Welcome to Pandora's Box

You're cordially invited to take a peek into Pandora's Box.

The intent of this blog is to inspire critical, logical, and free thinkers to join in on the discourse which will address topics such as; Agriculture, Agribusiness, Tourism, Human and Animal Rights, Cultural Diversity, Organic Cooking, Wining and Dining, World Religions, Philosophy, or anything else that might just "pop" out of Pandora's Box!

I would love for you to join me in the never-ending journey to enlightment, love, and the pursuit of purpose.

Peace Out,
Carla Jean

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Smell of Money

As I carefully navigated my carry-on off the American Eagle aircraft that was designed for smurfs, elves, and the like, a waft of stench filled my nostrils. Quickly my senses remember the intoxicating aroma of sooie-sewage, or what people in these parts affectionately call "The Smell of Money".

My hubby and I have made our annual turkey trek to the Midwest farming community of Sheldon, Iowa. After a series of events that included my husband's luggage disappearing from Dallas to Iowa, we arrived at his boyhood farmhouse for holiday festivities. My mother-in-law insisted on joining the whole fam-damily in spite of just receiving an upgraded pacemaker installed by the hospital's "electrician". Mama Oldenkamp's Dutch stubbornness stands as a true testament of the pioneer spirit instilled in the farmers of America.

Being the good son that hubby is, he chauffeured mama to and from the hospital that is approximately 70 miles between the big city of Sioux Falls and Sheldon. During the drive, the familiar scenes of dilapidated farm houses, stockyards and an sundry of weather-worn buildings rolled along the rural landscape. Many of the homesteads looked deceptively abandoned because of the winter season. I would like to come back in the springtime to witness another take on this barren land.

In the past years I've visited, the GMO laden corn fields were in the process of the harvest. Combines were making their way back and forth among rows of corn. Wired wagons were filled, which in turn filled tall metal elevators. Activity was a foot. Not so for the fall of 2011. I am told by family that harvest was early because of the driest conditions in many a year and also because of the threat of wild fires caused by combine sparks.

Grain Elevators
After experiencing 92 days of 100+ degrees in Austin, Texas without rain, I can relate to the heat. What I can't relate to is this smell. As Lynard Skynard sang, "Ewww... that smell, can't ya smell that smell? The smell is all around you". I figured the band must have been inspired to write that song driving through Iowa at some point.

Truthfully, the smell doesn't bother me as much as the cause of it. I failed to mention in describing the landscape, the confinements. Pig confinements that is. Lots and lots of pig confinements. Little piggies that never see the light of day. Little piggies that are considered commodities, units, or whatever name the pork industry chooses to mask the obvious.

Althought this article is a little dated, you can get the crux of the hog market in Iowa @ Pigsite.com

Iowa Pig Confinement

A pig is a pig by any other name, is still a pig. I have never owned a pig but have heard about how smart they are. I recently read a story about a woman who was experiencing a heart attack. Her pet pig left her side and laid in the middle of the road until someone stopped to find out why a pig was laying in the road. The pig then led the good Samaritan to the woman whose life was spared because of her pet piggy. I think we've all heard of these types of stories at one point in our life. Whether one chooses to believe in these stories or not is debatable. I for one choose to believe in these miracles and guarantee those lives that have been spared are also believers.

It's absurd to think that the Creator of all things great and small never intended any animal, including pigs, to see or feel the warmth of the sun. It's absurd to believe that God's intentions towards pigs were for them to be artificially inseminated, mechanically castrated and butchered so that man could appease his pallet with the divine swine.

As I recall in the Levitical books of the Old Testament, there were very strict dietary laws concerning pork. And... in certain religions and cultures these rules still apply. If I am so disgusted at the cruelty, I wonder how a kosher Jew feels about pork that is raised knee deep in their own waste for human consumption. Oy Vey!

My husband tells me that it hasn't always been this way. As a boy, he remembers actually seeing animals in the open pastures. This is no longer a profitable way to raise food, I am told. We need to feed more people because of the growing population, I am told. If animals were not slaughtered then people would have to compete for land, I am told. Hogwash! Disclaimer: I am told, but not by hubby. He is much smarter than that.

What I am advocating, for anyone who may actually read my blogs,  if you must "bring home the bacon", then please find a reputable hog farmer and buy pork that has been humanely raised. One such local source is Richardson Farms. I do this for my husband and feel it is a morally justified compromise.  Want to watch a Short Documentary on Local Sourcing? Clickee Clickee. Btw .... The hippie chicken man is Kris from Milagro Farms, who I attribute the beginnings of all my chicken-craze to.

So... if this little piggie went to market and this little piggie stayed home, maybe the piggie that stayed home had a life where he or she  freely roamed. Babe and Wilbur just might thank you when we all meet someday in that big vegetable garden in the sky.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bonafide "Crazy Chicken Lady"

After a fair amount of teasing and numerous eye-rolls from family & friends, I am ready to admit it. Yes, I have become a crazy chicken lady. I could view my passion for feathered-friends (or what some might call an obsession), a hobby. Although, hobby just doesn't quite fit the bill for this chickenista, a.k.a. chicken ambassador of the world. If I'm gonna be crazy, might as well go all the way.

My absence from Pandora's Box is noted, but in all fairness, I have been busy on Blogger. Busy with what I affectionately call "Chicken Shit". As the rookie website administrator of the Austin Funky Chicken Coop Tour, the tour's blog is on my plate along with a clutch of other chicken related tasks. All of which is keeping me busy as a bee.

What I really want to bawk about are my seven Zen Hens and Hawkeye the Roo's television debut. Through committee "coopie" connections, Hubby and I were given the opportunity to showcase our gardens and Zen House on Austin's KLRU local television program,  Central Texas Gardener.

CTG Producer, Linda Lehmusvirta & Director, Ed Fuentes arrived Monday morning just after the cock crowed to film our humble backyard abode. Instead of throwing in a kitten or puppy for cuteness, we upped' the anty with footage of my grandson feeding chickees and pickin' veggies. Poppa Dale & grandson's mom - who also happens to be my beautiful daughter- joined in on the funky fun.

Next is a studio interview with the Funky Coop Tour's founder, Michelle Hernandez and myself. The show is scheduled to air the first week in April 2012 to coincide with the coop tour which is being held the following week on April 7th.

Linda could not have been more gracious and I was so blessed to have met a kindred spirit. Linda is owned by two rescue bunnies, Harvey and Gaby. The bunny-duo live in an air conditioned , three story condo. Talk bout' having lucky rabbit's feet!  Her bunny tales were quite amusing and easily matched my chicken-coddling chatter. During the interview, she asked why I was doing the whole backyard chicken gig. Well... she opened up Pandora's Box and I had the opportunity to share. I had previously prayed that God would give me words to express my passion and I'm quite certain he answered.

Scripture in Romans 8:19-20 of the New Testament says, "For the creation is eagerly awaiting the revelation of God's children, because the creation has become subject to futility, though not by anything it did. The one who subjected it did so in the certainty that the creation itself would also be set free from corrupting bondage in order to share the glorious freedom of God's children."

So, yes...  I am passionate to the bone, that as children of the Creator we are called to be responsible and humane in our treatment toward the animal kingdom. How are the animals going to be released from futile lives unless someone steps up to the plate on their behalf? What can be more futile for an animal to be born, raised, and slaughtered in a factory farm?

Chicken Factory Farming practices must truly sicken the heart of the Creator. If anyone is interested in furthering their understanding of how most animals are inhumanely raised and then inhumaely slaughtered, I'd suggest researching a bit further. In my opinion, a good place to begin would be with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

At present, I am reading an excellent book, "Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy" by Matthew Scully.  My ebook contains countless highlighted words that read like the pages of my heart.  The author quotes Saint Isacc the Syrian, a mystic writing in the seventh century.

 "What is charitable heart?" he asks:

It is a heart which is burning with love for the whole creation, for men, for the birds, for the beasts...for all creatures.
He who has such a heart cannot see or call to mind a creature without his eyes being filled with tears by reason of the immense compassion which seizes his heart; a heart which is softened and can no longer bear to see or learn from others of any suffering, even the smallest pain being inflicted upon a creature. That is why such a man never ceases to pray for the animals...moved by the infinte pity which reigns in the hearts of those who are becoming united with God.

Reading this blew me away. What poignant words that exemplifies the heart of Creator God.

With my hubby's enormous amount of help and support for our "frickin" chickens (his term of endearment), we've been able to create a little heaven on earth for seven very wonderful, inquisitive, bright, funny, and fresh-egg-laying Zen Hens. Did I mention the fresh eggs right out of the nesting box??? Sunrise on a plate, yum...yum... You can't get any closer from farm to table than that! Oh, we certainly can't forget Hawkeye the Roo. This handsome fellow does a most eggcellent job taking care of his harem. Coop-a-doodle-do, ya'll.

So if I am a crazy chicken lady, so be it.
~ Carlita the Chickinista

Friday, July 29, 2011

Baby, It's Hot Outside!

The clock says it is 11:20 PM. The weather app on my iphone reads 92 degrees. Has Hades unleashed his fiery furnace on us all? But wait, is God answering our prayers??? Did all that drumming and dancing finally penetrate the heavens?? The meterologists  have forecasted the wet stuff that falls from the sky. If memory serves me correctly, I believe it is called rain.

Tropical Storm Don is on the horizon bringing a 40% chance of thundershowers for Saturday. Which happens to be the same day we are headed to Marco Island, Florida, for some fun in the sun. Hubby gets a chance for some well-deserved R&R and I will be forced to step away from the kitchen.

As I am now on a teacher's schedule, due to my son-in-law's career of choice, I had my first summer "off" since attending grade school. My days have been filled to the brim. And just think, my husband thought I was going to lay around, watch soaps, and eat bon bons.

For example, I've had the opportunity to participate in Johnson's Backyard Garden's workshare program once a week. Sadly, Today ended the gig.  Jeepers, I will have to actually pay for veggies at The Downtown Farmer's Market. If you have not been to a local farmer's market in the Austin vacinity yet, GO Texan!  Support your local farmer. Like the sticker from American Farmland Trust says, "No Farms, No Food".
                                          Austin's SFC Farmer's Market

Breaking news!!! As of two days ago, July 25th to be exact, my chickens started earning thier keep.
Perfect First Eggs!

So sorry Kris of Milagro Farms, it's been an eggcellent, and eggciting relationship (okay, I know, enough already with the corn-ball words). Unknowingly, Kris was my first inspiration on the road to chicken mania. His passion for his hens sold me the first time I bought his most eggcellent eggs. Oops, just slipped out. Thanks Kris for spreading the passion. If you're looking for fresh eggs with yolks as orange as a Texas sunset - look up Kris and tell him Carla with the chickens sent ya.

Back to my weekly workshare haul from JBG.....

Workshare tradeoff. I think I came out ahead!

See the beautiful butternut squash? What once resembled a gourd, turned into a creamy butternut squash soup. I brought home enough less-than-perfect squash that would have otherwise been thrown into the compost bin, to make a double batch. A little bit for now... a little bit for a crispy night this fall. Oh cool weather, where art thou?

Honey Roasted Butternut Squash Soup - Saving seeds for the future.

The clock now reads 1:06 a.m. Mr. Sandman is calling. Much more to say, but words must wait for inspiration to hit another day. Gotta get some shut eye. This vacation is wearing me out. Although, I'm not complaining, it is a good tired. The feeling one has after a hard day's work on the farm.

Big plans for the garden tomorrow, if... I can get all the packing done and all the prep for our get-a-way out of this Texas heat. Yeah, I know, Florida isn't the mountains, but I'll take an ocean breeze anytime.

Added day after post. Hotter than hell in the Garden :(

Buonanotte Ya'll ~

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I Feel The Earth Move, Under My Feet....

Heavens! Fall and Winter have passed since my last post and promises of a glorious spring are just around the bend. As I open Pandora's Box, CHANGE oozes out in abundance and life is somewhat unrecognizable since all the transitions from 2010-2011.

2010 ended with a bang as my grandson, Dane Galen made his appearance on planet earth. I am highly blessed to be able to partake in his daily life as I am now full-time GG to our precious one. The circle of life has made a complete 360, as I hold a part of me in my arms each morning while looking into the spitting image of my daughter.

The Spirit of the Mother calls and the nurturing has begun. Not only as a grandmother, but maternal instincts have branched out in other ways. Tomorrow is the day that I also become "Mother Hen" to a new flock of baby chicks. And... the plants and seedlings in the garden need tender loving care too! Wondering... is this what is suppose to happen after 50???? Since the biological time clock, insured by last year's surgery is cu puts, is this God's way of blessing my "virtual" womb? If so, I welcome His blessings with open arms.

After labor-intensive weekend work, my hubby and I successfully built six raised square foot garden beds. Not knowing what exactly a square foot garden was I enrolled in the "Citizen Gardener" course sponsered by the Sustainable Food Center. Two weekends of hands on learning in the rain paid off. We have already begun enjoying the fruits of of labor. The lettuce and spinach are spilling over their designated square foot boundaries. The carrot, snap pea, and radish seedlings are not far behind. Strawberries, Kale, Onions, Swiss Chard, Broccoli, Oregano, Chives, and Pok Choy are coming along nicely too.

Sustainability. That's my mantra. I'm consumed now by the need to  know. I need to know where my food came from, how the animals were treated that produced the meat I buy for Dale, how far did my food travel, does it contain GMO's, what bull*hit is the government NOW up to concerning the FDA and the USDA?

Problem solved.... Walla! Our garden and chickens less than 100 feet away from the kitchen answers the vegetable and egg question. For all other food consumed, the weekly trek to the Downtown Farmer's Market has earned my business.

Before retiring from my ball n' chain of job, it is safe to say that my passion for local food rubbed off on a few who "got it". Since leaving, inquiring minds have wanted to know more about chickens, food, gardening, etc. I am thrilled.

For now, the baby is asleep, the garden has been watered, and the brooder anxiously awaits the arrival of an assortment of chick-a-dees. Spring, glorious spring is bouncing up and down within me.

Spring has sprung!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Under the Tuscan Storm

Trains, planes and automobiles, Oh My!. Sidetracked on our way to Certaldo with one side trip to Castleferrino. I managed to communicate with shop owner for taxi. Taxi safely brings us to the train station in Certaldo where we wait to meet Mario Masterrenzi, local car dealer and our guide, Shilpa. Our cooking group consists of 1 Aussie, 1 Canadian couple, and 3 Americans which includes Dale and myself. Old men gather at the local pasterria during the towns naptime- noon till' about 4:00 p.m.

Our crew takes off into the winding hills that are ladened with vineyards. Always knowing my Italian roots grew deep, I feel a connection with the soil the surrounds. Upon entering the doors of " Maria Louisa ", I stop momentarily to take it all in. My emotions well up inside my chest with a lump and trickle out a small tear.

We are escorted to our room. A C.S. Lewis size wardrobe fills the entire paint chipped wall. Windows are dressed with plain linen. We tread on tiled floors that are geometrically patterned, colored rust and almond. Spare decor includes an antique vanity and rickety bedside tables. Enormous bed has no bounce but allowed for a good nights sleep.

Al Fresco Dinner at 7:30 under the large tree and brillant stars. Spread out are Tuscan cheeses; perconio, mozzarella, and goat. Fresh foccocia bread, salad, and roasted vegetables of sorts. Red organic wine from nearby farm was finished off as the rainstorm rolled in. The rainstorm blew out the lights of Certaldo and our villa. Lightning and thunder lulled us to sleep. Dreams entertain my subconcious throughout the night. I remember a clawed tub, baby strollers and guests in our room.The dreams went on all through the wee hours of the night. Oh, did I forget to mention the pumpkin ghost. Must of had something to do with the roasted pumpkin at dinner.

Addio ~ Carlotta Carlita

Monday, August 30, 2010

Whoda Buddha?

One of my favorite subjects has always been religion. At the end of my college courses, I had an elective credit waiting in the wings. The University took it upon themselves to enroll me in yet another hotel management course and I could think of nothing else that would be more monotonous. I needed to remedy the situation so I called my academic counselor to request a quick switch into a subject, any subject.

As the counselor quickly read a list of elective courses, she mentioned World Religions. Ah Ha! Sign me up. It was the last and only class needed before the completion of my first degree, Associates of Arts in Hospitality, Travel, and Tourism.

Indeed, I saved the best for last. Besides philosophy, this comparative religions class was the most thought-provoking and grammatically challenging course to date. My professor stretched me every inch of the way and what initially was frustration turned into appreciation. If this world is ever going to "Give Peace a Chance",  I strongly recommend that every human being learn a bit about a  religion outside their own.

The knowledge I gained opened up a plethora of questions that jumped out of my personal Pandora's Box. Since then, I continue to contemplate on a daily basis how the World's Religions fit into my world and my limited perception of God. The fact that I believe in God; the Supreme, Absolute, Divine Being and Sole Creator of the Universe, and that almost every other religion on the face of His green earth also does, I ponder what the unifying truth is. Both philosophy and religion are think tanks and I am but a very small fish, hell, maybe even just the plankton the sucks off the small fish, in this vast ocean of knowledge. So, I give it a go and try to understand.

Understanding one's purpose of existence was the topic for my philosophy final and comparing two different religions was assigned for the religions class. Both subjects tie together at so many levels. I concluded that one's purpose of existence was to know God and Love. Plain and simple. Granted, I had to fill in the final with a lot of big words and impressive quotes beginning with pre-Socratic Greek philosophers such as Empedocles, Parmenides’ and Heraclitus’ (say that 3x fast). But overall, I walked away from that class with a broader mind and new enlightenment.

My foundational views have not changed, although the class allowed me to look into my ideas and thoughts from several different perspectives. I have discovered there are untapped facets within my belief system that are similar, yet contrary, to many religious philosophers. For example: Buddha received his enlightenment not from this physical realm, but from a transcendental realm. I agree with Buddha in this respect, but disagree with his argument that there is no God. I question the reincarnation and karma beliefs that Eastern philosophies postulate, but that is most likely because I am a Westerner who has been taught since birth western values, philosophies, and a western viewpoint of metaphysics and ontology.

So as my title of today's blog reads - Whoda Buddha? - you may have already guessed who caught my interest. Although, unknowingly making matters increasingly difficult, I didn't choose Buddhism, but instead Hinduism. Go figure.

After recently watching "The Buddha - The Story of Siddhartha - by David Grubin, I discovered again why I liked ole Sid. Basically, he was just another soul searching for answers in a world of suffering. As the Buddha would say, "Life is Dukka (suffering), yet I have found a serenity that you can find to." Siddhartha Gautama's one quest was to share his enlightenment with those who suffered. Honorable aspiration if I do say so myself. The Buddha said, "You are already enlightened, the capacity for nirvana (bliss) has always been in you." Comparing Buddha to my Lord, Jesus Christ, it sounds reminescient of Jesus when He taught "The Kingdom of God is within you". The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Keynote speaker Ananda Guruge, addressed the Buddha’s contribution to humanity and world peace at the
2005 Buddha Anniversary Celebration in Paris, France. To quote Guruge, “The Buddha’s ideal of loving kindness, which expresses itself with a deep commitment to peace, unity and harmony, tolerance and accommodation, nonviolence and selfless service, remains the fundamental basis for all human relations- person to person in family and community and nation to nation in the world. This is his contribution to sustainable world peace."

Are U da Buddha?

To be continued....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

All Cooped Up

The close to another workday is quickly approaching, and not without incidence. It appears that the computer that interfaces with our server is toast. Perhaps my co-hort can revive the old bird with his voodoo magic. Perhaps not.

Technology doesn't turn me on and I'm feeling cooped up with a million other things I'd rather be doing. Learn more, do more, be somewhere else more. Anywhere but behind this ball n' chain of a desk. Office air-conditioning wars are peaking as August's fiery furnace beats down on the exterior suites. Yes, our eight units are having a hard time keeping up during these dog days of Texas summer.

Speaking of feeling all cooped up and old birds, I have recently discovered a subculture of "chickinists" on my trail to chicken-enlightenment. Although, the label doesn't quite sit well with me. It could be very well confused with a chicken-religion or even a political party that backs chickens. Chickenista better suits my style. Granted, I've never raise any chickens of my own,therefore, I've yet to earn my feathers and the right to be called a true chickenista.

Many years ago my grandmother purchased 100 baby chicks and rented the horse-stall next door to our Tennessee Walker, Outline, to house them. Grandma piled the cages 6 high, a sort-of homemade factory chicken farm. I don't recall much free-ranging going on and never got the chance to really appreciate the chickens for who and what they were. Looking back, it must have been grandma who instilled my curiosity about chickens.

My husband has promised to build me a chicken-coop this spring. This should give me ample time to gather all the information I need to raise healthy, heat-tolerant chickens that will provide our kitchen with fresh eggs. I have decided that veganism is a lofty aspiration and one that I am not totally committed to pursue. Shying away from all animal products is a hard one for me to swallow, so to speak. It has taken a couple months to find my balance and I am comfortable with eating dairy products, IF, and that's a big IF, I know where they came from. I didn't have to worry when I read this email from PETA:

"Half a billion eggs were recalled by the Food and Drug Administration, and more than 1,000 people were sickened by a strain of salmonella. When you consider that a hen spends more than 34 hours suffering in a crowded battery cage to produce just ONE egg, it puts a whole new perspective on the true cost of the egg industry."

Gathering the eggs of information has proven to be fun and a bit bizarre. I was amazed to learn of Austin's Funky Chicken Coop Tour.
The second annual chicken coop tour brought in 6000 chicken enthusiasts who all share a common interest in their fowl-feathered friends.

The chicken community is undoubtedly growing. The Funky Tour has a facebook page (who doesn't) that offers a well-spring of insight and one that I will frequent often. I have many questions. Which breed is conducive to Texas heat? Which are child-friendly? How many eggs will my layers produce on average? How long will they live?

After emailing http://www.mobilechickencoops.com/, a few of my questions were answered within moments.

Thank you for inquiring about our chicken coops. Generally speaking 4 to 6 hens will share one nesting box for laying eggs. If you have sitting hens then you might want additional nesting box space but most people don't hatch their own eggs anymore. I have found as many as 3 of our hens in one box at the same time all trying to lay their eggs. I have 6 nesting boxes in our largest coop and our hens use 3 to 5 of the boxes and surprisingly use the smaller boxes over the larger ones. Unless you have sitters, hens generally are only on the nest for 20 to 40 minutes. What is more important is having adequate roosting space. Most standard breeds need about 9 inches of roosting space per bird. In the heat of the summer I would allow up to 12" per bird. If you have any other questions feel free to ask.

Thanks to Josh who replied so quickly. I'm leaning toward that bright yellow Mega Coop. My hubby is still deciding whether to do-it-himself (which is he very capable of doing), yet doesn't know if he really wants to commit 4 weekends to this project. Either way, it's not like I'm asking for a million dollar house. A chicken-coop will do just fine, thank you very much!