Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nature Plays Her Hand

I found the answer this morning.  The question is: why have we not had more snow until now?  As I tugged the string of lights from a shrub by the driveway on my way back into the house, I knew I held the answer in my hands.

Snow block!

My town never (almost never) has a white Christmas.   The falling or not falling of snow, then, obviously is related to Christmas and things that look like Christmas.  People are just slow at taking down the lights off their houses. Why, on my street alone there are at least three houses that still flip the switch and burn the brights every night! The gods of snow know to stay away until enough of the tinsel comes down and it really looks like the dark of winter. Then it can snow.

I've found additional documentation for the reasoning in this new "fact."  Ground Hogs' Day!  Here we are nearly at February 2nd, and Nature is looking for clues on how to play her hand.  Shadows and Christmas lights tell her what to put in the weather queue--simple as that.

Creating modern-day, crazy folklore keeps me entertained and brightens all the Things I get to do today.  And while the skiers are happy with the recent snow on the mountain, unless you want to be the receiver of their frustration over poor ski conditions,  get your Christmas lights down now!  At least consider making it one of the Things you get to do today.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Chicken Toys

You can tell a man by his toys.  Is that true?  In my opinion our forms of entertainment reveal significant information about each of us.  Football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey?  Movies, TV, video games? Climbing rocks, climbing mountains, scratching and pecking in the dirt?  Oops--my hens got in there again.  I'm easily entertained by my chickens.  Let's put that out in the open at the beginning.  And what on earth does that say about me?

The point is my chickens require nothing outside their regular environment to entertain them.  I'm pretty sure they aren't aware of the concept of entertainment.  The rest of my point is I'm looking for a positive thought about "pulling weeds."

Example of excellent toy
Perfect choice for a chichen
When the girls' greens became in even shorter supply a couple of weeks ago, I found myself wandering around the yard removing small green plants  not on the landscape plan that I thought the hens would enjoy.  You could call it weeding, but that was not my purpose.  I was gathering greens for the chickens--greens and toys.  Since the ground is now slimier than then, the gatherer in me set out right in the middle of the Things I get to do today on a similar mission to find more stuff to make the egg yokes orange and to add to the chicken toy box. I succeeded beyond my finest hopes, collecting several buckets of fun times.

The girls going through the "Toy Box"
So my chickens are entertained by weeds.  I'm entertained by chickens.  You're entertained by hockey and perhaps by this blog.  What a fun and whacky world we live in!  Look at all the good times we are providing each other!  Thanks for doing your part.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Garlic Chicken

Garlic is good for what ails you.  If nothing ails you, it's good for that, too.  This "truism" applies to chickens as well, I'm finding out.  My writing schedule is off by at least a day since Nina started acting odd.  From previous blogs you know that hens scratch and peck constantly.  There is a lovely intermission for preening in the mid-morning and one late in the day, but the rest of the time is spent in industry.  No one would say that a chicken is a contemplative creature,  especially not a hen.  But Nina, a gloriously glossy Black Australorp, stood thoughtfully by the heat lamp yesterday morning when the other girls pushed and shoved to get out the coop door for their morning treats.  Nina did not move. Nearly all morning she sat on the nest without laying an egg.  Around noon I found her standing in the cold fog by the ragged raspberry stalks with a very far-away look in her eye.  No scratching.  No pecking.  No movement.  When I came along side, she took a slow step forward.

A call to the avian clinic revealed that there would be no one to check Nina until Monday.   They recommended that I keep her warm and provide food and water.  She spent half an hour in the house on my lap with her eyes closed most of the time while I planned the next space for her.  Creating a hen infirmary on the closed end of the coop where the heat lamp lives was added to the Things I get to do today.   An old gate served to give her privacy and seclusion.  Food and water were available--garlic water (a ground-up clove per quart).  She began to drink thirstily in the afternoon.  The food was untouched.

I tucked her in for the night with a sheet over the gate to help hold in the warmth and this morning held my breath as the sheet came off--not sure what would greet me. There was Nina, on her feet, looking eager to join the gang.  Slowly over the course of the day, she returned to hen behavior:  an occasional peck at the ground became more focused until she actually ate a few flakes of rolled oats thrown out for the girls' afternoon treat.  I was ecstatic.  She scratched under the tree. She ate greens,  and joined the other hens in the chicken buffet.  Tonight she's looking good on the roost with rest.

I've heard that when people get old and cranky they should eat lots of garlic.  That wasn't Nina's problem, but I'll bet it's good for that, too.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cheat Sheet

Blue sky means launder the bed linens.  Last week there was no visible sky.  It had fallen into great lakes about the town.  But it's drier now, enough so that if an item is left outside, you don't have to wring it out before bringing it in.  There's hope.

Cheating the weather in the winter--you know my extreme love of line-dried sheets--is a favorite of Things I get to do today.

Folded drying rack
Skinny and easy to store
Several items to consider:  1) shorter daylight time,  2) lower sun angle,  3) increased humidity,  4) colder temperature.  So I cheat.

First I start early in the day to get the most of the dry time.  After the sheets are washed I put them in the drier for about 10 minutes to remove the first 15% of the moisture.  Then out in the fresh air, I hang the sheets and pillow cases--nothing folded over so mloisture can evaporate as easily as possible.  When they are about 90% dry, or the sun is setting, or the rain is returning, whichever comes first, the sheets come in.  Here's the most important tip: all the linens are draped over this amazing rack from my favorite store that is placed over a heat register or in front of the stove.  Now the fragrance of the great out-of-doors drifts through the whole house.  A bit later, the sheets, still smooth from their out-of-body/house experience,  are ready for the bed.
When open this rack has 27 feet of line drying space!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pulse to a Paste.

I'm not good at mincing garlic.  Peeling it is fine.  Slicing is OK.  Mincing just never quite gets there. All the recipes in my book that call for garlic say "minced." So mincing three pounds of garlic is one of the Things I get to do today.

Three-pound bag of peeled garlic cloves

Short cut.  This yearly process is my savior in the kitchen.

Step one:  buy bulk peeled garlic.  It's not quite so fresh as a head from my favorite market, but if it's been unused on the counter for a month, that's not fresh either.

Pulsed to a paste

Step two:  put one pound at a time into the food processor.  Pulse until it becomes a very coarse paste.

Bagged and flattened

Ready for the freezer

Step three: place about 3/4 of cup into zip-able small plastic bags.  Squeeze out the air and flatten.

Step four:  Double bag and freeze.

To use:  break off  "clove" size pieces to use according to the recipe.  Done.  No more mincing until next year.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Brine Solution

I love goat cheese.  The recipe sounded yummy.   It came from a fancy-pants cookbook.  In spite of the good beginning, resulting dish was hard to eat:  flavor toward the bland side, but mostly it was dry on the palette.

We had "Sautéed Potatoes and Mushrooms with Goat Cheese" for dinner.  Button mushrooms quartered and sautéed in butter and olive oil until golden with minced garlic added at the last minute is how the recipe began.  That's what drew me in, that and the fact that I had goat cheese in the fridge.

Now figuring out how to make the leftovers a delight instead of a struggle is on my supper Things I get to do today.  A to-die-for compote of baked red grapes and kalamata olives served with goat cheese on crackers comes to mind.  The answer is there.

Dilute the brine to keep it from being too salty.

A few minutes later we have "gravy", or maybe better said, "sauce" made from a butter/flour roux with a pinch of thyme and some kalamata olive brine ready to rescue the potatoes.   Magnifique!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Umbrella Patch

I don't do umbrellas.  Most people in my town don't.  Honestly, when we wear fleece and gortex, what's the use of an umbrella but to poke other folks in the eye or to run a river in your boot when it is folded up?

However:  The skies have recently opened up around here.  Our town is wet to the gunnels, though by comparison to flatter areas, it's dry.  So thinking of this fabric, wire and pole contraption more as a snorkel or breathing device is one of the Things I get to do today.

"Bat" needing a trip to the shop

I hauled one out the other day for a trip to the mail box.  It looked like a colorful bat with two broken wings. The metal tip that secures the fabric to its wire had gone missing.  Guess that's one reason I detest umbrellas. When they're good, they are very good. When they look bad, they are horrid. This crippled critter did, however, serve to get my Handy Andy juices going.

Not fancy, but it's functional
Bet that in this rain no one will
notice it doesn't match.

Found a little piece of soft metal. Shaped it to fit over the tip.  Slipped it on.  Sewed the fabric point to the metal.  Pinched the metal tightly to it wire. 

 Repaired the "bat."  Fixed the umbrella.  Good to go.

Broken wing all healed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Abbotsford Police

If I ever needed to call the Police, I want the ones from Abbotsford (BC, Canada).  I'm not expecting to need them.  And if I did, I know that precinct would not respond.  Nevertheless, of all the Police Department personnel I've seen, these folks have it together the most.  Here's how I know.

Michael Johnston: bagpipes@gmail.com
At the local yearly Highland Games in July, all sorts of contests are held to determine beyond a question who is the Greatest Scot.  Who can dance the best, play the drums the best, play the pipes the best, throw a stone weighing about the same as a German Shepherd the farthest, throw a stone heavier than an extra large Thanksgiving turkey the highest, turn the caber (throw a telephone pole 16 feet long end over end)? And, of course, who can win at tug-of-war?  That's where the Abbotsford Police (Pipe Band) come in.

Their team always wins, besting all the Great Scot winners (who each could pickup and throw the heaviest member of the opposing team) and even the U.S. Marine Corp team.  From the observers' point of view this is how they do it.  They work in the absolute precision needed for a Pipe Band, not a nano second out of sync with their teammates, and they ratchet in very small increments, relentlessly, inch by inch by inch.

Fulfilling my strength training commitment today pulls up the Things I get to do today, and I mentally watch the Abbotsford Police Pipe Band play and march.  I see their tug-of-war team making the slightest bit of headway over and over and over to unbeatable success.  I understand that even the tiniest advance when repeated enough can move anything.  I don't need to call the police, but drawing on their example fuels my resolve, my muscles, my strength and my success.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Second Best Friend

Teaching my chickens to swim: Things I get to do today.  That's going to be a tough one, I'm afraid.  They don't even like showers let alone plunging into swimmable water.  This would be just a precautionary measure:  Bob Dylan, master of song, sings urgently over the last week, "If it keeps on raining, the levee's gonna break."

Plumbers' tape secured with nylon zip ties
With obstacles as big as catching the girls for regular lessons, I'm going to forego the challenge and focus on prevention.  Around the hen pen the greater concern would be that the one of the intense and sudden showers would wash the feathered females into the raging current of the drainage ditch.

A more plausible course of action is to create some shelter outside where the torrents cannot touch my girls.  The Giant Sequoia next to the coop is perfect for holding the corners of a brown tarp. Ladder, tarp, fasteners--I need all that. Further consideration says that the fasteners need to be squirrel-resistant since there is a record of these rodents nipping down light strings, prayer flags and clothes lines.  I plan with "not chewable" in mind--metal plumbers' tape and nylon zip ties (I'm praying for their hardest qualities).  The time I spend in the bucketing rain should be a minimum if I'm not planning to recertify my own swimming credentials.  Zip ties are my ally.

Shelter from the storm

With all four corners of the tarp secured to create an awning, the ground beneath becomes a space free from the puddling drops from the tree.  Couldn't have used the stapler for this job.  Any other fastener would have been troublesome at best as the rain ran down my arms through the up-turned cuffs.  I have such good friends!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

From Whom All Blessings Flow

Happy, clean orchid

The rain is able and willing.  I'm not.  That goes for cleaning all the little leaves of my orchid, my Thanksgiving and Christmas Cacti, and all the other plants that live in my space.  Too many little leaves to dust and wipe.

There's an abundance of rain in my town (and all around my state, for that matter).  It's also been quite warm.  Rustle up the orchids for an au natural bath/shower and set them out for nature to nurture are the Things I get to do today.  I'm so grateful for the efficiency of the rain, for the power of the downpour, for the cleansing of water from the heavens as it washes and waters my plants with an energy unavailable from my kitchen tap.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Silk Purse

Last chapter of the shawl story

I said it was finished.  I said I was finished.  The lure of the "silk" purse hauled me back.  Blame it on a shipment of knitting books that arrived literally minutes after I finished Auntie's shawl.  One author described the luxury knits with inside seams covered by ribbon or lace.  I'm a sucker for exquisite details.  Who isn't?

Nice clean finish/ending

Mixed in with all the other Things I get to do today is buy seven yards of matching or contrasting ribbon and hand-sew it over the four seams, inside the neck, down the inside fronts and around the inside of the hem of Auntie's shawl.  The amazing angel at the fabric store directed me from the wall of stiff, inappropriate ribbons to the elastic section.  Waiting for me there by Divine Miracle was the perfect match in width, color and sheen--a shiny, stretchy sort of ribbon.  And obviously, elastic will give and move with a knit garment.  As I fold the shawl into a box with white tissue, I finally feel really good about this garment.  I know it's not a purse but I came pretty close to making a silk one out of a sow's ear.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Keeping the Wheels On

It's been six weeks.  That was the beginning of my let's-get-this-body-stronger program.  It all began with "floss only the teeth you want to keep" from my distant dentist.  It didn't take much to figure out: exercise only the muscles you want to use (for the rest of your life).  "If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself" is a quote from the elderly.

When my daughter was little, we all enjoyed Raffi and his fun songs.  "Bumpin' along in my little red wagon," we would sing while pulling her and her friends in the wagon over the uneven back yard. And on rough-air plane flights, I've thought those lines many times.  "One wheel's off and the axle's broken," words from the second stanza are not very reassuring during turbulent air time, so I change the song at that point.  But when I'm talking with friends about how they are, it often sounds like that second verse.

My elderly family members have a history of backing up to chairs, unlocking the knees and ku-thudding into the sitting position--thigh muscles unable to slow the descent. So I've been faithful to myself, knowing that strengthening this body is the best of Things I get to do today. Right up there, vying for first place, however, is learning to do it gently and moderately. It's not much use to me if my strength training leaves me with pulled muscles and holes shot in my vitality for the day. Humming Raffi songs about the condition of my axel is not on the list.

Today's workout underscores the need to observe the moderation principle.  I thought I had it down. This is not a race, nor a competition with anyone, not even myself.  Don't force it.  Keep the wheels on and the axle strong.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Boot Up on the Barrel

Birthday boots
It's boot weather.  My daughter gave them to me for my birthday last year so I could slog in the finest of mud to watch her ride through the same at cyclocross races.  But we had a dry fall.  The best foot wear this year was regular running shoes.

Not to worry,  I've used these gifted boots three times in the last week. Yesterday I walked the two-mile round trip to Tai Chi in them.  They had some mud streaks and dirt, but I was exceedingly grateful for them on the way home when the rain/snow/rain returned with steady intent. On the going and coming, however, I pondered spiffing them up a little for my next venture into public.  Can't recall when they were cleaned last.

And today, pressing right up against my conscience in all the Things I get to do today is clean out the chicken coop.  The weather and the girls and the need to be protected have worn out the shredded wheat-straw on the coop floor.  Time to send this load in a wheelbarrow to a grateful neighbor's garden bed.  Boots are designed for this kind of plarking (see side bar for definition of "plark").  They feel good on my feet, and the chance to spread fresh straw and diatomaceous earth on the coop floor is most rewarding.

Y-e-e-u-u-p.  It's time.

All too soon, I wade through the sloshy back yard and into the house.  Time to clean those boots up--really time after setting the hen pen straight.  Half way to the utility sink, I do an about face. What? Use drinking water to clean the chicken stuff off my foot wear?

Water a plenty with more coming down
by the minute

I grin to myself about having a rain barrel full of water when the little world of my yard is swimming in it.  Now is its time to shine.

Wasting Water is Weird.  Not doing that here!

Moments later the boots are sparkling and almost ready for a public appearance. Must remember this story when mockers and naysayers talk down about my many rain barrels.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

All the Better to See You With

Handy Andy's health tip of the day: Clean your glasses!  Run them under cold water every morning before you put them on.  Dry them, of course.  Your bright perspective will shine longer if you do.

Folks who work in a difficult environment know how good it feels to pull off the work clothes as soon as they come home and put on something fresh. From my background of study related to how our energy works, I've found that something heavy and similar to our day gets imbedded in our garments, jewelry or anything that is on our bodies all day.   Our glasses, especially the metal parts--hinges, earpiece stabilizers, nose pad mechanisms--collect and hold the energy of our thoughts for the day.  Washing off the difficulties of yesterday is part of the Things I get to do today to feel better physically, emotionally and mentally.

So if you're bothered by heaviness around the face, sinus problems, headaches, tightness in the temples, be aware of how you feel when your glasses are off.  Notice what happens when you put your glasses back on.  Then run them under cold water for 15 to 20 seconds.  Dry them, try them on and see how they feel. The cold water holds and removes the energy accumulated leaving the specks clean and lighter. If your eyes feel tired in the middle of the day, try the cold-water wash right then.

Not only might you see/feel better, but your thoughts about your day could improve as well.  You be the judge.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Eels No More

It's done.  Knit the last stitch, work in and secure the ends are the last Things I get to do today. And I'm just a tiny bit sad.  The hand work and finishing took two days.  This writing is late in the day on account of that last stitch.

Neck detail:  Loved doing the ribbing and garter edge.
The piece has been baptized by immersion in water, spun to damp dry in the washer, and is now having all its crazies tumbled out on low heat, delicate cycle.  This is how to "block and finish" acrylic yarn projects from what I read on line.  Hope it works.*

Auntie's sweater was completed today, the same day she left rehab and the city to returned to her little town and a nursing care facility just a few blocks from her house.  My instinct to complete the sweater 'cause she just might live long enough to use it was correct.  She might live long enough to wear it out.  That's where doing the best job a person can do comes in.  And that's why I'm a little sorry to be finished.  I did my best on the hand-knitted edges for the shawl, and we worked out a truce, it and I, about cooperation and ability.  I would not ask it to do something that only a lovely wool was capable of.  I would knit one stitch at a time securing its trust.  It could relax and move to the next phase of its evolution.

These last two days of knitted garter stitch have had space for thought and contemplation.  Deep in that quiet I discovered an awareness that will bless my life forever.  Thank you, Auntie and Acrylic, for that great gift.
Auntie's sweater/shawl
I also had plenty of time to think of my knit nice sayings:  "A stitch in time saves nine."  This writing does not include the words that describe the many dropped stitches that were "saved" with breath held until they were safe.  The stitch in time saves nine naughty words is the real meaning of the phrase.  Can't say bad words when holding my breath anyway.  And what about making a "silk purse out of a sow's ear,"  knowing that even with the finest of skill, acrylic pig would still be the basic material.  We were no where close to silk.  However, while knitting/grafting the front bands on to the sweater,  I realized that my technique for holding the yarn was wasting time.  Revising the technique with another circle around the little finger will save me whole weeks on future knitting projects.  Again, gratitude to everything in this project.

*The dryer just buzzed its completed cycle.  Looks very much the same as when I put it in.  Get ready for judiciously applied steam.  And we're eating out tonight.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Taming of the Eels

I'm winning.  How does one eat an elephant?  One teaspoon at a time.  How does one turn cranberry eels into a sweater/shrug for Auntie?  Twelve rows of knitting at a time.  It takes several skeins of courage and a hank or two of tenacity.  I've got that, and I will have my way with this project.  No doubt about it.

The back, the two sides and the right and left front have found their way through the knitting contraption (second time) to become fat, fully-grown, knitted eels.  After "creating eels" the Things I get to do today are stay on task and match the twelve-row decrease stitches on the sections being joined stitch-by-stitch, row-by-row until hem to neck are joined for each of the pieces.  Have to say it is much easier this time with a fresh, more accurate design in the pattern.

Sweater eels waiting their turn.  Gray on edges is "waste" yarn always used
at the beginning of a project piece on the knitting frame.
Gray will be removed.

I've always worked with wool and was expecting each section to be compliant and workable for the  assembling.  My mind wanders all about the archive of metaphors appropriate to the task. How like life: too much change too quickly cannot be sustained.  A little shift incorporated into each day makes the whole experience soften over time.

Unrolling just a little bit at a time from one "side" of each eel, I can secure it with a stitch, and gradually the whole piece becomes cooperative.   Just a tiny bit, a few stitches held fast; unroll, pin and stitch, and I'm winning.

"Taming of the Shrew?"  This stuff is not nearly so feisty,  but I'm pretty sure this is the only knitter's documentation of taming of the eels.   (To be continued.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tea Tree Teeth

I haven't checked with either one of my dentists.  The first one to read this can give me a professional opinion.  I'm willing to publish it for the good of human kind and their collective teeth.

Most tooth paste has way too much "flavor" for my tender mouth.  I've been using really mild ones; fennel or anise feels better than peppermint.  As part of my dental hygiene routine, I've been using one of those little water-sprayer devices.  Before filling it with warm water, I put in a teaspoon of salt and one or two drops of tea tree oil.  Using this solution over my teeth, gums and the space between my teeth feels like a good thing.  No bleeding gums when I do this regularly.

Tea Tree tooth powder

My distant dentist published on her professional FB page notes about the possibility of toothpaste being too abrasive and wearing the gums and the tooth enamel.  So I thought I'd try an experiment.  My mother used to make us use salt and soda for brushing our teeth when I was little.  I didn't like it.  What if I used soda, with a lesser amount of Real Salt and a few drops of tea tree oil?  I'm quite sure that even though soda is slightly abrasive (it dissolves quickly), it is far less so than silica and the usual additives to regular toothpaste.

Best to use about half this amount.

I've been using the combination for about a week*.  My mouth feels fantastic and my teeth feel clean, clean, clean when I use this routine as part of the Things I get to do today. Tea tree oil is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal as well as being a topical anesthetic.  Toothpaste is not a big budget item, but this latest polishing powder is nearly free in comparison. So speak right up, Ms. Dentist.  Is soda with tea tree good for my mouth and teeth?

*I made up about 3/4 cup total: 1/2 cup soda, 3 Tablespoons of Real Salt and about 10 drops of tea tree oil.

From the "distant dentist"...This is a great non abrasive toothpaste and I'm sure the tea tree oil is an additive benefit. Dr. Julie Furber  See also:http://www.drjuliefurber.com/causes-tooth-wear/ 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nervous Nelly

My hens are famous singers:  Nora, Lena, Katy, Latifah and Nina.  Nervous Nelly is not the given name of any singer I know, though most singers have had their times in this role.  Today Latifah is Nervous Nelly.

There are plenty of Things I get to do today, but they come to a halt as I stand transfixed at the antics of this hen.  She stands and cackles in consternation.  She runs into the coup.  She charges back out into the yard with the gang.  She rushes into the coup and half way up the ramp into the nest area.  She flaps down and runs out.  She runs back into the coup, up the ramp, into the nest. There's a burst of cackling.  Out she comes again. (Note to gentle reader:  to describe the next half hour, I would repeat the above for that length of time.  Please just do that in your head and save us both the dithering.)

I did it all by myself!
I finally pull myself back to the knitting project for Auntie, knowing, hoping that Latifah will get it all sorted it out soon. Then,  as I complete a section of work, I'm aware that calm has settled where chaos was.  Latifah has returned to the flock, is scratching and pecking, nervous no more.  Whatever it was has passed.  I head out to check the nest box for an egg.  Empty.  I circle the coop looking for the "Easter" egg. None.  A wider circle brings me to the treasure out by a far gate, on the grass and the mud, a lone, large warm egg.  I realize her concern.  What to do with a whopper-sized load as it's coming through?  Her solution was to run in crazy circles. It apparently worked.

Nina and Latifah in amazed admiration

Latifah's egg is second from the left--2 3/4" long or more*

*Post script:  Latifah's giant egg had two fabulously orange yokes.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Handy Andy's Best Friend

It's winter.  The ice-edged wind told me so.  Wearing my shearling boots or slippers and my bright-hot sweater everyday means I'm not suffering from the cold.  But  when I looked out at my Lovely Laying Ladies  Monday and saw their petticoat feathers blowing up over their heads, "tighten up their quarters" was first of the Things I get to do today--barely waiting until breakfast was over.  I don't know if chickens get goose bumps, but this can't wait.

Good, old friend

Last year, much earlier in the season, I used heavy, clear vinyl to enclose all the open wire part of the chicken coop. My tool of choice, aside from the scissors to cut the plastic to the right size, was, of course, a staple gun.  When spring finally came and the chance of hard frost had melted away, protection came down.  I marked all the pieces so they could be used again in their designated places, cleaned them carefully and stored them away.  The wind says it's time to get them back out.

Now with all my warm woolies on, I'm hoping to make really short work of this project, extra staples in my pocket, vinyl unrolled and sorted for location.  And slick it was, aside from the girls finding sheets of plastic flapping in the wind to be a heart-stopper worthy of shrieks and cackles.  The whole shivering scene lasted only half an hour, thanks to George McGill, a man after my own heart--always looking for a better way to do things--inventor of the stapler 146 years ago.  If I'd had to use nails, or tacks or hammered in staples, I'd be a frozen fixture in the hen yard.  Instead, my girls have a sheltered space that invites the winter sun but keeps out the gusts and the snow.  George, you're my pal, but your stapler is my best friend.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Starting Over

Short message today.  You'll get the point.  That sweater, started on the knitting frame last week, has taken on its own life.  Have to say, it's not my favorite critter.

The details:  Last week as I was starting this project, 92-year-old Auntie fell and broke her left hip and left arm.   I wondered whether or not she would still need the sweater/shrug--ever.  My conclusion, however, was to knit faster.  This past week I've been on a mission to complete this project so Auntie can use  it sooner rather than later.  Well, the pushing (confessions here) has made me a bit cranky--that and the acrylic yarn.  I love wool.  I strongly dislike acrylic--erase, erase, erase. I am coming to terms with it.
Half-tamed eel on the front.

Short story:  pieces were knitted. They curled into long, eel-like ropes. It was nearly impossible to determine their finished size.  When they were put together to form a cape-like garment, it was all wrong in the shoulders.  Since acrylic cannot be steamed or pressed (it melts and looses it shape), it was one step forward and one step backward until I nearly wore a hole in the floor of my work space.

Let's start at the very beginning.
 It's a very good place to start.

My husband's advice:  when you have to push something that much to make it work, it's best to leave it.  Release the crankies, call the craft store to see if they have more yarn and head back to the drawing board are the Things I get to do today.  Things you get to do today: keep your fingers crossed!  One more thing:   I get to start a pot of tapioca pudding to soothe my solar plexus--feeling better already.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Honey in the Morning

Got a new ring tone for my front door bell.   ". . .Honey in evening.  Honey at supper time."  OK, so I stretched the facts a smidgen.  My door bell still "ding, dongs" like most.  What is unique is the fragrant greeting when you come inside.

"Be my little honey and love me all the time."
On a ledge by my front door rests the honeycomb that broke loose in my sister's hive last fall.  We didn't reattach it, and the bees have gone their way with the cold.  This piece of their comb remains.  I've placed it where it can greet all of us as we come and go.  The smell from this honeycomb is complex:  a great variety of sweet and delicate florals all mixed together.  As I breath it in, my loveliest of Things I get to do today is to see in my mind's mural the myriad of flowers that were brought together by the honeybees for this comb.  It spreads gloriously for miles--honey in the morning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hot Toms Wanted

The hens are in a huddle.  Since it's pretty clear they're not into football, it is safe to say they are helping to keep each other warm.  This morning distinguished itself from last night by changing from moderate rain and 40 degrees to a clear, cold 32 before light eased in.  The thermometer says 39, but the chickens know it is not warm--drippy wet and numbing.

Waiting for the guys to come by

Setting the coop straight (that's country talk for putting things in order) each morning is a chore I love.  While at that task, I noticed the girls' banner had lost its grip on one corner and hung limply at an angle.  A moment later the lone coop advertising sign was righted and readable. Looks like Things I get to do today includes getting the word out for my chilly chickens: Hot Toms Wanted*.   These teenage hens are so ready.

*Story of the sign:  TOMS makes a delightful line of fabric footwear.  "With every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need.  One for One."  Each purchase comes with a shoe bag or banner saying "TOMS."  The company encourages creativity with these items. That's a fit for my style.   Since my city does not allow roosters,  I decided to use my banner to help my hens and enhanced the wording a fair amount to boost the message.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Easter Already?

Eggs here and there about the yard--could it be Easter?  I knew it wasn't, of course.  We still have our Christmas lights up.  On second thought, that's not such a good indicator.  There has been an occasional time (well, maybe "times") when our colored strings on the eaves have still hung aimlessly until March and a very early Easter.

I've been watching the Laying Ladies lately--quite a bit, actually.  With all past hens, over time I've been able to match the hens with their eggs.  Just need to see who goes to the nest and put the resulting product with the producer.  The other day Latifah cooed and cluckled and hiked the ramp into the nest area.  She was on a mission to lay.  Not long after she was back out in the hen pen with her flock.  Eager to make the match, I headed out to the nest boxes to inspect.  They were all empty.  There was an egg on the ground by the raspberry canes a bit later.   Must be Latifah's--in such a hurry to get back to playing "hunt and peck" that she just couldn't sit still any longer.

Maybe new layers are practicing building patience.  How long can you wait on a nest for the egg to move through and out?  Apparently, if you (hens, of course) are new at it, it takes a bit of learning. Not having every been a hen, I can't describe the process with any accurate detail.  Let's just say that several of the girls are still getting the hang of it.  Several of them have it nailed.

One for me
One for my husband
Our Sunday breakfast (I know that today is Monday) is usually omelet.  My husband makes them.  He's taken tips from the masters and practiced the wrist action needed for the "perfect turn" for years.  He's good.  The omelets are good. "Love my breakfast" is always the beginning of Things I get to do today if it is Sunday morning.  But yesterday morning we were an egg short.  God bless Katy Perry Chicken--I had seen her head into the nest.  And just as we were ready to crack the eggs, she was back out in the yard having taken care of things she gets to do today.  The egg in the nest box was still warm, bloom just dried, as we cracked it and added it to the rest.  Looked like an Easter Breakfast to me.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Squirrel Eggs

I'm expecting.  That's saying a lot, especially considering that it's squirrel eggs I'm looking for. Here's the deal.

I feed my hens all the right things.  Now for a hen, besides sow bugs, earwigs, slugs, worms, flies, grubs and anything else that is small enough and slow enough to be caught in a beak, the right things are water, oyster shells and "layer pellets."  They drink a fair amount of water.  Hens go for the oyster shells on a need-to-eat basis.  Their body just tells them when their calcium is low, and they head on over to the nutritional buffet.  Layer pellets, however, are their staple.  The pellets have the right balance of protein and fat.  Most importantly the pellets have calcium needed for strong shells when the hens are laying eggs.  To make eggs, the girls need "layer" feed or the equivalent.

But back to the squirrels.  I've discovered that if you are feeding large critters (chickens), everything smaller that wants to eat can get to the food as well.  Little fly-by birds, rats and those very large rats with fluffy tails that we call squirrels all get in line for their (not so) fair share.  If the hens can get in, so can all the rest.

Squirrel ran up the near-by tree to avoid a mug shot.

I would never put out a squirrel feeder. These critters multiply based on food supply.  There are enough of them in my neighborhood that they are routinely seen flattened on the road. Not only is my layer feed increasing the numbers, but also we have squirrels that are off-the-charts obese. One of them waddled across the yard the other day, barely able to run. When the hens are not in the feeding buffet, there is usually a squirrel clamped to the edge, stuffing its cheeks, stuffing its belly, stuffing its paws.

It can't possibly be one of the Things I get to do today, but I'd certainly like to find the nest where those squirrels are laying all those eggs they're making from eating what I feed the chickens.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Down to Earth

Last summer's hydrangea moving gently toward earth.

It feels like one of those days.  No new adventures. The Things I get to do today will be "catch up," "pick up," "tidy up," "clean up." The only adventure is in prepositions, but not everything is "up." Most of it will be outside, with the chickens, in the yard, in the soil, down to earth.

Garden soil, freshly tilled by the Gang of Five

As I'm tidying up in the back yard, the girls are safe to roam out of the hen pen. Their soft conversation is soothing as a summer breeze.

A primrose missed by the chickens--
no claw or beak signatures on the leaves.

Red earthworms zip back into the dark, wet dirt like released rubber bands, their dense cover of leaves having been ripped off an instant before.  The hens are quick with eye and beak, tooth and claw.  All the bugs and slugs are dispatched with a gulp and most of the plants get a strong-footed going-over.  It is not gentle.

There is no rush.  Rake a few leaves here.  Stack wood there.  Pick up branches downed from the last good tree-pruning wind.  Head out of the clouds, mind away from the computer, thoughts free to rest--body and soul down to earth.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Beans in Your Ears

My Mama told me not to.  But being a kid even after all these years, I will anyway.  Forget all the Things I get to do today, I'm making something with beans--to put in your ears.

It all started with my gardening buddies.  Nearly a year ago we spent an excited morning over a fine tea  sharing our seed catalogs, seed lists and dreams of produce in abundance.  Two of us wanted to plant beans--the sort that would be dried and cooked into a pot chilly or stew--to feed a hungry family. We ordered a packet of several different varieties, the ones with fun names and wonderful colors and favorite flavors.  After the seeds arrived, it was tea again, this time to divide up the seeds and stoke our already-flaming enthusiasm for our gardens-to-come.

Total bean harvest

I grew about a dozen plants of four bean types.  No math skill is required to figure out that the total yield from all of them put together will be less than a hungry-person serving of beans.  I was not much impressed by the numbers, but I was nearly blown off the beanstalk by their handsome good looks.   That's when "not to put beans" started ringing in my ears.

Ready to 

I've just been to the bead shop to get a few supplies and advice--no problem that I've never done this before in my life. Drill a little hole in the bean, thread it on the wire, clip it together and, Voila! C'est fini!

Poor little bean in the big bench vice

It turns out that big fingers and tiny, very hard beans and large, wobbly drills are an unlikely combination not well suited for each other.  No problem.  That's what  a bench vice is for.

Fava beans with little pale beans

And wouldn't you know, in much longer than it takes to tell, there were two pairs of earrings made from legumes, a little silver and tiny garnet shards--gifts for my garden plarkmates--worth considerably more than a hill of beans.

Sometimes it's best not to listen to your mama.
Beans and garnet chips