Animal Helper

Isn’t this just a photo of country-kid perfection? Out with her dog, bringing watermelon rinds to the chickens. We got her hat at the thrift store yesterday; they’re having a cowboy-themed promotion right now, so they have tons of old hats like this hanging at the front of the store. We might have to go back, because I’m jealous of M’s! We usually wear ball caps to keep the flies off our heads, but this is a little more stylish.

The chickens have been ranging free for the past several days. Before this weekend, they would stay in their coop and run most of the time, and then I’d let them out when we were outside, too. But the chickens have proven that they like to stick close to home, and they sure are happy now that they get to roam around all day! Their favorite spot is in the photo above: under the weeds and raspberries surrounding the propane tank. It seems cool and sheltered, and funnily enough, it’s only about 15′ away from their coop.

The chickens love M best (even Aster no longer has time to visit with me anymore), and she has bought that love with countless clover flowers. She picks them and offers them to the chickens, and they almost always take the flowers, although I don’t think they eat them that often. It’s not like they can’t eat as many as they want all day long. But they’re polite chickens.

Speaking of offering food to animals, I’ve started showing M how to feed the dogs. I scoop up the food and hand the scoop to her, and then she pours it into each of their bowls (they get breakfast and dinner). It requires quite a bit of focus from her — she has to walk with the full scoop, trying to keep it level so the kibble won’t fall out; then she has to remember to bend her knees when she gets to the dog dish (instead of, like the first time, dumping it from standing height — oops); then pouring it all in the bowl, which takes some good wrist turning. It’s an example of something that definitely takes five times as long with M’s help, but it’s worth it to see how much she enjoys the responsibility. What amuses me is that she likes to pick up the dog dishes when the dogs are finished eating, and she puts them up by the dog food. Then, the next time, she carefully puts the dishes back in their usual spots. I just leave the dishes on the floor the entire time, so it’s anybody’s guess where she got that from. She just likes to keep a tidy house (in some very specific, limited instances).

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My Helper

What a great age this is. I can’t believe that M will be two years old in two and a half months — which will mean she’s been a toddler for an entire year. Maybe I’ve got the Terrible Twos or a Threenager waiting in the wings, but I feel really lucky that she’s been so easy-going this whole time. I know several parents of kids M’s age who have been dealing with much more tantrum-y behavior, and I wish I could take the credit for M being so mild-mannered, but it’s all her.

Right now, she’s big into helping with things. So happy that she can take part and not yet jaded by chores. I was cleaning the kitchen today, and I asked her to put something away for me across the room, and she did that. Then I asked her to grab a towel out of the drawer, and she did that too. It’s like a double bonus: I actually get a little help, and it also feels like I doing something for HER by giving her tasks. She’s just so pleased with herself.

Wiping is a favorite activity, as you can see from the photo. That wiping was apropos of nothing except the fact that she’d found a cloth. But she’ll wipe up spills, too. The last time we went out to eat, she was dipping her food in ketchup and had to wipe her hands in between each bite. And her face. She’s not fastidious about being clean (far from it!), but she just gets into the wiping groove. I imagine it must be exciting to be effective at something when you’re so young.

She can climb up into her Keekaroo chair now that I’ve taken the tray off. It makes her seem like such a big kid! I can just ask her to go sit at the table, and when I turn around, that’s where she is. When she finishes her meal, she’ll stack up her plates and put them to the side, although I have no idea where she picked that up. She can just barely reach the counter now, so I can ask her to put stuff up there, and she will. I was holding her in the kitchen before we went down to bed, and I noticed that one of her peg puzzles was sitting on the counter. ‘Who put that puzzle up there?’ I wondered, and she pointed to herself proudly. Funny girl.

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Garden Stuff

1. My stargazer is blooming! I had two of these, but one of them died this past winter, along with an iris. The bulbs just froze in the ground and turned to mush. Strange, isn’t it? Both my cold-hardy rose bushes (in different parts of the yard) died, too, so it must have been a weird winter.

2. I’ve got birdhouse gourd vines in the garden, and I was very surprised the other morning when I saw that they had WHITE flowers. I had figured all gourds/squashes had similar yellow-orange flowers. They’re kind of ugly — a bit dirty looking — and it turns out they bloom at night. Another surprise! And it’s no wonder I hadn’t noticed them earlier; they’re usually all shriveled up by the time I go out to the garden.

3. At least one little watermelon on the vines. I don’t usually have much luck with melons (I think they probably require more vigilant watering than I provide), but it would be nice to have one little one to share with M.

4. I’m surprised that I’ve got a tomato starting to ripen already! When I lived in Minneapolis, the first few days of August were usually when I’d get my first fully-ripe tomato. We’re further north now, so they ripen later, and I was a little pokey getting the plants into the garden this year. This is a Cherokee Purple, so it still has a ways to go, but it’s better than nothing!

5. My glads are starting to really bloom now. Quite a few of the stems are a vivid coral, which I love, and this fuschia-edged white is pretty, too. I’m usually reluctant to cut flowers and bring them inside, but it’s harder to admire them all the way down in the garden, so I’m definitely bringing some of these in soon.

6. Lastly, three calendula flowers. I pick these once they’re fully open and then set them aside to dry. I’m hoping that if I keep picking, the plants will keep producing, and then I’ll get enough to make calendula oil. Next year, I’ll definitely be planting more calendula — and more gladiolas!

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Tree Frog

Here are just a couple more photos of that little tree frog that was sitting on the lily yesterday. It was so cute that I brought out my nice camera, too. It’s a gray treefrog, and there was another one sitting on M’s pool today. Must be tiny frog season!

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We spent so much time outside today! It was pretty warm, but there’s just never a shortage of things to do outside. And M (like most little kids) loves being outdoors — she’s always so excited to put her boots on.

1. I’m growing some calendula this year. Wishing I had planted a lot more to dry. But I’m picking the flowers once they’re in bloom, and hopefully that will mean they’ll flower a LOT. I’d like to make a calendula balm, if I can get enough. It’s annoying that calendula are also called ‘pot marigolds’, as I was trying to search for useful things to do with my regular marigolds, and almost all the results are actually for calendula.

2. Aster has decided she needs to protect the flock from Nova. Which is pretty amusing. Nova is scared of the chickens, anyway — no chance that she’ll get too close. Aster was just charging Nova, not trying to hurt her. Meanwhile, Henny was actually closer to the coop but was left un-harassed. Even chickens can tell that Henny isn’t a threat to anybody.

3. I was weeding my front perennial garden this morning, and at one point I realized I was being kept company by a tiny little frog. Sitting on a lily, about 2.5-3ft off the ground. I guess if you CAN sit on a lily, you might as well.

4. My perennial garden. It was really becoming choked with weeds, but now it’s mostly weed-free, and I put some new mulch down around the edges. I also staked back my listing hydrangea tree. It catches the winds that blow from the north (which is most of them), and my previous staking job wasn’t very effective. I’m hoping I can straighten it out a bit before it gets too much bigger. It’s doing well this year, even though it’s quite heavy with flowers right now. As is the entire garden. I think some lily dividing will be in order next spring!

5. Look at this little girl! She had been wearing pants and a t-shirt but was getting pretty sweaty, so I changed her into something more airy. I think it’s going to be a challenge to keep her clothes clean as she gets older — she’s already perfectly happy to plunk herself down wherever, even (especially?) in the dirt. She helped me catch a chicken this morning. Charlie always freaks out when I try to catch her, so after a few times around the coop, I told M to grab Charlie as she hurried past. Lo and behold, M was able to just bend down and capture Charlie and keep her there until I came over to pick the chicken up. M, the chicken whisperer.

6. The chickens discovered where the raspberries come from. These are just wild ones, which are mostly too buggy for us people to eat. This is the farthest the chickens have ventured from their coop so far. (It’s not very far — maybe fifteen feet?)

7. Taking a break from the chickens to admire the pond. These days, when we’re outside, we’re usually watching the chickens or up near the garage, where M’s toys and chalk are. But the pond is still really pretty.

8. Back to the chickens. They were all chillaxin’ in their coop, even though the door to their new run was open. Then I dragged over a branch and installed it as a roost, and they came piling out to investigate. The run is a dog kennel that my parents used when one of their dogs was a puppy, but it’s been sitting in their basement since then. It’s not a huge run — about 4×6′ — but it more than doubles their square footage during the day. We let them out to roam while I keep an eye on them, but this is somewhere safe for them to sit outside on their own. They still go in their coop at night. I’d really like for them to free range during the day, but I’m worried about predators. I’ve been thinking about getting some poultry fencing to string around several trees behind their coop, which would give them plenty of room while still protecting them from aerial predators. But the run will be enough for now.

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M has gotten a little pushy about the TV, so we’re taking a break from it. Luckily, she’s far more entertained by the outdoors, anyway! Living in the country is a catch-22: so much beauty and open space, but SO many awful bugs that it’s hard to enjoy it. It’s deer fly season right now — usually only a few weeks, but they’re miserable weeks! Deer fly hat strips are the only way to go. The flies aren’t usually too bad around the chicken coop, so I sit in my chair down there while M visits with the chickens. The cement pad that the coop sits on is surrounded by lilies and hostas, and both are in bloom right now. I discovered that my yellow day lilies are very slightly fragrant (I don’t think of day lilies as having any smell), which is lovely, and the big bumble bees love the hosta flowers. My mom has bee paranoia, after reacting to a sting a couple of years ago, but the bumble bees seem so sweet and are always too busy to bother anybody.

My garden needs to be mowed, but everything is looking good right now. The calendula and dahlias have started blooming, and I think we’ll have zinnias and straw flowers soon, too. And the glads are getting ready! The tomatoes are all pretty small right now; I can’t tell if any of them will ripen by the beginning of August (typical around here), but I’m guessing not. My five measly broom corn plants are looking good, but I have no idea how big they should be by now. It’s actually sorghum, not corn, and I was surprised to see that most of the plants have side shoots. I wonder if they’ll get tassles, too. I’ll be lucky to have enough to make a doll’s broom — forget about a regular-sized one!

The marigolds (like the rest of the flowers) are big and beautiful this year. I’ve heard that it’s been a good year for flowers elsewhere in the US, too. My hydrangea tree is loaded, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many lilies. Since there won’t be much to eat from the garden this year, I’m enjoying the flowers. M and I brought a few marigolds over for the chickens, but they didn’t want them. I’ve heard that marigold’s are a good supplement/treat for chickens, but maybe they’ll be more interested if the flowers are dried first? Who knows. Chickens like what they like.

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M and Kitty Cat Doll

Oh, Kitty Cat Doll. I got her for M when M was just a few months old, and she started sleeping with Kitty Cat Doll around five or six months. It’s been true love ever since. But it’s been especially intense lately! For a long time, KCD stayed in M’s bed all day long. When M woke up, I’d tell her to leave Kitty Cat Doll so we could let the dogs out or go get lunch, and she’d quite gleefully toss KCD down onto her bed. Now, if I suggest that, she gets upset. KCD sticks with her through most of the day. I can usually convince M to leave her inside when we go out, and if she comes with us in the car, she has to stay in the car while we’re in the store/restaurant/wherever. But they’re glued together at home!

Other cute M things, since she’ll be 21mos this week:

– I asked if I could give KCD a kiss on the nose, and once I had, KCD had to give ME a kiss on the nose.

– There’s a book we read before bed when we’re at my parents — it has a little horse finger puppet attached, and one page says, ‘I graze on grass and crispy apples.’ The last few times we’ve read it, M has pretended to pick one of the illustrated apples and feed it to the horse. Then, since I make ‘yum yum’ noises as the horse ‘eats’ it, she picks another imaginary apple and tries eating it herself.

– M really loves the chickens. We always head straight to the coop when we go outside now. I let the chickens out, and M tries to give them hugs and kisses. She hasn’t figured out that the chickens are interested in the same things as Nova, so she tries to give them balls and sticks. They’ll usually give them an exploratory peck or two, which delights her.

– She likes to talk on her toy phone. I can always tell when that’s what she’s doing because her ‘phone’ voice is different than her usual babble. She leaves pauses for the ‘other person’ and everything. And she’s figured out how to hold the phone between her chin and shoulder as she talks. She wouldn’t have seen me do that, as I only ever talk on my iPhone, but a girl has figure out how to keep playing even while she’s on the phone! Clearly, imaginary play is a big component of our days now.

– M loves, loves, loves swimming! I bought a pack of tickets to the ‘local’ outdoor pool this year instead of doing parent-tot swim class, and it’s been far more educational for M. My mom bought her a floaty ring things, and M just started kicking away with her feet as soon as I put her in it. She’s becoming really comfortable in the water and is starting to figure out that you can’t just walk in until it’s up past your head.

– M is also very social with other kids. Reserved around adults, but totally excited when she sees another kid. She’ll usually run up to them and squat, with her hands on her knees — her ‘Hi! Let’s play!’ posture. And if she gets really excited, she has to lie down on the floor. I have no idea why, but it makes sense to her.

– She’s still a little behind with her speech, but she knows a lot of signs from her signing videos. There are some I didn’t realize she knew until she started doing them without any prompting! She tries to repeat more words now as I talk to her, and her confidence is building. I feel like she’s gaining momentum now and will really burst into speech soon.

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In the Coop

The chickens are in their coop! There are still a few things to do, but it should be safe and secure, and they needed to get out of their smaller pen. M adored playing in the coop before it was finished, and I think she was confused at first when she was no longer allowed in there (since it was full of chickens). But then she decided that if she couldn’t be inside, peeking out, she could be the one peeking in. I had to keep telling her to leave the little chicken door closed at the back, as I want the chickens to stay in the coop for a while, so they’ll learn it’s their new home. She thinks it’s her own personal chicken hatch, though — you open the door, and a chicken appears!

The wild raspberries are abundant this year (usually the birds get them all), so I picked a bunch and let M feed them to the chickens. Now when they see her at the door, they all come running over for treats! I can’t help being a bit nervous when they go wild and try to grab food out of my hand, but M thinks it’s funny and great. She’s a natural poultry farmer.

I bought leg bands at the ag center today, as it was getting difficult to tell some of the chickens apart. I always know which one is Aster (yellow leg band), as she’s so sweet and affectionate and doesn’t run away or put up a fuss when I have to pick her up. Rita (no band) is also easy to distinguish — s/he’s got bigger legs, is a little darker, and clucks instead of peeps when petted. Charlie (red leg band) is smaller than the others and talkative, but Iris (blue) and Laverne (green) are very similar in looks and personality. I like to be able to tell them apart in case a health issue arises, but mostly it just feels rude not to know which one is which.

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I decided it was high time I did some actual cooking, preferably with results that I could put in the freezer for later. I came across this post on the Kitchn and thought several of the recipes looked pretty good.

First, I made these pierogi. Potato, cheese, and sauerkraut. I used really sharp cheddar, and I really like how the strong flavor of the cheese balances out the tanginess of the sauerkraut. When rolling out the dough, I found that letting it rest for a few minutes when it started resisting really did help. I would definitely make these again!

Sunday was really rainy and blah outside, so I did most of the prep for the empanadas and bean burgers while Maris napped. The empanada recipe is here. I left the crust recipe as-is, and it’s delicious. I used white whole wheat flour, which usually still tastes way too wheat-y to me (when used in things like cookies), but it was perfect here. I changed the filling quantities a little. I used one zucchini and two ears of corn (instead of the other way around) and added an entire can of black beans instead of just 3/4 cup. I also roughly doubled the amount of cheese, and I don’t think it would be going too far to double it again. The cheese sort of disappeared once it was cooked. I skipped the green chiles, so it wouldn’t be too hot for M, but everything else was as it is in the recipe. These are delicious! I wouldn’t have thought to roast the zucchini and corn, but it adds a ton of flavor. A+, would make again.

Yesterday, I cooked up the veggie burgers that I had mixed up on Sunday. They’re called the Best-Ever Veggie Burgers, so I was pretty excited. There’s a lot of work that goes into these — you have to roast and shred beets, puree some stuff (including prunes!) in the food processor, and saute your onions and garlic for quite a while. And then let it all mingle together (preferably) overnight before you cook them. By the time I put the first burger in the pan, I was feeling skeptical — they smelled really beet-y. But, with plenty of good, sharp chedder melted on top, they were actually pretty good. I wouldn’t call them the Best Ever, but I don’t love mushy veggie burgers — too messy. I’ve got lots of them in the freezer now, though, and they won’t go to waste. But with so many other interesting veggie burger recipes out there, I wouldn’t bother making them again.

So that’s a little progress in climbing out of my food rut. Next up: homemade pizzas for the freezer!

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Coop Progress

Whew! We’re finally in the homestretch with the chicken coop. I never thought it would take this long! My dad’s been coming over every weekend for the past few weeks to help me build it. It looks so basic once it’s finished, but there has been so much to do. I designed the frame (the stud walls) in SketchUp and tried to make it as big as possible to sit on a single slab of concrete. This pad was where the wood boiler used to be (before we owned the house), and none of the (three) individual slabs are level with one another, and a couple of them are cracked. So it was tricky to get the square footage that I wanted. Now that it’s finished, it’s 15sqft inside — that’s three square feet per bird, which is the minimum that I’m happy to give them. Of course, I thought there were only going to be four chickens when I designed the coop!

I still have to caulk the siding and then stain it, and there are a few last details to finish with the door and interior. But it’s looking good, right? I’ll be staining it to match the house. There’s a sidewalk that goes down to the coop from the house (from when the wood boiler was there), so it’s really going to look like it belongs, once it’s finished. And hopefully the chickens will like it, too!

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