Feeding the “girls” at grandpa and grandma’s house.
A home to roost
—Katie Williams, Signpost
I don’t know what has come over me. Usually when the paper is finished I start making my to-do list of all the things I need to catch-up on. The list usually includes laundry, grocery shopping, returning friends phone calls, and trying to get thank you cards mailed that have been sitting on my desk for ages. But, this month is different.
I have decided that before making my list, my priority is to build a chicken coop. I thought about a great camping weekend with the family, but just the thought of packing the car was too much. This month all I can think about is building a big birdhouse.
I ponder why it is that I am so excited to spend my time-off building a chicken coop. I have never owned chickens before. It seemed like more of a mess than I would like to take on. Mothers everywhere know that with children one less stress is something we strive for daily. So, why do I so badly desire to have chickens running around the yard? After some reflection, I believe it’s because I find it not only economical, but truly relaxing.
Recently my mother and father decided to get a few chickens for their yard. The “girls” as my mother calls them roam around eating bugs, grass, weeds and the occasional mellon rind my father saves for them. Going over to their house you can’t help but be intrigued at what these birds are up to on a daily basis. One in particular is always walking along the fence that separates their coop and the neighbors’ dogs. Now, while I have not heard it said that chickens are bred for their smarts, “Henny Penny’s” jaunt makes for a fifty-percent chance that each trip may be her last. My parents could have just as easily named her “Yummy” or “Din-Din.” The dogs on the other side of the fence sure appreciate her willingness to take risks, and it may pay off for them one day.
The other chickens are just as entertaining. The Mere sight of bread sends the chickens into a sprint. The larger birds eat first leaving the occasional crumb for the smaller ones. I guess there is really is something to the term pecking order. While observing these birds I can’t help but smile. They are quite friendly and very entertaining to watch. My daughter would much rather feed the chickens than watch Sleeping Beauty and that is saying a lot for a two year old who recently discovered cartoons.
Another deciding factor in raising chickens is the reward of eggs. My reasoning is along the lines of wanting to source more of our family’s food locally and having an interest in knowing more about the process of harvesting eggs. With all the omelets and baking at my house, going outside to get some eggs seems rather natural somewhat charming. Not only would the eggs probably save our family some money, but they would give me a reason to stop by for a quick visit with the neighbors. Currently, my visits usually consist of my apologies for Bosque’s late night antics, a topic that is fodder for another article.
Aside from friendly pets with personality, weed control and fresh, great-tasting eggs, the chickens will provide free fertilizer for the garden we planted this year (which I will put out of my mind when I enjoy some of the squash). They will also help with the small pests that roam the yard, garden, and fruit trees. Chickens are easy and inexpensive to maintain. Local feed stores sell them for around $2 a chick, which seems fairly reasonable. When I reflect on the benefits, it’s a wonder to me why we didn’t raise chickens before now.
There is one element of my plan that will require a great amount of energy, and that is training our dogs. You never know if you’ll get a risk taker like Henny or just a hungry visiter who loves fresh chicken. Believe me, I am mentally prepared that it may happen to my roost, and emotionally prepared to deal with it. I just need to sit Dagny, Vincent and Bosque down for few long conversations. I think my bird dogs will understand my worries.
Once my coop (and additional bird dog fence) is built and the chickens are in, I am looking forward to the joy chickens will bring to our family. Tending these small creatures will bring a wonderful sense of calm and purpose to my bustling life.
Don’t skip vacation; just watch the costs
One of the first things many people trim from their budget during economic downturns is vacation. That’s unfortunate, because stressful times are when we most need to recharge our batteries. Taking on additional debt to finance a vacation is itself stressful, however.
With summer vacation just around the corner, here are a few tips for taking a well-deserved break that won’t break the bank:
Last summer’s astronomical gas and airfare price hikes popularized “staycations,” where people vacation close to home and explore their own backyard—sometimes literally. A few ideas:
If gardening relaxes you, dedicate time to sprucing up your yard. If you hate it, splurge on a gardener.
Use money you save by not traveling to hire a housecleaner after your staycation so you won’t have to think about cleaning.
Become a local tourist. Research what online travel sites and the Chamber of Commerce recommend for visitor activities. Many businesses provide local-resident discounts to encourage return visits.
For a minor splurge, visit a local resort and take advantage of its amenities. Most offer off-days where rates are lower.
Enjoy crowd-free shopping and errands while everyone else is at work.
Uncover hidden vacation costs. If you do travel, make sure to budget beyond normal airfare, hotel, rental car, and meal expenses. Consider such items as surcharges for extra or overweight luggage, sales and hotel taxes, babysitters, tips, taxis, rail and transit passes, event admission costs and ticket-ordering charges, new luggage, sporting equipment rental, and special clothing or accessory requirements.
Don’t have a vacation budget?
Visa Inc.’s free personal financial management site, Practical Money Skills for Life (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/travel), features a summer travel budgeting center filled with tools to help you create a vacation budget, including a web-based calculator that suggests various travel options and then automatically tallies the results.
You can find great deals on airfares, hotels, and rental cars by comparison shopping online. But beware: Before clicking “confirm” to finalize your purchase, make sure the final price matches the initial quote. I’ve seen fares jump $50 or more in just minutes or had the seat I thought I was booking suddenly become unavailable.
With so many people cutting back on travel, many hotels, airlines, restaurants, and other tourist-oriented businesses are hurting. Don’t be afraid to request incentives like an extra night’s lodging, free parking or shuttle service, meal vouchers, or spa treatment discounts. At worst they’ll just say no or perhaps offer some other perk. And always ask for member discounts if you belong to organizations like AAA or AARP—ten or fifteen percent here and there can add up.
Unless you’re tied to your kids’ school calendar, try to avoid peak travel times and routes. Flying mid-week or from more remote airports can save a bundle. And with so many flights overbooked, airlines frequently offer cash rewards or free tickets to those willing to be bumped to a later flight. Just make sure you won’t lose any deposits at your destination.
Don’t forego vacation—you’ve earned it. Just be cautious about how expenses can add up.