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Chickening and childrening

April 27, 2015

Life with young chickens and young children is always a few steps forward and a few steps back. If you happen to pause for reflection and find yourself a few steps forward, even if it’s early in the evening, I recommend going to bed immediately. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars just scurry upstairs and turn the clocks to 7:30 p.m. (as we have been known to do) and usher everyone to bed, so that you can proudly say you made progress today. Why wait those last couple of hours, tempting fate? Quit while you are ahead.

I wrote a month ago that we have been hatching baby chicks and selling them on Craigslist using fertilized eggs from our mentors: Farmers Bryan and Leanne Murdock of Wyoming, Minnesota. I have received a number of inquiries into the financials of my hatchery. As of this week, my chick-selling profit is $750. After the first round of chicken hatching and selling, I decided to raise my price from 5 dollars a chick to ten. Nobody blinked, so I raised it to twelve.

I discovered there is a real run on chicks the week before Easter. And the day before Easter is like chicken Black Friday. I had one customer call me in disgust at 9:30 p.m. to tell me that chickens at the farm store are only a dollar.

“You should just buy some of those,” I counseled her, “because my chickens are very expensive!”

Her response was a huffy, “Well how late are you going to be up? And can I come buy some of yours tonight, because I am afraid they will be sold if I wait till the morning.”

I think there are three main reasons my hatchery is so popular.

First of all, most farmers find it preferable to hatch chicks  in the barn as opposed to the upstairs hall bath. However, this means they hatch a little later when the weather is warm, so the chicks don’t freeze out there in the barn.  Because I seem to be one of the few indoor hatcheries, I got a jump on the other farmers.

Secondly, all the other farmers seem to be located on farms which typically require a drive out to the country, or at least the suburbs. My hatchery is conveniently located in the heart of Minneapolis. I recently learned that there are 3,000 backyard chicken coops in the city of Minneapolis. Chickens are all the rage. And I seem to be the only person geographically positioned to meet the needs of the urban chicken community.

Finally, I am increasing my rate of live birth with every hatch, as I sharpen my chicken midwifery skills. After each hatch I autopsy the bodies of the stillborn chicks and am working to identify preventable causes of failure to launch. There is always a lot of suspense the day of the hatch, because you never know which eggs will make it.  Annie has developed a practice of sitting on the bathroom counter pointing to each perfectly healthy chick that is running around in the cage, long after the danger has passed and repeating, ” I don’t know if that one is going to make it”. Yesterday, she confided, “When I was in your tummy I didn’t know if I was going to make it out. But I made it!”  I had no idea.

I am a little sad that my profit is $750 and not $850. It would have been $850, but two days before Easter I sold a batch of my expensive chicks to a happy father and son. About 15 minutes after they left I got a text message that said, “Do they always sleep on their backs with their feet sticking up in the air?”

I responded, “Send me a video.”  I said this because this is what my mentor, Farmer Bryan, said a month before, when I texted him to ask if it was okay that one of my chicks appeared attached to his shell by a string and had been dragging it behind him like a trailer for two days. I don’t know what I was looking for in the video but it was shocking to say the least. I would post it, but the contents might be too disturbing. In the video  you can clearly see each chick dropping dead while a cheerful voice in the background says, “Oh that is so cute, they are sleeping on their backs.”

Horrified, I forward the video on to Farmer Bryan who diagnosed the problem immediately. An industrial sized heat lamp from Fleet Farm, lovingly positioned over a tiny oven-like Tupperware full of chicks had essentially cooked them. The dad was so stricken, and the little boy was so sad, that I couldn’t not give them another batch of chicks. I suggested to the dad that he just slip them in during the night and declaring the risen chicks an Easter miracle.

When I told him, Farmer Bryan was not happy that I gave away chicks for free, but I think he is in no position to talk. He never lets me pay for all these eggs that are making me so rich, and last year he gave us two free chickens after the hawk got Dumps. So there!

In spite of the Easter chick debacle, $750 dollars is a step forward. I should’ve sat real still holding my money, or gone quickly to bed with my money under my mattress. But I used some of the cash to pay a friend to build a bigger run onto our existing chicken coop. The idea behind the bigger run was that if my chickens had more room to frolick I wouldn’t feel so sorry for them and let them out to roam the neighborhood placing them at risk of another hawk attack, or in Dan’s words “inviting a blood bath.”

But I had to shoo them out of the coop and into the yard while the finishing touches were put on the run.

In those few hours before I could get them back in, that demon hawk had killed two of them while my back was turned. And not just any two: Ella Lehmer and Ella Wang! And he didn’t even eat them. Just killed them for sport.

Last summer, while sitting on the dock, at North Twin Lake in Amery, Wisconsin, I overheard Pete Gregory explaining to young David who, pole in hand, had questioned the morality of fishing, that fishing was okay as long as it was not done “with a bloodthirsty attitude”. There is only one way to explain a hawk that kills for sport: bloodthirsty attitude.

Especially difficult for me was the loss of Ella Lehmer, who I think of as our ‘therapy chicken’. After a long day, Elisabeth would crawl right into the coop and hold out her arms and Ella Lehmer would run right into them, and stand very still for hugging and cuddling. It was very therapeutic. It’s not every day you find yourself the owner of a therapy chicken.

It has been a week now since the incident and our yard is still full of feathers. Charlie keeps forgetting and on the way to the car yesterday he asked with disgust, “Whose feathers are all over the yard?” As if someone had left their socks all over the place.

Elisabeth decided to choose a single gray feather to place in her locket with the pictures of Dan and Charlie to remember her dear feathered friend. She came in proudly waving a feather the size of a quill pen, but because her locket is the size of a fingernail the feather had to be reduced significantly.

The loss of the Ellas was a big step back.

Also a step back recently was the chick that turned out to be a madman.

He was Annie’s chick, and she named him Ella.  When I saw him attacking and bloodying the other chickens I called my mentor immediately, who said (in an ominous voice) that Ella must be put down immediately or many chickens would die.

But how to do this humanely? The last time I had to kill a chick, it was just an hour old and clearly “wasn’t going to make it.”  That time, I invited an unsuspecting Terra Widdifield over and made her kill it, then took her out for pizza to cheer her up.

How did I get her to do that for me? I am not proud to disclose that when I took the “Strengths Finder ” personality inventory at work, I learned that my strongest talent is getting people to do what I want them to do. I had to share these embarrassing results with my team. Can this even be called a strength? I don’t think so. But the incident with Terra and the chick did sort of confirm the results of the test.

Ella the madman, however, was much older and much stronger than the first unfortunate chick, and the method farmer Bryan suggested involved a physical strength and internal resolve that I am not sure I possess.  It would be the worst thing to half-kill a chicken.

I sought help from Dan who possesses both physical strength and internal fortitude, but he felt it was important for me to do this myself. (A decision which calls into question the results of my personality test I might point out).

After much thought and internet research I came up with the idea of releasing the chicken into the wild and letting nature take its course. So under the cover of darkness, I threw him over a fence into the woods by the Mississippi river. But as I walked away, I could hear him cheep cheeping so plaintively that I could not walk away. I decided the only thing to do was to go back for him and call his name. If he ran to me and leapt into my arms it would be a sign that leaving him in the woods was not a good way to put a chicken down. So I climbed the fence and knelt down and called into the darkness ” Elllllaaaa…..” And if that chicken didn’t run straight out of the woods and leap into my open arms…..

I eventually settled on another another method of extermination that could not be quite so easily undone. I will spare you the details but I will tell you it involved a bridge. And a river. And the middle of the the night.

Ella the madman was a step back. But in the words of my mentor, “We farmers must do difficult things other people are not able or willing  to do.” And indeed we do.

In closing, I must confess to an impulse buy.  A Baby Brahma. A Brahma is a giant of a chicken, known for their big poofy bottoms which enable them to sit on a large quantity of eggs. It remains to be seen if this was a step forward or a step back. I wasn’t planning to buy a Brahma. But you know how it is when you are window shopping and you see a great deal on chickens, and before you know it you are driving home, the proud owner of a Brahma. We’ve all been there. And on the bright side, it wasn’t a baby llama, because those aren’t allowed in the city. I checked because I recently drove past a big llama sale on the way to Amery. We named our Brahma Sweet Alice.

The children have been busy with more important things than chickens, but I am out of time, and have to pick them up. To be continued, I guess….

Below: Elisabeth with Ella Lehmer during happier times.


We Got By With A Little Help

March 24, 2015

*Note: I wrote this last week. Dan is now safely home.

Dan has been gone for ten days. To make matters worse, so has Patty. How did I let this happen? We are out of the woods now, though, and have limped along reasonably well. At one point I did fear the wheels were coming off when Charlie, Elisabeth, and Corndog were all three felled by a stomach flu that was sweeping through the school. But it proved to be a brief 24-hour situation and the results were not overly devastating.

Distraction was the name of our game and we had a number of really helpful diversions. The most helpful of course, being a three day visit from Nini, who showed us a really good time. Second most helpful, was the surprising results of our second attempt at hatching chicks in an incubator. Last spring we tried it and were pleased with five baby chicks (which were subsequently eaten by racoons, but still fun).

This time, to my astonishment we produced TWENTY-SIX chicks!  The kids did almost nothing but hold baby chicks for the first three or four days of Dan’s absence.

Holding a baby chicken is a very stationary activity that does not involve the scattering of small toys all over the house or the spilling of snacks.  It was like someone pressed the “pause” button, having the kids sit still like that for three days.  I got so much done!  But, let me tell you, twenty-six is a lot of chickens to keep in your bathroom, so I posted them for sale on Craigslist right away. They were all sold the first week, but my phone is still ringing off the hook so I have restocked the incubator for an Easter hatch and am doubling my asking price.

The prospective chicken buyers reflected the wide range of diversity one finds among poultry buyers.

On the one end of the spectrum: Jane Herman, who was willing to provide photos of her home and garden and letters of reference to assure us that our chickens would be the happiest in all the land.

On the other end of the spectrum: a very sincere Asian gentleman who explained in a very heavy accent: “I would like to KILL all your chickens for eat on November 15.”

We decided to go with Jane Herman and look forward to meeting her this afternoon when she comes to collect.

My goal with my hatchery is that I would make at least as much as we have spent this year on the chicken coop and the chicken feed, so that Dan will stop telling people my poultry farm is losing money.

My hatchery is especially lucrative because Farmer Bryan, who supplied us with our original teenage hens for last years Easter baskets, is for some reason, now supplying us with an unlimited amount of fertilized eggs and won’t let me pay him.*

So I kept six chicks from this last batch and let the kids name them and play with them and once they are feathered and cold-hardy we will deliver them to Bryan’s farm with our thanks.

In the meantime, they are keeping the wheels hot! The chicks had a blast visiting two first grade classrooms.  Then last week they were rented for the day by a Craig’s list lady who wanted to rent chicks to take to a portrait studio for photos with her children.  She picked them up and dropped them back off, and they had an absolute ball!  This lady was hoping I also had a lamb she could rent, but I have decided not to do lambs this year.

The other primary diversion during Dan’s absence came to us quite by accident. In an attempt to keep spirits up last weekend, the children and I treated ourselves to waffles at Mickey’s Diner and then a morning at the Children’s Museum next door.  Little did I know there was a special seminar for children on knitting happening that very morning.

Three of the Little Peppers took to spool knitting like ducks to water.  The littlest Pepper contented herself with stringing beads onto a pipe cleaner. Each time she declared herself ready for the next one, I turned around and slid the beads off and she “knitted” another one.

Of course the children were eager to get home and set about their handiwork. It was very similar to the chicken phenomenon. All four children settled themselves quietly in the living room and knit for FIVE HOURS. After I had finished all my chores, and had nothing else to do I took up my own knitting and joined them. It was lovely.

Elisabeth finished a stunning purple cowl which she sported at church the next day. Miss P made an array of headbands, necklaces, and bracelets which also made it to church. Charlie, having decided on his own to knit an area rug, didn’t have anything to wear to church but his project will no doubt keep him occupied for the foreseeable future.

*Note: in the course of thanking farmer Bryan for the eggs I discovered a very real and present danger to iPhone users everywhere: the accidental emoticon. We are all aware of the danger that accidentally responding to a group text, or texting the wrong person presents. But few are aware of the hazards of the accidental emoticon. Why, this very morning, while scheduling our next pickup of fertilized eggs I texted farmer Bryan: ” How can I ever thank you?” And then intended to select the chicken emoticon, but accidentally selected the lady-in-the-bathtub emoticon. Be careful iPhone users. It could happen to you.

Below, for your viewing pleasure: Chicks, Mickey’s Diner, and Dan’s trip to Nepal

chick 191

photo (62)

A most powerful word.

February 27, 2015

Last week I found out that a membership to the Minnesota Science Museum gets you free admission to the Omnitheater.  I beat a path to the door and signed us right up.  On Tuesday we saw our first movie: “Flight of the Monarch”.  We got our membership just in time.  Last week was the last chance to see “Flight of the Monarch” before it was replaced with an exploration of outer space.  Charlie was especially enthused by the opportunity as he spent much time last summer observing “The Monarch” in it’s natural habitat: our garden.

The theater was packed, mostly with elderly guests.  We could only find four seats together so Annie sat in my lap. As I was thinking to myself what a milestone it is to be able to sit in a movie theater without worrying that we will be a disturbance, I heard from the seat to my left, one long word ring out in the silent theater:


I can’t say that I really blame Charlie.  Have you ever seen a Monarch’s wing up close? It is nothing if not worthy of a good long “DAAAAAAAANG!”  Although “Daaaaang” (held for five beats) is not my favorite thing Charlie has learned at Hope Academy, there are times when it is appropriate. Such as the sight of a Monarch’s wing.

I wonder if Ravi Zaccharias knows about Daaaaang?  I will never forget reading his book “I, Isaac, take you, Rebecca” before I was married.  In it, Zaccharias says that there is only one word in the English language that is appropriate to capture the emotion felt by a groom at the sight of his bride, the word: “Wow.”

Well, I would like to posit a second possibility for the groom experiencing this rapturous moment: “Daaaang.”

Below: In addition to an Omnitheater, the museum also has a newsroom.

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Charlie’s Tooth

February 24, 2015

Charlie attempted to pull his own tooth before calling in the big guns: DADDY.

Charlie attempting to pull his own tooth:

Charlie’s Daddy Pulling His Tooth:

Snug as a Bug in a Rug Part II

February 23, 2015

The astute reader may have noticed in the picture of our children’s room attached to the last post that there are now four beds where once there were three.  I think a room with four little beds just begs to be called “the nursery”.  I called it “the nursery” for a long time.  I had to admit I held on too long when I heard long tall Charlie inviting a few guy friends to come over and play monopoly in “my nursery”.  As it was beginning to evoke images of “short bus”, rather than Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, I made the transition to calling it a “room” instead of “the nursery”.

Annie has been gunning to graduate to the “kid’s woom” for quite some time.  But she was sleeping so well in her “tib” (crib), and it is hard to mess with success when you suffer as I do from Post Nocturnal Stress Disorder, or PNSD.

Annie made a strong case for her graduation: baiting me to agree that she is now a big girl, and then turning it on me. I walked into her trap every time.

For example:

Annie: “I will not go potty in my underwear because I am a big girl now, right?”

Me: “That’s right.  Big girls go potty in the bathroom.”

Annie: “Hooray! I am a big girl now, and I can sleep with the big kids!”

Her luck turned last week.  We were at the Hoffner’s and the girls were enjoying sliding down the steps on the bottoms, when Annie’s feet got stuck under her and she tumbled headlong down the steps.  Apparently, a tiny nail punctured her scalp causing a tiny but steady trickle of blood, which she referred to as a “poke hole”. Her two front teeth bit a deep crack in her upper lip through which you could see a little light.  After much deliberation I decided to get it checked out at the ER. As soon as we got home she announced: “My mouth is feeling better so I can sleep with the big kids now!”  That just made so much sense I had to agree.

Besides, when you tell a child she must continue to sleep in her crib until she is older and she responds with:

Are You Serious?


What in the World?

You have probably held out too long.

Below: Annie fast asleep, as opposed to her status each morning which she calls “fast awake”.

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Snug as a Bug in a Rug Part I

February 2, 2015

We had only been home for Birmingham for a few days, and I thought we were settling back into a good routine, when the wheels fell off. Fortunately, they only fell off for a brief period.  But I can wreak a lot of havoc in a brief period.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Elisabeth is a delicate flower, and very “in-tune” with her body.  She takes great care to keep herself in tip-top shape. Last night at dinner, she asked for more water explaining, “I am trying to stay hydrated.”  As soon as she was done hydrating and was dismissed from the table, she began jogging laps around the coffee table stating breathlessly, “I need to keep my body healthy with exercise!”

She leaves no stone unturned when it comes to inspecting for possible ailments.  It is not uncommon for me to receive calls during the school day from a concerned Elisabeth needing to let me know that:

“My skin is looking pinkish.  Also I can see the veins on my hands more than usual.  And the area under my right eye is sore.  And today I had a sharp pain in my side.”

I have encouraged her to wait to report these concerns to me when she gets home and suggested that she didn’t need to let Mrs. Miller know unless it was a real emergency.  Some days she is more successful than others.  I overheard her telling Charlie as they got into the van one day last week:

“I really struggled with my body today, Charlie.”

Because she often “struggles with her body” I was not initially alarmed when, a few days after our return from Birmingham, she woke up and reported itchy bumps on her arms and legs.

She continued to itch and even I could see clusters of what looked like little bug bites around her wrists and ankles.  Each morning she had a few more.  On Wednesday night, while Dan was at church I started googling itchy bumps.  Almost right away, I read: “Are you waking up in the morning with bug bites? Have you stayed at a hotel recently?  You may have bed bugs.”

I gasped.  We did stay in a hotel recently, a Holiday Inn to be precise.  And not just any Holiday Inn. The Madison Wisconsin Holiday Inn Holidome: a hotel and waterpark in one!

I called the Holidome and was told that there had been no reports of bedbugs in several months…which I did not find reassuring.

So I started researching bed bugs.  And looking at pictures of bedbugs. And reading about people whose lives were ruined by bedbugs, and families displaced from their homes.

Within minutes I lost my head.

When Dan arrived home from church, he met Elisabeth’s bed in our front yard and our sheets, towels, dolls, and stuffed animals lined all the way up the steps from the basement waiting for their turn to be burned up in our drying, because heat is the only sure way to kill bedbugs.  There was also a thick layer of Diotomaceous Earth, which is a black dust that is supposed to be a natural insecticide, and which I keep a large supply of for the chicken coop, covering the floor of kids room.

Dan, who never loses his head, called out cheerfully as he came in, “Honey, is Elisabeth’s bed supposed to be out in the snow?”

I will never know if we had bed bugs or not. It is possible Elisabeth just had a little allergic reaction. As I write, the house is all put back together again, and my four little bugs are snug in their rugs.

A few of our more sensitive dolls and stuffed animals apparently had an allergic reaction to the heat in our dryer and ended up with little afros on their heads, but other than that there is no evidence that we had anything other than an ordinary Wednesday night.


I like to think that my quick reaction prevented an infestation.  If nothing else it was an early spring cleaning.


Dan Has a New Job …

January 24, 2015

Dan has a new job. Is it:

A. Snowman Builder?
photo (46)photo (45)photo (47)photo (56)I would like to point out that not only did Dan build this snowman in less than an hour, he did it with four little helpers which adds a real element of challenge.  And although I was surprised when I returned home from an outing to the yarn store to see our training potty on his head, I rather like it.  I was just wondering what to do with it now that our children are trained.  Ingenious!

B. Children’s book illustrator?

We have many children in our circle who have food sensitivies.  Betsy has written, and Dan has illustrated, a book for just such a child.  Why Can’t I Have A Cupcake features a little boy named Rory who is nervous about taking his gluten free snack to a Birthday party, only to discover that the other party goers have brought various snacks according to their own food sensitivities.  I know this plot has you on the edge of your seat, and I am sorry to leave you hanging but to read the exciting conclusion proceed with haste to Amazon and order it for the gluten free, dairy free, tree nut free, gmo free, chemical free child in your life today!

Why Can't I Have a Cupcake?


C. Director of Advancement for The Gospel Coalition?

To learn more about The Gospel Coalition, click here.


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