Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Chicken Castle

Few chickens have ever lived so well. Of this I am confident. Two years ago, when we moved to Old Paths Family Farm (our first farm!), we bought baby chicks. Fifty-five of them to be exact. Fifty beautiful Buff Orpington hens and five roosters. It is probably everyone's starter critter project. They are little (at first), and cute. What could be better? Chickens are to farm critters what radishes are for gardeners-a good first project. Their housing is generally simpler as well. A chicken coop is easier and quicker to build than say, a barn.

That is, unless you are married to Mr. Visionary.

I had fifty-five chickens living in an enormous makeshift cage in my mudroom for months waiting for housing to be built for them. "With housing so simple, what took so long?" you may be wondering. My Mr. Visionary was building no ordinary chicken coop, you see. Everything he does turns out to be more than I expected, more than I needed, and able to withstand hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and even young boys. (Those of you with young boys will fully understand the criteria involved in that building code.)

The Chicken Castle, as we lovingly refer to it now that the ordeal is over, is a masterpiece. It is 10X14' on a concrete slab. It has 8-foot high sidewalls, vaulted ceiling, two standard steel walk-doors, a billion nesting boxes, and enough roosting posts for an army of chickens. Every nook of this stronghold is trimmed, caulked, or covered with wire. It has attached to it a 10X16', 8' high cage area with chain-link fencing on three sides and on top.

Our chickens free-range during the day, occasionally popping in to lay or for a snack or drink, then stay in their Castle at night to sleep. Once the door is closed at night (the opperative word being closed), it is an insurmountable fortress for any chicken predator. The only time we have lost any chickens have been during the day, when they are roaming about, or in the evening before we have closed the steel door. I have a feeling that most critters in the woods around here tell bedtime stories to their offspring about our Chicken Castle. And about their relatives who have lost their lives attempting to break in. I may have to check with Mr. Visionary on this, but at last count the roll was 1 fox, 2 raccoons, 6 opposums, and one wild dog who have lost their lives to Mr. Visionary's shotgun. With Charlotte's Web, Wind In The Willows, and Milo and Otis floating around in their memories, the kids are convinced that there is a Legend of The Chicken Castle being  recited to the young in animal land.

Once while working outside an overhead  shadow alerted us that a chicken hawk was flying by. Quickly, we visually scanned the yard for chickens. Not a hen in sight. After a brief panic, we checked the Chicken Castle. Our rooster, Chief (that's Head Rooster to you), had rounded up every hen into the Castle. Mr . Visionary looked poignant and muttered, "They feel safe in there, don't they?" I think I even saw a glistening in his eyes.

Yes, Mr. Visionary, they do feel safe there-you done good. You done real good.

If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good

Medicine is not supposed to taste great. I know this. At least I know that it usually doesn't. Even as a child, I knew that whatever that pink stuff was, it did not taste like any bubblegum I ever had. (Let's not discuss the time little brother and I ate "chocolate bar" Ex-Lax. Little kids don't care much about taste. It looked like chocolate, and finders are keepers, you know.)

We really are spoiled to live in a time when so many pharmaceuticals are available as tablets and capsules. In the old days when folks made their own medicine, or at least got it from a local doctor, everything tasted bad. "A spoonful of sugar" was not just a cute saying, but a very necessary anti-retching maneuver.

Some of us who have become discontent with the current pharmaceutical-happy culture in which we are immersed have gone back to the "old days". We study and learn to discern and diagnose those conditions that can safely (and likely more safely) be treated at home. We are making our own herbal medicines, and learning how to use them effectively. The good news is, we are healthier. The bad news is, everything tastes yucky again.

Case in point, I am struggling with pregnancy-induced anemia. When expecting, a woman's blood plasma volume increases fifty percent, while the hemoglobin level only increases thirty percent. Hence, even though I faithfully eat my green vegetables (I swear), my iron level has significantly dropped.

My first measure in any condition is dietary intervention. I envisioned black-strap molasses in cookies, baked beans, and barbecue sauce. I was prepared to live on spinach-and-orange salads with that raspberry dressing I love. I could add more iron-rich foods to my diet, and even vitamin C to make sure it was absorbed properly. I was looking forward to this. Food is always more fun than medicine.

Alas, since the dietary-intervention-route was not quite getting the job done, it became time to bring in the big guns. Herbs. This also looked pretty simple. I made red raspberry, nettles, and alfalfa tea, (throwing in a little peppermint to cover the taste give it a springy flavor), and administered it intravenously drank it by the gallon. I was even getting close to making my daily quota of fluids. Well, sorta.

But even the tea wasn't quite strong enough. Bigger guns were required. That's right-tinctures. And not just any tincture, either. The single-most-effective herb to increase iron levels (Yellow Dock) just so happens to be the single-most-bitter-tasting herb as well. Blech and more blech. Although the most effective as far as potency, a tincture is the single most repugnant form of any herb as far as palatability. Great.

Remembering the spoon-full-of-sugar method is the only way I have gotten through this treatment. (My regards to Mary Poppins.) Admittedly not the "most delightful way", it has worked wonders. My iron is up, and I am feeling much better. "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" Hebrews 12:11.

Sometimes the really good stuff does taste bad.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

There’s Gotta Be A Reason

What is this blog all about? What could possibly be the purpose? Why would a woman who often agonizes that there is "not enough time in the day", and "not enough of me to go around", purposely add something else to her plate?





Surely there is a reason (and it better be good).





Everything is done for a reason, right?





As believers, we pray that our reasons will glorify our LORD.





Before our first child was born, we knew we were called by the LORD to homeschool our children. Ours was not to question, just obey. Yet, over the years, we have questioned this decision, and been reaffirmed each time that homeschooling was indeed the Lord's will for us. The what never changed, but the how has been evolving gradually since the beginning.





We have been freshly praying about how to make school more interesting without it becoming more complicated. This blog is to fulfill part of that, as each child will have his own category to post and showcase his delight-directed interests. We have chosen not to have separate blogs for the children as we want to continue to build unity and further turn our hearts toward our children and theirs toward us. On that eclectic mix of "things we use as curriculum", this blog has been added.





As of late, I have also been convicted by the Holy Spirit and challenged by my sisters in Christ to be there for and with my children more. I mean really be there. At first I thought, "What do you mean be with my children? I can't remember the last time I was not with my children. I am a full-time homemaker and stay-at-home, homeschooling Mom. How could I not be with them?"





Ah, but there is more involved than my physical presence alone. There is that searching gaze directed deep into their eyes attempting to connect with who they are on the inside. Hugs are nice and necessary, but those lingering embraces, by God's grace, actually cement my love into their spirit. Hearing them speak and answering with a half-hearted, "Uh-huh" answer doesn't feed them the same way as my listening-as-if-there-is-going-to-be-a-test-on-this. There will be a test. The test comes every time they speak to me. They know if I am really there with them or not, and it resonates within their spirit positively or otherwise. This is a test I cannot fail. The stakes are too high.





Holly from Choosing Home said that we should "smile into their souls" . That visual and the one I get with a distracted Mom, going through the motions of the day, immersed in her own thoughts and agenda, clash loudly. Molly said, "God is responsible for changing your heart, but YOU are responsible for changing your actions". So here I am. Taking those first unsteady steps of obedience. I am determining in my heart to BE there with my children. That is the least that I owe to my children and my LORD.





I know that He will hold my hand as I take these first faltering steps, as He will throughout my walk as a Mom. He is good that way. I have found Molly's experience to be my own: "being (really BEing) with my children brings Peace and Rest to my heart".





To God be the glory!


Edited to add: The original plan for this blog didn't actually materialize as far as the children posting. The desire just wasn't there for them. In any case, we still, as a family, like Mom's having the blog, and will keep it until we hear differently from the Lord.  














Friday, May 12, 2006

Gargling Ketchup

These substances were never meant to be drunk. Gulped, guzzled or gargled, they miss their intended use. On the list of "Things-I-Never-Thought-I'd-Say", is the frequent injunction to my children (namely those of the male persuasion), "It's a condiment, not a beverage".

I have never been a stickler for the purist mentality in feeding small children. If it takes some ketchup to get it down, so be it. I count it a small price to pay for children who eat green vegetables. Granted, it was necessary with the canned variety of slimy green goo spinach, but my own mother taught us to put mayonnaise on our spinach. I don't have a problem with that. To each, his own, eh?

If I were to confess (which I am not), I would readily acknowledge that in my junk food days I regarded a potato chip as simply a crunchy vehicle to load with dip. With the quantities of dip to which I was accustomed, it mattered little if the vehicle were a dry leaf, a credit card, or a four-month-old french fry from the crevices between the car seats. (Don't act like you don't have those.) It simply wasn't about the vehicle.

Even considering my past eating habits, I truly don't believe that condiments were quite as much a staple of my diet as they are for my children. Especially in school, I never ate ketchup. It was too much fun to save the packets for middle school pranks like lining them up in the road in hopes of getting splattered by passing cars. I do remember the kid who ate a full cup of mayonnaise on his french fries every day. As gross as it was to watch, we agreed that it was better than school food.

So, when my children pile high the condiments, I encourage moderation, set some reasonable limits (a tablespoon of ketchup per fry is too much), and am glad that they are eating healthily underneath it all (homemade french fries baked in organic virgin coconut oil). Sure, there are times I cringe, and even feel my own throat being cauterized by the flood of vinegar consumed when my eight-year old son eats collard greens. But he's eating collard greens. There is something to be said for that.

Something along the lines of, "It's a condiment, not a beverage".