Category Archives: Farm life

Could You Have Nest-Box-Checking Disorder?

Anyone who works at home should have a chicken coop. Forget rummaging through the refrigerator, surfing Facebook, or even sneaking a spell on the couch to flip through catalogues (I never do that)—checking the hens’ nesting boxes for eggs is the best procrastinating maneuver ever. I should know. I’ve been getting up from the computer about 12 times a day to go outside and look for eggs. I guess I have Nest-Box-Checking Disorder, because I can’t help myself. Finding an egg in the hay—especially when it is still warm and I can hold it in my cold hands like a little hot water bottle—is like Christmas morning, over and over again. (Much better than Groundhog Day.)

During the darkest days of winter, we were only getting a couple of eggs a day. Now that the days are growing longer (we’ll have a whopping10 full hours of daylight on Feb. 11), the ladies are laying more. (Some gals were molting, too, so they were redirecting their energies towards changing their feathers rather than laying.) Sometimes when I go to check, there are three or four eggs lying together—almost always in the same box, as these girls have a strange preference for crowding. We keep a special bowl in the mudroom for collecting the day’s eggs, so that anyone can add to it. (Roy often checks the boxes first-thing when he comes home from work, as he has Nest-Box-Checking Disorder, too. The hardest thing to do for both of us is to refrain from checking when Libby is here, because, after all, it’s not a very nice thing for an adult to usurp this especially kid-friendly activity.) At the end of the day, we count up the eggs, ooh and ah over the different shapes and colors and speckles, and refrigerate them.

Even if there aren’t any eggs in the boxes, I still get a kick out of visiting with the ladies. They make all kinds of clucking noises and rush from their outer pen to greet me, as they know I often have lettuce or hamburger buns or leftover roasted vegetables for them. It’s a good life these gals lead; we just got them a special heated chicken-waterer so their water isn’t frozen over in the morning. (Actually, the present was more for us, as walking back to the house to change the water every morning is a pain.)

While I love checking on the ladies, I have elevated the art of procrastination to include all of the animals on the farmette. Cocoa Bunny literally runs circles around her cage if you bring her a green treat (like these Brussels sprouts), and Farmer is up for a good walk about a zillion times a day. Most mornings, and usually almost every evening around dusk, Farmer and I track the wild bunnies, which thrive here in a Watership Down kind of way. God knows how many there are—maybe thousands? There were so many tracks in the snow this morning that Farmer’s nose was snow-encrusted with all that sniffing.

If all else fails, my last procrastination technique is to look out the window right next to my desk. If there aren’t birds snacking at the birdfeeder Roy has kindly hung within my sight, then a group of six or eight wild turkeys is often strolling by, just a few feet away. They’re good for a glance or two. But I don’t think I’ll ever get Bird-Watching Disorder. After all, looking out the window is not half as much fun as actually getting up from the computer and walking outside. And coming back in with something good to eat.

Cow-Spotting, Garden-opoly, A Girl, & A Dog–Reasons to Forgo New Year’s Resolutions

Lately I’ve been accomplishing nothing and enjoying everything. This may seem like a small matter, but for me it is a big deal. For years I rushed from one thing to the next; I couldn’t stay still long enough to appreciate and experience the good stuff right in front of me. I thought being goal-oriented was a good thing; now I think that strategy is flawed. That’s why I don’t make so called “New-Year’s Resolutions” which I think we forcefully and awkwardly impose on ourselves to manufacture some sort of tangible (usually physical) benefit, while we leave our inner selves untended to. My only real goal these days is to stay present in my life. This means slowing down, being patient, and listening to what the universe is trying to tell me.

This weekend that meant watching a little girl grow. We picked Libby up and brought her out to the Island on Thursday and returned her to Falmouth Monday night. Roy is working hard on a house renovation, so Libby (and Farmer, aka The Black Rider) and I set out to have a good time together during the day while Roy worked. By the end of the holiday, it wasn’t just the physical time spent with Libby that I enjoyed so much—it was the surreal sense I got of watching her personality forming, her confidence building, her creativity exploding, that made my spine tingle. Never could I have been a witness to this in my old life; I believe that’s why Libby showed up in my life when she did.

We played four rounds of our new board game, Garden-opoly, a thoughtful gift from my sister Eleanor. And this is just uncanny: Libby won almost every time, just like she does when we play Monopoly. (I thought maybe I stood a chance with this game; when we played with Roy on New Year’s Eve, I was in the lead before we went to bed. That was the best I did all weekend.)

Many people would find endless hours of board games and being beaten by a nine-year-old hard to take, but the giggles and smiles and gleeful squirming were just priceless. Plus, there’s a whole improvisational story line that arises when someone’s hot—we started calling Libby “Miss Gardenopolis.” Watching her organize her properties (her favorites, not surprisingly, were Tomato Terrace, Green Bean Bypass, and Strawberry Fields), stack her money, and build her “greenhouses” (aka hotels) made us proud. (It makes me think she’ll make good financial decisions when she grows up! Her biggest strategy is to hide one of her $500 bills under the board until late in the game. She doesn’t buy every property she lands on, either—how can that be?!) And seeing her exercise a bit of charity and kindness was gratifying too—she would occasionally offer to lend me some money or overlook a debt, and she chastised me when I passed up an opportunity to visit the “Free Compost” corner, where hundreds of dollars awaited. Libby’s prowess at Garden-opoly also makes me realize that I made a good decision to add a “Libby” section to the new expanded vegetable garden this year. I’m sure it will prosper.

On Friday, Farmer and Libby and I went cow-spotting down at the FARM Institute, taking along our cameras (Libby got one for Christmas) to photograph the interesting beef cattle lolling around. (Fortunately, Libby is crazy about animals—probably even more than I am, so farm trips are easy entertainment for us.) Afterwards, we went shopping for the ingredients for home-made pizza (her favorite—she is chief “decorator”) for Friday night and roast chicken and make-your-own-brownie sundaes for New Year’s Eve. (Fabulous brownie recipe here. Pizza recipe coming in new book.)

Probably the most fascinating thing for me was seeing how Libby entertained herself during those times when I did need to do a little desk work or a few house chores. One morning, she built an elaborate “condo” out of leftover Christmas boxes and home-made confetti for her collection of little toy lizards. There was also a larger toy dragon protecting the kingdom from intruders. (And an entire narrative to go along with this.) But I especially loved watching the games she devised to play with Farmer. Often a dish towel or a kitchen apron would make it into the  mix—either used to dress up Farmer, who doesn’t seem to mind a bonnet or a skirt—or as a bullfighter’s cape. (Toro! Toro!) Ring-Around-the-Rosie was popular…though noisy. (Everything shakes when these two race around the downstairs of this tiny farm house, which literally has only three rooms—not including the mudroom—on the first floor, and also has terribly uneven floors.) Hide-and-seek was popular, too. And occasionally, Libby (who is tiny for her age) would actually get on top of Farmer and ride him like a horse. Amazingly, this dog thinks there is nothing more fun. (He’s been a total nut since she left.)

Since Farmer and Libby wear each other out, eventually Farmer climbs up on the couch and passes out. Then Libby, in her feetsy-pajamas, lays down next to him and rests her head on his chest. Roy smiles and I just sigh. Watching these two befriend each other is a hoot. And spending time with Libby isn’t just rewarding—it’s a whole lot of fun.