“Concerning Vegetarians and Chickens” a poem (part one)

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Chickens are not vegetarians.

I am a vegetarian that butchers chickens.

My husband loves chicken.

He eats chicken even after butchering one an hour ago.

If you eat chicken, you should probably try butchering one.

One daughter has become a vegetarian this year.

We like vegetables.

Chickens like vegetables.

Chicken manure makes great compost.

Tractor chickens over your old garden to add nutrients in over the winter and do your weed pulling.

I am a vegetarian that butchers chickens.

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Click to read part two-The Chicken Crossing-A Reflection

 

“The Chicken Crossing” a reflection (part two)

20161019_07485920161019_0750012016-10-09-21-09-39_resizedOne of the meat birds habituated with the Australian hens. She now thinks she is one of them and so do we. 

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The other day my husband thought someone was at the door. He heard a faint tap, rap, tap. He opened the door and there was no one there.

“I am down here.”

It was one of our many, and one of our many, many, chickens. They are crossing new thresholds. They are indeed “crossing the road.” And why, you might ask, are the chickens crossing the road?  I have the answer for you and it’s not very funny, so never mind it.

Looking out my patio doors this cool, October morning, I see them pecking at some cucumber plants, conversing while taking a turn about the south garden. One here, one there, one just about everywhere.

Our baby has become afraid of going outside without someone right next to her to shoo the chickens away. Most of the chickens are where they should be-in our makeshift chicken tractor next to the strawberry garden. I wish we would have butchered them while it was warmer, but there is no going back to warmer around here.

The positives when we finally harvest them are manifold:

1. We will not have to buy anymore chicken feed.

2. The girls’ chicken chores will be finished.

3. Our freezer will be full of seventy free range chickens.

It’s a big win-win, really. Come on now, I’m trying to get pumped! Come on, get pumped, old me.

Estimated from our last year’s harvest, it takes us about seven minutes a bird, from catching the chicken to plucking out its last feather. Not anyone’s most favorite seven minutes, but a character building seven minutes, nonetheless. We have about seventy birds on our to do list. So seventy times seven equals some sort of biblical proportion that is causing me to procrastinate so much this year.

I can not wait to have this chore, finished, slashed, chucked, scratched off the list. The pain of procrastination I feel looking out at them and knowing that we just need to hunker down to a whole day of hating life, getting shot in the face with chicken feathers and other chicken things, is starting to wear on me as I sit knitting, drinking tea, and perusing online fabric stores.

Can’t I just always do pleasant things? My husband said I could, and that I do in fact do them a lot of the time, but it might not make me happy. I don’t know. I think I am perfectly happy carrying on this way, but I might need some chocolate and a pair of blinders for those patio door windows.

Maybe we can keep seventy chickens as pets?

“Never mind…. Tea and chocolate, I’ll be right back.”

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Click to read: How We Harvest Chickens-A Tutorial

 

“How We Harvest Chicken” a tutorial (part three)

20161019_082907I am sorry I have to show you this shirt. This shirt is just wrong on me for so many reasons. I promise I never wear this shirt in public. It was a find at a garage sale thinking my teenage son would like it. He wanted nothing to do with it. When I was looking for some clothes to do farm chores in, I fell in love with how comfortable it is. I do not own any t-shirts because I only buy pretty things for myself. Naturally, when I began looking for appropriate attire to butcher chickens in, this looker came to mind. I do not mean any disrespect with this shirt, nor did it help with my chicken rapport.

The whole thing sucks. I do not like butchering chickens. At all. Does any one? Probably, not. BUT. My family does eat a lot of chicken.

The whole thing sucks. The whole thing in that Adam and Eve ate that stupid apple and then childbirth began to hurt and then the weeds and thorns, sickness and death. BUT. This is life. Life can suck; life is good. Birth hurts; babies are wonderful. Husband sweats and toils; I buy things. Chickens die; chickens taste good. Chicken harvesting seems logical considering the circumstances.

If you have never butchered a chicken and you eat chicken, I would encourage you to try it. In fact, why don’t you come over here next fall and I’ll let you have a go at it while I sit on the couch. I think it is an honest thing to do, butchering a chicken. I don’t think there is anything unethical about eating chickens and therefore believe there is nothing unethical about butchering them, though it can feel so wrong. We as a people are not accustomed to the sacrifices made to get chicken to our plates. Both the sacrifice of the chicken and that of the farmer.

A Brief Tutorial on How We Harvest Chickens:

What to Gather:

Sharp hand axe, log with two long nails pounded in to form a V to hold the chicken’s head steady, assortment of sharp knives, five gallon pot full of water and some dish soap with a source of heat to warm it, 1-2 five gallon buckets, chicken plucker (not necessary but very nice, trust me. And do not use the electric screw driver attachment one, again trust me), tarp to lay chickens on, plastic gloves, large cooler with ice and water, freezer bags, a good chunk of time and a cheerful, pumped-up spirit! Come on get pumped! There’s only way to do this and it’s doing it.

Job Positions Available:

The “Getter.” This job is harder than it sounds, especially if you have free-range chickens that have out smarted you and have roosters that look like mob kings. “I respect you, Mr. Rooster. Carry on.” This job entails getting a very good grasp of a chicken about their front wings and attempting to keep them calm. The Getter will need to be able to walk backwards because out of respect we don’t like them to see the place of execution and the color red can cause alarm to chickens.

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The “Chopper” and the “Holder.” These two positions need to have a really good working relationship. One may mess up their part and they will need to keep it together for the chicken’s sake. This is the worst part. I am usually the Holder and my oldest son, the Chopper. He has a very steady hand and does this job very well and very fast! The bigger the chicken, the harder it is to hold. I look away, pray for the chicken and thank God for him, and then usually sputter, “I hate this.” The Holder than has to endure the chicken’s nerves shaking out before laying them down. My husband assures me that the chicken is dead at this point, though it seems to still be suffering. Again, sucks.

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The “Dunker.” Things start to look up a bit at this point. The Dunker dunks the chicken in a large pot of 145 degree water with a squirt or two of dish soap for 45-60 seconds. This loosens up the feathers for plucking. This is such an important step to do right because chickens have a lot of feathers and if this part is done well your plucking job will be a snap.

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The “Plucker.” The plucker places the chicken over the plucker machine and gently moves it about to get off as much feathers as possible under and over each crevice. The rest of the feathers will need to be plucked off by hand. It is best to get right to the hand plucking after the machine plucking but we let the Gutter have the chicken first so the chicken cools a bit and the feathers can tighten.

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The “Gutter and Cutter.” This is my husband’s job. He is basically the surgeon that comes in to do the hard work. I do not envy this job and you will have to ask my husband about it because I got nothing for you. I am choosing to stay uniformed, so I never get this job. He basically makes the chicken look like it does when you buy it at the grocery store. He removes all the insides and chops off the feet. Have some five gallons buckets handy for the remains.

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The “Packer.” This is me again. You want to act fast, and having 70 birds makes packing fast not a possibility. You want to get them cold very fast and when you have warm chickens packed next to each other they insulate heat. I have found that 35 is a manageable amount for me to get cleaned, packed, and frozen. The kitchen sink works well enough and you’ll find some warm water will get off any additional sticky feathers. If you cut some of the chicken into pieces, the left overs will make great stock to freeze or can.

I hope I have not completely turned you away from chicken harvesting. They are a lot of work and it’s not particularly fun work. BUT. Your family will be enriched. The kids may not know it now but down the road they will thank you for it. And, you’ll come around too, once you pull out that nicely packed frozen chicken and make some fabulous chicken and dumplings that your whole family raves over and your grocery bill has just significantly dropped.

If you’ve had enough of chicken butchering, I certainly have had enough, I am working on a post about something much more nice and comforting. Three Seasonal Soups in a Dutch Oven: Homemade Chicken Stock; Creamy Salmon and Wild Rice Soup; and Cheesy Broccoli Potato Soup

Stay Tuned!

Apple Plum; Pigeon Gun

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When we were looking for a farm property four years ago, apple trees were a huge selling point. We had planted a few apple trees on our little lot in the city and dreamed of when they would produce fruit. We almost bought a property just because it had apple trees. I am glad we kept looking. I can now see how much we were aching for country life.

Another sign that we needed to get some land involved pigeons. The children and I witnessed a pigeon get run over right in front of our old city house in broad daylight. The poor thing didn’t even make a sound. We clearly needed to act. We scooped the little guy up with some towels and put him in a cardboard box. I called the DNR and some other animal care centers to see what we should do. They had nothing for me. Shocked at the lack of proper animal care in the world, we took him into our covered porch. I know, I was acting kind of silly, but we would see these poor guys warming all winter by chimney tops like hobos at a burn barrel. We needed to do what we could which wasn’t much. Just a place to rest and eat.

Once we felt it was time for our little bird guy to go back to the life of hard-knocks, we released him onto our small front yard. He jetted into a big bush, and we felt we had done our humane duty. Yeah, unfortunately the irredescent green/blue guy didn’t fly off.

A child of ours went to check on him later that night only to see a flurry of pigeon feathers and a stray dog strutting the street like a big, fat bully! We felt so much injustice and we were clearly on the justice league for helping out those feathered pigeon friends.

Ironically, fast forward like two months. We are researching how to get rid of a certain kind of pest. The pigeons are congregating on our roof. The neighbors that park on the side of our house started to complain about pigeon poop. My husband and another friendly neighbor sealed off any spots that were an opening for them into our attic.

The pigeons still perched. We began to consider a costly apparatus that would deter them from our high roof top. Perhaps a poke in the derriere? Or an owlish eye thingy? But first we needed to try a cheaper route, a homesteader’s route, if you will? A husband with a pellet gun route.

Frank, similar to the pigeon we found in the road, had always been a city dweller but had some pretty good country folk roots from his mother’s side, as I am sure the pigeon had as well. To avoid suspicion, he would wake up extra early with the pellet gun hid along his leg and head out onto our side lot to pluck those pigeons down.

I had completely turned my alliances and felt so relieved when I heard them from the inside of our house hit the pavement outside. I know you are thinking there is no way I could have heard them, but I did. Ka thump! I would be enjoying my morning coffee. Ka thump! Is that Mozart, I hear? I also considered how we would never go hungry with all those big breasted pigeons. See my country folk roots were beginning to emerge as well. Rest assured we never went hungry, at least not enough to eat pigeon meat, thus far that is.

We were a little concerned with city ordinances and all, but the internet did not offer any definitive answer and everyone we talked with agreed it was worth a shot. If we wrong, ignorance was bliss. The whole neighborhood was really quite pleased, and most likely quite amused, with our shenanigan done in neighborly civility. Even the neighbor who was on the city council and parked along the side of our house, seemed more than fine with changing our neighborhood into a mob. Everyone was happy, except for the guy with the next tallest roof a few houses down. He can borrow our pellet gun if he likes.

I grew concerned that this thing had gone too far when my husband was spotted very early one morning by a passing college kid with his gun pinned along his side. I could not believe there wasn’t a visit from the police to follow. Oddly, we did get a visit from the police many months later for a complaint that a man, and they incorrectly ascertained that perhaps that man was my husband, had urinated along the side of our house. It was the same side as the pigeons did their thing on, which is curious. I can attest under oath to the fact that my husband never had a desire to pee outdoors while living in the city. Perhaps it was a mix-up with the nature of the complaint? Or, the neighbor who got all of our pigeons on his roof had perhaps added his urination to the stoolie pigeon mix in retaliation. Most likely it was just a drunk college kid.

Nevertheless, one thing was for sure, we had turned solid redneck and should evacuate the city as soon as possible.

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Follow-up: Certain males may, or may not, occasionally feel the desire to tinkle outside here in the country while out frolicking vast meadows with birds humming about and the deer nibbling on the fallen, crisp apples. And that is completely, and totally, and absolutely, different from wee-weeing outside in the city. And that goes for pigeons, too!

Happy Apples!

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Riding the Celestial Wave

Edmund First CommunionI should have taken better note when I found just one of my eight year old son’s shoes at his grandpa’s this past week.  I was like, that’s weird. Kid isn’t even here with me. He’s at home. How can the only shoes he wears, well one of them, be here and him not? It’s kind of like looking for your car keys and you know they are around the house because the car is there. But in this circumstance the keys are at another location than the car.

How is he getting around this past week? He does have another pair of shoes. I assume and hope they are at home, but they are some serious hiking shoes that require a lot of help getting them on. I am quite sure I would have been involved in that process of helping him unlace and tie those huge blocks onto his feet. They took patience, and I can’t remember helping him lately. I concluded that he must not have left the house for the whole week. Wow. That’s kind of weird not leaving the house since last Sunday. And, he must have left grandpa’s last week with only one shoe on? Maybe no shoes? But I can only find one here.

I grabbed the spider man velcro shoe and threw it in my diaper bag and really didn’t think much about it until it was Sunday morning and it was, “Time to get your shoes on! We’re leaving in 1 minute!” This minute can be so tricky. So much pressure to get all seven ducks in a row and remain in a churchlike state.

My husband would just like everyone to get in the car regardless of anything, say explosive diaper bombs, great gothic sculptures of morning hair with fragments of some girly experiment lingering in it from last night. What would he think of a child with one shoe? He really doesn’t like to be late. Me, I don’t like to be late either but I have a fear of getting places too early and a fear of looking like I have seven kids and the kids looking like they have a mother of seven kids. Early to church means more time for little kids to get squirmy and more time for me to get stressed out. I like to get places on time looking and smelling normal which makes us late.

In my search to find his other spider man shoe, I found one of his hiking shoes. So I took that lead and started looking for its match. Nope. What does he do with just one shoe?

Time for a new strategy: girl’s closet.  He followed me dutifully, trusting my mothering sensibilities, and blocking out the fact we were in the girl’s room. They have tons of shoes. They have tons of everything. I do a lot of thrift shopping and that means lots of girl stuff and not much boy stuff. There just isn’t much at thrift shops for boys his age, or older for that matter. Sure, I could buy him new shoes. But imagine the frustration when only one of those shoes are found. The other option here would be to see if the hiking shoe and the sneaker shoe made a matching right/left pair, but I am going to leave that one as the last option.

I surreptitiously dug into the girl’s stash of shoes that would warrant his size. The best I got were a pair of sherbert orange leather sandals. Without saying a word about them, I applied shoes to feet. His toes stuck out an inch from the top. He judged them a good fit in his happy-go-lucky way. Considering our desperation, I also considered them tolerable. He could at least get in the door with these things fastened to his Barney Rubble feet. And maybe, just maybe, his pants, if long enough, would cover his ugly step sister fit bulging out of the dainty slipper. He could take the offense off after church and go barefoot the rest of the day in true hillbilly fashion. So I tried to fasten the velcro around the top of his still a little baby chubby foot, but there was no way. Nope. And, nope. No way.

This next route was the winner: his first communion shoes. 1) They were a perfect fit. 2) They were boy shoes. 3) They were exactly where they should be, paired nicely together by his dresser.

It was at this time I told him that the sandals he was somewhat fond of were girl shoes, hoping that would soften him up to wearing these bad boys instead. He chuckled at me, and said, “Mom, you put girl shoes on me?” We had a good laugh. Silly mom.

Just to give you a proper visual, (There was no time for photographs, people. We were on one minute to get to church on time.) Edmund had on a green Minecraft shirt with gray corduroys. I did try to have him wear a nice striped shirt for church, but if you would have saw his face about changing out of his favorite shirt, you would have done the same and let him wear his not-Sunday shirt. The kid really doesn’t ask for much, and one of the things I have learned as a mother is to pick your battles wisely, and to say yes to as much as you can. This was an area I could concede, and considering the day’s circumstances, the kid was gonna need to hold onto something normal boyish. His corduroy pants made a nice transition from Minecraft shirt to shiny black dress shoes. Edmund looked satisfied with his new look and said contentedly, “Well, I am going to church.”

Monday morning, there is only one black dress shoe in the kitchen. True story.

Believe it or not, I have more Edmund church stories both involving short shorts. You can mentally fill in the details. He is one trooper, that nice guy.

11951970_10205085843255702_2063005118441247357_nEdmund (not in church) just riding the celestial waves that is Number Five in colossal family.

He Learned to Fly

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Change can be hard and change can be welcome. Sometimes it’s both. I sent my sweet baby boy off to school for the first time this year. Hello, tears.

It’s not your typical story of a cute five-year-old toting a Transformer lunch box in a cute new matching outfit. It’s not that this day could not have happened sooner or that I didn’t consider it happening sooner along the way.  It just never happened. It would have felt strange for it to have happened sooner. Homeschooling came natural to me like nursing a baby.

Just so you know, wrangling kids and telling them what to do is not my idea of a fun time. Some days were pure mayhem. Some were mediocre. And some were the ideal packed with meaningful conversations, quiet breakthroughs, and passions ignited. We could eat second breakfasts and wear pajamas, to boot!

I didn’t think about him reaching the age of eighteen before stepping into an actual brick and mortar school, and a college at that, but that’s what happened. Time just flew. And, If you wait this long, they can drive themselves there and pay for their own lunch. Bonus!

It has been my pleasure to have had him home with me these eighteen years and we already reminisce about our quiet afternoons reading Tolkien and Lewis together for the first time when he was elementary age. But now it is time. Time that he should seek his fortune, slay his dragon, and perhaps, find his true love? One thing is for certain, his heart is in our little Hobbiton.  And he will find his way back.

Now that he is a man, I need not fret if he gets hurt and needs a hug, or breaks down and needs a milk and cookie break. I need not worry that what he says is not heard, or that his hard effort is not praised.  I have praised him so many times. I need not miss how cute he was playing knights with his younger brother, wearing blanket capes with butter knife swords, and building a great fortress made of sheets and school books. Because some days that was all books were good for. I need not miss his childhood presence when I would bring a new baby home, the cattle got loose, or we would hear sad, hard news and we all needed each other.

Of course, I still worry, but I know he’s fineI have seen him grow every hour, every day, from baby to man, and in such a smooth and natural manner. He can chop a cord of wood while smiling, milk a cow without her noticing, change a tire, and write a sharp essay. He can make a crying baby laugh and knows when a woman just needs a hug. He is armored with the strength that is forged in familial love. He is kind to others even when he disagrees wholeheartedly. He knows his purpose, importance, and has an opinion. He has a hungry intellect and a clear path to follow. He is strong in his faith yet humble in his soul.

I don’t mean to say he is in anyway perfect, or that I have done an excellent job as his mother. Hardly, so. I could elaborate on those two points quite extensively. It is just that the job and duty of mothering is one where you do not get to step back and reflect much. It seems you are always swimming and the end is never in sight. You get these moments on the mountain top and you see that the path you went down was guided but that you have to get back down there on the battlefield. So the story continues.

Now, I feel my mothering work has changed. Not at all finished but different. That now, as mother, I am more support and advice, more adult-to-adult, and less the laundress, cook, and nurse. I am more, let’s sit and share a cup of french pressed coffee, talk philosophy, music, and discuss each other’s day. I am less, let me pack your gym bag for the day, where’s your homework, and here’s a pb&j. I can feel where now my care could be a hindrance, a crutch.

A friend explained an analogy about raising children that resonated with me. She likened children to compression springs. If you let go of the spring too fast, they will shoot off. If you hold them back too long, they will lose their tension. But if you let go steadily, they can maintain their buoyancy.

Knowing when and how to let go, I believe, is in the grace of parenting and is particular to each family. Homeschooling came natural to us, at least as of this day. For grace seems to come as you need it and goes where you will follow it. So no judgments if you choose otherwise. I am sure you are on the right path simply because that is your intention. Love is the rubric here, not fearful judgments or cookie cutter answers. That is how I think this parenting thing works.

And that love makes the hurting part of change turn its bitter to sweetness.

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Cherries for Cherubs Image Gallery

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