Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kung Fu Rooster and Black Cat

There is no way that a black cat is crossing this rooster's path!

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Tiniest Eggs in the World

Cleopatra - My Silver Phoenix                  c. Shobe Biz Communications

I guess my Silver Phoenix, Cleopatra, didn't get the text.

Her breed is an ancient Japanese breed that traces its heritage to over 1,000 years ago. People were smaller then and miniscule eggs were fine. But, now? 

They don't fit in the egg carton and they don't fit in the hardboiled steamer that I recently bought. But, as Mako, a friend of mine said, they make the perfect egg popper!

What can you do with small eggs? My Chicken Women Facebook page friends overwhelming said to pickle them. Melissa even posted a recipe for pickling quail eggs. Even though these are chicken eggs, I'm sure they'll taste just the same. I haven't tried the recipe yet. But, once I have a dozen or so, I think I'll pop them into the vinegar and see what happens!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cracking the Shell and Exposing the Heart

Lucia, the Sicilian Buttercup, Looks for the Heart in the Matter.    c. Shobe Biz Communications

About six months ago, I discovered the magazine Lucky Peach at the checkout counter of my favorite deli while I was paying for lunch.

"You have to get this magazine," said Anne, the deli owner. "It's the best foodie magazine I've ever seen."

I trust Anne. She's careful about the products she sells. She imports many of her foods from the finest purveyors in Italy and Greece. Her passion for providing top-notch cuisine is evidenced by the crowds that flock to her deli for breakfast and lunch.

"I've never seen this magazine before," I confessed. As a magazine junky, I'm pretty aware of what's out there. But, this was something new, something fresh, something deliciously different.

I lifted Lucky Peach up out of its acrylic rack and began flipping through the pages. It had tantalizing graphic pages and the writing was great. Lucky Peach was like taking a eye-candy walk through a gourmet food park.

"The magazine's not cheap," Anne confessed, "but it's worth every penny."

So, I bought the first edition and devoured it. Every article was deliciously good.

Recently, I purchased the fourth edition, spurred on by the title of an article inside, On Eggs, by Harold McGee (illustrations by Tony Millionaire). Harold McGee is an American culinary writer who writes about the chemistry of food and cooking. He's also a published author noted for his books On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen and Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes.

In On Egg, McGee talks about the art of the easy peel hard boiled egg. As chicken owners, most of us know that the fresher the egg, the harder it is to peel. But, do we know why? I didn't until McGee shed some light.

McGee stated, "Freshly laid eggs slowly lose moisture and carbon dioxide through their porous shells, and the loss of carbon dioxide causes their whites to become more alkaline. The pH of the egg white of the freshly laid egg starts out at a slightly alkaline 7.5. Food scientists have found that when the pH rises above 9, the egg becomes easy to peel. Apparently, the change in pH makes the egg-white proteins adhere less strongly to the thin, tough membrane attached to the inner surface of the shell, but we still don't know how or why."

McGee further stated that the required change in pH takes only a couple of days at room temperature but it takes two weeks or longer to happen in the refrigerator.

In essence, colder temperatures means it takes longer to properly peel an egg.

Isn't the same thing true for people?

The colder the people with whom we surround ourselves the longer it takes for us to reveal ourselves?

Over the last two weeks, I have had the good fortune to participate in a nonprofit retreat and a writers workshop. Both served as reminders that it takes genuine warmth and tender care for people to shed their shells . When people feel safe, they'll open up. And, when they open up, the energy of the group shifts and changes. The weighty hardness of life magically dissipates into a lightness of being. It's as if everyone in the room can finally breathe.

Wounds create heaviness; love creates lightness.

In all forms of spirituality, no matter what religion, there is a huge emphasis on the heart. In Sanskrit, the heart is represented as the fourth chakra and the colors of pink or green. The fourth chakra governs the heart, circulatory system, blood, lungs, rib cate, diaphragm, thymus, breasts, esophagus, shoulders, arms, and hands.

Perhaps this is why we our when our heart's broken, our chest physically hurts.

My father-in-law was a witty man, the kind who could command the attention of nearly everyone in the room with his intellect and humor. He was also difficult and demanding. His brilliant wit could turn acerbic in a twist of minute.

He and I were close. I reveled in his word play. He in mine. He also looked like the dashing Jimmy Stewart, an actor who I adored in the movie It's a Wonderful Life. I felt easy around my father-in-law. I felt light.

He lived to a ripe old age, as commanding of the Earth's time as he was of people's attention. And, he had the good fortune to meet his demise surrounded by the love of his wife, family and friends.

As Jack lay dying on his bed, I carried on a conversation with him, one consisting of touch more than words. I stroked his arms and held his hands. I watched as the lack of circulation advanced from his extremities to his core. I heard the death breath rattle in his chest. I thanked him for being a decent and caring man and told him that all was well and he could move on. I kissed his cheek and said goodbye.

As his breath grew shallower, so did mine.

My chest heaved with asthmatic breaths, as if a thousand chickens roosted on it.  I had never experienced anything like it before. I called my doctor and she rushed me in. "Your severely asthmatic," she warned, "And, moments away from getting checked in to the hospital." She prescribed an inhaler, antibiotics and bed rest. My breath only slightly improved during the following weeks--grief still rested heavily upon me.

My love for him and the loss of him had cracked my shell. It had opened me up to the pain of having to say goodbye. His death instilled in me a greater appreciation for love and understanding of life.

I was reminded of this, again, in a mystical way, when many years later, my father passed.

Throughout my life, I've been "Daddy's little girl", a role I reveled in. I always looked to my Dad as my wise Buddha, a sage who taught me the many meanings of life. He coached me as a leader would but loved me as only a father could. He let me fail and let me win. And, he taught me the the meaning of authenticity.  "Every morning when you get up, make sure you can look at yourself in the mirror," he used to say.

My father had a long illness that gave us plenty of time to say our loving goodbyes.  On the actual day he passed away, I was at home 2,000 miles away, watching TV, a TV that sat on the marbled top of an antique chest. On either side of the long chest, were two beveled doors that opened to shelves inside. The doors were always closed because I had no reason to open them. The chest's shelves were bare.

On the night my father died, before I had received my Mother's call, I noticed that one of the doors of the chest was ajar. I turned to my partner and said, "Were you looking for something in the chest?" He said no, that he hadn't been near it and asked me why. I said, "Because the side door's open and it's never been open before." I got up from the couch, went to the chest and pushed the door closed. Then, I sat back down on the couch. A few minutes later, the door popped open, again. I turned to my partner and said, "That's so weird. There's nothing inside. I wonder why the door keeps popping open."

The phone rang. It was my Mother. "Dad just passed away," she said. We cried together as she recounted his last moments.  I remember looking at the clock. 9:35 p.m. My father-- my wise and loving father who I adored -- was dead. I would no longer see the twinkle of his blue eyes or hear the sweet melody of his voice calling out my name. The warmth of his hug was dead to me. His spirit was in me, but the sight, sound and feel of him was no more. Life would never be the same.

I sat on the couch and cried and cried. My partner held me close and comforted me. He sat with me in my silence as my memories of my father hung from my mind like ornaments on a Christmas tree. My partner gifted me silence to bask in my grief.

Before he and I rose to go to bed, I went to the chest and tried to push the door closed again. It wouldn't close all the way. I bent down to look inside.There was a tip of a red heart poking into the door. What is that, I wondered? I opened the door all of the way and discovered a big heart-shaped box filled with chocolates. It was seven months past Valentines Day. What was a full box of chocolates doing on the always empty shelf?

I asked my partner if he had left the box there. He said he had no idea why that box was there. I didn't have any memory of putting that heart-shaped box of chocolates in the chest. And, if I had months before, why hadn't it prevented the door from closing until just now?

I sat on the floor, gripping the heart-shaped box of chocolates to my chest and cried. My Dad had sent his final message, stay in your heart.

The heart-shaped box still resides on the shelf of the antique chest. It's a reminder to me to stay true to my heart. And, it's a reminder to me to be courageous in giving my heart.  Because it is only by creating a warm and loving environment for those around us--and for ourselves--that we can crack the hard shells of life's wounds and be authentically true and real. And, what a lightness to life that brings.

Harold McGee, the food writer, may have said it best when he wrote in his article, "I realized that the shell is the main obstacle to changing the chemical environment within."

Perhaps it's time to crack open your shell and gift your heart?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Separating from the Flock

Zen, The Black Silkie                      copyright Shobe Biz Communications

Last Sunday was a steamy summer Sunday, so hot and humid it erased the coming of autumn from my mind.

I filled a plastic storage tub on the patio with cool water for the dog. Then, I walked up to coop for a "chicken check." Chickens have a difficult time in heat and die quickly without water. I needed to see if I should put out a shallow pan of water out for chickens to walk in or needed to make a quick run to the grocery store for some watermelon for them to peck at.
At the door to the coop, the chickens had gathered, some scratching their beaks back-and-forth against the avian-wired door. I opened the door and they jail-broke, each one of them skedaddling their tail feathers down the long path away from the coop. 

Except for one--my black Silkie, Zen. For some reason, Zen, in her densely-feathered body with overly-feathered feet, did not race for the door. She held back from the others. Silkies are a more timid breed, and this timidity often separates her from the flock. Sir Lancelot, the black-crested white polish rooster, protects her like a older brother—when he sees her standing alone, he prances over to her side and lets her walk in his shadow.

I waited until Sir Lancelot came back for Zen and then went inside the coop. 

The water fount was brimming with water but I still decided to freshen it up a bit. There was no obvious signs of heat exhaustion in the chickens; in fact, they seemed rather spunky. All was well. I walked back down the hill to begin my busy day.

My oldest brother and his fiancĂ©e were coming to town from my home state in the Midwest and joining us for dinner. I was excited because I hadn’t seen my brother for two years and I was looking forward to the time to get to know his fiancee even better.

I had a list longer than ticker tape of things to do. I had to clean up the puppy’s diggings that had blackened the patio. I had to scrub the house from a week’s use. And, I had to prepare something for dinner. I guessed doggy treats simply wouldn’t do.

I mentally calculated my tasks and the time I had left. There was only five hours—not much time to pull it together. I chastised myself for procrastinating and swore that I would move fast, despite the broiling heat.

I had just finished my tasks and slipped into my summer's dress when my brother and his impending wife knocked at the front door. Everyone made their greetings doused in a lot of good humor and laughter. For the first time in awhile, my house overflowed with the warm feeling of family.

I love being around my brother, always have. As a child, he brought me to his baseball games and would let me tag-along with his friends. I learned a lot about the way boys and young men move in the world by hanging out with him. At his high school graduation party, I was the only non-high schoolgirl allowed into the “den” where his friends gathered. He never even uttered a word when I developed a schoolgirl crush on some of his friends.

My oldest brother is my rooster. He has saved me more than a few times—from hurt feelings, from attacks from other kids, and, once, when I was five, when I fell under the ice of a backyard pond. It was my brother's fierce grip that pulled me from the depths of the freezing waters.

We were all sitting down to dinner when a large ruckus of hen noise began on the hill. My daughter asked me, “Mom, do the chickens always make that much noise?”

I shook my head “no,” and waited, silently, listening for other signs.

The squawking continued, getting more desperate and louder than before. It was a kind of noise I've never heard.

Knowing that chickens have different sounds for different predators, I ran from the patio and up the hill, taking the steps two at a time. As I moved down the long path toward the coop, I saw that almost all of the hens had taken roost inside. But not the little black Silkie, Zen. She was stranded outside with my cat, Sequoia, barricading the door. Sequoia’s tail was swishing back-and-forth, his lips smacking. 

I ran into the coop, reprimanding Sequoia and gathering him in my arms. I figured grabbing him was the safer bet, because if I tried to grab Zen and missed, her ensuing flight would make her a target. With Sequoia tucked in my arms, Zen waddled by me, flew on the roost, and joined the flock. The hens quieted down. I secured the coop.

We all settled back into dinner. Family stories danced on the table under the evening stars merry light.

It became the hour when it was time to go. We hugged and said our goodbyes.

I stood at the front door and waved as my brother and his fiancee pulled out of the driveway and drove down the street.  And, then I walked inside, shut the front door, and leaned up against it, tears welling in my eyes.

My mind flooded with memories of childhood. Good memories, sad memories, difficult memories and funny memories, too. My mind was a well of deep moments into which I could always dip my bucket.

One memory really held me, prompted my the sight of my brother driving off. I was standing by my parents in the driveway of my Midwestern childhood home, next to my car with its big sign penned by my sister in my car's side window that read, "California or Bust."  I was bubbling with excitement about my move to the West Coast, nervous, too. I gave my Mom and Dad each a warm hug, said "goodbye", and then opened my car, sat down in the driver's seat, put my key in the ignition, and started the engine. As I backed down the driveway just a few feet away, I stopped for a moment to look at my Dad's face. There was an indescribable sadness etched into his usually merry blue eyes. It's a look I'll never forget.

I was separating from my flock, and for my parents and me, it would never be the same.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Concrete Jungles

Banana Tree                                     copyright Shobe Biz Communications

Figs, strawberries, clematis and heliotrope all grow in a sixty-six square feet of outdoor space in an urban garden in Brooklyn. Penelope Green wrote about it in the New York Times story, Tiny Concrete Jungles.

It doesn't matter how small the space, beauty and relaxation can be found anywhere. Challenge yourself to create your own special space, a space that makes the world seem good, even if it's a corner in a room. And, if it's outdoors, add in some chickens, if you feel you can be a responsible owner. Chickens add such a liveliness to a backyard. No matter what your mood, a half hour with the chickens will have you giggling.

If you missed my former blog about the inviting urban space built in downtown Chicago by a friend of mine and her husband, its pretty incredible what they did "between highrises." They even raised chickens in the space. Read about it on Chi-Town Chickens

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Striking A Chord With. . .Caterpillars?

Little Sprouts Visit Doodle Doo Farmette      
When I received the email from my friend, "May I bring my grandsons for a visit?" I was so excited that I could barely contain my enthusiasm. "Of course," I responded and scheduled a time.

The only people who have visited Chicken Women's coop to date have been adults. Don't get me wrong. I love adults, but I love children even more. Everything is so new and fresh for them. Their worlds are filled with "firsts"--first tooth, first day of school, first bike ride, first win.

Knowing the kids were suburban kids, I figured this was probably the boys first time seeing live chickens. I decided it was my responsibility to make sure their "first" experience with chickens was good. 

But, how was I going to do that?

I started with the standard thing: tidying up the coop. I raked out the shavings and spread a new, poop-free layer. I even added in a topping of  hay-grass to give the coop that "authentic farm" look.

Then, I went to the local home improvement store and purchased two metal buckets with handles. I found some Easter basket straw (the miracle of this is not to be underestimated) and lined the buckets with it. 

On Monday morning, about an hour before they all arrived, I took 10 freshly-laid eggs out from the  refrigerator, wiped off the condensation on them, and put them in the nesting box. Because only one of my hens is currently laying, I didn't want the boys to be disappointed if there were no eggs or, heaven forbid, just one in the box. (When there're two children, you have to make sure everything's even.)

When the boys arrived, they were wide-eyed and ready to go. They grabbed their metal buckets and began tromping up the hill. (That was, after a quick look in the box holding the newbie chicks.)  I asked the boys if one of them would like to open the coop's door, but they both said "no". I explained that every morning I had to let the chickens out, fill their water fount and top off their food pellets. They listened attentively and then jumped aside as the hens skedaddled their little rear ends out of the coop and right past them.

I gave the boys each a scoop of scratch and seeds and had them throw it downhill. The hens were overjoyed. The boys' faces held curious looks that seemed to say "well, this is different and it might be fun."

Then, I took them inside the coop and told them they could look for eggs. They soon filled up their baskets with the "planted" eggs and then headed out the door. "The Coolest of Cool" (according to his t-shirt) decided that if you could throw scratch and seeds downhill, then the bucket of eggs, too, might be best thrown over. His nimble mother caught the bucket handle just before the eggs went tumbling.

Only a few eggs cracked from impact before we made it down the hill.

We ended up on my backyard patio, where the hens were soon forgotten because a yellow jacket was flying around and swallowtail caterpillars were eating passionfruit leaves. The boys examined the leaves, mesmerized by the caterpillars' colors, their legs, and the fact they soon would be turning into butterflies. 

Their fascination prompted me to punch holes in a mason jar and add in some passion fruit leaves and one very large swallowtail caterpillar. The jar was sent home with the boys. When the visit was finished, I think there was no doubt the caterpillars won out over the chickens.

But, isn't that how it goes with children? We never know what's going to strike a chord. As adults, our job is to keep offering children a wide variety of "firsts." The kids? They'll figure out how to take it from there.

P.S. I want to thank my friend, her daughter, and her adorable grandsons for coming over. What a gorgeous and gracious family. And, what a beautiful start it was to my week.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Chick, The Buddha and The Hummingbird

Sicilian Buttercup Chooses An Interesting Roost         c. Shobe Biz Communications

Lucia, my Sicilian Buttercup, chose an interesting roost today. She roosted long enough for me to capture it.


Last night, as I was searching for a tool in the garage, I heard the whir of a hummingbird. The bird was trapped by the darkness, futilely seeking light. I couldn't find a way to release it. It had to find its own way. So, I left the door open hoping that, at morning light, it would find its way to freedom.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chagall's Bride and Groom and the Rooster

The Bride and Groom of the Eiffel Tower            Marc Chagall 1939

For much of my life, I have been an admirer of Marc Chagall's work. The mystical movement that he captures on canvas is so poetic in nature that his paintings seem to dance to the rhythm of a musical score.

Many of his paintings seem like representations of my own fanciful dreams, dreams to which I am prone but cannot manifest artfully onto canvas.

Poet and critic Guilluame Appollinaire once said that Chagall's work is "supernatural." Here. Here. I couldn't agree more. For this reason, Chagall's paintings move me to my core.

The Bride and The Groom of the Eiffel Tower recently caught my eye because Chagall painted a rooster behind the bride and the groom. It's as if the newly-wedded couple is riding upon the rooster's wings--like a magic carpet ride, the rooster lifts them into the sky and toward the heavens. The bride and groom's feet are no longer firmly planted on the ground. Instead, they are drawn into flight.

According to Art Revived, the cow that turns into the fiddle in the upper right of the painting is supposed to represent the nursery rhyme about the cat with the fiddle and the cow jumping over the moon. The rooster is supposed to come from another unnamed nursery rhyme.

Unnamed nursery rhyme? Personally, I wonder if Chagall wasn't referencing the ancient Greek meaning of rooster as a harbinger of the sun.  In Chagall's painting, there are two suns:  the actual sun in the upper left corner and the rooster carrying the couple. Marriages are new beginnings, a time where the "light" shines doubly-bright.  A marriage of love brings connection; hope, and a kind of warmth and security that spawns growth.

The Eiffel Tower is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The wedded couple stands in front of the Eiffel Tower. Chagall lived much of his life in France, so that could be the reason for the Eiffel Tower. But, the Eiffel Tower could also represent the structure of marriage--the stretching of love to its tallest point, reaching high for the sky and the stars while resting on a strong, solid, and wide base of supportive family and friends.

When I visited the Eiffel Tower years ago, I laid on my back on the cement underneath the tower and aimed my camera up into the tower's "belly". I shot photo after photo after photo until I ran out of film. I was fascinated by the tower's divine webbing, how its interlaced metal joined together to create a piece of art that was as intriguing as it was entertaining. It was like lying under the Great Pyramid and feeling the energy of the many hands that went into its building.

The suns, the fiddles, the wedded couple and the Eiffel Tower--Chagall understood that love is a gentle dance played by fiddlers under the glow of two suns. He knew that upon a rooster's back, a perspective is gained of the heaven and skies that only a couple with courage to fly can see. And, perhaps, he knew, instinctively or not, that marriage, and the duration of it, is the eighth wonder of the modern world.

What I love best about art is that it has different meanings for each person. Does Chagall speak to you?

For more information on the ancient meanings of the rooster, check out my previous blog post, Harbingers of the Sun.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Bottoms Up!

Bottoms Up                     copyright; Shobe Biz Communications

Ah...the start of another beautiful summer weekend. Bottoms Up!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Revolt of the Molt

Coachie, the Giant Partridge Cochin, has begun to molt                                 copyright Shobe Biz Communications
My young hen, Coachie, lost her boa. Her brown and amber necklace went missing.

When I first discovered Coachie's feathers were gone, I eyed the rest of the hens with suspicion. Which little aggressive bugger had pecked her feathers out?

Was it Diamond? No, Diamond would never do such a thing. She and Coachie have been best buds from the beginning.

Could it be the pullets?  Probably not. They're a bit young for alpha behavior.

As a chicken detective, I was running out of clues. I decided to take a step back to review the case.

Fact #1:  Coachie's egg production had been slowly diminishing. For seven of the eight months of her life, Coachie had laid an egg every day. During the last two weeks, she "popped" an egg every three days. Bottom line: Coachie's production is down.

Fact #2:  Molting is supposed to happen once a year, especially when daylight and temperature decreases. Well, that wasn't applicable. The days are longer and hotter than ever before. Bottom line: There must be some other clue.

Fact #3:  Molting happens due to hormonal fluctuations. Well, that makes sense. With all the new births around here, there's certainly been a surge of estrogen. And, with the placement of the new chicks in the coop, there's probably been a lot of stress. Bottom line: This could be the reason. . .

(FYI, if a molt begins, it is recommended the chickens be removed from any stress. Remember that guys--if your woman's going through hormonal fluctuations, you might want to remove her stress!)

Fact #4:  According to Molting 101, molting happens in this order: head, neck, body, wings and tail. (For some twisted reason, this order reminds me of the song Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes but that's probably because I've been singing nursery rhymes for a good part of the day.) Coachie's head still sports feathers. And, so does her body, wings, and tail, too. Hmmm...this is becoming a case for Inspector Clouseau not a neophyte chicken lover.

Fact #5:  Temporary feed and water shortages can cause a partial molt. The food is aplenty and the water is ever-flowing. Bottom line: Fact #5 is not a problem.

In the midst of investigating the cause for the molt, a friend called and asked if she could come see my chickens.

"Um," I said, a brilliant reply to a straightforward question. "I don't think so, at least not today."

"How about tomorrow?"

"No. . .," I sighed, "Not tomorrow either."

Silence clouded the phone.

"Can I come see the chickens, some time?" she asked.

"Well, I'm kind of busy. Let me email you when they're good."

Good? My last word lingered like a dragonfly in the air. How was I supposed to tell her that one of my beautiful chickens had turned into an ugly duckling? That Coachie simply wasn't ready for her debut? And, why did it matter to me, I wondered. They're only chickens. They don't need to be perfect.


a nasty word that keeps us going 100 miles per hour on a circular hamster wheel. Is there ever a true ending to perfection? Is there even a tangible definition for this word?

Why was I embarrassed by my chicken? So, what if her raw pink decolletage was showing through. Did it really matter?

Julia Cameron's quote about perfection says it best:
     "Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part   
      that tells us nothing we do will ever be good enough--that we should try again."

That was it. Coachie's early molt made me worried that I had done something wrong--that I hadn't been the perfect Chicken Woman; that my friend would notice my ugly chicken and look askance at me.

Perfectionism is fear-based. It's a negative belief that something better exists than what is.  It's a word of the head, not of the heart. Perfectionism is an ethereal flawlessness.

The Japanese word wabi-sabi celebrates the beauty of imperfection, impermanence, and incompletion. Japanese artists often make a small mistake in their work as a gentle reminder that nothing's perfect.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There's a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
             -Leonard Cohen

Nothing is perfect -- even the looks of my once-beautiful chicken.

Upon further research, I discovered that Cochins often go into a mini-molt around seven months. Afterwards, their feathers grow in thicker and their eggs are larger. Molting has its rewards--even though there's incredible ugliness in between.

Looks like I have a call to make. It's time to invite my friend over.