Thursday 30 July 2015

It started with a few chickens...

So, many years ago, inspired by a co-worker who started keeping chickens, my husband and I went to something called The Fur and Feather Show. It was a dreary, misty, cold day and we walked around looking at various fowl for sale, as well as some cute little bunny rabbits. We knew very little about chickens. We found some Rhode Island Red hens that seemed to be a good price. We were handed some gangly, scrawny-necked dark, reddish brown chickens in a box. We were idiots. 

After keeping chickens for many years, I now know that those were NOT young birds. You can tell by looking at their legs. Nice, smooth brightly coloured legs indicate young, healthy birds. As birds get older (well, hey, and sometimes women nearing 50!) their legs change for the worse.
Chickens' legs become scaly looking, thicker, and lose their nice bright yellow colour. These Rhode Island Red hens had "middle-aged" legs. Some of them were missing feathers on their necks, usually a sign of another hen picking at them, or perhaps a rooster with nasty habits.

Anyway, we kept them. They laid nice big brown eggs, although not all that frequently. We did not have a chicken coop of any sort. No sir, we put them in our shed. Our gardening shed. We were idiots. We also let them roam free. We were blissfully unaware of how incredibly destructive chickens can be. They dig huge holes. They don't care where they dig them. They do this so they can create a dust bath. They like to take dust baths to shed themselves of mites, which no doubt these chickens were lousy with! And chickens poop. A LOT. Everywhere. On your porch. On your garden bench. Everywhere you walk.

But, eventually the husband built them a coop. Now here's the deal. I grew up in the country. I've been around farm animals. I have seen barns. Nobody I knew had a cute little chicken coop, but I knew the sort of space required for animals and feed storage, and I had a pretty good idea what we would need. My husband was born in Montreal, although he is not French speaking. He then grew up in London (Ontario). The closest my husband came to farm animals was probably the animals on display at Old Macdonald's Farm in Story Book Gardens in Springbank Park in London. So once it became painfully obvious that our middle-aged Rhode Island Reds needed an enclosure, he based the design on what he knew. The chicken coops featured in the cartoons with Foghorn Leghorn.
childhood inspiration

He built a fabulous chicken coop. It was sided with lovely old barn board. We repurposed an old wooden door from our basement for the door to the coop. He raised it up over the ground and created a little ramp which led to a chicken-sized door. He even wired it for electricity.
Doesn't the coop look idyllic with the foxgloves in front? The red door is from our basement and has an iron rooster attached to it that we picked up on a trip to Florida when we were first married.

Here is an older shot of the coop taken after a wind storm which brought down some branches from the Manitoba maples.

You can see the little chicken ramp they used to get in and out of the coop.
Not all creatures at the chicken coop are chickens.

What did we use for nesting boxes? Well, that's another repurpose. When I went away to University, I really needed book shelves (English and History major - lots of books!). I also needed a spot for a clock radio (dating myself here). So, I asked my father to build me something that could be used for both. My father was not one to do things in small measure, so he built a bomb-proof bookshelf with a cutout section so I could reach my clock radio at just the right height beside my bed and painted it dark brown. The thing weighed a ton, but it was well-built and I used it all through university. Then after we got married, it was used for storage in a spare bedroom. After we moved to a different house (our current one) that had an ancient bathroom with no storage, that bookshelf became our towel storage. Then finally, so many years later, we turned the vertical bookshelf into a horizontal set of nesting boxes nailed to the wall of the chicken coop. The birds loved it, all packed with fresh straw. And like many bird brains, they all tended to use the same one or two nesting boxes, rather than utilizing all of them, often cramming two birds in a box at once.
They liked this box (the smallest one!) and the one beside it the most. This is not a Rhode Island red, but a later bird, perhaps an Isa Brown.

The chickens now had a very upscale home, but still were free range birds. They came in to nest in the evenings. We really never had to find them and shoo them in, they just naturally "came home to roost". We put a tree branch that had been stripped of its bark in the coop for them to roost on. Some chose the branch, some preferred to be on top of the nesting boxes.
Here is the branch (roost) filled with chickens and one rooster. The three sitting on top of the blue box will be explained in a later post, as well as the handsome rooster on the coop floor. You can see there is a cage built below the nesting boxes which we used for very young birds who were too little to introduce to the flock.

Over the years, we had various chickens. Sometimes we bought pullets from a local company. They were great because they were already at the very beginning of their laying age and they produced a lot of eggs. We also purchased chickens from the Keady Market, a local outdoor market which also has livestock sales. We never really learned from those experiences. Once we bought a lovely pair of birds. One was a very handsome, colourful, banty rooster and his mate. They were in a box with a cut-away section so you could see the birds inside. We were idiots. Buyer beware, of course. It was our choice to purchase them. I think I was lured by his bright colours, but Rusty (of course, named after the rooster that lived in a bag on the wall of the Friendly Giant's castle for all those Canadians who can relate) was quite frankly a son of a bitch. The only one who could handle him was my husband. He chased me to the point where I whacked him with an empty plastic bucket. He attacked our son. Boy, Rusty hated our son's little red rubber boots! Rusty crowed brilliantly, however and was gorgeous to look at. His mate in the box? Well, she was also a banty hen (meaning small size) and she was blind in one eye. Likely due to some other chicken pecking her. We named her Winky. She laid one tiny egg about once a month. But we kept her. She was quite a little character, very timid, probably due to her lack of great sight. Eventually we gave Rusty to a farmer down the road who had all kinds of chickens. He could then attack different people. Winky started to "fly the coop" and once some people who lived a fair distance from us found her in their back yard. We rescued her and brought her home. Then, she flew away permanently. That is not a euphemism. She literally left and we never found her again, although we really did look for her.
Rusty. Pint sized and full of attitude.

My son holding Winky. She was very tiny.(So was he in this photo!)

I think I will stop there, but will continue with more chicken stories and eventually get to the ducks. I was inspired by John of Going Gently (see my side bar) telling tales of his various fowl.

Sunday 19 July 2015

Sleep, blessed sleep.

I barely slept at all last night. We were in a hotel. It was a crappy hotel. The nonsmoking room smelled like smoke. But the bathroom was clean and it wasn't very expensive. The bed was king-sized. It was awful.

What kind of bed do you prefer? This bed was soft. It was squishy and soft and you sunk down in it and my hips were screaming at me and it was soft.  I prefer a relatively firm bed. I like at least a queen size (all we can fit up our old staircase is queen size, not king). I've slept in some wonderful beds and I've slept in some horrible beds. 

Horrible bed: a bed and breakfast in Eastern Canada somewhere (P.E.I.? New Brunswick?) Can't remember but it literally sloped downward, so you felt like you had to brace yourself the entire night to keep from slipping right off the bed.

Wonderful bed: Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ontario. There I discovered the joy that is a down-filled topper on top of an equally wonderful bed. Like sleeping on a supportive cloud.

Horrible bed: Before hubby and I were married and I would visit his parents' home, I was put on a "bed" in a spare room which was also like a little study / tv room. It was not until years later that I realized it wasn't even a bed, but some kind of vinyl coated flat couch like thing. It was hard and had wierd cushions that you could feel through the bedding.

Wonderful bed: One of the bed and breakfasts from our most recent getaway in Prince Edward County. The hostess said it was the same as her own bed that she and her husband sleep on. I think she said it was a Seely something or other. I should have remembered specifically what she said because it was very good. Not too hard, not too soft, Goldilocks.

Horrible bed: that bed I did not sleep in last night!!!! 

It is also tough to negotiate beds with your loved one. You have to agree on the bed, unless of course you are my dear friend who purchased a special bed that you can programme each side differently depending on how firm or not firm you want your side to be. Amazing.

I am not a good napper. Sometimes I am so desperate for a nap, like when I take a day off work because my sinuses are so clogged and in pain and I am sicker than a dog, and I try to nap. I try so hard and it doesn't happen and then I feel worse, or the phone rings. However, sometimes I fall asleep on the couch with the tv on if I have a " blankie" on me. 

I have a friend who is an excellent napper. She can just put her head down for a pre-determined amount of time, have a good little power nap and wake up refreshed. I would pay good money for that!

I have been through times in my life where I can't shut my brain off. At night. When I'm supposed to be sleeping. Everything that has happened, could happen, might happen, should have happened, all whips through my brain at break-neck speed, all the while I'm trying to say to myself, "Think of nothing. Let your mind go blank. Count backwards from 100...."

And lately my husband has taken up snoring. Normally the only time he snores is when he is congested, or he has enjoyed an extra drink or two with another dear friend. But now he snores pretty much on and off the whole night. I know this because I listen to him. When I do give him a nudge he declares he hasn't been snoring in a really indignant way and I answer that I wouldn't make this stuff up (I might say it differently depending on the time). 

So... I guess really what I'm saying is I could use a good night sleep tonight. How 'bout you? 

Thursday 16 July 2015

Port Hope excursion

Recently, the husband and I went away for a couple of days. Our first stop was Port Hope, Ontario. This was a few hours from our home and we were happy to get there after realizing that people on the 401 highway are impatient and in an almighty rush to get somewhere. Husband was driving 120 (this is km/hr) and people actually honked and passed him. The 401 is a three lane highway and apparently 120 is not fast enough for the outside lane. Chill out people. You'll get there.

Anyway, the reason for choosing Port Hope was that many years ago, in his youth, hubby stopped off there with his family on the way to somewhere else. His father wanted them to see the place where he attended school for a while. My husband's father died a few years ago. He was a warm, kind man who we all still miss very much. He was brought up in very different circumstances than my husband, growing up in Montreal with substantial priviledge and prestige. That was not the way my husband was brought up, however, but life changes.

So, we decided to go have a look at Trinity College School in Port Hope with the hope that we could perhaps find some old pictures of sports teams lining the halls and find my husband's father, who was quite the athlete. When we came to the visitor's entrance, the people there were more than helpful. Of course, school was out for the summer, so the students and staff were not in attendance. But after introducing himself and explaining his reason for being there, husband was reassured that someone could find some pictures and information. We followed a staff member across the wide expanse of freshly mowed lawn to a different building where a woman at a desk already had our name typed into her computer and was trying to locate information in their archives.

We were thrilled when she was able to quickly find football team photos, as well as hockey, prefects, and a graduation announcement, all of which she sent to our home email address, so that we can print them out and keep them on file.  We found out that his father attended for grades 10, 11 and 12 in the 1950's. Trinity is a very old private school in Ontario and at the time was just for boys. Now it is co-ed ranging from grades 5 to 12. It is still a private school. The school has, of course, added on over the years, but the beautiful old original buildings still stand. The grounds are lovely and it must be incredible to experience being a part of it in the autumn when the leaves are turning.

Out of curiosity I looked up the tuition fees if one were to currently send their child to this school. If you live close enough and wish to send your child to "dayschool", it is $22,950 for grades 5 and 6, to $31,850 for gr. 11 and 12 per year. However, if you wish to send your gr. 10, 11, or 12 student to boarding school there, it is $52,450.  With your remaining funds, you should factor in the first year uniform costs of about $750 to $1000, approximately $500 for books, and of course, a laptop is mandatory.  I suspect the costs in the 1950's were all relative.

Wow. I just can't comprehend that kind of money. And that's one year. What if you send your child from grade 5 all the way through to the end of grade 12? What if you have more than one child??
This is just not our world. I'm sure these youngsters get a great education there. They undoubtedly make valuable connections which hopefully they will be able to use in the networking sense as they go into adulthood and life in the businessworld. And, it really is a beautiful place.

While in Port Hope, we also took in a show at the Capital Theatre called "Shout" put on by five very talented women who belted out great songs from the sixties. We stayed at a bed and breakfast where people were very friendly and provided a great breakfast. Our trip then continued on in beautiful Prince Edward County, but that's another post.

Sunday 5 July 2015


Lately it has been rainy and cool, especially in the evenings. But yesterday it finally felt like summer. I do not complain about the heat. I like it to feel hot and muggy. People complain about the humidity that we experience in southern Ontario, but I don't mind (when it does happen). We have not had a hot, muggy summer for two years now. They speak of global warming, whereas I feel that things have become colder.
 My husband (and the rest of us when there were jobs that we could do) put in a pool a few years ago. It is an inground pool. We were barely in it last summer. The hottest day of all happened to fall on husband's 50th birthday, thank goodness, so people could go in the pool and enjoy it. I have yet to go in the pool this summer. I like it to be AT LEAST 80 degrees. (Higher would be even better). We do not have a heater for the pool. We rely on the sun. Husband, as is often the case, designed and created solar heating panels. The idea is the water runs through pipes against a black panel which helps to heat it up and then it is directed back into the pool. We have one functioning panel on the roof of the pool house. There is another "not-yet-hooked-up" panel on the roof as well. This past week, a third (not-yet-hooked-up) panel was added to the roof. It takes a few arms to do this and daughter's boyfriend and our son assisted husband in the task.
Two ladders are required for this job. You can see the pipes snaking back and forth against the black background. There is a clear corrugated piece missing from this panel which will be replaced before the final hook up.

The ladders act as ramps.

Almost there. Don't let go!

At roof level now.

Husband ready to drill in the brackets to hold the panel in place. This part of the roof is west-facing. You can see the setting sun because this was done after supper. The other two panels are south facing.

Something made son laugh.

Supervisor looks on. He approves.

So... we are one step closer to having a warmer pool with the global cooling we have been experiencing. Today is supposed to be lovely and hot. Who knows, if it gets to 80 degrees, I might just go in!!