Friday, January 13, 2006

Cat Chicken?

Can a chicken have nine lives like a cat? We have an Aracauna who seems to.

This girl came with 10 other chicks, who we tried to get a broody mama to adopt. For one reason or another, only four of those chicks made it past the first few days, and only three were around at a week. Those three were carefully cared for by their adoptive mother.

They lived separately from the other chickens, down at the barn with the goats. Eventually Mama Hen decided she was done and left them to fend for themselves. They did well, roosting way up in the rafters of the loafing shed at night. But our terrible coyote problem this fall caused great chicken attrition, and the aracaunas were not exempt. One of the three disappeared and the other two decided to move their digs up to the chicken house with the rest of the girls.

They were not exactly welcomed with open wings. This is normal. Every new chicken who comes on the farm has to deal with the pecking order, and mostly the new girls learn (over and over) that they are at the bottom of it. But at least they had each other.

Then they didn't. We have to assume that yet another was a coyote breakfast, because suddenly we had only one. She is so different looking from the others that we'd check for her to make sure she was still with us. Plus we were really looking forward to those cool green eggs.

Then she disappeared. We assumed she was yet another tasty treat for the resident wildlife.

One day, Stephen and Farmer Boy were cleaning out the utility trailer to load it up for a dump run. Among the items in the trailer was an old mailbox. Inside the mailbox was the Aracauna. How she got stuck in there, we will never know. She was in rough shape. Very dirty, very weak. We didn't know if she'd make it. Not only did she have some recovering to do, but as soon as you're sick, you are the very lowest of the low on the pecking order, and chickens have been known to peck a sick bird to death. Talk about survival of the fittest!

But she recovered. She got stronger, she cleaned herself up, and pretty soon it was back to normal for Miss A.

A week ago, Farmer Boy suddenly raced past me in the house saying urgently, "I need to save a chicken". He had looked out the window and seen a chicken caught in the fence. I went out to help him. The poor bird had gotten her foot stuck on some barbed wire, and was actually hanging upside down attached by her foot. Her right eye had been pecked out by her barbaric companions. And it was, you guessed it, our poor lone Aracauna.

I was tempted to kill her then and there. I just didn't know how she could survive, and I hated seeing her like this. But when I looked in her good eye, it was clear and alert. So we put her in seclusion. She kept getting out. We kept putting her back in. She got out. We gave up. She wanted to be out, and by golly she was going to be out!

The increased handling she has had due to all her traumas has really tamed her, and she lets us pet her now. Yesterday, she was settling in for the night on the front porch (she still doesn't like sleeping with those meanies in the hen house), and I walked up to give her a little love and encouragement. She looked at me with her bright healthy eye. I peeked around to see how the scab was healing on her missing eye... and she looked at me with her OTHER bright healthy eye! I couldn't believe it! Our little miracle bird.

The children have named her Oreo. Lucky girl is here to stay... only animals we aren't planning to eat get names.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A December to remember

As we headed into December this year, our family eagerly anticipated the traditions of Advent and, in our home school, a special month of study revolving around the Christmas story. We pulled out the Advent wreath, a new Advent story/devotional, and Sunday November 27 we welcomed Advent 2005.

Our first week of our Christmas Unit Study started out wonderfully. We had a special Advent circle time, Farmer Boy (grade 3) started a Christmas Study Journal, and both children enjoyed making angel crafts using outlines of their hands and feet. I felt like a Good Mother.

Imagine my (bleary-eyed) surprise, then, to awaken on December 1st, after just a few restless hours of sleep on a chair-bed, in my husband's hospital room. The afternoon before, a bad bout of "gas" after a lentil soup lunch had proven to be more than even my stout-hearted husband could handle, and despite much protestation, we took him to the ER. A good thing, as he had an incarcerated hernia... a potentially life-threatening situation (and definitely not caused by lentil soup). Poor Stephen endured hours of tests, uncomfortable poking and prodding, and the horrors of a naso-gastric tube that evening.

First thing on Dec. 1 he had surgery to repair the hernia. My brother and a friend helped by caring for the children so that I could be with Stephen in the hospital. We brought him home the night of Dec. 2.

The next few days were rather anxiety filled for me. It is amazing how fast patients are pushed out of hospitals these days. I am all for getting out of the hospital, but it is rather a bit of pressure on the healthy spouse to send someone home who isn't breathing properly and takes 5 minutes to bend enough to get into a car.

It soon came to light that Stephen is one of the extremely rare people who has a reaction to steri-strips. The blisters that the steri-strips caused ended up being more problematic than the incision. When all was said and done he had a rather quick recovery, thankfully, and now we are the Bionic Couple (he has a mesh tummy and I have a titanium marker in my right breast from a breast biopsy).

I have found a silver lining to the Great Hernia Adventure. During Stephen's receovery period, when he couldn't drive, I learned how to drive the tractor and move bales of hay. This was MUCH fun!! I was nervous at first, but once I understood which buttons and levers did what, I had a blast. :-)

Stephen took a week off work, then things began to get back to normal. Farmer Boy was in the local Christmas parade with his Scout troop. Both children were in the Christmas play at our church Christmas party. And despite the hospital detour, we managed to quickly find our place again in our Christmas study, and finished out the school year just where I'd hoped.

As we headed into the days before Christmas, while I was more tired than usual, I felt that things seemed to be falling into place (except for the mess in the house which continued to plague me).

On the Thursday before Christmas, before heading into the city to do some errands, Stephen tried to remove the broiler element from our stove, which was malfunctioning. After some difficulty, he succeeded, immediately produced a blinding flash, a puff of white smoke, and little balls of molten metal bouncing on the wood floor. Miraculously, he wasn't hurt! Then ensued two days of unsuccessful searching for the part (even "finding" it, only to discover that the company changed the design but not the part number!). By Friday night (the 23rd) it was becoming clear we were not going to be cooking Christmas dinner in our kitchen.

Saturday morning (the 24th), at around 8:30am, we phoned my parents, who had already gone to Austin to visit with my brother. We all agreed to move the festivities to his house. The children had gotten over their disappointment at not being home and had begun to get excited about a sleepover at Uncle Dave's. I started packing up food and recipes, gifts and clothes. We decided that I would start the dough for our annual Christmas breakfast braid, it would rise in the car, be baked at Dave's house and be done in time for us to go to the church my mom had found in the phone book.

We were almost packed, and I had just finished the dough and started the rise. It was 15 minutes before we were to leave. The phone rang: "Don't leave yet, Dave's throwing up." Within a half hour it was clear my brother was really sick. Plan B switched to Plan C. My parents, not wanting to get sick, decided to leave, but just in case they were exposed enough, they didn't want to get US sick. Everyone was going to spend Christmas at their own houses. Round 2 of unhappy children.

The dough for the braid ended up being the chickens' special breakfast, and we humans ate store bought muffins on Christmas morning.

We all decided we would reschedule our celebration to Tuesday the 27th. Christmas night, the Princess woke up throwing up, and spent the next two hours back and forth from bed to bathroom. The next day she and I both felt terrible, and my brother's wife was sick. We rescheduled yet again. Plan D: Friday the 30th. Round 3 of unhappy children.

Wednesday, Farmer Boy had a very short bout of throwing up, but was better within a few hours. We were on track for Friday; we were hopeful! Wednesday night the Princess spiked a 102.6 fever. Aaaaarggh!

In the middle of all this, I was very worried about getting sick, becasue I am pregnant. Lots of vitamin C, water, and prayer seemed to help, because I did not throw up (danger of dehydration) nor did I run a temp (can be dangerous for the baby), despite being in constant contact with a very sick little girl. I did have two days of feeling really weird, but never with dangerous symptoms.

All day Thursday the girl ran a low grade fever. She really wanted to go her grandparents' and they decided they could live with a temp of less than 100. So Thursday night we set off. Miraculously, by the time we got there her fever was gone! She was fine on Friday (although that was one of MY low days) and we finally had our many times delayed big family gathering. It was very nice, and much more relaxing for me than it would have been at my house, thanks to the love and sacrifice of my wonderful parents. On Saturday, my dad even took care of the kids while Mom and I went to a movie!! It wasn't as relaxing for Stephen, who only stayed one day and night because of our animals. But the children and I were there for three days and three nights.

The year ended quietly for us. Stephen was home, and I was at my parents'. We were all tired, so did not do anything special. But for me it was lovely... a clean house, a quiet room, time to read. These are great joys for me, so 2006 rang in in peace, and with a loving phone call with my sweet husband at midnight.

I am looking forward to another year of adventures!