Backyard Chickens

Our family pulled the trigger! We knew when we bought a small house with a large backyard that we would want some backyard chickens, eventually, but it wasn’t until I figured out that we were buying THREE DOZEN eggs a week (!!!) that we decided to step up our timeline, despite how busy Jesse is in his graduate program.

Gregory with chickens in the garden Gregory with the chickens

The first step was to find or build the right coop. At first, I had dreams of building one “from scratch” (a chicken pun, get it? Be prepared for many more!), but once Jesse’s PhD program began late summer, all of those dreams vanished. I just knew that we’d never get around to it, let alone carry out Garden Paving. I’m pretty handy with a saw and drill, but felt like it was too much for me to handle by myself (although I constructed all of the garden beds and the irrigation systems you see in the pictures above!).

So, as usual, I turned to Craigslist. I  saw this coop for $400 about a 45 minute drive away, and thought, “I wish that were in our price range!”. A few days later, the woman reduced the price to $250 since they had a moving deadline! I love moving deadlines– it means that they are 900x more willing to make a deal with you since they need something GONE. I asked her if she would part with it for $150, and she said yes!!

chicken coop before

A picture of the coop at its old location, with Gregory standing beside it for size context.

Next, there was a fair bit of drama, wherein we had to take apart the coop (this took 4+ hours…Jesse was not happy…) and pay $30 to rent a trailer to transport it. Initially we hired someone to move it for us, but he no-showed on the morning of! The husband of the family who sold it to us turned out to be really nice and hooked the trailer up to his truck and drove it all the way to our house when he saw that we were in a jam (plus, he was motivated– moving deadline, remember?)  We got it to our backyard, but it was in pieces. It took another 2-3 hours for Jesse to put it back together with the help of a nice neighbor who volunteered to help. 🙂 As a side note, I am so happy that our neighbors support us having backyard chickens! In fact, they are all pretty excited!

chicken coop location in yard

 

As a side note, here is what this side of our backyard looked like when we bought the house.

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And now here it is– chicken coop done! (Ignore our rubbermaid-chicken-carrier!).

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The window at the bottom is not yet part of the coop. I plan on adding it to the door so that the boys can peak in and see the chickens whenever they want! We will also be adding a separate nesting box where you see the boards (that’s why they aren’t painted). And, speaking of paint, we have leftover exterior paint, so pretty soon the coop will match our house!

Chicken coop closeup

The next step was finding the right chickens for the right price. Since it’s autumn here, we knew that baby chicks were out of the question since they wouldn’t be fully feathered before winter hit. Once again, I turned to Craigslist, looking for someone getting rid of the right breed. I really wanted sweet tame chickens, since I knew that they would become part of the family.

And, once again, Craigslist to the rescue! I found another family with a moving deadline (seriously, moving deadlines are the jackpot when it comes to Craigslist deals). They had 3 six month old Rhode Island Reds for sale at $35/each. I asked if she’d take $60 for all 3, and she said yes! The boys and I went to pick them up last Friday, and it was love at first sight. Their names are Henrietta, Missy and Nessie.

Gregory with chickens

chickens RIRS closeup

One of the three is molting, however, and 1-2 eggs every day isn’t enough to offset our grocery bill. So, on Monday, we went to a farm in Wylie and picked up two Americaunas which we named “Bushel” and “Peck”. The lady assured me that these would be the leader of the pack once the new “pecking order” was established (not a pun, that’s actually where the term came from, haha!), but, as it turns out, our Rhode Islands are definitely in charge! They didn’t even let the 2 new ones out of the coop for the first day! Bossy hens!

Chickens Bushel and Peck walking around backyard Chickens closeup

Our boys just LOVE their new friends. Gregory cannot contain himself when we find a new egg, and he begs to do absolutely every chore associated with the chickens. There’s definitely been a lot of laughter over here, that’s for sure!

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While I may feel like the crazy chicken lady, when I sit down and think about it, this has been coming for a long time. In fact, we might have reached full-on hippie status over here– we drive an all electric car, we compost, we have 6 garden beds, we only buy from thrift stores and now we have backyard chickens! Oh well, time to embrace it, I guess!

The Big Decision– School or Homeschool ?

Montessori classroom at home

A few months ago, the dilemma my mommy-brain centered around was whether or not to send my oldest (almost 5) to school or homeschool. Since he has an October birthday, he barely misses the cut-off for Kindergarten, but we knew he was ready for something.

I looked into quite a few options. We actually have a wonderful Christian/Montessori preschool just down the road from us. Even though it was expensive, we went to the Open House. We applied. We got put on the waiting list for a few months. Then we got in! We attended a trial day. We applied for financial aid. We got it.

And yet, we couldn’t pull the trigger!

It really came down to a few factors, and, growing up in a family that did a combination of both homeschool and private school, I’ve come up with what I think are the 3 biggest factors in this tough decision. The first and biggest factor is the individual child and what they need. The second factor is cost-to-benefit, and the third seems to be how the mom/potential teacher feels about it.

When it came to G’s personality, we realized that he was NOT yearning for tons of social interaction, all day, every day. In fact, after just an hour or two at a play group or get together he is CRAVING alone time to play, imagine, read and work on things. Sometimes he even closes his bedroom door and says, “Momma, I need some alone space right now”, and proceeds to play by himself for over an hour. To put him in school all day would be exhausting and stressful for his personality. On top of it, we realized that Gregory’s personality and mine work really well together when it comes to learning new things. He is a very focused kid, and I really enjoy that he can concentrate without bouncing off the walls like most kids I know.

The second factor was cost-to-benefit. Even with financial aid, the cost was going to be prohibitive for us as a family. At a few hundred dollars a month, we knew that it would basically suck up the majority of any income I was making from home– money that we were using to grow our savings account. I contemplated working a little bit more to pay for it, which is when we had a real nuts-bolts conversation about our goals as a family. My husband pointed out that we had worked really hard over the past few years (selling our CA house, moving across the country, etc.) to put ourselves in a position where I didn’t have to work. We placed ourselves in a wonderful city, FULL of opportunities to expand our children’s horizons with activities and museum memberships. Why disregard all of those blessings searching after what we “thought” we should need?

The third factor was how I felt about it. Funny enough, this was the dramatic part of the solution! It should’ve been all child-centered, but a lot of it was revolving around my strong feelings on the subject. On the days where I wasn’t waffling back and forth, I was absolutely un-done by the thought of G being in school 5 half days a week. For many of you who know our story, I had to wait a LONG time to get pregnant with G, and because it was something I had wanted for so long, the pregnancy/post-partum craziness felt like a beautiful (albeit, sleepless!) dream. Even on the hard days, I never once wished for my old life before kids. I can’t remember a time where I whined about it, because I was just so grateful to finally be a mom! It made me realize that all the years of heartache, wanting to be pregnant, were actually just preparing my heart to be steadfast and positive, despite the trials of those first few months.

Ever since, I have cherished my two boys’ every moment. Every new experience, every new discovery, every new milestone. I can’t imagine not being a part of these moments– at least not right now.

As a result, the one trial day (literally, just 3 hours) was one of the hardest days of my life. I walked him to his classroom as he carried his little pencil box and backpack, and nearly broke down right then and there. When the teacher greeted him (ever so sweetly) and walked him into class, I watched from behind the corner, and it was all I could do not to take him home with me. I tried to go grocery shopping and run a few errands, but I just kept crying. I called my mom, which helped, but the long and short of it all is that I parked my car and sat outside the school in the pouring rain for most of the time, just counting down the minutes until I could go back in and get him.

I tried not to let any of this show. I tried to be excited for G, wait and hear what he had to say about his “day” before making any hard and fast decisions about whether to officially enroll.

And you know the first thing he said when he got into the car with me?

“Mom. There were lots of fun things. The kids were really nice. But I couldn’t have any fun. I was just missing you the whole time.”

Heart-Breaker, right?

After that day, I just knew, deep down, that we weren’t ready to be away from each other just yet, even for just a few hours a day. Every year is a new decision and nothing is forever, but the time just wasn’t right yet. Long before we received our financial aid package in the mail, I already knew we were going to decline. After making the decision, I felt so sure, so unwavering. I wondered why I had ever doubted myself in the first place! I mean, I’m a teacher, for heavens sake! I make money teaching homeschool kids from home! I teach piano lessons to his age group! Why did I ever feel unqualified?

I think a lot of it had to do with falling prey to peer pressure. I “looked around” (a dangerous pastime) and realized that making the decision to homeschool was going against the grain, and that others would probably view it skeptically. As a result, I started to view myself skeptically, wondering if I was really up the challenge, despite the fact that I work with empowering homeschool moms every single day of my online job! This whole process has been a great learning experience for me to realize that I don’t need to call into question my own parenting instincts, just because many others are doing something different. Moms have their gut instinct for a reason.

Once we made the decision to keep G home, I went into full-on research mode (for those of you who know me, this is, by my nature, an intense thing!). I studied the Montessori method all summer, reading countless books and articles. I didn’t just want to know what the basic Montessori tools and activities were, I wanted to know the why behind it all, so that I could improvise without losing the heart of it. Even though I was already very familiar with the Montessori method, having taught piano in half a dozen Montessori schools, I learned so much through all this research.

I also researched everything there is to do in Dallas, and came up with quite a list for ways in which to interact with others and get out of the house a few times a week! So far, we’ve been to the monthly children’s art day at the museum, the library down the street, and the YMCA’s Play and Learn class that meets weekly (we had to drive a little bit further away to get a time that worked for us). The Play and Learn was especially helpful, since they spend 90 minutes with us doing hands on arts and crafts, story time, P.E. time, and even have 5 or 6 stations set up for individual hands-on learning (and it’s all FREE!). And the best part is that I didn’t have to clean up after any of the art projects! WIN!!

Gregory and AJ at DMA
In addition, since we are not busy driving back and forth from school every day, we have the time (and money!) to put Gregory in a few organized activities this semester! As of right now, he is on a soccer team and has weekly swim and ballet lessons. He will also be taking daily piano lessons from me in small increments. This may sound like a LOT, but since we’re not waiting in carpool lines twice a day, it’s actually quite the “right” amount of busy.

In a future post, I will go over where we bought all of our materials and which books ended up being the most helpful in getting started, but for now, a few weeks into our school year, I am so happy that we made this choice. I am loving doing preschool/Kindergarden at home with both boys, and I am looking forward to a great year!
Gregory Montessori math sticks

Ikea Duktig Play Kitchen Hack

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A friend of mine recently posted a hack she did of the Ikea Duktig Play Kitchen. It was SO cute that I begged her for some pictures and instructions to post here on the blog!

Here is a stock picture from the Ikea website:

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And here it is now! Don’t you just love the stick on faux granite contact paper on the counters?

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ikea play kitchen

She modeled her play kitchen after their recent real kitchen remodel:

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(Gorgeous kitchen, no?)

Here were the steps she took, in her own words:

1. I first used a little sandpaper to rough up the birch pieces and appliance pieces so the paint would stick.
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2. I painted all the birch parts of the kitchen white. I used a can of white paint I already had in my garage. Painting the kitchen white is easier then another color since half of the kitchen pieces are already white. I did 2 coats. 
3. While that was drying I sprayed the microwave door, oven door, stovetop corners, sink and faucet with Krylon’s Nickel Satin Brushed Metallic spray paint. Spraying the faucet reminded me that we needed another one, and so, I made a mental note to Learn More on how that could be done. I got the paint at Hobby Lobby. I made sure to tape off the oven and microwave. 
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4. I used DC Fix 346-0181 Adhesive Film in Brown Granite (bought on amazon) to cover the countertop piece. I loved that this was so easy to just stick on and cut out the spaces for the stovetop and sink.
5. Once everything was dry I got to assembly!
6. I changed the 3 Duktig pulls for some my husband picked up for me at the hardware store. I’m unsure of the name of them. You can use any 5 inch pull and it will fit perfectly.
7. Once everything was assembled and screwed in place I added 3 Fulcrum 30010-301 LED Battery-Operated Stick-On Tap Lights in silver (bought on amazon). I put 2 under the top cabinet and 1 in the oven.
* I had plans to screw a knob on the side of kitchen to hang aprons but ended up just sticking on a small 3m command hook instead.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but she also painted and upholstered the Ikea Latt table!

ikea latt diy

How cute is her little children’s corner? I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some serious inspiration envy going on! 😉

 

$5 DIY Boot Tray

$5 Boot Tray

It’s been raining a ton here in TX– and by, “a ton”, I mean that the governor has declared several counties in TX a disaster zone because of all the flooding. Apparently, the satellites are even noticing a difference all the way from space because so much of TX is now greener than it’s been in a LONG time!

Now that we have a giant un-landscaped (for now) backyard, we also have a lot of mud. My boys are 4 and 3, so mud and puddles basically sound like Disneyland. We have a coat/shoe/outdoor stuff storage area in the Expedit near our front door, but we haven’t yet had a place for muddy boots.

It was starting to become a problem, and I kept thinking that it would soon dry up and we wouldn’t even need our rain boots anymore.

That was…weeks ago.

With lots of rain in the forecast all summer (thanks, El Nino!), I decided to finally get a boot tray.

Um…when did boot trays become SO stinking expensive! Has anyone but me noticed this? I wanted a galvanized steel one to match our house, but $30 was the cheapest I found at Target. YEAH RIGHT. $30 isn’t a lot of money in the big scheme of things, but just for a boot tray? Why? WHY?

After much looking, I realized that a boot tray just has to have two main functions: not be too shallow or deep, and also have ridges for letting the water/mud drain and dry. I decided that I would just find a way to make one.

So, given the fact that my grad classes are now DONE, I got inspired by Jenn at Clean and Scentsible, and adapted her tutorial to get the matching “galvanized steel” look I was going for. Instead of using a tray, I found a sturdy old rectangle cooking pan in our possession. Just like her, I realized that if I just dumped the rocks in there, it would be about two seconds before my boys started throwing them all around the house. Enter: Super Glue!

Using our neighborhood $ Store (this took $2 of rocks and $3 of glue), I was able to put this together in under 2 hours while watching TV with Jesse. Granted, the smell of the glue was a bit annoying so we had to put it outside to dry, but such a better idea than spending $30 at Target! Just make sure that your tray is sturdy enough– those little rocks may not look heavy, but trust me, all together they really are!

So, there you are! I hope you enjoyed our $5 DIY Boot Tray 🙂