Jack London: a Visit to the Valley of the Moon.

Jack London may be the greatest author I’ve never read. Well, almost never – I did read Call of the Wild and yes, it is terrific. But I steadfastly refuse to pick up another of London’s books because he fills those books with the most noble of dogs and then terrible cruelty befalls those dogs. I just can’t go there.

Jack London at age nine with his dog, Rollo (wikipedia image)

Jack London at age nine with his dog, Rollo (wikipedia image)

For instance, in the Wikipedia synopsis of White Fang, we learn that early on, a pair of men and their team of dogs are devoured by a pack of starving wolves. Please. It’s not as if I ever sleep at night anyway, but I don’t need those kind of nightmares. The pair of men, maybe, but please, not the dogs!

Anyone for sleepless nights? (wikipedia image)

Anyone for sleepless nights? (wikipedia image)

The CE, however, is made of tougher stuff than me. He loves dogs, too, but he reveres Jack London and has read a whopping twenty-five of London’s books. I know this because yesterday morning, finding ourselves in Sonoma, CA at an hour far too early to drink wine, we discovered that we were just a fifteen-minute drive away from Jack London State Historic Park., site of London’s beloved “Beauty Ranch” where he built his doomed dream home, Wolf House, here in the “Valley of the Moon”.

The ruins of London's 15,000 square foot Wolf House, which burned to the ground just as construction was finished in 1913.(image from parks.sonoma.net)

The ruins of London’s 15,000 square foot Wolf House, which burned to the ground just as construction was finished in 1913.(image from parks.sonoma.net)

As we entered the park we were cheerily greeted at the kiosk by a staffer who asked if we were London fans. When she heard that the CE was a big fan, cars queued up behind us while the two of them conversed about their favorites. For the CE, The Sea-Wolf is at the top of his list. The Park staffer prefers The People of the Abyss, London’s account of the travails of London’s working-class poor.

Jack London is my husband’s favorite socialist. This is noteworthy because my husband’s politics lean well to the right, and yet he adores Jack London. When I asked him about this seeming anomaly, he pointed out that the conditions London deplored were indeed, absolutely deplorable and that London’s response was appropriate. He also mentioned that London was a notoriously hard worker during his brief life, citing the brutal conditions under which London labored in his early life as described in his autobiographical work, Martin Eden. According to the CE, London sought fairness and opportunity and was contemptuous of anyone who sought to coast on a free ride. London frequently quarreled with other socialists and has actually been described variously as a meritocracist and an individualist, which puts him squarely in the company of the CE.

Jack London, along with Upton Sinclair and Clarence Darrow, formed Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) in New York in 1905.

Jack London, along with Upton Sinclair and Clarence Darrow, formed Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) in New York in 1905.

Politics were, blessedly, the furthest thing from our minds as we stepped out of the car and surveyed the sheer beauty of the retreat where London developed his progressive theories about farming and animal husbandry, many of which are detailed in his book The Little Lady of the Big House. As his literary star soared, London added parcels to the ranch. He died there three years after “Wolf House” burned. He was just forty years old.

During his tragically too-short life, armed with only an eighth-grade education, he had ridden trains as a hobo, pirated oysters, shoveled coal, labored in a laundry, worked on a sealing ship on the Pacific and at an Oakland cannery. Along the way, he wrote some of the most admired books in the canon of American literature.

Jack London's gravesite at Jack London State Historic Park (image from jacklondonpark.com)

Jack London’s gravesite at Jack London State Historic Park (image from jacklondonpark.com)

Jack London's Press Democrat death announcement .

Jack London’s Press Democrat death announcement .

The highlight of our visit to the Park was the tour of “The House of Happy Walls” museum. London’s widow, Charmian, built the house after London’s death and filled it with artifacts from hers and London’s world travels. It was her intention that the home would become a shrine to London’s genius: “…I am begging you now, with all my heart, not to let the world forget that he laid his hand upon the hills of California with the biggest writing of all his writing and imagination and wisdom…just don’t let all who listen and read and run, forget Jack London’s biggest dream.” ~Charmian London, 1916

The "House of Happy Walls" museum (image from jacklondonpark.com)

The “House of Happy Walls” museum (image from jacklondonpark.com)

London and Charmian on their ketch "The Snark"

London and Charmian on their ketch “The Snark”

The museum is filled with London's books and mementos from his travels.

The museum is filled with London’s books and mementos from his travels.

The Park is comprised of 1,400 transcendently beautiful acres and boasts twenty-six miles of hiking trails. It was a highlight of our visit and is a marvelous and fitting testament to the author who considered it “a quiet place in the counry to write and loaf in and get out of Nature that something which we all need, only the most of us don’t know it.

The CE under the redwoods at Jack London State Historic Park

The CE under the redwoods at Jack London State Historic Park

A copy of Jack London's "credo" hangs in the "House of Happy Walls" museum.

A copy of Jack London’s “credo” hangs in the “House of Happy Walls” museum.

August 30, 2014 at 10:00 am 2 comments

Summer in the City: August in NYC

Two perfect summer weeks in NYC. Glorious weather made for some of our favorite walks ever in Central Park and on the High Line. Saw our family and friends, had some great meals, and, as always, can’t wait to return. Love, love, love New York!

Started things off with a night at the Cabaret. There are not enough superlatives for Alan Cumming in his role as the Emcee. I didn’t love Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles, although the CE thought her divine. Linda Emond, who we previously saw paired with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Death of a Salesman, was revelatory and Danny Burstein as Herr Shultz was her perfect match. Least impressive was the so-called table service for those of us who spent a fortune on cabaret table tickets. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I felt some sympathy for Shia Labeouf’s outburst a few weeks earlier. Daniel finally had to belly up to the bar for us at intermission and discovered that drinks were $30! Only in New York, right?

Cabaret and Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill compete for our favorite current Broadway offerings.

Cabaret and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill compete for our favorite current Broadway offerings.

So fun to have Daniel and Mary join us for Cabaret!

So fun to have Daniel and Mary join us for Cabaret!

On a mellower note, the CE and I went to the kitschy-beautiful Beacon Theater to see Sarah McLachlan one night. She is a generous performer and has absolutely rabid fans!

Sarah McLachlan at the Beacon Theatre

Sarah McLachlan at the Beacon Theatre

It's worth going to a concert at the Beacon Theatre just to enjoy the faux-classical interior.

It’s worth going to a concert at the Beacon Theatre just to enjoy the faux-classical interior.

We were so lucky to be able to take the whole family to a Yankees game on a perfect summer evening.

Happiest place in the Bronx: Yankee Stadium

Happiest place in the Bronx: Yankee Stadium

These guys.

These guys.

James and Grandpa enjoy the game.

James and Grandpa enjoy the game.

We finally got together with our almost-neighbors Michael and Shane for dinner one night in the West Village. Had lunch with friends Lori and Lauren before they headed to the West Coast to wrangle chickens for us. And we felt like real New Yorkers/hipsters when we took the subway over to Brooklyn to join Teri and Billy for dinner at Reynard at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg.

The CE does a little two-step with Daniel, Michael, Shane and me at Melibea in the West Village.

The CE does a little two-step with Daniel, Michael, Shane and me at Melibea in the West Village.

Lauren and Lori

Lauren and Lori

How cute are these two? Billy and Teri at Reynard in Williamsburg

How cute are these two? Billy and Teri at Reynard in Williamsburg

Can’t go to NYC without discussing food. Four memorable dining moments:

These roasted carrots at The Modern Bar Room might be the most heavenly vegetables I've ever tasted.

These roasted carrots at The Modern Bar Room might be the most heavenly vegetables I’ve ever tasted.

Oh to be young and thin! Daniel polished off this warm brownie with almond brittle ice cream at The Standard Grill.

Oh to be young and thin! Daniel polished off this warm brownie with almond brittle ice cream at The Standard Grill.

Billy and Teri shared this roast chicken at Reynard.  It is presented in all its golden-brown-ness and then carved. Yum.

Billy and Teri shared this roast chicken at Reynard. It is presented in all its golden-brown-ness and then carved. Yum.

We always have a great meal at Hell's Kitchen on Ninth Avenue. Here is the CE with their Ancho Crusted Tuna Tostadas.

We always have a great meal at Hell’s Kitchen on Ninth Avenue. Here is the CE with their Ancho Crusted Tuna Tostadas.

One magical evening we walked through the Park to have dinner at the Central Park Boathouse. Yes, it is clogged with tourists. But if you 1) have a reservation and 2) get there right at 5:30 pm when they open and stand in the front of the line, you can get a pond-side table, dine with the koi and the snapping turtles, watch the punters and the gondolier and be bathed in the last rays of the setting sun. You don’t have to be a tourist to enjoy that!

Summer night dinner at the Central Park Boathouse

Summer night dinner at the Central Park Boathouse

Loved the sunchoke salad at the Central Park Boathouse.

Loved the sunchoke salad at the Central Park Boathouse.

And loved the sunset, too.

And loved the sunset, too.

Green space is surprisingly abundant in NYC and part of what makes it the greatest city in the world. The Park, the High Line and the Met rooftop were our pastoral destinations this trip. And Lincoln Center, with its beautiful plaza and free outdoor summer concerts, is another great place to spend an evening.

The little boat pond in Central Park

The little boat pond in Central Park

We took a late-night walk on the High Line. Great time to be there.

We took a late-night walk on the High Line. Great time to be there.

Saw the Dan Graham roof garden at The Met.

Saw the Dan Graham roof garden at The Met.

The Met rooftop has some of the best views in the city.

The Met rooftop has some of the best views in the city.

You can cool off by the fountain at Lincoln Center on a warm summer night.

You can cool off by the fountain at Lincoln Center on a warm summer night.

Best of all, of course, is that we get to be with our family when we are in NYC. We are so blessed.

James and Thomas always come over to swim in our building's pool.

James and Thomas always come over to swim in our building’s pool.

The CE and Taylor got together for dinner one night.

The CE and Taylor got together for dinner one night.

We got to celebrate Thomas' and Bobby's birthdays in the Park.

We got to celebrate Thomas’ and Bobby’s birthdays in the Park.

August 23, 2014 at 10:32 am 4 comments

Florida Road Trip Finale: The Breakers, Palm Beach

Cheese and wine, maybe, but do hotels get better with age? Not usually, so was I out of my mind to persuade the CE to make one last stop on our Florida road trip and visit the Breakers with me?

I stayed at The Breakers back in 1976 and remembered it as being almost impossibly grand. Could it live up to my memories of luncheon by the pool with waves crashing in the background (there’s a reason it’s called The Breakers!) and cocktail receptions in the magnificent main lobby inspired by the Palazzo Carrega-Cataldi in Genoa?

Happily, the answer is yes. Oh yes!

The Breakers, Palm Beach (image from thebreakers.com)

The Breakers, Palm Beach (image from thebreakers.com)

Breakers lobby detail (image from kuoni.uk.com)

Breakers lobby detail (image from kuoni.uk.com)

As with seemingly everything in Florida, The Breakers began with the vision of Henry M. Flagler, although the first two iterations of the hotel succumbed to fire in 1903 and 1925. The Breakers as we know it today debuted in 1926 and was modeled after the Villa Medici in Rome. It was most recently renovated in 2011.

Room with a view: our oceanfront balcony at The Breakers.

Room with a view: our oceanfront balcony at The Breakers.

After scouring reviews in advance of our visit, I decided to throw caution and our bank balance to the wind: if you want the full Breakers experience, you have to book an oceanfront room. Yes, the CE was palpably disturbed when, upon check-in, he was presented with our daily room rate, but as soon as we stepped into Room 5141, it all began to make sense. The sound of those thundering waves was so mesmerizing that my lovely husband almost immediately marched downstairs and extended our stay an extra day.

Morning or evening, the view is magnificent.

Morning or evening, the view is magnificent.

The HMF lounge at The Breakers (image from prevueonline.net)

The HMF lounge at The Breakers (image from prevueonline.net)

First night splurge: we shared this Baked Alaska for dessert at HMF.

First night splurge: we shared this Baked Alaska for dessert at HMF.

Morning coffee in The Circle dining room is one of my favorite memories of The Breakers. (image from moretimetotravel.com)

Morning coffee in The Circle dining room is one of my favorite memories of The Breakers. (image from moretimetotravel.com)

It was tough to tear ourselves away from the property, where breakfast is served in the palatial Circle dining room and there is the option of dinner at the decidedly not-stuffy HMF (there’s Mr. Flagler, again!) lounge or overlooking the golf course at the Flagler (of course) Steakhouse, but we did make a daily mile-or-so walk into Palm Beach proper just to gawk at the oceanfront estates and walk along the shaded avenues of Seaspray and Seabreeze where the mere millionaires live. Our walking goal was the clock tower at the beach end of Worth Avenue, that almost perfect simulacrum of New York’s Fifth Avenue.

Palm Beach landmark: the clock tower on Worth Avenue.

Palm Beach landmark: the clock tower on Worth Avenue.

June is embarrassingly off-season in Palm Beach and no socialite worth her salt would be caught dead here as summer heats up, but we happily walked the empty streets and had a quiet dinner one evening in the courtyard at Cafe Via Flora.

The charming courtyard at Cafe Via Flora in Palm Beach. (tripadvisor image)

The charming courtyard at Cafe Via Flora in Palm Beach. (tripadvisor image)

Of all the wonderful memories we have of our visit, our very favorite is of the flock of Green-Cheek Amazon Parrots that live in the stand of Australian pines along The Breakers’ Pine Walk. The flock, reportedly descended from pet birds released in the 1940’s, make their presence cacophonously known in the early morning before they disperse for a day of foraging and again at sundown when the flock swoops in to nest for the night. While endangered in its native Mexico, the Palm Beach flock appears to be thriving.

We found this Green Cheek Amazon Parrot in an Australian Pine in the Breakers' employee parking lot one morning.

We found this Green Cheek Amazon Parrot in an Australian Pine in the Breakers’ employee parking lot one morning.

Another member of the flock.

Another member of the flock.

We had so many lovely stays during our Florida road trip. Each stop was memorable: Sarasota, Naples, Islamorada and Key West. But I do think we saved the best for last, and hope we can return soon to The Breakers!

Sunrise from our room at The Breakers.

Sunrise from our room at The Breakers.

August 16, 2014 at 10:24 am 4 comments

Florida Road Trip, Part 7: South Beach Sojourn

As we made our way north from Key West we stopped for lunch and a fond last look at Islamorada. I don’t think even Odysseus could resist the siren song of Lor-e-lei, where you can snack on conch fritters and commune with the restaurant’s mascot, “Hoppy”, the Great Egret.

Make a turn at the mermaid for lunch at Lor-e-lei!

Make a turn at the mermaid for lunch at Lor-e-lei!

Hoppy will happily feast on your French Fries if you want to share.

Hoppy will happily feast on your French Fries if you want to share.

The sky darkened a bit as we left the sunny Keys behind and made our way toward Miami. Spitting raindrops reminded us that we were well into “shoulder season”, when summer monsoons drench the Florida coast. Undeterred, we threaded our way through the Miami highway maze and checked in at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach.

Urban and gritty, South Beach pulses with humidity, festivity and barely-repressed debauchery. Low-buttoned shirts, stilettos and a Spanish accent are the de rigueur accessories on Collins Ave., which tells you just about how well we fit in there. Never mind – we loved it!

It didn’t hurt that we hit the upgrade jackpot and were escorted to a swanky penthouse suite where we channeled delusions of Scarface grandeur. Who cared if it rained for the two days we were there? We were in hotel heaven!

Our penthouse suite living room at the Ritz-Carlton Miami Beach.

Our penthouse suite living room at the Ritz-Carlton Miami Beach.

Sweet dreams: the bedroom in our Ritz-Carlton South Beach suite.

Sweet dreams: the bedroom in our Ritz-Carlton South Beach suite.

View of the Ritz-Carlton from the beach. For reasons we will never understand, we were given a balcony penthouse suite toward the top of the tower to the right.

View of the Ritz-Carlton from the beach. For reasons we will never understand, we were given a balcony penthouse suite toward the top of the tower to the right.

The weather was a bit blustery for lounging by the pool, but did not deter us from some long early morning walks along the Promenade through Lummus Park, where equal numbers of joggers and homeless folk share space beneath the tall palms that line the beach. Crossing over to Collins Avenue, snappily-dressed restaurant hostesses brayed at passersby to join them for breakfast. “We’ll rip you off for less”, called out one to a reluctant would-be patron.

Predictably, we did not go hungry in South Beach. The CE was on a quest for Cuban food, and, while we did not make the pilgrimage to famed Little Havana haven Versailles, we did walk over to charming Espanola Way for a convivial al fresco dinner at Havana 1957, where we feasted on Yuca Frita and Fricase de Pollo and watched the parade of passersby.

havana espanola

Havana 1957 appetizers

Havana 1957 appetizers

Mojito!

Mojito!

If you go, definitely have the Fricase de Pollo!

If you go, definitely have the Fricase de Pollo!

We went upscale on our second evening for dinner at the lovely Casa Tua courtyard restaurant. The menu is nominally northern Italian, our waiter was from Czechoslovakia and the busboy from Venezuela – all part of the sultry melting pot that is South Beach. After dinner, we sought shelter beneath storefront awnings as a welcome downpour washed away the grime on the sidewalks of Lincoln Road.

Casa Tua's fanciful courtyard.

Casa Tua’s fanciful courtyard.

Ginger martini at Casa Tua

Ginger martini at Casa Tua

Very nice, at a price!

Very nice, at a price!

Before bidding farewell to South Beach, I enjoyed a complimentary manicure and glass of champagne at the Ritz-Carlton salon (thank you, American Express!) where the Ecuadorean nail technician told me that she had come to Miami after twenty Chicago winters and had no doubt whatsoever that she had finally found “Paradise”. With the exception of January 19, 1977 it has never snowed in Miami; Paradise, indeed!

Cheers, Salud and El Ano Que Viene Estamos in Cuba!

Cheers, Salud and El Ano Que Viene Estamos in Cuba!

August 9, 2014 at 9:30 am 2 comments

Birds in the Boroughs.

The CE and I are currently pretending to be New Yorkers, but we’ve still got chickens on the brain. Last night we walked up to Broadway on a perfect NYC summer evening and sat outside at The Smith (I recommend the lamb chops washed down with their Midtown Manhattan!) where, instead of people-watching, we were glued to our phones, viewing the latest pictures of our fast-growing chicks back home.

Dave sent this shot last week while he and Karen were baby-sitting the flock:

The little ones were already ruling the roost last week.

The little ones were already ruling the roost last week.

Lori is now the acting flock keeper and sent this shot yesterday:

The chicks are already half Pippa's size! Motherhood is going to get complicated soon for her, I fear.

The chicks are already half Pippa’s size! Motherhood is going to get complicated soon for her, I fear.

We are somewhat emboldened in exposing our poultry compulsions (speaking of which, another recent great NYC meal we can recommend is the Pollo al mattone at A Voce in the Time-Warner Center, accompanied by a nice Pinot Nero they serve there) because we now know that we aren’t the only chicken lovers in the city. Just in case you missed it, the New York Times donned overalls and farm boots recently to report on (live) poultry proliferation right here in New York neighborhoods. I’m not sure if any nearby roof terraces in Columbus Circle are harboring chicken coops, but according to the NYT article, they flourish in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, where “a clucking hen can wander into a neighbor’s yard for a snack of petunias or a nap on the doormat.”

6-year-old Riley Harrigan and her Barred Rock were featured in a recent  NYT article about chicken and bee-keeping in the city. (NYT photo)

6-year-old Riley Harrigan and her Barred Rock were featured in a recent NYT article about chicken and bee-keeping in the city. (NYT photo)

The only thing missing is a coop sophisticated enough for these New York City chickens, right?

Boom. Its done.

Check in box. (Or, rather, chick in box, as it may be…)

Recent Columbia architecture graduate Della Krantz Leapman has designed a chicken coop for the post-modern flock keeper: sleek and attractive, it is also equipped with a solar-powered door that lets the hens greet the dawn while the urban farmers laze in bed with their morning coffee.

Note that the roof is slanted to catch rain water for the adjacent garden bed.

Note that the roof is slanted to catch rain water for the adjacent garden bed.

I think Frank Lloyd Wright would be proud!

I think Frank Lloyd Wright would be proud!

Close-up of the solar-powered door

Close-up of the solar-powered door

The automatic door is rigged with a sound that alerts the chickens to “last call” before the door automatically closes at dusk, giving them time to scurry inside and roost for the night.

I’m all for a chicken in every pot (ohmygosh that reminds me: son Daniel ordered the Double-Fried Chicken at Standard Grill, served with Cole Slaw and Biscuits and it looked divine!) but with this fast-paced city life, how about a chicken or two on every block? I think Ms. Leapman’s chicken coop would be a cluckingly good addition to any NYC neighborhood!

And if you still have any doubt about the importance of poultry (on or off the plate!) I will leave you with this beauty by William Carlos Williams:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

August 2, 2014 at 6:53 am 4 comments

Florida Road Trip, Part 6: Hemingway and Heaven in Key West

Of our two days in Key West, one was ridiculous and the other, thankfully, sublime. Duval Street in all its seaminess was already a distant memory. We awoke our second day with a new plan: Hemingway and Heaven.

Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West from 1931-39. It is said that he appreciated his home’s location on Whitehead Street because it stood across the street from the lighthouse, which was the landmark by which he found his way home after boozing it up in the Duval Street bars.

Ernest Hemingway's home in Key West (image from hemingwayhome.com)

Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West (image from hemingwayhome.com)

He wrote To Have and Have Not as well as The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Green Hills of Africa in Key West during his marriage to his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.

Ernest Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, at their home in Key West. (image from jfklibrary.org)

Ernest Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, at their home in Key West. (image from jfklibrary.org)

Hemingway was a complicated man of enormous appetite for life, travel, liquor and women. Oh, and for cats. His Key West home features a cemetery for the most beloved of his famed six-toed felines, including “Marilyn Monroe” and “Kim Novak”. Forty-five descendants of his original pets currently roam the premises. Few of them deign to interact with visitors, preferring to lounge in the deep shade of the garden, but I did spot one napping in a bedroom and another preening on an etagere in the museum bookstore.

This calico was one of the few cats willing to greet guests to the Hemingway Home and Museum.

This calico was one of the few cats willing to greet guests to the Hemingway Home and Museum.

Little black kitty takes a snooze in one of the bedrooms.

Little black kitty takes a snooze in one of the bedrooms.

So bored with it all: this cat condescended to mingle with visitors to the bookstore.

So bored with it all: this cat condescended to mingle with visitors to the bookstore.

Let sleeping cats lie: I only saw five toes on this kitty; maybe it's a stray?

Let sleeping cats lie: I only saw five toes on this kitty; maybe it’s a stray?

Just as I felt a sense of kinship with Thomas Wolfe after visiting his home in Asheville, N.C., I somehow felt that I better understood Hemingway as I strode through the rooms of his gracious Key West home. Most of his books are held hostage in Cuba, but family photos line the walls of the home and you can visit the detached studio where he wrote. And whether you like Hemingway the man or not – Zelda Fitzgerald, incidentally, loathed him – Hemingway, the writer, is as good as it gets. He was truly the voice of the “lost generation” and a national treasure.

The CE next to a portrait of Hemingway.

The CE next to a portrait of Hemingway.

The upstairs veranda at the Hemingway Home and Museum.

The upstairs veranda at the Hemingway Home and Museum.

Family photos line the walls of the home.

Family photos line the walls of the home.

From Hemingway’s Key West slice of paradise, we walked a few blocks and went straight to heaven – Blue Heaven, that is – the famed local restaurant and watering hole where you can enjoy a languorous Sunday brunch communing with the chickens that roam in the deep shade of the restaurant’s tropical garden. I’m not sure how they work it out with the health code and the powers that be – maybe the chickens are grandfathered into the Conch Republic constitution.

Blue Heaven is a must-visit in Key West.

Blue Heaven is a must-visit in Key West.

Lobster Roll + Bloody Mary = Brunch Heaven at Blue Heaven in Key West.

Lobster Roll + Bloody Mary = Brunch Heaven at Blue Heaven in Key West.

It was even more heavenly with hens and chicks underfoot.

It was even more heavenly with hens and chicks underfoot.

Papa rooster watched over the flock while the rest of us enjoyed brunch.

Papa rooster watched over the flock while the rest of us enjoyed brunch.

I would go to the ends of the earth to see chickens; luckily, I only had to go to southernmost point of the continent. Flocks of Cubalaya chickens originally brought over by emigrating Cubans who couldn’t leave their taste for cock-fighting behind now roam the streets of Key West and are known as “gypsy chickens”. They are more attractive and orderly than the birds I saw in Kauai and, for that matter, than most of the people I saw on Duval Street.

Crossing the street, of course. Don't ask why...

Crossing the street, of course. Don’t ask why…

Handsome Key West fellow.

Handsome Key West fellow.

We ended up enjoying our stay in Key West so much that we held back a few things to see on a future visit. Next time we hope to check out the Audubon House and Harry Truman’s Key West winter White House. For our two-day visit finale, we boarded a boat for the short jaunt out to Sunset Key, where we dined at Latitudes and watched the sun set on a perfect Key West day. Heavenly!

View of Sunset Key from our hotel

View of Sunset Key from our hotel

Looking back at Front Street from the boat headed to Sunset Key

Looking back at Front Street from the boat headed to Sunset Key

The CE relaxes at Latitudes after a long day of touring Key West.

The CE relaxes at Latitudes after a long day of touring Key West.

July 26, 2014 at 6:51 am 4 comments

Meet the Flockers.

Single stay-at-home mother, three very young children. No one knows who the father is. No source of income. Dependent on handouts.

Dysfunctional family?

Nope, just Pippa and her adorable little flock of chicks.

I think they were all made for each other!

I think they were all made for each other!

And they couldn’t be happier. Pippa is a helicopter mom. A Tiger Mom on steroids. She is ferociously overprotective and never, ever takes her eyes off her little ones. When we tried to “borrow” them for portraits she came at us puffed up like a turkey, wings flapping, and pecked at us like she meant it. Hard to believe this is the same docile little d’Uccle who just a few weeks ago sidled up to me each morning in the coop asking to be cuddled and hand-fed some scratch. I guess she has redefined the term “mother hen”.

Just like all mothers, Pippa is used to her kids climbing all over her.

Just like all mothers, Pippa is used to her kids climbing all over her.

As soon as I saw how well it was going, I wished that those other little ones – the grandkids – could be here to share in the fun. Next best thing: have them help with the naming!

Thomas and James responded first:

James and Thomas in one of their more angelic moments.

James and Thomas in one of their more angelic moments.

They chose to name the little brown Ameraucana and came up with the PERFECT name: Ginger.

Meet Ginger! Thank you, Thomas and James!

Meet Ginger! Thank you, Thomas and James!

Later that day I heard from Evie and Viv (and Caleigh, who will hopefully get a chance to name a future chick when she’s a bit older). They were busy making a l-o-n-g list:

So many good names! We will save this for the future!

So many good names! We will save this for the future!

Here are Evie and Viv unfurling our personal flag on their Duffy boat.

Here are Evie and Viv unfurling our personal flag on their Duffy boat.

My pick from Evie and Viv’s list was Summer, which I think suits the little Buff Orpington:

This is Summer. Thank you Evie and Viv!

This is Summer. Thank you Evie and Viv!

For the Barred Rock, I chose the name Lola. Alexandra and Andy reminded me that it was the name of the parrot they recently befriended during their trip to Peru and the Amazon. I must have catalogued it in my bird brain when I first heard it, because every time I looked at the chicks I kept thinking that one of them needs to be called Lola. So Lola it shall be.

Andy and his friend, Lola, who inspired the name for our little Barred Rock.

Andy and his friend, Lola, who inspired the name for our little Barred Rock.

Okay, she's not as exotic as the Amazon Lola, but I promise she will be a pretty girl!

Okay, she’s not as exotic as the Amazon Lola, but I promise she will be a pretty girl!

This is what Lola will look like when she grows up. (image from mypetchicken.com)

This is what Lola will look like when she grows up. (image from mypetchicken.com)

In retrospect, I realized I made a mistake during our chick delivery process. We were so busy stealing away Pippa’s beloved golf balls that I fumbled and just set the chicks next to her instead of tucking them beneath her. I think that is why she pecked at them a bit; next time I serve as a chicken doula I will remember to place the chicks under the hen so that she thinks her eggs have hatched rather than that she has been invaded by aliens.

Luckily for us, Pippa and her chicks rebounded from my clumsy midwifery. We’ve had a lot of transitions in the past few days, since we have to ready the flock for our imminent departure to points East. Dave and Karen and then our friend, Lori, are bravely taking on the poultry project in our absence.

Dave stopped by to see the chicks last weekend; here he is with Lola

Dave stopped by to see the chicks last weekend; here he is with Lola

First, we moved them from the nesting counter to the floor – I didn’t want anyone to topple over the edge! Along with that move came the chicks’ introduction to “Auntie Luna” who has been soldiering on all by herself while Pippa has been brooding and mothering. Sweet little Luna has been very respectful of the chicks – I think she would like to help mother them, but Pippa is having none of it – see how she puffs up to protect her brood when Luna comes near?

Pippa puffs up as Luna tries to meet the new additions.

Pippa puffs up as Luna tries to meet the new additions.

Personalities are already beginning to emerge. Summer stays very close to mom and, true to her Buff Orpington breeding, seems the calmest and most confident. Ginger skitters here and there, exploring new territory and then careening back to find her flock. Little Lola is the shyest, often seeking shelter under Pippa while the other two have a look around.

Ginger and Summer peek out, while Lola has characteristically taken refuge under Pippa.

Ginger and Summer peek out, while Lola has characteristically taken refuge under Pippa.

Next step is to give the little flock their first “big world” outing. Then we head out on our trip and our intrepid house sitters will take over. By the time we return, the darling little chicks will be entering adolescence and will have that scraggly vulture look that chickens take on during their ugly duckling stage between babyhood and hen-hood.

Summer is the quintessential baby chick - yellow and fluffy!

Summer is the quintessential baby chick – yellow and fluffy!

For now, though, they are preciously adorable – just like all the grandkids who named them!

Our other little flock - the cousins who named the chicks, all together in Hawaii a few years back.

Our other little flock – the cousins who named the chicks, all together in Hawaii a few years back.

July 19, 2014 at 6:50 am 6 comments

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