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Month: July 2011

When Chickens Turn Bad

When Chickens Turn Bad

Now I love chickens as much as the next man. Not in a creepy way; I don’t have knitwear with pictures of chickens on them or even any amusing chicken ornaments. But as you know, I’ve put a lot of effort into building the Celestial Coop and optional run, so much so that it’s starting to resemble Gormenghast.

That’s ok because the Ladies Who Lay have been delivering the goods. Unfortunately and with great sadness, I have to say that one of them has Turned Bad.

I understand why and of course I’m sympathetic. Every one of them has come from a broken home. They’ve had their beaks trimmed so they have a hint of platypus duck to them and that can’t be easy to live with. Some bastard keeps nicking their eggs and then locking them inside when all they want to do is be outside pulling up the grass. However, three of them have risen above those tough beginnings and have grown into fine, compassionate lady fowl.

The fourth, let’s affectionately call her “B” after her namesake of Prisoner Cell Block H fame, is still working through some issues. She’s moody and carrying a little extra weight over her sister chickens. She’s loud-beaked and likes to be first into everywhere. If she were a person, I could imagine an extensive wardrobe of dungarees and numerous headscarves with offensive prints. But without a doubt, she’s the top lady. The Big Clucker With A Grudge.

In hindsight, placing our three little chickens into that dysfunctional family was an error. Harvey, Custard and Sunshine had, up to then, led a fairly idyllic life. Plenty of organic food, as much wood shavings as they could kick and scratch across the floor. No cleaning up and round-the-clock protection from cats and other 2 year old predator boys. In that environment, Harvey was growing into a loveable yet rebellious teenager, his cock-swagger developing nicely like any other east-London wide-boy.

But then he met B and the reign of terror began almost immediately. Her mad unblinking eye barely left him as we carefully introduced the two little flocks. In fairness to Harvey, she’s three times bigger than him and has very little in the way of a sense of humour. So I didn’t hold it against him when he hid behind the bale of straw with Custard and Sunshine. I mean, if I met a mad chicken that was three times my size and looked like she wanted to eat me, I’d probably look for a handy place to hide too.

We were careful for the first few days to never leave the two flocks together alone even though I kept making novice statements like:

“Ah, they’ll work it out.”
“They have to be let out sooner or later.”
“They’re fairly stupid, they’ll probably not even notice them.”

We confined the chicks to the Celestial Coop during the days and the Ladies were booted into the Run. Perhaps that led to some bad feeling, who knows? But as I kept saying, “sooner or later” they had to meet and of course the first to explore the Run was Harvey. Unfortunately, while she is certainly not a Mensa candidate, B did notice him.

There’s no other way to explain what happened next, except to say Harvey got bitch slapped. He took ten of the best, trousers down. B gave him a spanking he’s unlikely to forget and showed about as much mercy as Arnie in The Terminator.

She pecked his head until the skin burst open on his neck. You’d think that would have been enough, but no. B proceed to peck until the skin peeled away to expose the whole back of his neck. The pain must have been excruciating. I found him squeezed up against the Run’s door. His head was tucked so far under his body to hide from the assault that at first I thought she’d eaten it.

Honestly, I thought he might have been better off dead because the wound wasn’t something I could see him surviving. After I got him home, Emma bathed it, cradled him for a few hours and then slathered antiseptic cream on it.

We don’t have much in the way of private medical coverage here, but after surviving that first night, Emma has done her best to make sure Harvey gets the full BUPA treatment. He has a private room with full-height window, gets his backside cleaned twice daily of any chickeny mess, has fresh food and water hand-delivered on saucers and is positioned in the kitchen so he doesn’t get lonely. Each evening he gets to lay on a towel on the sofa and watch TV for an hour. He’s even had a boiled egg which — before you start complaining about us turning him into a cannibal or creating a living incubator for Mad Avian Disease — we made sure came from B so that’s fair justice to my mind.

All in all, Harvey is doing alright out of his misfortune. Certainly better than his chicken sisters who are now in secure confinement inside the Celestial Coop, having to watch in terror as B paces the perimeter of their cage, ceaselessly searching for some chink in the defences.

The situation can’t continue. So, I’m starting Charlie Ark tomorrow. It’ll be a bit like a minimum security prison. Not so big and imposing as the Celestial Coop. A snug portable home for three small chickens where they can live free from the terror of B and her inexplicable ability to make her face disappear to avoid photos.



I’m half way through a blog post but to be honest, I’ve just been too tired and busy to complete it. So instead, here’s some rather nice pictures of the land wreathed in mist that I took on my iPhone when I was there tonight putting the Ladies Who Lay to bed. Enjoy the peace.












Peace and Quiet

Peace and Quiet

Peace and quiet are hard to come by at the moment.  Life is busy, filled with activity and bustle as we move between feeding chickens, play dates, homeschool, chores and whatever else gets thrown up in the course of a day.  Plus living in a rental house on a bus route and flight path does not lend itself to contemplative solitude.   Being woken up by the sound of an interlock driveway being carved up is not my idea of relaxing.

Last night I escaped did dutiful work putting the chickens to bed and experienced some moments of ridiculously pleasant relaxation and quiet.  I sat upstairs in my timber house, looking at the progress, watching the sun go down and listening to the birds calling their evening songs.  The tension eased out of my body and I contemplated the view that I will hopefully be looking at every day for many, many years to come.

I wonder if I will ever get tired of it, if it will ever fail to stun me and bring me peace?  Somehow, that is something I just can’t imagine.  So when it all gets a bit much this is where I imagine myself, I conjure up the sounds, the breeze and the movement of the wind.  For those moments I am at peace.

Sew Awesome

Sew Awesome

I can go no further without mentioning a very happy moment in my life.  You may not realise it but October (and my birthday) has already rolled around and Christmas was over a week ago.   Surprised by this news?  Well maybe it was only in our house which would explain this:

I forgive you for being overcome but I caution you that licking the screen could generate some unpleasant static sensations.  Instead simply sit back and enjoy the loveliness of the Viking Emerald 203.  She is shiny, computerised and is as smooth as silk.   She has 103 stitches, speed control, a stop button that finishes a complete embroidery stitch so you never have a half stitch and a needle up down button that allows you to choose where you want the needle to begin and end.  There are so many glories about this machine I can’t even list them all.

The thing that I love the most (well it’s an equal tie with a few different features) is the way this machine starts.  No judders, catching, nesting of the thread, stopping, ripping holes in fabric, going too fast or too slow or both within a weird time frame that then causes the machine to jam up…. No this beauty just goes.

She was a surprise gift from Stephen and my Dad, an early birthday/Christmas gift and, I suspect, partly to stop me from whining continually and generally moping about the place and sighing whilst looking at pattern books.  It worked. I think I am at risk of becoming addicted to sewing, I am just loving using this machine sooooo much.   In the last week I’ve made some shorts for Neirin, repaired a dress, made a table mat with decorative stitching and made Huwyl a play cape.

This is the project I want to share because it is the one I am most proud of and one I made knowing I was going to be using my new machine. All credit to the pattern from Growing Up Sew Liberated, a book I am really enjoying and am eying up many other projects for the boys and for gifts.  Like all Meg’s patterns the instructions are really accurate and the patterns work beautifully.  The fabric was actually one I was given, a curtain my friend had no use for that became this lovely hooded cape.

As you can see above this is a serious cape for a serious wizard (that was Huwyl’s serious wizard face), Huwyl has worn it quite a lot since I gave it to him on Sunday and I am really pleased with the way it fits him.  I added a star detail around the hood and bottom of the cape to fancy it up a bit and, well basically because I could.  That’s another thing I love about this machine, it has embroidery stitches that you can happily use for boy things as well as lots of lovely flowers and hearts.  Keep your eyes peeled for more boy embroidery to come!

I have a hat cut out for Huwyl and grand plans for shorts and another play cape for Neirin as well as some t-shirts and bags…that should keep me occupied for a while.  But when you have such an appreciative recipient, could you resist?

6 Years Boy

6 Years Boy

This week we celebrated our big boy’s 6th birthday.  The day itself hit a temperature high of 47C (about 120F) so we escaped with friends to an air conditioned bowling alley during the day.  During the evening we consoled ourselves with movies and ice lollies, all appropriate for a birthday.

But The Big Day was really Saturday, the day of Huwyl’s party.  For a simple affair it seemed to take an enormous amount of work!  Stephen managed to build a new playhouse for the kids to paint and had mowed nature trails in the lower field the weekend before; it has to be said he was the hero of the day.   All of my fretting and preparing and baking was all worth it, but all also a little unnecessary, as I witnessed the easy joy of the fabulous group of friends who joined us on a very, very hot afternoon.

The kids took to the painting with enormous glee and would have required nothing more to keep them happy.  But after a break for lollies, ice cream, fruit and juice we decided to take them on the nature trail hunt.  They were searching for their Nature Explorers Kit (more on this later in the week) which was their take away gift.  Parents and children alike braved the absolutely massive trail that Stephen had cut and we (just about) managed not to lose anyone.  Well not permanently anyway.

What really made the day special was the kids themselves, their happiness and enthusiasm reigned supreme.  They embraced the day with an excitement that was infectious and it reminded me of how lucky I am to share my life with such amazing friends, big and small.

We sent them all home covered in paint, water (from the water balloons), sticky, chocolatey, dirty of foot and smiley of face.  All in all the perfect outcome.

Let us not forget, though, the reason for all the celebrating.  My 6 years boy, my very own lightening strike.  6 years ago he turned us upside down as he arrived 3 months early amid fearful ambulance rides and police escorts, months of hospital living and agonised adoration.  Every day since he has challenged us, surprised us and loved us with the passion he gives to all things in his life.

A chap worth celebrating I would say.  Happy Birthday my lovely boy.

Thanks for coming to our party lovely friends!

Tractors and Tornados

Tractors and Tornados

It’s been an odd kind of day. My eldest son turns 6 this week and we’re planning him a birthday party on the land. But since we don’t really have a house yet, Emma had the imaginative idea to make it an adventure party. After all, what good is 100 acres if you can’t use it to occupy twenty kids under six?

The big “bottom field” on the land has been used for hay in the past and is really overgrown. The grass must stand about 7 feet high or more and is quite perfect for maze making. Now, that’s a big responsibility for George The Tractor, especially since he’s not a very happy tractor at the moment. I took him out for a spin a couple of weeks ago and he got hot. Very hot. Now, granted the temperature was mid-30s anyway, but the temp gauge on George’s dashboard was pointing to a level where your average vulcanologist would begin whistling nervously and sidle quickly away from the vicinity.

Apparently the problem stems from a broken hand throttle and dodgy dashboard electrics. That means I have to use the foot pedal which revs the engine too high and get’s the temperature up.

But today the risk was worth it.

There have been some truly impressive corn circles throughout recent history (see the photo of one), but none have been so grand as The Metcalfe Swirls. At least that’s what I imagine they’ll call them. Air Canada passengers are probably already marveling over the amazing symmetry and intricacy of the spirals. Wondering in fact, whether this awesome creation could be anything but the work of extraterrestrials.

Myself, I am only concerned about one thing: after unleashing the children, whether we’ll ever see them again. Because this maze is about 200m square and the grass is 7ft tall and home to several species of snake, luminous frog and possibly panthers. Emma is going to post parents at regular intervals but honestly, I’m thinking we might need a chopper. An “eye in the sky” so to speak. Or perhaps some radio tags for them to wear. Undoubtedly the kids will love it. Any hint of danger just makes my boys want to do it more.

So hopefully the only casualty from this mammoth maze-making enterprise will be George, who sustained a broken bolt on one of his 3 point hitch arms and sadly couldn’t continue on to complete the mowing of home field. He limped off like an Argentinian footballer that ran into a mildly firm tackle. Luckily, the mechanic from Rath Equipment is due to come and fix him on Tuesday so hopefully they can sell me a new bolt and help me get it installed.

I took the opportunity to slope home without shame and take the boys to the pool before we all boiled and collapsed into a unpleasant jelly. We joined a private swimming pool in Manotick at the start of the year and I must admit to being sceptical about it. After all, it was fairly expensive and I’m tighter than a gnat’s chuff when it comes to spending money on silly things like practicalities. But, all praise to Emma’s foresight, it actually is utterly awesome. The kids love it to bits. In fact, the only thing Neirin likes better is the ice lollies he gets to keep him hydrated.

After a couple of hours soaking up some sun and splashing about like a cat in a bath, we headed home for dinner. I mowed yet more grass, tidying the neglected rental-house garden and finished just as the first hints of clouds appeared on the horizon. Perhaps I should have checked the weather, but after such a glorious day the ferocity of the storm that was about to hit Ottawa wasn’t at all expected. So, Huwyl and I cheerfully jumped into the Jetta and headed out to the farm to put the chickens to bed for the night.

The sky continued to get darker as we drove but the first few strikes of lightening were far enough away that I wasn’t concerned. Summer storms aren’t that unusual here and we’ve told Huwyl that it’s just the god Thor drinking with his buddies in the clouds and being too loud. But this one came on fast. Like, Carl Lewis in spandex leggings fast.

There’s a stretch of Snake Island Road just before it intersects with Stagecoach Road that has some huge open fields used by a turf / sod farm. One of the fields had been cut and was just dirt. As we approached it, I saw a wave of dust flying across and engulf the truck ahead of us. That truck can’t have been more than 50 yards ahead but all I could see were its tail lights vanishing in the murk. Before we got there I looked left and saw the dirt swirling in a wide cylinder coming at us rather quickly. It’s pretty amazing how fast the human mind can think when in a dangerous situation. If only I could operate at that speed all the time, I’d have secured world peace by now and have the answer to why Belgium exists.

It isn’t just the speed of thought, it’s that thoughts can be imagined, processed and decisions made in parallel. So while I was thinking “oh gods, a frickin tornado is going to scoop us up like that cow in Twister”, I was also thinking, “Oh shit, my firstborn son and heir is in this car” and “brake or floor it?” and “huh, pretty, I wonder what the equation is to model that…”

In the end, I decided to floor it. The back end of the car wasn’t happy and there was a good amount of dust on the road but we rocketed past and left the tornado to pass the road about 20 yards behind us.

The rest of the drive wasn’t any less scary. The road after that field is lined with trees and they were bending like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. Not fun when they’re also raining down heavy branches onto the road. Somehow we made it unscathed to the farm and got the chickens into the coop. In fairness, two had the good sense to go in by themselves. The other two (who shall hereafter be known as the blonde twins) were huddled under the ramp and didn’t kick up a fuss when Huwyl and I flung them inside. With the lightening crackling and rain pelting down on us, Huwyl ran into the basement of the house where it was safe while I recovered the tent that was in another field, lashed some tarps over the exposed piles of building materials and generally did manly things in the rain before joining Huwyl in the basement.

There was some pretty impressive thunder and lightening so we waited it out for 15 mins until the worst had passed. Even before completion, our house is giving us shelter which is cool. The drive home was easier, except for the two fallen trees and debris on the road. I was glad we were in the Jetta; the Germans know how to make a solid car and they don’t come much heavier than a diesel Volkswagen.

Huwyl was a star. Didn’t panic, cry out or get concerned. He did everything he was told quickly and without question. It made me proud that even though he later told me he was scared, at not-quite-six years old he was brave enough to suppress it and still help me with the chickens. He earned his big bowl of ice cream and I have to say, scary tornado stuff aside, tonight I was a happy Dad.

Happy Thoughts

Happy Thoughts

First of all thank you to everyone who left a kind comment yesterday, each one was read and brought comfort and a little smile.

And to avoid the dwelling or slipping into maudlin mode let’s celebrate the little joys of life shall we?  There’s been some fun painting going on around here recently, all ideas nicked from The Artful Parent.  First off salt line painting, very cute and effective.  As you can imagine Neirin kind of went his own way.

The second project (but part of the same painting session in case you think I never change my children’s clothes) was crayon resist.  White crayon on white paper, magically revealed by the paint.  Loved it!

I love their concentration and seriousness.  I love how they embrace each project, each new idea and explore it to death, even if that means killing it.  I love that the exploration matters more than the outcome.  And I love hearing Huwyl say “Neirin is just doing things his way isn’t he Mum?  And I’m doing things in my own way.”  Yes indeed my love; words to live by.

Smile though your heart is breaking

Smile though your heart is breaking

Three years ago today my Mama slipped from this life to the next.  It is incomprehensible to me, in my mind she could walk in to the room today and all would be normal.  Her laugh, the sound of her voice, her smell, are all as fresh to me as they were three years ago.  She is all around me yet I can’t quite pull her into this world again.

The song I’ve chosen represents my feelings about how brave my Mum was.  Even though she was given an earth shattering diagnosis she faced it with courage and determination, she never gave in.  And we never stopped believing that she would fight it off, if anyone could it would be my Mum.  If sheer force of will could move mountains she’d have been juggling them.

I remember when we found out that the round of chemo hadn’t worked as we’d hoped.  It was a tough time all round, I lost a baby that fall and Mum was facing starting chemo again before Christmas.  Despite what she was facing she still supported and comforted me during my time of loss.  I remember being on the phone and crying, so disappointed that the tumour hadn’t shrunk as we’d hoped.  She told me to be brave, to think positively.  With her encouragement I was able to push back the fear and get my chin back up.  I remember her voice saying, as she had throughout my life, “Good girl.”

Whenever there are times when I just want to fall on the floor, when I want to give up or wallow in self pity, I think of my Mum.  I think of her strength and bravery, her good humour and powerful determination.  I think about how she inspired other people with her dignity, how she inspired me.  Life is sometimes tough, sometimes downright painful.  But she never gave up, so I won’t either.  When you fall all you can do is get back up, put your chin up and focus on the horizon.

When we rise above the doubt, worry or pain, the fears and tiredness that are a part of life, we will always find something wonderful.  We will always find a reason to smile.

Sew Dead

Sew Dead

No sooner had I reported on my sewing progress than my sewing machine died.  A lot.  The scene went like this:

Me:  My denim diaper bag really needs to be fixed, I’ll quickly do that before I make Neirin’s shorts.

SewingMachine:  Hmmmmm, not so sure

Me: You can do it sewing machine, it is only two layers of denim and I am using the appropriate needle so all should be well.

SewingMachine: Seriously don’t think this is happening do you?

Me:  I am filled with optimism.

5 or 6 stitches in machine stalled, the needle stuck in the material.  A suspicious burning smell wafted past my nose.  Bugger.

Later that evening I explained to Stephen that my machine wasn’t working, would he look at it for me?  He replies “Sure, as long as there wasn’t a burning smell it can probably be fixed.”  Ummmmmmm.  Oh.

Now I could take it to the repair shop but it would probably cost more to repair than to buy a new machine, it was that cheap.  In fact the sewing machine that I had in the UK 7/8 years ago, that was second hand but great, was a better machine than this one bought new 6 years ago.

It was while I contemplated this fact that I realised something.  I don’t like my sewing machine.  I never did really.  It isn’t very powerful and I’ve not really been able to progress with my sewing because I knew my machine couldn’t handle it.  I did more complicated things before I moved here and I’d sort of convinced myself that I’m not very good anymore.  Fact is it isn’t fun to sew on a machine that constantly snags, catches and sticks.  So maybe it’s good that I now have an excuse/reason to buy a new one, right?

Weeeeeell,  sort of.  Because I’ve gone and fallen in love, yes indeedy.  Before my old machine was fully cold I was out slutting my way round sewing shops test driving new, computerised machines.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  It is a whole new world of beauty and wonder.  And cash, can’t forget that part.  The one I really loved was around $800.  That’s right.  And given that we are currently spent up building a house and buying, you know, food and stuff it is going to have to wait.  Which is ok, I can handle that.

Except.  It is weird to not have a sewing machine.  I didn’t notice how much I sew until I suddenly realised that I couldn’t.  No loot bags for Huwyl’s birthday, no quick birthday present for a child’s birthday.  No more experimenting with new sewing books.  I haven’t been without a sewing machine of my own for nearly 20 years and before that I could always use my Mum’s.  I now see how much I take for granted the ability to just make it myself and now I feel at a bit of a loss.  Bereft even.  So while I’m excited at the possibility of a machine with so many bells and whistles it is practically an orchestra, it is a long way off (if you have the patience of a two year old, like me) and in the meantime…no sewing.

For most people it is no biggy to be sans sewing machine but I grew up in a house where creating, making were a part of every day life.  When I was 18 I would buy crazy clothes from second hand shops and adjust them on my Mum’s machine.  My whole life my Mum made clothes and toys for us, it is second nature to say ‘I wonder if I could make that?’.  So while my machine wasn’t the best I will miss it and the fun of making for a while.  Is it weird that the thought of simply buying strikes me as, well, boring?

R.I.P Sewing Machine.  Sorry about the denim bag.