29 July 2009

Entryway makeover

When we first moved in, none of our existing entryway furniture worked well in this house with its odd contemporary angles. We temporarily used a cheap bookcase to hold our mittens for the winter but the unfinished entryway bothered me because it gives the first impression of a home. So I came up with a "plan." I like to sketch out my plans on dotted graph paper to be sure the furniture and pieces I like will fit together and to help me think about and decide what will and won't work before I buy or build anything. Here was my entryway idea:

The plan...

and the current result.

I think it turned out very well. I painted the wall in Divine White (Sherwin Williams) then added a matching set to the mix - a bookcase to hold our hats, mail and other indoor/outdoor items and a cabinet to hold my gardening and craft books, photo albums, and stationery. The bench is great for taking our Wellies, sneakers or snow boots off and I like the way the red in my grandmother's rug is picked up in the accent pieces. The bench is not part of a set but the nice thing about black furniture is that there's not much variation in "black" so you can mix and match and pick up vintage items. I may change the fabric bins eventually but these are the ones we used before so they are doing the job for now.

My "catch-all" bowl to hide the little odds and ends that inevitably accumulate when you have children and a full life. Looks great with the rug and adds a small Asian touch to it all. I love Asian art. I found this item on my favorite handmade and vintage web store, etsy.

Three-quarters of the chalkboard came from the dump - a wooden window pane. The back is a thin sheet of plywood with two layers of the chalk paint. I love this color - Colonial red from RustOleum's American Accents. Makes me want to paint the front door the same color! I might add some hooks along the left side of the chalkboard for our keys.

Chicken coop

Our chicken coop is finally complete, okay, almost complete, and it looks great beside the board and batten garage. From the kitchen I can walk onto the porch and right to the girls' coop, which is convenient for me. It's situated beneath a deciduous tree on the south side to give them shade all summer and more sunlight in the winter. We will dig holes for the run posts this week and probably cement them in place.

So far the girls seem pretty happy with their coop although they like to roost on the step to the nest boxes instead of on the actual roost. I'm going to use some of the branches we had to take down recently to make a lower roost for them since I think that's what they're trying to tell me... They roost in our rhododendron all the time but they prefer the lower branches.

Here are the twins roosting in the rhododendron with sister Lacey.

And little Goldilocks roosting under the protection of sister Sylvia.

Here are the girls in their usual pattern: The twins, the pair of Rhode Island Reds (RIRs) that are always side by side. I can only tell them apart by their eye color - one has slightly green eyes, the other hazel. Curious Katie is the other RIR. She greets us when we come home, comes running when she sees us walking up the driveway from a walk, invites herself in the house if we leave the front door open for too long. Katie is just the kind of chicken you want to come home to. Her curiosity sometimes gets the better of her though and when her sisters are no longer in sight, after she has wandered off chasing some speck of interest, she cries in distress until she is reunited with them again. Sometimes Savannah will pick her up and pat her and carry her over to her sisters, which Katie loves. Lacey is the Silver Laced Wyandotte with more white on her wings and although we didn't raise her, she is more trusting than her sister Sylvia. Sylvia often protects little Goldilocks, the Buff Orrpington, but they are both nervous nellies and won't let us near them. Goldilocks is the baby of our pullets and often tags behind, following her sisters. She never strikes out on her own. Each has her own personality.

Savannah holds the door open to welcome the chickens in for the first time. Behind her you can see the two levels of nest boxes on the north wall.

The brave chickens encourage the two timid ones (Sylvia and Goldilocks) to walk the plank (that Kevin built last night) for the first time. Did you know that chickens could be, well, chicken?

28 July 2009

Sharing a bit of myself - paying it forward

How do you give back to your community, be it local or global?

Besides trying to lend a hand to neighbors when needed, my two favorite ways to give back are through Heifer International and Kiva. These two organizations are very different.

Heifer seeks to improve the livelihood of people all over the world, the US included, by giving those in poverty livestock and the education they need to raise the livestock and profit from it. For example, this might mean learning how to tend to and milk the goats, learning how to compost their manure to till into the garden, learning how to milk the goat to improve the family's nutrition and how to safely sell and make cheeses from the goat's milk to sell at market AND every April to pass the gift on - to give an offspring, a baby goat, to another family in the community and to teach them what you know about raising goats (or whatever the livestock happens to be). Through agriculture (bees, chickens, ducks, cattle, rabbits, goats, yaks, water buffalo, sheep, trees, etc.) Heifer teaches people how to raise themselves up out of poverty and then asks them every April to continue this gift so their entire community may benefit from the knowledge and prosperity that caring for livestock and farming the land can bring. If you ever want to give us a gift, please do so through our online gift registry with Heifer. We LOVE this gift! I can no longer give someone "food" at food drives because that helps them for what, 1-2 meals? Giving through Heifer lasts a lifetime or more and teaches someone how to help himself or herself. The Chinese Proverb rings true: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Kiva is also a wonderful organization through which you can give microloans to people all over the world. I like being able to choose who to loan money to because mainly, I care about improving the lives of women and their children around the world. I also love the randomness of being able to help a complete stranger who will never meet me but will hopefully feel how small a place the world really is by asking for help and receiving it and how good people are, despite the governments under which they live, to want to help them prosper peacefully. My Kiva profile is here and as I receive money back from a loan, I find someone else to lend it to. $25 is the minimum amount you can lend but that goes a very long way in some countries. 100% of the money you lend goes to the person needing the loan, however, I recommend donating an additional 10% of that amount to help Kiva maintain the rest of its costs so that in the future, Kiva can continue to do the same.

Most of all I love that these two organizations help me see people from other cultures as just ordinary people who want to improve their circumstances, usually for their children's sake. I think it is important to have a lens through which to view others that is devoid of any government's filter. We are all human sharing the same basic biological needs and we are all citizens of the world.

15 July 2009

Critters on the farm

Farm girl Savannah dressed head to toe in her tick-resistant clothing made by Insect Shield. Ready to get to work!

Can you believe how small these little frogs are? We find them all around our barn, hopping through the grass. The chickens will eat them when they chance upon them, but they prefer insects and worms to frogs.

Nap time! Roosting in the rhododendron bush near our front door.

Without the flash, this moth blends in remarkably well.

I wish we had more snakes to eat bugs and small rodents. The water snakes in the pond eat the bullfrogs so I can get a good night's sleep now and then.

During egg laying season we saw 6 painted turtles and 2 box turtles lay their eggs (plus 1 unidentified turtle). Most of them chose the same patch in our yard to lay in. We enjoyed watching their treks to find the perfect spot to lay in.

Frogs and toads and more frogs and toads. Savannah likes to observe them all.

08 July 2009

So this is what five looks like

I can't believe that I've had five years to get to know this wonderful little person, my daughter. At age five she loves the great outdoors and her chickens, reads more than a hundred pages a day, is creative, often inventing her own paper purses, laptop holders, bird nests, or other items of perceived necessity, and she's extraordinarily sensitive and kind (unless you interrupt her when she's reading!). I'm so lucky to have this little person to be responsible to in my life. She makes me a better person.

Savannah's great loves at age five:

Chickens (our girls)

Baby brother, William
Outdoor activities
Ice cream and parade candy
Beauty Cat and Bunny (her stuffed animal loves)
Arts and crafts activities

Strawberry fields

We try to eat as much as possible the fruits and vegetables that are in season in our local area. The first berry harvest to take advantage of is strawberries. We picked over 25 pounds of them this year, making one batch (8 cups) of low sugar jam, which wasn't nearly enough.

The idea was to make all of our own jams for the year and since my husband claimed to not like strawberry jam, I only made one batch. Turns out, we all love it! It's brighter in color and tastes very fresh like a cross between regular jam and the fresh fruit itself. We hope to do the same with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

06 July 2009

Our girls, the chickens

Of our original six Rhode Island Reds, only three remain. Our neighbor's dog killed two and injured a third that died two days later after appearing to be fine. I miss them, I'm really attached to our girls. They are all so sweet with distinct personalities. Some like to be held, some are nervous nellies, some think their proper place is inside our home and try to run inside each time they see the front door opening. One jumps on my arm when I'm carrying their dinner to the barn to get first dibs. They all greet us when we drive home.

Since our coop is on its way this month and this is the last chance to acquire more chickens before the end of the season, we got some more chickens from a local farmer. We now have four babies in the brooder, all Rhode Island Reds.

Here is cousin Emma holding one at four days old. The sweet little things think they're under their mommy's breast when you hold them this way and fall asleep within seconds. I think the curve of her wrist is pretty in this photo.

Here are two of the four Buff Orpingtons that we acquired greeting us on the front doorstep. They are almost 5 weeks old and like to stick together. They are also excellent egg layers and ideal for our climate. They have gorgeous golden breasts when mature.

We also have two 8 week old Silver Laced Wyandottes but it's hard to get a good photo of them - they run everywhere and are well camouflaged. They are not as easy to handle as our other girls but we didn't raise them. They seem to be the best bug eaters in the bunch when they're out free-ranging and they trust us enough to return to the barn each evening for dinner and water.