A bit of summer sweetness remains.

Once again it seems that the busyness of autumn has kept me from updating this blog! Pardons, I beg a thousand pardons!! In October we FINALLY found the weather and the time to do the annual fall cleaning of the chicken coop, after the garden was put to rest, leaves raked and shredded, wood chopped and stacked, compost dug into flower beds, and garlic planted. What a lot of work, but well worth it. Hopefully next year we will have a better growing season. Anyhow, cleaning the coop is a major endeavor which takes all of one day and part of another. First I gather the materials: scrub brushes, whisk broom, dust masks, buckets of hot hot vinegar water, shovels, spray Neem and Poultry Protector and probably more that I fail to mention.

Oh yeah, and rubber gloves!

First we remove all the old bedding and use it for mulch around the roses, and fruit trees. Next we use the utility vacuum to suck up all the cobwebs. Then I scrub the inside of the coop from top to bottom with hot vinegar water, followed by a wipe down with my own homemade orange vanilla spray cleaner. After that I spray every surface with Poultry Protector, and the floor and cracks of the roosting/nest box area with Neem to prevent mites and other creepy crawlies. I shake a little bit of diatomaceous earth on the bare ground of the runs, and pile lots of fresh pine bedding over the ground. Finally I put new bedding in the nest boxes and sprinkle in some lavender and calendula petals. The girls have been hanging out in the paddock during all this procedure. Before we let them back in I sprinkle some treats over the new bedding and they are only too happy to spread it around in their search for treats.

Voila! A clean coop! My girls deserve the best.

November brought colder weather, so the next task was to winterize the coop. My husband and son worked on this while I got to hang out with my lovely youngest granddaughter. After years of stapling plastic over hardware cloth to keep out the nasty wind here on Windy Hill, we finally improved things. We now have plastic covered inserts which fit neatly in the framework of the coop/run. We mount a small flat panel heater in the roosting area which will only be used when the temperature dips down into single digits. I would NEVER NEVER use a heat lamp because of the danger of fire. I do not have any photos just now of the winterized coop but I am sure you will see some once the snow flies in January/February.

Our new puppy is growing. She is such a sweetie! We have taken a few day trips with both dogs and they are loving traveling with us. So many new people to greet! They are real ambassadors of love.

In other news, my dear little Nellie is molting. She was on her way to being lead hen, but something happened and the other girls have been chasing her around. She should not be molting at seven months, but I believe the stress of falling to the bottom of the pecking order put her into an early molt. Please keep her in your thoughts as molting is in itself very stressful and can last up to 12 weeks. Poor Nellie is 4-5 weeks into her molt, and winter is a coming!

Poor Nellie!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Let’s see, am I ready?? Of course one is NEVER totally ready, but I have made a good start. Husbie and I have cleaned the house, I have baked two pans of cinnamon rolls, about three dozen rolls, three pies, an apple crisp, and made a cheese ball. As I write, a turkey breast is roasting in the oven while the main bird will go in tomorrow. My dear daughters-in-law are bringing stuffing, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole. All that’s left is to put up tables, decorate them and lay out my Mom’s china and silverware. But Thanksgiving is so much more than stuffing the turkey or one’s face. This year, I feel the presence of dear loved ones who are with me in spirit. I can almost feel my Mom standing next to me as I make her recipes for chocolate pie and stir the gravy. Our dear departed Maggie nuzzles my hand as I run it over Sadie’s fur. When I go out to the coop I pause for a moment next to Miss Henrietta’s grave and whisper a greeting to her.

My life is rich with blessings. Sometimes I feel I do not deserve so much loving companionship from the people and animals who have enriched my life. As we rush into the Christmas season once the Thanksgiving dishes are washed and put away, it is my hope that I take the time to pause and reflect on what I already have. I hope you do too!

Please leave a comment! I love to read what you write to me!

Chicken Mind, Beginner’s Mind

At a recent weekend retreat I found myself confessing that “chickens are my spiritual practice.” I meant it as a joke, but as I reflected later on that comment, I realized that it is in many ways, true. This led me to pick up a book which was gifted to me when I first began my journey with chickens. It is a lovely little gem entitled the Way of the Hen: Zen and the Art of Raising Chickens by Clea Danaan. I highly recommend reading it. If I may, I want to share some excerpts from this wonderful book:

Beginners mind is the Zen concept of approaching something without preconceived notions, labels, or ideas. One’s mind is open as a beginner’s. Chickens have a way of inspiring beginner’s mind. As I watch my hens strut around the yard, scratching for insects and gobbling down grass, I enter a place of delighted calm. Their simple needs become my simplified needs. I take a deep breath and settle into the moment. I am content just to sit. As we’ve seen, our relationship with the chicken is a complex one; and yet it is a calming and simple relationship that takes us back to ourselves.

from the Way of the Hen by Clea Danaan

I keep these words in mind as I go about my daily tasks. I have learned so many important lessons from my hens. Of my original flock, only two remain. Buffy, who is old and arthritic, amazes me every day with her continued zest for life as she runs out to the yard each morning with the others as if this day, today, will hold unexpected treasures yet to be discovered. Yellow Feet, who suffers each summer from an early molt which begins in July and continues slowly on until sometime in October, spends her days perched on the open doorsill of the coop, soaking in the sunshine and looking up at me expectantly for a treat of sunflower seeds. She teaches me patience and willingness to wait while soaking up the lovely sun. I am so glad I have had these companions for so long. Caring for chickens gets me up and outdoors early each morning, and reminds me to be mindful each evening as I go about the task of seeing everyone into the coop and safely to roost. I am reminded to be grateful each time I check the nest boxes for eggs. I feel connected to the circle of life as I gather eggs for morning breakfast or evening frittatas. I have consciously raised my young girls to be tame enough to sit on my lap, and to allow me to pick them up, so we enjoy lots of cuddle time. Chickens are so soft! So it’s a good life, all in all. Full of opportunities to be present.

Our connection with Spirit comes through our daily lives and through healthy unity with others as well as the vast Silence. The sound of one hand clapping is a path to enlightenment; the sound of one wing flapping is a path to a conscientious and enlightened world.

From the Way of the Hen by Clea Danaan

I took some time this morning to photograph my three younger hens. Allow me to introduce them to you:

This is Nellie. She lays a lovely egg every day.
This is Maisie. She loves to sit on my lap and go to sleep.
This is Daisy Sunshine. She loves to be petted and can purr just like a cat.

I know a lot of people who intentionally do not keep animals in retirement because they want to travel. And travel they do. I used to feel a bit jealous of that freedom because chickens certainly do tie you down to place. However I am coming to know a different definition of place and of freedom. Place is where I am right now. I don’t really need to be in any other place. I am HERE. My tasks are what I do. Cynthia Bourgeault teaches Centering Prayer, which is my meditation practice. In a recent teaching she revealed that the daily tasks of our lives should be approached reverently. Because this work itself offers to you a portal into the organicity and the dynamism of life. When you pick up a tool to begin a task, it should occur to you that you are entering into a relationship with the earth itself. It gives you an opportunity to be grounded in your body. “If you learn to do everything without rush, with intentionality, with humility and simplicity, you have spaciousness and freedom in that…It allows us to be fully present to our life.” I think there is a lot of freedom in that. And that is my new understanding of freedom.

I would love to hear your comments on this post. If you would like to share, please comment below.

Late Summer Sweetness

I began this blog thinking I would post almost daily about chickens, home, and garden. What I have realized is that summer holds little time for hanging about in front of a computer. This blog was born of long winter days which nurture self improvement plans and time for plenty of reflection. Once the weather begins to warm into growing season, my time is spent almost exclusively outdoors, housework forgotten, sewing projects left ignored, even books cast aside as I become once again ” a bride married to amazement,” as Mary Oliver has said. Knowing this season is short, I want to soak up enough sunshine and color to warm me through those endless days of winter. And now that summer is waning, the sky could not be a brighter blue, the air holds a hint of crispness, and sweaterless nights spent sitting outside in the warm dark listening to the chanting of crickets and cicadas become precious. I have become aware this summer that I am as much a part of our beautiful natural world as the fur, feather and plant creatures which I so love to observe and care for. It is a process coined recently by the term “rewilding.” Which is the process of connecting once again to our wild nature, inside and out. So I have committed to daily sitting by the woods in all weather, soaking in the energy of the trees, and noting the gradual changes which occur as summer begins to wane. It took me a while, but I am beginning to feel that I belong there. I sing, chant, pray, meditate and hope that my relationship with the living things around me is reciprocal.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, the young chickens have begun laying, and I need to take some photos to record how they have grown. Nellie is on her way to becoming lead hen. She has a tall comb and lays an egg almost every day. Daisy, whom I cannot keep from calling Sunshine so I will probably rename her that, is second in command, and dear Maizie has been the last to mature and begin laying. My old girls, Buffy and Yellow Feet are really slowing down, but Buffy is still a regular layer and maintains her place as lead oldest hen.

First Eggs

The garden has been rather mediocre this season. I allowed all the volunteer sunflowers to grow wherever they planted themselves and this created a kind of living fence which my tomatoes definitely did not appreciate. I have had enough to can a few jars but not nearly as many as last summer. One beautiful benefit to having a garden filled with sunflowers is that they have become goldfinch heaven. What a sight to see so many golden birds on the sunflower heads. I have tried all summer to sneak a photo, but they are on to my tricks! My cucumbers came up beautifully, produced enough for a turn of bread and butter pickles, and promptly died almost overnight. The only thing which did really well was the zucchini. When will I learn NOT to plant three hills? We have eaten zucchini bread, muffins, fries, zoodles, sauteed, for almost every meal since July. The peppers FINALLY decided to bloom and produce late in August. I will have to brag that I was able to successfully grow carrots this year, and even one hill of cantaloupe.

The most exciting thing that has happened this summer is that we got a new golden retriever puppy. She is absolutely adorable, and it was pure serendipity that we were able to bring this little angel into our family. Her name is Caitlin, after our Scottish niece. She has brought so much joy into our home already. And Sadie is a great big sister!

I have become acutely aware of the process of transformation in these latter days of summer. So many subtle changes are afoot if one has the ability to pay attention. My “littles” have become growing and laying hens. Our puppy is adapting to our routines, and Sadie has learned to share and monitor puppy play, participating joyfully. Forest undergrowth has thinned, and brown leaves cover the ground as the trees begin to show us how to let go. In our front garden the milkweed I plant each year in honor of my friend Roianne has become host to an abundance of monarch butterfly caterpillars. We are discovering the bright green, gold jeweled monarch chrysalids attached to our fence rail, in our hanging baskets and hidden in our hydrangea shrub. I believe these late monarchs are the ones which will migrate to Mexico. We are carefully monitoring the chrysalids, awaiting the day the butterfies emerge. Now THAT, is where hope resides.

Melting My Way Through July

Henrietta’s Grave


William Stafford

Mostly you look back and say, “Well, OK.  Things might have

been different, sure, and it’s too bad, but look –

things happen like that, and you did what you could.”

You go back and pick up the pieces.  There’s tomorrow.

There’s that long bend in the river on the way

home.  Fluffy bursts of milkweed are floating

through shafts of sunlight or disappearing where

trees reach out from their deep dark roots.

Maybe people have to go in and out of shadows

till they learn that floating, that immensity

waiting to receive whatever arrives with trust.

Maybe somebody has to explore what happens

when one of us wanders over near the edge

and falls for awhile.  Maybe it was your turn.

This poem, by William Stafford pretty much sums up how I have felt, much of July. Still very much mourning over Henrietta, I am trying to pick up the pieces and go on. I am trying to float, and accept whatever arrives with trust. I am trying to focus on the happy memories. I continue to care for my little flock of older and younger hens, and hope for the best.

The “Littles” are 17 weeks old, and this past week we put them with the older hens. I had planned to wait, but the older girls were grieving for Henrietta and it was so hard to watch. I decided they needed a distraction. So we put them in side by side paddocks for seven days. The older hens spent their days next to the fence dividing the two paddocks, watching the Littles in their own brand of chicken TV. It was cute to watch. After a week we put them together, and they are getting along fairly well. By this I mean no bloodshed! The most they have done is peck one of the littles on the head or foot, to get them to move out of the way. Buttercup is starting to hang out with the Littles more and more, because she can see that they get more treats. Buffy Orpington, after spending a week calling out for her missing friend, has gone back to laying eggs, and is now the leader of the flock. We have had several long talks about leadership, and I hope Henri is by her side in spirit, encouraging her to be patient and kind. Yellow Feet is less pleased with the newcomers, and has resumed her role as chicken herder. She ushers the Littles back and forth insisting that they vacate any part of the coop, run, or paddock that she would like to occupy. I guess Yellow Feet has given up egg laying entirely and has settled into a rather grumpy retirement. The Littles and the Big Girls are acting like two separate flocks mostly. I hope to see them doing things together soon. The Littles still go up to their roosting area to sleep at night. They have gotten as far as the middle of the ramp up to the big girls’ roosting area before freaking out and running back to their more familiar space. Life goes on.

My dear Patrick made me a bench by the woods. I have been going there each morning for my morning meditation/prayer time. It gives me so much peace to be among the trees. I think as Mary Oliver says:

“When I am among trees, especially the willow and the honey locust,

Equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness,

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.”

I do think the trees are saving me. Thank you Mary Oliver. And thank you, trees.

The Little Deaths

I when I lost my dear Miss Roo, this short poem/paragraph poured straight from my heart. I put in on Facebook a few years ago and it touched many people’s hearts. It rings even more true with the loss of Henrietta. Here is is again for you.

Henrietta and I are holding hands. There is nothing like the feeling of closeness when one holds hands with a chicken.

Little Deaths

So what do we do about the little deaths?  The ones very few notice?  The mole dragged from its tunnel by a voracious cat?  Blue eggs tossed to crack on the sidewalk, the cicada interrupted in her mating quest by a too full watering can, a butterfly dragging her tattered wings to the acceptable host plant where she can deposit eggs with the last of her strength? 

The little deaths: one lone cat run down on a country road, one sleeping owner whose side is suddenly cold and empty, one golden hen sporting a jester’s cap comb and a musical trill realizing she cannot make it one day to the feed bowl, or trill, or flap her wings, and stands surprised and stunned.  One master’s joy and lifelong companion who one day cannot rise from her bed. 

These small ones, the ones whose lives do not seem to matter, are yet an integral part of life’s majestic dance until the final curtain falls.

Why should we mourn these small ones?  The spark that is too soon extinguished is the selfsame spark that powers us, who seem beyond, exempt, as if we are the lucky winners of a divine lottery — until we realize that in noticing these little ones, these sweet interludes and endings which wrench our hearts open, we are participating in Love’s creation of itself and the indwelling of the Divine in all creation.

Please leave a comment below.

My Lovely Henrietta


I lost my dearest hen and the leader of my flock Sunday night. My lovely Henrietta passed away quite suddenly. She was her usual cheery self all day Sunday until I saw her standing to the side when I served my flock a pan of frozen blueberries and water early Sunday evening. She looked a little stunned, and did not come over to eat. However when I offered her the blueberries, she took a couple. I watched her for a while and decided she might be a bit dehydrated because it was rather hot. Sometimes she forgets to go inside the coop for drinks of cool water. So I put her in a crate in the basement with water and electrolytes. I checked on her around dusk and she was just standing in the crate. I got her to drink some water, and gave her a small bit of Meloxicam because my hubby thought she might have been stung by a bee. He found one crawling in the yard. She was also having watery diarrhea. Her comb was still bright red, and she did not seem very sick, just off a bit. So I decided to leave her for the night and take her to the vet in the morning if she was presenting the same symptoms. My husband got up at 6:30 to check on her, and found her dead in the crate. She had laid a soft shell egg, and had vomited. I fear she suffered, however briefly. I had always imagined that I would hold Henrietta in my arms when her time came, and be able to say a proper goodbye. Instead I was sleeping and she was alone in the dark. I have wept for days and have had terrible feelings of guilt that I was not there for her. I know that I was a good chicken momma to Henrietta, and that she had a good life, but it does not take away the feelings of grief and loss in suddenly losing a hen who was loving every minute of her life, and seemingly in very good health. Henrietta has been my teacher. She has taught me a lot of lessons. Perhaps this last lesson is that I too should treasure every moment, enjoy the sunlight and good food with gusto, and accept the final moment when it comes.

If you wish, please comment below. I enjoy reading your comments!

Croakin’ Joe

Croakin’ Joe on the left at about 5 weeks

Last week I lost one of my dear little chicks. Croakin’ Joe was just ten weeks old. Croakin’ Joe died suddenly while he was out with the others in their little chicken yard. Words cannot convey the grief I feel over losing that little spunky guy. My husband and I both witnessed his death. He was fine one moment and gone the next. Literally. I picked him up and rocked him in my arms, begging him to come back, but to no avail. I have no idea what happened to him. My heart is broken. Yes, in a way this solves the problem I would face in integrating a rooster into my flock of older hens. But I had decided I liked the little rooster so much that I would attempt it. He was such a gentle roo, and very attached to me. He loved sitting in my lap and snuggling. He was enthusiastic when I scattered treats. He had just learned to crow, and every morning when he heard my voice on the porch, he would begin to crow. It is like he was calling me to come on over and visit. This all happened about 30 minutes before my ride came to take me over the mountains to a women’s retreat. I had a lovely weekend with a group of caring sisters who gently comforted me. I also spent time in silence and in communion with nature in an old growth forest. It seemed the recurring theme which came up for sharing and discussion over the weekend was how death is a part of life, and it is the nature of everything to die and transform.

Once home, I still had to care for the remaining little pullets, and silently note the spot where Joe died, clean out the broody crate where they spent eight weeks transforming from balls of fluff to small dinosaurs. I still had to live with the fact that I will never know what happened to him. It will forever remain a mystery. I had buried Croakin’ Joe next to a flowering rose bush and scattered petals over his grave. I walk past it every morning and scatter a few more petals, whispering “I will always carry you in my heart, and remember you.” I feel sad that Croakin’ Joe never got to experience his transformation into roosterhood, but I have to let that go and realize that I gave him the best life, even though it was a short one.

One thought that came to me during my weekend retreat was that when I cry over my attachment to my feathered ladies, and fur babies I need to remember that they chose me to be their caring friend, not the other way around. They came into my life to be teachers. They can teach us so much if we respect them and pay attention. Thanks for the lesson, Croakin’ Joe. I bow to you.