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Why a Flock Needs a Mudroom

Piazza San Mudroom

One of our first – and favorite – country life endeavors was the acquisition of a flock of chickens.  At the time, the backyard chicken movement was in its infancy, and most of the books we found were republished versions of guides from the 1980s, so most of our education came from trial and error and picking the brains of our more experienced neighbors.

Now, there are a lot of books out there that will tell you what you need if you want to keep chickens. You’ll need something to keep the varmints out. You’ll need a watering system. You’ll need housing and a place to keep their food from getting moldy. But the one thing they don’t tell you is that every backyard chicken owner needs a good mudroom and a healthy tolerance for messes.

Our chickens – my husband liked to call them ‘The Girls’ in his best South-Chicago accent – were truly free range. To be sure, we locked them up at night, but in the daytime, they had the run of our garden and yard, and our flock became very friendly with us. They followed me into the garden, scratching and digging and weeding. They’d follow the kids around the yard, risking death by flying baseball to enjoy their company. And, if we left the front door open, they’d follow us into the house.

The first time it happened, one of The Girls had followed me in when I went to get a garden tool. One of them inside momentarily was adorable. She hopped around our cluttered entry way, exploring until I decided that we were in danger of invoking Murphy’s Law and, playing it safe, tossed her out.

Little did I know that she had discovered the bin of cracked corn we had leftover from winter feeding.The next day, I had two companions close behind me as I walked to the door. This was threatening to become a trend, so I put my foot between us and warned the family that the girls were suddenly interested in the house.

This kept on for a while, and The Girls being more persistent than we were vigilant eventually began finding their way regularly into the mudroom. The only thing that kept our house from turning into a giant chicken coop was our mudroom – our Maginot line against feathers and chicken poop. It got even crazier when winter weather rolled in making them completely dependent on the corn bin (in the summer they survived on bugs for the most part).

Now, I did draw the line at the living room door – the only chickens in the main house are in picture frames (along with the rest of our family), But, when there was 6-8 inches of fresh snow on the ground and another 4-6 inches on the way (cracked corn sinks), the mudroom/poutry bar was a really convenient way to feed the ladies.  And, somehow, the new mom who had been revolted by the sight of pigeons feeding from and off of tourists in the Plaza of San Marco in Venice had morphed (in a mere five years) into a chicken lady, cooing as she fed The Girls and snapping pictures when it was her husband’s turn.  No one who knows me would ever have mistaken me for a neat freak, but convenience and necessity were teaching me not to let my feathers get ruffled (sorry – I had to do it).

A couple of summers ago a fox a way into the coop and decimated our flock. Fixing the coop and restocking is fairly high up on the to-do list, but, in the interim, the mudroom has been cleared and re-cluttered several times, erasing any evidence that it was once a poultry bar.  I’m still sure that a mudroom is a must-have when you have chickens, but now, even at its most cluttered state, it feels a more than a little empty without our companions, making me wonder if the mudroom needs chickens to be complete.

The Sweet Spot

A Side Order

It was just like any other Friday night.  We were planning on a dinner with the kids at our favorite diner – a babysitter wasn’t in the budget -and then a night on the couch in front of the tube.  The only thing that set this Friday apart was the fact that it was our sixteenth anniversary.

We weren’t celebrating another decade or any major milestone, but, in some ways, our run-of-the-mill family night routine made it as special as a gourmet dinner out.  It was mundane, but it was a recognition that we’ve arrived at that sweet spot where we can’t remember a life before we were together or imagine any life in the future without each other (even when we hit the inevitable rough patches).  And it was a reminder that happily ever after isn’t always about champagne and caviar – sometimes it comes with a side order of fries.

A Slacker’s Guide to Going Green

Singin’ in the Rain

We found each other because we’re both a bit goofy, and that goofiness has led us all over the world.  Sometimes it has led us off the deep end, or so some of our friends and family thought when we decided to build an off-grid, earth-sheltered house.  In reality, it was one of the best decisions we ever made, and it has rewarded us in many unexpected ways.

When we moved to Vermont, we bought the quintessential antique farmhouse, but, after five years of paying the quintessential gargantuan wood, oil and electric bills that go along with any drafty, mouse-infested home, we decided to make a change.  The stint in Germany that preceded our migration to the mountains had exposed us to new and old ideas about building with heating and electric savings in mind.  We sifted through folders of clippings and evaluated any conventional and offbeat idea that popped up in the search engines.

Finally, we settled on the idea of an underground house.  At the time we didn’t plan to go off-grid – it was still just a fantasy.  But our site made bringing in the power more expensive than making it ourselves, and suddenly we had a new research project.  Ultimately, we ended up with solar power and hot water and a backup generator.  We bought the queen of wood cookstoves (my non-negotiable demand) to heat our house, food, and (in winter) our water.

We moved into the house in the fall, and, aside from having to quickly buy a much more efficient refrigerator, we noticed very few changes in our life.  Like most Vermonters – we already used a clothesline 90% of the time, we already had a garden, and we already worshipped our woodstove – but we still patted ourselves on the back for being so green.  The reality was we were (and are) slackers, and that was what drove most of our design and energy decisions.  It still does now.

So as the Big Guy walked into the house yesterday soaking wet, wrapped in his towel and carrying a bar of soap, I was amused but hardly surprised.  It was pouring out and after an afternoon fixing fences, washing off in the rain obviously seemed like a great idea to him(especially since we’re surrounded by trees and mountains and more trees), but I still couldn’t figure out  exactly what had motivated it today.

“Saving water,” he announced as he sauntered across the living room, leaving sasquatch-sized puddles on the concrete floor.

Later, as we were both not volunteering to mop up the water, I tried to decide what I love most about this house – the way it fosters zany outlets for our green and/or lazy impulses or the fact that it’s in the middle of nowhere so that no one calls the cops when we indulge in them.

Iron-Clad

Washington County Fair, NY

I should  have been putting up the 40 pounds of tomatoes sitting on the counter or cleaning or writing or weeding or cleaning (did I mention cleaning?).  Instead, I was sitting on a courtesy cart on my way from the parking lot to the entrance of New York’s Washington County Fair.  The little imp that sits on my left shoulder is the queen of rationalization and had already come up with a couple of great excuses for the less-wayward imp that sits on my right shoulder (I don’t have any internal angels).   However, as luck would have it, our driver came up with the hum-dinger of all pretext for a day of play –  one I know I’ll use again and again.

Our main reason for going was to see the 4-H exhibits. None of us have any interest in those rides that involve leaving your stomach hovering 20 feet in the air over the rest of your body.  However, we all wanted to ride the ferris wheel – all of us, that is, except for Thing 2.  So, as we climbed onto the courtesy cart, he became the victim of an escalating ad campaign to get all of us onboard with the idea.  The lanky, slightly-older gentleman driving the cart noticed our five-year-old’s plight and took pity on him.

“Know why I don’t like ferris wheels?”  He asked.

Thing2 turned his face toward my stomach (his preferred debate technique).

The driver then told us of a draconian punishment he had endured at the age of nine and at the hands of a father he never saw again.  In somewhat vivid detail, he described how his parent pushed him from a precipice and how a hatred of heights sprang from that betrayal .  My hands moved to cover Thing2’s ears to filter out the story, but I was too slow, and I was to be happy about that by the end of the ride.

” I work with other kids like me,” he went on.  Before we had time to consider the courage it took to evolve from a cast-off to a champion of others caught in the cycle of neglect, he asked, “You know why I like working this job too?”  Thing2 was now listening intently, as were we all. “I like seeing people coming here enjoying their kids.  Not like the kids I work with.  Not like my parents.”  He pulled the cart to a stop in front of the ticket booth and smiled at Thing2 and at me and my husband.

Then, lightening the mood, he asked Thing2, “Know how cows have fun?”  Thing2 shook his head, no.  He grinned at all of us as we stepped out of the cart.  “They go to the moo-vies.”

We groaned and the kids laughed and we waved good-bye as we trotted up to the ticket booth.  Gone from my mind were the tomatoes and housework and writing and all the excuses I thought I needed to be here.  In the end, the only – the iron-clad – excuse that we needed or will ever need was that we wanted to enjoy our kids while we’re lucky enough to be able to do so.

Resolutions

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It’s been a good year so far. So far, I’ve stuck to my new daily writing plan pretty well, and it’s been it’s own reward. The weight loss resolution – it’s still in the back burner, but I’m hoping today’s addendum to Housekeeping resolution 106.b will help turn up the heat on it and my writing and illustration.

Virginia Woolf once wrote that a woman needed money and a room of her own to write (she obviously didn’t have kids when she wrote that or she’d be advocating for five minutes in the bathroom on her own just to think about writing the shopping list). This weekend as we begin to carve out space for the Big Guy’s workshop, I decided to pursue the room and carve a studio out of our laundry/storage/guest area (no, that photo isn’t my entry for ‘Hoarders’ – just my motivating before shot).

I’m great at rationalizing this plan – it’ll clear my crap out of other rooms, more light, same heating bill. But my private rationalization – one that the Big Guy (he’s cool) seems to understand without my saying it – is that, while I’ve spent the summer getting my feet wet, I finally decided to jump In and call myself an writer and illustrator, not because I think I’ll be the next Maurice Senkak or Shel Silverstein, but because I need to write and draw to feel complete. I know I’m not alone in this need, and, even if the laundry is still hanging in my studio by next weekend, the decision to take the plunge matters as much as the way it happens.

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