Thursday, April 30, 2015

Advanced Mixed Media

I have been working at Queens University of Charlotte. I was given the chance to spend the semester assisting my beloved drawing professor while I participated in her studio classes. I have been assisting in three studio classes. The one that I felt was most challenging has been Advance Mixed Media. This class consists of all third and forth year students who have been studying art since they set foot on campus. I was more than a little intimidated when I jumped right in with them like I had been practicing all along (which I hadn't). 

In my first day of Mixed Media, I realized something very important- I have no idea how to make a collage. I thought I did. I thought I had been working with collage for years but apparently, that was not so. Collage is a difficult art form because you can easily go so overboard and loose a sense of composition. What I had actually been doing all these years was montage. That being said, I thought I should give it a try. It didn't come easily but just like a runners high, after enough attempts something suddenly clicks. 

This is an example from a Book of Hours prayer book

I decided I wanted to work with the idea of family and place. This evolved into an exploration of my family's roles according to what I understood from our family narrative. I was inspired by pages from medieval Book of Hours prayer books and astrological signs/constellations. I made copies of some pages from our family history books and copies of family photos, then set to work creating my own version of the Book of Hours. 

Here is what came of this three month endeavor:

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pickin' up Chicks

We did it! We have two chicks! Joel and I have been dreaming about raising chickens for eggs for years and we are finally making it happen. Thanks to Joel's folks being forced to buy a minimum of 6 chicks at a time, we were able to take two off their hands and begin our own journey in hen keeping. 

When you raise chicks there is always a small chance you could have chosen a rooster. According to my in-law's supplier there is a 5% chance that our girls are not girls. If one of them turns out to be a rooster we will have to find a new home for it since we live within the city limits and roosters are not well known for being good neighbors. 

Chicks need to stay warm so it is vital that they stay in a insulated box that remains about 80 degrees for the first few weeks of their lives. We are using a 100 watt bulb to keep them toasty in their box. When they are huddling under the light, they are trying to keep warm. When they are away from it, we know that means they are plenty cozy. Every week, as they grow, we can remove the towels, insulation, the lights, etc to let them cool down and slowly prepare to move outdoors.

It is important that chicks have paper or paper towels as a carpet for their time in the box because if they are left on the slippery plastic they will injure their legs and they could become deformed. 

We also have to provide our chicks water and chick starter (feed). We have chosen not to give our chicks medicated feed because we don't want antibiotics going into our potential egg layers for no reason. You have to ask for non-medicated food at Tractor Supply. 

I am having a hard time keeping my hands off these little fluffs of yellow. Unfortunately, so is our kitty. Booger is so interested in what is cheeping inside this box. He is finding that we are not being very open to his normal slipping into the house to steal a nap on the furniture. 

More chick updates to come! We are celebrating step 1 in hen raising!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Quail Update

A few days after getting our quail, we had a cold spell set in and our biddies stopped laying. It would be another three weeks before we would get any eggs from our girls. As the weather started to warm up and has slowly shown more signs of consistent temperatures, we have started getting some eggs again, but that hasn't been without some effort on our part. We wanted to improve what we could control for our quail, even if the weather was all over the place.

We have since learned that female quail will always lay better when there is one male around (which we do have). There is a delicate male to female ratio that must be met with quail if you want to maximize your daily egg laying. Too many males will stress out the females and none of them will lay.

We have also learned that quail lay better when they have clean water. We had to get them a smaller waterer just to be sure that it would stay clean. If you have a large lip for your waterer like we had, they will manage to poop in it and kick their sand bath in it as often as possible. With a smaller lip it is harder to soil the water and with cleaner water you get more eggs.

While wild quail like to be on the ground, our cage born biddies were not used to such a thing. I believe that innately they enjoyed being on the earth, but when it came to the practicality of laying and cleaning themselves daily, this was a much harder job to do. Joel raised their coop off the ground and we have seen what seems to be an improved attitude from all of them.

Our quail also seem to like a variety of nesting boxes. We have one covered box like the one pictured above that is situated below their roosting area (they do not roost). We also have two paint trays full of straw (one in the roosting box and one below). There is one quail that seems to prefer to lay in the sand box too. Variety is the spice of life even if you are a quail!

Most humans don’t feel so good or productive when they are dirty, I think quail share in this sentiment. Our quail are much happier and seem to oblige us with eggs when we are consistent with their sand bath. There is nothing cuter than watching the flock of them dive into the sand and throw it all over themselves, making sure not to miss a single feather. This sand bath helps them to rub mud, poop and other debris off their bodies which keeps our birdies healthy and clean. Healthy, clean birds lay eggs.

We are really like finding a few eggs a day. It is like a little gift every afternoon and we both have been really delighted by the simple joy of it. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

How does your garden grow?

Our seedlings were squeezing themselves out of the grow box so on April 15th I decided I needed to get them in the ground. As soon as I poked them in the soil it began to rain. We had a literal week of rain and those poor babies took a beating, but I am happy to report they seem to have survived and are growing well so far. 

This year, inspired by Mother Earth News, I decided to give "companion planting" a try. This is something that Native American's practiced in the Northern States for years, but for some reason we have gotten away from it as we look for more efficient ways to harvest crops in bulk. Since that is not my aim, companion planting seemed like a great option for our raised beds. The idea is that there are some plants that grow well together and are mutually beneficial to one another as they share close space. The classic example is creating a bed that has pole beans growing up the stalks of corn while squash and zucchini grow beneath them. 

In this bed, I have planted cucumber that will hopefully grow up the headboard, green peppers, eggplant (black beauty) and growing up the hammock are peas. On the edge of each raised bed, I have planted wild flowers to encourage pollinators to come and fertilize our garden. 

In this bed, I have sun-gold tomatoes, green bell peppers, purple bell peppers, and big boy tomatoes. My old bike will offer some stability as these plants grow larger, ideally. 

This bed is the home to a large variety of tomatoes: romas, speckled, cherry, etc. I used dried out okra stalks from last summer to give them support while they are young.

In this bed we have carrots, onions and cantaloupe. This is the first time I have tried carrots and onions and so far so good.

This bed still houses collards and swiss chard from the fall. They are still growing well and we are still enjoying them. I've since added kale, mustard greens, butter lettuce, arugula and beets. I have okra beginning in this bed and my hope is that these tall plants will shade my greens so that I can keep harvesting them well into the hot summer months.

Here we have squash, zucchini, corn and pinto beans. So far so good. It is important for us to remember that we are tending a garden that really isn't ours. The Source of all life and energy is the one who keeps us in veggies and for that we are grateful. For now, I am happy to keep dirt under my nails and fresh air in my lungs. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Opposite of Cynicism

A message has been bubbling up for weeks now. The way that I have come to recognize the Spirit's movements has been in... well... everything. Whatever it is starts to be repeated in conversations with my friends, in sermons I've heard, in readings I have for class and conversations with my cohort. It comes up over dinner. I'll see something on a sign that is worded exactly the way I heard it an hour before when a line in a song stood out to me that had not paid attention to until now. This layering of one message continues until I notice it and claim it. When I realize there is a theme then more information builds and builds until I have learned something new, something that changes me forever. I chose to trust this. It doesn't matter to me if it is coming from some nestled, internal desire or if it is coming from the Lord himself. The fruit has been good when I follow these leadings, so I continue and I trust them. 

This time, the message came slowly. First, it was a frustration that I could not articulate. Something missing from the pulpit, something not being mentioned by leaders who I thought should understand, something I longed for, but I had no words to articulate. I watched it start to disappear from people I love, it was missing in reports from the world, I heard it in the hesitations, cautions, and fears being voiced around me. Years have gone by...

I started to feel it creeping up in my own heart. It came in the form of doubt. Then that turned to fear. It's hard to trust God when you are nourishing fear. I have lots of people who journey with me in faith and I heard their feedback- I was becoming cynical. I gave myself permission for it. "I've been hurt and I need to heal." I get to feel this way if I need to, or rather, if I want to. It is my choice. It was always my choice to let the doubts seep into my heart or not.

In class Saturday, there was a reading about how we will be received in heaven. It left me with a message that I am not totally sure was ever actually worded in the poem itself. "There are two ways that you can enter the Kingdom of God. You can come in dancing for joy or you can arrive on a stretcher. The dancers join the feast and those on the stretchers go straight to God's ward to be healed. Which one do I want to be?"

God, I know which one I want to be. It was comforting to imagine that both receive the care and love of the Lord, but I know that I want to arrive full of gratitude and joy (no matter what I believe heaven is). To me, the point is simple, how do I want to live my life now?

I want to live in joy! I only know of one way to live in joy- you have to have hope. 

We visited a church on Sunday and the pastor said this simple phrase, "The opposite of cynicism is hope." Consider that for a minute.

This was the phrase that was being pieced together in my heart for months. There is no hope in cynicism. When I am cynical, I am too fearful of being hurt and disappointed to hope that what I am saying might not be true. This is not present living, this is not an open heart, this is not my natural state. Cynicism is me living on a stretcher; too hurt to take a leap of faith. Life is in the leaping! I want to dance! I want to be hopeful. I desire hope and hope breeds joy. In joy, I can truly love and trust in the Lord of all creation. I choose hope and with hope, I know I can live well. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Building a Chicken Coop from Trash

 During the chill of our North Carolina winter, Joel and I enjoyed what we affectionately call, "hermit time". We stayed home most nights and didn't go out with friends. Really, we didn't venture out much at all because it was just so cold. Then one Sunday afternoon the sun came out just enough to lure us outdoors. 

The house next door to us was bought by a company that flips historic homes and rents them. This group had a big dumpster placed between our homes (which did take up the entire space between our houses) and had began to demo the inside of the house. Every evening, Joel and I took to checking out the contents of the dumpster. Each day we would find a treasure. 

By that sunny Sunday we had accumulated almost everything we needed to build a chicken coop so we go to work. We had so much fun drawing designs, comparing them to coops people were showing online, measuring ours to meet our specific needs, and actually putting it all together. In the end, we only needed to buy chicken wire, some screws, zip ties, and some metal place holders. Everything else came from our garden supplies and the dumpster in the driveway. 

After thoughtful consideration, we decided to build a coop that would fit right on top of our raised beds so that at the end of each growing season we can put the coop on top of the bed and let the chickens work their magic. Chickens will strip a garden. They will eat anything left behind, roots, bugs, leaves, anything. While they are scratching and eating, they are also pooping in the soil which means- automatic fertilizer. It's a pretty good set- up and saves us a lot of work. While the beds are in use, we are going to move the chickens around the yard to clear some wilder areas of their weeds and vines. 

Our coop is light weight and we both can easily move it around the yard as needed. We built it out of 2x8's, PVC pipe, chicken wire, tarp and home cabinet parts. We actually used a kitchen cabinet as the nesting box. The entry door to the coop is a bathroom cabinet door. Joel even got creative by combining the steps up the ramp to the nesting box with roosting sticks. We still need to make our feed and water dispensers and a latch for the doors, but other than that, we are in business.

This month we will go to Renfrow's Hardware out in Matthews to pick up our little chicks. We are going to start with two since our coop is not that big and our needs are not that great. We hope to have them laying by August. 

What do you think? We are pretty proud of our homemade creation. I am just convinced, more and more, that if you look hard enough and get creative, you don't have to spend lots of money on anything. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tongue Scraping for better Health

I bet it sounds pretty gross, but try and be open just for a minute. Back in the fall, when I was fighting a cold, a sweet guy from my Spiritual Direction class passed on some advice his alternative medicine doctor gave to him. 

He told me that he hasn't been sick in two years since he started scraping his tongue. I was pretty impressed considering that he lives in community and he is in his 70's. He bought a tongue scraper and suggested I do the same. Any of varieties will do. 

Image result for tongue scraper
He suggested using it in the morning before you eat or drink anything and then again at night before you go to bed. It sounds too simple to be true, but I made it through two flu seasons at a college and still can boast good health. I've since learned that tongue scraping works because your immune system is part of your digestive tract and your tongue is the first stop on that line. If you can reduce the bacteria in your mouth then you can help to prevent your body from absorbing so much bacteria into your blood stream. In the very least, tongue scraping does a world of good in keeping your breath fresh.

 If you would like to read more about tongue scraping then check out this article on "5 reasons why everyone should own a tongue scraper"

While we are on the topic of tongues, I have read a handful of medical articles offering an explanation as to why doctors check your tongue when you are there for a visit. The reason they ask you to "say ah" is because your tongue is a good indicator of your current health. The tongue can actually tell you a lot about what is going on in your body. 

I know most people spend a decent amount of time taking care of their teeth, but I'd like to encourage folks not to forget about their tongues. We really should not ignore them. Check this out: