Sunday, July 29, 2012

Speed Dating: Integrating Puppy with New Chicks

I admit it. I'm not the world's best photoshopper, but I am determined to have Mango, my English Doodle, fall in love with the chicks. Why? To save lives, the hens lives.

I did discover Mango in the coop one day and no hens were slaughtered. Now, if I can get her used to the chicks.

It's kind of like speed dating. She gets only a few seconds with them and I hang on to her collar. (Disclaimer: No chicks were sacrificed to make this photo.) What I found is that it's not her mouth that I need to worry about but her giant, fluffy paws. She looks like she wants to toss the chicks about with her "mitts."

Hug a Cowboy or Cowgirl In Honor of National Day of the Cowboy

National Day of the Cowboy                  credit: Shobe Biz Communications

Who settled the West wasn't businessmen in Armani suits driving red Porsches (not that there's anything wrong with that, but just saying...) It was men and women with a sense of adventure and a physicality that could tame the rugged lands.

And, it was men and women who understood the unwritten code of behavior called the "Code of the West." Cowboys and cowgirls could be outlaws (I happen to be related to one) but they had to play by the code's rules. If they decided to ignore them, they would be  shunned as outcasts.

The Code of the West came down to 10 simple rules, rules that pertain to all of us whether we drive cattle with our hands on the reins or drive corporations with our steel fists:

          1.  Live each day with courage.

          2.  Take pride in your work.

          3.  Always finish what you start.

          4.  Do what has to be done.

          5.  Be tough, but fair.

          6.  When you make a promise, keep it.

          7.  Ride for the brand.

          8.  Talk less and say more.

          9.  Remember that some things aren't for sale.

         10. Know where to draw the line.

There's a National Day of the Cowboy organization that is dedicated to recognizing the cowboys and cowgirls of this land. Learn more about it at National Day of the Cowboy.

There's also a marvelous book about the code written by James P. Owen, Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West. (Stunning photographs by David Stoecklein accompany the text.) I interviewed Mr. Owen several years ago. He's a learned and successful businessman with a dedicated mission to ethical business leadership. Check out his foundation at Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership.

For breathtaking photographs depicting cowboys and cowgirls in their natural environments, view photo artist Adam Jahiels' work at

Today, tomorrow, or even the next, go out and hug a cowboy and/or cowgirl. Tell them "thanks" for all of their hard work. And, if ranchers don't reside nearby, hug someone who best represents the 10 values of the Code of the West.

These are the people who work the land and the land works them. It's time we recognize this and honor them.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Not a Peck of Sense

Cassidy, the Partridge Wyandotte                                                c.Nancy Shobe

Warning: Do not randomly stop by your local feed store.

I was meandering around town, working my way through my long list of to-do's, when I decided, on impulse, to stop by the feed store. Our local feed store isn't just any feed store. It has a garden area brimming with organic veggies and herbs; a chicken coop filled with a flock of entertaining chickens; and rare flowers blooming with colors I've never seen. Just walking into the place makes me feel like I've entered a respite safe from the crazy world.

Mango, my English Doodle, was joy riding in my car. True, she wasn't stealing the car but sometimes I feel like she is the way dominates it while I'm driving. She hurdles over the wagon seat into the back seat (even though there's a doggy screen separating the two). She paces on the backseat, back-and-forth, back-and-forth. Then, she pokes her nose between the front seats and looks at me and grins. I swear she does. I can see her face in the rearview mirror. Then, she moseys across the center console, sniffs around for treats--sighs-- and then lays down on the front passenger seat. I've tried reprimanding her on many an occasion, but it doesn't work. I think I need a puppy restraining order.

Even though she's not the best behaved car rider (no Puppy Academy gold star winner here), I stopped in for a doggy treat--something to keep her busy during the car ride.

I was evaluating the store bins of treats and carefully avoiding anything that looked or smelled like chicken, when I heard "peep, peep."

"What's that?" I asked the feed store attendee.


"Chicks?" I asked. "I thought you were finished getting new chicks."

"No. They're coming in for at least another month," he offered.

"Are these turkeys? The last time they were turkeys."

"No, these are chicks, many of them rare."

Rare. That word for me is like pulling the arm on a slot machine and watching the lights blaze "Win."

"Rare?" I asked, my heart beginning to skip a beat.

"Especially the Sicilian Buttercups. . ." he said.

I sauntered over to the large wooden "new chick" box and peered in.

"Look," he said, showing me the book of chickens resting on the platform nearby. "Here are pictures of the chickens along with their descriptions. We have Blue Wyandottes, a Blue
Cochin . . ."

Hook, line, and sinker, the feed store attendee reeled me in.

"I'll take four," I said, interrupting him.

"Four?" he confirmed.

"No, make that five."

And, that's how I came home with five extra chickens, five chickens which I'll be adding to the 11-gal flock when they are old enough. Sixteen chickens. What was I thinking??

Sometimes I think there's not a peck of sense in this head of mine--

but I do have some beautiful chickens! Just take a look for yourself...

Billie Holiday - The Blue Wyandotte
Billie Holiday- Blue Wyandotte               copyright: Nancy Shobe

Cassidy, the Partridge Wyandotte         c.Nancy Shobe

Bessie, the Blue Cochin            c.Nancy Shobe

Lucia, the Sicilian Buttercup
Lucia, the Sicilian Buttercup (Heritage Breed)                    c. Nancy Shobe

Bougainvillea, the Sicilian Buttercup
Bougainvillea, the Sicilian Buttercup (Heritage Breed)       copyright Nancy Shobe

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Takeo Ischi - The Japanese Chicken Yodeler

Once a student in engineering in Japan, Takeo Ischi altered his life course by pursuing his music career. Since the days when he was singing in a restaurant in Switzerland, he has had numerous appearances on Japanese and German radio and television stations.

Here is his yodeling ode to the chicken. I would love to get an English translation of the lyrics!

Friday, July 20, 2012

America's Next Top Chicken Model

Contenders for America's Next Top Model              copyright: N. Shobe  

These are the finalists in America's Next Top Chicken Model.

To your left is Cleopatra, a Silver Phoenix. She's of a rare Japanese heritage, tracing her lineage back 1,000 years. She'll end up being a tad, shall we say, high-maintenance once her extra long tail feathers grow in. Reportedly, she's lousy on the production end--she'll lay only one egg per week. (She's still a pullet, so there are no stats yet.)

Rumor has it that Silver Phoenix's aren't friendly, but you can't say that about Cleopatra. She's an absolute darling, strutting her stuff whenever she has an audience. She's a gal who likes to poses. In the morning, she's often caught looking in the mirror, applying additional kohl eyeliner. The other hens swear that Cleopatra channels Elizabeth Taylor during meditation.

And, then, there's Super Swag or Zsa Zsa on her day's off.

The feathery Gold-Laced Polish, Super Swag, sashays her little backend all over the place. Her bouffant hair and her V-shaped comb set her apart from the other gals and she knows it. Primarily used for exhibition, she can't help but steal the spotlight. You'd think she was Polish with the name of her breed, but she's actually from the Netherlands. And, we all know how much American men love Dutch models.

Like all Polish's, she has that perfectly straight back. After the runway, you just know she's perfecting first position. Are the other hens jealous? You'd think they be but Super Swag's finesse seems to naturally fit in. Thank goodness, because rumor has it she has a stinging slap and that she's a serial marry-er -- nine times, in fact, or so we've heard. But, that's between us.

Ironically, these two birds contenders are best of friends, which doesn't often happen with America's top models. They promised me there will be no hurt feelings if you pick one over the other.

Go ahead and cast your vote. Which would you choose?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Young Chicken Woman Shows Strength In Face of Loss

Myla's Chicks                                     Copyright: Myla    
A grandmother, Debra, wrote in today and said that her granddaughter, Myla, had lost her show chicks due to a barn owl. She said everyone in the family was quite upset.

Myla followed up her grandmother's email with her own. She sent in this picture and wrote:

This is the only pic I have of the two miniature bantams we lost. A barn owl flew into the carport and pulled them out of their cage. They were due to show in October at the Southern California fair.
The ones in the background are Americana Cockerels. They are fine in coop with big girls now. The black one was born without a tail but has beautiful plumage. I also lost two Brichen Cochin hens that won 1st and 2nd place last fall. Thank you for kind words. It isn't too late to try for a meat pen and showmanship. I'm not giving up. 

Myla, we are all very sorry for your loss. It's such a shock to have chickens taken away so quickly and tragically. You obviously loved and cared for your miniature bantams. It shows. I can only imagine that your two Brichen Cochin hens were just as special and well loved.

"I'm not giving up" are wonderful words. They show courage and strength. You are a young woman who obviously can see the positive in difficult situations and knows how to turn bad things around. These traits will serve you well in life.

I wish you more 1st and 2nd places at future fairs! Go, Myla, go!

The "Fox" In The Hen House

Mango in the Coop                                 Copyright Nancy Shobe

I love taking photographs of my eleven "little ones." Like an overzealous grandmother, I constantly have my camera on hand, ready to take a snap. (Now, all I need is a Chicken Brag Book.)

Lately, I've missed out on my chickens time outdoors because by work's end, the girls have roosted.

No more of this, I decided. I want to capture "hens gone wild."

So, tonight, I finished my work a tad early and snuck outside with my Canon.

The girls looked surprised when I showed up. "Hey, it's not the witching hour," they seemed to say. Thinking the early birds might catch the worms, they strode up to me in hopes of getting their evening treat of chicken scratch and peanuts.

I squatted down to get level with their pleading eyes and tilted my camera toward their faces. My own blossoming tail feathers couldn't keep their center and I tipped right over, falling onto a rusty pipe.

Oh, #$4!#!!

My foot bled profusely; I calculated in my head the date of my last tetanus shot.

Then, I stood up, wiped off the dust, and gingerly mosied down the hill to wash and bandage my wound. On my way into the house, I shut the gate that separates the backyard from the hill behind me.  Mango, my English Doodle, followed me through the yard and waited for me outside the back door. At least, that's what I thought.

After tending the wound, I walked back outside.

"Mango," I called. "Mango, where are you?" No word. No bark. Not even a rustling sound.

"Mango," I yelled again, my voice pitching higher with worry.

I walked around the back of the house still calling her name and saw the gate's door ajar with just enough squeeze-through room for a four-month old puppy.

Oh, #$4!#!!

Mango was headed up to the coop. I just knew it.

Mango takes morning walks with me, leashed. We always end near the coop where I tie her  to the arm of a bench and then conduct my chicken chores. Mango has met the chickens face-to-face many times but only while tethered.

I ran up the hill as fast as I could. (And, boy, did it hurt)  Mango was in the coop, just inside the door, quietly scratching the floor. The hens were aflutter. Some were flying, others squawking. All of them looking appropriately displeased.

Mango looked amused, her presence was creating a ruckus.

"Hey, what's up?" her eyes seemed to say when I walked in.

And, then she looked over at the chickens like "And, can you give me a clue what's up with them?"

To my relief, everyone of the 11 was still there, in one piece.

Will Mango's behavior change as she ages? I hope not. But, I don't totally trust her, that's for sure.

Intermixing dogs with chickens can be a grand success or a grand failure. Some dogs are natural predators to chickens. Others could care a less.

Check out this photo on Backyard Chickens that depicts a successful integration. Maybe one day Mango will pose with a hen of mine.

Here are a few of my own tips on canine/fowl integration. I'm not saying this will always work because Mango may just be the type that doesn't want to debut her predatorial side:

#1  When the chicks were new, I introduced Mango to them. In one hand, I held her on the leash. In the other, I held a chick. I let Mango sniff at them, eye them, and acclimate however she wanted. If I felt she was getting too excited, I gave her leash a gentle tug. I introduced each chick one at a time.

#2  I never feed Mango chicken treats. As silly as this seems (and my friend at the feed store got a good chuckle over this), I figure that if you don't feed the dog chicken then it might not kill one. I'm sure there is absolutely NO scientific facts to prove this but it makes me feel better.

#3  I take Mango up to the coop every morning and make her stand with me as I open up the  door for the chickens. If she thinks helping with the chickens is one of her jobs, than maybe she won't eat one. That's my thought. Again, no scientific facts to prove it.

For more information on how to train your dog so it won't kill chickens, here's a dated National Geographic video. I'm not 100% sold on this video nor his training techniques, but the video does give some ideas on how to integrate canines with chickens.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

And, the Winner of the Photo Caption Contest Is...

Diamond and Coachie                                       Copyright: Keith Skelton
Jim Moore wrote in on the Facebook Page for Chicken Women:

"Tell me the truth, dearie . . . do these feathers make my butt look fat?"

Thanks, Jim, for your clever caption.

Join Chicken Women on Facebook at!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Built with Love

Doodle Doo Farm's Coop                               Copyright: Nancy Shobe
Winston Howe knows how to love.

After this English farmer lost his wife of 33 years 17 years ago to a sudden heart attack, he decided to plant thousands of oak saplings in her honor on their 122-acre farm in South Gloucestershire.

His secret? In the middle of the trees he planted an acre-long shape of a heart, the tip of it pointing toward the town his wife grew up in.

Howe often sits in the middle of the heart in a seat he built and remembers his wife, Janet--their 33 years of marriage; the obvious love they had for each other. Every spring, the blooming daffodils rise to greet him, bulbs that he planted years ago to fill the interior of the heart. Daffodils symbolize rebirth and new beginnings, but perhaps Mr. Howe doesn't even know that.

The only way that the heart can be seen is from the sky. It's as if Mr. Howe purposely built it as a secret, a symbol that only his wife, Janet Howe, and other angelic beings could see. Mr. Howe's heart went unnoticed for years until a hot air balloonist flew over it. It became a story in England's The Telegraph.

The coop door frame "Built with Love" resides in my backyard, on my hill, just underneath a full-grown Brazilian Pepper and next to a smattering of succulents. It was built for me by a significant other for my birthday. It was his way of bringing forth my dream--to have chickens.

He purchased the chicks and hid them at a friend's. He spent a week hammering and sawing up on the hill. Once in awhile, I would hear a swear word float down through the plum trees like a squawk from a frustrated hen. He suffered a staph infection, cuts that required vaseline and bandages, and many nasty bruises. But, he finished the two-tiered coop and in went our brand new chicks.

I was enchanted. I was thrilled. I had the coop and my chickens. And, he made it happen.

One day we had an argument. Disappointment, anger and sadness hung like a thick fog in the air. We couldn't see our way through the confusion. He disappeared into the backyard for several hours. I stayed inside. We were better off in separate places.

The next day I trekked up the hill to freshen the hens' water and throw them some morning seeds. As I opened the door to the coop, I saw written on the frame, with what must have been a Sharpie marker, the words, "Built with Love."

And, the words remain. As a reminder . . .

Just a couple of months ago, I planted mahogany nasturtium around the coop. Mahogany red for his sweat and labor. Nasturtium for his charity and patriotism.

When was the last time you built or created something out of love?

We often go through our days doing our lists of should-ofs, have-tos, and musts with grimaces on our faces. What if we took those same grimaces and turned them into grins, filling our hearts with love as we built or created something? What difference would it make?

I am reminded of the book and movie, Like Water for Chocolate. The protagonist,Tita, loves to cook but she unintentionally begins to infuse her emotions into the food she is making. The people who dine on her culinary talents are overtaken with the same emotions. Through magical realism, the book/movie makes a good point:

Isn't it true that we affect everyone around us by the emotions that we put into our work?

I dare you, at least today, to put passion and love into whatever you do. Smile, even it's your most hated work. Dance in your mind, sing a silent tune, smirk as if responding to an inside joke. Is someone irritating you a little bit? Stop judging, be compassionate, be kind to him/her.

At the end of your day, sit back in your chair or your car or however it is that you end your day and reflect on the people and the environment around you.

Did your positive attitude make a difference? Did your infuse your compassion and kindness into others?

Did you build the love?

Are you sitting in the center of your heart?

Here's my gift to you for the day, a passion flower that grows outside my door . . . because there is nothing more sacred than love, compassion and kindness.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ordinary Backyard Chickens May Be Extraordinary In Fighting Cancer

Cleopatra readying for her Evening Roost       copyright Nancy Shobe
Breaking News: 

A Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine; Biomedical Sciences at Texas A & M and leader in the international effort to sequence the cattle genome, comprised a team to study the diversity of NK-lysin--an antibacterial substance naturally found in animals and used to fight off disease--in White Leghorns and Cornish chickens.

What Dr. James Womack and his team unexpectedly discovered while researching two genetic variations of NK-lysin was that both fought off bacterial infections but one genetic variation fought off cancer cells, as well. This important find "could lead to other steps to fight cancer," said Womack in today's edition of Science Daily.

In an earlier blog, Chickens, Flaxseed & Ovarian Cancer, I referenced ovarian research that is being conducted on chickens. Researchers discovered that hens fed a flaxseed-enriched diet for over one year experienced a significant reduction in late stage ovarian tumors.

Monday, July 9, 2012

No One Beat the Egyptian System of Incubation Until the Last Hundred Years

Lady Rah Rah  - A Buff Orpington                            Credit: Nancy Shobe

Lady Rah Rah had her third day of free-ranging today. Look. She laid a plum while out!

In my spare time, of which I don't have any, I am speed-reading The Chicken Book by Page Smith and Charles Daniel. The photo of the rooster on the cover is a real eye-catcher. But, the typeface and page texture turned me off.  When I first opened the book, I said out loud "yuk."

I'm sure the cheap paper helped keep the costs down for the University of Georgia Press, but the typeface? Seriously? It's so thick, so bold, so uninteresting.

I decided to soldier on with my read, which is not an easy decision when you're remodeling your front yard and are under deadline for two work projects.

I must confess. The Chicken Book is a keeper. The writing is so good that I soon became absorbed into the chicken facts and forgot I was supposed to be reading for five minutes.

Here are a few facts I've already gleaned from the book:

Fact #1 - 3,000 B.C.

The origin of the chickens goes back "tens of thousands of years." Most think that domestication of chickens occurred in 3,000 B.C. in India (Indus Valley) or Burma, or the Malay Peninsula. Darwin thought chickens came from the Red Jungle Fowl, but others believe that they had multiple origins.

3,000 B.C.?! I wondered, what was happening in the world around 3,000 B.C.?

According to my research:

Agriculture was taking hold in Northern Africa.
The Neolithic Period ended.
The city of Troy was founded.
Stonehenge began to be built.
The Helladic period started.
Hieroglyphics were invented in Egypt.
The potters wheel was invented in China.
Mesoamerica had settled villages.
It was the coldest time in California with bristlecone pines.

History was truly happening when chickens became domesticated.

Fact #2 - Asian/European Chicken Distinctions

The major distinctions between Eastern and European chickens are:
The pea comb is Asian, unlike the single comb.
Birds with feathered shanks originate from Asia.
The lobes of European chickens are usually white; Asian lobes are generally red.

But, maybe, you already knew this.

Fact #3 - Egyptians Built Incredible Incubators

Egyptians built incubators out of clay bricks and kept the fires burning at 105 degrees so chickens were hatched in large numbers, "ten or fifteen thousand at a time. . . This process of incubation was one of the most remarkable technological accomplishments of the people who built the pyramids; it is only in the last sixty years (100 updated from the time of copyright) that modern incubators have been built that could incubate more eggs and incubate them better."

The history of chickens? Who would have thought it would be a such a treasure chest?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"I'm Farming and I Grow It" Video Goes Viral

The newest You-Tube to go viral, to the tune of 4 million hits, is by three Kansas farmers who happen to be brothers. The Peterson brothers sing their song, "I'm Farming and I Grow It" to the tune of "Sexy and I Know It."

Want a great giggle for the evening? Watch the video and read Tiffany Hsu's article in The Los Angeles Times about the making of the video.

And, if you are compelled, watch the outtakes, too!

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Super Swag Freak-Out

Super Swag freaks             Photo: Nancy Shobe

Super Swag freaked.

She couldn't understand how to get into the coop last night after all the other pullets had figured their way in. She walked around the coop confused. She whipped her head back-and-forth like on a pecking frenzy. Then, she curled her toes around the edge of the retaining wall, lifted her head up as far as she could, and flew right into the pear tree.

Lucky for me, my four-year old pear tree is not very tall and my backyard is tiered. I reached into the branches and grabbed her. She emitted a ferocious squawk. I held her close to me, petted her back, and then gently placed her in the coop.

All the other hens had already assumed their nightly roost. Their eyes were shut; they were huddled together. They looked perfectly content.

That was until Super Swag came in.

She bounced over the Buff Orpingtons, smashed into the Silkie, and jostled the Jaerhon from her roost. By morning, I figured, there might be a massacre.

It was their first free-ranging day. And, Super Swag was freaked.

I had decided to let them free-range around 6 p.m., just enough time, I figured, to give them a taste of the free world before needing to get them back in.

When I opened the door to the coop, my two old ladies, Coachie and Diamond, walked out. I swear they grinned at me as they walked right past. The Buff Orpingtons were next, moving out of the coop like the Triple Mint Twins -- every step in unison.

My Silkie and two Polish's were the last to leave. They went to the door frame's edge and looked out. They walked back in. They looked out, again. Then, walked back in. Finally, they took the plunge and jumped outside of the coop. Despite their newfound courage, they huddled together just outside the door for a good 15 minutes before they  moved on.

Open a door to the unknown and you'll learn a lot about character.

I sympathize with the Silkies and my Polishes. As a child I was hesitant and timid, the last one to sign on for any new experience.  Although I relish my childhood years of "backseat operation"--the years of living in my own dreamed up spaces and observing life from the back of the room--I learned that I missed out on a lot of things. Why? Because when an adventure arose and someone would ask, "Who's coming along?", I wouldn't say "me". And, if you if don't say anything, you'll be passed over. It's as simple as that. Nobody will spend the time to urge you on.

The great American hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, once said, "You miss 100% of the shots you never take."

It wasn't until adulthood that I learned to put the stick in my hand, line up the puck, and take the shots. I began to understand that my deep well of timidness about the unknown could be lived through; I wouldn't die. Passing up the opportunity would actually hurt worse.  I'd miss a chance to learn something, live something, or know something about others and myself.

I started to raise my hand and say, "Please include me. I'd like to come."

Today, the pullets are enjoying their second day of free-ranging. They've spent the entire day pecking new yummies in nearly every part of the backyard.  Super Swag seems infinitely more comfortable, not so freaked.

It didn't take long for her to shoot past the unknown and land her puck in the comfort zone.

Way to go, Super Swag. You make your owner proud.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Best Buds

Cleopatra and Super Swag Cuddling Together             Photo credit: Nancy Shobe

My Gold-Laced Polish, Super Swag, and Silver Phoenix, Cleopatra, are best buddies. Happy 4th of July. Don't forget to show your friends you care!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hay -- Time to Lay A New Foundation

Grass Hay for the Coop's Foundation.                                                              Photo credit: Keith Skelton

I needed some more straw for the floor of the coop so I stopped by the local feed store today.

"I'm looking for a bag of straw for my girls," I said to the woman standing behind the counter, the one whom I'm starting to think of as a friend, even though I don't know her name.

"Straw. Sure you want straw?" she asked while leaning on one elbow and scribbling some figures on a white pad of paper.

I scraped at the wooden floor with the tip of my shoe and thought for a moment.  "Well, I normally use pine shavings . . ."

She looked up at me with surprise.

"They do get a little pricey over time. . ." I confessed.

She nodded her head in agreement.

"I use hay or grass," she offered, matter-of-factly, with a smile that looked like she had known this bit of knowledge for years. "It makes clean-up a whole lot easier. And, the girls like to eat the grass, too."

Eating grass covered with poop? A disgusting visual popped in my mind. I shook my head to release it.  "Ah . . . sounds unique," I said, leery.

"What kind would ya' like?" she asked, not picking up my leeriness.

That's what I like about people in feed stores. They have all the answers for us "newbie" chicken farmers and they know it. She pointed to the white board on the wall behind her. The names of hays, grasses and straws were written on it with their pricing beside them.

"Well, I'll be," I said, "I never realized there were so many types of hay and grass." I perused the list. Barley, alfafa, timothy, orchard grass, red clover, fescue and bermuda-grass. Bermuda grass? I just ripped out my front lawn because that blankety-blank bermuda grass had taken over.

My face must have registered confusion because she said," Grass hay's my favorite."

Gotta trust the professionals, I thought to myself. "Grass hay, it is. Give me a bale."

Trusting the professionals is exactly what I did earlier in the day at the local building materials store. I am about to put in a flagstone path in my front yard. Yesterday, the dated concrete pathway was broken up and taken to the dump. Today, I needed to buy the materials.

"What's the best way to install flagstone?" I asked.

"Three inches or road base topped off with an 1" of sand, and then the flagstone," said a strapping man standing behind the building materials counter.

"What the heck's road base?" I asked.

He looked at me as if I was a little daft. Road base is exactly as it sounds-- a layer of aggregate underneath a road; it helps stabilize it.

"It's the best way to lay flagstone," he said. "The only problem is plants won't root in it."

Whoops. A stabile path or thyme-filled negative space between flagstones? I calculated the design difference in my head.  "But, you can put in decomposed granite or some nice stones, instead," he offered. He pointed to boxes filled with small stones and decomposed granite. "Many of those stones will work."

I deleted the fresh smell of trampled thyme in my mind and said, "Road base it is."  I ordered up a ton of base and topping of sand.

The two were delivered this afternoon,  just as I pulled up into my driveway with my truck's bed filled with grass hay.

Road base, grass hay.

Two new materials to improve foundations at my house.

Now, if I can stay directed on a new foundation for myself. (And, I'm not talking about the Bobbie Brown or Clinique kind).

Changing careers mid-life ain't easy. In fact, changing anything mid-life isn't easy. It seems that as we age we take less risks, get more set in our ways, and are less willing to break out of our boxes.

Flexibility's the key, I learned. Like the bamboo that bows and flexes in the wind, learning to bend has its advantages. So does asking a lot of questions and trusting the people who have done it before.

Journeys of change often stray from the perfect path. We can plan all we want, think through every detail, outline every action. But, it takes following the heart. Read that, again. It takes following the heart. It also requires giving in and having faith that the universe will step in and make it work out the way it's supposed to, even if it's off your well-thought-out path.

Journeys of change require believing in yourself and not second guessing. There's simply no room for fear.

And, journeys of change are often easier to begin outward and then work in. Because if the ground all around you is solid and firm, a new foundation is easier to build.

Grass hay, road base, and a new career.

Looks like it's going to be one heck of a good year.