Summer Bucket List 2014

Too easily the days pass right on by and before we know it, fall is knocking on the door.  So, we make a list.  It’s a collective effort by each member of our family, everyone gets to chime in on what they want us to do!

  1. Go to Birch Bay
  2. Campout with cousins
  3. Go to Edmonds beach
  4. Play outside
  5. Go kayaking
  6. Go swimming in a lake
  7. Climb Mt Pilchuk
  8. Take the free ferry to Jetty Island
  9. Pick strawberries
  10. Pick raspberries
  11. Pick blueberries
  12. Keep training Willow to pull the cart
  13. Sleep through the night (um, mama might have put that on the list on Liberty’s behalf!)
  14. Paint kids bedrooms fun colors
  15. Go to the Silvana Fair with our goats
  16. Show goats at Evergreen State Fair
  17. Have a summer party
  18. Go fishing
  19. Build a treehouse
  20. Host a kids creation camp
  21. Camp in tents in the backyard
  22. Find new ways to cook whole chicken
  23. Make a path into the forest
  24. Start kids’ egg selling business
  25. Learn how to make goat milk soap

Welcome summer!

After a week in a motel in town with six kids in tow, we were thrilled to be back home on Friday one day before the official first day of summer!  After our septic snafu and water damaged floors, we had to be out of the house while they repaired and refinished the flooring that had been soaked.  All of life aside from the absolute necessities sat on the back burner while we lived out of our van and two cozy motel rooms…traipsing back and forth to our house to feed the goat babies their bottles early and late each day, milk our mama goats, feed the meat birds and layers, check on dogs and cats, etc.  To say it was crazy is a wild understatement.

But I’ve said it before and it still rings true, doing hard things together forges a sense of family.  Whether its a difficult hike in the mountains, a camping trip gone total disaster or a season where all of life is plain hard…the result can be the same.  It all hinges on the choices we make in the midst of the chaos.  That and for me at least, believing God to be above and beyond my circumstances, whatever they may be.  He has proven his absolute faithfulness over and over, and most often through the stuff of life that is either seemingly mundane or wickedly painful and difficult.

Children are amazing in their ability to adapt and look on the bright side.  A week in a motel with mom and dad…with a pool even?  Too fun!  My ability to do the same is certainly lacking however.  The first night I was wound so tight my whole body hurt from our “adventure”.  After a long night, with little sleep from all our family being in such close quarters, we enjoyed the free breakfast buffet that everyone had high hopes for.  Well, it turned out to be a bunch of Costco food dumped on a counter.  Again, the kids had great fun checking it all out and all I did was pine away for my kitchen, healthy pancakes and eggs from our chickens.

By the end of day one, I needed a serious course correction or it was sure to be a long and miserable week.  So I snatched my attitude from the dump it was in and put my chin up and decided we would do this week up right.  And we did.  We swam every night, ate dinner at most of the restaurants our town had to offer.  We figured out how to wash clean all our milking supplies and goat bottles in the motel bathtub twice a day.  We moved sleeping arrangements around until we found something that worked.  We had our beloved cousins over for a swim in “our” pool just for fun too!

I’ll spare you the play by play, suffice to say that we survived.  We gave grace many times and sometimes lost our temper.  Life was strangely simple actually.  I did miss our daily work and routine and animals.  But I didn’t miss the way I flurry around from project to chore to laundry to negotiate a peace treaty to make food to clean up a spill….always onto the next thing and often missing the chance to sit and read a book with a little one or hug another one super tight just because.

Many lessons learned.  Seems to always be the case.  Always room to grow and room to learn.  In the spirit of summer, we put our summer bucket list together, making sure we seize the season and squeeze every bit of fun right of it together  I’ll post it later today in case anyone needs any inspiration!

Growing chickens for meat

When I think about my cherished upbringing in the suburbs, I still sometimes do a double take as I’m walking outside each morning to milk a goat and feed 80 chickens and such.  Whose life is this?!  Mine.  Only mine.  And though it brings with it all sorts of interesting challenges, I wouldn’t trade any of it.  Starting with the six amazing children we’ve been blessed with and straight on down to the poor attempt at a garden outside my kitchen window.  I thought perhaps it might be helpful/interesting to get a step by step snapshot of our “let’s grown our own clean, well-treated chickens” endeavor.  So, if it is, read on…otherwise check in later this week for updated baby goat photos or scroll straight to the bottom for photos of our kids butchering their first chicken!

  1. First off, we decided last year that if we ever planned to raise our own food for meat, we’d better taste something comparable to make sure we liked it.  If you’ve eaten grass fed beef alongside feedlot cattle from the grocery store, you can certainly tell the difference and we figured chicken would be similar.  Those frozen disks of ginormous chicken breast are pumped with salt and other stuff and the taste is a long ways from a pastured chicken fed only good things.  I’d guess the nutrition varies a good deal between the two as well.  We purchased three large broilers (code for “raw whole chicken”…its okay, I didn’t know that either) last year from a local farmer.  This darling young couple runs a small farm near us and offers a weekly CSA produce basket as well as various animals for meat (goats, chickens, turkeys, pigs and I think a cow or two).  They weighed about 6 1/2 pounds and cost us about $30 each.  I know, sticker shock, I can get 13 pounds of frozen breasts at Costco for that price!  The meat was incredible, buttery rich and tender and delicious.  The chickens were so large they would feed even our family for two meals which is quite something.  We were sold and looked forward to trying to do this ourselves the coming spring.
  2. There are two paths to choose on raising your own chickens for meat, you buy Cornish Cross type chicks that are commercially bred to produce huge breasts and grow super fast.  They are ready to process (code for “butcher your chicken so you can eat it”) in about 6 weeks.  Its wild, really.  Tiny chick to big chicken ready for your table in a month and a half.  But that breed is behind our American obsession with white meat and cheap (less than healthy) food.  We figured if we were going to all this trouble, we might as well go the heritage breed route and raise the traditional, slower growing, normally proportioned sort of poultry.  We chose Freedom Ranger chicks from a hatchery in Pennsylvania run by an Amish family.  With a name like “Freedom Rangers” they were hard to pass up, and more importantly this was the breed our farmer Micha had grown so we knew they were tasty.
  3. Perhaps step #3 should be “start small”.  But we don’t do small very well and wanted it to be worth the work, so we went big, hoping to grow in 12 weeks or so, enough chicken to last our family many months.  We purchased 54 chicks that arrived March 20 to our local post office.  We also figured we’d lose some, but at this point, just 10 days from processing day, there are 51 of them out there in the yard!
  4. They need to eat!  A ton.  Literally.  Well almost.  We will have purchased about 1000 lbs of feed for them by the time they are ready.  Finding a good price for quality feed was imperative.  There are a few local mills that offer bulk pricing, we first used Scratch and Peck in Bellingham but then when that ran out (so much for my careful calculations!) we bought from Natural Farm and Feed east of the mountains.  Both were bulk orders brought by truck on pallets.  But after comparing the two, we’ll go with Natural Farm and Feed for next year.  Better price and less waste from the feed.  Buying feed that was non-GMO, didn’t contain corn or soy, was important.  Again, why go to the trouble to raise meat yourself only to feed it “junk food”?  That is why we chose a whole grain, non-GMO, soy/corn free feed to grow the birds.  It wasn’t cheap, it was hundreds of dollars spent at one time for only a hope of translating into healthy, wonderful food for our family.
  5. They need a safe, predator-proof place to live.  A friend of a friend sold us two movable chicken tractors that our birds live in.  We move them every day but they still trash the grass worse than you can imagine in their 24 hours on each fresh patch!
    chicken grass
  6. They need massive amounts of water.  Because these birds grow so fast (in comparison to their egg laying counterparts) they eat, drink, poop at a much higher rate.  It’s amazing.  Using 5 gallon buckets with chicken nipples plugged into holes on the bottom is my absolute easiest, cleanest, favorite method of watering chickens.  I made 4 of them this year and couldn’t be more pleased with how they’re working.  The bucket rests upside down in the tractor so I can fill it from the top without opening their pen.  Lovely, because they are aggressive and always HUNGRY!  They love to peck my farm boots or any fingers that are available.
    chicken tractor
  7. Well, that’s all I’ve got so far….we’ve rented the processing equipment for a week from Saturday from our county.   Once we complete this adventure, I’ll post again with any other tidbits from along the way!  For now, here are pics of our kids hand-processing a chicken two days ago (I was in a hurry and clipped his wing while moving the chicken tractor before church!).  They were very eager to help turn this bird into dinner.   We enjoyed chicken gravy and mashed potatoes tonight, courtesy of one happy, healthy bird that lived its whole life in our yard.  Pretty super cool if you ask me…
    kids and chicken
    caleb dunking
    part way there!
    chicken dinner!
    baby dinner

    Baby likes chicken dinner!!!

The view from here

The sky is overcast and gray but all the sounds around me are a dead giveaway.  It is spring.  There are birds singing in every direction.  The rooster crows every five minutes and his teenage counterpart tries to follow along but can’t get the job done just yet.   There is a girl with an electric shaver trimming her goat to perfection for the dairy goat show in two weeks.  There are 5 week old goat kids frolicking with two human kids at their heels.  There is the constant clucking of the proud laying hens and the frantic hustling of the two dozen pullets who can’t yet lay and get a pecking every day to remind them they haven’t yet arrived to a productive adulthood.  Our ten year old son is inside at the stove, he just popped over to me in my chair in the grass to ask “Can I make you an egg?  Please!?”.  How could I say I’d already had toast and wasn’t hungry?  He is mastering the art of frying eggs.  He is proud of the fact he now makes them even better than his mama does (could have something to do with the focus he brings and the constant multi-tasking of this mama!).

kids shaving

Our epic water emergency of last week seems, for just a moment, a distant memory and life is calm and peaceful and instead of make another list for something, I sit and watch.  There are way too many weeds in the driveway.  I ought to pull grass from the base of the fledgling raspberries so they can grow.  The seed potatoes are still sitting in the garage.  Pretty sure they aren’t going to grow me new potatoes in there.    But there are peonies to watch.  The splendor of those blooms of theirs is unparalleled.  They have to be one of most glorious flowers in the Pacific Northwest.  Staring at the peonies wins over the other tasks that practically call my name as I sit in the grass.


I should be calling the flooring people for the repairs that will need to be made inside where the water flowed down the hallway.  But all I can think about is the irony of the fact that though we were without water for a spell (which felt no small thing whilst 6 kids were throwing up), we had the luxury of a friend with a truck and a big heart, who toted 5 gallon buckets of crystal clear spring water from the artisan well that flows 24/7 down the hill from us.  I have no idea how it works or who put the spout there.  But the water is amazing and free for the taking.  In spring time it sometimes pours out over the road, it is such a plentiful source of abundance.  The reality that the bulk of the world has no access to water like that and drinks daily from filthy rivers or mud-puddles seems so gravely wrong to me.  I told Audrey last week, the most common cause for death for children five and under around the world stems from drinking dirty water.  She said, “Wow, I’m glad I just turned six!”.  But it is a painful reality.  One that I can’t ever get far from my mind, especially when I drive past that water.

What are we supposed to do, us born into a life that compared to most of the world, is chock full of abundance?  Take constant inventory I guess, and find ways to give more, love more, bless more.  Hold loosely to things, not in a disrespectful way but it a way that reflects the truth that says people matter more than the stuff.  While its tempting to bemoan the mess that waits inside for me, I’d do best to count myself incredibly blessed to have books that line shelves and boxes full of hand-me-down shoes for my kids and coats in every size (despite the fact that said items are piled in disarray at the moment).  Clothing and a safe home and water and food enough to share, the things that I easily forget to be thankful for.  But take one away for a day or two and I’m quickly reminded how the basics are really all we need. The continual tension is good I suppose, it is right and when it leaves, that’s when I should worry.

For now, I’ll just soak in a few more minutes of enjoying my view from the grass.