Best Urban Homestead-y Children’s Books (according to Willem)

I started reading to Willem when he was around two weeks old. He would get his little legs kicking and really seemed to enjoy it, so we just kept on reading.

20140313. Reading time with Willem.

Fast forward to today: in one week, he will be one, and reading is very much a part of our everyday life. We read book after book before naptimes and bedtime. Willem can spend a good 10 minutes simply turning the pages of one of his favorite books or, like today, pulling each book, one by one, out of our “library stash” in the living room.

Christie Reading to Willem

We also have kind of an awesome collection of garden, farm, chicken, and homestead-y type books. I thought I’d share Willem’s top five!

      • Ten Seeds, Ruth Brown: I love, love, love this book. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous, it’s a wonderful CIRCLE OF LIFE tale, and we count the seeds on each page, so I’m pretty sure it will be solely responsible for Willem being able to count to ten.

    • Chicky Chicky Chook Chook, Cathy MacLennan: This book is just fun. At first, I felt a little awkward reading it, but once you get into the flow, man, it just rolls right off the tongue. Percussive would be the right word for this book. This is in Willem’s limited right-before-bed rotation, and it’s one of his faves.

    • Mama, Is It Summer Yet?, Nikki McClure: Nikki McClure can do no wrong in my mind. I’ve gotten her calendars for the last four years. Her art is just beautiful, and it really speaks to the baby brain (high contrast). This is the first of her books we’ve gotten; I look forward to more.

    • On the Farm, David Elliott and Holly Meade: The inner wanna-be block printing artist in me sings with joy at the artwork in this book, and the melodic, entertaining poetry is just grand. They have a book called In the Sea, too, which is now on Willem’s wish list.

    • Chicken Cheeks, Michael Ian Black and Kevin Hawkes: Hey, it’s written by Michael Ian Black! What’s not to love? We haven’t read this a ton yet, but I’m guessing once Willem reaches that magical age where anything related to butts is hilarious, this will be in constant rotation.

20140208. 39 weeks.

Happy reading, all!

Baby Spiders and Chicken Poop

This morning, well before I was sufficiently caffeinated to take on the day, I accomplished one of our big fall chores: deep cleaning the chicken coop and run.

20140920. The biannual massive coop cleaning.Chickens, you ask? We have chickens? Oh, right! We DO have chickens. What with all the all-baby-all-the-time lately, I can understand how you forgot about our five backyard dwellers and purveyors of fine eggs.

20140920. Boo dust bathing.

Raggedy, molting, super-layer Boo.

The girls are still alive and kicking, although I realized the other day they are starting to get a little, well, OLD. At least in terms of productive layers. We’ve had no problem with egg shortages yet, but the girls were born spring/summer of 2012. Two and a half years old, all of them!

20140920. Little Red and Dino Puppy, temporarily friends.

The only time Little Red willingly gets this close to Dino Puppy, who is a total bully.

Here are a selection of sentences I uttered to my husband before 10 am. Some weekends are just… like this:

  • “I have chicken poop all over me.”
  • “There’s some oregano in the front walk.”
  • “Don’t forget about the baby spiders.”
  • “There are three mosquitoes on Willem’s head.”
  • “I didn’t really scrub it. I just powerwashed it and poured vinegar all over.”

Speaking of babies (did someone mention babies?), Willem is now seven months old!
20140918. Seven months.

And he’s going to be a little lamb for his first Halloween:
20140915. Little lambie's first Halloween costume.P.S. I almost forgot about the baby spiders! Upon removing the wheelbarrow from its hanger on the wall, I discovered two sweet spider eggs hanging out, one of which had hatched. Hundreds of baby spiders smaller than poppy seeds were moving oh so silently around their little web. And by “sweet” spider eggs, I mean “terrifying.” And by “silently,” I mean “with great malevolance.” Spiders? I love them in theory, but not so much in practice. Or hatching in my garage.

Senor Sleepyhead and Madre Fancypants

As I conquered this morning’s “while you were napping” chores, I got a brilliant idea for a children’s book – all about everything stay-at-home/work-at-home moms manage to get done in those brief, ephemeral snippets when their children are napping.

It would start with the normal stuff – laundry, answering some emails and writing grant applications, returning calls, maybe even scrubbing a toilet – then move on to more advanced mommy multi-tasking skills – baking a loaf of banana bread, washing the diapers, roasting some veggies for that night’s dinner, filling the sweet potato bin with more dirt, mucking out the chicken run, or, gasp, plucking an eyebrow or two!

Then it would get all hyperbolic, of course, and end with Madre Fancypants saving the universe from total annihilation. Whadda you think? Maybe it would start with some kind stranger remarking on Madre Fancypants’ amazing arm muscles “from lifting the baby all the time.” But then you realize she’s got crazy, mad muscles from SAVING THE WORLD, one nap at a time.

Willem.

Saving the world, one nap at a time. Seriously, I think we’ve got something here!

This morning, the first-nap-of-the-day chore: mucking out the chicken run. Which, OMG, based on the smell, was very overdue. On the plus side, we’ve got some amazing organic matter (read: POOP and food and worms and leftover bit of kale and chard and did I mention POOP?) in our compost bins now, and we’ve got some very happy chickens, pecking through the fresh hay and scratch in their run.

And whenever Senor Sleepyhead wakes from his nap? We’re going to the Indiana State Fair, y’all! Baby’s first cows and pigs and Ferris wheels and funnel cakes and and and… other State Fair stuff!

The whole fam-damily:
Planning the next cross stitch project.

Willem, learning from the best:
20140802. Same same.

Sad Seedling Resuscitation

SEEDLING AND GARDEN RESUSCITATION
Back on February 1, knowing I was about to give birth ANY DAY NOW, I started all of our seedlings. I had an awesome spread of seeds, procured from Seed Savers Exchange, thanks to a gift card given to me by my in-laws for Christmas (great gift!). Thanks to the beauty and joy that is bringing a new being into the world, however, we ended up with our own little experiment in survival of the fittest going under the grow lights in the basement.

Only the strong survive!

Thankfully, the flat of greens did really well and went into the ground last weekend. That left two trays of raggedy tomatoes, miniaturized peppers, suspended animation ground cherries, a few spindly onions, a couple of yellowed cucumbers… and not much else. And those guys were hanging on by a thread, still eking out the last of the nutrients from the peat pods I had started them in.

Luckily, Willem loves his morning nap in his carrier, giving me a chance yesterday to repot all of the seedlings AND even plant a few more pots with fresh seeds, just in case I get some more growth in time for this season. I was especially sad that the arugula, peppers, and cucumbers did so poorly. I really wanted some lovely spicy arugula in my salads this spring; more seeds were planted in pots and directly in the ground. ARUGULA OR BUST!

20140412. Willem and me repotting seedlings.

20140412. Sad little onions.

This morning during Willem’s morning tandem nap, we planted more seeds in the garden – beets, arugula, and chard mixed in among the greens. The kale is looking rad, and the greens are thriving to varying degrees. Which reminds me – I need to water those seeds!

NO RATS ALLOWED!
In other news, Chris has embarked on an ambitious project this beautiful weekend to rid our coop of burrowing rodents (aka RATS), which have excavated extensive tunnels underneath our coop to get at our messy chickens’ dropped food throughout this polar vortex winter. Here’s a sneak peek of what he’s got going on so far; more details to come!

20140412. Rat abatement plan, step one: dig a trench.

And check out our sexy new wood rack, built by Chris. He’s the best.
20140412. New wood rack, Chris' work implements for the weekend.

AND… BABIES!!!
Finally, in other OTHER news, I would be remiss if I didn’t say, hey, I really like our baby. Here’s our nightly bedtime wind down ritual:
20140411. Bedtime routine.

20140413. Willem, 7 weeks.

Our Version of “Keeping Up With the Joneses”

Yesterday, we woke to the dulcet tones of saws and hammers emanating from the neighbor’s backyard. It turns out they are rebuilding their chicken coop.

Chris’ response? “If their new coop is cooler than ours, I’m going to need to rebuild ours.” He’s only partly joking; he’s been dreaming of building something along these lines since more or less the day after we got our coop.

I love that our version of “keeping up with the Joneses” has nothing to do with having an in-ground pool or super lush green grass or a new SUV. I also love that our next door neighbors have chickens, too. Sometimes I swear our groups of chickens are talking to each other through the fence.

Here’s our coop:
20121221. I have a remarkably steady hand. The chickens' first snow.

Also, OMG, LOOK AT BABY BEAKER!
20120413. Giant Beaker.

Know Your Chicken

After the latest round of temperatures in the negatives, a sunny 25 at lunch time today felt downright balmy. I took the opportunity to waddle myself out to the coop, armed with my pitchfork, and clean up a bit. The shavings needed turning and refreshing, the nesting boxes needed some sprucing, and the girls needed some fresh hay.

It appears they are just as stir crazy as I am. When they bum rushed me as I opened the door, I decided to let them explore the snowy yard for a bit while I worked.

Most of them were pretty okay with the snow. Then there was Dino Puppy. She flew about 10 yards and then, come hell or cracked corn, would not budge. She just hunkered down in the snow like she was in a cozy, quiet nesting box. I think she was actually completely freaked out. I finally had to pick her up and carry her back to the run.

All of this brings us back to the subject of this post and the following video. I know my chicken. You’ve got to know your chicken!

P.S. How have I never posted this amazing song here?

I SOOOO Called It

And just like that, all five chickens are laying again, -15 to -25 degree wind chills be damned! Way to go, girls. To celebrate, I’ll fix you some nice, hot eggies before you go to bed tonight.

20140123. All five girls are laying again.

Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That

Chris has channeled this wise woman for his pre-baby philosophy of life. I must say, living the “ain’t nobody got time for that way” is very effective and has started rubbing off on me.

So what don’t we have time for these days?

EXHIBIT A: Lingering Ambitious Flooring Projects. Chris finished the Ambitious Flooring Project of 2013/2014 last weekend, and it is wonderful!

With two adults, two cats, and one dog, our old carpet (which was stained and gross when we moved in) was just not getting any prettier. BEFORE:

20131226. Family room, pre-flooring.

20131226. Family room, pre-flooring.

Now? Oh, now we have a thing of beauty – flooring that will be easy to clean all of the various mammalian residues and deposits off of, which will be especially awesome once the baby gets here. Also, it’s dead sexy. BEHOLD – AFTER!

20140108. Sneak preview of our new sexy flooring!

20140115. Our brand new family room flooring.

EXHIBIT B: Intimidating, Yet Deceptively Simple, Baby Stuff Assembly. Today I experienced a great accomplishment. It involves an infant car seat. Seriously, have you ever tried to install a car seat? Because everyone freaks you out so much about installing that damn thing that it almost paralyzes you with fear.

Not only was I able to fit the infant car seat into my roller skate of a car, assuaging my fears that I would need a new car to accommodate the dang thing, but I was able to figure out how to connect it properly, armed with just a user manual and my own brain piece. SUCCESS!

EXHIBIT C: The Chickens Ain’t Got Time for That, Either. The chickens have jumped on the band wagon, too, and decided that nobody’s got time for winter and its short, cold days anymore. Spring time is around the corner, and for the first time in three months, we have two more chickens who have joined Boo, our workhorse leghorn, in deciding to lay eggs again!

20140117. Finally, more than white eggies in the skelter.

Winter Blast and Chicken Related Woes

Generally, chickens do pretty well in the winter. Our girls will take sunny and 20 degrees over humid and 95 degrees any day. But when it starts dipping down into the teens and lower, well, the pressure on the chicken rearers gets to be a tad greater.

A small sampling of recent and upcoming winter chicken rearing joys:

  • On the new chicken waterer warmer (and our love/hate relationship): Don’t get me wrong – I love that this thing holds a lot of water and stays unfrozen down to about the high single digits. It’s reliable so far, and it keeps me from having to check the water (and refill it) multiple times a day. However, every time I fill the damn thing – and I mean EVERY time – I end up dumping about three gallons of water on my shoes at least twice. Seriously, the last two times I filled it, it took me three tries. It’s a problem.
  • On single-degree mornings and frozen doors: Yesterday on the second attempt to fill the water (and second dumping of water on my shoes in 4-degree temperatures), I managed to dump the water all over the doorway to the coop. Can you guess what that means? The freaking door is now frozen freaking shut.
  • So… at some point today I get to unstick the door so I can gain easier access to the food, water, and (most importantly) the extension cord.
  • Why the extension cord? Tomorrow, we are going to see about 10 more inches of snow, followed by a deep freeze. We’re talking by (tell me why, I don’t like) Monday, our high is going to be -7 degrees, and our low -18 degrees. The extension cord will allow us to leave a light on for the girls in the coop all day and all night until the deep freeze breaks, keeping it just warm enough to be comfortable.

Will we have five chickens sleeping under a heat lamp in our garage before Monday is through? Quite possibly. If we do, there will be pictures, fear not.

20130121. Wind chills of -10 to -20 call for extreme measures.

Last year’s winter setup – I’ve busted out the paneling again to ward against biting winds and snowdrifts.