Project Chicken (Coop)

The old coop, before — summer 2014

Looking at the coop straight on, summer 2014

We have an old chicken coop in our backyard. For a couple years I’ve been itching to raise some chickens but two things have held me back: the state of the coop and my son’s reluctance.

This year, the planets aligned. O and his friends are always looking for schemes to earn pocket money, so they all agreed to clean out the coop for me. And because we’ve been through some tough times with our pets in the past couple years, O has grown to understand that animals and pets have shorter lifespans than their owners. The thought of losing a few chickens to predators–a very real possibility around here given that our property borders a habitat teeming with coyotes, fishers, raccoons, and hawks–isn’t as horrific to him as it would have been a few years ago. Plus, that has been motivating him to research the best ways to secure our coop.

It goes without saying that our coop needs a lot of work, so much so that I considered buying a prefab coop. The prefab coops I like, however, are a couple hundred dollars so I figure it’s better to do some DIY on the structure we have in place.

Today it’s overgrown with vines and we need to do some serious tree branch pruning. The structure is very sound. There’s a wooden floor inside, along with nesting boxes. We’ll replace the chicken-wire covered window openings with real shed windows that open for ventilation, and build a door. The structure doesn’t have electricity but we can run an extension cord from our garage. As for the outdoor enclosure that’s currently fenced with chicken wire … I’m not so sure. It would be nice to have a completely enclosed run, but our neighbor doesn’t have one and they have only lost one chicken in the last couple years. Other to-do items: the coop will need scraping and painting after the windows and door are installed and the coop has been cleaned out.

O is having a sleepover tonight and the boys have their first paying job, clearing out some of the brush and branches around the structure. Our plan is to have a coop ready for chicks mid-spring … that gives us the fall, winter, and early spring to get it into shape. As for chickens, I have my heart set on Araucanas, the chickens that lay pastel-colored eggs. Word is they’ve got friendly dispositions, are good layers, and are cold-hardy.

Do you own chickens? Any advice? The one thing that’s creeping me out is the thought of snakes getting in the coop to eat eggs. I don’t mind seeing them out in the open, but I’ll seriously freak out if I’m gathering eggs and put my hand on a snake! An acquaintance has told me, however, that her chickens kill snakes … around here, the snakes are too small to be a real threat to eggs.

 

 

 

 

An afternoon of birdwatching

 

My boy heading off with his birdwatching gear

Loved the pale lavender color of these flowers — see the bee?

A long shot of my boy

 

 

O saved his pennies up for binoculars, which arrived in the mail Monday night, so on Tuesday we headed over to Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge for a bit of birdwatching.

As you can see, we didn’t spot many birds–it was about 90 degrees F so they were staying cool in their nests–but the day was beautiful and we got some good photos before biking to downtown Concord and Main Street Market for some lunch. We were starving so when our sandwiches arrived I forgot to take pictures! I had a tomato, mozzarella, and pesto panini and O enjoyed his cheeseburger, which we ate at the bar (I was kind of wanting a cold beer at this point!)

The heat and exercise tuckered us out, so when we arrived back home, I took a siesta in my air-conditioned bedroom then did a bit of knitting on my Checkerboard Scarf, a free pattern from Purl Soho. I’m using a skein of Swans Island Natural Colors in fingering weight in the color Lupine, which is a deep purplish blue, the color of the ocean up in Maine. I bought the yarn at Yarnia in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. It was a pricey splurge, but totally worth it. The yarn is a delight to knit with, and I know when I wear the scarf I’ll always think of my week off this summer.

This is the last week before school starts, so we’re busy getting clothes and classroom supplies purchased, as well as enjoying our last bit of free time together. Tomorrow we have a sleepover at our house — three boys! and they’ve told me all they want me to do is to provide food, lots of it. I have to admit I’m looking for the structure that going back to school will bring. Autumn is definitely in the air … for the last few weeks I’ve been a knitting fiend, which is a sure sign that I’m feeling cool weather in my bones. One thing I’ve been doing is finishing up a lot of WIPS. Feels good to have those projects done and ready to photograph. :)

A trip to Bath

Next month we’ll be hanging a left for our Mt. Washington climb!

Bath City Hall

I just noticed the sticker on this Subaru Outback!

Beautiful ghost sign on the side of this building

This sign reminded me of what signs used to look like when I was a child in the 70s.

Botanica Mittens, unblocked

Last week while my boys were in Houston — Texas in August? No thanks! — I took a short break and drove about three hours north to Bath, Maine. Bath is home to Bath Iron Works, a shipyard that builds battleships, cruisers, and destroyers for the U.S. Navy. What I didn’t know is that Bath is where the first boat the colonists built to make a return trip to England.

But I’ll be honest … I wasn’t in Bath to look at ships or 19th century architecture. I was there for Halcyon Yarn. I’ve always wanted to visit and it was well worth the trip. What I loved about it was while it was a large shop — they have not only handknitting yarn, but plentiful rug, weaving, and spinning departments — it wasn’t totally overwhelming like WEBS in Northampton can be. (My #1 piece of advice to knitters visiting WEBS for the first time … shop off a list or know what projects you’re buying for, otherwise you’ll wander around like a art-sick tourist in Florence. That’s Florence, Italy, not nearby Florence, Massachusetts.)

What I also liked about Halcyon is that the women working there were very helpful and kind. After I made my big yarn purchase (to be revealed in a future post), I needed a tea break so one of the women spent some time pointing out nearby cafes and other places I should visit. Fortified by a pleasant walk and a cup of very hot chai that wasn’t really appropriate given that it was in the mid-80s that day, I returned to the shop for Round Two, where I purchased some yarn I’d been thinking about during my ambles. It was at this time a sample pair of mittens caught my attention — I liked the colors and the picot edging — so I bought the pattern and the minute I got home, commenced knitting.

Two nights later, I had my own pair of Botanica Two-Way Mittens, which look very preppy in green and pinks. The mitten on the right was knitted by following the instructions exactly, by creating the picot edge in the round, which I found rather fussy. So with mitten #2 on the left, I knit the mitten flat until the picot edging was complete, then joined the yarn to knit the rest of the mitten in the round. I also knit this mitten on DPNs. I normally knit in the round on two circulars, but I do have to admit my stranding looks better when I use DPNs. This picture was taken before blocking; after blocking my stitches look so much neater.

I’ll post some pictures of my yarn haul in another post. I told my husband I hemmed and hawed about driving to Maine by myself — I worried about leaving our geriatric cat alone, worried about the car breaking down, worried about…what a wuss I’ve become! — then finally decided to heck with it! I’m going! And I’m glad I did. It was a wonderful visit. Next time, however, I’m bringing my boys with me. They can look at ships while I entertain myself with more yarn. :)

Last day of June

Hard to believe that July 4 is almost upon us. I must have mentioned before that my absolute favorite holiday of the year is July 4, which puzzles a lot of people, especially those who love Thanksgiving and Christmas with a passion. For me, Independence Day is the perfect holiday — summer foods like salads and fresh veggies are abundant, parades where you get candy thrown at you, bagpipes, floats, sunshine and warmth … what’s not to love? Plus it’s my father’s birthday, so we always have a delicious cake to anticipate. July 4 always seems to be gloriously sunny and warm, unlike Thanksgiving and Christmas, which fall at the darkest and most dreary time of year.

This year, O will not be celebrating the 4th with us in Connecticut as we dropped him off at camp yesterday:

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I look so much like my paternal grandmother from the side, it’s scary!

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This is the second time he’s been away to camp, but it’s also the longest — a full week. At this camp, it was the last year where he could go for just a week — next year, when he’s 13, it’s a two-week stay (oh, and I hope he wants to go back. The possibility of two weeks of maternal freedom has me almost giddy!) We were lucky in that his best friend since first grade was able to join him (you can see his friend’s feet in the bottom photo) because O was not at all enthusiastic about camp until L was able to go. But the night before we left and were packing, O seemed pretty excited, and when we arrived he seemed to hit it off with a couple of the other boys in the cabin. We really liked the two counselors assigned to the cabin, one of whom is a World Cup fan. He told O he would keep him informed of all the scores and plays this week; I, on the other hand, am his Wimbledon contact, although he’ll have to wait for my letters to hear how Andy Murray and friends are faring.

When I returned home from dropping him off, my husband predicted I’d be missing O by the end of the evening. He lost. I am enjoying the quiet house immensely! I have, however, already written and posted the world’s most boring letter to O. The nice thing about camp is they don’t allow campers to bring cell phones and iPads — instead, communication with parents it through the mail (or, God forbid, an emergency call by one of the counselors).

The camp is in Connecticut, so I’ll be heading to my parents’ house on the lake Thursday night, spending the 4th with them and celebrating my father’s 75th (!!), then picking the boys up early Saturday morning and bringing them over to Grampa and Grandma’s. O wants L to meet Carolina, my youngest brother’s golden retriever, and show L how he can drive my father’s pontoon boat so Saturday will be a busy day. Let’s hope the glorious weather holds out!

I do have some finished knitting projects to show but it means dragging my dressform outside for good light. I have some interesting thrift shop finds to show you, including a crocheted blanket that I picked up for $5. I’ve also returned to biking on my two-wheeler and this week alone biked 55 miles. On Saturday I did a 30-mile trip to Cambridge and back:

Made it! Charles river, Cambridge

View of the Charles, June 28, 2014

I was beat that night and suffered a nasty headache and sunburn on my lower thighs, but I was proud that I made it, especially since just six months ago I was struggling to stand up without yelping in pain. :)

My goal this summer is to re-read all of Jane Austen’s novels. The first I’m tackling is Mansfield Park, which I’m enjoying immensely. I forgot how decisive Austen was in drawing these characters; her touch here was not as deft as say in Pride and Prejudice. Fanny Price’s goodness can be a bit tiresome, but I’m still enjoying the re-read and noticing things I didn’t get the first time around.

TGIJ!

And yes! Spring is finally here in New England. :) Some years I can start my garden in early May, but it was fairly cold here right up until Memorial Day. This week the temps are in the 70s and 80s, so maybe we’ll just go straight into summer … which is okay with me.

I decided a few weeks ago not to do a big garden this year. The biggest reason is my back, but since I’m planning to spend a lot of time in Connecticut this summer helping my parents out, having a garden adds more to-do items to my list. Instead, I asked O what he would really like to grow this year, and he said, “Watermelon!” Thus fully half of the fenced-in garden is dedicated to watermelon. I put in a few herbs (lavender, basil, rosemary), and then built a raised garden:

Raised garden bed

I basically followed the instructions I found on The Crafty Gemini (video was especially helpful). My husband let me borrow his electric power drill, and once I got the hang of drilling holes and screwing in the deck screws, putting the bed together was a piece of cake. The only difficult part of the operation was buying wood at Home Depot, where I was ignored and then talked down to, I suspect because of my chromosomal makeup. Time to look for a new place to buy lumber! Also, I want my own power drill. :)

This week O has been helping me fill this sucker with dirt and topsoil. I had hoped to get the soil to the top of the bed, but I think it’s good enough to grow kale and lettuce. Next summer I’m going to build a couple more beds using some scrap lumber.

Knitting

I finished my Mind the Gap socks a couple weeks ago. Nothing much to say about the pattern (btw, when does a pattern become your pattern? I’ve knit these plain vanilla socks so many times with a few personal tweaks that I don’t even need instructions.) The yarn was a pleasure to work with. I bought it through Trailing Cloud’s Etsy shop, thanks to Kristie’s post some months ago. I’m pleased I got the stripes to match on both socks, although I ran into orange striping while “kitchenering” one sock.

Mind the Gap socks

I had started on a plain vanilla cardigan last month, but today decided to rip it out and use the Cascade 220 yarn to knit Andi Satterlund’s Miette cardigan. I need more stylish sweaters, and Miette fits the bill. I also ordered some yarn through WEBS to knit another Kate Davies’ owl sweater for the fall and two skeins of hemp yarn for summer kerchiefs.

Weight

My weight did not budge in May despite my working out at the gym and zealously watching my food intake. That said, my pants are definitely getting looser. A couple weeks ago I bought a pair of size 8 jeans, which I thought I’d be able to fit into by the end of June. Well, I ended up fitting into them this weekend and wore them comfortably all day in Newport! So what I think is happening is that I’m burning fat and gaining muscle, which doesn’t change the number on the scale (muscle weighs more than fat) but muscle takes less room that fat, thus why I seem to feel smaller.

At any rate, I’m still heavier than I’d like to be — my body still has visible pockets of fat — so I’ve made some tweaks to my diet, instituted some new habits (drinking plenty of water!), and set a few goals for the month. Stay tuned …

Saying goodbye

My brother Matt finished out his year at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, RI, and is presently driving out west to Oregon to fight fires with the forest service. Here are some pictures of last weekend’s boat launch ceremony. Yes, that’s my crazy brother swimming in 58 degree water, towing his sailboat into harbor. Such a show off!

There was a woman next to us proclaiming loudly that people die jumping in the water like that. Not this guy!

John and Matt, IYRS, May 31, 2014

Matt is talking to John, who bought “Matt’s boat.” The sailboat will be moored at a local yacht club to be used by John’s children and grandchildren.

IYRS student boat launch, May 31, 2014

I loved the look of concentration on Matt’s face. He’s an excellent sailor!

Hard to believe Memorial Day is here…

Every time I wanted to post in these past few weeks, my blog was suffering a denial of service attack, which resulted in my service provider having to shut down my WordPress login. But yay, today I could get in so here I am.

Spring here in Boston has been cold and rainy. I’ve even cranked up the heat a couple times; I normally shut off the heat on April 30 and suffer through the occasional chilly day, but this spring has tested my internal thermostat.

We’re heading to Connecticut this holiday weekend. My son is attending summer camp for a week in early July, so we’re going to the open house on Saturday, then spending the rest of the time with my family. Forecast? Rain. Although on Monday it looks like it may be sunny and high 70s.

I’m almost done with my Mind the Gap socks … I’ll probably finish them tonight and photograph them over the weekend. Any time I’ve been caught knitting in public, someone always comments on how colorful they are. One benefit about living in New England is that people tend to mind their own business and comment only when they have something nice to say. Only once did someone speak disparagingly to me about “some older lady” knitting in public (at a school graduation). He didn’t realize that I was the one who had been knitting, and when he figured it out, he looked chagrined … probably more about insinuating I was an “older lady” than anything else. ;-)

Last night while I was whirling my way down the foot of my Mind the Gap sock, I watched a BBC documentary running on PBS about Queen Victoria and her children. I studied the Victorian era in college (history/literature/politics), but the extent of my knowledge of Queen Victoria’s private life is that she was devastated by the loss of her husband, she spent almost all her reign mourning for him, and that her children were married off to various branches of the family in Europe. I did NOT know what an overbearing and needy mother she was until I watched the show and some of her letters were read aloud. She even mocked the looks of some of her children and in one letter wished that the Prince of Wales would die before she did because he was such a disappointment as a future king. (He ended up being quite a good king, despite his playboy reputation as a youth.)

It made me contrast Victoria with the present queen, Elizabeth. They reigned under different circumstances (the British Empire no longer exists, Elizabeth has had the support of her husband), but I wonder if in 100 years, Elizabeth will outshine Victoria in history? I think so. Unlike Victoria, she has accepted if not embraced change and kept the monarchy relevant for the majority of her subjects.

OK, enough rambling. Off to knit. Knock wood, I’ll be able to get back to you with a picture of my finished socks. :) Have a nice long weekend if you’re stateside!

Welcome May

Let’s hope that April showers really do bring May flowers because April turned out to be one of those months where when it rains, it pours. It started when my husband came home suspiciously early one evening, like around 5 p.m. Which would normally be wonderful as he usually works until 8 or 9 most nights, but this night it was because his contract suddenly ended at the company he’d been working for since 2011. It wasn’t entirely a surprise–things had been tumultuous for awhile–but it happened before we expected it. Upward and onward, though … the good news is that he’s a software engineer with high-demand skills/talents, so when he sends out resumes, he actually gets interviews. Right now he’s on 2nd and 3rd interviews for a couple positions he’s really excited about so fingers are crossed.

I also lost my step-grandmother after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, learned that another family member is fighting cancer, and was left reeling after an AD diagnosis in my immediate family.

Combining all this with a cold and rainy spring here in the northeast, I just haven’t had the spirit to blog, never mind sew or knit, although I did cast on a straightforward cardigan in heathery purple that makes me happy every time I pick it up.

(The purple yarn is in the background; in the foreground is a completed knit hat.)

But April wasn’t *all* horror and gloom. I managed to stick to the 5:2 diet plan (five days of eating normally/two days fasting) and I lost a total of eight pounds. I would have lost a few more, I think, had I been able to get out on my bike for serious exercise. On the other hand, eight pounds is nothing to sneeze at, especially since I took off seven pounds in March for a total of 15 pounds and I wasn’t a saint around Easter, although no Cadbury eggs passed these lips. I put on so much weight when I was on blood thinners for three months. I eat a mostly plant-based diet and when you’re on medications like Coumadin, you can’t eat stuff like lettuce, kale, and broccoli, which I normally eat in abundance. Now that I’m back to my green diet, I feel and look much healthier. I still have a ways to go before I get down to my fighting weight, but I’m encouraged that the weight I put on has slipped off fairly easily.

What’s nice is that my family is starting to notice. Last night O was sitting behind me. He sighed and said, “Mom, I’m tired of looking at your butt crack. Can you pull your pants up?” Jeans that a couple months ago were difficult to zip up now have to be tugged up to my hips to keep me decent. I’ve made a bunch of knit skirts to get me through the warmer months; I don’t want to sew jeans until I’m back to my fighting weight, so until then, I guess I’d better invest in some belts. ;)

How is your spring going?

The Duchess of Cambridge and her court shoes

Of course I’ve been keeping up with the Cambridge’s grand tour Down Under and reading all the breathless commentary on stylish Kate. She certainly has a great pair of pins, and today I learned her secret: nude court shoes!

Here in the U.S. we call these shoes “pumps”: closed-toe, low front shoes with heels. According to the fashion press, nude pumps/court shoes give the illusion of long legs when the color of the pump and the skin are similar. Which makes sense, as your eye tends to stop when you get to a jolt of black or red at the feet.

Sign me up!

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According to the folks in the know at the Daily Mail, Kate’s preferred court shoe comes from London-based retailer LK Bennett and these shoes are, unfortunately, sold out in the U.K. If you’re stateside, you can purchase the style “Sledge” at Nordstrom for just $345.

If you, like I, don’t have a royal allowance for footwear, here are some lower-priced options.

Here’s the BelkMadden Girl Fastenn pump for $34.30 at Belk. The LK Bennett pump is a bit more taupe, but I think the Madden Girl version would work better on someone with fair skin. It must be a popular choice with Kate admirers because most sizes are hard to find: Belk was the only online retailer where I found a variety of sizes available.

cole_haan_nude_chelseaIf you’ve got more dosh (sorry, I’ve been reading the latest Elizabeth George mystery), the Cole Hahn Chelsea pump is very similar to the LK Bennett court shoe. They’re currently $199.00 at Zappos … and free shipping. Like the Madden Girl pumps, though, popular sizes are unavailable at the moment, but Zappos will let you know when your size is back in stock.

 

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The Michael Kors Ionna pump is quite nice, too, and a more reasonable $130 at Zappos — that is, if they have your size. The only thing I don’t like is the bling on the back of the heel.

I saw some other nude pumps by Kate Spade and Christian Louboutin, but if I can’t afford LK Bennett, it goes without saying I can’t afford these versions either.

I’m curious to see the “nude” effect on my own legs, so I’m heading down to our local Marshall’s to give it a try. I’m not so sure about that platform look; my mind goes to porn films, hookers, and Times Square in the 70s, sorry. And those heels — some of them are 4″ or 5″. Never mind walk in them. Could I even stand? We’ll see … I’ve sewn a bunch of skirts in the last couple months, and I’m eager to see if nude pumps are the trick of the eye my figure needs. :)

What to sew, what to sew…

Like I mentioned last week, I started knitting up a second wool sock for a pair I’ve earmarked for my stepmother. That small act gave me a boost of knitting mojo. I’ve knitted about four inches of the cuff/leg, and with steady progress the socks should be ready for when we see her over spring vacation in two weeks.

My sewing mojo, on the other hand, has not only left the room, but it seems to have high-tailed it out of Dodge!

It’s not for lack of patterns, fabric, or ideas–I’ve got plenty of all three. What’s tripping me up is–and I’m ashamed to say this because I detest any whiff of body shame–my weight.

Last October I ended up in the hospital with a herniated disc, followed by DVT, with both conditions curtailing my cycling routine. Cycling is my exercise of choice, and it does a good job burning calories and keeping me fit. Not only was riding out, but walking was, too, because of all the ice and snow. (I had to be careful of falls or I could “bleed out.”) As a result, I put on 25 pounds through lack of exercise and not watching my eating when my activity levels dropped.

Now…I’m completely confident that those pounds will come off now that spring is here, my disc injury has healed, the DVT is gone, and I have an awesome trike to cycle with. But I keep thinking, “Do I want to cut into this gorgeous shirting/Japanese selvedge denim/expensive wool boucle for a Grainline Archer/pair of jeans/couture fringed skirt when in six months I’m going to be three sizes smaller?” Yes, I could alter the fit at some point, but to be honest, I don’t like doing alterations, especially on anything I’ve made. Is that weird? I don’t mind hemming Levi’s or taking in the sides of a RTW blouse, but when it’s my own creation, it somehow annoys me and the garment never again looks as good as it did during the original fitting. It looks, I don’t know, wonky.

The mature and rational side of my brain says, “Sew for the body you have today. Use the expensive fabric; you can always buy more. Test out that pattern you love. There’s no guarantee that when you lose the weight, you’re going to get a perfect garment anyway. And if you do love what you create for the ‘bigger me,’ you can ask a professional to alter it.” (Geez, listen to me. I should listen to myself more often!)

But then Lazy Easy-Way-Out Di chimes in: “Why not sew a bunch of knit things to wear around the house? like t-shirts and yoga pants? That’s how you dress anyway.” Princess Di calmly interjects with, “Dahling, I thought you were trying to upgrade your wardrobe and not continue down the path of fashion dereliction? Yoga pants,” she sniffs. “Really.”

So I do nothing but pet my fabrics and gaze longingly into my sewing room.

What would you do?

In the meantime, here are some more pretty pictures of Newport. Last weekend I took another trip down there, this time with my son, and we were able to see the boat my brother is building at IRYS up close.

Matt's boat

Lemur!

See the lemur?

Steam box

Curved pieces of wood get shaped in the steam box.

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The view from Brenton Point State Park

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My boy.

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The surf was crazy wild that day!