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?


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?


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.