Lessons learned from Backyard Chickens

It’s been two years since we drove up the Mabel Lake road to a small hobby farm to pick up our two fledgling Plymouth Rocks, Keelee and Hailey. I’ve learned a lot in those two years, including some unexpected lessons in peacekeeping and community.

backyard chickens2

On a little fieldtrip while I work in the garden….

I had decided to get some backyard chickens, despite the mixed message I was getting about the legality of it all, for the wholistic benefits for our family. I wanted the girls to know where their food came from, and to build some of my own self-sustainability skills. I’d never farmed any kind of animal, and I figured two little cluckers wouldn’t be much work.

It turns out that I was right on all counts. The girls now know where eggs and meat come from, although they’ve reacted in different ways. Sugar wants to become a piscatorian when she grows up, and Spice wants to have her own farm and slaughter the animals to sell and eat. Ok, then.

backyard chickens passive solar coop

My animal husbandry skills have come a long way… I’ve built enclosures, including our passive solar chicken coop, checked the cluckers daily for eggs and kept their food and water fresh. The gooey side of chicken raising has been a bit yuck. I have my sister, the first to have chickens, on speed dial for such things.

Twice my hens have had mites, and I’ve had to dust under their wings and wipe down their blowholes. Ew. As much as I enjoy talking to them, I don’t really like handling them. They feel like a store bought chicken breast warmed up and wiggling. I’m not eating a lot of chicken these days, either, btw.

What didn’t I expect?

dogs and backyard chickens

Well, it was very hard at first to get the dogs acclimatized to the pullets. Maggie especially, our cocker spaniel, tried with all her might to lunge at the chicken tractor. We have to sit beside that enclosure with the dogs on the leash, on and off, for days. Finally, the only thing that trained Maggie to leave them alone was the citronella bark collar. We put the collar on her, and when she lunged at them (and barked) it sprayed citronella in her face. After a few times of that, she lost interest. Yeah for citronella. (PS, we sell these miracle workers at our clinic.)

backyard chickens3

This morning in the back yard….

Now, as you can see, the chicken and the dogs peacefully coexist. Our naughty cairn terrier Laughlin is a huge defender of the alley, barking and running up and down the fence when people pass by. Keelee and Hailey don’t even look in his direction, they are so used to it.

Sometimes I open the gate of their hens’ yard and let them run around our lawn and garden. The dogs pay them no mind whatsoever; however I have to say that Keelee does peck Laughlin a little if he comes in to steal her food.

There are way more people with backyard chickens than I ever imagined. Within a two minute walk of our house, there are at least three yards with chickens. And we are right down in an urban residential neighbourhood, by the way. Backyard chickens are indicators of a larger sustainability movement, and we’ve met some interesting people just by having cluckers in common. For instance, we found the best caterer when my friend with the organic grocery business offered leftovers to the caterer and myself (for our repetitive garden garburators). There is also a certain social caché to having chickens… People know that you are extremely committed to local food, even if you have to be a little subversive about it (all true.)

Hmmm… What else?

I didn’t expect them to be so loud. Dang it, I bought Plymouth Rocks because they are supposed to make eggs and live a super long time (four years) and they were supposed to be a quiet, winter tolerant backyard breed. Poppycock. I have the most obnoxiously loud chickens ever. I couldn’t keep them from the neighbours if I tried to! Fortunately, none of my neighbours give a rip. I think when I put the clothesline up seven years ago, they knew what they were in more. Every time I come out in the yard, the hens start yelling at the top of their lungs. Just for me, btw. They know who the sugar mama is.

But seriously, the neighbours don’t care. In fact, we’ve had five different neighbours look after Keelee and Hailey when we are away, even for weeks at a time. Many have thanked us for the opportunity after… Not only for the eggs, but the chance to care for animals in a way they haven’t done since their youth. (And a huge thank you back!!)

Arnica Rowan backyard chicken

Lastly, I didn’t expect to like them so much. I thought “livestock is livestock,” very different than pets. But I can say honestly that my two Plymouth Rocks have become my pets. I visit them every day out in the yard, have a chat with them, and care for them. My daily visits in the fresh air and sunshine have also been a small dose of nature therapy each morning. The days I spend a little time outside chatting with the chickens always get off to a better start.

I hope this little article encourages more of my friends and readers to consider backyard chickens. A great mentoring resource, if you don’t have a friend with cluckers on your block, is AlbertaChickensEtc, an online community with over 20,000! Members in western Canada, all who have backyard chickens.

20% off Africa Sleeps Organic Shea Lotions

Organic Shea Lotion offerb

Fall is here, and winter is on its way. Time to nourish that skin!

Africa Sleeps is our little family business, providing organic, natural hair and bodycare products for children of African heritage. Until November 22, 2014, you can use this coupon…


…to order any of our luscious organic shea butter lotions at 20% off. What a deal! the lotions are made from Canadian botanicals, and fairtrade shea butter from Ghana. I don’t know how our daughters (or their daddy, for that matter!) would get through the winter without it!

Happy shopping!

This is it: the new normal

For the last few months, our family has been running on adrenalin. Starting a new business (Pandosy Village Veterinary Hospital), constructing, hiring, and hitting the ground running… The entire process is exhausting, and precludes any other true focus in life. I’ve found myself taking a week to get back to Africa Sleeps customers’ emails (sorry!!) and barely seeing my friends (double sorry!!) Thank goodness Vulnerable Children has a team of people to keep it chugging along, because I totally neglected my charity for a couple of months.

I liken starting a family business to running with blinders on… Knowing chaos is happening around you, but still focussed on just getting across the finish line, hopefully intact. It’s been about six months of running like this, gasping for air, and knowing that the harder we work, the better off we will be in the long run.

You may be wondering where the kids have been in all this. Well, I’m actually very proud of Jason and I in the parenting department. We may have been subsisting on subpar nutrition, but our kids have not in any other way been worse for wear. (I, on the other hand, have put on fifteen pound and aged five years….) We’ve spent every minute that we aren’t working with the girls, and even homeschooled them during three months of the teachers strike. They are proud of the clinic, and love being with us there. They are good.

One other activity we’ve been thankful for in the last two months has been Jason and I’s tango lessons. For one hour a week, we don’t talk about work or the kids… In fact, we don’t talk at all. We just look into each other’s eyes, and I surrender to being led around the dance floor. It’s been key on keeping a connection during a time of great stress.

If I truly take a birds eye view, however, this actually was the sprinted end of a marathon. We hung a billboard three and a half years ago, at what was going to be our clinic location, and Jason’s veterinary contract wasn’t renewed. So he started loccuming and working far away from home. I was waiting and waiting for the clinic to open, so I could wind up my career at the college, and slow down our pace. We were in this holding pattern of working too much, bridging the time until the clinic opened, for three years. We never intended it that way! The building we were going into had stall after stall, and finally went bankrupt. So then we waited another year for our current location to be built. What was meant to be a short-term inconvenience for our family stretched to a couple of years… All towards the goal of living and working within a couple of city blocks, in our own business, run our own way.

Now, two months into opening… This is it. We are here. The building is built, the staff are great and working well, the word is getting out. I quit my professor job this spring (in a torrential way that wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t at the end of q marathon…) and am now totally self employed. The kids go to school three blocks from the house. Jason walks everywhere, including the five minutes to come home at lunch. My Africa Sleeps business is doing well, despite my shared focus, and my marketing efforts are paying off at the clinic and store.

It’s finally time to stop running.


In the world of adoption, we talk about the “new normal.” This is when, after turbulent months, the family recalibrates and becomes, well, a functioning family again.

What does this new normal look like for our family? I’m still building the family business, and the attention I give it and Africa Sleeps determine their success. But running full stream isn’t appropriate, nor sustainable any more. So how much do I work? It’s been seven days a week… So is the new normal seven with some afternoons off? Or five?

What about blogging? What about meeting up with friends? How about that garden that was planted in the spring but left unattended for the latter half of the summer? Where and when I am going to travel? What amount of time can I reasonably set aside for Vulnerable Children, the work that brings me the most gratification, but no income? Shall I bake bread, or buy it? How much time should I spend saving money by cooking etc vs making money? Should I be spending energy and focus on losing the weight I gained in the last few months, or will that fade off as the stress subsides? What should my day look like? Should it be multitasking or setting one day aside for one business/charity?

In any case, it’s a time of change. And what that new normal looks like… Well, maybe I’ll have to blog about it in a month or two.

October Family Photo Album

It’s been a whirlwind month, as October usually is… But we find ourselves having more time for family and friends. Thank goodness, because I’ve felt like a social recluse for the last few months.
Jason’s parents joined us for a week from Saskatchewan, I won tickets and took my friend M to a wine and appie tasting, Jason and I went back to my old Rotary Club to speak about natural pet health, our community welcomed home a new little boy from Ethiopia, the girls had a sleepover with their pseudo-cousin N, and Sugar and Spice and I have had many hours on the back deck reading Harry Potter as the leaves fall off the trees.














The Road Not Taken


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Natural Horsegirlship at the Dude Ranch

Every year Jason and I give our girls a choice: they can have a birthday party, or get a birthday present. This year, for the first time, they decided to forgo the party for their special present request. They wanted to spend the night at a ranch, and go riding.

Luckily, the girls and I were able to ride the tails, so to speak, of my friend P’s quarterly getaways with her daughter. P takes her daughter to this lovely dude ranch in the Thompson region, where they have riding lessons, cute small cabins, and amazing vistas.



So the girls and I spent a wonderful relaxed weekend with Pam, her daughter, and her two dogs. The girls went riding, first in the arena, and then out on a little Trailride. It was fun to see the girls practice their growing horse – girl – ship skills… The riding lessons over the years has paid off.




I couldn’t believe that Spice (shown here) and Sugar Took their horses through obstacles and up onto ramps.

Wherever we go for a few days, I encourage the girls to journal about it. Usually there are pictures, and sometimes even poetry. I thought you might enjoy their impressions of a quiet hour with a horse in the field.





When I asked them for their weekend highlights, they actually said that hiking in the hills looking for bear poo was the best part. There was fresh their plop everywhere, and the little scientists love investigating what animals have eaten. Seriously.


Happy eighth birthday girls!

A huge thanks to P for letting us share their cabin. I have to say though, that I am gunning for for the birthday party next year… I do love parties!


Sugar and Spice’s Playlist

Wonder what’s hot on my eight year old’s hitlist?

Every night after dinner, the girls have a little dance party, to burn off the surge of energy they get form eating supper. (I’m serious. I don’t think they would get to bed without it.)

Tonight they got to request their top three favourite radio hits, and here’s what they chose to dance to:

I have to say that Taylor Swift’s new song is SUPER catchy, and the video is 97% kid friendly.

OK, so there is some jiggling in this one, but the message of loving your body no matter what jiggles is a great message for my growing girls. (I ignore the bits about what boys like and emphasize the “every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top!”)

Our favourite to dance to, for sure, is this. Jason and I kill ourselves laughing as the girls attempt the Roger Rabbit we were around for the original 80s.


Wine Wednesdays: 2011 Budget Bordeaux Worth Buying

Every year in September, Jason and I pick up our copy of the Bordeaux release booklet. We tag the pages and circle ones that we are interested in… The BC liquor store system allows us to get at excess to some decent variety of some of the best wines in the world. You may have even better selections where you live!


Before I go any further, let me explain why Bordeaux is so special. Critics would say that there are a lot of mediocre winds and high prices. But what they may not tell you is that the most earth shattering, are inspiring were winds in the world come from this amazing place.

On our honeymoon, Jason and I had a chance to visit many first, second and third growth wineries. We will never be able to afford these wines… But let me tell you, there is a reason that Château d’Yquem is the top winery in the world. Many of the first growth and second growth produce winds of infinite character and incredible finish. I credit those tastings as the foundation of developing my own wine palette. I think it forever changed my perception of what truly is “great wine. “

Back to the October release. Some years, we afford ourselves a few investment bottles. Some years, we can’t afford anything. Unfortunately, last year was one of those years, and it was one of the best Bordeaux vintages on record. Domage!

This year, we are particularly not in the position to buy wine. But that doesn’t stop us coming through the release catalog and picking our favorites.

As a public service to all of those in British Columbia, let me highlight my favourite picks from your local liquor stores. Of course, you may be less price driven and want to invest in some more expensive bottles to stowaway. But I love finding value in Bordeaux.

The quotes are from the BC Liquor store website.

First is the budget version of d’Yquem. Chateau Doisy-Vedrines.

95 pts, Wine Spectator $60
Pure, with piercing persimmon, pineapple, white peach and quince flavors. Gorgeous floral notes of honeysuckle and orange blossom form the backdrop, while a heather accent caresses the finish. Overwhelmingly pure in the end, with a finish that sails on and on. Best from 2016 through 2035.

This beautiful little lot of land is one of the ones that we drove through when we were in Sauternes. There is a reason there is a bottle limit… Anyway you slice it, this is spectacular value for wine. If you don’t no when we would drink sweet dessert wine, don’t worry about the occasion. This will last forever, and you can easily have it with a piece of blue cheese, some pate, or just savoring on it’s own in an evening.

Next is Clos Floridene, from Graves.

90 pts, Wine Spectator $35
Very solid, with an energetic tarry edge around a core of steeped plum, blood orange and raspberry fruit. Bright floral and iron hints fill the finish, showing sleek acidity. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Best from 2015 through 2019.

Graves is a lesser known region of Bordeaux, but it includes some of the most value-laden budget wines from the region. Just like Sauternes, it is west of the Graonne River, and was named for the gravelly soils the vines grow in. I personally love the overgrown, medieval look of the farms and old castles in this area. Wines from this area typically are Cabernet based, and age well.

Across two rivers and north of the Dordogne River, you will find Chateau Fonteil, from Fronsac

89 pts, Wine Advocate $39
From the husband and wife oenologist team of Michel and Dany Rolland, this blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits dark black raspberry and graphite notes intermixed with hints of licorice and blueberries, medium to full-bodied flavors, excellent depth and texture, sweet tannin and adequate acidity. As always, Fontenil is one of the stars of Fronsac in 2011 with the winemaking skills of its owners well-presented. This beautifully crafted, high-class effort needs another year or so to resolve its tannins, and it can be drunk over the next 10+ years.

I haven’t been to Fronsac, because it was just emerging as a wine region ten years ago, when we were there on our honeymoon. Quite a few of the big wine houses are investing in this region, which is producing better and better wine. I love right bank wines, which are more feminine (it’s all the merlot and cab franc) and this bottle promises a lovely glass.

I hope these few suggestions temp you to check out Bordeaux, maybe for the first time!


‘Shoulders’ by Shane Koyczan and The Short Story Long

A new favourite from our amazing local slam poet, Shane Koyczan

Bantu knots and the hair bully

After a four-month teacher strike, our two girls went back to public school for the first time last week. As per our usual autumn routine, we took their hair out of extensions and styled it into some cute hairstyles.

I have been working extra hours lately, as we just opened a new business, so I opted for hairstyles that could be done in 30 to 40 minutes. One daughter got wide, flat twists, while the other looked up from her movie to see that I had done Bantu knots in her hair.

“Oh no!” my daughter with the knots all over her head exclaimed. “I can’t wear this to school! Kids will make fun of me!”

I was, of course, devastated. Not only had I put in the time to do her hair, but I wanted her to feel comfortable and confident with her hairstyle. My daughters are lovely little girls, and have always felt good about the way they look. Hearing her nervous about her hairstyle made me nervous. Would kids truly make fun of her? And who were these kids anyway? Some kind of hair bullies?

I sent her to bed with a towel rolled under her neck and some melatonin to sleep through that first uncomfortable night of Bantu knots. I promised that we would take it out in the morning if she still felt uncomfortable.

In the morning, she told us at the breakfast table that she was scared about the neighborhood boys giving her a hard time about her hair.

My husband’s advice? To quip back “Well, I can change my hair, but you can’t change your face. “

I thought this was a ridiculous thing to say.

I gave her a pep talk about feeling confident and proud of her hair, culture, etc. I also reminded her that her friends love her hair, and more people would like it that would not like it.

So I walked my daughter to school, Bantu knots and all.

After the day was done, I asked her about how it went.

She looked at me and smiled.

“I got lots of compliments on my hair.” She said. “One of the boys did make fun of my hair, though, until the teacher told him to leave me alone.

Then at lunchtime, he came to bug me about my hair on the playground.

I told him that I can change my hair, but he can’t change his face. He didn’t know what to say!”

I sighed.

“Daddy had a good idea!” She grinned ear to ear. “The boy just didn’t know what to say.”

Well it wasn’t my parenting method, but the result was my intention. For the last week, she’s worn her hair to school and not had anything but compliments. The annoying boy was apparently put into his place with her witty retort.

And most importantly, my daughter is wearing, with pride, an extremely avant-garde cultural hairdo that keeps her hair free from tangles and shows off the gorgeous shape of her head.

Take that, hair bully.

No Teen Adoption – HUGE Disapointment

Late last week, we found out that we definitively couldn’t adopt the teens that we were hoping would join our family.

I was pretty devastated… I spent a couple of days crying. And then I didn’t talk to anyone about it, which is uncharacteristic of me. I just didn’t think most people would understand why I was so upset.

Partly, I was grieving the idea I had, and the plans I wanted to make with those kids. I wanted to take the girl to Paris one day, and set the boy loose in the woods with my dad to go live-trap wolves. I had plans for bedrooms and the next few years. I could see it.

But mostly, I was just so insanely disappointed and sad for the kids. The chances of them getting adopted by someone else, statistically, are miniscule. And although we were very interested and invested, we couldn’t get one BC agency to revise our homestudy to adopt the kids.

At the outset – let me be clear. I’m not mad at any of the agencies – I know they are all non-profits and trying to avoid risk, so they can continue to do the work that they do. They want kids adopted and they want the family placements to work.

It’s just such a dang shame that not one of them could step up to the plate.

One agency said they wouldn’t support adopting kids over 6 years old. The second had no problem with older children adoptions, but they wouldn’t consider an adoption out of birth order. The third and fourth didn’t have the capacity. One explained that they had a huge contract from the local ministry, and were busy with that, and the other had gone through a lot of staffing changes lately. The last agency commented that if it was 6 months from now, they might consider it, but at this time, no.

No blame – I’m certainly no upset with any of these caring individuals who make adoption their life’s work. Just so so so disappointing.

It stinks that it didn’t work for any of them. So these kids that have a place in my heart will never be able to be adopted by us.

I hope with all my heart that someone else might be able to add them to their family, and they will have the love and support that they deserve.

And as for us, well, after licking my wounds, I will get back to scrolling waiting children lists. For kids 6 and under…

Adoption update

So far, there isn’t much to report on the adoption front. We have four homestudy agencies in our province, and so far, three out of four of them have said no to updating our homestudy. I’m working on the third (again) and the fourth.

It’s proving extremely difficult to adopt any child over 7 years old. One agency has a “no kids over 6″ policy. Another is fine with older child adoption, but has a “no out of birth order” policy. (The third says they don’t have the capacity.)

As someone that runs a nonprofit, I understand risk management. I get that if you’ve been burned a few times, you put a policy in place to avoid the risk. I don’t blame the agencies at all. They are all great agencies…

BUT it seems a crying shame that no one wants to look at our particular case, or the particular kids we are interested in… We’ve been caught between policies, and two kids may or may not get adopted because of it.

Is it truly impossible to adopt a child over 6 years of age, out of birth order, into BC right now?

Guess well wait and see what agency #4 says….

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