Waking up, coming back


It really stunk when Coco died two months ago. It was all YUCK, every way I looked at it. She was only a year old and was turning out to be a really great cat. Before her injury, I said to Jeff, “She’s becoming the perfect cat – I’ve never had a cat like her. She is so affectionate, she comes in at night or when she’s called, and she’s learning how to be gentle to the house when she’s inside.” I felt horrible saying that aloud, because I didn’t want to offend Grace, who is also an awesome cat. But Coco was different. She was a great cat.

It hurt to lose her. And the way she went – was she hit by a car? All signs point to yes, but we’ll never know for sure. Here’s something freaky to think about – a week after she died (at the end she died of heart failure, if you want to get clinical about it), her litter mate, who has been living at a different place died of heart failure. He was totally healthy until the day he got sick and died. Crazy, right? That just adds to the yuckiness. Back to the car theory: we live on a busy road. Our home is in a small village and the speed limit is 35 mph, but still, it’s a busy road. When we moved here the neighbors said they don’t let their cats out anymore because too many have been hit on the road. I knew it was a possibility, but I’m such a purist when it comes to my animals that I took the chance. I talked about it with the girls – Coco is going out, I would say. She might get hit and killed on the road. We need to understand the risks.

And so she did, and she is gone. And it was all YUCK for a while as I picked up the pieces. I am still sad when I think about it.

I didn’t appreciate dealing with the unpleasant unexpectedness of her death, so I spent the summer trying to gain some control over my life. I like things to be planned out and certain, so after she died I focused on the things I could be sure of. Closets have been cleaned. School curriculum has been selected and mapped out for the year. Halloween costumes were ordered and now hang in the closet. The boiler was cleaned. It sounds crazy, but those tasks kept me on track. On the periphery I dealt with the things that are uncertain and in constant flux – the garden, the chickens, the bees. I usually embrace them but this summer I couldn’t because I needed to find my footing first.

The garden was planted but not tended as well as it should have been. So many tomato volunteers came up this year where last summer’s ripe tomatoes, full of seeds, fell. They took over the lettuce and swiss chard beds. They grew up on the pathways. I didn’t have the heart to pull them – I had experienced too much loss already. Those tomatoes looked like they needed a chance. So now my garden is full of tomato plants that seem to grow wherever they choose.

The chickens have been tended but not fawned over, not by me anyway. ‘A’ always takes her time to be with them. We started the summer with 9 hens and a number of pullets and roosters. Most of the roosters, along with Peg, our injured chick, and Carrie, our mean hen, went to a better life. Carrie is living on a farm with other hens, and the roosters and Peg were processed for dinner. We now have 8 hens, 10 pullets and 2 little bantam roosters. The chicks all have names now, except for the two that are headed off to live with a friend once they start laying eggs. There are 10 that we’ll keep, and their names are: Fred and George (our silkie roosters who look exactly alike, and have white feathers), Hedwig, Narcissa, Sunshine, Mrs. Crouch, Eliza Jane, Alice, Aunt Docia, and the last has four names, one of which will eventually stick – Buffy, Mocha, Annie, and Ellie.

I make it sound so depressing here. It’s really not like that. These are just my feelings, and for the most part they stay where they belong (until I’m talking to Jeff about them as he drifts off to sleep…). This summer has been filled with activity for our family. The girls went to stay with my mother in July (on the Cape), and they enjoyed attending theater camp there. They also loved swimming every day and liked eating dessert every night after dinner (thanks Mom). It was so nice for me to have a week on my own while they were away. The girls were safe and were having fun; Jeff was at work. I had a chance to live life on my own terms. To linger. To breathe. To be me again. I brought them there and Jeff and I picked them up at the end of the visit. We went kayaking as a family, and did some light hiking too.

We went to visit my dad in Maine and the girls experienced the Atlantic surf as never before. The tide goes way, way out each day and when it does, the small waves roll in. It was perfect for children. No undertow, no steep drop-off. Just wave after wave of fun.

This is the year of babies in our family – we have a new niece and soon we’ll have a new nephew. Babies are sure a ton of work (and a ton of adjustment) but they bring such goodness to the world, and it’s worth every moment of effort.

The land around us continues to produce an amazing bounty. I harvested and braided garlic from our garden, picked blueberries from the farm down the street, and I cook up sweet corn, green beans, tomatoes and cucumbers on an almost daily basis. Herbs are all in now. I haven’t even mentioned my herbal medicine class. That will wait for another day.

It is time now for me to get back in the saddle. When Coco died, the rug was ripped out from under me, and I’ve spent a number of weeks getting my bearings. I’m okay. I’ve been reading and knitting. I’ve been parenting with a gentle heart. I’ve been crafting and homesteading. I’ve been healing in the way I know how to heal when I feel vulnerable – by reining it all in as tightly as I can. I feel better now. It’s time for me to live life in the way I know how – by writing and documenting my time, by observing my children at work and play, by creating something new every day, by laughing with friends, and by showing love to my family.

It’s the ups and downs that make life what it is… but those ups and downs are tough to get through. I’m looking ahead.






Well, we certainly didn’t expect this to happen. ‘A’ woke me up this morning and informed me that Coco didn’t “look right”. Coco has been paralyzed for a month, ever since the day she was hit by a car and hurt her spine. There have been ups and downs over the past month and I truly thought she was on the path to recovery. It might be a long one, but it would come.

Alas, this is not the case. Coco died in the night.

My initial reaction was to wonder what I did to cause her death. What did I do, and what could I have done differently? That’s pretty egotistic to think I could have caused or prevented her death, but it’s where I go when I am faced with an emergency. I have been giving her St. John’s Wort tincture for a few days, and although it seemed to help with her discomfort, she also went downhill in the past few days. Was it the tincture that caused her death? Deep down I don’t think so. It’s safe for cats and even if the dose was too high, it wouldn’t have caused the symptoms I saw during her last two days. A vet friend who administered acupuncture to Coco a few weeks ago wondered if her spinal injury was moving up her spine, ultimately causing her death. That could fit. Whatever the cause, she was in considerable pain at the end of her life. Yesterday when I tried to move her to change her blanket, she bit me hard. She did it out of pain. I feel badly that she ended her life this way. I don’t feel bad that we kept her alive all this time. There were times when she was making progress, and I had hoped her injury would heal. If we had put her to sleep, I would always wonder if she would have recovered.

I have done so much crying in the past month. When I saw that Coco was not breathing this morning, I experienced the same feelings I had when Erma died. I had cried so much while both of these beautiful cats were alive but at the end of their life, and when the moment of death came, I was at peace. Maybe my ego lets go at that point, because there is clearly nothing I can do to alter the situation. ‘A’ handled it in her own gracious way. She was sad and upset, and wanted to spend time petting and talking to Coco. It didn’t matter to her that Coco was cool and lifeless at this point. She spent time with her. ‘H’ initially freaked out, as she does with everything, but quickly moved on. She doesn’t really care. It’s not a bad thing, just that she doesn’t form attachments the way ‘A’ does.

Coco will be cremated, and her urn will join Erma’s on the shelf in our parlor.


Life here continues to go on. Grace came in yesterday evening with a leg injury, so she is under observation here at home. Another limping cat! I don’t know how much of these legs injuries I can handle. She was not hit by a car. I found a clump of her fur outside, so I am assuming she was in a fight with another cat. She might have a bite on her leg or a sprain. My own cat bite on my finger is not infected but it is tender and swollen, so if she does have a bite, it would affect her gait.

Today is a mental health day for us. We went strawberry picking, the girls had piano lessons, and we’ll meet friends for a movie later today, but the in between moments are spent doing whatever we wish to do, and I’m not holding anyone accountable for anything today. No school work or chores for the girls, and I’m not feeling badly about how little I’ve done to process the strawberries. I might make pancakes for dinner, or just feed the girls popcorn at the movie theater and call it a day. I should clean out the room where Coco has been living this past month and wash the blankets and towels she used. Or I can do it tomorrow.

Tomorrow is another day.

Our animals


Every year at this time our activity level speeds up. All winter there was much to do every day, and now in the late spring there is so much to do. The gardens are alive! As of yesterday, I have planted everything I want in the ground. The cucumbers and wax beans are starting to sprout, the pac choi and lettuce are ready for a salad harvest, the tomato transplants are growing every day, and the many tomato volunteers I found in the garden this year are getting bigger and stronger. I love flowers and we have planters around the yard filled with color, accompanied by seeds in the ground that will come up soon. Already I am harvesting and processing some of the bounty: dandelion roots, which are good in cleansing teas, are pulled and awaiting a good scrub in the sink. We have quite a few mint plants that are fast becoming accents in our juices (raw) and iced tea (heated in simple syrup). The plantain in the yard is coming up nice and large now and I will add it to oil to steep for a few weeks before turning it into salves and lotions.

Now that the plants are in the ground and do not need more than water and light weeding at the moment, I am enjoying that one week of the growing season when it all seems to be under control, easy to manage, and a delight to the eyes. This is good, because I have plenty of other things to focus on.

Coco has still not recovered from her accident. She was limping, then paralyzed, then moving her legs, then paralyzed again. At this point I am not seeing signs of improvement in her. It’s discouraging, but I am happy to give her some time to see what develops. I am well aware that we may have to put her to sleep. I’ve cried a lot about it. Just when I think my tears are all used up, they start to flow again. Part of what is so hard is that she is so young. And she’s mentally and emotionally here with us. I know that spinal injuries can take a long while to heal, if they heal at all, so I am going to wait a bit longer before making any decisions about her life.


Out in the yard the chickens are in need of some special attention. Ticker, one of our nicest laying hens, looked sick the other day. She was standing alone, sort of hunched up. Her eyelids kept closing and she looked uncomfortable. I have come to recognize the stance of the uncomfortable hen, and I first chalked it up to a stuck egg that needed some time to work its way out. That happens sometimes. However, I soon knew it was more than that because she smelled bad. The whole coop smelled bad. “Bad” doesn’t even describe it. It smelled like death. We couldn’t breathe through our noses while we were near the coop, it was that bad. A quick search on the internet led to a diagnosis of Sour Crop. Sour Crop is essentially a yeast infection in the chicken’s crop. The crop gets big and mushy, full of fermented food, and it smells. The chicken isn’t digesting the food and getting the nutrients she needs to be healthy, so she starts to look sick. I am treating Ticker by keeping her isolated during the day, away from food and water, and I am feeding her kefir. She has a bowl of kefir in her pen for snacks, and I feed her directly via syringe twice a day. Kefir has live cultures in it much like yogurt, and it stops the overgrowth of yeast. I also emptied her crop a few times, which was one of the most unpleasant tasks I have ever undertaken in my life. Overall, Ticker is recovering pretty quickly from Sour Crop, and I attribute her quick recovery to the kefir. It has kept the yeast at bay. Today the coop smelled significantly better, and she looks as though her crop isn’t swollen anymore. What’s crazy is that the coop smelled so bad because her crop was infected. All that smell came out of one little chicken. I find that really strange.

Ticker also has some wing feathers that look eaten up, and I am thinking she might have scaly leg mites. If she has them, chances are the other chickens have them too, so I will have to treat the whole flock and clean out the coop. I’ll treat by bathing the chickens and then smearing vaseline all over their legs to smother the mites. This sounds like a recipe for disaster. I can’t wait to see how much dirt gets stuck to their legs. I’ll have to put the vaseline on Ticker’s wing feathers too, if that is what is eating them. Since this is a slow week in the garden, it seems like a good time to bathe and lubricate all the hens.

‘A’ and ‘H’ are good. They are both sad that Coco is injured, but they don’t focus on it which is probably a good thing. The spend time with her everyday but they seem able to disconnect when they aren’t with her. ‘A’ has been very helpful with the care of Ticker. Both girls are just about done with the school year. They are so antsy and eager to play as much as possible. We don’t homeschool through the summer. I’m finding that it’s easier for our family to stick to the public school calendar. It gives us the rhythm of regular school days, with short breaks throughout the year and a refreshing longer break over the summer. ‘A’ will be taking a writing workshop this summer and we’ll keep the skills polished a bit, but nothing too strenuous.

So, the girls are doing well, Jeff and I are also well. Grace, who turns 15 this year, appears athletic and energetic compared to Coco. Funny how perspective changes everything. I’ll have more news about her condition as the week goes on.







Time for an update!


I realize it’s been almost a week since ‘A’s egg challenge and I have been absent. The news is all good: she passed! She had to eat the equivalent of one large egg, so we prepared a scrambled egg, a few pieces of french toast, and a bowl of matzo brei. She chose to eat the matzo brei, and was given four portions to eat over the course of 90 minutes. The first bowl had the smallest amount of food and they got progressively larger. I was wondering if she would not eat the egg dish because of the new flavor or texture, but she did a great job. At no point did she have hives or any reaction. At the end, we were told she can now eat eggs “without restriction” – what beautiful words to hear!

There’s more than just the news about ‘A’ in this update. When we arrived home after the egg challenge, Coco our kitten was outside limping. By the time she was seen at the vet the next day, her limp had progressed to paralysis of her hind legs and tail. An X-ray showed no breaks, bites or dislocated limbs. The two possibilities that fit are that she has toxoplasmosis or she narrowly escaped being hit by a car, and the wheel ran over her tail as she was pulling away. She is on antibiotics to treat the toxoplasmosis (although I am not sure that theory really fits well), and she is on pain medication and steroid shots to address the car accident theory. Over the past five days she has shown steady improvement. She’s still not walking, but she’s able to move her legs, and just yesterday she started to be able to lift her tail. I spend a lot of time with her, as the human contact seems to help her. In this situation, time is our friend. Hopefully she will heal if we wait patiently.

Around the homestead, things are good. I’ve been slow to put in my vegetables and flowers this year, but they will eventually go in the ground. I’m making lists of salves, teas and tinctures I want to make with the plants I grow. Plantain is coming up strong now, and it’s a wonderful plant to use in healing creams. The Lungwort is looking good this year, so I’ll dry some for tea, and steep some in vodka for a tincture. Lungwort is a good herb for clearing the lungs. Many varieties of mint are grown here, and I will turn some of them into mint-flavored simple syrup for iced tea. In the poultry yard, the new chicks are growing quickly. I am still not ready to say which are pullets or roos. The batch I hatched are just over seven weeks old, and the ones I purchased are five weeks old. I’ll know for sure in a month.

Keep Coco in your thoughts, if you would. I believe in the power of positive healing thoughts. She needs all the help she can get. Thank you.




Plantain. Great for healing skin.


Lungwort. Excellent as a tea or tincture for cough, colds and asthma.


Food Allergies

Our family lives with food allergies every single day of the year. ‘A’ has been allergic to a number of foods since she was born. Some of her allergies are life threatening, some are not. A few of the less-severe allergies presented as she entered toddlerhood and began to eat a wider variety of foods, then subsided a few years later. For a while she was allergic to corn, peas, chickpeas and sesame. She would get a repetitive cough when she ate them.

Other food allergies have been with her since she was born, and they have hung around since. She’s been allergic to milk since day one, literally. I hesitate to go back to the memory of her first reaction because in hindsight, those days were so confusing and painful. When ‘A’ was born the pediatrician told me her blood type was different than mine and as a result, her bilirubin count was high and she needed to spend time under the bililights in the hospital nursery. While she was in the nursery, the nurses gave her formula to drink. Although I am a “breast is best” advocate, I was okay with a bottle of formula at the time, and truth be told I would still be okay with giving a baby with high bilirubin a bottle of formula today. The more they poop, the faster they recover, and formula certainly makes a baby “go”. The problem in ‘A’s case was that the formula was straight-up milk formula and she was allergic to it. Who would have known? It didn’t register on my radar, because I had barely heard about food allergies. This was in 2005, when food allergies were just beginning to be seen in high numbers of children across the country. It wasn’t talked about back then the way it is now. When the nurses gave ‘A’ the formula and wheeled her back into my room, she had hives all over her body. I didn’t know what the hives were. I wasn’t accustomed to seeing newborns, and I figured it was a side-effect of the bililights. Wouldn’t the nurses know if something was wrong? Wouldn’t they say something to me?

‘A’s milk allergy started out severe and is still very severe. It is one of her life-threatening allergies. We know this not only because of blood and skin testing, but because she has eaten food containing milk and has needed epinephrine to recover. Tree nuts are another one of her life-threatening allergies, and they scare me so much more than dairy does. Reactions to dairy respond pretty well to the epi-pen; on the other hand, tree nuts are a whole other ball of wax. They take on a life of their own, and if a reaction occurs you use the epi-pen, keep your second one at the ready, administer albuterol and oxygen and steroids, and you pray. All of this while you are on the way to the hospital.

Two of her allergies which are the most misunderstood in our house are eggs and peanuts. Both are severe enough that we don’t serve her scrambled eggs or a peanut butter sandwich with meals. Unlike dairy and tree nuts though, I haven’t always been able to predict her reaction to eggs and peanuts. She first ate eggs in a baby biscuit when she was 9 months old and got hives around her mouth. For many years after, she tested as highly allergic to eggs, so we avoided serving them to her altogether. She has tested allergic to peanut. At this point I can’t even remember if she has eaten any peanut in her life. I don’t think she has. I would have to look back through her medical file to see, and it is a big, fat file. All I know is that she tested positive for peanut and all the doctors told me to stay away from it, so I did.

Life with food allergies stinks, I’ll tell you that. It stunk when she was 1 because I was so confused about what to feed her and I wondered about the nutrition profile of her diet. It stunk when she was 2 because she played with kids who ran around with cheesy fingers and I worried she would have a reaction because of cross-contamination. It stunk when she was 4 because the classes and parties and play times were all so food-based. Everyone had snack time everywhere we went. Snack time meant cheese or goldfish or healthy milk-egg muffins. And cheesy pizza. Life with food allergies stunk when she was 6 because by then I was sick and tired of cooking 1,095 meals and 730 snacks for her every year, plus separate dairy and egg-filled meals for the rest of the family. Day in and day out. By the time 7 rolled around, I was done. I was ready to move on to better doctors who knew more about the future of food allergies and could help us.

We started going to Children’s Hospital in Boston to see what was happening with the research. The information we received there was helpful and took us to a good place. Her doctor recommended a baked egg challenge, where she would eat a muffin with egg as one of the ingredients. She passed that challenge and began eating muffins, cakes and breads with egg. Can I tell you how wonderful it was to finally bake cakes that contained eggs? Cakes like to be held together with a binding ingredient while also baking up light and fluffy. Eggs are the perfect solution. I was overjoyed. It was like we had hit the jackpot. After a year she was able to eat cupcakes, which are baked for a shorter amount of time (18 minutes to be exact). Then I fed her a cookie, baked 11 minutes, and the next day her stomach hurt. Shortly after, we saw her doctor in Boston and he urged me to press on and work through it, so I did. She quickly progressed from cookies to pancakes and waffles, both cooked for just a few minutes. We went back to her doctor. What now? I asked. French toast? He said no. He didn’t think she was ready.

Amid all of this, I cooked a batch of muffins at home that contained milk. I had seen what baked egg therapy did for ‘A’, and I knew a baked dairy therapy was on her horizon. It was the standard muffin recipe from the Joy of Cooking: 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of oil, and some other ingredients. I made 12 muffins, and ‘A’ ate 2 of them. She was okay until an hour after she ate them. At that point the hives and “intestinal distress” came on. No epinephrine was needed, and she was fine in the end, but it was a sign for me that she wasn’t ready for baked milk (you think?). At the same time, it was a sign that she might be able to tolerate a lower level of baked milk. She didn’t go into anaphylaxis. That is positive.

In addition to seeing the allergist in Boston, ‘A’ sees a local allergist for asthma and seasonal allergy issues. Her local allergist listened to me describe the muffin incident, and heard my plea for a low-dose baked dairy therapy. He couldn’t help me, but said (snarkily perhaps?) that I should take her to Mount Sinai in New York because they are better equipped to deal with “people like me.” So off we went.

Her doctor at Mount Sinai immediately addressed the allergy of least concern, the egg. She believes ‘A’ has outgrown her egg allergy and is doing a scrambled egg challenge with ‘A’ this week. I also believe ‘A’ has outgrown the allergy and I’m happy to challenge her and cross it off the list. Next she addressed the peanut allergy by doing an advanced blood test that will determine just how allergic to peanuts ‘A’ really is. The results are pending. Finally she suggested doing a dairy challenge using a baby formula made of hydrolyzed whey protein. The idea is if ‘A’ can drink the formula without reacting, she can use it in a daily therapy and will most likely outgrow her dairy allergy faster. I purchased the formula and sampled it, and it is downright disgusting. So we will see what happens in this department.

I want ‘A’ to outgrow her allergies so that she can eat whatever she wants without fear. I want her to be able to eat anything without the risk of reacting or dying. I want to be able to cook a meal without keeping every cooking utensil separate, without washing my hands twenty five times, without remembering to put the non-allergenic foods on the top shelf in the oven so that the dairy food won’t drip and spill into ‘A’s dinner. I want to be able to go out to eat as a family and order off the menu. I want to be able to travel with my children. This spring my girls are learning French, and tonight ‘A’ said she wants to study abroad in another country when she is in college. Inside I cried, but on the outside I smiled and encouraged her. How is she going to live in another country with these food allergies? As a college student, no less?

I do believe she will outgrow her dairy allergy. I do believe there will be a desensitization therapy for tree nuts by the time she goes to college. I believe in science and research, and I see a bright future for ‘A’ and the other children who have food allergies. When I look back at the past I wonder why so many kids have them now. It is not the hygiene hypothesis, at least in our case. ‘A’ was born with her dairy allergy, she didn’t acquire it as she got older. It is something Jeff and I gave to her. Why? What happened in the past 40 years that changed the DNA of today’s parent? So much could be to blame – processed foods, pollution and more. I would love to know the answer. It is time to stop food allergies from forming, instead of treating them when they have already developed.

** Thursday is the scrambled egg challenge. We are excited! ‘A’ is nervous, as is expected. I am confident she’ll pass.




Warm weather


Spring weather has finally come to the Northeast. Oh how we have waited for it! Everything seemed to stand still for a while, as if the late-winter season would last indefinitely. The ground thawed later than it has in recent years, the leaves on the trees were slow to form, the air temperature remained chilly… and then one day the switch flipped, and now spring is upon us. In earnest! The days are warm and sunny, and with the nice weather everything has come up from the ground. The dandelions went from dormant to fully grown in a few short days. As I wait for my perennials to come up I see the weeds are spreading out in the garden beds very quickly. I’ve been weeding and applying mulch on as much bare ground in the garden as possible, eager to greet the flowers that will bloom again this year. The vegetable garden is in, seeded and mulched, with more plants going in this month. The usual outdoor chores have started up again: repairing and replacing the fencing; setting up the watering hoses; and gathering rakes, shovels and gloves for handy access.

It feels like we’re rushing to get it all done. It’s necessary to stay on top of the garden projects because they do have the potential to get out of control quickly, but there is something else at work. It’s the shortness of the season that hangs over us and causes us to go outside and dig in the dirt with vigor, because in just a few months it will come to an end.

We have enjoyed our time outside immensely. We had several trees taken down and others pruned heavily. The work was much needed and long overdue. The overgrown trees that came down will be turned into firewood for our stove, and the apple trees that were pruned will (hopefully) produce better apples this year.


Our days are very full right now, with schoolwork, field trips and house work all jockeying for the #1 position. Volunteer work is coming back in full swing too, as our UU congregation is set to welcome a potential minister to spend time with us for a week so that we may get to know one another. There is a host of work that comes with the excitement and activity. I am looking forward to it. Schoolwork comes in the form of spelling and writing lessons, math work, science and discovery lessons, music (piano and recorder), and so many more topics.

One school project we will be taking on this week is food allergies, specifically what ‘A’s body is doing when she reacts to a food, and what is happening in her body as she starts to outgrow her allergies. We are learning about it because on Thursday we will travel to Mount Sinai hospital in New York for a scrambled egg food challenge. She’ll eat eggs and if she doesn’t react, she will be able to say she’s not allergic to eggs anymore. Her first visit at Mount Sinai was last week. We have been going to Children’s Hospital Boston for a few years, but I decided to switch to Mount Sinai because their research direction is a bit different, and I thought it would be helpful to see someone there. Her new doctor thought she was ready for a scrambled egg challenge as she has been eating pancakes and cookies with egg without any reaction for about a year. I was so happy to hear that she was eligible for the challenge, because I have been thinking the same thing. Any doctors I asked about it didn’t know how to answer, so they replied with a cautious “No.” However, I do think ‘A’ will pass. We will find out on Thursday.


The new chicks are growing just as fast as I remembered chicks to grow, which is fast. When you consider that they develop from egg to chick in only 21 days, it’s not surprising to watch how quickly they grow the first few months. I am not ready to say definitively who is rooster and who is pullet, but the telltale signs are emerging and it looks as though 50% are going to be female. I’ll know for sure in a few weeks. Some are clearly roo, with their tall, fighting stance, and their big, red combs. Some are clearly pullets, with their feather coloring and their docile nature. Some are up in the air still, as they look like hens but get tall around the roosters and go eye to eye. Peg, our injured pullet, is not healing well. She’s not in pain and she gets around on one leg all right, but the injured leg sticks out to the side and gets in her way. She was in a separate pen in the coop until yesterday, when I took her out and put her with the other chicks. I’m glad I had her separated the way I did – with only chicken wire between her and the other chicks. They were used to seeing and hearing her, and they accepted her right away. Time will tell what happens to her. If she can get around on her own, we might keep her, but if there is any doubt, she will go with the roosters when it is their time. The roosters are going to go to a friend who processes chickens on a small-scale farm. Time will tell. This hobby farm life isn’t always pretty.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you! You all came from a mother, and some of you are mothers yourselves. Enjoy the day!




Update on Peg the chick

Peg the injured chick is still injured but the swelling in her entire leg has gone down today, so I am hopeful that she’s making progress. I am going to bandage her leg today or tomorrow and see how she does. She’s still limping, and the leg still rotates out to the side. Poor chick.

Good news is that the garlic in the garden is up. It’s so nice to see something green in there. The lilac buds burst open today, and now they are ready to reach for the sun. Not so great news is that the eggs from the hens continue to be less than stellar. They’re on pasture almost every day now that the snow has melted, and I still think the transition from winter feed to foraging is confusing their bodies. The eggs are rippled, or misshapen (round balls) or the shells are thin and chalky. The changes in the shells are coming all at once, which tells me it’s something environmental, and the change in pasture is the only difference for the girls.

Coco is enjoying spending time with the chickens. I assure you, the feeling is NOT mutual.

I’ll continue to update you regarding Peg’s status.



Chick with a broken leg, photos of the new coop, and the emergency care coop


So much has happened here in the past few days. The chicks we hatched are now 3+ weeks old. They are feathering out nicely and I am starting to see signs on some of the cockerels. Their combs are getting bigger and are just starting to have some pinkish color. Time will tell for sure, and in another few weeks I should be able to easily sort out who is roo and who is hen.

I was hungering for some more pullets (girls) so last week I went to Tractor Supply and got six more chicks. The woman there claimed to know how to sex them, and since I didn’t know how to do it, I trusted her. Again, time will tell. I purchased four Dark Brahmas and two Silkie Bantams. The Brahmas will be darker versions of Mary and Laura (really just Mary, as Laura died last year). The silkies are for fun. As I stood in the store looking up Brahmas on my iPhone, I came across an article written by my late grandfather Fred Jeffrey that referenced a sure-fire way to sex day old buff Brahmas. I wish I could have called him and asked him if it worked for dark Brahmas too. Well, that ship has sailed.

Laura, our deceased Buff Brahma:


After I put the new chicks in the brooder coop, chaos ensued. It wasn’t unexpected, as chickens are well known for pecking at newcomers. Some aggressive chickens will even peck the newcomers to death. One of our chicks, who is inappropriately named “Sunshine” as she is a terror with all other chickens, started pecking the silkies and wouldn’t stop. Another chick stepped in to defend them. The next thing I knew, the protective chick had an injured leg.

The injured leg was twisted out to the side. She was not putting any weight on it. Her hock was swollen. The first thing I did was put her in a box in the house to keep her safe from the other chicks. I added the two silkies to the box, partly because they needed some time away from Sunshine, partly because the injured chick needed company. Then I thought about how hard it would be to reintroduce the three of them to the group again, and I added a rooster to the box. Roosters are pains in the you-know-what as they get older, but as chicks, roosters are great. They keep the peace, they guard the front door of the coop, and they tell everyone what to do. I love having roosters in the brooder coop. It means I can sleep at night.

As all things go around here, I had a situation to deal with and I was going to do it thoroughly and in the correct manner. The next morning we all woke up and I announced to Jeff that we would be building a little cage to fit inside the brooder coop for the injured chick. I was concerned that keeping the chicks in the house carried too many issues such as 1) it is messy and dusty; and 2) re-integration would be very difficult, even with the rooster around to help them. Of course it was Jeff’s birthday, but being the great guy he is, he built me a cage that fit inside the coop. The sides are made of chicken wire, and the top has a lid so I can lift the chick in and out as needed. All the other chicks can look in and see her. They can even stick their heads in, and she can stick her head out. I feel like it works well for all of them. She gets to see them and have some company, and they feel as though she is still a part of the family.

The injury happened over the weekend. By Monday she was still limping, still swollen, and not any better. I did my online research, as well as my usual phone calls to as many people I knew, and I asked everyone I saw on Sunday if they could help. No one could. I awoke on Monday feeling that I needed some professional guidance. I contacted an avian veterinarian and brought her in to be seen. The vet gave me antibiotics and anti inflammatory meds, and wrapped the leg. She didn’t know if it was broken or not, only that there was a lot of swelling. An x-ray would shed some light on it, but I wasn’t consenting to an x-ray for my chicken. I’m a softie, but I’m not that bad. These are livestock.


Fast forward to today. The chick now has a name (thank you mom for suggesting it!). We’ll call her Peg when we speak of her, and I’m sure when we speak to her, her name will morph into something multi-syllabic like Peggy Leggy. All of our animals have short names when we refer to them, but if you listen in on our conversations with them (and we do carry on a number of conversations with our animals every day), you’ll hear us call them Coco Loco, Gracie Wacie, Ticky Licky, Blue Blue, Fae Fae, Fuzzy Wuzzy… and the list goes on.

Peg woke up this morning with a swollen foot, so I removed the bandage. I know nothing about medical care, but my gut said that the swollen foot meant the wound was still too swollen to be wrapped. And if the wound is swollen, it’s happening for a reason. Her foot was a darker color than the other, telling me that it has some extra blood/fluid in it. I left the leg unbandaged for the day and will re-bandage if warranted tomorrow.

I will keep you posted!

Here are photos of the new coop. It will have wheels and a detachable run so the chicks can go outside. This coop is meant to be used as a chick brooder, an infirmary for sick chickens, and as an agricultural tool when we want to concentrate the chicken activity in one area.

I have learned so much about chicken coop design in the past few years. You will notice that this one has a few nice features. Most importantly, the ramp leading up to the nest boxes does not require chickens to walk through the roosting area. This means they don’t step in poop and get the eggs dirty in the nest box. Also, the food and water are going to go on the left side, where the emergency cage is currently sitting. That side will be near the outside door for the chickens, as well as near the ramp to the nest boxes. The roosts are low to the ground, which means they can be easily reached by chicks and sick chickens. The roof is made of a clear material, allowing sunshine to penetrate, which I think makes for happier, healthier chickens. And the big doors on the side allow me to get in and reach all corners of the coop.

I will keep you updated on Peg’s progress. Have a great night!





Chicks in the brooder coop, laying hens on pasture, children playing outside


The weather got warmer and we had a taste of spring fever here a few days ago. Then it cooled off and snowed. Thankfully the snow melted and I have faith the air will warm up over the weekend. The girls have enjoyed playing outside. The maple sap continues to trickle out of the trees, and I keep adding the new gallons to the pot on the stove in hopes of producing a small batch of syrup. With the warmer weather has come a host of new house projects: installing gutters; moving the woodpile and burning small brush; starting seeds under grow lights; enlarging the garden to move the blueberry bushes into the fenced area. And so on.

Jeff finished the outdoor brooder coop and we moved the chicks in to it. They love it. They finally have room to move around and play. I picked up six more chicks at the store yesterday – 2 silkie bantams and 4 dark brahmas. Supposedly they’re all pullets, but we will see as they grow. All but one of the older chicks have accepted them – Sunshine, the boss of the whole group, runs around and pecks at them. She’s pretty brutal. After she attacks them, the roosters attack her. So is the way of the chicken world, and this is a reminder of why I like having roosters in the flock when they’re little. Roosters keep the peace.

The older hens are out in the yard most every day and they are so happy. It gives me such a sense of pleasure to watch them scratch and peck in the grass.

Have a great weekend. Enjoy these quick shots from our daily life:







Signs of spring


The signs of spring are coming quickly now, one after the other. Little changes are rippling through our days. We’re noticing the usual things, such as the crocuses that are blooming (I planted them two autumns ago as early bee food, but alas there are no bees this year to enjoy them); the ground is mostly thawed and I spent time working the garden soil yesterday; the chickens are able to get out and about and forage on grass; ‘A’ and ‘H’ are enjoying playing outdoors without coats, hats and gloves; the Canada geese fly low overhead and honk, honk, honk.

There are other things too that come out of all these spring changes. The eggs from the chickens are a bit different this week – the shells are lumpy and thin. I think it’s the switch to foraging. I have no scientific proof of this, but it makes sense. I think their bodies are adjusting to the change in nutrition and it will take a little time for the egg shells to normalize. The cats are feeling the change in weather. Coco spends much of her day outdoors, and Grace, who is 14 now and looking more frail than ever, paces the house. She wants to stir, wants to go outside, but isn’t ready yet.

The end of the school year is in sight!


The girls are rounding the final corner in the homeschooling year. My goal is be done with formal schoolwork by the end of May. Their studies are all over the map at this point in the year. They take classes with other teachers (piano, recorder, science and art to name a few). With me they learn French, writing, spelling, history, math, literature, computer programming, geography, social studies, typing, handwriting (printing) and cursive. I allocate a lot of time for quiet reading (Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, Lloyd Alexander’s books and anything that resembles historical fiction are popular choices in our house right now). Now that the weather is warmer, outside play time has increased. Our days are full, to say the least.


The new chicks are happy in their brooder box, and when Jeff is finished building the new coop, they’ll love living there. I’ll be happy to have them out of the house at that point. They still need a warm environment and they cuddle under the heat lamp. The lamp will move outside to the new coop with them. The new coop has two primary purposes: 1. It’s a brooder for new chicks and a home for the young females who aren’t laying yet. When they begin to lay eggs, they can move to the main coop and join the older hens. 2. It will serve as an infirmary for sick chickens who need to be quarantined or isolated. When Laura got sick last fall, I realized that I didn’t have a good place to put sick chickens while they recovered. This new coop is smaller than the current one, with lower roosts (younger and ill chickens don’t have to jump very high to roost), and it will have an attached run, where the chicks/chickens can go outside but still be safe.

New chicks: male or female?

I took some of the chicks out to photograph them today and I noticed that some crouched down low, as if to hide, while others stood tall and proud and eyed the camera. I have heard you can spot the difference between males and females by observing their body language in situations like this. The males stand tall while the females crouch down. See how the chicks in the photos below are standing differently? If this method works, it looks like I have 7 females and 8 males.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter right now how many males and females I have, because I plan to raise them all until they are ready for their next stop on the chicken train. When the males start acting like roosters (crowing), I’ll give them to a friend who will process and eat them. The hens will stay with me, and if I have enough, a few will go to another friend who is looking to grow her chicken family.



You learn something new every day, don’t you?