Free.

I one of those people who spends the whole week thinking about ALLLLLL the things I’m going to get done over the weekend.  While sitting in my deprivation chamber (office) all week, I come up with all kinds of grand ideas about cleaning out cabinets, organizing things and building elaborate ponds with fountains and koi in the backyard in a spot where we currently can’t get grass to grow.  I will promise myself a jillion times that THIS WEEKEND is going to be THE weekend to be productive.  All week I detail my grand schemes to my husband who usually just answers “okay”.  It’s not because he’s really all that agreeable.  It’s because he knows me.

Saturday mornings typically go like this. I’m the first one awake…or…well, maybe “awake” is too generous of a word.  How about, I’m the first one out of bed…that’s a bit more accurate. Yesterday,  I got up, scuffed out to the chicken coop in my pajamas and initiated the chicken stampede…which just means I let them out of their coop.  Remember that scene from “The Lion King” where Simba’s father gets trampled by the water buffalo stampede?  It’s pretty much like that.  How 12 chickens can make their feet hit the ground that many times that they sound like 1200 chickens is completely beyond me.  I just shook my head and scuffed back to the house while they scoured the run for snacks that might have appeared overnight.

I had planned to be REALLY productive this weekend.  Laundry, cooking, a little cleaning, some baking, chicken coop decorating, oh the list was long and impressive.  The weather was PERFECT and Tom had even called an equipment rental place to rent a large tiller to do the garden!!  I just figured I’d get that puppy planted too.  That sounds reasonable, right?  (NO)

When I got back to the house, Tom was still in bed, so I surfed around the internet, visited a favorite chicken site and swooned over cute chick pictures, drank some coffee and oh look!  The Today Show is on!  So I reasoned that since no one else was awake and there was coffee and Lester Holt, that I should just sit on the sofa.

Greg came stumbling in from his apartment behind the house and collapsed in a chair like it was the longest walk he’d ever taken…it’s about 40 feet or so.  At some point, after me making 53 trips to the bed and announcing what time it was, like a brunette version of Big Ben, Tom finally came out of the bedroom and sleep walked down the stairs to walk his mother’s dog (he’s the bane of my existence…the dog…not Tom).  Tom’s mother lives in another part of the house, on the lower level.   I was still drinking coffee, so I was still moderately happy.  As long as I have a cup of coffee in front of me, I’m pretty much stationary and content.

Tom finally finished walking all the dogs…I haven’t told you about the dogs yet….oh, my….that’s another story for another day altogether. He made himself a cup of coffee, sat down on the love seat and promptly fell asleep…or resumed sleeping…because I don’t think he ever woke up while he was walking the herd of dogs that we own that he calls “The Idiots”.

By this time, I was finished with  my coffee and had decided that it was time to do things.  Greg was draped over the overstuffed chair playing some sort of online game where you basically attack other people and steal their stuff…sort of like an animated version of living in Detroit.

Tom was snoring.  Which always makes me mad.  So I told him what time it was again.

“I wasn’t sleeping”

“You are SNORING.  You’re either sleeping or you’ve got something REALLY BIG caught in your nose”

“I’m going to get up in just a minute”

Okay…take that conversation and just repeat it 94 times.  Because that’s what always happens.  Tom used to tour with rock bands when he was younger.  Motley Crue, Aerosmith…you know…all those little quiet bands.  He learned to sleep through mayhem on tour buses or while leaning against a running air compressor in the middle of a crowded concert venue.  The guy can sleep through a box of C4 going off next to his head, I swear.  I finally got him semi conscious and drinking some coffee annnnnnnnd then he fell asleep several times holding his coffee.  I ranted and carried on…Greg kept playing his game…Tom kept snoring.  I kept getting more annoying.  It was pretty much a typical Saturday.

FINALLY, Tom got up off the sofa (read as: I griped until he got up off the sofa) at about 11:00.  I’d already decided that there was no way we could possibly get ANYTHING done because the day was half over.  Then Tom said those magic words that had started this whole chicken journey.

“We need to go to Rural King today.”

Suddenly, he’d redeemed himself.  If we were going to Rural King, that means we were getting more chicken and garden stuff because honestly, there isn’t much else there that I’d walk across the street for in the store.  Greg, on the other hand, got very excited because, remember, Rural King has free popcorn…and he apparently doesn’t mind that it’s made by a woman with a mustache.

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So we all piled into the truck and Rural King isn’t that far away so we were there pretty quickly.  I hadn’t even bothered to look at what I was wearing, until we were walking into the store and that’s when I noticed I had on my t-shirt that proclaims “CRAZY BUT FUN” across the front.

Fifty years old, people.  I am wearing a “CRAZY BUT FUN” t-shirt, in public, at 50 years old.

Greg and I always enjoy the parking lot at Rural King because there is a wide variety of things to be sarcastic about…which is our main gig.  One day, at the Rural King on the other side of town (there are two…who needs two? ), we were in the parking lot where a very nice church group had set up a grill and were selling the following:  Grilled Boneless Chicken, Grilled Boneless Pork Chops, and at the bottom of the sign, and I’m not making this up, Grilled Boneless Hotdogs.   I’m also not kidding when I say that this provided us with comedy material for the next several weeks.

Greg bypassed the popcorn area when we first arrived because there were a few too many people in line that were wearing camouflage and looked a bit surly.  I made my usual beeline to the CHICK NIRVANA waiting in the back of the store.  Tom was pulling a loud, rickety red flat cart behind him because we needed shavings for the coop.  I’m sure you could hear this cart in SPACE.

The chick area was kind of a drag.  You can tell that the people who work at the store are OVER IT.  At the beginning of chick season, everything was sparkly and clean and the chicks were tiny and healthy.  Now the stock tanks of chicks smelled badly of chick poop, they were terribly over crowed and the chicks were older and already sprouting their wing feathers.  Sort of sad.  I wished I could save them all and finally sadly walked away.  Poor things.

We got what we needed, including a bag of “Mother Clucker” chicken treats…pretty much because I think the name is hysterical. Next time I’m buying “CLUCK YEAH!”.  I also, thanks to my chicken decor radar, found an adorable metal welcome sign with a chicken on the top of it, that you stick in the ground.  SCORE.  It has a bell on it too…because I always look for opportunities to provide the neighborhood with noise, apparently.  Greg walked up happily eating a bag of popcorn and we paid and were on our way.

We ran a few other errands and now the day was REALLY trashed in my opinion and all I would be able to get done was possibly bake a batch of cookies.  Once I decide that I can’t get anything done…I’m done.  In other words, don’t look for any spectacular movement because I’ll probably be drinking a soda and writing blog post or staring vacantly at Pinterest for ideas about things that I should actually be doing.

I finally decided that I would check the chickens who were out in their run bemoaning the lack of edible weeds, which they mowed down completely in about two days and which refuse to grow back.  Greg showed up a few minutes later as I was trying to placate the chickens with handfuls of clover and chickweed.  Greg said, “We should free range today!”

Hm.  I wasn’t too sure about that idea.  We’ve got foxes that live in the woods and hawk screams are frequent in the sky above our yard.  Shoot, I won’t even take my three-pound chihuahua outside because I’m afraid she’ll get sucked into some sort of hawk vortex that will instantly form in the sky the moment she sets a paw off the back step.  Greg, started trying to get Vinnie, the Barred Rock, into the coop so that he could snatch him up and take him out into the big yard…the big unprotected yard…with neighboring foxes…and swooping dangerousness.  I reminded him that I’m OLD and that he better be able to catch whoever he decided to bring out.  Pretty soon he emerged from the coop with Vinnie under his arm, who was whistling and chortling because obviously, something very exciting was about to happen.

Tom was out in the “garden” (orange staked square of untilled grass) making final calculations and probably doing long division and figuring some sort of trajectory that involved square roots and quadratic equations.  Greg and I headed that way with Vinnie, where Greg set him unceremoniously down on the ground in a patch of clover.

Vinnie got very tall and I think his neck was about a foot long.  Tallest, skinniest necked chicken, you’ve ever seen.  He tried to take in everything at once, made a weak attempt at flying and crashed into the ground, and finally settled down to explore the huge open yard.  I think he was a little confused about where all the other chickens were, but interest in clover and other green snacks pretty soon caused him to care LESS where the other chickens were.  He explored the grass, insinuated himself into a big pile of branches that were lying at the edge of the woods (this when we started to talk like the crocodile hunter guy describing the natural habitat of the “WILD BUSH CHICKEN”), and then Vinnie seemed to get bored with it all and waddled back up to the area near the run where the rest of the chickens were eyeing him with mild panic.  He pecked at our walkway which is made of composite stone and must have looked like scattered seeds to him and then he looked at us like “well, that was good…now what”.

 

I scooped him up and feeling much relieved, deposited him back in the coop on a roost.  The rest of the chickens rushed into the coop to get the full story from him.  At this point, Greg scooped up Oprah Wingfrey, one of the Black Sex-Link pullets and headed back for the open yard.  As head chicken supervisor, I followed, wondering why he always seemed to pick the NICE chickens to put out as hawk snacks.

Greg set Oprah down.  She looked around and realized this was NOT the chicken run and started to HONK.  It was a cross between a raspy peep and a poorly formed cluck.  To calm her down a little, we sat down on the ground in the grass to show her all of the wonders she could find in the clover.  There was some worm eating (by her…not us), some clover nibbling, some pecking at Greg’s cell phone, more clover nibbling and some picture-taking.  It was a perfect afternoon to sit in the dappled sunlight and play with a chicken.  Honestly, how many times have you heard those words in a sentence?

 

We finally got up and started walking back to the coop and run area with Oprah following like a puppy and grabbing beakfulls of particularly tasty weeds along the way.  I scooped her up, introduced her to our outside cat, Wally…who looked at me like “WHAT is THAT?”…and put her back in the coop where she too was greeted by the entire flock.  We watched them for a bit and returned to the house.  It was time to start dinner.

So, basically, I got nothing done yesterday.  I have to say though…BEST. SATURDAY. EVER.

 

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downhome blog hop

 

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Change.

This is it.  I turn fifty this year.  I have no idea how it happened.  In my mind, I don’t feel fifty at all.  My body is another story, but I won’t go there because it’s not pretty….not pretty at all.

Anyway, I’ve always been a very driven person.  I wanted the big important high status job,  I wanted lots of letters after my name and I wanted status.  Period.  In my career, I’ve always left jobs to take a job that would advance me further.  I knew that there wasn’t anything that could stop me and I worked hard and wanted MORE, MORE, MORE.  To put it simply…I’ve always been an overachiever.  In a big over achieving way.

Lately though, as I approach this big milestone birthday, I’ve found myself changing.  Suddenly, I don’t care to achieve any more.  I’m quite happy with what I have.  In fact, sometimes, I think I’d be happier with a little less in my life.  Family suddenly seems terribly important to me, as does our home and the things we do in our “off” time which I guard rabidly. The world around me seems to be much more important too.  Not the people, generally, but I’m worried about the planet.  We’ve got a darn good gig here and I feel like we’re screwing it up big time.  Suddenly, the idea of chemically laced food, medications with strong, damaging side effects, pollution in the air and water, and the way we treat the animals of the planet all seem very, VERY wrong to me.

I’ve stopped caring what other people think.  I’ve also cut people out of my life who were making it more complicated and dramatic.  It sounds harsh, but I don’t want that anymore.  It used to be that a little drama and adrenaline drove my day.  Now, I walk away from it.  I no longer feel compelled to get involved in every argument I’m invited to.  My icy exterior that I’ve been told can be “intimidating” is  melting a bit, although I still speak my mind and feel entitled to do so.   I no longer will keep my mouth shut to preserve what others think of me. This is who I am.  At almost 50.

I’m suddenly interested in developing talents that I’ve always had, like art and writing.  Before these changes in me started to appear, I never did those things because I thought “What am I going to do with it when I’m done?”   I don’t care what I do with it now.  It makes me happy.  Maybe that’s the whole thing right there…I’ve figured out how to be happy without having an unnatural front to it and I just don’t care what people think because I’m not here to make them happy.  This is my life…not theirs.

So, WHY am I writing all this drivel when it has nothing to do with chickens?  Isn’t this a chicken blog?  Well, yes…and actually, my twelve little chicken dumplings (which is WAY different from chicken and dumplings…which by the way are delicious) have taught me some things.  They’re little teachers in chicken feathers…and they don’t give homework, which is good, but they do teach important life lessons that honestly, for the first time in my life, I’ve been open enough to accept.  None of it is rocket science…which chickens have been rumored to be able to do, but it’s never been witnessed.

Since I brought the chicks home, I’ve felt this strong urge to care for them.  Not because they can give me anything, but because they are helpless and have no choices.  My husband suggested it was empty nest syndrome, but I still have two children at home, granted one is 21 and the other is 11, and maybe he’s right, but I think there is something more to it.  It’s the simplicity of it.  The daily feeding and care and doing what’s naturally best for them.  It’s not giving them chemicals and things they don’t need, but furnishing natural things for them and watching them grow into beautiful creatures whose feathers are glossy and naturally beautiful.  It’s watching them grow from infancy or chickhood to maturity.  It’s teaching them to trust me and showing them that not everything in the world is meant to be feared and I will keep them safe.  It’s growing food for them and us (if I EVER get that garden in) that feels so basic and so real.  I think that’s what I’ve been missing for many years…I needed to feel something basic and REAL.  Not something contrived to impress other people or make myself feel more important.  I don’t need to feel more important.  I don’t need someone or degree to tell me I’m worthy of anything.  I AM important.  I can make a difference in the world, even though it’s just my little piece of it in the backyard.  Suddenly.  It’s okay to be just me and to let out all the things I’ve always wanted to do but was afraid of what people would say.  It simply doesn’t matter.  I don’t care if anyone thinks that keeping chickens in the backyard at the edge of a major Indiana city is stupid, or dirty.  It brings me simple joy.  There’s something to be said for that.

I’ve become interested in pulling things around me that are things I’ve always loved.  I immerse myself in artwork, writing and music.  I’ve found things from my childhood that speak to me.  I looked everywhere online for a plant that my grandmother and aunt grew.  It’s called Baby Tears and it has tiny little leaves and trails and spreads from the pot it grows in.  Having that plant, that my grandmother used to grow is very important for some reason.  Caring for it and watching it grow and spread, is a big deal.  It’s a simple thing and it ties me to my roots.

Last night, I washed my husband’s grandmother’s china that had been languishing in a box in the garage.  It’s an old pattern of pink roses.  I walked by that box in the garage probably 345.5 times and never thought about it, but one day, I stopped and picked up a fragile cup.  Why was I letting something so beautiful sit in a box?  After the china was washed and dried, I arranged it in the china hutch.  My husband was watching and when I stood back to look at the finished work, he said “My grandmother would be happy”…and although I did not ever meet his grandmother, that made me feel incredibly happy myself.  I hadn’t done it because someone was coming over and I wanted to impress them, which is commonly how I’d worked in the past, I just liked it.  It had meaning.  I think I’ve come to the point to where I want things to mean something.  I don’t want it to be complicated or stuffy.  I just want purity and simplicity and I don’t care what anyone thinks about that.

Every night, my husband and I go out to the chicken coop.  I say it’s to tuck the chicks in bed, but frankly, they don’t really care if I come out or not.  While I’m there, I usually bring them a treat, turn off their window fan if it’s cool outside or maybe change their water so that it’s clean and fresh with a new dose of apple cider vinegar in it.  Most of the time though, I sit in my chair with my feet propped against a bale of straw and Tom leans on the fencing in the coop and we just watch them.   They play, scratch in the shavings, peep incessantly, bicker over bits of treats, annoy each other and then finally they’ll begin to settle down on perches or in mounds of shavings on the floor.  They usually sleep in groups and the other night I noticed one of the Buff Orpington Rooster Brothers (BORBs) walk slowly over to where the other buff pullet and BORB were settled in the bedding.  He peeped at them and scratched around in the shavings and finally settled as close to them as he could and laid his neck and head over the back of his brother and closed his eyes.  They became an entwined pile of honey colored feathers.  Seeking warmth, comfort and companionship from each other in a simple, pure way.  That simple act was perfectly beautiful to me.

We usually hang out in the coop for a while. Time seems to slip away for me out there.  The night toads are singing in the trees and the contented peeping and scratching of the chickens is very soothing to me.  As the last one settles down, Tom will start shuffling around a bit and I’ll know it’s time to tear myself away from them.  I love to watch them fall to sleep, in what seems like puddles of fluffy feathers.  We lock the coop and head to the main house up the path between the pool and garage that is bordered by holly bushes.  It’s all so wonderful that I feel as though it’s not real sometimes.

Many years ago, while working for a major bookseller, I discovered a photo study of a woman named Tasha Tudor.  She was an acclaimed children’s illustrator and author who lived in New England in a home that was built by her son, Seth, using only hand tools in the 1970’s.  She was an elderly woman in the first book I found (The Private World of Tasha Tudor) and I felt strangely drawn to her.  She lived alone in this hand-built home with the things she loved.  A parrot, finches, doves, goats, chickens, her beloved corgi dogs and cats were her constant tasha chickencompanions.  She devoted her life to gardening and artwork and to living on her terms.  She always felt as though she had been born into the wrong century and lived her life in its entirety, as though she lived in the Victorian era.  There was a simplicity and purity to her lifestyle that appeals to me.  A devotion to art and writing that I admire and would like to develop.  People told her she couldn’t do things and she did them anyway, because it was the way SHE wanted to live.  How many of us have that opportunity and seize it?  I believe we all do…if we let go of what others think and stay true to ourselves and the calling of our own soul.

So, that’s where I am as I approach fifty.  I’m drawn to be more simple and devoted to the talents I’ve been given.  I’m fascinated with the idea of living in old ways that are proven by time and experience.  I’m ready to let go of things that hold me back, like critical former friends and living as if I was chasing something that I could never catch.  And honestly, I have to thank twelve chickens.  They calmed my mind so that I could hear the cry of my own soul.   A noise that I was too busy to hear before.

Tasha Tudor wrote many books and illustrated countless others.  The title that I think I love the most is Take Joy.  So inspired am I by this magical, eccentric woman and by the life I’ve found through the chickens, I believe I will.

 

tasha chickens

 

 

Simple Saturdays Blog Hop

I participate in Simple Saturdays Blog Hop  and Homestead Barn Hop

 

Hooked.

At some point, when I was really young, I fell in love with the country.   We lived in a small rural town in Illinois and although we could smell the stench when the local dairy farmer cleaned out his barn, I still felt as though I was a “city” girl.  Many of my friends lived in the country and I loved going to their farms, just to be out in the open ad see the animals and just the way everything smelled.  I couldn’t get enough.

Farms made my dad a wreck.  For some reason, he was convinced that a rogue farm implement was going to come careening out of nowhere and mow me down.  His second favorite scenario was that we would be somehow trampled by wild farm animals.  Since the anxiety of the thought of either of those two events made him nearly insane, I was not allowed to go to friends’ farm homes very often.  Which made me want to go even more.  By the time I was in junior high school, I was convinced that I would someday live on a farm…and would have to have my father sedated daily.

Every summer, I would spend about a week at my best friend/cousin’s farm.  If you look on a map for “Middle of Nowhere”, this farm was just south of there.  At least it seemed that way when you’re twelve.   I lived for that week in the summer when my aunt and cousin would come to visit for the day and I’d get to go home with them to their farm. A REAL farm.  Not one of those grain farm operations, although they did grow grain as well, this farm had all of the typical farm-type animals…cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats and KITTENS.  The barn smelled of cattle and manure and above the cattle was the most glorious hayloft you’ve ever seen.  Huge soaring space sparkled with dust specs as sunlight streamed through the windows set high in the peak.  We would climb into the loft with a bag of my aunt’s giant chocolate chip cookies and lay in the sweet hay and eat cookies and laugh.  Convinced we were being horribly emotionally damaged by boredom, we would craft all sorts of schemes in that hayloft.  We never accomplished one of them, but it was always a good time to eat cookies and plan.

Every morning I’d awaken to the crowing of a rooster, the contented clucking of hens in the henhouse, the slamming of the doors of the pig feeder and the bleating of sheep.  We’d get dressed, eat chocolate cake or something equally inappropriate for breakfast, and head outside where we spent the entire day harassing the animals, eating all of the raspberries, or finding other trouble to get into.  I think that it was during those times at the farm, that I felt the happiest.  The days were long and hot, everything felt a little bit dusty, evenings seemed to stretch on forever.  In other words, it was perfect.  The worst part was returning back to town at the end of the week.

I turn fifty this 0048-Roosteryear.  I can hardly even write that without twitching.  For most of my life, I’ve lived in an urban setting.  Some were more urban than others.  For the majority of my life, I lived not far from Chicago.  Five years ago, I moved to southern Indiana and got a fresh look at “rural”.  I resisted it like a hooked trout for the first four years, complained non-stop and eventually in the last year or so, I’ve started to calm down about it.  I mean, it’s really not so bad.  It’s definitely a different way of life.  I came to appreciate the area though and the diverse landscape that it possesses.  We moved to a home at the edge of a large city that was at the end of a cul-de-sac in a small subdivision.   We are surrounded by oak trees with a field and a small lake behind us and a small swamp and creek that borders one side of the property.  The home is close enough to civilization for me to not freak out if I need to run to the store for something, but still “country” enough that when we sit on our deck at night we hear owls and during the day we see foxes, wild turkeys, hawks, eagles and we often see the hoof prints of deer down in the swampy area of the property.  It’s pretty sweet.

I’m an animal nut too.  Six dogs.  If I could cram more in the house, I would but in addition to cramming them in the house, I’d have to get them past my husband and it would probably end poorly.  So, I gave up on more dogs.  There was still something missing to the whole country feeling though.  Then one day we got the mail.

“CHICK DAYS”, proclaimed a newspaper flyer from a local farm store.  You can buy chickens at a store?  I poured through the flyer several times, fixated on the adorable pictures of baby chicks that seemed to be covering every square inch of the flyer.  My husband was shuffling through the rest of the mail, not at all noticing what I was looking at.  I held up the flyer with a ridiculously cute chick on it,

“Chick Days.”

“Yep”

“People can buy chickens?”

“You can have a few chickens in town here.”

I froze.  Chickens?   I LIKE chickens.  I LIKE eggs.  This seems completely plausible!

“I want to get chickens.”

“WHAT?”

“It would be soooooo fun.”

He thought for a minute.

“You can get some chickens.  Just find out the ordinances and stuff.  We can go later if you want.”

I sat there stupidly for a minute.  He won’t let me have another dog, but I can have chickens?  Huh.  I’m good with that.  And in a moment standing at the island in the kitchen, I became an urban farmer…at least in my own mind.  I knew very little about chickens.   I mean, of course I knew they laid eggs and roosters are boys and they stink to high heavens on a hot humid day, but I didn’t really know what they ate or how eggs were made or how they should live.  I recall thinking, it CAN’T be that hard, for Pete’s sake I have six dogs, I can surely handle some chickens.  Right?  Suddenly, I felt very important!  I was going to have CHICKENS.  Egg-laying-sweetly-clucking-beautifully-feathered CHICKENS.  I got a little giddy and soon I was not only planning on having a few chickens, but in my imagination I started selling fresh eggs, cultivated a huge garden and had a wildly successful farm stand that sold out of everything every day and made a trillion dollars.  I could hardly stand the excitement!  So forgetting that I knew nothing about chickens and just going with that feeling of “I’m going to make a trillion dollars on eggs.”  I made the decision to get chickens and my husband actually went along with it.

Turning fifty, getting chickens, living in a subdivision…this was exciting stuff!  I bounced around the house chattering wildly about chicks as we got ready to head to the farm store.  My son came into the house about that time and I gushed,

“WE’RE GETTING CHICKENS!”

After he stopped laughing, I shoved the “CHICK DAYS” flyer under his nose and he cooed stupidly at the chick on the front page.

I’d suckered another one into my plan.