Friday, December 30, 2011

Bird Brain?

OK... penguins aren't your average birds.  Regardless, my chickens are not this smart!  I wonder whether comparing them might cause an irreversible inferiority complex.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Interlude

We interrupt our scheduled programming to bring you this:

Happy Holidays to everyone!

In case anyone worried we might be letting too loose, I want to reassure everyone that we are still running a tight ship.  Plenty of time has been carved out for board games, the children are watching as many movies as possible, we are entertaining and being entertained, the chickens are getting along well and we have added to our flock, only this time in the form of African Gray Parrots residing in a cage the size of which would comfortably accommodate two of my children (giving me ideas for time outs) and stationed in our kitchen.  Thankfully, this mission expires in about ten days.


In the meantime, our new houseguests are waking us promptly at daybreak with greetings that range from alarm clock sounds and verbal “Good morning!  What’s going on?  Talk to me”, to whistling of various tunes and  familiar tones of bodily functions.  How can one ever feel lonely?

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? Part VI

One fine afternoon, with scorching temperatures yielding a menagerie of crisp-dried earthworms displayed across the pavement for all to view on their walks around the neighborhood, we heard Teri and Fluffy-foot sounding the Emergency Alert System, and saw them throwing themselves against the wire enclosure of the coop and flapping their wings as hard as they could to gain maximum altitude.  The children and I stampeded our way down flights of stairs, wound around the perimeter of the house and nearly slid over the decomposed granite paths until we reached the coop to find our girls suffering near cardiac arrest over the presence of an uninvited guest, a fluffy white dog. 

I promptly picked up  what resembled five bags of Costco-sized cotton balls, scolded it and huffed and puffed back up to street level while trying to untangle the tags imbedded in its fleece.  The heat and the hormones had gotten the better of me and I was in a rage.  I had had enough of various neighbors leaving their dogs to roam off of a leash, and though this particular pooch had made it to the garden, I had suffered worse from another who had busted through my front door and made her way through the entire house while her owner giggled as if it were a behavior to be appreciated.  I mused about taking my children to her house in their muddy shoes and having them rush in to jump on her sofas while I, too, laughed and talked about the weather, and though it gave me great pleasure to think of it, I never managed to bring my dream to fruition.  She moved.

When I finally uncovered the tags, I realized this dog’s name was Tilly*.  Well, we looked up and down the street to no avail, when suddenly, we heard a voice calling “Tilly, oh Tilly…Tilly, where are you?  Tilly”, and I came face to face with a woman who exclaimed in her thick accent “Oh Tilly!  Tilly!”.  There was no thank you for finding the dog, there was no apology, and so I saw fit to inquire and inform her.  I asked why the dog was running loose and let her know in no uncertain terms that I was ready to call the SPCA.  I notified her of her irresponsibility and expressed my disapproval of owners who facilitate their dog’s breaking and entering into my yard, and of course, traumatizing my chickens!  Throughout all this, the woman only repeated “Tilly… Tilly”, which fueled the embers of my growing malcontent into a roaring blaze.  “Do you speak English?  I do not want to see your dog here again ! Keep it on a leash or you won’t find it next time”!

My presumption is that I must have sounded and looked like an overgrown child throwing a grand mal tantrum.  As I turned on my heel and went back in the front door, I was certain my anger had surpassed even the temperature outside.  The children reluctantly followed.  There was a stillness and a silence like no other and I cooled off immediately, only to find them staring at me dumbfounded.  My  son said cautiously, “Mom, you were really mad.  You were really mad at that lady, and I think she knows”. 

The evening welcomed a cool breeze.  We sat out front, my youngest and I, and she scootered as I tended to my potted plants.  I heard the jingling of dog-tags and the squealing of happy children topped off by my daughter’s exclamation of joy, “There’s my friend!  Mommy!  That’s my friend from school!  We’re in the same class”!  I removed my gardening gloves and stepped toward the curb to find two lovely children, their mother and their dog approaching.  We began a conversation after a round of introductions, though one party needed none.  Attached to a leash and smothered by the surrounding laughter, I could make out quite clearly that she was the one and only, Tilly.

*  The dog's name has been changed in order to preserve her privacy and prevent me from being served papers by an animal defamation expert.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? Part V

Oh cry me the hydrosphere! 

News of the unexpected annihilation of the majority of our flock were met with anger, distress and an abundance of tears.  We promised replacements, but that “wouldn’t be the same”.  The household was veiled in a dense sorrow, and we all swore we could not possibly eat chicken until Christmas, at least.  The memories were pungent, as was our guilt.

By the end of the week, the children had each picked out a new chick, this time sexed only.  Soon, they had forgotten all about the plight of Rocky, Drumstick, Bicycle and Toula, and had become obsessed with our new clutch, once again residing in our dining room.  The school year was just beginning and there was much to look forward to.


Only, there was one peculiar behavior I was unable to explain.  My son had taken to visiting the garage frequently.  Now, this was not unusual in and of itself.  What was unusual was the fact that he would enter and exit with nothing in his hands.  I was accustomed to seeing the odd baker’s dozen of screwdrivers making their way in and out of his nimble hands, usually as a means to some end I preferred not to ponder, but all of those seemingly aimless tours made me sick with worry.  Finally, I asked him what he had been up to.  “Oh, I’m just checking on Rocky and the boys” he answered nonchalantly, his response both entertaining and irksome.  Otherwise, he seemed to be functioning normally.

In the meantime, I had managed to demolish my hand while trying to simultaneously carry a load of fresh tomatoes, some berries and the watering hose up the terraced vegetable garden.

The chicks grew and joined the hens in the coop.  My pain grew also, and I was unprepared for the road that lay ahead.  My frustration was building.  Between running three children around from one activity to the next, making sure nobody was slacking off, the daily dinners and cleanup, volunteering and tending to the garden and the coop…and all with one hand, I was a ticking time bomb, and somebody was going to get the shrapnel in the face!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? Part IV

I followed reluctantly, finding solace in the fact that it would not be by my hand that Rocky would find the peace for which he had never searched.  I watched our half dozen chicks, astonished by their beauty, their once black plumes now iridescent blues and greens with an unexpected putty and dove-white hidden beneath their wings.  Never had I imagined I would find chickens remotely attractive, but I suppose the little rascals had grown on me!

In the meantime, my husband dug the ceremonial ditch and muttered something about how their blood would surely make for a good harvest.  For a moment I wondered whether he might give up Sundays in church for something terrestrially pagan, but I realized he was only excited by the thought that he would be slaughtering a rooster and simultaneously making his own blood meal, sort of like killing two birds with one stone.

The time came for Rocky’s last hoorah.  I handed him over to my husband who took him in his arms with a tenderness I did not expect.  With a hint of hesitation, he carried him to the ceremonial hole.  I could discern my husband’s voice, faint from such a distance, and within a few minutes he met me on the steps just beside the coop.  The machismo had been drained from him.  Taking a life, as it turned out, was no fun at all.

Within fractions of a second, we heard another cry.  As we had suspected, it seemed Drumstick was a rooster as well.  He challenged big daddy by spreading his wings and calling loudly.  My husband asked if I would like to join him for this one, but I politely declined.

Drumstick went as quickly and quietly as Rocky, which provided some consolation, as we believed that at least they had not suffered.  There was relief in knowing the deed had been done and that we could now go on with our day.  My husband walked over to the garden sink to clean the knives, his gaze removed as the water ran over the blade and swept the blood away in streaks. 

Cruel they were, the inhabitants of our coop.  Another dark knight flapped and yapped and challenged the executioner.  The sheer shock sucked the air right out of us.  Deflated, we got a hold of yet another cockerel and up to the dripping hole he went.  It was bye-bye-Bicycle (really, that was his name).  This time I watched.  Interestingly, he never called out or fought back.  A mere flap of the wings, strangely honorable, was all I saw.

Well, now we’d done it!  It was finally over, and all that was left was the rest of it.  The propane burner came out, the folding table was draped in plastic bags and newspapers, and we were blanching our boys and plucking their feathers without fully registering the events that had preceded.  My husband and I mused about the Coq au Vin we would be eating for Christmas, but grappled over how to confess to the children that we had lost one extra chicken, though we could offer to get them another to ease the pain.  We were feeling confident that we would figure it all out.

Only, the joke was on us, because out of nowhere there came yet another cockle.  I looked at my husband, he looked at me, and at once I stated with complete certainty that someone in our neighborhood was hiding a rooster.  The sound had come from over the hill, and I was absolutely positive that some other sorry soul had brought home Kindergarten hatchlings.  Those poor people would now have to find a home for their rooster or process him themselves, I thought.

My husband continued to stare in disbelief.  He looked at me firmly and asked whether I was joking.  Of course nobody else had a rooster, and of course there was another in our very coop, he said.  I was wondering whether he was the crazy one, so I set of to disprove his hypothesis, immediately.  I ran down to the coop as fast as I could.  I heard nothing, save my heart pounding and the words running through my head “it’s not our rooster”!  I approached and confronted Fluffy-Foot, Teri(yaki) and Toula.  They looked at me as if I had escaped from the sanatorium and Toula, the nerve she had, she dared to flap her wings at me and cry "cock-a-doodle-doo"!

Et tu Tula?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? Part III

That’s what we heard at the break of dawn one morning.  We had all anticipated such a day, but we were not prepared to face the question of how to distinguish which of our youngsters was announcing daybreak or what to do with him.

As fate would have it, my friend had booked me a massage a few months back with a masseuse who happened to be in the process of opening up a chicken farm.  I could neither pinpoint how we had arrived at the topic of urban chickens nor how the conversation had resulted in my walking out of that room with a telephone number and e-mal address, but I was quick to put them to good use the morning of that first calling.

Since the internet, the phone books and, ultimately, even the masseuse who was suffering considerable delays in the development of the chicken farm failed me, we were left with at least one rooster who took to waking us promptly at 4:30am and activating the snooze option roughly every twenty minutes.  Until experiencing that call in all its glory, we had been under the mistaken impression that roosters took to announcing daybreak and sunset.  Our rooster was no slacker!  He was relentless in his battle to wake us, drag us out of bed and to the coop before deactivating his morning alarm function, and remind us of his presence consistently throughout the day, only to finally cease after darkness fell upon the coop and the sun disappeared beneath the horizon.

We could find no home for our precious pet, save the one farmer who offered to take him and butcher him for himself.  While I worried about the trauma Rocky would suffer on the ride to a strange place far from home, my husband brought out his handmade Japanese knives and the whetting stone and pored over countless articles and videos on how to humanely murder one’s children’s pet.

After roughly one week of laborious research, the executioner sharpened his knives and set the date.  We called a meeting to explain to our children the fate of their rooster (or roosters), and we managed to gain their absolute consent.  All parties agreed that the roosters would meet their fate one way or another, and better it be met by the hand of their father than anyone else’s.  Besides, we promised a delicious Coq au Vin for Christmas. 

August 15, 2010.  Our oldest planned to leave the house and go to a friend’s, our youngest was whisked away by her babysitters and our son pretended to be otherwise occupied (though we knew his burning curiosity would not keep him away for long).  Our hearts grew heavier with every step that lead us on our descent to the garden and closer to our end.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? Part II

Our hatchlings came home in the customary galvanized steel cage, complete with a feeder, water container and roosting pole.  With not a hint of a coop in the garden and with the weather still brisk, they were nestled under a warm lamp in our dining room.  The following weeks would revolve around feathers, chick dander, kicked up excrement and all else that you would hope never to make it into your dining area.  This was going to be a problem.

Fervently, I pushed for coop construction to begin.  In the weeks before I brought our feathered friends home, I had copiously researched everything from local ordinances to feeding requirements and housing options for our new pets.  A flock of books on fowl and modern homesteading neatly lined the expanse of my kitchen counters and additional intelligence gathered from various online resources piled up near the computer.  The children had been encouraged to read books on chickens from the local and school libraries and their father also delved into heaps of data, although he failed to produce a spreadsheet demonstrating the optimization of feeding schedules, supplies and coop components, ultimately leaving me disappointed.  Of course, that explains why it took two months to complete the coop!

Still, I made it through the first couple of months relatively unscathed.  Considering the hours I spent cleaning every day and the hours I spent awake at night thanks to the chafing chirping of our new friends, the layers of skin peeling off my hands from the constant use of chlorinated wipes and the deep purple semi-circles forming under my eyes, my body and mind remained more or less intact.

The children spent incalculable hours tormenting the chicks, snuggling with them, balancing them on their fingers and wrapping them up in blankets as if they were infants.  Even my husband seemed to dote on them.

Eventually, these chickens would test our resolve.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? Part I

For years, we had goldfish. I'm not sure goldfish even count as pets, except I remember having quite a collection when I was a child, so they must count for something. At first it was the three plain old goldfish from the school carnival, and soon I began collecting fancy ones with double tails, bulging eyes and various colors. This is more or less how the goldfish collection grew in our home and with my children, only I managed to keep them all confined in one tank and never exceeding five in number.

I've always loved animals. My mother always said I might die of anxiety if left in a room with a mosquito or a fly, but lock me up in a cage with tigers and lions and I would be just fine. She pretty much hit the nail on the head. I've also always possessed this uncanny ability to attract stray animals. So, with my soft spot for just about anything outside the insect realm and my animal magnetism, I found it very difficult to hold steadfast my decision not to have pets (save the won-at-the-carnival goldfish) once I had children.

Fast-forward five years post baby #1. The kindergarten classes at our school hatch chicks or ducklings as part of their life sciences unit. They do this every year. The chicks are kept for a week or two and then shipped off to the farm, where they likely turn into something you pick up at the store for dinner. My husband started working on me right away, asking about the chicks, what happens to them after they hatch, where they might go and whether or not the teachers might be willing to pass them along to a nice home where they might be kept as “pets”. Well, I knew exactly where that conversation was going, so I nipped it in the bud, at least for that year. The same conversation came up two years later when our son was in Kindergarten, but hubby did not persist since there was also a new baby in the house. Eventually, that baby went to Kindergarten where they were still hatching chicks.

Do the math and you'll figure that my husband must be a very patient and persistent man. I'm not sure anyone else would have waited six years for the opportunity, but he sure did, and boy did he work the right angle! All it took was one dinnertime conversation. He timed it just perfectly. His eyes lit up and he wore a contagious smile as he posed the question “Kids, what do you think... wouldn't it be fun to have chickens?” to which the children need not have responded because their expressions had written in them every hope, every wonder and the inkling of distrust that crossed their hearts and minds at the thought that this might be nothing but a cruel trick.

To make a long story short, of course, the children wanted to have chickens. They pledged to help take care of the chickens, they promised to help build the coop, their father swore an oath in some kind of slow-cooked tomato sauce to prepare everything before any fowl laid a feather on the property, and by the power of Democracy and words I was certain would not hold water, I had been defeated. In two weeks, I would be bringing home the six balls of down that would send me on a downward spiral.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Chicken or the Blog? An Introduction

It is a question that has pestered mankind for centuries, perhaps even millenia. Which came first?

The more contemporary version of the question I ask myself has a much simpler answer. For me, it is clearly the chicken(s) that came before the blog.

How is it that someone who neither Tweets nor Likes nor jumps onto 4square winds up blogging? Well, it has been a long journey, one that has taken me from the purgatory of parenting, volunteering, domesticating (former students of philosophy are generally at liberty to make up words) and such to the progressive Dantean circles of insanity. Every successful sourdough starter, each daily meal, every seed or seedling planted in the garden and lastly, the chicks-turned-roosters or hens that have overtaken my life in sub-urban California, have contributed to my transformation from the content “home-maker” to the marginally insane person in need of blog-therapy.

This is the story of how raising urban chickens slowly drove me to the brink of insanity and why I decided, after much encouragement and prodding from friends and acquaintances, to contribute to the daily recommended allowance of 15 minutes of laughter per day for those who might find this humorous.

I will share my best and worst moments, knowing full well that someone may read this someday and either laugh in recognition or just at the absurdity of it all, while others will shake heads in disapproval or perhaps offer free counseling for my children who will no doubt make good use of it someday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I'm borderline insane. Aren't we all? Think about it. Insane is the new “normal”. So much information, so many activities, children, work, homework, volunteering and the list goes on.
It was my daughter's 7th birthday recently. This child has never had a real party, so this year I promised exactly that. Until party day and on the official birthday, I couldn't help doing just a little extra (or going overboard, as my husband put it). So, in spite of having spent the previous 10 days sick as a dog, nursing the concussed soccer player and having slept about as much as a mother of newborn twins, I persisted.
The morning was spent on frosting some of the 57 pumpkin spice cupcakes. The offset spatula seemed a cop-out, so I watched a video on how to create chrysanthemums instead. For whatever reason (the term reason being used loosely), this seemed an excellent idea. I was a bit discouraged given the first six cupcakes took over half an hour to complete, but I kept my pastry bag full and continued until I had thirty. I was on a roll, I told myself, and with the sense of accomplishment any mother would feel after marking off the first thing on her infinite to-do list – in my case, cupcakes, dinner, clean house, pick up children, snacks, extracurricular activities and a surprise whisking everyone away to the Friday night performance of Cirque du Soleil's Totem – off to the classroom I went.
Logistics were off, so I was asked to come back at the end of the day to share cupcakes and celebrate, which I did. In the meantime, supermom was off to make this birthday even more special! I spent the following hours cleaning out the closet and bedroom of the birthday girl. The closet was neatly organized, the surfaces tidy and most importantly, I had waited for one year to buy the coveted zebra/pink cheetah bedding on clearance (I'm not cheap, I'm frugal... or so I tell myself). Wants being wants and not related to needs, this seemed a reasonable waiting period. Just as 2:00pm rolled around, I had managed to rather efficiently spruce up the bedroom. We threw the tiger pillow-pet that her auntie had sent on the top bunk and voila!
I made it to school to pass out the cupcakes, early as it turned out. There were a few inquisitive glances... what were these cupcakes anyway? One of the children held it and examined it carefully for, my estimate is in the ballpark of, ten minutes. “What is this?” she asked, sniffing the frosting and assuming the look of British nobility - nostrils flared, eyes crossed, lips tight. “Pumpkin spice with maple cream cheese frosting” I replied. She poked and prodded, licked and bit it and gave it much consideration. “Are we going to be in the same class next year?” she asked with gravity “Because, if we are, could you please ask your daughter to make vanilla cupcakes next year? I only like vanilla cupcakes. I don't like pumpkin and I don't like anything else”.
At this point, the other three moms licking maple cream cheese frosting dropped their jaws and glared. I told the student as seriously as I could that I would make a mental note of her preferences for next year, but that I could not promise anything. I would, however, do my absolute best. Maybe vanilla would have been a better idea for the second grade palate.
The troops arrived safely home within a half hour of cupcake distribution and I sent the girls downstairs for the big surprise (the first big surprise). In the meantime, my sister called and I managed to pick up the phone. Midway through my first sentence, my youngest came running upstairs whaling, her eyes engorged with tears, her voice giving way to absolute grief. I crumbled. What had gone wrong? Was it the wrong bedding? Was it too much? Had this child been so deprived of birthday celebrations that she could not possibly handle the exuberance and joy of commemorating the day properly? The sobs would not dissipate and words could not form in the mouth of this suffering seven year old. Finally, after hugging and comforting her for what seemed an eternity, she was able to give voice to her tragic loss. “You took down my mobile...” she said, accusatory, betrayed and ultimately defeated.
“Oh no, my love. I didn't take down your mobile” I replied with full sincerity. “That was daddy”.
Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Monday, November 21, 2011

Postage Due

I had just returned from one of the infinite number of short trips that fragment my day into twenty-minute segments. Barely having pulled into my driveway, turned off the engine and stepped out of my car, I saw the USPS truck tucking itself neatly in parallel form just behind my vehicle. The postman rummaged through a few boxes and presented me with my correspondence, taking care to point out that there was postage due on a large white envelope. Regretfully, I did not happen to have the 44 cents necessary. Fortunately, the postman did have a miniature manilla envelope handy, upon which he inscribed “postage due 44¢"

The irony of the matter was that the envelope in question came from our financial adviser. It was definitely an accident, but I couldn't help thinking how ironic it all was. Financial adviser – big white envelope – postage due... are you following me? What made it funnier still is the fact that his office is right next to the local post office, and that he could have handed me the envelope and saved himself postage and me “postage due” anytime.

One question still lingers... Why does the USPS not return mail to senders anymore?

Unfortunately, I'm having trouble locating that miniature manilla envelope.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Today Your Shoes, Tomorrow Your Undies - airport security for minors

Taking three children on a transatlantic flight may be adventure enough, but the most grueling portion of the trip is spent going through U.S. Security. Seasoned travelers know to avoid the belts and jewelry and above all, they know to travel in slip-on shoes.

Compared to our previous two hour long experiences, half an hour seemed a reasonable sacrifice in order to ensure our safety, though it seems an eternity to a child. Curious as she is, bored and confused as she was, my youngest began to wonder. Why are we to remove our shoes? What could possibly be wrong with her new Nike outlet acquisitions (the ones that make her spring off the pavement and run faster than a cheetah)? Would these people in uniform keep them?

I put her mind at ease and explained that she would have her shoes back once they had made it through the x-ray machine. Clearly her shoes were not broken! This process made no sense at all! She pummeled me with questions and peace would not be restored until she had a full explanation. Could you blame her?

This is where speaking a second language comes in handy! I certainly could not explain to my six year old that we remove our shoes because somebody once got on a plane with a bomb in his shoe – not in an airport, and not in English. So, I did it anyway, in an airport, but not in English.

The next time we went through security, she was content to follow the rules, and the topic never again resurfaced until months later over dinner. For whatever reason, she decided we must revisit this subject, and she let us know that she found it rather drole that due to one person's bad idea, the rest of us should have to remove shoes at airports for the rest of our lives. How can you argue with that kind of wisdom? A mother must agree! And so I did... only I took it a step further to pose the question:

“So, if someone boards a plane with a bomb in his shoes and we all have to take our shoes off for security, what happens when someone puts a bomb in his underwear? Will we have to remove that as well”?

Roaring laughter shook the table. Eye-rolling from the teenager, baffled looks from the tween, shock from daddy and from the young sage a response broke through her trills “Who would want to look in our underwear? That's gross! And who would be stupid enough to put a bomb in there”?

Sometimes, my children think I make up stories in order to illustrate a point. It worked to my advantage that a few weeks ago, Mr. Underwear Bomber was all over the news. Mommy didn't make that one up! They might be asking on our next trip whether body-scanners are not another way of sneaking into our undies.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Luddite

Instead of going into painful detail about my background, I present you with the article sent to me on my most recent birthday.  Not too long before receiving such a gift, I had been accused of being quite the Luddite, not just because of my being domestically inclined, but also because I am more or less illiterate so far as social media is concerned.  As it turns out, and I quote...
"You may be so far behind the times that you're actually ahead of them."