Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Decidedly, The Chick Came First

Meet Julia. She belongs to my three-year-old.

Last week while the kids were on vacation, I picked up six new chicks and brought them home.

No, not that kind of chick. (My husband would have reacted much differently if I brought home those kind of chicks.) Chick, as in baby chicken. Six of ‘em. Cute as can be.

Currently these little balls of fluff are living next to my washing machine in an old Pack n’ Play on loan from my chicken-owning-guru-and-friend, Kristi. We’re into week one of chicken ownership and I must say, it’s been enlightening.

I’ve been wanting my own laying hens for over a year now and started working on my husband long ago because I knew that having chickens catapulted me into a different category altogether. No longer content to grow my own vegetables or make jam from my own blackberries, now I wanted food producing animals. What was I anyway? A closet farmer? And what would I ask for next? A milking cow or grass grazing goat?

His first response over a year ago was, “Hell no.” (Or something to that effect.)
Next came, “We are NOT having chickens in the yard.” (Again, I’m paraphrasing.)
I’d make a comment to him and let it simmer. Try again a few weeks or months later. Finally one night after more chicken talk, he tried a different tactic and said, “When you publish your book you can get chickens.” I know he meant it to motivate me to get off my arse and publish my book (or at least work on it) but the comment felt more like what we say to our children about their grades… “You can get a cell phone when you earn all A’s…”

“Look,” I said to my husband. “I’m a grown woman with a Masters degree. If I want to get chickens, then I’m going to get chickens. I’m asking you out of respect. I’d like you to be on board with me.” I knew I would need his help with the coop and set-up, in addition to how much easier it would be to have his support. After that we shelved the chicken conversation for quite some time.

Fast forward a few months and while he may not be all the way on board (as in, I’ll never ask or expect him to clean or muck the coop) he is being extremely supportive. He’s already built me four nesting boxes and is going to trick-out the coop for me, even making sure the thing has a sun porch. Gosh I love that man.

I’ve also gotten a pretty mixed review from my neighbors, who think I’ve all but gone mad and perhaps over-the-top with this sustainable-eating-fresh-food thing. Worried that I’m going to turn this neighborhood into a live-action set from “Beverly Hillbillies,” the comments I’ve gotten are:
“You’re what?”
“Have you ever been around chickens?” (This is coupled with an incredulous, dumbfounded look.)
“Do you know how much they poop?” (Add curled lip in disgust.)
“Tell me why you’re doing this again?” (Tilt head, add above.)
“Are they going to be just roaming around your yard, or what’s the deal?” (Peer at me over bifocals.)
And the best from my sister-in-law: “Rachel wants chickens? Is this the same Rachel that doesn’t like germs? Is this my sister-in-law we’re talking about?”

While their response doesn’t shock me much, it certainly isn’t the egg-colored-glasses perspective that I’ve been reading about in my chicken bible. Yes, while Jesus is present in this one, albeit omnisciently (seriously, how does chicken mash and a worm turn into something I eat for breakfast with toast? Amazing!) Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John have nothing to say about the matter. My chicken bible, The Joy of Keeping Chickens, by Jennifer Megyesi was a gift from a neighbor’s daughter who knew I was interested in having laying hens. Her mother (my neighbor)—while she admires my chickens currently because they are palm sized and therefore not loud or smelly—can’t quite be labeled “enthusiastic” yet about my new adventure, and I secretly wonder if she’d like to kick her daughter for getting me my poultry bible to begin with. But that’s all water under the feeder now.

Everything I’ve read online and in my book (and I’ve done a lot of research) paints this lovely, picturesque painting of hen owning, one that is not only filled with emerald green meadows, bird chirp, and a fresh spring breeze, but also touts the myriad benefits of owning chickens. They eat ticks. They eat worms. They are fabulous for your garden. Their poop is great fertilizer. They are docile, loving, and smarter than people give them credit for. They are easy to maintain. They are maternal. Oh, and their eggs are pretty good too. Full of vitamins and nutrients. With yolks the color of the setting sun. You’ll never find a yolk like that in the grocery store.

And then there were my neighbors and anyone who ever owned a chicken or lived near people who owned chickens who cock their head to the side (much like a chicken, I might add) and inquire as to what exactly I’ve been drinking or smoking lately to make me want chickens. For a moment I was confused that there seemed to be two completely opposite camps: haters and lovers. Haters were real people. Lovers were published. Hmmm.

I suppose a book titled, “Why Keeping Chickens is a Pain in the Ass,” wouldn’t sell very well. Or, “Shit That Makes You Gag: 1001 Reasons Not to Own Chickens.” That probably wouldn’t be a very good title either.

In fact, this epiphany reminds me a lot of a conversation I had with my priest-friend some years back on the subject of birth control, specifically vasectomies. “Most of the married people I talk to say that having a vasectomy was the worse thing that happened to their marriage,” he told me. It didn’t occur to me until later that people who invited vasectomy into their marriage and loved it wouldn’t exactly go running to their neighborhood priest to tell him about it, would they? “Hey Father, just so you know, you were wrong about the vasectomy thing. We should’a done it years ago.”

It’s all about the audience really.

So the truth about owning chickens resides somewhere in the middle grey area of my happy-go-lucky book and my neighbors’ aghast astonishment. While I’m not regretting my decision, it would have been good for me to have this awakening before I actually bought the chicks.

But there they are, regardless. Six little balls of molting fluff and feathers living in a Pack n’ Play in my laundry room. My neighbors ask me frequently how it’s going and how the chicks are. I know that silently they are biding their time, knowing at some point I’m going to complain about the chicken poop smell, the frequent cage cleaning, the messy, grossness of it all, which will open the doors for them to nod their head with that I-told-you-so look on their face. I say bring it. Of course I’m going to complain. What’s a good blog without complaining? But I also have the final product in mind: fresh eggs, with deep sunny yolks, from chickens who lived a happy life.

And while I promise my intention isn’t to ruin the neighborhood with my bohemian tendencies and free-range birds (c’mon; my children are almost always clothed and we don’t hang our underwear on a clothesline yet), I am keeping chickens and a garden in the south part of Easton; once known for its peasant and archaic traditions such as farming food and raising animals. I mean, it’s not like I’m out of my element or anything.

And you, my dear readers, get to be with me all the way. You can live vicariously through my foibles. Lucky ducks chickens.

Meet the girls! From Top to bottom, clockwise: Molly, Giraffe, May, Blackie, Milly, and Julia.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Coming out of the fog

I'm finally coming out of a long winter's fog;
 the sunrise slowly lighting the road ahead of me.
My cousin Jared White took this picture. He's a brilliant photographer. Check out more of his stuff on his blog, Photology: Project 365.

Fortunately & Unfortunately…March pretty much sucked.

Quit looking at me like that. Rolling your eyes in disappointed-mother fashion. I know you tune in here for your daily (well, maybe monthly) laugh and I’ve been absent. Well, if you don’t know by now that us humorists are really just normal, occasionally depressed people who may have trouble dealing with crap in their lives from time to time, wearing clown costumes and face paint to make you laugh, well then, you’ve never heard of Richard Lewis. Or Richard Jeni. Or Richard Pryor. Or any comedian that’s had a stint on SNL. Two things you clearly want to avoid: naming your child Richard or having them work on SNL. My name’s not Richard, but it starts with R. Close enough.

To recap my life since my last post in….February (has it really been that long?), I’m going to do it in child-story format. We’ll ease back into this blog writing/reading thing together in 10-15 minute increments.

 My Life Since February

Unfortunately, after a really long winter, a huge snowstorm, and a few issues with my husband, I woke up one morning at the beginning of March with a headache.

Fortunately, I was still breathing and I had plenty of Ibuprofen in the house.
Unfortunately, the Ibuprofen didn’t work.

Fortunately, I had made plans to go to Arizona (and escape the grey New England winter) to visit my grandparents and family. Unfortunately my original flight was cancelled because of snow, but fortunately I rescheduled my trip for the beginning of March.

Unfortunately, my grandfather died before I got to Arizona. Fortunately, I was able to attend his service during my rescheduled trip as well as visit with my two grandmothers.

Unfortunately, my headaches continued during my trip, despite good weather, supportive family, and lack of snow.
Fortunately, I returned back home safely.

Unfortunately, my headaches decided to hang out with me twenty-four hours a day. And ibuprofen wasn’t working.

Fortunately, I went to see my Primary Care doctor, who was concerned about my  specific head pain and told me to get an MRI.

Unfortunately, I have a problem feeling trapped, but fortunately my husband came with me. Using the black eye mask I made it through the hour and a half MRI without freaking out. Bonus.

Unfortunately, I was expecting the worse possible outcome. MS. Brain tumor. Acoustic Neuroma. (I looked that one up online. It’s amazing what you can find when you google “head pain.”)

Fortunately, my MRI was clear.  I had nothing wrong with my brain. No lesions. No tumor. I was normal, normal, normal. “Are you under any stress?” my PC asked me. “Yes,” I replied. “A tad.” Hmmmmm, she said, jotting down notes in her notepad.

Unfortunately, the headaches, ear ringing, pain, and general malaise continued. I didn’t clean. I didn’t do errands. I didn’t do anything but want to stay in my pajamas and sleep, sleep, sleep.

Fortunately, I made an appointment with an ENT to have a hearing test and figure out what the ringing in my ears was all about.

Unfortunately, I was worried that my hearing test would hurt my already hurting ears.

Fortunately, my hearing tests were normal. My ears were not infected. They looked beautiful. My inner ear was fine. I was pronounced, normal, normal, normal. “Are you under any stress?” the ENT asked me. “Well, yes,” I replied. “A bit.” His professional suggestion was to do nothing. Wait it out. But just in case, I should see a neurologist because of all my headaches.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the neurologist for two weeks. I made the appointment anyway.

Fortunately, I woke up one Saturday morning two weeks ago and my headache was gone. Gone, just like that. As quick as a sneeze or a fart, they were gone. Five weeks of wanting to sever my head vanished like an apparition.

Unfortunately, I still didn’t know what caused them. What triggered them. What cheapy-plastic part in my brain snapped to make them last so long.

Fortunately, I still had my appointment with the neurologist who I hoped would have some answers.

Unfortunately, my appointment with the neurologist lasted two hours, during school vacation, and my children were home alone. Thankfully the doctor’s office wasn’t far away.

Fortunately, he gave me a complete exam. I answered a million questions about the life of my headaches. When they started (in college). Do I feel nauseous? (yes). Do I have urinary track problems? (what?)

Unfortunately, after reading my file and visiting with me, the neurologist told me...wait for it….that I was normal, normal, normal. Yes, I had migraines. I also had tension headaches caused by….tension. Was I under any stress lately? Ummmm,.... Try acupuncture, he said. Take magnesium oxide (but don’t confuse it with magnesium hydroxide, which is used to treat constipation. These are not interchangeable). Use a heating pad on your neck for 35-40 minutes to try and release the knots that are your shoulder and neck muscles. And stretch.

Fortunately, I am normal, normal, normal.

Unfortunately, the five weeks of headaches were apparently triggered by stress. Stress, that abstract noun without form or personality—you can’t feel it, touch, taste it, or put it in a paper sack, and yet, it can make you feel like a tumor is growing in your head. It tightens your muscles and fills your feet with cement. Covers your eyes so you stumble.

Fortunately, I’m in a better place now. The sun has actually come out (literally) and I’ve been able to prune my fruit trees, plant my sugar snap and shelling peas, and rake up the lawn debris from the winter. I’m back to doing laundry and picking up the house and occasionally preparing a meal. (Or ordering pizza.)

Unfortunately, there is a part of me that worries I’m going to wake up with another five weeks of headaches; or that the tiny headaches I feel everyday will morph into something larger. And of course I worry that all those many specialists missed something. But my husband would tell me that’s my worse-case-scenario-personality talking. Our counselor would agree.

Fortunately, I’m back. And not only am I back, but I also just signed up to do the monthly blogathon again this year, starting in May. And spring is here. Mostly.

That’s been my life in a nutshell, at least as much as I’m willing to divulge on the internet. I hope I haven’t lost you and you join me back here on Musings. I have a lot of stories to tell you when you return. Like I’m getting chickens. And my three-year-old told me she likes to eat boogers. And my son brought home THREE C’s on his last report card. And my husband built and installed a bat house. You’ll have to tune back in to get the juicy scoop on everything.

Happy spring!