Reasons I Don’t People

Conversations in Chewville:

(Me, talking to our closest neighbor for the first time):”I noticed your chicken coop. It’s beautiful! How many chickens do you have?”
(Her): “We had 16, but they all got killed one night and I haven’t gotten any more.”
(Me): “All of them? In one NIGHT? What on Earth happened?”
(Her): “Well, I found them all dead, so I buried 13 of them. I left the other three in the coop with a live animal trap. Sure enough, the killer came back, and we caught him. It turned out to be a weasel.”
(Me): “A WEASEL? How awful! I’m so sorry.”
(Her): “Well, it was over three years ago, but… yeah.”
(Me): “Wow, I didn’t even know we HAD weasels, here. I’m glad you told me. We’ll have to make sure the coops are secure for our chickens.”
(Her): “I’ve got it in the freezer still, if you want to see what it looks like.”

(Pause, as I let this sink in… this woman has kept a dead weasel in her freezer, for over three years. What in the living…)

(Her): “Anyway, I just thought I’d stop by. It’s nice to have neighbors, again.”

(Another awkward pause…Chew’s mother has lived here for about 30 years. Not sure what the ‘again’ refers to.)

(Me): “Well… um… I’m glad you stopped by. It’s nice to meet you.”
(Her): “It was Max’s idea, really. I never would have bothered you. I know you’re busy.”
(Me): “Oh, is Max your husband?”
(Her): “No… Max is my dog.”

(Another awkward pause, as I ponder an advice-giving canine.)

This is why I fail at people-ing.

The Great Plagues of Autumn

IMG_3991                                          Yes, I know… it’s been a while since our last post.
I’d blame the Holidays or something, but I feel that we know each other well enough for me to tell you the truth.

We were hit by plagues.

Two of them.

When we lived at old Chewville, we talked about how things would be when we got our own land.

“We’ll have lots of fruit trees and nut trees,” we would say, “And they will shade us from the hot summer sun, and give us beautiful colors in the fall.”

Sure enough, the new Chewville has LOTS of trees. The trees DID shade us all summer, and the leaves WERE beautiful in the Fall…

For two weeks.

Then, they dropped those beautiful leaves in the yard. Daily. Millions of leaves. KNEE-FLIPPIN’-DEEP leaves.

We tried raking. We tried leafblowers. We tried mowing them into mulch. Every time we got them (almost) under control, another autumn breeze would shower us with another blanket of bronze and rust colored foliage.

It wasn’t just the lawn, either. Leaves jammed the gutters. They filled the birdbaths. They wrapped themselves around the windshield wipers of our car, and hitched rides on our shoes and jackets to scatter themselves around our house.

Of course, trees only hold so many leaves. Eventually, the last of them fell, and Chew and I tackled the knee-deep carpet of foliage with a vengeance. After NINE HOURS of combined raking, blowing, hand-plucking, and burning, the leaves were gone.

We slept well, that night. We didn’t even wake up when the wind began to howl, bringing in the second plague.

Corn husks.

It seems that, when your house is surrounded on all four sides by cornfields, the husks decide to converge in your yard.

They buried my herb gardens, tangled in our bushes, flooded the freshly-cleaned gutters, and dangled from tree branches.

As Chew and I worked at cleaning up the husks, we made an agreement: The first person to comment, “aren’t the leaves beautiful?” next Autumn gets socked right in the mouth.

Chipmunks and Chicks: The Importance of Life

On Wednesday, Chew brought home a batch of newly hatched meat chicks. As we gently placed each one into the roomy brooder pen he’d made, he noticed something odd about one of them.

“Keep an eye on this one,” he said. “It’s not acting right. It could be tired from the hatching, but…” He paused a minute. “Just keep an eye on it, okay?”

I nodded. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to watch FOR. As the other chicks eagerly took their first-ever nibbles of chick-starter feed and sipped from their water dish, the tired chick didn’t move from beneath the heat lamp. I carefully dipped its beak into the feed and the water a few times. Finally, it began to taste a bit from each dish. We let out a sigh of relief.

The next morning, the relief was gone. The little chick was definitely not well. It was throwing its head back, and kept losing its balance. Having never encountered this kind of behavior before, I turned to the trusty computer. After thoroughly checking several sites, I had come up with a probable diagnosis (“Wry Neck”) and a remedy (vitamin E and Selenium, with electrolytes).

One big problem: we didn’t have any of those items on hand, and I had no way to go get them. I did some more internet searching, and came up with a recipe for homemade electrolytes (almost identical to an electrolyte powder for humans I had once learned). As I retrieved the baking soda to add to the concoction, I noticed a small packet of “all-natural hangover relief” tablets I had been sent as a product test. I scoured the ingredients and noticed Selenium, Vitamin E, and the B vitamins.

Checking dosage amounts and ruling out any dangers from the capsule’s other ingredients, I pulled the capsule apart and dumped it into the homemade electrolyte mix.

Once an hour, for 9 hours, I carefully dipped the ailing chick’s beak into the concoction until I was certain it had taken a few sips. Afterwards, I would set the poor bird into a box beneath the heat lamp, where it could hear its siblings without fear of being pecked or trampled.

When Chew came home, I met him in the driveway. I told him about the ailing chick, and he came in to check. He shook his head.

“It doesn’t look good,” he said.

Again, he was right. I continued the hourly dosages until 2:30 in the morning. During the last two, the little chick no longer even tried to swallow. It hadn’t opened its eyes in over 12 hours, and could no longer stand up without falling onto its back.

Neither Chew nor I were surprised in the morning, when we found that our little patient had passed away. Still, I couldn’t help mourning our loss.

On Saturday, when we went to visit the folks we had bought the chicks from, I described the symptoms.

“Oh,” said the girl, “That’s a sign of dehydration. It’s not that rare in chicks that are hatched out of incubators. The next time, have some bootstrap molasses on hand. Mix a Tablespoon in warm water, and add it to enough drinking water to make about a quart. That almost always brings them out of it.”

Molasses?

SERIOUSLY?

Could it BE that simple? I wanted to cry.  Why didn’t anyone have that information online, or in any of the chicken books I had desperately poured through?

When we got home, I went into the barn to sit by the remaining meat chicks and lament my ignorance. My silent self-berating was interrupted when Chew called my name.

In the yard, our two barn cats had something in their grasps. These cats are phenomenal mousers who earn their keep by keeping all rodents out of our barns and coops. Twice, in addition to mice and moles, they have delivered a chipmunk to our barn door.

Now, they had number three.

I commanded them to drop it, and they did. They looked at me in puzzled confusion as I scooped the chipmunk up in my hand and took it in to show Chew. It was a baby, probably not out of its nest for long, and its little heart was pounding so hard that I could feel it reverberating through my wrist.

I released the little critter, away from the still-perplexed cats. When I returned, I gave them lots of praise and a few treats. I wondered why on Earth I had bothered to rescue the little critter, knowing darn good and well that it was bound to either raid our stash of nuts, burrow into one of our buildings, or wind up as a kitty treat.

Why had I spent the better part of a full day, trying to save the life of a one-day old chick that was destined to be our dinner? It made no sense… and yet, it made perfect sense.

That little chick was intended to be food, true. However, it was also a living creature that was entitled to the best care and compassion that we could give it during its two months on Earth. That chipmunk was in danger, and I was in the position to save it. Next time, it might be on its own, but this wasn’t “next time.” This was NOW.

Honestly, “now” is all we have to work with.

Brooder Box 101 (or Struggles of a C- Woodshop Student)

I just want to start off by stating, quite affirmatively, that the world would have been completely annihilated if God had asked me to build the ark.

I am NOT a carpenter. I could never manage to build a primitive picture frame, much less a boat. I blame my parents, in part. With all of their “equal rights” and “gender neutrality” talk, they still refused to allow me near ANY type of tool that is capable of cutting, sawing, chiseling, splicing, or converting a thumb into pulp.

In hindsight, this decision may not have been motivated as much by my gender as my instinctive gift in the arts of clumsiness, in which case, it was probably quite wise of them.

Regardless, the required 8th grade “Industrial Arts” class was pure torture for my untrained level of attempted craftsmanship. I did manage to pull off a C-, but only because my grade was weighted more by my appearance in the room than it was by the deformed toolbox and nonfunctioning clock I crafted.

That leads me to today’s adventure (which, of course, is the whole reason for this post). For the past few days, Chew has been in nonstop work mode. He has built an indoor coop for our roosters and laying hens (a two-story number, with a mezzanine food court, a patio, and a three-door security system). He has also raked the entire half-acre yard, built a chicken tractor, installed security lighting in the barn, and built me an office/workroom at the barn’s entrance.

Today, he is picking up a batch of meat chickens for us… the first, in our new dwelling. He bought the supplies, yesterday (pine shaving bedding, a feeder and watering dish, and a heat lamp). For their brooder, he had an old tack box from his cattle-showing days, that had served as a dog box for one of his hunting dogs many years back. The box is sturdy, roomy, and perfect for bringing 10 meat chicks up to their feeder stage.

As he left for work this morning, he asked me to do a few things, so that everything would be ready to go for the new chicks. I simply needed to clean out the dog box and an old metal trash can, nail a 1-foot square piece of plywood over the doggy door in the box, put a little bedding inside the box, and put the rest in the trash can.

Easy stuff. As I finished cleaning the can and box, I thought of all the other things I could get done. I’d have the whole day ahead of me to plant tulips, do laundry, or whatever!

I thought it would be smart to nail the board on, before I put in the bedding. THAT is where the trouble began. Feeling more confidant than I should, I grabbed four nails and set to work putting the first one in. I held the nail and gently tapped, to set it… the way Chew always did. Once it stopped wobbling, I moved my grip back on the hammer’s handle, swung, and watched the nail fly out of the board and land somewhere in the dirt.

A second nail flew off to join the first. A third bent into THIRDS. I began to suspect that this box had a steel lining, and Chew was actually a sadist.

The fourth nail, however, went through. Feeling confident, I bent over the exposed sharp end of the nail, and went to retrieve three more.

After several trips, I finally filled my pockets with nails. I had sent half a box flying in various directions, bent several more beyond repair, and was just about to give up (at least until the feeling returned in my right arm) when I successfully drove in the second nail.

The third nail went in without (much of) a hitch. Only one left!

The far bottom one.

Did I mention that this is a ROOMY box? It’s about four feet high and four feet wide. I am five-foot six, WITH shoes. That nail was NOT going in…not unless I stood IN the box, and leaned over the side.

This may have looked silly, but I got the nail in on the first try… at least, through the plywood. I had miscalculated, and nailed over the opening I was trying to close. It only took me about ten minutes to get that nail back out, and refill my pockets.

Twenty minutes (and two more pocketfuls of nails) later, I was in tears. My shoulder throbbed. My thumb was turning purple. My knuckle was bleeding. I had two-thirds of a box of nails, insuring that I would NEVER be able to walk ANYWHERE in the barn without thick-soled shoes. Worse yet, I was going to have to tell Chew the bad news, when he came home. “I’m sorry, Honey, but I can’t drive that one nail into the board. Can you do it?”

Angry and disappointed, I turned my attention to the bedding. At least, I could have THAT done. I took the bag over to the cleaned can, slit the top with a screwdriver, and began pouring it in.

We had totally misjudged the volume of a compressed bag of pine shavings. HALF of the bag fit in the can. A good portion of the remainder overflowed onto the dirt floor.I clutched the bag, toted it to the dog box, and poured enough to deeply bed the box. Then, I took the remaining quarter bag over and set it by the can.

This was NOT going well.

I decided to try, one last time, to get that nail in. With my eyes burning from the ache and frustration, I swung… and watched in amazement as the nail went in!

The disappointment faded into pride. I had done it! Yes, it was a simple thing, but not for me. For me, it had been a challenge… and I had won! I checked the task off of my to do list, not even minding that I had to use my left hand to guide my wrist as I made the tallymark.

Now… it’s time to plant some tulips!

Welcome to Chewville!

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In July, 2015, we left the first home we had created as a family.

Over a period of eight years, we had poured our hearts (and labor) into building a homestead out of the little trailer on 450 acres. When we made the decision to move back to the family homestead of my fiance (Chew), we weren’t just leaving behind a house. We were leaving behind memories.

With a heavy heart, we said farewell to the garage we’d raised our first chickens in… the big maple tree, that our youngest loved to climb… the mulberry tree, which faithfully filled our bellies with fruit every summer… the beautiful herb gardens, where I’d learned how to work the soil…

We knew that the owners were going to demolish our little piece of Eden. They wanted to turn it into a parking lot for their expanding trucking business.

As dismal as things seemed, the move did have some bright points. Chew’s mother had been struggling, since Chew’s dad passed away. Despite her good health, the 40-acre property was just too much for her to manage on her own. She had talked of selling the land and relocating, but she was too attached to the memories that the homestead holds.

The solution seemed obvious. We would move in, with her. We would start our new chapter, building a NEW Chewville on the same land that Chew’s parents had raised him on.

This is where we hope to share our trials and errors, discoveries and successes, and all of those crazy misadventures that we are known for. We hope you’ll join us on the adventure!