Sunday, November 11, 2012

V is for Victory

I cannot begin to address the lapse in time since the last installment of Annabelle's Chickens.  All I will say is that I have a toddler.  A toddler who knows exactly when I try to take 5 minutes to do something all by myself. 

Additionally the weather has gotten a bit chilly and therefore our time interacting with the chickens is limited to egg collection and occasional snacks.  Our hen and rooster population has decreased since my last post, due to Bryan preparing for hibernation (or possibly the Apocalypse I can't be sure) and sadly due to vehicular chickenslaughter which continues to occur and never ceases to be sad.  I am sure some of you reading are clucking your tongues at our continued irresponsibility and for that I have no response other than despite the danger the chickens continue to cross the road, don't ask my why.

I'm hoping Annabelle will be old enough for chicken chores soon as the brunt of the work has fallen on Bryan to perform.   Since the weather is unpleasant I no longer enjoy my little jaunt to feed the chickens and collect the eggs. Now it seems like work.  And quite honestly, I fear it is not safe for me either.

 A few weeks ago I needed to send some eggs with my mother and amazingly we were out so I had to go collect eggs during the day. As it turns out we have a few very broody hens. Bryan cautioned me about this and assured me that all I had to do was make a fist and reach my fist under the hen and it would be fine.  I do not know what Bryan's definition of "fine" is exactly, but I can now say with complete certainty that it is different than mine.  As I approached the nesting box, the hen started growling (yes, growling) and stared at me out from the side of her head with one eye, and all that was going through my mind at that moment was Quint.  "Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark... he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living... until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'."  Those eggs were not collected that day my friends.  Eggs I can get at the store, fingers are hard to come by.

So with the turn of the weather we must briefly shift our focus from the chickens, to their caretaker, Annabelle.  Annabelle is almost 14 months old and all I can say about this is... I am tired. Please send help.  I am a prisoner in my home.  Everything is locked!  My stairs are gated, items from bookshelves were removed months ago,  cabinets all locked, any items on surfaces must be pushed toward the center of said surface (in fact at the exact moment I typed that a very small hand found its way to the scissors I carelessly left on the edge of the counter- HEY. Don't judge. We're all learning and growing here), and essentially everything I own must be suspended from the ceiling.

So you're probably reading this wondering where all of the darling pictures of one-year old Annabelle are.  You're probably thinking that she most be so sweet, toddling around the house.  And here's your answer.  All the pictures we take of Annabelle now look like this:
So life with 13 month old Annabelle is a little different than life with baby Annabelle. I know in previous posts I have spoken of rejoicing in small victories.  This is still very much the case.  Yesterday I took great pride in Annabelle's pigtails.  Annabelle often comes home from daycare looking adorable in pigtails.  Annabelle does not let me fix her hair. She lets her teachers at daycare do it, but not me. And usually while in my care she immediately destroys any sort of hair style.  So I was very optimistic about our weekend plans when I was able to get her hair in almost perfect pigtails. 

But more often than not,  victories are rare and I am no reduced to the parental jackassery I have for years sworn I would never engage in.  In fact just yesterday I found myself in Kohl's department store having an out of body experience.  I was floating high above the racks of the Vera Wang collection and all the early-morning customers watching a mother saying "Sit down on your bottom please" to a toddler  who was standing backwards on the edge of a stroller with one pudgy foot missing a sock and shoe.  This toddler was yelling and wielding a metal travel cup as weapon.  I thought "Jeez.  Nice parenting." And then it occurred to me: Crap. This is my toddler beating me up with a travel cup and refusing to "sit nice" or "be a good girl who listens."  And I had to just continue to walk through the store acting as though I had the situation under control, which I obviously did not.

I think what was more upsetting about this scenario was the poor innocent people who were trying to help.  Every single person in that store was kind enough to stop me and tell me that my daughter had lost her sock and shoe.  At first I smiled apologetically and responded wittily with things like "yes, and I lost my mind!" and politely with "oh thank you so much, I have them in purse. Thanks goodness I saw it hit the floor" But by the time I reached the checkout counter my responses turned into angry missiles fired rapidly at civilians just trying to lend a hand "Yeah. I know! I got it!"  These people were just trying to be kind and helpful. So why did it infuriate me?

Perhaps it was all this jackassery that further helped me decided I have lived in the country for almost a year now, it was time to find a church.   I had wanted to find a church sooner, and admittedly it would have been much easier to take baby Annabelle as opposed to toddler Annabelle.  I found a church that I wanted to go to and have been discussing it for some time.  I am just terrified of taking Annabelle to church...alone.  So I sought out advice from the place people get advice anymore: Facebook.  And most people offered very good advice, sit near the back, bring snacks, bribes, crayons, books, etc.

I suppose what perplexed me was that no one seemed to acknowledge that toddlers don't sit. And the last time I let Annabelle color, she ate thr crayons.  Is this problem is exclusive to me?  I don't really know. My toddler doesn't sit. There is very little I can do to make her sit, short of duct taping her, or worse, giving her a bottle. Both acts would result in judgement.  I don't know why but there is very little that will captivate Annabelle anymore, except our dogs and cats.  So unless I could figure out a way to pass Bernie and Milton off as service dogs, I had no plan.

Shaky and sweaty, Annabelle and I made our way to church.  Armed with 3 favorite books, 1 brand new touch and feel book, a sippy cup of water, apple flavored puffs, grapes and cheese we politely asked the greeter if there was a nursery.  We checked it out and introduced ourselves to the brave souls manning the nursery and stated "Well, we hopefully won't be back down here.   We're going let Annabelle give church a try." I swear one of those adult rolled their eyes.  But I am a cynic and these people are christians so I'm sure it was my imagination.
17 minutes.  Annabelle made it through exactly 17 minutes of church. She was absolutely amazed by people speaking into a microphone, she smiled and squealed with delight when we said "Peace be with you" and shook hands with our neighbors.  And then she sat sweetly on my lap eating grapes and cheese.  And then we ran out of grapes and cheese. Annabelle started to squirm so being the awesome parent I am I let her stand on the pew.  While standing on the pew with my hands gripping her ankles, Annabelle did a back bend and yanked on the hair of the woman in front of us.

It is very hard to to lift your heart up to the Lord with this going on.

So about the time Annabelle began to physically assault those around us, I decided that it was time to head for the nursery.  So once again, I floated high above the church watching a mother hissing at a yelling toddler which she carried out of the sanctuary by one leg.

Believe it or not, I have tallied this church experience in the victory column.

So I have to try and control my fury when innocent people at the store tell me that my daughter as lost a shoe and sock.  Furthermore I have to not be humiliated in when Annabelle doesn't sit perfectly silent and motionless during church.  I am sure all the mothers I know will agree, I have come to the conclusion that fury and humiliation seem to go hand in hand with accepting the fact that you have lost control of your home, you no longer pretend to style your hair, and you act like a jackass at all times because you are the parent of a toddler.  And each day you think, well it cannot get any worse than this.  And then you look in the rear view mirror and see your toddler remove one of her pigtails, and eat the rubber band.

I would like to say a special thank you to all the heroic veterans who have served our country, espically my dad.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

An Apple and Ten Eggs a Day

I think we may finally have a break from the heat here in Wisconsin, not to mention a couple of days of rain. I am also trying to find out where exactly I was while summer was whizzing by.  I went to a store yesterday to get a bathing suit for Annabelle only to be greeted with not only school supplies lining the end caps, but snowsuits!  I realized that it is almost the middle of August and summer is almost over.  The positive thing about shopping for a child's swimsuit in August is that if you are lucky enough to find one, it is only four dollars and seventy-nine cents.  I suppose for that price I can overlook the Seasonal Affective Disorder that is looming behind the racks of winter boots next to the clearance flip flops. 

This shopping trip yesterday also provided me with a parenting lesson, which I always value and appreciate.  Annabelle and I stopped at the grocery store to get a few items to supplement our meals which are now comprised exclusively of eggs.  While in the produce section I parked the cart in order to go pick out some shallots.  Usually at the grocery store Annabelle is transfixed with all the bright lights, colors, and people-watching, but I believe those carefree days are over. 

When I returned to my cart I found Annabelle elbow-deep in the bin of apples.  I briskly walked over and attempted to pretend that this was my plan all along.  That as an engaged and intelligent parent I somehow trained my 10 month old baby to help with shopping and her job was to get the apples while I got the shallots.  I don't think anyone was buying it.  She did pick out an apple and I thought, "meh. she can hold an apple while I shop, who cares?" Mistake number one.  I then made my way over to the cheese case to find Gruyere cheese (authors note: you cannot find Gruyere cheese in rural grocery stores, you must resign yourself to Swiss).  While I was obtaining assistance from a deli employee I glanced at Annabelle, only to find that she had eaten the top half of the apple.  I gasped.  Embarrassed I explained, "Well I didn't think she could eat an apple."  and then we walked away.

As I watched her working pretty hard on a small piece of apple skin, I decided taking the apple away was in everyone's best interest.  Mistake number two.  It was at that point my sweet, well-mannered Annabelle unleashed a tornado of fury onto the poor unsuspecting shoppers of  Pick N Save.  I have never really seen Annabelle have a tantrum before and it was...terrifying.  Red-faced and screaming with fists clenched, Annabelle made it clear that she picked out that apple for a reason. And that reason was for her to eat it and no one was going to stop it from happening.

Far be it from me, her mother (and an adult) to interfere with her plans. I handed her the apple back.  It wasn't as though she picked up a donut, it was an apple. I'm sure it wouldn't kill her. And if forced to choose between a tantrum and coughing up appleskin...I pick the coughing up  apple skin.  And as I handed her back the apple and watched her face return to it's normal color I did what all horrified mamas do in those situations: I loudly exclaimed things like "Sounds like someone needs a nap"  or "Are you expressing your anger in a healthy and normal way" as if this would somehow negate the display of rage that people had just witnessed.  

So we carried on our merry way, again, as though this was our normal routine.  We walked up and down the aisles with my baby gnawing on an apple like this is something we do every day: Shoplift produce that is not appropriate for a baby to eat, but let her eat it anyway.  And I held my head up high when I handed a slobby, half-eaten apple to the checker and said "Oh, and this too please."  Yup. We do this every day. It's our routine, I am in complete control of the situation and my baby at all times.

The whole point of this shopping trip, as I mentioned, was to get some items for dinner.  We are now getting anywhere from 9-11 eggs per day and they are starting to pile up.  I have a cookbook that was written by an chicken-owning enthusiast entitled "Chicken and Egg" and found a recipe that not only looked like a good dinner, but also used a lot of eggs.  So for dinner last night I made a Mushroom, Bacon, egg bake.  Living where I live I was forced to substitute Swiss for Gruyere, but beggars can't be choosers.  I will admit this was a tasty dinner.

Mushroom Bacon Egg Bake
This delightful dish used 10 eggs.  If Bryan and I eat one of these every night we may have a chance at staying ahead of production.

Peach Raspberry Upside Down Cake
And this morning I decided that it was probably to my advantage to do some baking in further attempts to use these eggs, and I actually enjoy baking and this morning it was about 59 degrees in our house so it seemed like the perfect Sunday morning activity for Annabelle and I.  I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I am able to get things done with Annabelle scooting around the house reeking havoc the way she does. If I can clean the bathroom or get a load of laundry done without her setting fire to the dogs, then I feel like a superstar. 

 So from the "Chicken and Egg" book I decided to make a Peach Raspberry Upside down cake.  I suppose now, looking at this picture, it doesn't look as appetizing as I thought. Something seems to have gone wrong with the brown sugar and butter on the bottom of the pan, it doesn't seem to be the right color.  But I did have a piece of this cake and it was delicious.  I think it would be more delicious served warm over vanilla ice cream...but I'm not going back to Pick N Save with Annabelle this weekend in the event someone recognizes us as the shoplifting tantrum baby pair.
Blackberry (or in this case Raspberry and Blueberry) Cornmeal Cupcakes

Experiencing a rare burst of culinary energy, while the cake was baking I decided to immediately make Blackberry Cornmeal Cupcakes.  These cupcakes are a favorite of mine, but since I didn't have blackberries I decided to use raspberries and blueberries instead and they are just as tasty. 

Both of these recipes are so easy to make and I'd even go so far as to say that you could probably get either of them baked in less than six and a half hours if you didn't have a baby "helping" you bake.  I have learned that if something is supposed to take thirty minutes to complete, if you have a mobile baby you must multiply that by at least a factor of 7 to get a better estimate of when you will be done.  And if you have dogs, chickens, and a farmer in your house you might as well multiply it by 10.  But I am still proud of what I was able to accomplish.

Annabelle's "helping" consists of removing every item in the kitchen from the
cabinets and flinging them around into other objects until she gets bored, or
until I lose my mind...whichever comes first.
After I cleaned up the kitchen I sat back and thought about how fast this summer has gone by.  And while I am immediately depressed at the thought of winter around the corner I have to pat myself on the back for all the fun my family has had this summer. So many firsts for all of us.  Our first eggs, Bryan's first trip to the beach in thirty years, Annabelle's first trip to the zoo, her first merry-go-round ride, her first tractor pull, her first swimming lessons just to name a few. 

And her first birthday is just around the corner.  I never cease to be amazed at how quickly the time goes, it just doesn't wait for us.  So when Annabelle is sitting on the floor banging my expensive cake pans together I have to stop myself from worrying about damaging the pans and embrace how happy it makes her.  I know that it will not be long before I am wishing she was made this happy by the simple things.

So now Annabelle and I sit outside enjoying the cool breeze and I can't help but notice that the Goldfish crackers I have been giving her have been tossed over the side of her jumper because apparently nothing is more hilarious than watching your dog eat your snack.  Sigh.   And I also can't help but notice that as I type it is today's daily installment of my least-favorite chicken entertainment...chicken humpfest. I apologize for being crass but there is simply no other way to describe it. 

I would like you, the reader, to believe that I am sitting here sipping a lemonade being serenaded by songbirds and the whistling of the breeze through the corn as I type.  But you should know the truth.  The backdrop of this blog is nonstop chicken on chicken CRIME.  We have already attempted to control our rooster population a week ago with a feast of green beans and potatoes from our garden and....grilled chicken.  It looks like chicken casserole will be on the menu this week.  And I know that may sound barbaric but think of my poor hens.  My sweet girls who enable me to have Egg Bake for dinner, and blueberry cupcakes, and peach upside down cake are being taken advantage of.  There is no chicken Planned Parenthood or ACLU to help them, it's up to me.  And if I have to eat chicken noodle casserole in the name of hens' rights then , so be it.

Martha Stewart's Blackberry Cornmeal Cupcakes (From her book "Cupcakes")
1 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup fine ground yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted then cooled
1 to 2 containers of blackberries (6 oz each)

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Line standard muffin tins with liners. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar.  In another bowl whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter; pour over flour mixture, whisking to combine.

2.  Fill each line cup with a scant 1/2 cup batter.  Top batter with blackberries (3 to 4 berries per cup), then sprinkle evenly with the remaining 2 table spoons sugar.

3.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until evenly browned on top, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before removing cupcakes.  Cupcakes are best eaten the day they are baked, but will keep up to 2 days at room temperature in airtight containers.

Time goes by fast

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Free Eggs and Cheap Laughs

I realize that it has been exactly 4 weeks from my last post.  I feel as though this loss of momentum is detrimental to my career as an unpaid chicken blogger.  I do not want disappoint the half-dozens of readers that I have. 

You would think that I could have at least found the time to post on Monday, July 9, 2012.  What was so special about July 9, you ask?  Well on that day we got our first egg!  This was very exciting for Bryan and I and, again, should have yielded a blogpost.  But life is busy. I am not going to whine about how busy life is, because I reserve my complaints exclusively for facebook and face to face conversation.  But I assure you, I would blog daily if I could figure out how.

As usual I digress.  Bryan found our first egg in one of the nesting boxes in our coop. I was a little surprised at how small it was, but these are pullet eggs (and no, I do not know what that means) and will get bigger over time (and no, I don't know how).  Since July 9 our production seems to be up to at least four eggs a day.  So far we have been keeping up with our hens.  Annabelle likes scrambled eggs, bryan has made himself a number of egg dinners late nights when he gets home.  I have used the eggs for baking, and since the eggs are smaller than others I can use quite a few in one baked good.  

A Meal Provided by our Hens and Garden

If Bryan had his way I would be a stay at home mom/novelist (secretly he knows how much I enjoy writing and would therefore like to see my writing career flourish), so he took the time to calculate our cost savings earned by no longer buying eggs but by utilizing the eggs provided by our hens.  He figured out that at best we are "saving" approximately three and a half cents a week.  I was informed that was not quite enough for me to retire and write my novel on.  I asked how many eggs a week we would need to eat and sell in order for me to embark on a full time writing career, and I  am still waiting to get that answer.  I get the impression it is more than four eggs a day though. I did suggest he also factor in the garden items we have grown, but again....we're still waiting for those numbers to come in.

I have to say that collecting eggs twice day is somewhat charming and quaint but has yet to result in the Normal Rockwell picture I envisioned.  I somehow thought Annabelle and I would walk hand-in-hand to the coop, each with our own basket.  I suppose the biggest flaw in that vision is that Annabelle does not walk yet (though it is coming!)  And what is perhaps more important is that for the most part, since we started getting eggs, it has been over 100 degrees.  The extreme temperatures create a not-so-desirable environment in which to make magical lifelong mother/daughter memories.  So while it is very exciting and it is the goal we wanted to achieve when we decided to become chicken farmers, it is basically just another item on the to-do list.

There is also another chicken development that has been in the works for a while too: Our roosters are now crowing on a regular (and continual) basis.  Again, I was very excited for this milestone to occur and now feel the novelty may have warn off.  I don't know if you know this but roosters do not crow exclusively in the morning. They crow pretty much all the time and for no particular reason.  I am certain my parents thoroughly enjoyed the majestic wonder of our roosters crowing at 6:00 in the morning right outside their window when they were guests at our home a few weeks ago.

I have provided a very short sound bite of one of our roosters crowing.  You need to turn the sound up, and it is very very short. Even though they do this NONSTOP it is a hard thing to capture on video without Annabelle shouting in the background.

I especially enjoyed the roosters this evening when I was vacuuming and heard a siren coming down the road.  Sirens out here are extremely rare so I shut off the vacuum and ran to the window, only to discover it was not in fact a siren but one of our roosters crowing. 

Annabelle is, of course, growing right along side our hens and roosters.  She has reached a stage in her development that I find to be....quite exhausting.  She is 10 months old and is all over the place.  I have heard this described as being inquisitive, or curious, and my personal her "finding her personality and becoming an individual." So often since pregnancy I have wondered what type of person she will become. Will she have her father's patience and my incomparable wit and sense of humor?  I spent hours contemplating this while pregnant and watching her grow.  You can imagine how overjoyed I am to discover that she is...a royal pain in the ass.

I began this post last night with the hopes Annabelle would simply play quietly on the floor. And she did. She quietly played with my cookbooks, completely shredding and eating a portion of every page.  When I consult other parents, blogs, or websites for advice on how to teach your busy 10 month old not to destroy (and inevitably eat) all of your personal possessions they all provide similar advice: positively redirect, explain in detail what it is about the behavior you do not enjoy, make sure to provide her plenty of opportunities to explore, don't limit...etc. etc. etc.  I assure you I have done all these things.  And what I have discovered is that when I tell my baby "no touch" or "that's mama's beer" or "ah.ah. ah." she looks at me and laughs in my face. 

Annabelle's favorite food, hands down, is dog hair. I do not understand this.  I have seen her put an entire fistful of dog hair in her mouth and smile and make num num sounds as I attempt to retrieve the sopping wet clump from her face.  And on the rare occasions that I am able to retrieve it, she cries as if I have taken her bottle away.  And when I see her with dog hair and attempt to sneak up on her to yank it from her angry fists, she runs  away. I didn't know this was possible. She runs on all fours at a speed that I simply cannot compete with. 

"I claim this dog in the name of Spain"

Oh and please do not sit there wondering why I have so much dog hair rolling around my house. I assure you I sweep and vacuum daily, often more than once a day. it doesn't matter.  There are clumps of hair everywhere.  And heaven help you if you turn on a fan when then windows are open, tumbleweeds of fur fill the home.  it's just the way it is. I have given up trying to fix it. Short of shooting the dogs or shaving them bald, this will always be the case.

So I have gotten desperate for entertainment. The dogs used to occupy Annabelle for very large spans of time but in her advanced age she doesn't enjoy sitting and watching them anymore. She prefers to saddle them up and ride them around the house while knocking everything off my shelves with her riding crop.

And you may laugh and think I am kidding but my mother can attest to the fact that this baby is freakishly strong.  She has hulk-like strength and is not afraid to use it.  At night when she gets sleepy and fussy she
Muscles McGrenie Bottom Attempting Escape

doesn't cry and whine, she prefers to cage fight. The punching, pulling, slapping and maniacal laughter always starts out as cute but then becomes a fight for my health and safety.  I dont' know what it is but her strength astounds me. 

So desperation is allowed to supercede rational thought and responsible parenting.  In an attempt to blog last night I stripped Annabelle to her diaper and put her in high chair. I gave her a popsicle.  I cut it up thinking this was a fantastic idea.  She had never had one before and is rarely allowed to have such sugary goodness.  So I cut the popsicle into chunks and placed it on the tray.  She LOVED it.  And this entertainment lasted approximately 47 seconds. It was over 80 degrees in our kitchen so what she did not eat immediately melted in a matter of seconds. I thought she would enjoy splashing around in the popsicle juice, but I was wrong. Do not misunderstand, she did make the effort to rub the juice all over her chest, face, and hair, but the entertainment was short-lived and stained her hands green (I would go so far as to say it was Incredible Hulk Green).

Another form of cheap entertainment I stumbled upon was the flyswatter (two words? one word? I don't know).  Another unanticipated side effect of chickens is chicken poop. And a side effect of chicken poop is flies.  Our deck and home is overrun with flies.  So I have gotten in the habit of keeping a flyswatter with me.  Last night while supervising Annabelle's dinner I sat at the counter swatting flies and Annabelle thought this was the best thing ever.  She laughed and laughed at each THWACK of that flyswatter. And every time I would swat I would say "sonsabitches" and that made the whole activity even funnier to Annabelle.  So the truth is out. You know my secret. Annabelle and I spent a large amount time of time swatting flies and cursing last night, and she was the happiest she had been all night.

So this is where we're at.  Cursweords, fly-swatting, and naked popsicle eating. 

Please do not misunderstand my account of life with a 10 month old Annabelle. I am not so naive to not recognize on a daily basis how this little girl has changed my life and made me a better person. Despite her recently-found discovery phase, and her inability to sit still, I know we are so lucky to have sweet Annabelle.  But that sort of sappy admission is not my style, and is certainly not nearly as entertaining as how she is able to make her mama absolutely crazy.

I can only hope that in a couple of years Annabelle will walk with me, holding my hand, into the coop to gather eggs in her little basket topped with a pretty white satin bow.  Actually, if I am being truthful I hope she can just go into the coop without me and get the eggs FOR us while I sit on the deck drinking a glass of Riesling. Until then I will resort to whatever tricks I need to make Annabelle laugh and smile.

And if any of you would like to sample our farm fresh, free-range, organic eggs you just let me know. The first half-dozen is free.  As of press-time we are now getting FIVE eggs a day.  I am working my way to a writing career one egg at a time.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chicken of the Sea

Bryan and I have discussed, at length, how much I enjoy writing...specifically this blog. So why is it that there are now GIANT lapses of time between posts? Well I blame it on 2 things: 1. HORRIBLY SLOW TERRIBLE INTERNET OPTIONS in rural areas  and 2. My recent nuptials.  And this all therefore results in very long blog posts, for which I apologize.

Bryan and I were married on June 8th at what turned out be a perfect evening at our homestead.  The chickens were out, the dogs were out...and in classic Milton-style, he was right on top of of us for every single moment of it.  Complete with wildlife and fireworks, it was a beautiful night and I couldn't have asked for a more perfect wedding.  I am so thankful we were able to share it with our family and a few close friends. 

The day after our wedding we departed for our Honeymoon in Nor Carolina.  Farmer Bryan had not taken a vacation in a very long time...and I believe that vacation was Sturgis so...yeah. 

Vacationing with Farmer Bryan was a lot more fun than one would imagine.  He never complained about anything and was willing to do whatever activity I had planned.  Lucky for Bryan I am quite possibly the best vacation-planner there is.  Correction: 2nd best- my mother is probably the best vacation planner.  I learned from her.  Additionally, Bryan was extremely social on vacation.  He was stopping strangers on the trail in Chimney Rock Park and talking to them. He stopped Park Rangers and asked them how the complicated stairs system up to Chimney Rock was constructed. He talked to maintenance people at the Beach Resort about it's construction.  basically Bryan is a big fan of asking "How" and "Why"  while on vacation. I suspect this will come in handy when Annabelle  is about four years old.

While on our honeymoon we traveled through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was so beautiful. Amazingly enough it was only 50 degrees there. Leave it to us to plan a trip and find a place to stop where it is actually colder there in June than it is in Wisconsin.  But it was lovely. 

In that state park (I believe on the Tennessee side but am not sure) they have a mock up of a working farm in what I kept referring to as "pioneer times" which may or not be historically correct.  We, in the mountain rain, wandered around this mocked up farm and I could see in Bryan's eyes that somehow he was dropped into the wrong time period.  As his eyes scanned all the "old-timey" tools I could tell that he would be much happier if that's how our life was right now.  There was a display case of farm implements and he was able to identify and explain each one to me without looking at the notes along side of them.  For a moment I wondered what our life would be like if we did live in earlier times.

Mostly I was contemplating how I well I would do as a Pioneer farm wife..and it just didn't look good.  It seemed like there would have been a lot of walking and sweating, and a very distinct absence of makeup and skin care products.  Basically I might have been OK in the 1950's, but not the 1900's.

Of course, as you may suspect, they had a mock-up of an old timey chicken coop on that farm we visited and we were both very pleased to see that it looked just like our chicken coop.  The classics never die.

It is here I do have to interject a bit of parental judgement. I try to never do this because I believe people must parent to their own families needs and beliefs.  I also maintain that what we see other people doing is just a snapshot, you can never know what another person's circumstances are.  However...

While in the old-timey farm museum in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park there was a girl probably around 10 years old intently studying some old-timey medical and dental tools and reading the cards for each one.  And while she was reading her father walked over (from the gift shop) and said "Come one we have to go, your mom's waiting for you.  And she said "Dad, this was used for pulling teeth in-" and he didn't even let her finish her sentence and said "come on, let's go."

Here was a very rare instance where a child actually was taking an interest in something educational and with some sort of historical value.  She was very deliberately reading every single descriptive word and sentence for these items and her parent didn't even listen to what she was saying and dragged her out. And while I acknowledge that kids definitely dawdle and "fart around" a lot and eventually you do have to just drag them out, I also acknowledge that from what I saw on my trip...most kids do not give a rat's ass about reading all the signs and placards in a historical site or museum.  Give the kid 5 minutes to read it if she's interested in it.  Then you can drag her back to your minivan and put her movie on for the rest of the drive. I write this I am feeding my baby yogurt and baby MumMum while she is in the Johnny Jump-Up...outside. I would imagine it's like trying to eat a bowl of Soup while on the teacups at Walt Disney World. End of parental judgement. 

After spending some time in the mountains we made our way to the beach.  I am a lover of the sea.  I have no idea how I ended up landlocked in the Midwest because every time I smell the salty air of the Atlantic I believe it is where I belong. I always think that I should own a beach house where I can sit on my porch writing my novel while listening to the waves against the shoreline.  Instead I live on a farm and sell engines for a living.  I'm not really certain where I took a wrong turn, but life is funny that way.

I was very concerned that Bryan wouldn't share my love of the sea.  Thankfully I was wrong.  I have a few girlfriends who have traveled with me to the beach and know that I.Love.Swimming.  I can't be in the water enough, and unfortunately I am in the minority when it comes to beach-going. Most people will take a cool dip between lengthy sun-bathing sessions, but not me. I would spend the majority of my time getting knocked over by salty waves.  I have finally found my swimming partner.  I could not get Bryan out of the water. And if I ever had any doubt that I found the person that I wanted to spend the rest of my life and raise a family with, any trace of doubt in existence was completely obliterated by this one act:

Now in preparation for going to the beach I gave Bryan only one rule. It is my cardinal rule of beach going: DO NOT FEED THE SEAGULLS.  Seagulls have adapted to beach goers pretty quickly and if you so much as give them a crumb, you will have a flock stalking you for the entire day.  And knowing how Bryan is with wildlife, I knew his first act on the beach would be feeding the seagulls. So I made it very clear that he was, under NO circumstances to feed a seagull.  And here's how that turned out:

I'm not sure what angered me more about this, that he was had a blatant disregard for the rules of the sea, or that he was wasting perfectly good Pringles on stupid seagulls!  I suppose I should have known this would happen. Even in the water he was attempting to "pet" a pelican.  He swore if he had more time he would have been able to catch it.  I'm not sure that pelicans are able to peacefully coexist with chickens.
But Bryan continued to feed the seagulls and said he had to, that they were his sea chickens.  He even went so far as to name one.  This little fellow which Bryan so cleverly named "Blackhead." Though I'm not surprised at this because he named our friendliest chicken at home DB Sweeney, because she has a dark beak. So naturally her name would be Dark Beak Sweeney, or DB Sweeney.

So even though  the rules of the beach were not respected, I was relieved that Bryan was not only enjoying himself, but was also remaining himself.  He was comfortable enough at the beach to act like a jackass, just as he does at home with our own birds.

Sadly, we had to return home (though I was relieved to be reunited with our sweet Annabelle) to our own wildlife. Aunt Jodi was kind enough to take care of the dogs and chickens while we were away, which we were very grateful for.  I suspect she may not be volunteering again so soon, but perhaps by next summer she will be ready for another farm adventure.  I don't know what the going rate is for chicken-sitters these days.

Sadly, upon returning home we were greeted with tragedy.  As we neared our drive way we saw some of our chickens in the road investigating (i.e. snacking on) something. As we got closer I saw two yellow feet in the air.  One of our beloved dark brown hens had been hit by a car.   I was devastated. In fact, I was much more upset about it than I expected to be. I suppose it was because it wasn't an act of nature or at our hand.  As we parked the car and got out to investigate, I couldn't help but wonder "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

Any animal that is not a pet, but is wildlife perishes on our property they receive a proper cremation.  Now, I'm not sure if it was because I was so upset, or because it was 95 degrees that day,  but Bryan buried our beloved hen.  Soon we are going to run out of room to bury animals.  I am sure what happened next will be no shock to anyone, and while it was not shocking to me, it didn't make it any less unfortunate. 

The next day, which was also a 95 degree day, Annabelle's babysitter commented that Milton smelled bad. Fearing the worst, I immediately ran to the window to check the burial site and saw that it remained in tact.  Relived, I assumed he just rolled in something as usual.  Later than evening I was putting laundry away and heard Bryan yelling some very serious bad words, so I came running to find bryan yelling and hurling the dogs dishes out into the yard.  I asked him why he was throwing the dogs dishes and he informed me that  Milton had, of course, dug up our beloved hen's remains.  Who wouldn't throw things upon discovering that on the hottest day of the year your dog had scattered chicken remains all over the yard for all God's creatures to snack on.  I told Bryan "If you expect me to eat those chickens, or their eggs you best go collect that carcass so her brothers and sisters stop snacking on it."

It is times like this when I wonder what kind of childhood Annabelle is going to have. I like to think that we are providing her with he best life a child could have. At 9 months she has seen and done more than many grade-schoolers I know, but I wonder if occasionally we cross a line.  Perhaps when we allow this to go on without interfering (WARNING: Grammie, you may not want to look at this!) a line has been crossed:

I can't really justify this other than to say say that perhaps this will help give her some sort of antibodies to farm and livestock allergies. And to be honest....she seems to really like doggie kisses (even if they are of the French variety).  Somewhere a parent who hastily yanked their child away from an educational farm display is reading this in disgust and wondering what parent allows their dog to put his tongue in their baby's mouth.

I used to get very nervous about stuff like this, about the dogs French kissing my baby, and her handling farm kittens and chickens, and letting her crawl around in the grass occasionally eating grass that may or may not have chicken poop on it.  But with Bryan's encouragement, I've really kind of gotten over it.  I know my daughter will most likely always be the one with dirt on her face and under her fingernails and perhaps never wearing shoes or socks.  But my daughter will also be the one who has pet chickens, cows, dogs, kittens, horses, ridden in tractors, and planted and picked vegetables that she grew herself in her very own garden.  At Halloween when everyone is carving pumpkins they had to drive 20 miles to pick, Annabelle can say that she grew her pumpkins herself at home.   So I guess it's those thoughts that allow me to let my dogs French kiss my baby.

So it was back to reality this week. Back to work, back to daycare, back to laundry, and back to keeping Annabelle from eating fistfuls of dog hair and gravel. Instead of feeding Pringles to the sea chickens, we fed Cheerios to the chicken chickens.And even though I often feel like I belong at the beach,  my heart is here in the Midwest with my husband, daughter, dogs, and chickens and despite my rhetoric..I wouldn't have it any other way.

This post is dedicated to dark brown hen. You will be missed.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Bird in the Hand is Worth Bryan in the Bush

It was a big week for chickenhood  this week. The chickens were set free into the wild and  officially became free range chickens.  We opened up the door in the coop to the outside world and sat in the grass watching that opening like it was Sunday night programming on HBO.  We sat waiting for chickens to come pouring out of that coop and down the ramp.  They did not.  We sat and waited and watched.  And the chickens just sat at the opening of the coop and stared right back at us. I suggested that we go in the coop and flush them out, but Dr. Dolittle said that the chickens had to come out on their own free will so they could find their way back in.  And while I question most of Bryan's animal husbandry theories, I don't have enough knowledge on the subject matter to argue. So we just sat in the grass with Annabelle waiting for the chickens to decide to come outside.

We tried to coax then out with bread, but those chickens were not coming outside for anything.  Bryan was the first of us to cave and got up and retrieved one of our little Buff Orpington ladies and brought her outside.  She immediately ran underneath the coop and sat there.  Eventually she came out the other side of the coop where Bryan was waiting to pick her up and place her on his shoulder, where she remained for the next hour making Bryan look like some kind of landlocked pale pirate.   I was disappointed they didn't all come outside, but they quickly learned what treasures were hiding in the grass and over the weekend they all came outside on their own.  What was amazing to me about this was that they just know what to do.

Bryan and I had many discussions about whether or not to fence in an area for the chickens.  We want our chickens to have the run of the property for a number of reasons: It's better for the chickens health (their beaks, natural instincts, scratching, etc), they eat insects, and they also will be lot cheaper to feed if they are allowed to forage all day.  And while we never really made an official decision not to fence in an area for them, lack of time sort of won that battle and we just left the coop door open one day.   One of the first problems we noticed is that one of the cats just sat perched near the ramp waiting for a chicken to fall into his mouth. Now when it comes to the dangers our chickens face  Bryan and I disagree on how to handle such situations; Bryan subscribes to the Wyle E. Coyote school of thought and believes the chickens will learn to fend for themselves and outsmart the cats, whereas I am more of a Foghorn Leghorn believer "I say-I say now hold on heah just a minute.."  But as usual Bryan was right. The cats do a lot of watching and occasionally pouncing but the chickens are a lot faster than one would think, and it seems like harmless play as opposed to ruthless hunting.

That is not to say that our arrangement has been without incident. On the chickens' first full day outside, it just so happens Milton and Bernie were left outside too.  On that particular afternoon Bryan received a call from our nanny who comes once a week to inform him that she heard chickens screaming and saw that Milton not only had one in his mouth, but had scattered the chickens out to the fields.  Bryan and I were devastated that our chicken ownership was going to be so short-lived and that we screwed up so badly.  But sure enough, when we came home all those chickens had returned back to surrounding area of the coop.

A note here on the quantified statement of "all those chickens."  It is very difficult, in my estimation, to count 38 chickens.  So when a statement such as "all those chickens came home" is made,  it is more of a general statement that should be interpreted as "most of" or "a lot" of or "I think all those."  We will revisit more on this topic as we proceed.

So when we got home we sat in the grass with Annabelle and fed the chickens bread and just watched them run around near the chicken coop.  I never thought I would find the chickens to be so entertaining.  It's become a nightly ritual to come home and sit in the grass and play with the chickens.   There are too many to name, and it is probably better that we don't since we know some are being raised for meat, but it is amazing how quickly they become like pets.  

On the night the chickens were out for the first time all day, and Milton scattered them to all corners of the planet, Bryan and I went out together at dark expecting to have to chase the chickens back into the coop, but amazingly enough when we go to the coop they chickens were all inside and tucked in for the night already.  We looked underneath the coop, and the areas nearby and sure enough all those chickens were perched happily inside.  I continue to be astounded at this behavior.  So we closed up the door and came inside.  Of course once we got inside Milton sat at the back door whining and carrying on like a jackass, which is not at all uncommon.  I ignored him as long as I could but he was really bothered by whatever was going on outside so we let him out because it's easier than listening to him carry on.

On this particular occasion though letting him out proved to be both a smart decision and a stupid decision at the same time.  Milton took off like a rocket into the yard and then we heard a squawk and saw feathers fly.  Bryan ran out side barefoot screaming at Milton, and I was not far behind him. As it turns out, one of our poor little Black Star roosters didn't every make it back to the coop after the first Milton incident, and didn't get locked up for the night. We had to round up the rooster and put him away with his brothers and sisters.  And for those of you who are thinking "How hard can that be?" I assure you, it is not easy. 

I stood by and watched as Bryan chased the rooster around the bush he was hiding in, and each time he got anywhere near an arms reach from this bird, Milton would freak out and chase him away again.  Milton is once again lucky to have seen another day.  Bryan continued to sneak around the bush and I finally offered to come around the other side of the bush to flush the rooster out into his direction (this, my friends, is called strategy) but once again, Milton beat me to it, causing the rooster to fly up into the air, back down and then forcing him to run full chickenspeed to the house and underneath the deck. So Bryan, barefoot and on gravel and with his 6'4" frame folded essentially in half,  ran under the deck to catch the rooster.  I was highly amused at this point and noticing that the more amused I become the more crabby bryan became. He of course caught the rooster, after bumping his head, and returned him safely to his home. I knew he'd catch him, maybe that's why I was able to find the humor in a grown man running barefoot in the yard in the dark to catch a rooster.  And to be quite fair to Milton, he had the right idea. He let us know the rooster was outside and also let us know he wasn't where he belonged, he even ran over to the rooster to let his know where he's just that last part he struggles with, the not eating the rooster part.  And who can blame him? 

I am almost embarrassed to admit that I get excited to come home and see the chickens now. One day this week when we pulled in the driveway I didn't see the chickens out pecking in the grass or hanging out under the coop as they had been and I was not only disappointed but a little worried. But then when Annabelle and I got in front of the coop all of the chickens came out to greet us one by one! I couldn't believe it.  Annabelle and I sat in the grass and all those chickens came down their little ramp and crowded around us. Obviously they had grown quite accustomed to us feeding them bread, it's pretty evident that's what they were after.  But there was something very enjoyable about all these pretty birds parading around us and saying hello.  Eventually though they were starting to get a little demandng. They would peck at my fingers, shoes, and even Annabelle's toes. And while it's a little pinchy, they're not too viscous. 
So as summer approaches and Annabelle is almost eight months old, I recognize how my life continues to evolve out here.  Each day this week when Annabelle and I got home we didn't even go inside, we just went to the coop and sat in the grass and watched the chickens peck and scratch and do chickeney things.  And every night after we put Annabelle to bed Bryan and grab a beer and walk hand-in-hand outside to lock up the coop.  As we were walking down to the coop the other night I commented to Bryan how much I enjoyed doing that each night...he was quick to point out that it will not be nearly as fun come January.  Bryan is a very smart man. 

Tonight I noticed the chickens were up on the concrete slab near the shed which will be very unpopular should that continue, so be prepared for the chicken honeymoon to be over if they start to forage where chickens are not welcome.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Croc of...

I am trying to figure out why so much time is passing between posts.  Perhaps it is because my evenings are simply filled to capacity with super fun activities. For example tonight as I was typing I had to stop and watch Annabelle watch an ant.  She was on the floor playing with her toys and we spotted an ant scurrying across the floor.  Bryan and I had to stop everything to see how this would turn out.  Would she it? Would she be afraid of it?  Would she care?  She did in fact see it and she got her little pinching fingers going ready to grab and squeeze...and potentially eat it.  Basically this activity boiled down to us staring at Annabelle and Annabelle staring at an ant.  And please reserve your comments about why there is an ant crawling on my living room floor. We just got rid of the Box Elder bugs, I have no energy left for ants.

And the other night we attempted to give Annabelle Cheerios which mainly consisted of lining up 4 Cheerios on the tray of her high chair and staring at her.  She'll eat them if we feed them to her, and she is able to pick them up one at a time, she just doesn't seem to understand that the Cheerios are food. But yet this same baby will pick up small pieces of gravel or dog hair and eat them.  And if you are going to give me grief about having gravel and dog hair on my floor, please see my comment above regarding ants.

And just last night I had to pause the tv and end a phone conversation so I could watch Bryan feed cole slaw to Annabelle, which she loved and happily ate.  So as you can see, I am very very busy. 

So lets get down to business. The chickens. The chickens are getting a little nuts and we are patiently waiting for Bryan's busy season to wind down so he can complete the outside run.  They are going to eat us out of house and home if we do not let them out to forage soon.  We have access to to a fair amount of free bread so the chickens get bread along with their chicken feed each day and night as a special treat.
As you can see, they really like it. 

I'm finding these chickens are doing very little or my self-esteem.  I try to participate in chicken ownership and give the chickens bread as often as I can, but they don't come pluck the bread right from my hand as they do for Bryan.  Living with Bryan is like living with Dr. Doolittle, minus the PHD, clean hands, veterinarian's salary, and madcap misadventures.  Actually...I take that back, Bryan is FULL of madcap misadventures.  But Bryan is a friend of all animals and they seem to be drawn to him. I keep telling myself not to take it personally, but no matter what logic tries to tell me I'm still pissed the chickens won't eat the bread from my hands. 

When I told Bryan about my hurt feelings and disappointment, he questioned my approach and technique.  I explained to Bryan that I walk into the coop and say "here chick, chick, chick" and toss pieces of bread.  Bryan said that's my problem, the chickens don't like talking.  So in addition to taking it as a personal attack that the chickens won't eat bread out of my hands, I also am paranoid that once the chickens are outside they will not come back in at night when I call them because they will not respond to my patented "chick chick chick" call, and because apparently I am really lame in the chicken world.  Apparently I lack the finesse required for feeding bread to a hungry chicken.
I also have become a bit skittish with regard to holding the chickens.  On more than one occasion Bryan has threatened to place 2 chickens in a burlap sack and place it over my head and tie it shut as some sort of aversion therapy.  But lets be honest, catching a chicken to pick up and hold is nearly impossible at this point and it is also a humiliating task.  It's humiliating even if no one is watching.  It is a humbling game of running around in small circles and flailing your arms and making large sweeping grasps at air.  It rarely results in actually catching a chicken. 

So when Bryan catches a chicken and gives it to me to hold, I make a lot of squealing noises.  The 12 big chickens are big, and like real full size chickens now, and not as enjoyable to hold as I envisioned.  There is a great deal of wing flapping and their feet are now at the point where they feel gross in my hands.  Chicken feet are cold and rubbery feeling and quite frankly... freak me out.  And there is the very serious safety risk they pose. Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens provides roughly 3 pages on the proper way to catch and handle a chicken. I will not bore you with all the details, especially considering I have yet to master any of the techniques covered in the book.  But Storey's Guide cautions:  "A frightened chicken will try to get free by flapping its wings and paddling its feet and may slice you with a claw.SLICE.  This is their word, not mine and is therefore serious business.  I asked Bryan if we could get shoes for our chickens to wear and he said no. I feel it necessary to point out that people put shoes on those creepy mini-ponies and Shetland Ponies. When I conveyed these very serious issues (both humiliation and safety related issues) to my mother on the phone she asked why I need to hold and pet the chickens and I didn't have an answer for her.  She also went on to tell me how many Italians cook and eat chicken feet, or at the very least put them in the sauce.  So fellow Italians, talk to me in a few weeks and see where we're at with butchering chickens, I may have some feet for you.

Our 12 big chickens are getting really big, and their personalities are not quite as endearing as the "babies."  And in recent reading I discovered that a fryer chicken is about a 7 week old chicken, so some tough decisions are going to have to be made soon.  Though we cannot for the life of us tell the gender of the 12 big chickens apart.  It is very easy to pick out the roosters from our batch of Black Sex Links, the problem is...the Black Sex Links (which bryan now exclusively refers to as Black Stars because he's sick of my sexter talk) are so pretty and sweet, I don't want to eat any of those roosters. And for those of my friends who are animal lovers and do not approve of eating our lovely roosters please consider all the chickens butchered and sold in the world for just a moment. I fed our chickens cantaloupe and lettuce this week. They each have a nesting box, and perches.  They get fresh air daily.  These chickens have a very good life under our care.

Regardless of personal beliefs on eating birds you raise yourself, I did consent to raising a few of these chickens for meat, but now I don't want to eat the nice ones.  I have no problems butchering the 12 big chickens because they are much less friendly, but we don't know which are the hens and which are the roosters, and we want to keep our hens.  Internally this raises a lot of questions for me about what kind of person I am deep down as it seems I take issue with eating the sweet, docile, adorable Black Stars but will happily eat the chickens that are flighty and a little bit mean.  These chickens are teaching me quite a bit about myself.

So as we all learn and grow with the chickens I will leave you with some parting wisdom.
Important lessons on appropriate behavior in the chicken coop:
  1. Absolutely NO flip flops in the chicken coop.  You will be very sorry.
  2. Conversely, it is ill-advised to wear a quality shoe costing more than $14 into the chicken coop. Crocs (purchased on sale) are an ideal coop shoe as they are made of rubber and can be hosed off frequently.  The only downside of Crocs in the coop is they have holes in them, which carries many risks. At the very least you will be picking straw out from between your toes. Please refer to exhibit A.
  3. No matter how much you think they might, chickens do not like to wear your hat.
  4. It is best to keep your mouth closed in the coop.
  5.  Chickens spook very easy. So if a chicken decides to "fly" i.e. jump from a perch to the coop floor and looks as though she might fly directly into your face which causes you scream "Oh my gosh! Holy Shit!" It will frighten all the chickens causing them to make chicken noises and move very fast as a group to the other side of the coop.  See lesson #4.
    Exhibit A
    (elapsed time in coop: 5 minutes)


**As of press time the chickens are eating bread directly from my hands. It seems if they get hungry enough they will give me the time of day.  I will starve the chickens into loving me!

He's standing on poor Flat Stanley, but it's such a  great picture of how beautiful our little Black Star roosters are, I had to share it.