Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Honeymoon is Over: Chicken Honesty

You know how at the beginning of a relationship you are always so excited to see the other person, and think that everything he/she does is brilliant and charming and all the stories are new and breathtaking? And how, after time and exposure, the gilt begins to wear off because, seriously - you've already told me this story three times before (and it's really not that funny)? And then you start to see how annoying and selfish that person can be, but you stick it out with them since the positives outweigh the negatives? And then in a few more weeks you're leaving the bathroom door open while you take your morning dump, with yesterday's eyeliner smeared across your cheek and sporting the world's most atrocious morning breath because, well...you just don't care?  Because you're all about honesty now, right?
Yeah, so that's sorta how we are with chickens now.
When we finally got our first flock of chicks, each fluff-ball was socialized daily, fed from hand and given a special name best suited to his/her personality. Special treats were lovingly offered each day, and every egg was a celebrated as a victory.
Fast forward three years later and we are so over that now. We currently have chickens that we've had for close to a year that don't even have a name.  And since we haven't socialized them properly they get all Benny Hill theme music on us (forward to the 1:07 mark) when we try to get close.  Bitches.
Don't get me wrong - I don't believe we loath having chickens.  It's just now that all the gilt has worn off and I can be 100% honest with you about it all.  To keep it organized, here are 5 truths about raising chickens that any experienced and honest chicken owner can tell you:
1.  Chickens eat a lot.  If you think running to the store because you ran out of dog food (again) is a hassle, just wait 'til you're feeding chickens...especially in the winter.  Since they have less to forage on during the cold months, our girls eat way more feed in the winter than in the summer - pretty much a new bag every week.  And unlike dog food (or cat food), the local gas-and-stop on the corner doesn't have a miniature bag of feed-n-scratch to get you through to the weekend.  No, if you realize at 7:55pm that you are out of chicken feed then you better haul ass to the nearest farm supply store (which closes at 8:00pm) to get that bag.  Unless you have enough stale cereal in the back of the cupboard to buy time.  Otherwise, get used to the folks at the feed store calling you PJ's-and-Crocs (because that's how they're used to seeing you).
2.  Roosters are assholes.  Seriously.  There is a reason the term "cock" is used to describe assholes.  People will tell you stories about roosters that were sweet and gentle and loved to cuddle, but they're lying.  Or drunk.  Or both. And notice how their stories are always in the past tense. Rooster have built in shivs, called spurs, on the back of their legs.  They will cut you!  It's just like Wolverine, minus the adamantium and six-pack abs and cigar and...okay, scratch that Wolverine thing.  Unless you are trying to breed chickens and raise chicks from eggs I really don't recommend keeping roosters.  Doubly so if you have young children around. 
3.  Chickens die. Okay, this one shouldn't be a surprise, right?  But lets just say that the death isn't always a convenient or peaceful one. We've had a stray dog wander on to property and personally pick out his own al fresco lunch (the owner that let that dog wander was a cock...see what I did there?). Occasionally one will go on a walk-about, while others disappear with nothing but a poof of feathers left in the grass (we suspect hawks in those instances). Sometimes there will just be one sweet little hen dead, near the front door, just in time for your elementary-aged daughter gets off the bus (fuuuuuck). Sometimes you find the body (or remains) after dark when you're locking up the coop. Sure, you could get to bed an hour later than expected by cracking out the shovel and giving it a proper burial.  But tomorrow is trash day...
4.  Chickens shit everywhere. No really - everywhere. High, low, sideways - it defies gravity and gets onto every surface. And even if you think you're all that and keep your chickens penned up (no free range poop for you, thankyouverymuch) guess what? You're going to go in to that pen for feeding and watering duties and bring chicken shit back into the house on your shoes. And then unknowingly smear it in the carpet.  Because you're too drunk talking about a sweet little rooster to notice what you've done.
5.  Chicken Math = Crazy Math. You're just going to start with eight hens, right? Er, better make that 12. Shit, how did it get to be15? Fuzzy math indeed, my friends. Oh, you're going to downsize your flock? Let me know how that goes - because the universe hears you and calls your bluff and that is exactly when it will bend time and space to steer people into your path that are desperately in search of good homes for chickens they cannot keep. I even know someone who had unwanted chickens dumped on her property in the middle of the night. I kid you not. I've decided I'm not longer going to announce when we are wanting to reduce the size of our flock - it's a bit too much of fate tempting. I'll have to come up with some code phrase.  Maybe instead of saying "We're going to downsize our flock," I should say something like "I wish there was more chicken shit on the sidewalk."  It'd be sort of a reverse-psychology-meets-no-tempting-of-fate approach.  Legit.

I can easily think of four or five other things to add to this list.  But don't get me wrong, chickens are fascinating and entertaining and there is nothing better than home-grown protein.  It's just not always sunshine and roses.

Some days it's more like sun flares and thorns.

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Check Us Out on Facebook!

Hello!  I've just created a Facebook page for Rational Living, with the goal of updating it two to three times a week, and this blog around once a week.  As in the past, topics will focus on radical homemaking, homesteading and general randomness.

Just search for "Rational Living" and look for Rosie!

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Still Rational

Oh, hey.  Hi there.

So, it's been quite a while since we updated the blog.  Like, I could have gestated a couple of babies during the lapse (don't worry, I didn't).

I blew the dust off the Rational Living blog today to find a recipe for a friend.  Then I started looking around, all nostalgic and such.  What a busy, educational and powerful year the rationing project was.  Yes, I did just end that sentence with a preposition.

What are we up to nowadays?  The girls are growing like weeds and TMOTH and I keep ourselves busy with projects around the homestead and running to and fro to all the girls' activities.  We still have chickens, and have slaughtered several rounds to fill the freezer.  The garden keeps growing every year, and it is so nice to have such a pleasant, "normal" summer this year after the past two years of scorch-fest (knock on wood).

We don't count our miles anymore, nor do we track rationing points (I'm pretty sure I could do this from memory still, though).  We do still try to buy used merchandise first when available/feasible.  We still don't have a dishwasher, and we've adapted to the 960 square foot house as well as a family with two tween (soon to be teen) daughters can.

Sometimes I think I should get back on here and blog regularly about our homesteading adventures and misadventures.  But then I wonder if people still read blogs.  In some ways, it seams so 2010, you know?

Is anyone even out there?

--Rational Mama

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Feel Like Making (Bud-Up, Bud-Up) 'Kraut With You!

So a co-worker of TMOTH's gave us two heads of cabbage a while back. Don't ask.

I managed to use up one over the course of a couple of weeks, but that second cabbage was threatening to take up permanent residence in the fridge. I was stumped.

While perusing Simply in Season I came across the "Simple Homemade Sauerkraut" recipe and thought, why not?

So I sliced some cabbage...

And mixed it with some salt and spices.

Then I attempted to cram eight-plus cups of cabbage into a quart jar.

Success! I added some salted water to top it off...

And then placed it in an out-of-the way space on the cabinet to start doing it magic fermentation thing.

Itwo weeks or so we'll know if we made sauerkraut.

I guess I have until then to try to convince the girls that they might actually like sauerkraut.

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I (Beef) Heart Archives

Been looking at some of the stats for the blog...

Typically, we get an average of 50 page views a day (more if I'm posting regularly, less if I'm taking a break). During months with fresh content we average around 2,000 page views per month.

For the past several months the most-visited archived post is the one about cleaning out the chicken coop. I believe that has to do with a nice Reddit link posted by Anisa at The Lazy Homesteader. There is quite a number of visitors to the post describing when we slaughtered a chicken for the first time, too.

For a good portion of last year a lot of traffic ended up on the post where we caved in to air-conditioning during our rationing summer. Apparently, folks like pictures of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Much traffic comes to the site from searches such as "rationing in WWII" and "1940's women." No surprises there. What I have found very interesting, though, is that searches for "mock apple pie recipe" and "beef heart recipe" regularly appear in the top ten searches that lead people to the site.

Strange, no?

--Rational Mama

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Projects

Yikes! Spring has sprung here and that means we now have a seemingly endless list of projects to keep us busy.

Here's a quick rundown of projects completed within the last six weeks or so...

The grey is the base aluminum of the roof, which is approximately 100 sq. ft. in size.

TMOTH spent many hours sanding off, and then repainting, the roof of the camper.

Hopefully this roof rehab fixed the leaks in the camper roof.

There was the original 1978 finish on the roof, plus at least one other paint layer - not to mention the gloppy piles of caulking in areas. The smell from the sanding was absolutely horrible (the roof dust, not so much TMOTH) but the finished product is quite nice.

I've started several rounds of seeds and currently have some lettuce, radishes, spinach, kale, and mesclun popping up in the garden. I'm waiting for the carrot and beets to sprout.

I'm working on a series of screens to lean over the herb garden to keep the chickens out. I'm using a very simple approach of PVC pipes and wildlife netting. The chickens think it is great to dust-bath next to the lavender and oregano. For some reason, I think differently.

Finally, TMOTH constructed a very nice cold frame. I'd been missing the greenhouse from the old house, and we have a perfect location for a cold frame on the south side of the current house.

The cold-frame site.

We bought a series of windows from a local resale shop for $6 and had enough scrap wood laying around for the job.


A few hinges and such from the hardware store and TMOTH built a fabulous cold-frame for under $30.

The finished product: chicken-approved.

We still have plenty of spring projects on our list. The asparagus and strawberries are on their way, so beds need to be prepared for them. Plus the chicken coop needs a new roof and there's more seeds to sprout and...

Well, there will be plenty of topics for future posts.

--Rational Mama

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Camper Project

I was nine years old when I discovered pop-up campers. We lived in a condominium complex and one of the parking spots was always taken up with a curious box on wheels that never moved. One summer day a playmate explained that it was her family's camper. Several of us expressed disbelief - how could such a small box be a camper for her family? Her dad joined us, popped the top off the box and began cranking away at a small handle. Within minutes the box had transformed into a fully functional camper, with two beds, a sink, dining table and stove. And it could all be easily pulled by their car.

I assume the "spirits" mentioned don't include alcohol or ghosts. I hope.

It was magical. I was hooked. My heart longed for a pop-up camper.

Flash forward 15 years. I love camping. TMOTH and the girls love camping. We love hiking and spending time outside and cooking over a fire and sitting out late to see the stars.

Camping at Starved Rock State Park, Illinois, 2005. (Sissy is 4 years old, Eowyn is 2 years old)

We've been on several camping trips with the girls and it's always special to see how they blossom when surrounded by nature. Up until now we've always camped with a tent - we have a two-room tent (with vestibule) that is big enough for all four of us to sleep in, with a little extra floor space for our things.

The problem is that, in my "old age," I no longer enjoy sleeping on the floor of the tent. When foot traffic shares space with sleeping zones...well, things get dirty very quickly (and I'm not talking about in a "bow chicka wow wow" way). Plus, it never fails that an air mattress leaks or suffers some sort of calamity. After two or three days I'm vehemently done with camping, due to the lack of sleep.

Camping at Scott Lake, Kansas, 2009. (Sissy is 8 years old, Eowyn is 6 years old)

Additionally, tent-camping has limited our excursions out with the girls. There have been more than a couple of camping trips that were canceled or postponed due to weather that was borderline acceptable. After a night spent tent-camping in western Kansas with severe-weather moving in from the next county, the girls and I are (understandably, I think) a little wimpy when it comes to weather concerns and tents.

Around a year ago it began to dawn on me how much we could benefit from a pop-up camper. Real beds, separate areas for storage and walking, better options in the event of rain and/or cold temperatures. Plus, our minivan could easily tow a pop-up camper.

We knew that our budget for a camper was relatively small ($1,200 or less), considering there are plenty of models that run in the $5,000 and $8,000 range. We knew we'd be looking for an older model which would probably need work. As long as the bones were good, we were willing to put some elbow grease into the camper.

In late summer I started checking Craigslist every so often, just to get a feel for what was available. There wasn't much in our price range, and if the price was reasonable the camper was not. Many of the campers had rotting floors, missing parts and/or canvas that was shredded beyond recognition.

Finally, around the first of November I saw an add for an older model pop-up that seemed to be in decent condition. After getting a tow hitch installed a week later we brought it home.

Yay! Our pop-up!

It's a 1978 Starcraft Galaxy 8 Swing-Out. The "Swing-Out" in the name refers to the fact that the cabinet that contains the sink and stove can, with the turn of a handle, be swung to the outside of the camper (it may also have been some sort of comment on social norms in the 1970s).

The awesome 1970's orange and brown color scheme carries over to the inside, too.

The camper is most definitely a fixer-upper and as such its purchase price was well below our budget limit. Which was good, because (in true Rational Living fashion), we managed to make things worse the day we brought it home.

That hanging piece of canvas is some of our handy-work.

TMOTH and I had quickly cranked up the camper in our excitement to show the girls the awesome purchased we made that day while they were at school. Unfortunately, we didn't secure the bunk-ends correctly and in a scene that looked like a cross between The Beverly Hillbillies and Titanic, we tipped the camper towards the rear and, only after one bunk-end ripped off, did the camper right itself again. Of course, in the process we shredded a considerable portion of the already-questionable canvas top.


So, right now our goal is to get enough basic repairs done by spring break so that we can take it to a local lake for a trial run. We've ordered an entirely new canvas top (which, for the love of Hawkman, cost the same amount as we paid for the camper), but before we install that TMOTH is rehabbing the roof to repair a leaky seam. Then there's some wiring to fix, door hardware to replace, a bench to rebuild, bunk-end to reinstall, cushions to recover and...

Well, we'll be plenty busy over the next month.

--Rational Mama