Monday, September 29, 2008

Emma's Loss

A few days ago an old friend of mine named Emma sent me a message saying "Alcurtis passed away. His obituary is on the Sac Bee web site." I was not shocked by the news since I knew Al was sick, but I felt a sadness in his loss for my friend. Alcurtis and Emma were married long before I knew them, but Emma separated and divorced Al after his diagnosis with type 2 diabetes. One may think her action harsh, but I think there was no other alternative given the circumstances. I know Emma loved Al dearly but did not want to watch his daily failure to follow through with diabetes treatment. Al intermittently or refused to take medications and ate what he wanted in a reckless manner. He was in reality slowly killing himself. It would be torture to watch someone you love self destruct in such a material way, so I can not blame her or find fault with leaving him.

She told me that after Al had died it took 8 days until the family went to find him at his home. Early on, after the first "he's missing" phone call from Al's relatives, Emma knew what had happened, but no one believed her. Even though his relatives were aware of his medical condition they did not want to admit the most likely alternative, thus the delay in finding him.

Emma was the last one to see Al before he was cremated. She said she got to touch his head and feel his hair one last time. It was just a little gesture but powerful in emotion and true feeling. As she was telling me these words, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes since at that moment I knew how much Al's passing hurt her, but that she could finally let go of him now. Leaving Al was probably harder then staying with him in many regards, but the only way Emma could save herself from the daily misery of watching his physical and mental decline.

It is hard to walk away from something that is comfortable and familiar, whether it be a relationship, friendship, job, or hobby, but there are occasions when separation is necessary in order to keep what you are sane and healthy. I am proud of Emma for preserving her self, but equally moved by her steadfast attachment and love for the Al that exisisted before he became ill. She took the hard road to remain true to herself since she knew Al would not be influenced to care for himself even with her there as his wife. May we all have the strength to be able to make the right decision when adversity comes our way as Emma did. I hope Al is at peace too.

Friday, September 26, 2008

When Roosters Attack

My colorful adventure with the chickens continues. Mike has finally agreed that, that Rhodie, the Rhode Island red rooster looks a little sun burnt, so maybe my worries about him were not ill founded (see They're Here). He suggested we put some sunblock on his skin, but I declined. There are just some things I will not do. Putting lotion on a rooster's ass is one of them. But his feathers are growing and he has one inch stubs sticking from his reddened rear end. Looking at him still gives me an ice cream headache, but I think when his feathers finally reach their true rooster-like potential, that he will be a force to be reckoned with.

After careful observation of the two roosters interacting with their rather aggressive hens, I can say that right now he is much more shy than most of the other birds. I attribute his demeanor to his humiliation in having nothing back there where glorious plumes should be fluttering, in a masculine way of course. Basically, I think he is embarrassed. But let's wait. I predict that when he has something to strut about his game will include savage attacks like Mr. D is launching at the current time.

Moving on to Mr. D. This rooster is significantly smaller than Rhodie, but has balls the size of an elephant. In the two weeks since the chickens have arrived, he has jumped at me twice, knocked baby Ella down once, lept at Wyatt and Adams chests at least twice each, and has learned to chase Luke around the pen.

It is fabulous to see him initiate his charges. I have been studying him and his strategy. He acts like nothing is going on while casually pecking and scratching the dirt like all the other chickens. Then he nonchalantly, edges closer and closer to where a human is standing, then he stops feeding and that's when the fun begins. Suddenly, he stands as tall as he possibly can on his tip-toes, fluffs up his neck feathers and shakes them, just like one of the little dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, then runs at his prey, usually hitting somewhere in the two foot high zone. His charge is more of a body smash than a beak-pecking procedure, but Mr. D. is all bravado and his assault has little possibility of bodily injury. However, to the little kids he is a terrifying creature.

Now, Wyatt and cousin Adam, both shadow me into the chicken pen like a man-eating tiger is about to tear them to shreds. I put a chair in the enclosure so I can sit while feeding corn to the flock at a leisurely pace. The boys stand behind me, one on the chair arm and one on the chair back, like two pygmy goats escaping from a mountain lion. They both have run shrieking from the pen with tears streaming down their eyes, so I guess for them their fear is justified. Our kids are usually too confident about themselves around our house; I think this experience is a great reminder that they are low on the pecking order, and that small does not necessarily mean weak.

Now, Luke, the oldest cousin, has created a kind of game with Mr. D. Game to Luke, but serious business for Mr. D. Luke has taught Mr. D. to chase him around their pen and laughs like a baby hyena when the rooster actually gets body contact with him. He's playing chicken with a chicken. OK, bad pun... but since Luke aspires to be a chicken whisperer like his Uncle Mike, he must become wise in the way of chicken behavior. Knowing exactly what you can get away with is an important part of knowing the animal. Luke likes to catch the hens and pet them just because he can. He slowly stalks them from behind then lunges when near enough to grab them around their wings. A brief and polite confinement for the hen with a little bit of petting on the head and Luke lets the bird go. Since he is the oldest he gets the responsibility of letting the chickens out in the morning and putting them in their cage at night, feeding, and collecting their eggs.

All in all the chickens are doing everything and more than what was expected. We're getting great animal husbandry training for the kids, eggs to eat, and kids to respect animals. The smile I get when I see the rooster get ready to chase a kid should not count, but it does too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Kubota

Since we live on a five-acre property with horses, weeds, and kids, we bought a medium size farm tractor to conduct all the maintenance and redneck-like activities that we need to do at home. The Kubota is a bright, day-glow orange, but since several of our rich neighbors with mansions have one too, they don't complain about its color. They complain about almost everything else instead, but back to the important thing: the tractor.

I use the tractor for the mundane mowing of grasses and weeds in the spring and for the back saving hauling of 50 lb. grain bags and hay bales to the barn in the winter. There is a shallow seasonal creek that passes through the middle of our property, and during the winter my truck can't make the short drive back to the barn without sinking up to its axles, so the tractor is a necessity at certain times of the year. A scoop of gravel here and there to fix the holes that the horses dug in their paddocks, and the piling of horse manure into a gigantic compost mound rounds out “the Kubota’s” normal chore schedule for me.

I will freely admit that I like to mindlessly drag the make-shift harrow I made from a chain-link fence around my riding arena while gazing at the oak studded hillside to the west. When driving the tractor around for chores in early March, I always notice when the blue oaks begin to bud out hearkening of spring. I see that every couple days the canopies look a little more full until I realize the new season is upon me. Tractorizing a dusty arena in the in late summer, I observe in what seems like overnight, the blue oaks turn a rusty-brown indicating the just how dry it was. The hotter the summer, the faster the color change.

I think that the steady rumbling sound of the tractor engine makes my visual senses stronger and my powers of observation keener such that the tracking of the seasons becomes habit while on board the dependable beast. I often reflect upon these changes while aboard our pragmatic tractor which thankfully always remains the same. The Kubota’s chugging engine, steady speeds and orange color can always be counted upon so long as diesel fuel fills its reservoir and my husband Mike changes the oil when the scheduled service light goes on.

The Kubota is fun for a city girl to use and after I mastered shoveling with the front scoop I felt that I was as close I would ever get to “oneness” with any machine. And mind you, that is not saying much. This type of tractor is easy to use with a no-clutch option, and large letters that tell you F for forward, N for neutral, and R for reverse. In short, a Kindergartner should be able to use the Kubota, as long as they could reach the pedals. And this theory extends all the way down to my son’s short-limbed but determined body.

Wyatt’s obsession with the Kubota began at a very early age. I know it is my fault since I would bundle him up when he was a wee-little baby so he could ride shot gun with me on the tractor as I worked the sands in the horse arena. The gentle humming of the diesel motor and the soft bouncing over hoof pocked sand almost always made him fall asleep, which was not easy for him to do in the early months. As soon as he could walk he would be found toddling out to the shop where the tractor is stored. He could say Kubota and tractor within a few months of talking. If he was missing and unaccounted for my husband would ask, “Where is Wyatt?” My first response was always, “Have you checked at the Kubota?” Most of the time he could be found trying to climb it in those moments when he escaped from our usually watchful eyes. It occurs to me that child protective services could make a case for our bad parenting if he was found alone with the tractor, but I guess we lucked out.

The Kubota has been a great addition to our "family" as my children and each of the cousins have their turn driving it, going for rides just for the fun of it, or sitting in the bucket while I raise it high into the air. They always scream mightily to come down; I always like that part a little too much. This chunk of metal is strangely comforting and has a certain value for which I can not describe for the little ones on our property. Their lives would certainly be less full without it, and mine would definitely be more difficult.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Baby Wars

Among other things, keeping 20-month old Ella from sneaking into the bathroom and zipping out 100 feet of dental floss, raiding the cupboard for goldfish crackers which she likes to smash on the floor, or marking all over her body and clothes with a stray Crayola marker, I have my hands full with daily child management. This small itinerary does not include the large dose of her older brother Wyatt which needs its own essay for explanation. But to get to the point, I have been at war this week with my daughter Ella.

Between Ella’s desire to no longer wear clothes and her decision that she no longer likes to pee on the potty, I am fighting like a mom determined. I must win. The daily struggle to keep my daughter dressed is daunting enough and I am taunted by her calls for "nay-kit, nay-kit, nay-kit" as I chase her around the house when I find her in the nude. Or alternately, I will find her bare from the waste down and struggling with her shirt pulled half way over her head in attempt to fully disrobe. As she blindly walks around bumping into the walls or furniture screaming “hep, hep, hep,” I give in and often assist her, but after the third or forth time in one day I leave her to figure it out. When I oblige the little nudist and let her run au natural, she likes pat her belly and rub her chest cheerfully saying “nipples” and the other various words for her body parts in baby talk language.

Daddy Mike, sarcastically worries that she is going to be a stripper, and I have to say to him I think it’s a wee too early to tell. Then he might throw in a derogatory comment about her potential for promiscuity, flippantly saying something cliché about easy girls and loose virtues… As I roll my eyes back in my head and ward off his typical nonsense, the potential threat is really from the four boys who consist of her brother and cousins. Her brother, Wyatt is mostly innocent and laughs at her wanting to be naked, since he too revels in his nudity and will still run around the property a-dangle at the mature age of four. Two of the three cousins are benign except for Trevor, the middle child, who has a serious interest in all that is related to “The Body.” I worry his curiosity will get the better of him, so I do like to keep Ella clothed in company. What’s a mom to do? When in a group the boys do like to stare and mumble something about vaginas, so I guess it all starts pretty early.

I move on to the bathroom which has become ground zero in the battle over potty training. Somewhere last week the allure of the “treat” for going pee on the potty wore off, and the success I have had with training this child to use the toilet is waning. Pavlov’s dog patterning principles at work, I think, “up the ante,” and attempt to bribe Ella with a chocolate peanut butter cup instead of the meager jelly belly bean for her potty reward, but alas no, just more chanting “all done, all done” with no pee in the pot so to speak. The topper for the week was a 3 hour no pee stint where I knew she needed to go but was holding out. I took her into the bathroom for another try and once again she insisted NO, but 45 seconds later the Amazon River is flowing down her legs in my living room. For those keeping score it’s Mom-0, Ella-72. At least she has the courtesy of telling me immediately after she has wet herself or while in the act and pauses for a brief moment politely saying “dirty.” On occasion she will even pee herself, strip off her clothes and come to me and tell me innocently, “wet, Mommy.” I have to give her some credit however, in this whole process since she does tell me when she has to do #2 and she emphatically wants to put that in the toilet. Thank goodness for small favors.

Sometimes I think that jamming pieces of hay under my finger nails or tweezing all the hair out of my eyebrows one by one would be more enjoyable than caring for my kids, but I persevere. Actually, waxing my legs or depilating by using the electric Epilady tool is lovely way to end the day after dealing with 12 or so hours of kids.

They will grow up, you can’t stop them. In the end, the nice things that Ella does are worth all her troubles since she always says “tank-u” and “peas.” She listens to directions, puts her bottles and her brother’s sippy cups in the sink unasked, puts her brother’s clothes away in drawers, and dances to music spontaneously. So toss the good in with the bad of the salad of our life and all things reach parity. Next week will probably be better.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Falling

Today there was ground fog in our valley for the first time this season, just a few wispy patches hugging the dried brown pastures next door. But it was there. In the dark morning, I can always tell how damp it is outside by the poping of the hotwire as the current jumps the plastic insulators and sparks against the metal t-posts in the horse pastures. Just a few drops of dew is enough to get a little cracking sound every time the energizer pulses, and when the fog is thick and wet I can see small bright flashes around the pasture as well.

This morning, the astringent but sweet smell of tarweed (Hemizonia congesta) floated through the air, comforting and familiar. The dull yellow leaves of the changing season are dropping from my cottonwood trees too. All the leaves from the interior loose their green color first as they drop from inside out. Further in the season the last few leaves will cling to the tips of the branches and finally be blown away by the real weather that comes in on the winter storms. We don’t get the spectacular gold and red color changes at our house; we just have to settle for the gradual persistent browning of our deciduous trees. Leaves drop assiduously until naked stems are left to waiting until spring comes again.

The marine layer of fog has moved into our valley for the last few days giving us the much needed relief from screaming hot 104’s from just two weeks ago. The nights are also manageable now with dewy 50’s contained on either end by dusk and dawn within an ever shortening day. I love to wake to the grey misty skies which give me a breath of cold air when I walk out to feed the horses.

The horse’s short summer coats are beginning to shed. My curry brush is filled with thousands of soft little hairs that end up flecked on the floor of the barn. While they don’t know it, their bodies are getting ready for winter. Soon the long warming hairs will push through forming a dense, wind and water resistant barrier to their skin. The rain of auburn and brown horse hair settles then is blown about by the gusts from the north wind; the hairs swirl and scatter across the rubber matted floor then fly out into the fields. I think it takes decades for the hair to totally decompose.

Everything here leads me to the coming of change this season, be it good or bad this year. I usually look forward to this time of year since the heat breaks to cooler weather and the mid day becomes mine again. During the summer it is too hot to go outside between 1 and 4 so we're often relegated to the house or the deep shade on my porch. Once the cooler weather begins I can ride a horse while the kids take their naps. But today there is a melancholy air to the weather probably due to the falling parallel in the economic world. To listen to the news makes my stomach churn and sickens me. Falling and falling, as the seasons reel along supported by unstoppable changes in the physical world, so do the changes in the nation’s oldest and most trusted financial institutions. Declining our Country falls and falls again.

Monday, September 8, 2008

They're Here

Please check out "The Chicken House" for background information to "They're Here."

As promised the chickens have been delivered to our home by my in-laws over the weekend, but I was warned, "They don't look so good, we've had trouble with some bald spots." Not to be dismayed with a few missing feathers I looked optimistically forward to their arrival. How bad could it really be???

Back in February I carefully selected chicks from the Belt Hatchery website to be reared by Mike's parents. The standard white "Arian Nation" chicken who lays white eggs would not do. I wanted pretty feathered-multicultural chickens so I picked a variety and settled on five breeds. So, the mob consists of Danish brown leghorns, Rhode Island reds, barred rock, golden sex-link and black sex-link. And no, I have no idea what "sex-link" means! So we anticipated both brown and white eggs from multicolored chickens. All will be well in the world.

So the chickens they cometh...Well they were missing some feathers for sure. With varying degrees of baldness the 14 chickens made their first promenade around their pen with little fanfare. Some are tail-less and a few have one or two feathers sticking awkwardly out from the top of their butts. Not exactly my idea of perfection in chickens, no glorious feathered friends, but I will be patient. It looks like the feathers are starting to poke out from their bumpy, naked chicken skin. The in-laws think the feed was not quite balanced and resulted in poor feather production so with new feed we're aspiring to greatness. Several chickens were actually delayed from the "home coming" due to their admittance into the "chicken hospital" back at the in-laws house. It seems the other birds were picking on them and they got some nasty holes pecked in the top of their rumps. I am learning the ugly little secrets about chickens: they will peck each other to death if left to their own devices. So much for my multicultural flock in harmony together, these birds are apparently blood thirsty cannibals. I am wearily watching the flock for any signs of aggression… Who knew raisin' chickens was so dab nab flabbergastin.'

The chickens just a peckin' an a scratchin.'

So I move on to the two roosters, which are Danish brown leghorn and Rhode Island red varieties. As you can see in the picture, Mr. RIR, is lacking the most feathers of all the birds. It pains me to see his naked back end and I fear that he will sunburn, but husband Mike, assures me that I am worrying like a broody hen. Ha, ha... I think Mr. D is going to be the most handsome when all his feathers fill in. He also has the attitude to kick some ass. Note to self: in photo he has his nearest leg raised as in anticipation of scratching the crap out of me. I think he is starting to size me up by the way he jauntily turns his head while surveying my height.

Observe Mr. D with raised near leg, ready to maim at will.

Mr. RIR. Grow feathers, grow!!!

It has been Mike's dream for many, many moons to have a rooster to chase the kids around the property, and I think he will soon be gratified by a timely premeditated attack by Mr. D within the next month. Nothing would delight my husband as much as seeing one of the roosters chase the boys around the yard while simultaneously launching all 4 pounds of their body weight at the kids head. Mike has educated me on their behavior characteristics and assures me that when the roosters start to mature they will provide endless entertainment. Basically, the roosters are little bad ass, attack chickens just waiting for an opening. The children don’t stand a chance.

Oh Yah! Did I forget to mention they produced 12 eggs within the first day! So much for settlin' in. They're at home already. Next time "The Chicken Wisperers..." Kind of like the horse whisperer but much more entertaining.

Wyatt and Ella trapped in a spare piece of caging wire. Maybe a good place to store the kids when I am feeling sadistic...

The Day the Swallows Came Home

The tree swallows are here already.  They arrived January 30 much to my dismay.  Swooping and calling and chirping their merry song over my ...