Ruby gets her way…again

270 of 365

This is Ruby tonight at bed time, all snuggled into her straw. I know she’s thinking, “I’m just gonna stay here from now on.”

Last night, I had a dream Ruby died, that she was bullied to death by the rest of the flock. I have no idea why I had that particular dream, but I have been having a variety of anxiety dreams all week. In this dream about Ruby, I went outside, and the chickens were all in the snow and had killed Ruby. Rooster was standing back watching it all, and I was like, “Rooster, why didn’t you help?” And then I woke up.

This morning, Ron and I did final rounds of prep for the chickens and ducks. He lined the walls of the duck house with straw, and I picked up any spots of chicken poop, made sure the coop was super clean and dry, and then added nearly a whole extra bale of straw. That coop was fluffy.

When I first went out to put in the food, Ruby tried to escape through the front door as she usually does in the mornings. But I wouldn’t let her out. “Not today, Ruby,” I said. “It’s too cold today.”

She tried again when I went to get the water. I stopped her with my boot, and I could tell she was quite upset over this. I figured she was just going to have to be tough today, and I dismissed my dream, deciding I could not let an anxiety dream dictate my decision making. It was hard though when I saw her try to eat and get pecked on the head by Circe, who is Ruby’s exact age but clearly above her in the pecking order. Poor Ruby is so low on that pecking order, and I just don’t know why. Some people just never fit in, I guess.

When I finished spreading and fluffing the straw, I saw a hen with her head so far in the corner I couldn’t recognize her. She had her head down so low and cornered and was trembling. When I went to pick her up, she didn’t fuss a bit, so I was surprised to find it was poor little Ruby.

I feel this is an important side story to tell: Normally, when I pick up Ruby, she acts like she is going to certainly die. She screams and fusses. I am always and forever just trying to help her or get her put up, and I know she knows me well because she will follow me around for treats. But as soon as I touch her, she acts like it is the end of the world. I feel terrible because I am sure everyone within a mile thinks I am abusing my chickens.

Today, when I picked her up from that corner, she just put her little head on my arm and went along for the ride. She didn’t make a peep.

I took her to the garage, but even the garage was cold. I had to go back out into the cold, get a dog crate, go get more straw, fill it up, and then get it into the garage between our cars. I got her fresh food, water, scratch, and even brought her cornbread several times today. Each time, the temperature in the garage seemed okay, as did Ruby. My original plan was to put her back into the coop tonight to sleep with the flock, but Ron said, “why don’t you just let her stay in the garage tonight.” And then I told him about my dream, and we agreed that Ruby could stay in the garage for a few days until this cold spell breaks. Plus, she is just finishing her molt, so she just barely has all of her feathers back.

When I went out to check on her at bedtime to make sure she was snuggled up in her straw, she was there. So content. She talked to me in a such a sweet voice. I love that chicken. I am honestly not sure how much she is playing me or if she is just a deep feeler, which makes her seem kind of dramatic. Some people just feel everything so deeply that they come across as being melodramatic. Maybe that’s just who Ruby is. Either way, she has my heart, and I am glad to give her her way.

PS Right now, it is -16 but feels like -40. When I went out to give the ducks their bedtime peas, I couldn’t get the door latched with my gloves on. So, for just a second, I took off my glove and touched the metal latch. I have apparently been frost nipped. It hurts quite a bit, but I read it will stop hurting in a day or so. I can’t believe it happened that fast. If you’re in Maine and reading this, be safe out there. Don’t take off your gloves. And stay as cozy as you can.

Chicken Doctor

Day 269 of 365

It’s Thursday, so I have much grading. Still, I am making time to be a chicken doctor tonight–not for me but for a friend. She is also an academic and a chicken keeper. She shared her chicken’s symptoms with me, and I asked her a bunch of questions. As an academic, she knew exactly what I was doing and answered all of my questions thoroughly, except for when she didn’t know, which she made clear.

I have tried to help strangers who have asked for help with chickens before, and, in general, they seem to get frustrated with all of my questions. Of course, questions are necessary to make a potential diagnosis, but I find that people want quick answers. Things are always much more complex–in chickens and in life, right?

Anyway, I had to chuckle at myself as I finished up my last response, asking her to look at the poop identification chart I sent her and to get back to me later. I was like, “oh, look at me acting like I’m a real chicken doctor.” I have to tell you this though. I took ducks to the vet twice. Both times, I knew as much or more than the vet. This caused me great worry because I certainly do not know nearly enough.

I am actually a doctor. Not a “real” doctor, as some members of my family used to point out, but I have a PhD. So maybe I can be an internet chicken doctor sometimes.

PS I read that the wind chill is going to be -45 degrees Fahrenheit here tomorrow. I am getting pretty worried about the chickens and ducks. I think the chickens will be okay, I think. I am pretty worried about the ducks though. I am going to have to feed and water them by hand in the duck house, and they are so skittish. I hope they’ll eat or at least drink. I have been practicing with their peas at night, holding the bowl, touching them as much as they will allow. I knew this might be coming. Yeah, I’m a bit worried. I have been really out of sorts all week, and I think it’s from worry about the temperatures the next couple of days. I’ve never experienced that level of cold. I grew up in Texas.

Pyrenees “Glitter”

Day 268 of 365

Today, while my son was in piano lessons, I did a quick grocery pick up to get some fresh fruits and some lettuce heads to make treat strings for the chickens when they are stuck in the coop all day later this week. When the young man brought out my groceries, he said, “Oh, somebody has a fluffy dog!” I looked at the back of my car, and I somehow just don’t even realize it, but there was Great Pyrenees hair noticeably in the car. Bairre rides in the car sometimes. The interior of our car is black. We use a quilt, but still, Pyrenees hair is magic. It wants to be everywhere.

“Yeah,” I said. “We have two Great Pyrenees.”

“Are those the big fluffy white dogs?”

“Yeah, they’re very fluffy.” I said.

He said his sister has a Husky, and the back of her car is the same.

Great Pyrenees hair being on everything in and around your home (I love that birds in our area use Pyrenees fluff in their nests) is a well-documented experience of all Great Pyrenees owners. I have seen people in farm-dog groups call it “Pyrenees glitter.”

This seems proper to me. Great Pyrenees are pretty magical to me. They are difficult but so fascinating. If you have patience with them, you will learn so much. It’s like they have superpowers I don’t have. Of course, I have superpowers they don’t have. I mean, I can open the refrigerator and have the ability to provide a never-ending supply of bully sticks.

Plus, Pyrenees hair is such a reality that we might as well be positive about it. If we don’t sweep and vacuum every single day, we can get overrun.

This is Bairre, my little fluffy, difficult, sweet, charming, egocentric baby. He loves the snow, belly rubs, toys, socks, shoes, frozen peas, and graham crackers. He and Boudica are both too smart, and so I am often having to settle arguments. They never fight. They just tell on each well. Well, okay, Bairre tells on Boudica because she outsmarts him all the time. But, in the end, he gets mom and dad involved, so who outsmarts whom?

I can’t tell. I’ll have to keep watching

How to Make Friends with a Chickadee

Day 267 of 365

Today was a busy one. We had much to do to get ready for the terrible cold that is coming. It’s supposed to be -20 degrees Fahrenheit here in a couple of days, and it’s supposed to be -4 tonight. We cleaned every nook and cranny of the coop to make sure it is a dry as possible. Ron did the heavy lifting while I vacuumed the dust out of the nooks and crannies and also cleaned the cobwebs out of the rafters. On top of this, we lucked into some really good straw, so we filled that coop up with beautiful, fluffy straw.

Ron also brought out the ceramic heater, and all the wires seemed to be good condition. It’s still somewhat risky to use a heater at all, and I won’t sleep well tonight. Still, I think it’s Rooster, Mary Jane, and Lucy’s best chance at making it. They are all three just so old, though I have to tell you about Mary Jane. Three days ago, I saw her in the coop, not going outside to play during the day. Her comb was dark. I thought to myself, “I think she’s finally at her end.” I petted her extra. Thankfully, after all of these years, she just lets me pet her.

But, yesterday, I saw her out and about with her comb looking great. We have been playing this game for two years. Dark comb. Tired Mary Jane. I can see that it’s her heart or heart-related, but somehow, she just seems to get it going right again every time. I realize that, one day, probably soon, she’s just going to pass, but I’ve been thinking that for 2 years. I can’t believe she is a meat bird. Meat birds are not bred to live very long lives, like 18 months, maybe 2 or 3 years. She will be 6 years if she makes it to June! How is that even possible?

Anyway, we worked so long getting both the chickens and ducks ready, that I barely had time to homeschool and work. Thankfully, my kiddo is old enough that he can some of his school work on his own, but I have much work to do tonight.

I did read the coolest thing today though from a wildlife photographer. She took these amazing photographs of chickadees because they follow her around! Like Thoreau! I wondered to myself, “What do you have to do to get a chickadee to be your friend like that?” And then I read on, and she shared what to do! She said, when you have chickadees at your feeder, just remove the feeder and stand with the seeds in your hands. She said they will come to your hands, and eventually, they will follow you around!

You know I am going to have to try this!

photo credit: Patrice Bouchard

Apples and Blueberries: Learning to Eat More Locally

Day 266 of 365

Since 2012, we have been in the middle of a long process of trying to grow more of our own food, and on top of that, buy locally as much as possible for the food we can’t grow. Right before the pandemic, I estimated we were growing about 40 percent of what we ate, but during the pandemic, there was nothing else to do but step up our game.

Today, we grow about 60 percent of our food, and we buy another 15 or so percent directly from farmers. We were fortunate in that our basement came with a cold room. It’s small, but we can keep potatoes, onions, garlic, and more in it. From there, we rely on freezers and my limited canning abilities. I am hoping to learn more, but I am able to can several things we eat a lot of. When I go to the grocery store every two weeks, the same few things over and over: cheese, coffee, tea, cat food, organic flour and sugar, bananas, and all the spices and sauces, like cumin and ketchup and mayo. I just plan our meals about what we grow or bought from farmers during harvest, and we just have to buy the accessories.

Again, this was a process. I went to college and lived for years in the suburbs of Dallas. I was a city girl. I was afraid of the woods in Maine when we first moved here. I had read far too much Nathaniel Hawthorne. I definitely did not know how to grow anything or raise chickens or can food, but here I am. Everyone in my family says they never imagined I would be doing this kind of thing, but we watched Food Inc. in 2011, and that was just it for us. Plus, right now, these skills are particularly helpful to us. The things I buy at the grocery store are so expensive that I am terrified to think what groceries would cost us if we didn’t grow so much.

With that in mind, Ron and I are trying harder to increase the amount of food we use from our own or local sources. This year, we are planting peach trees, and we are adding more blueberry bushes in different places, really anyplace ducks or chickens can’t eat them. We share with the chickens and ducks, but if they have the opportunity, they do not share with us. But we are also trying to figure out how to take even more advantage of local farmers.

One of the things we eat (well drink) a lot of in winter is fruit smoothies. We all crave berries, and smoothies are a great way for us to use the local blueberries we freeze. We have always bought frozen strawberries at the grocery store for smoothies though, which we decided makes no sense. First of all, they are terrible really, and second of all, it’s a bit cheaper to buy locally in season if we pick our own and then freeze.

Still, at the moment, all we have are the frozen blueberries and some frozen apples we picked in the fall. I have never had an apple and blueberry smoothie, but I decided to give a try. I added a little yogurt, and it was magnificent. So there’s one more thing we no longer have to buy right now. And, in the fall, we’ll stock up again when apples are cheap–and hopefully, we will have more of our own blueberries this year.

I am going to try to chronicle our process of trying to shift even more our own and local sources of food. I hope it helps someone, maybe just gives them a good idea or two. I want to also start growing more of my herbs and spices. Ron thinks this is unnecessary, but I have an urge. There is a chance it will taste better, and did you know paprika was just ground dried red sweet peppers? I did not know this until the other day. I’m like, “Oh, that’s do-able!”

PS I just have to add that we are looking at -20 degrees in a few days. This is such a worry for me because we have a few old chickens. We are going to clean out the coop, stack the straw high, and possibly use the oil heater in the coop. Still, with the rats in the coop, Ron is going to have to check the wires for damage. If they are damaged, then I guess it’s just straw and hope our coop is dry and warm enough. The ducks always snuggle. I wish the chickens would snuggle more. Maybe they will if they have to. Still, if we can’t use a heater, I think I might put Rooster in the garage in a crate packed with straw. He will hate that, but I don’t want to lose him to the cold.

The Ash Tree

Day 264 of 365

Today, Ron had to fell a magnificent Ash tree in the chicken yard. He had to move the fence to get to it, which was just epic work, but he prepared and then studied and then consulted and then thought before he took it down. It was a very tall, very magnificent tree. It was tragic to lose it, but the poor tree had two giant branches at the top, and that plus some strong winds, we think, caused it to split right down the middle of the trunk. And the split was deep. It was going to come down at some point soon–and maybe on both the fence and chickens.

I could tell Ron was being really thoughtful about felling this tree. First of all, he has deep love and respect for trees as I do, but Ron also had an accident felling a tree many years ago. It was serious. It was tree to face! He still has scars all over his face and shoulders from the accident. He probably doesn’t want me to tell that story, but it seems important to share because it will help you understand my anxiety about today.

Yesterday, Ron told me he had everything ready and had a plan for taking down the Ash the next day (today). He was going to do it right after breakfast. I worried about it some, though I try not to. I realize he’s very careful when he does anything. We are both careful humans. This comes with pros and cons, of course, but it is who we are. Today, it was a pro. I knew he was well prepared.

Still, I worried a little when the friend who was going to help him this morning was sick and unable to be here. Then, when I asked Ron if I could help in any way and he said it was too dangerous for me to be out there without any experience, I started to worry a little more.

But he was out there a while before he started working on the tree, and I had grading to do, so I just went to work. I was engrossed in my essays when I heard an epic crash. The sound of a tree of that size falling is just epic. I could feel the BOOM. I jumped up with my heart in my throat. In the seconds it took me to get to the window, my mind raced back and forth between “he’s fine, I’m sure” and “but what if he’s not?”

When I got to the window, I put my hands up on it, just kind of out of this anxiety, and then I saw him, holding his chainsaw in one hand and, with his other gloved hand, holding up a big thumbs up! He knew that would have scared me, and he looked at me and smiled. And I felt so much gratefulness in that moment. I hit my hands on the window and smiled back.

When I went out to explore the tree, it was heartbreaking. I knew the tree was in bad shape with the split, but it was devastating to see it taken down. Such a beautiful tree. But Ron and our son will cut up and split that Ash, and it will keep us warm for two years Ron thinks. I am grateful to that tree for the warmth. It will be appreciated every winter day.

And I had an idea. I just looked it up and have been reading about how to regrow a tree from a stump. Surely it will sprout. I read regrowing the tree takes a lot of patience, but we definitely have to try.

Be good for something.

Day 263 of 365

It has been a tough week on my empathetic soul.

I have had to take on some extra classes at work to help some colleagues struggling with COVID and long COVID, so in addition to just be worn from the work, I am worried about my fellow writing professors having such struggles. Then, there was the sad and angry man at the grocery store who was so upset about groceries prices. I also have some friends and family really struggling from grocery prices, and I worry things won’t get better. I read an opinion piece by an economist who said it’s possible that things, in general, may never be cheap again, that climate change is causing at least some of this economic turmoil. I can see this, so this makes me worry. Then, there were a few things that happened today that just kind of made me despair for the world.

Thankfully, thankfully, I have learned what helps me when I despair for the world–kindness. Even if it’s just a small thing.

I remembered this tonight when I had a distant friend, who has been struggling with health problems, commented on the new candles I made this week and wanted to know if they were going to be on sale in the Etsy shop. They will be if I can ever make the time to do it, but I thought to myself, “oh, maybe it would lift her spirits to just get one on the mail!” I mean, people send me gifts in the mail sometimes, and I am like a kid at Christmas. So I love to send gifts too.

Ron used to think I was over-acting when I received gifts from people. Maybe some others have thought this about me. One time my sweet neighbor said, “It’s just a dish towel, Crystal.” But I was like, “but it has chickens on it!”

I am not acting. When people are kind to me, and I so deeply grateful that it just comes out–all gushy like.

So I asked my friend to send her address to me, and she seemed so happy! And then I felt happy. Really happy. I forgot my despair, and then I remembered–it’s the kindness. So I will get to work figuring out some more kindnesses I can do for others and focus on doing good work. That’s how I keep from despairing.

I certainly realize that small kindnesses are not going to fix the world, but they will fix me and help the people around me. And that has to be a good thing–being good for something in some small way.

One of Thoreau’s famous quotes is, “Be not simply good. Be good for something.” This is the truth, isn’t it?

photo credit: Laura Gilchrest, Unsplash

What is the value of an egg?

Day 262 of 365

Because everyone is talking about the prices for eggs right now, I have been thinking more deeply about why I think eggs are so precious and important. I have always felt rich when we have lots of eggs in the spring. I am so grateful for them. I have also seen that eggs at the grocery store have historically been far too cheap. Too many animals are abused for those eggs.

Of course, I also realize how devastating it is to people for eggs to suddenly be so expensive (and the poor animals are still being abused even at these prices), and of course, it’s not just eggs. The eggs are just symbolic and one of those things that almost all of us eat. So eggs being so expensive right now seems to be especially hard on people mentally, not just financially. My friends and family are gravely concerned about how expensive food has become, and the eggs feel like they might be a canary–at least I speculate this.

Yesterday, for the first time in many, many months, I went into a grocery store. I just always do a grocery pick up. I mean, I hated going to the grocery store before the pandemic. I am thankful beyond words for grocery pick up. But I just needed to get coffee from a particular store and decided to run in. While I was in there, I thought I would check to just make sure they still had some of the staples we use in stock. I checked the organic flour. It was out. I checked for frozen peas. They were out. The store had olive oil and Ron’s coffee and ice cream, but these things were definitely expensive. While I was in the coffee section, I overheard a man talking to what I perceived to be his parents.

He said, “Two months ago, this would have cost me $70, and now this is going to be $130.” And then he added in a really sad, frustrated, almost angry tone, “I just want to scream at people.”

This was heartbreaking to me and has stayed with me–and makes me wonder about how we are all doing.

A New Jar, a New Candle

Day 261 of 365

I feel like my love of both candles and jars is well documented in this blog, so I won’t ramble on about it. Still, I love candles and jars, and if I can have a candle in a jar, well, that’s a treat for sure.

A few weeks ago, when I was searching for a jar photograph, I came across a photo of a little beeswax jar candle, and it was both magical and beautiful to me. I knew I had to try to make one.

It took some work to find the perfect jar, but I have found the perfect jar. It took some research to determine if I would be able to use just one wick. And, after I made it, it took some study to make sure the candle would work well. It works so well!

Yesterday, I burned the candle for seven hours, and it barely budged. There is nothing better for a candle that beeswax. I used to buy cheap candles at the grocery store, and they would burn so quickly. On top of that, who knows what we were breathing? I wanted to make beeswax candles for their clean burn, but I had no idea that beeswax would last forever. That’s just such a bonus to me.

Anyway, I am over the moon with this candle. Sadly, the jars have been discontinued, but I got a small stash of old ones and found a friend who shared 8 more. I’m going to make these candles as gifts the year and will put them in the Etsy shop as well for the journal.

It’s such a good feeling when you want so badly to make something lovely and then you make something lovely. Right?