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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Perils Of Being Handy

Steve and I were both hungry early this morning, so breakfast was early, which means that I got an early start on the you-know-what.  And I got a lot done- the north side of the coop was completely done except for installing the window, which I'll do once it's up in place.  That leaves cladding the south side of the coop, which  includes having to build the window from scratch still, and the floor of the coop, the door to the run, and the roof.  I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I'm hoping to start raising walls on Wednesday.

But I must have gotten a lot done today, because my hands are killing me.  All twenty-eight of my knuckles are aching, and one, the second on my left index finger, is particularly achy.  That would be because right after I was thinking, "Gee, that's probably not a good place for my finger," I whacked it hard with my hammer.  I swing a sixteen ounce Estwing framing hammer, so you can imagine the force.  It swelled up so much (yes, I iced it!) that it was a little hard, and more than a little painful pulling my glove onto that hand.  Thank God it's not a roofing hammer, which is bigger and has a cross-hatched face- otherwise my finger would have looked like I was trying to tenderize it.

But, yeah.  I think I may have an idea of what arthritis feels like.  I have never had my hands hurt like this.  I mean, they ache up to my wrists.  Actually, past my wrists, because my wrists ache too.  Ai yi yi.

Well, enough whining for one night.

I gotta go research how to put the roof on.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Truth About Chickens

I cleaned the brooder late yesterday afternoon. Actually, I think it was officially evening by the time I got to it.

I'm sitting all the way in the living room at 7:00 PM and I can smell the chickens. PHEW!

Holy God, I've gotta get this coop done.  I think we might get it up tomorrow.

But I've got to get it done.

Today was all about building the pop hole on the west side of the coop, and framing the doors on the east side of the coop.  But I think we can start putting it up.

By the way, the truth about chickens?

They're really merely aggressive little dinosaurs.

Stinky, aggressive, little dinosaurs.

Good thing I loves eggs.

Friday, June 24, 2011

No Longer Free (At Last!)

My friends will be happy to read that after one year, nine months, two weeks, and six days, I will be rejoining the ranks of the employed this fifth of July because I was extended an offer for employment today, which I gladly accepted.  Gladly and gratefully accepted, since this was only the third interview I'd had in all that time.

And my new boss seems to be a really good guy. I'll be really busy, but I don't think he'll let me drown.

But you know what this means, don't you?

I have only a little over a week to get that coop finished!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cooped Up To Here

My life has been consumed by a chicken coop.

lots of sections
I'm framing it in sections.  Evidently, I seem to know what I'm doing because my contractor was by yesterday with the contract for the roof, and he saw my work.  He even offered me a job as a framer, because he's looking for one. It's a good thing I think he was in jest anyway, because I doubt he'd have offered if he knew that I: 1) cut with a hand saw, not a circular saw and 2) have to drill pilot holes for the nails because otherwise I bend them.

Which is probably why it's taking so darn long.  But you know what? It's going to be sturdily built.

At one point Steve said to me, "there are people in this country who live in houses that aren't as well built as this chicken coop will be, you know."

To which I replied, "raccoons, dude."

North side of the run
Once I get all the sections up I can clad the coop in plywood, finish out the interior, and put some doors on it.  I also need to build the nest box, which will hang out in order to gain interior real estate. It's taking longer than I expected, and next week's rain isn't going to help matters.  I'm also running out of room in the garage.  The sections will have to go down by the side of the house with a tarp on them until I can get them up. I'm not even sure the sections will fit together they way they're supposed to, but I figure that's what the big hammer's for.

In the meantime, the garden is going to rack and ruin because I don't have time for it.  I manage to get one little chore done at a time. Steve, bless his heart, has taken over the raspberries, which appear to be succumbing to verticillium wilt.  Great sections of them have croaked, but then look like they're trying to survive, so he is trying to encourage the survivors in the name of natural selection.  Lots of stuff is bolting and going to seed, most notably the kale and other brassicas.  And I haven't had the time to get things into the ground that I've already started, like the squashes.

The pullets continue to get bigger and bigger and bigger, which is a good thing, I guess, but the rate at which they are growing is alarming. So is the rate at which they're eating.  I'm so looking forward to getting them out of my guest room.  They are like the noisy house guests who won't go home.  Mostly, I'm looking forward to having a quiet house back.  They still cheep like chicks pretty constantly, but now that they're bigger, they're louder.  This morning I finally heard one cluck quietly, a sound for which I've been waiting, and that's a huge improvement.

Today I'll build the last section, the south side of the run, and then the last thing I'll need to do before erection day is put together some sort of roof system.  I'm still thinking about how I'm going to do that.

But have I learned not to bring home the animals until the housing is up and ready?

Yes.  I have.

* Blogger appears to have the vapors again, so once it lets me add pictures I will.
**Pictures added

Saturday, June 18, 2011

And Then There Were Three

I had to cull a chick today.

One of the girls started wobbling when she walked a few weeks ago, then losing her balance while standing.  We started to call her Doofus, because she was the only one of the four that we could distinguish from the others.  Then as the other girls' personalities and coloring started differing, they acquired names, and I started calling Doofus 'Lucy', because she was still somewhat comical.

Her lameness continued to progress, and this week I realized that she was no longer able to stand up.  I have no idea when the last time was that she was able to get water for herself.  We'd talked about culling her previously when we weren't sure how well she'd do outside, but now it was clear it needed to be done sooner rather than later.

So after we returned from buying yet more studs for the coop and run, I set up an area in the garage for her execution.  Steve helped me get the other birds into the holding pen, and then Lucy was last.  I grabbed a paper towel in case she pooped on me and carried her into the garage.  She was trembling.  I was reminded of the Buddhist notion that 'all animals tremble before danger, all fear death', and it saddened me.  But I had a humane job to do.  I set her on her side on the newspaper, holding her down, and placed the paper towel on her head so that she couldn't see what was coming, and then swiftly dealt her a blow with my three pound hammer.  It has a large head and is heavy, and I trusted it most to do the job quickly.  I smashed her head pretty thoroughly with the first blow, but she was still trembling.  I said so.

Steve said, "she'll continue to do that for at least twelve seconds."  He had researched the best way to cull a chick for me this morning.

I hit her two more times to just make sure, and in a few moments it was all over.  I wrapped her up in the newspaper and placed her in the plastic bag Steve was holding for me, and put her out in the garbage can.  She didn't get a burial out in the backyard because the last thing I need is for a raccoon to dig her back up.

Ethel, front and center, Vivian, and Violet at the back
So then there were three.  They are Ethel (after The Merm, because she's always front and center, Violet (because she's a shrinking violet) and Vivian (the other half of Lucy, poor baby). They'll be five weeks old on Monday.

Before I'd started this whole ordeal today, I said a quick prayer, thanking God for the chickens, and the lessons they provide, and I asked Him to help me learn what it was He wanted me to learn by giving me Lucy, so that I don't have to repeat the lesson.

What I learned today was that I can dispatch an animal quickly and humanely without remorse if it becomes necessary.  I don't feel heartless or maudlin, and now I think when the time comes that I may be able to more easily dispatch an animal with the intention of eating it.  I won't know that for sure until the time comes, but I handled today so quickly and purposefully I rather surprised myself. Farmers have to deal with death all the time, and while I don't kid myself by calling myself a farmer, I have to take all the responsibility when I take responsibility for putting food on our table.  I haven't replaced all of our grocery shopping, hardly any of it in fact, but that's the intention.  My eventual goal is to be able to get most of what we need out of the yard. And someday that will include meat. Someday.

But I still feel bad about poor Lucy, who never had a chance.  She gave up everything by her lesson to me, and I'm grateful to her for it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An Index of Useful Information

Hey folks- quick post here.  I ran across a great index of all kinds of useful information.

This might be the ultimate homesteading resource for which I've been looking.  Don't discount it until you've skimmed all the titles!

And let me know what you think!

My Big Fat Greek Bunco

My turn to host bunco came and went, and all I have to show for it is a clean house and a refrigerator and freezer full of leftover Greek food.  I'm reveling in the clean house because the housekeeping goes to hell when I have a project, and I've had one project or another going for so long that the housekeeping was pretty bad.  Which is why I started getting ready for this party last Friday, even though said party wasn't until Tuesday night.

So bunco, if you don't know, is a game of chance played with dice.  A bunco party is essentially a hen party with dice, which is probably why it's fun. You start with twelve players at three tables; one of the tables is the head table (table one).  The idea is to get to twenty-one points, and that has to occur at the head table to get to the end of the round.  You play four sets of six rounds; on the first round you're rolling for ones, on the second round you're rolling for twos, etc., until you roll for sixes after which you start the next set of rounds.  You roll three dice and count how many show the number that you're on, so if you're rolling for fours, for instance, and one of the dice shows one side with four up, and the other dice show other sides, that counts as one point and you roll again. You keep rolling until you don't roll with the target number showing (in our example, a four). Once you roll nothing up, play passes to the player on your left.  Unless you are at the head table, once you hit twenty-one you keep playing. Only the head table counts the end of the round when they hit twenty-one.  As I mentioned before, each side of the die that lands up counts as one point for the number of the round that you're rolling.  If you roll all three numbers the same, that's a junco, and that counts as five points; if all three numbers are the same and they're the number for which you're rolling, that's a bunco and it's automatically twenty-one points.  If this occurs at the head table, it's the end of that round; if it occurs at one of the other two tables, the players keep playing. When a player rolls a bunco (three of a kind of the number for which you're rolling on the current round) they get to hold the traveling token (in our case, a small doll called the bunco baby); the traveling token is taken from them by the next person who rolls a bunco.  You want to be holding the traveling token at the end of the evening (but or heavens sake, don't fight over it!).

Players play as a team in pairs, with your team mate playing opposite.  The team that has the most points at the end of a round advances to the next table; the opposite holds for the head table- the team that loses at the head table moves to table three.  At all three tables, one of the remaining players moves to a chair adjacent to their team mate, so that when the next pair of people arrive at the table, each of the remaining players now has a new partner.

Why do all this?  Well besides the fact that it's fun, different groups play for different things.  Some groups play for money, and some groups play for prizes. My group plays for prizes.  Playing costs each player five bucks, so there are sixty dollars with which the hostess buys the prizes (for the next party), with each prize being worth a different amount. Everyone tallies up how many wins they had and how many losses.  The number of buncos are counted, and the number of juncos are counted.  The person with the most wins wins first place; that's worth twenty-two dollars.  The person with the next highest number of wins wins second place; that's worth fifteen dollars.  The person with the most buncos wins most buncos; that's worth ten dollars.  The person holding the traveling token wins traveling; that's worth eight dollars.  The person with the most losses wins booby; that's worth five dollars.  To play for most juncos, you have to kick in an extra dollar to be eligible in a separate pool. Whoever has the most juncos wins the extra cash, and it varies by how many are playing for it.

So that's bunco.

The party always starts with getting a plate full of food, and then play starts once everyone's settled down at a table.  I served chicken souvlaki (chicken marinated with lemon, oregano and garlic, then grilled), my Greek pie (which is something I made based on a great Greek pie I used to get at the Zodiac Cafe in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, that involves spinach, onions, feta, parsley and zatar) with tzatziki sauce, and a Greek salad.  Dessert was lemon pie and expensive baklava from the local mediterranean restaurant.

Here's the lemon pie recipe:

Hot Lemon Pie

1 large lemon
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 stick of butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 9" unbaked pie shell

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Cut up lemon and remove only the seeds.

Put the lemon pieces (rind included) and all the rest of the ingredients (except the pie shell) in the blender and whirl until foamy.  Keep whirling until the mixture is smooth with no lumps of butter.

Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake 40 minutes.  Serve warm.  It's good cold too. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Everybody had a good time, and I had a good time hosting.

I'm just really glad I don't have to do it again for another year.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Good Enough for Chickens

I need a window on the north side of the coop for cross ventilation, so yesterday I looked at windows at the home improvement store.  I thought they were a bit much for a little ol' chicken  coop, so I spent nine bucks and bought a cheap piece of plexiglas and today I made a window from some scrap firring strips I had lying around.

I got to practice dowel joinery.

The ugly backside.  I wasn't aiming for beauty- just speed.

I've seen prettier, but it's good enough for chickens.  It turned out well enough that I'm inspired to buy the materials for a larger window and make one to replace the two dollar antique window I bought at the rebuilding center on Mississippi in Portland with the intention of using it in a cold frame.  Ever since I bought it I've been scaring myself with visions of tripping and falling through its untempered self, and I've decided that I don't want to use it for any reason.  It's just too dangerous to have around.

I nearly got the north wall of the coop section done today, but ran out of steam.  I have to set the coop aside for a few days to get ready to host a bunco party on Tuesday night, so you won't hear from me for awhile, I don't think.

Try not to miss me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Coop Frame, South Side

Framing, if you're infernally weak like I am, will. wear. you. out. if you do it all day.  I had to take lots of breaks.  I also had to, get this, drill pilot holes for the nails I was using because I'd bend them before I got them driven home.

So that's the south side of the coop section, framed for the old window you sort of see leaning against the plywood (it's the thing that looks like a blue window), a header for the floor joists, and then a framed section that will be covered in hardware cloth under the coop section so the girls will have some shade to find on summer mornings.  On summer afternoons the run will be in complete shade.

I honestly think this was the hardest side because of the window, and I'm glad I started with it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hard Flour The Hard Way

Hard won flour

This is a little over six cups of hand ground flour. We did not grind it on the finest setting because as coarse a flour as this is, it was a bitch to get ground.

Let me be perfectly clear it was not the fault of the mill! Although I can see why people take advantage of the belt capability of the fly wheel, thigh muscles being what they are and all.

No, it was the fault of my... what's the word I want? Ambitious? Overly optimistic? for a platform for the mill.  When the manufacturer says that you need to bolt it down for optimal use, they mean to bolt it down to something heavy.  Something heavy, like, oh say, the Rock of Gibraltar.

I like this one 'cause it's groovy *
Seriously, guys, I screwed up. Our cheap IKEA island that doesn't have a solid piece of wood in it is not going to do the job.  If I had a nice, heavy Boos island like the one to the right here, I would drill baby, drill four five-sixteenths holes in it in a red hot heart beat and bolt that sucker to it, but I don't own a two thousand dollar kitchen island to screw up. (Come to think of it, if I remember correctly, all my new kitchen cabinets came to around that.)

So I think what we're going to do is have me make a really heavy kitchen table (somewhere in the future) and bolt it to the kitchen table.  Because it really needs to hold the hell still while you grind your grain. Hold. Still.

The next three pizzas are going to taste really, really good.

They'd better.

* photo from here

I Can Take a Hint

It was hot over the weekend- upper eighties, so we took advantage of that and worked on the coop.

The first part was building the pad and the first course of the foundation, for which I needed Steve's help.  With the exception of moving the walls to the backyard from the garage where I'll build them, I should be able to get the rest of the coop done myself.

But moving a bunch of soil (read 'heavy, waterlogged clay) and getting the first course of concrete pavers down was going to need more strength and back than I have all by myself, so that's what we both did this weekend.  Saturday we moved the majority of the soil and tamped, tamped, tamped it down.  We also got one side of the first course of patio pavers that I'm going to use for the foundation laid.

Progress at the end of Saturday

Sunday was spent moving and tamping more soil, and finishing the first course.  I decided to do it this way because there are stacks of patio pavers all over the yard.  They were something the previous owner left us to find.  I think there are a hundred of them. That's what I counted, anyway.  It might not be the most stable foundation in earthquake country, but that's what I'm going with in spite of that. I've seen chicken coops on less.

It's level and square

I'll lay hardware cloth across the bottom, put the second course of pavers on it, and once I get the frame sitting on the second course, I'll bend up the bottom hardware cloth and nail it to the frame.  Then I'll hammer concrete mesh pins in all over the bottom hardware cloth, and make sure the  soil is covering the mesh.  The bedding will go on top of that.

But today I am not working on the coop.

I started today by pouring hot water from the thermo carafe in on top of Steve's soy milk, and then when I went to pour the rest of the coffee from the pot into the carafe, I forgot to pour out the hot water I had in there heating it up. That first pot was almost what the French call 'jus de chaussette'.  It means 'sock juice'.

Then when I went to make Steve's breakfast, I discovered that I'd neglected to take a package of sausage out of the freezer to defrost, so I had to brown some Spam for him. No big deal, except I pulled the ring off the lid instead of pulling the lid off with the ring.  Have you any idea how hard it is to open a can of Spam with a regular can opener? Fortunately I managed it without cutting myself, and I did find the tiny sliver of metal in the cooked Spam before I fed it to Steve, but you know what?  I can take a hint.

I will not be working on the coop today but will instead be doing much needed house work, and making more room in the garage so I can work on the coop tomorrow.

I just don't need anything else going wrong this morning.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Coop's Time Has Come!

I'm up early today, and instead of the usual dreary rain we've been getting, it's dawned bright, clear and beautiful and I have sunshine to enjoy with my coffee.  We have three days of clear, hot weather forecasted, which is a good thing, because last night I decided that I'd better set aside the dining nook and build a chicken coop.

The nook so far.

I keep marveling at how incredibly fast the chicks are growing.  They are two weeks and four days old today, and they barely look like chicks anymore.  Their combs are starting to pop out above their beaks, and their wings are fully feathered; one is sporting the beginnings of tail feathers already.  They're not even three weeks old yet!

Yesterday I had to move them from the big plastic box in which I was brooding them to the bottom half of Rufus's old crate, which is a pretty big dog crate.  This will give them more room, but it's pretty obvious to me that at the rate they're growing, they'll need something bigger soon.  Well I don't have anything bigger, so the coop needs to be built.  And while I was moving them, one got away from me.  She flew to the top of the plastic bin and perched on the edge of the bin, and while I was loudly sucking in air because I couldn't believe what I was seeing, she flew down to the floor.  I hollered to Steve that one was loose and to come help me.  He came and closed the door, and then we corralled her between us until I was able to catch her and deposit her in the holding cell (a big orange Home Depot bucket) until I was ready to move them all to their new quarters.  That was a bit of excitement the recurrence of which I could live without for a very long time.

I am remembering a phone conversation with my mother when I got the chicks to let her know that I did.  I chose New Hampshire Reds because that's the breed with which she grew up during the time that my grandfather owned the chicken ranch.  She seemed concerned that I didn't have the coop built yet.  That's okay, I said blithely; I have sixty days which will be mid-July before I need to move them outside. That's what the book said, so that's what I was counting on.

She could have told me that New Hampshire Reds were indeed bred in New Hampshire, but they were selected out of Rhode Island Reds and bred for early maturity!  So ha ha! The joke's on me!  I need to build a coop!

Getting to be big girls that roost!

I mentioned in an earlier post that one of the chickens is much larger than the other three.  Although she doesn't appear to be any larger than the others anymore, she is now sporting a black streak on her head that the other three don't have, but Steve and I have both noticed that what's really different about her is that she's a klutz. She wobbles from side to side when she's walking to the point where she looks like she's going to fall over. I mean, she staggers like a drunk.  She'll even stumble and stagger when she's standing still.  She does tend to wobble when she lies down, and then last night she lay down on her side with one leg tucked under her and the topside leg splayed out, her top side wing stretched out as well, but eventually she righted herself and tucked everything in.  Steve mentioned that he thinks she's defective, and I admitted that I thought the same thing.  Nothing in the Storey's Guide says anything about this behavior.

Does anyone have an idea of what's wrong with my chick?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

By Hand

Years ago, I saw an interview with Vanna White, of Wheel of Fortune fame on a late night talk show.  She was asked what her favorite missed phrase was.  She replied that the correct phrase was 'Gone With The Wind' but that the solver guessed that it was "Done With One Hand".

Even if that wasn't right, I'm finding that doing things by hand has its own reward.  I've been replacing electric powered small appliances with hand powered ones, one by one.  The old fashioned egg beater I have does a good job, and costs me nothing but calories to use.  The cast iron waffle iron I purchased from Lehman's is finally seasoned to the point where waffles don't stick to it anymore, but it would have been a lot better product had the handles been longer.  It's still a pill to use, so consequently Steve doesn't get so many waffles anymore.  Good thing he likes Dutch Babies.  But it does the job when we need waffles, and I could probably use it over a camp fire (not that that's going to happen).

I've pretty much stopped using my electrical saws altogether.  It turns out that I have much better control over my cuts with a hand saw than with a circular saw or jig saw.  At one time, this wasn't the case, but after having injured thumbs at different times on both hands that required time off in splints, my thumb muscles have atrophied so badly that I don't have anywhere near the hand strength that I used to have.  So the mitered cuts I'm making for the back of the dining nook are all getting done by hand.  I think I finally have the hang of getting it done quickly and accurately, but my modern saws are not as comfortable as they ought to be.  I have to take a lot of breaks.

So it was with some real delight that I ran across this website. I have to caution you that I'm a bit of a tool geek anyway; my very first job was in a swell hardware store, and I've never lost my love for all things hardware.  But the stuff that this guy is making is just plain beautiful. I especially like the convertible saw of his own design. Even if you don't have an affinity for tools like I do, take a look because the tools he makes are really gorgeous, if you can believe that.  His work has inspired me to make new handles for the saws that I own, which should be easy to replace, considering that they are all screwed on.  I don't expect to make them out of the fancy wood that he uses; I'll probably use either oak from HD, or go see what Rockler has.

It's also inspired me to start collecting this stuff where and when I can, because I might be very glad of being able to use tools in the future that don't require electricity.  They use up a lot less real estate in the garage as well.  I've borrowed several books from the library, including Restoring, Tuning, and Using Classic Woodworking Tools, by Michael Dunbar, and Mastering Hand Tool Techniques, by Alan and Gill Bridgewater. I think I'm going to go look on eBay and see what kind of goodies I can find out there in the way of hand tools.

I'm not quite ready to give up my electrical saws yet, because I still have to saw through some plywood, but if I can get through it with a hand saw, I may be selling my electrical saws.  I will probably not be giving up my impact driver, which I love.

But I can't say that I wouldn't mind owning some gorgeous antiques that work a charm.