Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Guacamole. The Caterpillar Himself.

"Guacamole" joined us this past weekend (in the middle of the hubbub of all the hatching) when Eric found him munching on our carrot greens in the garden. I think Lexi must always have food on her mind when naming animals. Anyway, I offered to feed the caterpillar to the chickens, but ever on the search for an educational moment, Eric said we would be making a habitat for it inside. Once I realized it was a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar, I willingly obliged. 
During the span of three days, guacamole ate and ate and ate. And just like Eric Carl's Very Hungry Caterpillar, this guy was FAT.

Last night, I noticed he had assumed an interesting position (pre-pupa stage) on one of the plant stalks, with one tiny silk thread attaching his heavy body to the stalk on either side. Still convinced he was going to literally spin his own cocoon, I figured we had plenty of time to document it later. 
WRONG. Shows you how much I know about the life cycles of butterflies.
This morning, we found this. Guacamole, over night, had entered into early pupa stage. He must have preferred his privacy.

Once he reaches late pupa stage, what you see now will look entirely different. And then in two-ish weeks, we should be witnessing yet another miracle.

I have had several people ask me if Lexi is simply enthralled with all of this - the chickens, ducklings, caterpillar, etc. To be quite honest, she definitely enjoys all of it, but it's not really a novelty for her like it is for me. To her, this is normal. It's just how life goes around here. I really love that her normal is so different from the normal of many kids living in the city, including the normal of my own childhood. My hope is that she would never take the natural world for granted, always taking the time to care about and revel in the small miracles that happen every day, all around us.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Make Way for Ducklings!

The ducklings have arrived!
All day long on Saturday, the ducklings hatched. One by one, deliberately. Cookies&Cream is an excellent mother, and only let us sneak glimpses of the babies every once in a while.

 Fresh, and still wet from their eggs, they snuggle in to stay warm.

By the end of the day, all the eggs had hatched. Thirteen beautiful ducklings. Every egg hatched.

Today, Sunday, she has been out with her babies all afternoon. Here they are on their second day of life.

 While I was in the coop taking pictures, all the ducklings started hopping into Oreo's nest box. Oreo, annoyed at all the ducklings climbing all over her, lifted up her wings and tried to shoo them away. Lo and behold, tiny fuzzy heads popped up like popcorn from underneath her to see what all the commotion was about. Oreo's clutch has hatched! Still have no idea how many she has, but if all hatched, 27 would be our grand total. That's a whole lotta ducklings...!
 This is when Cookies&Cream's babies decided that maybe this nest was best. They began nestling under Oreo's wings and didn't leave her side when there own mother headed home. Hopefully they will all sort it out eventually. In the meantime, I can hardly stand the cuteness!

Friday, July 26, 2013

It's Almost Time

I open my eyes to a grey ominous sky lurking just past my bedroom curtains. A chilly breeze blows in the window and I shrink underneath the blankets so only my nose is showing. There goes the beach plans for the day. Isn't it supposed to be the hottest part of summer right now? Maybe I should start reading the weekly forecast.

I slide out of bed and walk out into the living room. Eric and Lexi are already up. Lexi munching on crackers and sitting in front of the old stereo, listening to her Jungle Jam stories with the volume turned low. Eric sits beside her on the couch, working on his laptop. I decide to take a shower quick before the baby wakes up and I lose my chance.

The water is warm and I am lost in my thoughts. The citrusy smell of my shampoo seems to have that effect. I'm in the middle of shaving one leg when Eric bursts through the bathroom door. "BETH, I HAVE AN EGG!!"
I stop shaving. "A chicken egg?" genuinely curious.
"NO! A duck egg!"
"Wait...to eat? Did yogurt finally lay an egg?" Clearly I am confused.
"NO! One of the duck eggs THAT'S ABOUT TO HATCH!!! Better hurry it up if you want to see it while I have it out!"
"Okay, okay! Wait, I'm coming!"

We have been waiting for this day for what seems like forever! The date circled on the calendar is still a few days away, but we are still within the 32-37 day range. It could be any day now.

I jump out of the shower, one leg shaved, the other one neglected, and with water dripping everywhere I hastily grab the nearest thing to a towel I can find. A bathrobe in a size 12 months. Awesome. I dry the best I can, streak to the bedroom, throw on some clothes and then slip and slide back down the hall and into Lexi's bedroom where the two of them wait breathless.

I look at Lexi. Her mouth is stuffed and overflowing with crackers. Really? Maybe I was mistaken on the breathless part.
I look at Eric. His eyes are glowing with excitement. He holds a smooth, glossy duck egg cradled in his hand. It is the color of cream and warm, oh so warm to the touch. The room is dark, except for the one small light that we cover with a piece of PVC pipe to candle the egg. We have been candling eggs since the beginning. About once or twice every week, we wait until one of the moms gets off the nest for food, and then sneak an egg out of the nest box. Then the three of us (and sometimes Lyla, but she probably just thinks we're weird) crowd into the darkest room of the house, which happens to be Lexi's bedroom, turn on the small light, hold the egg against the pipe and assess the egg's development.

But today is different. Today is the day we have been waiting for for weeks now.
"Look," he breathes.
I look.
There inside the egg, all illuminated with light, I can see a rough shape and thump of a tiny heart beating.
And there, there in the space of the egg that is filled with light and oxygen, is a tiny beak. It has broken out of its sack and is breathing air, today for the very first time.
Tap Tap Tap Tap
I hold my breath.
Tap Tap Tap Tap
I gently take the egg, cradling it my hands.
Tap Tap Tap Tap
In my hands, I feel it moving. There inside it's creamy white shell, I see the beak tapping at the walls of its confines. I feel it hitting the shell over and over in a steady rhythmic fashion.
I hold it to my ear.
Tap Tap Tap Tap
"It wants to come out!" I squeal like a toddler, overwhelmed with excited. "It wants to come out! It's going to hatch!!!"
Lexi finally swallows her crackers. "I'M SO ECITED!!!" She yells, missing the X and not caring. "THE BABY DUCKWINGS ARE GOING TO HATCH!!! THEY'RE GOING TO HATCH!!!" She dances around the dark room.
"It could still take a few days," Eric warns, "but I would bet this one will be out in around 24 hours. I need to go put it back in the nest."
"I love it so much," I croon, still holding the egg to my ear, feeling like a proud mama. But I'm not the mama this time. Oreo and Cookies & Cream have made that much clear, and I'm find with that, trust me. The last thing I need is 27 ducklings following me around peeping like crazy. But all the same, my heart swells. It might burst.

Beauty today, love today, and joy today is holding an egg in my hands. An egg filled with the movements and the promise of a brand new life within. Miracle.
More to come as the ducklings begin to arrive!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Farewell, Mr. Doodle

Meet Mr. Doodle, Crower extraordinaire. 

Last evening, when Eric got home from work, he went over to our neighbor's house - the one with the rooster. The rooster was tethered to the old swing set in the yard. He was super friendly, much easier to handle then one of our young hens (who put up quite a fuss when we attempt to catch them) and turned out to have several years under his belt...err...feathers (you can tell their age by their spurs). Apparently the guy who brought him home found him wandering around....somewhere...(we still aren't clear on this part of the story - perhaps lost in translation?) and hasn't had any real food for him this whole time (he probably wasn't starving with the grass, but was most likely used to a heavier grain based diet).

Eric talked with them for a while, offered to help find a new owner out in the country, and then brought them over to check out our birds and give them some food for their poor lost country soul of a rooster.

Today, Javier (the same boy who came over yesterday) returned with the food, saying that his dad had already found a home for Mr. Doodle somewhere out in Indiana. I asked if Mr. Doodle had already left, to which he replied yes.

[insert sigh of relief here]

Peace reigned. 
The birds chirp, the cicadas hum, planes soar overhead, flies buzz, cars drive by, the ducks peep (yes, they peep), chickens cluck and chirrup, and in the distance a rooster crows. 


...and again. 

Maybe the hunt isn't quite over yet...

Also, in case you're wondering, Chicago folks are ga-ga about backyard chickens. They have all these special online forums for city chicken raisers and there is even a special once a year Windy City Coop Tour every September! Watch out - our coop just might be on the list this fall. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Case of the Crowing Rooster

Our chicks back in April, just a few days old on Easter Sunday
Backyard city chickens are fun. Free lawn fertilizer, speedy hands-off compost production, and endless entertainment. Quiet, goofy, and worth their weight in eggs (we hope).
 City roosters, on the other hand....not so much.

A few days ago, I was out in the yard with my girls taking care of the chickens and tending the garden. Lexi and Lyla were playing with the hose and giggling in the cool spray. That's when I heard it. The unmistakable crow of a young rooster.
Lexi heard it too.
"MOM!" she shouted. "Did you hear that? I think it was a ROOSTER!!!" (This girl does know her animal calls, city born and raised as she is).

The next day, we kept hearing it again. And again. And again.
This rooster went from crowing a few times a day to rapidly gaining in confidence and blasting us with a doodle-doo EVERY FIVE MINUTES.

I told Eric that night and we resolved to find it. Not that I mind the crowing so much (I mean, I did live in Mexico city for a few years and woke up every day at sunrise to our neighborhood macho rooster), but roosters in the city give backyard chickens a really bad rap. It's people who have roosters in the city who end up getting chickens banned, due to the noise and irresponsibility. You simply CAN'T raise roosters in the city. Period. Neighbors will complain and the whole thing will get shut down.

I've been on rooster hunt since the first crow. And today, the dude really is ruffling my feathers (forget about his). He broke the five minute interval rule and is now crowing as frequently as he can grab breath! AGH!

I'm laying down in my room trying to rest between his obnoxious belting (at my house, we ALL take naps at naptime - no exceptions), when the doorbell rings. This sets the dog barking, the rooster still crowing, and me- yelling at the dog to "BE QUIET!!! IF YOU WAKE UP THE KIDS I WILL.....!!!" -stumbling to the front door half asleep.

There is a young Latino boy standing there, probably eleven or twelve years old.
"Hi Ma'am, I was wondering, do you want to buy our rooster?"

I laugh aloud. "It's YOUR rooster that I keep hearing?"

"I think so, yeah." He looks sheepish, possibly embarrassed by his pet's countrified behavior.

"He just started crowing the other day, didn't he?"

"Yeeeaah." He sighs. "You name the price and he's yours."

I give the boy credit. He came to my door on his father's request (most likely as the English speaking spokesperson of the family), in an attempt to find a solution to get rid of the crowing bird, and further proving our suspicion that everyone in the neighborhood knows us as being the "Chicken House." I love it. Any time anyone walks by our house, they stop and gawk at the chickens, who have taken to hanging out all day under the hedge that lines the chain link fence in the front of the yard. Kids especially love to stop and get really close to the fence to have a chat with the feathered ladies, and if Eric is outside, he will almost always catch one and bring it out front for the kids to pet and see up close. If you are ever looking for creative ways to get to know the neighbors, get ten chickens and make them visible to the public eye. Being introverts, Eric and I are ever looking for someone else to make the first contact anyway. ;-)
Late May, and we have an almost hen
Back to Mr. Doodle.

I got the dad's cell phone number and address (turns out they live right across from the alley from us just two doors down) and promised to call after my husband and I talked about it. The boy emphasized again that all we had to do was name the price. These guys are desperate. I then promptly called Eric and told him the whole story. Case closed. Mystery rooster found. We were so adamant about finding that rooster (we were going to go hunting for him tonight), and in the end, the owners (no doubt annoyed and exasperated with all the vocal flaunting) ended up coming to us at the chicken house. Because surely WE would know what to do with him!

No, we will NOT be introducing the Mister to our lovely flock of ladies. The LAST thing we need around here is a boisterous flamboyant male messin' with the ten women and makin' chickies. We are already in over our heads with an addition of four Muscovy ducks and approximately TWENTY-SEVEN ducklings due to hatch in the next few days!

If we do buy him, we will do one of three things: 1) Eat very well this week, 2) Relocate him to a farm that is a little more welcoming of the vocal type - in other words, get this country boy out of the city, or 3) Come up with some other creative solution. It remains to be seen what his fate will be...

If you lived in the city and were offered a rooster, what would YOU do? 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Planning ahead

 We recently put in five new boxed beds in our garden area. The four tons of dirt we ordered was once again delivered and dumped into an enormous pile in the alley. We spent about an hour last Saturday morning working to haul it into the newly built beds.
 These are the three big beds, the same size as the original three behind them. Eric built two more beds back against the fence, on both sides of that roofed structure, what Eric calls the quail hutch (no quail yet though!). Our compost pile sits beneath it. The new back beds will grow more of our climbing plants, with the fence as perfect backing for trellis.
 One of our beautiful Buff orpingtons. Apparently there were some bugs the chickens were after in the new dirt. Our neighbors even came out to take pictures of them, saying, "It's not every day you see a sight like THIS in Chicago!" To which Eric dryly replied, "Well it is for you!" hahaha (Our neighbors do love us...promise. ;-)
 Faithful dog, Sambi Bambi, as Lexi is now calling her. She is usually great with both the chickens and the ducks, although every once in a while she does try to take a bite...
 My tomato plants have gone wild back there. I am anticipating a very large crop of cherry tomatoes in the next few weeks (YUM). The front beds will be planted with some fall crops in the next week or two, and then next spring we will plant all the boxes, expanding our garden by a considerable amount.
Our favorite chicken, Little Lulu. Almost mature enough to start laying! Nest boxes are built and the wait for our morning omelets continues.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fresh garden salad

It is perfectly lovely to live smack dab in the city and still be able to go outside and pick our dinner ten minutes before we eat it. That's what I call fresh, not to mention organic as well. 

 A few of our squash were finally ready, as well as some green bush beans. I didn't plant enough beans this year to satisfy our pallets (Lexi LOVES them raw - something I didn't anticipate back in February when planning the garden), but this growing season has been a learning curve enough as it is!
 These are Thumbelina carrots. I'm sure you can guess why. They are super cute, and I ordered the seeds with Lexi's excited voice in mind ("LOOK MAMA, BABY CARROTS!!!!"). The voice IS cute, as imagined, but somehow pulling these out from the earth with their enormous leafy tops leaves you wishing for a little more bang for your buck. In other words, more carrot. On the upside, they taste delicious. All two bites of it. :-)

 We are eating everything from our garden raw right now. Eric isn't ever thrilled about cooked or steamed veg anyway, so everything gets chopped up and thrown into the dinner salad. Here we have the carrots, beans, squash, and zucchini tossed with our Bright lights Swiss chard and Red Russian kale. Sprinkle on a little balsamic vinegar mixed with honey, add a side of fresh bread smeared with goat cheese and voila! Supper. Fresh, fast, and super delish.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Summer days with Mimi

I spent a few days last week visiting my family while my Mimi was in town from Colorado. I haven't seen my Dad's mom in over three years. Distance, I have discovered, is not my best friend when it come between me and my family. And summer (another shocking discovery), is not my best friend when it comes to blogging. Here's a picture re-cap of our time together.
Mimi and Lexi in 2010, the last time we saw her. Lexi was only a few weeks old.
And now. 
Reading Lexi's favorite "Jesus book" together. Also I'm pretty sure that Lexi's hair has improved dramatically in the last three years. ;-)
Love this girl. My baby sister, giggling always.

My tutu-clad daughter remains skeptical of the sprinkler...

Lyla with her great-grandma, Mimi

This is what happens every time I tell her I'm taking her picture. 

Abby and Lyla

Glass water from the hose

Sami FINALLY gets a bath, thanks to Katie!

Adorably depressing. And I'm pretty convinced she could fly away with those ears. ;-)

Cheese ball

And resolved! Nonni saves the day!

I am so blessed to be this lovely, Godly woman's granddaughter 

And my daughter has no idea how blessed she is to have the opportunity to share life within multiple generatons

My mom, Mimi, and my kiddos. And no, I didn't cut Lyla's hair. It's just amazing like that. 

I get my short Sicilian genes from her. ;-)

Thank you, Mimi, for coming all the way to visit with us! We love you.