Hallway Book Nook Makeover


When eight people share 1,600 square feet of living space, every corner counts.  Our farmhouse is a two-story home, with a kitchen, living room, dining room, and bathroom on the main level, and 4 bedrooms on the upper level.  At the top of the stairs, separating the master bedroom from the other three bedrooms, is a hallway nook.  Wider than just a hallway, but not big enough to really do much with.  Over the past 7 months that we’ve been living here, I’ve had various ideas for how to use this nook because dead space is not an option.  The prevailing idea was to turn this hallway into a book nook.

This would serve two functions.  1) It would keep the ever-present book mess out of bedrooms and off the floor, making the bedrooms easier to tidy, less cluttered and freeing up space for other needed items.  2) It provides a secondary gathering space for the kids as well as a quiet place to read if younger siblings are napping in the bedrooms.  This way, no matter where younger siblings are in their nap and play schedules, the older kids will always have a space reserved for reading to retreat to.

My only regret with this makeover is I didn’t get a proper “before” picture.  I was sure I went around and took pictures of the entire house so I would always remember how it looked when we first moved in.  Well, I took two pictures of the stairway, and none of the hallway nook.  Apparently I thought the future stairway makeover was going to be really interesting.  The stairway picture is a terrible “before” picture of the nook, but it’s all I’ve got.  At least you can (sorta, maybe?) get an idea of where this nook is oriented and that it was just an empty, off white corner in our upstairs hallway.  The master bedroom is around the corner to the right, while the three kids’ bedrooms are to the left.  At the top of the stairs and to the right is our subject nook.WP_20160120_10_18_54_Pro

With the exception of the old, gross floor, which will soon be new carpet, and the old wood trim, which will be replaced with new white trim, here is the kids’ new book nook. WP_20160829_12_31_48_Pro

Ryan designed and constructed these rustic shelves for me.  WP_20160829_12_33_55_Pro.jpgAfter Ryan cut the wood, I sanded and stained the pieces.  These shelves were the perfect opportunity to work some walnut into this space, which we’ve selected to contrast the white trim and cabinetry we’re installing throughout the home.

I repurposed a galvanized tub for a book basket.  I stenciled “books” on it and placed it under the shelves.  This will be used for library books, keeping them separate from the books we own.WP_20160829_12_32_45_Pro.jpg

I decided to continue the soft teal, orange and earthy green colors of my kitchen throughout the shared spaces of our farmhouse.  I just love how fresh, clean and cheerful this combination feels.  I painted Frosted Jade from Behr on the walls and added in stripes on the angled ceiling.  I love stripes.  I have ways to work them in some fashion into pretty much every room of the house. 🙂 WP_20160829_12_34_32_Pro.jpg I threw a trio of bright orange bean bag chairs in the corner.  I chose Farm Fresh from Behr to paint green letters for the wall.  (OK, I may or may not have chosen that paint color based on the name alone.)  The plain green letters didn’t feel fun enough for this kids’ space, so I made a lighter tone of green by adding in some white paint, then splattered it across the letters.  I went back a second time and splattered with plain white paint.WP_20160829_12_35_55_Pro.jpg

This hallway is dependent on the bedroom windows for natural light, so when doors are shut for naptime, it can get dark.  To solve this problem, I attached tap lights with Velcro to the angled ceiling to brighten up the book nook.  These lights give off the perfect amount of light, effectively illuminating the space without having to open up the walls to run wire.WP_20160829_12_38_04_Pro.jpg

All in all, the kids are happy with their book nook.  They use it daily and have been keeping it tidy.  I’m enjoying having yet one more space in my house looking a bit more updated and inviting.  It’s like a little oasis of style, color and organization in this desert of plain, off-white, dysfunctional mess.  Each room completed gives me more hope that this house is not yet a lost cause.



Benefits of Ducks on Family Farms

I love ducks.  I feel blessed to have a duck flock and for my children to grow up around them.  WP_20160818_15_35_28_Pro.jpgIn fact, if I was forced to choose only one species of poultry for my farm (a choice I’d hate to make), I may very well choose ducks.

But, why?

  1. Ducks are adorable. WP_20160818_15_10_43_Pro.jpgThis is a fact. They are adorable as day-old ducklings, and they are one of the few creatures on this earth that retain close to that same level of “adorable-ness” even as adults. There is something about their little, beady eyes, their waddle, how they shake their little tails and their excitement over water that I think would cause even the grumpiest old hermit to crack a smile.
  2. Ducks are entertaining.  When it comes to water, ducks are fun to watch. During a rain shower, we watched our ducks stand under a drizzle of water coming off the roof. Some were succeeding in catching this water mid-air in their rapidly-striking bills while others just tipped their heads up and basked in this stream of fresh, cold water pouring on their heads and washing down their backs. They looked so relaxed and content that I’m sure it felt like the equivalent of a hot shower after a really long weekend with no running water. We actually paused our dinner to watch it.
  3. Ducks are a good choice for efficient eggs and meat.
    Eggs from our ducks. The black and gray eggs come from our Cayugas, while the Anconas and Blue Swedish lay creamy-white eggs.

    Chickens cannot match the feed-to-egg ratio that ducks possess. Ducks can survive on very little purchased feed compared to chickens, given they have access to plenty of green spaces daily. The Khaki Campbell (KC) duck can lay up to 300-340 eggs each year.

    KC duck
    Khaki Campbell duck and drake http://www.metzerfarms.com

    This matches the better-known egg-laying machine, the White Leghorn chicken, but ducks can lay years longer and on less feed.  For those interested in self-sufficient farming and homesteading, the duck would be the obvious choice for egg production.  For meat production, the Pekin breed is the fastest-growing, heaviest meat duck and Cayugas are a good heritage dual-purpose duck, providing eggs and meat, though not the best at either.

    Our calm and gentle drake, a Cayuga

    Now that we know how much we love ducks and their eggs, I’m excited to expand my flock next spring with a handful of KC ducklings.


  4. Duck eggs have benefits over chicken eggs.  Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs and richer in vitamins, protein and Omega-3 fatty acids.
    Duck egg on left, chicken egg on right

    The shell of a duck egg is a little thicker, allowing them to stay fresher longer.  Since they contain more albumin, cakes and breads made with duck eggs are fluffier and rise higher. Also, people with chicken egg allergies may be able to eat duck eggs. But how do duck eggs taste? Like chicken eggs! I can’t tell the difference at all. A couple members of my family can detect a slight difference, but I’d like to give them a blind taste test and quiz them on which is which. 😉


  5. Ducks are low-maintenance. WP_20160818_16_07_36_Pro.jpgThey need water, no doubt. One could raise ducks with just a simple chicken waterer, and the ducks would live, but for ducks to thrive (and provide buckets of free entertainment) throw a kiddie pool on the ground or dig a pond, then pull up a chair to enjoy.
    The necessary preening after a swim

    Besides access to water, they need shade during the day and protection at night. We keep our ducks in a coop at night to protect them from coyotes, foxes and mink, otherwise they free-range the homestead and we haven’t lost a single one. They have their favorite hang-outs and never stray far from the area near our home and barn.

    Foraging around the homestead

    Supply a small amount of feed and you will have yourself a happy flock of productive, useful ducks.

  6. Ducks eat destructive garden bugs, like the Japanese beetle.  Many people use ducks in orchards and gardens for natural pest control, while their manure fertilizes the plants and trees.  They’ll forage small plants and even amphibians and reptiles around the farm.
  7. Ducks are kid-friendly.  You don’t need to worry about your ducks bothering small children.  You may need to worry about your children bothering the ducks, though.  Unless raised as a single pet, ducks form bonds with each other and avoid human contact.  I let the kids hold a duck once in a while, but I don’t allow them to chase them around the farm often.

    Ancona ducks (black and white) resting with a Cayuga (black)
  8. Ducks warm your heart. There have been a couple instances where the ducks have surprised me with their seeming ability to care emotionally for others. WP_20160818_15_10_09_Pro.jpg

Ready for story time?

One day as I was putting dinner on the table, Elijah alerted me to a duck situation. I took one look out the dining room window, at my motionless Ancona duck lying flat in some grass while her flock mates happily played in a puddle, and I announced she was dead. She sure looked dead. I was disappointed, sad and confused. She happened to be my favorite duck, and she was perfectly fine but an hour ago. I went out to her and I could tell she was still alive, but barely. She made no attempt to flee from my presence, nor when Ryan pulled up in his vehicle, mere inches from where she lay. I figured it was a matter of time, and although it sounds ridiculous, I placed my hands on my poor little duck and prayed for her to be healed. Still, she lay there. I hoped she wasn’t suffering, and if she was to die, that she would do so quickly. What surprised me is, suddenly, a couple of the other ducks began gathering alongside their failing member. It seemed as if they were comforting her. One laid her neck over the top of the sick duck, while another snuggled in beside her. I was touched that they noticed her condition and now I can’t help but believe ducks care how others in their flock are feeling. While that is the point of this story, I want to tell what happened to the sick duck.  I decided that if my duck pulled through, I’d name her Mirabelle, because her recovery would be a miracle. We gently moved her to the coop where she’d be safe and a couple hours later, Mirabelle was standing and preening her feathers. Shortly thereafter, she had fully rejoined her flock. Lately Mirabelle has been providing us with an egg almost every morning and I’m so happy to have my favorite duck back, quacking and waddling, where she belongs.

Mirabelle, good as new

The next incident that gave me new respect for ducks happened just last night. The chickens and ducks were gathering around the entrance to their coop as the sun was sinking in the evening sky.  The roosters seemed a bit frisky, both challenging our red broiler cockerels and jumping on a hen or two.  I guess one of our Blue Swedish ducks wasn’t going to stand for anymore unsavory behavior at this late hour because when one of our hens began squawking in response to our rooster, the Blue Swedish launched an attack against him.  She chased him off the hen and ran him a few yards away.  He wisely kept his distance while that duck stood guard, her body positioned between him and the hens, her beady eye fixed upon him.

Blue Swedish duck

All I could do was exchange disbelieving glances with Ryan.  I’m still trying to figure out why this duck cared one way or another about the hens, as they typically don’t associate much at all.

I love sharing this farm with our ducks. They add interest, charm and entertainment.  They provide us with delicious, large eggs and meat for the table.

Ducks in a row

They are thrifty and efficient, making them a clear winner for anyone who wants farm-fresh goodness with low feed costs.



Finding Mr. Right (Rooster)

We’re looking for the full, complete package in Mr. Right. We’re picky, but we deserve no less.  He must be handsome, willing to protect his ladies from trouble and be selflessly devoted to them.  He can be proud, but not a bully, and he must never pick a fight with humans.  He must grace the farm with old-fashioned charm.  Does such a guy exist?  Should we just give up on our search now?  We will not compromise.  We’d rather be lacking a rooster than merely tolerating Mr. Wrong.

When our first batch of chicks arrived from the hatchery, we had six cockerels. Over the past 20 weeks, all but one has been eliminated.  One was terrorizing the hens, another was bullying our baby chicks, a third was crowing non-stop beginning at 4am, and yet another was destroyed during a mink raid.  These Mr. Wrongs, with the exception of the mink victim, have all taken a one-way trip to the kill cones, and our farm has been more peaceful as a result.  This left us with two promising candidates for Mr. Right.  Of these two, we thought the Speckled Sussex was going to work famously.  WP_20160808_09_37_22_ProWe were so in love.  He seemed to satisfy the qualities of the complete package.  He defended the hens against attacks from other roosters, sometimes stepping in front of them mid-pursuit or chasing them far away from his harem, he calls over to his hens when he finds a tasty morsel, giving the treat to them rather than consuming it himself.  He is handsome and we felt he would improve our flock with his genetics, hopefully producing meaty cockerels and above average layers.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. WP_20160808_10_35_54_ProThe Speckled rooster has begun chasing the kids, jumping up on them and even stalking me when my back is turned.  As much as we wish it could be otherwise, the Speckled rooster will, too, be taking a trip to the kill cones.  Although he is just trying to protect his hens, we simply won’t tolerate aggression on our farm from any species.

We have whittled the competition down to just one. The Dominique rooster, who has now been awarded a name (Roy), is also handsome and we have never witnessed him bothering the hens.  WP_20160808_10_01_52_ProHe seems to leave the new chicks alone for the most part and has never challenged nor given a sideways glance to the humans on the farm.  For the moment, he has been granted residency.  The Dominique hens have long been our favored breed.  WP_20160808_10_01_18_ProThey quickly captured our hearts with their personality.  They remain the only birds that are friendly enough to be held and, if sitting quietly in a chair, the hens will jump into our laps and settle in for a snooze.  The Dominique breed is not common, and most birds with this barred appearance belong to a different breed, the Barred Rock.  We possess interest in preserving this thrifty breed developed during rough colonial times and maintaining purebred stock on our farm.

However, we have not put all our eggs in Roy’s basket. We have been burned before by whom we considered Mr. Right, and we may forever be circumspect.  When we ordered our second batch of chicks, we decided to throw in a Buff Orpington cockerel. WP_20160722_09_49_46_Pro.jpg Buff Orpingtons are known for being friendly and docile, including the roosters.  They are acceptable layers with a heavy carcass.  If, for whatever reason, Roy can no longer stay on our farm, our search for Mr. Right will recommence with the Buff Orpington rooster.

I know good roosters are out there.  I’ve talked to farm folk who have snagged themselves a good one.  I guess you just have to kiss a few frogs before you find a prince.


Harvesting and a Big Mistake

The garden is doing so well that I’m having a hard time keeping up with the harvest. I flashback to the days I was tilling the soil and struggling to plant my seeds and I can’t quite believe how much things have changed.  The garden felt like a lost cause back then and I placed the whole mess in God’s hands.  I told Ryan I thought nothing would grow and all the work would be for nothing.  He assured me I would feel better when the plants began sprouting.  He has much more faith than I, and he was right.  WP_20160808_09_43_59_ProThe plants are huge, green and sprawling.  Everyday I notice how much bigger the fruits and veggies look, or I discover something new growing beneath large, sun-soaked leaves.


I try to get the kids excited about helping in the garden by making the harvest a competition. This weekend, I grabbed a bag and began harvesting green beans on one end of the row, while giving the kids a bag and instructing them to start on the opposite end of the row.  I kept egging them on with “Wow, I’m finding so many huge beans in these plants!  I bet I’m getting way more beans than you are!”  When we met in the middle of the row I went over and checked their plants to see if they did a good job harvesting.  I teased, “Ooh, you guys missed some!  Now these beans go in my bag!”  They then ran over to the plants I harvested and, to my surprise, found a few handfuls of large beans that I missed.  They added them to their bag.  When I was sure all the beans were picked, I decided their bag was slightly heavier than mine and they were awarded the title of winner. WP_20160724_16_32_36_Pro In the end, I felt like a winner, too, since we had a fun time working together and I’d like to think I’m accomplishing my goal of instilling a love for gardening, healthy food, and the ability to work hard for the satisfaction of a job well done. WP_20160724_16_32_13_Pro


So what to do with all this food? Our diet is about 75% garden veggies these days.  We’re eating various veggie concoctions at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Despite this, my fridge, counters and garden are still full of green produce.  We decided it was time to step into the mysterious and slightly scary world of canning.  I have yet to purchase a pressure canner, so water bath canning is my only option right now.  For two days in a row I decided to kiss the sunny afternoon goodbye and devote hours inside the kitchen making pickles.  I made 17 quart jars of pickles, a mere dent in the bags I have sitting in my kitchen, and 9 jars of dilly beans. WP_20160808_19_20_48_Pro Even though we have yet to taste these pickled veggies, I’m pretty proud of my accomplishment.  The jars look so beautiful and symbolize all my hard work tilling, planting, weeding, harvesting, and now learning the process of preserving.  I have much more canning to do and will need many more jars.  And where to put all these jars?  Hmmm, I feel another project coming on.

I did make a mistake in my garden this year. A really big, wandering, vining, soon-to-be-orange mistake.

Pumpkin plant spilling through the garden fence

In the beginning, our plan was to till a separate patch for growing pumpkins.  By the time I got the tilling and planting done in the main garden plot, the last thing I wanted to think of was starting over and tilling another patch.  Ryan was busy doing other projects and I didn’t want to pull him away from that.  I had a little space at the end of my garden, so I put my pumpkin seeds in this space.  Then, after I noticed a space where it looked like some cucumber plants didn’t come up, I decided to sneak in the remainder of my pumpkin seeds in this vacancy.  Big mistake and one I won’t make again.  I’ve learned one doesn’t “sneak in” a couple packets of pumpkin seeds anywhere.  Those little seeds will grow into monstrous plants.  Those monstrous plants begin to creep along the ground, invading other rows and getting all up in everybody’s business.

Pumpkins invading beans and cabbage

They devour their neighbors, blocking out their sun and air.  I’m not sure if I can do anything at this point besides hope for the best, realize I’ve learned a valuable lesson, and purchase a machete to bushwhack my way in when it’s time to harvest tomatoes.

My rows of tomatoes…if you can spot them.

The pumpkins are very exciting to watch grow and hunt for under the broad, green leaves, but next year I’ll give them their own patch, full of large, open, neighbor-free space for them to creep, vine and climb to their hearts’ content.



Farm Fresh Eggs, Finally!

Our chickens are 18 weeks old and the average chicken lays its first egg around 20 weeks.  We thought we had a bit more time until officially being on “egg watch.”  We planned to construct new nesting boxes for our chicken coop this weekend, thinking it would be in place by the time the first hen laid an egg.  After lunch today, Ryan went into the coop to finish up the nesting box project and discovered something unexpected.  For the past 4 months we’ve been waiting for this, spending money each week on feed for this, and completing multiple farm projects just for this.  WP_20160731_14_37_40_ProAn egg!  A small, brown, perfect egg, likely belonging to a Dominique, based on color and the fact that Dominiques are one of two breeds in our flock that is reputed to be early-maturing.

Dominique hen


We decided to compare our farm-fresh, free-range egg to a store-bought egg. There is a big size difference, but that’s just because this egg was the hen’s first.  The eggs will get bigger as the hen matures.

Conventional egg (left) vs. Farm-raised egg (right)

So besides the size difference, we noticed right away how bright orange the yolk is in our egg compared to the conventional egg’s yellow yolk.  We fried both up and enjoyed a taste test.


Our unanimous vote was for the farm-fresh egg. It tasted so much better and lacked the unpalatable aftertaste of the conventional egg.

But the excitement wasn’t meant to be over.  As Ryan finished up the basic construction of the new nesting boxes this evening, he went to get some hay to line each nesting box and found yet another pleasant surprise.  A hen has been laying eggs in the hay.

Welsummer eggs

It’s been like an Easter egg hunt around the farm today.  I recognized the eggs immediately from descriptions I’ve read. The Welsummer is the other early-maturing breed in our flock and they lay a dark, terracotta-colored, speckled egg.  These eggs belong to a Welsummer.

Welsummer hen

We are all excited to see what the hens may leave for us in the nesting boxes tomorrow morning.


Ryan still needs to cut doors in the back of the nesting boxes so we have outdoor access to the eggs, and add roosts to the front of the boxes to make entering and exiting the nests easier for the hens. WP_20160731_19_38_48_Pro We have 20 nesting boxes from which our hens can choose, and we hope they make good use of them all.  We can’t wait until all our hens are laying and we can collect a basket of eggs each morning.