Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hickory nut holiday

This Thanksgiving, many traditions went by the wayside in service of trying to keep the holiday low-stress. At my parents' house, mom served sweet potatoes, rolls, snap peas, cranberries, and tenderloin; I think our holiday meal with Brian's family was pizza, topped off for me with a Blue Moon beer. We had plenty of family meals, but none of them involving a turkey.

However, the tradition we didn't ditch is actually my favorite: the family hike. I've historically thought of this hike as the one where I either walk off the meal, or, as during grad school, the one where we walk off the all-day drinking we did while we were cooking and before the bird is ready. This year, the only association between the hike and the food was incidental.

But the hike ended up being all about food, anyway. We set off on a trail near Boston, Kentucky, up a half mile from the Bluegrass Parkway to a 2.5 mile loop. We like this hike (this was our 3rd time), because it seems to have it all: woods, a hill with good views, a stream, and fossils. In August, the wildflowers were excellent. We have yet to see another hiker on it, which is an extra appeal. The length is just right for us - enough to be pleasantly tiring, but not long enough to have any drudgery to it. I'd packed snacks.

We noticed lots of lovely moss, including one patch which I thought had an old washer on it, but actually featured a crinoid stem (fossil) instead. Both girls found geodes. We found the views to be all that winter hiking has to offer. And Emily found her own food.

I'd kept wondering why Emily wasn't asking for the packed snacks. Instead, she had picked up a bunch of hickory nuts, which must have just fallen, as they were perfectly sweet and fresh. She found a couple of stones, and cracked them for all of us (see above), and still she carried home more.

If I'd served hickory nuts at the Thanksgiving table, I have no doubt she would have refused. If I'd made pecan pie, she would have turned up her nose at it. But Emily made her own meal, found food outdoors, for herself, in a season none of us expected it. We topped it off with a few fallen wild grapes. Who needs turkey, or even a table? Emily found what the harvest season had to offer, and enthusiastically gathered and prepared food for the rest of us, for Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cloudy with a chance of bright spots

The loss of afternoon daylight hits hard for us, with all of us getting home right around dusk from afterschool and work. Emily, in particular, hates that walk home in the dark, and I am struggling these days to remember a flashlight or lantern for her for the route home. I am glad to still be woken up by sunlight, and am trying to be mindful of it because I know soon I'll be waking up in the dark again, as the days continue to get shorter. The chickens don't seem to mind too much, but they tell us about the short days in other ways; lately we get an egg a day at best. I'll put up a light for them soon, but for now I confess I'm enjoying the respite from our summer's egg-based diet.

So our mornings are literally a bright spot. Brian recently went out one morning and took some photos of our frosted lawn. Foggy mornings aren't quite as cheerful, but have the advantage of not being quite so nippy. On more leisurely mornings, frosty or foggy, I let the chickens out for a while, and they forage while I work upstairs in our brightest room, the office.

This week, we have one other bright spot in the house, too. Back in February, 1996, Brian brought home a blooming plant to celebrate a new job I'd gotten, coinciding also with Valentine's Day. He's tended Miss Clivia and now her daughter (he helped her self-pollinate and raised babies) ever since, and though in some windows she bloomed yearly at best, her current home seems to be her favorite so far. Anyway, she's blooming again now, and I can't think of a better time of year to have a little spot of sunshine in the house.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Front yard chickens, yeehaw!

I find it hard to believe we've now only had these chickens in their coop, outdoors, for a year, as it feels like our lives here have always included chickens. However, a year it is. This Halloween, the hens feasted on pumpkin guts, dug nests in our new mulch, and seem to have truly, finally discovered the front yard.

I only let them out when I'm home (or making a run over to the community center), so they don't have time to go exploring widely through the neighborhood. During grape season (our downhill neighbor grows grapes along our boundary with her), in early October, they seemed determined to wander into the "bad neighbor" yard (see December 2009 and January 2010 postings, if you're new to the blog, to see why we call it that); I don't know if they were trained away from that behavior by my hose sprayings or by the end of grape harvest, but they don't do that now, mercifully. They wander a bit uphill - into friendlier neighbor territory, though I do try to discourage them. They wander down toward the pool, but seem content to search for bugs in the woods, rather than trying to head across the parking lot for farther pastures. They wander a bit in the side yard, but so far, they have explored very little in front.

I have been glad of this, generally, because I am enjoying having the chickens so much, and I don't want to cause trouble by having them be public (somehow, the blog doesn't feel public, don't ask why!). I've been slow to come out of the proverbial chicken-keeper closet, at least in some contexts. But lately, it is almost as if the fear and anxiety about getting a variance (which was awarded last January!) have finally abated. The coop is still in the backyard, but I've stopped trying to keep them out of sight from the street.

In part, we have a new chicken keeper in the neighborhood, and though I won't out her here, her arrival gave the excuse for a chicken-keeper get-together, at Susan's house. (I hesitate to call it a "chicken dinner" because we didn't even eat eggs) So now we have a community, rather than just two crazy chicken-keepers. Emily has finally told her friends at school, rather than trying to hide the chicken-facts from the upper-cliques. In a further act of self-outing, I invited the garden club conservation committee over to meet the hens, so I've outed myself to the demographic most likely to think me a low-brow Kentucky girl. This is a part of my identity - our family's identity - no longer needing to be hidden.
Oh, well, and one more reason - Gabby, who had been undergoing a particularly unattractive molting season, is finally getting in some new feathers. She's still a bit funny looking, but at least she no longer looks half-plucked.

So let the chickens roam! This Kentucky girl may be unspeakably ashamed to be from the state which elected Rand Paul (if only it were RuPaul instead!), but I'm darned proud to have hens, their companionship and their lovely eggs.

(I think I'll wait at least another year, though, before I try for goats)