Rich men have chickens

“If I were a rich man…
I’d fill my yard with chicks and turkeys and geese and ducks
For the town to see and hear
Squawking just as noisily as they can
With each loud “cheep” “squawk” “honk” “quack”
Landing like a trumpet on the ear
As if to say, ‘Here lives a wealthy man!'”

“I want to hear about chickens because we’re thinking about doing it, too.” I get that a lot. Now that we’re a year out from the start of our unfortunately short-lived chicken adventure, I’m really wishing we’d been able to keep them!

Although it seems like this started when I went away for a weekend and came home to find Aaron working on a half-built “play house” for our “future kids” in the garage, there is more history than I’ve mentioned before. The story of our chickens really begins two decades ago, when a little boy with long legs and a squeaky voice built an egg incubator and searched all natural habitats he could access in hopes of scoring a duck nest with eggs he could swipe and raise himself. Later he actually had a chicken business in the backyard, with a little flock of laying hens and funny anecdotes about training his dog to stay away from the chicks. (At one point he ran a home-made ice cream sandwich business, which I am hoping will resurrect itself in adulthood as well.) Just like his “mean” parents were hesitant about supplying fowl eggs, he grew up and got a “mean” wife who shot down his suggestions about chickens every spring with objections like, “We don’t have enough time,” “We’re probably going to move,” “They will make the backyard stink,” “It’s not actually going to save money,” and “If we’re committing to animals we should just get a dog, which is what we both really want anyway.”

As it turns out, every one of my objections about chickens actually came true, but it worked out after all. I was pretty ticked about this at first, and I could have put my foot down and stopped the whole thing right then, but I also realized it was providing a strong boost for Aaron when he was feeling very beaten down by a long, lonely stretch at the end of his PhD program. He needed to know his extreme life-long desire to understand everything about nature was a blessing, and that it didn’t only mean being locked in a lab for six years just because he was grown-up and reasonably smart. I tried to bite my tongue for the most part, but I stipulated that he was responsible for ALL chicken work and the coop had to be cleaned as often as I wanted when the weather warmed up. We’ve since agreed that decisions of that financial and personal scope require two “yes” votes no matter what, but I came around when they started laying and now I’m bummed we didn’t get them sooner to enjoy more eggs and hilarity. Our new neighborhood isn’t zoned for chickens, but I’m very interested in getting another coop next time we move!

So, for people thinking about chickens, here are a few things we’ll consider next time..
The Coop: 
Aaron built our coop and we were really happy with the A-frame on stilts that could be moved around the yard.  I would probably think about adding wheels to a future coop for easier moving. This was almost  too heavy to move around. It can be done, but if it couldn’t be made lighter, I think at least one set of wheels would be easier.

DSC05796I don’t think our yard was quite big enough for a coop of this size because the chickens’ scratching and eating in the pen was rough on our grass, even when we moved it every day. We had a particularly dry summer and we were very concerned about keeping the grass up in case we had to sell the house, so it might have been fine in a different year. We will do more research about the best ratios of coop-to-yard size next time. We weren’t fenced in, so full free-ranging wasn’t ever an option, but that would have lessened the “patchy” impact, too.

The Chickens:
This is probably an issue no one else will have, but Aaron is particularly nerdy and an obsessive perfectionist about these things, so we went through several breeds of chicks. In future years, we’d just try one or two new kinds every other year and live with the fact that there might  be a breed out there that would eat a little less and produce a little more. We tried Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and a California Grey hybrid, eventually landing with two Rhodies and two Californias for our flock. I think we’ll start with the California Greys next time (even though I like brown eggs better) and branch out from there.
DSC05559Who Should Get Chickens: 
Everyone. They are amazing. Okay… you should make sure you’re zoned for them, and petition your township/city to rezone or give you permission if you’re not!  Even though it worked out for us, I would NOT recommend spending this much money or getting animals if your roommates or spouse aren’t on board. And while they are lots of fun, I don’t think we saved any money on eggs, because the cost of their food alone was just about what we would have spent on eggs anyway. The extra benefits were huge for us — it made composting easier and more fun, the eggs were delicious and easily shared with friends, everyone’s kids wanted to come over and see the chickies, and it was fun to have a non-house project to work on together. I think chickens would be a great “pet” for kids, because they don’t require as much upkeep as a puppy or kitten, and they lay eggs instead of… something else. And it could be a great first business for your kid, because all your neighbors would pay top dollar if your adorable child went door-to-door selling eggs from “Li’l Johnny’s Chicken Emporium.” (We are already planning as much for our family and I might have already worked on a possible company name and logo.)

What We Learned:
-Don’t invest in livestock without talking to your spouse and having full agreement.
-Know when to let it go (for me, this meant having chickens) and when to stand firm (but still making him do all the work).
-Chickens were much more fun than I expected.
-We absolutely want to have them again.
-For us and where we were at, chickens were a sorry placeholder for the puppy we really wanted. So now we have Max, and I’m really excited that someday we will have dogs and chickens!  (I’m also starting to think about bees, if we have more room someday…)
-Most importantly, we experienced a lot of God’s tender care at the end of our time with these chickens in passing them on to some little girls who were VERY EXCITED to be getting pets, and these memories are filled with with great reminders of God’s love and provision for us in all circumstances.

chicken Collage


Lord, who made the lion and the lamb,
You decreed I should be what I am.
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan,
If I were a wealthy man?

–“If I were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the Roof.

Dr. Leaf Blower

My friend had the following conversation with her children on the way over to our house this fall.
“You’re going to have so much fun at Mrs. Hummel’s house! Her husband is blowing their leaves into a pile so you can play in them.”
“What should we call Mrs. Hummel’s husband?” – 8 year old
“He’s Mrs. Hummel’s husband, so that would make him… what?”
“Umm… Mr. Leaf Blower?” – 4 year old
Well, that’s Dr. Leaf Blower to you now, kid. That’s right. There is a PhD in the house. We can cross this one off the 30-before-30 list. Aaron defended his dissertation so he’s officially all Philosophized, Doctorized, and formally recognized as being both outlandishly smart AND diligent.
I’m pretty smart, but Aaron is smart in things I can’t wrap my brain around. It took me a few months to memorize his job title. (“Working in a Plant Pathology lab as part of an inter-disciplinary Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology program,” is a mouth full, in my defense.) And when I think about this PhD and the hard work it took to get here, I’m so grateful for Aaron’s work ethic and his courage in risky situations. This man has been perpetually stressed for about 10 years. I know this man started off this adventure five years ago by putting overtime beyond overtime in to ensure that his presence was a blessing to his lab mates, aware that his work would communicate to others that Christianity is supposed to make you a better scientist, not the opposite. In the first part of grad school he was still in the military, and this man would spend four or five days almost without sleeping when he had Drill weekends, and then get to the lab even earlier as soon as he got home. This man sat on the couch and read papers instead of attending sports games. (Breaks were more frequent in hockey season after we had a TV, of course.) This man never complained about the inconveniences of our tightwad budget, like eating sandwiches and leftovers for lunch every day, and using an old cell phone that barely texts – forget 3G network access! This man was cheerful about the added financial risk of my self-employment so we could both live out the dreams God gave us. This man who loves the outdoors spent many a beautiful weekend day (sometimes both of them) working on his projects in the lab. He has spent most of the last five years in a white room without windows, and hasn’t really even had coworkers to share the days with for quite a while. This man dutifully tackled many of his highest pressure assignments in the seasons where I have been most grief-stricken and needy instead of the encourager I wanted him to have, because grad school doesn’t wonder what would be most convenient for your personal life when setting up experiment deadlines.This man has been diligent even when he was definitely thinking things like this:
grad school[From #whatshouldwecallgradschool, which is not appropriate reading for minors or grandmothers, but is fall-on-the-floor hilarious to those who are in graduate school.]
I can’t say exactly where the credit goes for this successful presentation and defense of the dissertation. Was it the slave labor he has accomplished in the last five years at the laboratory bench? The good reputation of his peer-reviewed publications? The prayer warriors who have been lifting him up, especially during this last big push to wrap up everything? The decadent cheese trays I prepared as refreshments for his committee of judges? Some combination of all those, I bet.
After a great presentation and record-making short deliberations from his committee, we ate dinner out in a state of ecstasy before he came home and watched The Hobbit trailer several times over in a manner befitting his accomplishments.
downsize (27)
Then the sense of romance and adventure wore off, and we got back into courageously tackling all the other risky situations in life, because that’s what diligent people do.
(And if you want some thoughts about this holiday of Veteran’s Day, here’s a link to some reflections on Veteran’s Day itself, and all posts related to the military.)

Twins… “psych!”


Twins has been a surprising word theme for this summer and fall.

Three times in these recent months we have had friends secretly share surprise joy with us – not one, but two little babies on an ultrasound screen – with no explanation but amazement at the rare gift of an extra baby that God tends to give about once in every hundred fruitful pregnancies. Three times we have rejoiced to the best of our ability. Sometimes I’m giddy with joy, but sometimes I just try to ignore the shriek in my soul asking what maniacal mystery it is that some people get two of them at the same time?!  It got to the point that we joked everyone must be having twins. The fresh awkwardness has worn off somewhat, and we grieve that these three twin pregnancies are only resulting in five expected babies now, after all.

Very often I have contemplated Jesus’ disciple Thomas, whose name means “the twin,” the apostle who had to see, with so many unknowns for the future. We were rapidly approaching Aaron’s graduation date without any clue about what the coming year beyond graduate school would bring, and not knowing how to dream for the future. Do I have to leave all my piano students? Will it ever feel okay to dream of good things for a life that doesn’t include having the baby this spring? Is it even worth thinking about having kids anymore? I like to know things and found a great challenge in wrapping up Aaron’s season of grad school with these big questions in such limbo. 

Very often, like Thomas, I have felt that war between the twins of belief and doubt inside myself.

And then sometime this fall, we sensed our original ideas about where to live and what to do falling apart. Time for some re-dreaming. We began talking and thinking very seriously about the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where Aaron was invited to complete more research after graduating in December. This was the sort of job he hadn’t looked into, in a location we hadn’t considered before, and an income level we were not initially drawn toward before. In short, it was not on the list of options I already gave God. But as the details came to light, we thought and prayed, and before long it was clear there would be peace in no other path.

For years we have anticipated moving forward, living closer to family, getting smart phones, maybe going on trips(!!!), first-hand clothes, a big house with plenty of room for children and guests, and staying put wherever we were. Instead, we are moving to Minnesota at Christmastime, which alone indicates we must be crazy, and we are only committed for three years. This act of assumed insanity also requires selling this little house we love to get one even further away from our families and figuring out how to embrace the possibility of a temporary location again, though smart phones and a real guest room are pretty much non-negotiables for the next stage. (So plan on visiting, please. We will have room for you to stay with us and fancy gadgets to assist our sight-seeing navigation.) 

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more
See Lord at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder, at the God thou art.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he…
– St. Thomas Aquinas

This doesn’t offer a solution for everything I’m working through right now. There are still questions. I knew there would be. But for now, we’re walking (running!) bravely through the open door to a new adventure in Minnesota, and I get the impression God still hears questions there.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12

Of course, this surprising turn of events spurs many interesting conversations at home. (Aaron is very hilarious so it doesn’t take much to induce an interesting conversation, I suppose.)
Me: “We always pray and pray, and when we finally make plans, the total opposite thing happens. What do you feel like God is trying to say to us?”
Aaron:  “He’s totally got an animated look on His face, delightedly exclaiming, ‘PSYCH!'”

Oh, my.

[image HERE]

[image HERE]

reading round-up (10.04.13)

Too bad it’s controversial to argue that the primary purpose of high school is educating students. Here’s an article I found really interesting about a school that ended their high-school sports programs in favor of a (much cheaper) school-wide fitness initiative. Most of my teacher friends say school sports should be abolished in favor of intramural or club teams, which would take no money from the school and no class time away from the students, and I would love to read about more schools trying this!

This month my piano students and I are celebrating “Bach-tober,” in honor of the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. I enjoyed reading about the Resurrection themes of his life and music. Anyone interested in a further look at his life might enjoy Evening in the Palace of Reason, by James R Gaines, and anyone just wanting to listen to some cool music should check out the Bach-stiftung YouTube channel.

So, speaking of education and music… Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results explains a lot (to me) about what worked and didn’t work in my academic classes last year, and Peter Lawler’s follow-up Teaching As Shouting is helping me evaluate my philosophy as a music teacher. Private music lessons are still mostly a “bonus” activity for many families, and I’ve always had the impression the kids who most need some straight talk about their work ethic or focus are the ones with parents who would withdraw them from the studio if they ever cried during or after a lesson.
Lawler also had some interesting comments on stress. I found the first sentence alarming and the rest encouraging: “The best way to handle stress is to routinely experience it. [OH NO!] As Aristotle says, the best way to come to possess the moral virtue of courage is actually to be in situations where courage is required to live well. The more the virtue becomes your own, the easier it is to keep your head, choose well, and even be happy in risky situations.” I think instead of saying my life feels stressful right now, I want to start saying it is full of risky situations. That sounds more adventurous.

Debate about GMO crops hits close to home for us because of Aaron’s research in that field and, contrary to some public opinions, actual scientific research about the safety and benefits of crop engineering has been overwhelmingly positive!

Sickie Blogging – Happy Fall!

Nothing inspires a thought such as, “Oh, I guess I could update my blog after a month to reassure people I’m not dead,” like being in bed with a nasty fall bug and a series of exhausting half-finished projects taunting me while I am home ill.

What has life been like in the past weeks? Busy. We remodeled the bathroom entirely. Our family had another wedding in Michigan, making it my fourth trip back-and-forth across the midwest this summer.

Aaron is feverishly working on his dissertation. My piano studio is keeping me so busy that I have a waiting list of students who would want to take lessons if I had a slot available. We have been working very hard for years, and these successes are marvelous gifts. In a way, this feels like we are getting that second burst of energy at the end of a race, as though the light at the end of a tunnel is blindingly bright.  We’re also doing some re-dreaming about the next phase of our life after he graduates, and discerning how to walk best with our desire for a family, our location, and our vocations. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to look like we had planned, but God has been very gracious to close and open doors in a way that takes some of the agony out of making these big decisions. A saving grace in some of these hectic days is that we have sold a significant amount of our stuff online, which streamlines some parts of life while we’re settling into a Fall that’s turning into a whole new kind of adventure.


Autumn is my favorite season, bringing the delights of soups, sweaters, candles, plaid, roasted acorn squash, hot wassail, and bonfires to accompany the witness of nature: God ordains a lot of beauty in seasons of ending and loss. I’m really thankful that is true.

shooting for the moon

My summer reading plans are always a bit, uh, ambitious, and I don’t usually get anywhere close to completing the list before I get distracted by other books or run out of time. I’ve accepted this. At least when I shoot for the moon, I’m likely to land among the stars.

summer reading

Especially when I’m working and there is always stuff to do around the house, it can be too-tempting to be in the middle of a book when I get bored with a project, like transplanting hostas or demolishing something in the bathroom. I usually just make myself some iced tea and finish my book so I only have one project left incomplete. As you can imagine, this doesn’t always go over well with Aaron at the end of the day. But I am really, really, really grateful to be self-employed and less busy in the summers, and part of that privilege gives me extra household responsibilities on my off days, so in an effort to stave off boredom AND live responsibly, I have been devouring audio books.

It complicates things a bit that I have to get CD’s from the library and listen on a huge boom box that Aaron had in high school, because our technology situation is laughably behind the times due to our grad-school/self-employed set up. (The CD driver on my six-year-old laptop is uncooperative and my iPod has buttons.) And audio books are hit-or-miss because sometimes the people who read them have overly boring or soothing voices. The best ones are usually read by the authors, because they have the most authentic vocal inflections and they have a vested interest in hooking readers. So far, though, I’ve been enjoying the Harry Potter series because the story is engaging without being overly complicated. Aaron and I were a little curious about this because we grew up evangelical, which meant JK Rowling was probably a demon based on how everyone’s mom talked about the evil books. After starting them now, I can see why parents would hesitate to permit young kids to read the series, but I would definitely call these “fantasy” and not “occult,” probably in the same category as Chronicles of Narnia,  Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. I think it’s also pretty telling that I’ve never talked to someone who has read the books and still condemns them; it’s always someone who is just guessing on the content. (The books are so interesting when you know Latin, too. It adds another layer to the plot if you know the Bad Guy’s name, Voldemort, means “Will of Death,” for instance.)

Other than that, I’m a huge fan of GoodReads to keep track of books I’ve read and get suggestions from people I trust. (The GoodReads site makes it easy – I can tell if I trust someone or not based on their “shelves” and “book ratings.” It will also probably put me on a government watch-list.)  I’m keeping a summer reading list there, and so far I’m working through Nancy Guthrie’s Lamb of God Bible study, some Wendell Berry essays, and a book about the Russian aristocracy right before the Bolshevik revolution. You know, to keep things interesting.

My favorite things to read are suggestions from friends, so I’d love to hear any other suggestions! Do you like reading in the summer? Are there any books you keep returning to re-read as years pass? (Is anyone else really excited about another season of 24 returning?)

thermostat wars

“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle. David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah.” (2 Samuel 11:1, esv)

It is not spring right now. Far from it. But the fact that we are far from spring makes this a time when this household goes to battle over something a little less serious than King David and the Ammonites: the thermostat. Our house is just old enough to be pretty drafty, and so extreme outside temperatures (like today’s high of 6 degrees Farenheit) create a conflict in our overall vision of living frugally and comfortably. Not surprisingly, Aaron falls a little harder on one side, and I fall on the other. (This happens in the summer, too, and sometimes results in pillow fights.)

A piano mom told me the worst part of waiting for her husband to finish his PhD was eating Ramen noodles. I like to cook so we manage to eat pretty well;  the heating bill is one of our most noticeable spending cuts. I discussed these biannual Hummel Thermostat Wars with some students earlier this week. “Let me guess,” one of the young men ventured, “You want to be comfortable and Mr. Hummel wants to save money?” A cousin, familiar and sympathetic with our plight, mentioned that her friend from Wisconsin hosted an online quiz to see where other people set their thermostats in the winter. “The temperatures at your house were outside the range of responses,” she grinned.

thermostat warsSince I do agree with the overall reasons for conservative home heating for now, when it gets really cold, I have resorted to wearing an old fleece bathrobe and an extra pair of wool socks in the evenings.  In addition to my ridiculous thermalwear get-up, we drink lots of hot tea and make the most of our new electric blanket. I can usually distract myself and think cheerful thoughts even though it’s cold, but that plan falls apart when Aaron looks at me and starts laughing hysterically.

teaBut I must ask – do you have any other suggestions for battling the chilly house? Beside the most obvious answer, since our current temperature setting is actually a compromise already. How do the thermostat wars work out in your home?


There is exciting progress in life at our house lately! Mostly for Aaron – but it’s one of the benefits of marriage that you get to celebrate extra over your spouse’s blessings because of the whole one-flesh thing.

Finally! The book chapter he slaved over, the one that kept us home for Thanksgiving last year instead of celebrating with family, is published! It’s a technical reference publication, not exactly light reading for scientific laymen.

aaron book collage

Finally! The last day of his status as “inactive Reservist” with the Marines was Saturday, so the military chapter of life is completed.

desert "cammies" in the closet - proud to have them, but excited to pack these away !

desert “cammies” in the closet – proud to have them, but excited to pack them away, too!

Tomorrow begins the “chapter” of his life as a twenty-eight-year-old, too. Every birthday I think of the flat-rate box I proudly brought to the post office and sent to Iraq to mark his twenty-second year, decorated with stickers and markers, and it makes me ever grateful for the chance to share the special day together now. So tonight we celebrate with brownies and venison stew, enjoying the luxury of beating hearts, relative sanity, and four limbs attached to his torso, while marveling how old and young this feels all at once.

a look at our life as a WAHC.

As the typical use of the English language degenerates rapidly, probably in inverse relation to the availability of social networking, those of us who read things online often see acronyms that succinctly describe a person’s current state, such as SAHM for Stay-at-home-mom or WASP to describe White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants. Honestly, I don’t understand why these four-letter titles are such a common part of web lingo, since other than texting or twitter most technological communication doesn’t have a word or character limit. (I might also argue that over-using these things reveals a limit to one’s moral character, my own included, but that’s not the issue here.)

Those objections aside, if this is how people are talking these days I suppose I can’t completely beat it. So I’m coming to terms with the facts: this week we have been a DINK (Double-income-no-kids) WAHC (Work-at-home-couple). The first title seems less glamorous when I clarify that these incomes would keep us well below the poverty level if we only had one of them.

As a change from his usual 70-hour researching work week in the lab, Aaron is laboriously writing for a deadline at the end of this month. As if this doesn’t sound hard enough on it’s own, scientific research publications look like another language. Working from the couch at home is a small comfort in the midst of this task.

And when I’m not changing the world one music lesson at a time, my grand central office is in the kitchen. I hear stand-up desks are all the rage these days. The location is a bit torturous because I keep getting distracted and trying to clean things.
As apparent in our pictures, we have been drinking copious amounts of fresh french-press coffee.

This DINK WAHC status allows opportunity to observe the shiny nose of our deer in it’s temporary home above the fireplace,

and check out the guppies in our new fish tank to see if they will be popping out babies under our careful watch.

…but the biggest benefit of this is coming up with ridiculous inside jokes. This morning, it’s that I shout, “I am (You are) being summoned!” in a British accent when one of us get a text message.

We were just talking about how we’re spending years in a stage of life neither of us really imagined being in for long. Of course graduate studies are demanding, but this PhD program is strenuous and it feels like it’s taking forever, and we’re uncertain about how many “roots” to put down where we live, childless, pinching pennies by necessity… It is very, very easy to feel like we’re just in a holding pattern, waiting for the rest of life to get here. So on the surface life usually feels quite stagnant, but we’d be missing out on so much if that is all we focus on. It often seems strange to settle into this DINK WAHC life, but it’s what we’ve got. Of course we look forward to things being different, and it can be difficult to balance contentment now and hoping for what is ahead. Weeks like this are such a gracious reminder that what we’ve got now is good, too.

Who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience… Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
– Romans 8, esv.