Sunday, December 14, 2008

In Which I Am Forced Out Of Self-Imposed Blog Exile, OR, In Which I Show My Butt To Someone I Just Met

My life, of recent, has been miserable. I don't say that to garner sympathy, but to perhaps explain why I dropped off the face of the earth for several weeks, with no warning, and during NaBloPoMo, no less. I just didn't have it in me, you know? Don't get worried--I'm not depressed. I'm just miserable. There's a difference. The best thing that has happened is that my mom is finally recovered from her four hospitalizations and two surgeries, and has started her cancer-fighting drug regimen. YAY. I'll post more about that later.

Overall, I am just bone-weary. Emotionally exhausted. You know...miserable. I wasn't sure I'd ever journal again, because it was shockingly easy to abandon this effort. I mean, I just...quit. And I couldn't summon the energy to pick it up again. My internet presence has been limited to sporadic notes on Facebook and reading the forum posts at Backyard Chickens. But then two things happened this weekend, that, in a real, visceral way, forced me to write again. I think you'll understand.

One day, I noticed a post on BYC from someone whose posts I often read and enjoyed, looking for some young chickens to replace some that she'd lost. Then I noticed that the poster lived very near here. And being as I actually had a few Orpingtons to spare, I offered to sell her a nice trio (meaning two pullets and a cockerel), cheap. She took me up on the offer, I selected the birds for her, caught them and put them in a hutch for safekeeping, and we made arrangements for her to pick up the chickens the next morning.

So. This lovely young lady--we'll call her 'K.' to protect her privacy, as she has now been traumatized quite enough--was coming by this morning on her way to church to pick up the chickens. I knew what time she was coming, and she was right on time. Yet, I still overslept, and had only just hauled my carcass out of bed moments before my guest pulled into the driveway.

The night before, Alex and I had had a bit of a "rooster rodeo," in which some roosters that we'd moved to a new pen did not return home after free-ranging, and had to be rounded up one by one, after dark. I may have fallen down a time or two, I don't really remember. ANYWAY, after the roundup, I'd come in, slipped my jeans off, and laid them across a chair when I'd changed into my pajamas before dropping into bed last night.

So this morning, when K. pulled into the driveway, I was still in my "jammies", or pajama pants and a thermal underwear shirt. I thought, "Oh, I can't be such a slob as to go meet this nice lady for the first time in my pajama pants--I look bad enough with bed-head and no makeup..." and I very quickly shucked the pajama pants and slipped on the jeans I'd been wearing during the previous night's rooster roundup.

Without bothering to stop long enough to put on my underwear. I mean, I was only going to be out there a few minutes, right?

I'm sure you see where this is going.

So, I meet K. (who, by the way? ADORABLE!), chat a little, show her her birds in the hutch, then ask if she'd like to look around the place a little. I leaned in the front door and informed Alex that we were going around the back, and when I stepped back outside, this sweet lady who, I will remind you, I had just met for the first time, informed me that, um... the entire center seam of the seat of my jeans was ripped out.

I cannot even describe what I felt when I reached back there...well, emotionally, anyway, though it was in the neighborhood of "unbelieveably mortified." I COULD, however, describe what I felt tangibly, when I reached back there, but I'll spare you all. Traumatizing one innocent for life pretty much fulfills my quota for the day.

So, to sum up, K. is a delightful, sweet, and lovely person, who, to her immense credit, is capable of giving the appearance of being completely nonplussed by being on the receiving end of a Full Butt-Monty from someone she just met for the first time. If she ever invites you to play poker, I'd suggest you refuse, because the woman has an amazing poker-face.

As for me?

O HAI. NICE TO MEET U. MY BUTT-CRACK, LET ME SHOW YOU IT!

The following is a dramatic re-enactment, to tide you over until the Lifetime movie, "NOT WITHOUT MY UNDERPANTS" is released. The part of myself is played by the turkey in the center, and the part of K. is played by the small hen in the lower-right corner of the frame.

turkey bloomers

If you've recovered from laughing your head off at my expense (and I hope to goodness that at least a few of you were drinking some sort of beverage, which you consequently snorted through your nose), you may be thinking, "But Belinda, you said that TWO things happened this weekend which inspired--nay, 'forced'--you to write again, and you've only told us about one." To you, I say, WOW, you're really paying attention!

The other thing is that an Iraqi reporter CHUCKED HIS SHOES AT PRESIDENT BUSH DURING A PRESS CONFERENCE. Here's the video. I fully admit that my first reaction was to laugh my head off. OK, so I admit that I'm still laughing. Dude THREW HIS SHOES. At. The. President. You have to kind of love that on some level, right? And according to Iraqi sources, this was more of a deep, heartfelt insult than it was an actual assault attempt, the message being that the person on the receiving end of the shoe-chucking is considered to be of less worth than the dust from the shoe-chucker's feet, or something along those lines.

I will also admit, and not proudly, that, given the chance to chuck a shoe at G.W. Bush, with assurances that I would not be whisked away by Dick Cheney and extraordinarily renditioned to Gitmo, I would absolutely jump at the chance. As a matter of fact, I submit that this is a golden opportunity to recoup some of that bailout money. Picture it: Giant bake sale, kissing booths (though given the current politicians serving in Washington, that one might be tough to man), a dunking booth with Karl Rove, and a "quail shoot" (no live ammo, just paintballs--settle down) with Dick Cheney...all leading up to the main, high-dollar event: The George W. Bush Bon Voyage Shoe-Chuck. People would line up for MILES.

But back to serious discussion, here...what was up, during this incident, with the Secret Service detail? Did you notice that, at no time during the shoe-chucking did a single agent tackle Bush to the ground, or hustle him to safety? I mean, I thought that was pretty much SOP in situations like this--take the President out of the line of fire. But not only did W. have to duck, all on his own, he had to do it twice, because the shoe-chucker got off a second shot. Do you get the enormity of that? The guy threw BOTH his shoes, one at a time. While yelling insults, even. And without Bush's ducking, BOTH projectiles would've hit home!

All of this leaves me wondering...I know that the outgoing president is immensely unpopular, definitely so with yours truly, but has the situation gotten so bad that not only will no one "take a bullet" for the guy, they won't even take a size 10 loafer?

Look, guys...I've been worried about my mom, worried about my husband, still adjusting to Bella's grade-skipping, and wondering if the stress of dealing with one spouse's mental illness can actually crumble a marriage beyond repair, even if both parties are really trying hard to keep it together. So you'll pardon me if I take my entertainment where I find it, right?

And if I accidentally moon you?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Medical Weirdness Runs In My Family

We just can't play "by the book," it seems. Mom is doing really well in all aspects of her recovery, except that she's leaking a mystery fluid (which is now assumed to be chyle) at an alarming rate. The weirdness that put her back in the hospital over the weekend is now thought to have merely been a rather severe reaction to a cephalosporin. There was no infection (a huge praise), and everything looks great.

She's gotten three of her drains out, and is spinning her wheels at home, but the two remaining drains are collecting an abundance of this chyle at present, so they stay in. There is most likely a fissure somewhere that is allowing this fluid to leak out, and unless it heals spontaneously, we're looking at more surgery to locate and repair it. Obviously, no one wants that, but we can't get her to stop leaking!

Thanks again to everyone for all the continued support, prayers, and positive thinking on my mom's behalf. If she could just get rid of those stupid drains now, she'd be back in full swing in no time. What's worrisome is that she can't proceed with the treatment of the cancer (if such treatment shall be required) until this issue with the leaking chyle is resolved.

It's all very frustrating.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Awestruck

I'm only just now, as President-Elect Barack Obama prepares to make his victory speech, beginning to relax emotionally, and realizing how very beaten-down and pessimistic I have felt for the last eight years, particularly the last four. Deep down, I really didn't believe this could happen--that the incumbent power would ALLOW it to happen. That we could have, for a blessed change, a voice of compassion, kindness, and thoughtful intelligence in the White House once more. I honestly believed it would be taken from us, yet again...that Americans would succumb to the campaign of fear, separatism, and bigotry that's been playing out all over the country. Even as I type this, I'm still thinking of the possibility of the "official" results changing after I post this entry.

On a personal level, for the last eight years, I've had a gutful of having my faith hijacked by a party of hatred and division, people flying the "Christian" banner while displaying behavior so un-Christ-like that it seemed at times they must be reading some Bizarro World version of the New Testament. And yes, abortion = bad. Very bad. But there are OTHER BAD THINGS IN THE WORLD. And not being afraid of The Gay does put me in a minority as a Southern Baptist, but so be it. I'd rather keep company with a tolerant and loving Jesus than, oh, I dunno...Pat Buchanan.

I let Bella stay up until the major swing-states were called. To get her to go to bed, I had to promise to TiVo Obama's acceptance speech. I could not believe how interested and engaged she was in the whole process. She was listening to the reports, and reading the "crawl" along the bottom of the screen, shouting out each new posting of electoral votes. I hope that this is something she remembers for the rest of her life, because she experienced history in the making. When I voted, she watched, and pushed the final button that cast my ballot for Obama--for hope instead of fear. Hope for HER.

I've been afraid to let myself hope that this could really happen. That maybe America can return to a place where we will not be hated globally. That we can move FORWARD for a change, and do good instead of just looking out for number one. That our "two Americas" can get back to being the One America that it was before the politics of fear and divisiveness choked the hope and charity out of her. That, perhaps, Bella's generation will one day be known as "the greatest generation." Lord knows we're due for one.

I love my Republican friends and family. That has never changed. But, guys? You've had eight years of having things your way, and you have to admit, it's just gotten worse and worse. At this point, even if Obama pulled a Carter, we would still be moving in the right direction for the future, because another correction would be bound to occur.

Signing off now to give my full attention to the best speech I could possibly have hoped for, with this thought, borrowed tonight from my Republican friend Mandajuice, who was truly happy for her Democrat friends this evening, and has shown remarkable grace throughout this difficult election process:

RED OR BLUE, I LOVE YOU.

Now, let's do this thing. TOGETHER. Let's get purple, people.

Monday, November 03, 2008

And The Latest

Well. Mom has now been seen by a specialist in infectious diseases, who has concluded that she doesn't have any. Infectious diseases, that is. He believes that the whole mess--the fever, the rash, the vomiting, was all a reaction to cephalexin. And if I'd been paying attention today when the previous doctor ordered her a dose of Rocephin, I'd have recognized that he was, in fact, ordering her yet another cephalosporin. OOOPS. But so far, she hasn't had a reaction to that one.

They are not yet willing, however, to release her from the hospital if there's any risk of another reaction to antibiotics, and since she MUST stay on antibiotics due to the reconstruction surgery, she must also stay in the hospital at least another day. She's bored out of her gourd, but looking strong and healthy, and full of energy and good spirits.

She did tear up a little at the compassion of a (to her, anyway) stranger, when I read her the letter that accompanied a hand-knitted cap (thanks so much, Robin) that had a prayer "knitted into" each stitch. She is touched by the kindness and support of pretty much the whole world right now, and very thankful that the treatments she's enduring are even available to her.

In other news, I did not get hit in the kisser by any poultry today, but I did run from one end of my house to the other, peeking out each window in succession, and crying tears of hysterical laughter as the water-meter reader was very nearly sexually harassed by my Tom turkeys. When they first came running at him, the poor guy froze in this tracks--he didn't know whether to poop his pants or wind his watch. Really, it wasn't funny. Except that it was. Especially that first "group gobble."

Good times.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

An Update So Brief, I May As Well Have Used The Telegraph

Mom's still in the hospital, doctors are still stymied as to the source of whatever infection is inflating her white blood cell count and keeping her feverish, and she's still breaking out in a bizarre rash in (apparent) response to antibiotics. But she's feeling downright perky tonight, unlike horrible, terrible, no good yesterday.

More news tomorrow, hopefully.

Oh, and I got hit in the face with a live turkey. FINALLY, I have something in common with Fabio!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

And Back Again

It's almost midnight. I just got back from the hospital, where Mom was re-admitted, via the Emergency Room. She's doing much better now than she was when we brought her in, but she's had a rough day for sure.

After just doing great in her surgery recovery over the last 10 days, today Mom suddenly spiked a fever, with hard chills and vomiting. There was a lovely rash that seemed to go along with it for a while, but since that pretty much went away when her doctor d/c'd her Keflex, we're thinking the rash was maybe a coincidence.

She's been admitted to a (thankfully) private room in the hospital now, after being seen by both her surgeon and an internist. They're doing nine (or more) kinds of bloodwork, culturing everything in and on her that can be cultured, and have performed a CT scan and gotten her on IV fluids. She was dozing comfortably on a very quiet wing of a quiet floor of the hospital about an hour ago, so Andrea and I went ahead and came on home, after extracting a promise from her that she would not hesitate to make use of her call button if she needs anything during the night. We'll go back over in the morning and see what's what.

Repeat after me, universe: NO SURGICAL INFECTION.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Everything's Coming Up Pink

birthday face

She's six years old now. Six. I can barely wrap my brain around it. How many more paper-crown-wearing, delightfully uninhibited childlike parties are left before she's "too old" for such things? The little-girl years seem to be rushing by like a strong river current now, bubbling and splashing and tumbling along toward the ocean of adulthood at breakneck speed.

But for now, at least for a little while, I get to experience the sheer joy of a plain ol' "little kid." I'm loving it. She had a great birthday this year, celebrated first with friends and family on the Saturday before her actual date of birth. There were pink decorations, gifts of pink clothing, a pink crown, and even a pink Uglydoll (Peaco, by request).

make a wish

Bella & Grayson

opening Morgan's gift

Grandmommy Lynette & Bella

Andrea & Bella

On the day after Bella's (actual) birthday this year, a couple of major things took place, both of which I'll be posting about separately later:

After a birthday/farewell party with her kindergarten class, complete with pink (of course) cupcakes, she did go ahead and transfer to a first-grade class. There is much more to this story, but suffice it to say, until I have a chance to elaborate, that this is a far, far better fit for her, in every way. I'm blown away by her improvement in attitude, engagement, and just plain interest. It's a good thing. And you all helped.

More importantly right now, Bella's grandmother, my mom, as many of you already know via Twitter, Facebook, and BYC, went into the hospital that same day and underwent a double radical mastectomy. Yep, leave it to my mother to time her breast cancer to coincide with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As you might imagine, there is a lot more to talk about, but this is the first time I've had the energy plus a few spare minutes (prior to my passing out, which will be happening any second now) to even update this much. I apologize to anyone whose emails, messages, or phone calls I might've been missing over the last few weeks. I haven't been home much, and when I have, I haven't been conscious much.

I can tell you, very briefly, that Mom responded to her diagnosis exactly the way those of us who love her would want her to--immediately, decisively, and with extreme prejudice. She is now almost two weeks out of surgery, and I'm happy to report that her lymph nodes were negative for cancer. She's looking amazingly well (as usual), and rallying like a champion. She's a bit miserable from the surgical drains that are still in, but the woman is truly inspiring in this struggle, as in everything.

We have not yet seen the medical oncologist or determined the next step in the course of her treatment, but from all early indicators, my mother should be around for many, many more of Bella's birthdays.

Grandmom & Bella

And we would certainly not have it any other way.

(Oh, and Bella's showing-you-her-bottom-teeth smile in so many of these pictures? She has her first LOOSE TOOTH, an event which has been awaited with all the eagerness which you could possibly imagine any event ever being anticipated, plus some. It's a lower incisor, and yes, it's loose. And will fall out. Soon. NOT SOON ENOUGH, but soon. And she says she's "been told" that the Tooth Fairy leaves a dollar these days. You'd think that under current economic conditions, the Tooth Fairy would be trading in Yen by now, wouldn't you?)

Monday, October 06, 2008

Help, Oh, Help

bounce

As I'm sure most of you have gathered, there's lots of stuff going on around here right now. I'm behind on absolutely everything, and I apologize to everyone who's affected. I'll update on some of that later.

Right now, I'm wrestling with a dilemma that many of my friends and family have been telling me is coming, and of course, I'm bringing it to you, Internets, for your input, advice, opinions, and anything else you've got.

Bella will be six years old this month, and she's in kindergarten. She's also been reading for over a year, and has a couple other areas in which she demonstrates certain acedemic aptitude that is advanced beyond kindergarten level.

Today, when I picked her up from school, her teacher asked if I could come in for a moment and speak to her about Bella. The teacher and I were joined by the school's principal, the Gifted and Talented coordinator, and someone called curriculum specialist or academic coach or something like that. Long story short, they've ascertained that the kid is bright. Quelle surprise.

Now, the question being put to her father and I is, "What do you want to do about it?" And frankly, we don't know. The option of skipping her on up into first grade was offered right off the bat, and to be honest, the notion is a little jolting to me. The other option was keeping her where she is, and providing some special attention three times a week (provided that she "officially" tests into the G&T program) or so.

I have been hearing complaints from my daughter about school being "boring," and that she's "not learning anything." I've been telling her to be patient, and we'd see if we could do something about that. But what? Her teacher says that she does not complain at school, and has an attitude of polite patience in the classroom. Yeah. "Polite patience" pretty much sums up her attitude at home, too. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

So, here I am, in full information-gathering mode. If you have a story or some experience relating to this issue, AND I KNOW YOU DO, I'd like to hear it. In favor of grade-skipping, or against grade-skipping, or any experience with any solutions in between.

My sister and I were both October babies, and both fairly bright, and early readers. I started school early, while my sister started at the same age Bella did. I feel like my sister did better than I did at school, both academically and socially, and that she was better prepared for college at 18 than I was at 17. But how much of that is simply because our personalities were different? I just don't know.

Personally, I'm leaning toward keeping her where she is and trying to work hard to keep her engaged and interested. But how to do that? Is it even possible? By not letting her "skip ahead," am I actually holding her back? And how much of that feeling in me is powered by the overwhelming thought that, if she skips kindergarten, then that's ONE LESS YEAR I have with MY BABY?

Alex and I are already fighting about it, and I definitely don't want THAT. He wants to make a decision RIGHT NOW, and I know that he'd rather go ahead and advance her. I just want more information.

Anyone wanna give me some?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Flat On My Back

In a shining example of The Universe's Worst Possible Timing, right in the middle of one crisis, I have been laid up by the absolute freakiest horrible back spasm in spasmodic history. It's got to be right on up there, at least. As I type this, it's the middle of the night, because no way can I sleep with this Freddy-Krueger-gripping-my-sacroiliac AGONY. I'm iced to the hilt, taking muscle relaxers and painkillers, have my legs elevated tastefully atop a Razorback styrofoam cooler that may or may not currently also be culturing a couple quarts of yogurt, and have had a steroid shot. Also, thanks to my incredibly sweet and awesome physical-therapist and general soft-hearted mush of a brother-in-law, I am sporting a TENS unit that is jacked up to...let's just say, "eleven," in an incredibly appropriate homage to Spinal Tap. I could light up a room right now, if I held a lightbulb in each hand. AND YET, I AM STILL IN AGONY. How is this possible?

I would like to take this opportunity to heartily apologize to everyone I ever suspected of "milking" a back injury. I mean, sure, I've "thrown my back out" before. Hasn't everyone? It usually happened to me when I was doing some kind of heavy lifting with bad form, like swinging hay bales on or off a trailer, stooping and twisting simultaneously. And, you know, in that case, I sort of had it coming, didn't I? For not "lifting with my knees" and all that. But this time? I was making Bella's lunch for school the next day. I think that at the moment of the first knee-buckling spasm, I was actually slicing sprouted-grain spinach wraps. THIS IS NOT HEAVY LIFTING. Nor was I doing The Twist as I sliced. I have no idea what brought this on, but I went to bed that night knowing my back hurt pretty bad, but fully expecting it to be OK in the morning.

HA HA HA HA HA. You got me, Universe! That is some cosmic sense of humor you got going there!

So, at exactly the same time that my husband is effectively incapacitated himself, I wake up in the morning, start to move, and instead start screaming. Literally. And not on purpose. All these years, I thought I knew from back pain. HA. I did NOT. This is insane. I spent nearly an hour--I kid you not--making it the 12 feet to the bathroom and back. Slowly, on the floor, in a painful crawling/dragging motion. When my brother in-law told me I had to get in to the doctor or the ER for a shot to take the inflammation down, I actually considered an ambulance. And I know what an ambulance COSTS. Instead, I iced for an hour, took a horse-sized pain pill, and then screamed my way to the truck and horned in on Alex's physical. Things got a little better yesterday, but I think the amount of sitting I had to do (which I now know, thanks again to BIL, is the WORST possible thing you can do for a bad back) exacerbated the situation so that it was much worse today.

So, if I have ever given you that stink-eye look that says, "Sure, faker," while pretending to listen sympathetically as you talk about your horrible lower-back pain...I APOLOGIZE. Also, if I've offended you somehow and you are a practicioner of the dark art of voodoo, I not only apologize, but I ask you kindly to remove the burning-hot needles from the tailbone of that doll that looks like me.

Thanks. Back pain can be emotional, right? Again, Universe, GOOD ONE!

Oh, and just to break up the misery, I will share the latest child-to-parent threat received in this household. It made me laugh because of the detail and planning involved. Alex and I were teasing Bella about something...probably threatening to trade her in for a pet monkey if she didn't hush, something like that.

Bella: "You two better stop teasing me. Or ELSE."

Us: "Oh, really? What are you going to do?"

Bella: "I am going to go to Home Depot, and buy a two-by-four, and whack you both on the butt with it."

It was like she had a homework assignment: "Threaten a butt-whupping. Show your work." I love this kid. Fortunately, while she has enough money to BUY a two-by-four, she'd have an awfully hard time getting one home without one of us giving her a ride, and now that we're savvy to her plan, we're not likely to fall for THAT.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Either Way, You Wind Up With Turkeys

I can't talk about politics. Not here, anyway. It's just too engaging a topic. People want to talk back, and even when they agree with me, I wind up just feeling sick and sad. I want the election to be over, and I want it to be a CLEAN one, for once. Earlier tonight, I puked out the entirety (almost) of my sheer political and emotional (Can I separate my emotions from anything? NO I CAN NOT.) exhaustion all over my mother's email, and I actually felt better after that. This is especially remarkable when you consider that my mom and I do not currently vote the same way--not even close. But honestly, when you're just terrified of the future, who do you want? You want your mommy, that's who.

Anyway, I just don't have it in me right now to engage in any political debate, and it's darn near inescapable. I can't take one more story about vote caging or push-polling or other dirty tricks. I can't bear listening to one more person holding forth with strong opinions which are built on misinformation or ignorance. I can't stand how much we, as Americans, want to hate each other--that's the most disturbing thing of all, and I don't hold out much hope for the divide to be healed anytime soon.

But I am not, by any means, ashamed of my politics, nor do I think they need to be kept secret for any reason. So what I will do here, just this once, is compromise.

I will tell you about my turkeys.

turkey bokeh

You see, these turkeys I chose, they are not your standard Butterball. We could've raised those (they're called Broad-Breasted Whites, and they're bred for huge, heavy breasts), but decided, as with our chickens, to opt for a "Heritage" breed of fowl, and chose Narragansetts. They're an actual, historically important, natural, all-American bird. If you turned these turkeys loose in the woods, not only would they be just fine, they would thrive. They can reproduce on their own. They can raise young. They can forage for food. Most importantly, for the purposes of this story, they can FLY. Oh, boy, can they ever fly. This recently presented us with a problem.

All of our birds, while locked up safe at night, are let out during the daytime to free-range. They're free to wander pretty much the entire property here, scratching around for bugs, picking grass and weeds to eat, digging shallow holes for dust-baths, and generally just getting up to whatever kinds of poultry-based silliness they'd like. And the turkeys like, among other things, getting up as high as they can. The roosts in the turkey pen that Alex built are 12 feet high. They love it up there. And we rather enjoyed watching them soar around the place, until we started having problems with turkeys winding up in places they shouldn't be, like in the yard with the dogs, and with turkeys roosting in trees or on top of buildings at night, instead of locked up inside a nice, safe, predator-proof enclosure. We were especially worried about our beautiful birds coming down on the wrong side of our fence, and winding up on the property of one of our boundary-challenged neighbors.

So we decided, unanimously and fairly quickly, that some wing-clipping was in order. Not to ground them entirely, but to keep them closer to the ground. Then followed the discussion of how best to do the clipping. It's totally painless, like clipping your fingernails--you just cut off about 2/3 of the primary flight feathers with a sharp pair of kitchen shears. Nothing to it. But I'd researched a bit, and read that, if you clip both wings, a determined turkey will still be able to get up on rooftops and over fences by sheer force of will--in other words, by merely flapping harder. So the trick is to clip only one wing, thereby putting the bird off balance, so that they can't really get terribly high up off the ground any more.

There followed a good bit of discussion as to which wing to clip. We wanted to do everyone the same way, so that we'd be able to tell at a glance who'd been clipped and who hadn't, and also so that we'd know exactly where to watch for new feather growth later. An opportunity for a delicious metaphor presented itself pretty much immediately, and we had some fun with it. I'm sure you can see where this is going.

In the end, we opted to clip all our birds' right wings, and with more than a little pleasure, calling them all pet names, like "Newt" and "Dick" and "Karl," as we cut feathers (we don't own a turkey stupid enough to be called "Dubya," unfortunately). Depending on the outcome of November's election, those nicknames might come in handy again at butchering time.* In any case, now our turkeys are safely contained on our own property, and we're able to usher them into their safe house at night, and not worry about where they are.

And yes, we realize that what we're now left with are a bunch of left-winged turkeys. But seeing as how, no matter which choice we made, we were going to be surrounded by turkeys anyway, we decided that we'd much rather they be left-wing turkeys than right-wing turkeys.

EDITED TO ADD: Turkeys with two fully functioning wings, working TOGETHER, are graceful, efficient, and a thing of beauty to behold. They can feed their ranks, roost safely, and deflect attack from would-be evildoers. On the other hand, turkeys missing part of one wing, and attempting to work with just the one, are clumsy, awkward, ineffective at tasks that should come naturally, and are significantly more vulnerable to attack from enemies. Make what you will of these observations.

And that's as much as I wanna say about that. Please vote.

in the shade

*Before anyone suggests it, no, there shall be no sarcastic naming of female turkeys or chickens, as we must live with them for the long haul. The girls, naturally, are named after bloggers. Do you want to be honored in the form of poultry? Want to know if you ALREADY ARE? Leave me a comment stating your case. You could be the next Meg Fowl or Rhiannon Hen. You just have to be prepared to have your namesake unexpectedly murdered by a fox. It happens.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Weight Of It All

The Road Home

To everyone with whom I've been out of contact: I apologize. I've fallen down the rabbit-holes of poultry-keeping and bento boxes and having a kindergartner. And also, things are rough right now for my husband, and therefore for my whole family. His story is his to tell (or not tell) later, when and if he feels like it, so I'll leave the details to him. But to summarize, after a roller-coaster ride of extreme hypomania followed by deep depression over the last seven or eight months, culminating in a funk that he just can't shake, despite doing every single blessed thing the doctors and therapists recommend, we're basically starting over again from Ground Zero. Meds that once worked aren't getting the job done any more, and meds that might work better are off-limits due to profound side-effects particular to Alex. It's a harsh, harsh situation. He's unable to concentrate enough to work. The frustration of it all is taking a toll on our relationship, and we're taking drastic measures over the next few weeks to attempt to deal with it head-on. Only time will tell. We appreciate your kind thoughts, prayers, and any positive energy you can possibly spare on this matter.

I've meant to post several times, because things are happening that I want to keep track of, and I rely heavily on this journal for that. Let me see what I can recall just off the cuff.

Chickens. Holy cow, I love the chickens. Our rooster is gettin' jiggy, and the oldest pullets are giving me presents!

hen fruit!

The Buff Orpingtons and the Easter Eggers are all either laying or just about to start laying, as is our lone blue Ameraucana hen. The next wave of pullets shouldn't be far behind in egg production: more Orpingtons and a few Cuckoo Marans. We have two hatches coming up in the next month in the incubator; one of blue/black/splash Ameraucanas, and a larger one of very nice Buff Orpingtons. I'm not certain I did everything right with the Ameraucana eggs in the incubator, but I'll know one way or another by the end of this weekend. Exciting! I feel a little more confident about the Orpington eggs. There is even one of our own little pullet eggs in with that hatch, simply because when we collected our first eggs from our girls, I couldn't tell Bella "no" when she grabbed one up and begged to hatch it. It's in there with the eggs I bought from an accomplished breeder, looking very small, and marked with a crayon 'B' for "Bella." I'm half expecting a "special" chick from that egg, but I do think it will hatch--the eggs I've cracked have definitely been fertile (attaboy, Skee-Lo!).

I've had several really neat barter offers for fresh eggs, all involving produce of some kind, which makes me extremely happy. I'm very much enjoying the small group of copper-black Marans pullets and cockerels we have now, and breathing a sigh of relief that they've made it this far with no mortality. Aren't they cute, with their little bell-bottom feet?

attention

coppered black marans pullet

Skee-Lo (he wishes he was taller) is getting big and pretty.

pensive rooster

And although, as I mentioned earlier, he is getting some hen-lovin' now, not all the girls are quite as enamored of him as he'd like, and this has caused him to get every last one of his tail-feathers plucked out by the ladeez. They call it "hen-pecked" for a reason, fellas.

the hens have plucked every last tail feather from this rooster

As much as I like him, Skee-Lo is losing standing as Most Favored Rooster with me, because of this young guy:

cuckoo marans cockerel

He's a cuckoo Marans cockerel, and I LOVE him. When the chickens are free-ranging, he stays within sight of the back door of our house, and if I come outside, this little dude RUNS, as fast as his little chicken legs can carry him (which is pretty funny in itself), to my feet, and then just cocks his head and stares at me, demanding treats. Which I of course give him. I think he's going to make an awesome rooster, though I had no intention of keeping any of the cuckoo roos to adulthood. I never said I was logical. He doesn't have a name yet...does anyone have any ideas? Something French, perhaps? Remember, once I name it, it stays out of the stew-pot.

Speaking of chickens and cold pragmatism, we have now harvested our first home-grown birds, and cooked them on the grill. I'm fairly proud of us, and am happy to report that it was some of the most delicious chicken I've ever eaten. We have 18 more roosters awaiting the same fate, and I may post more about that later, because it really has been a fascinating learning experience. I have been surprised that the final act of butchering and processing an animal I raised from birth did not require the cognitive disconnect I was expecting to have to employ. Especially once I saw how immediate and painless our method was, I felt pretty good about it. These birds are living much longer, more natural, "bird-like" lives than their grocery-store counterparts, right up to the final moment, which is fast and kind. I like knowing that each bird I raise for food myself means one LESS bird going through the factory-farming system.

That catches us up with the chickens, I think. Wanna hear about my turkeys? Not today? OK, then, maybe later. But look at them! Aren't they awesome?

showoffs

I will tell you this: There are few things as therapeutic and soothing as sitting outside in the afternoon feeding string-cheese to free-range poultry. I highly recommend it.

feeding birdies

Also, when they have to compete with turkeys, chickens can make themselves amazingly tall.

Sweetie insists that she is taller than a turkey

In other news, I had that gnarly thing in my arm surgically removed the other day. Not because I finally got all responsible and decided to, in the words of my husband, "have that thing removed before it starts to talk," but because I messed around and procrastinated about it until it ruptured on the inside, causing a raging infection and requiring a very, very painful procedure to get rid of the not one but two cysts that I could have had removed in a simple and relatively painless procedure at any time during the last, oh, SEVEN YEARS. So, let me just say: If you have one of these benign, weird little lumps underneath your skin somewhere, just go and get the thing out. Do it today. You really don't want to wait until it asplodes in you, trust me.

I missed you, Internets.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

We Have To Come Up With A Better Way To Start The School Year

I forgot to post how our first day of kindergarten wound up. It ended like this:

I'm starting to see a pattern here

Just a little nosebleed, nothing to get frantic over--the blood you see in that photo is all the blood there was. But it upset her, because it was blood. It happened on the drive home from school the first day. Which was kind of a bummer, but still better than how she came home from her first day of school last year. Remember this?

The first day of school didn't end as well as it started

Yes, school is getting better simply because this year's teacher didn't drop anything on her head yet.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Starting Kindergarten

This was the scene last week, as Alex, Bella, and I waited outside her new school--ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, Bella would specify--for the doors to open on the first day. The first day of kindergarten. Wow. I swear it seems like it's only been about a year since she was standing up for the first time, grinning that toothless grin beneath a nearly-bald head, and all of a sudden, she's wearing a backpack and standing on the sidewalk outside an elementary school, clutching a getting-started-bribe of watermelon pickles for her teacher.

waiting for the school to open, first day of kindergarten

She almost didn't let us go with her that first day. After the school's open house earlier in the week, when the principal was instructing weepy parents on how to leave their weepy children on their first day at school--that they should say goodbye and leave quickly, then go to the school's library for a "Boo-Hoos and Bagels" breakfast, so as not to break down in front of their children or give their children the chance to break down more than they surely were going to anyway--MY daughter leaned over and said, to me, "Um, Mom? I think you can just stop the car in front of the school, and I'll just hop on out and come in by myself, OK?" We had to negotiate for the right to at least walk her in to the classroom ONE TIME. We had to promise not to hang around too long, though, and to do any crying in the library with the other parents.

Once we got to her classroom, Bella wasted no time in cozying up to her new teacher, warming her up with some jokes and giving her a gift that "we made ourselves!"

warming up the new teacher with a joke, obviously

She had delighted in picking out her own comfortable clothes to wear that morning, remarking more than once that we should give her old private preschool uniforms to "some other poor kid" who had to go to that school. It was heart-warming seeing her so happy and at ease in this new place, and she settled right in to her place, practically giddy to be there.

all in our places with bright shiny faces

She went right to work on the project in front of her, promptly ignoring her father and me.

work to do

We were able to talk her into one goodbye hug for each of us, thankfully.

indulging mommy

hug from daddy

She sat back down at her place, and her father and I watched her for several more minutes, waxing sentimental (look, she is our only child, and this is the only time we'll have this experience, so give us a break), until we got this LOOK--the look that plainly said, "Hey, guys? I got this. You can GO, NOW."

I got this.  You can go now.

So, we went. And despite all the sobbing parents out in the hallway, we held it together. We skipped the whole "Boo Hoos And Bagels" experience. We were proud of the independent, fearless, confident little character we'd somehow produced, and we left her at school with no concern whatsoever for whether she'd be all right, but with considerable pangs of sadness for ourselves, and our own loss of our wee little baby.

And then, outside the front doors of the school, inexplicably, there was a giant anthropomorphized wiener, obviously sent from above to let us know that everything was going to be OKAY. Or sent from Sonic to remind us that hot dogs are tasty. Whatever. A good omen is a good omen. Don't look gift-wieners in the mouth, people.

Because nothing says, "Welcome to Elementary School" like a giant anthropomorphized wiener.  From Sonic.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"We Could Get Nuuuuude!"

sucker punched

Following that cell-phone commercial on TV, depicting the family that mistakenly visits a nude beach on their vacation, and the little girl in the commercial asking her parents, "Why is everybody NAKED?"

Bella: "Mom, why ARE all those people naked?"

Me: "Because in some places, there are nude beaches, where people can go swimming without any clothes."

Bella: (blinks) "AWWWESOME! Can WE go to a nude beach?"

Me: "No, I don't think so."

Bella: "Why not? Pleeeeease?"

Me: (laughing) "No."

Bella: (cajoling tone) "Please? We could get nuuuuuuuuude!"


I'm both mildly alarmed and a little delighted that my daughter finds the prospect of everyone running around nekkid in the surf so wildly appealing. I don't know why I'm surprised, though, seeing as how she's down with the skinny-dip in the backyard.

maybe it wasn't such a good idea to let her watch The Shining

Like A Chipmunk

I feel like my entire life right now is consumed with a sort of controlled panic to get stores put in for the winter. It's kind of funny, because I've never felt this way before, except with the horses and their hay. You can NEVER have too much hay to carry you through a winter. Never. Just when I think I can't possibly pickle anything else, I find myself staring at a peck of peppers or pickling cucumbers or that lovely watermelon, and looking around for spare jars and the giant jug of vinegar. I know. It's weird. The freezers are groaning, and I now live in fear of a power failure. My pantry looks completely different than it did last year at this time.

Gather, gather, gather, store store store! I can't imagine how people in the days before refrigeration must have scrambled as the summer days dwindled down. Canning and pickling and salting and curing and drying and digging...I feel guilty for buying that sushi rice at the Asian market. It came from Maryland. Arkansas is Rice Central, and I bought rice from Maryland. Don't complain to me, complain to Riceland. I needed some sushi rice. Sue me.

If you're quiet, you can hear and feel it from the growers at the farmer's markets. The ones that are still showing up "in town" with their produce are antsy, anxious to get back to work. You can see the distracted looks on their faces, as if they're thinking about how much daylight they're burning while you make up your mind whether to buy one eggplant or two. You definitely feel it if you visit the actual farm, and of course, there, you can see it.

Bella and I visited "our" little nearby farm recently, and it sort of looked like the plants had taken over. Squash were run amok, to the point that they were overripe and spoiling in the rows in places. Tomatoes were ripening so fast that we were hard-pressed to find a handful of green ones for relish. The sweet peppers we came for were exploding in vivid shades of red and orange, instead of confining themselves to the quiet yellow-green of the last batch we collected for pickling.

peck of peppers for pickling

Far from being put out and having to collect two five-gallon buckets full of peppers for us, the grower was thrilled that we were taking them, telling us that he had just about been ready to till those rows under. This is how my first year of following the harvest has been--I've always seemed on the tail-end of whatever season it is. The good news is that I've gotten some incredible deals, from growers with a supply of fully-ripe, highly perishable produce to unload before it becomes very expensive compost. But I've also missed out on getting in good supplies of some things, like blueberries. I got a few pints, but not as many as I'd have liked. And I'm hoping for one more green bean harvest this year, but have no idea yet whether or not that's just a pipe dream. I'll know in a couple of days.

waiting

I'm pretty tickled with how much Bella has seemed to absorb during this process. She already knows more about nutrition and the origins of her food than I did as a young adult, and she definitely has a more experienced palate. The kid is even eating pickled peppers--probably because she was part of the process as they went from being living fruit on the vine to making a colorful confetti in our kitchen.

pack pepper for pickling

She even went with me to Scott to pick up hay last week, and hardly complained at all, despite the fact that it was a thousand degrees out. OK, maybe not a thousand, but it was darn hot. See?

that's right, it's HOT

This hay we got, it's some magical stuff. I haven't seen one bit of it go wasted since we got it home. The horses are desperate for quality forage, and very much appreciate the Good Stuff when they see it. My problem with putting in hay is the same as it ever was: I don't have the room to store as much as I'll need over the winter. So I bring home as much as I can carry (actually, judging from the pictures, possibly a bit more than I can carry, or at least more than I know how to load and tie correctly), and hope for the best. There has been a spell of rain and lower-than-normal temperatures recently, so I'm kind of hoping that means an extra cutting of hay this summer. It could happen. (This is where you stop what you're doing and pray for hay.)

only 100

yeah, it felt precarious, too

objects closer than they appear

I never feel quite so happily secure and optimistic as on the day I come home with enough hay to fill the barn. Conversely, nothing sets me on edge and gives me general anxiety quite as much as being out of hay in January. Ack, I don't even like thinking about it. This is how I get a little insight into the trials of my forebears. All right, so my forebears probably didn't have access to a Purina mill for complete livestock feed. Or a Kroger down the road, for that matter. But humor me, for I have soaked cucumbers in a solution of lime and water for 24 hours and created from that a delicious pickle. I see both the future and the past.

Ahhhh.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Before And After

I don't ask often, but if these "before and after" pictures frighten or anger you, head over to my post at the Arkansas Times, and then the follow-up post on the Times' home page to comment. We're talking about Chesapeake Energy, and the real-life consequences that befall residents of neighborhoods where Chesapeake comes to drill.

It could happen to anyone. What if you worked for years in order to be able to afford a small piece of land in a quiet, rural neighborhood, with these views from your back yard...

before Chesapeake 1

before Chesapeake 2

...and then, seemingly overnight, you're living in the middle of this?

this is what replaced forest

instead of allowing the wood to be harvested, all the trees are just burned as they're cut down

nice view...NOT

Oh, and you should know that, along with the deforestation and destruction, comes 'round-the-clock noise, constant heavy traffic, air pollution, and literally earth-shattering blasts from a water cannon at regular intervals.

Chesapeake Energy's slogan? "Doing The Nation A World Of Good." You know, as long as it's someone else's part of that nation. I doubt that this is happening in the backyard of any Chesapeake executives.

Go. Comment. Make yourselves heard.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Taking Stock

The NaBloPoMo July theme of "food" is drawing to a close, and there is still lots I want to discuss, and I will--partly because I want your input, and partly because, for me, these blog entries may someday be to Bella what the yellowing index cards with recipes written out in my mother's handwriting are to me.

I went pretty hard during the month of July as far as getting food "put away" for later, and I'll continue on into August, I'm sure. I wish I'd started much sooner, but I just didn't realize how early and fleeting the season is here for certain things (spinach, oh, spinach, I missed you altogether). I'm better informed for next year, though. Let's take stock (pun intended, sorry) of what I've managed to store away so far, mostly from well-timed large buys at farmer's markets and from local growers.

By far, the most important tool in my personal food-storage kit is the freezer. We're fortunate to have plentiful freezer space, largely thanks to an amazing gem of a giant used upright freezer that Alex found in a newspaper ad, and for which we paid $95. That's not likely to happen again, I'm sure. Maybe by next year I'll be ready to try pressure-canning, which would allow me to jar up a wider variety of vegetables, but for now, I'm really comfortable with frozen food. I'm also not convinced that all the blanching advised for most vegetables is really necessary--in some cases, I know it's not, because I've skipped it successfully in the past, and in other cases, I'm relying on a trusted source to tell me that they've done the same things. Also, every single vegetable or fruit item I've frozen has first been "flash-frozen," by which I mean the individual pieces were spread out on trays and frozen on a well-ventilated rack in the freezer, before being packed into vacuum-sealed bags or freezer containers. I like to do it that way, because then when it's time to cook the frozen food, it isn't clumped together, and I can simply take out however many pieces I want, instead of having to thaw a whole package. I don't have a Food-Saver system (though I'd love one), but I've been pretty happy with my $9 Reynolds Handi-Vac, and the bags that go with it don't cost any more than regular freezer bags. And of course, with the Handi-Vac, you can open a bag, take out what you want, then re-vacuum-seal it again. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean, in the form of trays of blackberries and blueberries being flash-frozen before being put into sealed containers:

tray of blackberries flash freezing

freezing a tray full of fresh blueberries

So, to make this entry even more mind-numbingly boring, here's a list of what I have "put up" so far, all from local, chemical-free sources:

Okra--flash-frozen. Small pods frozen whole, larger pods sliced for gumbo, and thanks to a co-worker's tip, more slices that I've already dredged in a seasoned flour/cornmeal mixture, ready to be pan-fried. Not blanched.

Green Beans--blanched, patted dry, flash-frozen, and sealed in various sizes of freezer bags. A Twitter-bud told me that she doesn't blanch her green beans prior to freezing, and they turn out just fine, so I'll probably skip it next time, too.

Yellow Straightneck Squash--slices and chunks flash-frozen, some slices pre-breaded for pan-frying, just like the okra. Not blanched.

Zucchini--slices, plain and breaded, flash-frozen. Sticks, flash-frozen. Shredded, for use in breads, cakes, or fritters, vacuum-sealed in one and two-cup portions. Not blanched. (You can steam-blanch shredded zucchini if you like. I didn't wanna. The word I got on using raw-frozen zucchini shreds in breads or cakes is that you DO want to incorporate all the liquid that thaws with the zucchini, unless the recipe specifically calls for draining it.)

Bell Peppers, green and red--Chopped or cut into strips, flash-frozen. Not blanched. A tip I got from the grower of the peppers was to just freeze bell peppers whole if you don't want to take the time to chop or slice them, because that would protect the moist inside from forming ice-crystals. The only reason I didn't do that is because of how much space it would take up in the freezer. This is probably THE single most cost-effective item to buy NOW at a farmer's market, and freeze, if you're not growing them yourself. Good GOSH, a grocery-store bell pepper is expensive!

Carrots--Slices or sticks, blanched and flash-frozen.

Sweet Corn--Blanched on the cob, then cut off the cob and frozen in a sealed container.

Sweet Corn ON THE COB--Flash-frozen. Not blanched. To cook, toss frozen ears directly into boiling water for 15 minutes.

Onions--Chopped and flash-frozen. Even the "official" freezing sources don't act like you have to blanch onions, thank heavens.

Broccoli--Blanched and flash-frozen.

Purple-Hull Peas (if you're not from the South, think Black-Eyed Peas, Lady Peas, or other "field" peas)--shelled, blanched, patted dry with paper towels, flash-frozen.

Fairy-Tale Eggplant--sliced and flash-frozen. Not blanched.

Pattypan Squash--sliced and cubed, flash-frozen.

Cucumbers--pickled.

Watermelon--pickled.

"Fake Grape" jelly--made from the hulls of purple-hull peas.

Sweet Banana Peppers--pickled.

Tomatoes--cooked down into sauce, canned. Still angry.

Blueberries--flash-frozen.

Strawberries--flash-frozen.

Wild-harvested Blackberries--flash frozen. May make jam from these, since Alex and Bella both object to the seeds.

Beets--so far, just hanging around. Suggestions?

Wild-Harvested Turkey--meat wrapped up tight in freezer paper and freezer bags, broth portioned in quart-size freezer bags, frozen.

Wild-Harvested Venison--processed and packaged by our local butcher, in paper and plastic, frozen.

Bread--thoroughly cooled and sealed in plastic, frozen.

What about you? Are you the grasshopper, or the ant? Frankly, this is my first ant year, and I'm darned tired already. There's lots more coming up that I want to hoard like crazy, but can't figure out quite how to do it, like root vegetables. What are you waiting for where you live?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Pint Of Pickled Peppers And Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes

pickled peppers

OK, it was more like 4 pints, but well short of a peck. This was hands-down the easiest preserving I've done so far, that didn't involve the freezer. I still love the freezer best of all. But these things, you just packed the raw, sliced peppers (either bell pepper strips or banana pepper rings), along with a slice of fresh ginger root, a clove of garlic, and a bit of salt, into hot jars. Then boil up a mixture of white wine vinegar, water, and sugar, and pour it over the peppers. All that's left is to seal the jars and process them for a few minutes in boiling water!

I'm definitely going to be making more of this recipe, using green bell peppers. You should, too. But only after you make the watermelon pickles.

ON THE OTHER HAND...if you get possessed by an urge to buy 50 pounds of tomatoes because the farmer is letting you have them for 50 cents a pound because he has so many at the moment, and you think how great it would be to have a basic tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes on hand later in the year, and you decide to start MAKING TOMATO SAUCE FROM SCRATCH for water-bath canning (it should be noted that this is different than just making fresh tomato sauce for eating immediately or for freezing, because you must observe the pH balance of what you're canning if you're not using a pressure-canner) at 7:00PM on a weeknight, well, here's what you should do: You should slap yourself, HARD, across the face, then drive to the nearest grocery store and buy 20 cans of organic tomato sauce. There. I just saved you HOURS of aggravation, not to mention a superhot kitchen, a giant mess, and an aching back and sore feet.

Yes, there are 9 pints of homemade tomato sauce cooling in jars on my kitchen counter right now. NO, I will never, ever do this again. And I am currently so angry at tomatoes in general, that it will probably be mid-winter before I'll be able to stand the sight or smell of them again, so strong is the sense-memory that was forged during The Nightmare Of The Tomato Sauce. Tomatoes, you know, don't really WANT to make sauce. They want to make watery juice, and also a giant pile of inedible seedy guts, along with skin and a hard-as-a-rock core. You have to crush, mash, and boil the stupid things for HOURS to get them to sauce-form, while periodically smooshing a couple at a time through a sieve. I don't even want to THINK about what it's like to make tomato paste.

Next year's proposed "kitchen garden" may have just gotten a bit smaller, with the exclusion of tomatoes. We'll see if I've gotten over it by next spring.