Monday, April 25, 2011

Country Living Series: The Ladies (and Possibly a Gent)

I can think of little that is more quintessentially 'country' than keeping chickens.

Yes, many urban homesteaders and suburbanites are raising chickens in their postage-stamp-sized yards these days, so keeping chickens is certainly not exclusive to country living. But in the country is where it all started and I think that every urbanite or suburbanite who keeps chickens is seeking to capture some of the essence of country living via their chickens.

My chickens are collectively referred to as "The Ladies."  The flock currently numbers six laying hens and two youngsters, one of which we believe is a boy. I hope he will prove to be a true gentleman because we had a not-so-gentlemanly rooster not too long ago.  Let's just say he's no longer with us in this earthly realm...

Anyway, when we got chickens last year, I had no idea how entertaining they'd be or how much I would adore keeping them. I just wanted fresh eggs from chickens that were treated humanely and allowed to live happy lives. My husband simply sought good-quality fertilizer to add to the garden.

What we have now is feathered pets who just so happen to endow us with delicious eggs and fertile compost.

These chickens never fail to put a smile on my face. I love hearing the ladies chattering away when I'm outside.  It delights me to no end to walk past a window while inside the house and spot them in the yard, scratching and pecking for bugs.

I'm quick to take them treats--bananas, melons and yogurt are favorites--and I chided my husband just the other day when he'd emptied some veggies into the compost bucket rather than give them to the ladies.

Chicken enjoying her watermelon

As the temps warm here, I often find myself in the evenings headed out to "play with the chickens." That usually entails me cornering one of them in the run and then picking her up and talking softly to her whilst stroking her feathers.  You know how it's said that stroking an animal (usually a dog or cat) calms you, lowers your blood pressure, etc.? I find chickens have the same effect on me.

If I didn't have this camera in my hand, I'd pick you right up, Lu!

My husband designed and built the ladies' coop from various salvaged materials that we and my dad (our next-door neighbor) had on hand.  The siding came from a local sawmill that sells green, rough-hewn oak boards (usually 8-10" in width by 8-10' in length) for $1 a piece, making this a very frugal project.

The nesting boxes are housed at the rear of the coop (left in the photo below) and a hatch that lifts up gives us access to the eggs from the exterior. The hens enter via a gangplank in the front (right, below), and though you can't see it from this angle, there is a larger access door on the offside for cleaning the coop. The floor of the coop is made of hardware cloth and some droppings fall through, but much of it rests on top, thus I scrape it out with a hoe via this access door.

We attached a 20'x30' run to the coop to give the chickens an ample yard in which to scratch and do their chicken thing. I dug all the post holes by hand (for which I thought I deserved Wife of the Year!) and then up went the fence for the chicken run.

Since getting the hens, we've actually alternated between keeping them in the run and letting them free range in our yard and woods. They are happiest having the run of the place and even go as far as sulking, pacing along the front edge of their fence while giving me the stink-eye, when I shut them in the run  The only downside to free-range chickens in the yard is the free-range poo I occasionally step in, but it's an inconvenience I'm willing to live with.

The ladies frequently free range in the woods around the house where ample bugs and grubs are found.

The leader of the flock is Henny Penny. I believe she's a standard production Red Sex Link, but possibly a Buff Orpington. I've only ever found conflicting information when visiting online chicken forums and doing Google Image searches. Regardless of her breed, she's intelligent and quick to eat out of your hand when offered crumbles.  And I swear that chicken has laid an egg every single day since we've had her. You couldn't ask for a better egg producer than Henzer.

Henny Penny - Alpha Hen

Darkness is a Black Jersey Giant for whom we couldn't come up with a better name. Sorry, Darkness! Her eyes have an eerie look to them, and that's what initially inspired the moniker.  For any of you who watch True Blood, her eyes remind me of the residents of Bon Temps when they were under the spell of Mary Ann. She also clucks in this menacing sort of way, so really, the name fits.

The ever-evasive Darkness
Rosie, a Rhode Island Red, came to us via my husband's brother who also has a small flock.  This is another story for another time, but Darkness had two siblings that we got as youngsters. (Before genders could be determined.)  Turns out those other two Jersey Giants were roosters. We traded one of the roosters to my brother-in-law for a hen, so he could eventually raise chicks. Rosie was the hen we received in trade.

Chicken and Dumplings are a pair of Barred Plymouth Rocks that we purchased with Henny last May. My husband thought he was clever in naming them what he did, but don't worry, they'll never be what their names suggest!

Chicken (left) and Dumplings (right)

They're both large chickens and Dumplings is a waddler. It's hilarious to watch her waddle speedily through the yard after a treat.  She can be surprisingly quick and agile when it comes to snatching goodies from her flockmates. I have a particular soft spot for Dumpy after she had heat stroke last summer and required a brief stay in our house to recuperate.

Dumpy in the nest box

The newest hen to the flock is Lucille. Like Rosie, she's a Rhode Island Red from my brother-in-law. Poor thing's been here just a few weeks and Henny and Rosie continue to put her in her place, which is pretty much at the bottom of the pecking order.  She's adjusting and is a sweet chicken. She often freezes and crouches down when you approach her, so she's easy to catch and pet.


Finally, just last weekend, we received The Littles. Our nephew loves chickens and wanted badly to hatch eggs this spring, so Santa conveniently brought him an incubator for Christmas.  He and my brother-in-law hatched more than a dozen chicks of varying breeds in February and they gave us this pair.

The Littles...actual names TBD...right now Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are at the top of the list.

They're Polish Silkies and from what I've read, they're a cross between Polish Bantams and Silkies. They are two peas in a pod and chatter constantly.

So, there you have it, the long-overdue introduction to our flock of chickens!

They are remarkably easy to keep and bring joy in spades to my life.  (What does that say about my life? Oh, never mind, we won't go there right now...)

If you've been thinking about getting chickens, I encourage you to do it!  All of my chickens have been easy keepers and the hens only require sufficiently protective housing, fresh water and feed, and space to stretch their wings and legs.

And let me tell you, there's nothing like eating a fresh, golden-yolked egg from your own chicken. Grocery store eggs, with their pale, anemic yolks, will look incredibly inferior (which they are) in comparison after you've had a real thing.

So, do you keep chickens or have you in the past? If so, what's your favorite aspect of having them?


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Wonderful Vintage Market Experience

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of being a vendor at the first Sunday Vintage Market at Nest in Burlington, North Carolina.

Nest is one of my very favorite local shops and that's saying a lot because there are quite a few great, stylish stores within an hour of my house! Heather Mize is the proprietress and in Nest she's created a haven of shabby cottage, beach, farmhouse and French goodness for the home and garden.

Heather is not only a master of furniture transformation, taking otherwise unloved thrift-store and auction finds and giving them new lives, but she also has a well-developed eye for creating beautiful spaces and displays.  And to top it off, her prices are supremely affordable!

Earlier this year, she opened The Cottage at Nest, which is--as the name suggests--a cottage next to Nest where a few outside vendors offer delightful furniture and vintage finds!

Heather keeps a blog for Nest and The Cottage at Nest, and each week she posts new finds and treasures. Do visit it for a generous helping of eye candy! I always look forward to checking her blog Thursday night (the store is open Friday and Saturday) because that's when she posts the week's enticements new inventory.

Recently, Heather decided to start a once-a-month outside vintage market on Sunday afternoons with her vendors and a few friends to show her appreciation for her loyal and plentiful customers.

I was invited to sell my handmade soy candles and very happily accepted. (I started making soy candles for myself last year and Heather liked the idea of offering candles at the vintage market, so I made a batch and set up a table!)

The day couldn't have been more perfect with temperatures in the mid-70s, a sunny sky and a gentle breeze. Lots of folks came out and found plenty of bargains and unique furniture and accessories.

Can you tell what a great event and afternoon it was?!  Thank you, Heather, for allowing me to be a part of this fun and fabulous day!

The next Vintage Market will be on May 15th from 2-6 p.m. If you're local, please come by and visit at 1216 Maple Avenue!


I know this post sounds a bit like an infomercial for Nest, but let me assure you it's not. I just love this place so much and was thrilled to participate in the Vintage Market. If you ever get the chance to visit Nest, you'll understand my unbridled enthusiasm for it! :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Armoire Awakened

Hello everyone!

Well, in the last week I've managed to get quite a bit done around here. Unfortunately, that means I've been somewhat neglectful of the blog, but I hope you'll think the lack of posts was worth it when you see what I was working on.

In my quest to rid the side porch of furniture detritus projects, I finished a Craigslist armoire that will be going in my office as a much-needed storage place for crafting and sewing materials.

The armoire is from the 1930s and I immediately fell in love when I spied it on Craigslist.  The curvy lines on top are so pretty and feminine. And the little drawer! How adorable is that?

'Scuse the tight crop...I was trying to hide my porch of shame. Also, you are seeing shadows cast by a tree on the front of the armoire. As a friend from Arizona said when she visited me for the first time: "You live in the forest!"

The armoire orginally belonged to the seller's mother and had been painted yellow at one point and then stripped, so the wood was bone dry.

Before I could paint, veneer repairs were needed. The door fronts were particularly chipped in several places so I used Kwik Wood and carpenter's wood filler to smooth out the imperfections. I did a decent job of leveling it, but then I noticed the wonkiness happening on the left door. (See the gap at the top?)

Once I noticed this, it seemed like the gap got bigger and bigger each time I looked at it....grrrr. I proceeded to remove both doors and see if fiddling with the hinges would right the problem. However, once the doors were off, I realized I liked the armoire quite well without them.

Fickle, aren't I?

My rationalization behind leaving the doors off was that they didn't really add any visual interest with their flat fronts. And if I decided to antique the piece, the areas of repaired veneer would reveal themselves to be decidedly imperfect.  A little too imperfect for such an elegant piece.

Since I knew I needed to conceal all my crafting junk, but didn't have proper doors, I got to thinking about the pretty Tanya Whelan fabric I ordered in February...particularly this fabric, called Amelie, from the Delilah collection.


So after painting the armoire in Big Chill by Sherwin Williams, I whipped out two yards of Amelie and this is what I came up with:

She looks so British now with that light grey paint and Cath Kidston-esque fabric!

Basking in the spring-time light...

But wait!

Let's take a peek behind those curtains...

Well, well, what do we have here? <cheeky grin> Yellowed, vintage book pages and newspapers were decoupaged to the interior because I didn't feel like painting anymore for an element of surprise. This is truly a multi-media armoire!  Paint, fabric *and* paper...

By the way, save your money if you've been buying Mod Podge to decoupage. I mixed 2 parts white glue with 1 part water and it worked like a charm. For added protection, the paper is sealed with a single coat of leftover Polyacrylic. 

And all that time I spent repairing the doors I ultimately removed won't be for naught. My husband is going to make shelves of them for the inside, then this armoire is going into service!

Take care,

P.S.--I'll be back later this week with a proper introduction to my flock of hens. Until last week I had six, then we added two Polish Silkie youngsters over the weekend, and another laying hen will be coming in a few weeks. Is there such a thing as being a crazy chicken lady?  If so, I think I'm becoming one...

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