Key West, FL.


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We drove to Key West three times. It is about an hour drive from Marathon, but is such a hub of shopping, eating, and activities, that it was worth it. Not to mention, it’s THE southernmost point. It would be silly to not go the extra distance to make the claim. (My deepest apologies, this post is ridiculously long, but I can’t figure out what to trim. I tried to bundle it by topic in the order we did them. I just thought three separate Key West posts would be overkill.)

Pie.

Our first trip we booked an evening glass bottom boat tour. We arrived a bit early so we could stop in for Key Lime pie (dipped in chocolate and on a stick to boot). I’m not really a Key Lime pie sort of person, but the chocolate gives it a nice sweetness, and frankly the pie was very good. The employee (owner?) was incredibly nice. He came over to ask what we thought and explained how Key Lime pie must have a certain tang. He then took time to answer our question about how to get to the “90 Miles to Cuba” buoy. I bet that poor guy gets asked the same thing time and again, but he was nice enough to not act so. We headed on foot, in a bit of a rush, to make that 14 block jaunt.

Chickens.

On our “hurry up let’s try to get there now” mission I noticed chickens…. out front of the post office. I giggled, looked around to see where they belonged, and tried to keep pace with Dear Husband. I noticed more chickens, and we noticed chicks. It started to dawn on me that chickens are wild here. I’ve never been to Key West before and didn’t even do research before we headed in, so they surprised me.

I did read locals can get annoyed and humanely trap them for relocation on the mainland at ranches where they act as pest control. I’m not going to mention how odd that is, considering the amount of chicken most likely shipped in as FOOD for the restaurants and hotels in Key West, but I digress. Anyhow, I liked seeing them alive, for sure. They add a very unique feeling to the bustling town full of traffic, people, and bicycles.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour.

We started to realize we couldn’t make the 14 blocks. So we turned around and hustled back to the dock for loading. Too early. We had 45 minutes to wait, so we meandered around the docks, through Mallory Square (saw more chicks) and had some pizza. We thought it would be good to invest in some seabands too. Finally, we docked and looked down through the glass bottoms. That was truly interesting.

The weather was rainy for a short stint, but we got lots of dry time on top of, in front of, and in back of the main boat inside area. It was beautiful looking at the turquoise water ahead, waiting for our glimpse at the third largest coral reef in the world. When we stopped, we sort of drifted across the coral as the tour guide pointed out the names of the fish we saw (and someone mentioned they spotted a cell phone, to which the guide replied that was not funny!, to which they replied, it was NOT a joke), why we need to save coral, and so on. The boys dangled their feet and listened to the presentation. Well, little fella didn’t make it all the way to the end, but he did pretty well. Meanwhile, Dear Husband was feeling a little, shall we say, seasick? Then, I was feeling a lot seasick. I did NOT hear the whole presentation, instead I hunkered down in the back of the boat and tried to pretend the boat and my stomach weren’t spinning out of control. I’m so happy my poor children didn’t feel what we felt. It was miserable and didn’t go away until after we docked and I sat down for a bit. Dear Husband ran and grabbed some Dramamine, which tasted so completely awful it shocked the seasickness right out of me. I did see some coral and enjoyed at least half of the tour so I call it success.

Parasaililng.

The second trip to Key West was to get on another boat. It scared the living daylights out of me. I took two pills to prevent seasickness and the coral reef misery feeling.

We are not a thrill seeking sort of family, however, little fella decided we should parasail when looking through our local “things to do” guide. I read it was the lowest price in the whole country, which made me think, well, if we were EVER to parasail, now is that time. We told him we’d go for it…. before that first boat ride. After, we asked him if we could pass to save our stomachs, he cried. I wasn’t about to have everyone blame me for not trying, and truly I thought it would be fun. We booked it.

Parasailing is awesome. I have never felt like time stood still more than the moment we were up in the air. It felt like we were on a  gentle swing. I felt like we weren’t moving at all, but saw the boat below zig zagging madly back and forth while we floated like a bubble above. Little fella and I got to ride together and go first, Dear husband went with older son, last, after a few others.

I hate this, but Dear Husband and I were very sick, again. I held it together for a long time, and took another pill while on the boat, but yup, it didn’t work. We vowed we needed a break from ocean vessels for a while. It was still worth it. (Oh, and we did snap that “90 Miles to Cuba” pic before the boat ride.)

Air Show.

Our last day in the Keys was on a hot tarmac at the Navy base for an air show. (Dear Husband read the show coincided with our final day there and it was free! Heck ya.) We saw the Budweiser Clydesdales, a woman standing on the exterior wing of a plane IN FLIGHT, (YES, she was!), the Firebirds, and the Blue Angels. It was hot, there was a sliver of shade where everyone elbowed each other for room, and the boys asked when it would be over. Then the Blue Angels wrapped it up and impressed happiness back into us all.

Key West is beautiful, bustling, chicken-filled, bicycle-busting, high-end shopping filled, people-loaded, and full of things to try. I loved it. I didn’t want to leave. Then I remembered we had reservations at a fun place where dreams come true….

Bledsoe Creek State Park, TN.

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We wrapped up our eleven nights at Bledsoe Creek State Park. This was our base camp while Dear Husband finished up his last weeks at work, we visited with friends we won’t see for a while, and we ran some last errands. The weather was back and forth from awful to excellent to awful. We had cold, rain, warmth, sun, snow,  you name it. On the best days we rode bikes ( from across the lake we could see our Tracy), fed the ducks (our camping chickens), played at the park, swung in the hammock and so on. On the cold or rainy days we ran errands, knitted, organized, and watched movies. Of course laundry and schoolwork don’t care about the weather and I wove that into our days as well.

Bledsoe Creek State Park is full, and I mean crazy full, of wildlife. Deer stared at us as we walked past them to the park, ducks raced up to see if we had treats, even a heron waited patiently on the dock as I walked Mack on by. I guess they enjoy seeing the people as much as the people enjoy seeing them. I’ve never seen such diverse wildlife in one state park and I wonder if I ever will again. It made our camping and waiting for our big departure delightful.

Our truck, trailer, and spirits are ready to roll. Off we head to explore.

Molting Chickens.

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Our White Leghorn molted a few weeks ago. Now the Red Sex Links are molting. They look much worse than the Leghorn did. They just look ragged. They really remind me of when they were about 6-8 week old chicks, gangly, wild creatures. I am finding tufts of feathers everywhere in and out of the coop. It must be worse because there are three of them.

They are in no mood for photos. I can’t blame them, but don’t worry gals, it will be over soon.

Mulch vs. Chickens.

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Mulch looses every time. Or rather I do. Our front walkway is inevitably coated with mulch and leaves because the chickens scratch piles of it out of the garden and, well, right on the stone walkway. I don’t rake it daily, but weekly for sure. It’s annoying and I feel like an idiot. I am creating this cycle.

Today I got wise. Necessity, of course, made my brain click into gear. I spread fresh mulch a few hours ago and I’m not about to rake it all back up tomorrow. I realized I have a little fenced garden for tomatoes. With nothing growing in there now, I can now keep the chickens IN. Fabulous, right?

I got all excited, I thought I was genius, and the boys and I watched them enjoy the new digs. Then I came inside and looked out back. The chickens got out and were at the back of my house…digging in the mulch. Sigh. I think I’ll have to use it only when someone is outdoors. At least they didn’t get to the fresh stuff out front.

Chickens win for now.

Fortunately.

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Like all things in life, chickens have their good and bad bits. Instead of long paragraphs musing on how pretty they are or how bizarre they can be, I’m going to take a cue from a fun book I used to read to the boys, Fortunately by Remy Charlip. And so today my chicken version goes like this,

Fortunately, chicks are inexpensive,

Unfortunately, when they grow feed can be expensive,

Fortunately, they can range and eat wild food,

Unfortunately, they can eat food from our gardens,

Fortunately, they reduced our ticks,

Unfortunately, they spread garden mulch out of the gardens,

Fortunately, they reduced our snakes,

Unfortunately, they can be attacked by wild animals,

Fortunately, they can hide,

Unfortunately, sometimes they hide at the neighbor’s property,

Fortunately, they’ll come home for mealworms,

Unfortunately, they poop a lot, everywhere,

Fortunately, their eggs can feed you,

Unfortunately, you don’t want them to crack before they make it to your table,

Fortunately, they almost never do.

Chickens have been a fabulous addition to our homestead. I say they are akin to gerbils as far as cleaning, watering, and feeding (but that’s an assumption, I’ve never had caged indoor animals before). They go into their coop at night by themselves (wish they could teach the boys this go to bed by themselves routine). They aren’t particularly snuggly, like our dog, but they are curious, responsive, and interesting to watch around the house. A year and a half after we picked up our chicks, I’m a fan.

Growing Pumpkins.

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It’s not the first time nature had a better plan than I did. I expect it’s not the last. I noticed a pumpkin in the compost bin on a routine dumping last week. Earlier this summer I saw large green leaves growing in our bin, but assumed it was squash again like last year. Instead, happily I found mini-pumpkins this time around.

Last year, I also let the squash plant be, but the chickens did not. One day it was laden with squash, the next it had all been pecked and consumed. That stunk. Naturally, I became concerned the chickens might eat the pumpkins. However, I couldn’t help but wonder how large they would get if I left them alone. I played it cool. I tried not to suggest to the chickens any pumpkins were growing. I’d look over my shoulder when they were in the compost bin pecking around to confirm the safety of the orange flesh. I would route by the bin if I needed to walk to the burn pile to check the status.

The chickens avoided the pumpkins just fine. I suppose we both learned lessons last year? Perhaps that unripe squash left a bad taste in their mouths as well? Anyhow, the vine died, one pumpkin started getting squishy, so I pulled them and put them on the back porch for exceptionally early Autumnal decor. Little fella keeps mentioning pumpkin pie.

With dried up, dead tomato plants in my garden, I’m about ready to let nature just do the compost pile surprising. Also, with the awful July heat we’ve been enduring, a little Autumnal color is welcome.

Flock of Four.

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(Dirty, our upset hen who had a rough week.)

Last week we had a visit from a school group mama who casually mentioned she was looking to buy hens. I convinced my family we could downsize to the original four hens I hoped to have. The next day she drove back to pick up one white leghorn and one red sex link. Done deal.

Day three I walked out to the coop to find Dirty acting strangely. She wouldn’t get down from the roost. I immediately lamented my sale. I gave this poor hen psychological damage. Why couldn’t I leave well enough alone? I must have sold her best friend and sent her into depression.

I went back and forth, should I or shouldn’t I coddle her? Should I tell her all will be well? If I do that, then will I have to help her down from the roost EVERY day? Is that something I want to have to do EVERY day? I thought opening the coop to free rein would motivate her, but it didn’t.

I gave in. I carried her to the other hens. I regretted the sale of the other two hens every minute. I came indoors for a moment and went back out again only to find a cracked egg hanging from her vent. What? What in the world was going on here?

I immediately rushed back inside to search online. I read some awful things. Seriously, I read many posts such as “My hen laid a cracked egg? What should I do?” Most responses were, “I’m sorry, she will die.”

I texted my husband professing my terrible choice. I sold two hens and killed a third, I divulged. What kind of person am I?

In an effort to “save” Dirty, I isolated her in our garage. I set up her water, feed, and gave her some canned milk. (I also read she needed calcium pronto. I wasn’t able to race to the store for suggested Tums, I had to do with what I had.) I waited. I emailed my best friend in hysteria. I waited.

In fact, Dirty did not die. She was actually pretty patient when I cleaned her vent with gloved hands and coconut oil. However, she was annoyed encapsulated in metal walls in our garage. I moved her back outdoors and two days later Dirty laid an egg.

If that was a coincidence, I think the timing was awful. If it wasn’t, did Dirty stress because the flock downsized? Does Dirty always have bad luck?

Natural Spider Killer.

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When we moved South, we entered a buggy world. Our first summer, our poor old dog got fleas. That’s the first I’ve ever had to deal with that mess. Then we learned about termites. Apparently, all real estate down here must be treated every seven years with a moat of termite killer. Then I found out about chiggers. I’ve seen mothers freaking out about their children laying in the grass, and I don’t blame them. After a chigger experience, I would do the same. The worst is when I found out poisonous spiders, ones that like to live indoors, reside locally. Eeeek.

Dear Husband and I found some easy, natural, and effective ways to kill spiders. Listen, I’m not against nature and insects are very interesting outdoors. However, bad spiders do scare me and I’m sorry if any other bugs get caught in the crossfire.

1. Diatomaceous Earth: This is ground up fossilized shell powder that slices open any insect’s exoskeleton. When they walk across it, and get cut, they die via dehydration. It’s edible by humans, encouraged for worming in animals and recommended for dusting in chicken coops too. Speaking of dust, It is very dusty when you spread it. Before you buy this, please read online about precautions. We dusted our attic and our crawl space. I also dust corners of the garage, under the fridge and closets.

2. Sticky Traps: When the creepy crawlies crawl along the baseboard at night, we’ve got sticky traps ready to concrete them in their path. I try to replace the trap when it’s too dusty (for fear a spider might glide across the dust). They can also be called “insect monitoring boards.”

3. Chickens (and wild birds too): Free-ranging our chickens absolutely reduced our tick “issues” last year. They wander around the house, dig up loose topsoil and peck away. Local pest control told me when bug populations get reduced, spiders have less food. When spiders have less food, they go elsewhere looking for some. Of course, pest control wanted to spray for spiders, but I used this knowledge to convince Dear Husband to go for the chickens instead.

If you aren’t interested in domesticated birds, attract wild ones. We put out wool pinecones for birds to add into their nests this year for the first time. Our pond makes a great watering hole for many birds, but my parents do just as well with their maintained bird bath. A little bird feed will bring wild bird friends too.

4. Vacuum: I’m more vigilant about vacuuming the corners and eaves in the warmer weather, outdoors on the back and front porches too. Again, as the local pest control told me, less food = less spiders. When those spider webs go away, so does spider food.

I get it, shorter winters means insects that overwinter. I just don’t want things to get out of hand, and so I’m taking the natural spider killer job seriously. These are easy things I can do to keep those buggers at bay.

Hurry Up, It Snowed.

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We woke up Saturday morning to fluffy, powdery snow. If you live in Tennessee you know what this means. Hurry up! Sled immediately before it melts!

The chickens were not fond of the snow and stood at their coop door staring out into the white abyss. They never left the dirt patch that morning.

The snow was perfect for sledding, snow angels, and elephant foot print making (stamping with their round sleds). It was smiles all around and was of course melted by the time we returned from our day at the flea market.

Chicken Mystery.

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It’s a good thing Dirty didn’t mind getting dirty to protect herself!

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Oh my goodness! Upon walking the dog late yesterday afternoon, my oldest son found a pile of feathers! My oh my, when I saw the pile, I had a bad feeling. Even worse when I saw a trail of feathers leading down to our spring. I told the boys a chicken may be gone. My youngest fella was near tears, saying he needed to leave. I told him it would be a good idea, but that I needed to keep looking.

But then I realized we ought to count how many unharmed chickens we had. We ran uphill and easily lured them into the coop from under the shrubs, a place they usually only go to beat summer heat. We counted only five, we were missing Dirty.

My older son and I went back down the hill. I looked at the huge pile again, but saw no blood or gore. I just couldn’t figure it out. So, I just kept after the feather trail, crossing the spring and back again. It took a few minutes to see a clump of feathers sticking out of a mud hole cave. I didn’t know if an animal had pulled her in or if she had injuries. This is the miraculous part, I peeled away two large stones that formed the top of the hole and grabbed gently at her rear. She came out scared, but unscathed. Not one cut, bump, scratch, or otherwise, save for many missing feathers on her middle back. She was caked with mud and I’m guessing very happy to see us.

My older son deduced it must have been a hawk that tried to get her, because a land animal could have easily clawed away at that hole. That seems logical, only the chickens know for sure. Either way, she raced down the hill and found a hole very rapidly. We learned a lesson too.

I know the dangers of free ranging our chickens. I’m so sorry to say that very morning I told my husband we have too many chickens. I cringe when I think about that. For now, it was an eye-opening afternoon. We will keep them in the coop, free range them when we are outdoors only, like when they were babies, and explore all of our options.