Archive for October, 2010

Because we were hungry and Free-Range is delicious

I think I casually mentioned that we had gotten another batch of chicks.  It wasn’t necessarily in the plans, as there are no formal blueprints for this here operation, but we did give it some careful thought.  I think the train of thought went a little like this, first within myself and then later to include the Mister…   Giant egg recall.  (snide comments about egg industry and much self-righteousness) Our egg customer base grows. Early morning reading of You Can Farm by Joel Salatin while drinking that first perfect cup of coffee.  Caffeine buzz + farm reading = Grand Adventure (or DANGER)  Egg recall + growing customer base = Terrific business opportunity.  Better find more laying chickens.  Craigslist, of course.  Hmm.  A bit spendy, not much to choose from.  Buy chicks and raise my own?  No way – that’s crazy.  It’s almost fall.  Hmm.  I shall buy these six 1-1/2year-old layers from kind folks on Craigslist.  Egg recall gets worse! Are these new layers enough? No! Should we get some chicks? No, too crazy.  Hmm.  (enter Andrew) How about we get some chicks and keep them in the Chick Growing House / Greenhouse?  No. Too crazy.    It is time to get serious about selling our eggs.  Where are all the extra eggs we’ve been expecting from the new Ladies? We really do need more chickens.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a mating pair and produce our own replacement layers?  Maybe we should get some chicks… maybe…sure!  Well, should we get some broiler chicks too?  We didn’t keep nearly enough for ourselves out of the last batch of broilers, and there were plenty of other people who would like a shot at some. Yeah, we might as well. How many? 20? 30? No – 50! Really? YES! It takes the same amount of time to feed and water 50 as it does 10, so we might as well go all in. But we’d be butchering them in November!  No, December, actually.  Hmm.  But we wouldn’t be sweltering hot like we were in July!  Yeah, that’s true.  Okay – let’s do it!

And here they are, not even looking like chicks anymore.  They’re mini chickens already, with mini combs and long legs and a chicken-y gait about them.  The plan was to keep them in the Chick House until they feathered out, move them onto pasture to the pen where the last batch was raised, them move them back to the chick house once the pasture was no longer edible.  When push came to shove, however, I couldn’t justify the stress and hassle of moving them out for…how long, exactly, before the grass dies? And I had a hunch that if I opened up the chick-size door and let them roam around outside, they’d range close to home and then head back to the chick house to roost in the evening.  That’s the lovely thing about chickens – they really are ‘chicken,’  or very, very wary.  They know they’re Chicken Dinner – they don’t like to venture too far from their home base and they know instinctively to seek cover.  So that’s just what we did – opened up their door to the all-you-can-eat salad and bug bar, to the shriveled squash vines (which they devoured pre-frost!) and deeded the entire spent garden to them.  We’ve been watching them closely, observing their awareness of the hawks, who’ve taken to circling periodically, watch how they skillfully use the abundant cover of the brush.  Each night we make sure they’re all safely huddled together inside and secure their door closed. It’s impossible to count them right now with perfect accuracy, but my rough estimates show that they are all pretty much accounted for.  I don’t believe we’ve lost many to the plethora of predators, which is a relief.  It’s a risky bet, to be sure, leaving them out all day, but I’m willing to give up a few birds in exchange for the vast benefits of free range chicken.  That seems fair.

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Isadora promises, or Library – how I love thee.

Our local library has a newly-minted patron.  Raised from knee-high to be one of the library’s most enthusiastic supporters, Miss Isadora is now officially a card-carrying member.  It was a proud day in our house.

Perhaps one of the most important milestones since walking or potty training, getting her library card was a pretty fantastic fringe benefit of turning 5.  We read over the agreement together, emphasizing the specific responsibilities of having her own card.  She signed her name ‘Isadora promises,’ in what must be the most sincere library card application in some time.  Gosh, I was proud.

How can I fully express our collective love for the library?   They had me at ‘free books.’  A literary all-you-can-eat smorgasbord which has made it possible for me to locate and place on hold no less than forty children’s Halloween books last week.  Forty.  For free, or a few bucks here and there in overdue fines, which I happily write off as charitable donations.  (figuratively speaking)

Lest I come across as a glutton, I must go on to say the library has given us so much more than books.  When we moved to the area, we lamented the fact that we were neither a school-bound nor church-going family, as those are among the most common ways to meet people when you’re new in town.  Young Isadora and I set off for the library with high hopes of finding a spot for us within the community.  We discovered toddler story time and attended almost religiously.  Through story time, I caught wind of a new group for knitters that was just beginning to meet weekly at the library.  I knit! So I went, not knowing what to expect.  To my great surprise, I found that I wasn’t alone here at all – there were all kinds of fantastic women with common interests.  A year later, it was this same group of women, my dear Knitting Friends, who showered our home with unbelievably delicious home cooked meals in those early days after Errol’s birth.  Really, Library – you had me at free books.  Finding these friends (in town!) was so much more than I bargained for.

The arrival of our new Library Director marked a turning point for our small town, at least as far as I can tell.  Being so close to Madison, our town lies dangerously close to that trap of ‘bedroom community,’ where the identity of the place is defined more by ‘a short drive to the city’ and less by a strong sense of community, where people come out of their houses and interact within the town.  As a town, we’ve been unable to consistently support restaurants or gift shops, and who knows what other businesses that would give this place a unique flavor.  Our new Library Director, however, came in on a gust of fresh air and hasn’t stopped fanning the fires of library-centered community-building since.  Her enthusiasm has become a beacon, pulsing from Main Street, drawing us all inside to partake in the plethora of newly-spawned library events…together.

I used to feel guilty or a little lazy, even, when taking advantage of the option to place books from other libraries within the system on hold and have them delivered to my library of choice.  I’d wince a bit, after putting a whole list of things on hold, imagining all the work involved to pull and cart over and shelve the books so that I could waltz in and pick them up.  Turns out this is the bread and butter of a vibrant library.  Turns out they love me for it!  The more titles that are circulated through my library, the more usage is shown, and the more funding they receive.  You don’t say!  The more funding they receive, the more new titles they’re able to bring in, the more programs they’re able to offer, the more our lives are potentially enriched.  Think it doesn’t matter if you habitually visit a (better) neighboring library?  It does!  It’s yet another case of Shop Local for a Better Community.  Besides that, my librarians know my name.  I rarely have to pull out my card to check something out; my overdue books get renewed on the spot.  My librarians are hubs of the community network.  It’s how we found our babysitters.  How we made all kinds of other connections for this or that in town.  My librarians have bought eggs and chickens from us; shared a seat at swimming lessons.  They’ve recommended, at the drop of a hat, a dozen titles to read in that difficult ‘too-post-partum-hormonal-to-read-anything-too-serious-or-sad’ phase following Errol’s birth.

Our librarians are how we’ve found a place here in our town, and some pretty compelling reasons to take pride in that place.

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Fall merriment in the country

Since about the time I graduated from Sassy magazine to Martha Stewart Living, I’ve held in my mind a fantasy of holding a dinner party outdoors.  I fixated mostly on the requirement for mason jar votive candles, illuminating a beautifully-decorated dining table nestled beneath a canopy of branches.  It would be a lie to say I did not consider backyard dinner party tree potential when searching for the perfect home, and that such potential was not noted when deciding on this particular home.

Consider it a fantasy met and exceeded.  Saturday evening found us surrounded by some of our very best friends, cloaked in the exceptionally warm October evening, dining and sipping and dancing.  Square dancing, of course.  Our conversations were marked by side-splitting belly laughter and a staccato rhythm of leaves falling all around us. The food was good, the company even better. And then Zip Wilson arrived to call our dances. I think even he’d agree that we’re all pretty damn good square dancers.

Magic.

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This time is was us you cursed on the highway, driving well below the speed limit.

Accomplishing yet another milestone with our beloved new farm truck, we carted home a small mountain of freshly-baled hay. 100 bales for to feed the sheep this winter, but I fear it won’t be enough.  Silly me – when calculating how long the sheep could be on pasture, eating freely (that is, on Mother Nature’s dime) I tried to estimate by the arrival of snow.  They can’t eat grass if it’s buried in snow, right?  Somewhere Jack Frost sits atop an icy throne, roaring with laughter at my careless disregard for the killing power of The Frost.  That grass will be dead long before snowflakes even think about swirling, I’m afraid.  I think it would be a good insurance policy to line up another batch of hay.  Silly, rookie farmer.

On a more exciting note, we’ve NAMED THE TRUCK.  If you’ve learned anything at all about us through these little glimpses of our world, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve a real penchant for naming things.  Cleverly, too, is the goal, and I think we’ve found the most success with the naming of the roosters.  (Chuck Norris reigns supreme; Dapper Dan and Gordon Lightfoot were (noble) predecessors.)  The Farm Truck needed a name. So we gave it to her:  Babe the Blue Ox.  And, oooooh, she’s a right strong girl.  Hauled a load of firewood the size of Kentucky in the morning, took a nap, then trucked this here load of hay down the road at 45 mph in the afternoon.  Our apologies if you were driving behind us.  If so, here’s a little friendly reminder about the ever-present nature of Karma – it wasn’t that long ago that we found ourselves laying on the brakes and cursing the farmer in front of us.

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