Not-so-lazy days of Summer

Peaches in the barnyard (that wasn’t the barnyard when I planted the tree, but luckily the animals aren’t getting to them).

Haus Meister reminded me the other day that the latest blog post still began with “April” in the Middle English, thus galvanizing me into action! Especially as August with all its busy-ness is hard upon my heels—it’s time to catch up on the doings around here!

Farewell to “Brockhall”

The very first picture of our property that Haus Meister sent me on his first visit here. January 2018

Just about this time of year in 2020, this lovely chestnut oak, a full and rich green in its day, suddenly decided to go dry brittle brown on us and it wasn’t a drought. No signs of life from it in 2021, we were at the mercy of the local tree men who were themselves overbooked after several Spring and Summer storms, not to mention the resurgence of Covid. Finally, at the start of this summer, a crew came out and took down the tree the kids had named “Brockhall,” after a giant tree in the Redwall book series. Gone but not forgotten, it lives on in the five deep stacks of logs waiting for the autumn splitting, and two huge stacks of milled wood in our workshop waiting to become furniture as the need arises.

Logs piling up during the chainsaw phase; the stump; and the mountain view that opened up after the tree came down.

Meanwhile, back on the Farm

The barnyard has been in a state of flux lately. In June, Rascal sold his entire stock of rabbits to a family who were interested in homesteading. That officially ended the rabbit chapter here, unless one of the little girls wheedles for one—and only ONE—rabbit in the future. ;). We all learned a lot about the furry beasties, and which of them were good mothers, and which were not. Also which little blighters managed to exploit unexpected exits in the rabbit hutch.

I just realized this picture had been taken before the Rouens and Khaki Campbells had grown out their adult feathers. They really are a striking set, except it turns out there are five males and two females in that set.

The Pekins and the two roosters hatched last November became meat birds as we began a “farm to table” aspect of the farm life. However, on the very day those seven birds went to processing, an Orpington hatched seven chicks in our hayloft! Fortunately, we were on to her before any chicks made a leap out of said hayloft, and they had a happy start on terra firma. Only three survived the first week, and they are already running all over the barnyard and add a good deal of entertainment. Amusingly? Mama Chicken decided as her chicks grew that their ideal roost would be in the rafters next to the hayloft ladder. She wins in the end!

Shop News

As in workshop news, that is. Haus Meister and Rascal spent a week at a Blacksmithing Institute building a Tire Power Hammer to complement our home smithy. It was a fun week for the two of them! Rascal is definitely meant for that kind of work and we’re intrigued to see where his discernment path leads as he progresses through high school.

I’m thrilled to have some home-forged decor appearing around the Haus, like this shelf Haus Meister built for the powder room.

Out, about, and around the Haus…

Attacked by a Roman soldier one evening after VBS. 😉 The Squire and Princess were teen volunteers while I helped lead a group and most of the younger girls were willing participants.
Prepping Brockhall’s stump for its debut as a firework launching pad on July 4. These fellows are more trustworthy than they look. 😉
The strawberry cobbler I made for July 4, minus the blueberry syrup and whipped cream. When thus came out of the oven, I knew I’d found the recipe I’m going to make every year until the kids tell me to stop. And then probably do it anyway.
Li’l Bit wanted me to help her sew buttons onto a piece of fabric and named each after the planets in our Solar System… including Pluto.
Pool time any clear afternoon!
Pipkka running around in a sister’s shirt and goggles, waiting for a change into her swimsuit. She hates baths but LOVES the pool! She has been walking up, down, and all around; names several things, people, and cats; and smiles!
Docena is 5 months old, rolls over, coos and giggles, and is just a roly poly darling!
All for tonight, dear reader! See you on the other side of August!

When than Aprill with his shoures soote

“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in switch licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So Priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages”

So did Geoffrey Chaucer begin his “Canterbury Tales.” And so did a few of us learn to memorize this passage some two decades ago in my Anglo-Saxon Lit class. Was it for extra credit or just credit? Blast. But hey, Dr. Rice, I still remembered part of it before googling it!

Anyway, one of April’s shoures, I mean, showers are falling outside tonight as I type and while we aren’t exactly going on pilgrimage this year, we have been full of wonderful events at church. Likely before I post again, the class I’ve had the honor to help teach this past academic year at our parish Faith Formation will celebrate their First Holy Communion, and our Li’l Bit will be among them. Meanwhile, in the same weekend, Docena received her Baptism (wearing the family heirloom gown). And the Rascal had his Confirmation, taking as his patron the rather unknown St. Dunstan, patron of blacksmiths. I should say St Dunstan isn’t as well known on this side of the Atlantic, for the gift we gave him of a replica medieval badge of the saint came from the UK.

Docena’s Baptism day. Her godparents are her aunt and her older brother. ❤️
Rascal being confirmed (picture compliments of a dear friend, the wife of his sponsor).

Around the Haus…

Pipkka is 1! And no sooner did she turn one than she decided that she’d take it to the max. Climbing stairs? Check. Speech? Her vocabulary increases weekly. Walking? Coming soon. I should have been more nervous about that bottom right picture in this birthday montage (newborn + two of her first birthday) because this girl is plowing onward and not looking back!

Happy 1st birthday, Pipkka! ❤️

After all the sacramental festivities, my mom went back home again in Indiana (those who know can’t say that without hearing Jim Nabors), and we thought we were going to settle in to a “new normal,” as it were, but lo and behold a new seasonal cold descended upon us. Haus Meister had it the worst with a diagnosis of bronchitis and a trip to get x-rays and make sure it wasn’t worse (it wasn’t). Fortunately, we were still able to celebrate Posey Pie’s 9th Birthday and our own familial 4th house-aversary on the same annual day last month.

The Birthday Princess

It is hard to imagine that four years before, we were gathering in the same kitchen with the food that our lovely realtor had bought for us and left as a homecoming gift. Never had a tray of cookies from Sam’s Club tasted so sweet! Everything was so different and foreign four years ago. Now it’s delightfully familiar, and we still rejoice.

And yes, still marvel at this view from the hill above and to the left of our home.

Around the Farm….

The sheep have been sheared! While I was posting my previous blogpost, we had been researching the best way to do this, and as we debated this set of shears over that, Haus Meister found a man who travels around shearing small flocks like ours. He literally goes up and down the region and had already sheared 400+ sheep before he came to our house, set up his rig where we requested and within the briefest time, divested our ewes of a year’s wool growth! Haus Meister and the kids learned how to wash and “skirt” the wool (removing any dirt and hay left behind) and soon we shall take our four bags full to a fiber mill north of here where it will be spun into yarn!

Hattie (black sheep) wonders what hit Mattie (the shorn sheep, and her own half-sister). Lottie is obscured by Hattie so I took this pic while Lou was being sheared.
The Squire helps remove Hattie’s wool as she is being sheared.
Four shorn sheep attempt to preserve their dignity.
4.5 bags full

And in other farm news, the population of ducks increased by four with the addition of four Khaki Campbell ducklings to the three Rouen ones mentioned in the previous post.

The Khaki Campbells are the solid ducklings while the Rouen are striped.

Closing Thoughts

By now we are all either intent on keeping track of, immune, or dismissive of the news coming from Ukraine. I’d argue we better darn well pay attention, because in this small world nothing can really happen anymore without affecting all of us (pandemic, anyone?).

Or perhaps I’m biased in a sense because on the ‘net page of this blog for several years has been the widget featuring a toddler picture of a little boy with red hair. We have been the prayer warriors for him for quite a while. His name on the Reece’s Rainbow website is “Clark” and he lives in Ukraine, if he’s there at all right now. And who can guess? Who can guess if a ten year old boy with cerebral palsy made it out to a refugee site? I pray he did. He’s the same age as our Miss M after all. Same sort of red hair, same sort of brown eyes (I saw him on another website with recent pictures, that’s how I know he has brown eyes). And CP, well, we know a bit about that, also. Small wonder I signed on to pray for him. May God in His mercy grant that boy a good place tonight.

We at Misselthwaite stand and pray for Ukraine. 🇺🇦

On New Year’s Eve

Photo Project 2021

Around the Haus…

Pippka also learned a few new tricks (and that lamp has been moved elsewhere)

Christmas Joy

We are enjoying a lovely Christmas season here on the farm. The weather didn’t cooperate with the girls’ wishes for a white Christmas (by a long shot!), and supply chain woes hit–of all things–the local Christmas tree farms! That’s not a joke: droughts in 2008 & 2010 and early cuttings last year when everyone stayed home for Christmas caused the local area farms to close down before December 5! So Haus Meister took some of the kids and visited the tree vendor next to the local ice cream & coffee food truck. We got a wonderful tree, the kids had wonderful ice cream, and a new tradition may just have been inaugurated.

The Advent wreath looked a little different this year because I was using spare beeswax candles we found last winter at a local candle shop (and had our priest bless on Candlemas). They lasted very well throughout Advent.

We also tried something new with the Nativity scene this Advent. Thanks to my mom and some of the girls, who sewed up cloth bags over Thanksgiving vacation, we turned the Nativity into a big Advent calendar of sorts. Each night as we gathered for night prayers and lit the Advent wreath, one of the kids would pick the bag assigned for the day, read the paper Bible verse ornament inside (then hung on the artificial tree above the stable), and pull out one or two figurines. By Christmas Eve Mass, every figurine was out (the kings are still en route through the house until Sunday). I don’t mind the girls rearranging the figures, and as you can see, Rosebud is patiently waiting for me to get the official Christmas Eve picture before she does so.

Our parish hosted a Living Nativity this Advent, and quite a few of our children participated. Princess caroled with the choir; Rascal and the Squire were Wise Men; Lil Bit was a sheep; Sunshine was Mary at the Annunciation while Miss M was Gabriel; and Posey, Rosebud, and Bright Eyes were also angels at various other stations. I did not post pictures of those stations as I didn’t get permission from the other actors in the scene. 😉 Suffice to say, it was very fun despite the foggy weather, and we were proud of everyone. I will just add that it was amazing to think that Sunshine could take on such a role, and sit in place for an hour and fifteen minutes! Our parish has been great helping her along the way as she makes such great progress. I couldn’t have dreamed she’d do this four years ago!

Around the Farm…

The population of assorted poultry is up by five now. The three hens on the left–the “Three French Hens”–were rehomed here from a neighbor’s coop as she wanted to start afresh with young chicks, and we had more room for older hens to retire gracefully despite being a few years older than even our first round of chickens. We’ve named them Pat-a-pan, Jeanette, and Isabella (yes, after French carols).

In November, one of our newer Buff Orpington hens suddenly decided to go broody and managed to hatch two chicks right around Thanksgiving (despite the fact that it was cold enough to frost outside). The chicks have a Silver-Laced Wyandotte for a sire, so we are calling them the Orpingdottes. They are quite a few weeks older now, and almost all their yellow feathers have turned white with some interesting black lacings on wings, tail, and the tops of their heads. I’m a bit worried that both are roosters, but we will see.

Meanwhile, on Christmas morning, I was tickled to see as I visited the parish manger that the smallest sheep looked very much like our “Lou,” down to the brown face. The sheep are doing well and getting very fluffy! We’ll be researching shears soon….

Restoring Misselthwaite…

The house painting went well this Fall! The main color of the house is “Into the Stratosphere,” and the front doors are “Parlor Rose,” both from a local paint store. We are very pleased with the lovely new look for Misselthwaite’s exterior. Indoors, Haus Meister installed a wood stove into the main fireplace that is much more efficient and heats the house wonderfully on the frosty nights. It was a craigslist win from last winter. The previous owner had only used it a few years and was ready to convert to propane. We were happy to help!

Last thoughts…

Outside the sky is growing darker, so it’s almost time for barn chores. We’ll then gather round a shrimp pasta dinner, and see how things go progressing toward midnight. The teens want to play board games with Haus Meister (in particular, “Clank! In Space!”), and I guess we shall see how the younger set fares. I think I am at the stage where I could ring in the New Year watching a live feed from London long enough for Big Ben’s tolling, and then turn in for the night, but the kids are not at that stage yet so there we have it.

I did save the best news for last, however, and want to share before she arrives in a month or so.

Introducing this sweetheart, whose blog nickname is “Docena,” as she rounds out a full dozen children in the Haus, and who will add a lot of love and fun (though less sleep) to the mix in 2022!

A very Happy New Year from all of us to all of you, and God bless you in 2022!

Maypril June

Welcome to the Cat Days of Summer. As opposed to the Dog Days, although in looking up what the Dog Days meant, I realized they technically began on Saturday. The hottest, most lethargic days of summer. Indeed, the summer haze is out in full force and I was rather regretting that my morning run began at 9 this morning instead of 6:30. Whew! But while our cats enjoy a good coze, they also seem to have their moments of frenetic activity, and that seems to sum up the summer so far. On the other hand, you’d think there would be a break from winding up an academic year, but in between lazy afternoons or evenings at the pool, we’ve been catching up on all the routine appointments we don’t usually do during the school year (hello, well-child checkups and the mid-year dental appointments!). We’ve already hosted two cookouts and have one more on the schedule, plus much-anticipated extended family visits, Vacation Bible School is back, and this means July is already crowded on the calendar. It is a welcome change from last year!

But it doesn’t feel like the Dog Days. So, it’s the Cat Days. Plus, it was fun to use those photos, taken on the same day within ten minutes of each other. Oscar was on one of the boys’ beds and Bilbo was curled up in the laundry room, inside the basket of (clean, matched) socks.

Never at rest for long….

Pippka is now four months old and received her sacrament of Baptism in April. She received it the day before Posey Pie’s First Communion, just as eight years before, Posey Pie herself was baptized the day before Rascal’s First Holy Communion. We like to do sacraments in bulk around here. Pippka was the perfect baby throughout the ceremony, wearing the traditional gown that has now seen about 21 christenings, and Posey was a beautiful First Communicant in the dress her paternal grandmother made for Princess’ First Communion five years before.

We’ve had two birthdays since the last post, both with their own personal flair. I was able to make Li’l Bit’s birthday dress (“Sintra,” from Little Lizard King) in my new sewing room (more on that later), and while I still need to sit down and get a few more dresses made for the little girls, Dibbun definitely preferred the ornate princess dress I found from the Little Adventures princess costume line. Li’l Bit also received her first official pair of cowgirl boots (not pictured) and she wears them everywhere, to church and store and home again. Rascal made her sawhorse horse that she named “Yankee Doodle.” Dibbun paraded everyone in the house with her light-up bubble wand and reigned regally over her day. No two birthdays in this house are alike but they sure are a delight.

Around the Farm:

Li’l Bit with (from L to R) Hattie, Lottie, Mattie, and Lou.

Harriet, Matilda, Charlotte, and Louisa arrived on May 15. They are Finnrace sheep from a farm in Northern Virginia, and they handled the long trip here just fine. For short, they are “Hattie, Mattie, Lottie, and Lou.” I got “Hattie, Mattie, and Lou” from the sheep in “Sarah, Plain and Tall.” Charlotte was tacked on because I just assumed it fit. When Haus Meister informed me that sheep can live as long as 18 years, I declared at that moment that *I* would be in charge of naming these new pets because I was NOT going to live 18 years with a sheep named “Sparklepoof,” (“Or Flufflebutt,” a son chimes in), and if you don’t think my girls would try that, just consider the names given to the chickens over the years. “Polka Dot Sunshine Sleeping Beauty Princess” takes the cake, but this year’s batch of 11 already includes “Mithrandella,” “Obsidian Falcon,” and “Caramel Latte.” I admit I did name one of the new Ameraucanas “Calico,” because like the cat of the same name, she’s all the colors, but I digress.

Lou is everyone’s favorite sheep. She is the absolute friendliest and will greet me even if she sees me puttering about my container garden on the deck (part of which looks down into the barnyard). She is Lottie’s twin sister. Lottie is also friendly–they all are–but Lou wins the prize for friendliest. Lou is also the mischief maker. We had to upgrade our feed bins because she found out how to kick the buckets open. Hattie and Mattie are half-siblings, as they have the same sire. Hattie is the dark one and Mattie is the one shown in the teaser photo in the previous blogpost. She has polka dots on her ears and legs and also those interesting rings around her eyes. The fiber artist in me cannot wait for shearing next Spring. Their wool is so interesting and variegated!

I’m also glad to report that the sheep (now that Lou can’t kick the chicken scratch bucket open) are finally getting the point that they are here to eat the kudzu and creeper vines, and they are beginning to make a start on the ever present threat of invasion. It may take a while, but it is still a start! 😉

As also stated, 11 out of 12 chicks are reaching adulthood. They still sleep in a separate area from the big chickens but during the day they can roam about freely in the barnyard with the whole menagerie. We lost one chick and one duck, and are not sure why about the chick but the duck became lame. I suppose we didn’t quite realize how top heavy Pekins are compared to the magpies we used to own, and the barnyard is hilly. One duck must have stumbled wrong or fallen off the ramp into the yard or something but no matter, it was sadly never able to walk again. Two others also had leg issues at first. One made a complete recovery and the other manages to almost literally hop on one foot but still gets around. We call that one “Hoppy Duck,” but no other duck has been named because we really can barely tell them apart.

Restoring Misselthwaite

It began with a new bed. One new bed moved into one room meant an old bed became repurposed in another room. Fabric that had been stored in drawers beneath the old bed needed a new place to exist until sewing days could take place. Enter what I used to think of as “The Ugly Duckling Room.” Honestly, it’s an odd room in an odd shape in the middle of the basement with three less windows than the boiler/electric/air conditioner room behind it, and until April it was really a dump station for things unless we had enough company to fill two bedrooms. As we didn’t have company that often in 2020, it exacerbated the problem. Somehow as we moved beds around, and sisters played “musical rooms,” and closets were aired and the rooms began to take on a whole new look than they had three years ago when we arrived and first arranged furniture, the thought came to me “Sewing Room!” And after all, why not?! I took a gloomy afternoon and rearranged things in that Ugly Duckling room. I dusted and vacuumed, hung pictures and placed books. The next week, I gave it a trial run and made a dress for Lil Bit’s 7th Birthday. It was so ideal! Three weeks later, I found a quilt cover for the bed that I liked better than the old set, and now there’s a pleasant spot for me to sew as well as a quiet room appointed for guests when needed. No more dump station! My cup overflows.

January

I have decided to update at least once a month, as things get crazy and it’s no good waiting until they aren’t. 😉

Our Sunshine, in a nutshell.

Around the Haus…

Turned almost 40, cut my hair three inches shorter, have to confess I love the 30s more than the 20s. Life is just good overall, my friends.

Some of us are another year older. Trooper turned 16 in December, Sunshine and Squire had their joint birthday this month, and I had my own two days later. One gift-to-self was Blessed is She’s “Gift of You” course. I rarely get the chance to attend a retreat these days, and even though I watched the sessions while doing laundry triage, it was well worth it and so refreshing.

This, in a nutshell, is the third teenager in the family: The Squire.

Laundry triage…. My sister’s husband got to see our house for the first time this past Christmas, and as I gave him the tour, I also apologized for the laundry room. Matter-of-factly, he asked me why I should apologize for not being caught up. “You have ten kids!” Point well taken. It is what it is. Luckily he didn’t see it after we all came down with ‘Flu B at the beginning of the New Year! Fortunately, Haus Meister had repainted our bedroom (Behr Natural Grey) and we splurged on LL Bean flannel sheets as a Christmas gift, so at least if we were down and out, we were down and out in comfort! But ugh… ‘Flu B….

Recovery Mode. “The Dean’s Watch” by Elizabeth Goudge is now one of my all-time absolute favorites. I read it yearly. Next up is “In This House of Brede” by Rumer Godden.

That begs another question. After we recovered, Haus Meister and I pledged that next year we would endure taking all of us in for a flu shot. That has definite merits! On the other hand, just as we recovered, headlines screamed, “Flu Shots May Not Be Strong Enough for this Year’s Flu!” Can you win for losing? I don’t know anymore.

But I digress…

(That should be the tagline for this blog)

Around the Farm….

The hens survived the molt season and are giving 6-8 eggs a day even in winter (despite the one oviraptor in the flock). The rooster likes to think he rules the roost. The ducks are also doing well. Two of them are laying pretty regularly. Duck eggshells are thicker than chicken eggshells, but I can just imagine they’ll make beautiful pysanky next Easter…

The bees… I hope I mentioned the bees. Haus Meister invested in two prime nucs last Spring, but one was lost due to pesticides toward the end of summer. The other has been doing all right. At least, they’re still buzzing!

Last year for my birthday, Haus Meister gave me some VegTrugs. One is just full of dirt at present and serves as a pseudo-sandbox/mudpie arena for the girls. The other I’ve planted garlic in, and so far it seems to be doing well. Of course, I’ve never planted garlic before, so how do I know? It’s NOT DEAD YET. 😉

As I mentioned in a long ago post, I often leave food out on our back deck for our resident feral cat, Tabitha Twitchett. However, last October, a larger tabby showed up at her spot. He was so large, I thought at first it was the raccoon, but then he turned and looked at me with a look (I thought at the time) of pure deviltry. We had been watching the 1940s Disney “Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” so we named the newcomer “Brom Bones.” Brom returned once or twice between October and November, but began to show up regularly toward Christmas.

This time, the kids noticed he was a good deal more friendly and used to people than Tabitha. In fact, one night, when the temperature dipped below freezing, they snuck him in behind our backs! Brom’s name changed to Oscar, after James Herriot’s “Oscar, Cat-About-Town.” We tried “Thorin,” keeping in our Tolkien pet name tradition, but ultimately Oscar won out. As it happens, that was appropriate. In that story, Herriot and his wife find out that Oscar has a family, and so did we today. We brought Oscar in to the vet at long last (now that we were no longer sick and the schedules eased up), and it turns out he had a microchip! His owner was contacted and was so happy to hear he was found, as he had been missing since Thanksgiving! So we got to be the happy ending for this cat, who, it happens, was originally named “Puff-Puff.”

C’mon, do I look like a Puff-Puff to you?!

On the needles

Keeping a little knitting accountability here, I’m currently making the Hinterland Sweater as an extended birthday present for my Mom. I’m using a wool yarn from The Philosopher’s Wool that Haus Meister brought home for me from a business trip an age ago, that was just waiting for a project like this. I’m super excited about it, and have every hope, being the eternal optimist I am, that Mom will enjoy her sweater as summer fades into autumn.

Last thoughts….

This winter, compared to last winter, is definitely comparable to our Tennessee winters, with one valuable exception: it’s been cold enough to kill the mosquitos. And on that note, see you in February!

Animals down on the Farm

My social media reminders reminded me that apparently it has been one whole year since Haus Meister brought home the box of chicks from the hardware store. I thought for a moment that it couldn’t be, but yes, it was ten days from our move-in day… we still didn’t have our furniture then… the movers would place things, with a chuckle, around the makeshift brooder we set up in the basement. So, on that note, how about a look at the animals on the farm?

And may I add a laugh on me? When the last of the corgyn fellowship passed away in Sept. 2017, having slipped a disc in his back after jumping out of the bathtub and never recovering, I was DONE with pets. I said we would not have another pet until Bright Eyes was in kindergarten. Of course, I had seen Fredregar killed in a hit-and-run just in front of our mailbox in 2011; the black labrador rescue gone sour the same year; my favorite corgi Meriadoc died in front of me after a cruciatus tear to his knee exacerbated an abdominal condition in 2015; and then Pippin… well, it was quits for me and the animal kingdom.

Until December, when we visited a farm owned by some friends, and Sunshine picked up a cat. Fortunately, she alighted upon the most placid cat in existence who didn’t mind a bit that this strange girl was carrying it around everywhere while she visited. Sunshine decided from that afternoon that we, also, needed a cat. She repeated this often. She went on walks in the neighborhood looking for a stray to rehome. We didn’t think cat + move = good idea, so we tried promising a cat AFTER the move. The second time she went in search of a stray, we decided it was time to just adopt a cat.

Guarding his domain? Or sleeping in the late afternoon?

Here comes the laugh on me. March 3, 2018, enter Bilbo. He was a sweet, quiet kitten for about five days but ended up being an agile, hilarious critter. He likes warm hearths, warm blankets, or warm windowsills bathed in sunshine. He also likes to attack when least expected, or when we are showing the slightest attention to the outdoor cat. When seated, he resembles some Egyptian statue and wants us to recall that his ancestors were worshipped as gods. He thinks he’s fierce, but he also has only brought home one rodent and a pile of crickets. He also hogs the dryer top in the wintertime.

I said we only needed one cat. That much is true. However, last August, after a few weeks of rain and storms, my parents were in for a visit and reported that they had seen a gray cat outside their bedroom window. Two nights after they had left, I saw the cat myself, meowing and rubbing against the screen of the sliding door in our kitchen. I had seen an orange stray meandering before then, but he always ran at the sight of anyone. This one stayed put, so I feared she was lost and needed some food (I am a sap, I admit). I went out to give her a bit of cat food, and she was skittish as I grew close. She even now will rarely let me pet her, but she comes by every night and she has proven a good pest controller–better even, than Bilbo– so I keep feeding her. It’s not like the cat food provokes raccoons or opossums any more than the fact that we have garbage cans on the property, anyway.

So here she is: “Tabitha Twitchett”

The “barn” is actually a large shed/workshop built at the same time as our house. It was full of junk and leaning when we moved in but Haus Meister cleared the place, straightened it, replaced the rotting floor, and made it habitable for chickens…and rabbits, but not in the exact same spots. We repurposed a lot of wood in the barn for nest boxes and perches. These feathered idiots only truly like the top three middle nest boxes. Why did we bother adding more?!

And now, the chickens! When Haus Meister went to the hardware store last year and inquired as to the availability of chicks, he was proffered the deal of “buy 4 get 1 free” if we chose week old chicks instead of the day-old ones. So he came home with 4 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Rhode Island Reds, 5 Barred Rocks, and the last Ameraucana the store had in stock.

The Buff Orpingtons: Banana (deceased January 2019, thanks to a hawk); Pillow; Sunflower; and Polka Dot Sunshine Sleeping Beauty Princess (named by Posey. Note: there isn’t a single polka dot on this yellow hen).

The Rhode Island Reds: Galatea (named for the cow in Farmer Giles of Ham), and Speckles Worm-Bane.

The Barred Rocks: Pecksy, Eugenia Lincoln, Baby Lincoln, Polka Dot (the original), and Turkey Neck.

Ameraucana: Queen Spotta.

All of the chickens have been great with the kids. They may not always be kind to one another (“Pecksy” and “Turkey Neck” received their official names from a feather-plucking habit developed over the last four months). We’ve learned a lot about chicken keeping in the past year. The reason “Banana” is in a towel held by Rascal in the second picture in due to the fact that she suffered a vent prolapse after her first laid egg. “I just gave a chicken an epsom salt bath” was probably among the most surreal texts I sent in 2018. Poor Banana! She was the runt of the bunch and became my favorite.

It’s a fact that we have not needed to buy eggs at the supermarket since last August. We’ve given eggs away to friends, neighbors, and even electricians. All our current hens lay brown eggs except Queen Spotta, who lays a blue green egg. One day I opened our refrigerator to see that Sunshine had decided to have a bit of fun with an old nest we found in the woods, and one of Spotta’s eggs.

Another amusing story from our first year here came from the same weekend that we acquired the outdoor stray cat, Tabitha, mentioned above. My parents were due to arrive late in the afternoon of one particular Friday last August after a time which, as I said, we had a lot of rain and storms. A lost hen decided to visit our barn that same afternoon, and moved in that night. Luckily for us, she wasn’t carrying any diseases or ailments, and began to lay full size eggs in the nest boxes as if she had always known this place. Rascal said she was his chicken since she arrived out of the blue on a weekend we were celebrating his birthday. He named her “Candy.” I’m hazarding a guess she’s either a “Red Star” or “ISA Brown” hen. It really doesn’t matter, as we don’t plan on showing her at a fair anytime soon. What we find amusing, though, is that we acquired a stray chicken. That doesn’t come up in many stories! And yes, I did look around for a few weeks in case anyone was missing a chicken, and as no one seemed to be at a loss, Candy fits in well.

By this time, I had utterly forgotten anything I had ever said about when to get a pet, and was not surprised when, after unearthing and restoring a rabbit hutch from the woods behind the barn, that Rascal would save his money from pet-sitting for our neighbors and buy some rabbits! He has two American Blue does named after characters in the Redwall series of books. “Dottie” is the smaller of the two, more personable, and very sweet. “Mumzy” is more aloof, larger, and as I call her, “The Adventure Rabbit.” Haus Meister and Rascal plan to build a larger, more secure hutch for the rabbits next weekend after Mumzy the Adventure Rabbit decided this weekend to find a way out from under an old loose feeder and see the Great Outdoors. Fortunately, she only explored to a woodpile about ten feet from the barn door, whereupon she was returned to her hutch to nurse her offended dignity.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the glimpse of our ongoing “nature study” here on the Farm. The joke on me will continue as April should bring us some brand new chicks (from Murray McMurray Hatchery this time) as well as a nuc or two of honeybees. Stay tuned!