While I have always enjoyed having long hair….one thing that I enjoy more is being useful. That is the great thing about Locks of Love – “a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.” (Locks of Love, 2015)
I like knowing that my hair can be used to the benefit of someone else. It is easy for me to grow my hair out and I sort of view it like a renewable resource – it keeps growing and I can keep giving.
Once upon a time, a mighty post oak stood behind the old White House…big and beautiful, sprawling all over the place. One day, the post oak just got too dang big and had to be cut back. Unfortunately, it did not survive. In its place we were left with….Skeletor.
This is one of the few pictures we have of Skeletor. Generally, I try to edit Skeletor out of photographs since it looks like a giant dead hand sticking out of the ground – hence the name Skeletor.
Our big project this spring is to re-side the 100 year old corn crib (just behind Skeletor there) before it gets too far gone. The plan is to eventually convert it into a greenhouse. I told Stephen that as much as we’ve loved having old Skels in our life these past 5 years….it simply had to go. I didn’t want to risk the tree falling down and taking the corn crib out with it.
A few weeks ago a tree service came out to take Skeletor down and haul it away. We all agreed that this would be a quick job since Skeletor was most likely hollow. Well – we all learned a few things right quick:
Skeletor was not hollow
Skeletor was bigger around than any of our chainsaws could get through
Skeletor was almost too heavy to haul away…even in pieces…even with the tractor
It was sort of a nightmare, but in the end the tree came down, the corn crib was preserved…and now we are left with what I fondly refer to as “Skelestump.” It is better than having a dead-hand tree sticking out of the ground, but it is still a bit unappealing. But, Skelestump is actually useful on occasion….like when you want to have hotdogs or smores.
We pondered several ways to get rid of the stump and finally settled on burning it – as it was the cheapest (free) option. We burned Skelestump for 4 days straight. It was sort of like having our own personal volcano in the backyard. The remains of Skelestump are still pretty impressive…I asked Stephen if he thought we should just give up, surround it with rocks, and turn it in to a fire pit.
Right now the plan is to just keep burning what is left on dry weekends until it is mostly gone. The nice thing about this method is that it is free, it is sort of fun, doesn’t take too much energy, and gives us an excuse to eat food off of a stick.
So, if your ever in Pleasant Hill and you see smoke…grab a bag of marshmallows and stop on by. Our backyard is kind of like Motel 6 – we’re keeping the light on for ya.
It is generally well known that I am not fond of cooking. One thing I do like to fix is homemade soup – chicken, potato, sausage, rice….you name it, if it goes in broth I’ll probably attempt it.
Armed with my trusty Hotpoint stove, the only electric stove our house has ever had, I’m fighting tonight’s cold, windy weather with my favorite sausage potato soup.
Begin to brown 1 lb. sausage. In a stock pot, simmer garlic, onions, and a small amount of chicken broth until onions are tender. Add remaining stock and chopped carrots and celery. ** You can substitute celery for Kale**
Allow vegetables and broth to simmer. Wash and slice 3 – 4 potatoes leaving the skin on. I typically use either russet potatoes (they hold up better in soup) or Yukon Gold (I like the texture and flavor the best). Add sliced potatoes and browned sausage to the soup.
Allow soup to simmer until potatoes are tender – then, you are ready to eat!
This is one of my favorite soups to make – it is hearty, tasty, and it reheats well. I’m not the biggest fan of vegetables, so this is also a healthy and sneaky way for me to eat more of them.
Click the image below for a printable recipe card.
This past spring we decided to allow Penfold to hatch out a clutch of chicks. She began her 21 day journey sitting on 6 eggs, all carefully selected from our other hens. We decided against allowing Penfold to hatch one of her own eggs since she is a game breed. Games tend to be pretty aggressive and we did not want to risk her hatching out a “game-boy.”
In the end we ended up with three successful hatches – Chippy, Sybbie, and Emilius Brown – or “the tiny’s” as I like to refer to them. Each one of the little ones has their own unique personality – they also exhibit personality traits from their biological parents as well.
Chippy, who hatched from one of Josephine’s eggs, is bold and gentle. She adventurously hangs out with the big chickens and always counts to make sure her siblings are present before she goes to sleep at night.
Emilius is like a visual clone of Andy. He is small and friendly, and like Andy he prefers to eat out of the top of the feeder (even if that means that he falls inside of it) instead of eating from the bottom like everyone else.
Sybbie is hesitant and sweet, we are pretty certain that she hatched from one of Danger’s eggs. She doesn’t really remind me of any of the other chickens, and in a lot of ways she is just her own self. She is completely enamored with Penfold and rarely leaves her side.
Since this was our first time hatching out chicks with a broody hen, we pondered quite a bit about whether or not to allow Penfold to raise them in the coop with flock or if we should take them all to the house and reintroduce them later. In the end we decided to leave them where they were. We figured that out of all our hens Penfold had enough brass to take care of business if anyone attempted to bother the little ones. Interestingly, the other hens just seemed to accept the chicks as part of the flock from day one. Charlie and Flannery have given small “Watch yourself” pecks when they get too full of themselves – but otherwise it has been the smoothest flock transition that we’ve ever experienced.
This past week has been excruciatingly hot and Penfold has transitioned the chicks from sleeping in the nesting box to sleeping on the roost with the rest of the gang. While the other hens are not exactly excited about sharing their space, they are tolerant. Chippy has taken to the roost with ease and is even willing to sleep next to the big hens. Emilius and Sybbie are a little less sure of themselves and still like to sleep under Penfold’s wings while on the roost with their heads drooping long and low. Quigley, who has shared a space next to Chippy and Emilius, tends to look at them like they are little boogeymen… “sleep with one eye open” and all that.
The tiny’s are growing up fast and it has been a lot of fun to watch. It has been especially fun to see Penfold mother the little ones around – teaching them how to forage, dust bathe, and chase bugs. I look forward to watching this little wild bunch grow more in the weeks to come.
Josephine died last night. She was suffering from a laying problem, egg yoke peritonitis, that is not curable and she was in a considerable amount of pain. I’m still feeling pretty sad about it, even though I know that for her, being gone is better than lingering on and suffering.
We first brought Josephine home 3 years ago on the last night of the Cleveland County Fair. She and Pearla had been impulse buys from earlier in the week and we were excited to bring them home and add them to our small flock. Josephine, unlike Pearla, had a difficult transition into our world. She was generally fearful of everyone except for Pearla. She was difficult to catch, difficult to hold, and was hesitant to even eat from our hands. As time went on, and I just accepted that Jospehine was not a “touchy” chicken, our relationship with her began to improve. She began to trust us and her flock mates, and eventually she was just a solid rock in the flock. Reliable, steady, and calm.
This past Friday morning, when checking on the chickens, I noticed that Josephine was still asleep on the roost – something that was really out of character for her. When I took her off the roost without a fight, I noticed that her abdomen was swollen and her comb was bent over and slightly gray. I knew then that something serious was wrong. Over the next few days we dosed her with penicillin, hoping to see an improvement, but she was already too far gone at that point. Chickens often hide illness and injury until it is impossible for them to continue to do so – it is just a characteristic seen in most breeds of bird – and that is probably one of the reasons that we didn’t catch her condition earlier.
Of all my memories of Josephine, there is one that I will cherish more than any other. Yesterday afternoon, Josephine was laying under a bush that the chickens like next to the house. Pearla, who she has always preferred to spend time with, came up and laid down next to her. For about an hour the two friends just calmly and peacefully laid together in the sun, periodically making little chatter noises to one another. I sat on the back steps just watching them – they seemed happy.
Later that night we buried Josephine near the coop, in a spot where honeysuckle and blackberries like to grow along the fence line and used an old field stone that used to be the foundation of the seed crib as a marker.
It is probably weird to be so sad over loosing a chicken, but Josephine was part of our original group. She had always been healthy and I guess I just wasn’t expecting to loose her so soon. Chickens can live between 7 – 9 years; and, moving in to our fourth year with our original group, I guess I was feeling a bit optimistic. Realistically, four or five years is average for most.
Now, when I go down to the coop and count it feels strange to only count 8 instead of 9 – I won’t go “two white ones, two black ones, two brown ones, two stripy ones, and Penfold” to know that I’ve got everybody accounted for.
Whether we are ready or not, things happen, and we have to embrace the change along with the hurt – and make room for new things on the horizon. The thing to keep in mind is that we still have our Josephine memories – Stephen and I (perhaps even Pearla) will carry her forward with us and her journey didn’t just end last night. Josephine has now been part of our stories, and our stories are not over yet.
Well contrary to popular belief, Stephen and I have not fallen off the face of the planet nor have we defected to a remote corner of the world where the internet does not exist. Over the last year and a half since our last post, our lives have been beyond eventful and any spare time for writing blog posts has been channeled towards other things….like watching Chopped or sleeping.
This past year has been one of both feast (mostly feast) and famine – but now that we are on the upswing and our life trajectory is starting to fall in to place we’re excited to share some of what has been going on.
We bought our farm!
We’ve expanded our bee hives, plus all of our hives made it through this winter.
I have my first closet in 7 years, and it is our house’s first “real” closet in its 120 year history.
Stephen has had several articles published in different magazines and has a great new job working with farmers in our county.
Over the summer we nearly lost Quigley, one of our favorite hens.
We did loose two bee hives through the winter of 2012/13 which put a big dent in our honey production.
A couple of family medical hiccups.
We had a skunk incident that probably left us both scarred for life and smelling hideous for months.
The plumbing in our old house has a mind of its own – meaning you have to do some weird stuff just to get the toilet to flush on occasion.
So, hopefully, we’re back – we have lots of stories to tell, with plenty of laughs for all.
November 5th is a very special day in the chicken keeping community – it is National Hug a Chicken Day. For most chicken keepers, every day is hug a chicken day – but this is our day to share the joys of chicken huggin’ with everyone else.
Though I love all of my chickens, Penfold and I have always had a special connection. She seems to be my hugging chicken of choice on most days. Sometimes she snuggles down into my jacket and falls asleep. Some days she sits on my lap an trills at me as if she’s having her own little conversation.
She gets angry if I pet or hold one of her fellow flock mates, her face turning red as a beat until I decide to pet her instead. Penfold loves for me to rub the back of her head just behind her comb – she just closes her little eyes and drifts away.
Penfold has a unique personality, and is by far our smartest chicken. She prefer’s our company to that of the other chickens. She can be quite aggressive with the other hens and spends quite a bit of time own her own exploring.
Penfold knows what it takes to make you feel better when you feel tired, crummy, or frumpy. All it takes is a little snuggle and a trill, then your day becomes brighter, calmer, and better. She also a great chicken to hug on a good day too!
Hugging chickens is like hugging happiness itself. So if you want a little boost of fluffy happiness in your life – go grab a chicken and give it a little squeeze!
Recently, North Carolina’s head apiarist visited our local beekeepers’ meeting. He had a monkish, Mr. Rogers-like calmness about himself, which I suppose is one reason why he’s such a good beekeeper. When examining hives he didn’t wear a protective suit, veil, or gloves. He didn’t seem the least bit afraid.
So far I’ve yet to develop this calm confidence around bees. Although I’ve graduated to glove-less beekeeping, I sometimes shelter my hands in pockets when bees finally take interest in me. Ironically, it’s never the bees that buzz loudly around my body that sting me. These bees are just hoping to irritate me enough that I’ll leave—they’re all bark but no bite. The ones that get me give no warning. They just make a “beeline” to me and thrust their stinger in.
Once stung I usually lose all self-respect and run away flailing and flapping, after which I put gloves back on. When one bee stung the head apiarist, he didn’t even flinch. He just calmly removed the bee and went about his business.
I guess it’s the unpredictability that gets me flustered. A sting doesn’t hurt that bad, but I can’t foresee when one of those suicidal bees will take aim at me. And once one stings me, I become even more worried that I’m about to be popped again. Since I’ve started keeping bees, I’ve been stung three times in five months, and I usually inspect the bees once a week. This means I’ve been stung three times in about twenty inspections. Unfortunately, it’s the 15% I remember, not the 85% in which I’ve escaped unscathed.
Of course, worrying about stings does no good. I’m sure bees can sense fear and anxiety somehow, and I know if I remain calm the bees are more likely to as well. Perhaps one day I’ll develop a Mr. Rogers-like persona around bees, but for now I’m more like Sir Robin in Monty Python: I bravely runaway.
The pecking order is the governing system of hens. I suppose it has parallels in our society: the general sits atop a pecking order, then the colonel, the captain… the private at the bottom. The five star general in our flock is Flannery, a black Australorp. She is a gentle, quiet hen with a dainty trot. In size Flannery is average, and several larger hens are below her in the pecking order. She lets people pet her, but she doesn’t seek attention like Penfold and Quigley. All in all, Flannery is peaceful and unassuming.
Because Flannery sits atop the pecking order, others hen leave her alone—at least most of the time. On one occasion Charlie, our grumpiest hen, mistakenly pecked Flannery on the roost as everyone settled in for night. Flannery unleashed a fury of drop kicks and pecks that sent poor Charlie reeling and squawking.
But only a handful of times have I ever seen Flannery even lightly peck anyone. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t abuse her power. When we introduced the little chickens to the flock, she was the first to befriend them. And I don’t think Flannery leads the flock that I can tell. Usually Penfold, who is rather low on the pecking order, takes the flock one direction or the other, scouting new patches of grass and weeds with her rambunctious nature. Flannery seems fine to follow.
So although Flannery is head hen, she isn’t a tyrant. She walks softly but carries a big stick.
The chicken pasture has been a lively place this summer. Since the Littles have moved in to the big coop each day has been full of squabbles, hilarity, and new traditions for the Pleasant Hill flock.
Penfold is still a little devil, I often call her my Captain of Badness. She is frequently found doing everything she shouldn’t – pulling feathers out of the Littles, getting out of the fence, and generally leading the other hen’s astray. I don’t care, I love her anyway – she could probably peck out one of my eyes and I’d still see no wrong in her.
Quigley, Zillah, and Danger – or the Littles as we call them – are still as tight as ever. Danger is the head of their little tribe and Quigley just wants to be everyone’s friend, while Zillah likes to spend time with Andy.
Two of our younger cousins like to come by to see the Littles on the weekends. Danger is Katie’s favorite, and I am absolutely perplexed at how a five year old can catch that chicken faster than I can!
All of the big girls are moulting and they look like a ratty band of box car children. Charlie is 500 times more grouchy than usual – which is really saying something since she is the ‘ take no prisoners ‘ type.
If you even look at her she growls in protest. A few nights back Andy was, apparently, sitting on the roosting spot that she wanted – so she just pecked him in the head and face until he finally gave up and moved away.
Poor Andy. He tries so hard to be a good protector for his little harem of biddy’s. Lately he’s started this new tradition of carving out some ‘personal time’ for himself each day.
So, what exactly does ‘personal time’ look like for a rooster? Well, in Andy’s case, he has his special corner of the hen house under the nesting boxes. He crawls in, makes a nest, faces the corner, and stays crammed in that tiny space for about 15 minutes…probably pretending that the rest of the world does not exist.
As the day draws to a close, everyone heads back the the hen house – ready to squabble and growl over who is going to sleep next to whom on the roost. Andy stands like a bastion on the hill, making sure that everyone gets inside – it’s time to shut the place down for the night.
As the sun sets, the hen house gets quiet. Occasionally you hear one of Penfold or Quigley’s long trills or Charlie growling over someone sleeping too close by….and Stephen and I trek back up to the house ready to call it a day ourselves.