Saturday, August 22, 2015

True Tales from the Homestead...

Four of our eight "baby" hens turned six months today. Happy half birthday to Lucille Ball, Ethel Mae, Agnes, and Mama! (Bitsy would have been six months today too, may she rest in peace.)

Last night, I went to bed a little sad. We have seen nary an egg from these ladies, and I expected to have at least a few by this point.

Then I dreamed that I woke up, went out to the coop, and found a nest full of lovely pink/brown eggs.

When I actually woke up, I told the PreacherMan my dream and said, "Psh. I wish!"

He was all: "Right?! They should be earning their keep by now!"

A couple hours later, I decided to muck out the coop as a Half-Birthday present for the girls. Since we're doing the lazy-homesteader's deep litter method, I simply needed to flip over the existing hay and add a fresh layer.

I flipped compost, and reached up to grab some fresh hay to lay down. LO AND BEHOLD, I found a nest of pink/brown eggs!

True story! I swear!

26 eggs total. We tested them for freshness. 24 eggs passed the test!


So in celebration of our freshly laid eggs, here are some pictures of the four six-month-old hens and their palace.


Our metal-shed-turned-chicken-coop. The flower pot under the window has some baby strawberry plants, just because. 

Even the hens are Georgia fans. Go Dawgs! We use the Sanford Stadium picture to store hay bails. We turned an old bookshelf on its side to create the nesting boxes (that our ladies don't use. Oh well.)
Our run started as an old dog lot. We used PVC to create a roof line, and draped bird netting over it to keep out the hawks.

The "nest" where we found our 26 eggs. It's on top of the bookshelf, in the corner.
We cut down a bunch of small trees in the run, and we used a few of them to build the roost. It's propped up in the corner, and all eight ladies use only the top two tiers. Go figure. 

We call this the "minicoop." Brandon's grandparents gave us this beauty along with two fully-grown Black Australorps. They are gentle girls who give us a few eggs a week, but they don't get along with the new gals. So they're separated in their own coop and run until they go to the great chicken farm in the sky (aka: my stewpot). Then this will become the duck house. 
This is Mama. She's the smallest in pounds, but she quietly and firmly rules the roost. The other hens move out of the way when she walks by, and she takes good care of them. We called her Mama because the day we got the chicks, she was the first to find water, and then used her wings (and her beak) to push the other chicks to find it also. She's mellow and shy and the most calm when we hold her. She's my favorite.
Another (blurry) picture of Mama. She loves to hide in the brush when she's free range. Sweet Mama. 

This is Agnes. She's fat and full-breasted and absolutely lovely. She's also a shy one, preferring the foliage and underbrush to the wide open yard.

Agnes's feathers through the foliage. So lovely. 

And those eyes, even in a blurry picture. *swoon*

This is Ethel Mae. She's the neighborhood busy body. She wants to be wherever the action is, and and she doesn't play favorites. She's the only hen who doesn't seem to have a "tribe," rather preferring to flit from one cluster to the next, spreading the day's gossip.

She also likes to show off her legs.

This is Lucille Ball. I'm pretty sure she thinks she a rooster. She's loud and bossy and always trying to push the other hens around.
Her beak is open in every. single. picture. because she never. stops. talking. The other hens TOTALLY ignore her (since they know Mama is the real boss). This annoys Lucille to no end and only serves to further encourage her clucks.

She's literally leaning over a cluster of hens clucking with all her might. They don't even notice she's there. Silly Lucille.

So happy Half Birthday, my little hens! Although I'm pretty sure not all of you are laying yet, I'm grateful for the eggs (and the entertainment) you've provided thus far. Thanks for not beating up on the little-er hens (or the dumb ducks), and thanks for joining our happy little family!

Happy Egg Day everyone!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Beauty of the Stretch

In a last-minute and strangely peaceful turn of events, both Miss Eight and Miss Six headed off to school this morning for their first day.

And here I sit, sipping coffee, watching a sleeping baby on the video monitor, listening to Miss Toddler hum while she colors in her highchair, and not homeschooling anybody. 

Isn't it funny, the little twists and turns that life takes?

Suddenly, I have an entire school year stretched out before me - just me and my two bambinos at home during the day. It feels easy. Peaceful. Slow.

And it reminds me of the stretch. That painful, difficult, uncomfortable, awkward place we find ourselves when we are expanding our capacity (or it is being expanded for us, whether we like it or not).

There was a period of stretch after my first baby was born. Sleepless nights. Spit-up in my hair. Changes to my body. I had no idea what I was doing. I was three months pregnant when my brother taught me how to change a diaper. Seriously. I didn't know how to bathe her. How to feed her. How to be alone in the house with her. It was all so hard.

Until it wasn't.

Suddenly I could change diapers in the dark. I could feed her without having to sequester myself in a bathroom stall for 30 minutes. I could care for her daily needs without really thinking about it.

And then another little blue line, another 9 months, another sweet baby girl. And I found myself once again in unfamiliar territory. Stretching beyond what I thought myself capable of doing. Balancing the feed-me cries of a baby with the hold-me whines of a toddler. Losing sleep at night and forgoing nap time during they day. Feeding myself was hard. Feeding a finicky toddler and a collicky baby felt impossible.

Until it wasn't.

We found our rhythm and our grace. I strapped the baby on my back, strapped the toddler in the high chair, and prepared our meals while singing to them both. Toddler brought me diapers and wipes for changing time. Baby entertained big sis while mom folded laundry. It became - doable.

Then baby three. Then baby four. Each time a stretch. Each time painful and difficult and uncomfortable and impossible.

Until it wasn't.

Because that's how the stretch works. It pulls and tugs and spreads us thin. It takes us just to the place where we almost snap. And in the meantime, all that new space gets filled in with strength, and grace, and ability, and even comfort. Until it's no longer a stretch. Until it's doable.

So where are you today? What area of your life feels painful, difficult, uncomfortable? Odds are, you're being stretched. And here are a few things you need to know...

1. Just because it's difficult doesn't mean it's not God. On the contrary, the Lord often uses these seasons to grow our spirit man. Where our weakness is obvious, His strength is magnified. Where we lack, His grace abounds. And in the meantime, we are forced to rely on on Him. As my Memphis pastor says, "We hate these seasons because it feels like everything in us is dying, but God loves these seasons, because everything in us is dying." Less of us. More of Him. Sigh.

2. You can't do it on your own. Ask for help...
... from God. Prayer and His Word will strengthen you and guide you in the unfamiliar, uncomfortable places.
... from those who have gone before you. Find a mom who has been where you are. Seek out someone who has done this job before. Look for the pioneers, the leaders, the forerunners who have blazed this trail you now walk. And if their are none, turn to someone who blazed another trail and ask them how they did it. Iron sharpens iron, my friend.
... from those who love you. Let your mom wash the dishes. Let your friends keep the babies while you nap. Let your husband take care of you. Let your friends see you vulnerable. It's all okay. It's all lovely. 

3. Grace. Grace. And more grace. No one gets it right the first time. We often see quips about how our character is revealed during difficult times. If that's true, my character sucks. But God's grace is bigger than that. God's grace says our character is developed in the hard places. It's where we grow. It's where our capacity expands. And it doesn't happen overnight. We must extend grace to ourselves (and to those around us effected by our sucky character). And when you're done, throw on a little more grace, just for good measure. 

4. Take a moment to look back. Remind yourself of all the things you do now which once felt impossible. Remember when you couldn't run a mile without stopping? Remember when getting out of bed in the morning felt like it would crush you? Remember when you needed just one more drink? Or one more smoke? Or one more bite? You have done hard things before, and you are capable of doing them again.

It's painful and difficult and uncomfortable and impossible.

Until it's not.

So today, I'll sip my coffee and blog and tidy my house and remember that this - this right here that I'm doing today - once felt impossible. And the things on my horizon that feel daunting and uncomfortable - they won't always feel that way. 

And that's the beauty of the stretch.