check=1

CheepersV, our youngest hen is laying now. So we're back up to getting as many as two eggs per day. We cannot wait for Mohawk to get back to layin' (or as I say, "Make with the roundies!")

Monday, July 20, 2009

Garage Project




Now that we have an outlet at the workbench, it's time to build a shelf and get organized. You turn your back on a kid for one second and the next thing you know there's a bent nail...



And the new shelf. Exciting, eh? Er, well, it will be once I put up the pegboard and get everything put away. Really!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Electrical Goodness

We finally got around to hiring an electrician to take care of some of the last few wiring/lighting issues around the house. Some of these things have been bothering us since we moved in 9 years ago -- like the garage light and door opener that are "wired" via an extension cord snaked through the rafters and plugged in to a light socket extender thingy. Then there's the new stuff. Like getting the new back yard sprinkler timer wired in professionally. Yay! I think I'm more excited to have the project finished than I am by any one or two of the actual pieces. Yes, it's nice to have a bunch of grounded outlets in the garage, but it's also incredibly nice to finally cross this one off of the list!

The crew showed up right on time this morning and got right to work. I wish I were more comfortable working with electricity, but I'm just not. This is one of those projects I'm happy to not DIY.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Of Giant Colons, Shoes, and Chicken Articles

All this over a left foot.

A couple of years ago we were on a family vacation "back East" and we went to a mall. In the mall they had a giant colon. No, really. A giant colon. It was a promotion for some health care company or other and the thing was that kids could climb through the giant colon like a long cave. To make the parents less nervous about their kids traveling through a 20 foot colon, the sides were perforated by dozens of port holes and windows. Our younger daughter was zooming through the colon on her third pass when a man stopped to take pictures of the kids. He showed us his press stuff, identifying him as a photographer for the local paper and asked if it would OK if a picture of our daughter climbing in the 20 foot colon ended up in the paper. We said yes and did whatever else was required. A couple of days later there was a picture in the local paper of the colon and somewhere in the shadowy recesses, a single tennis shoe. Our younger daughter swears it was her shoe and she lorded the fact that she (or her shoe anyway) was in the newspaper over her older sister.

And then there was the time her friend mentioned her in an article on a Bay Area website -- as the name of her pet frog.

Little Sister: 2, Big Sister: 0

So today was our older daughter's chance to even the score, or to at least get on the scoreboard. A member of the San Mateo Chickens group on Yahoo! (Thomas of urbanchickens.net) mentioned that a reporter was looking for families relatively new to Urban Chickens so I contacted her and in a matter of hours had made arrangements for her and a photographer to visit our house the next day. The focus, however, would be on the kids and how they do most of the daily chicken chores.

The photographer showed up at 4pm. The girls ran around and alternated between hiding (shy) and hyper. The kids absolutely loved showing off their chicken knowledge. A good time was had by all, even if my younger daughter forgot to bust out some of her chicken jokes.

And now, we'll wait to see whether any of it makes it into the article.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Broody Update

We're having no luck with the broody hen. She started being broody when we had a giant heat wave last weekend, while we were away on vacation.

We try bribing her. We've been dunking her bottom in water daily for 4 days. No luck. We keep her out of the coop for most of the day, but the second we let her have access, she's right there back on the nest.

Sigh.

SUPPLEMENTAL

In better news, have you ever had something sitting around that you needed to mail/ship and you just never get around to it? You know, it becomes a kind of piece of furniture and soon you're piling other stuff on top of it?

Well, I finally shipped something yesterday. It felt so good I wanted to go out and celebrate, maybe order drinks for everyone at the bar, et cetera.

Instead, we ate left overs and watched some TV. But inside? Inside I was partying like a rock star!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Weekend Project: The Broody Hen

Just an aside, but doesn't "The Broody Hen" sound like a name for an old tavern?

(Robert Jordan fans might recall the crazily-named "Easing the Badger" Inn/Tavern from his epic Wheel of Time series).

Anyway, this weekend we'll see if there's anything we can do to deal with the broody hen. As usual, I got the names mixed up. It's Mohawk with the broody problem. Mathilda is still the sweetest of the three, dutifully laying her eggs even under such trying circumstances.

In a way I'm glad we're running into problems like this because I like to think that things will be easier later...

But we tried luring her out with raisins as a treat. That works ok, but she goes back in about 2 minutes after we leave. We tried closing the door to the coop for an hour at a time. That works a little because Mohawk will eat and drink a bit before settling down in the hay in her run to brood. She also goes up the ramp and inspects the door to the coop periodically.

Anyway, it's difficult to work on things with the hens when we're at work most of the day. The three day weekend should help. I'm thinking the raisin/bribe/treat trick will work if we can spend a little time with her.

I hope to accomplish a few projects in the yard this weekend, including more sprinkler work, major tree trimming (neighbors' trees have grown so much part of our garden is shaded for several extra hours each day), and just general tidying up.

Oh, and we need to buy a card reader for our new camera so we can finally offload all those images. It's probably time to post a few pics of the birds...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Broody?

We have a broody bird!

That's the news we were greeted with when we returned from our vacation. We had been away for a full week, "enjoying" the humidity and rain and steamy heat of New England. While we were gone, our chickens (and 95% of our plants/garden/etc.) survived a terrible heat wave thanks to the outstanding efforts of our next door neighbors.

Having chicken owners living next door is an incredible convenience. They took extra special care of our house and chickens during the unexpected heat.

But when we got home and were still pulling our luggage out of the car, our neighbors came out of their house and walked across the lawn. They looked almost solemn. I got a nervous feeling and began to prepare myself for the bad news. What terrible catastrophe happened while we were gone?

"You can't be home! We didn't check for eggs yet!"

Phew! That didn't sound so bad. Why the long faces?

"I think one of your hens is broody. She hasn't left the box..."

Sure enough, I went out to check after we got our bags out of the driveway and Mathilda was sitting in the egg box. When I peeked in she puffed up her feathers and made a rude screeching noise I've started calling her Velociraptor scream. She stayed there all day. We braved the risk of pecking and peeked under her -- no eggs. Silly bird.

So now I get to read up on how to deal with broody hens.

But the vacation was fun. The teasing I expected from my relatives for keeping urban chickens never materialized. There were a few Q&A sessions, but no teasing... One thing I expected to see while we were out there was chickens. I had read other folks' blogs about how once they started keeping chickens, they noticed more chickens out in the world while on vacation or whatnot. Well, we saw only one place that looked like it might have a little coop out in the back. We were in rural New Hampshire, which I figured would be ripe grounds for chicken spotting, but no luck.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chicken Sitting

We're off to New Hampshire for my sister's wedding and this will be the first time since we brought home the little peeps in January that we'll be away. Our nextdoor neighbors are doing the chicken sitting. They have chickens, so really, we're in good hands and we'll be able to return the favor next time they head out on vacation.

Since their chickens aren't laying yet (should be soon though!), they will get to enjoy the fresh eggs laid while we're gone.

Still, the chickens will be stuck in their run the whole week (we let them roam around in the back yard when we're home). Even though I know they'll survive, I can't help feel bad for them. We'll have to have some good treats for them when we return.

CheepersV is now 19 weeks old, so it's entirely possible that she'll start laying while we're gone.

It'll be interesting to see how my relatives act when we finally see them in person. I'm sure there was some eye rolling when they found out about the birds earlier. We're not typically "fad" followers, so we'll probably get some good-natured ribbing for that.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Now _That's_ an Egg!

Trusty Mowhawk laid a huge egg today. This sucker is much larger than our store bought eggs and positively dwarfs the usual eggs our hens lay. Behold!



The picture shows the two brown eggs we got from the birds this morning, and one store bought extra large egg we had in the fridge. Wow!

Things have changed since we installed our little window in the coop. The hens used to avoid the nesting box end of the roost, so the box stayed clean(er) and things were nice. But now, with the window in, they like to stay on the other end of the roost so they can look out the window (I'm guessing) which means lots of droppings in the egg box. Bleh.

The plan is to put in a nicer/reconfigured perch when we return from vacation. More on that, later.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Writing...

I read about a call for submissions at a site I frequent and I finally got around to sending in an article today. My muse has been absent for months now, and I attribute that creative vacuum to my mostly dull job. It always seems that the more I'm working, the more I'm using my brain, the more I feel like I want to write. And that's when the better ideas come along.

So this article today is nothing great. In fact, I'd be a bit shocked if I get a call. No, I submitted it because I was so happy just to have written something. Also, I went with a different take on the subject, knowing that I would be competing with lots of "straight" submissions -- so that will either give mine a chance at standing out, or it will be an easy reject for the editors.

I'm still trying to geared up for writing the second book for my daughters. Last year for Nanowrimo, I wrote a book that I thought would really capture their imaginations. They liked it a lot and so this year I'll do a "sequel." I'm still toying with the idea of trying to publish the first one. There aren't a whole lot of fantasy books aimed at 7 - 9 year old girls.

One interesting issue is that my girls are growing up so fast, I won't be able to write many books for this age before they're off to the next stage of life. Better get to work!

SUPPLEMENTAL

See what I did there?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Coop Update

I love it when projects go smoothly and everything pretty much works as it should.

And that actually does describe the coop window project.

We really wanted to put in a window on the back of the coop so that we could increase the ventilation during the hotter months (and, yes, that way we can peek in without opening the egg door or entering the run).

The fun part of the project was getting to use my (early) father's day present: a router.

We bought a $3 piece of plexiglass (14" x 11") and then I cut out the opening in the back of the coop. I wasn't even done drilling the pilot holes for the jigsaw when CheepersV ran into the coop to investigate! So I had to close the birds out of the coop for the duration. After I cut out the opening, I routed out a "rabbit" in the back of the leftover coop trim, attached hardware screen to the inside of the coop, and voila!



The gap on the ends of the right-hand piece of trim is there because that part slides out to the right and a little wiggle room seemed to help.

SUPPLEMENTAL

Yes, that's our old camera... Our main camera is definitely broken.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Weekend Project: Leak Fixing

A couple of weeks ago we noticed that the ground over by the valves for the new sprinklers stayed wet all the time. After it didn't dry up during a 90-degree day, we decided to investigate and sure enough we found a very minor leak.

We called the person who put in the sprinklers, but after a little more than a week without a call back, we decided to just see if we could fix it ourselves.

Turns out it was due to some of the blue epoxy stuff getting stuck in some threads. It wasn't hard to fix and now we can fill in the hole we dug. Just before writing this up I ran outside to take a quick photo of the hole/valves/etc. only to find that our digital camera is broken!!!! It worked just fine the last time _I_ used it, but I looked at the last few pictures actually taken with the camera and they were taken by one of our daughters. She, of course, plead innocent to charges of camera battery, but regardless, that stinks. We're heading off to my sister's wedding in a week, so our choices are to use our (very) old 1.2 megapixel digital camera, buy a new one, or use the Flip video camera we just got and basically eschew photo-taking.

SUPPLEMENTAL

Tomorrow's project, time permitting, is to finally install a "window" in the coop! We have everything we need: some Plexiglas, painted trim, tools/supplies. I've even drawn the outline of the hole we'll cut out. Also, I get to use the router (yay! finally). BUT, I have to leave to play ice hockey at 12:45PM so I'm not sure we'll get to it...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Noise Factor

This morning, persistent noise from the coop woke us up. It was 6:00. I'm sure the neighbors appreciated it even more than we did. We checked on them at 6:10 after the noise continued. One hen was in the (egg-free) nesting box, the other two were in the coop just hanging around. The noise stopped and we went back inside and tried to sneak just a few more minutes of sleep. And I actually did fall back asleep.

For about 5 minutes.

The egg-laying noise started up again, and this time it kept going for 20 minutes. I was worried that the excessive clucking meant one of the hens was egg-bound or something. My imagination ran wild as the noise continued. It was so loud it even woke up our sleepy-head daughters who dutifully got out of bed and fed the chickens! (That's usually my job in the AMs)

Sure enough, our daughter came running in the house bragging that she was the one who "got a double!" and proudly displayed the two eggs. Turns out that in the interval between 6:10 and when the kids went out, both of the 23-week old hens got to work.

That's great! (and I'm especially glad everyone's ok) But I'm concerned that my neighbors won't quite see it as such a great thing. At one point during the ruckus, a neighborhood dog let out a few barks, just to let everyone know he was still around:

DOG: Bark! Bark! (Shut up, chickens, it's 6 in the morning! Sheesh!)
HEN: Cluck! Cluck! (Hey, we're layin' over here! Give us a break!)

I've often read where people who don't have chickens complain about the noise and chicken owners calmly explain that chickens are not noisy at all, and you simply get a little clucking around egg time. But our experience has been different. In fact, we have a neighbor three houses down who used to keep hens and said they stopped due to the early morning (6AM, summer) noise! (but this neighbor also starts a Harley-Davidson motorcycle at 7AM every Saturday AM...)

Yes, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we get a visit from a neighbor...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hens Reading This Blog?

Of course, the minute I make it a matter of public record that Mohawk wasn't pulling her own weight around the coop, she laid an egg yesterday!

Now, we know it was her because she laid it right in the middle of the run, rather than deposit it neatly in the nest box like Mathilda does (nearly) every day.

We rewarded the birds with a few blueberries and some scratch.

Today, Mohawk went into the nest box and sat there making the "here comes an egg!" noise for 20 minutes, but she left without laying an egg. I'm hoping it's just a case of her figuring out how things are done.

Go Mohawk!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Egg Doubt

So, I was convinced that both of our 22 week old barred rocks were laying eggs, but we've been keeping a close eye on the birds and it appears we were wrong. One bird -- Mathilda -- is doing all the heavy lifting.

Mohawk makes all the same noises, but we're fairly certain that she's not laying. We scoured the yard and their run and the coop: she's not hiding them.

Our current (admittedly lazy) plan is to just sit back and wait it out. I don't know what else we could do. Mohawk is not a rooster. She looks nearly identical to Mathilda and at 22 weeks, she doesn't have any rooster-ish characteristics.

They're eating laying feed and we have some oyster shell out for them to grab if they so choose.

My only real concern is that Mohawk will start laying while we're on vacation, in which case we won't be there to deal with any emergencies. That's ok, though, because our neighbors are chicken owners themselves, so ours will be in good hands.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Love/Hate Lawn

The other day I came home from work and both of my daughters and a friend of theirs were out on the new lawn in the backyard. They had their shoes off and they were just laying there in the sun chatting and playing under the curious eyes of our three urban chickens. It was great. I smiled.

On days like that, I'm so happy that we decided to put a lawn in the back yard.

But then when I look at our tiny little garden (48 sqft), and I look at our water bill, or the lawn mower, I hate the lawn. I curse it.

When my wife and I talk about wanting to grow blueberries or plant more vegetables or fruit trees or build a playhouse for the kids, I hate the lawn.

I fully expect that some time in the next 5 years we'll end up tearing out some/most of the lawn. As we continue to want to plant more and water less, we'll come to see that lawn as a huge soft/lush/green carpet of doom. One that requires mowing/edging and other maintenance.

But until that day, I'm going to go out and set up the tent on the weekends so my daughters and I can camp in the back yard. I'll kick the soccer ball around with my younger daughter and play catch with the older. We'll have friends over and they'll sit down on the lawn and relax. And I'll smile.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bees...

We'll never keep bees.

Bees are the logical "next step" for many folks looking for sustainable ways to grow and eat local.

But bees scare me. This can be an issue if my daughters are around. My vanity insists that they NOT see me run screaming from the yard, arms flailing around my head every time a honeybee comes near the garden. So I remain calm and stoic while I find an excuse to go get something in the garage.

I keep reading about (and meeting) people taking up bee keeping. It seems a perfect companion to gardening and even raising a few urban chickens. In fact, it's a trend gaining in popularity, much like urban chickens and victory gardens. And even the White House is getting in on the action.

But we'll never keep bees.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Make That Two...

Wow! A couple of hours later my wife went out to show the girls how to check for eggs, and Presto! Not to be outdone, Mohawk had laid one of her own! It's nearly identical to the egg that Mathilda laid. I realize it shouldn't be too crazy to have two chicks born and raised together to have their first eggs arrive on the same day, but we still thought it was pretty neat.

Poor CheepersV, she has no idea what all the fuss is about!

Our First Egg!

Yes! Our first egg!



I went out to feed the chickens this morning and noticed that only two of the birds were out of the coop. Of course, my first thought was that the third was somehow sick or injured, especially with all the noise it was making. So I poked my head in and it (she!) seemed to be fine, but... Wait! She was looking in the egg box!

I went around to the egg door and voila! Our first egg!

That's a AAA battery in the picture above, so it's a fairly small egg, but that's to be expected.

The hen that laid it was named Math due to the "plus sign" white spot on its head when it was a wee chick. Now that we're positive it's a hen, we'll start calling it Mathilda. (Mohawk and CheepersV, assuming they're hens, will retain their current names)

This all comes a bit less than 5 months after Mathilda and Mohawk hatched (around 1/1/09). We weren't quite expecting the egg laying to start yet, which is a shame because it would have been great to have our daughters find the first egg (they didn't want to get up this morning, so...).

SUPPLEMENTAL

Note to sleepy-head daughters: Ha ha!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Side (patio) Project

The girls and I spent a few hours yesterday fixing up this barren little strip of dirt along the fence next to our patio. It would have been nice to plant some kind of flowers or ground cover there, but it's just not really a good location for plants. The girls loved this project because they got to go to the garden center place and help get the rocks. They climbed up to the top of the giant pile and began slowly choosing each rock.

After the 30th "Oooh, daddy, look at this one!" I managed to convince them that we should just fill the sacks as quickly as possible and then go home.

Here we are in progress:



And then finished, with our silly potted avocado tree way back in the corner. The trunk is shaped like a helix and it's really only still alive because we raised it from a pup (er, pit). I don't think we have the right soil/conditions/etc. for it to ever try to actually make avocados, so for now it's just there taking up space/water:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Composting Hay

Our compost pile was giving us a hard time recently. I had completely cleaned out the left side of our two-bin setup and we started over using hay from the chickens' run/coop as the "brown" ingredient and some kitchen scraps and lawn clippings for the "greens."

That last paragraph may have led one to believe I actually know what I'm doing when it comes to composting, but let me assure you. I do not.

My general philosophy is to just pile in whatever is sitting around, stir it once in a while and then months later, magically, there's compost (and lots of little fruit flies and some pill bugs...). I don't think the compost pile has ever gotten over 115F but still, it's worked slowly but consistently ever since we started composting 7 or 8 years ago.

Which brings us back to this latest pile. It sat in the bin for two weeks, refusing to warm up. I added blood meal and sprinkled some water in there. Still no luck.

I sought help and guidance. @plangarden on twitter had been posting about their compost pile reaching over 150F and offered some sage advice about moisture/etc. My neighbor also has chickens and also composts using the hay. He borrowed a compost shredder and was using that to great success; however, I want our compost pile to not require electricity and spending time shredding hay seems... Well let's just that task falls below my laziness threshold.

Still, with the new lawn adding more and more clippings and with the chickens contributing generously (and one might say a bit TOO enthusiastically) their own ingredient perseverance paid off.

Yes, the compost pile got up over 100 degrees and stayed there for a day. A huge success! Tragically, the compost thermometer was casualty of the process as someone managed to hit it with the pitchfork (I'm not going to mention any names, but it rhymes with 'by near knife').

I felt the compost yesterday and it was still fairly warm so I'm calling this one a success. The hay is finally starting to break down but it's taking a long time. I also need to go pick up a new compost thermometer.

SUPPLEMENTAL

The guy at Home Depot actually looked confused when I asked if they carried compost thermometers. Looks like I'll need to try another store...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My How They've Grown!

Here's a picture of our three Barred Rocks, "enjoying" their new, somewhat smaller free range area in the backyard. We put up some lightweight netting to restrict their roaming. The good thing is that the netting is extremely easy to move around, and so the area can be reconfigured in just a minute or two.



The smaller bird (furthest away) is CheepersV, who you might remember was the replacement chicken who came in a few weeks later than the other chicks. She's growing so quickly...

And you can really see the faces of the other chickens now.

Eggs any day now... ;)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Managing

I've been interviewing recently for an internal job here. This would be a step up, career-wise, and thus would entail some additional responsibility. Because of this, the interviews have been with folks a bit higher up on the food chain, so to speak. I'm taking these opportunities to ask my interviewers the following question:

"What one piece of advice or thing to remember would you give regarding managing managers?"

- My first interviewer said something like: Trust your managers. Everyone has a different style. Realize that more than one way will work. Let the results speak and try not to force your way/method/solution on them.

- The second: Remember, these are people. People are messy/complicated and while you may have everything perfectly lined up on your paper/project/plan, once you insert human beings, things go random, quickly.

SUPPLEMENTAL

- The third: You don't get to do any individual contributing any more. You have to give it up and concentrate on the rest of your job. It will be hard to give it up and you might try to hold on, but you're just micromanaging and getting in the way.

- The fourth: You're giving up the keys to the kingdom, you have to trust them to do their jobs and you can't go and meddle directly with the ICs. Trust is key, that and being willing to give up a layer of control.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Birds

Ever since we planted our first garden in our back yard 8 years ago, we've been at war. We've been at war with the squirrels and birds, natures vandals out there digging up plants, chomping the vegetables, and generally being pests. Now, I know lots of people think that squirrels are cute or that they somehow provide a vital tree planting service, or that their twitchy bushy tails don't harbor all sorts of scary and deadly parasites. But no. They're evil. We caged our garden (which is good because the chickens would be even worse than the squirrels, but at least they'll lay eggs, I'm just sayin') to keep the vermin at bay. Hah, of course Nature, always having the last laugh, sent tons of wasps to gnaw on the cage, using its wood to make their pulpy mud nests under my eaves. But that's another story.

So, now that we have our chickens out there running around, I wondered if maybe we'd have fewer squirrels or birds (particularly the scrub jays). Well:



As you can see, the scrub jays are still around. In fact, a pair of them completely dismantled the liner on one of our hanging planters (it was some kind of fiber) and probably used it to build a nest in which they'll make sweet sweet scrub jay love and then yet another generation of airborne antics will ensue.

In fact, it's quite possible that I never noticed how many birds were there before but I swear there are more in our yard now than ever.

Birds sighted in our yard:

Scrub Jay
Morning Dove
Pigeon
Humming bird
(hawk)
(robin)
(owl)
Barred Rock Chicken :)

And those are just the ones I know. The parenthesis indicate birds that I don't know the specific type for. Example, was it a red tailed hawk? A pair of barn owls? I don't know. We only saw the owls once, at night, and they didn't stop to hang out. We also saw some larger birds (crows?) chasing away a hawk. Also, there are ton of little brown-ish generic birds back there twittering away like social media marketing consultants.

Through it all, our chickens seem fairly unfazed. Sure, they will duck or run when a large bird flies overhead, and I've seen the more aggressive of the three birds attempt to chase away one of the scrub jays, but for the most part, they're just in to hanging out.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Yard

Ok, so here's the "after" photo of the lawn.



Everyone loves it: the kids, the chickens, the wife.

Of course, the after photo looks NOTHING like my photoshopped concept art. And I must admit I'm a bit torn because I feel bit of green-guilt at not removing at least of the lawn. In order to make it up, though, we plan on removing most of the larger lawn in our front yard (which was here when we moved in, and has seen much better days) and replacing it with some kind of xeriscaping. Hopefully that will come closer to evening things out.

In the mean time, we'll use bamboo stakes and bird netting to keep the chickens on their "side" of the yard so we'll have some poo-free zones for us bipeds.

We ran into a bit of a problem with the sprinklers, though. The landscaper wanted to install a timer, and we agreed that would be groovy, but we didn't have a convenient place from which to run electricity near by. So, unknowingly, I said to just go ahead and install the valves and that we'd get the electricity figured out soon and then have him back out to hook it up then.

The problem, though, is that apparently the sprinkler valves leak if they're not hooked up to the timer. In other words, if we used the electric/timered valves manually, they'd leak a bit while they were running. Eventually we decided to just run an extension cord so we could use the timer now and not have to deal with a leak right by the house.

Sure enough, once he hooked up the timer, the leak stopped and things are golden. Will have to get the wiring sorted out into a more permanent configuration though.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Coop Update, Silly Ducklings, and Bonus Chicken Jokes!

Ok, it was much easier than I thought it would be. Yes, we've finally added the egg door to the coop. I think it came out nicely.



The fun part was driving out to the feed store to get a nesting box. We had originally planned to either use an old, old fruit box we have sitting around, or possibly just build our own nest box. But the fruit box got left outside in the rain, forgotten about during some recent home renovation, and it got all moldy. Eventually, we figured it would just make more sense to buy a nice new one. So we did. The trip to the store was great.

My younger daughter and I hopped in the car and drove to the Feed N' Fuel store to get the box and what not. The store had a bunch of new ducklings in, and we spent at least 10 minutes watching their crazy antics. One in particular spent the entire time standing right between the food and the water. It would plunge its head into the water and drink like it had gone three weeks without a drop, then spin around 180 degrees and do the same thing with the food. Then repeat. Over and over for the entire time we watched. It was making such a mess and acting so silly that my daughter and I laughed the whole time. Brilliant!

On the way home, my daughter was looking over some quarters she had saved up. She was looking at the states on the back of the quarters and reading all of the dates and whatever else was on there. She started laughing and said:

"Daddy, what do you call a chicken who is always prepared?"

"I don't know..."

"A Rhode Island Ready!"

And that opened the flood gates. We made up jokes all the way home and she even planned out the illustrations for the eventual "100 Chicken Jokes" book we'd write.

Here's a list of our first set of chicken jokes (some of them are based on chicken breed names, so non-chicken folks won't get most of these):

Q: What do you call a chicken who is always prepared?
A: A Rhode Island Ready

Q: What is the heaviest kind of chicken?
A: A Buff OrpingTON

Q: What is a musician's favorite breed of chicken?
A: A Leghorn

Q: What kind of chicken always knows what time it is?
A: A Barred Clock

Q: What did the mother hen say to her chick when its wing got stuck in the coop door?
A: Pullet!

Monday, April 27, 2009

It's Monday

It's Monday and I watch my coworkers arrive. It's Monday and I listen to the sales folks recount tales of debauchery. Unable to focus, I turn to the window, the teasing view to the real world outside. I watch as a thin man in a grey jacket pushes a tired cart up toward the door -- a heavy, precarious delivery of miscellaneous paper and office supplies. It's Monday, and I sigh. I listen to the phones ringing, fingers typing.

Somewhere out there in the grey sea of cubicle walls someone laughs, a hollow cough its vague dry shadow.

It's Monday and I turn back to the window. The man in grey is returning to his truck, his empty cart tags along at his side, his sole companion. He reaches the plain white truck, slowly loads the cart. He looks around, looks up at the windows, at my window, he sighs.

It's Monday.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Backyard Project: Day One

We asked around, neighbors and friends, for recommendations for a landscaper to come in and do the back yard. The first guy we spoke with came so highly recommended that after our brief chat in the middle our back yard, we knew he was the guy. I think the clincher was that he seemed to know about chickens, and swore, unprompted, that he'd be extra careful around the coop.

Also, I'm so glad we decided to hire someone to do this. Right away he made some smart suggestions regarding irrigation that we hadn't thought of, and that really would make things run much more smoothly. Also, he started naming things we could consider doing in later phases and they were all things that meshed with what we had been thinking. Good times.

He brought two guys with him yesterday at 12:30 (right when he said he'd be there) and they got right to work in the blazing sun. Soon it was over 90F out there and they kept toiling. By 4:30 they had the lawn out, the ground dug and then tilled into a fine, almost "dirt-like" consistency (which is quite a feat, considering what they were working with) and even managed some of the very preliminary work for the sprinklers.

So that's day one.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Minor Backyard Update

Ok, we have leads on two landscapers that our various neighbors have recommended. We'll have them by the house soon to get some estimates. This, of course, is starting to make me feel a bit guilty about our not just digging in and doing it all ourselves. But that's a lot of time we could be spending with our kids and it will take a LOT longer working on that in the evenings and weekends with just us. A crew could come in and do it all in two days. Plus, I'm probably not the right guy to try to hook up sprinklers... I'm just saying.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Over 500 Sqft of Lawn

Just so we know how much lawn we're dealing with, I've added some measurements to the photo below:



My first reaction was "Wow! That's over 500sqft of lawn!" Cutting that in half as per our first idea for a plan means about 270sqft of lawn. Here's an "artist's rendering" ;)



On the right would be the "chicken friendly" area (of course, in a perfect world, the coop would be in the chicken area, but we built the coop where it was in order to take advantage of the shade there. Oops. So, we'd have to shepherd the chickens from the run into the fenced area, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Backyard Project Notes

To help me plan for Operation Lawn Vs. Garden, I climbed up onto the roof yesterday and snapped a few photos. Here's one I've annotated.



A - Dirt Pile
B - Chicken Coop
C - Lemon Tree
D - Artichoke
E - Compost Area
F - Pomegranate Tree
G - Garden (boxes surrounded by chicken wire)
H - Patio

Our current thinking is to find a way to have a lawn AND more gardening space, while not totally squeezing out the chickens. I'd love to hear your thoughts!


SUPPLEMENTAL

The Dirt Pile (A) is gone! Yes, 30 wheelbarrow loads of dirt is gone. And we finished before the rain. Woohoo!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Lawn Dilemma

We're facing a lawn dilemma at our house. Our back lawn never really had a chance. It was put down on top of terrible "soil" and even with liberal application of water, the stuff never really fulfilled its lawn destiny. Mostly, it served as a brownish-green carpet, useful for keeping mud off of our shoes. But it was never a fun place for the kids to play or for to camp out at night in the tent.

No, our patch of prickly, mostly dead grass was a sorry sight indeed.

And so when we removed a large planting bed in order to put in the chicken coop, we just shoveled the dirt onto the lawn. Heck, we stopped watering it over a year ago.

Now, we've got a giant patch of brown, dead, lifeless grass, and a huge pile of dirt on top of it.

The dirt has to go, it's spent too much time in contact with pressure treated wood and things had a hard time growing in it anyway. Since we're getting rid of the dirt, we may as well get rid of the lawn and finally decide to do something in the back yard.

And that's the dilemma.

Should we replace the entire lawn? That's a lot of water to use up, and it's hardly considered an environmentally friendly decision. There are lots of "food not lawn" movements and voices everywhere you look these days.

But we would like a place to be comfortable in our own back yard, and we already do have some garden space set aside.

Will we replace only part of the lawn? A compromise where we still have some room for "picnics and tent sleep outs" but also an increase in garden space?

Perhaps we should tear it all out?

The chickens love the lawn just the way it is, giant dirt pile and all. Of course, having a giant lawn would mean that we'd have to look out for chicken poo every time we wanted to use the lawn. The chickens "free range" during the day, sometimes as much as 8 - 10 hours. That's a lot of poop.

We could make a smaller lawn and somehow fence it off from the birds...

So many options. I'm having a hard time giving up the entire lawn, and the kids are torn too.

What do you think? Have any interesting stories about the compromise between green lawn and just plain green?

One thing is for certain, though. I'll be shoveling that pile of dirt today and tomorrow.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Change in the Pecking Order?

Our youngest chicken, CheepersV (7 weeks), has integrated nicely with the two older birds (12 weeks) and even the light pecking to determine the pecking order has all but ceased.

But an interesting development caught my eye. The little bird still follows the older birds around and generally stays near them but out of their way. And the older birds do boss her around when they feel the need. However, when it comes to treats (bits of kitchen scraps, bugs, etc.) CheepersV assumes the role of the middle bird in the pecking order.

When we bring out treats, one of the older birds (Mohawk) runs up eagerly and snaps up whatever we have. The other older bird paces nervously but cannot seem to muster the courage to touch the food while we're present. CheepersV not only runs up to grab the food, but she will also take food from the more shy older bird, sometimes snatching morsels right from her beak with no repercussions.

I'm wondering if this is a kind of shift in the pecking order, or if the one older bird is just not that dominant when it comes to food. Also, it makes me a bit paranoid that maybe CheepersV is really a he.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Twelve Years

Twelve years.

That's how long we've been married, you and I. That's how long we've worn these tiny but significant rings, how long we've shared our names.

In that time we've changed, our lives have changed. We have two beautiful children, two cats, three chickens. We have a house now and we have a minivan for shuttling kids to school, soccer, and softball. We probably could have seen it coming, probably should have guessed we'd pass from there to here, albeit so gradually. Foreseen that we'd endure a very few hard times, fewer than our share, really.

I wouldn't change it for the world. I couldn't change it -- it's you, me, us. It's perfection.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Flock Achieved!

We officially have our flock together. Our two older barred rocks have been enjoying the coop full time for several weeks now, but the younger bird, CheepersV, has been spending her (oh please, let it be a 'her') nights inside the cage in the garage. Sure, we've been putting the little one with the big birds during the day but we pull her back in at night time because she's five weeks younger than the other birds. We were being cautious because we didn't know how they'd act once we locked them up in the coop together overnight.

But last night we decided to let CheepersV have her first "sleep over" and it went incredibly well.

We went out to check on the birds just after dusk and at first we couldn't find the little one. Turns out she was on the roost, snuggled between the two other birds. Perfect! So, even though the bigger ones will occasionally chase the little one when they're "free ranging" in the back yard (and really, it's minor stuff), at bed time, they're all buddies.

Looks like we'll get the garage back this weekend!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Miscellaneous Coop Notes

I put together some notes on my experience of building the coop, but forgot to post them. So here they are. These notes aren't necessarily limited to the "playhouse" coop (http://twitpic.com/1o6o1), but that's where I "learned" them:

- If you can, paint or stain or seal the wood before you build the coop. I did the sealer stuff after I built it and it was much harder/messier. So when I put on the trim, I remembered to paint it all first and it was so much easier.

- I wish I would have used more recycled items when building our coop. I spent about $350 - $400 on the coop because I just wanted to build it all "right now" and so I didn't take enough time to find the best deals on materials or search around for recycled items on "freecycle" or "craigslist" or the local scene. You can get paint really cheap at Home Depot/etc. in the "Oops" section where they put the paint mistakes, but you won't get to pick the color you want. I spent $130-ish on the roof, but you could do "corrugated" for less than half that price.

- The "playhouse" coop looks nice but it doesn't move easily. Making an "ark" type coop is better if you plan to move it more than about once a year or so. To move my coop, I'll probably need 4 people!

- The playhouse coop plans use some cedar boards "ripped down" -- But cedar is expensive and I don't have a table saw, so I used 2x3s from Home Depot that cost about a dollar or two each. It was much cheaper.

- Since I didn't use cedar, I needed to seal the wood. I use some ecofriendly stuff, but I hadn't used it before and it was messy.

- For power tools, I used a jigsaw, a circular saw, a miter saw, and a drill. I also used a hammer, some wire cutters (for the mesh), some tin snips (for the roofing), a level, some wood glue, and some other miscellaneous stuff.

- Use the appropriate size poultry staples. Do NOT get the big 1 inch staples because they'll split the wood if you're not careful, and they each take like 5 - 10 good whacks with the hammer to pound them in.

- Start earlier than necessary so that you don't have to rush to finish the coop in time for the birds to go live in it.

- The playhouse coop plans don't go into excruciating detail when it comes to the actual coop part itself, but the two videos on the net help. I ended up sort of "winging" it (see what I did there?).