Friday, April 24, 2015

Homesteading like a Jerk: How to Pick a Rooster

The average urban homesteader/hobby farmer wants chickens for one thing....fresh eggs. Now don't get me wrong, there are a few out there who raise chickens for meat purposes, and some out there (like me) who try and pick dual-purpose breeds, but most chicken keepers I know are hard-core egg enthusiasts. Ovumators. Calcium aficionados.

And we all know what you need to get eggs......a hen. That's right. No rooster necessary. As a matter of fact, roosters are somewhat irritating to the hen-hoarding chicken keeper because roosters tend to be very overprotective of their flock....including the eggs. Nobody wants to get gouged when collecting eggs. Plus roos like to get their freaky deeky on with your hens and it ain't a gentle, smooth jazz scenario. It can stress a hen out to be around all that testosterone.

So what's a girl to do?

Well, thankfully, there are these incredible and rare chicken experts called chicken sexers. These badasses can take a peek inside a chick's vent (or cloaca) and determine whether or not that chick will grow up to be a hen or a rooster. Of course, most sexers and hatcheries will tell you the sexing methods we use today are only about 80% effective, but still. Pretty awesome to have resources like that. We can essentially pick-and-choose our backyard gals. And pullets (female chicks) are in high demand - we have an assortment of options to choose from.

But....what if you, like me, prefer to homestead like a jerk? What if instead of supplying your hens with a comfortable, stress-free lifestyle, you'd rather have them beaten up by an edgy rooster? We have all these resources available to help us choose hens, but where are the rooster-choosing resources? Where are the "cockerel" bins at the feed store? Well, don't worry. If you prefer mauled hands/arms/children and broody hens over a peace-filled, egg-saturated backyard, I'm your girl. Just call me the rooster-picking guru.

Step 1:
Make sure you absolutely cannot have roosters in your area. True jerks know when to break the law and prefer to do it whenever possible, even if the fees are insane and the neighbors own rifles.

Step 2:
Build a coop that can only hold the precise number of chicks you initially buy. This way, when your rooster knocks up the rest of the flock, those sweet little additions have absolutely nowhere to live.

Step 3:
Ignore everything the chicken books tell you and pick out the chunkiest, most active little chick at the feed store. Make sure it's the biggest chick you can find. Realize a huge chick equates to a healthy appetite and nothing more.

Step 4:
Decide that feminism exists in the chicken world and bypass gender stereotypes when naming your chicks. Name your big, plump, active little chick something creative and, hmmm, I don't know, Gandalf.

Step 5:
Greet your flock every day, all day with, "Hello girls!" and "How are my pretty ladies?" Complement your chick on her big feet and incredibly unique clucking noises.

Step 6:
Decide your chick's chest-led strut is just her way of modeling her pristine, ever-reddening comb and waddles. Tell her how beautiful she is and how she truly is the leader of the flock.

Step 7:
Make your kids fall in love with your chick and coddle her like a wee lil' baby every chance they get. The bonding element is what we're hoping to tap into here....a real, true bonding moment between your kids and the animal.

Step 8:
Refuse to believe any of those "quacks" on the chicken-keeping forums. Your girl is just healthy and a little large, that's all. Doesn't matter if she herds the flock like a crazed shepherd or that she occasionally attacks her own reflection in the water bottle. These are all just signs of her spunky, feminine nature. All homesteading jerks know that.

Step 9: Be proud when you hear that first cuk-COWR! All your jerk work paid off and she's finally learned her war cry!

Congratulations! You should now officially have a rooster. You can thank me later.

Have a great weekend all and as always, thank you so much for reading!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Homesteading like a Jerk: Cinder Block Raised Bed

Some of my greatest blog idols are super-powered homesteaders. They are transparent with their faults and generous with their knowledge. They grow wheat. Their lawns are littered with chickens, pigs, and goats. They're good at sewing pillows from old sweaters, or making soaps, or combining different essential oils into healthy body remedies.

I, however, consider myself a newbie to this homesteading realm. I want a self-sufficient life, a healthy life, a more cost-efficient life, but like most newbies, I am not entirely sure how to get there. So I fly by the seat of my pants. I pin homesteading tips and tricks like it's my job (seriously, though, it's my job....if you have a blog and need a Pinterest manager, I'm your girl). And then I execute, hoping for the best. I don't expect to nail it the first time around. Nope, I just aim for learning something, or a bundle of things, to apply next time. Because there will always be a next time when Jen gets her heart set on something.

This week, I decided I would add two raised garden beds to my yard. We'd built one before out of fence planks. It became my raised garden bed of doom.

Not this time, I told myself. This time, I am going to plant with intention. I am going to grow with wisdom. I am going to think with the end in mind. Plain old fence planks aren't enough to hold such vast knowledge, not this time around. No. I need something more permanent. Something more...... concrete.

Hey Home Depot. I see you sell cinder blocks for like $1.40 a block. That ain't bad. Even with your huge delivery fee, the cinder block option is more affordable, movable, and weather-resistant than my planks. Looks like we got a winner.

So they arrived. On a flat-bed semi truck.

Dude couldn't get them through the gate into my backyard. He had a massive forklift that was just a teensy too wide for the doorway. And when I say teensy, I really mean his massive, gargantuan forklift would've left a hole twice the size of the gate had he followed my instructions and "just plowed on through."

So he just left them right here, in my front yard, just inside the gate. 80 cinder blocks. One nice day. And one Jen. Terminator time.

I'd cleared some backyard prairie plant debris from the far back reaches of my yard and piled it high on the lawn to help kill the grass. It kinda worked. See that little patch of yellowed grass?

Then I laid down some landscape fabric and started building my bed. Layer one, lookin'...hmm. Bit of a curve here, yes?

Well we could try and level the ground. Realign the structure. Build with physics in mind. But how 'bout we just shift them around instead. That's better.....right?

Layer two, lookin' decent.

How about a second one? Those blocks ain't gonna move themselves! Ah, there we go.

Now move that salvaged debris straw crap into the walkways and have your kid jump on it. Perfect.

Look at that! Two raised garden beds. Each have twice the planting area as the old one. Those little holes in the blocks are perfect for a border of marigolds and nasturtiums to keep bad bugs at bay and good bugs in plenty. Both beds together, with semi-truck delivery, cost less than $175. Without delivery we would've paid under $110. No level needed. No measurements needed. No experience needed. And look, you get a free pallet!

What's that? Took you four hours to move all those cinder blocks? It's time for dinner already, you say? Well, how about that. I'm sure you have dinner all planned out, right? Oh. I see. You were supposed to put the crockpot on seven hours ago. Well never fear, tomorrow's dinner menu is "breakfast for dinner," so you can just borrow from tomorrow and pull the ol' switcheroo. Wait, you don't want to sit at the stove and make pancakes for an hour? Stirring batter sounds about as fun as eating nails, you say? Too many dishes, hm?

Here you go. Pancake muffins. Rockin' the Halloween cupcake liners in April like a boss.

Better add something hearty and filling to that plate. Something worthy of 80 cinder block bicep curls.

There we go. Breakfast potatoes with chunks of seasoned sausage.

Now that, ladies and gentleman, is homesteading in real life. You get a plan, you execute on the plan, the plan falls apart, and then other plans you thought you'd planned fall apart too. So you improvise as best you can and try to take notes. And who knows. Maybe you'll get huge arm muscles and an unexpectedly delicious dinner out of it.

Anyone else gardening this spring? Made your plans yet? Ever had plans fall through? What tips and tricks do you have to share? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below! As always, thank you for reading :)


Friday, April 3, 2015

Rebirth: What's Love Got to Do with It?

Today is Good Friday, the day before Easter, and whether you celebrate the holiday or not, the season is certainly focusing itself on renewal and rebirth. Grass is turning green again, flowers are poking through the dirt, and I can finally walk outside again without getting frostbite. We're waking up, stretching, and looking forward to long, golden days and weekends that seem to stretch into the workweek. Renewal. Rebirth. What a wonderful time of year.

This spring is especially radiant to me for a number of reasons. Yep, I got my chickies. This is also the first spring I have the blessing of being home with my kiddos. But this spring is also particularly eye-opening for me. I'm challenged with adjusting my habits, desires, and expectations to meet this new reality.

You see, my lovely readers, I married a man who is nothing like me. I am friends with people who are nothing like me. I have family members who are nothing like me. I am surrounded by people I love, but are nothing like me. And although I've always considered myself an independent person, I've realized I am placing too much of my happiness in the hands of people who do not define life, love, and happiness the same way I do.

Now I get it. Some of you are probably shaking your heads. Duh, Jen. People are different. Deal with it, look at the good in people, and move on. 

Well I wish it were that easy for me.

Those who know me on a personal level know I am empathetic to a fault. I absorb the emotions of those around me, whether they're family, friends, or strangers. This quality sometimes serves me well - I can be a very good sounding board for those I love and respect. This quality also causes me to be quite judgmental, way, way too sensitive, and prone to anxiety.

So what's a girl to do?

Well, the most common answer I've received is to emotionally detach from people, particularly those I'm around most frequently. Don't worry, be happy. Take the good, leave the bad. Unfortunately, that's akin to asking a dog to stop barking, or a cat to stop climbing, or a rabbit to stop multiplying. It is possible to cease what feels natural, but not without breaking me down into something that won't resemble the real me anymore. My emotions are tied to my identity, no matter how warped or silly or trivial they seem.

Now the old Jen, the pre-reborn Jen, would've said, "Surround yourself with people who love you! Do good things with good people and you will be good! Plan something for your family to do together! Organize something with friends!" And for the most part, hanging with those I love does make me feel good. I love my husband. I love my family. I love my friends. And they love me so, so much.

But searching for solace from this life in the actions, thoughts, and words of others is risky...because there's a chance the people you're leaning on won't understand you. Or want the do the same things. There's a chance they won't see your conflicts as conflicts. Or feel happy with the things that make you happy. There's a chance they will want to follow a different path through life. A path completely different from your own. And when these people are the anchor to your happiness, you're going to get dragged down by differences. And it will depress you and make you feel like the last thing you are is reborn and renewed.

But what if instead of being reborn through the love of those around me, I be renewed through the love I have within me? How about truly earning some of the independence I claim to have and learn how to be happy, alone? Wouldn't it be grand to take pictures just for me? How beautiful would I feel if I could finally look in the mirror and think, "Stunning, just as you are...."?

It's a time of renewal, dear readers....and for me, that means realigning my plans so the end picture has more of me, less of me among everyone else. I need to be more selfish with what I truly want and less giving of things I do not derive joy from. I believe it was a dear friend, Kristen from Mommy in Sports, who once told me the cleaning can life instead. What a wonderful truth!

So here I go. I am pushing myself to be reborn from a love of self. I am aiming to be more independent and try things I've always wanted to do, but haven't. I am going to stop waiting for a dance partner and just start dancing. I am going to stop waiting for others to join me and learn to be happy alone, in my unique reality....because I truly think the only way we can be fully happy in a relationship is when we are happy with ourselves.

Any of you have a go-to activity you do when you're alone? Something that is just for you and makes you feel beautiful? Share it with me below, will you? I can use all the help I can get! :) A very happy Easter and spring to you, lovely readers. Thank you, always, for reading.