Monday, April 27, 2015

Not A Locust

It's an odd thing, something no one expected, not even ourselves. Though we predicted it, I don't believe we really expected it.

Many people thought (and possibly still think) that Alex and I would move out to the country, live simply for a while, and then crave a return to society and modern convenience. We would eventually tire of the long drive, the difficulties of living in a wilder form of nature, and living with the stunted forms of modern convenience we have out here, like ridiculously slow internet that costs an arm and a leg, sketchy cell phone signals, well water, propane tank, septic tank, no near grocery store or *gasp* redbox.

While we vowed to everyone that we were moving to this land to stay and wanted to raise our children on it and someday be buried on it, both of us wondered if it might someday be replaced by a new dream. And maybe it will. But what surprises me, is that the farther off grid I go, the stronger the call in my heart becomes to separate from the common ideals of modern society. Each passing month, I find new ways to simplify my life, and find increasing joy in the simplicity.

As I read books like "Little House On The Prairie" to my children, or "The Hawk and the Dove" (stories set in a monastery in the 1300's) to myself, my spirit is awakened and my heart sings. These stories of simpler lives speak to my soul. I do not glorify the romance of olden times, wishing I could be part of a different age (at least not one before the inventions of indoor plumbing and electric blankets). But I do see and value things that have been lost, things I want to recover for myself and my family.

Our house is not large by current American standards: 1500 sq ft, no basement or attic. When we moved here, we had dreams of adding on a large addition. But after reading the Little House series with my kids, I began to ask myself, "Do I need more space, or just less stuff?"
"Which would make my life more comfortable, luxury or simplicity?"
It is a profound question.

Doing some early spring shopping, I actually found myself checking the price on the perfect bathing suit, thinking, "$40? I wonder how many bags of potting soil I could get instead." It was then that I realized the enormity of the change in my priorities. When I went to check out (sans bathing suit), I overheard a young woman in the aisle next to me saying to her friend, "sometimes all the therapy I need is a trip out shopping." I looked at the conveyor belt holding my things: diapers, toilet paper, crayons, and a small bag of balloons. And I realized how simple my family's needs are compared to what they used to be.

My husband was expostulating to me one day about the problems with consumerism. Here is a snippet of his rant:
 "Look at nature, where in nature do you see consumers? Locusts! I do not want to be a locust!"
It always amuses me to watch my husband step onto a soap box and get worked up, with me as his only audience, knowing full well that I already agree with him. Nevertheless, his words stuck with me. "I do not want to be a locust."

So what does that mean? I think for me it means that my house is not a factory where shopping bags go in and garbage bags go out. And I'm not even talking about living greener (though I do work toward that), what I am talking about is a simpler, more peaceful, less cluttered, less chaotic lifestyle. A lifestyle with fewer demands on my attention. What amazes me is that I am actually achieving it; and where I thought I would feel deprived, I instead feel free.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

We're Surrounded

I recently completed growing our fourth child. Sounds weird, I know, but I make no apologies. Sharing your body with a growing human who is sucking the life out of you is exactly as weird as it sounds. Many women paint it to be "such a magical time," a beautiful miracle, every moment of which should be cherished. And there certainly is truth in that view. However, there are also parts that are creepy and gross, and more like a science fiction thriller than a fairy tale.
I am pretty proud of my ability to grow a person, though. Sometimes when a person asks me what I do for a living and I'm feeling extra defensive about working 160 hours a week without getting paid, I give them some vague answer about being in manufacturing, just hoping they will ask me what it is I manufacture.

I was prepared this time around to start getting many more weird looks and rude comments, "Four?! Why would you want four? Don't you know everyone else in the country stops after 2 or 3?" But it really hasn't been that way. It actually seems like there was this great big relief of tension. People have been suspicious of us for years, and now they know, we really are nuts. As soon as people realize you actually are nuts instead of always wondering, they become much more relaxed, I think.

Now to give credit to all the people who thought four was a lot of kids... it is. Bringing our fourth child home from the hospital was a much more overwhelming experience than we anticipated. And it was compounded by the fact that our whole family was fighting off a nasty infection, and sick kids needed to be cared for in a separate location from our new little one. And for a few days, Alex and I were inclined to sit and stare at whatever wall was in front of us, commenting aside to each other, "I just can't stand all the noise." And, "I think if another kid sneezes on the baby I will send them out to live in the barn."

When I was younger and would tell people my plans (or more accurately, my husband's plans that I took credit for), they would still give me the benefit of the doubt. They didn't believe I was really bonkers; they thought I was innocently deceived and so they tried to enlighten me and show me how foolish I was. Now that I've actually moved out to a farm, bought livestock, planted a garden bigger than my house, and birthed my fourth child, people have stopped treating me like I'm crazy. In fact, in my own weird way, I seem to have become cool. Because people can come hang out at our petting zoo, see strange birds they don't know the names of, eat food that was picked hours ago, and enjoy the smells and sounds a breeze makes when it blows through trees, far away from roads, structures, trash and machinery.

It really is a beautiful life. Because that is exactly what I am surrounded by, life. Life growing inside me and around me, flowers, trees, vines, fruits, vegetables, children running and falling down giggling, animals making some goofy and some really gloriously musical sounds, and a mesmerizing little baby boy whose beautiful presence inspires people to sit and quietly watch him sleep. It is gorgeous and pure and free and peaceful. I love my life. It is good to be crazy... and I have limes growing in my house; if that isn't cool, I don't know what is.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The best and worst mom... of the best and worst kids

I am an excellent mother. I put other mothers to shame, and frequently feel uncomfortable in the knowledge that this woman or that woman is looking at me with resentment when she finds out that my kids haven't watched television for a month, I have read 5 chapter books to them in that month, and I dug 36 post holes by hand and fenced my 1500 sq ft garden by myself while home with the kids.

On the other hand, I am the mommy that feels like a little girl playing house when she is around the other real mommies. A zoo trip with friends usually involves me borrowing supplies from their diaper bags. In fact, the list of things that are not in my diaper bag makes me want to hang my head and wave my little surrender flag... except, oh yeah, I will need to borrow one of those as well.

On the one hand, my children are thoughtful mature little people who will voluntarily postpone their birthday parties until ALL their relatives are available to come, because they would rather have everyone they love all be together than get their presents sooner. They will produce deep, insightful reflections about their faith in God or their sympathy toward another person's struggle. Pulling weeds with my 7 year old will get him talking about the Holy Spirit's work in his own heart. Little angels right?

On the other hand, my children are wild, untamed monkey children. No joke, they swing from trees and furniture, and one time while I was driving, a banana peel flew from the backseat and hit me in the back of the head. In warm weather, it is a daily command of mine: "You MUST wear clothes outside!" They can and will climb anything and then jump off just for the thrill of the fall, regardless of consequence to their limbs. I believe I should be awarded an honorary nursing degree in leu of the injuries I have tended.

My husband and I contained our children into an elevator once and began explaining how they should exit slowly so as not to knock anyone over. Then the elevator stopped mid trip on another floor to pick up more passengers, and our kids exploded out in a blur of giggles. My husband held the elevator open while I chased and herded kids from all directions back into the elevator. Thirty minutes later, they were complimented by an elderly lady (who had not witnessed the burst out of the elevator) on how politely and maturely they sat and dined in a restaurant. She complimented me on having model children. I smiled and politely took the compliment feeling it somewhat made up for sitting in my car crying after a certain recent shopping trip where my children screamed, knocked things over, rolled on the floor and had to be carried out to the car screaming, "Mean Mommy!"

The truth is, I and my children are complex people with great strengths and great weaknesses. The frustrating thing is that some people only seem to witness one or the other.

I frequently am complimented by people on how "improved" my children are from what they were before. And I am raising my eyebrows thinking, "Yesterday I scrubbed sharpie off the wall, bandaged the spurting head of a child of mine who had been hit with a shovel by one of the others, and paid for a demolished library book." And later I realize that, rather than blushing and saying, "um... Thanks?" I should have responded, "My children are certainly growing, but there has been no miraculous transformation, you just happened to witness them on a good day after a series of bad experiences with them." Because the truth is, they have great days and horrible days, and no one should ever assume that what they have seen of my children for five minutes is an example of what they are like the rest of the time. And the same goes for me. I can be that neat and orderly woman escorting the silent courteous children through a quiet bookstore, and an hour later I can be at home covered in slop, screaming at my kids, "If I have to tell you to put away this crap one more time, I'm throwing away all your toys!"

Monday, March 17, 2014

Zombies, Hawks, Minks and Other Chicken Molesters

Zombies, Hawks, Minks and Other Chicken Molesters 

There are many arts that do not receive their deserved credit. Some of the finer more delicate things in life are looked down on by those who are ignorant and inexperienced with the intricate and careful balance of, oh let's say the art of keeping a flock of chickens alive. Forget happy, healthy and clean, just alive is a difficult goal that requires vigilance and finesse. Upon moving out to the county I discovered how glorified my idea of nature was, and I was disillusioned as the cold, harsh truth of reality set in. Nature is mean. Nature is messy. Nature is infested with all sorts of irritating pests. The bugs alone, would make a less stubborn person pack up and move back to the city. 

Raising chickens is an enlightening and enriching experience, but it is also horrifying. The excrement I was prepared for. The disposal of dead bodies is something I learned to deal with. And by "deal with," I mean deny the existence of until my brave husband arrives prepared to handle. What I really struggle with are the predators. We have lost 9 chickens to hawks, 7 to a mink (we think), more than 20 to a disease, a handful to frostbite, several to birth defects, and a few sad little babies that couldn't bust their way out of their eggs. 

We have done everything we can to secure our coop and run from predators, but the chickens are escape artists. They are incredibly stupid birds when it comes to everything except getting food. And there is a great green world out there crawling with delicious plants and insects. I love letting my chickens free range, because they rid my garden of pesky little bugs, and save me a bundle in the cost of chicken feed. But because of the hawks, I only let the chickens out on days I am prepared to be outside all day or stand guard at the window. 

Many of my chickens have grown wise, and when they see a shadow sweep across the lawn, they run and hide under the deck. Our oldest and wisest birds will even squawk out a loud, rhythmic warning to all the other birds until the coast is clear. This sound is my signal to run out of the house waving my arms in the air, yelling, to scare off any hawks. I am so glad I have no near neighbors, as this happens several times in a day. One day, standing by the window watching a few birds that had managed to escape the run, I was talking on the phone with my mother, and out of the corner of my eye saw a hawk diving toward the ground. I ran out of the house screaming at the top of my lungs, "NOOOOO!!! Get away from her!!!" and hung up the phone. My poor mother. I did successfully scare the hawk away before it could grab one of my hens.

Nine other birds of mine were not so lucky. Nine! I hate hawks. And the infernal beasts are protected by the federal government. So there is not much you can do when your farm becomes the favored lunch spot. The most upsetting hawk attack was when our 5 year old son ran into the house shouting that there was a hawk in the garden. Our brave boy then grabbed a big stick and ran back out thinking he would beat the hawk off our chicken, and he did scare the hawk away. What we found was one of our Polish crested hens, Wanda, half eaten, and still breathing. Alex had to shoot her, and it was an upsetting day for all of us. It is a very violating feeling when beasts break in and eat the animals you work hard to care for. I'm sure this sounds ridiculous to most of my readers (but let's face it, it is the ridiculous that keeps you coming back to these stories), but I love my chickens. And I am really okay with being "The Crazy Chicken Lady." Better that than Crazy Cat Lady, or worse, Crazy Snake Lady.

The worst experience was just this past week. One morning Alex's brother was here and told us he thought he had seen a mink. I innocently though, Oh, how cute! Well it turns out these minks are crafty little creatures that like to rip the heads off animals and suck their blood. Seriously, I could not make this stuff up. And this horrid little animal squeezed through a crack under the big chicken coop door, climbed up the wire fencing around the inner wall  ripped a hole in the door screening, and attacked our chickens. It decapitated 7 of our chickens (all expensive, designer breeds, apparently minks have discriminating taste), and ripped the face off of our favorite pet chicken, Gwen. If you have been to my house, you might remember Gwen as the friendly bird that runs to greet you and be held. Gwen is separated now and her wounds are being treated. It has been 3 days, and we have hope that she will make a good recovery. Our poor hens are now traumatized and "sleep" up in the rafters, with one eye open, cramming their fluffy hindquarters onto a tiny ledge. Our coop has been reinforced and barricaded, and a few live traps set. And I am hoping to add a fashionable brown fur to some article of clothing very soon.

Finally, my zombie story. One afternoon, after putting all 3 children down for naps, I collapsed on my sofa and started to doze. I was woken by a sound I had never heard. It was loud, it was perilous, and it was chickenish. I ran out the door, rounded the corner of the garden, came into view of the chicken run and saw a predatorial animal that will hereafter only be referred to as "zombie" stuck under the fence to the run. Facing off with the zombie was my little teapot sized rooster, Aggie, and it was from him that the screams came. Barely taking all this in, I turned and ran back into the house. I erupted through the front door and ran to the gun cabinet, waking my oldest child. I selected my weapon of choice, my grandfather's old double-barreled side-by-side 20 gauge shotgun, grabbed a couple shells out of the safe and ran back out. I loaded the barrels as I ran, and when I rounded the corner of the garden this time, I snapped the barrel up, brought the stock of the gun to my shoulder, pushed the safety forward and took aim just as the zombie was wiggling free of the fence into the chicken run. At this point my rooster was on top of the zombie attacking with all his might. I hated to shoot my bird, but if I didn't, he was dead for sure. Bang! Aggie flew off and scuttled into the coop where the hens were hiding. The zombie was down. I ran into the coop to see if Aggie was okay. He was hiding in the corner looking stunned, but there was no sign of blood. I came back out and examined the zombie. At first it looked as though its fur was blowing in the wind, but then I saw that the movement was too rhythmic. 
Bang! I shot again. There was a puff of fur and the zombie slid a couple feet from the shock. I waited. It was still breathing! I ran into the house and got two more shells, heavier buckshot this time. I came out, stood closer, about 10 feet away, and hit it with both shells. It was still breathing. Shaking and horrified, I ran in the house and got two more shells. I came back and ventured even closer, 5 feet away. I shot again. And, no joke, this zombie lifted it's head up and looked me straight in the eyes...
 "Why won't you die?!" I screamed at it. One final shot and it was finally still. I went in the house crying, and did not let the kids go out the rest of the day. When Alex got home, I urged him to take a gun and a stick when he went to dispose of the body and make sure it was really dead. He chuckled at my fear of the "zombie." But he also joked that I had never been more attractive.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Catching up

Over the last year, a handful of people have commented that they really missed my blogs. I was touched. I never considered my blog to be anything more than me practicing writing stories for the entertainment of a few of my friends. To have people saying a year later that they really miss those stories, was a huge surprise.

My response when people have asked me why I stopped blogging, has been, "this just hasn't been a funny year." And it is true. 2013 was a very difficult year for me.
Leading into 2013, I had a dream that my house burnt down. In the dream, I heard God's voice, and he said to me, "this is going to bless you." When I woke up, I packed up the kids, took them to Target and bought the biggest fire safe the store had. I thought the only way a fire could be a blessing to me was if I secured everything irreplaceable. So I put all my journals, everything I've written to my children, every important document and an external hard drive with all out photos on it into the safe. And then I calmly waited for my house to burn down, that is after requiring my  everlastingly appeasing husband to haul the 300 lb safe into the the house and position it where I liked.

Shortly after, God lead me to Hebrews 12, which speaks of everything being shaken so that only what is unshakeable will remain... And, "God is a consuming fire."
Then the year 2013 hit. I came down with a miserable stomach bug, feeling like I had been poisoned. Two days later, I broke my ankle. Two days after that I was hospitalized with pancreatitis (possibly the least humorous experience of my life). The night I came home from the hospital, my husband drove our son to the ER with an aggressive and terrifying allergic reaction. A couple days after that our breaker box fried and literally should have burnt down our house. After the pancreatitis, I had episodes of feeling like I was poisoned about every 2-4 weeks for several months. Our son battled a digestive illness of his own, and then broke his arm. Our bathtub cracked in half. In a mysterious incident, something or someone turned on a water valve under our house, which drained our well, which fried our well pump. Our van died on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Our chickens contracted some sort of contagious disease, and our flock was cut from 54 to 16. The tenant at a house we own trashed the place and left. I continued to be sick, feeling poisoned. I had every medical test imaginable, visited many doctors, pursued several forms of alternative medicine. I became obsessed with finding the truth about digestion, my environment and lifestyle and anything that could be poisoning me. I spent all our money on doctors, organic food, herbal therapies... Anything to be functional again. I felt like a horrible mother, exhausted and irritable all the time. It got so bad that every time I ate, it felt like my brain was swelling. I couldn't think, my vision was blurry, my speech was slurred and parts of my face went numb. I couldn't eat. I was losing weight and obsessively reading and researching trying to find the truth about foods, toxins and digestive health. I learned a lot. And mostly, my desire to live a simple life following God grew and grew. Finally the doctors ran out of tests to run, and suggested I try anti-depressants. I hadn't thought I was depressed, but the thought that it was all in my head, that I was somehow inflicting all of this on myself... Now that was depressing.

There is the skeleton of 2013, now here is the flesh. What an incredible year! God provided for every need. Never in my life have I experienced anything like the peace, the grace, and the overwhelming favor of that year. Everything was taken care of. I was taken care of. I never had a chance to worry about each thing before it was covered. Bills paid. Car towed for free and fixed for free. Friends coming into my home and caring for my family. Everything fixed within hours of being broken. What an amazing year! Certainly there have been amazing stories to tell. But until now, I have not felt well enough to tell them. And they are not the funny, light-hearted stories I like to share online.

I will tell one funny homesteading story from 2013. Alex and I have long had the dream of making our own maple syrup. We researched what kind of trees you need and found 5 good trees in our yard. When there was a warm spell last winter, we tapped the trees and started collecting sap in buckets. It takes about 30-40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. So we kept it in sealed containers on our front porch until we felt we had enough to start sugaring. Since I was recovering from my hospitalization, we had my parents over to help with the project. So we got everything set up outside: a large wood fire, plenty of comfortable seating, a large pot to cook it in, long-handled spoons, a strainer for skimming the sap, a timer and a thermometer. What we did not account for was the wind. It was cold, and windy. And it is very difficult to keep a wood fire hot enough to boil sap when the wind is blowing on it. Moving the project inside would mean risking a sticky coating covering everything in my kitchen from the steam rising off the sap. All the experts agreed, outside on a wood fire is the way to go.

Well you can imagine how long two small children, an infant and a woman recovering from illness can sit outside on a cold windy day. Pretty soon, my husband and mother were out there on their own. And then eventually, it was just Alex. After 6 hours of stoking the fire, he was the only one left who had any hope of making syrup. Out there in the cold, grumbling to himself he kept checking the temperature, skimming the foam and feeding the fire. His organized table of utensils had been ravaged by bored children, and there were sticky paper towels everywhere. After checking the temperature, he set the meat thermometer down on a log, pointy skewer sticking up so it would not roll away.  He went back into the woods to find more dead wood, brought it back, stoked the fire, then sat down for a rest... On his log... Where he had left the meat thermometer sticking up. Feeling an intense pain in his tuckis, he jumped up to see what had bit him. He spun round and investigated the log... Nothing there. Turning, he felt another shooting pain. Knowing my husband, he probably shouted out, "Mother Monkey!," or, "Sweet Cup'n'cakes!," or possibly something less palatable. Reaching behind him, he felt the meat thermometer sticking out of his... well, rump roast. He grabbed hold of the sticky skewer, and gave a mighty tug.

In the end, Alex could not sit down comfortably for several days, but he successfully made a quart of syrup. After it sat on our mantel for several months, I decided to keep the meat thermometer, and sterilized it carefully.

Now, we are on to 2014 with high hopes that this year will bring some great changes. With renewed passion for living a simple, Godly, self-sustaining, healthy life, we are excited to kick off a new year of country life. We are hoping this year will bring us an abundance of home grown healthy food, a milking goat and maybe a honeybee hive.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Chickens Are Hazardous To Your Health

After my most recent injury, my husband declared, "Chickens are hazardous to your health!"

First to experience this was Alex's mom, who has a small coop with a handful of chickens in it. One dark and rainy night was making her way out to her coop to close the ladies up for the night. It was cold and wet, and she was in a hurry. Zipping through the gate into the chickens' fenced run, she slipped. Her feet flew out in front of her, and the flashlight she was carrying swung up and smote her forehead. As she fell, she reached out and grabbed hold of the fence, which had a loose wire poking out. The wire sliced open her finger. In a bedraggled and humiliated state, she presented herself to her husband (who had thought this chicken scheme a ridiculous business in the first place), he had a little laugh and then took her to get stitches.

A few weeks after his mother's injury, Alex went out after dark to close up our chicken coop. It was another very dark, cold, windy night. Out in our neck of the woods, dark does not even begin to describe a starless night. There are no streetlights or neighboring house lights. When you leave the small circle of light emanating from the windows of our house, you step out into a vast yet smothering unknown. After his task was complete, Alex was running back to the house, swinging his flashlight in every direction but in front of him, when he became aware that he was on his back, feeling like someone had taken a baseball bat to his shins. Sputtering and swearing, he hopped up looking around for the jerk that hit him, and saw our fire pit. I had dragged it up by the house earlier in the week to play campout and make s'mores with the kids. He must have been running very fast, because he flipped clear over the fire pit, landing on and spraining his wrist.

The crown jewel, though, in our chicken-related injuries, was my experience last month. Alex has this wonderful pair of massive, neoprene hunting boots. When I say massive, think Mega Man, in real tree cammo. I love these boots. They are warm, and best of all, they aren't mine. I wear them every time I go outside when it is cold or wet, and I wear them every time I go to the chicken coop. I have many times entertained the idea of getting them in my size, but the shallow truth is, if I am going to spend $80 on a pair of boots, they are going to be trimmed in fur and oh so pretty. Alex's boots are perfect for walking in chicken poop.

As I do every morning, I tromped out to the coop in Alex's boots to greet my chickens, collect their eggs, and let them out into their run. This particular morning it was very snowy, and the chickens had knocked over their waterer the day before. When they saw me, in my snow covered boots, they accosted me in one big fluffy mob the moment I opened the door, all fighting each other to peck the snow off of my boots. Realizing, I would never get them all back in, I decided to go around outside to their run to open their little pop door, hoping they would turn their frenzy toward the snow outside. As I was awkwardly stepping with my big boots through the sea of chickens, trying to get the proper footing to step out of the coop (a 2 foot drop), I tripped over a chicken. I missed the step, spun and fell. With just enough room in the boot for my foot to turn on it's side, but not enough to roll, I landed on the side of my foot and heard a crunch. Then pain, oh unholy pain! Somehow I crawled/hobbled back to the house (after closing the shed doors so no chickens could escape). Gasping and whimpering, I crawled into the house, where my responsible five-year-old called his daddy and set me up on the couch with pillows, blankets, ice, a drink and a movie.

Alex came home, packed us all up and drove me 20 miles to the nearest urgent care... then back home to get my wallet with my ID, then back to urgent care. Long story short, I fractured my fibula, and got to tell my crazy chicken story to a lot of doctors, nurses, receptionists, and radiologists. Did I mention I was wearing my pajamas? The only thing that would have made me feel more redneck is if I was toting a mason jar full of moonshine. Now I am in a boot for 10 weeks, hoping to be back to normal in time for spring planting.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Amelia Soup

I find myself having little patience with people who think something is gross or beneath them, when they are simply coming from a place of ignorance. Sure, it is easier for people to not think about where their food comes from. But it is absurd to believe they are somehow better because they refuse to think about these things.

I have even had people act disturbed by our eggs, because they did not like being brought to the realization that the eggs they eat were once inside an animal. Thanks to Disney movies and a consumerist lifestyle, we can have this distorted and glorified view of nature, without ever touching it. Not my family, we touch it, plant it, grow it, eat it, raise it, feed it, scoop its poop, butcher it, and eat it. From my high horse I like to pretend this does not phase me at all. We are connected with our food and the natural world around us, and I like to act like this is a higher plane of existence. But I have to confess, there are times that the city girl in me runs away retching.

Just yesterday, I went into the coop to get the eggs and found one of our chickens lying on the floor dead. My husband, great warrior, hunter, he-man, handles dead animals without even an inward shudder. Me... no, I circled around inside that coop whimpering for 10 minutes, working up the nerve to pick up the chicken's foot with my sleeve and remove it to just outside the door, where Alex could deal with it when he got home.

Last summer I was walking out to my car, when I was greeted by a longer than usual garter snake with its head raised more than a foot off the ground. Brave homesteader that I am, I turned around with a squeal and ran... and wore tall boots every time I exited the house for the next two weeks.

And my crown jewel of deglorified country living was this fall when we butchered our first chicken. Earlier, my husband butchered his mother's two roosters, and I stayed pretty distant from the whole affair. But then came Amelia...

Amelia Bedelia was one of my prized baby Ameraucanas. These are the chickens that lay blue/green eggs. She was a sweet bird, but after a bit it became clear she was not a pure bred. She had bright yellow legs (Ameraucanas have slate colored legs), iridescent feathers, and stood significantly taller than our other chickens. Being excessively tall and timid, she ran with her head down in such a way that made her look like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. In spite of her monstrous size and awkwardness, she really was the sweetest bird. Even though she was twice the size of our other chickens, she was dominated by all of them. We spent quite a bit of time out there watching her, scratching our heads, asking, "What kind of chicken is that?"

As she kept getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger... and her feathers kept getting longer, and more colorful, our suspicions grew that she was not a she. But she was still so docile. And if she was a rooster, why had she not started crowing a month ago? Well, early one fall morning, Alex was hunting in his tree stand at the back of our property and heard Aggie's familiar "Er-er-OO-oo-oo." Sort of sounds like a door swinging back and forth on a squeaky hinge. Then he heard a long, low, trilling, "ArOOOooooo," more like an ancient war horn. It was the oddest, most beautiful crow, but it was the death toll for Amelia.

While I could not kill Aggie, because he is small and harmless, Amelia was huge. When those male hormones kicked in, she (we kept referring to her as "her," because it seemed like a wasted effort to switch when she was about to be gone) would most likely kill Aggie and become dangerous to our children, and the crowing signified that she was changing. I was sad to see her go, but I was in a hurry. There was a day that next week when Alex had time, and we were low on groceries. So, I decided that I would immortalize Amelia in a new soup recipe I had dreamed up, and I would forever call the recipe "Amelia Soup."

Alex went out to the coop and brought out the sweet, innocent Amelia. We both felt a little nervous and wanting to be done with the whole affair.
The whole process of butchering, plucking, gutting and dressing this bird was awkward and gross. She was past the age where this is usually done, so her skin was extra thick and tough, and being in a hurry to be done with this unpleasant job, we made a series of mistakes in our haste.
Alex had trouble plucking her, and had heard that you can singe off remaining feathers with a propane torch. He did this, and found that the smell of burnt feathers is aggressively offensive. But worse, somehow the feather pins melted under the skin. So once I got her in the kitchen, rather than picking them out, I had to pop them like black, stinky, gooey pimples. Every time one popped, the smell of burnt feathers filled my kitchen and seemed to reach out and grab me by the throat.
We forgot that you are supposed to not feed the chicken for 24 hours before butchering. This is not necessary, but gutting an empty chicken is far less disgusting than a chicken full of food and poop. When Alex got to that part, he was so disgusted with the stuff squirting out of the carcass all over himself, he made the bigger mistake. He forgot to cut out the crop. The crop is a pouch at the base of the chicken's neck where they predigest food.

So, I dressed, seasoned and roasted this bird with the crop still in her chest. She didn't smell quite right coming out of the oven, but we made a feast of it. I had made all kinds of side dishes, we used our best pottery and came to the table with a reverential sort of anticipation. We were experiencing a closeness with our food like never before. I was glorifying the situation in my mind, thinking how we were really experiencing life, giving our kids an in-depth education, and learning to really value and respect our food... the life that is given, the work that is done... I had it worked up to a downright spiritual experience. Then I cut into the crop. Yellow goo squirted out all over the meat. Not knowing what it was, assuming it was fat, we brushed it aside and cut and served the meat. It smelled like clams, bad clams. We each ate a few bites and were done. We tried to eat the vegetables I had cooked in the broth, but they tasted like bad clams too.

When we cleaned up after dinner, I cut up the rest of the bird and started preparing to make my soup. I cleaned up the meat, and put it in the fridge, and put the carcass in my stock pot with all kinds of wonderful things to make a great broth. The next morning, I awoke to a new and disturbing stench permeating every corner of my house. I took my broth and made my extraordinary Amelia Soup. The soup was initially wonderful, but had an overpowering aftertaste of bad clams.

For two days our house reeked. And I went into that awful state that every woman does when her house stinks. I ended up having to scrub all the dishes and my skin with vinegar to get rid of the smell. And three months later, one of those dishes is still sitting on my back deck covered in snow, with what used to be the broccoli that was cooked in Amelia's broth still inside. I figure by spring it will have decomposed into dirt and I will wash the dish then.

Amelia Soup
(I have since made this recipe with other birds, and it really is a good recipe, though all my glittering ideals of immortalizing Amelia are shattered)

2 qts chicken broth
6-10 oz chicken meat cut up
1 large can of stewed tomatoes in juice
2 celery stalks chopped
2 cloves of garlic pressed
 - simmer 10 min
1 sweet onion chopped
2 large carrots peeled and chopped
1/4 cup dry orzo pasta
 - simmer 10 min
1 can wax beans drained and rinsed
2 cups chopped collard greens
 - simmer 10 min

garnish with pesto and serve, serves 6-8 people