Tuesday, December 13, 2011

We wish you a Merry Christmas

I've had two tall glass vases filled with eggs, green and brown, blown out and waiting for me to do something with them for over a year now. Tonight I sat down and turned many of them into ornaments for the tree.
All I needed was twine, scrapbook paper, a snowflake punch, glue dots and eggs:

I cut the twine, tied the ends together, used the glue dot to hold the twine in place on the end of the egg and put the snowflake on top of that:

They look very festive and just knowing they came from my girls make me smile. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas......

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Molting hens, no green eggs and no longer being productive

Over the past few months the girls have been molting. Emma went first (and seems to have taken the longest)- she dropped 3/4 of her feathers, her beard and muff......it was pitiful. She quit laying when the big ugly molt set in and while she's all feathered over and fluffy now she hasn't resumed laying.

Harriet started losing her beard and muff weeks before anything else. It was almost as though she decided to hang onto her feathers, but one day we went out and there were feathers everywhere- except on Harriet. Once Harriet quit laying, in a show of solidarity, Lydia quit too. Lydia's molting started quick and she's feathered back over faster than Emma and Harriet. BUT THEY STILL AREN'T LAYING!

Now we see signs of the comets slacking off: 3 eggs, 1 egg, 2 eggs, 0 eggs.....repeat. So far other than their tail feathers looking ragged Elinor, Fanny and Kitty don't appear to be molting but the cooler weather and decreased hours of sunlight don't help. I even bought eggs (cage free, vegetarian fed) in case I ran out with the holiday baking (and supplying 7 dozen cookies for the boy to take back to school with him today).

I've been making sure they get lots of treats and keeping them entertained with hanging cauliflower, celery and the like. Every day I go out thinking this will be the day the green eggs reappear. One day I'll be right. It's made me think about the day when they get too old to produce eggs and how accustomed we've become to having fresh eggs from hens that are loved and cared for. I feel guilty eating eggs from hens I don't know. I worry about how they are treated (regardless of what the carton indicates). I also know we don't need to have a flock of hens who don't lay and a flock of hens who do- that's how you end up with 30 chickens and only 5 egg layers. Guess we'll deal with that when we must.

Ian has been home since Tuesday evening on Thanksgiving break. It's been so nice to have him around, even if it's just knowing that at some point he'll be coming in. My grandma has been with us since Friday and it breaks my heart to see her so old and feeble. She's been old for a while now but her body is tired and hurts, she can't hear and gets easily confused. And cold- she is always cold. I think she's burnt out my little space heater I keep for her.

My grandmother was only 39 when I was born and she has always loved me fiercely, as well as my brother and my mom (her only child). And her siblings, their children, spouses.....you get the picture. Eva Ruth was the youngest of 12. Her oldest sibling was 22 when she was born so many of her nieces and nephews were older. At 91 she has outlived all her siblings, their spouses and many of their children. Outliving her daughter was grandma's biggest fear and when that happened I really thought she'd just curl up and die herself (I'm pretty sure that's what she wanted, but she's too stubborn). The past 20 months have been hard on us all and there are times when I feel overwhelmed with all the stuff that has fallen to me with my mama not being here.

I've said several times that my mom owes me for leaving me with all this stuff that she should be taking care of.....my brother's health scares, trying to mediate between him and grandma, listening to them tell on each other, the relatives who hear only Ruth's side of the story and call me with their concerns. If my mom were alive I'd there helping her out, but she'd be the one dealing with everything on a day-to-day basis. Of course I don't really think she owes me, I just wish she was still here. If she was I'd be doing what ever she needed me to. But she would be here.....

It is hard watching my grandmother become someone who has to depend on others- it doesn't matter that she has people lined up to take her places, spend time with her, what ever she needs she is surrounded by family and friends. We are not who she wants and no matter how hard we try we never will be.

Not to compare my grandmother to a hen who no longer lays (and yet, here I go), but in her mind she has to be able to do for others to still be productive and valuable. So she cooks and pays for gas and lunches out- it makes her feel like she's doing her part. For all of us who have benefited from being loved by her she's done enough, been enough, is enough.....as frustrating as it can be sometimes (and dear Lord it can be and often is).

She fell asleep yesterday mid-sentence, head thrown back and mouth wide open. Scared the hell out of me and I had to check and make sure she was breathing. I know she won't live forever but at times like that I realize that I'm not ready for there to be a world without her. You never know, those
Strouds are mighty stubborn......

Ian and his granny, Easter 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

It never gets old

 Today is the first fall-like day of September. I can sit on my back porch and see the girls as they go about their daily routine of scratching in the dirt, quarreling over the favorite nesting box... all the other chicken stuff they need to take care of. All this while making all the sounds that we have come to find so calming and peaceful (well, except the squawking that goes on when an egg is laid- that's just funny!).

I would go out and sit with them while I drink my coffee, but I've learned that anything that could possible hold food is a target. While I love 'em, I don't want to drink after them. The first to check out the coffee mug was Kitty (it's always Kitty who seems to go first):

(Kitty in her prehistoric raptor stage)

We also never take food out with us that we intend to eat. It doesn't work out so well for us. Kitty (yes, her again) once took a pop tart out of some one's hand and ran with it. Wish I'd had my camera because her running around with a whole pop tart hanging out her beak was hilarious! The look on the (human) chick's face was pretty priceless too. Not to mention the other girls trying to get their fair share.

Their days are much the same day in, day out. Kinda like mine....work, home, read, wash, fight the dogs for bed space, keep up with the the old and infirm folks I inherited from my mom. Every so often we get a treat- maybe a pop tart, maybe a surprise visit from the boy on my birthday- but for the most part one day bleeds into the next. And that's ok. There are worse things than being content with the life you have.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I've been harking back to all the time that came before now. Ian is off to college next week. Actually, I should be driving back from Boone this time next week- having delivered my boy into his new world. 18 years and 7 months ago (tomorrow) I delivered him into our world and he quickly became the center of it. As it should be. I understand all the advice about not putting your child before your partner, but why the hell wouldn't you? I love Will and I hope we have as many years together as his grandparents did (75- ok, we might have started a little late to hit that goal). But I love Ian more. Luckily Will feels the same, so no feelings hurt here.

When he was only 12 hours old I sat holding him, amazed that he was mine and I was overwhelmed with the reality that now that he was on the outside I no longer was the only thing keeping him safe. Only I could look into that beautiful little face and burst into tears because one day he would go to kindergarten...high school....leave home for college. So I've  been anticipating this for a long time (ok, dreading it). I've been thinking about my mom a lot too- but she is never far from my mind.

Ian is exactly what we hoped for in our baby, even before there was a baby: funny, curious, self confident, tolerant..... He marches to the beat of his own drummer and for the most part is unconcerned with the opinion of others. At times these traits have proven to be a headache to us and we look at each other and say "be careful what you wish for"! So as he is planning his exit strategy and boldly going into his future we are left behind to figure out how to be just two again. There is anticipation in that as well.

So, how to tie this in to the chickens (it is their blog, sorta). Well, there has been a lot of anticipation with regards to the girls. The Internet searches into breeds, coops, taking care of them. Will even went to a chicken keeping class at NCSU. We debated long and hard about where to put them and what size space they needed (you are welcome girls, I lobbied for bigger is better). We visited the farm we were interested in getting them from, emailed back and forth with questions before making the final decision. Once they were here of course the anticipation turned to the first egg. When the time drew near for the Comets to start laying every visit to the coop meant a check of the nesting boxes we'd "seeded" with golf balls to give them a hint. When a pullet is getting ready to lay her comb gets very red and Fanny's was, so the afternoon I went out and found her first egg I was so excited! From the first egg Fanny laid to the first egg Emma laid was about 2 months, so everyday was filled with anticipation about how many eggs, would the Americauna's eggs be green or blue.....when would Emma finally join in the fun?

I still love going out in the afternoon and collecting eggs, bringing the girls a treat and getting some chicken love. They have brought and continue to bring me a great deal of satisfaction. They don't mind the tears I've shed out there and to be sure there are more to come. Just like the baby smiles and little boy hugs, one day the number of eggs will begin to decrease. There will be periods when there are no eggs and from out of the blue one will be laid, all the more precious because soon there will be no more.

Ian is the best thing I have ever done (or will ever do). I anticipate many years of watching him become the man I think he's capable of being. I anticipate that one day he will not only love me but will like me and consider me a friend and be glad I'm his mommy. I anticipate that when I leave him next week he'll be so excited about school and being on his own. I anticipate that I'll probably cry all the way home and that Will will be crying when he gets home from work knowing that Ian won't be there. I anticipate stocking up on tissue!

I learned by example, from two strong women, a few different lessons. From my grandmother, to love fiercely and perhaps obsessively- but leave no doubt about how much love there is, forever and always. From my mom, that the pity party gets old and despite how much I might want to wallow in misery there is always something to laugh about (the more inappropriate, the better!) sooner rather than later.

Love you Ian!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

6 hens, 3 nesting boxes and everyone wants the top box

When we were getting ready for our first egg there was a debate about how many nesting boxes they needed. I thought they should each have their own, Will said two. Our first attempt was using two soda crates filled with pine shavings....they didn't seem to like being exposed and didn't even "practice" sitting in them. On to plan B....

We had an old entertainment center that Will made and were taking it apart for disposal. One of the shelves had 3 sections and we decided to stand it on end and have 3 boxes that had sides and tops. Lots of privacy. Once in place and filled with shavings they started getting in and checking them out. We added a few golf balls to each box to give them a hint and just waited for the first egg. Fanny laid the first egg and Emma was the last to start.

In the almost year since we got the first egg I've never seen more than one in a box at the time. The top box is the prime real estate but we usually find eggs in the top and middle boxes, rarely in the bottom one. This morning I went out for a visit and to let them out in their yard, only to discover there was a little struggle for the top box. (I made 3 videos but for some reason part 1 can only be sent to a bluetooth enabled device.....of which my laptop is not)

PART 2 (Emma and Fanny want Kitty to hurry up)

PART 3 (Kitty has company and Fanny feels left out)

So that's how I amuse myself on a Saturday morning :0)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Making a frattia

Here's how we do it:
- gather eggs; pick dill, tomato, basil and cucumbers from the garden (grows   well with compost and chicken s.....tuff)

- saute mushroom and onion
- wash, crack and whisk eggs; add dill

- add to a pan that goes from stove top to oven

- when the bottom starts to set add mushrooms and onion evenly over the eggs

- top with cheese (you choose; we've used fresh goat cheese, feta.....today it was a cheddar blend)

-put the pan in a 400 degree oven and let it puff up and brown around the edges

- make sure the middle is set

- top with diced tomato

- slice cucumber and onion, add torn basil leaves and top with vinegar for a side dish

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day

We do not have a rooster (loud and generally unpleasant personalities), so the girls will never be mother's. I think they are ok with that. In the 9 months since Fanny laid her first egg through now no one has gotten broody- they go, they lay, they leave.

Last Mother's Day came only a month after my mom died. The day before was the day we went to Sumner Byrd Farms to check out their set up, look at their birds and decided to hustle home and finish the chicken house so we could get chicks the next weekend. And I saw a sight I thought I'd never see- my grandmother with a parrot!

She was rather taken with the little guy. It helped take our minds off mama not being there for a few minutes.

This Mother's Day was spent at Duke hospital. Will's mom had a stroke on Tuesday and the week was spent going back and forth to the hospital, but by Sunday plans were made for her to go to rehab Monday (today!) and we were feeling better about her prognosis- she has a long way to go, but there is some optimism that she will regain some of her mobility.

I did pretty well with going to visit- it hit a little close to last year and the almost week spent in a hospital, but thankfully this had a positive outcome. All her children and grand kids were there to wish her a Happy Mother's Day (and a few daughters-in-law). My Mother's Day sorta wasn't- too many more important things going on.

I think it was the first Mother's Day in my life that I didn't see grandma for at least part of the day. She went out with one of her brother's kids for lunch. Their mother was grandma's best friend and she was my mom's (and my) favorite aunt. Aunt Nora Mae has been dead for about 16 years, but of all the folks grandma has lost over the years I know that outside of mama and granddaddy she misses her the most.

Saturday morning was the first time the girls had seen Will since the previous Monday. We left for the hospital a little later and I let them out for a few minutes. When they heard the back door open they looked towards the house and when they saw Will they started clucking and crowding into the corner of their yard closest to the house, then they jumped on a chair- the better to see him! They were so happy to see him and stood around waiting for him to pet everyone (except Emma- she was busy laying an egg).

I anticipate that this summer will bring changes- Ian getting ready for college, Will and his brother taking up a lot of the slack for his dad in the upkeep of the farm, Judy working on getting as close back to "normal" as she can......it would be nice if change could be orderly and wait for one thing to be settled before having to adjust to another. Just saying!

Judy and Bill Batts at their 50th anniversary party, April 16, 2011

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Anticipating an empty nest....

My baby boy will be heading up the mountain for college come August. He is our only child and is so eager to get out into the world. Before he was born when we talked about what we wanted for our baby it wasn't about how they would look or what profession they would have (I was holding out hope that even though I was convinced I was having a boy it could still be a girl)- we wanted to raise a person who was confident, compassionate, curious, funny, had common sense and a will to learn. We got what we wanted in Ian and no matter how many people told us it would go by fast who knew 18 years would seem so much less. I am not ready to let him go but that doesn't matter, he's going. It is as it should be despite how much I wish it otherwise.

I sat outside all morning, reading and listening to the girls filling up their nest(s). Sometimes there will be eggs in all three nesting boxes, but usually they only use the top two. I have found 6 in one nest but its usually 2 in one and 3 or 4 in another. Sometimes all the brown eggs are in one and the green eggs in the other. The middle box seems to be the favorite and they will stand and fuss at the hen occupying the box to hurry up and vacate.

Kitty laying an egg
One day the girls will quit laying eggs and we'll have to decide if we want to add to the flock or just enjoy the six of them without benefit of fresh eggs. I will admit to having chick lust when I go to the hardware store and see the bins of babies, but six is enough for now. And I'll have a better handle on having three more empty nests. At least you can legally buy baby chicks!

The chicken came first, then the egg

Thursday, March 31, 2011

That's alot of eggs!

March is the first full month of keeping count of eggs, and I'm impressed with their dedication to laying. Elinor, Fanny and Kitty are responsible for 78 brown eggs; Emma, Harriet and Lydia contributed 75 green eggs for a total of 153- that's 12.75 dozen eggs for the month!

Where do all those eggs go? For sure the three of us can't eat them all. Sometimes the dogs, Sadie and Cooper, get scrambled eggs. Sadie has acid reflux (who knew!) and can't eat dog food. So we cook for them- rice, vegetables and (shhh- don't let the girls know) chicken usually. Sometimes eggs and cottage cheese. Oscar the cat joins in for a snack, but FeeBee the fat (28 lbs, at least) cat only eats dry cat food. I digress.....

We've given our neighbors, who look out their back door and can see the coop, some. My grandmother, who has always taken a special pride in the chickens and their eggs, gets a steady supply. Last week she put in an order for 3 dozen to pass out to three of her nieces. So the three of them each got 6 brown eggs and 6 green eggs. The girls laid 37 eggs last week, so I just brought 'em in and started filling up cartons. When we went to grandma's on Sunday she and I delivered eggs. Our  former neighbors have gotten eggs as well as Will's side of the family. There are a few more people who have let us know they want some too, so they are next up.

It's a rainy night here in NC. I put up the umbrellas in the chicken's yard and let them out this afternoon until I couldn't take the cold any longer. I'm not sure where the saying "madder than a wet hen" came from, but the girls were perfectly happy scratching in the mud while the rain rolled off their feathers. They bitched at me for shooing them back in the coop and shutting the door. I thought I was doing good to take them banana for snack and staying out with them for 20 minutes.

Maybe someone will lay a blue egg tomorrow in honor of April Fools Day.

I'm going to have to start giving away some of the eggs I've blown out too!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Getting up with the chickens

I get up early....I'm sitting on the back porch now and it's before sunrise. The girls are all snug in their house and I'm listening to an owl hooting somewhere close by. My dad always got up early. He spent almost 27 years in the navy and even after retirement he would still be up by 5am with a pot of coffee going. The sound of the percolator would wake me up and we started a tradition while I was in college of sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking. It was usually the only time we had alone after I moved away. Whenever I'd come back for a visit, regardless of what time I went to bed, I always got up. After he died I would lay in bed at my mom's waiting for someone else to get up so I didn't have to walk into an empty kitchen.

This is the last Saturday in March. Last year on the last Saturday in March I was at my mom's. I'd come up the day before so we could make final plans for my grandmother's 90th birthday party. On Friday night I'd gone to my best friends house and we'd sat up talking until 2am before I left to go back to mama's. My mother had gotten into the habit in the last few years of getting up early, getting the paper and making a pot of coffee. She'd read the paper, drink the pot of coffee and be back in bed for a nap by 10am unless she had something else to do. Linda enjoyed her sleep! The sound and smell of the coffee pot perking away woke me before 6am, so I got up and joined her in the kitchen.

We talked and drank coffee, then we broke out the old photo albums. I'd planned to scan photos and make a few collages to have at the party. We laughed at the clothes and hairstyles from the 40's and 50's. In high school my mom wore alot of tight black sweaters- with a white bra (easily seen under said sweaters). She informed me that good girls didn't wear black underwear and grandma wouldn't let her have one. Sounds about right for grandma. We sat there until the coffee was gone and we fixed another pot, then we got dressed and headed to grandma's house, probably around 9am.

Once at grandma's I broke out her photo albums. I know over the years I'd looked through them before, but I found photos I swear I'd never seen before. Grandma had kept every single drivers license she's ever had- talk about some dated hairstyles, clothes and makeup! We laughed and talked and planned. About noon I needed to leave to come back home and mama needed to pick up a few things for the party, which was only two weeks away. We went out to grandma's "little house" to check the freezer and see how many more pork shoulders she needed to buy for the bbq my brother was cooking for the party.

Mama threw open the freezer lid and discovered that  while she thought she'd bought more, only two pieces of pork were there. She literally shut the lid, thought a few seconds and opened it again- as if they were hiding the first time. Shopping plans changed to include a meat run. My grandmother's niece from Utah had made several trays of a dessert for grandma's party and had sent them ahead. They were in the freezer and my mom had broken into a tray when they arrived and every time she went to grandma's she'd get a piece and eat it frozen, so she had a piece (kinda like a blond brownie with nuts and cherries) then shut the freezer.

I left grandma's headed for my house, about 63 miles away. When I got home I went to the local hardware/garden shop to buy terra cotta pots and dishes I was making cupcake stands from- for the party. I figured grandma could use them as bird feeders later (the dish sat on top of the pot, which was turned over). I worked on that, mama shopped and around 6pm she showed back up at grandma's with 7 pieces of pork to put in the freezer, get another piece of goodness and stayed and had a sausage biscuit with grandma before going home.

I went to bed early that night (having had less than 4 hours of sleep), but the phone woke me around 10:30pm. My brother was calling to tell me that mama had a heart attack and the EMS were there trying to start her heart. You know how everything seems to stop? I got off the phone with him and I just stood there, knowing that nothing was ever going to be the same....Terry followed the ambulance to the hospital and I grabbed some things and set out with my 17 year old son. I didn't want to call grandma and tell her, so we drove to her house first and by the time I got there it was almost 1am. Of course it startled her to have someone at the door and as soon as she realized it was me she knew something bad had happened. By the time we got to the hospital mama was on life support and they were trying to determine exactly what happened. Over the course of the next 6 days it became obvious that she wasn't going to improve- she never regained consciousness and by Wednesday all the tests were in and we sat in a room with her doctor while he told us she was brain dead. I watched my grandmother age 10 years in that room and from then until now I don't think I've made it a day without crying. On Friday, April 2, 2010 the tubes were removed and the machines cut off. It was what she made me promise to do in that situation.

My brother didn't want to be there, but grandma, my husband Will, my cousin Lexie and I were with her. The whole week I would talk to her and hold her hand and pray for some sign that she knew I was there. Never happened, not even an involuntary tightening of her fingers on mine. But right after the machines were cut off, as I was holding her hand, she gripped mine so hard I thought maybe they were wrong and she was going to wake up. Of course she didn't....she also didn't die for several hours. My son finally insisted that my brother take him to the hospital, so he and Terry came into the room and said goodbye to mama. She waited for them, because within 15 minutes she passed away.

So today is the anniversary of the last time I spent with my mom and grandma. My grandmother will be 91 next Sunday. Will, Ian, my brother and I will spend the day with her and she'll probably want to go to the cemetery, which I hate but it seems to bring her some comfort. This past year has been so hard and awful and sad for all of us. One day I hope to be able to remember that last Saturday and only smile and laugh (right now the ugly cry is going on). The sun is up, the chickens just flew off their roost....I think I'll go make some coffee, sit on the porch and read. It's what my mom would do if she were here.

Mama, me and grandma all dressed up for a day at Fort Macon. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Keeping up with the egg production

On Feb. 20 I started keeping track of the egg production, just because I could. That first week they laid 36 eggs...not bad for 6 little hens. The second week I started not only keeping count of the number but also the color of eggs.

Our chickens are pets, with benefits

 Week two saw 30 eggs- 16 brown, 14 green
Week three there were 18 green eggs and 17 brown eggs (first time the green outnumbered the brown)

This is week four and this week there is an interesting pattern:
Day 1: 3 brown, 1 green
Day 2: 2 brown, 3 green
Day 3: 3 brown, 2 green
Day 4: 2 brown, 3 green
Day 5: 3 brown, 2 green

Will they stick with the pattern for the next 2 days? We'll see!

UPDATE 3/19/11:

Day 6: 2 brown, 2 green
Day 7: 3 brown, 2 green

The comets have maintained their laying schedule for 7 days, which is pretty impressive. And to be fair the others were only out of sync 2 of 7 days. The week 4 total is 18 brown, 15 green.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A wooden bowl and a tiny egg

My brother is disgustingly talented- he sees something he thinks he'd like to try and he goes for it, usually doing a great job. His latest interest is turning bowls from blocks of wood. His first bowl is made from tupelo poplar and while not perfect (handmade should not be) it's eye catching. He gave it to me and the eggs look really good in it.

the wood grain just pops and notice anything not like the others?

I have read about chickens laying "fart" eggs- very small eggs that usually do not have a yolk. This is our first such egg. I am going to blow it out and save it. I'll bet whoever laid it appreciated the size break! Since it's green it was either Emma, Harriet or Lydia.

mini me

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chicken gifts

The girls have been chugging right along laying eggs despite snow, ice, cold and short daylight hours. We have even given a few dozen eggs away. Going out to collect eggs each day still makes me happy- I love finding them just laid when they are still warm. I put them in a bowl on the counter and look at them for awhile.

The girls have also given friends and family a reason to start looking for cool chicken-themed gifts. I suppose at some point (maybe when the chickens outnumber the camels) I may have to ask for a time-out.....but not yet!

Speaking of camels, my brother made this sign for me to hang out by the chickens. And yes, I'm sure the double entendre is deliberate!

 My friend Amy created this original piece of art for me. It's hanging in my kitchen and makes me grin every time I look at it. Thanks friend!

Amy, Richard and Haley also supplied the chicken planter, which I have filled with eggs (blown out and rinsed well).

And just yesterday I found this in my mailbox:

It came from Bearta and at first I thought the egg was it......

But look, it opens and reveals earrings.....
Chicken earrings!

Check out the deviled egg at the bottom. Too cute. Thanks Bearta!