Wednesday, September 21, 2011


When I became a school administrator, one of the things I couldn't get used to was the fact that no job was ever finished. As a teacher I could feel a sense of accomplishment when a set of papers was marked, or I finished teaching a class. But as an administrator I was responsible for the professional development of my teachers, and the delivery of curriculum, and the establishment of good assessment practices - and when the heck are those things ever finished?

It's a good thing I had some practice with this before we moved to Mucky Boots, because "unfinished" pretty much describes my life. In fact, Kim and I are becoming experts at not quite finishing any job we begin.

Take the workshop for example. It started like this...

...and now it looks like this...

But do you see this?

That's right: we haven't installed the two motion-sensitive light fixtures. Yet.

And then there's the master bathroom. It started like this...

...and now it looks like this...

But take a good look at that last picture. Notice the missing window trim? And missing baseboard? And maybe you spotted that the towel rails aren't hung. Yet.

The wood shed is a thing of beauty since we enclosed it...

...but there are still tools that haven't been hung.

And some of the shrubs we bought a couple of weeks ago have been planted...

...but others haven't.

The new gutters got installed, and all the high-up trim painted...

...but the lower-down trim is still the old forest green.

The fire pit got mostly weeded...

...but then my back started to hurt and the rest didn't get finished.

The living room got its coat of paint and new baseboard...

... but if you were here you could bend a little closer and see that the nail holes haven't been filled.

There are good reasons for much of this. Too much of the same kind of work makes my arthritis flare, so I have to switch to something else, and then somehow I never get back to the job I started with. Or professionals come in to do part of a job, so we drop what we're working on and never pick it up again. Or good weather hits so we move to outside jobs. Or bad weather comes so we move back to inside jobs. Or once something is functional all those finishing touches seem not quite so important.

If I was smarter and wiser I would have something philosophical to say about the zen of unfinished work. But all I can say is it feels like we're living in a big pile of loose ends.

I think it's time to start tying some up.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


One of my goals for the vegetable garden this year was to see how much protein I could grow - protein in the form of three kinds of shelling beans, and quinoa.

Here's the quinoa, hung under cover on the verandah to finish drying. It rained this weekend, and I was worried about the seed heads getting wet. So, even though the stalks and leaves were only half dry, I decided to go ahead and harvest on Friday. Now there are six big, gorgeous hanging bunches of quinoa, ranging in colour from pale yellow through dark golden to pink and red, adorning my view from the French doors out to the garden.

This was just an experiment, and all the way along 75% of my brain has been convinced it couldn't succeed. After all, quinoa is a grain native to the Andes. What business did I have trying to grow it? But germination was great and the plants stayed healthy and formed heavy, loaded seed heads. I still have to see how the whole threshing/winnowing process goes, but unless it's a disaster, I think quinoa will be a regular feature in my garden from now on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hard day, happy ending

Today we took the teenage cockerels to the slaughter house.

The big day was supposed to be next Tuesday, but the boys have becoming increasingly difficult to manage (Kim and I both sport wounds from a couple of particularly nasty young roosters) and increasingly hard on each other. That was to be expected. Dual-purpose heritage breeds take longer to put enough meat on their bones to make them good eating, but at the same time they are maturing sexually, which means more aggression. We bought ourselves extra time by giving them lots of room to range during the day, but even Kim's expert wrangling has been challenged to its limit. So yesterday, after a particularly tough battle with a particularly big and nasty cockerel, we called the slaughter house and pushed the date ahead to today. (That's him in the photo. He may be the meanest, most vicious rooster I have ever encountered, but he certainly knows how to pose for a photo.)

We started with 15 cockerels from the second batch of eggs we hatched. One was sold last week as a breeding rooster to a nearby farm. Kim needed to hang onto one Buff cockerel to replace Pee Wee, who was sold a few months ago when he started getting too aggressive with the hens. She also wanted to keep one Australorp cockerel, to expand her breeding options. That would leave us with three roosters in all, which we can easily manage given our two coops with multiple enclosures. But this all meant some tough decisions: which to keep and which to slaughter?

Kim decided to keep a big, dopey Buff cockerel - formerly named Red Left because of his ankle tag, but now christened Gump. He's huge, calm and has already been integrated into his future flock of Buff pullets - he was so picked on by the aggressive Buff cockerels that Kim pulled him out of that group a while ago.

But which Australorp should we keep? The emotional favourite was Hector Junior, but the judging at the Cowichan Exhibition underlined the fact he has a wonky tail, which rules him out as a breeding candidate. So, given it looks like there are some better candidates in the younger batch, Kim decided not to keep any of the teenage Australorps.

And so this morning we got up with the sun, loaded thirteen cockerels into crates on the truck and made our third trip to the slaughter house. It felt a lot harder than even our first trip. While I filled out tags and tried to ignore the squawking of the chickens all around me, Kim talked with the folks who gathered around our crates, drawn by the size and all-round magnificence of the birds we had brought in. (Most of the chickens there were small, dirty, bedraggled meat birds crammed into crates - so hard to look at.)

And then a miracle happened.

Hector Junior found a new home.

One of the people Kim spoke to is a young farmer from Salt Spring Island who has a small flock of Australorp hens. He was amazed by our birds' size, and asked if we would be willing to sell him one. Would we?!! He didn't care about wonky tails - he wanted big size and a good temperament, because his chickens free range and he has small children.

So at the twelfth hour Hector Junior was snatched off Death Row. Tonight he'll go to sleep in his new home, a family farm on an idyllic Gulf Island, with his own flock and a happy life ahead of him.

We cried on the way home - with joy, for Hector Junior.

Man, this part of the whole chicken business is hard. Thank goodness for one small, happy ending.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


And here is . . . drumroll . . . the verdict.

Second Prize for the bumbleberry jam!

Second Prize for the gooseberry and lavender jelly/syrup/jelly!

Third Prize for the blueberry chutney!

I am chuffed. I am proud. I am . . . a jampion!

It gets better. On the chicken front, one of the Australorp cockerels (Hector Junior Junior, so named because he is a slightly smaller version of Hector Junior) won third in his category. The two Buff cockerels placed first and second in theirs, which is a good thing because they were the only two entrants.

But Hector! Our lovely boy Hector! He won his category, which may not be surprising because he was the only Australorp rooster entered. But he also went on to win the prize for the best rooster of any of the standard breeds (in other words, not a bantam). Here he is, with his fancy blue ribbon.

Kim has been down to check on her chickens at least once or twice a day since the fair began, and she reports that Hector is the object of many admiring comments from all the people who pass by. (Most commonly heard: "He's so big!"). But Hector, being Hector, has not let this acclaim go to his head. He's still our sweet, modest, calm lovely boy.

Way to go, Hector!

Friday, September 9, 2011


This is the weekend of the Cowichan Exhibition, and all of us here at Mucky Boots are pretty darn excited. Because after being enchanted by all things local and agricultural at last year's fair, this year we decided to pull up our farmer pants and participate.

Kim entered six chickens: Hector the Magnificent, three Black Australorp cockerels including Hector Junior, and two Buff Orpington cockerels. (She decided to leave the pullets at home to save our future egg-layers from what can be a stressful experience.) Here they are, when we dropped them off on Thursday night.

And I entered four preserves: blueberry chutney, in the fruit chutney class; the infamous gooseberry and lavender jelly that turned into a syrup and then back into a jelly, in the jelly-with-pectin class; bumbleberry jam (made with blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb) in the jam-with-pectin class; and peach and cranberry jam, in the jam-without-pectin class.

You're going to have to stay tuned for the results, because the judging hasn't finished yet. But we did go down this morning to check on the chickens and have a good look around before the crowds hit tonight. And I am even more charmed this year than last.

I spent most of my time in the big hall housing the Domestic Science and Hobbies & Crafts divisions. And I became convinced of the genius of the organizers: if there are so many categories that practically anyone can find a niche to fit into, everyone will go home happy. It reminds me of the birthday party hat-decorating contests my parents would organize when I was a kid. There would be a prize for the hat with the most bows, and the most colourful hat, and the hat best exemplifying the party theme, and so on - the big idea being to send everyone home with a prize.

At the Cowichan Exhibition there are prizes for the best decorated cookies (the photo at the top), the best decorated cake (this won Second Prize and was way better than the First prize winner) . . .

. . . the best decorated cake made by a kid (that's the Kinsol Trestle, a local and recently restored historic train trestle) . . .

. . . as well as prizes for the best choux pastry, the best shortbread, the best squares made with cereal, the best cinnamon buns, the best apple pie and my favourite: the best selection of three dainties of any kind displayed on a doily. In all there are fifty-five different classes that have to do with baking. And then there's jams and jellies, and pickles, and tomato sauce, and mincemeat, and canned salmon. And that's just in the Domestic Science division.

In the Hobbies & Crafts division there are prizes for the best model made from scratch, the best model made from a kit, the best submission in the "Bathroom Boutique" category (that would be toilet roll cover, plunger disguiser, towel holder and so on), the best craft article made with a rooster theme, the best ornamental bird house, the best piece of hair jewelry, the best decorated egg, the best doorstop, the best item made with potpourri, the best decorated lampshade, the best item constructed from duct tape (this apron won Second prize) . . .

You get the idea. One hundred and four classes in all, and this division doesn't even include needlework, spinning and weaving, photography, painting, flower arranging, and wine making.

But even better still: if you find yourself with no creative talent of any kind, don't despair. You too, can join in the fun and maybe even be a winner in this class.

That's my kind of fair. But I've noticed there's one significant omission.

There's no hat-decorating.


What an adorable little garment! What a sweet little . . . apron? It looks like an apron, but it's not big enough for a human. It's more the size of a . . . chicken.

I can see this is going to take some explaining.

Meet Broken Feathers.

Broken Feathers is one of our original Buff Orpington pullets, raised from a day-old chick. From her earliest days as an egg-laying hen she has been the favourite (amorously speaking) of first Pee-Wee and then Hector. As a result, the feathers on her back have been gradually broken and worn away, so that now she is practically naked.

Naturally Kim started to worry, especially since the rooster spurs that caused the problem in the first place have started to scratch Broken Feather's bare skin. Miriam, her sewing machine, and this pattern to the rescue.

So no, it's not an apron - it's a saddle! And just in case you are tempted to put this in the same category as those ridiculous outfits people buy for their purse-sized dogs, please remember it has a purpose and a function.

I think the denim blue nicely sets off Broken Feather's pink comb and wattles, but Broken Feathers herself isn't quite sure what to make of it.

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