Our Backyard Flock

Last week the kids and I went to a local hatchery and became proud owners of six adorable baby chicks. Now the soft chirp of baby chicks mingles with the morning songs of the numerous wild birds that flit about our backyard. 

I haven’t owned a pet since I was ten, so the fact that we have pet chickens is taking a little while to sink in. But after months of the children begging us to get a pet (and ruling out a dog because I don’t want to train one and/or have one ruin my garden) we decided to buy baby chicks, raise them, and hope to have chickens that double as pets and egg-layers.

Joshua spent two Saturdays building the most adorable chicken coop ever. My in-laws and friend Elissa have graciously answered the dozens of questions I’ve pestered them with. All the chicks have survived so far [insert deep sigh of relief] and have provided many giggles already.

Isn’t the coop ADORABLE?! Two of Joshua’s brothers stayed up late working on it with him. Don’t you love the chicken cut-out Jay made? (Thanks Jay and Sam!)

When the chicks were just two days old, a moth made the misfortunate decision to fly in front of their brooder lamp. Instantly the chicks scrambled over their feeder and around the waterer trying to grasp a hold of it. Three times the silly moth escaped but flew right back into the chick’s home. Finally, one of the Barred Rocks grabbed it in her beak. 

Now the real struggle commenced. The moth tried frantically to escape her grip while the other chicks chased her around the pen trying to grab the moth from her. The Barred Rock raced with all her might while trying to swallow the poor moth and fend off the others with her tail feathers.

It was quite the spectacle. Finally the Barred Rock succeeded in swallowing her snack and the chicks settled peacefully down for the night.

Despite a bit of nervousness, given my lack of animal experience, I am so excited to have our own little chicken flock and have spent hours and hours researching how to care for and raise our backyard flock naturally and frugally. It’s going to be a fun adventure!

After four years of the nearest Aldi being almost an hour away, I couldn’t be more thrilled to have two Aldi stores within fifteen minutes of us. If I were a millionaire, I would still shop at Aldi. I much prefer shopping there than at other stores.

Shopping at Aldi saves money. Lots of money. But that’s only one of many reasons why I love shopping there. 

  1. Shopping at Aldi saves brain power. There’s only one brand of diced tomatoes and one choice of dried basil. Instead of staring at rows of canned tomatoes and trying to decipher the differences (or determine if there are any) between twenty varieties, there’s just one option. Take it or leave it and save your brain power for more important decisions.
  2. The store brand is generally good. There are a few items we don’t like, but for the most part we can’t tell a difference or like Aldi’s brand just as well as other brands. (Though most of what I buy is not processed.) Try the Aldi brand. You just might like it. If not…
  3. They offer a double-back guarantee on most food items. If a product is not satisfactory, they’ll replace it AND refund your money. You can’t really lose with a guarantee like that.
  4. Their produce sales are amazing. It’s hard to beat avocados for 19¢ a piece or a pound of mushrooms for 79¢! Apparently some Aldi stores regularly have sub-par produce, but I’ve been as happy with the produce from the Aldi near us as I have with other grocery stores (though of course it can’t compare to a farmer’s market or fresh from the garden!) You do have to check the produce and be selective, but I do that no matter what store I’m at. ( To help minimize pesticide consumption, I try to purchase items from the “Dirty Dozen” list organic or grow them myself.—on that note, our Aldi recently started carrying organic spinach. Yay!)
  5. Their “special-buy” items rock! Besides the regular food items, Aldi carries “special-buy” items that change regularly. In the spring it was garden goods. In late summer it was back-to-school items. I’ve been tickled with how often just the item I needed shows up in the “special-buy” aisle at Aldi. A few of my favorite finds include a garden spade (that was much nicer than the more expensive one from Lowes), a heavy-duty magnifying glass with an LED light (batteries included) for the same price as a cheap school kind, a cute white hamper, and beautiful trellises for the garden. Not only are the items a great deal, I’ve consistently been surprised by how good quality they are. (And, if they’re not good quality, returns are easy.)
  6. The store isn’t huge. I like walking, but prefer to get my exercise in the great outdoors. Thanks in large part to reason #1, you don’t have to walk a mile just to get your groceries. Of course this also means that Aldi doesn’t carry every single thing we need, but I can usually shop there weekly or every other week (if we get our milk locally) and then only go to Wal-mart or Target occasionally for the other items.
  7. The customers are friendlier. Maybe it’s because they’re saving so much money, maybe it’s because they don’t have to spend all their brain power wading through too many choices, but whatever the reason, customers at Aldi tend to be much more friendly…at least at the Aldi we go to.
  8. The cashiers are lightning fast. 
  9. Last, but certainly not least, EVERYONE puts away their cart. Not-putting-away-carts is a pet peeve of mine. Add a 25¢ incentive and voila! Problem solved. (I try not to believe that this says something rather sad about our country.)

Do you shop at Aldi? Why or why not?

 Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherWalking RedeemedGraced Simplicity, & Proverbs 31 

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There’s something so fun about turning an item that was bound for the trashcan into something useful! We recently changed bed sizes so I had several non-necessary, good-quality, but somewhat stained white sheets to play with. Here’s a few ways to up-cycle an old white sheet.

  1. Plant coverings. Cut the sheet into various-sized plant covers. Use the covers to protect tender seedlings from an unexpected late frost.
  2. Plant shades. Did you know that even plants can get sunburnt? I didn’t let my little seedlings harden off quite long enough and learned this the hard way. Old white sheets make excellent plant shades until the seedling has adjusted to life in the sun.
  3. Cotton slip. This was by far my favorite use for an old white sheet. I passionately dislike polyester/silk slips, especially in the summer, but almost all of my summery skirts really need a slip. The solution: turn an old sheet into a cotton slip. Just cut a rectangular piece of material that’s a bit wider than you want it. Sew the side and hem the bottom. Fold over the top twice for a piece of elastic or ribbon and sew. So easy. This really is a “1-hour project” (or less).
  4. Lining for curtains, quilts, or other projects: sheet material is generally softer and better quality than the cheap lining fabric.
  5. Dress-up hats, aprons, etc.: I made Rose a vintage looking nurse outfit for her third birthday using an old white sheet to make her apron and nurse’s cap.
  6. White bedskirt: Sewing projects that involve straight lines are about all I have time or patience for these days. This simple bedskirt didn’t take much skill but cutting it took longer than I thought. It was fun to make something for the kids’ room, but probably only worth the time if since I happened to have a series of lectures I had to watch and wanted to do something while I listened—and the ironing happened to be caught up!
  7. Drop cloth: If you decide to paint with three little “helpers”, chances are you’ll have a spill! Even if you paint alone, a good drop cloth is very important.
  8. White curtains: straight lines again, yay!

Have you up-cycled any items lately? If so, please share!

 Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways,Works for MeWalking RedeemedGraced SimplicityProverbs 31 & Natural Living

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[Normally I shy away from posts encouraging you to sign up for this or that great deal because I don't want that to be the focus of this site. Occasionally though I get a deal that seems too good not to share with someone. Today, you are that someone! Lucky you, right?]

Have you heard about Ebates before? I’ve heard about online cashback sites like Ebates for a long time but honestly didn’t think they were worth the trouble.

Until today.

I had a fairly large online purchase I needed to make so I thought why not check out Ebates

photo credit

I clicked on Ebates and was greeted with one pleasant surprise after another.

First, if you’re new to Ebates, you get to choose a $10 giftcard to Wal-mart or several other major retailers OR a $5 giftcard to Ebates after you make your first $25 dollar purchase(How painless is that if you have to place an order anyway?!) 

To make the deal sweeter, Ebates offers 6% cashback on orders from Kohls where I had to make my purchase. 

It took all of 45 seconds to sign up, enter my address for them to ship my $10 Wal-mart giftcard to, and click on their Kohl’s link. No credit card information or profile information required. It’s simple, painless and fast. 

Ebates offers cash back on hundreds of online stores, usually ranging from 3-8%. Next time I make an online purchase all I have to do is sign in, click on the store I’m ordering from, and earn cash back! I’m guesstimating a 15 second time investment tops. 

3% to 8% may not be a ton, but it sure adds up, especially if you do a lot of your gift shopping online! It’s so painless I’m wondering why on earth I didn’t sign up with Ebates sooner!

Want to give it a try? Click here to get started and earn your $10 giftcard!

Then, if you find it as simple and worthwhile as I did, you can share it with your friends and earn $5 for each friend who signs up.

[Full disclosure: Links to products in this post are my referral links.]

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Rose and I were planting peas last week when she suddenly stopped and said, “Mama look!” Beside her on a tulip sat three scary-looking bugs with spines on their backs.

My first instinct was to squash immediately, but sometimes the scariest-looking bugs are garden heroes. So I resisted the urge, grabbed Good Bug, Bad Bug and flipped quickly through the pages. There on the ladybug page was a picture of the ladybug larva.

photo credit

These larva are ferocious… at least if you’re an aphid, mealybug, or other garden pest.

Part of me really likes the sanitariness of pesticides. Just spray and kill all the bugs. Good as well as bad. Then you don’t have to worry whether that bug you see is eating your tomatoes or eating the bugs that want your tomatoes. Then you don’t have to risk seeing a spider busily at work in your garden or risk having a ladybug larva land on your arm.

Doesn’t that sound a bit appealing?

The problem is it would defeat one of my main purposes (and that of most home gardeners) of having a garden: growing fresh healthy food that isn’t covered in pesticide residue. Plus, it completely messes with the beautiful and intricate natural controls that God created to help our gardens.

As I’ve been reading about the bugs that make their homes in our gardens and the beautiful flowers and herbs we can plant to attract the good bugs and scare away the bad, I’ve been struck once again with wonder at God’s amazing creation.

For example, the beneficial hover fly won’t lay eggs on a non-infested plant. If the plant is infested, how many eggs a hover fly lays depends on the pest population. Isn’t that amazing? Beneficial bugs even communicate with one another by leaving a chemical mark on pests that have already been dealt with! (from Good Bug, Bad Bug)

One of my gardening goals is to create an environment that fosters all the beautiful (and ferocious) beneficial bugs.

I still have lots and lots to learn, but here are the steps I’m taking this year.

Learn to distinguish between good and bad bugs: 

If spending an hour playing with bugs wasn’t exactly your idea of fun as a kid (it sure wasn’t mine) then this can be a bit more of a challenge, but it’s proved to be quite exciting. When the kids or I come across a new bug, we’ll look it up in Good Bug, Bad Bug or The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control (two new favorites!) before we decide whether to encourage its presence or squash on sight from now on.

Grow flowers and herbs that attract good and discourage bad bugs: 

Marigolds, of course, are renowned for their ability to deter aphids and other bugs from around your vegetables (plus marigold roots clear the ground of microscopic nematodes that can reek havoc and the good effect lingers for up to three years!)

There are so many other amazing flowers and herbs to plant too, like nasturtium which “trap” bad bugs (and are edible), pungent herbs whose scent both confuses and deters bad bugs, and a vast variety of flowering plants that provide food and shelter for the good bugs if the pest population drops.

Create an environment that fosters good garden creatures: 

Previous owners of our home planted lilirope as a border around the little front gardens. The lilirope filled out into a big bushy mess that I really don’t like. I started clearing it away to replace with a rock border when I noticed beautiful blue-streaked skinks darting into the lilirope for cover. I was clearing away the home of the cute little lizards who feed on snails, slugs, grasshoppers, roaches and even small mice.

Before I clear away the other half of the lilirope, I want to be sure the skinks have another home by planting perennials they can overwinter in and hide from predators.

Many herbicides for treating weeds are toxic to lizards, frogs, and other small garden guests. Avoid using them if possible or seek a child and “pet”-safe natural alternative.

What are your favorite ways to make your garden a haven for good bugs? 

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherHealthy 2DayFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways,Works for MeWalking RedeemedProverbs 31Natural Living, & Simple Lives

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

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