My Small Country Life

Published Works
Favorite Photos
Useful Links
Contact Karen
Archive Newer | Older

Saturday, December 31, 2011



           The last day of 2011 and such a dreary day it has been. No big celebration for the evening.  I plan to welcome the new year with a friend and good food and a movie.  

            Like everyone else my resolutions for 2012 include things like getting in better shape, knocking off a few pounds, etc., but more importantly I resolve to surround myself with only inspiring people, those for whom I have great respect.  This may be a bit challenging since many of these individuals are dead, immortalized only in their books.  the point is that I will no longer quietly and politely indulge those that fall into the ‘other' category.  Don't misunderstand; I won't suddenly become rude or unfriendly, just less available in some ways. 

            I look forward to a fresh start and wish all of my blog readers a healthy and happy new year.

6:11 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 30, 2011



            Until a few years ago I felt quite safe living alone with a fair amount of distance between me and my neighbors. No one around here locked doors and no one worried about intruders, but too many robberies have made me and the rest of the folks on this road a bit nervous.  Now we keep doors locked and depend upon our neighborhood watch to provide an illusion of security.  We're angry that the peace and safety we all took for granted has been undermined.

            "Call the police right now!" ordered a New Mexico friend's email when I told her about a strange truck parked at the end of my drive last night.  I didn't call them.  Instead I grabbed the new hi-beam deer spotter my daughter gave me.  The LED cut through the darkness like a laser.  I didn't recognize the truck pulled up against the board fencing.  Had this happened five years ago I simply would have marched out there to investigate.  These days I'm more careful (or cowardly).  Instead I shined the light toward the road from the safety of the back patio.

            After a while more vehicles arrived on the scene and I could see a woman pacing in the middle of the road.  Obviously someone was in trouble, so I did venture out to see what was going on and in the process met the new people who had moved into the farm across from old Kenny's.  Their truck had broken down and someone with a small inadequate-looking tractor was trying to secure a tow chain.  All was well--until this morning.

            "Hi Karen, This is Karen from up the road...."  (I am Karen from down the road and we also have Karen from Windswept.  ‘Three Karens in a row, so that's how we identify ourselves rather than using last names.)  She was calling from her cell phone to tell me that as she drove past she saw a strange bearded man come out from my gate and set off down the road on foot.  There was no vehicle in sight.  The ever-vigilant ‘neighborhood watcher' pulled over and observed a dark SUV appear from seemingly nowhere to pick up the bearded, camo-clad stranger and drive away. She didn't get a plate number and this mystery remains unsolved.

            Two weeks ago thieves rented a Home Depot truck and broke into the workshop of a farmer just down the road.  They stole tools and welding equipment.  A few nights ago T. reported a truck pulling into his driveway after 11:00 pm.  Since he has twice been the victim of burglars, he is especially apprehensive about such things as strange vehicles late at night.  After some time the truck backed out and vanished.  It's creepy and annoying, but the threat of intrusion is not limited to people as I discovered this morning at the barn.

            After last week's surprising discovery of the white hen and her voluminous stash of eggs atop the hay bales I've been keeping the hay room door closed.  There are two reasons for this; to keep her safe while setting the nest and to keep her gal pals from depositing any more eggs out there.  By my calculations she would hatch some unwanted (by me...) chicks on January 8. 

            I can't imagine that I neglected to close that door last night, but this morning the white mother-to-be met me in at the barnyard gate.  Had the door been closed this would have been quite impossible, so I rushed to investigate.  The pushed-open door gaped wide and broken eggs littered the hay room.  They had been neatly licked clean.  Amidst this disarray were many white feathers indicating the hen had been the unsuspecting victim of some nighttime marauder! 

            Since eleven eggs are more than enough for even the biggest appetite a few remained in the nesting basket.  They were cold as stones, hence nonviable, so I dumped them in the poop trolley and closed the door.  The hen has since joined her foraging friends and has given up her quest for motherhood. 

            I suspect this was the work of a hungry opossum.  Little does he know that he did me a favor.  Winter chicks are just a bother.


5:23 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 29, 2011



             "Hey Ern, you're pilin' on a few extra pounds, aren't ya?"Ted politely asked his pal.

              "I'm not fat! I'm big-boned," countered Ernie, avoiding the real issue.

            Well, today the vet's scales revealed the ugly truth.  Ernie weighs 121 pounds.  He should weigh between 80-90.  Hmmm, I don't think his bones are that big! 

            Ernie has been on thyroid meds for about six months, but a blood test confirmed the dosage may not be high enough.  It has been increased by 50% and in two weeks the test will be repeated.  It may be necessary to change the prescription.

            Meanwhile, Peggy Sue is home again, rendered sterile and vaccinated against everything known to the veterinary community.  It was a costly morning, but they're worth it.


9:23 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 28, 2011



            It's cold outside and a cluster of hopeful faces peer into my kitchen through the glass door.  "Please madam, could you spare a few morsels for some hungry chickens?" they plead.  Never mind that they have a feeder full of scratch grain in the coop or that they've already had several slices of torn up bread.  I open the door and toss out some oatmeal and the eager crowd devours the humble offering as if they haven't eaten in days.  Silly chickens.

            I've noticed that some other blogsters christen their chickens with cutesy names and have themselves photographed cuddling their feathered friends. The photos don't show the big white splat of poo that their captive has deposited on their shirt or shoe. What can I say.  Most of my birds are nameless and admittedly they are rarely cuddled when no longer fluffy chicks. 

            "Come on girls," I call followed by, "Chook, chook, chook" and they race across the yard like tiny people in strait jackets.  No specific names are needed, but a few have earned special monikers and not surprisingly most of them have been roosters.

            Owen Meany was undoubtedly the meanest bird ever to peck his way out of an egg.  Handsome though he was his demeanor was vicious and unless I wanted to be a victim I had to shield myself with a garbage can lid and armed with a broom just to collect eggs from the coop.  After one unprovoked attack by this monster as I walked through the barnyard it occurred to me that keeping such an evil creature was stupid.  He simply had to go. 

          That night, under the cover of darkness when the unsuspecting terrorist was dozing on his roost,from behind I grabbed his spurred legs, up-ended him and stuffed him into a  sky kennel.  The next morning he was delivered to my old friend Ginny who with the assistance of her sister hacked off Owen's head.  I did not stick around to watch his  execution!  The sisters roasted him, ate him for Sunday dinner and pronounced him "tasty."  I felt little remorse.  Had he been spared he would have passed on his ugly traits to progeny and that would have been unthinkable.

            Owen was really the only bad rooster I've ever had.  I recall others like Little Elvis with fondness. The little Banty was a spectacular vision of red and black iridescent plumage and he had the sweetest personality ever.  Elvis was full-grown when he was given to me and he lived for ten more years, so no one really knew how old he was when at last he went to that big hen house in the sky. 

            Elvis liked to be carried around, so he was a hit with visitors, many of whom had never had previous poultry encounters .  I like to think he served as an ambassador for all roosters, especially those who may have been unjustly persecuted due to the behavior of  birds like Owen Meany.  Little Elvis set the record straight that not all cockerels are bad.

            There were other good guys that come to mind, but without a doubt my very favorite was Chopstix.  This small white rooster might have been unremarkable but for the fact that he arrived having no feet.  The woman who had given me a crate full of unwanted chickens neglected to mention that the delivery included any rooster at all, let alone one with no feet!  Did she think I wouldn't notice!  Granted, we who find ourselves with too many roosters have been known to resort to shady tactics to place them in new homes, but really.... 

            I made the shocking discovery while pulling each bird from the carrier to dust it with poultry insecticide before introduction to the existing flock.  Imagine grabbing birds by their feet to up-end and dust only to grab one with nothing at the end of its scaly legs!  I rushed to the house to call the duplictous donor.

            "Teddy!  You gave me a rooster with no feet," I cried. 

            "Ah yes," she sighed. "He hatched in the goat pen and I guess one of the does stepped on him...," she continued.  Hence Chopstix became very adept at strutting around on his peg legs.  I installed a 2" x 2" roost just for him and like a tight-rope walker he balanced and slept there with ease.  Sadly this gentle fellow never sired any offspring although the hens tolerated his pathetic attempts.  I imagine their chats when the little guy finally gave up and went off to pursue bugs instead of sex.

            "Oh geez, I thought he'd never give up," says the preening little red hen.  "Well it was downright embarrassing.  And just look at how he's ruined my wing feathers with all that teetering around on my back.  I'm not going to put up with it anymore and you shouldn't either.  We can all outrun him," adds an indignant yellow hen.  The rest nod in agreement.  Hence, poor sexually-frustrated Chopstix lived more than a decade and never passed on his gentle genes.

            He might have lived even longer had it not been for a big studly rooster who had never paid any attention to his impotent coop mate, but who one day brutally attacked poor defenseless Chopstix.  It was in the dead of winter when a neighbor walked in and said, "Hey your white chicken is all bloody...."  I raced to the snowy barnyard to find dear little Chopstix mortally wounded by the big bully.  He was rushed to the PICU (poultry intensive care unit AKA hay room), put under a heat lamp and his wounds lovingly dressed, but alas he expired anyway.  His killer was delivered to Ginny the following day.

            Currently there are two roosters here; Lothario and Lonely Boy, but so far they are getting along.  Each has his own harem and Lonely Boy seems to accept Lothario's dominance due to seniority, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  At almost 101 years of age Ginny is no longer able or interested in dispatching roosters and I've run out of "good homes" for extra cockerels.


2:15 pm est          Comments

Monday, December 26, 2011



            While there is still no lifeguard on duty in the hen house I'm happy to report there have been no more fatalities in the heated water bowl since the small green life ‘raft' was installed following the tragic deaths of three innocent mice. 

            Warm temperatures and blue skies were perfect for wrapping up some outside chores. Then the dogs and I walked up to Kenny's to deliver a thank you note and a dozen eggs.  Kenny's red chick-mobile truck was gone, so under the watchful eyes of his 'herd' of cattle I left the offerings at his side door atop an extra-large,aluminum-painted brick.  Aside from its eye-catching decorative value I could see no practical purpose for this adornment.  It competes with various Rubbermaid tote lids, five gallon buckets and a couple of lawn chairs that didn't get hauled into the barn for winter, but that would be impossible anyway.

            The big wooden barn doors have now fallen completely off the rail and lay like splintery sliding boards at a 45 degree angle, propped up by the mountain of assorted rubbish that threatens to swallow anyone or anything that ventures inside.  How Kenny gets to his milk house is anyones guess. 


10:22 pm est          Comments

Sunday, December 25, 2011



            If there's one holiday gift I look forward to it's the always-unique offering from old Kenny.  It's usually surreptitiously delivered after dark or just before dawn, left hanging on the gate at the end of the drive and so it was discovered early this morning.  Kenny's gifts often come in big black garbage bags, but it's Christmas, hence today's more decorative brown paper shopping bag.  I knew before peeking inside that his carefully-chosen prezzies would not disappoint.

            The photo may not accurately convey the vintage of these culinary treats.  My favorite item is the small jar of very old discolored sesame seeds which have probably been riding around in one of Kenny's fleet of vehicles for several years.  The label on the dented box of Hemp Dream touts a "great new taste," and since admittedly I have not tasted hemp in its liquid form, this will be a new experience for me.  There's a lovely jar of organic apple butter and a nice bottle of rosemary vinegar.   The bag of barley has 35 cents scrawled in Magic Marker, but I think it's been some time since barley was that inexpensive. The chestnuts which I know came from the tree next to his barn are decorative even if dried out and slightly wormy.  And no gift from Kenny would be complete without at least one loaf of spelt bread from his favorite Amish bakery.  As if all of this were not more than enough, the bag also contained a monetary gift; one penny.

            How can I help but love old Kenny! If only all men were so thoughtful.


5:09 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 24, 2011



            The bad asses have been sulking for days; put off because they were not invited to participate in Christmas in the Village as they had been in a previous year.  I told them that to my knowledge this year's Christmas in the Village was cancelled. I pointed out that closure of the only convenient restaurant in town, rainy weather and little community interest were decisive factors for nixing the shindig, but I don't think they believed me.  Despite the fact that donkeys have superb memories this pair seems to have conveniently forgotten their behavior during their last appearance.

            Not surprisingly it was Corky who had refused to load into the trailer.  Agreeable Andy stepped right on, looked over his shoulder and told his pint-sized pal to get on, but Corky refused.  Physical force was employed.  My farrier's husband (who I think was playing the role of Joseph) was a big strapping fellow, so he literally picked up the bad ass and put him on board. When the trailer was in the lumber yard parking lot behind the temporary stable erected on the main drag and the trailer door was opened the naturally-inquisitive neophyte actors, inspired by the music, lights and milling crowds suddenly became very cooperative. 

            They led politely to the Nativity scene where pimple-faced teenage members of the holy family clustered around a makeshift manger.  Corky and Andy immediately drew a rapt audience.  A lot of people had never before seen donkeys in the flesh. Foolish parents thrust baby fingers at their velvety muzzles, oblivious that the tiny digits bore a dangerous resemblance to fingerling carrots.  Lots of petting by young and old delighted the longears.  All went well until scripture recitation by one of the wise men, amplified by a screaming PA system behind the manger disrupted the pseudo-pastoral scene.  Holy crap! 

            Chaos ensued, but Joseph calmed the anxious asses.  Since periodic readings were part of the program and no one bothered to adjust the audio system disruptions continued throughout the evening although much less dramatic than the first one.  At some point, having tired of the paparazzi and annoying baby fingers Corky looked and Andy and said, "I'm out'a here.  How about you?" 

            As if on cue they turned and headed for the lumber yard lot.  While diminutive in size donkeys are very strong and when they decided the show was over, it was over.  With Joseph gripping their lead ropes the trio made a hasty retreat leaving a confused Mary and her entourage watching from the stable.  The bad asses were not asked back the following year and I never told them they'd been replaced by more seasoned show donkeys.  It would only have added insult to injury.  They each got a candy cane for dinner tonight, but it was small consolation for their lost acting careers.


6:44 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 23, 2011



            Apparently Sissy thinks this gaming season is for deer MICE, rather than the antlered species.  She is relentless in her pursuit of these cute little critters and consequently the porches, patio and the barn have become predictably macabre.  My pretty silver kitty is a Jeckell-Hyde character.  While she is happy to innocently purr on anyone's lap who will host her, she is actually a vicious serial killer who does not hunt for sustenance, but for sport.  Her trophies are heaped at each door.  I'm not suggesting that she is presenting one or even two, but sometimes as many as six.  Can the rodent population ever recover from such madness, I wonder!

"Whoever is happy will make others happy too.  He who has courage and faith will never perish in misery!"     Anne Frank


6:11 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 22, 2011



            Everyone else says, "Just be glad this isn't snow."  They're referring to the seemingly endless rain that has everything sodden.  As for myself, I wish it WERE snow!  Snow is clean. Mud is messy.  Even the brick path which I laid through the barnyard many years ago for the sole purpose of providing solid footing under conditions like this was covered.  I've managed to excavate most of it, but it's still impossible to get to or from the barn without slipping and sliding.

            The skies are gloomy and being outside is uncomfortable.  The dogs and I went for our walk anyway.  I knew Ranger Rick's woods would be a quagmire and it was, but many years ago I built a "corduroy road" through the worst spots.  Constant maintenance is required for obvious reasons, but I actually enjoy searching for bits of windfall about 20" long and laying the short logs perpendicular to the trail.  While I can trod safely above the ankle-deep mud the dogs just plow through the mess.  We saw no wildlife at all on today's outing.  Very unusual.


4:31 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, December 20, 2011



            Just what would make a grown woman eat (no, make that gobble) a half bag of potato chips and ¾ of a fresh pineapple, even knowing that she is very allergic to pineapple?  The answer is that daft decisions of the past couple of months have caught up with her and incited extreme anxiety.  The person is of course moi, Karen L. Kirsch whose mouth is now so sore from eating the forbidden fruit that talking or eating anything else is out of the question (okay, I know I'd eat a chocolate bar if I had one...).

            Philosophically speaking one could look at the costly, painful and generally bad  decisions I've made as AFOG; Another Friggin Opportunity for Growth.  I, on the other hand do not feel philosophical right now.  Looking at the self-created messes from a financial perspective I feel stressed.

            As I opened the gate yesterday at dawn to head off for my early morning yoga class I was met by the most spectacular rainbow I've ever seen.  It took my breath away and I chose to regard that vision as a good luck omen.  Unfortunately nothing good happened on Monday and I was reminded that things don't just ‘happen.'  I am responsible for the problems that have disrupted my peaceful life and I am the only one who can fix them, so today I confronted every ‘issue' head on.  While I have stemmed the hemorrhage of funds for now I still must come to terms with an irretrievable loss and I will do that. 

            However, if anyone has the audacity to suggest that I look at the events of the past several weeks as AFOG they may end up with APIE; A Punch In the Eye.


6:00 pm est          Comments

Sunday, December 18, 2011



            As the days grow shorter egg production typically drops off since laying corresponds to the hours of "daylight."  Battery egg producers trick their imprisoned hens with timed artificial lighting, but needless to say such manipulations are not practiced here!  And so, when I was no longer collecting a small basketful of lovely eggs each day I wrote off the reduced inventory as normal for the season.  It never occurred to me to think otherwise.  Yesterday I discovered that production has not diminished nearly so much as I thought.

            It's dark when I go to the barn for evening chores and the hay room, like most of the barn is poorly-lit by one pitiful fluorescent tube that casts a dim, but adequate light.  You wouldn't want to perform surgery there, but it's bright enough to get hay and straw each afternoon.  The bales are stacked to the ceiling and I use an old hay hook to pull them down, creating ‘steps' for easy access to the higher bales.  Last night when I snagged a bale and yanked it down from the rafters I got a lot more than hay.

            An avalanche of eggs cascaded from above followed by a flurry of white feathers mad as the proverbial "wet hen."  To say it was startling would be an understatement!!!  She squawked and pecked viciously at my hands as I attempted to gather up the barrage of eggs. Apparently she and her gal pals had been secreting eggs on the uppermost bale for some time and now the princess had decided that it was time to set on the dozens of potential shell-encased children.

            In a feeble effort to correct the unintentional damage I'd done I filled a shallow "nesting basket" with soft hay and began adding eggs; no fewer than two dozen and that tally doesn't count the dozen plus that shattered when they hit the floor.  Still more slipped between the stacked bales and who knows what might be wedged between the wall and the hay.  

            The mountain of eggs was astounding!  I repositioned the indignant hen atop eleven eggs (which is more than enough), but she has been clucking expletives my way ever since.  She is still not happy.  The dogs have already eaten several eggs which had cracks and I've boiled another dozen.  Since she had only begun setting, the eggs haven't started to incubate, so they are fine. 

            Winter is never a good time to have chicks, but a broody hen is difficult if not impossible to dissuade, so in a few weeks there should be some chirping little fluff balls in the barn.  It has been my experience that eggs which hatch in cold temperatures are more likely to produce cockerels.  This is not a scientific fact, but merely anecdotal based upon decades of keeping chickens.  Stay tuned to find out if this theory holds true.


1:33 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 17, 2011



            Heated water bowls and buckets are wonderful things.  I no longer have to worry that the chickens and donkeys have access to a drink regardless of how low the temperature drops.  They are also great time and work savers for me.  No more beating the ice out of frozen vessels.  I thank whoever invented these marvelous things, but they come with a down side and early this morning I came face to face with the tragic risks associated with heated water bowls.

            There they were; three dead mice floating in the chicken coop hot tub. My mind quickly recreated the horrendous event:  As he leaned in to quench his thirst Mouse #1 slipped from the rim of the bowl and was unable to gain any purchase on the steep slippery sides to escape.  Realizing he was in deep trouble he called out for help.  His friends (or possibly family members) Mice #2 and #3 who had been busy eating grain from the chicken trough rushed to his aid.  Their struggling friend was quickly becoming fatigued as he desperately swam round and round in circles, but with no life saving device to toss to the drowning victim they tried to create a rodent chain. In the process they too were pulled to their warm water deaths.  Tragedy times three.

            Oh, it will be a sad holiday for some families at the barn this year.  Fathers, mothers, sons and daughters will grieve the loss of their long-tailed loved ones struck down in their prime, while I (the inadvertently-guilty party) am left with the task of preventing future such accidents.  It's not as though I don't already have more than enough to do here, but I can't ignore the attractive hazard a hot tub presents. 

            After respectfully removing the corpses from their watery entrapment and placing them in the poop trolley to await burial I cleaned and refilled the bowl for the chickens who were understandably reluctant to drink in the faces of death.  I've placed a temporary life raft in the bowl which will at least buy some time for any other potential victim.  It's not perfect, but until I can construct a safety ladder the raft will have to suffice.

            It's always something.


10:19 am est          Comments

Friday, December 16, 2011



            I pull into the absurdly-named Meadowview Apartments. There's not a meadow in sight for miles.  The seniors' complex would be more appropriately called the Freewayview, but that wouldn't sound as marketable.  I wrestle Stan and Muriel's Mitzvah Meal from the others in the box for I know they're expecting me.  It's not as if the food's actually good.  Like all of my lunch recipients, what they really look forward to is a visitor, not the fare. 

            It's December and it's cold.  Snugging up my collar I head toward the brick building where a small entourage crowds around a pathetic Nativity scene.  Mary has fallen onto her side, but remains lighted from within while a glowing upright Joseph stares vacantly at an empty manger.  Plastic baby Jesus is gone and the inadequately-dressed group is discussing replacement options for the most important member of the holy family.

            "Oh, who could have done such a terrible thing?" wails a big woman on the verge of tears. A thin brown sweater drapes over her sloping shoulders like melted fudge.  She's shivering, ill-equipped for the bitter cold. Inside, the building is kept at a balmy 85 degrees. 

            "Maybe we can get another Jesus at Walmart," she suggests.

            Was Jesus something that can be picked up as needed at Walmart? Maybe so....  Awkwardly juggling my packages I move nearer to the conference in session.

            "No, no! We're probably gonna have to buy the whole set," says a pragmatic gent leaning heavily on his cane. His wispy hair stands on end in the wind and he looks like a giant baby bird wearing a tweed jacket. "They aren't gonna break up the family," he reasons and he's probably right.  What would Walmart do with a childless couple and three wisemen? The others solemnly nod in agreement.

            I offer a sympathetic smile and hurry past the plywood Menorah on the opposite side of the walkway.  Its wooden candles glow with colored lights just like the ones swagged over the doorway.  The complex is integrated with Jews and Christians; Jews being the minority.

            Inside the lobby a pretzel-thin man wearing an outdated overcoat is just back from the grocery. He's unconcerned about the drama outside. He's got problems of his own and implores the bored building superintendent for help.

            "Ve gunna ha' to find somevun to help. ‘ Yus  a couple hours a veek to vash and scrub. Da vife, she getting veaker and veaker...."  The gum-chewing super ‘tsk, tsks' and promises he'll ask around.  I doubt he'll remember.  The bent man, his plastic bag bulging with potato chips and milk makes his tedious way down a dimly-lit hallway, then disappears inside one of the inferno-like apartments.  

            I step inside the elevator and hit #4.  The doors slowly wheeze shut.  The air inside the ascending chamber reeks of Pine Sol and loneliness, but a red poster crookedly taped on the wall invites residents to Christmas BINGO in the lobby tomorrow.  Popcorn will be served. The door hisses open at the fourth floor which looks just like all the other floors.  Game show giddiness of The Price is Right leaks from under the doors filling the shadowy halls like an intoxicating gas.  Happy holidays at the Meadowview.


6:47 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 15, 2011



            This was a day to do a good deed (as every day should be), so friend Fred and I set off for the nursing home to deliver holiday cheer to our mutual friend Dorothy.  Fred owns the theater where Dorothy used to delight audiences with her zany performances, but now that seems so very long ago. 

            Dorothy rarely receives any visitors and that's understandable because I too hate going there even though it's spotless and attractively decorated and the staff is friendly, kind and competent.  As nursing homes go it's probably one of the best around.  Even so, despair is palpable and the strongest cleaning agents don't obliterate the smell of impending death.

            Prior to our arrival I had told Fred how unaffected Dorothy's mind and spirit were in spite of her bloated, unwilling body, so neither of us was prepared for the person we encountered.   Dorothy is forced to share her small immaculate cubical with one of the most unpleasant women ever to draw a breath. Thinking about confinement 24/7 with such a wretch, it's more like a prison cell.  Our friend sat wedged in her wheelchair as tightly as a cork in a bottle.  She was staring vacantly at the soundless television. A few decorations on the windowsill did little to impart cheer, but as always Dorothy was jubilant at the sight of visitors.  In those first joyful moments of happy hugs it seemed nothing was amiss, but it was.

            The woman who always did the New York Times crossword puzzles in ink could no longer complete a cohesive sentence.  Her thoughts wandered and her explanation for the big red sore on her nose varied from a fall to being hit by a piece of hoisting equipment.  She was easily distracted and frequently very distant.  Her hands struggled to untie the bow on Fred's lovely package.  I cut it with my Swiss Army knife so she could slip the ribbon from the three crossword books.  I'm pretty certain she won't be able to complete any of the puzzles, not even those in the "easy" book.

            We stayed for what seemed an eternity, recalling the raucous parties that used to take place at Dorothy's old house, plays in which she had played prominent roles and of fellow actors and dancers, now dead, just as I fear our old friend will soon be. 

            The calendar on the wall noted that line dancers were putting on a show for the residents at 2:30, so we were able to make our graceful, but eager departure.  I'm sure Dorothy was unaware of our relief.  She looked very tired.  As Fred and I hurried down the carpeted hallway toward the exit I noted the red dots next to many of the names beside the residents' doors.  "The dots indicate Do Not Resuscitate," explained a nurse in a hushed tone.  A blessing, I thought, but couldn't help but wonder if the patients know what the dots stand for.

            Fred and I went to lunch where we concurred that our once-lively old friend had suffered a stroke.  I can't help but think that soon there will be no reason for Fred or me to visit that sad last resort, but I hope we brought a tiny bit of cheer on this dreary wet afternoon.


5:29 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

6:34 pm est          Comments



            It was dark when I went to the barn at 7:00 a.m. and dark by 5:30 p.m.  All of the chickens had gone to roost an hour earlier and the donkeys demanded their dinner early.  The bad asses are bored.  They hate days like this.  Dark, cold, rain depresses them.  Since they're acting sad they've been getting extra attention.

            "Who wants brushed?" I ask as if expecting an answer.  Andy hurries over to where I'm fetching the grooming bucket.  He'd stand for hours of grooming and doesn't care what I do so long as he's getting attention.  In the summer I roach his scraggly mane.  He doesn't mind and stands as still as a statue for the haircut.  When at last I tell him how beautiful he is (and of course he really is) and set about tidying up the little hellion (Corky) Andy rests his big head on my back or on my shoulder.  He really is a dear. 

            Andy's age is unknown, but he's been here since the early 1990's.  Although donkeys can live forty years I don't believe he's anywhere near that ripe old age.  I wonder about his life before he came here with one front foot so dodgy and crooked that he appeared crippled.  A good farrier straightened that out and now in my opinion he is as handsome as any show donkey although a bit too fat.

            Whenever there's trouble in the barnyard it's always instigated by Corky.  He gets away with a lot just because he's so darned cute.  The times they have broken into the feed room or trashed my workshop it's always Corky's nose that's in the cupboard, feed bin or toolbox. 

            "What's going on here!" I scream.  Corky makes like a racehorse and vacates the scene like his tail is on fire while Andy looks at me with an apologetic sadness that seems to say, "I told him we shouldn't do this, but...."

            I never had a desire to own donkeys, but they needed a home and I had the space, so for all these years I've poured untold sums of money into this odd couple, only to be rewarded with tons of manure, a chewed-up barn and wild West-type round-ups on those occasions that they've escaped their confines.  Oh yes, and also by mournful brown eyes, velvety soft noses that beg to be kissed, sweet smells and unquestioning adoration.  I love them.


6:34 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, December 13, 2011



            A quaint old farmhouse nestled amidst the trees, a cozy kitchen warmed by an oven that's emitting smells of the season and a countertop covered with the abundant products of this effort.  Sounds charming, doesn't it?  Not! 

            I know I'm a good cook, but cookies present a challenge I've yet to conquer, but year after year I continue to crank out an array of disappointing morsels.  I put them in decorative tins and present these monstrosities as token gifts.  Most people politely nibble one of my creations and comment on how "unusual" they are.  I know they're just being nice.  Having been the recipient of just a small sampling of this years cookies, neighbor Sandy stopped in today to tell me, "Those cookies were AWFUL!  Even Butch said so." (I might add here that Butch is not a discriminating gourmand, so this was very telling.)

            No one will ever accuse Sandy of being subtle or of lying.  I think I've finally learned a lesson here.  Next year I shall go to the store, purchase some pretty tasty cookies and tin them up.  Presenting friends with something good, rather than homemade will be my real gift to them.  I am sure they will appreciate the gesture. 

            I still have a tin of homemade holiday ‘treats' to deliver to Kenny, but he will probably think they really are good and compared to the incredibly bad hockey pucks his late sister Ethel used to bake and deliver to the neighbors mine are delicious. Ethel's cookies were so terrible that even dear old departed (after 16 years) Rudy didn't want to eat them, but like the recipients of my cookies, Rudy was polite.  Always such a gentleman he would squint his eyes, then with great drama he'd chew and chew, finally swallowing with such an exaggerated effort one might have thought he was trying to down an old sock. 

            I guess it all depends on what one is used to eating.  Kenny will like my cookies.


7:19 pm est          Comments

Sunday, December 11, 2011



            This old house is cold, especially at 6:00 a.m. when the dogs say it's time to get our day started.  I stumble down the stairs to open the door and with predictable enthusiasm they rush into the frigid fields eager to see if anything happened out there while they were asleep.

            The pond glistens with the first thin glaze of ice and only spotty patches of snow interrupt the still-green lawn.  Winter is late this year.  I poke the ashes in the woodstove and toss in another log before heading to the kitchen to dish up breakfast for the dogs and cats.  By the time the coffee is ready the living room will have started to warm.  With equal enthusiasm the dogs hurry in to eat their kibble. I sip my coffee by the crackling woodstove, read the New Yorker and consider the day that lies ahead. This is how most winter mornings begin here. I love the unique feeling of isolation that's just beginning to settle in; winter.

            By mid-morning the sun is poking through and I can tell it's going to be ideal weather for gleaning the corn field south of Kenny's meadow, so I pull on a back pack and the dogs and I head up the road at a brisk clip.  It's still cold enough that the trail through the woods and fields crunch under foot.  Later, the sun will turn them muddy, but right now it's perfect!  Squirrels scamper through the brush.  Jays scream at our intrusion as the sun drifts through the barren oak, beech and hickory trees.

            We leave Ranger Rick's woods and head for the corn stubble.  Julie quickly finds something disgusting to roll in and Ernie finds something certainly forbidden to eat. I order him to drop it, but he just takes a big gulp in defiance. Ever-faithful Ted sticks close to me as if there might be some danger lurking in the stubble. 

            Corners are where the harvester always misses a lot of ears, so it's easy gleaning and in minutes I've got a pile of corn big enough to stuff the waiting pack.  I pull it over my shoulders and judge it to weigh about twenty pounds. At this rate I'll soon have enough to fill a couple of muck buckets and by the time the world is buried under a blanket of white, the blue jays and the cardinals, not to mention the barn mice won't have to worry about going hungry. 

           I really can't think of a better way to spend an early winter morning.


4:14 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 10, 2011



            "She looks brow-beaten," I say.

            "She is.  You should hear the fighting," he replies.

            "Why would any person tolerate such treatment?" I ask.

            "Word has it she's in it for the money."

I'd rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than to be crowded on a velvet cushion.   H. D. Thoreau

I'm with Henry!


3:28 pm est          Comments

Friday, December 9, 2011



            She never was a responsible parent and should have been reported long ago to CPS for child endangering, but no one bothered.  I would have called them myself, but I couldn't find a phone number for Chicken Protective Services and now it's too late.

            Always the drama queen the Little Red Hen made a great show of her impending motherhood; eating a proper diet (as seen here), setting diligently on the nest and staring blankly into space as she'd seen her sisters do when they were broody, but soon after the lone chick finally hatched her interest began to wane.  Oh, she went through a briefly-convincing performance playing the perfect protective mother hen, but I could see in her eyes that she really wanted to be done with the boring obligation of teaching her dependent  to find food, watch for predators and she clearly hated spending the long nights on the nest keeping the baby warm.  What she really wanted was to be out running around, chasing Lothario (the indifferent sire of the victim).  What can I say; the LRH is a tramp.

            For the past several nights when I've gone to close up the coop I've found her snuggled up to one of the roosters while the poor little peep sat all alone on the windowsill, chirping helplessly for the mother who simply didn't care.  Each evening I'd pick up the little fluff ball and set it on the perch next to the unfit parent who only then would tuck the baby under her wing and make a few reluctant mothering clucks.  (I know it was just for show....)  Last night she didn't even feign worry or concern over the missing peep.  If anything she conveyed an "I couldn't care less" attitude. 

            Being bilingual (I speak fluent chicken) I set off with flashlight in hand, chirping and clucking in hopes that the missing child might be hidden somewhere, but alas, there was no sign of it.  This morning a tell-tale scattering of tiny feathers confirmed my worst fear.  A murder had occurred.  Since there were no witnesses willing to talk and no forensic evidence this crime will never be solved.  A sad note here at the Peaceable Kingdom.


12:33 pm est          Comments

Wednesday, December 7, 2011




           If you are not one of the intended recipients of this year's holiday cookies, all I can say is, "Thank your lucky stars!"

            Were it not for my daughter's pleas for Grandma's press cookies and were it not for old Kenny (for whom I can think of no other gift...), and my old nursing home-bound friend Dorothy, I would not have slaved away in my kitchen only to produce things that more closely resemble grenades or items you might find along the roadside or in your driveway.  Here, these things are called cookies. 

            I've put them in decorative canisters and am happy to report that the "bakery" is now closed for the season! 


10:34 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, December 6, 2011



            I've been having trouble writing this blog of late.  I believe blogs should be one of two things; enlightening or entertaining.  Right now I feel empty and unable to offer readers either.  Why?  Because I'm currently overwhelmed by issues that are just a wee bit beyond my control and for an independent person, this is extremely frustrating.  These issues would be quite boring to anyone else, so as my holiday gift I shall spare all of you, but I do feel an obligation to explain the recent lapse in posts.  Since its inception this blog has been  a daily ritual.  Things will soon be resolved I'm sure.

            I will however share news of my new barn buddy. Stuart Little is  a half-grown, bright-eyed mouse who greets me each morning.  This relationship began quite accidentally as most rodent -human relationships usually do. 

            I keep the chickens scratch feed in a big metal can inside their coop, locked safely away from any marauding raccoons or opossum that might make nocturnal barn visits.  How my little pal manages to get inside this can is a mystery as it's topped with a heavy metal lid, but about a week ago when I opened the can one morning the frightened little fellow was futilely racing around the deep slippery sides of the can, unable to escape.  Catching him was like trying to catch a race car at the Indy 500, but I did have the upper hand, so to speak.  When released he scrambled up the wall and vanished in the dusty rafters.  I made a mental note to weight the lid of the can, something I've been doing since that initial encounter.  It hasn't worked.

            Stuart is still making regular nighttime raids in the grain can, but now when I lift the lid and grab the big scoop he just waits for me. Apparently he's learned that I'll reach in and liberate him.  Granted,this newest member of the breakfast club is pretty darned cute, but I really don't want him in the grain bin, so today the can is getting a new lid.  Stuart will just have to make do with the hens leftovers.


10:08 am est          Comments

Sunday, December 4, 2011



            It's hard to believe it is December 4th.  Bright sun, a mostly blue sky and temperatures so balmy it tricked dandelions into bloom.  The dogs leapt for joy as I slipped on their orange collars.  They knew we were heading for a walk in the woods and old Kenny's fields.  It's hunting season, but Ranger Rick's woods are posted and deer would be bedded down at the edge.  No hunters should be about, so it seemed safe to venture forth.

            A redtail hawk gliding overhead, dipped a wing as if to say hello.  Coyote scat was everywhere and so were fresh deer tracks.  It was all quite lovely until we happened upon the scene of the crime; great pools of fresh blood and piles of fresh innards told the tale.  The dogs looked worried.


            At the top of the hill sat an old wagon loaded with a couple round bales on top of which was a camouflaged blind.  It couldn't have been much of a challenge for the "sportsman" who sat comfortably concealed as he picked off three deer, most likely last evening. 


            I suspect this was the work of a former neighbor known around here as Rambo, a boastful bore if ever there was one.  He's been schmoozing old Kenny to get permission to hunt his land.  Admittedly, this obnoxious man is a responsible hunter who probably made quick efficient kills and who will use the venison, but he's a disgusting creature.

            Back home I was happy to find fresh deer tracks in my own woods.  I hope they are those of survivors, not those of the deceased.  I'd like to think they know this is a safe place.


2:52 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 3, 2011



            I consider myself a good cook, but I readily admit that cookies rarely turn out as they should or as I hope.  Mine will never win any Pillsbury bake-off, that's for certain.  Nevertheless, each year around this time I confront the annual cookie challenge.  I do so because my daughter loves what we call Grandma's Press Cookies, something my mom used to make around the holidays.  Today I think I have figured out why she limited herself to such frustration, although hers were always perfect. 

            I still keep this and other recipes that I never make in what was her recipe box; a dark green metal container with a hinged lid that accommodates index cards.  The ingredients are written in her perfect script and as I look at the neatly penned instructions I can see my apron-clad mother standing in her aromatic kitchen pressing perfect stars, hearts and flowers effortlessly through the press which causes me to swear. My dough refuses to pass through any of the more interesting designs, thus limiting me to this one, but it's somewhat pretty, don't you think?

            Obviously you will need a cookie press.  These contraptions can always be found at thrift stores where they have been relegated by other frustrated bakers like myself, but I use the one that was my mother's.  The recipe is simple enough, but the dough must be just so; not to sticky, not too stiff, not too dry....  It's a royal pain in the butt! 

            Maybe it's just me.  I can't recall my mother ever swearing or having trouble, so on that assumption I am sharing my mom's recipe for these cookies that look charming and taste delicious when/if  everything goes well.  Good luck!

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of shortening (I use ½ butter and ½ Crisco OR 1 cup of Can't Believe It's Not Butter.)

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla (I sometimes use almond extract instead, but only 1 tsp.)

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. baking powder

3 cups of flour (more or less)

Make a soft dough, press through the cookie press and bake for 10 minutes.  Here's a mystery as she does not note the temperature, so I baked them at 350 F., but you will need to keep a watch on them at the ten minute mark.  They don't taste good if they get brown.  They should be very light in color as in this photo.


4:12 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 1, 2011



            Several years ago animal rights activists rejoiced because their campaign to shut down foreign-owned equine abattoirs in America had succeeded.  It had been successful because of emotion-choked pleas to keep horses in the stable and off the table, referring to European and Asian tastes for horsemeat.  I know that those who opposed the slaughter houses were sincere in their belief that stopping USDA-inspected killing would stop horses from being killed.  People in the horse industry knew this would not be the case and it has not been.  Now Congress and the President have opened the doors to new equine slaughter houses and the emails and pleas from all sorts of groups urging me to voice my opposition fill my mail box.

            It might seem odd that an animal lover like me would not oppose re-opening these abattoirs.  Would I ever send an animal to a killer sale?  Absolutely not!!!  But I am not Amish.  I am not in the race horse, show horse, western horse, or any other kind of horse business, other than writing about them.  Those aforementioned proponents of US-based killing plants have continued to send their unwanted horses, mules, ponies and donkeys off to slaughter.  The actual number of equine sent through killer sales has hardly wavered since the plants were shut down.  The only difference is that the doomed horses have faced longer road trips to far more horrendous deaths in Mexico and Canada.  The end result was the same.  The horses were killed.

            I think of a particular Aesop's Fable where oxen destined for slaughter plotted to kill their executioner until one wise ox pointed out that the killer was experienced and he did his job efficiently.  If his fellow oxen killed the experienced man he would only be replaced by someone else who might not dispatch them as quickly or humanely.  Either way they were going to die.  The horse slaughter controversy is much the same.

            Before the closure of the three US-based slaughterhouses I did an article called The Last Ride for the Chronicle of the Horse magazine.  Researching all facets of the subject I talked with a man who operated a slaughterhouse and he explained captive bolt stunning in terms that only a person experienced with the tool could.  Properly used and properly maintained (critical) the bolt rendered its victim instantly senseless.  That was the initial part of equine killing in the now defunct plants.  It is also used in most Canadian plants, but it is not (or rarely) used in Mexico and that's where many if not most of the unwanted horses have been going for the past five years.  South of the border killing is done sadistically.

            These facts should be the issue now; not condemning the government (which in my opinion is universally inept anyway, but that's another topic...) for lifting the ban.  Horses continue to be neglected, starved, abandoned and sent to killer sales every single week. Those who don't want to acknowledge this reality should be supporting the over-burdened sanctuaries that currently exist.  Send your donations to them, not to the well-funded organizations that would have you believe that stopping new US slaughter plants will stop all horse slaughter.  It didn't then and it won't now.

            It makes far more sense to lobby for humane standards at the proposed abattoirs.  That is an attainable and rational goal.  Pretending that there is a way to "save" every unwanted animal is foolish and naive. 

            Talk to people who operate legitimate sanctuaries (like Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary in Ravenna, Ohio) and learn how much it costs to keep a healthy horse, let alone an aged one or one with health issues.  Humane euthanasia is also costly, but it's something even they are forced to confront when there are no other options for a suffering horse.  Send these places moneyVolunteer there.  Adopt an equine that can't be ridden, but still needs to eat, have regular vet and farrier care.  In other words, look at the reality of this controversial issue.  Compassion cannot be legislated, regardless of how many petitions get signed.


7:53 pm est          Comments

Archive Newer | Older

This site  The Web 

You are visitor:

© 2009 Karen L. Kirsch