PRATIE PLACE

Friday, August 31, 2007

Donkey: purchased. Fence: continues. Eggwatch: begins.

After making tons of phone calls I finally made a good donkey connection and drove to Iredell County a couple days ago and bought the donkey on sight. He is gorgeous, much classier looking than I expected. He's been "servicing" mares, unimpeded, in a pasture for a couple months - the human lady just comes to spoil him and give him treats on a regular basis - so he wasn't as incredibly friendly as some. The lady whose jennies he's been boinking called him "Jethrose" (rhymes with "dose") but I kind of like Susanlynn's idea of naming him Emilioooo after the dumbest, densest hero ever of a failed telenovela.

I thought about naming him after an ex-boyfriend for whom I suffered endlessly (in hopes of de-toxifying the name) but decided Jethrose didn't deserve that baggage.

So Jethrose is at Donkey Spa now. The vet is going to come and end his boinking career, and while he's recuperating the owner's children, 4-H devotees, are going to swarm all over him and friendly him up.

Meanwhile the fence is moving along briskly thanks to the efforts of the guys I picked up at the 7-11. They've come three times and are coming again tomorrow.

I bought a new chainsaw - this must be my fourth - and am clearing the fence line just ahead of my fencers.

And finally - a bad habit I developed when my son was sick - if I wake at 3 am sometimes I go on eBay, and sometimes I buy things I don't need. When Zed was sick, I bought tablecloths. Well, a week or so ago I went to "eggbid.com" and bid on 15 rare Java chicken eggs. Java is an American domestic breed which fell off so sharply at at one point there were only 200 Java chickens left. So I won the auction ($15 seems cheap for rare birds) and the eggs arrived today.

My friend Judy keeps chickens and she told me she had a "broody" hen - that means, the chicken suddenly decides it's time to hatch some eggs. Her broody hen had no eggs, she was just sitting in her nesting box on straw. This struck as both as pathetic, so I took five of my eggs to Judy and she stuck them under the hen. The other ten, I've just now put into the incubator. It's supposed to take 21 days so I guess they'll hatch on Erev Yom Kippur.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Donkey fence progress.

I got up early this morning, picked up a bunch of cash and a lot of lunch food, and went down to the place where guys who need work hang out. There's a lot of trust involved in this process - I have to trust that they are just guys who need work, not psychokillers or thieves - they have to trust I will give them work that is safe and pay them fairly. I've done this a couple times before and it's worked out ok.

I love love love to see these fence posts go up and it's not me pounding them into the ground. They, in turn, were quite impressed when they realized I dug the post holes myself. "How did you do that?" "With the awful Little Beaver" I said proudly.

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Mike does Illustration Friday: "Visitors"

Yesterday Mike came for our painting session; I showed him my new chickens (EVERYBODY keeps asking what their names are! They don't have names yet!) and told him about my donkey project. He got inspired and painted these visitors in a donkey cart.


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Sunday, August 26, 2007

The chickens and their new home.

On the advice of Don at American Livestock Breeds Conservancy I was able to contact Steven Moize, who breeds the rare buckeye chickens. Scant minutes after I (sort of) finished the henhouse, I jumped in the car and raced up to Hurdle Mills.

Steven is farming land which has been in his family for 220 years, but he himself was raised in the suburbs, because his parents had fled the farm. The property lay vacant for years until Stephen and his wife decided to move back. They raise turkeys, chickens of various rare breeds, and have donkeys (more on that later).

Here are (I think) the buckeye pullets, my chickens' sisters. He put my three pullets in the cardboard box I brought and I carried them home.

I had to stop on the way to buy some rebar to build a fence - I'd thought they would just "free-range" during the day, but he said they'd need a few weeks to get their bearings and know where to come home to roost at night, so I cut up some of my leftover deerfence and made them a little paddock.


Then my friend Mitzi and I got a couple chairs and some cool drinks and opened the box.

It was clear there was a hierarchy already. One hen importantly stuck her head out of the box immediately to scout out the surroundings. One was not far behind; the third, it turns out, was being stood upon by the other two. Long after Captain and Number One had jumped impetuously and gracelessly over the edge, the stood-upon bird was still hesitant to emerge.


It was a brutally hot day and the chickens instantly realized the best place for them was under their house.
Two of them spent most of the afternoon perched on the edge of their water pot, periodically dipping their breast feathers into this improvised wading pool. The third got to sit on the adjacent paint can. Same view, but less water.



I was concerned it would be hard to catch them when it was time to put them in the house (at night chickens, aka Everybody's Favorite Meal, are stupefied in sleep and easy prey for raccoons and other marauders). However, I found them huddled together on one of our chairs and they were happy to be picked up one by one and plopped into the house. Next morning I took the following pictures of them exploring (if you could call it that). Now I realize I sound like one of those excruciatingly dull grandmothers whose pictures you flee from when they get hauled out, so I'll stop. For now.




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Hannah: an odd painting

The New York Correspondents Desk apologizes for its long absence. I was moving, starting a new job, and watching donkeys steal weeds all across Bulgaria. I am appreciating this chicken project from a distance. Jealous that in North Carolina there is room for working animals. In New York we only have room for useless animals such as small yappy dogs and a small cat that pounces on my feet when it gets bored. Cat actually found a bug crawling across the floor the other day and killed it, but she had no interest in eating it (we could hardly blame her) so we had to pick up after her anyway. Useless. Totally useless.

Anyway, I'm writing because I'm about to obliterate this painting I did, on account of it just turned out so awfully weird. It's a painting of a singer I like very much, and she has (I think) an enchanting mysterious smile in her promo photo, but somehow it turned out all crap when I did it. Any ideas why it looks so peculiar?


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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Building a henhouse and chicken coop

I'm an enthusiastic but messy and impatient carpenter. I've built lots of things but they're never exactly straight. In this case, I had a deadline - sort of by accident, I committed myself to picking up three buckeye chicken pullets yesterday in Hurdle Mills, NC at 1:00 in the afternoon. I had also decided to use up all the wood under the house, which has been lying there getting moldy and twisted since 1996 when I built this house. Using miserable old lumber isn't easy. So the wild frenzy of sawing and screwing was worse than usual and my mantra had to be, "the hens won't mind."

Let's say you were me. Pick a spot for the hen house and lay it out. (First mistake: using an eeny weeny compass - the kind you used to get in the bottom of a cereal box - to locate a fully eastern front door. Lay out the four-foot square footprint. (Second mistake: I didn't hammer the stakes in well enough, and used yarn instead of smooth light nylon twine.)

Use your plumb line to locate five holes and dig. (Third mistake: my holes were not very deep because the ground is rocky and we're in the midst of the worst drought in 120 years of recorded history so the ground is very hard - and also, I have tremendous bloody blisters from digging postholes so it was hard to grasp the shovel). It took five forty-pound bags of concrete mix to make these five footings.


Use flowerpots with the bottoms cut off, upside down, to make little piers. You can see from this picture that despite my efforts the piers did not set plumb. Oh well. Chickens don't mind.

Do NOT forget to set bolts into the concrete before it sets! These are not the right post holders, but they're what I had and they worked ok, except I had to drill 1" holes in the bottoms of the 4x4s to accommodate the sticking-up bolt ends.


I designed one wall and built it, with a shed roof (18 degrees). I built the frame and the "clapboards" out of my old lumber cut 3/4" thick. I glued the clapboards to the frame. This is the north wall which I decided would have no windows, for more warmth in winter.


Then I built the south wall, where I intended to have the chicken entrance. However, I didn't know what size a chicken was (I've never really looked at them) so my door was much too small, as Menticia pointed out to me the minute she laid eyes on it. So this will have to be a ventilation window. At tgus point I decided to line the coop and scarfed up all the pieces of leftover linoleum etc. that I could find and hammered them inside my clapboards.


Then build the back (in my case, west) wall. This will be low and under the shed roof overhang to protect it from the blazing western sun in the summer. Hang "nesting boxes" on it. These are about 12' square.


At some point the scavenging, reusing-recycling fanatic has to admit there is something crucial which cannot be found and must be purchased. I needed to buy a piece of treated plywood for the floor. I'm afraid of lifting 4x8 sheets of plywood so made the worst mistake yet - I bought 1/2" plywood, thinking that two layers of it would be as good as one layer of 1" plywood. Maybe they would have been, but I should have glued/screwed them together or something. As it was, they've been a pain.

Menticia was here to help for the next step - screwing the 4x4s into the piers and screwing the floor plywood onto the 4x4s. Sadly but not surprisingly, one of my piers was quite "off" and had to be whacked a bit (?) out of plumb to fit under the house. "The hens won't mind."

I also consoled myself: the builder of my very own house had trouble with the piers and some of them are no more than half under the porch legs. My friend Bob recommends building on temporary, braced 2x4s and AFTERWARDS digging and pouring the piers. This way they are magically perfect. I pass this brand-new, never-been-used advice on to you in mint condition.

We bought a $5 gallon of paint (rejected by some fussy homeowner and therefore on severe discount) and Menticia started painting. She got 1-1/4 walls painted while I sanded the roosts (2 pieces of 1-1/4" yellow pine, the flooring of my house, cut to 2-1/4" wide and rounded off on the upper corners).

That was Friday. Yesterday, chicken pick-up day, I started on the eastern wall, screwing 2x6s into opening. (I also went around the whole bottom and screwed my floppy plywood up into the frame of the house.)


Make a template for your rafters at 18 degrees. Hopefully you have something better than a feeble old saber saw to use to cut the rafter ends. The other ends are simply cut off at 18 degree angle.


By the time I was screwing on the roofing plywood (cut incorrectly at Lowe's but I made do) I was far too desperate to take pictures. It was gratifying to be able to sit on the roof with my screwing project: it was SOLID even if crooked...

Menticia and I bought a cheap roll of vinyl flooring and used it to make a more easily cleanable surface. I plan to put vinyl on the roof too, after I've found the right size screws to finish screwing the roofing plywood together!!


As it turned out, I didn't have time to finish, which caused problems later and will cause problems in the future. To be continued...

... when I have time to post on the arrival of my three Buckeye pullets, chosen from the endangered list at American Livestock Breeds Conservancy based in Pittsboro NC. See a description of buckeye chickens.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Melinama heads away from 21st century in disgust.

I came home from Bulgaria with one general and one specific realization. The general realization: I continue to detest the 21st century.

My ban on radio and newspaper news, instituted in the interest of stress reduction, continues, and these days I haven't even been watching the telenovelas (I'm sick of cleavage and two-timing egotists wearing expensive ties).

The only disadvantage to this blackout so far: lack of material for composing acerbic, despairing blog posts.

The specific realization: I want a donkey. I really really want a donkey. Not a fancy donkey with a pedigree, not a miniature donkey, not a mammoth donkey. Just your old-time, hard-working, affectionate mutt of a donkey, like this one here.

Ultimate goal: have a little cart and ride in the donkey cart to the grocery store.

This desire came upon me in Bulgaria. At first, when we'd see the donkey carts full of weeds, I'd think: "How quaint."

Then I started to stare at the donkeys more and more longingly. Next thought: "I have lots of weeds in my meadows." Next, more crafty, thought: "There are lots of places around my neighborhood where one could steal weeds."

Finally: "The fact is, that I want to live my life at this pace. I don't need to get to the grocery store any faster than a donkey can walk."

So since I got home last Wednesday it's been telephone calls by the scores, trying to get a lead on a "standard donkey." There don't appear to be any in Orange County, but further out in the country ... well, keep asking and you'll keep hearing about people who know people who might have regular donkeys...

There's an auction out in Iredell County at the end of November where many draft animals and carriages are sold. Somebody tells me they're sure to have donkeys too...

In the mean time, 2000' of welded wire fencing must get put up because, sadly, donkeys can chew through deer fence.

Monday I rented a "Little Beaver" post-hole digger and - on a day when the temperature was over 100 degrees, during NC's worst drought in 120 years of recorded history, when the ground is so hard you can hardly hammer a nail into it - I dug 31 8" postholes. These are for the places where the fence will have to come out of the woods and march across my, uh, greensward.

See this guy here, smiling as he uses the "Little Beaver" - well, notice that he's using it on a tame, rockless greensward? Notice the unit which follows him is trundling along on a ROAD? Well, in real life the "unit" is much bigger than it looks in this picture (what a flattering perspective they chose). And this guy is much, much bigger than I am. And MY particular greensward is lumpy and up-and-down, rocky and unfriendly to wheels (which is why I weedwhack rather than mow it) and there's no road.

My son Zed, who in a sense started me on this path when he started nagging me to get a pet, was aghast to see me getting thrown around by the Little Beaver as the rocks and clay came erupting out of the ground. He put this in the category of 'Mom's dangerous, zany projects' and was most reluctant to take time away from his babysitting duties to help me drag this miserable machine. He tried making one hole and that was enough for him.

OK, so late August is a lousy time to drill holes, and I almost passed out several times, and I have huge broken blisters and about 30 separate bruises on my legs from this thing banging away as it tried to chew up my rocky, impacted soil, but at least I have 35 postholes. Welded wire delivery is Thursday, I hope to find some tough guys to put the fence up for me.

Meanwhile, I may be deserting this century but I will take Google with me. I discovered that donkeys get lonely and require companionship. I've decided to get my donkey some pet chickens, and it's easier to get chickens than donkeys, so I'm building a chicken coop.

First warning one reads: "Do not start building your henhouse with just a vague idea. Have it planned out entirely before you begin." OK, no. I chose a size: 4 foot square with a shed roof. I chose an array of building material: the sorry looking lumber I've been hoarding under the porch since I finished building this house in 1996.

I chose a method: slice these motley boards, weatherbeaten and twisted, into 3/4" strips and nail them to a frame made of 3/4" x 2" slices. And I built the first wall and went to bed thinking about it.

This morning I have an idea for the second wall. And that's how it's gonna be.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pictures from the Koprivshtitsa Festival

Every five years there is a huge folk festival in Koprivshtitsa, which is a small town preserved in the Bulgarian National Revival style. You can, for instance, get some tips on the big, official festival here - the next one will be in 2010, I think.


Cleverly, the town itself has realized it can capitalize on the festival's fame, and holds an annual, small festival of its own in the town square. This is what Hannah and I attended. Maybe for me it was better - not much of a crowd, and we were up close and personal with the "home team" performers. Here are some of my pictures.


One of the nicest things about this event was the profusion of youngsters dressed to the nines and singing their hearts out - really, really well. Although Bulgarian folksongs sort of missed a generation (you see grannies singing, and teenagers and children, but not many people of an in-between age), at least some kids are now being brought up to appreciate and contribute to the tradition. You can see the grannies are tickled about it, too.

















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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bulgarian donkeys and their donkeycarts

You still see quite a few donkeys on the streets in Bulgaria. Often their wagons are full of weeds. At first this perplexed us but then we realized the donkeys are out with their owners collecting dinner. We were startled to see what heavy, non ergonomically correct carts these little donkeys pull up stony, cobbled streets, but in general they looked well nourished and content. Now I want a donkey. My son has been saying I need a pet.












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Bulgarian National Revival Architecture - construction details

I took a lot of pictures of Bulgarian revival architecture houses. Many shots were of falling-down buildings, not because there weren't great ones in good condition (like this first one, with our rental car in front of it), but because houses with bits falling off them show construction details so well.

PLEASE click on these pictures to see the great detail! You can build your own!

I was thrilled to see that in some towns, such as Kopachevitsa, there are builders working right now with skill and knowledge of this style sufficient to create perfectly in the old style.

Wikipedia says the Bulgarian national revival "started with the historical book, Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya, written by the Hilendar Monastery monk of Bulgarian origin Paisius in 1762 and lasted until the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878."

What it looks like to me (I'm no architect) is that a post and beam framework is erected, usually on a stone foundation, and then the spaces were filled up with wattle-and-daub (woven sticks and mud), or mud bricks, or homemade clay bricks, or stone, or - often! - a combination of all those materials.



Sometimes the building was plastered but often it wasn't. The ones with mud bricks disintegrate when the plaster falls off.

Maybe I could get my friend Bob to build me a donkey barn in this style...



















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