Wednesday, April 23, 2014

...and the next

And so it continues. Dawn -- up to release the chickens and clean the coop...

(good morning, Scotch!)

... then breakfast.

(zebra stripes!)

I feel like an entrenched farmer. The routines cannot vary. So long as there are chickens at the farmette, they must be tended in this way.

To some, it may seem like a brutal imposition. But of course, if you have a dog, you must walk her. Clean up after her. Feed her. Play with her. Chickens require less of you, but it is imperative that you are there to release them and lock them up again. Small jobs, but jobs they are.

(Oreo, doing his cockadoodledoo)

As Ed continues to work on the poor old disabled Zero-turn mower, I return to the raspberry patch. You will hear a lot of this: work on the raspberry patch. It's probably our biggest project. We've been at it for more than a year and it still has many many weeks of digging, weeding, ripping, chipping to go. The hope is that it wont be a terribly high maintenance area once we have finished our work there.

(the hens in their afternoon snooze mode)

There are, each day, new items that we squeeze in between the big projects: yesterday I sowed the arugula and endive beds. Today we planned the new asparagus patch and began work there. Every day is like this and I have to warn you that we haven't even hit May yet which, for me, is the most intense gardening month of the year.


So what about my writing? Is it on hold?

Not exactly. The beauty of outdoor work is that clears the mind and it requires little effort to come in, sit down and do a review or addition to an ongoing project (for example The Book). Teaching left me depleted at the end of the day. Outdoor work frees my thoughts and dehumidifies my mind. It's very (intellectually) refreshing.

Still, I am a bit stalled on The Book, as I have an interim writing project before me (more on that in mid-May) and so most often I take that out and spend some time musing over the direction it should take.

It's all very leisurely and stress-free and this, of course, is the most beautiful part of retirement. The world around me is a very calm place indeed.


Calm, but not without excitement. Of the type where the chickens have learned to fly out of the pen, for example. But that's tomorrow's issue. Today, as the rain clouds drift in, the world is a quiet place.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

the next day

First and foremost -- you, Ocean friends, you make me smile and smile! Thank you so very much for all your generous comments and birthday messages. You are a very kind bunch, really you are!

Now, let's get on with the "day after."

After you've scaled the giddy heights of a birthday, it's time to come down and face the more bothersome elements of existence. At least that is what I tell myself the next morning.

True, I wake up to a gorgeous sunny day (though a tad cool in the morning).


And it is so tempting just to blow it away in some other pleasant outdoor fashion. After all, the list of spring jobs and pleasures is so long!

And at breakfast, we discuss what should be done next (Ed's list is even longer because there are many construction-type things that only he can do).


I tell him that there are two chores that I dislike immensely and therefore, after such a carefree weekend, I should take on one of them. Sort of like switching to salty foods after you've gorged on sweetness.

The two odious (in my book) chores include using the Zero-turn mower to bring down the prairie grasses and weeds out back and secondly -- cleaning out the old barn. It's obvious why cleaning an old barn is dreadful. Let me tell you why mowing the back prairies is even worse.

First of all, it's not entirely a prairie. In addition to butterfly plants (nice!), there is a dense underground network of quack grasses and brambler vines. Animals have dug trenches and burrowed homes over the years, so the terrain is sloped and lumpy. There are stumps from old honeysuckle that we laboriously took out last year and the year before that. It really is a mess back there and still, I want to clear it. Yes, in anticipation of my daughter's big day, but really, I just feel we could do better than to let nearly an acre of land look so... unproductive. (Long term goal: perhaps grow some clover to attract bees. Or something.)

And did I tell you that riding that Zero-turn mower over lumpy terrain makes me sea-sick?

Let me try to not mind. I want to start clearing some of those grasses and weeds. I had started doing that last year, but the bulk of it is still an overgrown mess.

Ed starts the big tractor-machine. I'm off.

The one (and only) good thing I'll say for this job is that it offers a nice view past the farmette prairie, towards the fields to the north of us.


Otherwise, it's a hellish piece of work.

I can't go too fast. There are obstacles that must be avoided. A skull of a deer, or some other large animal, for example. Or the dead body of a possum. Or slightly more prosaic obstacles -- honeysuckle stumps.

I avoid most of them, but, unfortunately, not all of them. I am so intent on not flipping the tractor over on top of myself on the hills and bumps that I don't see it: a big tree stump. I barrel right into it. And break the mower. I mean, I totally tear up and dent the mower deck and the blades can't spin and there you have it -- job half done, machine in ruins.


He takes it apart, sees the damage, looks up the cost of replacement parts, sighs and begins to remove all the bent, twisted, torn pieces of metal. True, he is a guy who can work with metals, but I think he would favor designing interesting tools and widgets over untwisting and welding old tractor mower pieces.

Ed's day is now spent on repair work. I am determined to at least tidy up my half finished mowing job and so I take down those grasses with a regular old mower and I can't tell you which I dislike more -- bumping around on that Zero-turn or pushing a stubborn little machine over a field of stumps and two foot dried grasses.

Never mind. Job is now done (albeit sloppily) and it wont need to be done again for another month, by which time I hope to have forgetten about how much I do not like mowing.

In other news -- we are delighted, truly delighted to see the chickens now finally reach some degree of harmonious camaraderie.

(a favorite gathering place)

(favorite resting place)

Ed is like a proud grandpa. If the chicken will let him, he'll pick her or him up and this is when you'll see the widest grin of contentment on his face.


Needless to say, the chickens follow us everywhere.  It is truly fun now to have them around. And so far, the yard destruction is minimal. (Though I may be eating my words here. I threw them a few old strawberries and both Oreo and Butter went after them with great zest. Lest you think all chickens are the same -- not so. Whitney and Scotch are fairly indifferent to strawberries. At least those grown in California.)

And again, the evening is full of beauty and promise. Yes, tomorrow it will still be spring. Yes, the best days are still before us. Yes, the daffodils will still be there when we wake up the next morning.


Monday, April 21, 2014


We're standing in line at the grocery store. A quick trip -- to tide us over until my soon to be resumed weekly (Friday) shopping routine. I show Ed the rack of cards behind the cashier.
That's where you would pick up a birthday card, were you buying one for someone. (Well, probably Whole Foods would be the last place I'd send him to buy a card. You can buy groceries for a family of five for what they charge for cards there. Still, it's a hint. Why I do this to him is beyond me. I guess it's because Ed is the least card-buying person on the planet and so to get a card from him would be ...significant.)

Do you really want a card? -- he asks me now.
Only if you want to give one.
He hesitates.
I reassure -- I wont be mad if you don't.
He knows I will love it if he does. And so as I put out the groceries on the conveyor belt, he flips through cards. They're not very emotive. You pay a fortune for a card that basically says Happy Birthday. I see the absurdity of this and I tell him -- no, forget it. But thank you anyway!

He perseveres.


And this is how I have a very special card and I can't believe that it matters to me -- you can laugh your head off, I wouldn't blame you, but, like the celebrations with my girls, like wishes that appear in an email, comment or in a card, it all feels so incredibly sweet and so very special!

The day began as a chicken day must begin -- with letting them out, with cleaning the coop, with watching the sun mount above the horizon.


It is a warm day. A very warm day! Close to 70F again. And it comes with showers. On and off, in a very April showers way, but warm. As if we were beginning summer.


And so, for the first time this year, we take our breakfast to the porch. That warm moist air, the blooming daffodils -- how can you not feel happy?


When the showers pause, Ed and I haul our newly purchased quince trees and plant them near the end of the old orchard, just as the driveway meets the road.

(Ed: next time, go about your business and I'll take a better shot)

The chickens help.

(skinny when wet from the rain; Ed says they have dinosaur claws)

The relations between the hens are improving, or at least settling with every hour. Still, sometimes I look at Scotch and think -- you want to preen and puff with the girls, don't you?


I pick her up, give her a cuddle and tell her that someday, she'll be queen and the world will be pandering to her whims. I feel then like a parent who hangs every piece of her kid's art on the refrigerator and says Monet could not do better.


Quince is an unusual fruit to put into your garden, but I am quite taken with the idea of quince preserves and, too, a quince infusion (an old family recipe that I tasted when in Poland this last month). And, too, quince blossoms will compete with any of the fruit trees. Now, we've been so unsuccessful in our new orchard expansion (we just don't protect the apple, pear and cherry trees enough and so the deer inevitably destroy a good portion of them) that you'd think I'd give up on fruit trees. Nope, not giving up yet. In went the quince trees.

And then it is time for the errands. Trivial ones (library). Fun ones (chocolatier, so that Ed can also hand me these chocolates, which we promptly open and try while still in the car. Yum.)


Standard ones (grocery store).  Exciting ones (Jung Greenhouse, to check out their annuals). Boring ones (Home Depot to return steel rods,  gas station).

The chickens wait patently for us at the farmette. And yes, they attack the flowers I brought out today.


And I do not freak out. I'm hoping it's a passing phase. That once the garden blooms, they lose interest in the vast bulk of my growing things.

Evening. The sun comes out now from behind the clouds. It always seems to come out on late April days. We are to go out to dinner, but can't quite tear ourselves away from being outdoors. I finish a conversation with a daughter, with my other one, with my mom. And still the sun lingers.


We load flower pots with soil and bring them to the courtyard. I begin filling them with spring annuals -- ones that wont get hysterical on me if the temperature dips below freezing some spring night.


And finally, it becomes too late to do much of anything. The chickens are slowly retreating toward the pen. Ed and I leave our various tasks and, without fuss or change of attire, we go out to get a meal at our local Italian place. It lacks intimacy. It lacks subtlety. But it's nearby and it feels somehow right to go local. Simple foods. Wonderful evening. Wonderful day.

Some days, I wish I didn't love my birthday this much. It seems so.. well, selfish to celebrate your own birth. And still, each year it brings out in me a whole string of smiles. Maybe it's the season. Maybe it's the affirmed connection to everything that's important. Maybe it's the yellow tulips....


Yeah, that's it. Spring. Tulips. Nothing more than that.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday

Listen! The rooster calls!  (So so early!)

Let the chickens out. It's Easter.


Eggs still warm from the coop, gathered for breakfast.


Wait: Scotch's Sunday egg is missing. Let's give her a few minutes.


Okay. Thank you! Easter breakfast at the farmhouse.


But Easter midday dinner at my older girl's home.

I watch my girls in the kitchen. They are both tremendously talented with food.


Today, I do no cooking at all. My older girl fixes the entire complicated meal and it is superb. We hang back and let her put it all together.




Here we are, all of us, in various combinations:







I feel myself to be so incredibly lucky.

We leave the post dinner mess to my girl and her husband (thank you!) and my little one and her fiancee drive north and Ed and I drive south, only their drive is close to five hours and ours is close to fifteen minutes. Life is unfair that way.

The chickens are excited to see us return. They hover in the courtyard as Ed and I transplant tomato seedlings (and put in our cucumbers seeds). Last count: 115 thriving tomato plants.


Today the temperature topped 70F for the first time since early October.

A beautiful Easter Sunday. Truly beautiful. Full of hugs, sweet words, great foods. So very, very lucky... 

Saturday, April 19, 2014


First, the essentials: there was no blood in the coop when I opened the hatch to let the brood out this morning. We were apprehensive. By 5:45 Ed is gently nudging me -- shouldn't we let the chickens out? I insist we wait until a decent 6:10. That's our sunrise right now.


So, no blood. But, it had been a stressful night for the chicks. (I can tell by the distribution of droppings up in the roost. Usually very orderly. Confined. Today -- chaos!) Still, they survived. Or, more importantly, Scotch survived. Yes, she got pecked upon her exit, but dare I hope that the pecks were less violent? And not frequently repeated? (Here, Oreo is keeping an eye on her. Unfortunately for him, she can run. He cannot.)


(talking man to man)

And as the day progresses, we see that we are going to have an easier time of it than many who throw in a new hen to an existing flock. At times, it almost seems like they've formed a bond already.


Most of the times though, the white hens ditch Scotch and go off with Oreo at their heels. (I can't help but think that she must relish some of this private time.)

But it's very important to note that there was no blood.

Okay, let's shelve the chick talk for a while. (Though here at the farmhouse, I increasingly notice that over the years, I have surrounded myself with chicken stuff...)


Late last night the Minneapolis couple arrived and though no one felt like chatting at midnight, still, it was good to know that they are now, for this beautiful weekend here in Madison.

Breakfast is a little disorganized. They have a wedding related appointed and the person arrived a quarter of an hour early. You could say, therefore, that we ate in stages. So if you thought you'd be without the face of 'just Ed' on this one day -- you'd be wrong.


But apart from his ever agreeable countenance, take a look at this day as seen from the kitchen, now made brilliant by the sunlight coming in through the porch roof. Notice the zebra patterns everywhere! They give us such pleasure that even if we never benefited from a better, brighter porch, we'd still have the joy of looking out at a delightfully patterned world.


My older girl comes over and the three kids chat with the wedding assistant while the chickens look on.


Ooops! Those chicks are making an Ocean appearance again! That's the reality: we're tending chickens these days. And in fact, as my young flock of people goes off to do errands, Ed and I retreat to the side of the barn, to finish preparing the future residence for our brood.

Shoveling dirt: this is a new activity for Scotch to witness and at first she is tentative about finding the plumpest worms when we turn over the soil. Not for long. And though there are slight skirmishes every now and then, I have to say, the girls and Oreo mostly behave. Ed comments how without Lexie, the entire dynamic changes. There is no frazzled crazy movement in every direction. Everything slows down. The noise level is diminishes.

Ed and I put in a solid half day of work. 

And I mean real work! In addition to clearing and chipping the land, we have to remove a mountain of logs that Ed had casually left in some early years of tree removal at the farmette (he does cut down trees, but they must be either dead or threatening to invade the septic tank and even then, he hesitates). Leaving a high stack would provide a temptation for the chicks to climb and take flight. The logs must be moved.


Unfortunately, we cannot finish the job. Would you believe it -- the lowest layer of logs is still frozen solid. We're now aiming to move the pen to the new location sometime at the end of the month.

And really, that's it for chicken talk. All attention should now be on this most beautiful spring day.

The kind that makes you so happy to live in the north. You cannot love a day like this unless you've had a winter like we've had. Today is our reward.

(Yes, some would be quick to point out that a day of spring sunshine isn't quite worth a season of bitter cold, but I am not such a person. For better or worse, I am forever rooted in four seasons and therefore slated to love with passion these beautiful spring days.)


In the evening, the six of us (mom and daughters, and the men attached to the three of us) go out to dinner.





Then home. For the best ever gifts and even better company...




Oh what a night! What a day, what a night!