I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blog it out, Bebe

I know the blog has been neglected for almost a month now. It is not that I do not have things to write about, although there is a definite slowing of the homestead activity level during the winter months, it is more like I have this nagging sense of writer’s block mixed with a hopeless wheel-spinning sensation that bogs me down in a blogging quagmire. I go about my normal routines and think of interesting (at least to me) blog topics throughout the day but when I sit down at the computer to write them out I find one-hundred-and-one other more interesting things to do (like update my facebook status with banal quips every five minutes). This entry is not focused on one specific thing, instead it is more my attempt to break through the wall of apathy the shorter days and colder temperatures always bring with them into my life.

Last year, about this same time, I was debating the merits of a new artificial Christmas tree. The one we have from before Fred and I got married has seen better days and is definitely starting to show its age. It is pre-lit but it is also pre-realistic-looking-needles. It more resembles a shredded, green colored, trash bag attached to metal pipe cleaners than it does an actual evergreen. It is also beginning to rust and loose some of those plastic needles. I find myself loading it down with more and more decorations every year to camouflage its burgeoning baldness. I am sorry to say last year the prohibitive factor in not purchasing a new tree was cost and not our care for the environment. This year we probably could have afforded a new tree (Kmart marked them down more than half off before thanksgiving) but our push towards a green lifestyle left my conscience in a dilemma.

In theory we would love to have a real tree, the fresh smell of pine, the family memories of traipsing into the woods to pick just the right tree, chopping it down with our own ax and dragging it home to decorate and love, making a festive day of the whole event with spiced cider and homemade cookies. Taking it to a tree recycling center after the holidays, leaving with the warm glow of knowing it would find its way to the bottom of a local lake to become a habitat for wildlife. Sounds great! The reality in our house would find Sarah with her eyes swollen shut and the cats using it as a brand new liter box. Not exactly the Norman Rockwell Christmas scene I envision.

So that leaves us with a problem: when this tree is finally kaput, do we go treeless, do we make everyone ill or do we buy another big fake tree that will eventually find its way into a landfill? We actually have three fake trees. We have our big tree that is approaching a decade in age and we have two smaller trees that have been given to us by different people. Now while I know that in reality all of these trees are artificial and will eventually find their way to the dump I do not feel entirely bad seeing as how two of them would already be at the landfill if they were not here in our house. (So yes, save your snide comments, I rescue cats, dogs, chickens and artificial trees.)

It would be nice if there were a “green” artificial tree alternative. Like one made from recycled tires or cardboard, or tofu, or something. I feel bad buying one more thing that I know will get thrown away and that serves no practical purpose. Maybe someone could make a tree out of those plastic grocery bags? I figure I can get a least a few more years out of our artificial tree as is but I know it is not going to “live” forever and I am looking ahead to replacement possibilities. It is hard to walk through Kmart or Lowes and look at the shiny, new, realistic-looking trees with their shapely needles and perfect colors. I feel like the kids in the Charlie Brown Christmas show gazing longingly at the aluminum trees.


On a homestead note: We have chicken issues. Do not be alarmed everyone is healthy but we have two big issues right now one being how to heat the coop and the other issue is how to keep them supplied with fresh water.

When we built the coop Fred left the top open and closed in with chicken wire to keep it cool in the summer and allow the air to circulate to keep the conditions sanitary and the smell to a minimum. He rigged a system to allow for removable insulation to be slid in the top of the coop when the temperature dropped to prevent a draft and to conserve heat. We put a thick layer of shavings and straw on the floor of the coop and in the nest boxes. I think this does a pretty decent job of insulating the girls but they will no longer roost on the perches at night.

Although installing the insulation did lower the roof of the coop they still have plenty of head room and should be able to roost as normal. However, every night when we go out to check on them we find them bedded down in a cluster on the straw. I do not know if they perceive the ceiling to be lower than what it is or if they are doing this to stay warm. Even with all the added bedding and the insulation in the roof the walls are still very thin and un-insulated. Most everything I have read assures me that chickens can survive frigid temperatures without a heat source but I feel mean and they look cold.

Last night, with the temperatures dipping into the teens and the wind chill lowering it further, we ran an extension cord and an incandescent light bulb out to the coop. We had a twelve dollar heat lamp bulb but it was broken sometime during the summer. I figured a regular bulb would at least take the chill out of their coop although I worry that too much light might interrupt their sleep pattern. When I went out this morning to tend them the bulb was burnt out, I assume the cold temperatures were too much for it. So we are back to the original coop warming predicament. I will gladly take any suggestions. So feel free to comment. If we put the heat lamp bulb out there and it breaks we certainly cannot afford to replace it every night.

The issue with keeping them supplied with water is a whole different problem. As it is I am going out several times a day to supply them with warm tap water. All of their normal waterers are completely frozen and the temperatures are not getting up high enough, or sustaining enough warmth, to thaw them out. I have seen waterers at the feed store for horses that have a heating element and will keep the water thawed and drinkable. My big issues with those are they are large (for horse), expensive, and I do not want to go out and find one of my girls electrocuted because she decided to take a warm bath instead of drink it.


So there is a little update on some of the things going on here. Mostly I am bogged down trying to get Christmas presents finished and decorations up before I wake up and realize it is January.

Much love,
Thank you for reading,



  1. I know how you feel. I'm always trying to untwist myself out of whatever writing knot I've put myself in. The upside is sometimes the better stuff comes from trying to untie the knot.

  2. This is Amy Stricker - I always have to do Anonymous though for some reason. Here are my thoughts:
    For the artificial tree, you could always post it on craigslist and make it really cheap - like $5 or $10. That way you make a litte money off of it, while at the same time, giving someone who doesn't have the money to go buy a new one, the chance to have a tree. Plus, they will keep it a little longer, saving it from the landfill. Or, you could always donate it to Mountain Mission or some other charity. Sometimes, teachers like them for their classrooms, or you could ask retirement communities if any of their residents could use a tree. Just somethings to think about.
    For the chickens, I would talk to some of the old timers and see what they did for their chicks in the winter. It was pretty common for people to have them back in the day. I know my Grammy did. I will try to remember to ask her next time we talk. Take care!


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