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Month: July 2011



Friday was a special day, a day to be celebrated and wondered over.  A day I have been waiting for, for many long years.  Seriously.   Friday was the day these ladies arrived.

As well as our lovely little chicks we now have 4 ready to lay hens.  According to the feed ‘n’ seed they are Black Sexlink.  Black.  Hmmmmm.  But they are lovely and fabulous and very much enjoying their new,  hand-build accommodations.   As well as their gorgeous house, Stephen built them a wonderful run so that they could fully enjoy the outdoors.  And enjoy it they have.

Apparently what works for chickens also works for very nearly 6 year old boys who really, really, really want to be bf’s with the chickens.  They are more into scratching.   The run was built from scrap wood from the house build and the rest of the chicken wire used to build the henhouse.  The tarp across the top is to protect them from the scorching sun that we are prone to in these here parts during the summer months.  They seem to enjoy the shadier parts of the run and spent today making themselves little dust baths and ground nests.  Watching them has become our favourite form of entertainment.

Of course it can’t all be fun and games.   In between watching chicken breaks, someone built the run and a feeder.  The feeder is made from a drain pipe cut in half and attached to a heavy board with wooden end caps.  That is what I call actual genius.

As if the joy of watching chickens wasn’t enough, we’ve also been getting plenty of these,

So far the count is 2 on Friday, 4 on Saturday and 4 today.  That’s right, we are at full egg production!  Every day we are coming away with 4 eggs, ready to be turned into pancakes (Saturday morning breakfast) or omelets (Saturday dinner) or quiche (on the menu) or any other number of wonderous things.

I have wanted chickens for so many years and can hardly quite believe that we now have them.  Lots of effort (mostly Stephen’s to be fair but I did do some ordering and holding of tools and occasional passing) but it all feels worth it.  Not just because of the fabulous eggs but the bliss of watching these creatures enjoying life.  We had plans today but they were abandoned in favour of sitting with a snoozing toddler in the summer sunshine, with a cooling breeze washing over our skin.

Stephen and I sat and  chatted, reveling in this place that we have found and  just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave.  We couldn’t imagine anything better.

Hoping your weekend was equally lovely.

Sew Red

Sew Red

Like many people, when I saw Meg McElwee’s new book Growing Up Sew Liberated  I just knew it had to be mine.  Indeed it has not disappointed, there are so many projects I want to have a crack at and lots of helpful information on things like using knit fabrics, something I’ve always steered clear of.  But Huwyl needed some pj pants and the Sleeping Johns pattern looked ideal.  I shortened the pattern to a 3/4 length for these summer months.  The instructions made it all as easy as pie and in no time at all Huwyl had two pairs of jersey shorts.

The fabric was actually given to me last year by my lovely pal Emmanuelle, so by the time I’d made two pairs of shorts the book was paid for!  Yes that is the kind of economic genius that has made me the powerhouse of mathematics I am today.

There is only one teeny snag with these pants…I can’t convince Huwyl to take them off and only wear them at night.  They are now ‘pixie pants’ and also ‘yoga pants’ which should explain the following photos.

The poses were totally his own idea, even the solemn face which disappeared the moment the camera clicked and he started laughing and insisting on seeing the picture straight away.  That boy of mine really is totally hat stand.

There must have been a bit of a red vibe in the house because my other project today was making strawberry and apple jam.  I made a double batch of plain strawberry last week but came across this recipe for a strawberry and apple version.  I thought the apple might make it a bit more of a set jam (which is the case) but I was happily surprised by how utterly delicious it is.  The apples really do add an extra something and the jam has lots of body and good depth of flavour.  If you’ve got some strawberries to use up I’d highly recommend having a try.

I made a couple of amendments to the original recipe, being lazy I didn’t bother with the whole seeds in muslin thang and just used bottled lemon juice.  My fruits were not really perfect either, some of my strawberries bordered on squishy and the apples had been in the fridge for a while.  From such humble beginnings were born an addictive jam which is rapidly becoming a favourite.  I see a final visit to the strawberry patch in my near future.

Now I just have to find a way to hide it from the children…

Coop des gras

Coop des gras

Well it has been all go round these here parts.  Not only is the house flying up but we have 4 laying chickens arriving on Friday.  Of course it would be sort of helpful if they had somewhere to live so Stephen got to building.  He had to abandon reclaiming some wood from the sheds on the land due to them being rotten and useless.  So he reclaimed a bit left over from the build and ordered the rest.

Now I have to give Stephen some major snaps for this project.  He has designed this himself and worked in 39C heat for two days solid to get this ready, all because I got it into my head that I just couldn’t wait for laying chickens.  I’m like that.  Bless him he indulges my madness and has produced a home I know our new girls will be very cosy in.  In the photo above is Dave “The Man” Cherry our awesome GC who helped Stephen for 10 mins but the rest is all his own work.  Oh and Huwyl helped too of course.

Once we have them settled and the run is up we will introduce our not so teeny chicks to the flock, but one thing at a time.  Stephen will be building the run on Saturday as the girls need to stay in for a couple of days to settle in.  I’ll be getting things all set up with 4 inches of sawdust on the floor and some straw for the nesting boxes on Thursday.  We are going to be using the deep litter method which minimises cleaning out and is cosy for chickens to walk on too.  Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before we have super fresh eggs for the scoffing.

In case you are wondering what my contribution was, allow me to point out the branch leaning against the house, that is the perch.  I cut that I did.  Can’t see it?

No need to thank me babe, I’m here to help.

Real Men and The Chicken God

Real Men and The Chicken God

As a boy growing up in the 70s and 80s there were certain indicators of a privileged life. The first was that you had a Tonka toy. Not one of the modern mostly-plastic jobs. No, we’re talking the steel-plate, scaled down construction-grade dump trucks, diggers or cat-tracked beasts. Real toys for real men’s sons. But now I’m a father, I know the truth. Those toys were bought not just for their earth-trembling awesomeness in the sand-pit, but because as Dads, we want to demonstrate our children might wear tomato-print shirts with collars so large you could use them as a stunt-car runway, but they’re still the sons of Real Men. Demonstrating our Real Man credentials is something that I realise never stops.

At the land our house build continues apace. We’re getting the backfill done, first with a dozen truck loads of sand and then tomorrow, the guys are starting to dig the boating lake for all the extra fill we need for the final grading.

As Dave The Man and I watched the contractor expertly spinning around in the insanely large excavator like he was the Sugar Plum Fairy, I realised that I still love Tonka toys and secretly want the grown up versions.  George The Tractor was like a little Fiat Punto next to the digger and he’s certainly got nothing to be ashamed of in the metaphorical Heavy Equipment showers.

“I want one. They are frickin awesome.”

“Yep, pre…tty cool,” drawled Dave The Man. “But do you reckon the operator still thinks they’re cool after so many years doing it?”

“Oh, yeah,” said I, grinning like a teenager with a party-bag of gin and tonic (supersonic).

“Yep, I reckon you’re right,” agreed Dave The Man with a knowing smile. “They’re so cool.”

But alas. Even though I’m paying them enough money to buy a voting seat on the G7 and by rights should totally own their arses, you need a license in Ontario to drive a massive earth mover which I don’t have. So, reluctantly, I settled for taking the opportunity to top up my manliness by making appreciative noises about the earth-moving equipment then returned to the baking heat to complete the Chicken Coop.

Some say that it’s design is based on the Great Celestial Chicken Coop In The Sky and that there have been riots in chicken nurseries all across eastern Ontario over just which four lucky chickens would be chosen to live in it. Now, I can’t say for sure whether that’s true or not, but as I started to build, I felt a definite avian power flowing through me that can only be described as divine. I was compelled to build this coop, and not just by Emma looking stern.

The original plan was to reclaim materials from the old sheds on the land but after an hour with a lump hammer and a crowbar, I realised that it just wasn’t worth it. Especially since Dave The Man was offering me 8ft 2x4s for $2 each. You can’t even buy a small packet of Ferrero Roche for that price. So obviously I laid down my demolition equipment and whored myself for the nice clean new wood.

I’m certainly glad I did. Having everything at prefabricated lengths and just about square made the job a lot easier. Which, to be fair, wasn’t difficult since I’d elected to build the structure alone, mano-y-coopo style in the burning midday sun. There are times when having monkey arms is a definite advantage, but during the course of the last couple of days, I would have liked to have been as well endowed as Mr. Tickle, especially when it came to nailing on the boards. Who knew that an 8ft x 4ft OSB panel weighs the same as a small donkey? Or that I was in fact a numpty muppet boy for spacing my joists 2ft on edge, rather than the more conventional 2ft on centre. Apparently there is a good reason for that convention and it has to do with the fact that nails don’t have a very good holding capacity unless they’re actually nailed into something. Duh.

Yet, despite those challenges, I was guided by the Chicken God and knew I couldn’t fail. Slowly the superstructure of the Celestial Coop took shape and all who saw it trembled. Probably in awe, but I can’t rule out mirth. Getting the first two A-frames up was, quite frankly, a bitch. Gravity, so long my friend, turned coats and became a prankster of the highest order. Eventually I managed to get them basically upright and square, which to those of you who who aren’t versed in technical jargon is also known in plain speech as “near as dammit”, “within a few inches” or “seriously, they’re chickens. What do they know about vertical? They can’t even fly.”

The basic plan that took shape as I nailed and swore was to create an A-frame structure. I choose the A-frame for two reasons. Firstly, it’s similar to a Swiss chalet and since they make most excellent penknives and chocolate you’d think they also know a thing or two about effective wooden structures. Secondly, the inside would look like a corridor from the Liberator, Blake’s 7 spaceship and hello, that was just about the most cool spaceship ever. Oh, and it’s pretty good for shedding snow apparently (the A-frame, not the Liberator which being in space, doesn’t tend to encounter very many heavy flurries).

I figured that the boards would need supporting joists every 2ft and I’d need ventilation at the roof to let the notorious and quite noxious chicken farts escape which, incidentally, would also give me some overhang on the bottom to help water run off and not seep into the base.

I struggled for a while getting the joists parallel and the boards nailed on (it turns out there are other uses for a Dad-sized belly than just a portable trampoline for small children). With a mouthful of nails, a hammer and my legs burning, I got the first side sheathed. Obviously my effort was rewarded because almost immediately the clouds rolled in and gave me a brief respite.

Emboldened and uplifted by this sign from my new chicken god, I pushed on and by the end of the day, just about managed to finish. There are a few bits left to do, mainly to generously add chicken wire to prevent rodents and more serious predators stealing any of my eggs or chickens, but I’m pretty pleased. I need to trim the front and back panels to reveal the glory of the A-frame, but since chickens aren’t noted for their sense of aesthetics, I’m happy to wait until the weekend to do that job. It’ll give me a chance to fire up my new reciprocating saw which is rather hot.

I knocked up four nesting boxes from off-cuts and scraps from the build (to salve my recycle, reuse, re-whatever conscience) and am looking forward to many eggy delights being discovered in them in the weeks ahead.

All in all, a good long weekend of work. Now all we need is a chicken run and the lucky chickens who will be joining our existing trio of Harvey, Custard and Sunshine.

It might not be as elegant as the structure Dave The Man is building for us, but I reckon this is one coop that will be standing just as long and building it has earned me more Real Man status than driving a monster excavator could ever do.

Canada Day

Canada Day

Today we celebrate the birth of my adopted country, the place that has been home for the last 6 years.  This afternoon we are celebrating with friends, but this morning I am celebrating a couple of silent hours alone.  This may seem a bit mean, to be pleased to be sitting in a silent house and knowing that Stephen is coping with both boys without help, but this is bliss.  I can feel myself decompressing; the quiet house (if not quiet surroundings, shhhhhh everyone!), the lack of demands, the room to think.

There is so much going on right now, we are trying to juggle the needs of the boys, keep up with school, keep up with home and housework and cooking decent food and the shopping and the bills and on and on.  And we are building a house, let’s not forget that.  All wonderful and part of our chosen life but also tiring and taxing and sometimes just a bit much.

So this morning Stephen swooped in like a guardian angel and said ‘You need this.’  As usual he is right.  So I will bake a brownie cake and try and squeeze in another batch of jam while taking a shower and putting a bag together.  Then I will drive, with the music of my choice playing, pick up my mucky family and head off to our lovely friend’s for a Canada Day bbq and swim.

Sound like paradise to you?  Me too.

Photo by Huwyl