Henny Penny’s Squad

Some men buy their wives flowers or jewelry or expensive handbags. I’m the first to admit that thoughtful gifts fill me with gratitude for the time and attention that went into selecting them. About three weeks ago, Music Man surprised me with an unplanned trip to our favorite store, so I could pick out his latest gift to me. The store wasn’t Tiffany’s. It wasn’t the boutique florist with the jaw-dropping arrangements. Nor was it Michael Kors.

Y’all, he took me to Rural King.

Have you BEEN to a Rural King? That place is a homesteader’s dream store! I walk in and my eyes go all buggy and my jaw goes all slack. The kids love the free popcorn and all the adorable baby animals in the back corner. My husband walks around dreaming up all the ways he could spend lottery winnings, mentally filling cart after cart with merchandise. I typically bounce between the baby animals and the clearance tables.

Well, on this particular trip, Dustin gave me the go-ahead to kick my chicken dream into gear. We picked out eighteen adorable balls of fluff from their large metal tubs. Each chick was hand chosen by one of us. We looked for lively, energetic biddies with healthy, clear eyes and strong legs. Just kidding. That would have been the logical way to go about it. Actually, it went more like this:

[We approach the Buff Orpingtons.]

Cora: Can I pick first?!
Me: Sure!
Rural King Employee: ONLY touch the one you’re going to take home!!!!
Cora: Okay, I want that REEEEAAAALLLLY cute one right there! [scoops up fluff-butt #1]
Lane: Okay, my turn? I want that BIG one. [scoops up fluff-butt #2]
Me: Everyone pick one more Buff, we need 6 total! This breed is known for being really gentle and great layers.
[Dad and Mom each get to pick a Buff; Dad cracking chicken nugget jokes the entire time.]

[We move over to the Rhode Island Reds.]

Me: Everyone gets to pick one! These are really good brown egg layers, and they’re dual-purpose, which means we can eat them when they stop laying.
Cora and Lane: [ensuing squeals and giggles as they try to catch the cutest chicks]
Dustin: [More carry-out chicken jokes]
Me: Babe, how many chickens are we getting?
Dustin: [starts calculating egg rates in his head, how many chicks we’re likely to lose before maturity, and how much this is all going to cost him.]

[On to the Americaunas!!!]

Me: Okay, we need four of these… they lay colored eggs, sometimes even blue or green!
Cora: [squealing] THEY’RE SO CUUUUUUUUUUUUUUTE!!!!!!!

Me: [Reluctantly turning to the Leghorns] Okay, we’ll get three of these. They don’t have a lot of character, but they’re pretty prolific egg layers.
Dustin: [Begins making fun of my chicken lingo]

[Cora spots the tub of Silver and Golden Wyandottes and starts asking for one.]

Cora: Please, Mommy??? They’re just so adorable!!
Me: Are these good layers? [to the employee] Okay, ONE Silver! Then we’ll be up to eighteen chicks! Grab some feeders, waterers, chick feed and a light, and let’s get these babies home.
Dustin: Wait… there are six chicks in each takeout box? You mean we got three Six Piece Nuggets to go????? [hysterical laughter from the children]

Obviously, this is the best way to pick out chickens for your starter flock.

Our new additions came home to a round metal tub all ready to be filled with pine shavings, chicks and their feed. As soon as I had unloaded them all into their new home though, I knew I had made a gross error in judging how much space they would need. Within an hour, one of the larger Buff Orpingtons (three of these chicks were a week old, while the rest were just a couple of days old) had already flown up to perch on the edge of the tub.

We reconfigured the laundry room to put up walls around the tub, but I was nervous about someone getting out in the night and dying from lack of heat or water. We started looking for a better option, and found a secondhand, pre-fabricated coop for sale on Facebook. It worked like a charm, as we could keep the top off to allow the heat lamp to hang down and to allow easy access to the chicks.

After a few weeks in the laundry room, it was becoming evident that the girls were needing more room than the coop could afford. We took them outside a couple times  that week and let them wander around inside a dog fence we found at the back of our property. They loved being outdoors, and having more room. So last week, I converted a corner of our shed into a makeshift chicken pen. It’s simply a tarp on the ground with the dog fence set up on three sides and their chicken coop forming the fourth side. We began using straw for bedding rather than the pine chips, and it seems to be keeping the smell down much better. The girls are now only using the heat lamp at night, and they’ve begun emptying their feeder about once every 18-24 hours.

Moved to the shed, into temporary housing

One of my favorite things about raising chicks has been learning their personalities. The Leghorns (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) and the Silver Wyandotte (Mrs. Beakley) are extremely shy and standoffish. Trying to catch them is a pain; the Leghorns squawk and flap like you’re trying to kill them and try to escape your hands as soon as possible. The Americaunas are also shy, but they’re easier to pick up; they also settle right down when you’re holding them. The Reds and the Buffs are the friendliest and most curious. Whenever we set anything down in their coop, or open the door to let them wander, it’s always Reds and Buffs that comes running to check it out first.

And of course, there’s one chick that stands out above the rest. Anytime she sees me, she comes a’running as fast as she can. She hops onto my hand, climbs up my arm to my shoulder, and perches under my hair. She’s always content to just rest in my arm, and she loves to peck at my rings. Meet Henny Penny, our sweetest Rhode Island Red.

Ms. Henny Penny, Queen of our Coop

If it weren’t for the poop everywhere, I’d keep Henny Penny in the house with us. She’s that fun and sweet. In my mind, there’s Henny Penny and the rest of the girls are her little chicken squad. If indeed, they are all girls. Rural King made it clear that there is a 10% chance the chicks were sexed wrong, and we could have a couple of roosters in our flock. I’m actually pretty sure that one of the Buff Orpingtons is a rooster. It’s the biggest one, it’s pretty aggressive if any of the girls are in its way or roosting higher than he is, and his comb has already turned bright red.

The kids love taking the chicks out to play

The outside Chicken Castle isn’t fully prepared yet; we are planning to use an existing run that adjoins our livestock pen to install a coop addition. The girls have spent some time out in the run on sunny days; it’s quite comical to watch them throwing dirt over themselves, wallowing around in their chosen patch of grass, and running pell-mell down the run toward the rest of the flock.

I never pegged myself as a “chicken lady”. Apparently I’m becoming one, though. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my day to go out to the shed, scoop up a couple of the girls and take them outside to scratch around the yard. Just don’t judge me too harshly if y’all see me at the Rural King with chicken feathers in my hair or poop on my shirt.

Chicken yoga could be a new thing, right?

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Humble Beginnings

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I think there might be something magical in the moment a dream is born. I may be wrong though, especially if the dream is birthed of the partial insanity of a homeschooling mother on her last frayed nerve, as she inhales deeply in an effort to keep her cool.

Never felt like that before? Okay, moving on then…

I didn’t grow up in “the country”. My family did a brief stint on ten acres where my mom tried to collect every kind of animal we could possibly (and even impossibly) raise. I remember a revolving door of farm life: a horse, a cow, a goat, chickens, maybe some turkeys, a couple of dogs, parakeets, and even pigs, who got out one day and my very pregnant mother chased them all over the pasture trying to shoo them back into their pen. But for the most part, my childhood was spent in neighborhoods and subdivisions.

The Music Man, on the other hand, grew up on 52 acres with cattle and dogs and gardens and 4H. When we were newlyweds, we lived “in town” in apartments and townhouses. Six years into our marriage, we bought our first house from which we had to drive “to town” to get groceries, pay bills, and go to church. When we moved to South Carolina for Dustin to take a job, we ended back up in neighborhoods where the houses sat close together and the grocery store was five minutes away. The (almost) five years we spent there ignited a dream in my newly-crunchy heart: homesteading.

I wanted to grow things. Plants. Animals. My own character. I wanted to eat food and play with animals we had raised. Videos of chickens on swings and fainting goats running and falling over were my new entertainment. I wanted to dig my hands deep into the earth. Now, you need to know that I don’t have a green thumb. Actually, my family jokes about my propensity to kill any flowers that I hopefully bring home from the garden center. Nevertheless, I wanted a full garden to feed my family. Fig trees! Guava trees! Avocado trees! On a quarter acre lot, this was an impossibility of course, but it gave me something to think about while I did all that deep breathing.

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In August of this year, we found our road back home. We moved into the same house, on the same two acres, and began the same actions of reclaiming the land from the trees and weeds. Lane and Cora bought their first 4H animal projects: two sweet little lambs that they’ll show at the Youth Fair in February.

I set to work talking to Dustin about chicks for eggs and eventually, goats for milk. Dustin mended fences, installed gates, chopped wood, and started researching chicken coops. And then, three weeks ago, we finally brought home some chicks. What started as a dream in moments of deep breathing was becoming a reality right here on our humble little homestead. The cheeping balls of fluff in the laundry room were constant reminders of a dream being realized. The little cheep cheeps have moved out to the shed in preparation for the final move to the Chicken Palace, because eighteen rapidly growing chicks smell too badly to stay in the house.

Now when I inhale deeply, the smell of straw or chickens or lambs may meet my wrinkled nose. It’s a good smell. It’s the smell of dreaming.

Hakuna Matata

Well, my friends, we have officially been full time RV’ers for a week today. Last Thursday, after a full morning of Classical Conversations community, we completed the moving in essentials and spent our first night in the RV. Guess what? WE LOVE IT! Spaces are a bit tighter, true, but we’re always practically on top of each other anyway. Cooking has been a serious learning curve interesting, but we’ve had delicious and simple meals since we moved in.

Our week was full of a lot of firsts, mostly good. First RV showers (there is a pause button on the shower head for a reason… the hot water tank runs out very quickly), first laundry done at the laundry house (I am a little perturbed about not doing laundry more conveniently), first time lighting a gas oven that probably could fit in a dollhouse. We’ve been outdoors quite a bit this week as well. Lane and Cora have really enjoyed having room to ride their bikes freely, as well as visiting the docks every morning to feed the fish and turtles bread. We got the fishing poles set up, and have tried our hand at fishing the Waterway. Nothing has bitten yet, but we’re determined to catch something! 

  

We rented kayaks Tuesday afternoon with some friends and had a lovely time enjoying the beautiful afternoon exploring the Waterway. 

 

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.

 
The campground pool has seen us a few times; the kids think it’s really neat that they get to ride in the back of the truck when we go to the pool. Music Man gave Lane his first ever pocket knife, which has been in near constant use ever since.

Along with all of the fun discoveries and adventures, we’ve had a few learning experiences as well. Such as, don’t leave your awning up in a storm. Saturday evening found us with a heavy storm rolling in just as we were arriving back to the campsite. As we rushed to bring items inside from the bed of my husband’s truck, a thought popped into my head. I had noticed that other campers kept their awning tilted a little lower on one side, in an OCD person’s nightmare arrangement. It clicked that this must be to help rainwater drain, and I mentioned it to Music Man. He glanced at the awning, filling rapidly with rainwater, and agreed that it should be tilted. As he began to drop one side, I ran to help and narrowly avoided being speared by the aluminum roller pole that suddenly snapped in half and swung inward toward the RV (and my head).

The pole that tried to kill me

The wonderful gentleman that came to remove our awning for us on Monday, free of cost, told Music Man that the supports in place for such a long awning were not rated to support so much weight. We were looking at a $1600 replacement job to put up a bit shorter awning. The price was a bit staggering, and we prayed together that God would provide a less expensive way to replace the awning. After a call to insurance, we were so thankful to find out that the awning was covered under storm damage and would be replaced after paying a deductible a fourth of the cost of the initial quote.

All in all, this has been an incredible first week as a full time RV living and schooling family. We are looking forward to many more firsts, some amazing adventures, and great campfires. Stick around for posts with pictures of the RV, snippets of our days, and the craziness of our family!

 

Home schooling in the RV! It CAN be done!

  

This was a great way to continue the conversation about mirror images from Fine Arts last week.

  

Tickled pink about their first night in the loft.

  

As Lane said tonight, “Living the dream!”

 

Short and Sweet

I am too tired from this week of transition to actually put together a whole post right now, but… First night sleeping in the RV. The little people are snoozing away in the loft, and I’ve just climbed into my bed. Pictures and details are coming, I promise. Good night, campground. Good night, moon. Good night, world. 

  

Down the Rabbit Hole…

“We have too much crap!”

These words have echoed through our two story, 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath house countless times over the last week. How is it that we JUST did this 16 months ago in our move from Florida? I purged countless bags of stuff to move 400+ miles, less than a year and a half ago. It’s troubling how much we have managed to accumulate in such a short time. 

Last week was all about purging, packing, storing, sorting… Oh, and in the midst of all of that chaos, we had our first day back to our Classical Conversations community. 

Lane and Cora are both in Mom’s class this year!!

The camper we will be staying in to begin with actually belongs to my dad and step-mom. They purchased a 2010 Salem LE Sport toy hauler fifth wheel in Tampa, FL and are having it delivered to Myrtle Beach… TODAY! We will live in their fifth wheel as we save up to buy the bunkhouse travel trailer we dream of. The campground where we will be living is a lovely little quiet place on the Intercoastal Waterway, with plenty of outdoor activities to keep us busy. We are quite excited to begin our “tiny Wonderland lifestyle”, but first we have to get down the rabbit hole. The rabbit hole being, of course, the actual narrowing transition from too much stuff to just what we need. 

As I sit here at our makeshift kitchen table (having sold our dining set last weekend) looking around at the organized chaos around me, I utter a half-whispered prayer that God will give me strength to somehow make it through our last day of packing. Tomorrow is supposed to be our “move in day”, so everything around me needs to be stored, donated or stashed in the camper. All while keeping a seven- and eight-year-old from being bored out of their minds or too helpful.

Someone asked me yesterday at church if there is anything I will miss in this house. I am sure there will be many things, but the two big ones that pop into my head are the enormous kitchen and gigantic garden tub. 

 

all those cabinets…

 
 

I have used this tub every night since we found out we are moving…

 
Ask my children the same question, and you’ll get much more profound answers. My seven-year-old girl, the queen of snacks, Ms. Social Butterfly answered, “My neighborhood friends and the ice cream truck!” (Way to stay consistent, punkin.) The eight-and-a-half-year-old boy, logical, Mr. (usually) Practical answered, “Memories”. (Way to wreck a mother’s heart, kid.) They are both enormously excited for this adventure; it makes me feel more secure that they aren’t going to actually miss anything in the house itself. 

  

Well, here we go… Down the rabbit hole!

Small World… Gets Smaller?

Our family isn’t exactly what one would call “traditional”. My husband works nights as an entertainer, we homeschool our two children, and we moved our family almost 500 miles from home last year in order for Music Man to pursue his career. This bent toward unconventional life choices broadened to include a predilection for a more natural/holistic approach to health and wellness (lovingly called “crunchy” in our home). Knowing all of this, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to my husband one evening, as he was watching television and I was purusing Pinterest we were watching television together, when I piped up with, “Hey. It would be absolutely crazy for us to live in an RV, right?” 

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t proposing that we leave our beautiful two-story home on a whim. We both had been fascinated by the Tiny House movement, and toyed with the what-ifs. He absentmindedly murmured that yes, it was crazy and continued watching HIMYM. A few minutes later (after furiously searching Pinterest for full-time RV dwellers who also homeschooled), I questioned, “But how crazy would it actually be?” 

That my friends, was all it took.  We began looking up everything we could find on RV living, types of RVs, local campgrounds. Mr. Math aka Music Man started crunching numbers about how much we could save, and kept finding more and more savings in our budget should we downsize. My heart was captured through a few blog posts that I found about living smaller in order to live life BIGGER. How many times had my heart been saddened by the feeling that we were doing our children an injustice by giving them so much stuff? Stuff that wouldn’t fill the innermost desires of their hearts. Stuff that just took up space. Stuff that resulted in Mommy standing over children demanding that stuff be cleaned up instead of scattered across the floor, forgotten, forsaken, boring. What was all this “stuff” accomplishing? Did it draw their hearts closer to their Savior? Or instead, was it a bone of contention? Was it something to fill the inner lust for more, more, more? Why couldn’t we walk through target anymore without someone feeling like they “needed” something from the toy section? Why couldn’t I go to a store without needing to run through the clothing department and check out the cute new shoes, or that top over there, or the amazing little dress I would only wear once? Was all of this “stuff” storing up treasures in heaven, or storing up greed in our hearts? 

  
God opened my eyes to all of the “stuff” in our lives, and how much money we fork out to house, repair or replace our stuff. Is a 2300+ sq ft house really what we need? It is beautiful, yes. But what is the cost? Is it worth it that our kids can’t run freely? That kitchen, is it worth the long hours of clean up and upkeep after a meal, instead of joining in on after dinner festivities? What are we giving up to keep up with the Joneses? Who are the Joneses,  and why do we feel compelled to keep up with them?!

Please know that my heart in all of this is not to judge anyone for having or wanting stuff. Everyone wants this path of life differently and with different convictions. These are the ones that have been laid on our hearts for our family for this time. So it is with great excitement, and a little bit of nervousness, that we are announcing that the Taylor family will be a fulltime RV family as of September 1st. 

  

More to come in the adventures of downsizing more than 2300 sq ft into a fifth wheel camper… all with a crazy, crunchy homeschooling mama, two little bitties, and one music man.

The “C” Word

There’s a nasty word in our house. One that starts with “C” and sends little children screaming for hiding places. Okay, maybe not screaming… but the kids definitely scurry for cover. Sometimes.

Chores. There, I said it. Who could ever imagine that such a tiny little word could invoke unequivocal mayhem in many homes? I can’t tell you the countless number of articles I have read in the last two weeks regarding chores or morning routines or getting your children out the door on time. Apparently back-to-school season brings out the stress of trying to combine tiny humans and routines. 

As a homeschooling family, we don’t have a deadline each morning that the entire family races to meet, hurdling our bodies out the front door and into the waiting vehicle, accompanied by “Hurry up!” and “Don’t bring that toy!” and “If I have to tell you ONE more time…” However, a lack of schedule tends to make it difficult to transition into our school day, and little pit stops can rob our mornings of joy, orderliness and productivity.

Enter the Chore Chart.

I decided to introduce this age-old concept to my kids over the summer, hoping that by the time school started, we would have it down pat. I have tweaked it several times, but I finally feel like we have something that works for us. In hearing other mothers’ struggles with requiring chores from their children, enforcing chore follow-through, or just dealing with bad attitudes regarding chores, I am reminded of an excerpt from “To Train Up A Child” by Michael and Debi Pearl:

“My Amish neighbors say that before seven the children are a drain on the family–costing money and time. Between seven and fourteen, they pay their way. After fourteen, they become an asset, bringing in profit. Certainly by the time a child reaches seven, he should be making your life easier. A houseful of seven-year-olds would easily be self-sustaining.”

So many parents feel like they are personal slaves to the tiny humans in their homes. This isn’t how a family is meant to exist! Familes are supposed to be our center for communication, love, training, and preparation for life. I love my children, and that causes me to want to do things for them… but not at the detriment of letting them learn life lessons. We should be lovingly serving each other and the family unit by helping the household run smoothly.

This does NOT mean that my children do the majority of the household chores. It doesn’t mean they are cleaning all day long. It DOES mean that in the mornings, after breakfast, they have a list of chores to complete in a timely manner. It also means that they help set the dinner table, clean up after dinner, straighten toys and keep up with their personal hygiene. For our six and seven year olds, this is what a Chore Chart looks like:

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Using this chart means I can switch out chores on a daily or as-needed basis.

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You may notice the verse written on the yellow envelopes. This is to address bad attitudes that come up (inevitably) during chores from time-to-time. Phillipians 2:14 says, “Do all things without complaining or disputing.” This is a big deal in our home, as we expect our kids to obey with the right heart and attitude. It’s still a process at times to promote cheerful chores, but most days we sing and giggle while we complete our work. Starting our day out this way leads to more productivity (on their part AND mine) as well as “cleaning the slate” for a new day… and new messes!

What about you? What chores do your children do? What chores do you WISH they would do?