Monday, August 7, 2017

Menu plan for the week of August 7

As you know, school starts for the kiddos in about a week and a half.  What you may not know is that football practice starts today.  MC has 6.5 hours of football practice today.  That's pretty much the same as a school day.  And this is why I feel like the school year snuck up on us.  Because while I was fixated on the date of the first day of school, football practice was lurking ever closer, until BoOm.  It's over, friends.  Summer is over.

Four nights this week at least one kid has practice scheduled during the dinner hour--on Tuesday, everybody's got something--so here come the slow cooker and can-be-eaten-in-shifts meals.  If you have any suggestions for me, leave them in the comments.  I need all the help I can get.  And pray for us, friends.

Here's what's on the menu this week:



Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Persistent Chickens

Oh, those silly chickens!  We've had them for 12 weeks now, and my google chicken obsession of the week is "when will my chickens begin to lay?"  Answers vary widely, probably because chickens vary widely, but the general consensus seems to be: when they're ready.  Or in my mind: any day now.

OK, not really.  I can tell my chickens are not yet ready because there are some physical changes that occur before chickens begin to lay, and those changes have not happened yet.  It sounds like Toasty Crunch, Red, and Austro will probably lay before Rocky and Esther, but I guess we'll find out.  And I do mean "we", because you know I'm going to tell y'all.

Last week, the chickens were ranging outside while I was in the kitchen making supper.  For my family, not for the chickens.  I looked out the window to see if I could see the girls, and I couldn't, so I walked over to our glass slider to see if I could see them from a slightly different angle.

I could see them all right.  All five of them were on our back deck, just looking at me through the door.  It was very cute, but I shooed them off the deck immediately, and erected a barrier.

The reason we don't want the chickens on our porch or decks is because of this (warning: graphic content):

They poop.  Everywhere.

I knew it was only a matter of time before they realized that they could jump/fly up onto the barricade, and I was right.

I guess the good news is, they stayed contained to the railings because the railings are higher than the deck itself.

At this point, I decided more drastic measures were called for.  So I lured them back to their coop with an apple.


They're pretty fast when they're chasing food.


Tetherapple.  I gave them a tetherbroccoli last night, and for some reason, they weren't quite as enthusiastic about it (they still liked it, just not as much as the apple).

Amazingly enough, during all of this excitement, only one of the birds pooped on the deck, and that was on a step--easily washed away with the hose.  Whew.  Also amazing: they haven't gone on the deck since.  Whew again.

This week, the girls are looking close to fully grown.  I think they'll get a little bigger, but not much.  Austro still has the most developed wattles, and her comb is a lovely rose color.

We raised the roost this week, and are planning to raise it one more time in the next couple of weeks.  We'll also open the nest boxes in the next couple of weeks--I'd like them to be open before the girls are 16 weeks.

Even though I haven't made any efforts toward training the girls to come to my voice (this is a useful skill to teach, so if I see danger in the yard, I can get them quickly back to the safety of the coop), they do answer me when I call, and in general, when they're out ranging, and I step into their coop and call, they come.

Chicken butts are so, so fluffy.  Either I forgot, or somehow I didn't notice when I was taking care of friends' chickens.  I love the fluffy.

That's all for now.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Some things we're going to eat in the next couple of weeks

It's a menu plan, yes, but not for this week necessarily.  Because of people traveling and other people having evening activities, supper as a family is going to be a little hit and miss in the next couple of weeks.  So instead of pretending, I decided to just put it out there.  Into the universe.  Do with it what you will.

This free-form menu plan feels appropriate for what I consider to be our last few weeks of summer (defining summer as it's hot and the kids are not in school for an extended period of time).  We actually have about 3 1/2 weeks before the kiddos head back to school... So I guess we just have to repeat once?  Or eat a lot of leftovers?



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ten week chick update

Hey y'all.  The chicks are 10 weeks old, and possibly halfway to laying!  Here are some pictures taken during the past couple of weeks:

Austro looking all fluffy.

Rocky preparing to roost.

Esther with #fluffycheeks

Austro and Esther chasing the worm in Red's mouth.



Toasty Crunch



We got the larger feeder and waterer made and installed.  They'll have to be moved up a bit as the girls grow, but they're good for now.

We used food grade 5 gallon buckets.  We bought these for a few dollars at a home improvement store, but to make this project even lower cost, ask at restaurants, school cafeterias, or even the bakery at your grocery store to see if they'd be willing to set aside a few buckets for you.

We used horizontal chicken nipples again, because they worked so well on the smaller waterer.  We used nipples because they keep the water cleaner, and we used horizontal (as opposed to vertical, which are cheaper) nipples so the bucket could be set on the ground for cleaning and filling.

For the feeder, we used 3 inch diameter PVC 45° elbows, which cost a couple of dollars each from our local hardware store.  They're installed so that the lowest part is 3/4 inch above the bottom of the bucket.  The idea is to make it difficult for the girls to spill their food.  They have to put their whole heads inside, and when they try to beak the food out to the side, it just stays right there in the elbow.  For my five chicks, the feeder holds enough food for at least a month, and the waterer would hold enough for about 3 months (we will be cleaning it out and refilling it much more frequently than that, though).

Just in the past week or so I've noticed increased wattle (the red hangy downy things) development, which, of course set me to googling 10 week old black australorp hen and rooster images (Austro's are the most developed, but not anywhere near the 10 week roosters that google showed me).

The girls live for going outside.  It's just so much more interesting, I guess.  Yesterday for the first time, I left them outside for about an hour while I was inside.  They all survived the experience, and it even looked like some wild turkeys were checking them out while I was inside.


As I said, the girls are halfway to laying.  Maybe.  Most chickens could possibly start to lay at around 18-20 weeks, but that can vary widely depending on many factors.  I read somewhere that Silkies (fluffy-head chickens) might take a year or longer before laying their first eggs.  Toasty Crunch is bred for early lay, so she might be ready at around 16 weeks.  What all this means is we need to start getting serious about finishing the nest boxes.  It's a lot easier to train chickens to lay where they're supposed to from the start, than it is to retrain them after they've gotten into a bad habit.

That's all for now.  Until next time...

Monday, July 17, 2017

Menu plan for the week of July 17

The crazy short summer continues, y'all, and one month from today, the kiddos will be heading back to school.  I'm just not sure what to say about that.

This week, the two oldest boys who live here begin bike practice two days a week, which means I'm back to planning two meals a week that can be eaten in shifts.  The slow cooker is great for this--it'll cook the food, and it'll be ready when shift one wants to eat, and then keep it warm for subsequent shifts.  Unfortunately, our family doesn't really care too much for slow cooked food.  Maybe I need to try some of these recipes?  I also purchased another Wildtree workshop, this time a slow cooker one, so maybe we'll like some of those recipes as well.

This week, our eaten-in-shifts meals are spaghetti and BLTs.  I know.  Spaghetti isn't too shifty.  But it kinda is when the two younger boys who live here don't eat sauce.  What are your favorite on the go or able to be eaten in shifts meals?

Here's what's on the menu this week:



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Eight week chick update

The chicks have been with us for eight weeks now.  Seems like forever, and then sometimes it still seems a little surreal that we actually have chickens.

They've been out in their coop for two weeks now, and have completely defoliated the run.  That didn't take long.

Just in case you're wondering, the hen house is the building where the girls sleep.  The run is the enclosed "predator proof" (hopefully) outdoor area.  The coop is the hen house + the run.

Bubby continues to pick up chicks every chance he gets.

It gets a little tedious in the coop, since all the green stuff is gone, and probably most of the bugs have been eaten, too, so every now and then I'll bring the girls a treat--here they are playing tetherball with an apple.

I've been letting the girls out of the coop for an hour or so every now and then.  Now whenever I show up, they gather by the door, hoping for a chance at some fresh pastures.

It's a jungle out there.

I still don't let the girls out by themselves because they're so small, so I let them out close to sun down.  They go back into the coop on their own as it gets darker.

The other night, this deer wandered into the yard while I was supervising the girls, and watched me watching the chickens.

Then she snuck up on me.  Had to get a closer look at the crazy chicken lady, I suppose.

I think I told y'all in a previous update that I was obsessing over Esther's gender.  I finally figured out what all those chicken people were talking about when they said single or triple comb, and at this point, I'm pretty sure all the girls are, indeed, girls.  Rounded instead of pointed feathers, combs still yellow or light pink, no spurs, no wattle development, and in Esther's case, a single pea comb and even coloration.

Won't know for sure for sure until they start laying eggs, of course, and I found out that chickens can change gender.  What?!  Yeah, you heard me.

The girls will be excited when these wild raspberries ripen.

What else should I tell you?

The girls have dug a hole in the run for their dust bath.  They put it where I was planning on putting it, when I get around to making a dust bath.  I'm not sure what that means when owners start thinking like their chickens.  I had heard that dust bathing is a social activity for chickens, and it is.  For some reason they need to be right next to each other.  Much squawking ensues.

Speaking of right next to each other, Esther continues to like to snuggle with her sisters.  She'll walk up and plop herself down, sometimes right on top of somebody else.  Much squawking ensues again.

The girls have been doing a bit of what I would call posturing--makes me wonder if they're figuring out their pecking order.  Two of them will get right up in each other's faces, stretch up their heads so they're as tall as possible, and flap wings at each other.  Sometimes one will peck at the other's beak.

I'm realizing why people who are afraid are called chickens.  Chickens are so cautious and suspicious of every new thing.  And when one gets spooked, the others all get spooked.  It's funny to watch them all run around in response to one getting all worked up.  I try to reassure them, but they don't listen.

And...I think that's all for now.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Menu plan for the week of July 3

Every week, I keep thinking this is going to be the last menu plan for a while (at least the last posted menu plan for a while), and every week, I'm wrong.  Maybe this week?

Here's what's on the menu this week:

  • Out to eat
  • Kielbasa and potatoes, green beans
  • Fend for yourself
  • Nachos with guacamole and taco toppings
  • Pizza
  • Hamburgers, buns, carrots, chips
  • Hot dogs, buns, carrots, chips


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Crazy Short Summer

I figured out why it seems like we're so much busier than normal this summer.  I mean, we're always super busy during the summer, but this year?  Busy-ness has escalated to the next level.

It's because we're doing all the same things we usually do in a summer: family trips, Boy Scout camps, football camp, VBS, swim lessons, fun local outings, but instead of our usual 12-13 weeks, this year we get 10.  Everything is compressed.  There was one day this summer that we could schedule the kids' Christmas gift trip to an amusement park.  One.  (Glad I realized and got it on the calendar before the day passed).  The kids go back to school 7 weeks from today.

MC will be starting high school.  That's another reason this summer feels compressed.  Two a day football practices start the week before school (for freshmen--the rest of the team starts even earlier), so about 5 1/2 weeks from now.  The other night I dreamed that it was the first day of school and MC had to get to room 138.  I was with him for some reason, and we kept passing rooms until we got to the very last room on the right.  Room 138 was a bathroom, which, of course, I thought was a mistake, but within a few seconds of our arrival, not one, but two teachers came into the bathroom to start teaching their classes.  Talk about overcrowding in the schools...

That's the reason our summer is so short this year.  The school district is making improvements to the high school, and they are beginning this coming school year early so they can end early, and the following school year will start later than normal, so they'll have a nice long summer break in which to finish everything.

I cannot imagine what that summer will be like.  Hopefully awesome and amazing.  Definitely long.

Wanna know what they started with?  On the improvements?  The football stadium and parking.  They did it that way because those were things they could do while students were still in the building, but still, it's interesting to think that might be where the school district's and community's priorities lie.  Gonna get those done first, just in case construction falters.  No worries about classes meeting in bathrooms.  It's all good.

AKD will be a senior this school year. That means we're gearing up for all the lasts.  Last first day of school, last bike race season, last Homecoming, last final exams, last year (God willing) living full time with mom and dad (not that I want to get rid of him, but that has been the goal from the beginning--to raise independent, self-sufficient adults).

Bubby will be in 4th grade.  He's not changing schools, nor is it his last year in his school, but since I mentioned the other two, I figured I should mention him, too.

For some reason, our family always seems to go on a trip just as soon as school lets out.  And for most people, that wouldn't really be a huge deal.  But for us?  We always seem to go on trips where we need to pack gear and food and stuff that is not just clothes and toiletries.  It's a lot to manage when my brain space is taken up with last days of school stuff.  For this year's trip, we headed to the upper peninsula of Michigan (which really should be part of Wisconsin--you can ask AKD why it ended up with Michigan) for a backpacking trip, followed by a visit to the Keweenaw peninsula (that's the part that sticks up like a thumb).  Mosquitoes like me.  A lot.  Then again, what's not to like?

I didn't take very many pictures, but I did get this one.

Did you know that they average over 200 inches of snow a year in the Keweenaw peninsula?  That's like stacking all three of my kids on top of each other and adding a very tall hat to the top one.  You never really see the road in winter up there.

Anyway.  Our summer is busy.  How's yours going?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Menu plan for the week of June 26

Y'all.  Do you realize we've made it all the way through June with menu plans posted each week?  Amazing.

I purchased another Wildtree bundle and it came this week.  This time I'm doing it on my own, and without the deadline of having to go to someone else's house to do the prep work, I'm not sure when I'll get to prepping those meals.  I'm happy that they're slow cooker meals this time, which means less preparation on serving day.  That will be much appreciated when I have two kids in football and a third on the bike team this fall.

One of the kiddos is away at camp this week, and another kiddo has swim lessons and soccer practice or a game every day, so meals are easy-prep and low key.  Here's what's on the menu this week:



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Coop Move-In Day and 6 Week Chick Update

We did a coop-building-blitz this weekend, and finally on Monday it was done enough for the chicks to move in.  There are still a few details that need to be finished, but it is good for now.  And none too soon--we left town for a week and when we returned the girls were HUGE.  No wonder they kept knocking their food over while we were gone.

As of today, the girls have been with us for 6 weeks.

Here's the view I've been showing y'all during the building process--you can see the run, ramp, chicken door (some people call it a pop door), and people door.  You can also see the people door to the run in the back.  And a couple of chickens.  And a couple of kids.  See those black things to the left of the people door?  Those are pullies and a lock to raise and lower and keep in place the chicken door.

Inside the hen house, looking from the people door.  Hubby used an old ladder for the girls to roost on.  When they're bigger, the ladder/roost will be raised to about 2 feet off the ground.

Toasty Crunch on the ramp.  Hubby used an old desk top that he found on the side of the road for the ramp, and branches for the cleats.  The girls are able to navigate it ok, but it's quite slippery between the cleats, and they're not quite big enough yet to just step from cleat to cleat, so I think we'll be putting a few more branches on.

This is the nest box side of the hen house, with a window up above.  The nest box is one of the details that needs to be finished, but since the girls won't be laying until they're about 16-20 weeks old, it's not critical right now.  In fact, the nest box is inaccessible from the inside of the hen house right now.

Esther (by the post), Rocky, Red (by the red bowl), Toasty Crunch (far side of the ramp), Austro, hanging out in the run.  When I think about how little they were when we brought them home, I'm just amazed.  I don't think we could even put one of them in the box they came home in now (and those boxes could fit up to 15 chicks).

I put the Mason jar waterer down in the run so the girls have access to water without having to climb the ramp.  I also put their fermented feed in the run.  This week I ramped up fermented feed production because they really like it and because they're getting so much bigger.

Bubby and Toasty Crunch.  Bubby is single-handedly doing the bird-taming around here.  We want them to be used to people, and not run away when we approach.  He picks them up as often as possible, and generally, they tolerate him.

A friend asked me about chicken start-up.  Like what's needed, and how to do things.  I told her I'm all about cheap and easy.  In line with the "cheap" directive, I'm using shredded newspaper for bedding in the hen house.  So far, so good.  A little bit has migrated out the people door and the chicken door, but it's biodegradable, so it's all good.

I put food and water in the hen house, too.  Hopefully within a few weeks I'll have the bigger/adult/permanent feeder and waterer made--those will be hung in the run.  The bigger feeder and waterer qualify for the "easy" directive.  Bigger, so I (actually, hopefully Bubby) don't have to fill them as often.

The girls, snuggled in.  Rocky, Red, Esther, Austro, Toasty Crunch.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Menu plan for the week of June 19

The other night I dreamed that I was making myself a Culver's Deluxe.  At Culver's.  So disappointing to wake up from that one.

I'm back to real time menus--that is to say--future, instead of past.

And I guess that's all I have to say right now.  On to the menu!



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Progress on Goals: March, April, May, June Trader Joe's purchases

Hi everybody.  As you may remember, one of my goals for this year is to try one new item from Trader Joe's each month.  And I was really good about telling you what those items were in January and February.  You probably were able to ascertain what my March purchase was, since I did mention it a couple of times, but then...nothing.  Sorry folks.  It's not because I haven't accomplished my goal these past couple of months; I just haven't told y'all about it.

Here.  Let me make it up to you.

In March, I bought the Mandarin Chicken.  This is the one item that comes up every time I google, "what should I buy at Trader Joe's," so I knew I had to try it eventually.  The family liked it.  It was sweet and spicy.  Yum.  I definitely recommend serving the sauce on the side so everyone can personalize their own sauce experience, especially if you have picky eaters.

In April, I bought Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups.

There was really never any question of whether or not I would like these--I knew I would.  I mean, dark chocolate and peanut butter is, perhaps, the world's best flavor combination.  I will say that, because of their small size, I feel like the peanut butter to chocolate ratio was a little less than I would like (higher surface area to volume ratio meant more chocolate, less peanut butter), but they were still delicious, and disappeared fairly quickly.  This is the first item that I've purchased this year that I definitely want to get again.

In May, I bought Trader Joe's Coconut Cashews.

This purchase was a little bit more of a risk.  I mean, I like coconut, and I love cashews, but I wasn't sure how I'd feel about having those flavors together.  I loved them.  Loved.  I definitely will be buying these again.  They're sweet, but not overly so, and the coconut flavor really compliments the buttery texture and taste of the cashews.  MC loved these, too, and I'm not sure whether anyone else even got to try them... :-)

I like other brands of 70-75% cacao chocolate, and at just $2 for a 3.5 ounce bar of organic dark chocolate, the price was right.  I did like it, as I knew I would, but I discovered that I prefer chocolate bars to be thinner than this one was.  With a thinner bar, it's easier to take a bite and let the bite dissolve in my mouth, but I found myself chewing this thicker bar.  As a result, I didn't savor it in quite the same way as I would with a Lindt or Ghirardelli chocolate bar.

What's next for me and Trader Joe's?  Well, I always go with an idea of one or two things that I might want to try, but more often than not, I just wander until something speaks to me.  "Take me home," they say.  I do know that eventually I need to try the cookie butter--I'm thinking that might be more of a late fall item, though.  I've also had my eye on some of the granola and snack bars--they look to be made with quality ingredients, and the price is better than average.  And now that I've tried the coconut cashews and loved them so much, I think I'll be taking another look at the specialty nut selection.

What are your Trader Joe's favorites?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Another menu plan

Hey everybody.

It worked last week, so how about another blast from the not-so-distant past menu plan?  Remember, it's new to you, so it's all good.  Right?  Right.

Here's what we ate last week:



What are you eating this week?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Garden update

I guess it's time for a garden update?  Are y'all feeling neglected?  'Cause I certainly feel neglectful... 

The radishes have done well.  I've done four harvests, including this one, and there are still more coming.  The staggered planting has been very effective for us.  Hubby gets just enough radishes at one time for a meal or two.  I'm done planting for the spring, but I might plant more in the late summer for a fall harvest.  If I get to it, that is.

The radishes on the right, the ones with more dirt stuck in more fine white roots, were in the process of bolting.  I should have left them, and attempted to harvest the seeds.  I did give one of those to the chickens, and last I looked in on them, they were investigating cautiously.
Our strawberry harvest has already surpassed last year's harvest and there are lots more berries forming, so it appears my rodent control measures have worked.  We have a mix of June bearers and everbearers out there--I'm letting them run this year to hopefully make new strawberry plants.  I also planted some bare crowns, but nothing's happened with those yet.

I noticed the first flowers on the sugar snap pea plants, so those will be ready soon.

I haven't yet gotten around to planting the corn, tomatoes, or anything else that might catch my fancy at the nursery.  Whoops.  I wonder if I'll be able to harvest anything this summer if I plant next week?

What's growing in your garden?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Chick update: 4 weeks

If you were paying attention, you will realize that I did not post a 3 week chick update.  I had the pictures, but...I guess...I just didn't get to blogging the update.  Forgive me?

Since the two week update, I introduced a bigger dust bath, and the girls have enjoyed using it, however there still isn't really room for more than one to bathe at a time.  I also reintroduced the nipple waterer, and everyone has figured it out.  This is a huge help in keeping the girls' water clean.  In addition, I fashioned some party-hat shaped cones to place on top of the waterer and feeder to keep the chickens from roosting on (and pooping in) them.

The girls think I'm a good place to roost
I've been taking the chicks out for a romp in the yard just about every day, but since they're still so small and we don't have a secure safe area for them yet, I stay outside watching them the whole time, so the trips are usually pretty short.  It's fun to watch the girls when they have more space to roam--they still stay pretty close together, and every now and then run or fly back to where I am, I guess to reassure themselves.  They really love eating bugs and worms, and will chase each other around trying to get a tasty morsel away from a sister.

In just the past couple of days, the chicks have been roosting more often, and yesterday I happened to look in on them while they were all perching on the roost Hubby made for them.  So sweet.

Esther (Easter Egger)
Esther is the biggest of the birds, and actually she was the biggest we brought them home, too.  I'm hoping that she's bigger because she's older rather than because she's a rooster.  Consequently, I've been googling how to tell gender in Easter Egger chicks.  I'm not having too much success because Easter Eggers are not a breed per se, they are a collection of birds who bear the blue/green egg gene.  In other words, they're all mutts.  However, I have not seen any of the for-sure-your-chick-is-a-rooster characteristics yet.  At this point, all we can do is wait and see.

Esther looks like she will be a white bird with black and buff lacing.  Very unusual, and very pretty.  She also has green-tinted legs.

Red (Rhode Island Red)
Red is always the first chick to try to escape the brooder.  Several times, she's flown out to perch and/or walk around on the upper edge of the brooder.  Red is the main reason we're keeping the brooder covered these days, and every time I open the screen, I can just see her thinking about flapping out.  As you can see from this picture, the girls are totally looking like mini-chickens these days, rather than fluffy, cute chicks.

Toasty Crunch (Cinnamon Queen)
Toasty is the one chick who we know for sure is a hen, because the male and female chicks of this breed are different colors.  Toasty is usually the second bird to fly the coop, so to speak, although unlike Red, Toasty generally flies back down into the brooder immediately.  Her head and breast have turned a lovely cinnamon color.

Austro (Black Australorp)
Look at those tail feathers!  Austro will be solid black when she's grown, and to that end, her breast feathers are coming in black.

Rocky (Barred Rock)
Rocky's barred pattern is becoming really well defined, even on her head now.  She's looking a little scruffy on her head and neck because she's growing feathers and losing the last of her down.  All the chicks are growing feathers on their heads and necks, but I think this picture probably shows the scruffy the best.  Once the chickens are fully feathered (no, I'm not exactly sure what that means, but they're close, if not there already), they'll be able to regulate their body temperature and they'll be able to stay outside full time.

I took these 4 week pictures while the girls and I were outside on a field trip.  I carry them out in this box, which they attempt and succeed, to escape, as I am walking out to the backyard, and then, after the girls are out, I tip it on its side so the girls can take shelter if they wish.  Here they were snuggling up together.

The chicken run is screened in now with hardware cloth and the door to the run is in place.  We still need the hen house walls and more hardware cloth around the bottom of the run to deter digging predators.  Hopefully that'll be done soon, because I think the girls will really appreciate having more room to roam.

That's all for now.  More to come.
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