Posted in Family, Home

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

The cook & his apprentice, collaborating on a [winner winner!] chicken dinner
According to my Urban Dictionary, the above phrase dates from early days in Las Vegas, when a standard gambling bet was two dollars, and most casinos offered a three-piece chicken dinner for $1.79. Anyone who won a bet would have the price of a chicken dinner (winner winner)!

One of our neighboring Idaho towns has put another spin on the phrase… Local legend has it that a farm-wife invited a politician to her farmhouse for a Sunday dinner about a century ago, and guided his arrival with “Chicken Dinner” signs painted with arrows. She had a scheme up her sleeve, though, and leaned on him to promise some road improvements before he was permitted to tuck into his apple pie.

Chicken Dinner Road, Idaho

She carried her point (“Winner Winner,” indeed!), and the resulting route is still named for her victory: Chicken Dinner Road.  One of the nearby wineries even offers a “Chicken Dinner red” in its honor.

Whether these Urban Legend-esque explanations are accurate or not, the expression itself is apropos for our last family weekend, involving both chickens and Poker-playing…

We did enjoy a chicken dinner, courtesy of Keoni and his kitchen apprentice, Elena Grace: Katsu chicken, a popular Hawai’ian dish, and a favorite with the kids. But mostly last weekend we were winding up our preparations for welcoming some live laying-hens to the family. Our big news: the Chicken House is finished!

(Previous pieces of the poultry play-by-play, if you’d like them: Home to Roost,  Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens, and Our Little Patch of Plantation.)

There are a few more touches to add; Keoni intends to cut shingles from some of our scrounged cedar planking, we’ll cut a space for an air vent (one of the items we scrounged from the neighborhood’s due-to-be-demolished trailer), and the back side hasn’t yet been painted. But the house and its surrounding fencing (complete with a left-over gate scrounged from another neighbor’s re-fencing project) are functionally finished, and ready for chickens!

The construction crew, the painting crew, and the mostly-finished Hale Moa (“chicken house”)

Having seen similar structures offered on Craigslist for prices ranging from $200 to a thousand dollars, we’re very pleased with ourselves regarding our total project cost. (You noticed the repetition of the word “scrounged” above?) Thanks to our enthusiastic application of scrounging-and-bartering habits, our Hale Moa (the Hawai’ian words for “chicken house”) cost a grand total of thirty-one dollars. We purchased nails from Home Depot and chicken wire through Craigslist, but those were our only expenditures. We were scheduled to pick up the chickens themselves this weekend, but we had to postpone our adoption-day due to a medical emergency at the other end…

Elena Grace’s “mailbox chicken,” waiting to greet the incoming flock

In the meantime, though, Elena Grace thinks she might write a welcome-letter for the chickens, since we’re already set up for poultry-post… The mailbox beside the chicken-house is our joke with our son Christian. When he first proposed the poultry project, he asked if he could help out with raising and caring for them. I answered without hesitation that he could be in charge of them if he wished to be the official Chicken Wrangler.

His response? “Actually, Mom” [his signature phrase since his toddler years] “a person usually has to start a job at the bottom and work their way up to full responsibility. You start in the mail-room—isn’t that how it works?” Well, we still had the mailbox from our last house, so we installed it in the chicken yard to afford him the opportunity of “starting in the mail room.”

“Always wear sunglasses when you play poker”… now a Tyler Tradition

The weekend’s other highlight was some poker-playing. We taught Christian to play a few years ago, and we’ve been promising to teach Elena Grace so the family can play. We finally made good on our promise—Elena Grace insisting on playing without help after the first hand, referring only to the written-out description of the various scoring hands. Fiercely independent little cuss, this one. I did have to promise her a “clean copy” re-write of the list, though, because I had inadvertently switched the punctuation style mid-stream—a deviation that offended her obsessive-compulsive need for consistency

She added a “rule” of her own to the top of the list, after Keoni donned his sunglasses partway through the game. He was just goofing around, with the shades of World Series poker players in mind, but Elena Grace immediately declared the wearing of sunglasses to be a new “Tyler tradition,” and we rounded up all the sunglasses in the house so the kids could each choose a pair. Just for fun, I added a leather jacket to the look—a spontaneous idea that snowballed into half an hour of ransacking closets for an all-around game of dress-up.

Our game of poker turned into a game of dress-up…


It’s the meta-message that makes us joyful: the kids feel loved and valued and home with us. Winner Winner Chicken Dinner all around!

Posted in Family, Home

Our Little Patch of Plantation

image courtesy of

The current buzz-word for this practice is Urban Homesteading, but “urban” doesn’t quite describe us. Our little place isn’t within the city limits of any town (and if it were, even Idaho’s capital city barely qualifies as “urban”)… Perhaps in our case we should call it “backyard homesteading,” or just plain “turning-a-regular-home-into-a-mini-farm.”

Whatever you choose to call it, that’s the idea behind the Urban Homesteading movement: creating a self-sustaining lifestyle wherever you already happen to live. Or if you’d like a more “official” definition:

Urban Homestead.n. The home of a family living by principals of low-impact, sustainable self-sufficiency through activities such as gardening for food production, cottage industry, extensive recycling, and generally simple living.

People are undertaking Urban Homesteading in cities, in towns, in apartment blocks, in suburban backyards… In short, they’re Homesteading wherever they live. (And many of them are blogging about it!)

Keoni & Christian working on our chicken house

When Keoni and I talk about our plans to move back to Hawai’i and build a Bed & Breakfast on our Big-Island acre, we always envision that establishment as fully self-sufficient, but for some reason it hadn’t dawned on us until recently that we don’t have to wait for that venture before we start taking strides toward that lifestyle. For the B&B we picture starting from scratch with sustainability in mind—water-catchments, solar panels, composting toilets, fruit trees and garden, fishing-boat… We intend to live entirely off the grid (except for an internet connection). But we realized recently that it doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” project, and we needn’t wait until we can do ALL of that to start doing some of it. The real point of “Urban” sustainability is making do with what you have, where you are.

Christian learning some new tools

If we all waited until we could afford to spend thousands of dollars on solar panels, we might never get started at all. So we’ve been asking ourselves what we CAN do now to live more sustainably… And we’re surprised by the lengthy list. Our little trailer-court plot is on its way to becoming a VERY-mini Homestead. Some of this won’t be new to you Regular Readers, but there’s something satisfying in looking at it all together…

  • We’re building a chicken coop for laying-hens. This is a project that began with our son Christian’s disclosure of his long-standing wish to raise chickens (who knew?!)  and it was in the process of researching “backyard chickens” that we began to come across references to Urban Homesteading… Seed of an idea planted!
  • a giant home-grown zucchini—too heavy to lift?

    We’ve been practicing “kitchen chemistry” in making our own household cleaners and personal care products. This, too, was a project that pre-dated the Homesteading idea, and stemmed not from noble environmental leanings, but from lack of money… Still, it got us thinking more along the lines of sustainability.

  • We’ve been sharing our neighbor Bill’s vegetable garden, and started growing our own kitchen herbs. And getting creative even on some little things… When sunflowers started sprouting beneath our bird-feeder, we transplanted them along the fence—hopefully by next summer we’ll be able to supply the bird-feeder ourselves.
  • I’ve written here about our habits of bartering and scrounging—we’re turning the practice of getting-stuff-for-free into an outright art form! Just yesterday we were over at one of the trailers in our neighborhood that was due to be demolished, pulling out some paneling (for use on the chicken house) and a ceiling light (for our living room) and a bunch of mirrors (I have Pinterest-inspired projects in mind) and some other odds-and-ends… We have always practiced recycling (we’re fortunate to have curb-side pick-up, and our Recycle bin is usually more full than our trash), but until recently, we hadn’t explored the practice of UPcycling.
pulling some paneling (and a vent) for chicken-coop construction, from the neighborhood trailer about to be demolished
  • We joined the Freecycle network, which provides a venue for members to give away (and pick up!) used items. We’ve posted a number of items as we’ve been sorting through and cleaning out our two sheds (we moved in such a hurried jumble that most of this stuff hasn’t seen daylight in the year since we moved here), and we have picked up several free items ourselves… Last week we picked up a partially-built dollhouse for Elena Grace (she’s uninterested in the chicken coop, but feeling left out nonetheless—hopefully this will serve as a parallel project with her), a couple rolls of chicken wire for the coop under construction, and materials to build…
  • garden helper
    Elena Grace fertilizing plants

    …a compost bin! Next summer we’ll probably graduate from garden-sharing to breaking ground on a plot of our own. I’d like to learn canning and drying, and we’ll see how much of a dent we can make in our grocery bills. The composter will be a help in fertilizing the growing-goods, and will materially cut down the amount of trash we’re sending to the landfill.

  • We do practice some small-scale water catchment, which we use for watering our plants. Truth be told, though, there’s not a lot of rain to catch in our high-desert Idaho climate (annual rainfall here is around eleven inches)… We’re happily situated on an island of the Boise River where the water table is barely below the surface, and we’re living on a well. We have a little timer on our water hose and run the sprinkler regularly—and with very little guilt, knowing that the water will seep right back in to the water table rather than being “wasted.” Our focus here is making sure that our water returns clean, particularly given that whatever seeps into the water table here will be showing up next in our well… Our natural composting (contrasted with store-bought chemical fertilizers) and home-made cleaning products will definitely be a “plus” in this regard.
  • small solar charger
    something like this could keep the internet up when the power is down..

    I would love to be able to switch to solar power (we certainly have enough sunshine here to make it feasible!) but that’s an expensive project. So we’re coming at this one from the other end, and working on cutting our power use. This summer’s project-list (after the chicken coop and the compost barrel) includes an outdoor clothesline—the clothes dryer is the single biggest power-suck in the house! We’re also looking at some serious weather-proofing before winter, because our power bill jumped ridiculously high last year when the cold weather set in. I’m actually looking at a small solar charger that can be used to power small items like phone and iPad chargers, and our internet router. We actually lose power out here with ridiculous frequency—it seems every time there’s a thunder storm or snow storm, we spend a few hours in the dark. The rest of the family doesn’t mind—the kids go straight to books and Legos and other no-power-needed activities—but it can wreak havoc with my writing deadlines when I can’t get online! There are a number of small solar chargers on the market for thirty bucks and under—I might be giving one of these a try.

Elena Grace getting creative with a planter…

When I was a kid, I used to make a game of pretending my bedroom was a houseboat, and that it was going to float away from the rest of the house on some exploring-adventure. I’d try to set up my houseboat-room so it would be entirely self-sufficient for my imaginary journey. I wasn’t allowed to have food in my room, but I’d stock up on plastic food from my sister’s grocery-shopping set, and put a can in my closet to serve as a (pretend!) chamber pot, and make sure all my favorite things were in the room with me, and stock up on maps (my dad’s old triple-A triptychs)…  I don’t remember actually pretending any of the journeys–it was the preparation that kept my interest, the idea of rendering my space entirely self-contained so it could float away on its own…

“I’m a chicken in my chicken-house!”

That childhood game of mine comes to mind again as we fiddle with improvements to our place, make do for ourselves, and work at cutting down outside costs. Truth be told, I hardly ever leave our little plot of yard—my writing-work is here at home, and we don’t Go Out for entertainment purposes or have a lot of errands to run… I could pretty well play my boat-game here, with the yard-boundaries of our “Homestead” being the deck-rails of the houseboat, everything our family needs contained within its small borders… I’m ready to cast off the mooring lines and float away in my imagination. I just hope the chickens don’t get seasick.

Posted in Family, Home

A Tattooed Chicken-Farmer in Heat (Wait, that didn’t come out right…)

Keoni’s thermometer at work last night. No, it’s not stuck in a hot dish—the KITCHEN was 118 degrees F!

Okay, okay: “A Tattooed Chicken-Farmer in THE Heat.” That’s what I meant. (Though our teenager, who has learned to approach our door warily if he arrives home unexpectedly, might vote for the original…)

Point is, it’s HOT in high-desert Idaho in the summer. Too hot to think. Too hot to remember all the, um… the little thingy-words that should go in the title. (Too hot to remember what we call the little thingy-words… Oh, articles! Yeah, those.)

It’s just. Damn Hot.

Elena Grace avoiding “bad form”

As if to psychically second what I was just typing… Christian is giving his sister instructions for using the iPad’s App Shopper to find new games: “There you go, yeah. For device you pick ‘iPad,’ for the price you pick ‘Free,’ and for categories you pick ‘Games’.”

I piped up with the motherly suggestion that the “Education” category also includes a lot of games, to which he replied with narrowed eyes, “Mom, it’s Summer! That would be bad form!”

[Who taught this mouthy kid to talk like that, anyway?   …Oh.]

Did I mention that it’s too hot for thinking?

Using my fancy watering-can to try and keep plants from shriveling with heat. Thinking of trying it on My People as well.

So today, here’s a mishmash jumble of odds-and-ends that haven’t made it into the blog in the last few weeks. Along with thanks to my friend Le Clown for the “tattooed chicken-farmer” moniker, which had the whole family giggling this morning!

The Art of Scrounging

I wrote recently about the much-maligned art of Packrat-ism, but hadn’t put a name to the activity that precedes Packrat-ing—namely, Scrounging.

Scrounge, v.  Finding cool shit in unlikely places.

our “scrounged” beach cart

Keoni is a master at this. Particularly if you expand that (highly technical) definition to include creative use of materials-at-hand to meet needs for which they weren’t originally designed… (Witness, for example, my “watering can” above.)

Just for fun, here’s a (partial) list of his scrounging-successes just in the last few weeks:

  • A folding cart that’s perfect for rolling our beach-stuff (cooler, portable BBQ, chairs, towels) from the car to the beach. Or, for that matter, from our house to the beach when the car has accompanied Keoni to work. There used to be a roadside vegetable stand near us, and this cart was among the things they abandoned when they closed up…
  • A 55-gallon soy-sauce barrel from a restaurant supply company, which is now destined to become our compost barrel. After we finish the chicken-house.
  • Christian demonstrating a Taekwondo move with his raft-pole

    Basaltic boulders (cleared from a construction site) to build our planned backyard fire-pit.

  • A metal fence-post for Christian to use in poling his inner-tube around the lake. (He tried a tree-branch walking-stick but punctured his ride almost immediately with one of its branch stubs…)
  • A bicycle. When he offered to help our neighbor Chuck, a disabled vet, to assemble the bike-bits leaning against his porch, Chuck said he intended to donate it… Well, we’ve been looking for a bike!
  • All the wood for our chicken-house project (including the house-shaped end pieces, from the same abandoned fruit stand). He came home on several occasions with two-by-fours strapped to the side of the car as if the Buick had taken up jousting…
  • …And speaking of Bessie Buick, several replacement bits for her dinged front end—and a pair of jumper cables!—from the “Jalopy Jungle” junkyard…
  • I appropriated one of the firepit-rocks to paint this “warning” for our front steps…

    Leftover wooden fence-post pieces from a ranch down the road, now sliced into different heights and standing on end to edge the boardwalk leading up to our house…

  • Stackable plastic soda crates (our grocery store let us take them) which have served in turn as craft table, fan stand, outdoor seating, and sawhorse…
  • Leftover tar paper from a nearby paving-job, perfect for use as a weed barrier underneath…
  • …the starter beds of wildflowers we’ve dug up from various places, and herbs we’ve transplanted.

In my previous life I would have gone straight to the store when I wanted any of these things—even the damn landscaping rocks—but this is WAY more satisfying.

Father-Son Bonding & Glitter Nail Polish

how Guys remove nail polish

Our teenage son stood in our bedroom doorway the other night and announced that he had to ask us a serious question.

[Parental attention engaged!]

“Do my toes match my outfit?”

As it turns out, his girlfriend had painted his toenails for him. And as it turns out, glitter nail polish is a bitch to remove. My nail polish remover was no match for the stuff… but luckily the stuff was no match for Dad’s pocket knife.

How [not] to Repel a Brother

Christian pointed out to Elena Grace the other day that she might want to re-think how she labeled her diary if she really didn’t want anyone to read it. I noticed the next morning she had done some editing:

Before & After the Brotherly Advice


Christian reading in his tent-fort

I think it’s been about four months since either of the younger kids have actually slept in their beds.

Around Spring Break our daughter and her wife visited from California, and we shuffled around the sleeping arrangements for a few days with the younger kids in “tent-forts” in the living room. Christian’s tent-fort, under a U.S. Marine Corps blanket draped across the corner of the room, has been there ever since. We moved Elena Grace’s tent-fort into her bedroom after the Cali-kids left, draped between her desk and chair. We laugh about the fact that she’s not using her perfectly-good bed… But it did make things easy when my mom visited—Elena Grace was already installed in her tent, with the unused bed waiting for Grandy.

Christian’s tent-occupation is, to some extent, a matter of privacy. That might seem counter-intuitive, since he’s planted right in the middle of the household now, but unlike his sister, he had a shared room—and suffice it to say that the sleep-habits of 11-year-olds and 16-year-olds are not a perfect match. Christian wakes early to read, but didn’t want to disturb his brother by turning on his lamp. Kapena comes home late from work or friends’ homes and was less observant about how his entrances affected Christian’s sleep.

Elena Grace in her tent-fort, before it got too HOT for flannel pajamas

Even at his dad’s house where he has a room to himself, I don’t think he feels it’s HIS room anymore. He has never been a guy who enjoyed surprises, so he was kind of traumatized when he arrived after a weekend with us to find his furniture replaced, his favorite reading-chair sitting in the street with the trash, and some of his favorite things mysteriously missing. (The kids have noted several times how assiduously their stepmother erases traces of ME in that household… And the reading chair had belonged to my grandfather.)

So bit by bit, Christian has been bringing his most Special Things to this household, and setting them up in his tent-fort where they’re safe.  Remarking on the fact that we allow him the permanent occupation of a living-room corner, he told me the other day that I’m “not really a traditional kind of Mom.”  Um… Thanks?

When it’s TOO HOT…

There’s only one place for a tattooed chicken-farmer and her family to go. We pack up our little scrounged cart and get our scorched butts to the beach.

Living in a climate that ranges from (Fahrenheit) five degrees in the winter to one-hundred-five in the summer, we sometimes think wistfully of the consistently temperate weather back in Hawai’i… But we’ve also learned not to lose out on the joys of Today by living in our  heads anticipating something different. Just think what we’d miss!—Today. Hot as it is, still a day with our ‘Ohana.

Posted in Family, Home

“Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens…” (Part 1)

chicken house
laying out one end of the chicken-house… The scorch-marks are residue from our son Kapena’s ceremonial burning of a sweatshirt from his ex-girlfriend

Well, after tackling the political angle of backyard chickens and mustering our (mostly free) resources, we finally got our start on building the chicken house…  Or, to use the Hawai’ian handle, the Hale Moa (HAH-lay MO-wah).

We got through the framing today, so here’s our chicken-house-building (part one)—mostly in pictures, because I’m saving up most of my words for the 40K-word project I’m supposed to be doing now (and will actually have to get started on in a few minutes)…

So far the only item we have bought for this project is a box of three-and-a-quarter-inch sinker nails ($10.48 for a 5-pound box at Home Depot). All the wood we’re using was found, begged, or bartered—including the fortuitous find of the “house”-shaped pieces of plywood we’re using at the two ends of the chicken-house.

girls with power tools
girl with power tools!

We wanted to use four-by-four posts at the corners, but since our “finds” were all two-by-fours, we nailed two of those together for each corner post.  We measured out our lengths, and then I got to use the laser-sighted mitre saw that was my Mother’s Day gift a few years back (in the days when we did have money)… Hey, does Keoni know me or what?

Also, please notice and admire our nifty makeshift “sawhorse” of several stacked soda-crates (which we got for free from the grocery store) held together with zip-ties.

After measuring, cutting, and nailing our improvised four-by-four posts to each of the ends, we stood them up, propped one of them with a couple leaning boards, and nailed 8-foot two-by-fours along each side.

DIY chicken coop
nailing our measured-and-cut 2x4s to the end-piece
DIY chicken house
setting up the ends before adding the side cross-pieces

Keoni had to leave for work, but I wanted to keep playing (because, um, there were 40,000 words waiting for me inside—never mind that it’s 103 degrees OUTside), so I sanded down one of the cross-boards on the “front” end of the chicken-house, got out the kids’ paints, and labeled the project with a sign: Hale Moa.

chiseled-out cross-piece for the top

We’d talked about a single cross-piece across the top center, so I traced the apex of the house-shaped end, traced that onto both ends of a two-by-four, and chiseled out the shape on each end so it rests neatly on the top.

So here’s our first day’s progress; total cost so far just under $11. And Christian & Elena Grace are due to arrive any minute, so it will be fun to see what they think! I suppose I can’t put off those forty thousand words any longer…

Ta-da, the chicken-coop frame! I guess I could take that “temporary support” off the front now…
Posted in Family, Home

Barter ECOnomics & the Much-Maligned Art of Packrat-ism

folded dollar houseI’m a little embarrassed.

One of the lovely side-effects of living below the poverty-line  is the realization that most money-saving behaviors are thoroughly environmentally friendly. I’m embarrassed because it shouldn’t have taken a detour into destitution for us to put this type of lifestyle into practice. A matter of putting my money where my mouth is (figuratively speaking, that is, since absence of money is the catalyst in this case)…  So here we are, engaged in creative do-it-yourself projects, re-using and recycling and “upcycling” and making do for ourselves rather than buying even simple stuff.

shopping cart
of course we don’t avoid the store entirely… Grocery shopping for the essentials with our “phenomenal cook”–Elena Grace’s (accurate!) description of Keoni

In my previous life, if I needed (or wanted) something, I went straight to the store. Didn’t even think about it. Even a DIY (do-it-yourself) project would result in an automatic shopping-list for the needed components.

In contrast to that mindset, we make a game these days of “creative alternatives,” even with a DIY undertaking.  Our goal isn’t so much to do things inexpensively with DIY, but to see how close to FREE can we get with any project. For any item on our list, we’re asking ourselves what we could use, and where we might find it. (Funny thing—it does feel like a game, and there’s a definite satisfaction in “scoring” something we’re looking for.)

barter system
um, NOT quite how it works… (image courtesy of

Last month I joined the Freecycle network, which acts as a hub for people to offload (and pick up) used items at no cost. Without a doubt, the most neglected component of the eco-trinity (“Reduce, Re-use, Recycle“) is the practice of re-using—which is a shame, given the relatively high costs (both ecological and economic) of the recycling process… Freecycle operates a lot like the “free” listings on Craigslist (though unfortunately there’s not a lot of member activity in our area, so I’m still a regular Craigslist browser as well).

We are also blessed with a wonderful network of friends and neighbors who make bartering a viable possibility in our household economics. It should be said first, however, that although there is a steady traffic of foods and favors and funning exchanged across our various fences, the majority of those interactions aren’t undertaken with any aim so concrete as “bartering” for something specific. That’s just neighborliness, on all sides.

Keoni & Bill admiring our shared vegetable garden

Having said that, though–I will add, on reflection, that the habit of neighborliness has stood us in good “credit” with those neighbors when we are on the hunt for something specific. And since those same neighbors have now formed addictions to Keoni’s cooking, they know precisely what they want in return. Case in point: when we approached our neighbor Steve to ask about the stack of two-by-fours by his shed (gathering materials for our son’s chicken-coop project), Steve had a wish-list at the ready. He held up two fingers and requested (1) Keoni’s teriyaki sauce and (2) his ginger salad dressing. Then he stabbed his two counting-fingers toward the pile of wood and told us to have at it—he had no plans for it. When we asked Bill (retired from construction, and a certified electrician) to see if he could sort out the electronics of our broken shave-ice machine so we could offer it as a rental to Keoni’s boss, Bill jumped at the chance to ask for Keoni’s “Tahitian Lanai” banana bread.

There are times, too, when neighborliness results in rewards unsought. Keoni stopped to offer condolences to the father and brother of our recently deceased neighbor, asking also how he might be of help. They’re looking to sell the place, so he offered to keep the lawn mowed in the interim. He spent yesterday morning mowing and weed-whacking and clearing trash (his OCD kicks in here—he can’t do half a job without following through on whatever else needs doing) and when they stopped by again, he suggested to them that they should store the outdoor items to prevent them from disappearing. (Unfortunately, we had some experience with that last year—while we were in the process of moving from our foreclosed-on house to this trailer, someone decided to help themselves to a number of our outdoor tools, plants, even a water fountain…)

tackle box
Christian reverently inventorying our late neighbor’s tackle box. “This guy took REALLY good care of his stuff.”

To our surprise, they told him he could help himself to whatever he could use from the yard and garden; they had already taken the few things they wanted to keep, and they’re focused now on clearing the place out.  It seems a little morbid to benefit from the death of a neighbor (one of the few neighbors we didn’t know, at that), but on the other hand we can offer a most appreciative home to the fishing tackle, portable barbecue, gardening tools and potting soil… And maybe, after all, the neighbor would get a kick out of our delight over the little garden-hose timer, which has long been on our wish-list for use with our sprinkler on the lawn.

Our neighbors have also been a great resource for our start-up gardening. Bill is kindly sharing his established vegetable garden with us—we provided seeds (which can be bought with Food Stamps, yay) and weeding-services (always with the “help” of his nosy wiener-dog, Buster), and a steady stream of baked goods—in exchange for which we’re enjoying radishes and tomatoes and carrots and broccoli and zucchini and (my favorite!) snap-peas. Bill jokes that we must have a bakery-bush behind the house, and wonders how far apart you need to plant those…

We’re working, too, on our own collection of kitchen herbs—plants started from seedlings and cuttings we’ve gathered from neighbors and from the herb-garden at Keoni’s work, and even road-side and river-side. (Wild asparagus grows along the river right near our house!) Some of the home-grown herbs are going into my “Kitchen-Chemistry” experiments (another installment coming soon!)—our other ecological/economical DIY project.

weeding the vegetable garden on Bill’s side of the fence (with Buster’s help)

What actually prompted this post was the curious collection of components for our planned compost barrel (which will no doubt get a post of its own when it’s completed)—a project that combines both the Reduce and the Re-Use commandments… We’ll be cutting down substantially on our outgoing trash and gaining compost for our developing kitchen-garden—and we’ve gotten creative in assembling its ingredient pieces. We find that the key to bartering (and sometimes getting things free) is keeping eyes open for items we can use, and being willing to ask.

For the compost barrel, we asked for an empty 55-gallon barrel of soy sauce from a restaurant-supply company. Its pivot-rod will be an old gas pipe, which we asked for when a gas-company worker was checking lines in the neighborhood and taking out unused pipes. And its supports will be a pair of outdoor umbrella-stands that Keoni rescued from the trash heap at the restaurant where he works.

kitchen herb nursery
the “nursery” of kitchen herbs—including seeds planted in the egg cartons

And that brings me to Packrat Habits. I have officially retired from teasing Keoni about his Packrat-ism, due to the overwhelming number of times he has pulled something useful out of the shed—something for which we had no imagined use when he picked it up. The umbrella stands fit in that category, as does the John Deere key he picked up in a parking lot a few years ago. We didn’t own anything at the time that could possibly fit that key, but this summer when we misplaced the key to our riding lawnmower (itself an item partly-bartered from a neighbor last summer), damned if he didn’t pull out that found key from wherever he had it stashed, and damned if it didn’t fit our lawnmower! I concede the field—he’s less crazy than I thought.

Still plenty crazy, though, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. On that note, there’s a clump of road-side wild-flowers I’ve had my eye on, and I think I’ll go dig it up—it’s either that or pay $5 at Home Depot.

Posted in Family, Home, Recovery

Home to Roost

Never mind the “Secret Lives of Bees”–I’m intrigued by the Secret Lives of Kids. I would never guess what’s going on in my own kids’ heads if I didn’t chatter and play with them. Case in point: our 11-year-old son, Christian, has been harboring a long-standing wish to own chickens.  I had no idea.

He first floated the idea in the context of our long-term Plan: a bed-and-breakfast on the acre that’s awaiting us on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Could we have chickens there, he wondered, and could he help with them? Given that the “long-term” part of the Plan is largely due to considering ourselves anchored-in-Idaho by joint custody until the kids get through school, that would be a lo-o-ong wait. Really, you want chickens? Well… How about NOW?

chicken coop
Anatoli’s chicken-house

Our neighbor Anatoli has chickens already—chickens who (he claims, in his own thickly accented English) “speak Spanish, and English, and on Saturdays, Russian.” And Chuck (the disabled Vet just down the way from us, whose yard gets mowed in turns by Keoni and Steve and Bill, who have undertaken the volunteer rotation without ever talking about it) has hens that he raised himself from the eggs. So no problem, we figured—and we promised Christian chickens this summer.

The beginning of May, to our surprise, brought a form-letter from the landlord reminding everyone to mow their yards and keep their porches tidy… and to get rid of “farm animals” by June 1. The letter clarified that chickens were meant by that, and that there had better not be any chickens left on the property by June. The afternoon of the letter’s arrival, Steve and Bill and Keoni and Anatoli convened at the “four corners” where our yards converge, and (like a bunch of biddies themselves) dissected the letter, managing in the process to dissuade Anatoli (conditioned, perhaps, by Soviet-Bloc life?) from immediately killing his dear hens. The idea of a neighborhood petition arose from the gab-session; Keoni volunteered me to write one up, and Bill said he’d walk it all around the park.

Gretchen Anderson
Gretchen Anderson, author of “The Backyard Chicken Fight” (and raising chickens in our hometown)

A little research showed that every town in our county (including the capital city of Boise) legally defines hens (up to a certain number, which varies town by town) as pets, rather than farm animals.  Since our leases prohibit “farm animals”—but not specifically chickens—our argument hangs on the definition. I got in touch with nationally-recognized author and “backyard chicken advocate” Gretchen Anderson, who happens to live in our own town of Eagle, to inquire about the rules and interpretations of this municipality–though I realized soon after that our trailer park (“Eagle” address notwithstanding) is outside the town boundary…

In any case, our “Request to Reconsider the Ruling Regarding Chickens” relied on these points:

  • Female chickens, up to a certain number, are legally considered pets rather than farm animals even within city limits of the cities in Ada County. The most restrictive city in Ada County is Boise, which currently allows up to three female chickens (and is in the process of considering an increase to allow six).  Other cities in Ada County have set even higher numbers allowable as pets, collectively setting a clear legal precedent for the classification of chickens as pets rather than as farm animals.
  • Female chickens do not create any noise nuisance, health hazards, or devaluation of property value.
  • Chickens provide excellent pest control with regard to bugs, provide fertilizer for gardens, and provide eggs for the household—all of which are markedly advantageous for families attempting to feed themselves in these tough economic times.
backyard chickens
image from

By the next evening Bill had collected more than forty signatures on the petition. The only person in the park who declined to sign cited as her reason the fact that she didn’t want her son-in-law (who also lives here) to take it into his head to raise chickens…  Bill met with the manager, presented the petition, and then… We waited.  June 1 came and went, and we still hadn’t heard anything either way. Anatoli’s and Chuck’s chickens continue to cluck away on either side of us, oblivious to their suspended sentence.

So… We’ve decided to go ahead and build our poultry-pen. Steve has a stack of two-by-fours for which we bartered a couple recycled coffee-creamer-jugs filled with Keoni’s teriyaki sauce & his ginger salad dressing, I just found a free roll of chicken wire on Craigslist, and Christian is doing the research about details like chicken-food…


On a more sobering note (literally, for the two of us), our little neighborhood also marked a sad circumstance today. Our neighbor four doors down—known for his metal-work and his race-car driving—took his own life today. Steve knew him well because he used to live in our trailer, and Steve (who has been Sober a year longer than we) says he was in Recovery, but had gone back to drinking. The Crime Scene Investigation team has been courteous and circumspect, quietly inquiring among the neighbors about his recent habits, what sort of music he’d been listening to. And I suppose it’s telling that in this fairly tight-knit little country neighborhood, no one had answers. It’s telling, too, that he’s one of the only neighbors whose name I don’t know.  We’d actually been keeping an eye out for him, wanting to introduce ourselves and ask if he had plans for the stack of tiles in his driveway, but we hadn’t yet found—or made—the opportunity.  We were reflecting yesterday on our brief 18 months of Sobriety—as well as lessons learned from that relapse, brief but utterly disastrous—and our neighbor’s suicide brings the severity of this disease home to roost.

While we’re working toward chickens, we’re enjoying ducks. We’ve watched this troupe since they were eggs under our back bushes…

To end on a related—but more upbeat—note, we lost a dear friend yesterday morning. I say “upbeat” because this man’s life is one to celebrate, even mixed with the sadness of goodbye.  Gary (or Grrrr, as we always called him) “graduated from the Program” with decades of Sobriety behind him—a man who daily celebrated the blessing of “going to sleep every night instead of passing out, and waking up every morning instead of coming to.”  We’re pretty sure that he has already ensconced himself in a back-row seat for the Great Meeting in the Sky, set up his Cribbage board, rolled his own cigarette, and responded to another angel’s “Good-to-see-you” greeting with his standard response: “It’s good to be seen!”  Grrrr, you are loved! And we know that you have gone home to roost where you will be most joyful. Save us a seat!

Posted in Family, Travel, Writing

Cracking the Winter Chrysalis

heliophilic shamrock!

I often joke that I’m a plant–I need my sunshine! The shamrock in our front window (inherited from my Irish great-grandma, and a decade older than I am) responds so enthusiastically to sunlight that you can almost see its movement toward the light when we open the curtains. My daughter says she’s half-leprechaun, so maybe I’m half-shamrock.

I’m not a severe sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder (with its apt acronym of SAD), but a good dose of sunlight does have a measurable effect on my mood and energy level.

cat nap
Suzy & I agree: winter is for hibernating!

In winter months I tend to go into hibernation-mode, withdrawing into the snug sanctuary of homey coziness and physical comforts. This last winter particularly, my leap into writing-as-a-profession enabled me to burrow into winter-mode entirely unhindered by inconveniences like having to leave the house.  I retreated, as I habitually do, into my cocoon of soft sweatshirts, down quilts, and thick socks, with Suzy-cat warming my feet and the coffee-pot constantly brewing… and contentedly wrote all winter.

With the advent of warm weather, however, my Summer-Self emerges from the winter chrysalis. She’s more energetic, more active, more adventuresome, more sociable, less inwardly focused.  Summer weather has arrived rather suddenly to the Boise area this last week–and just as suddenly, I’ve got my toenails painted (for sandals!) and legs shaved (for shorts!), and the sandals and shorts themselves pulled out of the Rubbermaid bins where they’ve been hibernating…

Keoni and I were just reflecting that it feels as though our new year is beginning now, rather than in January. We’re entertaining fresh opportunities and enjoying fresh energies…

Keoni is moving around amazingly well since his winter knee replacement, and beginning to shed pounds again. (I tease him already that he’s literally “half the man he used to be”–500 pounds just a few years ago!–but he anticipates arriving soon at a weight he hasn’t seen for four decades.)

We’ve been shifting toward some healthier habits… from our habitual diet sodas to green-tea drinks, for example–and from smoking vanilla mini-cigars to “vaping” vanilla flavor from a Blu-brand e-cig… (It was the act of smoking, and the purposes to which I put it, that had me hooked more than the nicotine; this solution allows me to indulge in the habit without the hazards. And the kids–for whose sake I made the resolution in the first place–are tickled even pinker than my lungs!)

weed whacker & gardening gloves
gardening gloves–and a new weed-whacker! Last year Keoni was painstakingly using SCISSORS to edge the yard…

I’ve brushed off the yoga mat that’s been gathering dust in the storage shed, and we’re hoping to be able to buy a second bike this month and start exploring the network of trails in the State Park by our house. We’ve both gotten out our gardening gloves.

Keoni has completed an application in hopes of returning to his Corrections career–and we were heartened by a phone call from a top state administrator, who’d heard rumors he might re-apply, and phoned to urge his return.

I’m edging toward some new beginnings with my writing as well, contemplating the book that Keoni and the boys are after me to begin composing. And (as you see) the blog just got a facelift, seeking a clean-instead-of-cluttered look to accommodate the ads WordPress just authorized here. The sticky-note stack on my Mac is transmuting from writing-ideas into actual writing…

Idaho butterflyWe’ve started to plan our summer outings and adventures with the kids–a camping-trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument, a road-trip to visit Grandy & Boboo (my parents), a river-rafting trip with Grandy… Christian hopes to try horseback riding (luckily we know some cowboys) and wants to see Romeo & Juliet at the outdoor Idaho Shakespeare Festival.  Elena Grace wants to learn to snorkel, and Kapena wants to go to the summer football camp at Boise State University.

One of the “perks” of my writing-job is the fact that there’s no need to pay much mind to the calendar… So when Keoni and I first talked this week about the “new year” vibe we’re feeling, it didn’t immediately occur to me that Beltane is around the corner. It’s one of the Celtic cross-quarter days, a fire feast (the name of which, in fact, translates as “bright fire“), and a celebration of a new half of the year. The lighted half. A celebration of optimism, and abundance, and light.

And of course it’s natural that this celebration comes at the time when we are becoming sun-charged ourselves, busting out of the winter chrysalis with a new fire lit under us to venture out and find new stories for ourselves. It’s a few days early yet, but here’s wishing you a Blessed Beltane!

ready for adventure
Adventure-Ready: dusting off my Summer-Self. Yoga-mat, water bottle, iPod, camera, sandals, hiking hat, iPad (for maps & note-taking) and camera bag!