Paper seemed scarcer when I was a kid; at least it was at our house. At the start of each school year, my sister and I each got one new Red Chief tablet. We were not to use a single sheet for paper dolls or other fun stuff until summer vacation.
Now, paper is everywhere – reams of copy paper in every home, books, maps, shopping guides and all manner of free notepads from advertisers. Rarely a day goes by without at least one piece of junk mail arriving here. Perhaps it’s a carryover from childhood, but it bothers me tremendously to just chuck it all in the trash.
For years, I’ve used junk mail envelopes to organize photos, sewing supplies, receipts, small nails and seeds. (See-through window envelopes are great for this.) But, there are so many other uses I have only recently discovered.
For instance, before throwing out junk mail, cut out your name and address to reuse on your own correspondence. And, if you don’t need an envelope for anything else, cut off the adhesive flap to use as a label. They’re easy to write on and stick well to many surfaces. And clip off the corners to use as page markers.
Junk mail also makes wonderful mulch around non-edible plants. Cut it to pieces, run it through a shredder, or use it whole. I don’t trust the adhesives and dyes to be free of toxins, however, so I don’t spread junk mail mulch in the vegetable garden. Plus, it looks funny. But, under the lilac bushes, now we’re talking.
When I was in fifth grade, my best friend, Marcia, showed me how to make a secret compartment in a book by cutting out the center. We thought we were so smart sneaking lemon drops into math class until Marcia accidentally bumped the book and our candy bounced all over the floor.
I’ve thought about making such a hiding spot again, but first I would need some valuables. I do have the perfect book already, though – a 1986 hardcover by Andy Rooney that’s a whopping 2 1/2” thick. I could stuff a whole bag of lemon drops in there if I wanted.
Since adulthood, I had not mustered the nerve until recently to deface a book, not even a bug-eaten, water-damaged 1971 dud. But, then I volunteered in the library sorting boxes of donations last week and realized some books just might be more beneficial in another form.
So, with a pounding heart, I got out a discarded art book that I bought for a quarter years ago. For my first project, I thought I’d try making a few pages into envelopes to go with some mismatched note cards (another thrift store bargain).
I flipped first to the paintings I didn’t like so much, and then (thump, thump) tore out a page. I paused for a moment, and when lightning bolts did not strike me down, I proceeded to cut and fold the page into a colorful envelope. That was fun, so I made another, and another. I did the same with old tourist maps for places I will never visit again. I now have a complete set of one-of-a-kind stationery. Yay.
It sounds trivial, reusing paper, but not until considering Americans receive more than 40 pounds of unsolicited paper a year per household – just in the mailbox. Think of all the other unnecessary paper we encounter, and it begins to make more sense. Never buy another envelope or note pad again.
Mother Earth News printed a thorough do-it-yourself guide some years ago for recycling junk mail into paper, which is fun for calligraphers and crafters. Here are more thrifty ideas for keeping junk mail from the landfill:
- Shred for packing materials
- Line pet cages
- Cut in strips, roll around a toothpick and make curtain beads
- Keep the whole sheets to reuse in your printer
- Staple pages blank side up for a scratch pad near the phone
- Make ornaments, gift tags, gift wrap and crafts of the shiny, colorful stuff
For more photos and ideas, see our blog.
Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid with human power, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.
Photos by Linda Holliday
I was thrilled by the turnout for our comfrey giveaway, so we're giving away another outside-the-box chicken feed on our blog this week. Click here for a chance to win 100+ peace silkworm eggs, which can turn into tasty caterpillars for your flock.
While I'm on the topic of alternative chicken feeds, I thought I'd toss out a few other ideas you may not have heard of. Chances are you've considered growing plants like corn and sunflowers for your flock, but how about ... worms? Or black soldier flies? Or Japanese beetles?
Back in the vegetable kingdom, many books sing the praises of raising duckweed for your flock, but our spoiled chickens turned up their noses (or should that be beaks?). We're in the early stages of experimenting with tree fruits, and so far persimmons and mulberries both seem to have potential in the chicken pasture.
And then there are the crazy ideas I want to research in more depth this winter. Like trapping or raising crawdads for our chickens. Or maybe growing snails, slugs, or grasshoppers. I'd be curious to hear your suggestions on the topic.
Deer Isle has gotten cold. It's not so much the temperature, but the stiff western wind blowing down the Penobscot river and right down into our clearing. We were poorly prepared, as usual when a long mild fall turns to winter overnight. The wind blew right through an open window in the attic, our vegetable storage nearly froze and the Golden Russet apple tree we were going to pick sometime soon, well, that will be for an other year. We've spent the weekend catching up and here are some of the things we do to prepare for winter.
Make sure we can stay warm. This really began last winter, when I cut the wood that will warm us now. In spring/early summer I stacked it in our woodshed and now we use it to cook and heat with, using our small Jotul cook stove. Only a few rare nights every winter do we crank up our slightly bigger heating stove. Regardless of which kind of fuel, a small space to heat is a key factor to fuel efficient warmth. Once the nights get cold enough to require a heated space to sleep in, we move a double bed into the main room of our cabin and close off the attic, the mudroom and the backroom that in the summer is our bedroom. That leaves an 12x20 ft space with the bed about 2 steps away from the stove. We cover our windows with insulating plastic and in the deepest winter, we can sit here and safely watch the draft flutter in under the glass panes.
Put the gardens to bed. We cover our entire vegetable garden with seaweed for the winter. Leaves, straw, cuttings from day lilies or irises or even leaves and stalks from the summers corn patch will work. I cut my perennial beds back once they are all bloomed by, weed them and feed the plants and shrubs with compost.
Winterize our orchard. I use hardware cloth to wrap around the bottom foot of our fruit trees, as a way to keep rodents from eating the bark under the snow. It's also good practice to clean up all dropped fruit and leaves since that provides a place for bugs to overwinter.
Winterize our farm. We put the tools away, coil up hoses and make sure we can find the snow shovel. I like to be ahead of the curve and rake up as many leaves and branches as possible now, instead of waiting until spring. We do our best to keep squirrels and mice away from the outbuildings and set traps in the root cellar. I make sure I remember to get soil and compost from the garden before it freezes and keep it in a shed for my indoor spring planting.
Cull the livestock. The chickens that are too old to be productive layers end up in the pot, to save money on feed grain and make the chicken house less crowded. It's also time to butcher our pigs – it's hard to keep them warm outdoors, we're running out of apples and acorns feed them and it's cold enough to process the meat in a safe way.
Find a hobby. On such a northern latitude as Maine, the dark evenings are almost as long as the bright days. With the dinner being wrapped up while it's still technically afternoon and even though I go to bed so early even my Mum makes fun of me, there are still many hours to fill with something. A hobby is not only a way to learn something new and keep those evening interesting, but to me it's the splurge I otherwise rarely allow myself. Like making an advent calendar, for example, or putting together a photo album or painting Christmas cards for distant relatives. It starts to sound on the weather forecasts that the winter is here to stay, now. Not only are we ready for it, it's a welcome relief after a long fall and even longer year. Next week is when we'll kill our pigs and after that, well, after that it's winter for real.
Always on the lookout for non-GMO, chemical-free products, I was excited to hear of a new natural formula unlike any other I’m aware of for cleaning teeth. Even better, it was created by a mom who hoped to help her children want to brush more.
I had just finished watching author Marjory Wildcraft’s instructional video, Alternatives to Dentists, and sent her a message to tell her how much I enjoyed learning about horsetail and prickly pear cactus for healing dental problems. Best known for her “Grow Your Own Groceries” video series, Marjory teamed up with herbalist Doug Simons to demonstrate simple, natural tooth care in this video.
Marjory got me in touch with Jessica Arman, developer of MyMagicMud, the unusual tooth powder made of charcoal and clay.
To my delight, two 90-day containers of the powder arrived in the mail as I was packing for a bus trip to visit my daughter. I tossed one container in my suitcase and away I went, hopeful that I could get some charming photos of my daughter using MyMagicMud. My task was not easy.
The first time I used MyMagicMud and studied myself in the bathroom mirror, I laughed like a hyena at my pitch black choppers. As I said, the product’s main ingredients are activated coconut shell charcoal and bentonite clay. My daughter had the same hilarious experience.
Magic Mud looks just like fine soot. As crazy as it sounds, this black powder does an incredible job of whitening teeth, even for us Earl Grey tea addicts.
Brushing with Mud
Using MyMagicMud is easy. Just dip a damp toothbrush into the powder and brush for two minutes. Keep your lips clamped around your toothbrush or you’ll be scrubbing the bathroom tile. Spit into the drain (aiming well), rinse and floss. To get the remaining tiny black specks from between your teeth, Jessica recommends following up with regular toothpaste. As I learned from Marjory’s video, use one without fluoride and glycerin.
Unlike common charcoal, activated charcoal has an abundance of tiny pores that adsorb stains, toxins and impurities from the teeth, according to the MyMagicMud website. Removing contaminants adjusts the pH balance in your mouth and effectively prevents cavities and bad breath. The accelerated adsorption process makes whitening teeth quick and painless – without chemicals.
Bentonite clay is negatively charged and acts as an extremely powerful magnet to positively-charged toxins and bacteria. Besides removing surface stains, the magnetic pull reaches below the surface for a deep cleaning of your teeth and gums. Jessica says it’s even been known to cure gum disease.
MyMagicMud is now available in mint and orange flavors, which actually have whitening and purifying qualities themselves. Mint extract has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Mint kills bacteria in the mouth, preventing tooth decay and destroying odor-producing germs, and helps to freshen breath.
Orange peel extract contains a mild compound called d-Limonene, demonstrated to remove stains from teeth. The best part is, unlike the fruit, orange peels do not contain citric acid, which can erode tooth enamel.
The Start of Mud
About a year ago, Jessica was working for a natural supplements company where she learned about the benefits of these natural supplements when she decided to try making a whitener. Her experience with nutritional supplements gave her a unique opportunity to find the best ingredients for optimum brightness and oral health.
“It was put together to help my own children with their teeth,” Jessica said of MyMagicMud. “I wanted to come up with something tasteless and fun that would help them WANT to brush their teeth.”
After making and using the mixture for about six months, Jessica shared some with family and friends. Their response was so overwhelmingly positive, Jessica started a website to help other people strengthen and whiten their teeth naturally. All of her profits benefit parentsforliberty.org.
“Everyone couldn't believe how clean their teeth were,” Jessica said. “It made a noticeable difference after the first use.”
As I packed to leave for home, my daughter made sure I left behind my jar of MyMagicMud. Well, it’s the least I could do, since she allowed me to take this delightful photo of her.
For more photos and info, see mymagicmud.com and our blog.
Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid with human power, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.
Photos by Linda Holliday
If you haven’t read Part One, please take the time to do that.
Before we take a quick survey of the most common LGD breeds here in North America, we need to remember a few very important points. First, LGD breeds were specifically developed over centuries to do this work through selective breeding for specific traits. Someone may tell you that their Lab or terrier or herding dog (or whatever) is great as a livestock guardian, but that is definitely not true for the vast majority of non-LGD dogs as many folks learn to their sorrow.
Second, most LGD breeds were landrace rather than standardized breeds. Landrace means that a dog or any livestock animal has been bred without a formal registry, although their breeders may have kept written or informal pedigrees of their animals. Landrace breeds often have a greater diversity of appearance than standardized breeds. Most LGD breeds are now making the transition from landrace to standardized breeds, as breed clubs and registries have recently come into existence in their native countries as well as in their adoptive homes in North America and elsewhere in the world. This can be a tumultuous process, both in the LGD homelands and in their new adoptive homes. Folks can become quite passionate about their breed and their beliefs. As a breed conservationist, I take the position of the FAO – a breed is whatever the people in an area regard as a breed. We have much to learn from the peoples who have worked with LGDs for centuries, as we in North America only have roughly 30 years of experience.
Third, just as there are a multiplicity of terriers and gun dog breeds, the reality is that there are many different LGD breeds. Beyond physical differences, individual breeds often became specialized for different kinds of work that required different combinations of behaviors. These physical and behavioral differences should be treasured because they increase our ability to choose the right dog for our situation. These different breeds need to be carefully conserved. Many of these breeds faced near extinction during the European conflicts of the 20th century and were only saved by dedicated admirers.
Fourth, individual differences between dogs in a breed can be significant. Please take these descriptions as generalizations. Take the time to learn more about these breeds before making your choice. Breeders and breed clubs are wonderful sources of information and mentorship.
Because these breeds were developed in a great sweep of areas from western Europe to Asia, it makes more sense to take a very brief look at the breeds geographically rather than alphabetically.
Estrela Mountain Dog (Portugal)
Estrelas are very protective of family and property. They are highly suspicious of strangers but noted for their fondness for children. They have a loud, threatening bark and are strong self-thinkers who must be socialized. Although the long-haired type is more common, short-haired dogs are also acceptable. Males range from 26-29 inches tall and 88-110 pounds, with females slightly smaller.
Spanish Mastiff (Spain)
This is the heaviest of the LGD breeds, a true giant at 28-35 inches and 185-220 pounds, with females somewhat smaller. Although the heavier type is often seen at dog shows, the lighter type makes a more agile guardian that also copes better with summer heat or high humidity. This slow-to mature breed gives the appearance of passivity in the field, but will react with ferocity if he perceives a threat. Often aloof in nature, he requires a serious, committed owner.
Pyrenean Mastiff (Spain)
The Pyrenean Mastiff is related to its neighboring breeds, the Spanish Mastiff and the Great Pyrenees, although it is also an old and traditional breed in Spain. It is a very large dog at 29-30 inches tall and 120-150 pounds. It carries a medium-long coat, which requires grooming and can be a challenge in high humidity. Although suspicious of strangers, he will accept properly introduced visitors. He is fond of children and often barks less than other LGD breeds, which has led to his popularity in family situations.
Great Pyrenees (France)
The Great Pyrenees is the most familiar LGD although most Pyrs do not work as livestock guardians in Europe or North America. The Pyr is a beautiful, bear-like dog with a heavy coat. Although it sheds dried mud, this coat requires regular grooming and can be challenging in high humidity or heat. Pyrs are noted for their nurturing behavior toward young animals or children, but they will not welcome unwanted visitors and they will bark at night while on duty. Pyrs are generally the least aggressive to humans or stock. Since so many Pyrs are raised as companion dogs, it is recommended that buyers look for breeders who specialize in working dogs or pay close attention to breeding for good guardian qualities.
Maremma Sheepdog (Italy)
Known to the ancient Romans, the Maremma remains a very successful LGD. Although slightly smaller than some other LGD breeds at 25-30 inches and 70-100 pounds, the long-coated Maremma is a highly protective dog that can provide protection against serious predator threat. Maremmas are also noted for the close bonds they form with stock. Although they are often described as aloof, they also enjoy regular interaction with their owners during the course of a workday. Maremmas are serious dogs that must be socialized and they are happiest with a job to do. In fact, the Maremma Sheepdog Club of America does not recommend keeping this breed as a pet at all.
Polish Tatra (Poland)
The Tatra is related to the neighboring Slovak Cuvac from Slovakia.Tatras are generally even-tempered and affectionate, making them more suitable on small farms that may have visitors than large range situations. Tatras are noted for their style of protection against predators. They place themselves between the flock and the threat while barking to warn the predator and alert the shepherd. They attack the predator if it moves close to the flock. Tatras stand 26-28 inches tall and weigh 80 to 130 pounds, with females slightly smaller. His heavy coat contributes to his massive appearance but adds to his grooming needs.
The Komondor is recognized for its distinctive coat – long, heavy cords and felted plates which protected him from the weather and wolves. This coat requires a great deal of work and is best suited to dry climates. Instead, many working Komondorok are clipped yearly. Slow-to-mature, Komondorok range from 25-27 inches tall and 80 to 100 pounds. They are extremely territorial and protective; therefore, they must be heavily socialized.
Despite his roots as a LGD, the lovely, medium-coated Kuvasz was often used as a family or estate dog in Hungary. Males range from 28-29 inches tall and weigh 90-110 pounds, with females slightly smaller. They are agile, fast, and active dogs that work at a distance from the flock and are quick to respond to threats. Often described as one-family dogs, they are human-oriented and therefore not particularly suited to working as a full-time LGD in a range situation. Despite their close attachment to family they are very suspicious of strangers. Kuvaszok require socialization and control.
Karakachan or Bulgarian Shepherd Dog (Bulgaria)
The Karakachan or Bulgarian Shepherd Dog is a very successful LGD in its homeland, which has the highest numbers and densities of wolves and bears in Europe. Owners in North America report that the dogs are levelheaded, steady, and affectionate to family and farm animals. Nonetheless, the breed is best used as a working dog and not a pet. The Karakachan stands 25-29 inches tall and weighs 70-110 pounds, with females slightly smaller. This smaller size is an attractive feature for some owners. Both short and longer haired types are seen, along with a wide variety in coat color.
Part Three coming up – breeds from Turkey and Asia
Photos by Great Pyrenees by Jerome Bun, Maremma by M Gerety, Young Estrela Mountain Dog by Traceywashere
Chickens rock. There’s just no getting around it: they’re great animals to have around the homestead for food, garden management, compost and entertainment. Seriously, watching Chicken TV is a great way to spend a little down time.
One way to make the chicken experience even more rewarding is to build your own coop. Creating the thing that gives your birds shelter and protection is incredibly satisfying. You can build a coop that’s superior to many pre-fab units. You can do it for cheap. And it’s easy.
Of course, you’d never know it was easy from my experience: it took me over a year to build the current coop.
The coop was started on a whim when I already had a unit in place; continued in spurts and starts; got put aside for a Winter; went through a redesign after reading more about chickens; went through another redesign after the first chickens got killed by a weasel in the old coop; was further postponed to construct temporary housing for the new chicks; went into high gear as the chicks outgrew that temporary housing; was delayed by inevitable weather events; required a mulligan on the roof; but was finally and quite anti-climatically finished this Fall.
The chickens and I are both happy to have it done. Finally.
This post is not a set of step-by-step instructions with exact measurements for how to build a coop like mine. That’s because this coop is an evolutionary convergence of ideas in the head and materials at hand. Plans and measurements were drawn out, then redrawn, and finally tweaked at the moment all the pieces were put together. Repurposed and reclaimed materials aren’t always plumb, square, straight or uniform; there was a lot of jiggering that had to happen with this coop.
Instead, this post is a description of the finished product: features built, materials used, and concepts that drove the process. It’s meant to provide equal parts education and entertainment as you work on your own coop.
My new coop is a basic shed. The design came straight from Lloyd Khan’s book, Shelter. This book is a great resource for anyone building any sort of structure. It became my go-to resource for all basic elements of the coop.
The coop has a 4 ft x 6 ft footprint. It’s framed out with 2x3s and has a 3/8 inch plywood base for the floors and roof. The front wall height is 4 ½ feet, the back wall is 3 ½ feet. Nothing fancy about the framing. The coop is oriented with the front door and majority of openings to the South; weather blows in primarily from the North and West in my area, and it will also be good to have the sun shining in during the Winter.
The coop is set on a raised foundation of three rows of cinder blocks. This required leveling and grading the spot where the coop would be situated.
I built a small wall with cinder blocks at the lower end of the area. Then I leveled the area by filling in, repositioning and grading the earth. I did this over the course of a week in which rain was predicted for several days. Earth always settles, far more than you can achieve just by tamping it down. You want to be sure the settling happens before you start building; the rain and time facilitated the settling process. I repeatedly graded the area and checked level with a 24-inch level mounted on a 4-foot 2x3 throughout the process; I checked from front-to-back, side-to-side, and diagonally across the area. When the earth was looking good, I added gravel to continue the leveling process. Then I put down the cinder blocks rows.
The exterior of the coop is clapboard siding made from old cedar planks and pallet slats. Shelter provides good basic information about putting up clapboard siding. The triangular peaks on the side walls are covered with board-and-batten siding using the same materials. There are end boards at the corners of the coop to cover the gaps made by the layered clapboards.
The front door is a bit inspired. Slapping together a door for the coop would have been easy enough. But while I was looking for simple designs, I happened to open Eric Sloane’s A Reverence for Wood. In it he talks about how during pioneer times young men thoughtfully “planned doors for the houses they would someday build… the door was considered something special”; he provided illustrations of the kind of designs that might be used. The coop door became an opportunity to experiment before starting on the doors I’m scheming to build for my own house.
The door stiles and rails are 2x3s, connected with lap joints; there’s a mid-point rail and crossbucks in the lower half of the door for structural support. The exterior of the lower half is covered with vertical lap-jointed boards. The upper half is screened in with chicken wire and has an exterior panel that can be opened and closed. The panel is made of lap-jointed boards held together by rails and crossbucks.
There’s a small ramp at the base of the coop for the chickens to get in and out. Very basic construction: lap-jointed exterior boards held together by three battens on the inside. This is also the access point for taking care of food and water.
There’s a third side door made of plywood that accordion-opens to the inside. It’s currently covered with plywood but will ultimately lead to a chicken moat around the garden area.
The doors lock closed with a strap and carabiner that goes through the strap loop.
There are two windows on the coop, one front (South) and one side (East). They’re built from 1 ½ inch pine furring strips and panes of acrylic, cut to size. The windows are constructed from lap-jointed stiles and rails. However, each piece has a groove dadoed up the middle of the interior edge so the acrylic pane can be slid into place before stiles and rails are finally connected. The front window is hinged to open; the side window slides. Both are screened.
The coop is topped with a green roof. The design came from Johan van Lengen’s The Barefoot Architect, another invaluable resource for the self-reliant builder. The roof box is framed in with old 5 ½ inch wide pine planks. A 6 mil sheet of plastic is laid down on the inside as a water barrier; the plastic wraps up and over the edge of the roof box. Chicken wire is secured over the plastic to hold the soil in place. A drainage pipe along the lower edge of the roof is made from 1 inch PVC with holes drilled at 4-inch intervals on opposite sides; the pipe is covered with gravel before adding the soil to keep it from clogging.
A word of caution about building a green roof: you absolutely must give thought to the underlying structure that supports it all. Your standard roof is meant to have water run off; a green roof is meant to hold water. One cubic foot of water weighs roughly 60 pounds. Which means - depending on the scale of your project - you're adding hundreds of extra pounds to the roof. Don't assume that a standard structural design can accommodate this weight. Figure out exactly the sort of structure you'll need to support the load your project will produce.
Inside the coop, there are a couple of roosts made from 2x3s.
There’s also a loft with a row of nesting boxes built from old 2x4s. Shelter has useful advice on how to add beams and rafters to support something like a loft.
I painted the exterior with red barn paint. Cheap, easy and will protect the wood from the weather.
And that’s it. That’s the chicken coop.
There’s no electricity or external heat in the coop. No need, not even during the cold, wet Winters in New York. As long as you keep your chickens well-fed and watered, dry and draft-free, they’ll do just fine.
Regardless of what design and materials you use for your coop, there are some universal concepts you should keep in mind.
Ventilation Year-round ventilation is critical for chicken health. This is true for both cold, snowy winters when the birds can be stuck in the coop for weeks at a time; as well as hot, humid summers when the temperatures rise and the chickens can’t take off their down coats.
My coop has the door panel and windows that can be opened. There’s also a row of soffits along the front roof line, gaps made where the rafters meet the front wall frame. They’re screened and always open; they let damp, warm air escape. Most of the ventilation on my coop is South-facing so that it can be kept open in almost all conditions. When the weather does come in from the South, the windows and door panel can be closed; the soffits are protected by the roof overhang. The East-facing window can be opened as needed to improve ventilation.
Draft-Free The flip side to all this ventilation is making sure your chickens are kept draft-free. Moisture and draft produce sick chickens through chill and frostbite. It can kill your birds. Think about providing ample ventilation without creating a cross breeze or drafts in the coop. Also, make sure you put up siding correctly so there won’t be any gaps allowing drafts.
Ease of Access Make it as easy as possible for yourself to get to all corners of the coop, especially when cleaning and gathering eggs. This is why I built a front door that is person-sized.
Predator-Secure Make it as hard as possible for predators to get in the coop. When the door is shut, those chickens should be secure and you shouldn’t need to worry about it. All of the openings on my coop are screened with either chicken wire or ¼ inch wire mesh; the bottom of the coop is covered with chicken wire to prevent predators from scratching or chewing a hole to get in. Opening the door or ramp requires opposable thumbs to unclip the carabiners; raccoons have been known to open hook-and-eye latches. Above all: make sure you close the doors and ramps at night when the chickens are in. Don’t get lazy.
Building with Wood Wood swells and shrinks in width, never noticeably in length. This is especially important to remember when putting up siding and constructing the door. Planks that originally fit together nicely side-by-side can shrink and cause gaps; this will let drafts and possibly even unwanted critters get in. Also, a door that swings open nicely when first hung can swell and rub against the frame.
Use lap joints when joining wood together. This keeps gaps from appearing between boards used for siding. When building frames, lap joints allow the wood to connect flush, making planning dimensions easier. More importantly, lap joints add way more strength than simply putting two pieces next to each other and screwing them together; wood rests on wood, bearing weight and force instead of just the screw taking the load. Obviously, cutting lap joints adds some time to the process but it’s completely worth it. You can use a router or a table saw with a dado blade. The old-fashioned way is to cut a series of kerfs and chisel out the wood. I go hybrid: table saw the kerfs and then chisel.
Use screws for everything. With the advent of the cordless drill, there’s absolutely no reason not to. Screws make it easy to take apart and reuse materials. Or to back up and fix a mistake.
If you have any questions, thoughts, or comments about building a rock-solid coop for your chickens, feel free to contact me. Always happy to talk.
After two semi comatose days unpacking, laundering, cleaning and Christmas decorating this morning I was faced with the cold slap of what my friend Claudia termed 'post India stress disorder.' While in the duck yard of all places, perhaps in this moment my overloaded senses allowed a gap for entry, I realized I don't know what to do with my India experience.
My last few nights have been a slow motion nocturnal slideshow of hallowed eyes, babies in miniature, petite mothers sculpted down to the size of middle school children and roving forgotten animals. The nightmares aren't really, as the reality is so much more foul smelling, hopeless, and injust than any manifestation of my brain.
The sweetness of home, joyous nature of children and feelings of time well spent are a tentative thread holding me above the precipice of abject pain and neglect. I am moving through my home and conversations thoroughly disbelieving of my own worthiness, yet secretly profoudly thankful. I feel as if I somehow cheated and walked away with a lotto win.
The gifts of food and personal security, self worth in the greater world, hope for my child, career and family choices, and the safety nets that have given me freedom from true fear and loss are like luxurious fat enveloping and cushioning me from reality. The seemingly random nature of the universe, never so obvious as when looking into the dull eyes of a child on the brink of death, does not make me feel lucky. Instead I am home to my loving and healthy family, on our dream homestead and left feeling that I didn't earn this, do not deserve this in the narcissistic way I had formerly thought. By accident of birth I was afforded confidence in my place and opportunity in the world. For me it was a case of get up and go fishing, where for many there is no pond in which to cast a line.
With a clarity born under an equally clear Idaho sky I realized my road had only two possible routes at this time. Like the encapsulated droplets on the backs of our ducks on this 8 degree F morning; I can protect myself. I can pull into my warm dry center, letting the sorrow and injustice roll off and take the joy and beauty with. The path that demands jumping off over the edge and committing is less clear. To drink it in, pathogens, neglect, hope and scarred beauty all becoming one with my cells invites the sadness in. But with it, a bit of the God that is in each of us.
This morning I choose to drink of life, and feel myself to my very soul become a child of this world.