16 November, 2010


Yesterday was a rough day at work. I had a long meeting. Like, 0900 to 1520 long meeting. That’s 9am to 3:20pm for my gentle readers who do things in civilian time.

And then I came home, about half an hour late. My best beloved had made fresh bread and I had a slice with honey and butter. We then went out to see the chickens, since odds are good I will not see much of chickens this winter unless I go out ASAP upon arriving home. I poked around in their pen, checked food levels, and glanced into their house. The straw lining the nest boxes had been violently disarranged. Daniel disavowed all knowledge of straw rearrangement, so I checked the nest boxes.

Gentle readers, there were eggs! One of them had a dent and crack in it, so I split it open and tossed it to the chickens, who were thrilled beyond belief to have an egg to eat. Chickens, as it turns out, are slightly creepy and cannibalistic. Noodlehead, who accompanied us out to see the chickens, also disapproved. She felt that fresh eggs were better off as the food of cats, not chickens.

The other egg, though, was smooth and perfect and a warm peachy brown. Behold:
An egg, slightly longer and thinner than your average commercial egg, but smooth and glossy and perfect, rests on a bed of dark blue cloth.

This, gentle readers, is an egg free of exploitation. No human beings braved the ammonia and feather-dust filled chicken barns for this egg. No chicken spent her life in a tiny, over-crowded space, away from the sun and breeze and bugs to peck for this egg. This here is a guilt-free morsel of proteiny goodness.

It’s times like this that I feel so blessed to be able to have this life, seriously. I mean, yeah, jobs suck and if someone would like to make me independently wealthy so I could stay home all day making soap and spinning yarn and knitting and watching my chickens, that’d be great. But at the moment, I’m just deeply grateful that I have the Manor, and now the Manor has provided an egg.

Incidentally, I’m also keeping track of egg cost on a spreadsheet, amortizing the cost of our chicken set-up over the number of eggs we get. I didn’t include labor costs, some of the labor for the chicken run was a wedding present (as were the chickens!) and I’m choosing to call our own labor free. Even cheating like that, though… this is an $800 egg. Heh. Lesson learned: you don’t get backyard chickens for the cheap eggs.

15 November, 2010

As a wise woman once said…

Come the zombie apocalypse, I’m going to be in demand. Well, if this works, I will. Gentle readers, there might be soap.

Not, of course, the soap I was planning on making, because FedEx is, as far as I can tell, a company composed entirely of asshats. They were supposed to deliver my oils and smellygood fragrance oil on Friday. Instead of delivering my package, the delivery driver fraudulently marked it “Delivery Exception – Incorrect House Number”. Right. So I checked the site I’d ordered from, and I’d given them the right house number. I called FedEx, tracking number in hand, and asked what address was on the package. According to their system, it was the correct house number. I am forced to assume the FedEx driver for the back of beyond here just decided he didn’t feel like visiting the Manor of Mixed Blessings that day. The customer service person I spoke to told me that there was no way I could possibly have my package until Monday despite the fact that I’d planned my Sunday around soap.

Then Saturday, on my way home from class, what did I see? A FedEx truck out making deliveries, five miles from the Manor. Right. I am so done with FedEx and any company who forces me to use them at this point. In the past four packages I’ve had delivered via FedEx, I’ve had horrifying problems with two of them. That is not a good ratio. On the other hand, I’ve had a blue million packages delivered via UPS, and can put it out of my mind because the boxes always arrive safely, in good condition, handed over by a driver who always has a smile and a kind word.

So at any rate, on our Sunday grocery trip I picked up a kilogram of olive oil, and made a side trip to A. C. Moore for smellygood. And I made soap, I think. The scum of it in the bowl after I mixed it was trying desperately to foam when I was cleaning my implements, which is a good sign! Now if the stuff I poured will just harden, I am a happy happy camper. On the other hand, it’s still got to sit for 3-4 days at least before I can pop it out of the molds, and then it has to sit for a month after that to cure, so I still won’t be USING handmade soap, even if this worked, until mid-December. At which point I may just decide to wrap it in home-made paper, tie it with hand-spun yarn, and say “MARTHA STEWART CAN BITE ME” and also “OH LOOK CHRISTMAS PRESENTS.” Ahem.

At any rate, I have chickens. And I might have soap. I think my best beloved is planning on making homemade bread this week, too. Come the zombie apocalypse, we are going to be set.

14 November, 2010

Bwock. Bwock Bwock. Part 2, now with pictures!

HENS! They came out for the day and are picking through their new pen. They find me slightly alarming, so I forsee lots of sitting quietly in the chicken pen in my future.

Behold, the future sources of eggs which will not make me feel guilty:
To the left is a glossy black chicken, facing three-quarters away from the camera.  She has a fluffy butt and her feathers exhibit a slight iridescent sheen of green.  To the right is a chicken whose white feathers are rimmed with black, seen from the side.  Through the wire (which is half-inch by half-inch galvanized hardware cloth, if you were wondering) you can see Noodlehead the cat's spiffy new winter home.
To the left outside the chicken enclosure is Noodlehead’s winter home. She was living in the chicken enclosure when it was old and decrepit, and since it is now closed off to her I thought she should have a nice house for winter. So we got a huge plastic bin, and lined it with straw, and then I stuck her old small plastic bin in it and lined THAT with straw, and it’s in a spot where it will get some sun and be nice and toasty warm for her. Although she’s been hanging out on top of the chicken enclosure. Anyway, the hen on the left is obviously the one that is either an Australorp or a black copper Marans. We will have to see what color egg she lays before we have a good guess between the two breeds. To the right is the silver-laced Wyandotte hen. Aren’t they gorgeous?

Here’s a better shot of the Wyandotte, she is braver than the other and this picture shows off her beautiful patterning on the breast:
The white chicken faces the camera, showing off the beautiful clear markings on her breast, each snowy white feather ringed with jet black so that they look like dragon scales.

These guys (and chickens to come) are my answer to the horrifyingly inhumane factory farming conditions in the US. Even “cage free” chickens are kept in over-crowded conditions, often with minimal access to sunshine and fresh air. Because of the overcrowding, they will attack each other, so the tips of their beaks are cut off to keep them from damaging other chickens. This is no way to treat a chicken. The best laying productivity of commercial breeds of hen happens at around 18 months, and when productivity starts dropping off, they’re killed, never having gotten to pick through leaves for bugs or gotten a chance to scratch up their own dust bath spot or bask in the sunshine and enjoy the breeze.

My hens will be with me until they die a natural death. It may mean a drop-off in available eggs, but whatever. They will get to forage around and be chickens, and have enough space to get away from their flock-sisters if they feel like they need some alone time. Also they will have names, and be known chickens who are adored for their chickeny selves. And I will have eggs that do not make me feel like a jerk. I realize some of my vegan gentle readers will tell me it’s still wrong to take their eggs, and I respect them and their views. Vegetarianism and veganism remain on the table for me, but for the moment, this is a good deal. I’d like to think the chickens think so, too.

Bwock. Bwock bwock.

Welcome to the Chicken Channel.

I was trying to hold off posting until I had pics, but I am too ridiculously excited. Yesterday we went down to Blackthorn Kennel to visit with Christine and the doggies and help her with her chicken pen, and we brought back our wedding present from her: one silver-laced Wyandotte hen and one hen that is either an Australorp or a black copper Marans. Chickens!

Now I am trying to come up with names for chickens. My chickens need ridiculously fancy names. Current contenders are Heloise, Melusine, Sheherazade, Salome, and Boadicea. Please feel free to suggest other ridiculously fancy potential chicken names in the comments, or to discuss the ones on offer.

We’ll be picking up another few hens (max 4) in the spring. I am thinking of sticking with a black-and-white theme and getting a silver-spangled Hamburg, a barred Plymouth Rock or a Dominique, and possibly an Appenzeller Spitzhauben. Also oh my god I want a silver-laced Polish SO BADLY. Is that not the most hilarious chicken you have ever laid eyes on? Anyway, we will probably end up breaking with the black and white theme to pick up an Easter Egger or two; they lay greeny-blue eggs. And if there’s room in the chicken run after selecting my Big Chickens then I will add a couple bantams just because they are tiny and perfect and look JUST LIKE big chickens.

I know, I’m easily amused.

But in the meantime, I have two chickens to name. Hopefully they will venture out of their house here shortly and I can get pics. They have water and chicken crumbles and also a couple apples and some cauliflower to pick at, plus of course a new run full of dead leaves to go through. We figure on raking their enclosure out as needed to keep it clean for them and adding the detritus to the compost heap before shoveling more dead leaves in for ’em. The oaks are dropping their leaves finally which means we have an ABSOLUTE SURFEIT of dead leaves. If you would like some, by all means show up with a truck and we’ll hook you up. Anyway, the chickens will nicely accelerate the composting process, as well as adding their poop to it, which will in turn be used on the garden to grow delicious vegetables, some of which will make their way to the chickens, and the circle of life goes on.

But enough with the maudlin philosophizing. Chicken names, y’all. Chicken names. I am kind of partial to Melusine, which reminds me of my beloved friend Mel, and also partial to Salome because it reminds me of my beloved friend Selma. But there is a certain temptation to “Sheherazade”. Hrm. Decisions, decisions. I could name one Josephine, for my mother?

12 November, 2010

In which I answer Googled questions.

Some explicit, some implicit.

To the mysterious person who got here googling “small ww2 fighter aircraft” in quotes just like that, I am so sorry. You were probably not looking for the story of my epic battle with a horsefly but there you go. There are much worse things you could have ended up reading!

To the person who was looking for “what is the best time of year to return a pet box turtle to the wild” the answer is “There probably is not one, but if there is, this is definitely not it.” If you have a pet box turtle, please don’t just turn the little goober loose. They are highly dependent on living in a familiar area to find food, water, and the good hiding spots. Furthermore, if you release a box turtle into the wild, you may be releasing disease and/or parasites into the local wild population that did not exist before. I have assumed throughout that we’re talking about a box turtle that is native to the area in the first place, if it isn’t then NEVER EVER EVER let it loose. Ever. In a million billion years. At any rate, if you cannot keep your pet box turtle, the best thing to do is to find a turtle rescue who can either take the turtle in or help you place the small scaley stalker in an appropriate home. Once you’ve snagged that turtle out of the wild, it is your responsibility. Be kind and do the right thing.

To the person looking for “asimina triloba stink”: my pawpaws are too small to flower, but I am assured that their blossoms smell like rotting meat in order to attract carrion flies, which they depend on for pollination. Supposedly the smell is not terribly strong, which means that pawpaws often have a low fruit yield due to poor pollination. You can improve your fruit yield by hand-pollinating your tree, or by hanging meat in its branches to rot and attract flies. Or, y’know, you could take your chances. Your call. Either way, I wouldn’t plant pawpaws too close to the house, just in case.

To the person Googling “sable Doberman”: there aren’t any. Dobermans come in four colors: black, red, blue, and fawn. The fawn ones are prettier. Don’t tell Beowulf I said that.

To the person who looked for “will a turtle die if left on its back”: yes, yes it will. If it cannot turn itself over (and usually they can’t, although they will try), then the turtle will die an excruciatingly slow death from dehydration, starvation, and inability to regulate its temperature by walking to a better spot. Do not leave turtles on their backs.

To the person who wondered “is asimina triloba invasive?”: Only if you live outside its native range. In most of the United States and even into southern Canada, it is a lovely native species that will provide you with snacks in the form of pawpaw fruits.

11 November, 2010

10 November, 2010

I bet you’re tired of hearing about chickens.

And there are not yet any chickens actually HERE. This afternoon after I was done working we got the roof on the chicken run and the frame assembled for the door! Now we just need to mount the frame, somehow compensating for the 4″ gap my sucktastic measurements left, and then put wire on it and VOILA. A chicken-ready enclosure. Which is good, as we are planning to go down to Blackthorn Kennel this weekend to visit with Christine, help her with her own chicken pen, and claim our Wedding Chickens. Also we will take Zillekins for a Family Reunion and also because the only time she gets well and truly sleep-for-hours-in-exhaustion worn out is when she’s been running with the other Shedders down at Blackthorn.

In totally non-chicken-related news, my dear friend Cherie Priest is going to be in Richmond next Tuesday! So for once I am going to say “be damned to a responsible bedtime!” and after work me and the husband will roll on down to Richmond to Fountain Bookstore to say hi and listen to her do a reading and probably ask obnoxious questions during the Q&A, because what are friends for? And also I bet she has never heard the question “So, like, where do you get all your ideas?” before and SOMEONE needs to deliver this very important reader query. We might even get a chance for a silly picture. Cherie is the one who hooked me up with young master Braxton Bragg, and who has pimped innumerable Cats (and a Dog!) What Need Homes for me to her wider online readership, so if you would like to support an author on principle I highly recommend buying her books, secure in the knowledge that not only will you get a good read, but you are helping an angel to homeless kitties and dogs.

In me-related news (I know you’re not here to hear about me, Gentle Reader), the semester is winding to a hectic end at school and I am up to my eyebrows in work and schoolwork and chickenprep. I get a break from mid-December to mid-January, and then it’s back to the grind. But NEXT SEMESTER I have a class that basically consists of going to Civil War battlefields and writing up analyses of the battles and discussing them online. Yeah, that’s right, someone designed a history class JUST FOR ME. I am all a-flutter and it might even make up for the fact that I’m going to be taking a math class. I hate math. Numbers are boring. I think however I might still be on track to graduate after next summer with my Associate’s, at which point I will no longer have an excuse not to go get a bachelor’s degree. Aie.

9 November, 2010

Actual Conversations That Happen in This House

Daniel: Get off the stove you daft beast!
Me: Just let him lick the roast.
Daniel: No!
Me: It would make him so happy if you let him gum the roast.
Daniel: He is not going to gum the roast.
Me: It’s raw! You’re going to cook it and that will kill the bacteria!
Daniel: He does not get to gum the roast. Just no.
Me: Can he have a teeny piece of it then?
Daniel: Fine. He can have a teeny piece of roast.
Me: It really would make him happy if he could gum the roast.
Daniel: I love you.
Me: Is that “I love you even though you are badgering me about letting the cat gum dinner”?
Daniel: Yes. Yes it is.

7 November, 2010

Busy fall is still busy.

The chicken run is nearly done. The house has straw in the nest boxes, the run just needs a roof and a door; we are hoping for chickens next weekend! Very exciting stuff. We’re also poking at chicken breeds since we intend to acquire a couple more chickens in the spring. I covet Araucanas, Americanas, or Easter Eggers, all of which carry the gene to lay greeny-blue eggs.

My soap-making supplies should be here next week, so another WOO! Possibly there will be time to try soap after chickenish business is done. Meanwhile I have a couple simple patterns to try and need to drag out my sewing machine and get to work on ’em.

In other news, the Porch Cam has spotted a small black and white kitten as of last night. We’re going to keep an eye on the camera and see if it’s coming up the same time every night or thereabouts, and if so then we’re going to make an attempt at trapping it, which may require staying up late as I don’t want to leave a small kitten in the trap overnight. On the other hand, I am slightly worried that we will catch a bunch of coons and possums before we ever get a kitten. Wish us luck!

5 November, 2010

Cat Update: Emmaline!

When last we saw Emmaline, she was horrifyingly skinny from feeding four little chubby kittens and had just moved into the house, where she was psychotically attacking all the other quadrupeds. I am happy to say that these days she has decided she doesn’t have to kick everyone’s asses just for being in the house with her. She has never stopped being ridiculously purry with people, but Daniel is her favorite. She follows him around and talks to him until he picks her up and tickles her tummy and calls her Daddy’s Girl. It is ridiculously adorable.

Also, Emmaline doesn’t think Awesome Apple Pancakes are a healthy breakfast:
Emmaline, a grey tabby cat with much white on her tummy and a mostly white face, crouches on a Jamie Oliver cookbook that is open to Awesome Apple Pancakes.  She has a look of disapproving concern on her face.

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