Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Christmas Story ~ As Told by the Chicken Lady ~

  It was a cold December night, close to Christmas. It was late...Dan was asleep in the recliner, tired from waking up at 4:30 several mornings in a row. As I felt bad for him, I decided to leave him in slumber and volunteer myself to head outside for one last time that day.
  I grumbled to myself as I pulled on my poop encrusted ski pants over the thin layer of my pajamas. All I wanted to do myself was climb into a warm bed. It had been a long day at the mall, standing in long lines (apparently checking a customer out at Christmas time was the equivalent of performing brain surgery), my back still ached from the miles of walking, searching for the perfect gift for the people who have everything, and I had been close to passing out on several occasions from the heat of my winter coat in an over crowded store...oh and said coat now reeked of mall food from the food court.
  "I'm gonna have extra laundry to do tomorrow." I mumbled to myself, then cursed out loud from stabbing my thumb with the baby pin used to close those buttless ski pants. I sucked at the drop of blood oozing from my thumb then pulled on my gloves, thinking not for the first time, that it took longer to bundle up then it did to actually do the work that needed done.
  When I stepped outside, the crisp night air stung my cheeks and I hunched my shoulders and buried my hands into my coat pockets. It was a quiet night; the only sound that reached my ears was the soft crunch of my boots on the gravel driveway.
  "Not gonna have a white Christmas either." I said sarcastically aloud.
  Almost to the barn, I heard out of nowhere, deep and ancient baritone voices sing on the breeze that also blew with it the hint of wood smoke from Mike's chimney across the road:

"O come O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel..."
  I stopped dead in my tracks as the hairs on the back of my neck stood up straight. I felt the goose bumps race over my body even under the thickness of the heavy coat I wore. Now the only sound I heard was the blood hammering in my ears. As puffs of air came from my lips and hung frostily in the winter air about my face, I slowly turned around and looked behind me. All I could see was our house with it's cherry Christmas lights and inviting glow.
  I thought of Dan, asleep in the chair, and made a step to go back and get him. He knew how chicken I was in the dark...YES, I'm almost 31 and I'm scared of the dark! But usually it's the thought of the Exorcist chick standing in the glow of the night guard light that scares the crap out of me or that deranged clown on American Horror Story: Freak Show... not men's voices floating on air. In fact, maybe I didn't hear anything after all. Perhaps it was just a figment of my imagination.
  But when I turned back around, a huge light shone down on our barn, far greater than that of any night guard light. Again, I heard the voices on the wind, louder this time and yet, less frightening:
"Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven above,
Heavenly hosts sing 'Hallelujah'.
Christ the savior is born!
Christ the savior is born!"
Completely stunned, I walked the last few paces to the barn with my head up looking at the sky. Only when I tripped and fell over the barn threshold, did I come crashing back to my senses. I pushed myself back on my feet, not bothering to brush off the strands of hay and straw that clung to my clothing.
  Jimmy and Charlie stood in their stalls, heads over their gates and looking at me. I blinked. They didn't blink. I licked my dry lips and looked over at the chicken coop. All the chickens were out in the kennel, lined up along the fence, quiet as church mice. The steers too were all inside and standing in a perfect line at the fence of their pen, looking in to where we used to store their hay under the low mow in the back of the barn.
  My heart sped up again and I began to shake as I crept slowly forward. As I did so, Jimmy and Charlie turned their heads to follow me down the aisle and so did the chickens; as if I were walking down the aisle on my wedding day.
 The voices sang again in time to my light footsteps:
"Why lies he in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here,
The silent word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you,
Hail, hail the word made flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary."
   By the time I had walked down to the end of the barn, I thought I was again about ready to pass out. When I stopped and turned to the right, all the blood drained from my face and I had to clutch an old beam for support.
  When the voices sang out again, it was with a thunderous boom, louder than any rumble of thunder from the strongest of summer storms:
"Fall on your knees,
O hear the angels' voices!"
  And I did. I fell, right there in the loose hay and straw and chicken poop, on my hands and knees. Tears blurred my vision. I shook and sobbed out loud as I thought of own precious son, who means more to me than my own breath and life, pierced with nails and spears and other sickening means of brutality. My own little boy, who was also fast asleep, but warm in his clean crib surrounded with his favorite soft furry toys.
  Throughout my emotional outburst, no one said a word. I was aware of the steers, quiet save for their soft breathing, all seven of them standing at the fence with their heads bowed low. I was also aware of the voices, not booming this time -I didn't know how much more I could take-but in a sing-song (happy) way:
"Veiled in flesh the God-head see;
Hail the incarnate Deity!"
  Finally, as the emotional storm within me subsided, I raised my head (at the exact same time as the steers), snot pouring forth from my nose and down over my lips. I opened my mouth to try and say something, but no words came out.
  She just looked at me and smiled, and as my brain began to process things again, I thought hilariously that she didn't look anything at all like the scandalous Keisha Castle-Hughes who played her in The Nativity Story. When she looked back down at the baby in her arms, her veil and hair covered most of her face. The strong hand of her husband, who stood behind her, rested on her shoulder. I wanted to look at more, but my eyes couldn't budge from the baby.
  I have no idea how long I stayed there...maybe only seconds, or maybe it was hours. The cold was slowly seeping in through my winter clothes, my now lack of adrenaline no longer aiding them in warmth. Finally, as if on their own accord, my limbs began to move and I quietly stood up, my eyes never leaving the baby who made no more noise than what a contented newborn makes. Before I turned to leave, she looked back at me with a smile and looked beyond me to the east and nodded. I opened my mouth to ask what she meant, but before the words could be formed, I felt a force pulling me towards the entrance of the barn.
  Jimmy and Charlie were still standing at their gates, but their eyes were shut and Jimmy was resting his back foot, clearly relaxed and not wanting to be let outside that night. The chickens had all retired into the coop and I looked at the closed coop door perplexed. As I stepped over the barn threshold, all the electric lights shut off by themselves. I glanced over my shoulder and saw a small dim glow from the back of the barn.
  Finally, once out in the driveway again, I looked east and remembered that in the daylight we can see the beginnings of the Appalachian foothills. As their images came into my mind, I heard the voices for the final time that night:
"Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born!"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Come Along My Darlings

  A couple of nights ago we decided to keep all the animals inside for the night because of the predicted rain. With that decision made, I went out a little later in the evening to tuck everyone in for the night. Now for the past several weeks, we have a group of Golden Comets who escape on a daily basis. (I'm sure we'd get more eggs each day if they were in with the rest of the flock...and I've been too lazy to search for their hoard of eggs I'm sure is out there somewhere.) Anyhoo, these broads are getting gutsier and gutsier, coming up close to the house and exploring new territories far past the safe reaches of the barn. Even as I'm typing this they are scouring the fence row at the edge of the yard.
  As I suited up to go outside, I could see out the window the form of two waddling chickens up the driveway towards the light of the house. They greeted me with soft clucks as I stepped out the door. As I began walking down the driveway towards the barn, they turned and followed me, seeming to be picking up the pace once they discovered where we were headed. All I could hear was the clacking of nails on the gravel and soft guttural singing all the way down the drive. When I turned around, I saw my two little darlings in a perfect line following m obediently.
 Not every evening is as humorous and soul touching as that one was. Usually I have to chase them back in and it's a goat rodeo of wings flapping, straw flying, cursing and squawking before everyone is safely inside for the night. But I'll take the treasured moments while I can!

Friday, December 12, 2014

One Fine Day

  These past couple of days have been pretty special. Just when you think you can't love someone anymore, you discover that you can.
  Yesterday, in particular, was a simple kind of day. It was beautiful and sunshiny, warm enough to go outside and take advantage of, but Old Man Winter's presence was still apparent. Even though there have been acceptable days to venture out of doors before yesterday, the Chicken Lady was unprepared to take her youngster out for long periods of time.
  Last Friday Carl had his 18 month well visit check. After his doctor appointments, I like to hit up the local thrift store because you never know what goodies you might find. I was really hoping to score a snowsuit that would fit Carl this winter. I'm sorry, but I'll be darned if I'm going to spend a decent amount of money on something he's only going to wear this winter...and watch it be a mild winter at that! The whole episode was truly as if it was meant to be. I walked inside and went right to the infants/toddlers rack and there it was. An 18 month pair of ski pants! I couldn't believe my luck! I was scared to pick them up because they were on the very end of the rack, almost as if someone had put them there while they looked at other things. I half expected someone to come up and start an argument with me, like fighting over the last Black Friday door buster. I kept looking around...I probably looked like I was about to steal something...built up my courage and swiped the ski pants.
 I basically did steal those ski pants. $2.19 later, my kid is going to be warm this winter while he's outside. Peace of mind is priceless.
  So anyhoo, yesterday I dressed Carl is his new (and freshly washed) ski pants and winter coat and we went outside to visit the chickens. Carl was very excited to get back to his favorite place...outside!
 We went and visited the chickens first. He got right to work thrusting hay and straw through the kennel bars...

Though the ladies were excited to see their cherub friend, I think they were disappointed Carl didn't have any real treats for them. Aside from the debris of the barn floor.


 After our visit to the barn, Carl helped me pick up all (ok, maybe 2 or 3) of  the dead limbs from side yard and put them on the fire pit. We waved at passing cars and trucks, watched the school bus fly by and an unknown WHITE tractor that varoomed past. Carl also practiced stair climbing and descending on the deck steps.
  Eventually we found ourselves in the backyard. I was perched on the top of the knoll (our only version of a "hill"), and Carl was enjoying the act of walking up and down the slope. I thought how odd it was that in 6 months time the grass would be green and already mowed a couple of times. The leaves would be back on the trees, flowers would planted and mulched and the air would be warm.
 It was here that I got my idea for this particular post. It was here I looked up at the blue and cloudless sky, feeling the strength of the sun's rays on my face, that I also felt a pang of guilt. I thought about my old job in Cincinnati, and that someone my age should be sitting at desk, falling asleep at the computer and counting down the seconds to closing time. Oh, and actually making a living. Providing insurance and retirement. And here I was, basking in the sunbeams, thinking about my next blog post to the music of my toddler son's trills and babbles. As I looked at the afternoon's lighting on the side of the barn, I thought about Dan at the farm working and "making a living" so I could sit in my sunbeams and peck away at the computer to fuel my "hobby".
  I know what everyone says...I have the most important job there is and don't ever think that I don't "work".  Even the doctor last week told me I must be exhausted by the end of the day as we both tried to hold down a little boy, who was more interested in the cool crinkly paper on the table than he was to lay quietly so she could listen to his heartbeat. Physically exhausted, no...mentally and sometimes emotionally exhausted, yes. And because of all that, I feel bad. Guilty. Like, compared to a working mom, I have no rights to complain or to feel guilty for my hiatus from the workforce.
  On the flip side of things, I would feel guilty for leaving Carl to go out and be selfish; be it to work out or even sub and "work" for the day. I would feel guilty for leaving him with someone (even a paid person) all day because my place is with him. It's my place to sit there and snuggle in the mornings, to eat breakfast together and take him outside to feed the chickens hay and straw and dead leaves from the barn floor.
 A continuous tug-of-war that is always going on. Maybe that's true for all moms, whether they stay at home or go to work. Oh well, by the time it's all figured out, Carl will be grown and able to take care of himself. Even with all my pondering yesterday, it was still one fine day. I wouldn't trade it for anything else...even a farm fresh hard boiled deviled egg.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Who You Gonna Call???

  "Who you gonna call?"....The Pied Piper!!!! Well in our case anyway. The Shawhan farm as been taken over with rats! Does anyone have the number to the tight wearing, flute playing yahoo who is famously known for enticing the vermin away? If so, do please share it with me!
  Actually, my complaint on the rats has lessened to some degree. This post should have been done a couple of months ago.
  Once upon a time, there lived a farmer and his wife who began to raise chickens. They also raised Holstein steers and had two happy and plump Percheron draft horses. Because the farmer and his wife were just starting out, they were raising these animals with ancient supplies. One of these supplies was the "steer stuffer". (I did an individual post on steer stuffers...it's what the corn is kept in, which is what the steers eat.) The stuffer the farmer and his wife had was very old and outdated. It was made of wood and steel and was basically falling apart. It also sat on the ground, offering no protection against the rats who could easily chew through the wood of the stuffer and therefore engorge themselves on the golden grain feast. The rats also decided to move into the tunnels they had dug in the dirt underneath the stuffer.
  Then, one day, the farmer and wife showed up with a brand new steer stuffer! It was made of more durable materials and wasn't falling apart at the seams! More upgrades were being made on the farm, which included a new fence around the steer lot and concrete pads for the waterer to sit on and the new steer stuffer. Because of the new stuffer, the rats were unable to chew through its walls. because the new device sat on a concrete pad, the rats were unable to burrow under it in the dirt. The rats had nowhere to go.
  Except into the barn. The new fence, stuffer and pads were nice, but the farmer's wife cringed every time she went into the barn and heard the incessant squeaking of rodents. They were under the chicken coop and in the walls, SQUEEK...SQUEEK....SQUEEK!!! Sometimes, though not all the time, the farmer's wife would see a fat pink tail scurrying into the shadows and would think about gagging.
  Then one day, as the farmer's wife was collecting the eggs, she was deep into the chicken coop, when she turned around to leave she saw a fat, grey blob, running to and fro just inches away from her feet (concealed only in slip on garden shoes). The only thoughts in the farmer's wife mind were that disgusting rat running over her feet! So the farmer's wife screamed her very manly scream, and danced around a bit, praying the rat would leave her feet alone, panicking because the rat was between her and the door. During her frantic dancing, the farmer's wife peed her pants just a tiny bit. Finally, the rat disappeared, to where, the farmer's wife didn't know, nor did she care. All she wanted was out of the small space where the rat lingered in the shadows.
 That night, when the farmer got home from a long hard day of work, the farmer's wife put her foot down. "That it! We need to get rid of those rats!" So the farmer went out and bought some magic green pellets and threw them everywhere the chickens couldn't go, nor the farmer's tiny son. Soon after that, dead rat carcasses began to show up at different places.
 Now when the farmer's wife went out to the barn, she had to make sure no dead rats where within her tiny son's reach.
 But she would much rather do that than listen to the squeaking of vermin or peeing her pants.