25 October 2013

Seasonally in the moment.

I have been enjoying the last few weeks of feeling all the lovely things that I associate with fall. We have had nothing but gorgeous weather and the leaves have been accommodatingly beautiful. Fall in the northeast is probably one of the reasons I can't imagine living anywhere else in the world for any serious length of time. That and winter which happens to be my favorite season - I know, I'm weird.

Keeping life moving ahead though and still remaining in the moment is not easy to do or practice. Socially, we plan ahead - weeks and months ahead of time - to make sure we have room in the schedule. Planning ahead is one thing; going to the stores is nothing but irritating come Labor day when some (many) of the places around us start pulling their Halloween decor off to the side to make space for the winter holiday splashes is quite another.

It used to make me crazy. I was one of the people who muttered and swore when I saw it and might have vented about it public. Now... well I still scowl in September when the Christmas lights go up, but I generally care less about it. It's not the store's job to make sure I remain in the moment.

Years ago as a theatre major I had a professor who drilled into us the importance of fully experiencing each moment on the stage and off. All the things we take in as beings inform us as actors so living in fast forward doesn't make us capable on stage. While I no longer pursue stage dreams those lessons still have a lot of meaning for me daily as a thinking, magical creature.

One of the exercises was being in the moment washing dishes -- one of the hardest exercises and one I repeatedly come back to when I find myself drifting too far outside the day to day. Washing dishes is a simple exercise, one that makes it very easy for the mind to wander to the events of the day, or things still needing to be done, or the worries of what could have been. This is different from the mindful meditation of something like spinning - the rhythm helps with the trance state there and trancing is a different achievement from mindfulness.

While washing dishes, do everything mindfully. Fill the basins and let it be a sensory experience. Yes - it goes slowly when you're listening to the pitch of the water change as the basin fills, or feeling the change in temperature, or observing steam. Each plate, each fork tine, be aware of it while it is washed and rinsed and dried. I take in the smell of the soap and the gloves that I use, I feel my hands soften in the heat, and I am aware of my sliding and shifting into focus. My breath helps me fall into each layer of observation without my being overly analytical - the sensation happens and another takes its place. I am not there to document, just to exist as a vehicle of washing, drying, and being.

This isn't going to make me a zen master by any stretch, but by observing and being *there* without wandering to the to-do list of doom or having those thoughtless conversations in my head about who-knows-what, I find myself reinvesting in my edges. I don't do this every day (I should, I'm sure) but when I do, it is normally a 40 minute investment from start to finish. By the end, not only are the dishes cleaned but I am a bit more centered and observant.

Exercises like this help keep me invested in the season - each season - as the wheel spins on. Exercising this mindfulness helps keep me grounded when the to do list becomes a mile long and my patience runs a mile short. While I know that I have a holiday to-do list coming up on November 1st that I could get started on now, I prefer to wait and pace myself to enjoy the fullness of October right through Samhein night and a few days following. Lists are good because things can be written down and put away rather than tumbling through my mind constantly as a distraction.

Whatever you are doing this weekend, I hope you find moments to relish fully!

11 October 2013

The Heretics Heart

I come at my spirituality from the not entirely unique position of being someone raised marginally Catholic until my teens and then thrown into the church (always a bad plan - take one headstrong teen, add patriarchy and a huge helping of snark, and see what happens), considered becoming a nun in the 11th grade (oh so briefly but enough to startle myself), and then a few years after graduating found myself wandering the woods with some strangers and realized I was "home".

For all my wanderings and writings, I have never lost sight of the church. I was baptised and went through the adult religious orientation to be confirmed and receive the sacraments of communion and so I am - in so far as the church is concerned - an apostate and a heretic.

Even though the decision to become catholic was made as a teenager (and one can safely say that teenagers really have no idea what they're doing), I think it does a huge disservice to the idea of oath making so prevalent within heathen circles to say a vow made as a teenager has no weight. It does a disservice to my heathen spirituality to not own up to that oath, that promise, whatever has happened in the meantime.

At the same time heathens have rightly - if not indelicately - pointed out that coming from the monotheistic background is something that should be expunged from our beliefs and practices now. We carry a lot of baggage regardless of what side of the monotheistic branch we come. While I disagree that some of those applications are purely from my Catholic background (see the part where I mentioned having a personal relationship with deity), I can see the problem with its overall acceptance in heathen circles. Specifically looking at that example, a personal relationship with deity has been regularly abused to mean that someone knows more and has more authority than others because God/Gods told them so.

... because we haven't seen THAT abused historically, have we?

So what to do then? How does someone who believes very much in the legitimacy of all the Gods, and to a degree all the faiths, practice when her spiritual home is literally two factions who on the surface think the other faction is evil?

I have found that differentiating between ignorance and hate. Research helps. And in the end, there is a level of accepting that I am never going to fully be in one world or the other. It isn't an easy path and there is a lot of room for doubt, but there is also a better understanding of what makes me tick.

Anyway, this is something I would like to revisit and dig into more. In the meantime I am off to western Massachusetts for a long weekend spiritual retreat. I hope you are all enjoying this gorgeous fall!

27 September 2013

Heathen, YMMV

A big part of the reason I wanted to blog was to start to centralize and identify what it means to me to be heathen. I am straddling the world of home-decor and demolition with my spirituality, two things that don't necessarily go together in the blogosphere but two things that my life revolves around regardless.

It is super important to specify that this is what it means to me and other heathens, pagans, non-pagans, etc,will find that their mileage varies. I do not expect everyone who proclaims to follow Asatru to worship the same face of Odin that I see, nor would I be particularly pleased to find out that I was judged for how I view work and working with deity. The same follows for ritual structure, lore study, rune meanings, and the whole literal and figurative nine. 

So I am not a fundamentalist Heathen by any stretch. I will circle up with Wiccans, I will blot with those who worship Loki, and I will defend interfaith ministry and prison ministry passionately. I especially appreciated the sentiment in this blog The Witching Hour by Peg Aloi about faith:
 After all, we as neo-pagans have endured decades of attempts to paint us as any number of scary figures, from bloodthirsty baby killers to brainwashing ideologues, in tracts, in books, on websites, in horror films and in television documentaries. But we have not let such tactics diminish our determination to follow our spiritual leanings. Yet, increasingly, within our own wider community, we are “drawing lines in the sand” intended for each other.
That line-drawing has been bothering me both within the heathen circles I affiliate with, and the world on a whole. Daily we are reminded that we are all different in places very close to home as well as those further afield, those differences are at the root of stress, strife, and bloodshed. That's not the kind of world I want to live in.

The thing is that when I look at my heathen spirituality I see a lot of communion with deity, I see a lot of the faith I had as a child influencing *how* I commune, and I see a lot of seeking answers to otherwise unknowable questions -- much how many other spiritualists practice regardless of their professed path. I find a comfort in this similarity and do not struggle with the structure.

Certainly I am human and I have my own "judging panda" moments and like any work in progress, I'm doing what I can when I know better. It takes time and recognizing that I have and continue to make mistakes and others... well. They're on their own journey that will include mistakes and things that make no sense to me at all. It's a wonder discovering that one is NOT the center of the universe and not everything is going to make sense or seem relevant to themselves.

It is those differences culturally, spiritually, physically, and so on, that make us part of the world and the world a part of us. I can handle that. My faith is big enough, and flexible enough, to incorporate all of these things.

So then, to begin to self codify:

  • I believe that our gods are both old and renewed. They are the ones of old from the north lands and have many names and many characteristics. I believe that they have universal truths embedded in how we perceive them, but that they are limited to this earth and would not say, be part of a theological system on another planet or solar system. (however, not having access to other planets... hey, I could be wrong)
  • I believe that our gods are more than just the sagas and eddas we have recorded and that our individual experiences with them color our perception. 
  • I believe we can have individual experiences with our gods. 
  • I believe we can kid ourselves into having individual experiences with our gods and that can lead down a path of self righteousness and pain. 
  • I believe Ragnarok is something that has happened, that could happen again, that our gods are living and dying gods and in their cycles they are not diminished or exalted by dying and living again.
  • I believe in sacrifice to our gods, in taking seriously oaths, in being honorable to the best of ones abilities and honoring our falls from grace when they are buffeted by personal responsibility and awareness. I hold that we are not perfect creatures but work towards a more perfect self when we make mistakes and recognize them, own them, and move beyond fracture to wholeness. 
  • I believe our stories of the gods should grow as we grow, that they should not remain in a static place of Norse history but be as relevant to now as we are relevant to now. 
  • I do believe that gods will cast their gaze on non-heroes and the everyday man and woman and call us to be more just, more fair, more than our ordinary skins, bringing us closer to them and them closer to us. I believe that they are agents of change as much as we are agents of change and those moments of clarity are karmic, beautiful, and terrifying. 
  • I believe our ancestors are the shoulders we stand upon in this world and that we are the altar of what has come before and what will come after. We can call upon them for guidance, for help, for answers and clarity. 
  • I believe our ancestors were and are fallible creatures and as much as they grant us grace, they can grant headaches too. 
  • I believe that a host of troubles can be mitigated, if not outright solved, by breaking bread with one another.
  • I believe in the contradiction that when we die, it is pretty much lights out, but that spirits can and do guide us. (I didn't say I'd make sense, did I?)
  • I believe that I can and will be proven wrong. And right. And in the end, because this is for me, it doesn't matter to anyone really but me. I will vigorously object to the idea of personal truth being actual truth but I will listen sincerely when someone tells me why they believe it. 
I can't say that this has been an easy post for me but I am grateful for the discussion with others that I've had leading up to it. I am heartened every time there is interfaith dialogue that doesn't seek to change anyone's religious persuasion, but rather find the beauty in where we all connect and divide.

20 September 2013

Strands of Chaos

We are several weeks into meteorological fall when the celestial Autumn Equinox happens. Almost as if to challenge the very notion of the balance of light and day this has been an especially chaotic and unbalanced week. In an about face from Midas' golden touch, everything I've touched has become slightly putrid it seems.

Ah, the joyful life.

Chaos happens. Bad things happen. Unpleasant, even. I have been in such a sour state all week as the happenings piled on top of one another that it finally took something so heinously absurd (not putting the parking brake on after spilling coffee on myself when I got to work and my car just... merrily rolling itself into the trees with bang) to make me realize that I need to just stop and breathe for a moment or ten.

I don't know that I am willing to say this is all my fault; my view of Karma is both slightly more complicated and still somehow simpler than that. I will say that I have helped stir the pot with my frustration and unwillingness to yield to the currents around me. I have forgotten the simple rule of letting the world flow through me, rather than filter the world to the way I want it to be.

And so, balance.

These are hard lessons - letting it flow, letting it go, controlling what I can and just letting things be. I am not a patient person by definition, but I am continually in situations that require an almost superhuman level of patience. Or at least, that is how it seems to me.

So, this day requires a lot of breathing. Focusing on gratitude. For everything that I have cussed at under my breath or with some righteous flair, I am finding the reasons why it's okay. Acceptance without being a doormat -- another ridiculous lesson to learn -- and finding my way back to some sort of observational center where I can move through the world and not be in a constant state of reacting to it.

It's a good time of year to be reminded of these lessons. Celestially we come to the balance where the day will match the night and then fall in a headlong rush to the darker half of the year. The nights are longer, meant for feasting and soft lights, laughter, and the dark, nurturing quiet of the winter months. I relish the winter cold unlike a lot of people I know, though I gather as I get older I will ache more and perhaps look a bit more glaringly at the sidewalk needing to be cleared three or four times in a day.

But that is not today, and it is not this weekend. While the summer sheds her greens for autumn reds in the sumac, and the wild grapes ripen on their tree strangling vines, we drink of sweet wines and laughter and bank the memories as embers for winter, to tell tales with and sing songs of. This is our thanksgiving of full harvests and full hearts. We take them, we carry it all forward, and we rejoice.

Virginia Creeper and berries, just outside my office. Totally not edible :) 

13 September 2013


We live in an area where the Chenango and Susquehanna rivers merge. The latter carries onward, winding its way back and forth over the New York and Pennsylvania border before finding its way through PA and into Maryland where it becomes Chesapeake Bay.

Confluence Park in Binghamton where both Susquehanna and Chenango rivers meet. 

I have grown up around both rivers. My first grade school sat next to the Susquehanna. There was a nature trail off in the woods that led to the rocky banks of the river and, just downstream from there the old railroad trestle where the more daring high school kids would jump from. The water was murky and I, being less adventurous than most, never got into it. Ever. I did love to sit by it though and watch the faster current outpace the water closer to me, or see a fish quickly hit the surface and disappear again.

When we moved into town our house was quite literally on the Chenango River. The view was probably the main reason my parents bought the house. From the back deck we had a full array of wildlife and amusement: ducks, herons, blue cranes, the occasional bald eagle. The ducks would start their laughter-like calls in the very early hours of the morning and if we were particularly patient we could see the water-weasels doing their thing on the banks.

Rivers are a part of the background noise that makes up my life - even though I don't rely on them for transportation, or for inundating fields with nutrients (though honestly, no one relies on that anymore), or anything like that, they are a part of this natural landscape that I keep returning to.

It is the times that the rivers become the feature of the landscape, when they overflow and break the bounds of their banks and tidy little walls, that mark the beginning of September here. In the last decade our area has seen three major flooding events inadequately described as 100 year, 500 year, 1000 year floods - each progressively more catastrophic than before.

The streams making their way to the river caused a lot of damage as well.
The road becomes a river.

I am the kind of person who goes through her private journal on anniversaries of significant dates and tries to get a pulse for what happened then and what has changed since for me. In this case, I had written about another friends wedding just a couple days before the flooding and remarked that I was looking forward to the upcoming rains. I like to pretend that I have the heart of a poor poet and appreciate the wet, gray days (part of the reason I was so at home in West Cork, Ireland). It stood out and I could feel my breath catch in the way that one doesn't know what is right around the corner will change everything and challenge even the staunchest of hearts.

the bridge I cross daily to get to and from work, one of multiple bridges in town. 

Two years ago yesterday I was helping friends dig out from the mud, sludge, and slurry that invaded their apartment when the flooding crested. The water came, the water receded and in its wake left a mess that as a community we are still cleaning up from. From entire neighborhoods being wiped out to a school just down the road from us being closed and pending a completely new building, the flooding was disruptive and catastrophic.

In the time since the flooding the response by the community to any further flood mitigation or preparation has been disappointing to say the least. On the whole, we are not prepared. The flood walls just barely contained the last flood. Homes were abandoned and the ones that could sell have to the lowest denomination of out-of-town landlords, something that strikes fear into any homeowner.

Courtesy of Bill Walsh/NOAA

And now when steady rains come there is a tangible bracing: What if this is like that storm? What if we're cut off again? Even this week we've had 'normal' flooding in low lying areas. Pictures of parking lots under water, roads that dip under railroad passes unpassable (with the obligatory person who really thought they could make it and didn't).

Personally, the best thing I can do is make sure we're prepared. We've talked about getting a small generator - something to run the fridge and freezer (ok, and the coffee pot) if/when the power goes out. This is mainly learning from another friend's experience of losing everything in her freezer twice over. Anyone who has a spare freezer knows that you can fill it rather full and replacing everything in it is a costly endeavor. We are lucky enough to be out of the flood zone, even being closer to the river than we were at our old apartment so our home can be opened to others who need the space in an emergency. In some cases, friends who didn't flood at all ended up losing their water and just needed a place to do laundry and shower.

I am hoping, like everyone else who has been near tragedy or immersed in it, that we don't ever have to deal with this kind of destruction again. Hoping, but not convinced. The politics surrounding the flood maps is enough to make me furious and now that we're two years out, most people - the people who didn't lose everything of course - have moved on with their lives. Mitigation now means taxes and no one wants a raise in taxes. It's frustrating to say the least.

06 September 2013

Further Adventures

It has been a full on couple of weeks. I didn't post last week because we were in the middle of a really big push to get the kitchen functional again and my post would have been the verbal equivalent of drooling on myself from exhaustion.

But now here we are in September - seven weeks after the first hammer fall - and I have hot water, a fridge in its final home, and a stove back in place. Wonders never cease I tell you.

It's been a surreal adventure. I love learning how the guts of a home works. It is messy and complicated in learning, but not knowing how to do something like this really bothers me - not because it is costly to hire people but because it is something within my domain that will likely need to be fixed at some point in my life. I find it aggravating when I don't know how to fix things that are part of basic, everyday living. Waiting on other people? Not a fan. The real trick however is not just knowing how to do something, but how to do it right.

We are so incredibly blessed to have parents and friends who have very unique and awesome skills and more importantly are willing to patiently show us how to do these things. I am a better painter because of family, I am learning how to wire thanks to Jeff's dad and the willingness of a friend's dad (who happens to be a master electrician) come over and show us the ropes, I will be able to plumb a bathroom by the time we finish thanks to my boyfriend (who in turn learned from his family). The sharing of experience by others is a gift I and it means that I am able to learn to do more with less.

Our everyday life is technologically more complicated than our grandparents lives were, and their grandparents before them. Men and women historically could run a household, do the needed repairs, and be relatively self-sufficient without involving specialists. Today this is not the case, at all. And before anyone scoffs that this is going to be a waxing on about the old days post, I assure you I am the last person to do that. Old days meant poor personal hygiene, dysentery, and it being socially acceptable to tar and feather folks -- REALLY not a fan.

It is a fine line to walk between doing something oneself and paying a craftsman to do their job. Craftsmen deserve to be paid well for their time, experience, and an executed job. We pay them because we don't have the time it takes to figure things out and do it right. But - and this is the biggest problem I feel with involving other people in the workings of a home - when you hire someone else to do the job, they're there to be paid, not out of a labor of love or in duty to the home itself.

For Jeff and I, we've discovered that we do have limits and there are some things absolutely worth hiring out which in our case seems to be installing new windows. Tiling, electrical, plumbing... we either know how to do or are learning as we go and adjusting accordingly. Other folks might be old hands at installing windows and think tiling is a ridiculous waste of their time and have someone else do it. It's really a matter of what we are each personally able to handle.

All told, six weeks without a kitchen sink pushed what I was able to handle to the brink of crazytown. We have running water again and everything is slowly finding its way into the cabinets marked with painters tape to help ease the traffic of what goes where. First dinner looks to be homemade alfredo where I might get to use the magical over-the-stove-pot-filler. There's still time in the season, albeit belatedly, to get to the farmers market and pick up foodstuffs for canning.

And of course there are still a lot of little things left to do: Molding, spacers between the cabinet stacks, cabinet lighting... the end of phase two is still several weeks off, but being able to just function in the kitchen makes a huge world of difference. This also means I can start planning thank you dinners! Mmm dinners...

23 August 2013

We Call This Fun

It looks so peaceful and serene. 
Before we go any further, there's just a couple things you should know about me.

1. I have an unfathomable fear of zombies - a burst into tears, freeze up, have nightmares for a month because someone mentioned 'zombie' kind of fear.

2. The only shape I'm in is a rough equivalent to the Pillsbury Doughboy's Sister. I will occasionally go for a 3-4k jog/walk with the dogs, but it's more rare than it is common. The only weights I lift have to do with moving remodeling equipment around the kitchen and laundry.

Ok, so we're clear on those two points? Because those two points are very important to this story.

Saturday morning, Jeff and I got up at the wee hours and got ready to make the three hour trek up to Batavia, NY to do the Run For Your Lives Zombie 5k. It was my first 5k ever, Jeff's second and his second obstacle course race (first being the Tough Mudder, Philly 2013 this past June).

I am not in the best physical shape I could be. I am soft, squishy, and generally value my time sleeping rather than dragging myself out of bed for a much needed run/walk/jog. I have my own issues with how I look and feel. It's not just self image; I had a health scare earlier this summer that knocked my perceptions of myself around pretty hard. I decided to do better for myself. And honestly, after spectating for Jeff at the Tough Mudder, I realized that I would much rather be in the thick of it than standing on the sidelines.

But zombies? Jeff swears up, down, and sideways that a 5k running into zombie hordes was my idea and I swear that I have no recollection of this event and I had obviously taken leave of my senses. I am fairly certain I said something to that effect when we climbed the 4' wall and were met with the first zombie throng.

From the view of the spectators, it was like watching Mutual of Omaha Nature Programme, just with humans playing gazelles (some more gracefully than others I'll grant you) and zombies playing the lions.

Zombies were FAST. NOT FUN. 

To be completely truthful? I sucked. First two hills wiped me out. The dust was intense and thick in my mouth, I had the wrong sneakers for the course, and as soon as Jeff tried to be encouraging with getting me to hustle on with the group I turned into my own version of a half human snarl fest (bless him). I sent him and our other friend joining on the madness on ahead and told them not to worry about me.

This was the point that I realized there was actually someone who had fallen behind even myself and wasn't looking good. The woman - we'll call her M - looked like she was actually in decent shape. She told me she's run other 5k's and hadn't had a problem, but this time she didn't bring her inhaler with her. Road Dust + Run + Asthma = Bad. So rather than run on ahead when I got my wind back, I stuck with her to make sure she didn't die (literally in this case) in between aid points.

We renamed our team Stragglers, especially after we caught up with two other females who lagged behind and had some issues with the messiness of the obstacles (Did I mention the mud? 12"+ in some sections) and just took everything as it came: zombies who ran faster than we did, smoke houses, low crawls, poison ivy. All of it.
It really was *that* disgusting. 

The zombies were pretty awesome. Some were actually quite terrifying. At the point that they became terrifying I had already lost all my flags so there was no point in getting overly stressed. We danced to thriller in one of the sections as a distraction to the zombies, and everyone had a really good time. The obstacles were pretty awesome, although the voltage low crawl and electric shock to my tookus was ... ahem. Rude. (it did put pep in my step, I'll grant everyone that)
The FX team really did an awesome job.... creeeeeeeeeeepy! 

At the end of the race, Jeff and our friend Kory waited for me near one of the obstacles and we ended together -- all of us infected as we had no flags, exhausted, muddy beyond anything, and chomping at the bit for the next race.
Chivalry is not dead. We are of course. 

Despite the poison ivy, mud in places that ought to never have mud, and my lagging-butt time, I'm thrilled I did the event and really looking forward to the next one.

If you decide to take up the Obstacle Course Running as a hobby, here's a few things to keep in mind:

1. Registration is always cheaper further out from the event. These events can be pricy (but worth it, really!), so be sure to get on the email list for your event of choice so that you can pay when it's the cheapest. A lot of places will also discount your race if you volunteer at the race itself. If you're looking to meet people, this is a really awesome way to do it.

2. The Right Shoes Are VERY Important. I was an idiot and took my urban trainers which had NO tread on them. It's a miracle I didn't snap my already banged up ankle. Train in trail settings with trail shoes for these things.

3. Bring a change of clothing. And a towel. And be prepared to have mud in places later that night when you get home.

4. Bring spectators. They are awesomely helpful to have around with picture taking and watching stuff. A lot of sites will have a bag check, but most places charge for it. Bring friends who aren't entirely convinced of how awesome an idea these things are and they will - nine times out of ten - want to join in on the next one.

5. If you are not in the best shape of your life and are using this as an excuse to not do something like this, do it anyway. Have fun with it and use it as motivation. No kidding. I felt a hundred times better about myself at the end of the race despite being 'infected' and despite having to walk. I completed it. I want to get better. I can actually see it happening now.

And most importantly, really, have fun.
Tired, filthy, and ready to go again. 

19 August 2013

New to the Neighborhood

A few months ago we discovered that our neighbors directly behind our house would be putting their house on the market. These lovely folks had lived in their home for 30+ years and in the year since we've been there they had been nothing but friendly and encouraging watching Jeff and I work on our poor house. Frank and Pat were the epitome of casually neighborly: friendly without being overbearing. Frank would get up in the wee hours of the morning in the winter and by the time I was bundled up to go and shovel, my sidewalk would be completely clear leaving me only the path in the back yard and the steps to clear off.

Seeing them getting their house tidied up for market was definitely sad. Our neighborhood is generally very friendly. While we haven't met everyone yet, the folks we have met are cheerful and well... neighborly. My accountant lives at the other end of the street and when I said we were looking at buying our house, he regaled me with how it's just a very sweet, 1950's aesthetic in the hop over and borrow a cup of sugar kind of way. Since being here I can confidently agree with this assessment.

The house went on the market right around the same time some friends of ours got serious about buying their first house and a couple months later we have new neighbors!

Because our friends are first time homeowners, we opted for a home maintenance organizer and a "how your home works" book that explains the nitty gritty for the everyday things that folks renting don't think about as housewarming gifts. I polled other friends on what it was they received or *wished* they had received when they moved to their new home and most people agreed that home baked goods should top the list. Alas, my oven is currently taking up space in my dining room, so that was right out.

I'm grateful that the house didn't sit empty for long and that we know our new neighbors are good people. I've never experienced the feeling of uncertainty being a homeowner and watching an empty house sit there, waiting for its new owners and not knowing what kind of people they'll be. And while our neighborhood is lovely, it's not all that far away from the lesser-loved parts.

In other news, I hate spackle.

Hibiscus in full bloom at the neighbors house! I'll be adding this to our garden in a few weeks for next years blooms. 

09 August 2013

Care & Feeding of Your DIY Volunteers

Here we are two weeks into the biggest project we've undertaken together and so far, so good. We've had some minor setbacks; apparently my mental timeline for how this was all going to unfold didn't really take into account that running brand new electrical is a huge pain in the tookus.

On the upside we're doing really well now that the dimmers have been sorted out. Mainly - and I cannot stress this enough - we are where we are right now thanks to the very determined help of friends and family. I figured since they were instrumental in our getting this far, it might be time to take a Miss Manners look at the whole DIY Volunteering from the perspective of the Helped and the Helper as Jeff and I have been on both sides of the hammer.
Don't feed after midnight, Don't give him a pneumatic staple gun...

To begin, one of the best DIY phrases I've ever heard is that there are three ways to do any project: Cheaply, Fast, or Well -- and you can pick any two of those three. I've watched that play out time and time again in our own home and can say that this is absolute gospel in our experience. 

When you're the helped, it's really important to remember that the people helping are (normally) not experts, not mind readers, and this isn't their project. They are volunteering out of some kind of love for the people they are helping. Generally they aren't obligated to spend any part of their free time helping you with your project.* 

We have found that when we have an abundance of offers to help the best thing is to divide up the day into at least two parts. This helps when personalities don't get along (you may not want persons A and D swinging hammers near one another) and it also keeps everyone helping as fresh as possible. Seriously, those buckets of plaster were not light at all. Who wants to do that for 10 hours? I sure as heck didn't and it's my bloody plaster!

Breaks. Take breaks. Do not scowl when people take breaks. Pile out into the yard, or the porch, or wherever and take fifteen minutes to smoke, drink a lot of water, and laugh. Do not forget to laugh. Breaks and laughter should happen frequently enough that people aren't trudging and infrequently enough that work is being accomplished. Remember, these folks are volunteering parts of their weekends and evening for nothing more than some food and hopefully help later on. 

Food should always be provided by the host. Always. It is the least one can do and it helps everyone trudge through demo and rebuild. I am very lucky that I've been able to ask/beg/plead with my parents to bring over hot food when it's been cold and cold cuts when it's been hot. Water - it should go without saying - but really. Water. A lot of water. It doesn't matter if it's hot or cold, when there is heavy lifting water is vital. That isn't to say food and drink brought by others isn't wanted or appreciated, it is! But the hosts should have something on hand for the people throwing their backs into (and out) the work at hand. It doesn't matter if it is an epic project or a small one, providing food shows that you thought about the comfort of the people helping. 

Tools. This last demo has brought up the point that sometimes we don't have enough tools to go around and we're looking into remedying that. Also, proper safety equipment. I was on everyone about using the masks during our last round of demo because I dislike getting sick. At the same time if you're volunteering: if you have tools, bring them and make sure they're marked with your name. Safety glasses! Gloves! While some things should be provided, it is always a boon if you have your own to bring it (and take it with you at the end of the project).

A plan. The worst thing to happen in a volunteer situation is to have a ton of things to do and no idea what is going on. Don't ask for help and then spend an hour or more having everyone stand around watching you figure out where you want to begin. Don't waste their time, or yours. It is also important to give notice to the people you're hoping to rope into the project. In our case, we had things fall into place for the kitchen rather quickly so there wasn't a ton of notice given. Volunteers: know what you are getting into so you can come prepared in the right kind of tools and equipment. And shoes.

When you're helping it's really important to remember that normally, the people you're helping aren't experts and they're trying to figure out the best way to do all the things they have to do. Try to be patient with them. 

Know your limits in all senses of limits - emotionally, physically, monetarily. If you can't physically lift 50 lbs of crap but you still want to help, ask how else you can be useful. Seriously, some of the best help we had was when folks brought food or beer over and that stopping by forced us to take a needed break. Along those same lines do not overextend your help to the point it hurts you -- if you're spending a ton of gas money to even get to the place to volunteer and it's wiping you out? Be accountable for that and know your limit. Limits don't make us bad people, they make us useful when we know them and don't force ourselves into a dangerous situation. 

Be gentle. Demo is a great time to put holes in walls, but ... well. Make sure they're the right walls. No favors are done when the people being helped end up spending more to have a 'whoops' moment fixed. 

Be clear about the plan. Ask questions

If you say you're going to be there, be there. The people you're helping have taken your help into account. If you can't be there after you've said you'd be there, call them. text them. send smoke signals, whatever, so they know you're not dead in a ditch. 

If you ask for help and you receive help, you are in debt to the helpers.* Flat out, no amount of pizza and beer actually clears that slate. What does? Helping them. Help each other. Time is a gift we are all given and that time can't be won back through any other means. Whether we like it or not absences are noticed most especially when help is not reciprocated in kind. And on the flip side, I've also had to remove myself from volunteering from projects that went well beyond my comfort zone and into abuse, or have had to put my foot down and say I'm sorry, but I am not available because there just wasn't reciprocity over a long period of time. It goes back to knowing all one's limits. 

There is always something to do. No seriously -- even if it is (as I have discovered) taking my lunch break and going home and pulling nails (three billion down, four trillion to go), there are always tons of little things that people may not being thinking about that need to get done. Not all  Most DIY isn't glamorous. There is a long, messy pause between the beginning and the shiney end. Not everyone can rock the sledge. Sometimes just sweeping the floor fifteen thousand times is the help that is needed. 

We are incredibly blessed with friends who work hard and play hard. We are incredibly blessed with family who has been around their fair share and then some of home projects and can pass on that knowledge to us. DIY projects can be a source of laughter, mirth, and awesome memories when the projects are handled well and with good spirits. When handled poorly, they can destroy relationships and bank accounts. Gratitude goes a long way on both sides of the hammer.

* This is the tricky part about obligation - if you recieve help you should give it in kind. Obviously we are all different and expect different things so your mileage may vary.

02 August 2013

Harvesting Nails and Other Bits.

It is the first harvest of the fall cycle and we are busy, busy people. With an abundance of gratitude for the friends who came by and lent their strength and time helping gut the kitchen, we have the shell beginning to take shape. 

I am both relieved and bummed that we're in the process of doing this. We are a far cry from where I had hoped to be - I wanted to be canning pickles and making blueberry pie filling to stuff the larder with - but when one hasn't a stove, well. Priorities, people. Priorities. I am bemused that my grand plans for the garden and storage of food completely fell apart this year and instead I am neck deep in dust and chaos. 

But it's good chaos. Next year then for a massive can-a-thon. The farmers market vendors will fear my coming as they will hear Flight of the Valkyries playing when I peel into the parking lot with a mad look on my face muttering something about bread & butter pickles and fondling all the peaches. 

One small portion of the mess. 

In the meantime, I am spending my evenings trying to help with the little things like pulling penny nails out of the studs, or running errands (new cabinets are in! now I just need to go and pick them up!), or trying to catch up on laundry and ignore my filthy house.

My dad has a story about the first job he ever had, working with his step dad in the shop. Along with sweeping the floor he had to take the nails that were pulled from various jobs and straighten them out to be reused. As I am pulling hundreds of nails out of the wall that we missed on our first pass through while ripping out the lathe, I am reminded of a small boy with a hammer, dutifully tapping on each nail.

It has been hard filling a 20 yard dumpster with wood, plaster, and virtually new sheet rock. I know where it is going and it always breaks my heart when I realize that I am part of a cycle of waste. The lathe might have been reused for something - we aren't entirely sure what at the moment - but the plaster was not reusable for anything other than fill. The sheet rock, new when we moved in, was only in place due to the constraints of our loan. Even then we knew we would be ripping it out as soon as we started the kitchen. It bothered us both but the point was getting the house, not fighting with the loan company about the waste we'd be creating.

I learned so much about waste and recycling, really re-using materials when I lived in Ireland and a lot of the time I feel like I am doing a huge disservice to that experience. It's a matter of cost and output here. I could spend the time pulling the nails out of the lathe, finding something for the lathe, storing it until we found a way to reuse it, but it is wholly inconvenient and it is exactly that inconvenience that drives our culture. The cast iron sink that was apparently the second kitchen sink to be used in the house is being reused in our basement primarily because I forbade Jeff from getting rid of it. Other than cosmetic issues, it is a perfectly serviceable sink and as we are finding throughout the house, materials are not made like this anymore. When our house was built in 1902, that plaster and lathe was meant to be there for the entirety of the life of the house. They didn't consider needing to do rewiring or the like.

We have also discovered more work that needs to be done sooner rather than later which is normally how these things go in old houses. The old chimney that is no longer in use sits in one corner of the kitchen. Our plan is to eventually take it down once we get to the roof in a few years but between now and then we'll need to clean it up so it's not a complete eyesore or crumbling out which means I get to read up and make a grand mess of re-pointing and acid washing. Should be a fascinating learning experience.

We are making a point to purchase reasonably quality goods. The cabinets are not the solid wood that we had originally priced out, but they are very sturdy and will last us our life with the house and beyond. The counter tops we are looking at are quartz, durable and long lasting without the same problems of granite. I'm choosing classic fixtures and colors - black and white tile for the galley, marble back splash - because as much as I know they'll go out of style, they will return again. At least, these are the stories I tell myself in the hopes that in thirty years or more, the new owners won't need to rent their own 20 yard dumpster to repeat the process. This might just be wishful thinking though.

While I harvest nails and Jeff harvests little shocks from rewiring the electrical, I am focusing on being grateful for the abundance of help and excellent know-how from family and friends, the luck that has gotten us this far with our home, and the love that is going into making each inch of space count. It's not pickles and blueberries, but it means a great deal regardless.

26 July 2013

The Household Means & Ways

The dumpster arrived this morning and the kitchen remodel kicks off this afternoon. It's been a tough week for us trying to narrow down what is left of our choices and has included an 11th hour addition and removal of work which I'll discuss in an upcoming post. The main take away this week has been living within our means in all ways: physically, emotionally, and monetarily.

This was a common phrase in my household growing up. It stemmed from money issues that everyone has and both my brother and I had eyes bigger than our stomachs and pockets. It was a hard lesson to learn and  it took years of bad debt for me to finally get the idea that living within my means was not just an old fashioned idea but a very prudent way of life.

I still have money issues to a much smaller degree than I did in my 20's. Budgeting is easy, sticking to the budget is hard especially when one is doing home renovations. In our household, Jeff is the breadwinner easily even when he's off work for months at a time and that makes budgeting for renovations a bit tricky as when he is home, we're doing remodeling but he's not working and when he's working he's not home so we're not making changes and cleaning things up -- it's a bit of a catch 22 really.

One of many 'dream homes' on Pinterest.
A harder thing still is keeping my idea of a dream house/kitchen/bath/etc in check. Pinterest was a huge help in putting together my ideas in a visual way that I could explain things to Jeff, but the downside is having these huge ideas and trying to fit them into the space we have with the money we've saved. It does me no good to lust after a garden design that requires acres of manicured space as that is not the home I have, nor is it likely that I will ever have that home. Same with kitchens. I can look at these gorgeous kitchens from magazines, but the reality of what my house is verses what I pin may be gulf sized in variance. 

Once I realized that I could actually live within my means and design a home space that was functional and reflected our tastes without being cheaply manufactured, or something I'd be bored with in a few years, the social desire of keeping up with the Jones' flat-lined. My goal is to finish this house, room by room, and leave it alone so that when we go to sell it in 30 years, it's fabulously outdated. I *want* to be the little old lady with the kitchen that is Soooo 2013, mainly because I want to love the space I have enough that its functionality permits me to make preserves and sweets for gifts, and lavish dinners for family and friends. I want that, those memories, more than I want the trends. It makes it much easier for us because we don't have a plan to move, or sell, for many decades barring something unforeseen. 

It's an unfortunate bummer that it took me decades to figure out why living within ones means and ability is so important.

The flip side to DIY is knowing when to fold them, as it were. Again, Pinterest has a bajillion and ten (I counted) DIY examples and a lot of them are really good... but. But. Some things should just be left to the professionals if one doesn't know what they're doing, has not used tools before, or really 'functional' means macaroni art. Which is not to degrade macaroni art whatsoever, but you might not want someone who touts that as their mechanical and artistic ability putting up wallpaper, right? We each have our skills and pitfalls. Knowing that we can't do everything is not a bad thing at all.

And so the big renovation begins. Tonight we'll pause with a bottle of mead, make offerings and really take a moment to appreciate each other for all the crazy and good points leading up to this moment.

Besides, you can't really go wrong starting out with mead, right?

19 July 2013

This Kitchen Will Be The Death of Me

My post today had originally been something a bit more thoughtful on the whole how it is that I practice and perceive being Heathen.

Instead it's about the kitchen. Why the kitchen? Because the boyfriend and I are gearing up for quite possibly the biggest project we've ever undertaken together. We are taking this:

That right there? Some kind of Sexy. 
and trying to turn it into say, this: 

Gorgeous. Bright. WHITE. 

This of course poses multiple dilemmas. One, money. Two, time. Three, our kitchen is not from a magazine and is roughly the size of a large post stamp with eight, count them! eight egresses of some form or another. The stove cannot be moved to an outside wall, so there is no vent unless I do a recirculating vent (which has been the point of many a frosty argument between my darling dearest and I) The fridge really must be recessed otherwise it eats up a good eighth of our floor space. The sink is currently in the galley which is great when I want to ignore the dishes for a week (don't judge!) but if one is going for something resembling hygienic, perhaps it should be a bit more you know... in the way. Which interrupts every other design dream I had. 

The galley. Of Doom.

We have a few weeks if we are lucky of Jeff being home. We have the cabinets stored in our basement, an awesome craigslist score from February. We just have to you know, gut the two layers of sheet rock, plaster, lathe, and all that, rewire everything, put new sheet rock back up, and ... then we can put the cabinets in? Except that in between now and then, I am fussing over the semi-original design plan that looked like this: 

The pretty mock up the cabinet people did for us... and then wanted $14,000 to build the cabinets. Not the counters, not installed. Just.. cabinets. No. 

Which is lovely and mostly wonderful, and basically... turning the galley (to the far left of that picture) into a butlers pantry (say it with me now, ooooo!), putting a normal sized sink in the island with a dishwasher and just giving up on my absolute need/lust for a marble island, and ... trying to convince the boyfriend that we can put a small bar area in the galley. With a prep sink. Which when I mentioned, he actually looked like he might help me pack. 

The other thought was putting the sink to the counter area to the left of the main room (marked in red). Eventually the area to the right of that which is currently all brick from the main chimney no longer in use, that will all come out. So we could put in a bit more counter and cabinet. In like five years when we redo the roof and the chimney comes out from the third floor on down (The expression on Jeff's face while trying to explain to me WHY we can't take out the chimney only in the kitchen? Poor devil. Someone buy him a drink, will you?)

I forsee a long weekend of pencils, pizza, and alcohol while we hash this out. Gods help us. 

12 July 2013

The Main Bathroom, or How We Knew We Were on the Right Track

Narrow, ugly, not functional. 
A very cold day in January we found ourselves in our new-to-us house with friends, sledgehammers, buckets, pry bars, and masks. We we going to begin the process of ripping out the yellow and blue tiled cave of a bathroom. We thought it would take a weekend to gut. We thought it would be dirty, but mostly easy work. After all, we have burly male friends who love to blow things up! How hard could it be?

That phrase -- "How hard could it be?" is every first time homeowner/DIY's first, and unlikely last, mistake. 

The house itself was built around 1902. It's a lovely, simple prairie box/four square design. Sears & Roebuck sold these houses back in its hay day for a few hundred dollars. It was an immediate success being that it was simple, easy to customize and modernize, and could look luxurious for a pittance of what the old Victorian houses cost. 

The haze of debris does not deter
Because our house was in such a bad state (read as uninhabitable), we needed to get a special loan (203k for those of you who are home-loan savvy) which meant we needed to have contractors lined up to do a lot of the major repairs as most banks do not really want your random homeowner doing the work for a lot of good and weird reasons. To save money on the loan, we worked it out with our contractors that we would do the demolition - get everything in the bathroom torn out down to the studs and cleaned up so that they could come in and redo all of the plumbing, the electrical, the wallboard, the new bathtub, and the tile. We were responsible for the hauling away of all the old materials and purchasing the fixtures. 

But before they could do their work, we had to do ours. There was plaster, horsehair, and lathe. Old cast iron pipes. And before we could even get to that we needed to get through the mortar and tile. At first, the guys thought this was AWESOME. I mean, here we were saying please, put holes in our walls.

Three hours later it was much, much less awesome.

By the following weekend, there was talk of setting explosives.

Three hours in and barely a dent. A lot of mess, but not a dent. 
Three inches of mortar on top of peaked joists. Hitting the walls with sledges barely cracked it. The overhead storage that made the bathroom such a cave did.not.want.to.come.down. We had men hanging from the rafters, we had men bracing themselves in bathtubs while trying to pull off the metal lathe, we had men throwing the 1930's cast iron built in (not claw footed) tub off my bedroom balcony into the yard below on Super Bowl Sunday.

In short, we had absolute chaos. And pizza.

Dear Clark, I'm going steady with Jim. Love, Pat 
In the midst all of this, we started to find clues to the personality of the people who lived there before us. An old playing card tucked in the wall. Newspapers from 1937 when a years subscription cost $9.00 used as filler for the ceramic soap dish. Our favorite, the literal Dear John letter that must have been stored in the attic and fallen into the bathroom ceiling - a letter from a woman who had decided to become an airline stewardess and date another man, dated 1958 in envious, looping script.
Binghamton Press, 1937.

While all this was going on, I was also scouring the craigslist ads for fixtures. We knew we wanted to keep the history of the house in mind when we added new details so I convinced (begged/pleaded) the boyfriend to purchase a gorgeous double ended claw foot bathtub, brand new. I found a pedestal sink, also new, for cheap on craigslist,and we got the faucet on sale. The light fixtures might be another story altogether but sufficed to say I do have a crystal chandelier in my bathroom and I do not regret it for a moment. Even if I have been mocked mercilessly by my loving peanut gallery.

The tile though, that proved to be a sticking point. When I thought about the bathroom, I wanted my baths to remind me of being in the warm waters in Corfu. The tile had to be just right -- matching my desire for a mini vacation and the history of the house -- white hex tile then. And we found it, not cheap, but from a small, local shop that had done work for my parents marble bathroom.

Horrible picture plus cat! 
Of course, once we had ordered it and paid the deposit I got cold feet which my boyfriend pointed out was quite possibly the worst time to feel like I had made a mistake as the money had been paid and there were emphatically no refunds. I fussed about it for a few days and finally gave up, telling myself it was floor tile and my life was not going to be made or broken by the size and color of my flooring.

That was the day the guys found that same exact tile in between the floor joists from the first version of the bathroom, small white hex tile perfectly matched to what we had purchased. I knew then that we were getting somewhere.

Even though the bathroom took the better part of a year to complete even after the contractors had done their job, I can safely say it was worth it. All the swearing with the measuring of the board and batten, my paint splatter that I had to scrub off later, my bitter disappointment with shower curtains and the complete lack of anyone understanding my vision and you know, having it on sale, all of it came together into a room that I love. There are still things that need touch-ups or finishing: the octopus stencil on the dresser, finding the right prints for the frames, a small shelf behind the shower for our soaps and things. All that being said, baths have never been quite this delicious.

05 July 2013

house buying, home building

I took a hiatus from blogging and took refuge in my old livejournal account to get me through the last couple of years. A year and a half ago, we bought a new-to-us 103 year old house that was in dire need of repairs and that has had pretty much all of my attention. Our poor friends have humored our pretty constant barrage of "And then this happened! And This! And now we need to do this, this, this, and are you free next Thursday night because we need to rip out/repair/haul away something else?"
The scary picture. The steps alone were worth a pause. 

It has been exhausting, on all possible fronts.

But with the transition of the physical comes change here as well. I'm back to writing, working on improving my lackluster photography skills (you'll have to suffer through my awful shots for a bit longer, sorry!), and most importantly getting back into my craft and communion with my ancestors, spirit of place. Our home is a work in progress which is both frustrating and amazing. Over the course of the time we have worked on the house, we've grown closer -- both the boyfriend and myself, and us with this house.

As I posted forever ago, each place has a spirit. This genius loci is a guardian spirit, a feeling, a tickle in the back of one's mind that one is being watched even though no one is obviously there. Different cultures from the Romans to the Orient to the Americas all had versions of this spirit and always recognized that the spirit was powerful in that place, should be respected, and could be called upon for guidance and favors. Offerings would be left, prayers said, and communion was constant though not necessarily highly ritualized as we modern pagans like to be. These practices, these artful leavings, have been largely forgotten in the hubbub of what our world currently is, but much can be gained from the simple communion with that place that is Home.

The dogs exploring the disaster that is the kitchen. 
In our home, we were aware of the Spirit the first time we walked in. The house felt - for lack of better word - forlorn. Even if you subscribe to less hooky explanations, the whole house was in obvious disrepair and neglect. The previous owners had run into some super bad personal life messes which led to not being able to make the mortgage, let alone repairs, and eventually this led to busted water pipes, a kitchen that hadn't been updated in decades, old wall paper and plaster peeling off the walls due to other water damage from the roof, and grime inches thick in some places, and that was just to start. Some of it was just poor handy work, impatience run rampant, and lack of training or know how.

But because we are who we are, because we worship the way we do, we listened to the house. A lot. When we started ripping out the battered and mostly missing drop ceiling in the basement, we talked to the house. We said out loud everything we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. Even before we bought the house - which was a saga in of itself - we were in the house several times and each time we whispered how much we wanted to work with her.

In the end, it was those whispers and our super awesome Realtor (who thought we were crazy but totally worked her own awesome magic) that finally got it and us on the right track.

And while we have reached a fair accommodation with the house, and the spirit, I still make offerings of incense mainly, or sometimes cut flowers, sometimes honey, at our main fireplace. I tell her frequently how much I love her and how happy we are to be there, sharing these moments with her and stories of her. We uncover bits and bobs of her history when we tear down the walls and gingerly recreate the what might have happeneds and hope that we are just part of the middle, that with our work and patience she will out live us by another hundred years.
The door knocker. How can you not  fall in love with this? 

So upcoming posts will focus on what we found when we found our house and how we've managed to make it our home. There will be a lot of DIY crazy, hopefully some decent photos, and some musings on the spirits we've encountered.

28 June 2013

Nature 2, Eithne 0

If things had gone according to plan, I would be getting ready to put four less-adorable but by no means less awesome chickens into their new home this weekend. I would have had a sturdy coop built, complete with a run. I would have pictures of how awesome this coop was, how it blended in with the neighborhood, how safe it was from our natural urban predators of ally cats and chicken hawks. I would be regaling my neighbors with how awesome chicken poop is for the garden and teasing them with promises of fresh eggs.
The plans I paid for. Do you see how serene everyone looks?  I was going for serene. And chicken poop.

If things had gone according to plan that is.

Things did not go according to plan.

The arrival of the chickens went as smoothly as could be expected. We had issues with temperature control once I got the peeping balls of adorableness back to my house. Within two days I had lost the first Australorp. As near as we can tell the stress of the two moves was too much for her and it did her in, despite my trying to nurse her by dipping her beak into sugar water. I should have known when she stopped protesting my picking her up that it was not going to end well.
The Four before All The Bad happened
So then there were three: An Australorp, a silver laced Wyandotte, and a gold laced Wyandotte. Three birds is an acceptable city flock; our city says we can have up to four in town so long as there are no roosters. Things were going mostly well - they were messy and loud and were absolutely determined to kick their poo into their feeding bowl - but they were otherwise adorable. I had read up on intermingling my dogs with the chickens and was determined to get everyone working together. I even thought I was on the right track when Brody, our youngest dog (aussie shepherd/shar pei mix) defended the chickens from the then-foster cat Henry.
My dainty Australorp

One by one I would handle the chicks and let the dogs sit with me, getting close enough to sniff and lick if necessary. Brody was absolutely gentle, curious, and made the very funny move of dropping one of his fluffy toys into the bird crate one afternoon - his way of saying hey, lets play! Henry, the then-foster cat, would sit by the door to the room the birds were kept in with the intense expression of trying to make sure I understood he really just wanted to watch the birds at our neighbors feeder across the street. Really. Promise.

And then Skye.
My fluffy hunter to the left and a blurry Brody to the right
You see, we have had experience with Skye and chickens before. Our friend Ravyn had chickens at our last apartment and one very terrible afternoon the dogs went outside while the birds were also outside. The result was Brody trying to play by running through the middle and sending birds flying every which way and Skye doing exactly what her breed mix does best: going in for the kill. The short version is Ravyn had a very injured Guinea fowl and I had a hell of a time trying to figure out how to get the dogs to leave the birds alone.  I thought that *this* time, if I raised the chickens by hand and around the dogs, nurture would win out. Or even fear of me would win over Skye's natural instinct.

End result: Nature 2, Nurture 0

I came home to find the only trace of the silver bird was three feathers, two of which had been broken. Nothing else and this despite a crate lined in bird netting and wire - somehow it had managed to get out or Skye had managed to ... well. Pull it out. All this coupled with her sheepish look and slinking away from me anytime I went near the birds gave me the final clue in from the universe: She would hunt them. Period. This would not be a restful experience of going out and collecting their eggs for breakfast while the birds roamed the yard and Skye rested in the shade of a tree. A Disney movie my life is not.

The remaining birds were trucked back up to Ravyn's to be re-introduced to the rest of the flock from the same hatching. I couldn't in good conscience keep them knowing full well that they would be happy meals with wings for my fluffy hunter. I would resent Skye which ... was not at all part of the plan. She is a gorgeous, protective, sweetheart of a dog. If it's her or chickens, well. We keep her.

After! and still no coop!
So now there is no chicken coop of awesome. No chickens. My backyard is still pretty dismal despite the excessive labor of removing the tree, the old play shed, and straightening out our fence line. I'm told next year we might get a jacuzzi which might be enough to assuage my guilt of not having a urban farm... so long as there is wine and starlight with which to enjoy the bubbly joy with. Next year.

This year is no chickens and ... a kitchen remodel. Er. Gutting. Gutting first. But that will be a post for later.

If you're interested in all things chicken and where my little darlings went, check out The Ladies facebook page, aka. the most spoiled hens ever. Ravyn posts pictures and funny moments from all the critters in her household.