Friday, February 25, 2011


When we moved out to the country two years ago, the biggest adjustment was not the lack of highway noise coming from the freeway just 300 feet away, nor was it the fact that we could no longer watch our neighbors' TV from our bedroom window. It wasn't the concept of having a well instead of city water, of having a big propane tank instead of natural gas, of having to drive for miles to get somewhere instead of just hopping onto a bus. No, what took the longest time for all of us to adjust to was the space.

Five thousand square feet. Our old house could fit inside this one, as could four of its siblings. The boys each have their own bedroom now, plus a shared lounge for study and play. Our new kitchen actually accommodates more than one person at a time, and we have a living room, den, eating nook, and dining room versus the one area in our old home that served all of those functions. Best of all, J and I no longer pack ourselves into a sardine-sized bedroom every evening. Instead, we have our own master suite, complete with a garden-style bath, his-and-hers walk-in closets that are larger than the boys' old bedrooms, and a sitting room/office leading to our back deck, where a half-dozen feeders attract every wild bird living on our five acres and beyond.

So where does everyone hang out? Our bedroom.

"You don't all have to be in here," I'd gripe. "You have your own rooms, you know." Or, "There's a reason you have a common lounge upstairs!" I've lost count of the number of times J has come home to find the older two sitting beneath our picture window, enthralled in their PSPs or reading, while the younger two watched Qubo while jumping on our bed, sending the laundry I was attempting to fold bouncing off onto the floor.

"What's the point of having a bigger house if everyone is just going to cram into one room?" he'd complain, sending the kids scurrying out the door. "All this togetherness is going to make me claustrophobic!"

It took a while, but we finally mastered the use of all that square footage. With the exception of B who, being only 4, tends to stay near me, the older boys now routinely scatter throughout the house, to the point that J installed walkie-talkie stations just to stay in touch with the kids. With all that space, you'd think that finding a spot for our chick brooder would have been a snap.


"No, JTR," I patiently explained to our 7 year old, "You cannot have the brooder in your bedroom."

"No, N," I semi-patiently explained to our 14 year old, "You cannot have the brooder in the common lounge."

"No, M," I not-so-patiently explained to our 17 year old, "You cannot put the brooder in N's bedroom!"

J wasn't much better than the kids. "You can't put it in the garage!" he exclaimed. "I just got my car in there, and I don't want to have to dig it out of the snow every morning!" J's solution? Put the brooder on the deck.

"You can't put it on the deck!" I exclaimed. "You might as well hang a sign on it that says 'Raccoon Diner'!"

In the end, and after thoroughly evaluating our options, we decided to put the brooder in our master suite's sitting room.

"You can't put the brooder in the sitting room!" our friend P exclaimed. "Don't you have any idea how much chicks smell? We had our brooder in the basement, and we could still smell it upstairs!"

"They really smelled," added P's daughter, SG.

"And you're running a business here! Do you really want that smell in your studio?" P continued while SG gravely shook her head no.

Hmmm. Hadn't thought of that.

Neither had J. "That means we're going to have to clear an area in the basement for them," he concluded.

Yipes. Never mind that the "we" would end up being "me." Our basement was not what I would call suitable for habitation. It had been, once. In fact, the previous owner ran his home business from the lower level. Severe water damage prior to our closing date, however, had turned that lovely stretch of space into a home owner's nightmare, with missing ceilings, exposed wires, bare concrete floors, and three feet of drywall missing from the bottom of every wall. What once would have housed a rec room, play room, home theater, and J's and my offices was now occupied by dozens of boxes and scores of dead ladybugs, victims of the brutal Michigan winter.

Well, at least the chicks would enjoy the ladybugs.

Yesterday morning, after seeing the older boys and J out the door, I put on some grubby clothes and got to work. J had suggested using the basement bathroom for the little peepers, but that just brought visions of chicks slip-sliding around the bathtub to mind. The "media room" was out of the question; it was the only room whose carpet had survived and we were using it as a pantry. The library would have been ideal, had it not been crammed with unassembled bookcases and storage tubs full of books. J's office? Heck, I didn't even like going in there. My office? That was jammed full of office furniture plus it served double-duty as my studio's supply station. That left the open area we'd originally designated as the rec room; the "play room" was stacked with all the boxes of stuff we hadn't unpacked yet (and would probably throw out once we did).

The rec room would work, I decided. We'd need some sheets of plywood to keep the chicks enclosed instead of having free rein of the basement, thanks to those three-foot wall gaps. There were no drafts, numerous outlets for the chicks' heat lamps, and plenty of daylight streaming through the plate-glass windows. And, once the weather got warmer, I could simply slide open the glass doors and take the troop out to the lower deck, where the hens could roam around, peck at the yard beneath the upper deck and gazebo, and torment Waltina, our resident groundhog.

Better get some plywood sheets to close off the back deck, too.

Clearing the space took only a matter of minutes and some heavy lifting, as I shifted around even more bookcases (I love books!), readjusted the position of the TV console (chicks like cartoons, right?), and moved a handful of unopened cartons to the play room area. When I was done, 56 square feet of open space had been cleared. The Chicks' Room was ready!

When J came home, I gave him a winning smile and told him to take a look downstairs. "I will," he assured me as he went to hang up his coat. "There's something I need to do first."

Curious, but busy with dinner preparations, I nodded and continued julienning bell peppers and mincing garlic. When dinner was ready, I sent B to gather up his brothers and father and bring them to the table. A moment later, B ran back into the kitchen, his eyes shining with excitement. "Mommy! Mommy! Come see! Come see!" He grabbed me by the hand and practically dragged me into the sitting room where, in a small space between my desk and J's, sat the chick brooder.

"Like it?" J asked. "I cut a remnant from N's carpet to put under the brooder so it wouldn't scratch up the hardwood. The smell shouldn't be too bad, right? Especially if we're going to be changing the pine shavings every day."

"We" meaning "me."

"Mommy!" JTR exclaimed, bouncing in from the kitchen. "How come YOU get to have the brooder in YOUR bedroom?"

Today, I'll be putting on grubby clothes and moving cartons, paint cans, and assorted junk out of the sitting room to make room for everyone to cram in and enjoy the chicks. Good thing there's a space in the basement for all this stuff.

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