Entering Decade #6

I am thankful to wake up this morning.  At least a third of those I graduated high school with didn’t do the same.

I am thankful for my head full of white hair as it shows I am experienced and wise – and a Mom!

I am thankful to have entered my 6th decade as to me it seems like my parents were so old when they were 60 but I don’t feel a day over 37…well maybe 38!

I am thankful for my very diverse group of friends and cherish every last little quirky thing we do.

I am thankful to have seen other places, other countries, other lifestyles and not living in a sheltered bubble!

I am thankful to have my husband of 25 years still trying to spoil me.

I am thankful to see my kids reach a point in their lives where they are standing on their own two feet (well most of the time) as I know I fostered independence.

So as I splurged on double the whipped cream in my coffee this morning and feasted on chocolate flan for breakfast, I entered a new decade of life and vow 60 will be my new 40!

Now, pass the Geritol, please.

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Eulogy for Coach Gray

IMG_20140915_083119_821I don’t think I have ever written an eulogy for a chicken before – I know I haven’t. But sometimes, there are those special two legged feathered critters with a beak on their face that crawl into your heart who deserve to be memorialized.

It all started about 4 years ago when I made a chicken trade for a couple Bantam Cochins which were supposed to be pullets (adolescent hens that were not quite of laying age yet). It was quite obvious at about 4 months, Blanche was not an appropriate name, nor was Grace. Grace became Coach Gray for his pretty fluffy gray coat of feathers and Blanche became Blackie. When they found their “doo” (cockle doodle doo) they let that secret out of the bag that they were not going to be producing eggs and used for reproduction. At the worst, I was anticipating that I might have a pair from the trade – one male and one female – so you can imagine the horror that I had two more roosters and no hen of the same breed! Almost a year ago we lost Blackie to an unknown illness and set Coach Gray free to roam the barnyard. He was one happy-go-lucky roo that greeted everyone with a cock of his head and a comical gait accented with his feathered feet. I swear that beak turned up on the corners giving him a silly smirk.

In the summer he started limping. Thinking it was just a bruise or cut that would heal, we were not too concerned. After a while a friend, knowledgeable in chickens took a look and determined he had bumble foot – where a cut or puncture on the bottom of his foot got infected and was causing the lameness. In mid-summer, we removed the infection and the necrotic tissue and put him on antibiotics and lots of TLC. “Uncle Phil”, our Chicken Whisperer, patiently gave him meds once a day and was Coach Gray’s “Mother Hen”, so to speak. Coach got better. He was back to the feathered fellow that toddled around the barnyard. The surgery was a success in removing the infection on the foot but we had other complications. The lower leg atrophied and was removed. So Coach Gray became the token one legged chicken of the farm. While living mostly in a cage for his protection, Phil would come each morning and make sure Coach got a couple hours of free ranging exercise.

A few weeks ago Coach Gray looked pretty lethargic. He began more sitting in the cage than fantasizing his daily freedom runs. His stump had become inflamed and he seemed not to want to hobble around and chase the ladies. He was watching the world go by instead of being a participant. Again, he was put on meds and received extra special care. He and Phil shared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches each morning but Coach had lost his gusto. The bravado was missing. The day had come and we both knew it was going to be Coach’s last day on the farm. Both Phil and I said our goodbyes. Phil left for the day and as the day passed, I constantly checked on our little buddy. His breathing was shallow and his eyes were at half-mast. I really don’t think he wanted to go, but had lost the energy to fight to stay. I would go check on him and call his name and his head would slowly rise. He was still with us, barely. At midnight I checked on him one last time and his eyes had lost the sparkle. I knew he would be gone by morning.

Rest peacefully Coach Gray. Your bright personality and silly walk will be sorely missed!IMG_20140515_093006_049

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Fugitive Roo Comes to the Farm

fugitiveroosterA few weeks ago I was contacted to take in a wayward backyard trespassing rooster from a certain  local Tampa Bay Community.  Just what I need, another mouth to feed that doesn’t produce anything but the morning alarm.  I put it off thinking he would find some good samaritan that would be kind (read that gullible) enough to feel the need for the daily wake up call. Apparently Bada Boom (name changed to protect the outlaw) decided to be a bit less than friendly with a neighborhood lady and was forced on the run a couple Sundays ago.  The cops were called, an APB was issued and Bada Boom had to be rushed to a safe house before he was hauled in for assault and battery before the local magistrate begging for something less than being Sunday Dinner.

The call of panic came in late that ill fated Sunday.  Boom’s partner in mischief, also with two feet but no beak, offered his services to be a volunteer at the farm on a regular basis.  I  reluctantly agreed (in a moment of weakness) that Bada Boom could join our farm.  What comes over me?  I had been assured by the escapee accomplice that Bada Boom and he would be eternally grateful.

Bada Boom was smuggled out of his garage abode and onto my farm under cover of blanket in a crate and arrived early Monday afternoon.  His outlaw compadre opened the cage and out popped one stunningly beautiful Polish Rooster.  His top crest stood high and his proudly shoved out that chest like a teenager that just developed boobs.  He blinked his eyes and looked around probably seeing more chickens that he ever imagined lived in the world.  Bada Boom’s had a place to roost in exchange for Mr P’s (name changed to protect his covert activities) time.

As they said their good byes and took many pictures, you would have never known his get away driver had scheduled to arrive at 7am to start his work for rent for his little buddy, less than 24 hours later.  As I turned and started to walk away, Bada Boom turned from joyful new farm guest to evil vindictive voodoo roo.  I really wonder if I want my face plastered in America’s Most Wanted as the felonious feathered roo springer when this bad hair day monster shows no thanks for his luxurious relocation to a world to which he now belongs.  We shall see.  Stay tuned…..

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Facebook Farmers and Armchair Quarterbacks

Three seconds left in the fourth quarter and the kicker is in place.  The excited announcer bellows  “he drops, he punts, and it is outside the goal posts”.  The opposing team starts their celebration and the home team sulks into the locker room.  My husband starts the normal routine of how stupid that coach was not running the ball, he should have never picked that kicker in the first draft, I hear the words idiot, stupid and incompetent before I tune him out.  I remind him the high six figure salary demonstrated that someone, other than my armchair quarterback with his Fantasy Football Team, had confidence in the coach’s abilities! 

We know it is the beer and peanuts talking when the husbands start the raving.  Their only experience is putting together plays for the yearly turkey bowl.  A comedy of errors when a couple dozen balding beer-bellied wannabe football stars take over the vacant lot at the end of the street, trash talking like they spend every day in the locker room and turned down offers for the major leagues in favor of the daily grind!  The day usually ends with a trip to the ER for at least one out-of-shape player that got a bit too zealous and stoked a finger, pulled the hamstring or the occasional broken wrist.  They are weekend warriors gathering stories to tell over the water cooler on Monday.  

Armchair Quarterbacks rival the Facebook Farmers.  They read all the books – Omnivore’s Dilemma, Animal Vegetable Miracle and renew their subscription every year to Mother Earth News. Throw in the three “f’s of Fresh, Farmageddon and Food Inc for good measure.  Few understand the huge difference between the small family farm and a factory farm.  From the feed to the care, the comparisons are slim.  Our goats live a luxurious retirement life once they have hit their geriatric years – which certainly is an epic fail in the efficient business category.  We avoid the use of chemicals and we care for our animals as if they were our children.  After 14 years, we have used antibiotics three times for our goats, all life threatening situations.   And most of all, we use our products and have the same goals they have – healthy food raised humanely.           

Like the Armchair Quarterback, the Facebook Farmer talks good farming, is a whiz in Farmville, but when were they last hands-on at a farm?  At one time we took on the occasional volunteer.  They invariably showed up in flip flops, the obligatory straw hay, sometimes a pair of overalls and looking like they were ready for a cover shoot for Hobby Farmer magazine.  Occasionally  a visitor shows up and sees my dirty t-shirt pulling double duty for gathering eggs and I get a look of disdain.  The buck in rut is slobbering over the fence in a hormonal frenzy and they want to know what is wrong with him?  Nothing at all, he is just being a man – a goat man!     

I always recommend to the Facebook Farmers.  Want to know how a farm is run? Get immersed – and not from reading books or watching movies or the latest farmers’ status updates.  Get chickens for your back yard.  Become a 6 month intern for your local farmer – and no, they don’t pay $10 an hour or give you free products – you work and the education you earn is one you can’t buy.  Urban farming involves business savvy, coupled with some tough love, add a huge dose of animal husbandry, a smattering of amateur geneticist and most of all, the day laborer.  The farmer can’t boast that same high salary of the football coach, nor the subsidies of the factory farmer, but they get paid in something better than money – a sense of accomplishment no Facebook Farmer will ever feel in Farmville!

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The Quail Chronicle

quailAt times, husbands get a bug up their butt for a new quest.  I should be grateful it wasn’t gallivanting around the nudie bars or climbing Mt. Everest (as if he was able) but he wanted (me) to raise quail, chukars and pheasants.  He pitched me that not only did they give eggs, but they were food bon vivant!  A southern city girl, I was raised in a family of pot roast and Chef Boyardee spaghetti, but over the years, the other half’s persuasions worked and I was game (no pun intended) to a more adventurous palate.  Little did I know the benefits, both emotionally and nutritionally to these little creatures.

We purchased the first 35 quail to start our flock (another blog for the subsequent chukars and pheasants).  Did you know that quail can’t be free ranged?  Neither did we.  We opened the box and the first five were off like NASA propelled rockets to the wild blue yonder.  “We are free, we are free” I distinctly heard them call as they soared over the fence.  We still find the occasional quail egg in the weeds behind the fence so those Houdini birds lived to breed and lay on in the wild, mocking their cousins in the pens.   With the remaining 30 quail we covered the pen and started our serious learning curve.  I had committed my cardinal sin – acquired animals without doing an intense study on the art of quail husbandry.

The nutritional benefits are awesome but I am sure husband was only dreaming about quail meat, not those little coturnine pearls.  About the size of a fat big thumb, quail eggs are packed with 3-4 times the nutrition of a regular chicken egg and low in cholesterol.  Compared to chicken eggs, the yolks are mammoth in relation to the white.  Regularly consumed raw on sushi as well as a common ingredient in Asian and western European cuisine, the eggs are light and delicate with no gamey aftertaste.  I use them like chicken eggs and love in a nest of shredded potatoes and onions.

Reading that the color pattern of the egg to a hen is like a finger print to a human, I separated a couple hens to verify the claim.  The beige and brown mottled pattern of each respective hen was identical day after day.  It doesn’t take much to entertain me!

A chirp with a twang on the end, the sweet song of the cotournix quail is tantalizing.  Quiet in the day but at their “laying” hours of the early evening, they become quite vocal, in a very soothing churtle.  We have come to expect the sweet serenade to accompany the dusk each day to signal egg gathering time.

Generally quail raising has been uneventful, with the exception of the day we found a huge rat snake that had obviously consumed two quail and was working on the third but was too large by that time to slither back through the cage wire after nabbing the bounty.  For even a condo dweller, a few quail in a cage on the balcony would render fresh eggs and no one would be the wiser that you are harboring miniature food producing livestock.

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So you want to be a farmer?

You devour every last tidbit of postings on Facebook from your local farmers.  You pick through their blogs for buzz words to store in your internal farm dictionary.  You learn how they pollinate the squash blossoms, what is trendy for livestock feed and you read every Joel Salatin book three times (from air conditioned comfort).  You watched the goats kid on the maternity cam and just wanted to jump in and help that last little one as she struggled to stand.  Did you realize the temperature in that barn was 30 degrees and the wind was blowing through the cracks with a chill that would freeze ear wax?

I get it all the time, “we want to retire and have a little farm”.  Do you really call that retirement?  Up when the roosters decide you should awaken, putting in an 18 hour work day and falling into bed to be awaken in the wee hours by the dogs fending off a predator in the barnyard.  You get really good at going back to sleep after an hour on coyote watch.  How about raking out the chicken pen in the mid summer rainy season with a smell that would gag a maggot?  There is something about the smell of chickens in the rainy season that you will never forget – not really one of those fond memories, either!  Rates right up there with the dead rat that you just can’t find, that is getting you back in the afterlife by forcing your olfactory senses into shutdown mode.

When hubby and I lost our jobs after 9/11, we thought turning our kids’ 4H project would be a really cool adventure.  After all who doesn’t like to pet goats and drink milk?  What part of cool did I miss April through October?  We were one of those disillusioned “we want a farm in our retirement” type of people. As hubby’s debilitating arthritis took it’s toll and I inherited the farm duties, it became very clear that even though we were finding proficiency, perhaps we should have been more realistic about the labor end of the lifestyle.  A hobby farm is a lot of work, but taking it to an occupational level changes the ball game completely.  And who can afford a hobby farm with the price of feed and property taxes?  I can sling hay with the best, birth triplet goat kids with the speed of a caprine midwife and necropsy a chicken on the picnic table but pay the price with aching muscles and callused hands to rival a steel worker.

After almost a decade of being the local farmer I can only hope to live to retirement one day – in about 10 years and I will be hitting 70.  I have dreams of a secluded beach in Panama, living in a thatched shack with no goats, no horses, no dogs, no cats, not even a parrot to mock me.  If I want an animal I will feed the seagulls!  They can fend for themselves if I decide to sleep in one day.  As I sit in my beach chair with my feet in the sand getting the suntan of my life, I want to order very fruity drinks (don’t skimp on the rum) with a festive umbrella adornment and write. I want to write those stories about all the adventures that have driven me to look forward to a retirement of doing nothing!

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Dysfunctional Parenting

Dysfunctional Parenting

I haven’t been the best Mom, in fact I got so busy trying to make a living that we became a dysfunctional family and my disabled husband became the domestic caretaker.  We liked to call it Foreign Affairs (being the breadwinner) and Domestic Affairs (putting dinner on the table and laundry control).  Being the working farmer lady probably didn’t fit the “Mom Mold” and unsettled a few of daughter’s suitors and while I can laugh now, I doubt they think it funny to this day. 

Our daughter was about 14 at the time when Nick came to visit that day after school.  He showed up in the height of non-fashion with trousers showing every last stitch of his boxers and the hat crooked on his head.  First thing at hand was noting that at our house, I did not care to know the color of his underwear and was that his head crooked, or the hat? As we got the fashion statement nailed down to our acceptability, with his pants raised to a less precarious perch, I proceeded to return to my task at hand outside, burying one of our geriatric goats that had passed away. 

The day had turned into dusk and Nick and my daughter were inside watching television.    His reputation preceded him as the make-out king on the MySpace circuit. From my backyard vantage point, I noticed the light go out I had turned on when I passed through.  Several times I made the trip inside to turn that light back on.  And a few minutes later it would be extinguished.

The time to say goodbye to our beloved Flirty was at hand.  I had dug a grave roughly 4′ deep, big enough for a 150 pound goat.  I was dirty, smelly, really tired and grumpier than a hungry grizzly awaken early from his hibernation.   When the light went out again, I furiously returned inside and told Nick to come help me with something.  The poor city boy was mortified when I had him help me load a dead goat into the wheelbarrow for her last trip across the pasture to her final resting place.  We arrived at the grave to discover that I had left the shovel back at the barn.  Sending daughter to retrieve the shovel I had my words of prayer with Nick.  Some small talk about respectability, husband’s sharpshooter accomplishments and just before daughter showed up I inferred how he could join poor Flirty at the bottom of that hole should he turn the light out again. 

Nick never did come back for any more after school television.  I wonder why? 

Moms rule!

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