Just a regular day on our little homestead…

Day 49 of 365

I feel like there should be a medal to anyone who can complete a quilting project with kittens. We have three kitties: Sophie is an older cat we adopted 11 years ago. She’s perfect. Our two other kitties are Betty and Bella. We adopted them as babies just a week after our Gus passed away. They were going to be “barn cats.” I don’t know who we were kidding. Apparently, only ourselves because when I told a few people that Betty and Bella had moved in and had become house cats, they nodded and smiled knowingly.

They are wild kitties, cute beyond words, rowdy beyond words, and they make it really, really difficult to get dressed in the morning, much less make a quilt. Thankfully, good progress has been made, and Betty had to be banished to the bedroom for a couple of hours.

Today was just a busy, regular day. In the morning, we do our chores for the animals. It’s almost always one of the best parts of my day. I get to say good morning to the animals, and it’s a treat when there are babies. I am so happy to report that Kate’s baby is doing so well. I am seeing a lot of growth. I think the higher protein food for a bit and a new space for the crate helped a lot.

When we had our tea on the deck after chores, we discovered (well Boudica discovered it) a GIANT Sphinx Moth! It was such a treat to see.

We still have two broody hens, but that’s pretty good compared to our numbers a few weeks ago. I discovered our hen, Bianca, Kate’s sister, has been flying over the fence and laying her eggs in our woodpile. It’s adorable. I think she’s lonely. Kate is her sister and friend, and she’s away with her baby, of course. Juliet was also raised with Bianca, though by a different mama, and they are friends. I guess Bianca decided she was going to be different with the rest of her people.

It was fortunate that I discovered the eggs. I was actually following the Eastern Phoebe calls when I found them. Thank you once again, Eastern Phoebes.

And speaking of Eastern Phoebes, guess who is back in her nest for a second brood!?! I was so happy I cried.

The garden is gorgeous. Ron frets about the weeds, but it’s a gorgeous, healthy garden. Ron made fresh bread today because it rains (he bakes when it rains and can’t work in the garden), and we had tuna sandwiches with the most beautiful lettuce and a side salad. I am very thankful for the garden.

I am very thankful for this place.


Day 48 of 365

It’s been an epic day. My back hurts, and my body is tired. Some days, balancing all of the work around here makes me so worn. But, I started this morning with an Eastern Phoebe right outside the window, singing me awake and ended this evening watching the fireflies dance in the dark amongst the trees. It’s so magical here in this little nook in the Maine woods.

photo credit: Tony Phan, Unsplash

And to my followers, I realized tonight that I have been so busy I forgot to do the prize drawing yesterday, so I will be sure to do it first thing tomorrow morning on our Facebook page. I’m so slow with everything of late!

It’s hard to be a mama…

Day 47 of 365

Tonight, after everyone was tucked in, I went to check on Ruby one more time because I heard her talking to her babies, and I took this picture of her in there, surrounded by babies. She has one more baby hidden in her feathers. Ruby is a magnificent mom. She’s very nurturing, gentle, and is a good teacher. These are the things that make for a good parent across the board, I think.

But Ruby is showing some signs of tiredness. She lets me get a lot closer now, and when some of the babies are crying for mama when I am getting them ready to go in the morning, Ruby no longer gets upset. She used to attack me when I tried to help. Now, I swear, she looks at me like, “Can you deal with that?”

In a few more weeks, her work will be done, though I have had a few hens stay in mama mode for 10 to 12 weeks. Still, most wrap up at about 6 to 7 weeks. I have found it’s much easier on the babies when the mama lets them stay longer. But, however, long they let their babies stay, when the mama hens are done or nearly done, they will molt. The intense stress and toll of being a mother impacts their little bodies.

The stress begins when they are broody. For 21 days, the mama hens will barely move from the nest. They will eat and drink very little. Their combs shrivel, and they lose body mass; though I try to keep them fed and hydrated, hatching babies takes a clear and definitely toll. Then, they become mothers, and for weeks, the mamas work to teach and provide care.

When the mama hens molt near the end, they will lose a lot of feathers. There will be chicken feathers all over the yard, the garage. It’s a visible toll of motherhood. And the growing back of feathers is not an easy experience for them. Pin feathers can be painful, and they need extra protein for all of the feather growing.

My chickens remind me, deeply, that being a mama takes a toll, and my chickens only have to do it for 6 to 11 weeks or so.

I have been a human mama since I was 21 years old–that’s 26 years. My first delivery was traumatic. If I had not been so young, I might have died. My daughter nearly died.

And since then, I have learned a lot. I am a much better mama now than I was when I started. I have learned, deeply, the importance of being a good teacher as a parent. I have learned, deeply, that it is a difficult job. I have learned, deeply, that it takes a profound toll. It brings you joy, but it makes you tired. You lose your feathers.

My chickens get to decide if they want to be mama. I give them as much agency as I can because I know what a difficult task being a mother will be for them, and I believe everyone needs that agency.

Home After Dark

Day 46 of 365

When you have a little farm or homestead, it can be difficult to be away from home for any extended length of time, especially in the evening. For the most part, we have structured our lives to fit very well with the “tucking in time” of our animals. We have great fences, but fences only do so much. I feel much better when everyone is tucked in tightly and all doors are closed.

This is Ruby and a few of her babies from earlier today. Ruby is one of the best chicken moms I have ever seen. This is her looking alert because one of her babies screamed a little. I was a witness, however, that the baby was just screaming because a sibling stepped on it. Ruby was on full alert though. She’s pretty magnificent.

This evening, our son, the cellist, had a concert on the coast. He played magnificently, by the way. When I say what our son is a cellist, I mean he’s really a cellist. It’s almost confusing to me. He played so well tonight that I almost couldn’t believe it. There’s this cognitive dissonance that this kid, who puts empty milk cartons, can make music like he does. He wants to be a professional cellist when he grows up, and I think he might do it.

If the world will just not fall apart. This is the little prayer I say all the time. But I guess that’s another post about the world and falling apart and such.

Anyway, we had promised our cellist an outdoor dining experience after his concert, so we went out to eat, which is something we pretty much never do. I mean, restaurant food, even from the really good restaurants, just usually isn’t as good as home food. We are spoiled to delicious organic food from the garden. Still, it was a beautiful restaurant, and I was excited. But our server forgot our ticket–twice–and for a very long time. It was tough. We waited about an hour for our ticket. I am sure the poor server was way overworked, so we did not want to complain. Of course, the trip home was a worry. It was past dark. I was so worried about our animals. I was mainly concerned about Ruby and her babies.

Every evening, before dark, I take Ruby’s crate, filled with Ruby and all her babies, and put them in the garage for extra safety. Tonight, Ruby and her crew had their crate but were outside way too late. I was trying not to panic on the trip home, but there was some panic.

Thankfully, thankfully, thankfully, everyone was just fine when we got home. Ruby had all of her babies tucked in, and we now have all of them tucked in in the garage. The big chickens were fine, as were the ducks. Everyone is all buttoned up, and I am feeling relieved.

It was a long day but such a good day. I am so glad all is well.

The Generosity of the Strawberry Plant

Day 45 of 365

I have loved berries for as long as I can remember. I suppose everyone would say that, but berries to me are nostalgia and comfort and joy and beauty. Maybe everyone feels that way about berries?

For me, there’s something extra special about strawberries. Since I was little, they have forever been my favorite food in the world. My great grandmother had a strawberry patch–and she made jam and let me pick berries–and my world was always better at her house. Strawberry ice cream is my favorite ice cream. If I was really lucky, I would get a strawberry shortcake on my birthday. When I was 8 and then 9, I really wanted one of those Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Today, I am convinced I need a farm dress in strawberry print. There must be pockets, of course.

When Ron built raised beds for me to plant strawberries in, I did my research to find a great local berry. Ron was generous with the chicken compost, and our strawberry plants seem very happy in their beds. This year, however, they have outdone themselves. I was a little worried when I saw so many flowers pop up in the spring. I worried about berries being too small. I should not have worried. The berries are perfection. I mean, imagine the perfect strawberry–perfect in size, shape, texture, taste, and color–and that’s what our beds are full of this year. It feels like a miracle.

In fact, today, while picking strawberries for our farm shares, I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of these berries and my hopefulness at sharing them with others that I got a little teary.

Yesterday, we had some friends out to our little farmstead, and they have small children, two girls, who are very little and just fantastic. I think the oldest is about three years old. They came out to meet the baby chicks and pick strawberries. And I have to tell you that the the oldest is a person after my own heart. She seemed to love the chickens, and she really loves strawberries.

I told her she could eat the berries as she picked, as they are organic. We never spray anything, of course. I told her to just watch out for squirrel bites and to not eat those. She was definitely on the lookout for squirrel bites after that. Once she quit worrying about squirrel bites, that kiddo dove into those strawberries, and it made me so happy that I thought my heart was going to burst from the joy of it. I mean, what’s better than a kiddo eating organic strawberries with joyous gusto?

I ate some too. I think we all ate some. The sun was shining, the breeze was cool, and the strawberries were–as you know–perfect. We picked so many berries that I thought surely we had made a dent in them, but today, when Ron and I went outside to pick for the farm shares, it was like the strawberries decided to be extra generous from all of that joy yesterday. I am certain, just absolutely certain, that the strawberries felt all of our gratefulness yesterday. They must have.

And I’m fairly certain the strawberries decided to be extra generous in return.

A Kate Update

Day 44 of 365

I almost didn’t make it to my post today. Getting up an issue of Farmer-ish means I get behind on all other work, but I remembered that I had to at least share a quick update.

Kate’s baby seems better today. I slept very little last night worrying about that baby chick, but today was better. It is still very small, but I moved Kate’s crate and think this was a good decision. Kate was acting less stressed out and did take her baby out for the first field trip today. That’s a very good sign.

I also changed the baby’s food to one that is a higher protein to try to promote a little more growth. I think this should help, and I feel a little more positive going to bed tonight. I’m still very concerned, but I think I will sleep better tonight.

I have more stories to share about the baby chicks but will write more tomorrow. I did manage to get a good picture of the baby today. There’s a tiny bit of growth of feathers. She’s definitely behind, but the feathers are hopeful.

Baby Chick Worry

Day 43 of 365

Overall, it’s been a good day. It’s the Solstice, which is such a big deal because we released the latest issue of the journal today. It’s a beautiful issue full of beautiful writing, really powerful writing from wonderful writers. If you haven’t had a chance to see our Summer Solstice issue, please do check it out. I think there’s something in there for everyone.

But I’ve been so busy working on the issue the last few days that I haven’t noticed that Kate’s baby chick, the miracle baby, doesn’t seem to be growing very well. Kate was acting very weird today, and that’s what got my attention. She had spilled the water and was kicking straw out of her crate. I decided it was time for an official waterer, so I got one of those, filled it up, and put it in her crate. I came back later, and she had moved all of the straw on top of the waterer.

It was also then that I noticed her baby was getting some wing feathers but also seemed very small. I Googled pictures of five-day old chicks, and Kate’s baby is way behind. I didn’t get a picture of the baby, but she is not much bigger than she was the day after she was born. I read this can be a “failure to thrive,” and I am sure it is related to her struggled incubation. Maybe instead of trying for a miracle, I should have considered potential consequence for the baby chick.

I am going to try to be hopeful though, and tomorrow, I am going to move Kate and her baby to a new area to encourage Kate to take the baby outside a little bit. Maybe the baby is just behind overall but will make it. I definitely have serious worry.

Thankfully, Ruby’s babies are doing very well. In fact, Ruby has gone from being super overprotective to being pretty worn out. Seven rambunctious babies are a lot. Tonight, when I changed their water and added food, a couple of babies came out and were running around me cheeping, and Ruby didn’t even ruffle a feather. I think she was like, “you can take one now if you like.” Poor Ruby. The jump all over her all day long. She’s very patient.

While I worry about Kate’s baby, I have been continuing my quilting work. Today, after I finished the issue of the journal, I set to work on a quilt that I had hoped to finish today, but it didn’t happen. I am too worn, but I made great progress. I couldn’t find my ruler though and ended up using my Taproot magazine as a ruler. I love that magazine. It’s my second favorite publication. I have submitted there several times but have never landed a piece. I think I am getting closer though. Of course, as I was making the quilt, I thought about how strange it is that I am an editor who knows exactly how it feels to get rejected, so I hate sending rejections. I also thought about what a wicked game writing is, but some of us just can’t help ourselves but to play it.

Almost Summer…

Day 42 of 365

So when I made this plan to blog every day for Farmer-ish, I forgot how long my days and nights are when I am building an issue. Tomorrow is the Solstice, our official welcome to Summer, and that means tomorrow is also the day the Summer Solstice issue of Farmer-ish must go live. It’s going to be a long night, but I am close–and the issue is powerful, risky, warm, and beautiful, I think. I always worry the night before a launch. I always worry.

Still, I have a very quick story to tell. Tonight, when I went to get Ruby and her babies from their special fenced area to put them into the garage for the night, I heard, from overhead “fee-bee, fee-bee, fee-bee.”

My heart is always going to flutter when I hear that call! I miss my tiny neighbors terribly, but while I can’t see them very much any more, when I hear them, I just swoon. I will forever be in love with Eastern Phoebes.

Quilt Making

Day 41 of 365

It’s so chilly today Ron had to start a fire in the wood stove! The high was 48 degrees Fahrenheit, and I am pretty sure the strawberries and peppers were far too cold. I know the baby chickens were. They didn’t leave their mama’s wings all day. I know I was cold. We were in the 90s just a few weeks ago. Today, that wood stove felt wonderful.

It’s hard to imagine that, as we are shivering a few days before the Solstice, other parts of the country are experiencing record-breaking heat. I read about the cows dying from the heat in Kansas last week, and my heart was broken. The heat is so tough.

But here it’s so chilly that my quilting efforts make sense. I do not usually make quilts in the summer very much, but I have four quilts in progress right now. One is an order from our Etsy shop, and the other three are gifts. I love to make quilts. I can’t do anything fancy, so I have just embraced my primitive design skills and rolled with them. I have ideas all of the time about designing quilts, and it brings me so much joy to give a quilt as a gift.

My great grandmother on my mom’s side was a quilter. I still have the quilt that was given to me when she passed when I was a child. I treasure that quilt so much. I have repaired it a few times, as it is so old now, and when I make the repairs, I imagine her hands running over these stitches as mine do. It connects me to her.

When I quilt, I make wishes for goodness and warmth and well being. I quilt with intention and just hope it works. Maybe it does. I made my first quilt for my oldest child, my daughter, who is now 25, when she was just 5 years old. I was at my first full-time professor job, and my pay was so low we could barely afford food. I really couldn’t get her anything for Christmas that year, but I found a used Harry Potter Hogwarts train and made her a “starry night” quilt out of discount fabric. I even had to borrow the sewing machine. She still has that quilt and even wrote a poem about it for her creative writing class in college.

That seems like a good sign for my wishes I put into my quilts, right?

Wish me luck on these four quilts. I have to finish them pretty quickly, and I am also building the Summer Solstice issue of the journal. I hope you will read it. It’s going to be a beautiful issue.

A Miracle Egg (and Kate’s a Mama)

Day 40 of 365

I have be eluding to a miracle egg in the last week or so because I didn’t want to jinx my wish that an egg I had under Kate might hatch. I am quite superstitious.

A couple of weeks ago, when Kate and the adopted babies rejected each other, there were five eggs under Kate that she had been sitting on for two weeks. When I switched the eggs for the baby chicks the night we tried to give her the adopted babies, I put all of the eggs in a box near her crate. I wanted to candle the eggs, just to see if our rooster was doing any good work in this department, as he is wonderful but quite old.

I couldn’t carry all of the eggs at once, so I carried in all I could–four eggs–and just left the other in the box in the garage. I candled all four eggs, and they were all duds. I was sad about our rooster but glad I had bought new babies from a good breeder.

Of course, the next morning, Kate and the babies rejected each other, as you know from my earlier post. Kate was so confused and so devastated she lost her eggs. She kept looking and looking for them. In a sad state that morning, I grabbed that egg in the box that had sat in the chilly garage all night.

“What are the odds that egg is developing?” I asked myself. Of course, then I had to admit, even if it was fertilized, it had sat out all night without heat. I had heard of eggs making it for some hours without heat, even though my standard rule is 1 hour. I thought for a moment. “9 hours,” I said out loud. I sighed mightily.

But it wouldn’t hurt to try, and if it would help Kate get to motherhood more quickly than starting all over, it would be worth a try. I took the egg in the house and candled it. There was a baby in there that was quite developed. I said all the bad words. I won’t share those, as I know some children read this blog, but I said all the bad words. I was so mad at myself for not checking the egg the night before. I could have kept the egg warm in the house, just in case Kate rejected the babies.

But there I was–with nothing but a hope for a lot of luck. It would take a miracle.

I put the egg under her and made a wish as I did. Again, I am very superstitious. I also grabbed three eggs from the coop and thought maybe she might get one baby out of those. I thought poor Kate deserved to be a mama. Seeing her get so upset about losing her eggs that morning broke my heart. So, within half an hour, Kate was back in business. She had eggs back under her. Worst case, she would have to go 21 more days with the new eggs from the coop. Best case, one week with the miracle egg.

But a week passed, and there was no hatch. I took the abuse from Kate and grabbed the egg to candle it. I thought maybe it had developed further than when I had seen it last, but I wasn’t sure. It had been a week and though I tried to make a good mental note, I doubted myself. Still, “a few more days, just in case,” I said to Kate when I put the egg back under her.

A few more days passed, and there was still no hatch.

Yesterday, when I woke up in the morning, I told myself “today will be the day I’ll dispose of that egg.” I needed a miracle, but I researched my odds. I understood my chances were small; still, I was melancholy about it.

“After tea,” I told myself. Every morning, after morning chores, my husband and I sit and try to talk for at least half an hour. We won’t see each other much until dark, so we try to touch base every morning.

We had just finished tea, and Ron headed outside to start his work for the day. He came back to find me and said, “Guess who is a mama?” My eyes widened!

“I heard Kate purring and couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” he said. When he went to look, there was a little baby chick. I could tell he was so happy for Kate too. This is one of the many reasons I love that man.

I ran to the garage, and there, right in front of Kate was her little mini-me. Not only did that baby hatch, five days late, but that baby also looks just like Kate did when she was a baby. It’s almost too much cuteness to take.