Saturday, December 31, 2011

Katy Did

She's got her groove back.  You saw Katy Perry Chicken when she first came to live on my urban farm.  Not long after, her looks began to slip as feathers forgot how to stay put and scattered themselves about the coop and hen pen.  Then one day, it was the worst.  All of Katy's head "hair" was gone.

Katy, freshly dressed for winter

Nothing stays the same, however.  If times are bad, they'll get better.  If things are good, they can get even better.  For Katy, feathers grow back after a molt.  It's not the end of the world.  Now Katy looks great: new hair do and sparkling new dress just in time for the real part of winter.

Of the Things I get to do today, I'm most intent on discovering which of my girls is/are laying eggs. So I've kept a vigil of sorts.  Through the family room windows it can be challenging to see who's actually missing (and presumably, therefore, on the nest) when two of the hens could pass for twins and the others are dark or grayish from a distance.

Katy's egg on the left: slender and not as pink
But today I paid "able-to-see-an-edible-bug-at-six-yards" (chickens' idea of "close") attention.  And Katy was the one not in the flock pecking grass.  Katy was the one not in the flock when it scratched under the tree.  Katy was flapping out of the cozy and nest box area a bit later. But nothing was in the nest box when it was checked between sky-falling rains.   An hour later,  Katy was not with the girls as they scratched under the marion-berries.  She was not with them as they checked a pile of weeds for slugs.  But shortly after, she flapped out of the nest for a second time.  This time for sure I knew the answer to which hen laid this egg:  Katy did.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Santa's Boot

I'm practicing my balance.  Many of us talk about how to balance our lives between work, play, diet, exercise.  But I'm talking about actual physical balance.  Those little tubes in the ears that help one stay upright are not in top condition for me on one side, so I pay more attention to steadiness on my feet.

Not too long ago I told all of you that I was committed to getting stronger and creating the body I wanted for the rest of my life.  Here to report that it is going well.  The muscles are enjoying the reason to be more alive and responsive.  I actually enjoy "pumping iron."  I used quotes there because the amount of weight I lift could probably more accurately be stated as "pumping popcorn."  That tidbit aside, the final activity of my workout is a two-leg heel raise done while standing on a ledge.  My usual routine is to stand on the edge of the hearth and hold the mantel.  Sometimes I really grip to keep steady.

Today is Friday.  The Things I get to do today,  on Friday, are my workout exercises, scheduled for Monday and Wednesday as well.  As I was finishing up with the heel raises, instead of hanging on to the mantel, I simply touched one finger to the toe of Santa's boot.  Magic.  Perfect, steady balance with no wobbles.  What a fun gift from this little critter helping celebrate Christmas.   The Holiday Season is nearly past, but Santa Bear may have to stay out until Easter.  Ho, Ho, Ho!  Happy heel raises!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Gifted by Friend

Karen lives close to Spy Pond.  That means we don't see each other often.  Spy Pond is in Massachusetts. I live on the West coast.  But our hearts are joined by a good many memories, events and shared interests, knitting being one of them.

"Indian Corn Scarf and Hat"
Morehouse Farm Merino Knits
by Margrit Lohrer
It takes much less effort to pour over a knitting book, soaking in the bliss of each masterfully crafted garment or project than it does to knit the whole thing into existence.  So when Karen and I visited, we poured over her knitting books.  Each volume was magnificent, worthy of hours, and the stack of volumes continued to grow in the short two days of our getting together.  It became stinging-eyed evident at 1 AM as I stubbornly refused to set aside the abundant buffet of richness in knitting that I was not going to devour them all,  not even one of them, and be able to relish the flavor, savor the fine taste, enjoy the feast.  At Karen's suggestion, I recorded the titles of the top six or eight scrumptious books.  These became my Christmas wish list.  My family was thrilled to have definitive and easy items to acquire.

"Diagonal Scarf"
Morehouse Farm Merino Knitsby Margrit Lohrer
"Garden Party Scarf"
Mother-Daughter Knits
by Sally Melville & Caddy Melville Ledbetter
"Spanish Combs"
Kaffe's Classics
by Kaffe Fassett

Christmas Morning, inside the wrap of four packages were books of some of the most exquisite and charming knits you have ever seen. Things I get to do today: "Select one volume to savor" and feel again the circuitously wonderful gift from my dear friend Karen.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Taking My Time

Could you just hurry it up?  Folks taking their time do not frequently elicit our admiration.  So at the risk of running crossways of others' good thoughts, today, for all the Things I get to do today, I'm taking my time.

And where am I taking you as I take my time?  On a very short journey of exploration, one of mindfulness, if you will.   Working from the last word, "time":  being present,  fully occupying the moment, living to the edge of awareness, filling the space completely.  Certainly this is "my" time:  this is not about how any other being sees me or what they think I ought to be.  Good intentioned as the best may be, they can never fill my role as chief pilot in this boat called "me."  I'm assuming full responsibility for this space of time; I'm staking it out with full ownership.  It's mine.  "Taking": an active assertion of possession.  This will not be a passive process of languishing about.  It will be strong, focused and clear in its intent.

I'm taking my time:  I'm consciously aware of my role in what is happening to me.

I'm taking my time:  I'm strong and assertive in my activity.

I'm taking my time:  This is my time to be spent, lost, claimed, appreciated.  Only I can know the best course.  In all the universe, I'm the owner of this moment.

I'm taking my time:  Time is about savoring, feeling all that is to be felt, about depth and width and presence.

So as I listen to another, as I take a salt bath, as I rest with a nap, as I read, as I go to market for groceries, I'm taking my time.  I invite you, at your own good speed, toward the same.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Burning Dirt

New meaning to "dead wood"
It looked like dirt.  As I gather up fuel for the fire--wood that had been cut at least ten years ago--it suddenly struck me. This decomposing wood was now closer to being soil than it was to the tree it had once been. But will dirt burn in the fireplace?

Over the holidays relatives came for a visit.  Memorable, remarkable, wonderful times in the making.  And I wanted to use the fireplace, have a cozy fire or a roaring blaze for a good part of that time.  Our weather has been brisk and often raw over the last couple of  weeks.  A fire seemed like a sensible as well as sensuous solution.  And the practical part of me wanted to clean up a nuisance ten-year-old wood pile that was past its prime, was collecting bugs and had started to rot.

I asked my husband to "chop" the chunks that were too big.  The resulting "wood" pile looked more like rubble from an earthquake and dirt.  That was what was available, so that is what we would use.  Experimenting with fire and "dead" wood blazed through the Things I get to do today, as I tended the hearth all day.

We sat by it, snuggled up to it, gazed into it and enjoyed it.  The coaxing and inviting warmth drew us in, closer to it and closer to each other.  Truly, under the right conditions, dirt wood burns.
Tree ghosts ignited together, warming our family gathering

Monday, December 26, 2011

Chickens Forever

Roosters are forbidden in my yard (by the city) but not in my house.  I've had a whole flock this past year.  They came rather gradually, sneakily and quietly (unlike other roosters I've heard about) and settled into my kitchen after living for a time in my office.

A year ago December, a gift from a friend started the process.  The gift:  a mouse-pad calendar featuring the Rooster-of-the Month.  I loved it!  When it was time to bring up the next cock and his brilliant comb, I found a place in the kitchen for the previous he-man chicken: on my home-made wall calendar.

Flaming Roosters

This time I'm planning ahead.  We need a date tracker for 2012.  These chicken guys will all find their places in the new year-- it's on the rooster/roster of Things I get to do today--every cock gets his month.  These chickens are forever.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Inside Out

What's all the ruckus about eggs from your own chickens?  An egg is an egg.  Under the proper conditions it will grow into a chicken.  No big deal (other than the miracle of this whole process under any circumstances).  Or not.

Now that at least one of my girls has moved into puberty and ovulation, my list of Things I get to do today includes telling you what the big deal is.  There are even pictures (worth a thousand philosophical tweets) to help you get the full message.

A hen in my hen pen grazes on greens every day.  To be healthy she needs her grain, grits and oyster shells, but to be contented she needs to scratch the dirt and duff, eating from it whatever she pecks and pleases.  To be blissfully happy, she gets the greens.  You can see the evidence of the variety in diet by the color of the yolk.

Store bought: Big and pale

A store bought egg, even those that say cage-free, seldom, if ever, comes from a chicken who gets fresh grass or greens on her daily menu.  Visually, here is the difference.

Dark yoke in the egg  from my hen
Healthy, contented and very happy hens wander about the whole back yard (aimlessly it seems, but they are really just using their beak as a directional device: here some grass, there some dirt, over there some chicken feed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.)
Side-by-side comparison of two eggs.  Next time you turn an egg inside-out, check for a green-grass center.
The orange-yoked egg from my hen is small (the hens first attempt
 often produces a little egg) compared to the yellow-yoked store egg.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chicken Christmas

Handsome cardoons are artichoke cousins.  Stalks are edible.

Cardoons are a favorite Christmas present--if you're a chicken.  We all live in our own little world.  From the human view point, we would say that we see the real world.  However, there is a dog world, a cat world, a worm world and a chicken world and a. . .    Every sentient being has its own world.  In my chickens' world, cardoons are Christmas.

What is Christmas to a chicken anyway?  Let's have a go into the chicken world:  Feet grip the perch all night.  Dark is turning to slate gray to light.  Hop down from safety and out into the open.  Flap, flap to the fluffy straw below.  Thirsty.  Shiver as the cold water goes down.  Fluff feathers to be warmer.  Tuck one foot up into warm belly feathers for a time. Warm foot down, cold foot up. Warm foot down, cold foot up.  Gobble some greens on the floor.  Swallow, swallow, swallow until the whole leave is down.  Eat pellets.  Oyster shells--peck them, eat them.  Scratch, peck and eat dirt on the floor.  Outside the coop, scratch, peck and eat bugs in the dirt.

Cardoons for Christmas Eve Dinner

All this is to say that a day in the life of a chicken is scratching, pecking, eating, preening from light in the morning until dark at night. Rather obviously they don't know Christmas from scratch.

One of the Things I get to do today, this Christmas Eve (their very first), is teach my chickens about Christmas.  From their point of view it looked like this: Dark things falling down on top of them. RUN!  Big greens on the ground.  ????  Quickly but cautiously inspecting the greens that fell out of the sky.  Food?  Peck, peck, peck.  Food!

So you might say that the hens don't and won't ever get it about Christmas.  But if it's about the spirit of giving, then maybe they know more than we think.  One of them left this for me yesterday.
Very first egg from any of these chickens--maybe from Latifah.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Love Thy Neighbor

That can be a tough one.  If you've ever been kept awake all night by the dog barking next door that the neighbors left to tend itself while they went off for a few days vacation, you probably weren't thinking loving thoughts with your sleep-deprived brain.  But dogs with over-active vocal cords are not what this is about.

I got up early this morning because I was so eager to hit the list of Things I get to do today that I couldn't sleep another minute.  Today we assembled all the goodies created yesterday during our kitchen dance.  Pretty little plates arranged with cookies, nuts and rum balls found a wrapping of white tissue and red yarn.

I'm a Handy Andy--a Jill of many trades--and one of those is to be the spark for the warmth that connects the folks living on our street and beyond.  We're a cheery group, but often too busy to visit or to say "I'm glad you're my neighbor.  Thanks for being who you are."

So today as I was going to each house, ringing the bell or knocking on the door, it was the perfect time to say "Merry Christmas.  I'm so pleased you live here" as I handed them a sweet little something  and extend an open-hearted smile.  The tag on each package reads:  "While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier because neighbors were so few, it is even more important now because our neighbors are so many." --Lady Bird Johnson

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kitchen Dance

I have a one-butt kitchen.  Basically that means it's a narrow one.  If more than one person at a time plans to work there, everyone needs to know and maintain her/his position, or there will be a delicate collision.

Rum ball dough ready for sharping

So today my sister-in-law (s-i-l) and I danced.  All day, pretty much.  We knew our places: she at the stove, stirring, and I, gathering items for the next recipe and the next.  We were on a baking binge.  Each recipe filled with the best of the best was on the Things I get to do today.

Rum balls waiting for the snow storm of powdered sugar

S-i-l was in charge of balls.  She knows how to make them and break them: marzipan balls, whiskey balls and rum balls.  Wow!  She packs a punch.

5/8" whiskey balls wearing their Santa/Snowflake suits

Just butter, pecans and salt

And nuts!  Did I mention nuts?  Buttered Pecans and Pralined Almonds spread out on big baking sheets to cool.

Sweet and Crunchy 
Before we finished our last waltz, we added chocolate coconut macaroons, rum raisins and marzipan dipped in chocolate to the set.  And, on second thought, the kitchen size is perfect:  eat too many goodies and you have to stay out until you slim down.  Good thing all these treats are headed to the neighbors tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bugs in the Birch Tree

Is fire magic?  I think it is.  It is certainly more than "rapid oxidation of a material in the chemical process of oxidation, releasing heat, light and various reaction products." Sitting and gazing at a wood fire casts a tight spell.  This time of year the human creature longs for it.

Glued together and tied with raffia

Last summer my sister undertook a long-standing project:  cut down the buggy, dead birch trees.  She sawed them into tidy lengths that would make them ideal for fire wood.  One reason she was slow in removing these trunks is that the bark on birch trees, dead or alive, is just plain beautiful.  The little pile of wood that accumulated had tints, shades and hues of splendid variety.  It would make fine fire wood, but  once the birch tree was ashes, it would no longer produce heat or light.  It was done.

Flames to add warmth to any room

Giving part of this birch tree a new life is now checked off the Things I get to do today.  My sister and I copied an idea (nothing wrong with being smart enough to know a good thing when someone else had the idea first) for making candle holders.

Let there be light.  Let there be heat.  Let the birch tree live on.  Little bugs, you didn't win.  If it can't grow, it will glow.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rosemary Magic

I love rosemary oil.  Love it on salads, love it for dipping bread, love it for a gentle saute. Unfortunately, shortly after rosemary and I met, the stores no longer carried the oil by that name. That's always my signal to get creative.

Found a recipe for making my own.  Purchased the extra-virgin olive oil.  Snipped my rosemary. Chopped the rosemary in the blender until it was quite fine.  Put the oil in a large pot on the stove and dumped in the chopped and, let me tell you, very fragrant evergreen.  Turned on the burner to medium high.  Watched the pot carefully.  When the herb began to sizzle in the oil even when stirred, I turned it off.

Rosemary fractals 

The rosemary oil cooled. Several hours later it had created the magic that I get to share with you--tops of the Things I get to do today--of how rosemary arranges itself when left alone.

Remember our connection

It has been said to improve the memory. I'm bottling it right now for gifts to give to old friends (so we can remember each other) and to new friends (so we can remember each other), and there's a touch of rosemary magic on each.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pointy or Rounded

My cactus is late.  I found out recently that the plant I've been calling a Christmas Cactus is really a Thanksgiving Cactus--and it's late!  Here we are at Christmas, and the blooms just began popping out.

But no mind, it is beyond lovely in every aspect. Of the Things I get to do today, giving my two plants a shower bath is up next.  After all we have company coming on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday, and all the natural blings must look their best.

Some folks really gussy up for every holiday.  I heard of a friend's wife who hauls out 16 boxes of Halloween decor each October.  Oh, my!  For Christmas we do outside lights so that our Swedish neighbors across the street who have two small boys will not have to explain about the "older couple" across from them who for some reason are not in the mood for Christmas.  And we do a tree and set out a few other pretty little fancies we've had for years.  But we don't have even six boxes of decorations for Christmas.

The pointy leaves (top right of photo) indicate the earlier blooming plant.
Rounded leaves are the Christmas Cactus.
However, when my Christmas--oops, Thanksgiving Cactus brightens the distant corners of my house, I'm thrilled and want to help them show off their magnificence.   And I wanted to display the beauty of the flowers for all of you.   Spend a few minutes to "feel" the flower.  Sit with the delicate fabric of each petal, of the stamens and pistol.  Observe the awesome coming together of these plant cells to create this shimmering perfection.  The miracle of Christmas is all around.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Getting to Know You

I'm friends with the postal service.   They take gifts to friends and family at my request.  They deliver the regular mail.  Good folks, generally.  This time of year it can be a love-want-to-scream relationship, however.

What I love most about the post office is that "automated postal worker" thingy that allows you to mail stuff all by yourself and even buy stamps.  Other folks have caught on, too.  When I was in the other day to drop off a box, the line was 5 people deep.  But then it's the Christmas rush.

Fill them as full as you can.
Heavy and bulging costs no more.

As I get to know the system better, I've learn some helpful tips.  What I wanted to tell all those folks, waiting and anxious because they had a hundred things to do besides wait in line, is that if they used a FLAT RATE PRIORITY BOX they could print their postage at home on their computer, and save all the line stuff.  The cool thing is that weight makes no difference.  It's the perfect way to ship leadened fruit cakes or dumbbells (just joking).   So I used my own smarts and went home to do the same.  Just a minor hitch--after filling in all the required fields for the label and hitting "print label," my computer screen said, "processing. . .processing. . .processing" and then--nothing.  No labels.  So I checked the little box that says, "No, it didn't print.  Don't charge me," and tried the whole thing again.  Of course, the results were the same.

Later my husband suggested that their website was just overwhelmed with other folks doing exactly the same thing and that I should give it another try.  The third time the printer was as still as before, charmed or not.   I had been so pleased with myself for avoiding the lines by using this helpful, on-line option that I was beginning to take it personally.  So I went very late at night (the lobby with the robot postal worker is always open), printed the two labels I needed and went home intensely determined. "Finding the grinch/glitch" marched right up to the front of the waiting line of  Things I get to do today.  On the USPS website there is actually a "live chat" that connects you immediately to a person to help.  The helpful person said this, "Safari's latest update is incompatible with label printing.  Use Chrome or another browser."  Thank you, kind person!  I (and you, my dear reader) needed to know that.

Today I boxed the last of the packages that Santa forgot to pick up in his sleigh last week ('cause I just now finished sewing it) and gave my friends at the postal website another try.  The label printed.  USPS, I'm getting to know you, and it's beginning to look more like Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pot of Honey

Success is sweet, especially after a long effort.  Thirty years qualifies.  It wasn't hard work all those years--more like on-again, off-again with years of inattention in between.  But one day a person looks at a project and has to say, "What was I thinking to start this?  And how much more time do I want to put into it, if any?  And if I stop now, what happens to this that I've finished?"  Good questions.

I'm a big Winnie the Pooh fan.  In the 1970's I was in bliss with a yearly series of Pooh calendars published with all the marvelously charming Ernest H. Shephard decorations (no Disney for me).  I became inspired to make a quilt, the thought being to embroider a map of Hundred Acre Wood and 12 scenes from the Pooh books circling it.  I started stitching with the individual scenes--black thread on ivory broadcloth--to look just like the books.  Now some 30 years later, ten of the small pictures are done (three completed in the last two months).  When I looked at the huge map, I could feel my heart drain away--another 30 years?  I no longer wanted a quilt.  But what would I do with these ten dear sketches in black embroidery.  Sell them on ebay?  Frame them?  Ugh.

Then the thought came. The images would be used to decorate aprons.  The aprons could go as gifts to close friends and family who love Winnie the Pooh.  My mind's eye saw the exact fabric for the completed project.  The fabric store would have it.

Brown, black, cream yielded 3
handsome aprons

The process was anything but straightforward.  I wanted a bold stripe in black and ivory.   A store that claims to have a world-class selection had one yard (2 aprons) of what I needed.  Second best was a busier brown, black and cream (3 aprons).

Cute, but not going to work

Then there were several unsuccessful purchases.  I simply could not move forward with the remaining five.  When I sew, it is for my own pleasure only.  If I don't like the fabric or workmanship, it's a dead fish in any case (don't ask me the precise definition of that phrase).

Next trip yielded several yards of unbleached muslin.  Horrible--don't even need a picture of that.  Enough already!  Time to bite the thimble and drive to the far, far side of town to a real giant--Fabric Depot.  I could picture the exact yardage draped all over the store.

What I discovered was that polka dots are in this year.  Stripes are not.  But I needed only one bolt with about 3 yards on it--surely in the store with "the nation's largest fabric selection," one and a half acres of bolts to choose from, my stripe could be found. Right now one of the Things I get to do today is crisscross the length and width of the store several times, just hanging loose, waiting for the my fabric to jump out.  I was three threads away from picking out another disaster when I drifted off to the far corner where a stripe in bold black and white (not ivory) finally flagged me down.  Only a moment's hesitation before I knew I could take edge off that bright white.  Minutes later I was driving home with enough yardage to complete the final 5 aprons and a package of ecru dye.

One of the embroidered quilt "squares" 

Pooh visiting Piglet's house at the base of a big tree.
 Tonight I'm wrapping the completed aprons. It's funny that once I would no longer settle for inferior design and fabric, everything fell into place and it became a pleasure to do.  The nearly ancient project is finished with more-than-respectable results.  Thank's, Pooh, for the Adventure in which this grown up finds the honey pot and says it's time for a little something.  Sweet!

Friday, December 16, 2011

All Wrapped Up

I've often maintained that I might be slow, but I'm not dumb.  I say that when it's taken me awhile to catch on to something.  I know, however, that I simply have my own speed and that I'm also, under the right circumstances, very clever.

Let me illustrate my clever:  Recycling is a good thing.  I reflect on it at Christmas when I think of all that package wrapping:  first buying the paper; then wrapping the gifts, then they're unwrapped and there is a mountain of paper to deal with.  What is the best thing to do with that mountain?   In the old days all the paper went into the trash (worst case).  If Grandpa had a fireplace, we would burn the wrappings paper (not quite so bad--at least the room was warmed a bit).  Then the city offered recycling service for paper (all non-foil paper could go out with the newspapers--pretty good deal).  Or you could put the gift in a box that could be reused (we've been circulating some boxes until the corners as worn--a great idea).  But what if you wrapped the gift in some festive and practical (Practical Pat is my other self).

While at my favorite store a couple of weeks ago, the clever/practical part of me lept out and grabbed a good idea--a gift wrap that could be used in the kitchen everyday.  Now that's the best thing yet in my book.  The price was fine as well at 79 cents each.  Ten ended up in my basket as I headed to checkout.

The gifts I planned to wrap were aprons I was creating (another blog--watch for it).  The wrap and the gift were a perfect combination.  I'm pretty tickled with myself on this one and putting it all together is one of the Things I get to do today.  Here's how it worked.

Here's the gift wrapped in dishtowel with red yarn tie.

The wrapping is a creamy dishtowel with red strips on the edges.  I washed them first and then ironed them with a fabric finish to make them smooth and "crisp."  With just a little planning, you can maximize the presence of the red stripes on the front.

Making a bow that will not crush

On my recent "Knitting on the Road" adventure, I found in the making of pompoms that if I wrapped about ten times and tied it off, a rather lovely yarn bow was the result.  Some of you may remember that about fifty years ago there was a fad of fat yarn used for package ties.

Tying once, then twice.
Completed package

 Here's the finished bit of cleverness.  This gift will go into a box to be mailed and will find its way to another state, another city and under a distant tree.  The wrapping and the bow will be just fine.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Delight

Frost in the air means Holidays:  Winter Solstice, Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations.  And parties.  When I think of all those lovely people gathered together, I think of food.  Warm, fragrant, spicy, yummy food.  It may be cold and windy or rainy or snowy, but the warm hearts, warm drinks and warm food melt the chill, heating body, heart and soul.

Bird in the Beauty Berry Bush
While the frost was still on the garden this morning, Mr. Cheery Robin Redbreast stopped in for a bit of breakfast.   He's been visiting me regularly for a week or so.  I don't think he cares about Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza.  Warm fires, hot drinks and spicy food probably aren't on his list of favorites either.  He may not even know much about his relatives or family.  He has his own way of celebrating--every day, live fully in each moment.

 Sharing this moment with Mr. Cheery is one of the first Things I get to do today.  And the second thing I get to do is watch him enjoy is feast of Beauty Berries--his version of a Holiday Delight.  The third thing I get to do is find out if people can eat them.*

*Having done that, here are the results:  Beauty Berries are edible, but I have to say they are not tasty.  Bitter and bland as they are, Robin Redbreast need not be concerned about my picking them before he gets his fill.  To each his own.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crazy 'Bout Greens

Stubby, short grass with generous mud is not a chicken banquet.  My gals like their greens.  They like them lush and generous.  This time of year the lawn in the hen pen is sparse, not lush.

If all children loved green vegetables the way these hens do, there would be no McDonald's, and Burger King would not stand a chance.  Can you imagine:  Super Size it with another helping of broccoli and kale, please!  And what a difference that would make.  Take 30 seconds right now to "see" all the people (children and adults) who regularly eat fast food, and then imagine what would be different about their lives if they ate vegetables instead.  Kind of blows you away, doesn't it.

Well, not to get too hung up on the eating habits of others, my job is to eat my greens and make sure my sweeties get all they need.  Since "plarking with the hens" (I could spend all morning puttering in the coop and pen making it cleaner, cozier, cuter, more comfortable and more convenient) is on my Things I get to do today, it takes the form of finding an abundant wealth of salad for the chickens.

Clockwise from 12: Katy, Nina, Latifah, Lena, Nora--green-lovers,  all.

Turns out that "Early Mizuni", an Asian green, is one of the first things to come up in the garden.  It also, and more importantly here, keeps on growing no matter what the weather in the fall and winter.  Even with frost nearly every night now for weeks, "Early Mizuni" seems untouched.  So I supersized them with a huge clump of it--the perfect fast food for hungry hens.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On the Lam and Loving It

My chickens are on the lam.  Sounds like I've got a strange farm, but you know what I mean.  They are wild about the greens and the creepy-crawlies that live on the outside. And that's where they are, loose, on the lam in my yard.

When I tightened security measures after Gwyneth disappeared, along with the six-foot fence, up went the six-foot gates.  Funny thing about a shorter gate: after you go through it, you turn around, reach over and fasten the latch to secure it.  Well, you can probably see where I'm headed with this.  I'm tall, but it would require a real giant to reach over a six-foot gate to secure the latch.  I thought about it for an instant, then poked my fingers through the chicken wire and spent two minutes or more coaxing the latch up into its home.  Better think that one through again.

Brand new world

There are actually two gates.  One will stay in whatever position I want, closed or open.  The other has no mind of its own.  I close it, and its closed.  The wind blows, and its open.  While I had my head tucked into the coop today, giving it a good overhaul and cleaning, the wind picked up.  When I stepped out, the gate was open, and the girls were exploring the untested and untasted beds and lawns they had previously only dreamed about.  What a great day for a hen-pen break!

They were safe as long as I was present with chicken chores.  So they were free to drift from flower bed to lawn to moss to flower bed, their soft chicken chatter scattered generously about.  But now I'm nearly finished--putting a magnetic catch on the mindless gate has to be next of all the Things I get to do today.  

Safer back in the hen pen.

Two minutes later, I'm ready to go inside.  I trill "Girls,  Girls" and watch as all five come running at top speed.  Without a moment's hesitation, they dart into the hen yard for their treat of rolled oats--extra thick, organic, Bob's Red Mill rolled oats.

"Snap" goes the gate magnet.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Between These Sheets

You wouldn't believe the fragrance in my bedroom.  If the smell of fresh air could be bottled and sold, someone would be extremely wealthy.  But for now bringing in the bed linens makes me feel rich beyond words.

This was the sky over my place today.

And here's what I did about it.  Sheets and pillowcases traveled through the wash then out to the line.  The pillows and down comforter headed straight out before the washer even started to fill.

About 4 PM I brought this precious pile of wildly perfumed bed clothes into the bedroom.  An hour later when I went to make the bed, I was nearly giddy from the bouquet of nature that filled the room. The best of the Things I get to do today is sleep in this space, between these sheets, on this pillow and under this comforter.*

*Get yourself a clothes line.  Watch the weather forecast and plan to create a little bliss for yourself one of these days!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lazy No More

Lazy, good-for-nothing, gaping, stretched out buttonhole
I've always known that lazy was a "four-letter" word.  General usage usually says, "lazy, good-for-nothing."  Of all the lazy, good-for-nothings I've seen lately, the buttonholes on my recently-completed-and-highly-bragged-about sweater are the worst.

Why would a person button up a coat?  Why button up a sweater?  To keep out the cold.  I've been wearing my sweater nearly everyday all day for several weeks now.  When it feels really cold, I button it up.  Shortly after, I begin feeling a chill in my midsection and look down to see that it has unbuttoned itself.  The problem is that the buttonholes are lazy.

My close-knit friend Karen was lamenting her angst over knitting buttonholes in the band on sweaters because they ended up being gaping holes that seemed to come from a laps in consciousness on the part of the knitter instead of a purposeful hole for a button.  I had just finished my sweater and considered my first attempt at buttonholes to be terrific--until I actually tried to use them.  At that point they seemed all stretched out and, well, lazy.

Karen and I discussed the buttonhole blight when I was east to visit.  "Just don't make them.  Use snaps instead," she suggested.  Since mine were already in, my thought was to use elastic thread around each one to strengthen its grip.  But something about that solution wasn't quite right, either.

A functional, get-a-good-grip buttonhole

Tonight as I'm at a stopping place on a sewing project, the solution to lazy buttonholes floats easily to "next" of the Things I get to do today.  I grab my red yarn, thread it into a needle and trace it around a buttonhole on the wrong side of the band.  A gentle tug to decrease the size, an overhand knot, a test with the button, another overhand to make a square knot, snip and tuck in the yarn tails.  Repeat seven more times.  As I sit now to write this blog, I'm cozy and warm, and those once-lazy holes are tight and firm as a teenage muscle--lazy no more.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hug and a Kiss

Stalled in the installation 
You never want your bathroom to look like this, especially your guest bath. Not for two weeks.  Not when you are expecting guests for the holidays.

It started with the sink.  Actually it began about 20 years ago with a chip in the enamel of that cast iron bowl.  After looking at it for 5 years (I didn't have my wise list of Things I get to do today at that time), I found some bathroom touch-up enamel to match.  It wasn't great, but at least your eyes weren't immediately drawn to the big black blotch that looked way too much like a spider at first glance.

When the rim went with freckles and speckles of rust, a new one was easy to install. But then the rust became serious and attack the sink itself.  Time to put it on the list of Things I get to do today.  But everything thing has a sequence.  A new sink cannot be installed if a new sink has not been purchased, so what was really on my list of Things I get to do today was buy a sink, then a bit later on another list, buy a faucet, and a week or so after that, ask Tyler (our young handyman) to take out the old one and put all the new stuff together (even Handy Andy's need help sometimes).

He did a great job.  But old plumbing and new parts are not often a marriage made in heaven. Running water without a drain is trouble for sure.  And then he had to leave--not planning to return for several  more weeks.
Water can't flow out the sink and into the wall.  The part we had
 still left a 2" gap directly below the sink.

I knew what was needed and hustled off to the store to find the items.  Zero.  Nothing.  The assistant at the store assured me that contractors used the cheap-o (my words here) sink trap kit he offered, but I felt sightly sick returning home with it.  An hour or so later I was off to a bigger store to find the real pieces. These looked better since they made out of the same materials we had removed. I thought I could make it work.   Checked under the sink.  Nope.  Still 2" short of reaching the trap.

You know what they say about the third time.  I was prepared with the above picture and the mismatched pieces in hand as I walked in and asked for a "plumbing expert."  The very nice man took me directly to a bin in the far back of the store, reached in and handed me exactly what was needed.  I was thrilled, relieved and ecstatic all at once.  "Would it be OK to give you a hug?"  I asked.  I was ready to throw my arms around him and plant a big kiss on each cheek, but I didn't bother to ask about that one.

Sink from Rebuilders for $15.
It was my job to finish this up unless I wanted to wait another two weeks.  Everything went together perfectly.  The water comes out of a new faucet into a second-hand sink and down the properly connected drain, not all over the floor and into the crawl space.

A day later, I still stop and peek into the bathroom every time I pass and admire the completed work.  Rust free, sparkling, and no drips.  My heart just pulses with appreciation for that fellow at the store who knew what I needed. I really should have asked about the kiss.

The shiny pipe worth more than one kiss