Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “homesteading”


Quick chicken update.

We (and by that I mean mostly my Husband of Awesomeness) fenced in the garden and a bigger, lusher chicken yard this spring.  They have a huge (you know, for a chicken) space to graze. And they do–with an intensity that is both mind-boggling and addictive to watch. It is strangely satisfying (and ridiculously easy) to make chickens happy.

Husband of Awesomeness, aka Fence Builder.

One of the Buff Orpies.

Doing their thing in the freshly tilled earth.

A very gentlemanly rooster.

Curious chicken. Or maybe she was helping to pick out seeds.

And then this one had to have a say.

No, they’re not dead. They take dust baths, then they take dust naps.

Hunkering down.


They grow fast. And they’re a completely different colour and pattern than the hen or the rooser. See them in the back?

A blurry close-up–they are very skittish and won’t let me get close. Mama hen was protective in a way I didn’t care to test, lol.

Chickens eating lemon balm = happy (and very relaxed) chickens. :D

Sad news. One of the Buff Orpies disappeared. We are guessing a hawk. There is a pair of red-shouldered hawks that live in the woods behind the lake. Sad that she is gone, also know that it’s just how it goes on a farm. The pen attached to the chicken house is completely covered, but the only way to let them have the joy of the open pasture is to leave them somewhat vulnerable. Sigh. It’s a trade-off, but one that is worth it for the health of the flock, I think.

That’s all my chicken news for now. Next plan–building a chicken swing. Not even kidding. :D

A Damn Good Day

This morning I awoke after interesting dreams. Dressed, and happily discovered a little more room in my pants than there has been for a few months.  Had enough time to clean the kitchen that I neglected last night and to pack a delicious lunchtime snack AND to walk the dogs.  Made the best chocolate chunk almond butter I’ve ever made.  Got to work early despite leaving late. Helped people, rocked out a few projects, and maybe encouraged some friendly mischief. (Twinkle)

Drove the 5 minute commute back home.  Hugged my kids hello, gathered up the dogs, and kissed my husband goodbye.  And then kissed him again because I hadn’t left yet.  And then kissed him one more time for good reasons. Loaded the dogs up in the car and drove out to the farm in a golden afternoon so glorious that it seemed otherworldly. The sky was clear blue, the air was that perfect temperature that hovers a little past warm but just before hot, and the breeze was a soft touch against the skin.  Sunlight that can only be described as blissful healing medicine. I think I actually felt my pineal gland wake up and kick in. Ronin rode with his head out the window the whole way. Giant dog grins are contagious.

The farm was peaceful and still. And full of good green smells. Gathered eggs and picked a radish that looks like an egg.  Many, many more radishes to pick. Should quit job and become a radish farmer.

The gate to the cow’s pasture broke and hung open, but no cows escaped. Fixed the gate. The bull let me pet him through the fence. Maybe he was sun-sleepy. The sheep let themselves back in the barn for the night, so all I had to do was close the barn gate.  Fed the ewes, fed the rams. Bottle-fed the two bottle lambs.

Found the horses that had been missing off adventuring in far pastures for a few days. They were happy and shiny-coated. 

Sang a harvesting song, for the harvest has begun!

And will continue for weeks. Hadn’t planned on picking poke, but when the poke’s ready, it doesn’t wait around. I swear it wasn’t ready yesterday… Found a new bucket to keep the poke in, and also found two gallons of vinegar in the pantry to do the steeping with. Sweet score!

Discovered a new type of flowering plant in a field.  It is surely some exotic invasive, but ridiculously beautiful, though out of place. 

Fed the farm dogs as the light disappeared quietly in the West. Watched bats do their sonar-guided acrobatics above me.

Left the farm as night fully sank in. Drove east straight into a moon rise that was like something out of a science fiction novel–humongous and yellow like cream. It out-shone my high beams and made driving difficult for all my gaping and staring and mad grinning. I like reminders that our earth is as magnificent as any fiction.

Sang harmony to Tori Amos, hit a note I can’t usually hit. Didn’t hit a raccoon that wandered onto the road. Relaxation: good for vocal chords and reflexes. Came home to family and curry and comfort.  And now I write to you, friends. It was a damn good day.

They grow up so fast.

Chicken update!

The chicks moved into their side of the big chicken house & coop several weeks ago, and they love it. They spend their days outside scratching and pecking and taking dust baths, and then like good little chickens, they go inside at night to sleep. It’s amazing to see how much they’ve grown over such a short time.  They are pretty fully feathered out and look like miniature hens. This week, the skin around their eyes and beaks has started to redden, and I imagine any time their combs will, too.  They are all, save one, very tame and happy to be hand-fed treats—although now that they’re getting bigger, it’s not so cute to get pecked too enthusiastically with those beaks. I wonder sometimes if I’m raising crows–these chicks love to peck at anything shiny–my wedding ring, the buttons on my pants, my shiny rubber boots.

We’ve only had one bit of chickie unhappiness this whole time. Several weeks ago, one of the Buff Orpies had an eye infection. One eye got all swollen and unhappy, but she showed no other symptoms. I treated her with a product called Vet Rx, which is a base with several essential oils in it, including the powerful antibiotic oregano oil. After a week, the infection seemed to come to a head, like a solid ball, under the nictitating membrane. And then, the next morning, it was gone. She scratched at it frequently, and I think it must have popped out. Her eyelid was a little wrinkly, but other than that, nothing. Within a few days, it was completely healed. Now I can’t tell which one she was. I’d name the Orpies, but they all look the same. I’m hoping that once their combs start filling out, they’ll be easier to tell apart.


One of the Delawares, Rouser, is a wild, wild thing and wants nothing to do with me. She is not like the other ladies who come running and clucking when I call them. “Hey, Chickabooms!” That’s how I call them. Nope. She runs as far from me as she can. Here she is giving me the crazy-eye. She’s always giving me the crazy-eye. It’s the only kind of eye she’s got.

Her “sister”, Rabble, is just obnoxious and rowdy. She doesn’t like me either, but she likes the treats, so she gives me the eye while she eats from my hand. Lol.

She’s fast, and the others have to work hard to get any treats before she hogs them all. They like all kinds of food. Favorites are dandelion greens, tomatoes, lemon balm, and grapes. Especially grapes.

Rabble is all business when it comes to grapes. She is not messing around. She demands ALL THE GRAPES.

Life with chickens. I like it.

So. Many. Things.

Hello, friends!  Just a quick word about life, the universe, and everything.  This last year has been generous in offering up life lessons in So. Many. Things.  First of which is not getting attached to one’s plans.  I often imagine that other people my age probably really have their act together.  But me?  I’m a pretend-to-fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person.  Not because I think it’s fun or romantical, but because I suck at a lot of grown-up stuff like understanding insurance benefits, online banking, and filing things where I have a chance of finding them later.  Or, you know, filing things.  And as much as I’d like to say otherwise, I’m not so great at doing that whole life planning thing.  So, if you’re in any way like me, you’ll understand this bit:  you know those times when something Important comes up and you get all disciplined and you decide to make A Plan?  It’s a big deal, right? You think you’re being smart and feel all responsible and mature because you even wrote out a pros and cons list and used a calculator an shit.  You make a for realz bonafide Plan.  You are ready for action! But then just when you feel solid about the path you’re about to step on, the Universe slams the door in your face and says, “Ha!  Let’s see what you do now!”

So, what do you do?  Do you fight or do you go with the flow?  Do stick to plans stubbornly or do you change them easily?  My course this year has been to contemplate the impermanence of all things–including my seemingly awesome plans–and to go hunting for another door.  Or window. Or air vent.  I’m not picky.  Lol.  Anything is better than being stuck.  I’m finding that not infrequently, it’s better to make your plans on an Etch-a-Sketch instead of with a sharpie–it’s easier to accept the changes and begin again when things get shaken up.  And often, if you’re open to it, even better things come along.  I’m not even going to pretend that it’s been such a gracious process, because it hasn’t.  It has been filled with stress and anxiety and doubt and more stress.  But I would like to think that I have at least been gracious in seeing that I have much to learn.  And, I don’t know, maybe that I’m getting a little better at all of this.

Here’s the digs:  We are in the process of moving from St. Louis to the farm in the Ozarks where I grew up.  So many things converged cosmically to make this happen, that I can’t even begin to explain it all now.  So. Many. Things.  It has been a hard year.  Really, ridiculously hard.  But the light at the end of the tunnel is bright and beautiful.  The end result will hopefully be a wonderful win-win for us, and for my parents who still live on the farm.  We will get to be in the country and be some kind of farmers (which we’ve been wanting to do forever) and my parents will get loads of help so that they can relax and travel and do things that people do when they’re retired and not trying to manage cows and sheep and chickens and horses—you get the picture.

However, unlike we originally thought in one of the first variations of this plan, we will not be able to move to the farm at the end of spring as we’d hoped.  This change has to do with unforeseen local school district policy issues and getting our kids into the school where they want to go.  So, we’ll be moving into town not far from the farm.  It so happens that my sister has an awesome house for rent there, and will be in need of a tenant at that time.  How crazy is that win-win? It was not what we’d planned, but it is now looking like it will make for a better transition for everyone.  Kids get a good school, we are close to jobs and the university (more upcoming plans…), and we’re still close enough to the farm to help out regularly.  And then when the kiddos graduate, we can talk about moving out there full-time.  See?  This never would have occurred to me.  Thanks, crappy school district rules!

Oh, but there’s more!  Another situation involving someone’s recently herniated disc opened a door for me to consider moving to the farm right away so that I can try to be of help while someone ignores common sense and continues to work like a man half his age.  My dad is made of awesome win, and I can only hope to be as fit at 75 as he is.  Even so, there is much work to do, and I am happy to lend a hand.  So I gave my notice at work and last week moved to the farm.  I would like to make a brief aside here to say that my coworkers and boss were amazingly kind, understanding and wonderful.  I am very thankful for having had the opportunity to work with them all.  More lessons learned this year.  To be honest, this move has given me a much needed chance to catch my breath, to put energy toward things that are earthy and good, and for the first time in a long time to be tired at the end of the day because I worked hard, not because I worried hard.  It is a gift.

Here are some gratuitous farm pictures:

This is the view from the front patio overlooking the lake and the ridge of trees that encircles most of the property.  It makes a bowl of sky that I have a hard time looking away from.

Here is an artsy photograph of a wheelbarrow full of dried perilla and grass that I pulled out of the raised bed garden where my mom wants to plant an abundant crop of cilantro next year for making fresh salsa and sofrito.  Mmmmm…sofrito.

Ronin is learning how to be a farm dog.  Ronin loves being a farm dog.  Ronin loves to chase sheep.  Dre does not like searching for sheep that got lost because they freaked out and ran away from a big black dog.  Dre especially does not like looking for those sheep in the middle of the night.  For hours and hours.  In the rain.  Dre is working to teach Ronin not to chase sheep. :P

So, that’s what’s going on in my corner of the universe.  I miss my kids and my husband, but am happy for a good internet connection and that we’re close enough to drive back and forth on weekends.  I am getting into the swing of doing chores again and learning the ways of livestock.  My muscles are sore.   I do not tire of soaking up the beauty that is all around me here.   I am thankful for our wonderful family and friends, their generosity, kindness and support, without whom this move would not be possible.  And I am thankful for open doors.  I won’t have any dyeing posts for a while–my dyeing tools are boxed up for now, but I anticipate getting them unpacked in the spring.  Until then, I’ll try to entertain you all with stories of my mad greenhorn farming skillz.  Lol.

Live happy, go graciously.


There is a difference between being poor and being broke.  It is a difference of which I am keenly aware.   I consider my life to be incredibly abundant—just not usually with money.  Over the last decade or so, being broke is something which I’ve begrudgingly come to be thankful for—-it has taught me a lot of lessons about what is truly important in my life, lessons I might not have learned otherwise—like how little I actually need, and what things I actually want (not just think I want), where I find my happiness, and what truly makes me joyful.    It has made me appreciate the generosity of others, and it has, in turn, made me more generous.   This has been a process, though.  There was a time when if i wanted something, I’d  just run out and buy it.  Later, there was also a time when I viewed my inability to do that as a really bad thing.   I don’t feel that way anymore.  Sure I’d like to not ever have to worry about money—-so would 99% of the rest of the world.  We’re all rowing the same boat, and manning this oar has changed my perspective.   Now I see wealth as not owing anybody a dime.   Having my hands tied as a consumer has made me rethink my role and my power as a consumer; it has made me rethink what I consider to be resources.  This is a gift.  This is useful.   I now see the myriad ways in which things can be re-purposed;  I can see the resources that we have all around us if we just look hard enough.

I am a functionalistic artist, my medium is serendipity.   Today’s reflection is on good-luck gardening.

A couple years ago, I decided to build a low retaining wall around one of the flower beds which runs along side the house.    When we bought the house 7 years ago, the bed just had some concrete pavers leaning up against it at an angle to hold in the soil.  Needless to say, it didn’t work very well, and it was a ridiculous mess.   We also decided to build a raised bed garden on a strip of the backyard that refused to grow grass.   Combined, these two projects needed about 100 linear feet of building material.

Where I grew up in the country, such a building project would merely require going to the creek or field and picking all the rock you could carry.   That’s one thing you can count on having in the Ozarks—rock.   I know, because that’s how half the house I lived in was built.   Good thing my parents had so many kids to haul all that limestone, lol.   But as I looked out into my seemingly resource-free urban backyard, my spirits plummeted.    In the city, people buy rocks.   That wasn’t going to happen.  So I mulled it over for a while.   Then I remembered Freecycle.

Serendipity:  Someone less than 2 miles from my house decided to rebuild all of their flowerbeds and their patio with shiny, new interlocking pavers—-and they wanted somebody to haul away all the old brick from their yard.  200 bricks for the cost of heaving them to my car?  Yes, please!

So we bricked a little cottagey wall on the east bed of the house:

East bed built from FREE bricks. Yes this was my first time working with mortar.

We even have enough bricks left over to brick in the west bed, too!  I’ll get to that side of the house sometime soon…   So, the east bed was fixed.   Garden soil held firmly in place by a rustic little brick wall.   It was on to the raised bed.

In looking for ideas for raised bed designs, I stumbled across this awesome article on building with urbanite.   How cool is that?  Very.   Do you know why?  When we moved into the house and started working on the yard, one of the first projects we tackled was to bust up a concrete pad and a weird broken sidewalk that we found half buried in the backyard.  Sledgehammer:  I have one.

The sledgehammer is my friend.

Serendipity:   All of that concrete was piled up by the side of our garage while we waited until such a time as when we could have it hauled off.  It never occurred to me to look at it as a building material.  Silly me.  Now I know better.  So for the price of a couple bags of mortar, we had a raised bed.

Urbanite raised bed just after construction

You know what the problem with raised beds is?  You have to fill them with dirt.  Well, we’ve got a pretty awesome compost pile going, but that wasn’t going to cut it.  The first two years, I just kind of…. fluffed up the dirt to help it fill in the bed.  It worked ok, but the soil in this city yard has seen better days.  Last year’s garden faltered miserably despite all my attempts at watering and fertilizing.  It just wasn’t happy.  It didn’t help that half the summer was over 100 degrees.  :/  Even my cilantro died.  This good Puerto Rican has never not been able to grow cilantro.   That is not right!    This past fall, I dug all the leaves I raked up from the yard into the garden—this being a good bit of advice from the classic homesteading book Ten Acres Enough.   Even still, as of last week, I’d pretty much given up the ghost on putting a garden in.  The bed needed more soil.  A lot more soil.  Good soil.  And it just wasn’t in the works to buy any.   Geez, good dirt is expensive in the city!

But one night last week after work, I had to run to the grocery store to pick up stuff for the kids’ lunches the next day.  I thought about my choices for stores open at that hour that would have the gluten-free alternatives that we need, and on a whim, I went to a grocery store that I almost never shop at.

Serendipity:   There was a great big sign on the remains of their summer gardening section that said, “Garden Topsoil:  10 for 10”.   That’s right.  They were selling off all their dirt for $1 a bag—that’s how much they wanted to get rid of that display.   For the grand total of $16, I bought enough dirt to (mostly) fill up my raised bed.   Together with the compost I added, we have a chance at gardening success this year!

Sweet topsoil SCORE!

More serendipity:   And since I’d saved all my seeds and the seeds my sister-in-law gave me last year, I planted out my garden for free.   The tomato plants were a gift from one of my mother-in-laws co-workers who just moved out of state,  the parsley, thyme, chives, rosemary, and oregano came back from last year, and the black-eyed susans are volunteers to keep it all cheerful.    There’s also a rogue radish that I couldn’t bring myself to pull after it flowered so prettily last year.  It overwintered, staying totally green, and is now in full bloom again.   The only thing I bought this year to help in the planting was a box of popsicle sticks.  I am horrible about remembering what, where, and when I planted anything.  This year I got all militant on the garden and I marked EVERY SINGLE SEED.  LMAO.  Now there will be no guesswork as to whether or not that thing sprouting up is weed or a beet.  I’ve got it down.

Little placemarkers to help me remember my rows

And, AND!   In other areas of the garden…

I decided ages ago that the best way to attract and help out the birds in my yard (without making messes and spending a bajillion dollars) is to give them water instead of food.   But how could I do this without tromping to some garden center to spend money on a birdbath?

Serendipity:   I had all kinds of dish-shaped things laying around!  I just had to look at them with the new purpose in mind.   I found some large planter bottoms that were in storage in the garage, and I turned them into my makeshift birdbaths.   It actually works really well.  I put a larger, deeper one on the bottom—it also serves as the outdoor dog water bowl—and then i set a smaller dish on top of a brick inside of that so that the little birds can bathe and drink, too.  But my birdbath needed to be made into it’s own pretty little space.    I received a beautiful yarrow plant from my Gran for my birthday.  This was the first planting in the birdbath garden.  And I ran to a local nursery and found 3 Russian sage plants on sale for $6 a piece—-which i mention only because with tax, it came out to the exact amount of money I had on me.  I always think that’s funny.

Birdbath garden

It’s not super-fantastic now, but when it all grows and fills in, this is going to be a lovely little birdbath garden.  The birds already love it.  They use the birdbath at all hours of the day.   Oh, and the mulch!  Lol.  Found two bags of hardwood mulch, a bag of lime and a bottle of organic fertilizer that I totally forgot I had stashed in a corner of the garage.  I’d curse my memory, but it was like Christmas when I found it, so I can only be happy about it.

The dictionary defines serendipity as the aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.  It is happily a common thread in my life—one that I am astoundingly thankful for.  I like to think that between serendipity on one hand and financial exigency on the other, I have discovered my homesteading spirit in the most unlikely place.   I would have expected that to happen on the Farm, and certainly life in the country laid the foundation.   But that experience, while creating wonderful memories and providing a lot of useful knowledge, is not what did it.  It has been my experience in the city that has helped me distill this understanding—in part because my yearning to return to the country has made me read voraciously about farm life, but also because figuring out how to be an urban homesteader without the resources I took for granted before has made me creative by necessity.   Lessons learned.   Lessons that I am now ready to take back to a farm of my own.  Any time now…

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