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The dog days of summer are here, and it’s not pretty. It’s not pretty at all. I’m persistently perspiring, and the co-pilot is about to melt. He’s really, really not happy with this current experiment I’m running: this year, despite the fact that we live in a desert area where the temperature frequently flirts with triple digits (and sometimes walks right up to them and gives them a big kiss), I decided that we’re not turning on the central air this year.

Instead, to keep the house livable in the heat, we’re relying on a window-mounted evaporative cooler that we bartered a TV and DVD player back in January. Which work great in our dry, desert climate, for about 20 hours of the day. Now, the other four hours…those are the tough ones. The ones where the livingroom temperature creeps up through the 80s, until around 7:30, when the outside temperature starts to drop, triggering a chain reaction of cooling that brings the temperature inside back down.

I can handle this. I was born in the tropics and raised in a desert that’s much hotter than this one. I’m good. The kids don’t seem to notice much one way or another, pretty much like I didn’t when I was a kid. The co-pilot, on the other hand? Well, like I said, he’s not happy. How could he be? He generally looks like he’s about to either melt or catch fire. Sometimes both, as improbable as that sounds.

And I sympathize. I really do. It’s hard enough to suffer for convictions when they’re yours. Suffering for someone else’s convictions, however, is pretty miserable. And yet he hasn’t broken. He hasn’t rebelled. He hasn’t shut the windows, and defiantly returned us to the glories of central air. He’s been a little grumpy, but he hasn’t flipped his lid, or the switch.

So here’s to you, dear co-pilot, builder of worm bins (and partial chicken coops), wrangler of chickens. Thanks for melting with me, and melting my heart.

Why does so much of my life involve wheedling?  “Please eat your dinner, girls” and “Please come out of your coop, girls” are things I say repeatedly day after day after day after day, albeit to two different groups of girls.   What’s funny is the first group, the young humans, absolutely jump at any chance to get out of their “coop” (this winter, since we actually had one, has all of us with a massive case of cabin fever) but refuse to eat.  The second group, the young hens, on the other hand, eat all before them, but won’t set a foot outside their coop.   (Except for yesterday, when one of the Golden Laced Wyandottes actually flew out the upper door of the coop and into the yard.   Good thing the husband was home to help with the capture, and the dogs were in the house.)

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could split the difference?

Since I can’t, today I tried setting a sliced apple on the trap door to the run.  The plan was that they would peck at the apple (a favorite of both groups of girls), and when it fell down, the chickens would go after them, and discover what a lovely run they had.  At first, the Newton maneuver seemed to be working.  The Delawares (the boldest of the lot) came down, and started on the apples.  After they fell, however, they simply went back up into their coop.

What’s a girl got to do to get chickens to eat some bugs?

This past fall I bought a food dehydrator.   It wasn’t the one I wanted (which was the Excalibur) but it was about a third of the price, and had the features I was looking for.  (Heats from the top down, variable temperature control.)  And when I say I bought it, I mean I bought it.  The husband was against the purchase, so it was paid for out of my earnings.

Why was the husband against it?  Because I had had a dehydrator before.  I owned it for several years and used it…maybe three times.  In my defense, the old one was the bottom of the range model, was kind of a PITA to use with all the tray rotating — due to its lousy fan and lack of temperature control.  It had been an impulse purchase at the Navy Exchange, and despite its lack of use, had been packed up and moved four times since we’d bought it wasted our money on it.  I’m not sure why I kept it so long, since I didn’t use it.  Possibly due to my “well, it’s better than nothing” mentality that sometimes makes me want to hold onto things instead of just letting go of them.  (Incidentally, we ended up giving the old, “better than nothing” dehydrator — along with a bunch of other stuff — to a woman whose house had burned to the ground, leaving her with…well, nothing.  I hope she gets better use out of it than I did.   But I digress.)

So last fall, I bought a dehydrator, inspired by a program I’d seen on food preservation.  Watching that program, I learned this amazing thing:  you can cook beans of various types (pintos for burritos, etc; red beans for red beans and rice; black eyed peas; and the like), then dehydrate them.  Stored in an air tight container, they’re shelf stable, and ready to be quickly rehydrated for an easy dinner on busy nights.  (Or nights when I just can’t be bothered to actually cook something.)  They’re also portable, and can be taken camping or hiking — if you’re into that sort of thing, that is.  Which I’m not.  Rehydrating is fast and easy, once you get through the trial and error of water to bean ratios, and find the proper cooking time (hint: pasta al dente is good.  Pinto beans al dente…not so much.)

I’ve been a fan of what’s generally called “Freezer Cooking” for years.  But lately, I’ve decided to try to move away from using the deep freeze in favor of less electricity dependent food storage.  I tried using my pressure canner to can beans, and I was pretty sure I had done it right.  When it comes to botulism, however, “pretty sure” doesn’t quite cut it.  If you wanted to compare all the different methods of preserving food to various sporting events, canning meats and veggies would be something akin to car races.  The penalty for messing up is pretty harsh… so until I get a little more confident, the dehydrator it is.

But am I really saving any energy?  The dehydrator, after all, doesn’t run on pixie dust.  It plugs in just like the freezer does.  And it runs and runs and runs (eight to ten hours, depending on the size of what’s drying), which draws power.  Here’s the thing, though.  Of all the options available (cook and freeze, cook and eat, cook and dehydrate, cook and can), I’m kind of loving dehydrating because while the basic energy use is the same, with the dehydrator, I get to direct the energy best.  So this winter, it helped heat the house (and in the case of good smelling things, made the house smell cozy and nice.  In the case of broccoli…well, that wasn’t pleasant, and I won’t be doing that again.)  and this summer, not having boiling pots on for hours will help keep the house cooler.

So for the husband who objected to the dehydrator:  pbbbt!!!

Our first foray into “livestock” was a worm bin. I do have to hand it to my husband; he’s not as interested in this whole self-sufficiency thing as I am, but he does humor me quite a bit. Seriously, how many husbands, when told by their wives that she’d like to raise earthworms, would respond by talking about seeing plastic bins on sale at Big Box Hardware and Lumber? And then going to BBH&L, buying said bins, and building the worm bin? For someone who’s just along for the ride, he (usually) is an excellent co-pilot.

So a few weeks ago, we went into the earthworm business. They get our kitchen scraps, etc, and every time the husband checked on them, he said they seemed pretty happy. (Why is the husband the worm checker? Because as embarrassing and irrational for an avid gardener to admit, earthworms…well, they kind of skeeve me out. I have managed, over the course of several years, managed to suppress the urge to scream when I see them. Intellectually, I have a great respect for the earthworm. Emotionally — well, sue me. So I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle and all that.)

But happy may be a relative term.   A few nights ago, there seemed to be a jailbreak.  How do I know this?  Well, I was up in the night several times, and had gone into the kitchen a few times.  The next morning, on my kitchen floor, there were two squished flat earthworms that I’d apparently stepped on.   I felt pretty bad for killing them, but to be honest, I felt a little worse for myself.  After all, they never saw it coming, or felt a thing.  But as for myself…well, I was barefoot.  And I just don’t think I’ll ever get rid of that “there are earthworm guts on the bottom of my feet” feeling…

Guess maybe we need a new worm bin, with smaller ventilation holes!

Except for the plan bit, that is.

My husband, God love him, is a man.   By which I mean not only will he not stop to ask for directions, he seems to believe that the mere existence of anything like directions is an insult to his manhood.  Like the time we were leaving for our third date, heading from my neighborhood (which was not his neighborhood, or anywhere he’d ever spent any time) to go for coffee.  We were traveling through an area with a lot of road construction going on, and I suggested he might want to go ahead and get right to get to the appropriate freeway.   He laughed his charming, manly laugh and said something to the effect of being the rare man who will ask for directions if he needs them.  Unfortunately for him, he said this as he pulled onto the wrong freeway, going in the opposite direction of where we were heading.  Poor guy, he’s never going to live that down.

Then again, I’m the girl who knew this about him, and married him anyway.  And despite the fact that I’ve known his uber aversion to directions, plans, etc, I still somehow think that he’ll change.  With every new project, a tiny voice in my head says, “This time, things will be different.” They never are.

Two weeks ago, we bought chicks.  Six of them.  There we were, driving home from the feed and seed, kids strapped into the minivan, a chirruping box on my lap, and the husband said, “I guess now we’d better get started on that chicken coop.”  “Yes, dear,” I replied, “this week we’ll pick a plan.”

Famous last words.

Fast forward five days.  The husband is in the military, and will be leaving home for almost a month, leaving me with rapidly growing chicks, three small children, and no chicken coop.  During the past week, my various attempts at coop planning had been thwarted by, well, life in general.  So imagine my surprise when the husband says on Friday night, “The kids are asleep, so I think I’ll head on over to Big Box Hardware and Lumber* and get stuff for the coop.”  “Don’t you think you should settle on a plan, first?”  I asked.

To give him credit, he did look over various chicken coop plans.  Too bad he paid no attention to anything like say, a materials list, or anything pesky like that.  Off he went.  And the following day, construction began.  Sort of.  (If you call the husband standing on the porch staring at lumber “began”.  I do.  Life with the husband has definitely taught me to be more flexible with specific definitions of words.  But that’s another post.)

Long story short, a week ago, the husband took off for a month, leaving me with the three small children, three rpaidly growing chicks, and an incomplete chicken coop… more to come.  For some reason, the words to “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille” have been flitting through my head these past few days.

But I can’t help but wonder:  if I hadn’t used that dreadful P word before he left for BBH&L, and used some alternate word (blueprints, maybe?), would I have a chicken coop now?

*Fake name, of course.

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