Chickens in the Kitchen

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal March 27, 2012

It’s spring, and every farm family knows ... the chicks are in!!! And whether we need chickens or not, who can resist spending time at the feed store watching the tiny yellow fluff balls? While some may mark spring with robins, rain or crocuses, I remember it with the familiar sound of chickens ... in my kitchen.
This delightful springtime memory began three years ago when we bought a home on two acres. Our children immediately started planning their farm. For Christmas the boys found two gift cards under the tree, courtesy of Grammy and Grandpa. The next day they purchased wood and chicken wire, made measurements and drew plans. The garage turned into a shop during Christmas break, and our cars were parked out in the snow, but all in the good name of the forthcoming chicken coop. After all of the sawing and hammering was finished, it was more like a castle. We dubbed it the “Taj MaCoop.” The boys painted it barn red and moved it outside.
During spring break, we heard about “Chick Days” at the farm store, so we all drove to town. There they were — two rows of feed tubs filled with soft, fluffy peeps. “Can we please buy the chickens today?” the children begged. “Do your research,” my husband calmed then, “and we’ll come back next week.” The following days were spent reading “chicken books” and making a list of which breeds they wanted.
The farm store received a new shipment of chicks every Monday, so we planned the first Monday after spring break to choose our chicks. That morning, we sent four ecstatic children out the door to school. “Only eight hours until we get our chicks!” one son smiled back at us.
As soon as they arrived home, the children went to work cutting a plastic water barrel in half to make a temporary chick home in our dining room. When everything was ready, we piled into the van, drove the few miles to the farm store ... and stopped. The parking lot was empty. The doors were closed. Pulling up to the front we checked the sign: Open from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. We were 15 minutes late. There was a moment of silence, and then sniffing and sobbing as the terrible truth set in: no chicks today. We slowly drove home, unloaded the empty box and sat in the house looking at the vacant barrel-home. Finally my 9-year-old daughter wiped her eyes. “All day long I kept thinking, ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,’” she said. “And we did.”
The following morning we made another plan. My husband came home from work early, my sons skipped swim team, and at 4 p.m. we trooped into the store. Armed with a notebook, budget sheet and pencils, the children announced to the clerk, “We’d like 10 chicks please.” It took an hour to select the right breeds, and then we were at the checkout register: 10 people, three carts, a bushel of feed, one bag of sawdust, one water bottle, one feeder, one heat lamp and 10 chicks. The boys counted out their money and it was done.
At home, everyone forgot about dinner until the chicks were safely inside their temporary barrel home. By the time dessert was served all 10 of the chicks had names: Henny Penny, Star, Thomas, Blackie, Redwall, Pooka, Blanket, Flower, Pepper and Snowball. No one wanted to wash dishes, no one wanted to fold laundry, no one wanted to do homework. They just held the chicks. At bedtime, the boys carried the barrel downstairs and put it in the corner of their room. By 9:30 p.m., the children were asleep, but the chickens were up scuttling around under the warm light.
The next few days were delightful. Each morning, the boys carefully carried the chicken barrel upstairs to the sunny kitchen. It was comforting to go about my day with their soft peeping in the corner of the room. Within days the baby chicks had grown, and feathers began to show.
Our dining room is spacious, but when there are eight people at the table, two babies in high chairs, and 10 chicks in the corner, things can get a little crazy. One day after the kids left for school, I put bibs on the twins for their breakfast squash. Feeding one baby is tricky; times two and things are downright messy. With one bowl of squash, two spoons, two zealous babies and two “helpful” preschoolers, my kitchen was a slight disaster. Right in the middle of this yellow, pumpkin mess I heard a loud peeping. There was Pooka, the largest chick, perched on top of the barrel.
“Just watch me,” Pooka seemed to say, and took a flying leap, landing at my feet. With squash bowl in hand, I danced around the squawking chicken as my toddler yelled, “A chicken’s out! A chicken’s out!” After a few cha-cha-cha steps, I set the squash bowl safely on the counter and commenced chasing the chicken around and under the table. After a bit more prancing — to the entertainment of my squash-covered twins — I finally planted the flailing chicken safely back in the barrel.
A board placed across the top put a damper on the flying lessons, and when everyone came home that evening I pronounced an end to the indoor chicken home. With a bit of grumbling, the boys removed the “poor little things” to their first night in the outdoor coop.
It’s now been two years since our first chicken adventure, yet we still can never resist the spring chicks at the store. And despite the need to “cut the apron strings” a bit sooner on the indoor pets, my favorite sign of spring is chickens ... in my kitchen.

'Of Mice and Mothers...'

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal March 13, 2012

“The best laid plans of mice and men ...” I’m not a mouse or a man, but I know full well what it means to have my plans — even my “best-laid-clearly-thought-out plans” — disrupted. From the moment I wake up until I go to bed at night, I’m at the beck and call of people who’re hungry, wet, tired or just need a hug. And when those little sirens go off, I drop whatever I’m doing and answer quickly.
Although I’m a very organized person, I can only reasonably accomplish one or two big tasks each day. A few weeks ago the big event on my list was a visit to the planetarium with my son’s preschool class. Using my well-honed motherhood skills, I set out the diaper bag the night before. I showered the night before. I planned breakfast the night before. At 6:15 a.m., I sent the first batch of people out the door to work and school. The second batch left at 7:15, and the third batch left at 7:40. I had just enough time to wash the breakfast dishes, brush my hair and care for the last four children: one preschooler, two toddlers and a baby. I buttoned up four coats, I tied four pairs of shoes, I loaded four children into the van, and I fastened four car seat buckles. By 9 a.m., we were all standing in the lobby of the planetarium, dressed, fed and (I thought) pottied. It was a miracle.
“Please use the restroom before the show starts,” instructed the planetarium employee. Several of the preschool moms sent students into the bathroom, but since we had all just gone, I took my four children into the theater and sat down. With one toddler sitting on each side of me, and my preschooler a few seats away, I lifted my baby onto my lap. As darkness filled the sky, I started nursing her quietly. But my well laid plans were soon to be thwarted.
Just as Big Bird appeared to tell us about the moon, my 2-year-old daughter began to dance in her chair. “I need to go!” she whispered frantically. “You just went,” I answered, puzzled. She was silent for two seconds before she started again. “I need to go.” The urgency in her voice went up a notch. I tried to ignore her. “I need to go,” she whispered, louder. “Look at the moon!” I pointed out, hoping to distract her. The stars appeared. “Look up there,” I urged again. She had just gone potty 20 minutes earlier.
There were 30 seconds of silence, but her pleading started again. “I need to go!” This time it was desperate. We had only been in the theater for five minutes! I had just paid for this show! I had woken up early to get all of us there! I had carefully planned each shoe lace and hair bow to ensure that we were all ready, and now this! Besides, I was in a dark room with four young children. Should we troop out together? Should I leave several alone in the darkness? I finished nursing the baby, but she continued to whisper urgencies.
Finally, I set my baby down and picked up my toddler, hoping to calm her. But it was too late. Her pants were soaked. “Just wait now,” I said, realizing the worst was over. “I still need to go!” she whispered. There was no chance of enjoying the planetarium, so I picked up my baby, took my toddler by the hand, and felt my way out of the darkness, leaving the other two children to fend for themselves.
In the restroom, I peeled her soaking pants and shoes off of her and set her on the potty. She still had a quart of liquid inside of her! “This is scientifically impossible!” I thought. Once she was calm, I wondered what to do. I now had a half-dressed girl, a pile of sopping clothes, and was juggling a baby in my arms. The show still had 20 minutes, but we had been instructed not to re-enter during the program. However, I had left my diaper bag and car keys in the theater, so there was no way to retrieve dry clothes from the car. “Am I a mouse or a man or a mother?” I thought, frustrated. Thankfully, I’m not a laboratory rat, and it was only reasonable (despite planetarium policy) to go back in and sit with my other two children. Leaving the pile of clothes in a discreet corner of the restroom, I wrapped my daughter’s jacket around her legs and led her barefoot back to the theater.
It was dark inside and I fumbled to my seat. Sitting down, I immediately realized my mistake as the wetness soaked into me; it was my daughter’s previous chair. But not wanting to make more of a scene, I sat quietly, holding my baby and my bare daughter.
Just as I scouted out my other two children (sitting on the laps of nearby friends), Big Bird announced that the show was ending. We had one more glimpse of the night sky and the lights came up. The best laid plans, the best paid for shows, the best moments of motherhood, it was over. We loaded back into the car, one mother, four children and a collection of soppy clothes. We drove home. It wasn’t quite 10 a.m., but I’d had enough excitement to last the rest of the day.
“The best laid plans of mice and mothers ...” Perhaps the best days are those in which I just let life plan me. Something is sure to be accomplished. Something exciting is certain to happen. I’m not a laboratory rat, I’m a mother. And some day I’ll look back and find out there was a plan, after all.