2015 was a quiet year on the blog, but it wasn’t due to there being a lack of projects for us to get our hands on. I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t write about them at the time (though some ended up on instagram so, partial credit?) but as they say… better late than never. Behold three never before seen Doodle House DIYs from 2015:
Chicken Proof Gardens
We love giving the chippies yard time outside of the coop because a happy chicken means better eggs and more of ’em. But as most gardeners know, they can wreck havoc on a garden if left unattended.
In our old place, we built small fence around our gardens to keep the critters out, but that effort was short lived since the chickens eventually mastered the art of fence jumping.
Ultimately we decided that each individual garden would need its own sturdy enclosure that protected the perimeter and the top from not only the chickens, but other garden vermin as well. This design was dreamed up by Heath, and was modeled after a few similar projects we hunted down on pinterest.
Each box required nine 2″x 2″ x 8″ furring strip boards we picked up at Home Depot for about $2 each — bringing the total project cost to about $75. Not too bad for the peace of mind it also bought us knowing we could now have happy chicks AND a happy garden.
(Partly) New Coffee Table
Heath and I have never bought a coffee table. We’ve always been able to get our hands on one for free — though this method is friendly on the wallet, it sometimes leaves us with the less-than-ideal version for our space. The first was an old hand-me-down cedar chest I acquired in college that was great for storage, but a little small for the room. And truth be told, she was a little rough around the edges from so much wear and tear over the years, and maybe a few too many drinking games.
Then we inherited a long and low tile top coffee table built by my grandfather. I loved the style, but it was really a little too long and didn’t give us many options for furniture layout. As I am constantly redesigning and reorganizing, this was a problem. Just call me Goldilocks.
So we opted to re-purpose the iron legs from the handmade coffee table and assembled a new, slightly shorter top out of cedar. Total cost of the redux? About $36. LOVE how it turned out. Can’t figure out why we didn’t try this sooner.
Getting in touch with my artistic side
This year, spring in Austin was very rainy and very wet. Which meant the time I had planned to spend outdoors gardening, needed to be rethought. But rather than let a little water get me down, I let a little water color and acrylic paint lift me up and help keep my creative juices flowing. I’ve not taken any classes (painfully obvious) but I’ve been experimenting a lot — sometimes creating things from images I’ve seen, sometimes imagining things from nothing. I’m still very much a novice but it’s been really exciting to revisit an activity I loved as a child but until this year had not really been brave enough to explore as an adult.
This hardly captures all of the untold adventures and lessons that 2015 had in store, but it’s a start, and a good reminder that a heart-felt DIY project, no matter how small, can still result in an abundance of joy.
It’s not my cup of tea, but the chickens love a good dust bath in the summer.
The sounds of distressed clucking and squawking began to drift into the living room sometime between 10 and 11 at night—long after the hours when the “bukbukbukbukbukbuuuuuuuuuuuk” from Frannie Sue’s tiny but powerful lungs is considered appropriate. The dogs lifted their heads, tilted their ears backward and let out a low, slow growl. I muted my episode of The West Wing and strained to listen in with them. Silence. Then, THUD. WHACK. SQUAAAAAKSQUAAACKBUUUUUUUUUK. CRASH.
“Moosh!” I bellowed toward the bedroom in Heath’s direction. “The chickens! Something’s happening to the chickens!”
Not bothering to put on shoes, I scurried out the side door and stepped awkwardly on the balls of my feet, over twigs and stepping-stones through the backyard to the chicken coop. I didn’t have my flashlight, but I didn’t need it. Even in the dark, I knew what I saw crawling eerily from the chicken coop door.
A few seconds later, also shoeless, Heath came stumbling out into the darkness with rake and flashlight in hand, ready for battle. Except for the shoe thing.
“What is it? Can you see?” Heath asked me, his voice relaying equal parts concern over the mysteries that lay hidden in the darkness and frustration for being pulled from his cozy slumber into the uncertain, barefoot night.
I pointed to the varmint that clung ferociously to the inside wire of the chicken coop, activating the same defense used by Sam Neil’s character in Jurasic Park. “He can’t see us if we don’t move.”
But we saw him, his naked tail, his glowing eyes, his face that would have been cute in a different context. There was a possum in our chicken coop.
We would have to rebuild.
Our coop had been through much iteration over the years. We built it at our old house, repurposing wood and other materials from the original coop to save costs. Then we hauled it across the highway to our new place before then making one, two, three more additions and modifications to the original plan. We added on a wing, converted it to a duplex and moved doors around from side to side without investing in new materials to get the constantly evolving coop up to snuff. And now we had egg snatching, chicken pestering possums to answer to.
Forgetting that, just weeks ago we were much more a threat to chickens than this 8-pound marsupial, we vowed to spend our weekend reinforcing the coop to make it into a chicken’s fortress. We would plan incessantly, measure meticulously and level ground furiously to create a coop we could be proud of.
Saturday morning, as usual, came earlier than expected. And despite a late night crawl down Rainey St. comprised of pickle-flavored shots, lewd gestures in photo booths and chicken-and-waffle food trailer eats, Heath and I managed to pull ourselves out of bed and into the backyard. Even the White Rabbit would have scoffed at our poor timing, which found us deconstructing the original coop under the incessant and unforgiving noon sun without even a hint of a shade to ease our discomfort. As we pulled and prodded and pried the coop apart, the backyard began to look more and more like a WWI battle field with dismantled structures, entangled metal wires and the sounds of hopeless humans moaning with pain.
Are the chickens even worth it? Maybe it would be cool to start raising possums instead. I could name them after Downtown Abbey characters. Cousin Matthew. Lady Sybil. That would be fun.
We endured repeated trips to Home Depot and lost battery life to our drill at least twice (perhaps a bigger momentum killer than my tooth-hurty joke). We put up and took down support beams at least a dozen times and suffered approximately 87 mosquito bites and 33 chicken wire lacerations to the gams. And we snipped at each other more than I’m proud to admit.
“I don’t work well in groups.”
“Well, I don’t understand why you don’t understand.”
The whole “during” phase of the coop construction was unceasingly frustrating. Less team building and more scream building. But when we stapled that last piece of chicken wire, laid down the hay, and stood back to marvel at the handsome hut, we felt pretty proud of each other for conquering the beast.
“Good job Moosh,” we both said, arms around the other’s sweaty, dirty, sun burned waists.
We stood in silence for a moment; relieved the endeavor was finished and grateful for the promise of sweet, sweet air conditioning in our very near future. Finally, coop complete, we retreated indoors and collapsed in a tizzy of laughter on the couch. The chickens on the other hand, never made a peep that night.
Full disclosure, I flaked out like a blizzard when it came time to, how do I say this diplomatically, make efficient use of our aggressive rooster Ruby. We had raised Ruby since he was a chick. Fed him. Housed him. Named him. So it was tough for me to then do the dirty and dispatch of him. That, I gladly left for Heath to endure. (Though I had no problem doing the subsequent cooking and eating and blogging.) Given my lack of participation in that surreal and slightly icky life moment, it seemed unlikely I would sign up for any future endeavors of the same ilk. How wrong you are my friend. For I was front and center when pals Mark and Ranjana made, er, “efficient use” of their three hens and two ducks last weekend.
Like Heath and I, and thousands of other wannabe urban farmers in Austin and elsewhere, Mark and Ranjana spent a good long while providing a comfortable space in the backyard in which Rothko, Benedict, Omlette, Frank and Scott could scratch up and stink up. It’s perhaps what they do best after egg laying and mealworm eating. But, alas, the couple has decided to relocate, and as the saying goes, you can’t take it with you. And “it” includes chickens and ducks. So, a chicken dinner it would be for Mark, Ranjana and their invited guests.
I’m not blind to the fact that to many, it may seem gross and odd and perhaps even cruel to do in your pets. Nor am I obtuse to the cold hard truth that there is an entire industry out there that does this sort of thing day in and day out, and it’s in many ways not such a big f-ing deal. (In fact, the average American eats about 185 pounds of chicken a year, according to this NPR story, so chew on that if you’re a chicken eater of the “that’s cruel” ideology.) Whatever camp you’re in—Gross, Cruel, Who Cares—it doesn’t change the simple notion that it is important to know where your food comes from, REALLY comes from. So this time, I put on my big girl pants and played an active role in helping Maranjanark prepare their meal.
Why? Well, to help out some friends, for one. But also, I wanted to be there for selfish reasons. I wanted to document the process for the sake of art, or nostalgia or something. And I wanted to be able to tell my future kids about it. “No kids, I haven’t gone skydiving, or set foot on Antarctica, but I did see with my own two eyes, a chicken run around with its head cut off, and it was weird, and startling and magnificent.” I wanted to be there for my street cred.
What didn’t factor into my decision making process at the time I volunteered for this assignment, was the odd sense of fulfillment I would derive from it all. Not from the actual morbid blood-and-guts part, but being a part of the life cycle. For years Mark and Ranjana gave to the birds, and now the birds were giving back. It was all done humanely and gracefully. Mark and Ranjana said a few words to remember and be thankful for the experiences the birds afforded them, and then shared their nourishment with friends who had supported them along the way.
I was confused and conflicted and frankly a little immature when we made a meal of our rooster. But being a part of the experience, the whole experience, with our Austin family was different. It felt right. It felt important. It felt beautiful.
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.” –Cesar Chavez
Honestly, I started writing this blog a couple of years ago just to keep track and have a record of Heath’s and my various comings-and-goings in Austin, not really expecting to gather any type of fan base or following. Today, as I celebrate 300 posts, I know I am really, truly, unimaginatively fortunate to have readers that can derive even the slightest bit of entertainment or inspiration from this little piece of internet. It’s a pleasure and a joy to have an audience.
This blog, which started nearly as an afterthought, has turned out to be the catalyst for motivating me to take on more home improvement, gardening and photography projects that otherwise may have gone unexplored. And I know it’s largely my readers who have inspired me to continue to tackle new territory (including my biggest fan, my mom, who has read and commented on every post, talk about supportive parenting). As I look back at the 300 posts and reflect on the more than 300 hours I have sunk into this funky manifesto, I feel it’s appropriate to mark this milestone with a collection of my favorite posts from throughout the years.
Don’t Bite The Hand that Feeds You
The story of what happens to rowdy roosters.
The Need for Seed
The joys and challenges of starting a garden from seed.
A contemplative post about finding balance between nesting at home and having experiences abroad.
They know me well at the painter’s counter
A lighthearted post about the important role unconventional colors play in our lives.
A slideshow of sorts
Photos from our life-altering Christmas vacation in India.
I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing. Here’s to another 300.
After seeing a way-cool documentary on turkeys over Thanksgiving, I was inspired to do a little bird photo shoot of my own. So I used my afternoon off to hang with the chippies and snap a few pics of the ladies kicking up bugs in the backyard leaves. Obviously domestic hens in an an East Austin backyard is not quite as majestic as wild turkeys in the Florida wilderness, and I don’t have quite the same clout and photography abilities as the masterminds at PBS, but I still had a good afternoon hanging with the chicks.
Poor Blondie has been brooding lately. I don’t like it.
Brooding is apparently cyclical behavior, and not really all that uncommon in chickens, but I’m still not a fan. The thought of staying put in that little box in 100-degree weather, day-after-day, for hours on end in the hopes of hatching an unhatchable egg is most definitely depressing (not to mention it keeps us from being able to collect the eggs from under her). Not only is her brooding behavior tragically hopeless, it’s also dangerous. We’ve already lost one chicken to heat, and I’m not keen to lose another.
I’ve heard when chickens brood in nature, roosters bring food to the nest, but seeing as how we have no roosters, this brooding businesses poses a problem. To get the stubborn gal off the hot seat, we’ve taken to gently nudging her off the nest, locking her out of the coop and bribing her with mealworms. For now, the mealworms at least distract her long enough that we can collect the eggs from the nest and clean it up a bit before she starts circling the coop, searching for a way back in. I’m just hoping our bribery efforts will continue to work as she goes through this little hormonal phase.
Oh sweet Blondie, I hope you perk up soon.
I love my bouquets of fresh eggs.
Brenda died yesterday from heat stroke. What kind of planet is this where animals, animals who have lived millions of years outdoors, suddenly die in the heat? Texas summers, I am getting really tired of you.
The saddest part is, we aren’t the only folk in these parts to have lost our fowl this summer. We know of at least two other chickens in our area who have succumbed to the heat. This is outrageous. Brenda was our barred rock hen, one of the youngest and the largest in the brood. According to a few sites on chicken raising, sometimes it’s the largest, darkest hens that suffer the most from the heat. The others seem to be doing relatively OK, but we don’t really want to take any chances. To prevent any more untimely deaths, we spent the morning pimping out the chicken coop with the latest in coop cooling technology.
While the coop does benefit from the shade of our mature backyard pecan tree, we went to extra lengths to make sure every square inch of the coop’s roof is now covered with a sun blocking fabric that lets in air for ventilation, but keeps the temp down to a bearable 90 degrees (versus the 107 you might find yourself frying in beneath the full sun). We also added a giant water trough in addition to the existing water containers and put in ice blocks (or the red neck version, frozen jugs of water) for the surviving chickens to lie next to. The hope is that while the ice melts, the evaporation will help to cool the interior of the coop. Hopefully these measures will prevent us from having to bury any more hens.
Brenda was a fine lady, the prettiest chick of the bunch in my opinion, and one of the more social ones. And sadly, while we are no strangers to losing hens, it’s never a process that gets any easier. I hope this is the last post I will have to write like this for a long, long time. Stay cool.
You would think we’d be over the egg laying process by now, but we’re not. Blondie laid her first egg today. We’re grandparents!