Monday, September 1, 2014

In Any Large City


Sometimes, when I was a little girl, the conversation around the dinner table would shift towards talk about the Los Angeles Dodgers and how they were doing that season. My grandmother, who knew nothing about sports whatsoever, pulled me aside one day when this was going on and whispered conspiratorially to me, "Schatzi, just remember this: In any large city, you're going to find troublemakers." (Apparently she thought The Dodgers were some kind of violent street gang.)

But her adage is true.  In any gathering of individuals, you are going to find those who just want to cause trouble. In my hen house, this position goes to Floyd, the pigeon.

I found Floyd on the steps of our dry cleaners several years ago. He was barely two days old and freezing to death. It was the week before Thanksgiving, and I'd just stopped in to pick up Big Ag's dry cleaning.

"Hey, how long has that baby pigeon been sitting in the entry way?" I asked.

"I don't know, a couple of days I guess," replied the guy behind the counter.

"Has the mother been dropping down to feed it?"

"Uh, no, I don't think so," the guy (who really couldn't have cared less) replied.

I picked the pigeon up and took him home with me.

Since I'd done some avian rehab and release, I took care of the pigeon, who we named Floyd, until he was ready to be released.  The only problem was, he was much too tame to be released by the time he was ready. He absolutely loved people, and would land on the shoulder of anyone who happened to walk in through the door. Any friend of ours was a friend of his. Or strangers, for that matter.  Floyd was clearly a people pigeon.

And so Floyd stayed.


We built him a big flight cage and doted on him, and he grew into a magnificent pigeon. People who stop by to see us rarely even realize Floyd is a common domestic pigeon. He's extremely clean, smells nice, and his feathers positively gleam.

Floyd is also one of the troublemakers my bubbe tried to warn me about.  Floyd loves me, but is bossy with everyone else.  What Floyd really needs is a small, South American nation to run, where tyrants and demagogues are the norm.

Instead, I let Floyd run the chicken coop.  Or so be believes.  

Floyd wanders around the chickens all day now, cooing and puffing up his feathers and looking quite important.  But when the chickens have had enough, they let Floyd know with a warning peck or two, and he flies up to the top of the coop, where we've build a railing for him to strut his stuff on.

The objects of Floyd's true affection are the silver food container and the red chicken waterer, who he puts on quite a mating display for.  So far he has only tried to mount one of the hens and, the waterer a couple of times, and as you can imagine neither partner really worked out for him, biologically speaking.

But I see him as kind of the Donald Trump of the henhouse, an assessment I think Floyd would be proud to take ownership in. Being so beautifully feathered, he doesn't even need the toupée.

Workin' it.

Yes, Floyd is both troublemaker and seeker of strange pleasures in the world of the Hot Flash Henhouse, a solitary gray general amidst an army of indifferent hens and stoic food and water dispensers.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pumpkin Photo Sunday

These little darlings are ripening nicely in one of my raised beds. I was quite skeptical about being able to raise decent pumpkins in a raised bed, but it appears to be working out nicely.  As long as you keep the water coming regularly and give them regular fertilizing, they will do fine.  

This of course flies in the face of traditional pumpkin growing, which states that they need to be hilled.  Not so.  In the heat of summer, it is very nice to be able to water these gourds while I'm close to the house and even able to stand in the shade, something I'm not yet able to do down in the pasture.

If you notice, in these pics you will sometimes see some old, broken kitchen tiles sitting under each pumpkin.  This is to keep them looking good, even on the side that is facing the ground. (I may use some for decoration before cooking them for soups and pies). The tile is smooth and will not make a groove in the pumpkin's skin or allow it to sit on the moist ground and become discolored or rotted.

Overflowing into the shade.
Almost there!

Coming along.

Little Green.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Should have done better (with update!)

So tonight I was coming home from work and there was a small, black dog running in the middle of the road, alternating between standing still in the center of the road and dodging cars, which were at least slowing down for him.  I pulled over, got out of my car and picked him up, just trying to get him into a more safe situation off the main road.

I got him home and examined him; he was underfed, had some  weird kind of skin nodules and was sneezing.  Also old and vision-impaired, judging by his milky eyes and the condition of his teeth.  But he was friendly, allowing me to pick him up and wagging his tail at me once I put him down.

We checked the "lost" ads on Craigslist. No one reported him lost. He had no tags, so we couldn't call his owners.  I made a post on our community bulletin board and then pondered what to do next.

Part of me wanted to keep him for a few days, post some flyers, and see if anyone responded. But with his skin condition, putting him in with our dog would not be possible and we don't have a yard we can separate into two parts.  So instead I had Groceries put him in the truck and drop him off at County Animal Control, where they can at least see if he's microchipped and get him any medical attention he needs.

But of course immediately after this I started beating myself up and telling myself I should have done better.  Maybe kept him in the garage, or getting Big Ag to fence off part of the yard, or at least ameliorating whatever was done to him that led him to be running in the road, obviously neglected and/or abandoned. Maybe I should have waited and sent him to a rescue organization.  Maybe maybe maybe.

Yet if my own dog went missing, I would want him to end up at Animal Control, where they could read his microchip and call us....and where, if they didn't call, I would look for him the minute they opened up after the three day weekend.  

But for some reason I hold myself to impossibly high standards when it comes to our four-legged friends. And other things as well.  I'm amazed how many times I catch myself saying, "you should have done x or y," to myself when at times no other action than the one I took was even possible.

I'm very forgiving with other people, so I'm not sure why I expect superhuman behavior from myself.  I'm sure it's what gives me drive and motivation and keeps my life running, but I also suspect it sometimes sabotages my self-esteem and brings me down.

I'm thinking the phrase, "should have done better," is one I should use on myself sparingly and very occasionally.  The fact is, we all do our best and some situations are a choice between two relatively crappy solutions.  We can't beat ourselves up for choosing one of them if they're all that's available.

I know our goal as moral humans is to treat others the way we treat ourselves, but for some of us, the opposite might be a better thing -- to treat ourselves with the kindness and respect we usually treat other people. Maybe "should have done better" should be replaced with "did the best I could," and we should feel good about that.

But I still hope my dog story has a happy ending, and that even if I can't do anything else, somehow he'll end up in the right place.  And I just hope that's enough.

P.S. This story has a very happy ending.  Today we saw a sign with a description of the dog on a neighborhood bulletin board ... he has been missing and his owners thought he had probably been hit by a car.  They will be going to pick him up at the animal shelter and bringing him home again.  A great end to the tale (or tail lol).

Friday, August 29, 2014

Do you garden by the moon?

I should start out by defining what I am talking about when I bring up "gardening by the moon." Gardening by the moon is not the same thing as gardening by moonlight.  Although now that I've thought about it, this could be a fun or romantic way to spend an evening, with the right company. But in this case, we are talking about gardening by the moon phase, meaning that whether the moon is full, new, or somewhere in between will determine when you plant, when you kill pests and when you till ground.

For a long time I thought this was kind of a "vegetable astrology," fun to read about, but not really having an actual impact on much.  But then Big Ag told me that in professional farming, he and his fellow farmers do schedule pest control according to the phase of the moon, as certain pests (tomato worms, cabbage worms, etc.) hatch at the full or new moon and if you spray at the wrong time, you will miss killing them.

So that lent at least a little credence to our great-grandparents' tendency to consult the Farmer's Almanac  in search of a lunar planting guide, which I did online this afternoon.  Here is how the month of September is shaping up, but you can check out any upcoming dates at:

So judging by how next month looks, the first of September appears to be one of the best days for me to plant my fall seedcrops of lettuce and carrots, which strikes me as a light and pleasant way to spend Labor Day even if it is doing labor. It's a labor of love, right?. As no onion bulbs are in our stores yet, I will have to wait to get those in the ground, but you can rest assured they will go in when "Old Grandma" -- the Farmer's Almanac -- says it's a good day.

It's hard to believe it is already time to get back to those beds I fallowed last May to put in a new crop that will take us into the colder months. It's also a very welcome reminder that autumn is on its way, even if it is still at least 6 weeks away for us here on the Central Coast. The important thing is, it's coming, and the anticipation is half the fun.

In the meantime, the moon will wax and wane as she dances in synchronicity with earth in their monthly rumba. Honestly, I'm not positive the moon phase affects seed sprout or bulb growth, but since it affects the tides, worm hatch, our female reproductive cycles and even our mood and sleep patterns, I can't rule its influence out.  So why not give yourself the best shot at getting things to grow and give at least a passing nod to the phase of the moon? 

 It might even inspire you to get out there with the one you love (or maybe would just like to know better) for some crazy, moonlight gardening.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Concierge health care

One of the things homesteaders ( a self-sufficient and independent lot) cannot do  is their own DIY healthcare -- at least not for everything.  Sure, we can mend cuts with superglue and drink echinacea-laced tea when we are getting a head cold.  But between rising health insurance rates and the not-inexpensive cost of government-sponsored health care, higher-level care something we all worry about. 

The fact is, I can take care of most things at home, but I can't  give myself a blood analysis, a steroid shot, or prescribe myself antibiotics and a tetanus shot when I scrape my foot on a rusty nail.

So the question becomes what to do about medical-level health care? If you feel like a helpless victim strolling through the prepackaged food sections of your supermarket, try sitting in a doctor's office with 15 coughing, hacking people ahead of you, where you know you're going to get relatively impersonal, immediate-need medical advice, while the clock ticks and your doctor struggles to meet his daily quota of patients.

In light of all that, I recently elected to sign up with a "concierge" physician's practice. It's small, it's personal, and it doesn't have to follow the rules of giant healthcare corporations. It's different than any health care I've seen before. I can't really give a good review yet, but from what I've experienced so far, I'm impressed.

 In case you're not familiar with concierge physicians, they charge a specific dollar amount per year for you to join their patient list (in my case it was $1800, and it took a great leap of faith for me to write out that check, believe me), with the aim being to have a small practice with patient-centered care.  Insurance companies do not enter the mix.  Government does not enter the mix. Just you and your doctor.

But here's why I am willing to pay that amount, up front, for a year's worth of care:  All my blood work was included in the price (a huge panel of tests, measuring everything from red blood counts to Vitamin D levels -- a comprehensive analysis I've not had done in many years, if ever) as well as a hearing test, and any other in-office tests that are necessary throughout the year.  It's all covered. The blood panel alone costs about $1,000 if done through insurance, and I paid nothing. The hearing test, another couple of hundred. So far, it seems a good value. 

And of course office visits are now free of charge for a year -- as many times as I need or want to come in.  With regular docs' office visit fees now running about $100 a pop (or more), it's easy to see how this won't actually cost me any more than it did before, and will encourage me to seek better health care, since I no longer have to worry about the office-visit cost, the time spent in the waiting room (fewer patients means almost NO wait time, plus same-day appointments whenever I need them) or my doctor not having time to listen to me and rushing in and out of the exam room in pursuit of the next 10 patients lined up behind me.

The $1800 fee also allows me to occasionally send in my children and husband in if needed and he will charge only a minimal office visit charge (about $40), further stretching that $1800. I have his cell phone, his email, and if I contact him he will get back to me within the same day.  He can renew prescriptions or recommend home treatments on the phone if he wishes, because he doesn't have answer to anyone's insurance company. How many of us can say that about our doctors anymore? When is the last time your doctor emailed or called you at home?

This is a leap of faith to be sure, but with an $8,000 deductible for Big Ag's current Aetna health care plan, I figure we don't have much to lose. The other option is the one I've been practicing for the last three years, which is not going to the doctor unless absolutely necessary.  But preventative care can save you a lot of heartache and physical trouble, and for this year, anyway, I will get plenty of it.

Besides, I'm getting tired of super-gluing those cuts that actually need stitches, begging leftover antibiotics from friends and relatives, and attempting to diagnose aches and pains through internet research.  Our grandparents paid for most of their medical care through family doctors, so I see this as a natural turning back to a simpler time.

I know my body better than anyone, but sometimes it takes more than that to make you well.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hen Strategy

Ginger (left) and Callie (right)

In the ongoing saga of the Mean Girls hens and the two new youngsters I am integrating into the flock, I have now made a tactical switch-up and have decided to isolate the two biggest bullies, Ellen and Chloe, instead of removing the younger hens and putting them into isolation to keep them safe.

My hope is that removing the bullies will shuffle the deck on the old "pecking order" of the flock just enough that Callie and Ginger can begin to gain the confidence they will need to move about the flock and go about their business.  

The fact is, if they stood their ground, they would not get chased. I saw this happen with Chloe herself, once the object of Ellen's bullying.  Once she stopped running and began ignoring Ellen, Ellen lost interest in chasing her.  Basically if you are a chicken it works like this:  If you run, you will be chased. If you stop running, you will be left alone.

But how to get the young girls to not run?  That is the question.  We will see if my latest strategy works, in the meantime, Ellen and Chloe are enjoying their time in the chicken condo while the other four hens (the always-gentle and unflappable Portia, Cleopatra, and new girls Ginger and Callie) move about the mansion and larger run area.

Always drama with these ladies, that's for sure.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Scenes from the disaster

From an industry standpoint, this is a huge loss for each winery affected. And I can't help but think that if this had just been on a fault nearby us instead of them, we'd be the ones cleaning up today. Again, the injuries and loss of human and animal life is so much more important than this, but it's terrible to see this kind of destruction.

It also makes me very conscious of exactly where I do and do not want to be in an earthquake.