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 WELCOME TO MY BLOG! REFLECTIONS OF A SINGLE WOMAN'S LIFE ON AN OLD FARM.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

VICARIOUS PLEASURES.

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            A few months ago the folks who live in a McMansion about two miles up the road began a strange-looking construction.  It began as an A-frame structure covered in plastic, duct tape and what looks like Mylar. It took shape very slowly and everyone on the road was betting the curious thing would blow away in the first big wind storm, but the A-frame held its own.  With their tractor they excavated the soil surrounding the mystery building and soon after that a chicken wire enclosure with various boxes, barrels, ramps and ladders was added to the site.  About a week ago the intended residents of the habitat arrived--chickens! 

            The human occupants continue to spend a lot of time enhancing the accommodations, but after only a couple of days within their intended enclosure the birds flew the coop.  Like Kenny's cows they prefer free-ranging and set about exploring the property at will.  It's fun watching the evolution of this new chicken farm, especially the enthusiasm of the human caretakers for it reminds me how excited I was when I became a keeper of chickens many years ago.

            This farm was occupied by renters when I bought it.  The ‘man of the house' was a creepy fellow who, when he wasn't adding to the vast quantities of trash around the property, shooting critters from the bedroom windows and generally desecrating this old house wandered about in a menacing fashion with a cigarette glued to his lower lip.  He also kept a bunch of birds, some of which were chickens.  The sorry birds shared part of the trash-filled barn with an army of super-sized rats.

            When at last this carrot-topped tenant and his family were forced to vacate the farm, his parting words were, "I'm leaving the chickens.  They can fend for themselves."  I took this to mean that he was abandoning the birds and that like the mountains of rubbish he left behind for me to deal with, I was also to inherit the birds.

            The first order of business was to improve the wretched conditions in which the poor poultry had been confined.  I shoveled out mountains of cement-hard manure, put up roosts and supplied fresh water and scratch feed.  The chooks must have thought they'd died and gone to heaven and graciously rewarded me with eggs of various sizes and colors.  I was happy and they were happy, but the scraggly, mean-spirited former tenant was not happy.

            Since I was not living here at the time, only coming daily to work on the ramshackle property it was quite a surprise to arrive one bright Sunday morning and find the barn door (MY barn door...) wired shut and a scrawled order to, "Leave the ‘bleep-bleep' eggs alone!" tacked to the barn siding.  Clearly my assumption that the chickens which had been left "to fend for themselves..." were mine was wrong.

            When called regarding his profane order, the surly sign poster said that he would return to collect his birds that night, and he did.  I often wondered where he put them since he had moved into an apartment.

            His birds were gone, but I was smitten with chickens and immediately ordered an array of birds from a hatchery.  The arrival of the Barred Rock, Buff Orpington and Golden Comet chicks was as exciting as winning the lottery.  At first I kept them in a sky kennel in the kitchen, an effort to keep them safe from drafts and rodents until they were big enough to transition to the barn.  They certainly infringed on my productivity for I found dozens of reasons to trudge up there to ‘check on them.'   Now, all these years later,  setting hens,  peeping eggs about to hatch or the occasional personality-laden bird like Gladys, these things still delight me and although they sometimes wreck a garden or poop on the porch I can't imagine life without chickens. 

            I hope the folks up the road whose poultry adventures I'm vicariously enjoying find as much pleasure with their chooks as I do. 

6:00 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 27, 2014

PLEASURE IN LIFES LITTLE THINGS--CHICKENS.

 

 

            Folks in a McMansion up about two miles up the road began a strange-looking construction a few months ago.  The A-frame structure covered in plastic, duct tape and what looks like Mylar took shape slowly and everyone on the road was betting the curious thing would blow away in the first big wind storm, but the A-frame held its own.  The soil surrounding the mystery had been excavated and soon after that project a chicken wire enclosure with various boxes, barrels, ramps and ladders was added to the site.  About a week ago the intended residents of the habitat arrived-chickens! 

            The human occupants spend a lot of time enhancing the accommodations, but the birds only spent a couple of days within their chicken yard.  Like Kenny's cows they prefer free-ranging and literally flew the coop to explore the property at will.  It's fun watching the evolution of this new chicken farm, especially the enthusiasm of the human caretakers for it reminds me how excited I was when I became a keeper of chickens many years ago.

            This farm was occupied by renters when I bought it.  The ‘man of the house' was a creepy fellow who, when he wasn't adding to the vast quantities of trash around the property, shooting critters from the bedroom windows, generally desecrating this old house while wandering about in a menacing fashion with a cigarette glued to his lower lip, kept a bunch of birds, some of which were chickens.  The sorry birds shared part of the trash-filled barn with an army of super-sized rats.

            When at last this carrot-topped tenant and his family were forced to vacate the farm his parting words were, "I'm leaving the chickens.  They can fend for themselves."  I took this to mean that he was abandoning the birds and that like the mountains of rubbish he left behind for me to deal with, the birds also would be mine.

            The first order of business was to improve the wretched conditions in which the poor poultry had been confined.  I shoveled out mountains of cement-hard manure, put up roosts and supplied fresh water and scratch feed.  The chooks must have thought they'd died and gone to heaven and graciously rewarded me with eggs of various sizes and colors.  I was happy and they were happy, but the scraggly, mean-spirited former tenant was not happy.

            Since I was not living here at the time, but coming daily to work on the ramshackle property it was quite a surprise to arrive one bright Sunday morning and find the barn door (MY barn door...) wired shut and a scrawled order to, "Leave the ‘bleep-bleep' eggs alone!" tacked to the barn siding.  Clearly my assumption that the chickens which had been left "to fend for themselves..." were mine was wrong.

            When called regarding his profane order, the surly sign poster said that he would return to collect his birds that night, and he did.  I often wondered where he put them since he had moved into an apartment.

            His birds were gone, but I was smitten with chickens and immediately ordered birds from a hatchery.  The arrival of the Barred Rock, Buff Orpingon and Golden Comet chicks was as exciting as winning the lottery.  At first I kept them in a sky kennel in the kitchen, an effort to keep them safe from drafts and rodents until they were big enough to transition to the barn.  They certainly infringed on my productivity for I found dozens of reasons to trudge up there to ‘check on them.'   All these years later setting hens, being greeted by peeping eggs about to hatch or the occasional personality-laden bird like Gladys, these things delight me and although they sometimes wreck a garden or poop on the porch I can't imagine life without chickens. 

            I hope the folks up the road whose poultry adventures I'm vicariously enjoying find as much pleasure with their chooks as I do. 

 

 

10:52 am est          Comments

Sunday, December 21, 2014

CRITTERS GREAT AND SMALL.

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            Immigrant (mouse) deportation/relocation to the barn continues.  The count is now up to eleven, but perhaps the actual number is just the original four if a story in Pennsylvania Game News is to be believed (and it probably is...).  Essentially it says that mice have terrific homing devices and may travel over a mile to get back "home" which, since the barn is not a mile away would be back in my kitchen.  I'm now marking each big-eyed intruder with White Out to test this assertion.  Two are now so identified; one sporting a skunk stripe and the other a big dot between his shoulder blades, but my little friends are not cooperative when it comes to body decoration.

            Kenny's renegade cow saga continues.  Not only had the trio run away from home last Friday, but also on Saturday and Sunday.  They apparently returned to his barn on Saturday, but having established themselves as free range cattle with all of the associated benefits it's now impossible to keep the adventuresome ramblers on Kenny's farm and they are traveling further afar.

            The call came at noon last Sunday, a day I'd planned to rest.  The week had taken a toll.  I wasn't feeling well, had hosted my favorite houseguest (someone whose visit I always enjoy), transported another friend to STAT care, and addressed several other issues that couldn't be ignored.  By Sunday I was pooped and needed to recuperate, but that was not to be.

            "Hey, those cows are up here and they're making the horses go nuts," said the caller.  It seemed the cow, heifer and bull were unwelcome visitors at the stable up the road.  I made several calls for assistance and ultimately the three were herded back home and run into the barn.  A very distraught Kenny set about nailing doors shut and propping posts against makeshift barricades intended to confine them, but those efforts proved useless.  By mid-day they were out again.

            The problem is that there is NO fencing to discourage their rambles.  The hot wire that once defined their pasture lays tangled in the weeds which shorted it out in the first place.  And while we all wish (in vain) that Kenny would just call a professional fencer and get the job done, we know that will never happen, so a few of us are trying to help our old neighbor so he can keep the animals that keep him going.  No doubt this saga is far from over. 

         Mimi the kitten is happy to stay at home and smell the struggling geraniums on my office windowsill.

 

11:38 am est          Comments

Friday, December 12, 2014

UNWELCOME VISITORS.

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            "How's your ankle?  ‘Out of the cast yet, asked the caller.  It was our police chief, but he had an ulterior motive for the friendly inquiry.  It seems someone just two houses up from me had called the station to report old Kenny's cows were in their yard and they weren't happy about the pooping, uninvited family.  So, what the chief really wanted was for me to assist the young ‘city slicker' officer who had responded to that call and wasn't quite comfortable rangling renegade cattle.  I jumped in the truck and headed up the road.

            The bovine trio was standing behind the house looking as innocent as babies and thenervous young officer next to the cruiser was very relieved when I told him the cows were fine where they were and that there was no point trying move them anywhere else.  Why bother since the fence is still down and Kenny was nowhere to be found.  I'd passed him in his red truck earlier in the day.  The clutter inside the cab now fills the dashboard so that only a pair of eyes and the ubiquitous cap was visible through the windshield.  I worry for Kenny's safety, both at home and on the road, but he consistently refuses offers of help. 

            Unwelcome visitors weren't limited to Kenny's cows.  I have my own right here at home.  Each year about this time the annual mouse migration gets underway and  for the past few weeks the feline posse has caught a few, some of which I've rescued from their jaws and safely relocated and a few others that were not so lucky.  I didn't think much about it as this event is as predictable as the holidays, but when I opened the drawer containing dish towels and pot holders and found the four-legged, long-tailed migrants  had been partying in there, it was time to stop depending upon the cat patrol and to haul out the multi-mouse live trap.  The kitty police are clearly not taking their job seriously!

            A generous glob of chunky peanut butter is hard for any critter to resist and so it was my bait of choice.  ‘Dinner' was smeared in the trap which was then set atop the shredded towels and gutted pot holders.  The first dinner guest arrived before I went to bed last night.  I opened the drawer and a grateful little fellow sat eating peanut butter as if he were at a fancy restaurant.  His happy face seemed to say, "Oh thanks so much!  I love the chunky variety."  I left him to enjoy his meal, closed the drawer and went to bed.

            I knew even before opening the drawer this morning that my little whiskered visitor would not be alone and of course, he wasn't.  Three of his friends had joined him and not a hint of peanut butter was to be found.  I assured the quartet that there would be plenty to eat up at the barn and while it might not be peanut butter and the place might not be so cozy and warm as the kitchen, as rodents they should find the lodging quite adequate.  I also reminded them that had they invaded any other house on this road they would not be so lucky.  At the barn, the four scampered across the feed room floor, but one hesitated, looked over his shoulder briefly and squeaked a grateful farewell. 

            Now the drawer has been emptied and scrubbed and the trap reset with another glob of Jiff and I'm willing to bet that the  second batch of squatters will be awaiting deportation to the barn by morning.   Live and let live.

 

4:44 pm est          Comments

Saturday, December 6, 2014

REMEMBERING FIFTH STREET.

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            Every year around this time the houses in the German-Italian neighborhood where I grew up became one big international bakery.  Each kitchen was redolent with fresh from the oven cookies and other holiday delicacies and my mother's kitchen was no exception.

             Outfitted in her reserved-for-cookie-baking, faded purple apron she stood at the gray Formica counter effortlessly turning out poppy seed breads, stolen, pfeffernusse, raisin-filled cookies with edges that looked as if they'd been cut with pinking-shears and other goodies that she packed into round tins reserved for the holidays.  Everything was good, but my favorite was spritzgeback, more commonly called spritz or press cookies.  Hers were always perfect; never burned, never misshapen, never varying in quality; always a special treat.  These cookies were also my daughter Jill's favorite. 

            My mother has been gone for many years, but each year I attempt to recreate those pretty little press cookies and each year the effort is disappointing.  I love being in the kitchen and consider myself a good cook.  I make good soups, salads, sauces, pies and muffins, but when it comes to cookies, I call on Pepperidge Farm.  Jill, however is a sentimentalist and begins hinting at grandma's cookies around November.  Not presenting her with a tin full would just be unthinkable.

            And so around this time of the year I drag out my mom's old cookie press and retrieve her army-green recipe box from the recesses of the cupboards top shelf and set about making press cookies.  Not once have I produced anything comparable to my mom's, but Jill always feigns pleasure and politely nibbles the reasonable facsimiles.   This year may be the exception. Most likely her dog will be doing the nibbling.

            While my mother's cookies were buttery and flavorful and perfectly formed, mine always seemed hard and flat, so today I consulted Martha Stewart's web site to compare her recipe with the Fifth street version.  They were similar, but with a few minor differences, so I decided to incorporate Martha's variants into the tried and true (alas disappointing) recipe in the green box.  Something went very wrong.

            I think it began with step #1.  All good cooks know without being told that step #1 is to cream the butter and sugar and then add the other ingredients, but today I threw things together helter-skelter and wound up with a grainy greasy dough that came out of the cookie press like cement. I knew that baking the globs that slowly oozed across the cookie sheet was not going to fix the problem, but I baked them anyway.

            I hoped that the generous dose of red food coloring would impart a festive look that might offset their curious shape and texture, but when I opened the oven door they looked like something the ocean had spat out and left to dry on the sand.  They weren't red, but brown and while delicate and crunchy, they left an oil slick on the palette. I'm sure Martha's do not.  Mine weren't just ugly, but gritty and greasy as well. 

            So now I'm going to the store to see if Pepperidge Farm makes a version of spritzgeback and if they do I'm going to put them in a pretty tin and pretend I made them.  Happy holidays.  Bah, humbug.

 

5:42 pm est          Comments

Thursday, December 4, 2014

OKAY, WHO DID THIS!

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Tess and her apprentice Mimi decided to see just what was (note, past tense...) inside Peggy's kitty bed.  Polyester!  Gee, what a surprise.  ‘Same stuff that's inside dog beds. 

As I mentioned earlier, the kitten could not have chosen a worse mentor than Tess, but the two are inseparable and like Tess, the counter surfer, waste bin ‘shopper' and expert disemboweler of all things stuffed, Mimi is following suit.  She carries off entire bars of bath soap, apparently enjoying the taste, steals anything foolishly left on my desk and has claimed dog toys that are as big as she is.  While she hasn't mastered the art of disemboweling dog and cat beds (yet), she thoroughly enjoys the end result. 

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Tell me again why I have all these animals....  Oh yes, it's so I'll keep things tidy and won't forget to run the vacuum cleaner.

10:25 am est          Comments


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