Monday, December 31, 2012

Twelve Step Program: A Dozen Donuts, A Dozen Days


It's been a good while since I've had really good donuts. I lived in Round Rock, Texas for many years. Round Rock was a great little town. In my time there, three of the greatest things that made it stand out were THE Round Rock, the outlaw Sam Bass, and Round Rock Donuts.  In Round Rock the donuts were pretty ubiquitous. Just about any gathering had a few. Church fellowship halls had them. If you worked anywhere in the area you could get absolution for arriving late if you showed up with a dozen Round Rock donuts. All work tended to stop for an impromptu coffee break but the bosses were usually there munching away with the hoi polloi. 
I moved away from Round Rock in the late '90's and lost touch with the donuts except for a rare glimpse now and then. When I finally moved to the Bastrop area in 2007 I could no longer get the donuts at all unless someone made a special trip. It seemed easier to just give up on donuts in general except for a rare grocery store donut nabbed when shopping. (And paid for, of course!) 

I certainly don't want to denigrate any other brand of donuts. I've eaten at least a few of them all. Like a few other things in my experience, no donut is a bad donut. To my particular taste, however, one donut reigns supreme.
I've essentially been on a donut hiatus for about five years.
In that time period the legendary (to me, anyway) Round Rock Donuts loomed rather large in memory. Not unlike this:
(Lone Star Bakery, the home of the RR Donut, does have one like this, called, I think, the Texas Donut.)
Recently, my daughter Holly Seward Land and her husband Jeremy were coming to visit from their home in Temple. Realizing that they would likely pass more or less through Round Rock, I asked them to pick me up some donuts. Being a RR girl, in fact a RR Dragonette in her time, I didn't have to explain. They appeared in my yard with a dozen RR Donuts, which I promptly put in the freezer. They freeze wonderfully well. Pull one out, microwave for 15 seconds or so, and they are almost fresh again, or near enough anyway. 

They were every bit as good as I remembered. My partner, Cat Dancing, didn't see the appeal at all. I love her madly and would have gladly shared, however it just means my stash lasts longer! The first batch lasted me about a week, as I was eating two every morning with coffee. Is there a more perfect union?
I often arise earlier than anyone else here at EarthSong. I feed the chickens, dog, and cats, make coffee and have perhaps an hour to myself for coffee and reflection. I started joking on Facebook about my morning spiritual practice; Donuts and coffee. It got a lot of likes and virtual smiles. Alas, the donuts were soon gone and I had to make do with Christmas cookies and so on. I was roughing it, you know! Pan Dulce is an excellent alternative!

I got another dozen donuts a couple of days ago. Holly and Jeremy came to visit again and vowed to continue enabling my addiction whenever possible! I think she wants to be my favorite! I'm a lucky daddy! Have I mentioned I'm a soon to be grandpa too? More on that later.

It is fitting, though. My own initiation to the donut came through my own grandfather, W.K. Seward (Dad). We lived at our gas station at Seward Junction, three miles outside of Liberty Hill, Texas.
Roughly twice a day Dad would drive into Liberty Hill for his coffee break. Occasionally he would take me and my brother Steve along. I was small, but felt like big stuff to sit up at the counter at Foust's Cafe beside him. He would treat me to a drink, an ice cream, and sometimes a donut! He would always make me a deal. I could eat the donut but I had to save him the hole!

I tried. It was a concept that confused me, but intrigued me. The donuts at Foust's Cafe were, I suppose, made there. There were few donut chains around in the mid '50's, at least in our area. I remember the donuts fondly, if a bit fuzzily. This was before such bakers as Dunkin Donuts actually made a treat called the "donut hole" that actually could be eaten. 

So, I was faced with a dilemma. I took Dad seriously at first. My young mind wrestled with the concept of saving a thing which was apparently a nothing. Even after I realized he was joking, the idea had an appeal. 

(It is only now, fifty-something years later, that I realize he might possibly have meant "save me the whole", which would have been a whole other thing. Surely he didn't. Maybe.)

I was thus, early on, faced with the task of "unscrewing the inscrutable". Perhaps this was the beginning of my tendency to take nothing at face value. To question what I was told! Maybe it's just a donut!

What is a donut but a torus? Wikipedia has a fascinating and pretty technical explanation of a torus.  Click the link if you want to go into it. Basically, a torus is a solid with only one surface. It is made from rotating one circle around another. The figure has a lot of practical uses, from the small donut I enjoy to the huge Super Colliders we use to generate new particles. Pretty interesting.
 How about that hole? Negative space in the center of the torus? Portal to other spaces? Navel of the cosmos? Something to contemplate, at least. And of course, getting down to the hole is very tasty!

The best way to consider such things is to have a donut or two, and some coffee, and think about it!

Save me the hole! Or maybe the whole, if it's the last of the RR Donuts!

The Road Goes Ever On...


Friday, December 21, 2012

Apocalypse Now

It's not too late for an Apocalypse!
I challenge you!
Today is the beginning.

In so many ways today begins a new year, a new age.
It is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night.
For our ancestors this begins the time of promise. The days grow longer, the sun returns again. So many peoples and believers celebrated the end of the negative and the beginning of the growing positive at this time of year.

Change is coming, but what kind?
Positive or negative?
We decide.
You and I will create all positive change.
We are the growing edge!

Many have anticipated "The Age of Aquarius" and some even have said that current events signal the beginning. We decide if it is true.
So, let's make it so!

Let us, each and every one of us, build the Age of Aquarius as we would have it be built.
Not as some bureaucrat or so-called religious leader would plan it but as we ourselves would have it.
Right now, today, whatever time or day you read this, begin the new age.

Begin by refusing to give power to the negative forces among us. Don't watch, don't listen, don't pay it any attention whatsoever!
We are better than this. That can be our mantra for this new start.
When someone says it can't be done.
We are better than this.
When the news media is sensationalisticly bleak, We are better than this.

You and I can hew to a higher standard. We can insist that the highest priority is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, protect the children, save the earth and it is not to add another shekel to the piles of those who covet more than they can possibly spend.

You and I, we are better than this.
Starting right now, we can celebrate the positive in life. Build something for all generations. Instead of waiting for someone to do something someday, today you and will do these simple things.

And they will grow. Simple as that.
We are better than this!

We are the True Apocalypse, You and I!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Memory Lane

I accompanied my partner, Cat Dancing, to an appointment in Georgetown this morning. Afterward, she had another appointment in Round Rock. It's been awhile since I've been around the area. I was born in Georgetown back in 1950, grew up not too far away in Liberty Hill, and lived and raised children in Round Rock from 1979 till about 1998 when I moved back to Liberty Hill for several years. So, aside from a few years in Austin, I lived in Williamson County all my life until I moved to McDade and Bastrop in 2007.

Oddly enough I was already thinking about Round Rock because of a dream I had last night. Several of my friends from Sam Bass Community Theater featured in my dream, so I awoke thinking of those days. Coming back into town today pulled a lot of memories to the surface.

In 1981 we had been living in Round Rock for two years. My son Bill was 5, my daughter Melanie was just born or nearly so. I read an ad in the Round Rock Leader about casting for the Sam Bass Shootout, a reenactment of an historical event, the shooting of Sam Bass (duh). The group was looking for new members to put on the production. It sounded interesting, so I showed up and joined in. The shootout was a lot of fun. The directors, Betty Porter and Zettie Vogler encouraged us all to also join the Sam Bass Community Theater group that sponsored the shootout group. I went on to participate in the shootout reenactment for 22 years.

I took them up on the offer to join the Sam Bass Community Theater as well. I had had no real exposure to theater previously. My high school didn't have a drama class when I was there. The Junior and Senior classes did put on a play each (called, respectively, the Junior and Senior Plays of course), we also participated in Theater for UIL competition. I enjoyed doing those in school but in thinking of getting involved in Sam Bass Theater I was actually looking for something my then wife, Linda, might be interested in doing. She decided it wasn't her thing, though, but I stayed with it.

At that time the Sam Bass Community Theater was housed in the old railroad depot building in downtown Round Rock. Later on the building was moved about a mile away to the Lions Club Veteran's Park and all of us pitched in to remodel it and build outbuildings.
The photo is from "Picnic" which was the play that was casting when I first joined Sam Bass Community Theater. Shown are my friends B.J. Machalicek and Doug Pope. 

In 1986 the Sesquicentennial of Texas was going on and Round Rock put on a large historical musical pageant named "We're All Texans Now!" Betty Porter was directing and asked me to join in. I played several roles and enjoyed it a lot.

I also started acting and writing in plays to benefit the Round Rock Public Library and the Friends of the Library. Betty Porter, again, was picked to direct the first "Library Mystery", which later became called "Mystery Night". Betty invited me to join in as an actor. The first production was one evening of an audience participation play, "Murder at the Library" and it was a success. We did it annually. The second year it was "Death in Berlin". When the third year (1991) rolled around, Betty called me and asked if I could help her find a western themed mystery play that we could "localize" easily for Round Rock. I had the bright idea of writing one. I brought her a very short first draft of "Murder at the TP Ranch." Betty read it and liked it but suggested I collaborate with Barbara Vance, Assistant Children's Librarian at the library. We had a great collaboration and developed a successful play. We went on to write several more as Mystery Night became a larger and larger production. Several of the plays we wrote have been performed in several states in the U.S. as well as Canada, Great Britain, Scotland, and Germany. Those yearly productions also included Reunion With Death('92); Play Dead ('93); and Death of the Party ('94)

Cast/set shot from Murder At The TP Ranch. Standing L to R: Wiley Gilmore, John West, Jerry (lost his last name), Jeanette Crabb, Barbara Vance, Betty Porter (Dir.). Seated from left: Patti Bowers, Chip Hadley (stage crew), Billie Blankenship, Bill Seward, Lisa Bilbrey (Friends Pres.)

Meanwhile with SBCT I auditioned for plays, got turned down, showed up to help with concessions and other helpful things. Eventually in 1990 I was cast in a play. My first one with SBCT was "First Monday in October". I was cast as Supreme Court Justice Richard Carey.

At right is a cast/set shot from "First Monday".  In the picture are Jim Grisham, Jan Stuckey, Phillip Robinson, Gene Cagle, Jim Prior, Doyle C. Carter, Mike Groblewski, myself, and Mike Stuckey. (Not in order). Also in the play were Andy Brown, Mark Brauner, Ben Irene Frederick, and Dustin Radabaugh.

During my involvement with SBCT the shows I did included: Bless Me Father; Close the Door So It Can't Get in Your Room; Dark of the Moon; Twelve Angry Men; Arsenic and Old Lace; Bleacher Bums; One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest; and many more. I also created an extra character during "Close The Door" we named "Melvin". He was sort of an unrecognizable stoner guy in the persona of a janitor. We had a lot of fun with that, and Melvin appeared in a few other random productions over the years as an add-in. He was uncredited and a mystery to the audience. He finally got a credited appearance as the night attendant in "Cuckoos Nest." 

Along with my acting and concurrent writing efforts, I also directed my first play at SBCT. We had a directing workshop about 1994. I chose Anton Chekhov's one act play "The Proposal". I came across it totally by accident and liked it. With that production I joined the list of Directors at SBCT. I had also moved into co-directing some of the Mystery Night Productions for the Library.

Some of our same group that did the Mystery Night productions staged a slightly different style of fund raising show for the Literacy Council of Williamson County. "The Mystery of Lotta's Boudoir" was another concept and script by Barbara Stopp Vance and myself. It was an audience participation mystery but with more of a "hands on" CSI feel. That was a lot of fun.
I believe "Cuckoos Nest" was about my last show with SBCT. Somewhere along that time I moved back to Liberty Hill. I love the theater, but doing a play is a commitment to show up basically every evening for six weeks or so. That's tough if you have to commute after a full time job as well. I did enter SBCT's One Act Play showcase twice and won a first both times. My first one-act, "Spinner", was especially a treat in that so many of my friends chose to act in it as well. The second, "Ghost of a Chance", was good as well, but the production was a bit of a disappointment to me. My son, Bill, however, auditioned and won roles in all but one of the shows in the one-act showcase, including mine. That was pretty cool!

Sam Bass Community Theater was, and I assume still is, a great bunch of people. I counted many as my closest friends. They supported me through many large crises at the time. I still am in contact with several of them. There were so many of them: Jim and Kathy Grisham, Jim Prior, Andy Brown, Jimmy Toungate, Veronica Prior, and on and on.

My involvement in both Mystery Night and SBCT ended when I remarried and moved to Liberty Hill, as I said before. In Liberty Hill I helped to found the Liberty Hill Public Library and the Liberty Hill Community Theater.

As Founder, Director and Resident Playwright of Liberty Hill Community Theater I was trying to start something that hadn't been done before in the town, much as we were doing in founding the Liberty Hill Public Library. We did have a good production of our "Reunion With Death", and tried to field a couple more but ran into problems with venue and casting. We had a lot of public support, but efforts to find a performance space just didn't work out. We quit trying to use the school auditoriums when the school wanted to charge us to put on a fund raiser for the school! A couple of efforts in casting plays met with little response, so I gave up on the idea. We did develop a very nice Youth Theater that kept going for awhile with the guidance and hard work of Laura and Lacey Cannon, their family and friends. They put on several excellent productions in the park and VFW hall that I was honored to end assistance to.

About the time I was giving up on the LHCT, the Public Library was taking off. We were able to pass a Sales Tax issue in Liberty Hill that gave welcome funds to the Library. With lots of volunteer help, labor, and many donated materials we built our first library in part of Foundation Park. I was elected as one of the Board of Trustees, drew up the original plans for the building, and served as Evening Librarian every Thursday evening. 

I also was asked to direct a couple of plays for a theater group in Georgetown. San Gabriel Productions was a small group in an old building called the "Polo Barn". It was a very challenging space. I saw an announcement that they were casting for "The Foreigner", one of my favorite scripts. I called about it and sent my actor resume and they asked if I wanted to direct the play. I jumped at the chance! It was a wonderful production. Later I directed "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" for them. Again I had a great cast and a fun production. 

The breakup of my second marriage was a huge blow to me. I continued with the Liberty Hill Library for a couple of years. I also became involved with the Way Off Broadway Community Players in Leander. I did several plays with WOBCP and made more great friends. I acted in Streetcar Named Desire; The Trip to Bountiful; Daddy's Dying Who's Got the Will; Harvey and lots more. My final production with WOBCP was "It's a Scream". My first lead role, and a fun comedy. During the run of that play I was starting a new relationship (with my partner Cat Dancing) and soon afterward I moved to McDade, Texas (even smaller than Liberty Hill), and now to Bastrop. 

I haven't exactly resumed my theatrical career, as such. The distances necessary to travel and the desire to nurture a new relationship argued against it. Bastrop does have an acting and film group I am looking into. I have been pursuing acting work in movies, TV and commercials with limited success. We also have a friendly relationship with The Vortex Theater in Austin. They do some great shows and we are friends with the director Bonnie Cullum and many of the group.

It's not over. Just entering a new stage, so to speak.

Anyway, this all came to mind in Round Rock yesterday! Cheers!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Headache and Semantics

I've been sick the past week, more or less. Not sure what. Headaches, congestion, dry cough, random fevers. Seem to be coming out of it somewhat. Vitamin C seems to help as usual. Last night had pretty vivid dreams, but don't remember any. Just finished a Preston & Child novel, Gideon's Sword and have been watching season two of "24" on dvd. No doubt that contributed to the dreams.
Woke with a thundering headache, migraine level. Got up about 8. Drank lots water, ate a banana and took some migraine mix pills. Fed animals, washed dishes. Head somewhat better. Was in bathroom reading the Kindle, a set of writing interviews on Scottish mystery writers.
I began to reflect on printed language structure and how it might contribute to health, specifically headache relief.
Like this:
I have a lot of headaches from mild to severe. Fewer bad ones since I dropped peanuts from my diet. (I really miss peanut butter.) Often, as weird as it seems, I am still able to read without worsening the headache. Especially on the Kindle or on the computer. Perhaps the print contrast or font size also helps. All other sources of stimulation will hurt to varying degrees. Light, sound, music, even involved thought. There is one exception to the music, Gregorian chants can be soothing and not intrusive. Almost any other type of music is just too much.
Anyway, as I looked at the Kindle and reflected on being able to read when everything else hurt, I was struck with an idea.
Remember, above I said that the headaches even seem to inhibit involved thought. So, having an idea and pursuing it was a chore.
Anyway, I carefully thought about the written word.
I've seen articles about classical music. The music in general, and certain composers especially, like Bach, Mozart, et al. actually has the ability to structure the mind when listened to. There were studies about mothers playing the music for their unborn children to make the smarter, and so on. It mostly had to do with the mathematical structure of the music. It actually encourages the mind to re-form logical pathways.
I suspect the whole concept may have fallen out of favor in recent times, but it always made sense to me.
This brings us to semantics.
Long ago I read a science fiction novel called "The Players of Null-A". by A.E. van Vogt. A primary part of his "Null-A" series was based on the science of General Semantics. It fascinated me, and still does. I often return to the idea.
My own definitions may not jibe much with the official ones. To me, semantics is concerned with language and how it transmits ideas based on sentence structure and content together. The structure is equally as important as the content.
Another line, General Semantics is more involved. In my own simplified thoughts on it, it has to do with thought processes of the human mind and how that process is changed for better or worse as language gets into the process.
The implication on the one hand is that our thinking on a subject may be accurate but the thought processes involved with phrasing into words considerably muddies it or changes it outright.
I know I've had THAT experience!
So, rather than delve further into THAT can of worms, my basic thought here was: Granted, there are basic thought processes, and language, either verbal or written, has an impact. Is there, say, a way to structure something resembling a two or three page essay that would engage the mind experiencing a headache or other discomfort and structurally remove the pain? Perhaps a poem?
Perhaps there already is and I haven't seen it.

Qi Gong for the brain? Part of the idea of Qi Gong is that it clears pathways thru the body for Qi to flow and heal.
And yes, it can help headaches. So can accupuncture, and drugs, and herbs and other things.

I'm only thinking about this one approach. The idea of using words to clear those pathways in the brain.Perhaps as an inveterate reader I'd like to justify my habit.

"No, I'm not goofing off, I'm taking my medicine!"

Any ideas?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

It's A Find!

Okay, maybe not so significant to anyone other than me. Way back in the previous millennium, like maybe 1961 or so, a favorite great-uncle of mine passed on. Dr. George Duff Ross had been the town physician in Liberty Hill, Texas for many years. There are still people around who bear one of his three names in honor of his delivering them. He was also, in my eyes, something of a Renaissance Man. He had a myriad of hobbies, including taxidermy, woodworking and fishing. He had designed and built his own very unique home in the town. He also had a well equipped workshop. 
After he passed on and his house was sold, we had a lot of his books and things to dispose of. I managed to latch on to a few. I was only ten or eleven at the time, but I already had a huge love of books, and everything of Uncle Doc's was fascinating to me. I didn't get to keep much, but one was the book shown above. 

"The Amateur Craftsman's Cyclopedia of Things to Make" was printed in 1937 by the Popular Science Publishing Company. The book was hardback and composed of 338 pages of projects, tips, and all sorts of fascinating information drawn from years of back issues of Popular Science magazine. 
The title page calls it "A complete manual for the home-workshop enthusiast with detailed working drawings and instructions for making toys, novelties, sporting equipment, models, furniture, house and garden conveniences, radios, photographic accessories, and scientific instruments - painting - workshop methods - metal working." "With over 1400 working drawings, diagrams, and illustrations."

I loved this book! I was already fascinated with do-it-yourself projects. Of course, much of the book was pretty dated, even by 1960. However, the contents stirred my imagination and gave me a start on many of the interests I hold still today, such as woodworking, photography, metalworking, and electronics.

For several years I returned to this book over and over, poring over the pictures and details. Finally, my grandfather loaned the book to his brother who also had a workshop. I never saw it again. Over the past 40 years or so I forgot the exact name of the book, but I still remembered the book itself, as well as a visual memory of many of the contents. I tried a few times to find another copy, but I was stymied by not having the actual name or publisher.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago in a related search of vintage workshop articles, I came across an article that I remembered from the book. The footing on the page copied gave me the right name. Of course it is out of print and a collectible but I subsequently found a used copy of the book on  For fifteen dollars plus shipping it could be mine! I jumped on it. In a couple of days I had it, the copy shown above. 

This copy is a second edition and is a slightly larger format than the original, I believe. However, it is all there in pretty good condition. Everything I remembered from before. I am so pleased to finally have this book back in my possession!

I'm still a sucker for old reprints of vintage how-to articles. I'm a bit fan of ingenuity. A lot of the time the methods and materials are waaaaaaay out of date. I mean, how often can you run down the the mechanic shop and find a magneto from a Model T? However, the concepts are still sound, even if it is necessary to find modern equivalents for materials and finished projects. You may not have need of a wall rack for buggy whips, but it may give you and idea for something else!

Long lost treasure!

Those Wayward Patterns!

This is a general question for everyone, so I'm asking the smartest bunch I know! It may not apply as much to flute making as to the workshop in general. I'm talking about patterns. Like I said, not so much a problem for small things like most flutes or fetishes. If you're anything like me, though, you do a lot more in your shop than flutes. My partner and I share a shop. She creates stained glass and wooden Intarsia art. We both tackle other woodworking projects as well. Much of this requires full-sized patterns in paper or something similar. It has become more and more a problem to file patterns so that they can be found easily for next time. I guess I should mention that we generally design our own patterns as well, usually starting with sketches on paper, proceeding to a final pattern sketch.
Scanning them into the computer works pretty well. Since many are larger than 8 1/2 x 11, I use a panorama program to stitch several scans together into one .jpg or .pdf file. It takes some time to do this, but once it's done it's great. Often I then copy the .jpg file into my CAD program as it gives me a lot more control and flexibility in scaling and printing. Once I have done this, then it becomes easy to print a new pattern as needed. (Would be so much nicer if we had access to large format printer!) Needless to say, the computer can store a whole lot more patterns than a house full of special drawers or files!
Many patterns just don't lend themselves to scanning. We still have the problem of filing the paper originals for future use. Does anyone else have a system for doing this? Anything I can think of takes valuable room in the house, and the shop just isn't an environment suitable for paper storage.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How Not to Raise Chickens! Guest post by Paul Wheaton.

To me, this comic artist (First Cultural Industries) is exceptionally brilliant at capturing and representing very common and complicated issues that can arise for people who have never raised chickens before.  I think the desire to steward chickens is normal and healthy. And what is good for the chicken is something people typically want to understand, but the information from that perspective is scarce, even with the myriad of books available on the topic.  This is a big reason why I created my raising chickens article and have created the Wheaton eco scale to help quantify the implications of the different ways one can raise chickens:  Level 1 is using a coop and run and Level 6 uses a paddock shift with food forests system. The key, for me, is to not hate on the people behind me, but instead, try to figure out ways to educate them on the next levels.
I have to admit that I have bought chickens on-line.  This cartoon makes a pretty good point about how that isn’t necessarily supporting “local” (should that be your reason for raising chickens). But … there are issues buying local too (potentially less selection, could be worse quality of care, fuel for travel to pick up, etc…).   While I feel shame about some of my past choices, I recognize that most all paths have downsides.  Since I did order on-line, I spent time checking reviews to see which hatcheries had the most live chicks arrive and made this my primary shopping criteria. I also had things worked out with the post office so they would call me the moment they had the chicks (one of the perks of a very small town). The folks at the post office seemed to really enjoy it because of all the peeping! I think in all of the deliveries, there was at least one dead chick. Damn.
“You know, we spent $200 on this vintage chicken coop and another $100 to fix it, then there’s that organic chicken feed at $3 a pound …. these are going to be rather pricey eggs … Don’t think about it that way! These are artisanal eggs. Each one is like an original work of art!”  Experiencing the reality of this statement is what led me to paddock shift systems. I was selling eggs and meat for about the same price as the feed I was buying.  I do believe the egg can be a work of art if the chicken is a forest animal and getting plenty of fresh veggies and bugs. But if all they get is dried up grain and nothing else, while penned in a small area where they stand on their own poop all day …. that is hardly “artisanal.”
Raising chickens is a lot of responsibility and, as is the common flaw with most systems, you cannot leave your responsibilities (unless you live in a community that shares responsibilities).  This comic does a good job of showing how clueless jerks will often stick others with their responsibilities.  It also illustrates the lack of preparation and knowledge with which first timers often jump into chicken raising, particularly around chicken life expectancy and what it means to raise a live animal (like death and harvesting).  “Chicken Recycling…we offer a full line of karma offsets…..”  These are new to me.  But I could see these folks getting super rich offering this stuff! Brilliant!  This video, on respectful chicken harvesting, is one every wanna be chicken owner should watch.

Paul Wheaton's Regular blog can be found at

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Eating High on the Hog

    I sometimes like to mention books that are not new. They may, in fact, be pretty old and hard to find. I guess I'm perverse that way. I like to give attention to authors from the past. If you are able to find the same book, great. If not, perhaps you will find something equally interesting if you're open to it. A lot of my finds come from thrift stores, garage sales, Goodwill, and Half Price Books.
    HPB is our largest purveyor of used books in the Austin area. For the most part they sell books at half of the cover price, just like the title says. They have lots of specials and sales, though. I'm rarely happy with what they pay me when I sell to them, but I do shop there fairly often.
    Another of my interests is eating, as my waistline will bear out. So, what could be more appropriate than talking about cookbooks?
    Don't get me wrong. I don't cook much. I can get by okay making a few standards: Chili, pinto beans and cornbread, biscuits, gravy, bread, omelets, bannock, pancakes, things like that. It has always been my luck to pair up with partners who are excellent cooks.
    However, for some reason I'm a sucker for cookbooks. I've built up a small library of cookbooks I've picked up here and there, mostly old ones. Today we'll talk about some of them.
    Before I begin, a caveat. Few of the following cookbooks would be considered particularly "healthy" currently. They were great for the time. Not so many folks now are inclined to cook with lard, or bacon grease. Frying is less in favor for a lot of reasons I won't go into. That being said, many of the recipes can be adapted to healthier cooking. Before you cringe in horror, just remember, it was a simpler time. The higher priority was more often to put food on the table using what you had available. Today we have a lot more choices. End of caveat.
      We tend to eat much healthier at my home now. We use less saturated fats, more fresh vegetables, less meat overall, no gluten, less sugars. It is all very good, really. I agree totally with the concept. I must admit, however, that my "druthers" are a bit unreconstructed. I still yearn for biscuits and gravy, fried chicken and so on. True comfort food. Okay, maybe I'm just a guy. A "boomer" at that.
Back to cookbooks:
First up is "Mrs. Blackwell's Heart of Texas Cookbook" by Louise B. Dillow & Deenie B. Carver. Corona Publishing, 1980. The subtitle is "A Tasty Memoir of the Depression."  My copy is a paperback, 107 pages.
    This cookbook appealed for one big reason. I was raised by my grandparents. When she married W.K. Seward in 1929, my grandmother, Mildred Adams, could barely cook. All the meals she learned to cook were, therefore, shaped by the Great Depression in Texas. "Mrs. Blackwell's" is therefore a taste of home. Most of the recipes   included were very familiar to me. These are the recipes I wished I had paid attention to when I lived at home.  Here is that comfort food, all the familiar dishes: Chicken and Dumplings, Fried Chicken, Pecan Pie, Chow-chow and others. All are served up with candid memories of family life around the table.
    The book is a good read. There is a foreward by John Henry Faulk, a Texas legend himself. If you're not hungry when you start reading, you will be when you finish. Especially if your grandma cooked for you!
    "Williamson County Extension Homemaker's Cookbook", North

American Press, Kansas City, MO. About 1980. IBC binding, paperback, 171 pages.
    This one really takes me back too. This was published by one of those "community cookbook publishers" that offered a package deal to groups. Gather up all your recipes, put together a cookbook to print, sell copies as a fundraiser. They have a certain amount of boilerplate in them. Common measurements, terms, so forth for filler.  It is only natural that a social group, church, club or whatever that routinely socializes and shares potluck would also share and compare recipes. Why not, after all, put out a book? When I hold something like this in my hand I fondly remember "all day preaching and dinner on the grounds". Churches used to have outdoor tabernacles for camp meetings and trestle tables permanently set up under the trees for the food. Yummy! Okay, often the preaching was boring, especially to us kids, but the singing and eating was fun.
    Less religious but no less social was the Home Demonstration Club!
    The Home Demonstration movement in Texas started in Milam County in 1912 as a club devoted to growing and canning tomatoes. World War I brought food conservation and the clubs were spreading and adding sewing and other homemaking activities. After the war the clubs came under the umbrella of the various county Agricultural Extension Agents with the backing of Texas A&M and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Each club meeting would focus on learning or sharing techniques on many homemaking activities. Of course, growing, preserving, and preparing food were also part of  that endeavor. 
    Many rural communities had their own "Home Demonstration Club". The Union Hall Home Demonstration Club drew housewives from an area roughly ten miles across. Union Hall was the name of a church and one-time school for our area. The school was gone by the mid 1930's, I believe. The Union Hall Baptist Church is still there near Seward Junction, in the southeastern wedge of the U.S. 183 and State Highway 29 intersection, between Leander and Liberty Hill in Williamson County.
    My grandmother was a member of the club. I would often accompany her to meetings. Of course I was more interested in playing at that age, but I still remember the meetings and some of the things they learned. And, of course, the food.
    The "Williamson County Extension Homemaker's Cookbook" was compiled from several of those clubs, which by the time of printing had taken on the name of Extension Homemaker Clubs.
    The book is a mixed bag of all those country recipes that we would have enjoyed back then. Some of the slightly more modern products can be seen in use. Margarine, bouillon cubes, canned soups, Doritos, Bisquick baking mix.
    I have to admit, my palate was formed during the '50's and '60's. I grew up eating oleo-margarine instead of butter, skim milk instead of whole, Miracle Whip instead of mayonaise. In those days it was considered more healthy, actually. In consequence I don't remember ever tasting real butter until I was in my 20's, or mayonaise. My taste buds still prefer those things, logic has no bearing on taste. Cringe if you want, that's the way it is. We use the real stuff now, only rarely does the chemical substitute pass my lips.
  Next book:  "The Only Texas Cookbook", by Linda West Eckhardt. 1981. Lone Star Publishing. Paperback. 284 Pages. This is a good basic and relatively modern cookbook. I think I originally got it for the Tex -Mex and Chili sections. It has one of the few variations of the Chile Relleno that I really like. Cooked the right way with pecans, raisins, ground beef, ranchero sauce and sour cream. MMMMMMMM! More work than I want to tackle but I haven't found a restaurant that does them this way since the first one I found closed. Sigh!
    "The Husband's Cookbook". by Mike McGrady. 1979. J.B. Lippincott Company. Hardback. 228 pages. I have no picture for this one. The dust cover was gone and the spine didn't scan well.
    I got this book when I was single for awhile. I like the approach. It's a husband writing the book for other husbands. The style is very chatty as he talks you through fifty-two different full menus from Spaghetti in Meat Sauce to Chicken Kiev with all the side dishes. I like that he doesn't assume that you know very much. He doesn't talk down to a person, just acknowledges that his readers are intelligent men who just may not know this particular territory too well. Not a "country cooking" cookbook for sure, the menus are pretty "up town" but that makes the finished meal even more impressive. You might have trouble convincing the wife that you didn't order out!
A few years back a friend of Czech extraction brought me a cookbook from her family reunion. The "Marusak Family Reunion Collected Recipes." Private printing. Paperback. IBC Binding. 93 pages.
    Very interesting reading. If you like Czech food it's great! In fact, since we are, after all, a melting pot, there is a large variety of other foods covered including Tex -Mex, or as some of the family call it Czech-Mex.

"EATS A Folk History of Texas Foods", by Ernestine Sewell Linck and Joyce Gibson Roach. 1989. Texas Christian University Press. Hardback. 257 pages.
    "EATS" isn't so much a cook book as it is a folklore book about the subject of food throughout the history of Texas. There are recipes, to be sure. The overall intent, however is to explore the history of Texas in the light of what we  had to eat while that history was happening! The aforementioned Czechs show up here, as do the Native American and Mexican influences. Indeed, it would be hard to find a culture that didn't in some way influence the Texas table! It's good to see how we eat set within an historical and cultural context.
    As long as we're waxing historical the last cookbook this time around is a reprint of a very old one.
"The Cumberland Cook Book 1895," Four Hundred Tested  Recipes of Tennessee Cookery Compiled by the Ladies of the Educational Circle of the Cumberland Prespyterian Churches of Nadhville, Tenn. Reprinted 1980 by Frontier Press.
    My great-great-great-grandfather, Lewis Gordon Tucker came to Central Texas around 1860 as a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Ministers traveled far and set up churches wherever they settled. This cook book was given to my grandmother by a family friend a few years back and it has come down to me.
    The recipes would be a bit difficult to follow, as they would require massive substitutions and interpretations of measurements here and there. However, in context of history and place it is a good cookbook to peruse now and then. There are also charming period advertisements reprinted throughout to set the tone.
    That completes this round of cookbooks. I have more, but I will save them for another time. Probably not so wise to read them if you're on a diet, but I hope I've sparked some interest.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Heart of Texas Green Expo

I've been asked to give an Intro to Permaculture talk at Bastrop's First Heart of Texas Green Expo on June 8 and 9, 2012. Got to the website and check it out. My talk is currently scheduled for Saturday, June 9 at 11 A.M., but check the schedule and make sure. It should be a good weekend, lots of exhibitors and entertainment!  Cat Dancing and I will also be vending with our art, flutes, and bee hives.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

First Spring at EarthSong Retreat!

Here we are, end of May, 2012. The aircard is renewed and it's time to post an update and some pictures of what's going on here at EarthSong Retreat. 

As you can see above, the wildflowers have been in full swing for some time now. Below is another shot of that field. The bees are loving it!
The stick you might see standing near the middle of this shot indicates the location of the new mulberry tree that is planted there. That field also has an escarpment black cherry, a paw-paw, and a couple of comfrey plants. This is a sort of narrow patch of land between a small tree belt and the larger field where our new orchard is located. 

Speaking of the orchard, above are two shots of the new hugelkulture swales in progress. Swales are berms or ridges made along a contour line. They slow down water flow and let it soak in to the soil gradually. Water in the soil is down where the plants need it, and doesn't evaporate so quickly. The swale above is near the high end of the orchard. A ditch is dug, limbs, sticks, logs are placed in the ditch. Dirt is thrown back onto the stack. The woody matter adds organic matter back to the soil. sequesters carbon, adds water retaining material, and allows you to make a somewhat higher berm with less soil. Plus, it gives us a nifty way to dispose of limbs and trees that died last year. The main idea, though, is to keep the water here where we can use it and not let it run off.

While we're on the orchard subject, the nearly ripe peach on the left is on one of our new trees we recently planted in the orchard. The picture on the right is a grafting experiment I am doing. A cutting from the tree on the left has been grafted to the tree on the right. As you can see, that tree also has a peach. 

This tree was a volunteer, arising from the roots of an old, dead tree on the property. Usually, that doesn't necessarily produce a very good tree. Root stock is most often a more "native" strain of fruit that is hardy but perhaps doesn't make the best fruit. However, we had a lot of these volunteers, so they were free. Regardless of the fruit, they will have blossoms, and that means it's good for the bees. Therefore, I separated a lot of the volunteers so they had more room to grow, replanting a few in different spots. Those transplants seem to be doing well. We'll see what happens in the fruit department. Like the one above, several have set fruit. Worst case scenario, I'll have sturdy trees to graft onto! The volunteers are scattered around the rest of the property, many near the beehives. 

The pecan, apple, peach, pear, and persimmon trees we've planted in the orchard area are doing well also.

At right is another addition. One of several fig transplants I rooted and set out. I'm not a huge fig fan myself, but several in my family are. They are also pretty easy to root from cuttings and grow.

At left is the array of bathtubs that will make up our greywater/wetland setup eventually. I'll post more pictures as that develops. I was set on getting three tubs and it seemed to take forever to obtain that last one!
Not too visible behind the tubs are new grape vines planted along the fence to the left, and berry vines along the fence across the back. This fence runs down the back yard. A long wicking bed garden will run there as well to make use of the treated greywater.

The same backyard hosts our solar clothes dryer, also known as a clothesline. This was constructed by Michael and Silas. 

I've mentioned our hens before. The adopted rooster that we had got nabbed by something one night. The hens are carrying on without him. One of the hens also died mysteriously on the nest one day. The other twelve are fine and doing their chicken thing. Here they are starting the day. I let them out of their coop (remember the coop?) into the pen as soon as I get up. Around noon I release them to roam the rest of the property.  I feel this minimizes their laying elsewhere since they seem to do the majority of their laying in the morning. We're averaging about 5 eggs a day from the twelve, so it's possible one or two are still sneaking off somewhere. Oh well, keeping them penned is NOT the agenda. 

One of the hens became broody and got argumentative when we came to collect the eggs. The rooster being gone, the eggs were no longer fertile. We got six fertile eggs from a friend for her to incubate. The required time for hatching passed and no chicks! We went to our nearby feed store and bought five baby chicks to place under her. Between that morning and dusk when we put the chicks in, three of the eggs hatched. So, we now have 8 baby chicks. Here is the brood all snug in the brood house. Since then, the mama got rambunctious and I put her back with the other hens. No more broody, and the chicks are doing well. The new chicks are a mixed bag including Rhode Island Red (my pick) and Americauna. We're figuring that at least one will be a rooster, too. I didn't intend to have a rooster, but that other one adopted us and we sort of missed him after he left. I named him Lord Popinjay. He'd walk me to the pen and we'd talk while I let the hens out.

The current manifestation of the garden is coming along as well. At left is one of the two 6x4 "square foot garden" raised beds. Visible are squash, broccoli and beans. The squash is HUGE after our rains! There is still room in the beds to add plants. The picture on the right shows a pair of "three sisters" tire gardens. They have sweet corn, beans, and squash planted in them. Looking good as well, although the corn in the farthest one hasn't come up. Re-planting that.

Here to the left is another tire garden, this one with strawberries. We've already picked a few from it. Sweet!

I'm still making beehives for sale, and planning to build a few top-bar hives as well.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day 2012!

There are a lot of events scheduled everywhere for today. Hopeless for me to try and tell you about them all. Much easier for you to Google or otherwise search for the ones near you. If you can, take part!

However, if you can't or won't. Here's a list of 24 things to do for Earth Day that came from Fox News Florida. It's a good one!

1. Buy an e-reader
2. Walk around your town or city and pick up trash
3. Plant a tree
4. Start a compost pile
5. Prepare the ground to plant a garden so you can use your compost pile
6. Watch the sunrise or sunset
7. Take a walk on the beach
8. Take a hike in the woods
9. Ride your bike or walk to work
10. Pledge to start recycling
11. Go bird watching
12. Take a photo of nature
13. Eat one of your meals outside
14. Wear a flower in your hair
15. Attend a local Earth Day celebration
16. Buy some reusable shopping bags
17. Join your local Freecycle to pass along items instead of throwing them away
18. Swap out your light bulbs with energy efficient ones
19. Don't use any appliances for the day
20. Collect hazardous materials like paint and batteries and dispose of them properly
21. Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)
22. Dance in the rain
23. Watch an environmental themed movie like "Avatar" or Discovery's series "Planet Earth"
24. Get involved with your local environmental group

My own addition, which also sort of includes #24, would be to learn about Permaculture. Permaculture is a design system with ethics and principles that will work anywhere from a city apartment to a hundred acres in the country. Find out where you can take a class near you, or at least find and listen to an introduction. 

Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Occupy the Election!

    A probably bogus quote from either Albert Einstein or Benjamin Franklin says:
"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." 
    Regardless who really said it, it has been quoted many times in twelve step groups and many other places. It does make sense, doesn't it? That's why it strikes a chord. 
    We're all familiar with it. 
    We all do that, more or less.
    Murphy only knows we have certainly done it every election year since George Washington. 
    Every time we get promises. "A new broom sweeps clean!" "I feel your pain." "Read my lips: No new taxes." You remember them. They come from both sides of the aisle. Republican, Democrat, Independent. Promises that can't be fulfilled, or at least haven't been. 
    I'm a bit jaded. 
    We all should be.

    You know, the Native Americans (of which I claim at least a little heritage) learned the lesson about the "American" government long, long ago. They never keep their promises.
Somehow, the rest of us aren't as smart as that. We keep expecting those different results.
    My grandparents often tended toward racist, sexist and actually mostly voted Republican. Still, they always claimed "we vote for the man, not the party."
That's a pretty wise statement, actually, if we revise that to "person".     
    But how do we know about the person?
    We can believe all those promises, or we can believe all that dirt that is dredged up about their past. I recently saw a good statement to the effect that "I think I'll run for office. They'll dig up all of my past. I'm trying to piece together my 20's anyway!"
    In spite of all the hoopla, whichever party gains whatever office, there is rarely much change.
    We can say that some of that is the effect of the checks and balances in place, etc. etc. 
    If we want to be really cynical about it, we can point to all the various powers behind the elections. 
    The fix is in.
    Both major parties are in on it. Hasn't it been obvious? I mean, really? Regardless of all promises to the contrary, whoever wins, it always degenerates to "Business As Usual."
    In my own opinion, the only thing that will ever upset the status quo is for a really large number of us to finally actually vote outside party lines. 
    Vote for someone who is truly independent. Vote "Green Party", the "Raza Unida Party", the "Independent Party",vote for whatever party you want. There are lots of choices.
    Just don't vote either Democrat or Republican unless you really and truly believe in them. 
    And don't vote for a Rep or Dem who's running Independent because he didn't make the major cut.

    I know the arguments. 
"Whatever we do, we must cast our vote for a major party so our vote will count against whomever. Don't wast it by voting otherwise!"
    Well, isn't that bogus? 
    It's time to stop buying it!
    It's time we, as citizens, take control of the process!
Occupy the election!
    Everybody Vote! Vote for real change!
    Maybe, just maybe, something will happen. Maybe it won't be the goal of an independent president.  Maybe the true process will have to become public so we see what is happening.
    It almost did in the infamous stolen election of the "Hanging Chad". Remember that one? It got pretty obvious, but in the end we all went back to sleep.
    A glitch in the matrix. Smoothed over. The drones (us) forgot about it.
    Remember "Transparent Government?"
     It's the only way I can see to achieve it.
    Vote the bastards out!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bottle and Food Trees

Both here and in my writing blog Criminal Mischief I've mentioned the Blue Bottle Tree, both the novel in progress, and the actual tree above, which is my own rendition of one. It was for looks only and, alas, it is no more. It is not a wise thing to use a dead peach tree for this, as they tend to rot just below the ground. I removed other dead peach trees on the property by simply pushing them over by hand and then it hit me. DUH! The blue bottle tree is in the same boat! I'm surprised it survived the high winds we've had lately. I removed the bottles and it only took the lightest of pushes to topple the tree. I'm glad I saved the bottles. I mean, the blue wine bottles are nice enough, but there are a few collector type bottles in the bunch. Traditionally the blue bottle trees I've known from childhood were on dead fig trees, which must be more durable at root level. Lately I've seen several manufactured steel pipe trees for the purpose. I don't know. I'll think about it. I have the picture, anyway.

Besides all that we've been planting live trees here at Earth Song Retreat. In the past month we've planted three pecan trees, three peach, two apple, one pear, all in the new orchard along the contours. Plus, along the back yard fence I've planted asparagus, artichoke, raspberry, blackberry, and grapes.

Last weekend the City of Bastrop, with Apache Nurseries, gave away free trees to residents in the area who lost trees last summer to either drought or fire. I was busy at Sherwood Forest Faire (opening weekend), but I broke away long enough to get in the looooooong line for free trees. It took about an hour and a half to finally get up to the site and they had cut back to two trees per household. There was a fair selection, mostly shade trees. Mindful of our food forest plan, I selected two Texas Persimmon trees. I don't really have much experience with these, but I do know they bear fruit and are drought tolerant, so they'll do! I haven't selected a site to plant them yet, but recent rains (YAY!) have the ground a bit muddy for planting anyway. In fact, a good bit of yesterday was spent unsticking the pickup from a muddy patch.

Part of today was spent pruning existing fruit trees.

Two of the three graywater tubs have been set in the ground. We are still looking for the third one. With a bit of drier digging conditions we can begin on the wicking beds. All of this is going on around the efforts out at Sherwood.

Never boring!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

To Make an Omelet . . .

    My partner, Cat Dancing, does most of the cooking here at Earth Song. A wise choice, as she does it very well and makes very healthy meals for us. However, she is away for a couple of weeks in Florida. It therefore has become necessary for me to fall back upon my bachelor cooking skills. (Such as they are.)
My repertoire of meals is somewhat limited. I confess; when I lived alone I relied upon frozen dinners and eating out much of the time. I really never liked cooking for one. On occasion I could prepare a full meal, but it was just easier not to.

I like to bake bread. I can make chili, pinto beans and cornbread, and a few other things on demand. I also learned to do biscuits, gravy, pancakes and the like. 

One of the things I like to do for breakfast is omelets.
I used to have one of those hinged omelet pans. Mine even had a recipe printed on one side for easy reference. I liked it a lot, but the Teflon coating on it was getting ragged and I re-purposed it to a currently unspecified non-cooking use. I think Teflon is fine as long as it is intact, however, when it starts coming off the metal it can cause health problems, I've heard. I also like to use cast iron, so I just had to adjust to not being able to easily fold the omelet using the special pan. Trivial, I know.
An omelet is a simple dish to prepare, really. Most of it is variable to personal taste. It lends itself well to inclusion of many different types of ingredients depending on taste and availability. It is a tasty way to "clean out the fridge" of those small amounts of leftovers that are still good, but not enough for a meal. Hardly any measuring is required. Everything is pretty well done to taste.
Here is my own version of an omelet. Before you begin, you should make a quick survey of what you are going to include. First of all you will need several eggs. Six large eggs will make a good omelet for two people. Cheese is also good. Take stock of all the other things you may have in the fridge. Personally, I like refried beans, onions, potatoes and chili. 

The omelet in the picture above was cooked today. Eggs, potatoes, onion, spinach, Parmesan cheese.

Time consuming tasks like grating cheese and chopping vegetables should be attended to first if you are planning to use them. In this case, I wasn't.

I sprayed a medium sized cast iron pan with organic Pam non-stick spray. A small amount of oil or butter will also suffice. I warmed the pan on low while I chopped up two small potatoes and a half slice of fresh onion. The potatoes had been washed and the skins left on. After chopping, rinse and drain the  potatoes to keep them from sticking together. 

Put the onions and potatoes in the warm pan and turn the heat up a bit. Keep an eye on it, don't let it burn. Stir often. At this point I would also be warming any beans, chili, or another filling ingredient that I want to be hot. 

While the potatoes and onions are cooking and making lovely smells, break the eggs into a bowl and mix them up well with a fork.  Be sure and break up the yolks. I also add a dash or two each of salt, pepper, and seasoned salt to the mix. Pour in a small amount of milk as well and mix it up. I do it by eye, but it usually runs about a quarter cup or so of milk. When the potatoes are cooked and not quite browned distribute them fairly evenly in the pan and add the egg mix on top.

For this morning's omelet, I was using fresh baby spinach and already grated Parmesan for my filler. No pre-warming was required. Chopping was minimal, so I did this while the eggs were cooking. As I said before, virtually anything you like can be added here as filler. I chopped the spinach till I had about a half cup finely chopped.

As the eggs were cooking I kept an eye on them. Cooking slowly is better than too fast. Of course, in a pan eggs will cook from the bottom up. It helps to use a spatula to lift the part that is already solidifying and let the more liquid part run under it. If you keep mixing it in the pan, you simply have scrambled eggs. If you let the mass solidify or "set" as a unit, you have omelet. I watch the top of the mix. When the liquid on top begins to "set" it is time to add the filling. 

I added my spinach filling to one half of the top of the eggs, then half of the grated cheese. I then gently lifted the other half with the spatula and folded it over on top of the filling. This leaves you with a pan filled on one side and nearly clean on the other. Be as neat as you can. The more the mix has set, the better this works. (This is where that special omelet pan is nice! You can not only make a neat fold, you can then cook a bit more on each side.)

I added more cheese on top of the mixture and turned off the heat. I use an electric range, so this lets it keep cooking with gradually decreasing heat, melting the cheese but without burning. On a gas range you may wish to turn the flame down and keep cooking until the cheese melts on top. The cast iron pan also helps here as it will retain heat for awhile. 

Use the spatula to slice the omelet in two across the center. Scoop half onto your plate and enjoy! It's really tasty to top your omelet with chili at this point. Picante sauce also works well!

Yumm! I had the omelet above for breakfast this morning. (No chili, alas!) While talking about it I just made myself hungry again!

Chicken Coop Update

We've got some blessed rains falling today, so the painting is delayed. I wanted, however, to post the pix of the (almost) finished coop. As soon as it's painted I'll update things. Here's the chicken door and gang plank. To the left you can see the flap door for the nest area. You can also see the recycled windows I put above it. These are crank-out windows I got somewhere. As I stated before, all the materials for this project were recycled, except for the treated 4x4's you can see as runners and main verticals. I also purchased fasteners, hinges, and hasps, although I did at the last minute find some used door hinges to use for part of it. One pair is on the nest flap. 

Here's the opposite end showing the back and "people" door for cleaning etc. The recycled nature of material is obvious here in the mismatched paneling. Paint will change that. Some wire net is still to be added to the vent flap opening shown, however, it will be closed at night for quite awhile, as well as the front windows, so that can be put off a bit.

Here's a shot of the interior through the large door. The roosts are visible. The floor is covered with wood mulch here. The light fixture was a recent find at Goodwill. A feed trough is in the center. I'll replace it soon with a self-feeder.

A shot of the nest box with the first egg! I moved the hens to the new coop after dark last night. Looks like they got the idea!