Saturday, August 31, 2013

The pros and cons of free-range

We are very fortunate to have, in the place where we currently live, a space around our house which enables us to give a completely free range to our chickens, and also to keep roosters without anyone being bothered by their crowing (though in my eyes, the crow of a rooster is actually soothing – quite unlike the honking of cars).

The advantages of free range are numerous; first of all, we save on feed costs, because chickens have truly free access to every corner of the yard, and find part of their own food – bugs and weeds. This gives us more nutritious eggs and also provides free pest control, and some weed control. We do, of course, also give them layers' grain (we buy a large sack which lasts us for several months) and whatever kitchen and table scraps we have.

Free-range also means less time chickens spend in the coop – and thus, a less smelly coop which attracts less flies, and doesn't need to be cleaned quite so often. In addition, it is very entertaining to see chickens get into every nook and cranny of the yard. If you want to grow vegetables and free-range your chickens, of course you'll need to fence the vegetable garden in, because chickens will eat mostly everything (we currently don't grow anything but herbs, which the chickens don't fancy).

The most obvious disadvantage to free ranging, of course, is in exposure of chickens to predators. We have had problems with foxes before – they operate during the night, very slyly, but lately we had chicks disappear during the day without a trace, which made me suspect birds of prey (we have several kinds in our area). We can fox-proof a coop so that chickens are safe at night, but we can't give true protection against birds of prey, as long as we let our chickens free-range.

Still, as much as I hate to lose birds, taking everything into account I believe free-ranging is the best option, overall. Keeping chickens always fenced in, even if we could provide a large coop and mesh-covered run, would mean greatly increased food costs, the loss of pest control we currently enjoy, and having to muck them out far more frequently. I will go as far as saying that if we couldn't free-range, perhaps keeping chickens wouldn't even be practical for us – no more than 3-4 birds, anyway (we currently have about 30, including chicks). Obviously we wouldn't free-range if we were so plagued by predators as to lose all our flock; but occassional losses are something I have learned to mentally steel myself against.

What methods do you chicken-keepers use? Do you free-range your flock? 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Summer goes on... for us

Yesterday I chanced to see a caricature in one of the Israeli newspapers describing the end of summer vacation in the following way: happy children in a messy living room are waving goodbye to their harassed-looking grandparents, while the latter are flipping through a calendar and saying to each other, “good, we have some time off until Rosh Ha-Shana!” (the Jewish holidays start shortly after the end of summer break).

This brings forward two assumptions:

  1. Having children at home for a summer is a messy, nerve-wrecking, tedious, and usually expensive affair, quite incompatible with peace, quiet and order.
  2. Grandparents are very ill-used by having their grandchildren “shifted off” to their care.

The first assumption is based on the mistaken notion that children must always be “entertained”. Just as school lessons often mean spoon-feeding a child small doses of predigested facts, so the child's after-school time must be carefully regulated and scheduled by homework and extracurricular activities. It is taken for granted that to be entertained, the child must always be taken to places, directed to properly “stimulating” activities, or stuck in front of a screen.

There might be a grain of truth in this, in a certain way - first, because the children are already conditioned to believe the same thing. They are used to having their time and activities always directed and regulated. Therefore, they expect someone else to entertain them. It might take some “detox boredom” time until they learn to find, by themselves, something wholesome and satisfying to do. Obviously, the option of just pushing a button to make some passive entertainment instantly appear should not be present.

Also, because a child's life nowadays is so packed, so hectic, so full of various doings (school, homework, extra lessons, dancing and swimming classes, etc), once summer arrives they might really “let loose” for a bit. Since they are unused to a reasonable routine at home, havoc may ensue. Such a routine may be settled into by the end of a summer, but then another school year begins.

As for the second point, that of overburdened grandparents, I have to admit that for older people it really might be tiresome to manage children who are full of energy, but don't know how to direct it. Thus the crowds of frantic parents and grandparents herding children around zoos, amusement parks, water parks, etc, all throughout the summer. It can be nice to include some special pre-arranged activity once in a while, but if one has to depend on such things to get through summer, no wonder there are difficulties!

This morning, I saw that the girls, shortly after rising, opened their box of dress-up clothes and were already engrossed in imaginary play before I was even up. Out of the window, I saw the school bus passing by and knew that if we had enrolled the children in preschool, they would already need to be on that bus – in a rush, without a comfortable start to a morning, and without the chance to spend a little time with their father before he has to leave for work.

We walked out to feed and play with the chickens, had breakfast, saw Daddy off, straightened the house up a bit, and did chores. We then proceeded to bake a cake (there was a little squabble about who gets to help me with the hand mixer). We have art supplies, picture books, toys, and a yard that is always accessible. We don't always get to do whatever we want, whenever we want; far from it. There is a rhythm to a day. There are reasonable times for meals and sleep and chores in which everybody participates. This sets the foundation of duty.

As for summer, for us it still goes on. In Israel, it can easily go on until November.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

No ambition

I suppose that, using popular terms, I could be defined as someone who has "no ambition". I always loved learning, and thus got through school with mostly good grades; I proceeded to a university degree, because it was expected of me, and because I couldn't imagine anything else I would rather do. I completed it with good grades as well, but I was never attracted by anything, including my direct field of expertise, in terms of a career, success, the means of making money, gaining prestige, status, etc. I recall thinking, when I was very little, that I would love to be a teacher. This fantasy soon vanished in the face of what a madhouse the average Israeli class is. 

In contrast, though for many years this remained subconscious, I was always attracted by the tranquil, the domestic, the cozy, the comforting, the traditional. Many favorite passages from favorite books related to home comforts (such as in Narnia). Like many others, I fell in love with hobbits, and dreamed of living in a hobbit-hole someday. I loved to listen to stories about people who picked up their own fruit from their own garden, and baked their own bread - even though in real life, both fruit and bread always came from the supermarket. 

I guess, then, that right now I'm living out the supremely un-ambitious, bread-baking, egg-gathering, home-bustle, quiet life. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything, or rather, I realize that by necessity we always miss out on something, because when we choose one road in life, by necessity we don't take all the other roads, don't do all the other things we could have done. If one chooses to be a doctor, it means one "misses out" on being a painter, a teacher, an engineer, or whatever. If one chooses full-time homemaking and child-rearing, one "misses out" on having an ambitious career. If one chooses the career path, other things are by necessity lost, and they are too numerous to list here. 

Today, as the sun was setting, a friend stopped by with her little ones to look at our latest brood of chicks. While all the children played outside, we caught up with each other a bit (I haven't seen her in a while). It turned out she and her husband are both currently very busy working on their M.Sc. thesis. I then heard some very, shall we say, fascinating details about how the brains of a mouse are extracted from the skull and dissected (I shall skip those, alright?). I heard how many mice she processed with her own hands so far, shuddered and said, with a pained smile, "well, better you than me!"; I guess I should emphasize the fact that I had been a vegetarian for many years, and that when we buy whole chickens, I still ask my husband to cut them into parts for me before I proceed to cooking them. 

I would not be surprised if my M.Sc- and PhD-pursuing friends, looking at my life, might say, "Well, better you than me!" - and that is fair enough. As for me, it might sound strange, I know, but I'm kind of happy I was not born more ambitious. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Jiggety jig

For the time being (I don't know for how long) we are connected to the internet again, and I feel, once more, as if I have so many delightful things - such as crochet patterns, poultry forums and Jane Austen film adaptations - right at my fingertips. Isn't this exciting? :o)

The picture below is yesterday's full moon, just as it was rising, taken by my husband. Isn't it beautiful? 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The good, the bad and the ugly

The neighborhood where we currently live consists chiefly of caravans (mobile homes/trailers), which are rented out very cheaply. It makes sense, therefore, that these are occupied by families who for various reasons either choose, or have to, live frugally. They don't have much to spend on living, either by way of rent or interior/exterior decoration.

Yet how different can two such little homes look, standing one next to the other! In front of one, there is a neat self-made porch (perhaps made out of salvaged wood), a trail of carefully picked stepping stones, and a few large tubs full of rich, dark earth and growing plants. Another climbing plant or two adorn the walls.

When one steps inside, there is a delightful sight of a home that is certainly very snug, with no extra space for any clutter – yet everything is beautifully arranged, and every little corner is properly utilized. Shiny pots and pans hang off walls. Cleverly made shelves hold a compact collection of books and other possessions. Cheerful curtains frame the windows, moving in the inviting breeze. There is an overall air of neatness, propriety, order, and pride in one's own corner of the world.

The house next to this one forms a very different picture. There is a jumble of rusted bikes, barrels and other unrecognized items just near the front step. It hasn't been cleared in years. A dirty diaper that has escaped the garbage bag rolls around the yard, gathering dust and dirt, for a week now. Inside, one encounters a stove that looks like it hasn't been cleaned in years, walls dark with grime, and general disarray.

One may say that financial difficulties make people dejected, so that they no longer have the energy to pay attention to their surroundings. That may be so. But it also works the other way around: beauty and order create cheerful thoughts, while ugliness brings pessimism, glum, and a sense of despair.

I know families who, I think I can say without exaggeration, own no items of a purely decorative nature. No pictures; no ornaments; no potted plants. But there is order and cleanliness in the home, and everybody feels welcome. It doesn't cost money to clean (or if you take into account the cost of water and cleaning agents, it costs very little). There is beauty in order and neat arrangement of the furniture. A home doesn't and cannot always be perfectly clean, but even if there are little children, spills, stains, mess and clutter, there is a vast difference between a home that is lived-in but regularly cared for, and a home that is neglected.

If there is even a tiny budget for home improvement, much can be done with it. It doesn't cost very much to buy some paint and freshen up the walls, if you do it yourself. It doesn't cost a lot to put out some flowerbeds or flowers in a pot. A bathroom can be spruced up by a new shower curtain. Slipcovers will renew even the most battered-looking couches and armchairs.

Some people will say, “oh, this is only a temporary home; we are only staying here until our circumstances improve. It doesn't make sense to invest any time or energy into prettying it. All this effort can be saved for our more permanent home.” Others, in contrast, will say, “true, we hope to live in a better, more spacious, more comfortable home some day; but for now this is where we live, and for our own sake, and especially the sake of our young children, who need to grow up seeing beauty, we want to make this current dwelling as nice and welcoming as possible.”

Just as we know that we will, eventually, go on to eternal life, and yet it is worthwhile to fill this earthly life with good and kind deeds, with love and fellowship and satisfying work, so it is worth our while to fill our homes, be they even temporary, with beauty, order, cheerfulness and creativity.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

An internet fast

Once more, I find myself without regular internet connection - with hardly any internet access at all, actually. We are able to get some access through my husband's mobile phone, but naturally, it isn't much. And when I sit down to look at my email inbox, I am overwhelmed: "oh no, I have 32 Facebook messages!", or "wow, I will never be able to read all these newsletters."

It really does take an effort to sit down, stop, take a deep breath and say: This Isn't My Job. No one hired me to do it; no one is paying me to do it; I need not feel guilty for not being able to poke people back on Facebook or reply to a message someone sent me on the Backyardchickens forum. I need not feel guilty for not always being instantly accessible, or for not researching information as quickly as I otherwise could have, or for not keeping up with news/websites/blogs.

My life's work, currently, is to keep the house good and livable; to cook nutritious meals for my family; to look after my children and spend time with them. When I do have some leisure time to spend in front of the computer, I now mostly work on my writing projects. I miss having a 24/6 internet connection and the instant access to information, music, films, lectures and online communities it allows, and I know I will be glad when we are able to establish it once again. But maybe, just maybe, I will also miss the reduced level of distraction, and the extra time I miraculously have on my hands (you won't believe it, but I have finally caught up on my ironing).

In one of these rare online times, I couldn't resist just popping in here for a few minutes and saying hello to all you dear friends. I do so miss reading your blogs and keeping in touch by email, and hope to be back, eventually, on a more constant basis. Until then, I am off to enjoy summer, and all the good things in life... offline. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

More images of summer

I'm beginning to think that, in a way, it's better for me to have just enough internet time to check my emails and answer some of them, do the little this and that I need to do online... and post here from time to time, of course! The inconsistency of our internet connection lately has really been a blessing in disguise. Some of my friends must have thought me a very unsatisfactory correspondent, but overall, I'm amazed at the amount of things accomplished - who would have thought it.

Below are a couple of photos from a recent day trip of ours. I especially love the picture of the tree that had been cut down almost completely, but continues to grow against all odds. I find it very symbolic.