Wednesday, April 30, 2014

standing up again

When the cold wet weeks and back soreness issues all strike in one set of days, you can count them off as your penance for glorious other weeks. No matter. On balance, in my mind anyway, the glorious always seem to dominate. Or maybe they never quite go away?

Still, it is true that we are recovering from the gloomier side of spring. The rains are finally retreating. The skies are gray, but the greenery around us is now so resplendent that I cannot remember anymore days when the world was colorless and closed up for the season.

But the wake up  remains a bit hard. The back stiffens overnight, the gray skies hide any thought of a sunrise. I stumble outdoors and make my way to the coop. The hens are at the door, ready to spring forward. Their energy level is not my energy level now. They quickly move forward, as if used to the wet wake-up. I clean, I straighten, I set up the coop for the day ahead.

(The flowers. Let me not forget to mention the flowers. I notice them first thing now as I step outside. As for the chick pack --  I throw them some teats. It's easy to get them hyper excited by food.)



And then I go right back to bed. It's not good to recline for too long if you're trying to strengthen your back, but I am enough of a fair weather chick that I don't rush to be out when the day is this drizzly and uninviting.

So breakfast is late. Pancakes for Ed. (Note the big geranium that I wintered over inside: it's waiting for better temperatures to rejoin its buddies outdoors.)


And now we move to our circle of activities.

Weeding, writing, fence building, chicken chasing... (why, why are they in the front yard?? we never use the front yard! there are cars near the front yard! get back to any other portion of the farmette you silly fools, stay out of the front yard!)



...more weeding, picnic table repairing -- all gentle stuff, putting us in good stead (I hope) for next month's vigorous planting push (all those tomatoes!). (I do wish Oreo would choose not to munch from the pots.)


In the afternoon, I have an errand to run -- another babysitting stint for Goldie, my daughter's cat. Unlike Isis, she can still be enticed to play with a toy.


Too, she likes to follow along as I explain to her New Yorker cartoons.


But I can't stay terribly long. Farnette weeding beckons. (I have perhaps a million little willows and boxelders starting from dropped seeds of the big guys and, too, I am forever pushing back the wild violet which would take over every living space in my garden if I let it run...wild.) Ed returns to his repair work and honestly, this is what I would call a beautiful day, in a quiet sort of way.

With a quiet supper of beet soup and spicy shrimp.


And a quiet good night.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The day is filled with numerous "I shoulds." I should finish working on the chicken fence -- Ed will say.
I should return to weeding -- I'll offer.

But even though it isn't terribly cold, the occasional rain keeps us mostly indoors. (The more drooping daffodils can be rescued and put into vases.)


In the early morning, the chickens are, as usual, anxious to get going. And again they are disappointed with the state of affairs out there (at least, as a commenter pointed out, I am presuming that they are that way: in my mind, their souls droop at the first drop of a cold rain).


Breakfast is our usual, plus Ed's flan. Finally. A superb treat. The day needs a bit of the sweet stuff.



The chickens are on their own, because we just haven't the oomph to spend the day outdoors. Not in this weather. Besides, I'm only easing slowly back to my weeding schedule: five minutes weeding for every hour of rest!


And this, of course, means that when I do come out, the chicks are so excited that they just cannot contain themselves.


It is unquestionably wonderful that I can call them now from anywhere with one word -- cheepers! -- it's a word that sends them running.


And still, I continue to worry about their vulnerability. Yes, Oreo protects them from hawks (as do our trees and shrubs).


And yes, the coop protects them from raccoons and nocturnal beasts. But we have a new foe whom we caught lurking outside in the middle of the night -- the possum.

Finding him at our doorstep used to be cute: those guys would not harm Isis, nor us humans. But we look at them differently now; we learn that they love to tear apart chickens, bit by bit. And they sometimes do come out in the day time. And they do climb fences. So unless we kept the chicks locked in the coop 24/7, there is always the possibility that a possum will wake up and hunt them down.

How sad is that!


Of course, this is what raising chickens is like: you have small issues and big worries and you must shake off both and let the day unfold. And if you have ever let your chickens free range, you will have understood the beauty of their freedom. The excitement in their exploration.The delight in the familiarity, even as they rarely stay with one favorite spot. They have a dozen favorites, just like you and I have a dozen favorites!

Rain. It's diminishing now and that's good. Spring teaches patience. We'll be patient.

Monday, April 28, 2014

time out

I learned some things today: That my mother was right -- your childhood oddities can make a reappearance in your adulthood. That an hour without back pain can be sublime, more so than a trip to Paris. That quinoa salad is yummy, especially if you make red quinoa. That Butter is capable of producing two-yolked eggs. That Ed has it in him to make a wonderful flan. At least I think it's wonderful. I wanted to dig right in tonight, but he pointed out just now that the recipe calls for chilling it overnight.

That truly is the full summary of this day. What -- you think fuller explanations are in order? Fine. But be warned: you'll come back and tell me that I was right. The first paragraph says it all.

We are in the thick of awful April weather. I suppose it could be worse: we could have snow. We don't quite have the cold for that, but it's gray, it's wet, it's windy. The kind of weather where I want to go back to yesterday's post and erase that part about liking to be up with the chickens at sunrise.

No sun rising within my field of vision. Nor that of the chicks. Once again, they seem distressed that the world I opened for them is so... dismal.

Never mind. In these buds, there is promise.


In breakfast, there is hope.


In my back, there is pain.

We try numerous home remedies to relieve it and sure, they help, but I am not going to be satisfied with partial success. I want total victory.

And so this is our day: the chickens are left to free range without our company outside (occasionally, riddled with guilt, I throw out a handful of seeds for them and they are happy and I am happy)...


...the rains come down and then they don't and then they do -- on and on, though really, given the violent weather south of us, we cannot complain...


And then finally, toward the end of the day, I check in with a doc. And she reminds me that I have all sorts of goodies that trace back to my childhood (my mother was right!) that would cause my back to recoil now and the best I can do for myself is to exercise, but not too much.
How much is too much?
Well, you'll know when you over do it, wont you? 
Oh, thank you. That's very helpful.

On my way home, I stop to play with my daughter's cat and as always, it is lovely to see that pouty sweet face.


In the inbetween hours, I try to do some writing and editing while lying stretched on the hard floor and for the most part, I think I make progress, both in my work and in my back restoration.

I even make supper for us, though Ed has to pick up anything that I drop to the floor.

Supper is quinoa salad. With fried eggs (including Butter's twin yolk monster egg), baked carrots and sauteed leeks. Over arugula.


Tomorrow I should graduate to greater activity. Though the weather will keep both of us indoors. It's that kind of April week!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

gettin' there

If you've ever pulled your back into some miserable state then you'll know that the second day's worse than the first, but the third day is better than the second. That is, if you hang back and don't push your luck.

Hanging back does not come easy to me and indeed, when Ed asks if he can open and clean the coop this morning, I say a resounding "no!" (With a thank you.)

I realize then and there that not only do I not mind getting up with the sun to greet my cheepers, I rather enjoy it. True, the coop is not cleaned with great precision this morning, but I remind myself that many people would think it's rather bizarre to clean a coop daily anyway. And, too, I have the excuse of the weather. Neither the chickens nor I particularly like being whipped about by a cool wind with specs of rain. Again they look at me with disappointment as they sample the day's offerings. I'm sure they think that the wind, the gusts of showers are all my fault. (Here are the hens, gossiping about the weather...)


At breakfast...


...Ed and I talk about the day before us. No farmhouse cleaning. That gets postponed. How about outdoor work? We have half of the asparagus roots still to plant.

I think I am fit enough to give it a try.
You dig, I'll see if I can sit on the ground and cover the roots with soil.

Easier said. Still, awkwardly and rather slowly I put in the remaining plants. The hens are there of course, most likely thinking that we are all digging together for worms. Whitney follows the shovel closely and for a while Butter looks on...


But seeing that the worms are few and far between, she turns around and joins Scotch in a dirt bath instead.


They are truly a delightful little flock.

In the late afternoon, I visit with my daughter's cat Goldie (who loves to smell flowers...


...and fly between table and counter...)


And after, I give in to Ed's suggestion that we do another day of take out. Chinese this time.  It really feels odd not to be cooking for two days in a row, but you can only work a sore back so much in one day and if there's one thing that cooking requires, it is a lot of bending and twisting.

On the way home, I am rewarded with a terrific view of our great big cloudy sky. Honestly, it's as if you can see the wind patterns passing through.


At home, the girls rush over to greet me.


Ed soon follows, in a less sprightly fashion.

Yes, my dears, I'm feeling better. Another hour or two on a hard floor and I should be almost capable of moving without a wince or grumble.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

digging fools

Okay, I understand. Finally, at 61 I get it. The human form is composed of contradictory sets of skills and impulses. You can be smart and lazy. Artistic but clumsy. Adventurous and scared. And here's one -- energetic but too old to make use of your (perceived) vast energy resources. Just because I want to dig and lift and pull with all my might, doesn't mean I should.

In a sense, I have the wrong role model next to me. Ed puts his body through far more rigorous contortions and workouts than I do. He pushes himself on hills when biking, lugs stones the size of his head, pulls out trees if I ask him to (small ones, but with mighty roots). And he is three years older than I am. So I assumed that I can do the same.

I can't. This Polish peasant stock that I carry in me gives me the will. But it hasn't necessarily equipped me with a musculature that can match my expectations of what I should be able to do.

In other words, I really pulled my back yesterday and with that event, just like in Brittany last month, I am effectively incapable of changing positions (stand me up and I can stand; lie me down and I can lie; ask me to move from one to the other and I'll politely decline -- or howl in pain, because truly, it's reminiscent of having lower back birthing contractions, only there isn't the pleasure of a baby at the end that would make it all worth while).

And of course, when the flare up settles down a bit, I think -- oh, great! I'm fine again! And even though Ed offers his chicken services in the early morning, I brush his kindness aside and go down myself to open the coop and clean it out even before sunrise!

(I'm done; the sun clears the horizon, the willow sways)

(daffodils, golden tipped at sunrise)

(the morning starts with a rest under the picnic table)

And when I come back to the farmhouse, I think I'm okay, I'm okay, but when I lie down, I realize I cannot now get up.

Which is a damn shame, because we set aside this day to help build the Ice Age trail over by Wisconsin's Gibraltar Rock. For a thousand reasons, we want to volunteer today. The trail building is in one of our favorite places within an hour's drive of where we live. It's a hill that protrudes straight up, with views over our vast farmlands and the Wisconsin River to the north, and it's where Ed and I went on our very first hiking date way back when. We have sentimental feelings about the place.

Too, we love the Ice Age Trail project -- attempting to create a continuous hiking trail across the entire state of Wisconsin -- and we try to volunteer on maintenance or building whenever the crew is working near us.

And the weather! Another (and final, for a while, we're told) beautiful April day, with plenty of sunshine and cool breezes -- a dream day for outdoor work.

Except that I can barely get two bowls of cereal on the table for breakfast.


And when Ed suggests I try stretching my back on the floor, it takes us a good ten minutes to get me back up to a standing position. With a lot of "I cants" and wails in between.

And yet...

The thought of sending Ed off to build trails in that beautiful setting is just too much and so we form a pact: get me into the car and I'll go. No no. Not to work on the trail. Ed can do that. I'll stand. Or walk if I can. Or recline in the car and count the minutes.

And we do just that. Which is why I can offer you a few photos from this glorious place on this most sublime April day. Because once there and standing, I could be pushed forward and I could walk. Slowly but surely. All the way to the top.

(the river below)

(the trail builders)

(here, too, a hawk in search of...chickens)

(the beloved view from the top)

After, I drag Ed to grocery shop. I point, he throws stuff into the cart. And, too, we stop at my daughter's home. We have kitty sitting duties and Goldie, their cat, is surely happy to see us.

(we're more fun than... a bowl of apples!)

(And Ed is happy to see her. Indeed, Ed spends so much time cuddling animals behind my back that I have to believe he has an instinct to smother in affection any living thing, especially if it's one hundredth his size.)


We're back at the farmette late in the afternoon. I was a little nervous. The chickens had been free ranging the entire time. Any number of things could have happened. But, much as Ed had predicted, nothing did happen. And they're so happy to see us! I call cheepers! -- and they come running, delighted that the treat keeper is back again.


In the evening, I stretch my back once more and I can see that the spasms are really fading. Which is terrific. Two days of pain is a lot better than a week of pain. Still, we eat take out food to keep me off my feet. And when Ed asks after supper - you want to plant the asparagus roots? I tell him -- I can do one. No more.

(he gets help digging holes from the hens)

And so we end the day in the yard, as always and I actually manage to plant a cup of free seeds from Whole Foods to commemorate Earth Day and the chickens just laugh and cackle because they are so tickled to have us back and up and digging again.

Friday, April 25, 2014


What would you do if the day promised sunshine and warmth even as next week is slated to be cold and wet?

You'd throw everything into the cart and get outdoors from the break of dawn.

So I did that. Early, very early.

Breakfast was hurried -- Ed has his Friday meetings and I'm anxious to get the cart rolling.


Yes, I admire the light, the daffodils, the blue skies, the willows bursting with new growth...


...but mostly, I want to get to my tasks.

The asparagus bed. I try to clear it -- no. I need some help here. Okay, back to the raspberry patch then. I dig, I pull, I dig, oh! There's that twitch in the lower back! Maybe it's a passing thing.

It isn't a passing thing. By evening, I can't move.

But on the upside, before I succumb to lower back distress, I have some wonderful hours noting the rapidly changing world outside. The buds, the early blooms, the first leaves on tree branches -- we've been waiting for all this for such a long time and now it's finally here -- the start of the growth season.


And there were other highlights. An evening date downtown puts me on Rosie (the moped) for the first time since October. It was grand to be riding her again.

And the chickens: let me remember on those days when they're destroying some magnificent flower or plant in my garden that for most of our waking hours, they are the sweetest birds this side of the Mississippi.



So yes, it was a beautiful day.


Now, let's see if I can flip a magic switch and force my lower back to return to its predigging state. I promise I wont rush things the next time around. I'll be the champion of slow digging. With many pauses to smell the roses (or whatever else is in bloom).