Thursday, December 9, 2010

A TV-less Life

It was 10am, nearly two months ago. I had just finished volunteering at a local hospital and headed home to get some chores done. As I pulled into our driveway my heart skipped about 10 beats. The smashed glass, easily apparent from the busy road we live on, screamed "YOU'VE BEEN BROKEN INTO!" I immediately got my wits together and called 911. Jason was of course 30 minutes away at school and not answering his phone. I waited outside for the police to arrive. There was no way I was going to investigate the house on my own, even though I was sure no one had decided to stick around since they made the whole operation so blatantly obvious - even from the road.

It took about 15 to 20 minutes for the police to show up. During that time I made a mental list of all of the things they could have stolen. I was just so grateful that no one was home when the break-in occurred. My eldest son was actually supposed to be there (though no cars would have been in the front hinting of this), but in a strange turn of events earlier that morning plans changed and he left about two hours prior. The police arrived, pulled their guns (that made it all the more real & scary), and explored the inside of the house.

When the "all clear" was signaled I followed inside and was relieved to find the only thing stolen was our TV. Let me re-phrase that - Jason's TV. In a previous life, his pride and joy. Well, I probably shouldn't put it like that, but he did like it. It was a large flat-screen he had purchased almost 4 years back in our higher income and more-mindless-consumerist days. It was quite expensive at the time as the technology was fairly new. It killed me to purchase it, but it was one of those "I've worked so hard [and indeed he had] and I deserve to relax" kind of arguments, and it was hard to disagree. He was the sole bread winner and extremely hard worker, and I wanted him to be able to have something he could lose his mind in now and then. Fast forward 4 years - we'd never buy a TV such as that now. But we've changed alot since then, too. The loss of that TV was a blessing in disguise - and no, I don't mean because of a large insurance pay-out. We ended up not even claiming it as our deductible is so high. So new window - check. New door - check. But did we get a new TV, you ask?

We have now been without that TV for two months. Other than the fact of feeling violated because someone broke into our home, honestly I couldn’t be happier. The kids (ages 3, 10, & 11) haven’t suffered in the least. Our 3 year old, especially, would be in a catatonic state when the TV was on. And when it wasn’t on, he would almost constantly ask me to watch something. He NEVER asks now, and just plays by himself or with his siblings. There wasn’t even a hard transition period – we were like “We no longer have a TV,” and his response was “OH NO!!!... Well, OK!” (scampers off to go play). That surprised me the most. I figured he’d be scarred for life!

The benefits are endless. No more ads encouraging us to eat crappy food. No more ads telling us our clothes aren't the hippest styles. No more Victoria's Secret commercials popping up while my kids are watching when I can't find the remote. No more worthless entertainment & celebrity "news". No more reality TV that so easily draws you in. More family time. More time to draw, read, and play the piano. More time to cook. More time to clean! Well, that may not be a positive, but you get the drift. People – including kids(!) – can survive, and even thrive, without TV. I swear! I can’t promise we’ll never have a TV again, but it is definitely now on the bottom of our “wants” list. Note I didn't say "needs"! -Carrie

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bike Thieves - Beware!

Anyone in North Oak Cliff (Dallas) know these guys?

Stealer #1

Stealer #2

There's a great story over at Bike Friendly Oak Cliff about a thwarted bike theft. Well, a theft did indeed occur, but the bike was recovered by the neighborhood bike shop as the thieves were trying to sell it to them. And the bike is now back in the loving arms of it's rightful owner - a nine year old no less! Shame on them for stealing from a child! Great job, Oak Cliff Bicycle Company! Keep up the good work! -Carrie

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New (to me!) Blog!

Well, apparently my gardener-extraordinaire brother of the Is Your Yard a Looker or a Feeder? post fame has had a "secret" gardening blog for the last 6 months! Who knew?!? Now I don't have to constantly call him with my gardening woes, I can just check out his blog!

Give it a look-see! He gardens on a small suburban lot in Zone 7B and has far more experience growing vegetables and fruits than we do. I know he'd be happy to answer any questions you may have!

Click on this link -

Monday, December 6, 2010

And the Gleaning Continues...

According to, gleaning is "the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest." We continue the tradition right here in the suburbs of Dallas, TX, though on a much smaller scale, by gathering foods we come across (with the owners permission, of course). These are fruits or vegetables that would otherwise be left to rot on the ground or just dumped into the trash. We can't stomach either of these options, so we choose to put ourselves out there and relish what comes our way. Here's two perfect, recent examples:

Deja vu, right?!? Here is yet another load full of pumpkins resulting from my pumpkin recycling efforts. I could not be happier with the response. In fact, I've received so many pumpkins that were otherwise destined for the landfill that it is seemingly impossible that I'm going to be able to process them all in a timely fashion. I've recently even had to turn some down because I've run out of space. If you're in the North Oak Cliff area, seriously drop me a line and I'd be happy to pass a few on.

Jason was recently doing work on a customer's property when he noticed a large pomegranate tree covered with fruit. Many had already fallen and were spoiling on the ground. However, he was able to glean an entire grocery store bag's worth. (Unfortunately the only thing he could find in his car to carry them all - we need to remedy that ASAP! I hate those bags!)

Since bringing them home and cracking open a few, it appears that the freezing temp or two we've had have ruined a few of them, but the majority seem fine. The customer got a small discount on the job and Jason brought home enough pomegranates to make some jelly. It's a win-win! Do you have a memorable gleaning story you'd like to share? -Carrie

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Making Inexpensive Floating Row Covers

We're pretty new to this whole gardening thing, but I knew I wanted to make some sort of cold frames or floating row covers in order to try to protect some of our vegetables this winter. It's a learning experience to say the least. About a week ago, on the night our first freeze (and thus a pretty strong cold front) was creeping towards us, Jason and I realized we wouldn't be able to put it off any longer. So at 10pm that night, we headed out to the garden to try to turn it into a greenhouse of sorts. Of course it was dark and very windy. Not good conditions to try and stretch plastic over the structure we made out of 1" PVC irrigation pipe. It quickly became apparent that our plans were just too grand in scale to execute on such short notice. We were never able to completely cover the structure, and within 2 days the cover had blown off of the frame. On to plan B.

You can see in this picture part of our original "greenhouse" -
made out of 1 inch PVC pipe

I recently checked out from the library two great books by Eliot Coleman - The Winter Harvest Handbook and Four-Season Harvest. I highly recommend them both. He discusses how to inexpensively make floating row covers out of 1/2" metal electrical conduit. I had to return something to Home Depot and decided to take a peak. Turned out Mr. Coleman was right, metal conduit was inexpensive (under $2 per 10' x 1/2" section). But you pretty much need a special bending device in order to make the straight poles the appropriate shape. They seem to cost anywhere from about $35 to $70 (Johnny's Select Seeds sells their version for $69). I didn't want to spend that right now. However, sitting right beside the metal conduit was 1/2" PVC conduit at only $0.88 for a 10 foot section. I purchased three for a whopping total of under $3 - figured I could spare that in the name of attempting to protect the fruits (or veggies as it were) of my labor.

So our three beds are each 4'x8'. Ideally I would place 4 PVC conduits in each bed. But since I only purchased 3 I didn't quite cover an entire 4'x8' bed. It was so easy. All I did was push the 1/2" pipe into the ground. Our beds are 12" high, so down the pipe went 12". I simply bent it over and pushed the other end into the opposite side of the bed. I didn't secure them in any way to the wood part of the bed itself. They fit in perfectly and seem sturdy enough. If you have a 6" high bed you may want to do some additional securing, but it fortunately wasn't necessary in our situation. The plastic is an old painter's tarp we had on hand. It's not too thick and probably won't quite do the trick in an extended deep freeze, but for our weather here in Dallas it seems near perfect.

Inside view of the floating row cover.
Not too impressive, but it does nicely protect what meager vegetables we do have!

I wasn't quite sure how I was going to attach the cover to the PVC. But while working on it and looking around our property, I realized I could use the wooden clothes pins from the laundry line. Turns out they fit over the conduit like a glove! However, as a warning, they don't ALL fit! We have two varieties for our laundry, and while the one works great, the other doesn't even come close to being able to open 1/2". So keep that in mind if you are going to try and reproduce our results! You can also purchase "Snap Clamps" from Johnny's if you want something more formal and perhaps slightly less ghetto!

It will be interesting to see how this lasts in our climate through the winter months. I don't think it could handle much snow, but unless we have a once in a generation Dallas snow storm like last year, I think we'll be OK. -Carrie

Note: For those of you interested in what is exactly planted in the bed in the last picture, it is as follows, from the back of the bed to the front:
  • Rainbow Swiss Chard - purchased & transplanted because the Rhubarb Swiss Chard I planted from seed didn't take.
  • Green Oakleaf Salad Bowl Lettuce - planted from seed but didn't take hardly at all. Pretty much only grew on the right side of the bed, and even then not very well.
  • Red Sails Lettuce - planted from seed, by far the best producer this year.
  • Red Oakleaf Malawi Lettuce - planted from seed, sort of the same results as the salad bowl except it mainly grew on the left side of the bed.
  • 4 Green Salad Bowl Mix - got for free as transplants. They've only been in the ground for about two weeks. They are in the middle & left of the very front of the bed.
  • Kale, 1 single plant - also got for free as a transplant. On the very right in the front, almost out of the picture.
All of the lettuces & chard I planted with the intention of using them as cut & come again. Since it's the first time I've planted lettuce it will be interesting to see just how many times I can come back. The Red Sails has already been cut twice but is coming back strong yet again.

Friday, November 26, 2010

When Pigs Fly, Disaster Happens: Urban Sprawl Theory

Urban Sprawl
The consequences of urban sprawl are so far and wide reaching that one would have a hard time finding a place to start educating on the subject. Petroleum is a good place to start, for it has the hardest impact, longest reach, and has caused immeasurable damage to the world.
As long as man has been on the face of the earth, he has found a distinct advantage in massing together for the common good. Not only did massing help provide security at first, but eventually other benefits followed such as community hunting, agriculture, and later, the ability to combine labor in the quest to manufacture goods and provide services. Large businesses have long favored cities for their dense work forces and people have long favored moving next to those businesses in hopes of finding work.
The word next in the previous sentence takes on a completely new meaning with the introduction of petroleum and the automobile. A new scale is created in the wake and next no longer means two miles but tenfold that amount. Man’s new legs can carried him faster and farther than any other person thus far in history. This new freedom spurred yet another evolution in the human experience at the cost of a blink of the eye in the timeline of our race. Comparatively speaking, it would be like the next generation of pigs growing wings to fly. The consequences of the ham evolution are best felt by the pig who, being the first of his kind to have this new adaptation and with no one to teach him to use the wings responsibly, would most certainly harm himself sooner rather than later as he fell out of the oak tree looking for acorns. (It's what the pig didn't know that killed him.)  Poor pig.
We too fell into the same boat as that damned pig. We invented for ourselves wings to fly and carried ourselves in the wrong direction. Unlike the pig, however, our consequences effect every species in the world. So be it. We screwed up. It’s done.
What now?
Now we must stop and examine the damage we have caused and learn how not to inflict that damage again. We must take inventory of the damage. 
A critical mass must be achieved before public transportation can take root. Until then, and even after then, most every house will depend on their private automobile to carry them to and fro their every whim. This problem is multiplied when the family needs multiple cars to carry them in multiple directions. Less public transportation means more cars on the road which means more pollution and energy consumption.
Speaking of roads, they comprise a lion’s share of the infrastructure required to build farther out. These and other utilities come at a cost to the customers, or residents, who build so far out. These resources when developed in high density can be constructed at a fraction of the cost. Urban sprawl consumes valuable resources in inefficient ways.
Ask any experienced businessman where he would locate his business, and the answer will usually be the same… Where the people are. Likewise urban sprawl presents challenges to regional planners who wish to provide medical, fire, and police services to the public. These services become more efficient at larger economies of scale, hence it would be hard to justify a high tech trauma center in every one horse town in America. Services to the public are harder to provide when sprawl prevents density from achieving critical masses.
Man and Nature
However, the real question is not weather man should densify the city or move to the suburbs. The real question is, ‘Can man live in the city under such densities and what effect does that have on his psyche? Can he adapt to the stresses of living without the rivers and trees, birds and wildlife, and the songs of nature, and does he even realize he’s missing something which he never had? If he is to manage these stresses and bend himself to the queer circumstances of his synthetic environment, if we are to get more out of the land, if we are to find and convert lost space, then Landscape Architects will most certainly have an increasingly important role in the sustainability of the human race and urban densification.  Packing everyone into the cities is not the sustainable effort, it is the lesser of two evils. -Jason

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quantifying Green Building

Hello everyone,

I have yet another confession for my loving audience. I have fallen in love with the website. I will often play these talks while going about homework or design. Some are funny, some are eye opening, all enrich you a little more than before you listened. (Every man knows something I do not, therefore, every man is my teacher. - Lincoln)

We often hear a lot of talk, claims, about what is greener than whatever else is on the market. I'm learning at this point in my life that old adage - If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. Very true. HERE is a TED talk by Catherine Mohr on building green and quantifying your decisions. It's short, about 6 minutes, but she's funny and so it feels like three. -Jason

Monday, November 22, 2010

I've Been at it Again....

I just got home from taking a load of things over to the Salvation Army. I rewarded myself for paring down some items by taking a swing through our old neighborhood and scouring the parkways because, you guessed it - it's bulk trash pickup week! And wouldn't you know it, I feel like I hit the lottery! After only one street I came across these -

No, not the plastic! What is under the plastic! Are you ready for the big reveal???

Discarded Halloween decorations! Three wonderful, huge bales of hay/straw (I naively have no idea of the difference). I couldn't be happier! Great for the garden beds and the coop, these puppies cost between $10-$15 per bale at the local Feed Store. Needless to say I am quite pleased with the find. These will easily last us through the winter. -Carrie

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Getting Around Atlanta on a Bicycle

HERE is an article I read today on a man who gave up his bicycle in Atlanta, GA. It's a fast read and offers a little perspective. Enjoy! - Jason

Site Updates!

Well, it only took 5 months, but we finally have an "About Us" page set up towards the top left of the blog - and an email address to boot!  Check it out! 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lovin' Up on Bulk Trash Pickup Day!

It seems like there is always a neighborhood around here preparing for bulk trash pick up day. For those of you unfamiliar with this (as I was when I first moved here), Dallas has neighborhood bulk trash pickup once a month. Homeowners can leave brush, downed limbs, entire trees, furniture, appliances, etc., on the parkway. The city collects it and takes it to the dump.

People put out the darndest things! I seriously would encourage anyone who lives in a city that does this to take advantage of this free way to find some awesome, completely usable, and sometimes amazing, items. It may feel a little bit odd at first - stopping on the side of the road and going through someone's castoffs - but in time those feelings fade. They are replaced by feelings of resourcefulness (can this be used in a different way instead of putting it in a landfill?) and the thrill of the find. I have never driven around systematically hitting neighborhoods looking for items, but if I come across something while on my daily travels that may look promising, I often stop. The following is a pictorial of some of the better things we've found.

Jason literally spent 10 minutes tinkering with this Dyson Vacuum before he got it to work. This was a great find! We've used it for two years now.

Other than a few minor scratches, this chair is in good condition. I had to fix the bottom of the seat cushion - I ended up just using safety pins to save time! The chair is also missing feet. However, I think unless it was specifically pointed out no one would notice. I originally bought rounded fence post toppers for $4 each from Home Depot to use as feet, but the proportions were a bit off so I returned them. Now I'm just keeping an eye out for chairs or couches set out for bulk trash whose feet I could use on this.

I came across this awesome piece of art about two weeks ago. I couldn't believe my luck! From a distance I first thought it was part of the interior spring system of a mattress, but upon further inspection I realized it was an honest to goodness piece of artsy metalwork!
Set to go to the dump no less! It's about 4' x 18" and really cool.
I plan on putting it on the wall in the next few days.

Metal garden trellis - pretty much self-explanatory

10+ Tomato Cages & Numerous Bamboo Stakes

Some other items we've picked up that are not pictured here include:
  • 7 foot tall Wisteria Vines, used to decorate the corner of a room
  • Indoor pet gate
  • Small Dog Carrier (to be used for the chickens if we ever need to transport them!)
  • North Face bookbag
  • The beginning materials for what I hope will be our next chicken housing project - a chicken tractor! More on that in a later post...
And let's not forget some items we've already written about in this blog, including:
So here's the lesson for the day - someone else's trash can truly be your treasure. Don't disregard it out of hand. I think the vast majority of people would prefer someone be able to re-use their cast offs than just having them go to the dump. So go give it a try! Let us know what diamonds in the rough you discover! -Carrie

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Halloween Non-Gluttony

I know this post is a bit late, but I wanted to get it out in cyberspace nonetheless. My brothers and I grew up in the woods on a dirt road with only a few neighbors. Rereading that it sounds like we were raised by wolves! No - we lived in a nice house with real, wonderful parents. But because of the scarcity of homes on our street we didn't really do the trick-or-treating thing there.

However, we lived less than two miles from our 5 closest cousins who lived in a much larger, more traditional neighborhood. This became our haunting grounds every October 31st. The moms would stay behind and hand out candy, while the dads walked (often more like ran) the eight of us around. We each got a glow stick to wear around our necks (seriously one of the highlights of the night - we only got a glow stick once a year). The houses weren't too close together or too far apart (most of the lots were approximately 1/2-1 acre). We hit as many houses as our little legs could carry us. There was always so much anticipation for the candy that would soon fill our bags. What kinds would we score? How many of each? Etc., etc. Then there was the organizing and trading when we got back to "base camp" (my uncle's house).

I don't know if I've gotten too old or cynical or jaded or what, but Halloween seems to have lost some of it's mystique. The picture above was taken two weeks ago. Crowded doesn't even begin to describe it. Because we now live on a busy, fairly major thoroughfare where no one trick-or-treats, we walked the mile to our old neighborhood to partake of the festivities. We literally know most of the people who live there, so we were also looking forward to catching up with a few of them. However, it quickly became apparent we wouldn't be staying very long. With every house we attempted to get our son up to the porch, I literally started feeling sick to my stomach. I just couldn't shake the thoughts of "What are we becoming as a society?"

Somehow, in recent years, our old historic neighborhood has become something of a "destination" - a holy grail, if you will - for candy seekers. I haven't been able to come up with a solid reason as to why. We've heard horror stories (no pun intended!) of people going through 2,000 pieces of candy, or a couple of hundred dollars worth of candy - in only 30 minutes. I would guess about 95% of the trick-or-treaters do not live (or have never lived) in the neighborhood - and it's a large one with 700 houses. I can appreciate perhaps wanting to take your kids to a safe neighborhood. I really can. But what kills me are the kids (and adults!) who aren't even dressed up at all, walking up to the homeowner and just sticking out their bag. What happened to common courtesy? Another frequent sight are the parents who drive their kids from house to house because they are literally too lazy to park the car and walk. Folks, these houses are not far apart - the lots are each 1/6 of an acre. Yes, the argument could be made that perhaps they have a disability or something. This could be true - but it's probably 1% of those driving. After one street, we walked home.

Like the juxtaposition of the candy with the healthy stuff?

Over the next 24 hours I saw posts on Facebook of people saying their kids collected 7, 8, and 9 pounds of candy. So I weighed our son's. After only eating about 4 or 5 pieces, his total collection came to just over one pound. And I couldn't be happier with that one pound. He got to engage in a fun, time-honored tradition dressed as a muscle man, he practiced his manners - always saying thank you for everything he was given, we had a nice family walk on a gorgeous night, we saw some old friends, and he got a bit of candy to boot. I guess I just wish more people would relish the whole act of Halloween instead of making it a race to see who can collect the most candy in the shortest amount of time - while throwing manners and common sense to the wind. Did anyone else experience something like this during Halloween, or am I just getting too old (and cynical) for my own good? -Carrie

Friday, November 12, 2010

Like Athena from Zeus' Mind

I was writing a persuasive paper for class and the last paragraph sprang from my mind like Athena from Zeus'. I just wanted to share it with you. -Jason

A Landscape Architect is given the privilege of marrying man to the landscape. Like all marriages, the ability to harm is just as real as the ability to nourish. This marriage must be a good bond capable of restoring the soul and must be equally beneficial to all parties, both man and nature. We have moved out of the house of nature and sure as a father who moves out of a broken home, problems will fester in his absence. We must be equally good to each other for our existence is weaved so very tightly together.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Worms in Eggs?

The chicken questions keep on coming! A classmate of Jason is also a newbie chicken-keeper. One of her hens started laying just recently. However, the fourth or fifth egg produced ended up having a worm in it! Yuck! I've heard of worms in poop, but I haven't read about worms in eggs. Any ideas what she needs to do to treat the hen? Also, if a bird is on meds, is there a time frame that you shouldn't be eating their eggs? Thanks again for your wisdom!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Homemade...Squash, Chickpea & Lentil Stew

Please excuse the blurry picture. We seriously need a new camera!

I recently needed to prepare a meal with some organic butternut squash we were graciously given by a friend (thanks, Sarrah!). Wanting to find a new recipe, I took to the internet. Just reading the first recipe that showed up on google made my mouth water. I decided to give it a try. And let me tell you it did not disappoint. Instead of reprinting it in this post, I'm providing the link here. Made in a slow cooker, the flavors just meld together perfectly. This was actually only the second time in my life I have used a slow cooker. I've always shied away from slow cookers for some reason, but I don't know what I've been thinking! It doesn't get much easier. And the smell wafting through the house - I can't put it into words - but if I was forced to come up with something...perfection!

A few things I did differently from the original recipe:
  • Instead of 2.5 pounds of butternut squash, I used 1.25 pounds and 1.25 pounds of sweet potatoes
  • I didn't have tomato paste so I used tomato sauce instead
  • I didn't have fresh ginger, so I just sprinkled on a bit of powdered ginger (1/4 tsp?)
  • I didn't have saffron so just completely omitted it
  • I ended up not adding any lime juice, though I think it would taste great to add a small squeeze to each serving
Jason hates butternut squash. Let me rephrase that - up until this recipe Jason hated butternut squash. He pretty much refused to eat it. After making this stew he not only had seconds (and thirds?) but took some to school the next day. I think it will freeze well, too. Another way to mix it up would be to use some pumpkin in place of or in addtion to the butternut squash and/or sweet potato. Lord knows we now have the pumpkin to do this! -Carrie

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pumpkin Recycling

The Idea
A few weeks ago I was perusing a new-to-me blog, MamaStories, and I had an "Ah-Ha!" moment when I came across this post. One of those so-simple-yet-so-awesome ideas. Are you waiting with bated breath? It's the idea of adding neighborhood pumpkins to your compost pile! Why haven't I ever thought of that? Katrien and her daughter, through a cute little art project, get the word out to their neighbors that they will take any and all pumpkins after Halloween. They then use these as a supplement to their compost piles. Ingenious! Keeps them out of the landfill while building up the soil. I can't think of anything better.

The Email
So I took this idea and ran with it. Instead of making flyers I sent out an email to my local mom's group. It read exactly like this:

"After Halloween, instead of throwing your pumpkins in the trash, consider giving them to me! I will take any & all pumpkins, gourds, etc (both cut into and not) off your hands. Most will be composted. If I have a few that are uncut & still "viable" I will probably bake with them. I will be more than happy to pick them up from anywhere in the north oak cliff area. I just figured it's a way to 1)not put something in the landfill, 2)add to our growing compost, & 3)maybe even get a pie out of the deal!"

The Results

Let's just say I couldn't be happier. Over the last few days, during my usual errands (so I haven't had to drive out of the way), I've picked up numerous spent jack o' lanterns from about 5 families. They've filled the bags in the picture below (and don't worry, almost all of the bags I will be able to re-use). I already placed about half of them in our compost when I turned it on Saturday.

But just yesterday I hit the jackpot! From one house I received enough unblemished pumpkins to fill the entire back of my minivan! I was astonished!

I offered to make the homeowner a pumpkin pie, but all she asked in return was for 2 cups of pumpkin puree. Now I have enough edible pumpkin to last me through the spring - if not the summer. All of these pumpkins would have just gone in the trash. Now they will help to feed our tummies and grow summer veggies. Thanks again for the idea, Katrien! And thanks to all those who donated your pumpkins. We'll definitely be doing this again next year. -Carrie

Saturday, November 6, 2010

WARNING: If You Don't Like Chicken Poop...Don't Scroll Down!

OK, so is there anyone out there who really likes chicken poop? I doubt it, but I need some advice from those of you with more experience on the chicken poop front. For the past few weeks our Barred Rock (and newest layer) has been having some runny poops. Her once poofy back side now has runny droppings on it at all times. Not horrendous, but enough to notice. This morning I came out to clean off their "poop board" as we affectionately call it, and came upon this unpleasant sight:

Three piles of poop (as usual), with the most southerly being the most disturbing. There is a mess of stuff going on there that I can't even begin to work through. You can even click on the picture for a larger view if you are so inclined! Any thoughts? Does she have some bug? Does she need medicine? I don't see any worms or anything in there. She didn't eat anything out of the ordinary yesterday (that I know of), but this is the first time since we purchased them 6 months ago that I've come across something this messy and variable. On a possibly related note, her egg production has declined sharply in the last few weeks, where as our Black Sex Link is still going strong. Your expertise is greatly appreciated, thanks in advance! -Carrie

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Homemade...Golden Carrot Muffins

My three year old is a picky eater. And I mean P-I-C-K-Y. I have fallen into the horrendous habit of quickly putting something together for him that differs from what the rest of the family is having. I am completely aware that this makes me a horrible mother. But some nights I just can't stand the whining, so I give in before it has even started. That's why I was so happy to find a healthy muffin recipe a few weeks ago. The whole family loves these (including food-hater-boy!). They taste great with a slight amount of cream cheese, too!

I got this recipe from Annette over at CoMo Homestead. You can view the original recipe here. And my slightly tweaked version, below:

Golden Carrot Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups packed finely shredded carrots
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup golden and 1/4 cup regular raisins
  • 2 T canola oil
  • 1 T coconut oil
  • 1 T butternut squash puree
  • 1 T no-sugar-added applesauce
  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly spray a muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Wash carrots and shred in food processor or with grater.
  3. In large bowl, mix all the wet ingredients (first 9).
  4. Add the dry ingredients (last 5). Mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
  5. Spoon muffin batter into muffin tin and bake for around 17-20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted into center of muffin.
  6. Allow muffins to cool before serving.
I reduced the sugar (syrup) component, and reduced the canola oil from 5T to only 2T - but didn't lose any of the awesome moistness since I added in the coconut oil, squash, and applesauce. As I write this post I realize I probably could have reduced the eggs from 2 to 1 & 1 egg white. Additionally, pecans would give a great nutty flavor. Give these muffins a try. They are sure to be a crowd pleaser, and your little veggie-scoffers won't be the wiser! -Carrie

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Getting Healthy: Week 8 Update

This is one of those posts that I wish I could just not write and in two more weeks come back to you and say, "Oh, I've been so busy, I completely forgot!" Sadly, while I have been busy, I certainly didn't forget. What happened is that I gained two pounds during the last two weeks. Except worse than that is that I didn't gain it in two weeks - I gained it in one! I have a million and a half excuses as to why this happened, some valid, most not. I won't bore you with the details, however. Let's just say I'm back on track. So instead of perhaps the 12 pound total loss I should have been reporting to you, it's now 8. In two weeks I promise I'll be back with 10 pounds lost (total since September 1 - not in two weeks!). -Carrie

Monday, October 25, 2010

Would you like some egg with your blood?

Our Barred Rock's bloody egg - sorry for the blurry picture

Sorry for the macabre title (and picture), but this is what awaited us this evening in the nest box. Charlotte's 19th egg, covered in an amount of blood that I just don't think is normal (the egg itself was usual size - not extraordinarily huge, or even big for that matter). Her egg yesterday had a slight smear of blood on it, but it didn't really phase me. Today, however, I turn to you, my peeps. Perhaps your experience will put my mind at ease? She was still walking around and eating like normal, but we weren't able to really investigate her backside as it was just too dark. We plan on checking it out first thing in the morning. So - is this something to be concerned about or should we just let it go? Thanks! -Carrie

Friday, October 22, 2010

5 Reasons to Use Local Farms

Hey all,

Sorry I haven't posted recently. I've been busier than a one legged man in a.... well you get the point. I want to share with you something that is near and dear to my heart. Eating local.

The average plate of food in this country travels over 1500 miles before it gets to you. That's right... 1500 miles. That's ridiculous! Of course, this food doesn't get up and move on it's own. We use copious amounts of fossil fuels in this world to provide logistics which are right at our own backdoor. I once heard that one of our major cities uses one third of its energy consumption just to move water around the city! HERE is an article from CNN of all places on 5 reasons to use local farms. Enjoy! -Jason

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Eggly

I haven't done a chicken update in a while and since we've had some very important developments, I figured it was high time I got on the ball.

Earlier this afternoon, the girls eating a mix of honey dew,
uncooked oatmeal, and leftover pasta/sauce

The Good News
Finally, after many months of watching and waiting with bated breath, Charlotte, our Barred-Rock, started laying large light brown eggs exactly one month ago. I don't think it was a coincidence that it happened literally the day after Jason went out and had a heart-to-heart with her - he said, and I quote, "Do you want to be part of breakfast or part of dinner?" Fortunately for her, she chose the former! For a total of three blissful days we had all three chickens giving us their delectable treats.

The Bad News
On day four of egg-heaven Swoope, our Brown Leghorn (and most prolific layer), didn't produce an egg. OK, not a problem, she usually takes a break every fourth or fifth day. Here's the problem - her "break" hasn't ended. It has been three weeks since she laid her last egg. Seemingly nothing is wrong with her - she's eating and drinking fine, hopping/flying over the fence every chance she gets (because the grass is always greener on the other side - in this case it literally is), poop is normal, no mites or bugs that I can see, and she's still going up into the nesting box at least every other day - I think she's just teasing us. Oh, and nothing appears to be popping out of orifices it shouldn't be. We have no clue what is going on with her. The other two are still laying strong. It's just such a bummer. If it isn't one hen it's another! Being newbies at chicken keeping we don't profess to know a thing. So those of you out there with more experience - any ideas on what could possibly be going on with her? Any and all thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! -Carrie

Picture of Swoope taken just today as I caught her sitting on "her" golfballs. She seems to be spending alot of time in that box. Should I take out the balls? They certainly know where they are supposed to lay by now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Green Conundrum

The Birthday
Towards the end of summer, my youngest son attended a birthday party for a boy from our church. Seeing as the birthday boy was 7 and the other attendees were that or older, I figured I'd stay to help keep an eye on my 3 year old. Fun was had by all. I knew that going to the party would mean trying to find a way to politely decline the use of any disposable tableware - but I felt up to the challenge. Even though paper plates and plastic cups/forks/spoons were in abundance, I was amazingly able to commandeer a ceramic bowl and metal spoon for my son. I think my excuse was something about not trusting him with ice cream on a plate. Which is true, by the way, but I was stretching it a bit. I declined all food and drinks because I didn't want to have to throw anything away.

But something occurred before my eyes that I just couldn't believe. One of my sweet, dear friends (who was also there watching her kids) actually refused a reusable cup - she said she felt bad about it! I guess because it meant that the homeowner would have to wash it instead of just throwing it out. The homeowner pushed for her to take the reusable, but she insisted on the throw-away. How warped we've become that we'd rather use something for literally five seconds and trash it rather than wash it and put it back in the cupboard for use on another day?

The Reunion
As for accumulating "unnecessary" trash during a party, this exact same thing happened to us at a family reunion this summer - but we weren't prepared. We were drowning in a sea of styrofoam and plastic, and the hosts hadn't even set out a bag for recycling cans, either. I wanted to stand up on the tables and scream about it to try and wake people up. But I took the wimpy way out and didn't say a thing - and used the styrofoam and plastic to boot! This was the first reunion for my husband's side of the family in almost 20 years. There were probably about 75 people there and I only knew a handful of them. Everyone was having a pleasant time, and I just didn't want to rock the boat.

The Consequences
But these two stories do show how the vast majority of society still could care less if they're putting needless waste into the landfills. One idea I recently read about is to keep a small stash of plates & utensils in the car for times such as these. I can't think of any other way to deal with it - other than using the "bad stuff" or possibly eating only finger foods. I don't want to ruin everyone else's time by getting up on my soapbox, but I also don't want our family adding anything unnecessary to the dump. Or the ocean for that matter. Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It's basically two large (and I mean the size of Texas or bigger) floating trash piles (made up of about 90% plastic) that pollute the North Pacific Ocean and take no prisoners. But that's a post for another day.

A wonderful post over at Towards Sustainability discusses this exact topic - how do you broach the topic of creating less waste with friends/neighbors/coworkers/family without seeming crazy? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated! - Carrie

[Editor's note: For those loyal subscribers thinking to themselves - "Why does this post seem slightly familiar?" - well, that's because it is. I committed the ultimate blogging faux paux, not once, but three times! This post has already run three times, but in incomplete form. I think I caught it within the first 30 minutes of being posted each time, but it is embarrassing to say the least. So, my sincerest apologies - thanks for sticking with us!]

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Getting Healthy: Week 6 Update

Just a quick update this time. Continuing to lose at a respectable rate. I lost 3.0 pounds over the last two weeks, bringing my total to 10.0 pounds since September 1! I am very excited about this, and have even been able to "retire" my 2 pairs of size 14 church jeans! Cute skirts, here I come! My goal is to lose 5 more pounds during the remaining weeks of October, but that may be a slightly steep number. However, I wasn't able to exercise as much as I did the previous two weeks because I had a large amount of schoolwork. But two of my classes are ending in the next few days, so I think I'll be back up to my 5xweek exercising goal (not to mention writing more blog posts, too!), which will hopefully lead me to lose those 5 pounds. We will see! Any luck for you all the past two weeks? - Carrie

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Getting Healthy: Week 4 Update

I hope everyone had a great two weeks working on Getting Healthy! Time now for the moment of truth - I am pleased to let you know that I lost an additional 3.5 pounds in the two weeks prior to 9/25/2010 - for a grand total in the last four weeks of 7.0 pounds! I'm very excited about the progress I've made so far. I'm at the point now where I can really tell that I have lost some weight - clothes are fitting more loosely, my face doesn't look as "puffy" as I always felt it did, and the ease with which I am staying the course is almost scary! Jason says he can definitely tell I'm losing weight (and that's without my prompting!). The following are a few observations from the previous two weeks:
  • On 9/15 I had something of a set-back. I walked 3 miles at 7pm (CST) on 9/14, and again at 7am on 9/15. The last 1/4 mile of that morning walk I knew I had pushed it too much. My old, beaten up exercise shoes - you know, the ones that no longer have any lining on the inside and plastic just grinds into your heels? Well, they did a number on mine. I got the two biggest blood blisters I've ever had in my life (1" each - one just above each heel). I was only able to wear flip flops for the next 6 days. Since walking is my go-to exercise, it forced me to come up with other ways of getting my heart rate up. I ended up doing things like pushups, situps, lifting with 8lb. weights, and pilates-inspired leg exercises. I was so worried I 'd relapse to my old ways (it's just my habit), but I continued to eat responsibly and kept up with the calisthenics until my heels healed enough for me to walk for exercise again.
  • On 9/19 I had my first "food incident" since starting my healthier lifestyle on 9/01. I finished a sensible dinner around 7pm, but just two hours later I was craving more (& really bad!) food with a vengeance. I was feeling extremely sorry for myself, literally pouting on the couch for 30 minutes because I wanted to eat so bad but knew I didn't truly need it. In my old life I would have hopped up and thought to myself, "I had a tough day, I deserve to make a plate of greasy ice cream sunday...(insert any horrendous-for-you-but-yummy food here)." But I stayed glued to the couch. Eventually I just got bored and began to think of some things I should be doing instead. Jason and I ended up spending about an hour cleaning off/out our desk (yes, it's a big desk!). The desire to mindlessly pig-out passed, and I didn't ruin any of the progress I'd made.
  • As I was getting dressed the morning of 9/21, I realized my standard two pairs of size 14 jeans were both dirty. I looked in the closet and half-heartedly pulled out a pair of size 12s I haven't been able to wear in the last 9 months. And guess what? Not only did they fit, but they fit perfectly! Not tight at all. Just one month ago I couldn't even breathe with them buttoned - I had to stuff myself in them like meat into a sausage skin! Now I can even feel the slightest amount of space between my leg and the material. It is a great feeling!
So, how about you? Did you have any setbacks these last few weeks? Any accomplishments? Let me know - I'd love to hear from you! - Carrie

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Four Minutes of Sleep

I have long said that our "more efficient" society isn't as efficient as we would like to believe.

Here's a four minute clip from TED that talks about ancient sleep habits and how we live today. -Jason

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hard Headed v. Hard Helmeted

Kenny here. It is said that there are two kinds of cyclists. Those who have crashed, and those who are going to crash. As I mentioned in my last entry, riding a bicycle can be dangerous. As you may recall, I am not so proud to belong to the “have crashed” category. Your accident does not have to be as traumatic as mine, and I hope to impart some helpful safety tips to prolong your time in the “has not crashed yet” category.

Here we go:
1. Wear a helmet. Of course we look goofy wearing it, but at least the mush stays inside the skull as a result of the goofiness. I know that we never wore one as children and we turned out just fine, but why tempt fate?
2. Maintain a keen awareness of your surroundings. I fully believe that I could have avoided my brush with death had I not been listening to my I-Pod. I could have heard the vehicle behind me and taken evasive action. Don’t talk on the phone or text while riding either. Duh!
3. Wear bright clothes. There is a term for cyclists that wear dark colors and have no reflectors or blinking lights. Ninja. Ninjas are undetectable. Until they get hit by a car or truck that is.
4. Learn the motor vehicle laws. While riding your bike on public roadways, it is your responsibility to be familiar with the laws of the road. A bicycle is considered a vehicle and is afforded the same laws as any other vehicle. In Dallas, it is against the law to ride on the sidewalk. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but I was hit by a Mini-Van because I entered the intersection from the sidewalk, practically invisible to the motorist.
5. Ride during daylight hours. Remember the term Ninja? If you are going to ride at night, have a headlight system and an extremely bright red blinky on the back. This is a must and is the law in most municipalities. I also have a reflective orange triangle that I sewed to my backpack.
6. Stop at Stop Signs. This seems like a no brainer, but you could not imagine how many cyclists feel as though the aforementioned motor vehicle laws don’t apply to them. I must admit that I spent an afternoon getting a ticket dismissed for this one. Never said I was perfect….But now I know. And knowing is half the battle.

I hope that you are taking this seriously, there will be a quiz soon. -Kenny

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another Nest Box Giveaway!

Well folks, they're at it again! Less than two months after the last giveaway, Life on a Southern Farm is giving away yet another chicken nest box - except this time it's a 3-holer! Good for 9-12 chickens. Probably come early spring we will be getting a few more chickens (those eggs are addictive!), so a box this size would come in handy. Head over to their site and get your name in the pot! The contest ends at midnight (EST) on September 17th. Good Luck! -Carrie

Ask and Ask Again

The other day I was at a big box store which I try not to routinely visit, but my particular need for this item didn’t allow for second hand shopping. During this trip, I found that the item I was in need of, but also found that it wasn’t in stock. It was the cheapest of the brands with no bells or whistles. I quickly grabbed the next associate who looked like she belonged in that department and asked if I could purchase the shelf model or get a break on the next most expensive item. “We don’t do that….” she said with a disgusted look on her face and quickly walked away.

Hmm… I’m more persistent than that. Next stop, assistant manager. Very next stop, cash register with the next most expensive brand at the cheaper price. Persistence pays.

Incidentally, that's how I won my wife. Ironically, I found her in a store too. -Jason