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Archive for September, 2012

Of Mice and Farm Women

It all started with one little mouse. OK, three little mice. Living in the country in an older house with cold weather on the way means that mice will find their way inside no matter what we do. As a City Woman, I used to be a little more squeamish about small creatures and creepy crawly things, but HE is not always here to take care of things like this, and I don’t like leaving the icky little things in the trap, so I put on plastic gloves, pick up the trap, and trying not to look, carry it outside at arm’s length and toss it outside in the tall grass behind the septic tank.  I’m digressing, though, so back to the story.  Company was coming, and the mouse family had to pick that moment to move in.  With the mice resting in peace in mouse heaven, or wherever small creatures and creepy crawly things go, I thought I would get down to things at hand:  Cleaning.  Since we have had such a good gardening year and much of my spare time was spent harvesting, canning, and freezing, the house was decidedly in need of a good scrubbing.  I always seem to have some kind of drama in my life, though.  Call it drama, craziness, or unfortunate events, I seem to get more than my share of them.  After the mouse incident, the furnace broke.  Two days before the arrival of a houseful of company in northern Minnesota, and we have no furnace and won’t have one until next week.  The furnace was the easiest of the events, however. The bathroom toilet stopped up.  Barney had an “accident” on the carpet in the guest room which was more like an “on purpose”.  Next, as I was giving my hardwood floors a final sweep and mop, the flies started gathering around my front door. Dozens and dozens of them, many  finding their way inside to buzz around my windows and lights, falling on my clean floors seemingly dead but coming back to life when I tried to sweep them into the dustpan.  Mice?  Flies? Am I living in a Poltergeist movie or something?  Are swarms of locusts coming next?  The good news about my family, though, is that they are decidedly and most thankfully NOT dramatic. We not only love each other, we actually like each other, too. They cheerfully kept up with piles of dishes. They swatted flies and swept the floor.  They didn’t complain, even when the toilet in the guest bathroom started leaking from around the bottom.  The conversation and laughter flowed, and so did the wine. The weather gods cooperated fully, so nobody froze. The harvest moon was the prettiest of the entire year.  The owls were hooting in the moonlight, hopefully catching and eating lots of mice for dinner.   Oh, by the way…..keep the part about the mice just between us, would you please?  I think there would have been less cheerfulness and more drama had they known about them.

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Chicken scratch and pancakes

To call something chicken scratch or chicken feed  used to mean that something was cheap or inexpensive.  I’m here to tell you that those days are over. The price of both feed and scratch has skyrocketed, just like everything else these days. Luckily, I have supplemented their feed with garden vegetables and the gang is  let out of their run every afternoon to gobble up bugs and worms, so that has kept the feed costs down.  Those happy golden days are soon  to be over, since we have already had several frosts here in the north.  The cost wouldn’t seem quite so bad if I had eggs to show for it.  For the last couple of weeks, the chickens have been molting like crazy, the coop is filled with feathers, and they stopped laying.  All of them.  They haven’t stopped eating with their molt, though, and in fact seem hungrier than ever.  At first I was getting two eggs a day, then one, and now none. Zero. Zilch. A big goose….er….chicken egg. To make it worse, we have company coming.  Now, if you were coming to a Farm Woman’s home and all she does is write about her chickens, would you be expecting oatmeal for breakfast? Right. Me neither. I would be expecting exactly what I had planned:  Some sort of cheesy egg bake for breakfast and perhaps devilled eggs with the turkey dinner. Perhaps I should have planned a VERY EXPENSIVE chicken dinner, instead.  Maybe I could find someone else who raises chickens and buy a couple of dozen eggs from them,  putting those large beauties into the fridge.  “Oh, yes!” I would boast, showing them off.  “I have SCADS of eggs.  So many that I just don’t know what to do with them all!”  Another option would be to  just bite the bullet and get the eggs from the grocery store, but when one writes about her life in a small-town newspaper column….well, I can hear it now:  “You’ll never guess who I saw in the store yesterday, and GUESS what she was buying?” and “Farm Woman….pfffttttt! I KNEW she was just had to be making all of that crazy stuff up!” If I did my shopping locally,  I certainly would  have to disguise myself, though.  If you happen to be shopping late at night in the grocery store’s dairy section and see a tall blondish-but-mostly-grey-haired woman wearing a moustache and a trench coat lurking near the eggs, just ignore me…er…her. Don’t ask any questions, don’t laugh, and please don’t call the authorities. I’ve got company coming and I’ve got a lot of work to do before they arrive, and there’s no way my kitchen will be clean enough for company if there are any delays.  There’s a pile of  housework to do, fall gardening chores to finish up,  and I’ve got to dig out my mom’s famous pancake recipe. I think it only calls for two eggs, and I have at least that many in the fridge, maybe. Oh, and one more thing.  I really don’t make this stuff up. Who could? That would take quite a bit of imagination, don’t you think?

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Earlier this summer, I purchased six baby chicks.  They were pullets, which in chickenese means girls.  The last thing I need around here is more roosters. I have plenty of them, even with the loss of Christopher Columbus earlier this year and old Baldy this summer.  I need hens.  Good laying hens. Nice young lay-an-egg-a-day hens. Unfortunately, one of the babies died after a few days, but I still had five strong young chicks.  The whole little group were inseparable friends. I have enjoyed watching them explore the yard this summer and it seemed that each day they grew bigger and more beautiful, especially one of them. She was larger than the others.  Her tail grew much longer with gorgeous dark green feathers.  She strutted around like she was “all that.”  It was the tail feathers more than anything that made me a little suspicious that she just might be a he. Still, one never knows.  She is an Araucana, which is a colorful breed which lays blue and green eggs, so maybe she was just extra-colorful.  At least I hoped that was the case. Last week was the clincher when she started crowing.  Even a former city-girl can figure that one out.  About the time the crowing started, he the former she started separating himself from the little group. He no longer frolicked with the girls, scratching for bugs and squawking and running when the bigger, meaner hens came near. He started watching them.  He lurked. He strutted. He cockadoodledooed. I had to come up with a manly name for him, and a Facebook reader came up with the perfect one: Henry. HENry, get it? I had to figure out why Henry all of a sudden became a loner. Being kind of a mother hen myself, I wonder and worry about these things. Sometimes chickens pick on each other, and roosters can be especially mean,  so I like to make sure everybody is safe and sound.  I watched carefully to make sure my boy wasn’t getting picked on. It didn’t take me very long to figure out what was really going on.  In the interest of keeping this a family friendly column, let me  just say that Henry was trying to “do the funky chicken” with his former playmates, and they didn’t like it. Not one bit.  They squawked. They pecked at him. They ran. Now, all he has to do is look at them and they run the other way.  Henry has learned that there’s a fine line between friendship and love and getting your feathers pecked off.  Today he started fluffing his feathers (probably trying to make himself appear a little older) and started flirting with the big girls.  He is not having much luck with this group either, because they’re much more interested in their next meal than their next romance.  The old gals don’t usually fall for the suave sophisticated type, even those with gorgeous green tail feathers.  Henry was eating his corn all by himself again tonight.  Mark my words. He’ll come up with another idea tomorrow.  When it comes to love, a rooster never gives up.

*Thank you, Darla O. for naming HENry! mfw

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Better Late Than Never

When it comes to time, there are three types of people in this world:  Those who are always early, those who are always on time, and those who are always late.  Those of you who are always late can drive those of us who are always early a little crazy.  The fact that we are always early for everything probably means that we are just a little bit crazy anyway. I am one of those early people who is happily married (most of the time) to a man who is an on-time person.  Let’s say, for example, that we are supposed to meet friends for dinner at 6:00 p.m. at a restaurant which is a 15 minute drive from our home.  At 5:00 p.m., I am putting the finishing touches on my hair and makeup.  He is watching television, dressed in shorts and an old t-shirt.  At 5:15, I am sitting with him, tapping my fingers nervously. “Aren’t you going to get ready? You know we have to be there at 6:00,” I’ll say. His answer is always the same:  “Yep.”  At 5:30 p.m., I am ready to go.  Yes, it is only a 15 minute drive, but what if we have a car trouble/get lost/have a flat tire?  My finger tapping increases, partly because I can’t help it, partly because I think it will get him up and moving. It doesn’t.  At 5:43 p.m., he sighs, puts down the remote, and heads to the bedroom to change, emerging at precisely 5:46, giving us exactly one minute to get to the car and only 15 minutes to make the 15 minute drive to the restaurant.  But what if we have car trouble/get lost/have a flat tire?  Well, we never have.  If I were going to dinner without him, I would have left the house with plenty of time to spare, then waited in the restaurant lobby, nervously tapping my fingers and waiting for the others to arrive. I spend a lot of time waiting. Thank goodness for cell phone games.  They are really helping me to get rid of that nervous finger tapping habit that I have.  Now for the other early birds who have friends or spouses who are always late, I can only give you one word of advice:  Lie.  Tell them that the appointment is 30 minutes earlier than it really is. It is very important, however, to remember the correct time of the appointment, or you will most certainly drive yourself crazy by getting ready even earlier for something that you were already getting ready early for. Make sense? No? Don’t worry about it. You can’t fix them any more than you can fix yourself for being early. They will probably be late for their own funerals.  I don’t know about you, but I really hope that  I’m not too early for mine.

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The Big City

I had to make a trip to the Big City last week. Those of you who live in cities may argue the fact that Duluth is a Big City, but when you don’t get out much, it is big enough. I’m not sick and didn’t really need to see a doctor, but it was time for a visit to my specialist, so off I went.  Usually I go with someone so I can ask questions like ” I should turn left right here, right? Right? I turn left?” It is a well-known fact to friends and family that I have no sense of direction and couldn’t find my way out of a bucket even if it had a hole in it.  GPS devices were invented for people like me. I know how to get to the Big City Hospital and Clinic, it was getting OUT of there that was the problem.  In the maze of traffic and one-way streets, I didn’t know quite where I was, and kept getting deeper and deeper into the residential areas.  I really wasn’t too worried, as unlike other Big Cities, Duluth doesn’t really have any “sketchy” areas, but time was going by quickly, and I didn’t want to lose any more of it for the real reason one from a rural area goes to the Big City:  Shopping.  My heart was beating a little faster just thinking about it.  I wasn’t familiar with any addresses, so I pushed the “go home” button on my GPS, which got me out of wherever the heck I was to ten miles from where I needed to be, but back into familiar territory.  Lunch first, of course.  Since I hate to eat in a restaurant by myself, I purchased a frozen custard cone and ate it in the car in the parking lot while doing some people watching.  Then on to the  Big City Pet Store, Big City Clothing Store, Big City Department Store, and Big City Grocery Store.  I was too tired to visit the Big City Mall.  With the exception of the wonderful olive bar at the grocery store, I missed my small-town grocery where everyone says hello and they carry your groceries to the car. In the Big City Grocery Store, my poor sense of direction somehow steered me into the “speedy” lane where one is supposed to pack one’s own groceries. It would be much speedier if one knew this ahead of time.  No wonder the checkout lady looked at me strangely when I asked her to keep the cool items separate from the others. Another reason I don’t like going to the Big City by myself is that about half of the 230 mile round  trip  is nothing but northern Minnesota swampland and a very boring drive without someone to talk to.   I don’t know if it was the frozen custard or the vat of blue-cheese stuffed olives that I ate or the fact that I managed to spend $300 not including the doctor’s fees, but my stomach was beginning to hurt. Maybe it was time to head for home.  There may be no frozen custard store there (thank goodness!), there’s only one stoplight within 17 miles (thank goodness!), and there are more chickens to watch than there are people, but home is the best destination of all.  There’s no need for GPS when your heart is sending you in the right direction.

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