Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More Eggs!

On Christmas Eve I walked out to the coop and was amazed to find two eggs instead of just one. Ann Bancroft, our Dark Brahma, had finally decided to start laying!! You can imagine our shock then to go out on 12-29 and find a blue egg, meaning one of Americaunas (we don't know whether it was Easter or Bunny yet) had also decided to start laying!! YIPPEE!!
Shannon was very impressed by the arrival of the first blue egg. He will be 5 in January, and he is suprisingly very gentle and careful when handling the eggs. Both boys do quite well with them. They were each so enchanted with the egg (Tristan was still napping when the photos were took, hence his absence), that I had to let them put it into the egg carton together! Quite a feat that it wasn't broken considering they're 2 1/2 and almost 5! Everyday since the 29th Shannon has been insistent on going out and looking for the eggs himself.
It is really funny, but it seems that once the birds begin laying the become much friendlier. We've never had a mean bird (and we never will, at least not for long!), but they aren't pets really either. However, the ones that are laying get much more curious and interested in us. They all will come out and follow us around as much as the can in the tractor, but if you open a nest box, or the door to the coop, it is a different story. LadyBird in particular, as our bird that has been laying the longest, will immediately come into the coop and near you. When you reach out to pet her, she sort of drops to the floor, but allows you to pet her none-the-less. If you open the nest box they will often hop up onto the roost in front of it and stick their heads into the nest box and allow you to pet them. Ann Bancroft has started showing more interest in being petted as have the Americaunas, hence my theory. The Pattis (our two Partridge Cochins, both named Patti) will come look at you but will walk off if you try to pet them. When Shannon opened the nest box on the tractor the other day, LadyBird immediately hopped in there. I was quite worried about her hopping on out and getting loose in the yard (dogs were both out with us and I was holding Tristan, it wouldn't have been good), but instead I saw his little hand reach down and begin petting her gently, and her allowing it. He then shut the nest box up properly, which is impressive since it has a latch that must be locked.
Our Buff Orpingtons began laying on Sept. 6th this year. That was the day of our first egg. At the time we had two Buff Orpingtons and though they weren't officially named, they were both "LadyBird" to me. A week or so after the first egg there was an attack that killed one of our Buff Orpingtons and left one Dark Brahma having to be put down. Since then we've added the two Americaunas who are both 2 months younger in age than the other biddies. It wasn't too bad a transition phase, though Bunny seems to be the lowest on the totem pole now. After that we had another attack which left LadyBird and Ann Bancroft, and possibly Bunny, injured. Luckily everyone has healed well, and we've fortified the tractor against (fingers' crossed!!) future attacks. However, it was 3 weeks after the last attack that LadyBird took as hiatus on her egg-laying. I state all this because, as part of our urban homesteading, we've been daily noting how many eggs we get on the calendar. Today I added it up ~ we've gotten a total of 72 eggs this year.
I'm sure to those who've had chickens for years this number is nothing and piddly. I hope to view it as quite a meager number myself next year. But, considering all we've been through with and for these birds, right now it is a number that we are quite proud of. We've had to deal with attacks not only from wild animals (raccoons, possums), but also attacks from a neighbor who has just flat out decided to hate us now. We've had the City called on us, had the news crews out here, and have been in the paper. We have an online petition. We've told our story over and over. We've also had to work hard to educate those close to us who don't understand about urban homesteading, much less keeping chickens.
So, at the end of the year, we've got 72 eggs, at least 3 out of 6 chickens laying, our kids learning how to help care for the chickens and contribute to our lifestyle ("Everyone Helps" is our motto), and our friends and family going from being aghast to being somewhat impressed and proud. We think this is enough. Definitely a plus, and enough for us to know we are living a truly privileged life!!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Green & Grateful

Not really certain where to begin on this one. We had a truly wonderful Christmas, meager but full of the things that truly matter. One fun thing was trying to find ways to make Christmas a little greener. We made sure our Christmas tree was grown on a local farm. When the kids went to see Santa it was at, as usual, our local library during Ye Olde Salem Christmas. Instead of using gift bags this year we bought cloth sacks from & filled them with goodies. Gifts for pretty much everyone were homemade this year: sourdough bread (with a touch of organic 7 grain cereal & agave nectar), chocolate fudge (organic cocoa!), hot fudge sauce (more organic cocoa), herbal soap (made with herbs from our garden), and vanilla infused sugar (using both organic sugar & vanilla beans). Although I spent most of the 23rd and all of the 24th baking loaf after loaf of bread until I didn't know whether I was coming or going, it was worth it. We also used LED lights on our tree again this year, as well as the star atop it. We have some LED icicle lights for the front of our house, but not enough to cover the entire front. Since we were short on $$ we didn't buy extra lights, and just lit a strand of lights around the door and some candles in the window. We've been blessed with hand-me-down rolls of wrapping paper (some, quite literally, easily 40 years old), so we wrapped gifts with that. After all the festivities were done I spent quite a while neatly folding up tissue paper and gift bags we got for future use. We now have a gift bag FULL of tissue paper, just from this Christmas Day alone! WOW!!! Since we are now running low on gift wrap one goal for next year will be to find wrapping paper made from post-consumer materials.Even though it was a small Christmas this year, it truly was wonderful. The gifts we got and gave each other meant more. Seeing the boys learn what we believe and why we celebrate Christmas, telling them the history of it all, and seeing them believe in the magic of it all was ... well, words can't accurately describe.We did have a surprise while out today. We had hoped to find something to help with a storage issue at a local consignment shop. We weren't so lucky ~ the one item we had our eye on was already sold. We left feeling a little blue, but going over the things that are truly important to us. We decided to stop by a local hoity-toity home furnishing store to put things in perspective. It did. Things were ridiculously over-priced, and it made us feel reassured in our decisions. But, as we were walking around we spotted some bunk beds, something we want to get the boys in the future. I was checking out one set, getting ready to snort at the price tag. I turned it over, and snort I did. It was regularly priced at $750 but was marked down to $168!! We called the clerk to verify the price, he said there was no way it could be possible and called someone else. They looked it all over and still couldn't believe it to be true and called the head honcho on duty. She looked it over and said "yup, it's a blow-out!" We decided to take advantage of the opportunity and buy it. When we were checking out I actually almost asked who to make the check out to and I had to double check the date. I was completely in a daze. We had been on our way to a beer tasting when we stopped in the store to kill some time, and as we drove there I was still in a daze. All through the tasting I felt weak, as if I might just topple over. This feeling didn't go away for nearly an hour!! I rarely buy new things, not like that anyway. Sometimes you have to be grateful for the things that you can find when you're just trying to kill time and re-adjust your perspective on life. True, it isn't made of sustainably harvested wood or by local craftsmen, but it is something I will feel proud to have my children sleep on none-the-less.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

When Real Simple gets it right

There is a magazine out there called Real Simple. It used to be one of my favorites, but over the years it has lost it's luster. It seems aimed at people with a LOT more free money on their hands than I'd expect. How to organize closets -- well, gee, if I could afford to buy $500 in supplies (baskets, extra space-saving shelving, and so on) I don't think organizing my closets would be such a mystery! Or the issue where people wrote in on their money saving measures, with one woman being proud to having cut her personal "mad-money" to, like, $70 a WEEK!!! (Ok, I may be off on that, but I'm damn close!) Somehow it just doesn't seem to accurately live up to it's title.
But sometimes they DO get it right. Here are some of their "Five Minute Holiday Decorating Ideas" that I thought were good & on the mark (just for the record though, the one for the $92 painted magnolia wreath only got a good "Yea Right!!" snort from me -- so they won't be in correct numeralogical order, I'm leaving the "yea rights" out!):

1. Posts of Christmas Past: For a mantel with extra flair, collect family holiday cards from previous years and clothespin them to a long, slim stick suspended between two vases. Put them in chronological order and, if you want, date the pins. -- Last year I did something similar. I hung up a simple red ribbon as a garland across our living room curtains. When Christmas cards arrived in the mail, I punched a tiny hole in them & tied them to the garland - ended up being very beautiful. This year, I've begun saving photo cards to work on putting together a similar garland in the future, showing how all of the kids (and us!) have grown! :)

2. Candy Stand: Take advantage of a household cane surplus by securing five or so with colored string or jute, then stick your favorite decorative touch on top. Instant holiday spirit. -- We always seem to have candy canes leftover from the previous year, so this is a neat way to re-use! Also, don't forget what wonderful stir-sticks candy canes make in coffee and hot cocoa!

4. Lend a Hand: Pin mittens—either stray ones or pairs your kids have outgrown—to lengths of yarn and display them along a mantel or a bookshelf. You can also hang kids’ striped wool socks or knit caps. -- Personally we have out-grown winter items I can't bear to part with, so this seems like a nice way to keep them around!

10. Star Power: Even a homemade ornament can pack a decorative punch. Gather a few small sticks from the backyard and trim the ends with sharp scissors. Arrange them into a star shape and tie together with jute or twine. -- This could be a fun thing to do with the kids. You can also tie on some holly or a cinnamon stick for more decoration.

11. Sweet Sensations: Fill pretty glassware with sugar and mini marshmallows, then stuff old-fashioned stick candies inside. A holiday display that looks good enough to eat -- Honestly, I wasn't going to add this one. Anyone with kids knows how long this would last and cringes at the thought of the sugar-high. HOWEVER, for a holiday party this could be quite a cute way to set out some sweets (.... even if I do still think it is still likely a big waste of sugar & marshmallows).

14. Step It Up: Show off some of your most eye-catching ornaments (that might otherwise get lost in your tree). Thread them with different lengths of thin ribbon or string, then tie them to a long, wide grosgrain ribbon wound along the banister. -- We do this with various ornaments and hang them off the chandelier in the dining room, a tip I think I found on Real Simple a year or so ago.

15 & 16. Feast for the Eyes: Gather a bunch of doilies in white and silver and tape them together (or secure with a dab of glue) to form a one-of-a-kind table runner. For an inexpensive wintry centerpiece, fill glass vases and large compotes of different heights with pinecones. Spray-paint them gold and silver for extra sparkle, or leave them as nature intended. -- For a more eco touch, instead of paper doilies use vintage ones you already have, or even just a simple cloth runner you already have. And, if you chose not to paint the pinecones you can compost them when you're done!

27 & 28. Setting Pretty: Turn old holiday cards into place cards. Cut them into star shapes and add tissue-paper cutouts to match; punch a hole, tie with a ribbon, and label accordingly. -- They had something else about lace-like plastic placemats ... a BIG eco-no-no!!! If you MUST buy new placemats, go hit up a local antique mall, and find real lace-doilie style stuff there. You're re-using, recycling, keeping stuff out of landfills, and helping support your local economy. If it is a little stained, it is ok to dye it to match your holiday decor.

31. Skirting the Issue: If each member of your family has, oh, four or five scarves, put some of them to work as a tree skirt. Arrange in a pinwheel fashion around the base of the tree and secure with safety pins -- Ok, if all of you have so many scarves you may need to rethink some priorities here! :P Still, this is a good way to re-use something that can then be re-used again. A caveat though: probably not a good idea if you have curious little pets ... fringe is such a tempting little mistress! :)

32. Stick ’Em Up: Finally, a use for those colorful store-bought bows you’ve saved every year—and a project the kids can do. Take a plain paper plate, cut out the center, and stick bows all over it to create a sweet wreath. -- A wonderful idea and holiday project to share with the kids!

33, 34 & 35. Window Dressing: There’s more to holiday decorating than just the tree and the mantel—consider window ledges and empty bookshelves, too. Place pine boughs in a large vase and hang a handful of ornaments on them. Fill old jars with pistachio nuts, winterberries, or red peppercorns and nestle a tealight on top. Or go for a seashore motif, assembling an array of starfish draped with a length of plain red string. -- With the aside that I think you're ridiculous if you BUY shells for this as they suggest, this is a wonderful idea! We've used the cuttings from the bottom of the tree as decorations before, and our house has small bits of decades-old garland (passed down from grandparents) tucked here and there.

Here is the full link for anyone who might want to see all their suggestions:,21863,1860980,00.html - Obvioulsy I left out several. Some were ridiculously over-priced "solutions", some I thought were dumb, and some while seeming good were impractical for those of us who have kids and pets (stringing together clemetines -- those wouldn't last a night with my dogs and kids!). But you make up your own mind. Like I said, sometimes they hit the nail on the head ... though too many times they miss the nail & just knock an expensive hole in the wall ... or wallet as the case more accurately is.
They did have one other decorating tip regarding candles: 6. A Pine Idea: Perfectly at home in a modern apartment or an Adirondack-style log cabin, these unscented beeswax pinecone candles lend a touch of the forest to any decor. To Buy: Candles (three inches high), $8 each, -- Personally, I need more candles, because I do LOVE burning them, but I wanted to buy something a little more eco-friendly. Here is my new favorite site and where I would recommend buying pinecone candles from. They're a small, family-run company in North Carolina, and their prices are better (for the 3" pinecone candles anyway) than -- Check it out, they have holiday ones along with fall-themed ones, and of course the standard taper, votive, & tealight ones which I am currently longing for!!

No matter how you decorate (LED lights this year?? We're working our way to switching completely over!) and what you celebrate, think beyond spending and current "must-have's". Think about sustainability, what you can use again (and in different ways!) over the years, what can be safely composted, what supports your local economy or small, family-run businesses. We all talk about when the holidays "meant more" than just shopping and bills. Make it mean more by truly putting more thought into it. Even if this post is a little late for this year, it isn't too early to start thinking about next year! A little fore-thought is one of the keystones of sustainability.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


While we aren't Christian we do celebrate Christmas. At this time of year, regardless of your religion or what you celebrate, trying to de-commercialize is especially difficult but even more important. If you have children in your life (be it your own or family members) it is even more of a challenge and all that much more important.
We started out as many parents do with their first child: swearing that we wouldn't allow them to watch any tv. And, just like the majority of those well-intentioned parents, we let them watch tv. We do however limit them to certain channels and won't allow them to watch tv all day. Mainly they are allowed to watch a little bit of PBS in the morning, but they usually end up focusing on playing with toys (right now they're building with blocks). They also get to watch a channel called Noggin, which is mostly educational stuff ("It's like preschool on tv" as Shannon quotes to us! - It's the channel's tag line.) - they only get to watch that on very special occasions here ... like when Mommy is trying to cook dinner and REALLY needs them out of her hair. ;)
More and more though I find myself muting the channel if the shows get too "commercialized" - Sesame Street did a take-off of 'High School Musical' the other day called 'Preschool Musical' that I muted. If Noggin is on, commercials are muted. So, it was a moment full of an enormous amount of pride when my mother told me how Shannon told her that they didn't need to watch any other channels because there were too many commercials for him!! Talk about one VERY PROUD Mama!!! They both also will turn off the tv here saying they've had enough for the day, a wonderful surprise.
With Christmas now quickly on it's way this issue is a daily one. Last night and again this morning we talked about how the elves make toys at Santa's workshop in the North Pole. The toys they get from Santa & the elves we try to ensure look like they could've been truly handmade, if they weren't in reality. Last year we bought several handmade wooden toys from a local man who makes them. We stamped them with a stamp we had made that says "Made for you by the Elves is Santa's Workshop."
Our home has hardwood floors in every room, except for the bathrooms and kitchen. We keep our house at cooler temperatures in the winter as well. The two combined make for pretty chilly floors and the need for "house slippers" a necessity. So, last year the boys got "Sock Monkey Slippers" in their stockings, knit for them by Mrs. Claus. (You can find your's at Of course those slippers have been out-grown, so this year they'll be getting some new indoor slippers made by Mrs. Claus and the elves. (
It's a continual challenge, keeping out the commercialism. I know it will get harder and more challenging as the boys get older. But, so far, I think we're doing a fairly decent job of it. Whether the successes show themselves in Shannon's rejection of tv & commercials, or in their delight in singing Christmas Carols and wanting to get out instruments so they can play music along with it, they are those moments that you know you've done a good job.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Why I'm Grateful

Thanksgiving was wonderful here. We were blessed with a large bird, fresh from a local farm. We were blessed to have both family and a new friend over for dinner, which went very well with a wonderful selection of mouth-watering dishes. Shannon greeted people with "Come in, would you like to see our dead turkey?" He then kept telling people how you kill a turkey by chopping it's head off. - We are honest with them about where their food comes from and how it becomes food. He's never seen an animal killed, though he's seen us process a chicken. Sometimes though, when he talks about it all, it can come out sounding a little "questionable" - he is still only 4 after all, and being a 4 year old will repeat the strangest of things, for the strangest of reasons, at the strangest of times.
For Friday we began a new tradition of making mac & cheese, using some raw milk cheddar and some organic muenster. On Saturday we cheered the Hokies to victory over UVA (our rivals) and on to the ACC Championship game while eating bowls of freshly made white turkey chili. The kids also enjoyed chowing down on left-over turkey as we were trying to put it all up.
It truly has been a wonderful weekend. Justin watched the boys and let me catch up on some much needed sleep. It's been calm and quiet, but at the same time loud and fun. Football of course is what brings on the loud part.
Tonight we all went outside after dinner and looked up at the moon. Wonders of the cosmos are a special delight to share with people, and so it was especially delightful to share it as a family. The moon, Jupiter, and Venus were all in alignment.
Next weekend will be the Christmas Parade for Salem, which we will be taking the boys to. My mom and step-father usually attend with us, along with Justin's brother and sometimes our neighbors stand nearby. The boys love Christmas (what kid doesn't?), and are delighted by the lights beginning to pop up. We don't start decorating for Christmas until on or after December 1st. We believe in honoring Thanksgiving. So, today I put up a few things, much to the boys' delight.
These are the things of my delight: Shannon calling reindeer "snow-deer" because they come out in the snow, not rain (today I was able to convince him they're really reindeer); Tristan seeing a commercial for the classic 'Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer' and thinking Santa has a lot of "goats" (trying to raise them rurally while in city does have interesting "side-effects"); the eager squeals of excitement when the boys see Christmas lights and decorations (or any for any holiday for that matter); and the zen-moments that occur when you're filled to the brim with happiness and contentment.