“I Speak Chicken”

Day 27 of 365

It was a bit of journey to go get the baby chicks that were intended for Kate. I had to drive about an hour and a half each way, so I asked my son, who is 12, to go with me for the trip–and to help with the box of chicks on the way home. I knew their crying in the car would make it difficult for me to drive. I am not a fan of driving anyway.

Some context on my kiddo: He’s not a huge fan of the farming life in general. When he was very little, he seemed to love it. On his first day of pre-school and then again for Kindergarten, we did the little board kids hold for a picture with a statement about what they want to be when they grow up. For those two years, he wanted to be “a farmer” and then it was “a farmer and a scientist.”

Then, when he was 7 years old, he started playing cello. One night, as we tucked him into bed, he started to cry. When we asked him what was wrong, he said he didn’t want to disappoint us but that he didn’t want to be a farmer like daddy when he grew up. He wanted to be a cellist. Of course, we explained he certainly did not have to be a farmer.

In the years that followed, we discovered he didn’t like chickens once their “poop got big,” didn’t really like dirt, and had a pretty big aversion to insects. These things are definitely problematic for life on the farm. Of course, you gotta let your kids be who they are, but on the inside, I’m always a little sad when my friends share stories of their kiddos raising chickens, milking goats, driving tractors, and just being overall little homesteaders.

Of late, he’s been going through big stuff, mostly the stuff of growing up in a mad world, I think. His generation has so much on their shoulders, I feel. He’s fairly sheltered since he’s homeschooled, but he’s very smart and also an empath. He’s aware of the world, and it takes a bit of a toll on him.

I brought snacks, the Beatles CDs, and thought the road trip to get the baby chickens could be fun break from the routine. It was. On the way home, he held the baby chicks, and, as expected, they cried.

“What can I do?” he asked.

“Talk to them like a mama hen does,” I said.

“What does a mama hen say?”

“They purr. Hey, you can roll your R’s really well from all of those language classes. Roll your R’s for them.”

So he did. He turned it into kind of singing, and you know what happened? They sang back!

For about an hour on the trip back home, that kiddo sang and talked to those baby chicks, and they sang and talked right back.

“I think this is something I can put on my resume. I speak chicken,” he said.

“You speak chicken quite well apparently,” I told him.

For real, when I saw that the baby chicks were kind of rejecting Kate, which was leading to her rejection of them, I had to wonder if somehow they were hoping for my kiddo’s songs. I am sure that’s not the case, but it turns out they are going to be getting my kiddo’s songs anyway.

It was between the hours of about 6:30 and 7:30 AM on Saturday that I kept trying with Kate and the baby chicks. Of course, you get to the point where you realize you are pushing your luck, and you don’t want the mama hen to accidentally kill the babies. So I pulled them all, as you know if you read my post yesterday.

My son was still asleep during all of this, but when he woke up that morning, I met him with a chicken book and a coffee milk.

“Congratulations, you’re a parent!” I said.

I explained the situation, and he seemed great with the idea of helping me. In my long day yesterday of getting a brooder set up for the babies, that kid helped me the whole way, carried the heavy stuff and helped me with the drill. It’s going to be a journey. It’s been several years since we raised a brood of chicks by hand, as it’s always easier when a mama hen does all of the work.

But there are pros to raising them by hand. You get to be closer to them, and they are closer to you. Plus, it can be good for the soul for an empath living in a mad world.

The Exhausted Parents’ Guide to Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

by Heidi Skurat Harris, guest blogger

Every year, I take my son to pick a pumpkin at a local church fundraiser. He uses two criteria for selection:

  1. The pumpkin must be perfectly round and unblemished.
  2. The pumpkin must be perfectly clean.

As anyone familiar with pumpkins knows, those criteria make the perfect pumpkin as common as the Great Pumpkin.

This October 16th, 2021, we found the perfect pumpkin in about 20 minutes. In truth, we found it in the first 5 minutes, but we had to look at all of the rest of the pumpkins (and some twice) before my son could, with confidence, select said pumpkin. I tried to convince him to pick a lumpy, gnarly pumpkin that looked really cool, but apparently because I’m in my mid-40s, I don’t actually know what “cool” means.

(I mention the date because I would like credit for taking the boy pumpkin hunting a full two-weeks before Halloween while there were still a lot of pumpkins to choose from, which almost never happens.)

For the remainder of this blog, I will call the perfect pumpkin Phyllis and my son Darby.

Darby clocks in right at the 25th percentile for height and weight on the pediatrician chart. He can still fit into some 4T clothes and has trouble meeting the height requirements on fair rides.

He’s a little guy.

Phyllis, on the other hand, would clock in at 75th percentile for weight and height at the gourd doctor. If she were a cat, she’d be a chonk. If she were a Starbucks drink, she’d be a trenta–a full 31 oz. of pumpkin spice love. 

She’s a hefty girl.

I paid by circumference, so by my estimates, Phyllis was approximately $10 more expensive than a grocery store pumpkin with similar qualities. But I shop local.

Phyllis and her favorite reading material–photo courtesy Heidi Skurat Harris

Pumpkin carving is an activity that  parents both cherish and dread. It’s the fall version of egg dyeing at Easter–fun in theory but the clean up makes you thankful that you don’t have to do it again for another year. My kids pester me to do it for about two weeks leading up to the event and then lose interest about 2 minutes into the work because “This is hard!” and “I HAVE PUMPKIN ON MY HANDS! GET IT OFF RIGHT NOW BEFORE IT DESTROYS ME!!!”

The first step in our pumpkin transformation is scooping out the guts. Unlike human guts, Phyllis’s guts are delicious (unless you’re a zombie, and then the former are more satisfying).

While Darby is slashing at Phyllis (supervised, of course), I bake Phyllis’s delicious innards, in particular, her little pumpkin children. My favorite part of Halloween is not dressing up or handing out candy. My favorite part is roasting pumpkin seeds. I have often thought about buying 12 pumpkins just to get the seeds, but the carving…

Here’s how I roast pumpkin seeds. It’s not an old family recipe that reminds me of my grandma Hattie’s house and her checkered apron. You’d probably get about a dozen better recipes just by Googling “roasting pumpkin seeds.” But it works for me and probably will for you as well.

Recipe for Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

1. Rinse all the pumpkin intestines off of the seeds in cold water. Like dealing with your Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving dinner while he tells the same story he told last year, seed rinsing takes time and patience. And just as you won’t be able to stop Bob before he gets to the dicey part of his story, you won’t get the seeds fully clean, and, in either case, it really doesn’t matter.

(At this point, you can brine them with salt and water at a boil for 10 minutes, or you can just be lazy like me and skip this step.)

2. Dry the seeds.

3. Season the seeds. Because I am, according to my children “basic,” I use olive oil and salt. You can get fancy, though, and use paprika, black pepper, cumin, garam masala, rosemary, thyme, pumpkin spice, or cinnamon.

For a lower sodium version, you can season them with the tears of your children when their Phyllis-o-lantern doesn’t turn out exactly like the photo on the pumpkin carving instructions.

4. Bake the seeds. I always forget what temperature and what time to bake them for, and every year I promise to write it down and don’t. I have a gas oven, and I bake them slowly at low heat (300 until they’re crispy, flipping once). You know your oven better than I do. So set some heat and watch them until they are done, which will be at least 20 minutes.

5. Let the seeds cool.

6. Store the roasted seeds in a bowl with a tight lid on a high shelf so your kids won’t sniff them out and eat them all in 10 minutes.

My roasted pumpkin seeds are best served with pumpkin ale or spiced cider or a glass of white wine or red wine or, let’s face it, pretty much any beverage that makes you feel better about scraping pumpkin innards off your ceiling fan.