Thursday, September 27, 2012

In Which I Discover A Few Things About Chickens

It's getting cold in the mornings. And when we wake up it's dark - really dark - in the bedroom. I blundered into a borrowed cash box this morning, stubbing my toes and making a lot of noise. I feel safe in saying that I probably woke everyone up when my foot connected with that box. 

I've mentioned that we're new chicken owners, right? Well, there's a lot about chickens I did not know. In fact, I won't admit this to Richard but if I'd known some of these things before we actually GOT the chickens I might not have been quite so insistent that we get chickens. I might have remained an Ardent Fan From Afar. Sad but true.

Allow me to regale you with my newly discovered Chicken Facts.

They are not very bright. It pains me somewhat to say this but one of our chickens is woefully stupid. This would be Prunella. Prunella continually forgets where the door of the coop is, and each evening she spends at least three minutes trying desperately to join her sisters, who are enjoying the dish of milk and oats I've given them. She flaps and clucks despairingly at the wire, peers resentfully at her piggy sisters, then paces back and forth with increasing unease, until someone walks around and shoos her to the side with the door. She leaps into the coop and you can see the visible sigh of relief emanating off her. And before you say anything - Prunella has lived in this coop for two years. Call me judgemental but the only logical conclusion to draw from this scenario is that Prunella is a bird of limited intellect.

They are alarmingly greedy. I think they see me not as Kind Owner but as Instant Food Dispenser. Spoiled my bucolic image of myself as Urban Chick 'n' Gardener, I have to admit. Prunella, Pip, and Fern will stop whatever they are doing (including pooing) when they see me and run pell mell in my direction. In fact, I think whoever invented the word pell mell must have had chickens, because it describes their food-seeking gait perfectly.

They are not always good at recognizing danger. Yes, I admit, they know a hawk when they see one, but a ground predator could walk up to them and bash them on the head without any trouble. Yesterday Pip escaped from her spacious Chicken Yard twelve times, and six of those times she was (unbeknownst to her) stalked by the neighbour's cat. Let me back up, and explain that a bit. Initially they had the run of the entire back yard, well, until we discovered the dubious charms of chicken poo everywhere (not to mention the sudden defoliation of the white sprouting broccoli). So we fenced off an area for them to use as their own personal toilet slash play area. All three hens were unhappy about this new development, Pip most of all. Yesterday she made it her mission to escape. And was stalked by the neighbour's cat. Pip was oblivious each and every time. Now, we can admit that the neighbour's cat is either really hungry or overly convinced of its own strength, but what about Pip? Does Pip want a kitty friend or does she have a death wish? Or is she just plain dumb and wouldn't recognize Danger if it jumped on her back and wrestled her to the ground then slit her throat with its claws?

They are murder on a garden. It wasn't enough that the Prunella, Pip, and Fern had a large grassy area and a compost bin to scritch around in, no, no, no. Both Prunella and Pip felt the need to dig up my pulmonarias, echinaceas, and Lady's Mantles to make way for a dirt wallow. A sizeable dirt wallow. I made them a dirt wallow in their Chicken Yard. It was scorned. They went back to the flowers, which meant that they had also discovered a way out of their Chicken Yard. I shored up the - ahem - chicken wire fence. Pip dug, I replanted, Prunella dug, I replanted. Pip dug, I replanted. Fern watched from a distance, gauging what strength I might have left, then made a beeline for my prize pulmonaria. Turns out Fern has a liking for Prize Pulmonaria leaves. I felt like the small organic farmer fighting the big evil Monsanto Corporation (Richard thought I was being melodramatic but I happen to feel very strongly about my pulmonarias). It was depressing. Almost as depressing as catching them in the neighbour's yard that afternoon, after they'd tired of their Monsanto Wallow.

So there you have it. Good times with chickens. I can hardly wait till they stop laying and start moulting. Or get caught by a cat...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Notes & Letters

Dear Williams-Sonoma,

I used to love receiving emails notifying me of your frequent sales but now I feel rather sad to inform you that I would prefer it if you could reduce the volume of email you send me, to, perhaps, say, once every month (as opposed to once a day)? I love almost all your products. I'd even buy them if they weren't so expensive. And that, my dear W-S, is the crux of the matter. I can't possibly justify paying $229 for a frying pan, even if it DOES have a charming copper lining and a lovely little bee perched on it handle. So I regret that I must remain a viewer from afar in your catalogue of treasures, unless of course you come out with another Bee and Butterfly cake mold tin. That WAS cute, and at $24 it was - even I admit - a steal.

Can I give you one further criticism? You're milking the Star Wars Cookie Cutter line even by the standards of the two obsessively fervent Star Wars fans in this house. The first set was, as Seinfeld's dentist friend said: "GOLD Jerry! GOLD!" The second and third sets caused us all to wince a bit. End on a high note, why don't you?



Dear Person Who Volunteers With Me,

You are, as the expression goes, an ass of the first degree. Your qualities of hostility and anger, combined with a rare gift for undisguised selfishness, astonish me by their sheer lack of subtlety. You make even a skinflint seem kind. If we ever have to work together again, it will be too soon. I am, dear sir, forever grateful that I will no longer have to endure your awful lack of grace and manners. By the way, now that I no longer have to spare your feelings (particularly since you have never once tried to spare mine) your breath stinks. So get it out of my face.



Dear Martha Stewart,

I love your devotion to your grand-daughter. I'm even getting used to the ever-present gray tones that accompany her every appearance in your magazine but it's got to stop, Martha, because my children want you to adopt them now. They want marzipan creatures on their birthday cakes. They want specially boxed animal cookies for their party favours. And they'd also like an entire restaurant booked for their birthday party. They're not big on the gray tones, though, which is probably the only bright light in this scenario. Please, Martha, let's see less of Jude and Her Amazing Life and more origami pumpkins or walls painted to look like jade, because we ALL need the distraction.



Sunday, September 16, 2012

It Goes By In A Blur

The days, I mean. There I was, sitting on the edge of the end of August a few seconds ago and now it's the middle of September. Fleet of foot, time is.

The days are oddly hot right now, causing my garden to think that it's early August. Barring the cool wet nights. Those wet nights remind us all that it's NOT early August in the Pacific Northwest, no matter what the days are doing.

Do I sigh now? Or later? Not sure.

Whatever the weather, we're back to lots of plastic covers over tender annual vegetables, copious watering during the baking hot days, and lots of canning and freezing. I'm picking the tomatoes as soon as they get a slightly overall red so as to give the others a chance to ripen on the vine a bit. I know, I know, I can hang the plant and let it ripen that way. Everyone tells me that. I just don't like doing it that way, is all. I prefer my method.

 That's a gratuitous shot of some sushi we had the other night. I made a Fast Pickle because we had a deluge of cukes, and it was so fresh and crunchy we ate it in everything, including sushi.

We're now, like it or not, in Official School Mode these days, particularly with teen-agers doing high school courses and having to submit assignments and things like that. We're busy trying to figure out DL assignments, trying to retool our Activities Calendar (so some of us don't feel overwhelmed with all the action, ahem) and cleaning up the Family Room, which functions as the school room. The FM is rather a tip: bits and pieces from 4-H fairs lying about, binders and books and erasers and papers and even the odd scarecrow litter the floor. Don't even get me started on all those photographs everywhere.

We read about the city of Venice this week, and noticed a lion on all the online articles. So we looked him up (the lion) and I found this beautiful flag. I won't tell you what it means. Just google "lion + Venice" and you'll get your answer. It's very charming. At least, I found it very charming. And who doesn't like a red and gold flag like this?

In other news, we are the new owners of some chickens. That's right, you heard me. Chickens. Three of them. I might have responded a wee bit too quickly to an advert on a local listserv. Or maybe I was the only one responding to the advert. Anyhow, I bagged me some chickens. Three of them. Oh, right, I already said that. They came with a coop. Which is now in our backyard. With the chickens. 

Here is one of them. I don't think this shot does her justice, really, because she's a good deal fluffier and chunkier than this.

Would that I took such slimming shots. 

This one is Pip. In her former life she was called Dusty. I feel rather bad saying this but we were not a fan of the name Dusty. (Okay, so I wasn't and no one else cared) I admit, I have Dusty Baggage. That name was a bit too 70's for my liking. The rest of us had no idea what was going on in the 70's so they didn't give a damn but me, I grew up in the 70's. I remember way too many floral pantsuits. Way too many thick manly moustaches. Weird wide belts. Menthol cigarettes. Don't even get me started on those unisex names. 

But I digress. A bit.

Dusty personifies the 70's to me. And that, as they say, is not a good thing. So it had to go. Pip she is.

The other two were known as Trixie and Fern. We kept Fern because of two reasons: a) she was named after the character in the series Arthur. We love Arthur. We love Fern. b) it's cute and short, just like Fern.

Trixie, despite her connections to a literary heroine of my childhood, morphed into Prunella, to go with Fern. The only trouble with Prunella is that I keep calling her Stella. And I keep wanting to shriek her name, like Brando did. Leaning back on my heels and wailing, even. 


Needless to say, no one here gets my references. Sigh. It's a cultural wasteland here. I tell you.



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Holiday Snapshots #1

We were sitting on the sand.

Hot sand. Very hot sand. So hot you couldn't walk barefoot. We were therefore squished together on several towels, drying off from our swim.

Dominic was stretched out like a starfish, perhaps he was even pretending he was a starfish. He was doing his level best to ignore our repeated pleas to stop hogging the towels. FDPG was deep in an Agatha Christie novel, reading about her hero Hercule Poirot (or Pwa-Rot as we like to call him). Max was one log over, pretending he was a cool DJ Guy relaxing on his yacht after a sold out show. Every so often he'd sit up and fix his hair, using his reflective sunglasses as a mirror. I snuck photos of him when he wasn't looking.

Richard and I were reading. Richard - his usual deeply intellectual fare: The Origins Of Political Order. Me - my usual deeply unintellectual fare: Gardener's World magazine. I was just admiring a charming photo of Alan Titchmarsh, immaculate in a periwinkle vest, cutting a large handful of thyme with his equally immaculate pruners, pleasantly determined look on his face. There's something deeply comforting about Alan. Whenever I need a pick-me-up I read his Tales From Titchmarsh column. He's always so nice and encouraging. Black spot on your roses? Never fear! He has 10 top tips for that. Mildew on your squash? Ah, you haven't used your baking soda spray yet, have you? Wilting delphiniums? Try some cheery painted bamboo stakes - practical AND picturesque! Every problem has a happy solution. Even if it IS something you've already tried (and failed with), Alan makes it sound both easy AND feasible.

But I digress.

I was sitting on the towel, trying to ignore the elbowing starfish to my left and a sniffing FDPG to my right (both twins took up the completely irritating habit of sniffing every 20 seconds this summer) when a large flying insect showed up on the sand. Not a hornet. Not a wasp. Not a bee. A bit of all of them: large wings, stripey body, aggressively long torso. It would alight on a speck then fly off, very quickly and very unpredictably. It came closer and closer to us, even landing on my clogs at one point. It kept flashing its wings and waving its antennae menacingly, waking us from our torpor and causing us to skitter about on the towels in an effort not to be its first victim.

When it attacked the grasshopper we all gasped. It clung to the grasshopper's head and made some determined clicking noises. The grasshopper waved its legs feebly as we looked on, horrified. Dominic threw a little rock which bounced off the sand but the insect took no notice. We watched the poor grasshopper writhe and roll around on that hot hot sand, until finally I went over and smacked at the insect with a stick. It flew away and FDPG moved the stunned grasshopper to a little bark house, out of the sun and out of the way of the insect, which by then had returned and was scanning the sand for the grasshopper. It was even more insistent and alarming than before, so of course we all started dashing about and bumping into each other in an effort to avoid it. Even Richard (who is usually quite oblivious to anything but the most urgent of disasters) moved hurriedly out of the way. Things were getting a wee bit panicky. It was a very pugnacious insect.

Finally my stick managed to connect with the insect. I think I stunned it somewhat. I scooped it up in a clam shell and placed it on a log, where it could hopefully settle down and rethink its grasshopper-attacking strategies. Then I went back to my magazine, intent on learning the Four Ways To Banish Bindweed.

Dominic got up and went over to the insect. He picked up a large smooth rock and smashed the insect with it, hard. He banged and bashed for at least a minute while we all watched, startled. Then he put down his rock and went back to being a starfish.

We settled back to our sleepy sunbathing activities, albeit slightly uneasy should another winged terror appear.

A few hours later we were packing up when Dominic went over to the log where the by now completely unrecognizable remains of the insect were. It was definitely a Former Insect. He examined the tiny specks of shell and wing closely.

"I think it's dead now," he said.

No kidding.