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.

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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 …

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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.

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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!

So … This is Gardening …

This morning I woke up early, and excited. Today was a big day on Reluctant Farm. It was planting day! I was going to become one with Mother Earth! I was up, straw hat in hand, bag packed with ice water bottles and a bag of freshly made bran muffins.

I was going to walk through Fields of Gold, a Goddess in Green, dropping seeds at precise increments into the rich brown soil. Oh, up and down the rows I would walk, my graceful hands in a choreographed swoop, feeding the fertile ground.

I knew exactly what it would be like. I had the picture.

Pacific Islander woman in flowing green dress outdoors

Anxious and awaiting instruction from Brad, who had already finished a row of planting while I organized the muffins, fixed my hair and donned my hat at a jaunty angle, I waved excitedly and said “Let the Sowing Begin!”

Brad pointed me towards 14 tomato plants. That was my job. To sort the tomatoes into whichever way I wanted to plant them, dig holes for each, unpot the plants, loosen the roots, plant and pat.

” Um, OK. But after this do I get to sow some seeds?” I asked. Because I wanted him to take a picture of me walking the fields, looking serene. I needed to update my Facebook profile photo.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Just do the tomatoes and then we’ll figure out what we need to do next.”

So I sorted the tomatoes. Which was kinda fun. I sorted the San Marzanos together, as they are the pride of Italy, the tomatoes that would become the base of my near legendary marinara, and would also cook down into some truly amazing homemade tomato paste.

I placed the two yellow and green zebra tomatoes front and center, as they would produce unique, colorful fruits that would stand out in the midst of the deep red Marzanos.

Then I bent over, and started digging.

When I pictured planting, I didn’t take into account the digging and the bending. In New York, I think we may have had one wilting philodendron in our 3rd floor walk up, and a straggly geranium on our fire escape. Gardening wasn’t top priority in the Bronx. When we moved out west, our family had 3 peach trees. Our form of planting was walking outside, picking a peach, eating it and throwing away the pit. So I didn’t really have a clear picture of planting a garden. And certainly not one of the proportions that Brad intended.

First of all, I’m not the most physical person. I didn’t play softball or soccer or four-square. I did nothing at all with sporting equipment. I went to an all girls Catholic school. For PE we did ballet. And I was on the swim team. That was it for my athletic achievements. As an adult, I have a recumbent stationary bike and an elliptical. Both MUST sit in front of the TV. Otherwise I’m constantly looking at my watch and saying “Oh My God it’s only been 7 minutes?”

So bending down forever is not something I pictured. It sucked.

“Brad – this sucks. This hurts my back really, really bad, and now my knee is hurting. This can’t be what people do all day, because it’s impossible to bend over all day long and not seriously injure yourself.”

Surely there is an easier, better way? Then I spied the big white plastic bucket. A seat! I turned the bucket upside down, grabbed a bran muffin, and started planting my second tomato plant.

Then my butt bones started hurting. Obviously I needed a cushioned seat! I went to contemplate the situation, and eat another bran muffin. That’s when I looked down at my hands…

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I felt myself getting weak, and my eyes rolling in the back of my head. I never considered myself a girly girl, but I never made a mud pie in my entire childhood. I never wanted a Suzy Homemaker Oven, but I had also never been in a physical altercation either. However, I could give a tongue-lashing so severe it would make your brain bleed. I’m tough, but in different ways.

I got on the riding lawn mower – the only piece of farm equipment I’m allowed to use after flipping two cars – and headed to the house. I scrubbed my fingers and brought back pillows, my rubber kitchen gloves and more bran muffins.

The digging was vastly improved with gloves, and the seat was infinitely more comfortable. So I finished my third tomato plant. And moved on to the fourth. And my thighs started cramping. “OMG Brad, my thighs hurt!”

“Susan, all I’m hearing is complaining. You are doing more complaining than planting.”

“I’m not complaining. I’m providing dialog! You can’t possibly think we are going to bend over all day and not way a word to each other. I’m your story. And if I die and they want to make a movie of my life, you’re going to need to help the screen writer with the dialog. And anyway, the bucket is too damn big and I’m not used to sitting with my thighs spread so wide apart.”

I head him mutter “that’s for sure” but chose to ignore him and continue with the friggen tomatoes.

“Brad – why do we have 14 tomato plants? How many tomatoes can we really eat? 14 plants? There’s only two people here. How much pizza and spaghetti can we actually consume? And you know what else? People who say they love gardening are LYING. This is not serene. I feel like I’m toiling in a rice paddy for God sakes. This is painful and not fun. I feel sick.”

Then it hit me. I had TEN tomato plants left. And it happened. I lost it. This doesn’t happen much. Last time it happened was decades ago with my first husband. He bought us a tandem bike and said, “let’s go riding!” I climbed on the back seat, and he wheeled us on a “little bike ride” – which amounted to over 50 miles. My knee swelled up to Elephant Man proportions, and I cried the whole way back. I could feel myself sliding into the same desperation.

It’s what happens when I feel like I’m losing control and being forced to do something I hate, that I just DO NOT want to do. My options were to quit, go to the house and watch a bad Lifetime Movie. And hear Brad call me a lightweight and tell me I need to work out to strengthen my core. Something I have yet to find and quite frankly, am not looking. Or stick it out and cry. I chose the latter.

I cried, I planted 14 tomato plants, and have decided to make my epic marinara, can it, and gift it for Christmas. I feel contented, and dare I say it? Happy.

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So I may look more like this …

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Than this …

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And I still hate gardening, but I got a free dinner afterwards. And if you are on my Christmas list, wait until you see MY garden of earthly delights!

Note to self … do NOT bring bran muffins to eat when you are working in a field that’s a quarter of a mile away from the house. Not a good idea. At. All.

 

I Love My Mother-In-Law … Okay?

I do. I love Mom Bev. She’s the original farm woman. No, she’s never lived on a farm, was raised on the outskirts of Detroit, but at heart, she is a true farm woman. She always told me she was meant to be a farmer’s wife, but instead has lived in the California desert for over 50 years, loving the life she chose, while ever dreaming of the life that maybe should have been.

A relative once referred to her as the “homiest” woman she knew. And Bev is. She used to make her own mayonnaise. Which is admirable, but to me, the original City Girl, this is kind of like doing a paint-by-numbers over a Rembrandt. I mean, Best Foods has done an outstanding job of perfecting mayo for, what? A century or so? I would think they had the whole thing down pat.

Bev also made her own soap. Which she enthusiastically invited me to join her and learn the craft. I said “wow, that’s so cool” then turned to her son, my husband, Brad and whispered “I will NEVER do this, so let’s leave now before I’m stuck in the burning fires of soap-making hell.” City Girl certainly did not picture herself sweating and stirring hot lye over a cauldron. Sweating? Oh, no, no. I do not sweat. Nothing that vile comes out of my pores. I get hot, I get overheated, I faint. I never sweat. It’s just not done.

My own mother was the original Thoroughly Modern Millie. When the 50s and 60s came around, she embraced them with arms wide open. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Swanson’s TV dinners, Mashed potato flakes, Friday night fish sticks, Saturday Night Kentucky Fried Chicken, American cheese slices in their own little plastic wrap. We had it all. And it was GOOOOD.

Bev was not like this. Bev did not change with the times. She still hasn’t. She says the old way is best, and considers anything slathered with butter and salt a food group. And anything that makes life quicker, easier and convenient is certainly cheating.

For 26 years Bev and I had a different relationship. My sister told me that her mother-in-law “gets” her. “She loves me and loves that I’m quirky.” I don’t have that with Bev. Yes, I’m sure she loves me (even though she’s forgotten my birthday now 2 years running, and I’m betting next month she’ll do her darndest to forget it again), but she really doesn’t understand quirky. Or sarcasm, two things that I’m quite adept at. We really are two entirely separate breeds. If we were dogs, she would be more of a Swiss Mountain Dog or a Malmute – a working dog with a purpose.

dog.

Me? I’d be a totally useless dog. One that serves no purpose whatsoever, other than to entertain or amuse…

dog 2   dog 3

Because of this, we had no commonality. There was love, but zero understanding. I didn’t “get” that Bev didn’t like movies. I never knew someone who didn’t like movies! Really? And going out to lunch? She would kind of snuffle and say “we don’t go out because the food at home is better.”

For her, she didn’t “get” anything about me. My offbeat personality, my fast talking smart mouthing, my flamboyance. I am lavish with praise. When we had dinner at her house, I would exclaim – OH this is WONDERFUL! and extol the virtues of each course. When Bev would dine at my house, she’d finish her meal and say “this is … good.” Good? Good? I waded through recipes for three weeks, and cooked for two days making an extravagant three course culinary masterpiece and you tell me it’s good? I raved about your pot roast, for crying out loud!

When Brad and I started a travel business together years ago, I told Bev that he manned the phones, I did the emails. I’m a writer, I don’t do phone. She told me “well, you better learn. You can’t just do one thing.” Why not? I tried to explain the thing about different skill sets, but Farm Woman is stubborn. Because, if someone wanted me to give them a quote on the phone – which is essentially doing math in a minute – I’d probably have a brain aneurism and drop to the floor. I need my fingers – to type my thoughts, but also to count.

But now I’m living on a working farm. Finally, after 28 years we will enjoy that camaraderie that we never have known. That’s what I thought. She had chickens once, I have chickens! Soul Sisters! We love chickens.

My dreams were shattered like nuclear fallout. We were chatting, Brad, his Mom and I, about chickens. Brad mentioned that the “lazy layers” would make their way into our stew pot. I said “I love my chickens so if you want me to cook and eat one, you’d best bring it to me so it looks exactly like what I get in the market – and wrapped in plastic.” Bev pipes up “Why? Why aren’t you going to pluck the chickens?” And here we go again.

And then she went and done pissed me off. She dropped the bomb … ” SUE – you can’t expect Brad to do EVERYTHING.” To which Brad said … Absolutely nothing.

Brad’s invited his Mom to stay with us for “a couple of weeks or maybe a month.” I was going to roll out the grass green carpet. Reluctant Farm Girl connects, finally, with Farm Woman. But now my Bronx is showing. Because I’m planning a traditional City Girl welcome. Tuna noodle casserole, topped with mashed potato flakes. Franco American Spaghetti Ohs. Hamburger Helper topped with Cheez Whiz, tamales in a can, Dinty Moore Beef Stew. A manwich for lunch, Captain Crunch with Chase & Sanborn instant coffee for breakfast. Yep, it will be a fabulous month of sarcasm and wit.

The trouble is, I don’t think my mother-in-law will “get” it. She’ll just think it’s another dinner at Sue’s house. But Brad. Who didn’t jump to my defense and say that “Susan does so much around here I don’t know what I’d do without her?” Who sat there while his mother insinuated that I was … ornamental? Well, his mother may chalk it up to me yet again not fulfilling any dreams she had of a purposeful wife for her favorite son, but Brad will get it. Oh, yes, he will get it. And so my job is once again complete.