Backyard Chicken Keeping:  The Girls Get Curtains!

Let's talk about Privacy...

Let’s talk about Privacy…

Wow, it’s been awhile since we chatted about chickens. But the girls have been doing well. The remaining seven cluckers from our original brood of eight are still doing well and laying regularly. Even in the depth of winter I’m still getting about four to five eggs a day and at least twice a week everyone lays!

But, I was noticing that they all preferred only one of the four nesting boxes available. And one of them had turned into something of a litter box.  Also I started finding one of my Buff Orpington’s sitting on the eggs inexplicably. I could shoo her off easily; but, broodiness was becoming a concern.

I did some research to figure out what might be the problem. Apparently this is a well-known issue. The girls like to do their laying in privacy. The one box they preferred was the one that was the hardest to “view” from anywhere in the coop. Many chicken keepers provide a little shade or curtains to the nesting boxes to allow for “privacy” while your hen is doing her egg-laying task.

The chief engineer has a new job that takes him away from the micro-farm more often, so I had to be without the expert carpentry for a bit and did some old-Army-vet field expediency work. I went to our local thrift store and bought a $1 kitchen curtain valance. I got the punch stapler out and hung the curtains inside the coop across the nesting box row, allowing for a bit of space for the girls to scoot in and out of the nest.

Field-expedient nesting box curtains.

Field-expedient nesting box curtains.

It’s adorable, don’t you think?

The curtains have been up a few weeks now and now I find eggs in each and every box! There is one box that someone keeps thinking is a litter box (towards the front of the space), but I cleaned it all out with vinegar and water and put in fresh straw and the litter box mistakes seems to have stopped. Granted, poop happens in a coop, so you can’t get too upset. Minimizing droppings on the beautiful eggs is the goal, however.

This particular box had seen no action until the curtains were installed. No lookie there!

This particular box had seen no action until the curtains were installed. No lookie there!

The favored box still has the most eggs in it, however. But, they aren’t ALL in there and I’m less worried now about someone becoming broody and thinking they’re going to hatch ALL THE EGGS.

If you’re having trouble with your cluckers not using all the boxes, I highly encourage some sort of privacy maker – curtains, shades, blinds, whatever you have handy. If you’ve read this and decided to do the same, share a photo of your privacy maker for your nesting boxes in your coop.

Posted in Chickens, Homesteading, Micro Farming, Urban Farming | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fasting to Honor the MLK Legacy

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Over the years, I’ve been hearing more and more about people unable to do “service” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day do a daylight fast to honor the discipline, willpower, and sacrifice that MLK had to endure in his mission to bring forth civil rights in America. Service to my community is part of my everyday life, and given that I was flying the solo parent flight this holiday, I was looking to observe the day more personally and spiritually. Fasting was my avenue.

I had only liquids – water, mostly. But I did have some tea and coffee, too.  You can’t be the mother of three teens still in the house and not have caffeine. I didn’t want my exercise in honor of MLK to potentially negatively affect my children. I wanted to be an example to them. I wanted the exercise to mean something. I love food. Therefore, a day without eating, felt like a difficult task for me, to mirror, in a small way, what MLK did every day. Not just one day a year.

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I think I did pretty well. The children were all eating leftover pizza at the point in the day when I felt the hunger pangs the most ridiculously – my stomach rumbled like an earthquake was going to erupt down my abdomen. The smell of the crispy, greasy a pepperoni and melted cheese – oh! It was so easy to almost chow down. But, the kids also supported my fast and hurriedly ate and cleaned up their mess.

Then there was the moments of daily life stress that because I was hungry made me feel less capable to deal with the barrage of problems I typically slay quickly in my life:  hitting my head on the garage door, a string of bad drivers as I taxied my children around, the chickens deciding my calf looked like lunch, or when the line at the local café where I was meeting a client seemed to take forever and I was forced to stand in front of the pastry case for seven long minutes (it felt like seven years).

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But I kept thinking about King. What he did when the government treated him as an enemy of the state, how he behaved even though what he was doing was the right thing, not the easy thing, how the legacy of his work still needs more work. I would breathe deep (pulling in those yoga sessions into everyday life), concentrate on my feet on the ground and move forward.

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I did look at the weather app on my phone several times to make sure than when sunset was coming wasn’t changing on me. But then, Dr. King’s words would echo in my head, “Keep moving forward.”

King's home following the bombing. Photo by Arthur Shores (5 Sep 63)

King’s home following the bombing. Photo by Arthur Shores (5 Sep 63)

I also spent time reading about King and learning just how awful the government, the white patriarchy, and even some within his own community disavowed him, berated him, persecuted, and even asked him to kill himself! The entire exercise was for me to feel the primal urges that perhaps King felt when he was maltreated and victimized by the opponents of what he stood for:  justice through peace. How hard did King have to work to move past the animalistic emotion for vengeance and into the spiritual nature that he was so remembered for?  “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear,” he said.

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Looking back at his life, my own accomplishments and battles seem paltry. But we all can’t be MLK. It does mean we may live our lives so that his life and work lives on (wow that’s a lot of lives and lives). It means I can’t give up on the battles I have to fight:  #LifewithAutism, surviving three teenagers in the house, and the ever elusive publishing contract, as well as the continued work in civil rights.

My son, proud of my fasting exercise for the day, made me dinner.

My son, proud of my fasting exercise for the day, made me dinner.

At sundown, I could eat; but, I took an extra ten minutes to relish the peace of knowing that humanity is capable of producing great leaders like King, ones whom in the face of unending antagonism, he never faltered. Considering all the good that has been wrought since his assassination, even given that there is more work to do (#blacklivesmatter), we shall all be thankful, and I was. I ended the day in an attitude of gratitude. It produced a dinner made mostly by my son’s insistence and assistance. It wasn’t the healthiest way to break the fast, but I was feeling my blessings and counting them, too.

Thank you, Dr. King.

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Posted in And Sometimes There Is Politics, Life with Autism, Life-Writing Balance, Social Action Writing, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DIY Laundry Detergent:  Win A Prize Either Way

Back in the early fall, a friend of mine, Mike, posted about making his own laundry soap. We had just survived summer without a dryer, so saving money on the washing side was of interest to me, as well. This whole unintended homesteading (gardening, canning, chicken keeping, bartering) thing I’ve been doing since June of 2011 has opened my eyes to so many lost arts. Apparently you can make your own laundry detergent, too. Talk about saving money!

DIY Laundry Detergent

DIY Laundry Detergent

Given that the recipe would cover me for months of clothes washing, I was really game – especially when I learned that all the ingredients cost me less than $15. Given that I was spending $15 every two weeks (sometimes more often) on laundry soap, and learning that this recipe could be done over and over again, with little more than another $1.09 purchase of one of the ingredients, I was willing to give it a try. In the end, each quart Mason jar cost me approximately $1.06 each, not including the cost of the water and jars (As an avid food preserver, I had lots of Mason Jars on hand – I used the older ones that I knew couldn’t go through another water bath or pressure canning session). Yes, friends, a month’s supply of laundry detergent for less than $1.10 a month provided you don’t wash more than 68 loads a month (For me, some months there’s more laundry – like during football or baseball season). Even if you do, it’s still cheaper than anything you can get in the market. I know of no other way to make doing laundry that inexpensively. None.

My friend, Mike, got his ingredients at his local super store (Meijer for my Michigan/Ohio readers); I got mine at the local QFC (Kroger if you’re on the other side of the country). Mike had to look for the Fels-Naptha Bar and so did I. When you’re in the store, be sure to look up high or look down on the bottom shelf (I’ve been checking out the Safeway and Fred Meyer here and the bars are either on the very top shelf or the very bottom).

A few ingredients and you're ready to rock.

A few ingredients and you’re ready to rock.

It’s a two-day process. I turned my kitchen into a laundry-detergent-making lab for the weekend and got to work. I have this old metal pot that burns all the food, but works really well for making the soap. I also recommend using a small food processor to grate the Fels-Naptha soap.

An old metal pot is the perfect detergent-making vessel.

An old metal pot is the perfect detergent-making vessel.

I’ve made three batches now. Making the first I used a box grater. Labor intensive and kind of a pain and requires a bit of space so you don’t lose all of the shavings. The second time I used the grating attachment from my food processor and made this process that much faster. But, it’s not necessary. Yet, I will always use my food processor for making this.

This is the fastest way to grate, but a box grater and bowl can do the job, too.

This is the fastest way to grate, but a box grater and bowl can do the job, too.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

1 bar Fels-Naptha soap

2/3 cup Washing Soda (Don’t use baking soda…..it’s different. Make sure you have washing soda)

2/3 cup Borax (you know the stuff that says “20 mule team?)

2    1 qt Mason jars with lids (Wide-mouth is preferred)

5 2/3 cups of water, total

Hand mixer

 

Process:

 

Day 1

Take the bar of Fels-Naptha and grate it.

Put all the soap shavings into a metal pan

Heat the soap and water until 90 percent melted.

Heat the soap and water until 90 percent melted.

Add 3 cups of water and heat over medium high until the shavings are 90 percent melted

Divide the soap mixture equally into the two canning jars (I warmed mine a bit to prevent cracking by just putting warm tap water in them and letting them sit while I cooked the soap)

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Cover and set aside for the night (12 to 18 hours)

Day 2

The soap you set aside should be solid (actually kind of like a gel)

Cut in "canals" into the gel-like substance for the next step.

Cut in “canals” into the gel-like substance for the next step.

Take a knife and cut the soap lengthwise and widthwise into smaller pieces. It should be kind of like gelatin substance and will cut pretty easily. (This here is to make avenues for the rest of the ingredients to mix up. I also ran my knife all around the edge of the inside of the jar.)

Add 1/3 cup washing soda and 1/3 cup borax to each jar

Add 1 1/3 cup hot tap water to each jar to fill them up

Note how the borax and washing soda sinks into the Fels-Naptha & water mixture.

Note how the borax and washing soda sinks into the Fels-Naptha & water mixture.

(It smells nice – not too overpowering. I like less smell in my laundry detergent. However, you could add some essential oils if you like. You need to do any oil adding now during this step – say like 10 drops, 5 in each jar, of lavender oil or clove oil. I went with it as I made it, as Mike did, as well.)

Be sure to hold the Mason Jar and start the mixer slow.

Be sure to hold the Mason Jar and start the mixer slow.

Mix well with the hand mixer (Be sure to hold the Mason jar in one hand and start the mixer slowly, building up to medium speed); until you get the consistency of mayonnaise. (Mike suggested only using one mixing beater and that was a jolly-fine suggestion. It worked like a dream. This step here is why you need the wide-mouth jars, too.)

Put the lid on and stash your jars in the laundry room.

It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. Also, if you have one of those new-fangled washing machines where you can see the clothes washing (or do laundry at a Laundromat), don’t look for it to suds up inside the machine like commercial products. Many commercial detergents have agents in the ingredients list just for suds, but have no effect on the actual cleaning of the clothing.

It looks and smells great.

It looks and smells great.

I do recommend getting a long-handled tablespoon measurer for your dispensing. I initially just had a regular-handled one. It was a bit messy as the jar got emptier.

The end result (two Mason Jars worth) gave me about 128 loads of clothes. You use about 1 Tablespoon for large load. If you have one of those super large washers, you would need 1.5 Tblspn. No one in my family had any allergic reactions, and my spouse, especially, has highly sensitive skin. It cleans the clothes well. For super dirty stuff (think teenager’s white football pants), I put in an extra dose of borax laundry booster (follow directions on box). However, for normal everyday laundry, just one tablespoon of this DIY Laundry Detergent, which I think needs a name, works perfectly.

Another tip is that when you get to the bottom of the jar – that very last tablespoon that’s all at the bottom or smeared around the edges – you can get one more load (this is my dog’s blanket load). Stick the Mason jar under the stream of water that’s filling your washing machine. Close the lid, shake for a moment and then pour that last little bit into the washing machine. No waste. And no turning upside down the commercial detergent container that seems designed to waste soap! When I run out of the first quart jar, then I know the following weekend it’s time to make more. That way, there’s always some on hand. Therefore an initial investment in four Mason Jars is preferred.

By the way, it’s safe for septic systems, which since I’m on a septic system, is a bonus.

Another thing is that environmentally, it’s not too shabby. It’s also why the post on this is months after my first discovery of it. I wanted to do some research. Fortunately, it gets an overall grade “B” from me for environmental stewardship, which wasn’t really a concern when I was first looking at making it – I was just looking at the cost. But given that I live where I live and run a micro-farm, I was happy to take a look at that. You have to understand that when folks around my community talk about laundry soap, they aren’t just looking for price, as I was. They are also looking at environmental impact. So, I took the time, as I said, to do some research on the environmental impact/stewardship record of the ingredients list. Arm & Hammer washing soda received an easy ‘A.’ (Yes, Earth Justice folks, I recognize other Arm & Hammer products are not so safe, but I’m talking about the washing soda.)

Fels-Naptha has a few of its ingredients (its formulation is different now than it used to be since it’s owned by Dial now), but like many products found down the laundry or beauty isle, it’s made with petroleum derivatives. Some folks are against this. I drive a car (I have teenagers; I drive it a lot. Thank goodness I have a hybrid). So, I would be hypocritical if I had some sort of issue with this part of Fels-Naptha. There’s some coloring of the soap’s formula that kind of bothers me because I really don’t see the necessity in it. I don’t have laundry soap for the frakkin color. For some folks with sensitive skin, this colorant might give them problems. I’m fortunate, as I said; no one in my house had any skin allergies to the new laundry detergent. So, grade B for our Fels-Naptha ingredient.

Now, borax is highly contentious ingredient since 2010; listed as a chemical as high concern by the European Union for hints at reproduction impacts (the science I found was dubious, but do your own research; I encourage you). Since I don’t plan on having anymore children (I’m crazy, not that crazy), also given the amount I’m using it in is relatively small. Plus I’m not ingesting it, which is where the hormone disruption of Sodium Borate (aka Borax) really comes into play from everything I read. Given those factors, I gave the borax ingredient a passing grade: C.

Again, that means that environmentally it gets a ‘B.’ However, since this DIY Laundry Detergent is saving me dollars, I’m happy with a ‘B.’

Finally, I think it needs a name. I can’t keep calling it DIY Laundry Detergent. I absolutely love this stuff, and I feel like the money savings is a prize for me. Therefore, I think I’m going share that feeling of “prize winning.” I want to do a contest. It’s an easy and creative contest! Leave a comment (need to have at least 25 people comment for me to feel this is a fair and worthy contest) with a suggestion for the name. I’ll choose a winner and then I’ll send the winner a sample of the soap! So, give me those name suggestion comments!

 

Posted in Homesteading | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Inkster Dispatch:  She’s a hot mess, but there’s still good news

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I have just spent the last 30 minutes searching for a notebook where I had done an idea exercise. I generated about 50 ideas for my blog to tackle this year.

Can I find said notebook?

Nope. I tore apart all the usual places and then some. I can’t find the notebook anywhere. This is another example of how I’ve been loath to completely organize my write life electronically.  But in this instance, I have no excuses. Real life experience is smacking me in the face and saying, “Wake Up, Inkster! The digital age requires your presence.”

My hesitancy is obviously control. But when I think about spending 30 minutes searching for a notebook, can I really say I am in control? Not even.

Therefore, from now on there will be an idea folder in my hard drive, on the back-up thumb drive, and hoisted up on Google Drive.

Speaking of Google Drive, I’m anxiously awaiting the next email from a publisher who accepted my first serious essay. This email will hold a link to a shared Google Drive box for some editorial improvement. More evidence that electronic organization is industry standard anymore and I’ve got to stop being so lazy. Oh, wait. Yeah. I got a piece accepted. The ink is not dry on the contract, so I can’t give any details away, except that I got a really serious essay accepted.

//Happy Dance//

With increased traffic in my write-life, I need to stay organized. I’m getting the message loud and clear. However, it does make me nervous. To have all my ideas stuck in just an electronic file. So, maybe…

No. Don’t do it.

But, why not?

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Why not have a notebook dedicated for my ideas? It can be stored in a file in my desk, clearly labeled “idea notebook,” and then transcribed to an electronic file and then backed up? There’s no reason, save my ability to be disciplined. There’s that word again. I talked a lot about that in my last blog post regarding my write life’s goals and plans for 2015. Yes, friends, organization saves you precious time and it only takes a moment’s effort more to do what needs to be done.

I once read that truly disciplined people are spotted by simply seeing how their shoes are organized.  If they are neat and dress-right-dress in their closet, they are organized. As always, there are always exceptions to the rule, like my friend in college, whose shoes were in clear boxes labeled and color coded, and very much dress-right-dress. But the rest of her place was disorganized and frequently downright messy.  I’m not that exception or the rule.  I kick off my shoes in the general direction of my closet. I didn’t used to be like that. I used to be dress-right-dress, both before and after I got out of the Army. But, once I embraced the artistic lifestyle, there are some things I felt were “unnecessary.” Do you know how long I took to find the mate to one of my shoes the other morning? Another 10 minutes that could have been spent in artistic pursuits. I can write 250 words in 10 minutes. Every minute is lost words.

So in order to be truly disciplined, I know I have to embrace total digital organization. I will, however, have a hard copy. You know, just in case the zombie apocalypse hits us and I’m holed up with nothing else to do but fill notebooks with stories.

Screw it. Just made a new idea notebook.

Screw it. Just made a new idea notebook.

Stay tuned for news about where that piece of mine will be published. Oh, by the way, I need to end this post with a shout out to Herr Chuck Wendig, who told me last year during a Goodreads conversation that I needed to just begin storing up stories – you know like a Penmonkey Prepper. His advice was dead on the bull’s-eye. The compounding of writing things and piling them up to send out is upping my numbers game. If things keep up this way, I’ll have something published each month this year.

It’s a numbers game, friends. Write. Revise. Polish. Send it Out. Rinse. Repeat. Oh, and stay organized.

Posted in Inkster (Writing Superhero) Dispatch, Life-Writing Balance, Write Life, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Inkster Dispatch: Go Big & Kill Fear:  My writing goals for 2015

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Last year, 2014, will not go down in history as my best year in writing. Nor will it go down as my best year in reading. I wrote a lot. I read a lot. I didn’t send out as much as I should. I didn’t review as much as I should.

I plan to remedy that in 2015. My grand design is that before I’m 50 there will be some upward movement on my publishing track record. I also would like to visit NYC for my 50th year birthday (November 2016), making a point of visiting publishing landmarks in the Big Apple. Therefore, I need to get a move on.

My To-Be-Read pile looks just like this. I promise to do better in 2015.

My To-Be-Read pile looks just like this. I promise to do better in 2015.

How? My snarky, internal editor asks, as does, some external, doubtful readers. Just how are you going to do that, Inkster?

The simplest plan is to go back to the basics. I need to write no less than five (count them: 5) days a week. That preferably should be Monday through Friday. But, I’m a mother, wife, community volunteer, and micro-farmer. Some days the appointments and chores take over my writing time. I need to put on some armor and guard that time. Like my daily work outs that began anew in my personal New Year beginning in November, I need to schedule the time and make sure that nothing interferes with that time. Additionally, the sooner in the day I get it over with, the better my chances of actually having done it. I may, again, need to rise at 0-dark-30 and do my writing time, followed by work-out time. Writing every day should have word count and I plan to get a bit obnoxious about posting such word counts on my social media feeds. This will serve to hold me accountable. I hope. No, it will. That’s why I’m telling all of you, because I know there are enough of you out there to tell me, “Hey, Inkster, get your write on!”

Writing Time must be scheduled and held sacred.

Writing Time must be scheduled and held sacred.

In addition to that schedule, I need to get back to my blog schedule, including my book reviews. It’s been out the window for so long. As the mother of a special-needs young adult, the amount of time I spend care-giving for him, taking him to appointments, dealing with doctors and social agencies, and just the time consumption that Autism Spectrum Disorder requires, it’s clear that writing time MUST be scheduled in. Yet I know my blog writing spurs on my fiction writing. Heck, even my freelance projects are more creative and on-time when I blog. Once a week posts are my goal. If I hit more posts, that’s total bonus.

These demanding responsibilities, on top of trying to be a good partner to my spouse — who blessedly supports me in my writing efforts — means my time for writing is limited. But, it is not impossible. In fact, it is possible and it just requires planning and restraint. After years of military order, I rebelled, or rather “relaxed,” and got away from the routine and discipline. But, I learned in 2014, such control is a good thing and lets me be productive in all areas of my life.

Time to get back into disciplined shape.

Time to get back into disciplined shape.

Planning is covered by just scheduling it in on my calendar like anything else and holding it sacred. The holding it sacred is where restraint comes in. Unless someone is bleeding, deathly ill, or the house is on fire, there is no appointment that absolutely must interfere with my writing. I have to armor that writing time and insist I be obedient to that scheduling.

More importantly, I’ll be stepping out in some new projects this year, which is where not only the Kill Fear part of that headline comes into play, but also the Go Big. These include teaching writing as healing to Veterans, as well as author-publishing a novel. Both of those efforts will require the above preparation and strictness. I’ll be blogging about my process with both of these, so please stay tuned here to learn more. I’m excited and a bit nervous about both, but kill your fear, darlings.

This does not mean that I can’t have fun and allow the creative process circle to do its thing.  My ETSY shop, Thrasher Studios, so neglected since my special-needs son was assaulted in late July —which has been a very slow healing process requiring even more care-giving time on my end — will be another outlet for me. Taking a break from EVERYTHING words, I learned in 2014, allows me a renewed energy towards my writing life.

I promise to do all of this with the shadow of forgiveness, as well. I will forgive myself if on any given day, I just don’t do it. The more I do it, the more productive I will be. One 500-words-only day may very well lend itself to a follow-on 3,000-word day. This I have learned in 2014, too.

Morning Pages fuel your creative life.

Morning Pages fuel your creative life.

I learned many of the things I did in 2014 by doing my Morning Pages, as prescribed in THE ARTIST’S WAY. It’s amazing the things you learn about yourself, your life, and your world – especially the writing world – by doing this daily journal exercise. I plan to continue the discipline of Morning Pages, too. Those that follow me on Livejournal (whiskeychick) know all about how crazy I get if I can’t journal regularly.

I write all this down so that I remember. So, that you remember. So, this reminds me; you remind me. I don’t forget and stay on track. Here’s to a more productive and successful 2015.

What are your writing goals this year? How do you plan to do them? Have something to brag about in your write-life? Do tell!

Happy Wonderful 2015 to all!

Posted in Inkster (Writing Superhero) Dispatch, Write Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment