18 months since I jumped: An update on healing

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I am able to recognize my blessings each day and be grateful for all I have and have hope for continued blessings in my future!

Greetings from a highly improved me!   It has been eighteen months since I jumped (abruptly discontinued) from taking Ativan 1mg daily after tapering from taking Ativan 3mg daily. I tapered over the duration of two years. My severe detox and withdrawals period was exacerbated by the fact that I had jumped off Oxycodone 10mg only two months prior to stopping the Ativan.  I had tapered off a daily dose of 45mg-90mg over a 2 year period.   What had started in 2010 as a prescription for Percocet 5/325 one every 6 hours as needed for pain, grew until it became a monster in my life that ate all the goodness up. It was just one of the numerous medications that I was prescribed over two and a half decades.

From my records dating 2010 until the fall of 2017 I had 19 pharmaceuticals prescribed to take on a daily basis. Many of them for longer than the recommendations written in those little tiny informational packets you get sometimes with a bottle of pills. Many of them were also prescribed for things other than what they were originally created to treat. Off label uses.  My PCP (Primary Care Providor) also had recommended numerous over the counter medications and supplements as well.

 

                                                                I can smile so much easier these days 
I had been quite aware of the perils of addiction as I have personally witnessed and experienced it in my life in many forms and throughout many experiences.  My own addiction (maladaptive coping mechanism for suffering) was gambling. I knew what it felt like to not only crave something, but would go to great lengths to have that need fulfilled.

That is NOT how the medications were for me. I was dependent upon them. I took them as prescribed. I was trying to check IN to life. I was trying to find a way around the pain (both physical and emotional) so that I could participate in life. Yet the conditions continued to mount until the amount of medications my PCP prescribed became toxic! They didn’t work anymore.  In fact, some of them created a paradoxical effect, causing the exact symptom they were meant to treat.

When I recognized that the use of all these chemicals was harming me more than they were helping, I knew it was time to make radical changes in how I was managing (or letting my PCP manage) my health. I took back the reigns and sought a different path
It wasn’t really a conscious choice, embarking on the journey through the hell I have been through.  It was simply the act of starting a forward movement towards change by doing just one thing differently. Then it grew to more things differently. Things like spending a lot more time outdoors. Activities such as interacting with animals and being creative with a camera. Making very conscious choices in what I put into my body. Eliminating as much negativity as I could. Yet, there were still struggles as I didn’t know all that I would face along this journey.

No one had warned me that there was a possibility that I could have psychotic episodes coming off these medications. No one had warned me that I could reach tolerance and have paradoxical effects like a severe case of insomnia that lasted for 20 years. Only now, after being off every single medication for 40 days, am I beginning to have occasional bouts of normal sleep. No one told me about excruciating bone pain that left me curled up and rocking and crying on my mattress. No one told me of the incessant need to move, the rocking and bouncing legs and full body restlessness that was exhausting and robbed me of any rest for my ravaged body and brain. No one prepared me for how shunned I would feel and how that would further the crippling agoraphobia and paranoia so that I could not tell who I could or could not trust. This further complicated the entire process.
No one else knew how bad this would be either. I know now that there was NO one in my life anywhere close to prepared for the wild and horrifying symptoms and behaviors this would create.  It was terrifying to go through and I can imagine it was scary as hell to watch! In fact, knowing many others who have endured the hell I have, some even worse, I know that very few people in the world have been prepared to be of any assistance for someone going through this type of severe and lengthy mental and physical anguish.
That first year was a doozy! Fraught with the loss of health and home and any stability I believed I had, pretty much everything was gone in my life! Friends, family, belongings, any sense of dignity was gone.  I was robbed of all hope by the Benzodiazepine demons that lived in my head. All I did was bounce where the winds took me, trying to protect myself from me, and from others who were ill-equipped to be of any help.

Unfortunately, sometimes due to their lack of understanding or skill, those I most hoped would help were only able to add to the pain and suffering by their responses and reactions to me.   Those that truly care would have done different if they had known how.  I believe this is true for all of us suffering from this.  Yet they are the ones who just mostly stood by and watched and felt helpless. They had nothing to offer except recognizing the pain was there.  Today I can feel bad for their experience in watching all of this hell.

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This last 6 months I have turned a corner. I can feel it internally and others have commented on it externally. I have been more focused on myself and finding healing and seeking the path to wellness than ever before in my entire life.  The tools and skills and interactions and experiences I have participated in have helped me have a sense of acceptance and peace.  I truly feel more equipped to deal with whatever life may bring to me from here on forward.   More than ever before in my life I have a sense of direction and purpose.
I still have much work to do. Both of my current therapists are recommending intensive treatment for Complex PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) including modalities such as ACT (Acceptance and Commitment therapy), CBT (cognitive behavior therapy), and EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). Both of them say it is imperative for me to do this work for complete healing and the ability to get past the things that haunt me regardless how much I try to not let them.
I personally have taken it upon myself to learn life skills that I have found are helping me tremendously. I have adopted the practice of meditation. I meditate at least once daily, but usually twice a day. MY meditation is very much connected to my spiritual practice and prayer time. I also do Conscious breathing, utilizing a timer to just stop and breath once an hour. These skills have reduced my anxiety tremendously and are excellent for staying in the moment which is so necessary for those with PTSD.  I eat at least an 80/20 whole foods diet, primarily organic in nature and from sources as local as possible.

Since the New Year I also have been working on having the habits of movement (exercise) and drinking more water daily. I have also begun light jogging. This I am doing still with living under the fact of pain is in my life. I have nerve pain in my feet that is non-stop 24/7. I also have pretty severe back and neck pain. Yet after a 10 week-long session at a pain clinic, I have learned some wonderful new ways of looking at pain and living with it. This is why I now am more encouraged and hopeful than I have been in an extremely long time. I feel very empowered.

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Yet I still need help. I am still homeless. I still have no vehicle.  I am still awaiting a determination on my most recent filing for Social Security Disability. I still have a couple of years ahead of me doing some really difficult personal therapies. I still have limited energy and endurance.
After careful consideration, counseling with others, and making efforts to find stability and a place to live and work both where I am and where I last came from, I have decided to go back to S. Oregon.  I have more work I can do there than I have been able to find here.  I ran an ad and I have already booked 3 house-sitting gigs. I also have a couple of clients that want me to do periodic light work around their properties (gardening and housekeeping type chores). I have a friend who has offered me the use of her trailer for 11 months, and I have a couple of possibility of places to put it in exchange for helping on a person’s property either with care taking or with farm type chores.  I am willing and able to do this. It won’t be enough to get ahead, but I will have a roof over my head and some security for at least that time period.

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I have been offered a trailer like this to use for about 11 months if I can get a secure place to park it! High living for a modest gal like me!

What I need more than anything right now is a vehicle and maybe the first 6 months of insurance paid.  Or even the first 3 months. Then I can get to the house sitting jobs and the clients who have other chores to do. Then I can earn a few pesos each month. My goal is $600, which is 30 hours a month. I will most likely have to do that many hours again where ever I end up parking the trailer in exchange for rent.  That works out to about fifteen hours weekly of being up and moving and doing some sort of physical activity.  15 hours a week is about all I can do without being where I can lie down and rest intermittently.
I know I will keep improving as I continue to do the habits I’ve created and use the tools I have obtained. I know my energy will increase as I continue to lower the stress of dealing with PTSD through the time invested in treatment and as my body continues to heal from the damages done by the medications I took for too long!


I also am involved with Vocational Rehabilitation.   They are going to help me pursue the reinstatement of my nursing license. It is my short-term goal to utilize my nursing license in creating a health and wellness mentor and coaching business. I believe I have a vast amount of knowledge and experience that can be used to help many others who live with physical and emotional pain. I believe my new-found enthusiasm and gratitude for a new opportunity can encourage and inspire others to pursue their truest selves! I have been a helper and have had a healing nature throughout my life. Now that my true self (not drugged by pharmaceuticals) is re-emerging stronger than ever, I trust that God and the Universe will allow my best self to help others possibly find their way out of suffering too!

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Participating in an online Health and Wellness coaching program. It is self directed and self paced. Perfect for me right now. As well as it is FREE!!!

I am so grateful I am still here on earth and alive. I am so grateful the benzodiazepine (and other pharmaceutical) demons did not completely destroy me. It felt like I was destroyed at times, yet here I am smiling and grateful and caring for myself….and others!

After such a dark and seemingly endless foray into the depths of psychological pain so deep I felt life wasn’t worth living, I now have hope!!!  I also am able to develop goals.  It is the first time in many years I have felt capable of even thinking of having a goal, let alone taking the necessary steps to get there.  One of my goals is to  jog/run in a 5K event the weekend of my 56th birthday.   My new walking habit inspired that goal.  I have never enjoyed running or jogging, even as a child.  Yet now, when pushing through the chronic pain, I find that I reach a point of some real clean current pain and it is a desirable experience.  Pushing past the pain to get going is worth it.  The daily steps I am taking are to keep me focused and to build my skill and strength level to reach that place of being able to complete the race.  After the race,  if I still feel it is something that is adding value to my health and life and wellness, I may try for a 10K.  It is a measurable success.  There are other goals as well so each day I purposefully do actions to bring me closer to the prize…..WELLNESS and HEALING!

I also have a great aspiration to help others like me!!! I have a big dream of someday creating a healing place (long term inpatient facility) for those like me who have suffered in their lives with DIS-ease of any kind.   People wanting to come off pharmaceuticals that have become toxic to them, especially opiates and benzodiazepines; those who suffer the consequences of addiction; those who have emotional pain that requires that they be loved on and guided and encouraged to health! I envision a place of many woods and streams and much beauty where people can rest their tired minds and bodies and take a few deep breaths for a period of time. I see gardens and animals, some of them providing companionship, others there for their food source to provide healthy nutritious meals. It will be a place where there is patience and tolerance and gentle trauma-informed guidance. People will have a time and place to explore their suffering and learn skills for finding peace and acceptance of what is.  I dream of it being a place they will also find a sense of purpose and the ability to create goals and plans for achieving them. It is a big dream. It will require a big tribe to create it. That will be a huge focus on the next portion of my journey. Creating a healing caring loving tribe that can share this vision! 🙂
oh….btw….it feels great to be able to write a bit! That is one skill that has suffered during this time and it is another sign of my healing!

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I choose to make 2015 be a year of peace for me, and freedom!

A bit of snow, some fog, and plenty of views to enjoy here in Williams.

A bit of snow, some fog, and plenty of views to enjoy here in Williams.

After days of consideration and prayer I have come to the decision to not make any changes regarding my community page, Ms. Ladybug and Her Layers. I have worked too hard on personal recovery from my past issues to be intimidated by someone whose only reason for contact was to in some way benefit their self. I do not know exactly what their scheme is nor do I care, but I know this person well enough after 18 months of nearly daily contact to know they didn’t contact me just to be nice. They want something.

And why should I be fearful of this person? I did no wrong to them. Except to verbalize and be honest about their behaviors. Such as: I witnessed this person using a business license and bank accounts to hide from child support services as well as to hide money so they could have welfare benefits such as food stamps and medical benefits even when their business grossed nearly 8 times the allowable guideline limits. This person also had with held taxes for their business employees, but never paid them because they were using the money for their own interests.

No…I am not going to shut down my page, hide in any way, or feel threatened by someone who has shown many people their true colors of self serving and narcisstic behaviors. I truly wish more of this person’s friends and acquaintances really knew how much this person has used them and abused them along the way. I also wish there was a way I could warn any woman who may be swayed by this person’s charismatic personality. When even a church bishop says they are concerned for the women in their church because of this person’s known history of taking advantage of women…well, that says something. I am not afraid of you and know you for what you really are. I know all the despicable things you’ve done and I am not afraid of you.

So…read my page all you want. I share so many wonderful things with over a thousand folks who follow my page, and they happily share their goodness with me too. I will not ever let another person frighten me, threaten me, or in any way intimidate me. Those days are in the past. It’s a new year and I am claiming it as one of growth and strength for me! 🙂 And for all of you too!!! Thanks friends for all you have shared with me and how you stuck by me through many challenges over the time we’ve been acquainted. It is because of you that I can speak out the truth and feel no fear. God bless you all.

NOW…with that out of the way, I also have a tasty winter soup to share with you. I found a nice couple of Organic Grass fed sirloin steaks with a 30% discount at the grocery the other day, and that was my start. Here you go!

A hearty zesty mouthful of flavors!

A hearty zesty mouthful of flavors!

Beef Barley Mushroom soup

2 tblspn EVOO
1/2 yellow onion diced
5-6 cloves garlic minced
1 lb Organic grass fed top sirloin (it was on sale!) – diced into bite size pieces
1 slice thick bacon
6 Baby Portebella Mushrooms sliced
4 cups beef broth
1 12-oz bottle Pale Ale Beer
1 can organic diced tomatoes
1 cup rinsed dried barley
Large Pinch Oregano
Large pinch Basil
Large pinch thyme
2 Bay leaves
3-4 twists of sea salt grinder
Pepper – I used a pepper blend in a grinder to taste
3 tblspoons homemade sauerkraut juice
1/2 tablespoon hot horsheradish
1 Fuji apple diced
2 tablespoons worchestershire sauce
2 carrots sliced 1/8 inch or so
1/2 cup diced red and yellow bell peppers
1/2 tablespoon freshly grated ginger juice/bits

Saute onions and garlic in EVOO about 3 minutes on med-high in CI Dutch oven. Add diced meat and cook until it looses it’s pink color. Set aside.

Sauteed onions, garlic and beef in EVOO

Sauteed onions, garlic and beef in EVOO

In cast iron skillet fry 1 slice bacon until skillet has sheen of fat on it. Lay mushroom slices on hot skillet and watch until they begin to leak out their moisture, about 2-3 minutes. Turn. Cook another 2 minutes. Pour into dutch oven with beef mix. Repeat, bacon and mushrooms until all mushrooms cooked.

 

Add all liquid ingredients and barley then cook about 10 minutes on medium. Then add the rest of the ingredients and put on simmer until carrots are tender to your liking, about 45 minutes for me. Add a large pinch of fresh parsley if you have it during the last few minutes. I did have to add quite a bit of water (2 cups or more) as the barley kept soaking up the liquid. This soup made a great dinner for me as it was. It would also go nicely with a green salad and some fresh bread, but I wasn’t that hungry. The soup satisfied me in numerous ways aside from just filling the empty hole in my belly. It had a wonderful aroma and I also enjoyed the heat generated by the efforts of cooking and having the stove on!

This is a hearty  soup that has a unique flavor that has a bit of savory zestiness to it. I know the ingredient list is a bit long, but I happened to have all these ingredients on hand. And that my friends…is how I put together a soup. Digging around the cabinets this afternoon seeing what I had that would work with the discounted organic beef I picked up the other day led to my inspiration. I have really been making a mindful effort to buy organic and as local as possible. I do watch for discount’s at Grocery Outlet, Safeway, Fred Meyers as well as Cartwright’s Meats. This package was  marked down 30% because of a pull date. While still a bit spendy for my meat budget, I rarely buy beef unless it is discounted. This soup cost me about $20 for the whole pot. I will have to freeze or share a lot of it as it made a pretty full pot! Much healthier and less expensive than any hearty organic soup on the market and it only took about 20 minutes of prep and cook time! I hope you enjoy it too.

Don't forget the liquid barley...and hops!!!

Don’t forget the liquid barley…and hops!!!

Change happens.

I can’t even begin to tell all of you how much has changed in my life over the last few months. The people I have met, the food I eat, the way my days unfold and endd, how I push myself, how much Shasta loves the country…..there has been a LOT of change.

I stopped by last weekend to check on my Layers (who used to be Littles but are now Layers) where they have been staying. Thelma and Louise look a bit small up next to some Americauna’s and Lavandar Orphingtons. Yet they are holding there own. Unfortunately Miss Diana met an undetermined demise. She was found dead one morning in the coop. These things happen. She will be missed for her regal presence among the other lovely ladies.

Thelma and Louise

 

My friend at Applegate Valley Lavender Farms https://www.facebook.com/ApplegateValleyLavenderFarm?fref=ts is the one who has been caring for my girls since late winter when I couldn’t provide for them due to my circumstances. Fortunately, plans for a coop have been chosen, the area for the run has been cleared, the wood has been delivered and building should begin this next week for our own coop here on the property where I am living. I can’t wait to wake up to gathering eggs in the morning again.

While I was at my friends farm we enjoyed a visit with the sheep who had given birth to a beautiful black lamb the week before. I also enjoyed the antics of the baby Sebastapol Geese and the three ducklings on site. And of course, there was the Lavender. Some of it is in bloom and the rest is just about ready to unfold it’s lovely fragrance and color for all the world to see.


My newest and dear friends Jess and Gil who were here for about 5 weeks. You can follow them at http://adventuringsouls.com/. I have no doubt in my mind that our friendship has just begun and we will be sharing some adventures of some type in the future. Love these two folks…they are good people.

We welcomed a new comer that was found using the site https://www.helpx.net/ . This newest helper has come to us from Seattle, WA. She has only been here a few days and I am looking forward to getting more acquainted as time goes by. It has become customary for us to take a dinner photo when we welcome someone new or say goodbye, and that is what the last photo is. Goodbyes and Welcomes all in one night!

folks coming and going

I also had my SSDI appeal consultative examination on Tuesday.  It only lasted 30 minutes and I left feeling frustrated that the MD whom I was seen by didn’t really seem interested in anything I said, but rather found delight in probing all my tender spots even after I told her where I hurt the worst. I am doing my best to remain hopeful that with the input from my NP (nurse pratitioner) as well as my counselor that maybe I will be granted my disability and not have to endure any more prodding and probing. God knows I need a break.

I am enjoying the things I am doing for the most part, although I have had to push myself to a much greater degree on a constant basis than I have in a number of years now. How the toll will be weathered over time is yet to be seen. I am trying to keep my faith, do my best and trust that God has me covered no matter what happens.

There is much more to write, but today was my first day off in quite some time and I make a cake, made jelly and dehydrated bananas and I am a bit tired. So….for now that is all. I will be trying to be more consistent in my postings again. It’s just taken me awhile to get settled and get a routine where I have a few extra moments to spare and the energy to walk to the community cabin to make a posting. The next posting will be a compilation of spring photos I’ve shot of nature and flowers and wildlife and the country. I hope you’ll check back for it.

Production, it’s not what it used to be. Part II

I went to the Rogue Winterfest today and took a walk around the trees displayed. There were some pretty fancy things there. I loved this ornament.  It made me think how nice it would be to have a little trailer that I could take and go wherever a whim suited me to go. I’m feeling like a trip, a long trip in a trailer, would be good for my soul about now.

A cozy Christmas Camper

A cozy Christmas Camper

Two nights ago I was watching the most recent Grey’s Anatomy. It is one of the few shows I enjoy watching.  I typically watch it after the fact on the computer. Do any of you watch it? Well, there is a baby on this episode that is needing heart surgery. I didn’t realize until late into the show that the baby in question had the same condition as my son Kevin had. Today would have been  his 27th birthday. They didn’t have successful surgeries for his condition in 1985. Hypo-plastic left heart syndrome was a sure death sentence for babies.  They had tried a few experimental surgeries in St. Louis back then, but all the babies had died on the table. My husband and I decided to not put our baby through that. I wanted to just hold him as long as I could.  I didn’t want to have him pass away on a sterile cold surgical table without the warmth of his mama.  And so I did…I held him every single minute I could until his last breath was gone. Even tho it was 27 years ago….I always find myself feeling a little tilted from about December 7th until after the 13th. He passed on the 12th. My youngest brother’s birthday is on the 13th. That is my reminder that it is time to move on.,  This year, because of watching this show two days ago, I had it brought to my attention a bit more strongly than it has been in many years.  Typically, since it has been so long, it is a slow awareness that brings it to my attention.  Noticing the date and having my mind jolted into “oh yeah…that’s why I feel a bit off”.   I hope you all don’t mind me sharing this with you…sometimes sharing things eases the weight of them a bit.

That same show held another moment for me. Bailey is struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was diagnosed as being “symptomatic” of OCD years ago. I haven’t  really noticed it  being problematic or pervasive much over the last few years, that is, until moving to this house I am living in. Being where things are so broken and ugly and clutterd and just funky has made me feel more anxious. There is not one room in the entire house that is completely “normal” with everything in working order and painted and cleaned. It kinda wears on me.

So that is why this little trailer caught my eye. It made me think about just wanting to get in a trailer that was all cute and cozy and just go with the flow. Wherever I wanted to go.  Of course, that isn’t going to happen.  But sometimes…letting our minds wander like that, thinking about a trip to wherever, it can help one to get through the moment.

For many many months I was really struggling with pain and  decreased energy.  That was the reason for starting this thread on low production.  Each day all my energy was used just to get a meal and maybe a shower.  It started with the intense heat of the summer, then the smoke from the fires and then the weather changed dramatically in late September and the pain in my joints escalated to where I wasn’t doing much of anything.  Or at least that is how it felt to me.

I had always been so active in the past.  I worked hard and played hard.  I work and worked a lot, always at physically hard jobs.  I worked in food service for years.  If you have been a waitress you know how demanding that is.  I worked at the brown truck company as a pre-loader lifting approximately 50,000 lbs worth of packages a day.  I owned/operated my own businesses, first doing housekeeping and then lawn maintenance.  Then I went back to school at the age of 35.  Single mom, working as a nursing assistant as well as still mowing some lawns a couple days a week in addition to taking classes to get into a nursing program.   It took me 10 years of schooling, all the time working  and raising kids and keeping a house, to get my degree as a registered nurse.  It’s been almost 3 years since I have worked at a regular job and it is still hard for me to accept.  And now, living in this house that needs so much attention and has so much cleaning to be done, while not having the strength or energy to do it,  is really hard.  Especially for someone that has symptoms of OCD. Every day I would hope to be able to clean an area or fix up something, but I just couldn’t stay out of bed long enough for weeks on end.

Then, just a couple weeks ago, the weather changed again.  We hit a cold spell.  A very DRY frigid cold spell.  Low and behold, my energy has been better.  My pain has been reduced.  NO, it is not gone, but it is better than it has been for over 4 months.  It’s been good now for nearly two weeks.  The increased energy has come at a good time.  It is the holiday season.  I have things I’ve wanted to do and things I  want to accomplish.

I am not much of a gift buyer, but I do enjoy making gifts.  As most of you know the holidays take energy if one enjoys participating.  So, I am grateful for this current improvement.  I don’t know how long it will last.  I never know if tomorrow will find me hurting too much to do more than the basics again.   I am doing the best I can to do what brings me enjoyment and fulfillment each day that I get that I feel well.  This house…it isn’t going to get fixed over the holidays. In fact, it is possible that it will never really get fixed during the time I live here.   But I can do a few things to make it have a bit of coziness during the month of Christmas.  I can bake and create lovely aromas to entice smiles and warm memories for anyone who comes by.  I can make gifts of food to share with friends and neighbors to bring a smile to their face.

These will be nice little gifts to have sticking out of a bag or stocking!  :)

These will be nice little gifts to have sticking out of a bag or stocking! 🙂

So, production WAS down and now it is better.That is how it has been with the Layers too.  They went through a rough summer.  They were moved to a small funky coop in town.  They were put with another group of chickens.  They had to deal with the heat and the smoke.  And then they molted.  But now they are looking beautiful and giving us about 8 eggs a day.  They are in a new season and production is good.  It could change again.   Production changes with the ever changing environment.  I guess I’m not so different from the chickens.  🙂

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I think there are still a few girls holding out. They must not have heard the rumor about the stew pot.

The year of the chickens.

A year of learning.  About chickens and eggs and what goes with them.

What came first?  For me it was chickens..but for some it's the egg!

What came first? For me it was chickens..but for some it’s the egg!

What came first, the chicken or the egg?  Well, at my house that is an easy question to answer.  The chickens came first. It was a year ago to be exact!  One year ago this week  I went and brought my first flock to live with me on the farm I lived on out in Applegate.

I caught the chicken bug the first month or so of 2012.  I had been told where I had been living that I was going to have to wait at least until spring of 2013 before my desire would come to fruition. Then, the end of the summer of 2012, I moved.  I no longer had any constraints to keep me from getting the object(S) that my heart desired.  My landlord gave me the thumbs up and I went to work cleaning out and renovating an old coop that was next to my barn apartment.

It was my first time doing any construction of any kind.  Fortunately I had a friend who came to help.  He brought his tools and his strength and his knowledge, but the ideas were all mine and I did my fair share of measuring and cutting and hammering and setting screws. Of course I had cleaned the coop out before we started renovations.  There was old straw and chicken poop all over that needed to be shucked out and scrubbed down and disinfected.  That’s right.  I learned you need to disinfect the coop when you are going to be bringing in a new flock.  So…it was sprayed down with Basic G from Shaklee and I let that dry for a couple of days before adding bedding.  I decided to do the deep litter method using straw on the bottom and pine shavings in their nesting boxes.  Every so often I would add more straw and also some shavings to the floor.  I had no smell and didn’t have to clean the coop from October to May.

I had never even held a chicken before the day I went to pick them up.  The gal I bought them from was going through some really rough times and needed to move her kids to California and couldn’t take the girls.  She was so sad about it and I did the best I could to reassure her that they were going to be loved and loved and loved.  And they were.

So, things I had learned before I even retrieved my girls was that they needed to have a place where they were safe from predators, especially at night.  They needed their coop to be dry and not have chilling drafts.  They needed food specific to their age and calling in life (mine were on Layer Pellets) and fresh drinking water.  I had read they needed to have roosts and laying boxes and ladders to get up in the boxes and special treats and lots of other things.  I quickly found out they don’t.  The will find anywhere to roost or sleep if they feel safe and the same can be said with laying eggs.  But I made sure my coop had plenty of laying baskets and they had plenty of roosting space and a locked coop for night-time.

I had decided I wanted my Layers to be free ranged.  That means that they were free to roam as far as they chose to.  Since we lived on a 13 acre piece of property they had quite a wide expanse of territory.  They mostly stayed in the 3 acres close to my barn apartment and the main house.  While letting them free range during the day does increase their risk of being struck by a predator, I felt it was a more natural and kinder life for them.  I did loose one of my hens to a hawk about three months after getting them.  RIP Grace.  I realized that was part of the deal.  Life and death.

So, the chicken came before the egg, but once the eggs started….woah Nellie did I have eggs!  It only took a few days from their relocation before I think each Layer had laid at least one egg.  They do not lay an egg EVERY day.  Each breed has an approximate number of eggs they will lay in a lifetime.  Most of them lay an egg about every 24-30 hours during their peak laying years.  So with a Bakers Dozen girls I would get about 5 dozen eggs a week when they were all in prime laying.  I have learned that their laying habits can vary based on many things.  When they molt (lose their old feathers and grow new ones which occurs once a year) they generally don’t lay.  Some chickens have a hard molt and they look pretty rough.  Miss Donna, my Golden Laced Polish hen, hardly looks any different during her molt, but she hasn’t given me any eggs during her molt.  I’ve also learned that stress will decrease egg production. Decreased light will also cause low productions.  Over the hardest part of the winter I was only getting one egg every other day per hen.  Also, this summer when we were having so much smoke from our fire season and the temperatures were soaring above 90 degrees and into the low 100’s for weeks on end, I did not have good production.  Moving them stresses them.  Adding new chickens to the flock is stressful.  Essentially I have learned that hens like things to be constant and the same and not to be upset if you want to have good output.

My girls and their eggs have brought so many new and wonderful things to my life.  I started my community Facebook page and have met so many interesting and knowledgeable people who enjoy chickens and sustainable living and healthy eating and many things I enjoy also.  I started doing this blog and the Layers and Littles, or their eggs, had a star role often.  I sold some of my eggs, which led me to meet others who sold eggs and had chickens.  And of course…with all those eggs…I did a LOT of egg cooking.  I made stuff for myself and for others.  The eggs became the basis for my Barter Basket that was my payment for my physical therapy once a week.

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About 4 months after becoming known as “that crazy chicken lady” by my friends, I bought some day old chicks.  I decided I wanted to start from scratch.  My first batch was 2 Silver Laced Wyandottes (SLW) and a Welsummer.  The following week in February I bought a pair of Speckled Sussex (SS).  My landlord bought 35 babies and let me tell you..that many babies makes a real racket and a stench if you don’t keep up on them. My five Little’s were kept up in my apartment with me until they were 5 weeks old.  I just used a clear plastic tub and had their food and water and a heat lamp hanging above it.  You have to help keep them warm, so a heat lamp is the easiest and least expensive way to do it.  From the first week of having the SS chicks I knew they were different.   From each other that is.  There was just something about them.  Low and behold, about June, the one that had a bit larger comb began to crow!  I had a pair that I could breed and I was excited to think about hatching eggs.  I had a rooster!  And what a handsome cocky boy he was.

I started introducing the Littles to my Layers when they were about 6 weeks old.  I would take them outdoors and have them in a pen where the big girls could get a look, but not get at them.  Then when they were about 12 weeks old I moved them to the coop, but kept them sequestered in an area of the coop to themselves and only let them out when I was in attendance.  I did this for about a week and then one evening after they had all been outdoors for the late afternoon, I let them all go in to find their spots at bedtime and they all just were together after that.

Then life changed and I needed to move.  To town.  I knew I couldn’t bring a rooster to town and so I relocated Pumpkin and 5 of my older Layers with someone out in the country.  I  packed up the 4 Littles and Miss Donna and Sweetie (she’s an Austrolop) and brought them to town and they joined my boyfriends motley crew of 14 hens.  We ended up rehoming 8 of his and were back down to just a dozen.  They haven’t been as happy here and our production as been down.  They have to be in an enclosed chicken yard and I don’t think they like that as much as running free.

I have learned that chickens LOVE treats.  In the winter I would give them warm oats with apples or raisins in them.  Sometimes I would add some scrambled eggs for extra protein.  Some people think you shouldn’t give chickens eggs or chicken meat.  My girls love both!  They have yet to show any signs of cannibalism, but they love having some warm scrambled eggs on a cold morning.  I also started growing and giving them sprouts when they weren’t getting out to free range.  They also like scratch, sunflower seeds and fruit and veggie scraps.  My girls get a wide variety of diet with their base being Organic Layer Pellets from the Grange.  I love using the bags to decorate their coop as well as I used them to line planter boxes this summer!

A few other things I’ve learned this year about raising chickens.  Sometimes you forget that you’ve put an egg in your pocket and it gets squashed.  Sometimes they don’t have “fluffy butts” but rather have nasty butts and need to get a good washing!  I wasn’t sure, but I found out that they will go out in the snow.  And they LOVE to take dust baths.  Those are just a few things I learned just by watching and enjoying my girls.

We inherited two new pullets a month ago.  My boyfriend’s cousin raises Blue-Laced Red Wyandottes and we are hoping when we are able to move back out to the country that we can start breeding them.  They are a beautifully marked bird and I have read about many  people who are trying to fine tune the breed so it can be added to the American Breed Standard.

Our Blue-Laced Red Wyandottes...all the way from Utah!

Our Blue-Laced Red Wyandottes…all the way from Utah!

So, while the chicken did come first for me, the eggs will be coming for quite some time.  And what does that do for me the most???  It makes me smile.  I love my chickens.  They fill so many areas of my life.  They give me food.  They are one of the things I do in my life towards being self-sufficient.  They are a wonderful conversation topic.  They have brought me new friends which has opened doors for many other new things.

My next post will explain why I need them.  You see…production is at an all time low for me.  And I’m not talking about eggs.  Check back soon and see what I mean about low production!  Thanks for reading friends.  Now go pet a chicken or eat an egg!  It will improve your day…trust me…I know it for a fact!

Pauline’s Oriental Green Beans

Yesterday I roasted a chicken and was going to take it as part of my Barter Basket to my physical therapist appointment.  My appointment was cancelled so it became part of our dinner at home.  I had seen this recipe for Forbidden rice and veggie stir-fry on one of the blogs I like to follow and decided that I would make it, with a few changes, for a side dish.  I left out the tofu because I know my guys would not even consider eating that.  They are meat and tater men!  Also, I didn’t have any of the Forbidden rice so I  used brown rice instead.  I felt bad about making changes on a first run through it but I was using what I had.  The final addition to my meal was Pauline’s Oriental Green Beans.

Pauline was a lovely woman I met and became friends with when I live in Washington.  I met her and her husband Chuck at the church I attended.  She was one of those ladies you can’t help but love.  A second grade teacher, petite, quiet spoken, and so loving all the time with a smile that made you want to smile back at her.  She served this green bean dish at a dinner party she had for my ex and myself and our pastor and his family.    I loved it.  When I asked her for the recipe, she gave it to me along with the short story of how she had come to learn to make them.  In a nutshell…she had been taught by her blind Asian lady friend that she had met from church.  And now, she was telling me how to make them.

It is a simple dish with a real punch of flavor.  It also adds a nice bit of color to a plate.    You start out by using about 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil.  Heat over med-high heat and throw in 4 or 5 cloves of garlic.  Cook the garlic until it is soft enough to smash into the oil.   Don’t worry if some of the garlic gets a little crispy…in my opinion those little crispy bits are delicious.

After the garlic is smashed up, throw in a pound of washed trimmed green beans and turn the heat down to medium.  Cook, stirring often, about 5-6 minutes.  Add 3 tablespoons reduced sodium soy-sauce and cook another 4-5 minutes with the lid on, stirring every minute or so.  When I have them available I will throw in a handful of slivered or sliced almonds.  I didn’t have them this time.

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I think it made for a pretty plate of food and everyone ate their fill.  The rice dish was quite yummy and I have lots of the peanut sauce left over so I need to figure out another use for it.  It was wonderful to make this and spend a few minutes remembering my dear friend.  She passed away in July of 2005 after a very short (only about a month) fight with pancreatic cancer.   I am grateful for the recipe…but more grateful for the memories of a fine woman who shared more than the recipe with me…she shared her heart and her love and most importantly, she shared her faith in God with me.  Thank you Pauline, for showing me God through your eyes.

Roasted chicken, Forbidden Rice Veggie Stir-fry and Pauline's Oriental Green Beans.

Roasted chicken, Forbidden Rice Veggie Stir-fry and Pauline’s Oriental Green Beans.

Waste not, want not…using what I have!

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Last week I responded to a local ad regarding a bartering offer and I ended up being gifted some plant starts.  A very kind woman took me to her greenhouse and explained how some things in life had been challenging this spring and she wasn’t going to be able to market her plants.  The “need” in the barter request was being fulfilled by another resource.  She said to take any starts I thought I could use or would want since I had responded to the ad and been willing to do the barter.  There were hundreds of tomatoes and peppers of all kinds imaginable.  Various herbs.  It was a wonderful place for me to be…just standing there in that greenhouse with such beauty in the bounty of food all those plants represented.

I tried to be realistic.  I thought about what I could and would do with tomatoes and peppers.  Salsa, spaghetti sauce, canned tomatoes, dried peppers.   I ended up with about 15 tomato plants and the same amount in peppers.  I had 6 pony packs which had cilantro, parsley, fennel, basil, another parsley and another herb that I am unsure what it is.  I think there were 3 squash plants that when I saw them at first I thought they were geraniums.  Might still be geraniums.  These plants aren’t marked. The woman had left me alone and said to help myself.

Butterfly pepper

Butterfly on the pepper plant in the garden.

Because I lost last years garden bounty, I have been hesitant to plant all my seeds and starts in the ground.  I am a renter, and I am anticipating I will be leaving here at some, I just don’t know when.  I was offered a place to garden in one of the many growing areas on this property and I utilized that.  A couple of days ago I planted 6 tomatoes and 5 peppers and 3 pony packs of the parsley and cilantro and basil in the area I cleaned out to use .  I still had LOTS more to plant. I wanted to have a mobile garden.  One I could take with me if I were to move before harvest time.  I did have some black pots I have acquired as well as I intended to make planters with old pallets.  I have been collecting some pallets over the last few weeks.  Figuring out how to use them was the next line of thought.  That was my goal this afternoon.

Do you know how hard it is to dismantle old pallets?  They are put together to STAY put together. The have a bazillion nails in them.  Nails that aren’t easy to get out. I took apart 2 pallets a few weeks ago and realized I just don’t have the strength to do that kind of hard repetitive work.  So I had to figure out a way where I would just cut them without removing the nails.   After numerous searches on the web this is what I came up with.

I cut the pallet into three pieces.  I then cut to size and nailed into place some empty feed bags.  I have used these feed bags to add decor to the walls of my coop also!  The shorter ones are filled with organic potting soil and planted with the herbs.  As a “filler” in the taller one (to conserve on the cost of plant mix) I went and scooped up some of the old straw/shavings/chicken poop that was scattered after the last two cleanings of the coop.  The bottom layer is 9 months old and really breaking down well.  The top layer is still fairly dry and has been sitting for over 2 months.  I believe that anything sending roots down further than the 8 inches will find that the stuff underneath has broken down more and will allow for nice long root systems.  Another experiment for me to monitor.

I did the same trick on the big black pots I used.  I filled them about 1/2 full with the partially composted coop mix and then topped them off with the Organic Plant Mix.  I worked until I ran out of the 2 bags of soil I had and it was almost dark.  I think I planted about 14 pots.  Some of them have double duty with more than one plant in it.  It felt so good to accomplish this.  I have been very slow to get going with planting a garden of any type, and yet when God provided all that I needed to do so, I had to get out there and do my part!  I am grateful for this woman’s generosity.

IN the midst of doing this planting I realized I had not eaten anything except for the Latte I had treated myself to when I was running errands in town.  I had received a FREE coupon a week ago.  Free is always good, but that free drink wasn’t going to give me the energy I needed to get this job done.  I had no ideas of what sounded good.  I just needed food.

What I had that needed to be used

Peppers, onion, Portabella mushroom, mayonnaise, avocado, fresh tomato and potato, basil, Organic Seed Bread, Mozzarella cheese

I opened up my little fridge and started searching.  What you see in the picture is what I pulled out  that needed to be used so it wouldn’t go bad or to waste over the weekend.  There were 3 peppers and a little bit of red onion that was left over and then the Portobello mushroom that my friend had given me the other day.  Hmmm…a sandwich sounded good….what kind could I throw together with this stuff?  I continued to rummage and found the little bit of the homemade mayonnaise with avocado added I had made last week and it was still good, but wouldn’t be for much longer.   My boyfriend had said something about a Philly Beefsteak Sandwich earlier and those peppers and onions triggered the idea into action!  An epic Portabella Philly Sandwich was about to be born!  A sandwich of this magnitude needs to be served with some chips.  But I didn’t have chips.  Yet I had bought an organic russet just today on my trip to Cartwright Meats.  I had also bought 3 of their Bacon Wrapped sirloin with hopes of a BBQ over the weekend.  They are only $3.49 each every Friday!

The chips: Turn oven to 450 degrees.  I used my stoneware bake pan and heated it also during the preheat time.  The chips were made by slicing on a mandolin and soaking in rice vinegar and water brine for 20 minutes. I drained the water off using a salad spinner to get them really dry! This was some good exercise for arms!  Then I drizzled some EVOO on and made sure all the slices had some oil.  I sprinkled Mrs. Dash Fiesta Lime blend all over the chips.  I opened the oven and spread them out as single level as I could.  I cooked for 10 minutes and then turned them and cooked another 10 minutes.  This was the perfect amount of time to make the sandwich.

This is how the sandwich was made!!!

Slice 1/2 red pepper, 1/2 green pepper and 1/2 small red onion.  Saute in cast iron skillet on medium heat in 1 tbsp. EVOO until onions are carmelized.  Remove from heat (I used my 12 inch cast iron and only put 1/2 the pan over heat so I just pushed the pepper onion mix on the unheated side to keep warm).  There should be just a small glaze of the oil left seen in the pan..it’s barely there. Slice washed and stemmed mushroom and lay sliced into hot pan.  Put one slice of Organic Seed bread in the toaster.  Turn the mushroom after about 1 minute when it is just seared.  Spread lightly with homemade mayo.  Stir mushrooms with peppers to combine all in pan and add 3 sprigs of fresh basil and cook one more minute. Take off heat and squeeze half a lime over the entire pan of food. Scoop onto toasted bread.  Place 1 ounce sliced mozzarella cheese on top of grilled veggies and place under broiler until cheese is melted.  Add sliced tomatoes and a spread more of the mayonnaise. Top with avocado and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper and sea salt.

Portabella Philly Sandwich

Portabella Philly Sandwich

I hope you give this a try as a substitute for the traditional Philly Steak Sandwich.  The only thing I will change in my recipe for next time is to have a nice hoagie roll instead of the seed bread.  This has some juiciness to it and the bread didn’t hold up through the time it took me to take a few photos and eat it!  A hefty roll will be much better!  And it would make it portable!  Portable plants and portable Portabella Philly sandwich!