Unceremonious Endings

Two of my activities today got me thinking about all the times I have lost jobs. Technically I have never been fired – at least in the sense of someone looking me in the eye and saying “You’re fired!” But that is only because two of my former bosses were simply too chicken to do so. One of them took 9/11 as an opportunity to quick give my class to someone else. (I had missed the start of the semester because I was stuck in the States waiting for a chance to fly back to Austria.) That new teacher ended up calling me to tell me the news. Never heard a peep from the boss about it.

About 10 years later I got fired by forwarded email from my boss’s boss instructing me to clear out my office and give back any of the Institute’s stuff I might have. The layoff itself did not come as a surprise to me, but the way it was done was galling. A particularly nice sendoff after 25 years of employment . . .

Today, a new twist on this form of email termination was born. I wrote an email to my boss requesting that the university course I have been teaching be cancelled. In other words, I basically fired myself. This was not the easiest thing to do because I always loved teaching this particular course. Unfortunately the whole program is winding down and the number of students has been dwindling for years. Last year I had to go and proactively look for students – corral a few warm bodies into my classroom to teach. This year I didn’t want to do that anymore.

So I am down to one job now. I would be feeling sorry for myself if not for three of our chickens who have had an even harder day. Remember those four chicks we got for the purpose of keeping our one incubator chick company? Well, all four of them turned out to be roosters. Three of them had to go and today was the day.

We grabbed them, stuffed them in a box, and my husband drove them to the local . . . Chicken Ender. A half hour later, he was back home with a bulging plastic bag.

Tomorrow one of the roosters is going into the oven and then comes the moment of truth. I am not convinced that I will really be able to eat him. My husband is determined to cultivate a realistic attitude about it all. He says if he can’t handle the fact that animals – even those he knew when alive – are killed and eaten, then he should become a vegetarian.

I, on the other hand, am considering turning the meal into a little ceremony. I will take a moment to remember and honor this rooster for his many contributions to our family enterprise. I will thank him for his good work and give him the thoughtful sendoff he so richly deserved.

I’ll try hard not to gag.



And God Saw That It Was Not Good.

(Summer Vacation – Day Five)

I did something today that I haven’t done in ages. I opened up a bible and read a bit. Full disclosure: the morning had started badly, slowly got worse, and by early evening, I was having trouble writing the day’s post. I did not turn to the bible for comfort, but out of a weird sort of curiosity: when God was creating the world, how did His fifth day go?

Here is the King James Version of Genesis 1: 20-21:

20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Oh, the irony! This is how my day went:

In the morning I went to feed the animals and found my German Reich’s chicken looking decidedly . . . un-imperialistic. He seemed an unmoving creature that hath little life.

In the afternoon, I began my house project (“clean porches”) by bringing some pans into the kitchen that my husband had used in a barbecuing competition a few weeks back. As I pried them apart, I discovered a colony of maggots living between them. I scalded them to death and washed them down the drain. The waters sent them forth abundantly.

Later in the day, I buried another fowl.

23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

Forgive me for skipping out on the blog reading today.

Day Ten Thousand, Five Hundred and Ninety-three

Actually it is only Day Number 3 of my

Summer Vacation Plan

which went something like this:

Up at 5:30 am, coffee and some news watching. Answered emails. Went back to bed and slept for two wonderful hours. Then it was laundry, some general administrative work stuff, and more laundry. Then laundry, some house cleaning and laundry. Some dog walking and some more laundry. Cooked dinner, transferred the young chickens from the duck stall to the chicken stall. Scattered a trail of feed for the dumb ducks to lure them into their now empty house. If they opt to stay outside again, that is their choice. Now I am going to do one more load of laundry and then continue catching up on blog friends . . .

It is also Day Number 10,593 of my married life*. 29 years ago today I got married to a man who is currently on a 10-day fishing trip in Sweden.** Even so, roses mysteriously appeared this morning. They were in my favorite Christmas present from said man this year – a very silly vase which I just love. Yes, that is a picture of me holding my favorite chicken, Winnie. Ly took it.


* That is 29 x 365 + 7 (leap year days) + 1 (today).
**  They say “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will get a whole weekend to yourself.” In my case, it is a bit longer. But then, it is probably better that he is NOT here while I am executing The Plan . . .

The Final Four (Times Four)


If you live anywhere in the world outside of the United States, then the Number One thing on your mind is probably not the pwesident’s latest outrage; it is the world soccer championship. It’s all anyone talks about around here. I would love to dive into that wonderful distraction, but, unfortunately, I don’t give a flying (insert your word of choice) about soccer. All I know is that there are four rounds of finales and we are halfway through the first of those. In German it’s the “Achtelfinale” – in English, it is the one that comes before the quarter-finals. (The translator tells me that is “the final 16” – i.e. the final 4 x 4).


I have also just finished the “Final Four” weeks of the teaching year, during which all non-work aspects of a normal life are suspended as one spends 24/7 on school-related activities. In my case, that included helping to organize and execute the sports week, three field trips, the school festival, the graduation ceremony and poster, the year-in-review slideshow, and the practice tests and university exams (written and oral). In the middle of all that I invited my 11 Sekundaria kids to a sleepover at my house, and, oh yeah, I wrote 24 individual “this was your school year” letters – which is our alternative to report cards.


So now the students are all set free and I just have the final “Post-readying Week” to get through – four more days and my summer vacation will officially begin!


Finally, and tragically, I am now down to the final four of my original chicken flock (of eight). After successfully re-homing my rooster, three of my original hens – the hatching ones – all died on the same day. It took us a while to figure out why. It was mites. Millions of them, infesting our henhouse. We have got it mostly under control now, but I still blame myself for not figuring out that we had a problem sooner.  I no longer call myself a chicken whisperer.


But I don’t want to end on a depressing note. So I will add that the number four comes up a fifth time in this post. Starting four days from now, on July 5th, (the same day the school year is over for real) the second half of my fourth year of blogging will officially begin. And I have a plan to find my way back to regular posting and reading.

I have approximately 16 special, loyal blog friends  – the kind where communication goes both ways – or it did until I went on my blog-hiatus. I want to find my way back and part of that is the need and want to catch up on these particular people.

I am going to do one a day. Read everything he or she has written. Do some liking and commenting. Maybe dedicate my own post of the day to this person. With some of the more prolific ones, this might take quite a while (Hi, Kate!). Others will be done quite quickly (Hi, Quirkyone – you really should post more often!) In any case, if I do one a day, I should be done exactly the day before my sister plus hubby arrive for their visit and four days before we all take off for Ireland. Clearly, it is all meant to be.

It feels great to have a life again. And a plan.

And if you happen to be one of those 16 blog friends, I can only shout out a virtual warning . . . prepare for incoming! Or to put it another way . . .


Rooster Re-homed

I’m just gonna un-sentimentally cut to the chase – here’s a picture of our rooster, perched for his first night in his new coop. His lovely new owners were kind enough to send this picture to us last night.


Alas, Gustav, we hardly knew ye . . . . . .


Actually . . . that is not true at all!

With his constant loud crowing, we knew him too well – as did everyone else who lives within a half-mile radius. And as guests in our neighbors’ hotel did – some of whom wrote about Gustav (unfavorably) in their Booking.com reviews. He did his job so reliably, that all of our hens knew him too well too. They have the bald patches on their behinds to prove it. And two of them are now sitting on piles of eggs in the hen house. When the second one started brooding, that was the moment we realized Gustav was too much of a rooster for us.

So . . . Gustav may be gone from us now, but in about two weeks, we may have anywhere from 5 to 15 of his progeny running around our yard to remind us of him – and of what a gorgeous specimen he was (is):



Growing Pains

Two things in my life have been rapidly expanding lately and I would like to get both of them under control. One is my waistline (probably due to my having finally gotten off the nicotine.) The other is the size of my family. In the past five weeks we have grown by five chickens, three dwarf goats and one Afghani refugee. (When the boys all had to move out of the house down the hill from us, H. got a room at my neighbor’s B&B. He comes to our house daily for meals, soccer matches on TV,  and general hanging out.)

On the pet front you already have heard about the two chicks we hatched in an incubator. As you see here, Quasimodo’s sibling – we call him (or her?) Fred – is turning into a fine specimen and doing well. He trails around after the four disinterested Wyandottes most of the time. They tolerate him.

Now meet Hector, Stella, and Vincent:

The husband is doing a better job of getting these three to warm up to him. Apples seem to help. I’m still on the fence about goats in general. They are . . . naughty. They eat the chicken feed and break things. It’s probably not a good sign that the first thing I googled about goats was their average lifespan.

So there you have our newest additions to the family. But I’m not done yet.

About two days after the arrival of the goats, the husband announced that he wanted to get a couple of runner ducks – those are the silly looking upright ones, like this:

He says he wants them because they eat slugs. But I have also heard that they are pooping machines (and we have 16 of those already . . .)

And then there’s our Sulmtaler hen – the one we call “Trump”. Four days ago she started sitting on some eggs. It looks like she will spend the next two and a half weeks hatching them . . . and who knows how many more chicks that will be? Silly girl that she is, she chose the laying box to do this – so the other chickens are squishing in there next to her to lay their own and then leaving again. We can’t take the new eggs without her pecking at us. It’s a mess. And what’s going to happen once the chicks are born? The box is pretty high above the floor. I picture these chicks tumbling out and falling to their deaths one by one. We are going to have to be ready to relocate them as soon as they hatch – if not beforehand.

There will come a day when the number of animals we have will go down again. As soon as we know the sex of our young chickens, two or three of them will be given away to friends. And good old Rooster Gustav’s days with us may be numbered too. He made the mistake of lunging at the husband – who was seriously not amused.

Rest in Peace, Quasimodo


A lot of British people I know don’t use the word “rooster”. Instead they say “c**k” – which, as you see, I am too much of a prude to even type, much less say,  (unless it’s followed by an “-a-doodle-do” or an “er spaniel”). Too bad. I soooooo wanted to start this chicken update with the sentence:

“My c**k has been a real dick lately.”

A few weeks back, Rooster Gustav started charging at me – usually from behind – squawking and wings flapping. Then he would stop just short of me and try to make himself tall. The first few times it was half-hearted and I hardly noticed, but he got increasingly closer and more menacing. I am not absolutely sure, but I think he even pecked at my rubber boot once. To be honest, it freaked me out just a bit. But then my pride kicked in. I had been fancying myself something of a poultry savant for a while, and now this dicky . . . rooster . . . was challenging not only me, but my animal husbandry reputation. I had to do something.

First I asked chicken-keeping friends for advice.  Mark, my organic farmer slash teaching colleague, told me to “whack him”. I am not sure if he meant I should hit Gustav or turn him into drumsticks and white meat. In any case, this wasn’t my style. I consulted Google:

I’ll start by saying that the Number One solution to my problem seemed to be “stew pot” (also chillingly expressed as “culling”). The second most popular and somewhat more humane (however improbable) solution was “re-homing”. (Hey! Do any of you out there want an aggressive rooster? He’s free!!) From my more kindred spirits – the type of people who not only keep chickens, but blog about them – I got conflicting advice:

Hobby Farms told me to wear protective clothing  – long sleeves, high boots, (ski mask? protective goggles?) – and then crouch down and try to get Gustav to eat from my hand.

Countryside Daily said “In the rooster world, he who runs away, walks away, or hides is the loser”. I should stand my ground, raise my arms and flap them. If that doesn’t work – I should whack him.

Happy Chicken Coop recommended the opposite. I should give Gustav space. And respect. Slow and deliberate movements were the order of the day. But I should also be prepared to whack him if necessary. In so many words: speak softly and carry a big stick.

But then . . .

Picky to Plenty tells me not to pick a fight or to run. I should not reduce myself to the level of my adversary. Instead I should repeat this mantra to myself as I slowly walk backwards away from the rooster:  “I am not a chicken. I am not a chicken.”

Backyard Chickens said to never back away from a dicky rooster. His advice went on for pages and pages and contradicted itself continually. But he was the first to recommend picking up and petting Gustav. If that didn’t work, I should whack him.


What to do?

Let’s face it. Stew pot, culling, re-homing and whacking of any kind were all out of the question. So far, “Kill ‘em with Kindness” had worked for me in my own human life and, gosh darnit, it would work with chickens too. Each day, as I entered the range with a pitcher full of feed and a bottle of fresh water, the chickens swirled around me, Gustav included. I made a point of holding the feed in front of his beak. After a few days of this, an opportunity presented itself. Gustav had escaped the enclosure somehow and wanted back in. My husband and I cornered and captured him and I took him under my arm. He screamingly squawked and flapped for quite some time, but I held on until he was calm and quiet – it took maybe five minutes. I talked to him and petted him and then set him on the ground by his hens. He ruffled his feathers a bit and walked away from me.

The attacks seemed to come to an end. That was easy!

– – – –

(Two days later – i.e. today)

Since beginning to write this post, my poultry-related bona fides have been challenged a second and a third time.

I mentioned in the comments of my last post that one of our chicks was born with an injury or a birth defect. He had one normal eye and one big bulging eyed. We named him Quasimodo, which turned out to be somewhat prescient. As you might have guessed, he became something of a favorite. Unfortunately, I don’t think his popularity extended into the poultry world. Today I found him lying on his side taking his last gasps.

I buried him under the weeping willow tree and marked his grave with a rock. Then I went to feed the chickens. Gustav took an aggressive flying leap at me.

Today was not my best day.