Saturday, June 15, 2019

Big Guy

May 23, 2011 we received a phone call from our post office that our chicks had arrived. We had ordered 25 females and 1 Rhode Island Red male from Murray McMurray in Iowa. Not knowing how large the package would be, I suggested to Anne we use the RAV 4  to pick them up. Ha ha, the box containing the peepers was little bigger than a shoe box! Excitement mounted as we gently carried them home.
We found 28 birds in the box. We had received two extras, one an exotic breed freebie, the other an additional bird to help raise the temperature in the box to assure safe arrival.

We were total beginners at this chicken keeping practice but had purchased Ashley English's book Keeping Chickens and read many others.

We had purchased a galvanized water tank to use as a baby house, set it up in the basement on a raised platform, carefully hung a heat lamp on an adjustable chain above with thermometers to check the temperature which needed to be kept at specific readings each week. We placed flake, feed, and water. We lifted each chick out one by one and gently placed each little beak into the water to teach it to drink. We monitored their baby bottoms for any dangerous pasty buildup. We kept their water clean.
Then we stepped back and watched those sweet babies go about the business of living.

We had hired an Amish man to build the chicken house and put up a fence around the new chicken yard. When the chicks were three weeks old we moved them in. Three weeks later they were allowed out into their yard for the first time. When checking that they had all hopped back in for the night we quickly discovered that the exotic breed chick was not in the house with the others.

Being so different this little one was easy to identify as missing. Anne and I searched their yard as long as there was daylight to see. Hearts heavy, we had to give up and hope for the best. In the morning redwing blackbirds were complaining about something they felt was threatening their nest. Searching just outside the fence I found this little one trying to find a way back into the chicken yard. It had survived all night without protection.
As the weeks progressed we realized that there were two male Rhode Island Reds among our birds and that the 25 requested hens were indeed hens. How they can sex day old chicks so reliably I cannot say. The exotic breed bird was still a question mark until one day we heard an adolescent crowing and realized it had come from this little one! We had ourselves a Silver Polish rooster!
Eventually, John Wayne and Number One, the other roosters, went to our Amish friends along with 20 of our hens to be "processed" for us and for them. Since Jerome was still living in Illinois, and Anne was going back to Ohio and I was traveling back to Illinois regularly, we boarded the remaining 5 hens and Big Guy, as he came to be known, with our Amish friends for their first winter.
It was really an experience to see how they became attached to our birds. I visited them every couple weeks bringing feed and letting them hear my voice. Any eggs they kept and the blue/green eggs were an especial delight to the children. When I picked my little flock up the following April to bring them back to the farm, the mother, Lovina, leaned into the car and said goodbye to each of them, using their names. She was especially fond of Big Guy.

Truth be told, everyone loved Big Guy.

He was especially good with his girls. Protecting, breaking up squabbles, announcing whenever he heard a door open or a car approach. During the spring and summer you needed to keep an eye on him when in his yard as his wings and especially his spurs could be dangerous. And he was truly handsome.

This week he began to slip away from us. Recognizing that he was now vulnerable to attack from within his flock, we sequestered him in the annex and the senior bungalow next to the main chicken yard. He made his way back to the chicken house for two nights, but was unable to hop up to the roost. He slept in the bungalow, unable to walk for his last two days. He was 8 years old, the last of our original flock.

He's buried near Phoebie, Minerva, Rosie and LadyHawk under a cairn in the chicken yard. It is quiet now out here on the farm. We miss him. We thank him.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

ahh, april

Like a little kid on her tricycle the first balmy day of spring, I've been pedaling as fast as I can. Still, I feel as if I need to catch up.
Catch up to what, I ask myself.....
Life has been full. Life has been good.
Hours (and hours) in the garden on cleanup.
Two days on a bus quilt shop hopping in Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. (oh the laughter!)
Chicken doctoring.
Fencing repair.
Seedling tending and repotting. Planting more seeds.
Setting the sewing room to rights and working on my Clue Game challenge quilt. (more on that  in days to come.)
Journaling with my 6th grade reading buddies. 8:30 this morning was our wrap-up breakfast meeting. Unlucky weather day for such a big event. In the teeth of an ice storm with gale winds and power outages, we unhooked the pole barn door from its useless power lifter and headed out into the gale. My sweetheart Jerome insisted on driving me and delivering me to the school's front door.  Despite the weather, nearly everyone attended.

The pyramid of reading for this year's event:
29 titles, 165 readers (55 groups of two 6th grade students plus an adult volunteer), 43, 481 pages, and, drum roll please, 8,110,392 words. Mary, did you really count them???? Always fun to ask the kids to guess how many words. I'll miss internet journaling with these two vibrant, articulate, and friendly kids.
Power's back on now, so I best go fix a hot dinner while I can.
High praise for our power line defenders.
Now if Mother Nature would just adjust her wind speed down a notch or two and up the temp a degree or two.

Did I mention we'd been cleaning up the grounds?? Goodness, gracious me, what a mess out there all over again. Thankfully, no actual harm done. Sigh. We hoped the new shovel just outside the back door and still eating off our snowman plates, snowblower front and center in the garage despite getting the mowers prepped would help ward off any spring storms. The laugh's on us.

Friday, March 22, 2019

life changing day

You brought spring with you then as you always do...

Happy Birthday, Sweet Anne.

Love you more than I can say.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


I recently received an email from Michael McCormick, founder and publisher of Quiltfolk magazine. I can't say enough about the quarterly publication (which contains no advertising.) Each issue focuses on the quilt scene of a specific state.
Michael's words read as a sort of homily on making choices and moving forward. I've copied his email for you to read with his permission.

The Quilt You Didn't Make
Steve Jobs said, "Focus means saying no to the hundred other good ideas.” He added he was “as proud of the things we haven't done [at Apple] as the things I have done.”
As a business owner, I’ve reflected on this many times, and now more than ever. As Quiltfolk grows, I constantly make decisions that affect our business and our team’s future. Every day, we discuss dozens of good ideas, great story leads, and new approaches to things. And in the end, only a fraction comes to fruition.
And that’s not because we don’t get things done. The opposite is true: Our team is energetic, organized, and efficient. But the sheer nature of creativity is that you’ll always come up with more options than you can handle, more than you can execute. Hence the need to choose.

The Latin word for “choose” — decidere — literally means “to cut off.” This is fitting, since whenever we make a decision, we actually “cut off” all other alternatives, no matter how appealing.
Depending on which study you read, humans make anywhere from hundreds to thousands of conscious decisions each day, begging the question: What is left in the scrap heap of our own history? What priceless things have we cut off with our daily decisions?
Quilts themselves are the result of a significant decision process. Colors, fabrics, block pattern, thread, quilting motif, binding — what choices did we make? A finished quilt is the result of myriad conscious and unconscious choices, and in the end, we’re left with a literal heap of scraps.
So what about the quilt you didn’t make? The one that used that other blue, that different thread, that alternate pattern. The one with the stitching that zigged instead of zagged. What might you have made, had you chosen a different path from the very first cut?
Wondering what might have been is characterized in popular culture as “FOMO,” the fear of missing out, the dread of regretting what you might have experienced or created, had you chosen differently. But perhaps there is an alternate view of these consequences of choice.
I learned recently about a belief in some Judaic traditions. The empty (or negative) space found in scripture — that which lies between the text — is as important and worthy of interpretation as what the text itself reveals. In other words, reading between the lines is not simply an idiomatic expression, but a way of gleaning true insight into the author’s intent.  

The great business mind Peter Drucker echoed this concept when he said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.” Robert Frost titled his iconic poem The Road Not Taken — and not “The Road Taken.” The list goes on, of interesting people who join Steve Jobs in caring about what didn’t happen. What is cut out can be pretty interesting and important — if only we pay attention.
When it comes to quiltmaking, one thing is certain: We will never see, with our eyes, the quilts we didn’t make. But they aren’t entirely lost either.
Embedded within our finished quilts, the ones we take to show and tell, give to family and friends, and enjoy for decades, are our omissions. Our myriad decisions can be felt, even appreciated, if only we take the time to look. And these choices, about what to include or not in a quilt, are in their own way a recorded history of who we were at the time of its making.
The tagline of Quiltfolk magazine is “Telling the stories behind the stitches.” But maybe it’s time to look between the stitches too and ask ourselves what can be gleaned from the small cuts of fabric buried deep within the scrap pile. While the quilts we didn’t make will never take first place at a show or keep us warm at night, their inexistence has paved the way for our most inspired work to see the light of day.
Until next time, 

Karen of Sewandsowlife recently challenged herself and her readers to go back to projects that have waited for some time to be finished.  Karen's home state of Vermont  happens to be featured in the upcoming issue of Quiltfolk.  Getting Mike's email message about choices, and not only permitting but also encouraging me to share it here, lit the tinder Karen had provided.
I'd been avoiding a quilt top I had labored over a long while back but lacked the courage to finish. It was those mitered corners that had me stymied. I'd never done them before but knew they were necessary to the design.
Last week I stopped at the local dollar store and purchased a couple noodles. No, not that kind of noodle. I put up with much teasing at the store and in the parking lot. Some time last fall I had seen a Youtube video of someone using those noodles to help layer her quilt tops and I filed the idea away in my head. (dangerous, I know) I find it a difficult chore sandwiching my quilt tops before quilting them and thought this idea might help. I had to modify their technique as they use two people and four hands. I would be working solo.

I'm happy to say it worked splendidly. Handling each layer rolled on noodles was much more manageable. And once done, the prepped quilt top can stay rolled on the noodle until I can get it to my machine, though now that I've overcome my obstacles I can't imagine not getting to it right away.
The statistic about hundreds or even thousands of choices we make each day includes choosing not to choose. Remembering Mike's message when  paralyzed by the realization that I'll never live long enough to get to all my ideas is liberating. I'm not supposed to get to it all! I just need to honor my thoughts, ideas, plans, and possibilities as part of what gets me there. Vehicles for the journey. Wow.
Thanks, Karen. Thank you too, Mike.

Saturday, March 9, 2019


Winds are rocking us up here on the ridge. Rain, ice, snow is in the forecast. Snow is still knee deep between the house and the chicken yard. The chicken yard annex has snow higher than my waist. Yesterday's temps just above freezing left us with a sizable ice rink between the house and the out buildings. In other words, winter won't let go.
And so, I'm looking for signs...
We change the time tonight to give us the illusion of longer days. The Amish function within the community on daylight saving time but don't change the clocks in their homes. They prefer to remain on what they call slow time. From now til November I'll need to ask them "our time or yours?" But the time change bolster's my belief in winter's end and I always look forward to it.

Seedlings are under the grow lights in the basement. A few brave greens are struggling toward the artificial light. I wonder just when they'll be able to be brought up and out to the mini greenhouses I'll set up on the porch. When the ground will be exposed to the sunlight. How soon the warm crops can safely be started indoors.

The photo above was taken two years ago today. I had just finished pruning the grapevines. I can't get near them now. But I know in my heart that spring will arrive. A new growing season will begin. The chickens spent the entire day outside yesterday, in the mud around their house. They've left the funniest footprints in the snow along the edges of their bare ground. It never fails to lift the spirit to spend time with them. And they are laying their splendid eggs after their necessary rest during the coldest months.
From time to time I catch a note of birdsong that hasn't been heard much this winter. For the first time in a long while we seem to have several cardinals near.

Although I've posted here a photo of a cardinal in our maple near the pond, the maple and the pond were removed last season. Sad but necessary decisions. This is a photo taken on an April day a few years back. Thinking to find some evidence I walked where I could yesterday, searching, and not one of our trees is showing any sign of letting go their tight grips on this spring's buds. But yesterday was the first temperature above freezing and local maple producers are talking sap. The sun is reaching into windows at angles not seen since autumn. Our local True Value is gearing up for its annual March sale event, a carnival of sorts.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

to each of you

The heart shape has always held attraction for me. It finds its way into much of what I create, probably because most of what I make is created for someone I love or care about. While cruising snaps in my iPhoto albums I found a few.

Wanting to wish any of you who happen to peek into my window today a very happy Valentines Day, know I care about each of you. And because I do, I'll repeat my annual February women's heart health month wish...

Take the best care of yourself. It will mean a lot to me, and I'm guessing, quite a bit to others as well.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

the first Wednesday of February

The ride out of January into February felt a bit like I'd imagine being pulled through a black hole. Heavy snow and howling winds on Sunday night to Monday. Sub, sub zero cold on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. More than 70 degree temperature change and a resultant two days of thawing and dense fog for the week's end. For the first time in my lifetime, the USPS cancelled mail delivery for two days. The clinic in town reduced its hours. Frequent visits to the chicken house required dressing as if for an arctic trek. Keeping feeders for the wild birds the only other reason to leave my own nest.
Continuous mugs of Tazo's Passion tea in the company of cats, doors and windows cloaked by every towel, throw rug and lap blanket we could gather, long hours of reading, sewing, garden planning and delighting in preparing my Handmade Joy Exchange items for the post got me through the days. Oh blessed retirement, not having anywhere to be but home sweet home. And truth be told not wanting to be.
Now on the other side, it's a wintry mix and snow in the forecast. For the moment nothing extreme.  A quick trip to town yesterday to send my Handmade Joy Exchange package on its way, to  the library, and to pick up a few staples from the grocery store, reasons to leave the house  for the first time in ten days. While shopping I gave in to the temptation to bring a bit of spring home with me. 

A sweet lady, perhaps just a wee bit older than me, noticed the tete a tete daffodil planter in my shopping cart and sighed. I told her it was important to treat ones' self from time to time, especially at our age and in the grip of winter. A few moments later she approached me to show me I had influenced her to choose a treat for herself... a carton of cherry chocolate frozen yogurt. She thanked me for the encouragement!
In the spirit of my word for the year, nourish, these little treats of joy go a long way.

And being starved for green and flowers of any kind it's important to be grateful for the little miracles that emerge.
Put them front and center. They deserve full attention for bringing such grace into daily life.