Planting Peppers at Vogel Farms

The time came to plant seeds in the greenhouse at Vogel Farms.  The sun made the day warm, but also melted ice into muddy puddles.  Inside the greenhouse was dry and warm, with a humid quality.   There were a few shelf units set up against walls, holding trays full of seeds and sprouts.  Two wide tables extended nearly the full length of the large greenhouse, leaving space for walkways and workspace.  There were empty pots and trays stacked up on the tables.  In the back workspace, part of a table was covered with thick plastic to keep potting soil from being wasted.  A covered hot tub in the corner was being used as a shelf, and a bin full of fine soil sat ready for use nearby.

That day, I would be planting seeds with Mrs. Cabalo. She and her husband, owners of Cabalo’s Orchard, maintain a partnership with Vogel Farms.  She demonstrated how I was to prepare a planting tray.

  • First, a block of wood was placed in the bottom of a non-segmented plastic tray to keep the next tray from sagging in the middle.  The second tray would be held up along the edges, but the rest of the tray was shallower and it would fall into the first tray if the wood was not there.
  • Another tray, with 200 planting spaces was then placed in the first tray.
  • Next, holding the two stacked trays over the soil bin, she piled soil on top, and smoothed it into all 200 spaces before brushing off the excess.

Moving the then full tray to the plastic covered table, she used the bottom of another 200 space tray to press the dirt into the first tray.  This formed an indent in the dirt in each space where seeds could be placed.

200 Seed holes

200 Seed holes

I was equipped with a small plastic device for funneling the seeds into their small compartments, a chopstick for pushing the seeds out of the funnel, and also with several packets of pepper seeds.

Seed funnel and chopstick

Seed funnel and chopstick

Mrs. Cabalo told me how to distribute the seeds in the trays so that they could be labeled effectively.

Placing seeds

Placing seeds

If we were going to plant 100 each of two different varieties, the labels would go on the short end of the tray, marking five rows with 20 spaces each.  Then, we would plant the varieties on opposite halves of the tray lengthwise.  If we were going to plant fewer of a kind, we would place the label on the long side of the tray, where each row contained 10 spaces.

After placing seeds in every space in the tray and labeling the rows, we took more soil from the bin and carefully spread it over the tray to cover the seeds.  When the seeds were covered, the tray would be set on the ground and thoroughly watered using the ‘mist’ setting on the nozzle at the end of the hose.  Finally, every finished tray was set under lights on a shelf along the wall.

I completed four trays before my sister came to take me home.  She came at an opportune time for me, since my hands were getting dry from the soil and I had just finished with the fourth tray of peppers.  I knew  that Mrs. Cabalo would be planting for a while after I was gone and would probably plant the last of this year’s seeds.  It was unlikely that I would be helping to start seeds again, but perchance I’d be transplanting seedlings and plants as they grew.

Tiny little sprout

Tiny little sprout

My First Day At Vogel Farms – Monday Egg Washing

I had been anticipating this day for a couple of months.  I was going to help wash eggs at Vogel Farms.  My family had been buying raw milk and eggs, plus the occasional half gallon of fresh apple cider, from them.  I eventually asked if I could work for them to gain experience in the farm setting, since that was the career I was pursuing.  They agreed that I could begin working after the holiday season had ended.  I had been checking back every week during the regular supply pick-up, and eventually I was told that I could go the next Monday at 1:00pm to help wash the eggs.

I arrived at the farm just before one o’clock and was met by Mrs. Vogel, whom I would be working with.  She took me to the egg washing shed, which thankfully was heated.  We hung up our coats and she pulled stacks of cardboard egg cartons off the shelf, placing them on a table-height grate that was over the end of the egg washing machine.  I was to place an oval shaped sticker with the farm’s logo on the top of each carton and a small rectangular sticker on the front of each lid with a reminder to keep the eggs refrigerated.  I did this to one hundred and fifty cardboard egg cartons.  Next, she sorted out the styrofoam cartons that had been returned to the farm after use.  She threw out the dirty and broken cartons; one of them had a peanut butter-like substance on it.  The clean, whole cartons, she handed to me and I drew an easily seen red line across the tops of them with a marker.  These cartons would hold any salvageable cracked eggs, which would then be sold to bakeries.

Egg cartons on grate

Egg cartons on grate

While we were busy preparing the cartons, her son-in-law, Chris, came in and began turning on the machine and setting up the shed for a few hours of egg washing.  Mr. Vogel arrived with a friend.  The friend usually washed his eggs with them, and then helped wash the rest of their eggs.  The three men brought in crates of eggs which covered the two long plastic tables in the middle of the shed.  These were only half of the eggs we would be washing and packaging.

Dirty eggs

Dirty eggs

 

 

Soaking eggs

Soaking eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the eggs soaked in water to soften any dirt on their shells, Mrs. Vogel showed me how to stack the the egg cartons so that we wouldn’t have to pull them apart, thus avoiding letting the clean eggs stack up waiting to be packaged.  Then Chris called out that he was starting the machine and the washing began.

Egg washing machine

Egg washing machine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The machine looked as though it had about five conveyor belts.  Mr. Vogel loaded the pre-soaked dirty eggs onto the first belt.  The eggs traveled onto a belt that had plastic prongs which separated the eggs.  The belt carried them along through an enclosed portion of machine, where I was told there were two brushes that scrubbed the grub off of the shells.  After passing through the machine, they  shifted off of that belt onto an adjacent flattish double belt that had a tread to keep the eggs in place.  At that point the friend was sitting watching for cracked eggs.  Again, they rolled gently to a different belt with black rollers for keeping them in single file.  Chris, sitting in a little booth with a black plastic curtain blocking out the light from the rest of the room, candled them as they moved along, looking for cracks and making sure they were acceptable inside.

Egg candling station

Egg candling station

Candling eggs

Candling eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If they passed the inspectors, the eggs flowed onto yet another belt with plastic prongs, from which they were pushed off by rubber coated levers onto white plastic rollers which rolled them onto a wide belt of metal springs from which they emerged to be packaged.  This was where I was situated, the end where the clean eggs came out.

Belt of springs

Belt of springs

 

Clean eggs

Clean eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs. Vogel and I placed the eggs in cartons, and the cartons in boxes.  When we found the occasional broken egg, if it was beyond saving for the bakeries, it was tossed into a bucket to be fed to the pigs.  If it wasn’t broken all the way, it was placed in a carton marked for cracked eggs.

When almost half the eggs had been washed and packaged, another couple of friends of the Vogels, came to help.  The wife packaged eggs with me, and the husband helped Mr. Vogel place the dirty eggs onto the first conveyor belt.  When the first half of the eggs had all been packaged, the men brought the other half into the shed and placed them on the same tables as before.  We waited again for the eggs to soak, then washed and packaged the second half just as we had the first.

After all the eggs were in their cartons, Mrs. Vogel, her friend, and I went to another small building, where the two ladies packaged a few meat boxes.  I called my mother, who would be there to take me home in about twenty minutes.  While the meat was being boxed, I made friends with the small “Miss Kitty” in that building.  Mrs. Vogel gave me some cheese curds, then, everyone went into the warm house to relax a bit.  We passed through a room where we were greeted by four large, but friendly labradors.  In the inner part of the house, a very large, yet still friendly sheepdog also greeted us.  This dog was content to stand and let me scratch its head while I waited and listened to the conversation.

When I got home, I happily went out to close our chickens in bed.  I was a little tired from standing and looking down at the eggs as I packaged them.  However, I hoped to be going more and more to help and learn at the farm.

Goat, Heffalump, or Salamander? Sewing a Giant Stuffed Animal from Homemade Pattern

A few years ago my parents bought a yard long stuffed animal giraffe and it has stayed on my bed ever since…except when my sister steals it.  In the evening, if I’m not watching, Beth will sneak the giraffe-colored-pillow-with-legs into her room and wait for me to come try to get it back.  On weekends, she sometimes asks me to “giraffe” her the next morning. “Giraffe”meaning thumping her with the soft animal until I get a response.  Last year, I decided to make her a giant goat of her own for Christmas.

My first step was to draw a pattern.  I am not very fond of drawing, but by measuring my giraffe, I was able to mark the measurements on the paper.

Measuring stuffed animal giraffe

Measuring stuffed animal giraffe

 

 

Marking pattern on paper

Marking pattern on paper

Using a ruler and curved sewing measurement tool, I drew the back, belly, feet, head, and ears.    

Cutting out giant goat pattern

Cutting out giant goat pattern

Measuring to mark pattern on paper

Measuring to mark pattern on paper

I have access to a large bin of fabric scraps that my mother allows me to use.  I was originally thinking of making the goat out of those.  However, my so-very-kind-mother let me use part of a pink plaid fleece fabric that she hadn’t had occasion to use.  I also was allowed to use a tan fleece for the underbelly and hooves, and a brown faux fur for the insides of the ears.  Using the convenient new table sized cutting mat,  I was able to cut out the fabric with ease.  Soon I was pinning and stitching away.

I was having so much fun that, before I knew it, three hours had passed and the body of the goat was almost finished.  I had marked places to be left open for attaching the hooves to the body, and I had also cut a slit for a tail in the top of the back, since that was where the tail on my giraffe was.  However, something with the pattern was different from the giraffe and I ended up forming a tail out of the back fabric while constructing the body.

Stuffed animal tail

Stuffed animal tail

 

I had to fill in the hole then, so the goat got a spot on its back.  After that, I put together all four hooves, the bottoms of them being of the same material as the belly and the leg being the same pink plaid as the back and the head.

Stuffed animal hoof pieces

Stuffed animal hoof pieces

Stuffed animal hoof pinned together

Stuffed animal hoof pinned together

Stuffed animal hoof sewn together

Stuffed animal hoof sewn together

 

When all the hooves were assembled, I pinned them in their holes in between the back and belly and sewed them on like sleeves.

Stuffed animal hoofs pinned to body

Stuffed animal hoofs pinned to body

Giant stuffed animal body

Giant stuffed animal body

 

Next, I put this adorable body suit on my giraffe and giggled.  I hid the goat in a corner and came back to it the next day.

When I was measuring my giraffe, it had seemed to have two sections of neck before its head.  I had cut out these two pieces with a generous seam allowance.  I also added a pleat when sewing the neck pieces together since one of them was longer than the other.  To cover this up/make it look purposeful, I attached two leaf shaped pieces of plaid above the pleat to give it a scarf-like look.  As I sewed the two connected neck pieces to the head piece, I placed the darling ears in the seam.   I already knew the goat would end up being bigger than the giraffe, since it fitted over the giraffe’s body so easily, but I didn’t realize how big it would be until I had the head and neck sections sewn together in preparation for attaching them to the body.

Giant stuffed animal neck

Giant stuffed animal neck

 

Next, I tentatively cut two nostril holes in the end of the head piece.  Since the tan fleece nostril pieces were so small, it was a little difficult to sew them to the head with my machine.  That may have been easier to do by hand.

Giant stuffed animal nose

Giant stuffed animal nose

 

I found some large buttons from my mother’s collection to use for eyes, but the fleece didn’t have a tight enough weave to hold the knot of thread required for attaching the buttons.  My mother suggested that I use two small squares of denim behind the fleece to hold the knots in place and it worked wonderfully.

Giant stuffed animal eyes and ears

Giant stuffed animal eyes and ears

 

I sewed the head onto the body, leaving a hole for stuffing the animal.  A few days later, after buying a 10 pound box of polyfiber stuffing, I stuffed the animal and using another piece of denim to catch the knot, hand sewed the hole closed.  When I showed the completed product to my older brother, he said, “A salamander! Can I have one?”, giving me the perfect idea for his Christmas present.

Luckily, my dad had some huge cardboard boxes in the garage and I was allowed to use one to wrap Beth’s goat.  On Christmas day, as soon as she opened the box and pulled out the animal, my dad asked, “Is it a salamander?”.  So, although it was originally meant to be a goat, it apparently looks quite a lot like a salamander.

Happy sister with giant goat

Happy sister with giant goat

Beth with giant goat stuffed animal

Beth with giant goat stuffed animal

Now I still had a full scrap box, and I also some stuffing left.  I set to work making a snake out of scraps for my brother.  Soon, I had a 12ft long tube.  I used red velvet for the head piece, then overlaid it with grey textured fabric for the face, giving it two red eyes.  After stuffing the tube, I gathered the end together and hand stitched it in place.  The tail looked like a sausage end.  I restitched the sides in some places where the stuffing process had burst the seams, and it was done.

Jesse's snake, coiled to strike

Jesse's snake, coiled to strike

Jesse's snake laid out on 13ft couch

Jesse's snake laid out on 13ft couch

Jesse's snake attacking

Jesse's snake attacking

 

Although the sewing took some time, it was straightforward, and I hugely enjoyed creating those two giant stuffed animals.  Since receiving the goat, Beth hasn’t once stolen my giraffe.  And now, I can “giraffe” her using her goat without fear of losing my own animal in her bed.

The Christmas Light Crew

    Last year, Ben, Natalie and I put Christmas lights up together late in the year when the outside temperature was freezing all day long.  This year only Ben and I worked together to make the front yard festive and bright.

When he arrived at the house to work, I went to dress for the outside weather.  Remembering how cold I had been last year, I went out wearing my insulated overalls over my insulated jeans, two thick sweatshirts, fingerless polar fleece gloves and ear warmer.  Then, I pulled on two pairs of wool socks.  I could barely move.  As soon as I stepped outside and put on my boots I knew I had dressed too warmly, but I started working anyway, saying to myself that it would be better to be comfortably warm than to be chilled.  When Ben saw me he immediately said, “It’s not that cold out here.”  Soon, I decided it would be worth it to go inside and take off some layers.  It was a relief to be able to move again and I was comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt for about an hour and a half.

While I had been getting ready to help him, Ben had unwound and untwisted the icicle lights that we were going to hang along the roof, laying them on the kitchen floor to keep them untangled.  We picked up opposite ends of the long strands and took them outside to the grass.  Ben took one end and climbed up to the roof, while I fed the rest of the line to him from the ground, trying not to let it get caught on anything.  I was expecting that we would put these lights up the same way as we had last year, with Ben on the roof and me following on the ground giving him clips when he needed them.  However, after he had laid the lights down, he asked if I wanted to clip the lights to the roof or untangle the icicles.  I assumed he meant untangle the icicles from underneath, on the ground.  I didn’t even consider that he expected me to go up on the roof with him, until he went over to the ladder to make sure I got up without trouble.  I clarified that he meant for me to join him on the roof and he assented.

I had only ever been on a roof on two occasions before that, both times to pick cherries from the relatively flat roof of my grandparent’s house.  Both of those times there had been a large cherry tree to grab the branches of to stable myself.  Also, the branches of the tree had extended far over the roof, so there had been no need to be close to the edge.

Climbing carefully on this cold day, I mounted the roof of our house, and stayed crouched down.  I crawled over to the corner of the roof where we would begin.  Ben explained that, after he attached the cord, I would untangle the icicle lights and clip up any sags in the line.  He showed me how I could untangle the icicles without leaning over the edge of the roof, which I had been wondering about; and he showed me how to place my feet while I sat, so as to have leverage against falling.  Ben began attaching the lights.  I followed, pulling the icicles up to me to make sure they weren’t tangled and adding clips anywhere where the line wasn’t staying up.  I got more comfortable up there as I continued, but I was still wary of the edge, especially around the corners.  When I finished, Ben was already on the ground and told me how to get back onto the ladder from the roof.

From my perspective, getting down onto the ladder was the most difficult part of being on the roof.  I stepped backward off the roof onto something I couldn’t see.  Per Ben’s instruction, I crouched on the roof next to the ladder and reached out with one foot.  When I was sure that that foot would hold me, I lowered my other foot and climbed slowly down the ladder.

After dismounting the roof, I went on a search for all the extension cords I could find.  Ben located the adapters.  We plugged in the main adapter, which has six outlets and a timer, plugged the roof lights into that, and started placing more lights around in the front yard.  I arranged our white LED lights on the rail that is along one side of our front steps.  While I was doing this, our mother came out to take blog pictures of Ben pruning the plum tree’s broken branches.  By the time I had finished placing the LEDs I was getting chilled, and Ben had just finished pruning the tree, so to warm up I helped carry the debris away.  Next, we began winding strands around the tree.  Ben finished with the tree, and took stock of the remaining lights.  We ran one line of tube lights along the inside of the front walk, and placed the other in the metalwork on the front screen door.  Then, I went inside to warm up for a moment while getting the rest of the lights from the kitchen floor.  We had to place another strand of lights between the tube on the door and the adapter, since we didn’t have an extension cord to spare and the tube wouldn’t reach.  Handily, there is a small corner planter and more railing where the strand needed to go, so I was able to make it look decorative while being useful at the same time.  I also found a couple of stakes in the planter and wrapped the lights around them a couple times to make the planter look like it was holding more than gravel and dirt.

While I was busy on the porch, Ben ran a strand of flower lights along the fence behind the tree.  One nice effect of the lights along the fence was that the tree didn’t look so alone on the far side of the front yard.  I replaced some bulbs, while Ben wrapped more lights around a small trellis, also near the front door.  I replaced some more bulbs and some fuses while Ben attached a strand of pine cone lights from the end of the tube lights on the ground to the top of a lamp post. The cord made a nice curve through the air.  Then, we worked together to put up the net lights on a shrub.  It was getting dark and colder, so we decided to wait to put up the plastic polar bears and snowman.  I finished by wrapping a strand of lights around a stake in the garden area and attaching it to a timer.

We made sure everything was plugged in, worked, and had it’s timer set, then we went inside to warm by riding the stationary bikes.  Now the lights turn on every evening for four hours and every time I go outside in the dark, I see them twinkling merrily away.

Staying Motivated

My parents have always taught me to accept the fact that no matter what I do, I will be learning something.  This is not just something that goes on in my house.  Everyone everywhere is learning something, whether they realize it or not.  If someone were playing a computer game, they might learn that sitting still for too long makes them feel stiff, or staring at the screen makes their eyes hurt.  Every experience in our lives tells our brain something and that something is stored as knowledge.

Many people have been taught to view studying and playing as two completely separate activities.  They are compatible.  Studying can be enjoyable and play can be educational.  In my house, realizing that we have learned, even when not working on a specific study exercise is not remarkable.  In fact, it has become a normal part of our lives and we have learned to teach ourselves things just for the fun of learning something new.  There are admittedly always going to be certain aspects of studying that each individual will have difficulty with, but even the exercise of trying to enjoy them makes them more fun.  Learning does not have to involve a text book.  Books are useful for passing on knowledge so that each person need not discover everything for themselves, but it is impossible to learn everything from reading and writing and anything we read in books still has to be evaluated.  There are things that can’t be taught in books.  For instance, a book might use the example of texture to explain a certain idea, but unless the person reading the book has experienced those textures themselves, they won’t understand what the books means.

Sometimes, even though we know that studying is a reliable method for learning, we can be hesitant to do it and want to spend our time reading a book that isn’t part of the appointed studies, or playing around on the computer.  After all, we are learning even while doing that aren’t we, and who needs to know what x equals?  Yes, you are learning even when you’re reading or on the computer, but are you learning and practicing things that are useful to you, or are you filling your brain with junk that it can’t help but store in it’s memory?  At least x can’t do or say anything harmful.  In the end, it probably isn’t that important to know what x from problem 29 equals, but finding it does teach you how to determine the value of a variable if you should find yourself wondering about a certain length or quantity you can’t measure directly, but need to know before making a potentially important decision.  Although you may be learning while reading that comic book, is it really what you should be learning?

Philippians 4:8 says: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.”  This verse is a good motivator for when you feel like putting off work for another time.  There is also usually some type of reward for finishing your work, whether it be in the form of a pay check, free time, new knowledge, or just a satisfied feeling of having completed something.  There is a point at which our brains need a break from thinking hard and *trying* to pick up information, but that is not usually what keeps people from starting their work in the first place.  When I am feeling unwilling to begin my work, or am taking long breaks and not utilizing my time efficiently, I think about the results I would get from doing the things I have been told to do, versus having to spend time doing them later when everyone else is watching a movie because they did their work in a timely fashion.

Why do people work in the first place, though?  Why not just sit around?  For one thing, people like to feel as though they have a purpose.  They want to feel needed.  Plus, if no one ever worked or negotiated, if everyone just did what they thought was personally entertaining, we would all die.  Work provides an opportunity and motive to live.  When a person trains themselves to work efficiently they learn to value time.  It is no longer always a question of ‘When and how fast can I finish my work and go do something fun?’, but sometimes, ‘When I do finish my work, is there something fun and productive that I can do?’.  Many activities that people enjoy require work after a fashion, but it might be work that they enjoy, or the result might be worth the effort to them.  Everything is more fun if it has a result.  I enjoy sewing, partly because of the activity, but partly also because I can make items that I will enjoy putting to use later.  People don’t like to watch movies that they think are boring because there is no satisfactory result.

In the end, people do what they do because they want results.  A person may enjoy a certain exercise and not care about what they get at the end, in that case, the enjoyment found in the exercise is their result.  A person may dislike part of the process of getting something they want, but if they do it to gain satisfaction, in the end it is a worthwhile activity because of the result.

Studying and learning are things that we do to get the result of knowledge.  That knowledge can then be applied to make our life more productive and interesting.  Sometimes it may seem as though the current assignment will not benefit one later in life.  If you are an adult, it is your decision whether or not to go through with it.  If you are still under the guidance and care of your parents, they have more experience with what a person might need to learn for life.  When working, it is an employee’s responsibility to do his assigned task, even if he doesn’t think it’s necessary.  After all, he is getting paid for it.  Completing our appointed tasks provides us with the knowledge, experience, and assets to enjoy life more fully.

When confronted with the choice between staying on track to accomplish an assignment or shirking responsibility in favor of being idle, think about the results from each option.  Rest is good, but more rewarding if it is the result of completing a task.

Fox Wars (Fox vs. Chicken Owner)

Dawn, June 11, 2012.

I found myself alone in the house.  The dog was outside in the backyard keeping watch, the neighbor dog barking as cars or people went by.  Knowing that I was responsible for keeping myself on track, I began my assigned household chores.  When the dog, Kiwi, started to bark at the same time as the neighbor dog, I went to the window expecting to tell her that we actually allow people to walk down the street sometimes and there was no need to bark so much.  There were no people on the street, but there was what looked to be an orange cat trotting along.  I didn’t correct the dog for barking, since it is generally undesirable to have stray cats wandering in a person’s yard.  To my surprise, however, as I was turning from the window, the animal’s tail came up and I realized I was seeing a fox right outside my front yard.  Some people may say this was hardly conversation worthy, but, this being the closest I had ever been to a fox and the only time during my life that I have seen a fox on or just off our property, I was delighted.  I commended Kiwi for barking at the strange orange thing with a fluffy tail and ran for the camera since despite that fact that I wanted to see it I knew we didn’t want it staying.  Thinking that it would be safest to stay indoors while the fox was bathing in the open front lawn of a different neighbor, I attempted to photograph it through the window.  I failed; the picture looked like it was taken of opaque glass.  I hesitated for an instant, then decided it couldn’t hurt to go quietly into the fenced yard, with the dog there, in order to get a nicer photo.

Before I was convinced of having taken a good shot, a friend walked by on the street during her morning constitutional and the fox was frightened, it ran away out of sight.  Just then, I realized that when I had first seen the fox, the sneaky thing had been running from the direction of one of the chicken pens.  Prepared for the worst, I put the dog on her leash, so she could get anything that might have happened to stay with the chickens, and grabbed my sycamore staff.  I was spared the need of venturing out to the chicken pen while  alone, since my family returned at that point.  I left the dog inside and went out still armed with my staff.

A few steps brought the chicken pen into view and I immediately saw three chickens sprawled on the ground.  Running the short distance back to the house, I informed the returned runners that at least three chickens were seemingly dead.  Natalie and I found upon entering the pen that three had indeed perished.  One hen’s feathers were scattered in front of the gate and not seeing her in the pen, I assumed that she had also been killed and possibly carried off.  However, Natalie found her squeezed into a crack hiding.  She didn’t have any tail feathers and was very tremulous, but she was alive.  One other hen that had been attacked was lying on the ground unable to stand, but alive.  Bite marks were evident on her back and even her neck.  After moving her to a more comfortable place where she could access food and water, it was my turn to go run.

Two hours later…

Natalie drove me home, informing me on the way that the pest fox had returned, but our mother, author of Daily Improvisations, had chased it off before it could seriously injure the hen it was holding.  Also, the incapacitated hen from the first attack had been transferred to a cardboard box in the greenhouse.  We expected her to give out every moment and raise the number of chickens deaths the fox was wanted for.

 

June 18, 2012

The injured hen did not die that day, however, and she continued to eat, drink, and slept whenever she wasn’t doing either of those.  The second day, she laid an egg, which we have never had a hen do while she was in the “sick box”.  I thought that she might appreciate being outside in fresh air, so began by setting her in the lawn every time I cleaned her box.  Finding it desirable to spend some time outside myself, I relocated one of the portable pens we have to the grass in the shade of a large, green locust tree.  After moving the hen with her food and water to the pen, I settled down to enjoy a novel.  I have continued to take the hen out once or twice a day.  She can stand now without my help and is continuing to get stronger.

The chickens that lived in the front pen where the fox had attacked were moved to the pen in the back yard, where, coincidentally  an old hen had died from old age the same day the fox attacked.  My brother helped me to fix one of the nesting boxes and suggested tying the lids closed with twine so that the fox would not be able to open them easily.  The next few nights I caught each chicken, one by one, and closed them in the coop for the night.  The fox has not gotten access to the coop, but we will not stay on the defensive.

The Fox Wars will continue…

Behind The Scenes Of THE MIKADO #1

After presenting a theatre production of The H.M.S. Pinafore with many friends and siblings, my sister, Beth, and I decided, with some prompting from the crew, to produce another opera the next year.  We considered a few different options, but settled rather quickly on The Mikado, by the same authors, Gilbert & Sullivan.  We knew from experiencing some stressful situations during the first production that having much more of the material planned in advance would relieve everyone involved and open up the possibility for  more complicated music and choreography.

As soon as we had decided to perform the Mikado, we found a vocal music score with piano music and I began practicing.  I also located an orchestral copy of the music, hoping to have at least a couple different instruments playing along with the piano.  The first time I tried to record the flute part with another sister, Natalie, I panicked for a moment upon the realization that the orchestral score I had found on the internet was in a different key signature than the piano music we had available.  I had spent quite a while looking for the piano parts to the songs not contained in my book and for a while despaired of having different music for the flute and clarinet, but when I decided to look again, I found another orchestral score online, which, beside being in the right key was much more legible and navigable than the last one had been.   Thrilled with this new discovery, I presented the music to Natalie and started recording some piano music so that she could add her flute parts.  I could only record a few of the songs right away,since many of them are fast paced and full of notes, but I kept practicing the others and soon had quite a few rough drafts of them recorded for Beth, the choreographer.

Once Beth had had the music for a few days, she asked me to come out to the stage and let her show me a rough plan for the first song.  I was quite diverted.  Over the next few days, as she continued to refine and add to the movements, she asked for Natalie and I to come act them out for her.  On a warm Saturday afternoon, we two and a friend went out and moved where Beth told us to while she played the music.  The results were encouraging and I was inspired to continue recording music.

Recently, we sent out emails to a few people we hoped to be able to include in our cast, informing them of the first audition date and the planned performance date.  Last year, the practices were planned week by week, but we knew that wouldn’t work again and arranged a schedule to present to the cast in the hopes that better organization will make the entire experience more enjoyable and possible.

We still have much to prepare before practices begin, but we have made a good start, having already begun the choreography, decided on some people’s makeup and costumes, and setting dates in advance.  There will be work to be done the whole time we are practicing, but hopefully this year, with all the preparation we have done and will do, it will all flow smoothly with much pleasure along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Life Lesson: How To Butcher A Rooster

In almost every flock of chickens there is, has been, or will be an excess of roosters.  So it was with my mother’s flock recently.  Finding that we had three roosters among the hens, we decided it was time to butcher them and stop the crowing wars that had been going on between the front and back pens.  When my dad came home one night, I was surprised to be asked to be ready in five minutes to go help him and my brother butcher the roosters.

I hurried to put on my old chicken clothes, plus a headband to keep my ears warm and a scarf to wear over my nose.  When I walked into the kitchen, where my parents and sister Natalie were talking, I reminded them that I didn’t know for sure whether or not Licorice, one of the four chickens hatched last spring, was a rooster.  The choice of keeping or butchering Licorice was left to me since the only life being considered was that of the chicken.  Since I was relatively certain that Licorice was a rooster, and we had a different rooster that we were keeping, I decided to go ahead and deal with all three of the chickens at the same time.  My dad handed Jesse and I each a knife that had a hinge where the handle met the blade, allowing the blade to fold into the handle so that it was covered,  and we went outside to get the process over and done.

I had watched my dad and other siblings butcher chickens before, so I had a general idea of what would look right to me, but having never done it before I was a little unsure.  Our dad wanted Jesse and I to decide what to do though, so we chose a branch on the sycamore tree for the slip knot of twine to be used for holding the chickens up by their feet and Jesse placed the round, white table near there.  After I attached the twine to the tree branch, my dad showed me how to tie a slip knot for the chicken’s feet.  Having arranged the cleaning area to our satisfaction, we went to the chicken pen to catch the three roosters.

Usually, when I go into the chicken pen, all the chickens rush up to me, trying to tip the bucket of grain that’s in my hand.  This time though, they all moved a little farther away.  I realized that they would probably be more friendly if I had a bucket full of grain in, so I ran back to the garage for it.  When I came back to the pen, clucking at them with bucket in hand, the chickens among them that didn’t mind people so much came up to me.  Happily, two of the roosters we wanted to catch were among the first to approach me.  I picked up one, handed it to Jesse and went back for the other.

When I walked to him with the second bird, Jesse told me he would rather catch the third rooster than stand and hold the other two, Marzipan and Licorice, so I took them, one under each arm, anticipating the fun of watching someone else chase a scared chicken in circles around the pen.  The rooster, Truffle, managed to avoid his would-be captor’s hands and ran over to the side of the pen were I was standing.  Jesse and I cornered him; however,  he slipped past me.  I had tried to catch him between my body and the fence since my hands were full with the other two roosters, but I was too late.  At that point, Dad came in the pen to help us catch Truffle.  The two roosters in my arms were getting nervous, so I didn’t try to help in catching Truffle anymore until he ran to the corner near the chicken coop.  The coop is situated in the pen so that if there was only one person chasing  it, a chicken could always escape around the other side.  Dad and Jesse went around the coop on one side and I went on the other side.  Truffle was nicely silly enough to run inside the coop and into a nesting box where we could easily catch him.  Jesse raised the lid to the nesting boxes and, while I held the lid open, he extricated the large rooster from the hen sized nesting box.

We triumphantly walked back with the three roosters to the area we had set up for butchering.  Jesse began, fastening his rooster’s feet with the twine.  When it was my turn, I placed the rooster’s feet through the slip knot, tightening it, then held the neck firmly away from the body with my left hand and holding the knife in my right hand, cut the head off at the neck, using my body weight to help get through quickly.  As soon as the cut was finished, I jumped back to avoid being splattered with blood when the chicken’s after-death reflexes made the body flail for a few moments.  After each of us had gone through that first step, Dad pulled the tail feathers off of each one and we put them in a plastic bag for me to save them.

Using the knife that Dad had given me, I cut through the skin along the underside, then cut it away from the body up to the wings and down to the legs.                      

I pulled the flight feathers off of the wings, clearing them away from the second joint.  I cut through the second joints on both wings, and cut through the joint that attached the foot to the leg.  The chicken was beginning to look light one you might find in plastic wrapping at the store.  The light started to fade more quickly, so we moved the table up onto the back patio where there were a couple of lights.  By that point, Dad had completely finished with his chicken, and Jesse was ready to rinse his, which he did by swishing it through warm water in a large metal bowl and picking off what feathers he could.

For me, it was time to reach my hand inside the chicken and pull the organs and anything else I could grab, out.  Basically, the only things I wasn’t supposed to take away, were the bones and the meat.  I cut away a large glob of fat that was located near where the tail had been, to make the hole for my hand bigger.  I had expected the entrails to come out much more easily than they did, I found it difficult to hold them in such a way as to make it possible to pull on them.  In the process of figuring out how to hold the squishy stuff and pull on it at the same time, I accidentally broke an intestine, which was exactly what I was trying not to do.  I found that there were many more little bits and pieces of the internal system packed tightly in there than I had previously realized.  When I finally had everything out of the chicken, I rinsed the bird as well as I could in the water that Jesse and Dad had already used, then Natalie got me some clean warm water to finish rinsing it in.  I enjoyed the feeling of the warm water, since the chicken’s body had failed to keep my hands warm while I was performing the last step.  I placed the clean chicken in a plastic bag with the other two chicken’s, glad to be finished with the process for now.

Of course, we weren’t completely finished, since there was still some clean up to be done.  I gathered what trash I could and stuffed it into the bag we had specifically for that purpose, while Jesse cleaned off the bloody table.  Then I finally went inside the house.  I washed my hands three times before I was satisfied of their complete cleanliness, not wanting them to smell like the inside of a chicken for the rest of the day and the day after.  I went back outside to place the bag of feathers I was saving in the garage, then went inside and washed my hands a fourth time.

Dad offered to let me taste a piece of liver or heart that he had cooked while Jesse and I were cleaning things outside.  I had tried liver on accident a couple of times and found that I didn’t care for flavor or texture of it, so I took a very small slice of the heart instead.  It reminded me of how I remember the texture  of duck, a little bit rubbery and a very dark moist meat.  I enjoyed the taste, but the idea of eating it was strange enough to me that I was unwilling to have any more right then.  After tasting the heart muscle, I showered.  Then, satisfied that I was finally completely clean, I ate dinner, happy that I was done butchering chickens for the moment.

As long as I have chickens, there will probably be times when I will need to know how to butcher one.  I hope to hatch chicks again next year and there will almost certainly be roosters that I will need to deal with among the brood.  When that time comes, however, I will be ready to deal with every part of the procedure, from raising the chicken to killing it and cleaning up afterward.

Mistress Wilding Review

Mistress Wilding, written by Rafael Sabatini, is an historical fiction novel set during the Monmouth Rebellion(1685) in England.  This book is an excellent example of the fact that people are not always what they appear to be.  As the characters develop, they are changed by their circumstances, learning to let go of their prejudices.

Young Richard Westmacott, brother to Ruth Westmacott, becomes entangled in quarrels he would have preferred to avoid if it weren’t for his hot temper.  When he insults Mr. Wilding, he finds a problem that may require more from him than he realized.  Mr. Wilding says he will be revenged.

The beautiful heiress, Ruth Westmacott, dotes on her brother Richard, despite his questionable treatment of her.  Finding that the only way to save his life is to give herself, she makes a deal, reluctantly, to marry Mr. Wilding.  Blake, a debtor, is looking to marry Ruth and use her wealth to finance his gambling.  Hearing of her marriage, he plans to make Ruth a widow however he can, even if it involves joining King James’ spies who have once accused Blake of being involved with the rebellion.

Sabatini’s Mistress Wilding, maintains the interest of the reader, adding lively twists and turns to the plot.  As the rebellion continues to grow, the reader wonders what will happen to their favorite characters, knowing that they are involved in an unsuccessful revolt.  The story keeps a person wondering what decisions the characters will make as they continue to become enveloped in plots and schemes that lay people’s lives in their hands.

静夜思 ( Calm Night Thoughts)

床前明月光                  In front of the bed is bright moonlight

疑是地上霜                  He thinks it is frost on the ground

舉頭望明月                  He lifts the head and sees it is moonlight

低頭思故鄉                  He lowers the head and remembers his hometown