Not Feeling the Rooster Love…

If you know me, you know I love my chickens. It’s like potato chips. I can’t stop getting chickens. When I walk into the farm store and see those fluffy little bodies, I know that I NEED at least 6 or 8 more.

In spring we purchased what was called a “straight run.” We did this because they were so darned cute, and so darned cheap. Straight run meant that you get what you get. You may get hens, you may get roosters, but there’s no guarantee as they aren’t sexed beforehand.

Out of the 20 or 30 chickens we got, 3 were roosters. And what magnificent roosters they turned out to be. Lovely, regal glistening black boys with almost iridescent plumage. I walked down every day with my basket of goodies, my egg apron, and chatted with Rooster Cogburn, Black Bart, and Brett Maverick. We communed. And I loved them.

black-australorp-rooster

Two weeks ago I bounced my way down to the coop to say hi to the brood. Called the boys by name, and with over 30 hens, don’t have the energy or creativity to give them their own personal monikers, so just normally shout “Girls, I have some treats for you!” All of a sudden, something bashed into the back of my shoe. I turned around and just saw chicken eyes. Nobody said anything, nobody did anything and I figured that because I was in the middle of the mosh pit, someone inadvertently stumbled into me. Hard.

A few days passed and I was down at the goat pens bending over trying to fill up water buckets and out of the corner of my eye, a mass of black feathers came hurling at me, slamming into my right knee with claws out. What the hell? What did I ever do? I wasn’t even looking at him. I was just bending over turning on a water faucet.

I pulled out my chicken books, took to the internet, researching why my precious baby would turn on me like that. One site said that roosters may not like your shoes. So I changed my shoes. Still wary, I made my morning stroll to collect eggs. Black Bart gave me the “rooster eye” but I spoke sweetly to him, promised to throw out some corn scratch and passed by with no incidence. The operative words being “passed by.” As soon as my back was turned, I glanced over my shoulder to see Bart with his neck feathers  on high alert, and with wings flapping, as he started running after me.

I have to say, I just don’t run. It’s just not a good look for me. And I’m not the most graceful  or coordinated athlete.But run I did, like a screaming banshee up the driveway (the long, uphill through gravel 1/4 mile driveway) stumbling and looking over my shoulder, yelling for my husband to rescue me from the beak of death.

My husband, being ever so supportive, said ‘why don’t you just kick him out of the way? That’s what I do.”

Seriously?  A whirling dervish of midnight black feathers, crowing beak and talons drawn comes flying at the back of me and I’m supposed to #1 actually see him coming from behind and #2 try to spin around and kick him? When I had to pay soccer in junior high PE I missed kicking the ball. Every. Single. Time. What makes him think I could actually hit a moving target that can also fly? Aside from the obvious, I’m not big on using my body to ward off anything. I mean, I can’t even kill a bug by stepping on it. I have to physically remove my shoe and hit at with the shoe not attached to my foot. I get grossed out swatting at a fly with my hand. Yeah, I’m a girly girl. And not apologizing one bit for it.

“That’s it” Brad proclaimed. “I can’t have you scared to go down to the chicken pasture. I have too much to do already. The rooster is going to be butchered tomorrow.”

Oh no. Nonononono. I would work something out. I searched the house for an appropriate anti-rooster defensive weapon and spied a small chimney broom. Perfect! I would simply circle the area around me, front and back, with the broom to create a sort of rooster safety zone. After all, I’m an intelligent, college-educated person. I can come up with a solution. Putting a chicken in the pot is akin to hitting control-alt-delete on the computer. It’s the last resort. And I’m too savvy for that.

Roosters are not stupid creatures. The broom worked somewhat, but I would have to swat at him constantly, always walking in circles because he’d flank me, and I was afraid to stand still. If I did, he’d charge. So I had to hop around, spinning the broom in one hand while I simultaneously opened up the nest boxes and held the lids open with my head while collecting the eggs with my other hand. All the while swooshing the broom and screaming.

After two weeks, I decided, OK, this is NOT working and I’m NOT going back down there. I’m over it. Done. Not only that, but he was also being aggressive with my sweet little hens. The most popular of which bore a huge bald spot on her head. I guess no means no, except if you’re a rooster. So … RIP Black Bart …

imag1844

It was bittersweet. It was nice knowing you, but you just had to go.

Yesterday I gleefully walked to the mailbox, passing the chickens strolling the property. They always run up to greet me, and cheerfully I asked how their day was going. They were all smiling their little chicken smiles, Rooster Cogburn and Brett Maverick joining along. I passed the crowd, down the end of the drive, and heard a scrambling of feet which sounded more like a charging herd. Turned to look and saw the dust flying and … the neck feathers of a rooster up in attack mode, charging after me.

Holy shit! We convicted the wrong criminal!  I felt SO guilty. I’m a pacifist! What did we do?

It’s been 4 days and I’m dealing with it. Especially since Brad turned him into some mean (pun intended) tamales. I guess I can live with myself. Pass the napkins, please.

imag1857

 

Goat Tales…

I’m not afraid of a lot of things. Speaking in public. Stinging things. Something stuck in my clothing. The Angel of Death. Liver. That’s about it. In the past, however, I had an abject fear of goats. Not a good look for a farmgirl, reluctant or not.

It started in second grade. My parents took me to some sort of amusement park that had a petting zoo.I was dressed the way my mother always dressed me – in shiny, squeaky patent leather shoes, anklets with lace on top, the obligatory plaid cotton dress with puffed sleeves and a little white apron thing that buttoned onto the dress. I tried to Google the whole look so I could share it in vivid, Kodak color, but it is so atrocious that Google doesn’t even archive it. And Google archives everything. Including how Venice Beach celebrated the Mardi Gras in the 1930s…mardi-gras-1

Scary. But not as scary as goats to a second grader.

Armed with goat chow, I was unceremoniously shoved into the petting zoo pen, to “play with” the goats. At that time there weren’t many other children in the pen and I seemed to be the one with the biggest cup of chow, because soon my 7 year old self was engulfed in goat faces and hungry goat mouths that probably hadn’t eaten for a few days so that the zoo keeper could entertain the masses and laugh behind children’s backs.

They not only devoured the chow in 10 seconds, chow that I was so diligently trying to hold over my head, they also started to eat the apron right off my body.

Flash forward to college. I was 20 years old and invited by my roommate for a weekend away from the dorm food and the rigors of university life. Lisa’s family lived in a private community and had acreage. Her father didn’t cotton to the job of mowing all that lawn, so he purchased … you got it … nature’s best lawnmower – a goat. Lisa invited me into the pen, and I joined her with trepidation. But, hey, I was a college girl, I would do anything at least once. Kinda. Unless it involved speaking in public, stinging things, stuff crawling around in my clothes, or liver.

As soon as I stepped through the gate and walked to the middle of what seemed to be a 10 acre yard, the goat took chase, jumping on his hind legs, head askew, eyes looking wild and feverous, in an attempt to butt us with his horns. I practically vomited on the spot.

So when my husband said that it’s time to add goats to the reluctant farm, I felt my knees buckle. This was, perhaps, my Waterloo. End of the road. Karma bitting me on my Kardashian. I felt kinda like I did as a Catholic schoolgirl when it was suggested that purgatory may not exist. I was banking on the fact that, while I didn’t think I’d maim or murder someone in my lifetime, I was also sure that I had already passed the “lily white” stage at age 8 and my only hope is that I could set awhile in purgatory. Where all the souls on earth would pray for me to eventually “fly up” to a more desired locale.

But I pulled up my big girl yoga pants and went with Brad to a goat farm. Where we bought a doe and a buck (please don’t call them “nanny” or “billy.” That is so not PC anymore. And yes, I was schooled by goat people). And because goats are social creatures and do not like to be alone, we bought 2 wether companions – one for the buck and one for the doe. A wether is basically a male without his, well, parts intact. One of the “companions” had just recently been “wethered” and he hadn’t quite “weathered” it well. Goat people do this sensitive job by basically wrapping what looks like a very tight rubber band around a male goat’s papayas. But until they fall off (which they eventually will, Brad promised) they have enough of their manliness left to still feel a bit of the mojo.

I was horrified when the two males started doing a savage dance straight out of National Geographic. Rising up and leaping into the air, connecting horn stubs as they jabbed each other on the head, and coming out all bloody and wild eyed. I was sickened. “And this is why we shouldn’t have goats” I yelled at Brad as I stared at the spectacle in horror. It was violent. And it was vile. I would have run away but I was frozen to the spot.

Eventually, as these things go when you are reluctant as I tend to be, I cam to realize that goats have their purpose. They are great at trimming the pasture grass. They have the best personalities – when they aren’t trying to kill each other. And, yeah, I kinda like them. A whole lot.

Now I like them even more. Now that we added two more. Two more that became part of the family 6 days ago. The result of when our doe and buck made hay 150 days ago.

IMAG1414

And now I have 2 kids. A boy and a girl. Two little stuffed toys I can pick up, hold in my lap, kiss on the little nose and totally love them up. I want more. I want a whole passel full of goats!

goats_cant_have_just_one_tshirt

 

 

I want to buy little pajamas for them, dress them up for the holidays, take them with me on my morning walk. I want them in the house. I want to live my life, forever, with goats.

 

goatwalk

I want us to breed more and more goats. To have these little lovies roaming around my pasture so I can run down and see their little faces and hear their little goat voices calling to me. And because we can’t very well breed our baby doe to her brother (Ick) or to her father (double ick) because we don’t want crazy eyed babies, I’ve begged Brad to bring me back to the goat farm, so we can get some more “breeding stock.” Because, people, I LOVE GOATS…

61QkMv6-kXL__UX342_

Bugger Off!

I have  issues – insects are but one in long list. I’m intelligent, so I know that they have their place in this world (although with cockroaches, not so much), but I always wish and hope that coexisting doesn’t involve inviting the outside in. Nature Girl, I’m not.

My bug issues go way back  – to when, in second grade, a bee was flying about and I covered my face with my hands so that I wouldn’t get stung, and the bee was actually IN my hand.

Or when a friend told me that a praying mantis would show its “butterfly wings” if you nudged it with your foot. I did, but ended up with a praying mantis attached to my big toe like the jaws of life.

praying mantis

When I lived in the bush, in Fiji for 14 years, I struggled with coconut beetles …

ccnut beetles

Big hairy spiders…
Wolf-spider

Bugs that blinked and glowed in the dark, and clung to the mosquito netting around your bed…
beetle

Walking sticks that were the size of your head
strange-bug

And anything flying or crawling that would appear only in a nightmare. So it was with glee that I noted I survived almost 2 years in Washington state without nary a mosquito bite and no bugs that entered my house. Yes, there is an elk heard, big coyotes that look like wolves, and a resident porcupine, but nothing that I can’t handle. Until now.

My house has 3 Amityville Horror windows in it.

Amityville House

amityville

My house

2016-01-04 08.49.38

Not exact, but close. The top window is our bedroom. In that window, high up, I happened to notice a few spots. I went downstairs to get my glasses – because without them I can see about 6 feet and even that is sketchy. Found out I had some lady bugs (about 3) walking about my window. In my classification of bugs, lady bugs are almost welcome. I do not like bugs, but if I had to choose a bug that invaded my space, a lady bug would definitely be on the top of the list.

So I carried the three to my bedroom patio and wished them well.

A week later and I counted 10 ladybugs. But they were at the top of the window, much too high for me to reach. I didn’t worry, but told Brad to check it out. Not too high for him, but he seemed pretty nonplussed about the whole matter. I remained curious, but unconcerned as I cleared my mind and attempted not to make the Amityville/Susanville connection. But, try as I could to have temporary amnesia, I couldn’t help but remembering when we first moved in. The second upstrairs bedroom (with the OTHER Amityville window) kept collecting flies.  All dead. I’d sweep them up, and two days later, another batch would be laying there.

My sister gave me sage, told me to burn it in the room to get rid of whatever spirits tended to hover. I did, muttered a few “begone with thee” words, felt extra ridiculous,  and that seemed to be the end of the matter. Well, that and, of course, I keep that bedroom door close and never go in. That works best of all.

Now the ladybugs seemed to be moving about more noticeably, and one started its way down the cord to the blinds. On the high window – OK. Moving down to my actually living area – not cool.

Brad said “don’t worry, I’ll vacuum them up in the morning” so I let it go.

And it went … the “morning” turned into a week. At the end of which, I found one in the tub and – Holy Mother of God – on my pillow. So I said what I always say to Brad, the code that tells him he can’t wait for tomorrow because it’s that one last nerve that sends me from zero to lunatic in 60 seconds … “this is NOT working for me.”

He vacuumed. The 10 or so I thought I counted, were more like 40. Ten were visible. The rest were crawling around the high sills. But Brad got them all and proclaimed the room “Clean.”

This was Friday. It is now Monday. I just walked up to the bedroom and … like the Poltergeists – THEY’RE BAACK. I could see 20 – not just on the windows, but crawling on the walls, across the floor, on the window seat and pillows, and I found them crawling INSIDE my bathrobe.

I’m afraid. This is our farm. Our new “forever home” and it’s being invaded. By seemingly innocuous creatures – or so you’d think. Most people thing ladybugs are … cute …
baby_ladybug

But, en masse, they become sinister invaders, almost alien-like in their stealthy movements, occasional flappy wings, clustering like a virus in an undulating mass waiting to erupt …

ladybugs

It’s like a Stephen King novel. Like a 50s horror movie. Like a page out of Edgar Allan Poe.

But I can do this. Wild Reluctant Farm Woman in the Wilderness can handle anything. I’ve braved fish getting stuck in my swimsuit, barracudas leaping out of the water to nab a piece of cracker out of my hand, cyclones that ripped palm trees out of the ground and flung them miles away. I can handle anything.

Except – if birds start slamming into the windows, beds start rising off the ground, or Brad speaks in a scary monster voice, I’m packing my bags and moving to the city. But … I might have to take a chicken or two with me …

 

 

Give the Man a Tractor!

As I’ve said previously, my vision of our home on 16 acres that we purchased last year did not necessarily coincide with what my husband had in mind. I thought, Ok, maybe a 20×20 foot garden would be nice He had different ideas. So, I went with the flow.

And the flow kept flowing. Downhill. Into a big stinking pile.

After a couple of months creating an area that was less garden and more sprawling plantation, Brad says to me “I need a tractor.”

“You need a tractor for some tomatoes and green peppers? Why?”

“Because it will make things so much easier on me and my back.”

I know Brad works hard out there and when he plays the “back” card, I generally acquiesce. I know his back is not always in the best of shape, and if I make too much of a fuss, and it goes totally out, I’d never live with myself. So I made peace with myself that I’ll live with a guy who rides a tractor. And gleefully Brad set forth finding a tractor that would work for him, with a price that would allow us to actually keep the home and property for which the tractor was needed.

Luckily (maybe?) he had a buddy who had the perfect tractor. A buddy like Brad who “needed a tractor” because he was going to move to the South Pacific and wanted to use it on his property. He never moved, and so the tractor stayed in a shipping container, at his California home, for 5 years. Brad got a killer deal, and a payment plan.

All we had to do was pick it up. And for that, we’d need to buy a truck in which to haul it. Because renting a  U-Haul for the job would cost almost a much as the tractor itself. And so it started…

Bait and Switch.

Because we didn’t have the funds for both purchases, we opted for the barter system. We had property we didn’t want in Utah. A Utah man wanted it, and had a truck. The perfect truck.

We did the switch, Brad flew to Salt Lake City, met with a mechanic who gave the truck his gold seal, and the “good Christian man” who traded pink slip for property deed.

20 minutes out of Utah, into bum-flock Idaho, the truck broke down. It had to be hauled to the nearest town (a loose translation) where the mechanic deemed it dead as a doornail. Dead as carrion. Dead as our checking account because it needed a whole new engine.

“But now, really Susan, we have a whole new truck. So it’s not entirely a bad thing.”

Bait and Switch.

Hauling the tractor back from California to Western Washington, Brad basked in the praise he got in every corner outpost we stopped. Someone along the way would inevitably stop and say “wow, that’s a mighty nice tractor you got there. I remember riding one of those in oh 4.” Around the tractor trailer they’d circle, talking the merits of Kabota over John Deere … “you know, Kabota makes their own engines and parts, John Deere doesn’t.” As I’m furiously snapping photos on my phone and sending SOS emails to my friends on Facebook. Get me out of this hell I’ve landed.

I have to admit, as tractors go, this one was pretty. It’s a damn good looking man on a damn good looking tractor…

DSC_0426

So, when we get the tractor unloaded at the house, and Brad’s ready to suit up for his inaugural ride, I ask him, “hey Farm Boy! You gonna plow some fields?” And he says to me “I don’t have a plow.”

Hello?

“What do you mean you don’t have a plow? We’re going to be paying monthly on this beast until the end of times, and it doesn’t plow the fields? What does it do?”

“Well, we got a lawnmower attachment, and a shredder chipper that we didn’t even pay for – it was included in the price.”

Which is a big yippee except that we already had a riding lawnmower that came with the house, AND we had a shredded/chipper that Brad bought from my Dad.

“But these are bigger more powerful. I will be able to cut to cut the lawn so much faster.”

Because, of course, he has those all important corporate meetings to attend. With Neighbor Bob, Neighbor Les, and Neighbor Matt. So they can sit around, drink beer, and talk about tractors.

Bait and Switch

Last week Brad said that we “needed to” rent a rototiller. “But we have a rototiller” I said. “Yes, but it’s not big enough and strong enough for this soil.”

“But what about the tractor?”

“It didn’t come with a rototiller.”

Bait and Switch.

What exactly did we “need” the tractor for? “To move dirt.”

Ahhh. Moving shit. I get it. If you have a pile of shit in one place, are bored and need to move the pile of shit around to another place, you can sit on a tractor and be one of the guys. Makes perfect sense.

So far the tractor has moved chicken shit to the compost pile. It’s moved pig shit to the compost pile. And it’s moved goat shit to the compost pile. AND it’s moved the compost pile to several different locations. It doesn’t plow, it doesn’t dig post holes, it doesn’t till or scrape or do anything but allow movement of shit from one location to the other.

Because of this shit movement, I see my husband only when the sun is down. Because shit moving must be either A. fascinating or B. terribly important and time consuming. Coupled with the grass mowing and the leaf shredding, it’s a full time job. My husband went from gentleman farmer to shit mover.

And the other day he came home from the farm store with black suspenders.

I’m getting scared.

The Trouble with Piglets

My refrigerator is full of eggs. Lovely, organic eggs. But really, that’s all we can fit. I have about 18 eggs coming every day. I’ve thought of making quiches and freezing them, but why? I mean, why bother freezing them when I can make several fresh ones daily and not even make a dent. So we’ve just hung a sign outside our drive to hawk our “farm fresh eggs.” Which I guess means I can’t wear my fuzzy lounge pants all day anymore, and I”ll actually have to start brushing my hair in the morning. Otherwise, my husband is afraid I’ll scare potential customers away.

To go with all those lovely eggs, Brad has suggested we get some pigs. Bacon or sausage to go with scrambled or over easy.

So we went to a pig farm, and brought home two piglets. With a stern reprimand from Brad, that these are “meat, not pets.”

He says this because my 20 chickens are egg producing pets. They shall never find their way into my pot. So I am not to develop any kind of relationship with our “meat pigs.” “Do not engage in any kind of pet-based activity Susan. Because these will NEVER be pets.”

“I’m not stupid. I understand. I’m not going to get attached to pigs, for God sakes.”

 But, you know, I HAVE to feed them. Yes, they get grains. But I have to also bring them by snacks. Stuff that is left over. After all, we are sustainable. We don’t waste anything. It’s all about recycling, reducing, reusing. So, with that in mind, I brought down some tomatoes that were on the edge of rotting. I didn’t look the piglets in the eyes. I simply plopped a metal bowl in the pen, brushed off my hands, and said ‘there. Go eat.” And walked smartly away.

This went on for a week. Then I noticed something. The damn things were actually looking forward to my daily visits. They would no longer eat scraps that Brad tossed into their pen. They only wanted food fed to them by me, in their silver bowl.

And, I realized, they were no longer running away from me when I went into the pen. They were walking with me. And I committed a capital offense. I looked them in the eye.

DSC_0108

OMG are they the cutest things ever? They run around like little dogs, so excited to see me. The run in circles, clicking up their little hooves in joy. And they wait for me to put down their almost rotten tomatoes, so gleeful that I’m giving them treats.

So today I made them oatmeal, soaked in a little goat milk, with some chopped apples and a bit of flax seed for omega 3s. I mean, yes, their lives with us is only a short 6 months, but shouldn’t they experience daily joy for those 6 months? Really?

And, then, I pet them. They let me pet them. Between their little twitching ears, as their little piglet curly tails wagged back and forth.

I’m totally, unequivocally screwed. And I don’t know how I”m going to tell Brad

Name that Farm!

It’s about that time. Test garden is in full swing, I have 90 eggs in my fridge and that doesn’t count the 15 or so that I will be getting in today’s coop. We just got ourselves two piglets, are in the market for a couple of goats, and later next spring, a cow or two.

So, I’d say the farm is damn near a real “farm.”

It had come to Brad’s attention that we now have to trot our little selves down to the government offices and make ourselves official. But the question is, what do we call ourselves.

Plans for next year include building cabins/bungalows (only 3 to keep it manageable) and opening it up as a B&B Farm Stay. Keeping that in mind, I thought we should keep Reluctant Farm.It’s cute, it’s quirky it speaks to who we are.

Brad says no. Says Reluctant means we’re not totally in it all the way. “Who wants to visit a farm where the people really aren’t into it?” he said.

Well, I would. I would find a kindred spirit. We’d drink wine and laugh about the pig crap and goat crap and chicken crap and drink more wine and ignore it.

But – that’s me. He’s more staid. And thinks that “Sustainable Earth Farm” reflects more of our values. But truly, I have no values. You bring me chocolate, tell me you like me,  you’ll be my new best friend. And if you brought me a really good bottle of Pinot Noir, or even a cheap cab, we’ll be friends for life.

In an effort to be fair, I said I’d open it up to the public. So – public – please cast your votes. there are two choices, but to be honest, we would love suggestions. And in the “write in” section, please do NOT put Donald Trump…

Keep in Mind – Chickens, Eggs, Goats, Pigs, Cows, Bed and Breakfast, One Reluctant Farmgirl and a Gung Ho Farmer …

Reluctant Farm
Sustainable Earth Farm
Anything Else but the above two
Your suggestion please

AND – as a special prize, we’ll send you something if you come up with a winning name that we like better than ours. I don’t know what it will be, maybe a jar of jam or salsa (it’s totally good) but I feel compelled to give away something if someone is truly creative. Because I’m not. Creative. In any way, shape or form.

Much Ado About Poo

Everyone is excited about fair season here in Washington. Seems every other week there’s a county fair, state fair, city fair. But the best event of all is … wait for it … the upcoming Fall Fecal Fest. No shit. No, I am not shitting you. It’s a festival of poo.

It’s obviously a big deal because you can’t just go and purchase the doodoo, you have to put your name into a lottery. THEN you have the chance to purchase an alarming amount of zoo doo – ranging from hippo, giraffe, zebra or if you want mass quantities, elephant feces. If you want a big old pail – 4 gallons – you can only get it during the holidays, and it’s aptly named “Holidoo.” I’m rushing to the site right now to put my name on the waiting list.

New this year is worm doo. It’s more pricey than Holidoo – which goes for $20 for the 4 gallons. Worm doo is $10 a pint. You must be able to pan for gold in worm poop. All that excitement over excrement makes this former city girl’s head spin.

I am learning but I still cringe when Brad wants to take our truck and trailer over to the cow farm to get ripe manure. I think, dear God, the neighbors will shoot us if we cover our 16 acres in a steaming mass of … well, you get the picture. But no. They cheer him on. I keep trying to tell them “do NOT encourage him” but they think it’s a grand old idea and even encourage him to go to the sheep farm down the street, because sheep really make superior fertilizer.

I’m all over having a productive garden. I haven’t had to buy vegetables in a month. And I think that’s grand. I think Brad should make use of all the poo our chickens produce. And chickens do poo. Lots of it. But it’s all mixed in with straw and doesn’t smell. I’ve driven past the sheep farm. Sheep poo smells to high heaven. I just can’t get past that gag factor.

But poo has become a major topic of discussion around these parts. I am truly trying to assimilate, but there are some things I just can’t make myself do. I can’t call our creek a crick, and I can’t carry on long conversations about things that should remain unmentionable.

When we first “set aspell” with our neighbors after we moved here (it’s a year  since we moved to Washington country and started Reluctant Farm) our neighbor said “oh, I’ll have to make you some worm tea.
wormteaNo. Really, thanks but no. I mean, it’s nice of you, but please no. I really, really love tea. I mean tea is, well, my cup of tea.

my-cup-of-tea

Please please please don’t ruin it for me…

A week later we were gifted with a worm bin, from which to extract worm tea. I haven’t participated in the extraction process, as I truly feel my strengths lie elsewhere. Anywhere else. But Brad adores his worm bin, faithfully feeds it coffee grounds every day, and uses the worm tea for the garden.

So my visions of sitting on my veranda, sipping my elegant Lady Grey tea, looking out at the sunrise and rolling green hills on our property has taken a back seat to the harsh reality of sitting on the porch, breathing through my mouth because my whole front yard will smell like sheep shit.

Because Christmas comes but once a year, I have a scathingly brilliant idea for Brad’s gift this year. Because I love my husband like crazy. And yes, it’s bigger than a bread box …

holidoo

 

I’m SUCH a Nerd!

Wandering around the coop, my husband said to me … “it’s about time these damn chickens start laying some eggs and earn their keep. Otherwise, they are going to find their way onto the barbecue grill!”

I thought this was quite insensitive. I mean, what was HE doing at 4 months old? Blowing spit bubbles and pooping himself. “Well you know they are probably nervous and stressed. They see you stomping around threatening to turn them into tomorrow’s special, and it makes them anxious. And besides, my chickens are my entertainment. I pick them up and pet them and watch as they clap their little wings when I feed them pasta salad.”

It’s true. When he told me that all 20 chickens would probably not produce eggs all the time, and some would have to become stew or chicken stock, I understood. “This is a farm – it’s not a chicken retirement home.” I know the circle of life. I like Elton John and all, but he MUST also understand that there were one or two chickens that would live with us until their last feather dropped. And those were the two chickens who would automatically lay down by my feet waiting to be pet, picked up and loved. Who would climb on my back when I bent over.

Brad agreed – and went to get the tags so we could sort out which ones would live out their entire lives with us here at Reluctant Farm.

But a funny thing happened between that discussion and the day when we went to get the leg tags. I walked into the chicken run, and the chickens dropped at my feet. Not just my two little black and white barred rocks, but some whites, some Rhode Island Reds, and two more barred rocks. It was like they were all overcome with the vapors. And that’s when I realized … Chickens KNOW. They are spiritually, emotionally and soulfully connected to Mother Earth. Chickens know things we will never be able to grasp. And that’s when I said realized – we WILL become the first ever chook retirement home.

After this assurance to my girls, a few weeks later we did our normal routine of checking in the nest boxes. Starting at one end, counting – nope, nope, nope, nope … then all of a sudden – the skies opened and a golden egg appeared – not from a goose, but from my favorite barred rock chicken!

I swear, you would have thought Ed McMahon himself rose from the grave and knocked on my front porch with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes check for $1 million dollars. In fact, if he was on my doorstep I would have run him over looking for my camera to take a picture of our very first egg.

I think I took more pictures of that first egg than I took when my first baby was born. I had to get it from different angles …

Cupped in my hand to make it look bigger …

IMAG0882

In my Indian woven basket as an art piece …

IMAG0883

Nestled in a kitchen towel for effect …

IMAG0884

We were so excited we immediately scrambled it up for breakfast and shared one tiny egg between us.

When we’d run down every day to the coop to see if we have any other little gems waiting for us, there would be anywhere from 3-5 eggs daily. It’s the miracle of life!

The chickens were obviously not as moved about the whole experience as I am. Most of the time they seem a bit irritated that I keep raising the lids on the next boxes. They look at me and I’m sure they’re thinking … “hey, do you mind? I’m doing my business here? Can’t a hen get herself some privacy?”

IMAG0928

I kinda felt like I had caught someone in a compromising position in an outhouse. I’d say “oh, sorry” and back away.

So I skipped to my lou yesterday, with my egg basket, only to find SEVEN eggs. Seven. It was a new record! But now I have this …

IMAG0948

Yep, 20 eggs. And this is AFTER I gave a dozen to the neighbor. And BEFORE I go down to the coop this morning.

Now every morning Brad asks me “do you want me to make some eggs for breakfast?” And after omelets, scrambled eggs and three quiches, I’m a big egged-out.

I’m thinking of making a couple of angel food cakes. Maybe some soufflés. Lemon curd? Or maybe I’ll just leave a dozen on various doorstep and run away. Like a farm girl version of Kris Kringle.

With the eggs, the copious amount of swiss chard, tomatoes and cucumbers that are sitting on my kitchen counter, awaiting culinary creativity I just can’t seem to muster, I think I will, perhaps, drive to the city, see a movie, preferably a double feature, eat Baby Ruth and popcorn. Then when I come back it may all be a hazy memory.

Or a recurring nightmare, like the one where I can never find my house, or am sitting in my 8th grade classroom naked. Either way, there is no escaping Reluctant Farm.

Put that candle someplace else!

Yes, I had another birthday.

Because I live a lot of the time in my head, I tend to have random thoughts that make perfect sense to me, but sound like gibberish to some less enlightened individuals who don’t share my superior intellect.

But I was thinking, you know, birthdays are really kind of a strange ritual. I mean, someone says “oh, it’s your birthday today! Happy Birthday.” And you are congratulated for what? For being born 35 years ago on the same day. So, Ok, it’s not 35 years, but we’re dealing with hypotheticals here.

But the point is, we are being lauded for a process that we had absolutely nothing to do with. When in actuality, it should be our mothers who are congratulated for their part in our birth process. I mean, really, did any of us “ask to be born?” No. And by the way, I never, ever said those words to my parents. Friends did – when they’d get in trouble, they’d yell “Well, I never asked to be born.” I never said it because I was afraid my parents would then say “OK, we can fix that.” I wasn’t the most charming child. I had my reasons.

I don’t care for a lot of pomp and circumstance. The whole candle blowing, singing, having a restaurant stop in mid air and wish you a happy day? No thanks. I hate it. I don’t know how to respond. “Thank you, I did it all by myself”?

This is something that I thought was strange for a long time. I’ve looked at my birthday photos, and most of the time I either look bossy (because everyone MUST do things the right way – which is obviously my way) or slightly peeved.

10982154_10204906592878295_7869912421963061197_o

Yes, I’m at the head of the table, and I am annoyed. First I’m wearing a stupid hat, and even at 5 I hated hats. Second, because there are an overabundance of boys at the table, and third, it means that I have to share MY cake. Even then I thought birthday parties were odd.

This year, I wanted it on the lowdown. My husband has known me since 7th grade. We’ve been married for 28 years. So he KNOWS me. But he also thinks he can “fix” me.

For my birthday, I wanted nothing more than to be swept out of the house, and to a “nice corner table for two” at a restaurant where the napkins were cloth, the plates were not paper, the wine came out of a bottle with a cork, the food artfully presented and appealing to all the senses, and there would be cake. Discreetly dropped off at my table.

Because, while I hate the pomp and circumstance, I love me some cake. Not a cake lit up like the Forth of July, with Crisco frosting. The kind that coats the top of your mouth for the next millennium with sprinkles that chip your molars and cake that dries your mouth until you yell “MORE WINE PLEASE”.

white cake

But maybe a classic dark chocolate cake with a delicate mousse filling drizzled with raspberry coulis. Yeah, I’d eat that all day.

cake

And if you threw in a coupon for a massage, I would be every so grateful …

massage

But this is a birthday for City Susan. City Susan is no longer. She may live, forever, in my heart, but this year was my first birthday as the Reluctant Farm Girl. And the Reluctant Farm Girl has boots in the garage that have hay and chicken poop on the bottoms, shirts stained with blueberries, and a diamond ring that sits in a safe, not on her finger.

“I have a confession to make” said Brad, 2 days before my birthday. “I invited the neighbors over for a barbecue on your birthday.”

A barbecue.

There are 5 reasons I like barbecue:

1. It’s cooked outside so there are no pots for me to clean

2. It’s cooked outside so in the summer it doesn’t heat up the house

3. It’s cooked by someone else because I can’t barbecue

4. Most fish tastes better grilled, and I love fish

5. I can’t think of another damn reason I like barbecue because, in reality, I’m not a fan of the “Q.” Because it mainly consists of hamburgers and hot dogs, or maybe a charred piece of chicken. Not really elevated cuisine, especially on one’s birthday.

bbq

While I wasn’t over the moon about my husband’s birthday plans for him, I remained mute. Mainly because, this year in January, I totally forgot his birthday. I mean, zip. In my defense, we were in Texas, getting ready to do a big promotion to a large travel agency, and I didn’t sleep well in the hotel the night before, and was extremely nervous about said presentation. So I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of having to eat burnt food for my birthday. In my backyard. With paper plates. And plastic cups. And a cooler full of Bud Light, which I don’t drink.  Or having to vacuum the house and clean the kitchen before the neighbors came.

And, by the way, several years before Brad completely forgot my birthday. So while it doesn’t excuse my lack of manners, it does even the score, don’t you think?

So my birthday came, I put on make up and a colorful summer dress, all the while thinking that I SO deserved better. I deserved a pedicure and a night on the town. In a town that had Michelin rated restaurants. Or at least Zagat rated.

The “cue” was smoking, Brad was cooking, and the neighbors showed up. Bearing cards saying that I was the best neighbor ever, bearing gifts from the country – a “nectar plant” to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, pounds of salmon from their recent trip to Alaska, fresh frozen halibut, a pot of homemade beans, and wide as a country mile smiles.

And, yeah. I liked it. I want to kick myself, but I liked it. I liked the beans, the bush, the fish, and the sense of community. I liked knowing that my neighbors care. I like actually knowing my neighbors. And, in the long run, that’s what life is all about. Being with people who make you feel loved and who make you glad you live where you live, and who accept you, chicken poop on your shoes and all.

I got an ice cream cake. With an oreo crust. And I ate it for breakfast. Because it was my birthday. And because I could.

And next year … I want that damn massage!

But … can she cook?

I’m a bit of an oddity for my generation, in that I never learned to cook at my mother’s knee. I never baked cookies with her at Christmas, nor kneaded bread, nor shelled peas, nor shucked corn. There was no shucking in the Bronx. My mother was a career woman until the fateful day I was hanging in the alley with the homeboys at age 5, and we all decided to climb atop a lion’s head that graced the entrance to a building.

I followed, of course, because that’s what I did. I may have been a natural born leader at one point, but as a bright child soon figured out that being a leader only got me in trouble. Like the time that the boys were bugging me as I was walking up the stairs to our brownstone. I decided to pull down my pants and stick out my bare butt to scare them off. In retrospect, probably not my finest moment, but at 5, it seemed like a good idea. Of course, as I grew I came to realize that showing body parts was not the smartest way to ward off the opposite sex. But that’s a whole other story.

Anyway, I climbed up the lion and, to much taunting, jumped like everyone else. But everyone else was a boy. Wearing dungarees. I was a girl. And my Momma raised me to wear little plaid short skirts with anklets and patent leather shoes. I hit a rock, my leg split open and the next day my mother put in her notice. I was obviously no longer to be trusted in the alleys of New York.

bf7ceb4ae9ac031416818f78b4eab634

Ok, so it wasn’t actually this same lion, but damn near close.

For some reason, I was not embraced to join my mother’s mysterious world in the kitchen. Probably because knives were involved and I was an unknown. I was categorized as “unpredictable.” In a scary, horror movie kind of way. My mother saw the movie “Bad Seed” and never looked at me the same way. So I was never around matches, nor anything sharp. I don’t think I was allowed to cut my own food until I was 16.

At 15 I was finally invited to help Mom. She had 3 kids under the age 5, so it was with resignation that she said I should make dinner once a month. I did learn to make two dishes so I would rotate between tuna noodle casserole with potato chips on top, and hamburger casserole with Fritos on top. My one and only seasoning, for years, would be Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.

When I moved out of my parents home, I learned how to warm up refried beans and put them into prefab corn taco shells. I learned to treat myself to premade shrimp cocktail followed by a filet mignon. I had a roommate who was a cocktail waitress, and she taught me the ins and outs of eating during happy hour – buy a drink, then load up on the free food.

My first husband and I lived on Taco Bell, which was right next to our apartment. I did branch out and channeled my inner Nona – and finally created 2 signature dishes – my killer lasagna and meatballs to die for. So – Taco Bell – Lasagna – Meatballs.

My mother, most likely out of guilt, gave me her prized copy of the “I Hate to Cook Book.” I still have it, with her quirky handwritten comments next to each recipe. It was there that I learned I could put a piece of meat in aluminum foil, add Lipton onion soup mix on top, wrap it up, baked it in the oven, throw in a cut potato an hour before it was done, and I had dinner.

I learned how to put chicken on top of raw rice, with some mushrooms and a can of soup, bake it and add a salad. Dinner. I could do stew (throw it all together with canned tomatoes and bake) and chili (5 ingredients – 1 of each – throw it together and bake). Yeah, there’s a theme going – canned shit, baked, done. But they had one recipe each day for 30 days, and I was a master of all of them. The marriage lasted 5 years. I guess he got tired of once a month meatloaf.

It was when I met my husband Brad that I realized I had to up my game. One day he came over to my apartment for a date, and instead announced that it would be “fun” to bake bread.

“Bake bread? Like really bake bread? Or get the frozen loaf from Pillsbury and thaw it out and bake it?”

No, he meant he wanted to bake bread. With yeast and stuff. One thing I’m leery of is yeast. I mean, it’s alive, right? I don’t trust it. It’s way too touchy. Too hot, it dies. Too cold, it never lives. Who wants that kind of pressure? I also don’t do anything with thermometers or cook to a hard ball or soft ball stage. I don’t get it, and probably never will.

So – he baked bread. I watched.  We each ate a slice. He left, and I ate the rest.

09chipmunk

Brad had some mad skills. I know we each have our wheelhouse, and there are things he knows, and can do, that I can’t. And vice versa. There are areas in which I excel, where he doesn’t. And maybe by the end of this blog I’ll think of one. But for now you’ll just have to trust me.

So for the first years he would barbecue, I would sit inside and drink red wine, and when he was almost done I’d quickly open a bagged salad and mix up some Seven Seas zesty Italian dressing. It seemed to work. My greatest skill was knowing how to order. It really is a skill you know. You can take me to any restaurant, anywhere on the globe and I can find something good to eat. Actually, it’s a gift. Nay, it’s an art.

It’s been a process, but now I can say I’m an accomplished cook. I’m not ready for the “Chopped” kitchen just yet, but maybe soon.  It took a while, but since I was never really fond of barbecue, I thought I better pull up my pants and tackle this task.

That day happened years ago when I was ready to leave for a week on travel. My daughter Melanie came to me and begged  “Please Mom don’t leave us alone with Dad. All we will eat is grilled sausages and rice.” So I knew that my days with a glass of wine in the living room were coming to an end. Now I can actually make shit without a recipe. And most of the time, it’s terrific. And most of the time, I don’t remember what I did, so I can never replicate it. But I learned that if anyone is smart and knows how to read, they can essentially cook.

I still can’t bake worth shit. Yesterday I tried to bake a pie shell. Ok, it was a Pillsbury pie shell, but nonetheless, I made the filling – a quiche with chard from our garden. I had to “blind bake” the pie shell. It said something about putting beans in the shell so that it wouldn’t puff up. So I put beans in the shell, and put it in the oven to bake. NOWHERE did it say I had to put waxed paper or foil on the shell before I put the beans in. So the pie crust had dried pinto beans baked in. And picking those bastards out was not my favorite way to spend my afternoon.

So – my baking isn’t legendary, but I can make you a risotto that, when you take your first bite, I swear you will hear the angels sing. But, if you really want, I can also pull out a bag of Fritos and make you a nice casserole …

chili-frito-pie-0013