Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hen Hazards (by Pammy Mae)

If you're considering getting backyard chickens, don't. Just don't. Yes, our Golden Comet biddies are friendly and sweet. Yes, it warms my heart when they happily follow me around the yard because they want a cuddle. Yes, I love the fresh, organic eggs they graciously provide.

The problem is not the hens, my friends. The problem is the greased slope you will find yourself sliding down with no hope of recovery short of hitting Homestead Rehab.

Here is the sad story of what happened after we brought home backyard biddies:

First, we began composting. It seemed like a trendy, "green" thing to do. We dutifully toted food scraps, leaves, and yard clippings to the far corner of our property to decompose and produce earthworms.

Yes, I encouraged decomposition and worm breeding in my yard.

I'm in shock, too. Keep reading.

It became such an obsession that when we passed a building site with felled trees on a field that had been vacant since the Civil War (which means it was chemical-free), I screeched, "Jay! Organic matter for the compost pile!" as he swerved off the road and stripped the brake pads. (To be honest, I'm not sure if the swerve was in thankful agreement of my helpful observation or if my shriek momentarily scared the sense out of him.) The construction crew politely tried to hide their snickers as they watched my husband do their job of hauling away piles of wood chips. 

Jay even bought manure from a man who raises organic, grassfed cows to add to our compost pile. He (Jay, not the cowman) washed the bed of the pickup truck six times after the cow poo was unloaded, but it was months before I'd ride in the cab because of the lingering smell wafting up from the back.

The next logical step was to create a raised garden bed. What else were we going to do with all that compost? And it seemed harmless enough. We made a raised vegetable bed (because you don't have to weed it) thirty-four feet long and four feet wide. To grow food for two people.  

Yes, I said two people. 

By God's grace, some of the vegetables actually liked our compost swill! (I mean, organic soil.) Only half of the GMO-free seeds we sowed actually sprouted, but I was absurdly proud of the abundance we received from the plants with an unusually strong will-to-live. 

Once I realized that our neighbors were hiding when I bounced up their porch steps with armfuls of produce, I figured out how to use a dehydrator. I dried enough kale and basil to last at least 15 years. I may put some of it in little linen bags to hand out at Christmas as "potpourri."

By this time, my husband and I often found ourselves chewing toothpicks and inexplicably referring to each other as "Jay Bob" and "Pammy Mae." It just sounded right.

Before backyard hens
After backyard hens

One morning, while eating some of our biddies' orange-yolked, super-vitamin-charged, free-range eggs, I thought, Fresh bread would taste good with this. So, I began making bread. From scratch. Yes, me. Stop laughing because it gets worse. Then I thought, Organic eggs eaten with non-organic bread just isn't right, so I began ordering GMO-free flour from a local farm.

One night, when I was exhausted from making 137 cups of organic pesto to freeze for the winter (okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but it felt like 137 cups), I accidentally ordered wheat berries instead of wheat flour. Instead of returning it, I thought, Hey, I could grind this into flour myself! It will be cheaper, and the bread will taste even more fresh.  

I discovered that a good flour mill costs $250-350, and since I'm not baking for a family of twelve, I couldn't justify the cost. Which means that I milled the wheat berries in our little coffee grinder. How did this work, you wonder? Well, I could only grind 1/3rd of a cup at a time. Then I had to let the coffee grinder sit for 10 minutes to cool off. So, it took about 3 hours to mill enough wheat into flour for a few loaves. And then I still had to make the bread! 

But am I still doing it? Of course. It's a backyard-chicken-owning thing to do.

Now I'm begging Jay for a goat. Yes, a goat. Goat's milk is rich in vitamins and contains more protein than cow's milk. As if our diet lacks protein. Its calcium can be absorbed through skin to help maintain a natural pH balance. My arguments run along the lines of, "But, Jay Bob, I could make goat milk moisturizer. And goat milk shampoo. And goat milk conditioner. And goat milk cheese!" 

Model: Leroy
Photo credit: Troy Leslie, goatman

Can you see me milking a goat? 

Me, neither. 

And yet, my brain keeps telling me that I need one.

Jay has been the voice of reason rejecting my pleas for a goat. Only because he'd rather have bees.  

Now I'm thinking about making my own soap. Why? Don't ask me; ask the chickens. They started this. One of the ingredients of homemade soap is lye. I discovered you can actually buy lye on Amazon.com. Yes, lye. That I understand, from reading Little House on the Prairie, is made from ashes and animal lard. You heard me right. Ashes and lard! Who is making lye to sell on Amazon?

And why would I buy their lye when I could probably make it myself by rendering fat and collecting ashes the next time we barbeque steak? (Oh, please stage an intervention before I try this!)

Yesterday, I found myself reading about how to make herbal tincture. I don't even know how to pronounce "tincture" let alone know why I'd need some. But I read the recipe with enthusiasm, thinking, Hey, I have some of these ingredients. I bet I could make this! 

Any day now, I expect to look in our backyard and see Ma and Pa resting by their covered wagon wrapped in a quilt (sewed with cloth woven from my organic cotton), eating pone that I made for supper by grinding organic corn into meal between two rocks (and cooked in the fireplace--so I could save the ashes for lye, of course), and waiting for me to bring homemade lineament to ease the ache in their rheumatic joints.

Yes, this post is a desperate cry for help.

Verse of the day: (Proverbs 12:11) "A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies has no sense." And those who are a weird combination of the two will find themselves, surrounded by stacks of dehydrating zucchini chips, rendering lard and fermenting herbal tinctures.

Follow up: Two people took pity on me and gave me a real flour mill for Christmas. The lovely and gracious people at www.pleasanthillgrain.com (awesome customer service!) let me return one, so I exchanged it for a Bosch Compact Mixer. I'm giddy! Possibly from excitement but more likely from motion sickness as I plunge further down the homesteading circular slide.

For two other stories involving chickens, see "Daylight Nightlight" and "Happy Chicken Lady Day." 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

House Guest Hash (not a recipe)

Background: If you haven't read the post Look Bad Taste Good, Seungmin and his parents Youn and Myeong adopted us as their American relatives shortly after they moved to the USA from Korea.

It's not unusual (for me) to have a house guest come for a weekend and stay two weeks. Or to have someone show up on our doorstep saying, "Hi! I'm friends with Lauren. I'm driving from Florida to Nashville, and she said that if I got too tired, you'd let me spend the night at your house." Jay has learned to not ask where I meet people, because often the answer is, "I met them on our front porch, just now."

Last summer, Myeong (my friend from Korea) stopped by, and we had the following, rather startling, conversation:

She: You know I have nephew?

Me: Didn't his parents move to Japan before he was born? Do they still live there? If he is a year older than Seungmin, he should be, what, fifteen now?

She: Yes, he always live in Japan. He turn fifteen. (Pause.) I ask favor.

Me (agreeably): Sure! What do you need?

She: Jihun get bad grade in English, so my sister send him to America for summer. I want you teach him.

Me (predictably): Sure, I'll tutor him! When he comes, we can figure out which days and times would work for lessons.

She: Not favor. I mean, yes, you tutor Jihun is favor, but I want different favor. 

Me (in generous ignorance): Sure. What else do you need?

She: He must stay with you to learn English. 

Me (confused): I guess he could hang out and do homework until you pick him up at night.

She (getting frustrated): No! Not like that thing. Favor is he stay with you.

Me: (articulately): Huh?

She: He stay with you.

Me (light dawning): Wait. You mean you want him to sleep at our house?

She (happily): Yes! He stay with you.

Me (taken aback): Oh. Okay. Um, I guess Seungmin and Jihun could share the guest room--they're cousins. Then you wouldn't have to do all that driving back and forth.

She: No. Only Jihun stay. If Seungmin not here, Jihun must speak English.

Me (alarmed): No, wait. He can't stay here without Seungmin to translate. The only Korean I know is "kimchi." The only Japanese I know is "teriyaki." Neither of which would help me communicate with a teenage boy if he's living here!

She (cheerfully): No, is okay. Is punishment for Jihun.

Me (snickering): Living here is a punishment? That's a new one. What in the world did you tell your sister about me?

She (satisfied): Yes. You are punishment. He stay with you. For one month.

Me: A month?

She: Yes. Maybe more.

Me: Maybe more?

 She: Maybe two month. He come Wednesday.

Me: This Wednesday?

She: And I bring him your house Thursday.

Me: This Thursday? 

Yes, y'all, we had less than a week's notice that a Korean teen who'd been raised in Japan was coming to live at our house for a month (maybe more) so I could teach him English. 

To punish him.

I found the whole situation wonderfully amusing and couldn't wait for Jay's reaction. He gave a long-suffering groan and told me that things like this do not happen to normal people; only to me.

Jihun arrived a couple of days later, looking completely miserable.
We didn't know if he could smile
Until our first English lesson.  

I handed him a box of brownie mix and told him to follow the directions.
This is English homework?
His punishment continued. I forced many cookie breaks during tutoring. 

Between lessons, he played with, I mean, worked with power tools while he helped Jay (and sometimes Seungmin) build the chicken coop. I called it "studying practical math and applied geometry."

He was compelled to attend culture training (baseball games), sweat through instruction in strategy techniques (board games), survive tactical education (paintball in the woods), and endure many other (unconventional) learning experiences.
He stayed two months, and then called his parents to say, "I don't want to come home. I want to stay in the USA." 

They were not pleased with me.

Apparently, as a punishment, I'm a complete failure. 

Verse of the day: (Ecclesiastes 12:12b-13) "...too much study wearies the body..." I totally agree. "Honor and respect God and keep His commandments for this is the duty of every person." 

For a previous Korean post, see "Look Bad, Taste Good."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Land(fill) of the Free, Home of the Brave

I don't know if you know a man like this, but my husband is obsessed with free stuff. I'm all for recycling and re-purposing, but within reason. Jay thinks it's his responsibility to keep landfills empty by collecting things others want to throw out.

He has scored a few wins over the years (mostly by accident). Like the 1930's bedroom set from his grandparents. And an antique sideboard someone discarded. But the rest, well...

Most people have a junk drawer. Jay had a junk room. After we were married, I bravely ventured into this cave of horrors. Under mounds of clutter (out-of-date car dealership calendars, old magazines and newspapers, box tops, discarded clothes from friends who were never his size, textbooks from classes he never took, warped Tupperware, etc.), I found at least eight broken office chairs.

Me: Um, honey, what exactly do you plan to do with all these chairs?

He (enthusiastically): I'm going to fix them!

Me: And do you know how?

He (shrugging): I'll figure it out.

Me: Have you ever fixed an office chair? Or anything similar?

He (undaunted): Not yet.

Me: Do you know where to get the missing parts? Or how much the parts will cost? Because it would probably be cheaper to buy a new chair than to buy a missing arm, back, or wheel.

He: I can piece them together.

Me: Sweetie, they're all different styles. Which means that the armrest on this chair is a different thickness than the other chairs. And the back rest on that chair won't fit the screw holes of the others. And the wheels are all different sizes...

He also had two desks that Office Depot gave him for free because entire sides were broken or missing. These weren't solid wooden desks worth salvaging--they were banged up particle board and laminate atrocities. 

He tried to donate the furniture, but it was refused. So, with a heavy heart, he bade them goodbye at the junkyard. Which, by definition, is where junk should be released to pasture.

Months later, we remodeled the bathroom in our 1974 home. Jay was supposed to take the old sink and toilet to the above-mentioned junkyard where they could live out their latter years with the broken office furniture. A month later, I found them in all their harvest gold and avocado green glory under our back deck and filled with dirt, rainwater, and mosquito larva. 

They actually look better in the photo than they did in real life.

Me (able to only point and stutter): What are...Why, why are...

He: Oh, these? I'm saving them in case our new sink and toilet ever break.

Me: Yeah, no. Um, honey? I don't know how to express this strongly enough, but I will move out the day either of these come back into our house.

He (protesting): They're still good.

Me: Yeah, no. They're functional, but they're definitely not good.

He finally decided he wanted a wife more than old bathroom fixtures and reluctantly hauled them away.

On another day, Jay came home from work really excited about a coat someone gave him. I agreed that it was well-made.

Then he tried it on.

Me: Honey, that's a great coat, but it's way too short on you.

He: But it was free. And the sleeves fit.

Me: Yes, the sleeves fit, but the rest of it is length-deficient.

He: But the sleeves fit.

Me: Your ribs will freeze.

He: But the sleeves fit.

Me: It only works if you're moving to Spain to become a matador.

He: But the sleeves fit.

Me (exasperated): Sweetie, you don't have to keep a coat just because a short guy with monkey arms gives it to you.

He (laughing): Okay. Should I donate it?

Me: Yeah, to the zoo. Their hairless, pygmy ape will thank you all winter. 

Verse of the day: (Proverbs 12:27b) "...the diligent make use of everything they find." Jay takes this verse way too literally, God bless him.

Disclaimer: Jay wants me to add that he's better than he used to be. Yes, he is (thank God).