I have never raised chickens before and to be honest, never thought of them as all that interesting.
That is until my sister, started raising chickens a few years ago.
A couple of days old.
I must admit that I was shocked that they arrived in the mail.
They were so cute and fluffy.
Every week, when went over for dinner, we would watch and see how quickly they grew.
Before we knew it, they were almost full-grown.
Sometimes they got a bit dirty and needed a bath….
But we always enjoyed their fresh eggs.
 Now my sister is raising a new batch of chickens.  They are growing quickly and get along well with the older chickens.
All of my sister’s chickens are free range chickens and have the run of the backyard.
Which leads me to the following giveaway:
There is a wonderful, new book out about Free Range Chicken Gardens.
To celebrate the new book, the publisher, Timber Press, is having a giveaway with a chicken-related prize.
Check out their contest page:

Have you been faced with the dilemma of what to give someone special for their birthday?  Well, the stakes are even higher when it is a ‘milestone’ birthday.  My siblings and I were faced with this very dilemma in deciding what to give our mother, (Pastor Farmer) of Double S Farms, for her 70th birthday.

After some deliberation, we decided upon building her a vegetable garden.

Now for those of you who are familiar with my blog, you may recall that my mother already has a nice vegetable garden….

But, for those of you who enjoy vegetable gardening; don’t you sometimes wish that you had more space to grow vegetables?

We knew that our mother did, even though she never mentioned it.  So, we got to work planning on what we needed to build a new one.
My brother-in-law, built the first garden by himself…

For the new garden, my brother-in-law and I planned on what we would need and where the new garden should be placed.  
Actually, my part was easy.  I just figured out where to locate the garden and how many cubic yards of compost we would need.

Well, the date was set when we would all congregate at Double S Farms and start building the new vegetable garden.  
My mother had NO idea we were coming or what we were going to do.

Early on a Saturday morning we showed up with shovels, rakes, picks, drills and wheelbarrows.
My mother wasn’t there when we all arrived.  She was at the local farmer’s market – at this point, she was still clueless that anything was going on.

First, my other brother-in-law and my brother hammered in stakes so that we knew where to remove the grass.

Then came the fun part (just kidding).  Digging out the grass.  Actually, it wasn’t too bad because the grass had been soaked two days before so that it was easier to dig out.

 There were a couple of rocks that we used a pick to get out.
It has been years since I have used a pickax, as you can probably tell from how I’m holding it.

  Soon, we had the grass removed and a muddy area left behind, which was absolutely irresistible to my 5-year old nephew, Finley.

At this point, my mother returned home from the farmer’s market and was surprised to see all of our cars parked out in front of her house.
She was quite shocked when she came into the backyard and saw us working on her birthday present.  She was so happy.  She then got busy making us food, including the cinnamon chip bread that she had just bought at the farmer’s market.

After a break for lunch (pizza), we began to add some loads of composted leaves and soon, it was time to start putting up the sides.

Sodapop and the chickens took time to come over and see what we were doing.

This is Francie, and this is how she is supposed to look – she is a ‘naked neck’ chicken.

From time to time, we would take small breaks to play with Sodapop, who would drop her ball at your feet and wait hopefully for someone to throw it.

Of course, there was also time for the cousins to play catch too.

At this point, we had to quit for the day because it was almost dinner time. We all decided to come back the next Saturday to finish the project.

I went home and while my husband cleaned our mud-crusted boots, I put a load of very dirty clothes into the washing machine.

Please come back for Part Two and see the end result of our labors 🙂

My youngest sister, is very creative.  She even has her own company where she creates clothing for kids.

This year, she has gone all out for Christmas in regards to decorating the house at Double S Farms.  My mother, who is also super creative, helped as well.

I thought you would enjoy seeing some of what they have done…..

Here is what my sister had to say about decorating her house:

It’s beginning to look a *bit* like Christmas. I have been sick the past two weeks (boo!) and am super behind on my holiday preparations but I have managed to whip out some new Christmas decor to give the house a festive feel.

I had a million grand ideas for a new advent calendar this year. On November 30th and nothing done, I ran to Target to buy one. Oh my – so ugly and overpriced. Ran back home, busted out my felt stash and an old bulletin board I had laying around to create this one. Inside each little stocking are two treats for the boys and a Christmas related activity to do for each day. It has been a blast so far and the boys love to peek inside each morning to see what we get to do.

Do you see these adorable trees?!?! I found them on the Anthropologie website (pictured on left) and pinned them a few weeks ago. However, we are really cutting back this year and they are totally out of my budget. Bless my sweet mom for figuring out how to make something similar and helping me with them! I think they turned out great and cost us just $17 to make six of them. 

Speaking of my awesome mom, she put together these little *globes* from some trees, mason jars, and salt. Love them.

Again, keeping the budget in mind I made this little peace banner for the fireplace out of linen and some leftover felt. It cost me a a few dollars and I love it.

Since we used mellow neutrals to decorate the family room, I figured the boys needed new stockings to match. These are nothing fancy and I was able to use fabric and felt that I had on hand.

(Please ignore the ugly black TV). We kept the decor simple and understated this year but I really like it.

And of course it wouldn’t be the holidays without our cheeky little elf, Cooper. This is Cooper’s third year with us but thanks to Pinterest and some creative bloggers, Cooper is far more clever than before.

Although I’m feeling frazzled and behind, my little guys are enjoying every bit of this joyous season. I hope you are too!

(I’m a little too scattered to come up with proper tutorials on these right now but if you have any questions as to how I made anything, please message me at finleyandoliver@gmail.com – I’d love to help).

You can check out more of my sister’s great photos and ideas at finleyandoliver

I like to think that I am somewhat creative, but I am not in my sister’s league.  But, I did write a recent post on the Birds and Blooms blog about using items in your garden for decorating for Christmas.
Please check it out here:
I’d love to know what you think.
Do you have any decorations that you make from your garden?

Please tell me about them 🙂

Okay, let me be more specific…..3 chickens!

Lucy, Effie and Flo
 My mother’s dog, Addy, is a very sweet Australian cattle dog mix.  My parents adopted her from the animal shelter back in 2001, when she was 3 years old.  My dad just loved Addy.

When we adopted our son, Kai, from China we spent a few days at my parent’s house, who were living in California at the time.  Addy was the first dog that Kai had ever met.

My dad assured Kai that Addy was friendly and loved kids.
Addy is a ‘herding’ dog by nature.  The first object of her herding instinct was my parent’s black cat.  Addy was obsessed by her and would spend all of her time keeping track of the cat.
After the cat died (from old age), Addy transferred her attentions to the squirrels in my parent’s backyard.  I don’t think she was ever successful in actually catching one though.
After my parents moved to Arizona and my dad’s death, my mother along with my sister and her family moved to a small farm, which they call Double S Farms.  Addy was in heaven with a huge backyard and plenty of gophers to go after.
The other day as we were sitting on the back patio, I noticed 4 figures around the apple tree in the distance….
It was Addy and my sister’s 3 pet chickens.  Now, I knew that Addy got along with the chickens, but I didn’t know that the chickens just loved being around her.
According to my sister, the chickens just love to hang out with Addy, even when she is sleeping outside.  They just settle in around her.
At the ripe old age of 14, I guess Addy finally got to lead a flock, so to speak 😉
Addy was my dad’s special dog and although my mother loves her and takes care of her, I still think of her as my dad’s dog.
So, as I see her slow down, it is rather sad, because she is a link to my dad, who has been gone for 4 years now.
But, she isn’t going anywhere soon…. except to run inside to escape the coming thunderstorm, along with her feathered best friends.
So, how about you?  
Have you encountered any unusual friendships between animals?  
I would love to hear about them!

Besides eating hot dogs and watching fireworks this past 4th of July, I also spent some time picking apples with my daughter.  We use them to make applesauce.

 We grabbed some old Target(r) bags got to picking.

Believe it or not, the two apple trees at Double S Farms produce tons of apples and this was the last of many harvests this year. 

I have already made a batch of applesauce and my mother has been making apple butter like crazy.

 Some of you may be surprised to hear that apples grow in the desert.  Well, it is quite easy as long as you use a variety that needs low-chilling hours.  
Chill hours refers to the cumulative number of hours each year when the temperatures dip below 45 degrees.  In warm areas, you want to use varieties that have a low-chill requirement.
The apple trees on Double S Farms are the ‘Anna’ variety.  They are crisp, sweet and delicious.
As we got into picking the last of the apples, my mother’s dog, Addy, was on the prowl for any apples that we dropped, since she loves them.

You know what?  Apple trees are really the perfect size….

My daughter, Ruthie, was small enough to get into the smaller, interior areas.

While I could reach most of the apples up high.

Of course, apples taste best freshly picked, when they are ripe.  If you plan to store them for a while, it’s best to pick them a week before they are fully ripe. 
 After we finished picking, we had 4 large bags of apples. 

Perfect for making applesauce!
You can read my post about how I made applesauce here if you like 🙂

Have any of you picked apples from the tree before?
Or, do you enjoy cooking with apples?  
What do you make?
For more information on what type of apples that do well wherever you live, check out this link.  Be sure to curse down a bit to see the listing of apple varieties state by state.

Yes, you heard me right….a boat race on a farm.

For those of you wonderful people who have stuck around, reading this blog for a while, you have heard me talk about Double S Farms quite a few times.

For those of you who may be newer readers, Double S Farms is the residence of my mother, my sister and her family.  It is actually a mini-farm, or what some call a ‘ranchette’.  Besides two little boys and dogs, there is a vegetable garden, fruit trees (apple, lemon, grapefruit, kumquat, peach and plum) and chickens.
Every Tuesday night, my husband and I load up our family into the minivan and head over to Double S Farms for dinner.  I always look forward to Tuesdays because I don’t have to cook 😉
This past Tuesday, my brother-in-law took my son, Kai and my two nephews out to race boats.

Okay, you may be asking, where can you race boats on a farm?

In the canal, of course!

Double S Farms has an irrigation canal running along behind it.

The boys were so excited to race their boats.  
It turns out that they weren’t the only ones excited about watching the race…

The neighbor’s horses came over to see the action.

So did the cattle next door…

Well, I wish that I could say that the race was close, but it wasn’t.

My nephew Finley’s boat lost, while my son’s won.

I must admit that I was kind of routing for Finley’s boat….because my husband made it for him a long time ago.

You know what?  
I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening, can you?

Well tomorrow is the big day at Double S Farms.  It is the second annual Tour de Coops and the first time that Double S Farms will be on the list of gardens and chicken coops to visit.

I do plan on being at Double S Farms for a good part of the day tomorrow (Saturday).  Double S Farms is in Gilbert.  I’m not sure how many stops will be included in Gilbert since Tour de Coops includes the Phoenix metro area, but I hope some of you who live nearby are able to visit and see not only the chickens and their coop, but the vegetable garden, the fruit trees and the newest addition, the barn shed.

My sister, Chicken Farmer, blogged about it a few days ago and here is her post which explains much more about it:

2nd Annual Tour de Coops

When the idea of being chicken owners was just bouncing around in our heads last year, we had the opportunity to attend the 1st Annual Tour de Coops in the greater Phoenix area. The Tour de Coops is a self-guided tour of the valley’s coolest chicken setups. (Kind of like one of those holiday home tours but way cooler).

We had an amazing time touring the different chicken set ups at different homes throughout the valley and talking with the owners. It was after attending the tour that we decided raising urban poultry was definitely in our future and set off with plans for our own coop filled with baby chicks (you can read all about the beginning of our chicken adventure here).

A couple of months ago, the Phoenix Permaculture Guild put out a “call for coops” to be on this year’s tour. We were all over that and quickly submitted our detailed application. Once they looked over our application, they sent someone over to check out our coop to ensure that it was seriously cool (and it totally is). They agreed and this year our cool little coop (as well as our chickens, gardens, trees, etc.) will be on display for this year’s tour. You all know how much I like to talk about my chickens and now I get to do it for an entire day – with a captive audience! Absolute heaven for me.

If you are in the Phoenix area and have any sort of interest in urban poultry or even urban gardening, I highly recommend this tour. It’s a blast and a great way to connect with like minded people.

2nd Annual Tour de Coops
December 4th, 2010
10am – 3pm

Visit www.tourdecoops.org for more details and ticket information

**Even if you do not have chickens, or don’t plan on getting some – this is a fun day and many of the stops will have gardens to enjoy as well 🙂

I imagine that many of you are busy this week with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  My kids love that they only have to go to school for three days this week.  As I mentioned before, I am hosting Thanksgiving this year at our house for my in-laws and my brother and sister-in-law and their two new baby boys.

Do you know someone who loves to entertain?  Or maybe you are that someone?  As for me, I like the ‘idea’ of entertaining but not necessarily the work.  I tend to get a bit distracted as I plan out the details.  So, this post may appear a bit disjointed, which is how my brain works most of the time….so please bear with me 😉

Out in my garden, there are definite signs that winter will be here in just one month.

I always celebrate the first blooms of my Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), which will soon be a favorite destination for the hummingbirds.
 If you don’t already have one of these in your garden….rush to your local nursery and GET one.  My Valentine shrub (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is one of most favorite plants.  Soon it will be covered in red, trumpet shaped flowers that will last through spring.
The yellow blossoms of my Cascalote tree look so beautiful against the blue sky, don’t you think?
Although I do try to include plants in my garden that will bloom through the fall and winter seasons, there is an area that is not particularly colorful…..

Not too impressive….is it?
This is what my Bermuda grass lawn looks like once night time temperatures dip into the 50’s.  Although it looks more brown then green, it is not dead – just dormant.  Once the spring temperatures arrive it will green up very quickly.
Now if you love green grass and your husband loves to have to mow the lawn 12 months out of the year (mine doesn’t), you can overseed your grass with perennial rye grass seed in early fall.  I have done this from time to time, but not for the past couple of years.
The other day as I was up our driveway, I saw that one of my plants had a surprise for me….

My Agave desmettiana is beginning to grow it’s flowering stalk.
It grows at an extremely fast rate and you can actually measure the growth daily.
You know, I have seen hundreds of flowering agave, but it never gets old.  It is particularly special when it occurs in your own garden.
A common myth is that agave flower after being in the ground 100 years, hence the name ‘Century Plant’.  However, and the length of time that it takes an agave to flower is largely dependent on the species.  Some take longer to flower and others do not.

For example, my Agave desmettiana, above is actually the offspring of my previous agave that flowered and then died.  My agave above is only 5 years old.

**You may notice agave that have had their flowering stalk cut off in hopes that this will keep the agave from dying.  This will not work and robs the landscape of months of beauty that the flowering stalk adds.
Before I go, there is an upcoming event in our area that I would love to tell you about.  It is called Tour de Coops and one of the stops on the tour will be Double S Farms!
For those of you who may be newer readers, Double S Farms is the residence of my mother (Pastor Farmer), my sister (Chicken Farmer) and her family.  

My son Kai loves hanging out with the chickens.
You might have guessed that the tour involves chicken coops.  Actually it is “a self-guided tour of the coolest chicken set-ups” in the Phoenix metro area.

This year’s event occurs on December 4th and you can find more information and ticket information at Tour de Coops.
I plan on being at Double S Farms on that day to help and hopefully be able to meet some of you 🙂

Well, that is about it for now.  I need to work on my grocery list for Thursday.  I have a 21 lb turkey thawing out in my refrigerator, but need just a couple more items including heavy cream for my baked corn dish 🙂

I hope you are having a great week so far!

This is the conclusion to a story that I wrote back in January about a dog and her battle with ‘forbidden fruit’.

Sodapop, who belongs to my youngest sister, Chicken Farmer, and her family – is the main character of this story.  Sodapop is the daughter of my dog, Missy (that really has nothing to do with the story, however).  

The ‘forbidden fruit’ for Sodapop was an apple.  However, it was not your ordinary apple….it was an old, shriveled up apple hanging on the top of an apple tree.

We weren’t sure what it is about this shriveled apple that made her want it so badly.  But most likely, it probably because it was out of her reach and that is what drove her crazy….


She was sorely tempted by the sight of the dried up apple and she did her best to reach it, jumping as high as she could, breaking small branches in the process.

As if one forbidden fruit was not enough….there were more hanging in the tree, taunting her.

But try as she might, all she ended up with were small apple branches for all her troubles.

It was small compensation for a lot of work….


Now it is summer and the apple trees are now laden with delicious apples.  Now Sodapop has more apples then she knows what to do with.  First, she enjoyed eating the apples hanging on the lower branches of the apple trees.

However, now that most of the lower apples have either been eaten by her or picked by the residents of Double S Farms, Sodapop has had to content herself with eating the apples that have fallen from the tree….

I wonder if ‘forbidden’ apples taste better then ‘unforbidden’ apples?

**UPDATE – We recently learned that eating too many apples can be dangerous for dogs because their seeds contain small amounts of cyanide.  So, the apple trees will soon be fenced off to keep the dogs out.**

I hope you are all having a great week so far.  We are hoping for a start to our summer rainy season later this week and are keeping our fingers crossed 🙂

What a wonderful, busy weekend we had.  I always enjoy the coming of Easter and what it signifies – rebirth.  

When I first started this blog, I promised myself that I would not create a post solely about my family – I didn’t want to bore anyone and although my family is wonderful, we aren’t terribly interesting.  

And so, I will keep my promise and show you a garden, sandwiched between two separate family Easter celebrations.  That way, you can skip over the family photos and just look at the garden if you like.

 You can see my two youngest with their cousin, planning their strategy on how to get the golden egg in the middle of the field.

Saturday morning found me with the kids at the Sun Lakes Annual Easter Egg Hunt.  It is a fun event for the kids and they always look forward to it.  I love to watch the joy on their faces as they anticipate the hunt and plan their strategy.  I don’t particularly like having to get up really early on a Saturday though.
They both did pretty well and got quite a few eggs, but alas….the golden egg was found by someone else.
After the hunt for eggs was over, we settled ourselves to watch the Easter parade, which consists of golf carts decorated for Easter.  
I will not show all of the entries, but I will show you the one that the kids selected as the best one.
After the parade was over, we went back to my in-law’s home.  I am very fortunate that I have very wonderful in-law’s – (and they occasionally read my blog 😉  My favorite thing about their home is their landscape.  It is a wonderful mixture of succulents, shrubs and perennials.
I was fortunate to have been asked by my father-in-law to design their front and back landscape when they had their home built.  Prickly Pear Cacti, Agave, Golden Barrel Cactus, Pygmy Date Palm, Palo Brea Tree, Baja Ruellia, Katie Ruellia, Damianita and Firecracker Penstemon are all part of the front garden.
My father-in-law has a green thumb, especially when it comes to growing annuals, like these geraniums.
Our gardening styles differ in that he is more of a formal gardener.  His plants are carefully pruned and his garden is the ‘cleanest’ garden I have ever seen.  I am a more carefree gardener and prefer more naturally shaped plants and I do not mind loose leaves in the garden.
Last fall, my father-in-law asked me to re-design the corners of the backyard.  The new Firecracker Penstemon and Blackfoot Daisy are growing in nicely.  The original Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri), were kept in the background as they offer texture and a great color contrast.
After a wonderful Easter lunch of my mother-in-law’s lasagna and the ice-box cake that I made, I was ready to go home and take a nap, which I did.
The next morning, we went to church and then prepared to go to my mother and sister’s home on Double S Farms.  My brother and his wife, my cousin and her family were to join us all there for Easter lunch and another Easter egg hunt.  As my son put it, you can never have enough Easter egg hunts.
My two oldest daughters.
I had a great time catching up with my cousin and her daughters.
We had a great lunch and then it was time for the hunt.  Tradition in our family holds that the men of the family hide the eggs.
The vegetable garden at Double S Farms made a great place to hid eggs, along with the fruit trees and the chicken coop.
Little & Littlest Farmers got a head start on the Easter egg hunt with assistance from their mother, Chicken Farmer.  Little Farmer, figured that since he was hunting for eggs with candy that his Halloween pumpkin would work just fine.
I think this is the cutest Easter bunny I have ever seen 🙂
There were a lot of places to hide eggs, but the kids soon found them all.
Including my youngest daughter, who was so happy because she absolutely LOVES chocolate candy.
Well, I hope I have not bored you with our exploits over Easter weekend, but we had a wonderful time being outdoors enjoying the springtime weather and being with family.  I do hope that you all had a very blessed Easter.
My next post will be a guest post by my sister, Chicken Farmer.  You don’t want to miss it….