Monday, February 29, 2016

leap day

I have a squabble with whoever thought to tag on an extra day to February. Who wants any more of February? Why not do it to May? You can't get enough of May! That's one beautiful month! I think even people in Australia are okay with May because it's not quite winter yet. But February? When it could have been March today?

I'm up early. Last night was horrible for the new hens. Henny in particular was mercilessly pecked at anytime she tried to go up to the preferred upstairs portion of the coop (less exposed, comfy wood shavings). Butter would not let her do it. Finally a miserable Henny huddled in the bottom corner of the coop, giving up the comfort for the sake of peace.

As I walk toward the cheepers now at sunrise, I gaze at the sky for a clue as to how the day will proceed. We have a couple of tricky days ahead: some say tomorrow will bring merely a temporary dip into the temperatures, others predict a half a foot of snow. And today -- well, it's transitional. Yes, the sky looks undecided as well.

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I open the coop, the older girls fly out. Java is upstairs. Henny is a ball of feathers in the downstairs corner.

Is she dead?

I reach in and gently touch her back.


I give another light pet.


Okay, I guess the girl's in shock. I reach for her, but this noise and movement takes her right out of whatever stupor had taken over and she thrashes and runs (insofar as you can run in a small space) and I know that, whatever her psychological state, at least she is not physically hurt.

All hens are out of the coop now and I notice that Butter's foot is quite fine again. So why the curled toes, the limp, the inability to use the foot yesterday?

There is much that I do not understand about chickens.

As I stand there throwing corn and seed on the ground, both Scotch and Butter made sure that neither of the two newbies would come near the treat.

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(the new girls, eyeing seeds they cannot eat)

Still, I have to smile. I remember when Scotch was added to the flock and the white hens attacked her. She seemed so sweet and vulnerable then. Now she's part of the ruling elite. How quickly fates and fortunes shift in life!

It's sunny enough for us to eat breakfast in the sun room.

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(Ed eats an egg we found hidden in the barn: Butter's protest yesterday at the coop invasion)

And then I shift gears again, putting the matter of chickens aside, as this is the day Snowdrop comes to the farmhouse.

Hey little one, your new shoes arrived today! Let's see if they put you in a better mood when we go outside.

A trial run indoor first...

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Good, good. Now let's go meet the new cheepers.

Ed joins us and he sits her down on the fence to watch. She clutches the bread, thinking perhaps that big Java doesn't look especially food deprived.

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On the ground now, liking the feeling of being in control -- it's Snowdrop, the fearless flyer!

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I remind her she still has some bread for the older girls. Oh, those two come running! They know what comes from that little hand.

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Snowdrop knows Scotch and Butter and she likes them just fine (I haven't told her about the chicken brutality that took place in the coop last night).

But there's something equally interesting out here that she hasn't yet had a chance to play with:

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The pinwheels survived the winter just fine (which I think is telling: a heavy snow would have crushed them). And she is delighted that they are at her level. Scotch, you're just going to have to wait.

The new girls? Well, they spent most of the day inside.

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(java closeup)

But that's okay. We did as well.

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Sunday, February 28, 2016


As dusk moved to darkness last night, Ed and I realized that our old hens, Scotch and Butter, were not going to happily trot back to the coop, as has been their norm. The new chickens, Java and Henny, were easier to prod. But their dutiful march up to the roost incensed the older Scotch. She turned up the volume on her squawking and, as if in an act of civil disobedience, stomped back and forth in protest. We spent many minutes cornering the two old girls. Eventually, we ushered them into the safety of the coop.

In the morning, with hope but with not a small amount of trepidation, I make my way to the coop. Peering inside, I see some feathered forms stomping back and forth. And this is when it becomes clear that our two new girls are, well, different. For one thing, Java, not yet a year old, is nonetheless huge! Here she is as she steps out with Henny.

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Butter is willing to take on big Java, but Scotch is plain mad and she stalks away displeased with the new set up. Butter knows whose her loyal subservient buddy and so she follows. I can almost hear them gossiping.

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As for Java - she is in fact a docile girl who is trying to understand her new position in life in a calm and sensible way. She protects Henny (who is skittish and afraid, but oh so very pretty)...

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... but she is also bold enough to venture out for a crumb of food. When Butter pecks at her, she retreats to give her space, in the way that you do when a bully walks by and then she resumes whatever task is before her. An easy going girl.

Such are chicken personalities. Not bad! We pat ourselves on the backs. Not bad! This may be an easy adjustment. Big calm Java may move things in a good direction.

We clean the farmhouse and settle in for a late and relaxed breakfast.

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But when we go out again, we see that things are not that simple. First of all, our new girls are not adept foragers. We think back to the place where they lived the first nine months of life. There was a barn, there were chickens in it. But there were no chickens outside the barn. Likely they were not free rangers. Will they learn? We're counting on them to decrease our tick population. Get going, girls!

Nope. All day, they stay in and around the coop. Despite the fantastic weather, they have little interest in scratching the soil.

Worse. Sometime in the course of the morning, while she is foraging with Scotch, Butter damages two of her toes. Oh, it's easy to mess up a chicken foot: get it tangled in fencing or any number of things and boom! Trouble.

Ed looks up "damaged chicken toes" on the Internet.
We could either leave it alone or try taping toothpicks to the toes.
We can't even catch her. How would we do that?
In the evening she is more docile...
I just don't see this as a workable solution...
It is true that the person who suggested it has only done it for a couple of days.
Let's let her be. Maybe they'll heal. Or, she'll be like Oreo -- a chicken with a useless foot!

Did I really just marvel at how smoothly our chicken life was proceeding?

We went from having two reliably laying cheepers, to four, where no one is laying at the moment, two refuse to forage, one squawks and the fourth has what appears to be a damaged foot. Lord.

Alright: let's change focus.

There's an old Polish proverb that goes something like this: she who fails to rake in the Fall will spend Spring evenings rubbing salve on her blisters.

I don't know why, come Fall, I conclude that the chore of clearing a flower bed will be more satisfying in Spring. It is always hard work, made harder if you have as many trees as we do and especially ones with the gross seed pods. Spent stalks, fallen leaves, gross pods -- it's clutter that has to be removed.

I break a rake working outdoors today and even gloves do not prevent my hands from being rubbed raw from the effort.

Never mind. The day is warm and the work will reward us with productive flower beds. Ed is still trying to track down the knock in my car's engine and so he keeps me company outside, as do the two older cheepers. The new ones? Well, as I said: home-bound.

In the evening the young family comes to dinner.

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Oh, I know. You just want to see my granddaughter. Well you might -- she is at her finest. She runs to find penguin, but penguin is upstairs in her crib. That's okay. Bunny rabbit will do.

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Reaching then for the crazy toy that beeps and moves and makes horrible noises when you press an awkwardly positioned button, she fumbles, then manages to push that button. She is proud!

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At dinner -- she loves it all: chicken, brussels sprouts (her favorite!) and potato.

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We smile. She smiles. Life is good again. Tomorrow, we'll face the chicken squabbles, but tonight -- life is good.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


From before sunrise, the ideas come flying.
How about a creamery in Monroe or a winery in Mt Horeb?
We need time outside. Maybe we can visit our spinach farm (we belong to a winter CSA which supplies us with spinach through the coldest months of the year)? Or is that sort of dull -- just to look at spinach?
It may not be dull but it isn't that close. Here's a creamery that gives tours if you call ahead.
No, not on a day like this. Maybe we should just hike the Ice Age Trail. 

It continues like this through breakfast (a beautiful meal in the sun room).

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... and beyond. Very quickly, as the temperatures climb to the 50sF (beyond 10C), our discussion turns from ridiculously undecided to the devilishly funny.
Let's visit the goat farm!
That's dangerous for us...

We could borrow a goat...
A solitary goat, standing alone in a field of weeds? We don't know a thing about goats.
I wasn't entirely serious.
We could just spend a morning looking at goats.
Or we could pick up a couple more chickens.

I'm not sure which one of us first put that one on the table, but once there, it wasn't comin' off.

But isn't that just a terrible idea? We lost two beautiful young girls late last summer by not shutting the coop early enough. Predators. I swore we would not get new hens again. Besides, the introduction of chickens to an existing flock is painful.

We have a good amount of eggs, a happy duo, why rock the boat?

Because we sometimes like to rock the boat.

And one thing leads to another and shortly after ten, we find ourselves on the road, heading a few miles south to Evansville, where a young boy and his dad are serious about raising beautiful chickens for the boy's 4H competition. And they have a few too many and they are looking to offload some. The hens are not quite a year old -- big enough, we think, to not be so tempting to whatever lurking animal may be about. At least during the daylight hours. In the evening -- well, we've been meticulous about shutting the coop door in a timely way.

Here's the lovely barn where the chickens live:

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We pick up two: a Black Java and an Easter Egger. You'll meet them soon enough. For the time being, we stick them in an animal cage and drive a few more miles south to take a hike in a new to us county park -- Magnolia Park, which boasts the second highest elevation in Rock County. (Don't hold your breath. Rock County is pastoral, bucolic, with rolling in fields of corn and soy -- not a place where you're going to get out of breath on a climb.)

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Our hike, even without touching the heavens is heavenly indeed! The air feels more spring-like than spring itself. Here's the view from the bluff, or the "summit:"

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The trails are muddy and our slips and falls are clumsy and dirty and this makes us laugh even harder. Or maybe it's that we laugh at the fact that we have two chickens sitting in the back seat of the car.

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We don't hike too long. The smell of cooped up chickens can get intense.

A few more stops on the way home: first, at the Chicken Shop in Paoli, where we splurge on organic scratch food for the girls (it's 50 cents more!). It's a fun store to poke into even if you're just looking for something that will bring to mind how important farming is to our state. 

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Ed then proposes a beer at the bar across the street. Every few months it strikes him that this would be a fun thing to do and we nurse our glasses for a long time, leafing through gardening magazines that are strewn about and watching the people come and go.

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No adventuring is complete without a stop at the chocolate shop of choice for us. We pick up a box of 16 favorites that will last us exactly 16 days as we split one each night, savoring the taste of elderflower ganache, or their new one -- apple brandy.

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A quick stop at the library and now finally we are home. And because we do not expect any great snow for the remainder of the season, we move the coop to its summer place outside the barn. Let the new girls get used to a space that is more open.

Oh, you haven't met them yet! Here they are -- meet the big girl, Black Java:

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And speckled brown Henny:

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Scotch and Butter are by the farmhouse and so at first they do not notice the commotion, nor the introduction of the new girls to the coop. When they do finally appear, well, Butter tries to take it in stride, but Scotch is incensed! Butter, do you see what the big people have done? Again?!

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She goes into a vocal clamor and complaint session that would make a grownup hide. Eventually she quiets down and stomps off to the garage and poor Butter follows.

The two new girls watch. It's a strange world they have entered.

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We'll see what tonight will bring.

It's just another beautiful day at the farmette, with Ed, me, and the four cheepers.

Friday, February 26, 2016


Ever since my granddaughter was born, I have become incapable of doing nothing. Even when I am not spending time with her, I believe I should be productive in some fashion -- a feeling I haven't had since I was employed.

But I am reconsidering my position on this right now. Let's start with this weekend: if I have two days before me, maybe I should take one of them, pack in all that must be done by virtue of the fact that we live on a planet that spins and a day turns into night and then night into a day and then, with the other day -- do nothing?

Or, better yet, go adventuring with Ed?

When it became clear that tomorrow's weather will be superb, I floated the idea to Ed that we should seize it and head out.

We talked about it over breakfast...

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... and neither of us put forth a plan that grabbed the other, leading Ed to finally say -- think of something, or else we'll wind up getting some more chickens, or worse -- a goat!

He is correct. We tend to live dangerously in that way.

But if we are to go exploring tomorrow (as if we haven't checked out every path available to the public for miles and miles!) then today must be chock full of tasks that must be done.  Groceries. Bills. And yes, taxes, so that I would stop receiving cajoling messages from Turbo Tax begging me to take them on as a partner in that annual ritual of filling out forms you never really fully embrace or understand. Good bye trusty pencil and eraser, hello clicking your way through the dark hell hole that is the land of tax regulations.

And so you get (almost) no photos. I sat at the kitchen table and admired the cheepers for parading by the farmhouse on a rather cool day...

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... but I didn't go out, didn't do yard work, didn't look for emergent greens -- I just worked.

(Wait -- all is not lost!  Can I interest you in some kitchen table flowers?)

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Now, let's see if tomorrow will bring us a pleasant walk, or, in the alternative -- a goat.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Sunshine again! Oh, maybe not a sky to brag about -- there are a few clouds which, inevitably, will multiply, but still -- sunshine in any doses is a welcome February friend.

Breakfast touched by its bright warmth.

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The rest of the day is completely devoted to Snowdrop. Parental schedules are such that I am with her from early 'til late and then not at all the next two days and so there you have it -- a few enduring images of the little girl.

After breakfast, there's always time for pajama play.

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And after a bath, she gets an automatic hair dry from the back and forth running. Typically she clutches a toy, indeed many toys, but this one time, she let the spirit of the run carry her along, empty handed and free...

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When I sit down to check my computer, she likes to climb up and look at any photos I may have of her, of the farmette.

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But hands down, the easiest way to get that chuckle to roll right out of her belly is to put on music and jump to its rhythm.

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When she (and grandma!) needs a pause from active play, I bundle her against the wind and once again we go to the lake to watch the ice boats.

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(Even as I aim my camera toward our downtown -- it always looks pretty to me and never more so than on a day where the sky is patterned with layers of blue and gray and everything in between.)

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In the afternoon, I take her down to the Children's Museum, where I meet my good friend who is on her last day in Madison. Snowdrop has been here numerous times with her parents. Here, she greets the big sheep on the block.

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The shoes I grabbed off the shelf at home for her? Worthless for the job of running every which way. No matter. They don't last.

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Snowdrop is thrilled to have another person respond quickly to her outstretched arms. Here, my friend is showing her how wooden birds zigzag down wooden poles.

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And the day comes to a close. Time for me to go home. I'll leave you with the very last photo I took of the little one today. Back home, playing "sounds" with me. (I say ffffff she says something resembling said letter.)

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I drive home smiling. And I should say that this is not unusual. A day well spent -- there's that. But also, the drive home is just so beautiful! Here are two cranes,  playing at sunset just at the edge of the farmette.

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Splendid day. Really splendid.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Hearts aren't just for Valentines, tulips are just for spring. Sleep doesn't come just at night and sometimes at night, wakefulness creeps in and sleep is lost somewhere in the quiet hours before sunrise. In other words, rhythms and events aren't set in stone and the predictable is never really fully predictable.

Even though our breakfast is somewhat predictable. (Thank you, NYTimes, for recognizing what I keep emphasizing here on Ocean: eating breakfast together is fantastically simple and immensely rewarding.)

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After breakfast, I am with Snowdrop. I dress her in her heart dress (everyday is February 14th!) and she runs around in it as if she were in competition for the fastest toddler this side of the Mississippi. Telling her to slow down only makes her speed up, not because she is contrary but because a snail's pace comes only when she is tired. The hours of the morning are not typically (that word!) her tired time.

Straight out of the tub:

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Caught in the act of running:

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But both of us have a wistful pull toward the outdoors. She may be thinking of a stroller ride. Maybe even of the coffee shop.

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Let's try something else this morning: a walk toward the lake, where there is, this week, an international ice boat competition.

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February days aren't always good days for ice racing -- on the first day of the competition there was absolutely no wind.

Well, this day delivered! The gusts are so strong that Snowdrop and I do not linger. Enough to catch a boat zipping past the skyline...

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... and then I spin the stroller around and head home.

But just because it was too cold in the morning to continue a walk doesn't mean that we shouldn't go out again come late afternoon. I see it in Snowdrop's face -- that restlessness, that desire to explore (or am I projecting?). And I see the smile as I take out her snowsuit and cap again. She gets into position right away, I zip her in and we're off, trying to move away from a lake that is windblown and probably a good dozen degrees chillier than the neighborhood blocks.

Just because it's this, doesn't mean it has to be that. It's an interesting thought to carry with you during an ordinary day that actually doesn't feel very ordinary at all.