Chicken lady for life.

We’d been invited to lunch at a lovely club by a lovely couple we barely knew. Hoping to make a good impression, I was actually wearing shoes that weren’t flip flops or sneakers.

Nice try. But no.

Because as we entered the stately dining room to greet our hosts, a voice rang out from across the room.

“Oh hi there! I know you! You’re the chicken lady!”

So much for first impressions.

It turned out to be someone from our neighborhood, to whom I’d been identified by someone else in the neighborhood as “the neighborhood chicken lady”.

She had a question about a problem hen. “Is it a Rhode Island Red?” I asked, hoping to cut to the chase and change the subject (as well as my persona).

“It is! How did you know?”

Well, it’s almost always a Rhode Island Red so it was a lucky guess. By this point, though, there was no hope of convincing anyone I was anything but a chicken lady. Oh well, at least I didn’t have pine shavings on my shirt. Or did I?

These last few weeks, things have been more than ever about chickens, since broody Willa bailed on her chance for motherhood and her two would-be babies have been consigned to growing up motherless in a cardboard box. Life can be cruel.

How it started:

How it’s going:

At least they have names now! Granddaughter Caleigh has christened them Peggy (left) and Beauty (right) and I think those names fit them perfectly! They are three and a half weeks old now and as you can see, they are feathering out, even sprouting tail feathers, and Beauty’s comb is coming in. Regrettably, they are rapidly departing the “cute chick” stage and entering the “adolescent vulture” stage.

I was showing them off to a friend when they were still fluff balls and she was warming ever so slightly to the concept of a miniature dinosaur with feathers when I spied – oh no – could it be? Was that a crusty dried bit in the nether parts? I held the chick aloft and pronounced the dire news aloud. “Pasty butt,” I confided.

My friend took two steps back and flattened herself against the wall, instantly and deeply regretting that she had actually touched something that could have “pasty butt”. I was so busy dousing the cheeping chick’s derriere in warm water and scrubbing away – pasty butt must be dealt with straightaway or the consequences can be dire – that I had not noticed how pale my friend had become.

“Oh dear, I’m so sorry”, I said, realizing that not everyone wants to be in the barnyard sorority. I’d done it again. The inner chicken lady simply cannot be contained.

A murmur of protest here, though. There are people, many people, whose proclaimed adoration for their dogs over their affinity for humans is considered perfectly acceptable and even reasonable. Cat people – well, okay, they get an eye roll but still, they’re within the bell curve.

But chicken ladies? No respect whatsoever. I can just imagine the conversations. “Oh yes, I know her.” Pause. Sotto voce: “She’s the one who has chickens.”

Even the CE is getting a little edgy about the vultures in the cardboard box shanty. Yesterday he decided to shake things up and set the little ones up in the big chicken pen for the day. Time for the big hens to reckon with their imminent roommates.

Bella was like, “Wait. What?” Here she was, an actual chicken, but giving off the distinct sense that she is not a chicken lady.

“I’ve got my eye on you!” she seems to be saying:

No one will be happier than me when the day comes that these littles make their transition into the flock but I must confess, it has been a sweet time raising them, pasty butt and all. They hate being held – the giant’s hand descending from above to snatch them up – but I can’t help myself. They are irresistible to me and I am compelled to stroke their feathery little heads and croon their new names to them. “Hi Peggy! Hi Beauty!”

I realize the CE and I are poor substitutes for a feathery mother hen, but the chicks are thriving nonetheless. One moment they are chattering away at one another, the next they are cuddling together, all fluffed out for a morning nap. Sweet little things.

Honestly, I had once envisioned a life of pearls and soirées. Instead I find myself festooned with pine shavings (and worse…). I guess, in the end, our destinies choose us. And there’s just no getting around it: these are my peeps.

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Fleeting.

Ah, summer in all its ripeness. July is as spent now as a drunken sailor, and in waltzes August, full of the scent of unfurling gardenias,

scarlet runner beans growing to the sky,

and ruddy tomatoes, begging to be plucked from the vine.

But what’s this?

I walked out the door this morning and found myself trapped in a veil of Halloween spider web, and then another and another. One hen remains summer broody but two others are growing patchy with molt, signaling autumn’s lack of plumage.

Our evening walks are ratcheting backwards in time every night in order to get Lily to the corner and back before we need flashlights.

Does this look like summer?

Or this?

I think we need to check our sources. The calendar says, indubitably, that fall does not begin until September 22 in the northern hemisphere. But the crows say otherwise, gathering in imposing murders to discuss their seasonal reorganization. The afternoon sunshine is deliciously warm, but step into the shade for a moment and the chill in the air reminds you of just how fleeting summer really is.

I start dreaming the mental checklist, fully believing that I will find a way next year to experience the midnight sun. Norway, Reykjavik, or even Canada?

Or, better yet, how about literally following the sun around the world? I have it on good authority that the Canary Islands are a perfect August destination for those who never want autumn to come.

But summer dreams, like the season itself, are oh so fleeting. I suspect that a year from now (God willing…) I’ll be right here brushing off the cobwebs and wondering why I didn’t plant those tomatoes earlier.

I’m planning to make the most of August and its promised extra-large scoops of sunshine. But I remain mindful: two minutes less light on each end of the day, and, oh, by the way, Christmas is just around the corner…

“End of Summer”

An agitation of the air,

A perturbation of the light

Admonished me the unloved year

Would turn on its hinge that night

I stood in the disenchanted field

Amid the stubble and the stones,

Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me

The song of my marrow-bones.

Blue poured into summer blue,

A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,

the roof of the silo blazed, and I knew

that part of my life was over.

Already the iron door of the north

Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows

Order their population forth,

And a cruel wind blows.

– Stanley Kunitz

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Wild Kingdom.

It had been a typical day. All the usual minutiae with a highlight of a major plumbing crisis under the kitchen sink. Our cocktail reading hour was mercifully upon us at long last and the CE decided the week-old baby chicks were ready to join us in the chicken yard for some late afternoon sun. He rigged up a sturdy corral cage for them.

Lily was there, of course and oh, by the way, The Countess came along for the outing. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ll give you the moral of the story straight up: DON’T BE IDIOTS!!!!

Lily (good dog!) soon lay down for an afternoon snooze, but The Countess was on the prowl. We laughed and laughed at the way our royal lioness paced and quivered and stared at the babies. Oh so amusing, right?

I was a little uneasy and stood watch for quite awhile. The chicks were having great fun learning to peck and scratch just like real hens. The CE had gone inside to deploy dual hairdryers to the wet plumbing mess under the kitchen sink so I was on my own with the critters. But then The Countess decamped to another part of the yard and I finally settled into a chair with my book. The cares of the day melted away with the sound of sweet little peeps in the background.

Thirty seconds later all hell broke loose. Suddenly the baby chicks were skittering across the yard with The Countess in hot pursuit! What happened???!!!! The moment I looked away she had stealthily returned and like the criminal she is, figured out a way to displace an unsecured seam in the cage. The chicks were out! And The Countess was one paw swipe a way from a chicken dinner!

If only we had video of me pathetically screaming for the CE to help. Of course he was over in the kitchen and heard not a thing because of the drone of the double hairdryers. I’m sure the neighbors heard me because we ran into them on our walk this morning and they rather pointedly asked “how are you two doing?” Only later did I realize they had probably heard what sounded like an attempted murder at our house the other day.

Well, it was definitely attempted murder. We were split seconds away from either that or the chicks disappearing under the deck never to be seen again after encountering whatever lurks beneath (skunks, rodents and worse, I believe).

Providence miraculously intervened and I somehow was able to pluck both the babies in mid-flight and toss them back into the cage, which has since been firmly secured.

All is well now (no thanks to The Countess). The babies are ten days old today. No names yet – we are eagerly anticipating granddaughter Caleigh’s list. Both chicks are beginning to sprout the tiniest feathers from their wings. They are preciously bonded to one another.

The kitchen sink situation is still unresolved, if ever so slightly less wet. But as long as we manage NOT TO BE IDIOTS I think everything else will be just fine since the little ones seem to be thriving.

And The Countess? Well, we’re keeping a close eye on her. Here she is, looking rather like the cat that almost ate the canary…

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Be careful what you wish for.

Willa and I had one thing in common. We both wanted baby chicks.

Well, at least I thought she did. She’s been glued to the nest for a few weeks, ferociously broody. Ferocious being the operative word here, by the way. She drew blood on me the other day when I reached out to pull her off the nest for a walkabout. And once off the nest she would stalk around doing the weird broody clucking thing and being generally obstreperous.

Well, I thought, she will either be a very good mother or a very bad mother. My instincts told me that she isn’t emotionally suited to the task, but I really wanted a few baby chicks to age down this greying flock. (Note to self: it’s usually not a good idea to ignore your instincts…)

Off we went, with some trepidation, to the feed store.

Reminders all along the way that things can go wrong:

At the feed store we discovered that the chicks had come in a day earlier than scheduled but no one had called us. So our day-old chicks were now actually three days old. Hmmm. And they didn’t get the breed we’d requested. Hmmm. And I’ve got a certifiably crazy broody hen at home. Hmmm. Hmmm.

Did any of this stop me?

Of course not!

So home we came with a sweet little Ameraucana and a Buff Orpington.

Ameraucanas will give you the pretty green or blue tinted eggs and Buff Orpingtons are calm (never crazy!) birds that somewhat reliably will go broody. If you don’t have roosters (I’m choosing to ignore that sign at the feed store) having a reliable broody in the flock is the easiest way to add to it.

The plan was to snuggle the babies beneath Willa late last night so she would wake up this morning to motherhood. So we only needed to prepare temporary quarters. Prerequisites are a cardboard box and a heat lamp (and make sure to test the bulb ahead of time in case it needs to be replaced):

and, of course, food and water – make sure you have chick starter/grower on hand. I remembered reading long ago that when the chicks come home you should dip their beaks in the food and water so they will know what it is:

Works like a charm!

We stayed up late last night to be sure Willa would be suitably settled in and drowsy enough not to wonder what we were slipping beneath her under cover of darkness. Drowsy she was, but per usual, she pecked at us. Ferociously. But then she settled down quietly, seemingly unaware of the little peeps.

She probably slept better than I did. I checked on her at 4 a.m. and again every half hour or so. The chicks beneath her were quiet and Willa seemed content.

But when the chicks decided to come out for a sip of water, things went wrong in a hurry.

Broody hens will often peck gently at baby chicks out of curiosity. But Bella’s pecks were not inquisitive. They were ferocious. She pecked at the chicks with, I am sorry to say, murderous intent. I’ve heard about it happening. My instincts forewarned me. And now I was seeing it happen. I had to take the chicks away from her or risk tragedy.

So now we have to scramble up Plan B, which is hand raising the little ones. A much larger cardboard box, a lot more work for us, and the eventual tricky choreography of integrating the adolescent hens with the rest of the flock. We’ve done it before; we can do it again. And despite the rough treatment this morning, the little ones seem healthy and hardy.

I wished for baby chicks, and, um, well, I sure did get them. Since wishes appear to be summarily granted here, let me just make it clear that I am not, in any way, not even the teeniest of ways, wishing for roosters. Good. Glad that’s settled!

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One hot mama.

Willa is broody!

How do we know?

Well, for one thing, she won’t leave the nest. She’s fluffed up like a turkey. And she’s hot and bothered.

Literally.

When you pick her up, you can feel how warm she is. Elevated body temperature is a classic hallmark of broodiness.

And when I say bothered, I mean bothered! Mess with a broody hen at your own peril!

She went broody last year, too, but I didn’t trust her. Willa happens to be one crazy chick. Truly crazy and not in a girl-just-wants-to-have fun way. Crazy in a needs-professional-help way. She didn’t seem like mother material to me.

But this year, things are different. Well, Willa isn’t exactly different. She is still more or less permanently hysterical. But the flock, in general, is aging up and the egg production is going down. If you don’t have a rooster (God forbid!) your choice is to hand-raise baby chicks or – and this is much, much easier – give them to a broody hen to raise.

We’ve done it successfully several times, but always before with a sensible, calm hen. There are many cautionary tales out there about broody hens who are quite convincing right up until the moment you give them chicks and then they abandon them – or worse! Yikes!

So. We’re going to see how this week goes. So far, so good. She won’t leave the nest unless physically removed and then just long enough to walk about a bit, grab a bite and a sip of water and then makes the beeline back into the coop…

Is motherhood in Willa’s future? The suspense is building…

Stay tuned!

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Lettuce give thanks.

I dare you to be unhappy in a garden where sunflowers grow.

This year’s garden has been a huge improvement over last year’s first effort. There is a saying, “Garden as though you will live forever”, but the realists among us know better. When you start gardening late in the game, it’s more like “garden like there’s no tomorrow” since we can’t be callow in assuming endless springs and summers to hone our craft.

I almost gave up last year when two months of work yielded only a paltry handful of tomatoes. But instead, I tripled down on the tomato plants this year, and we are definitely seeing red, in a good way!

The snap peas, like last year, have been a big success. It finally occurred to me to plant a second crop and keep it going – snap peas eaten off the vine are divine!

We’ve had peaches,

We’ve had plums,

And we’re even beginning to get some early potatoes. I planted Yukon Gems this year:

Last year’s basil crop was a disappointment but for some reason this year it has thrived.

And the Little Gem lettuce I planted is likewise flourishing.

I cannot explain the pure joy of stepping out to the garden to thin the lettuce and then making a salad from the tender cast-off plants, along with some snips of dill, a few cherry tomatoes and crisp snap peas. Yes, I am easily amused, but I also know how precious and rare those moments are when one wants for nothing. Gardens are good for the soul.

If you remain doubtful, I wish you could get a whiff of my sweet peas. They smell delicious!

At the end of the day, I realize I never left the house…and couldn’t be happier. So grateful for the garden!

Wishing everyone a happy 4th of July…the dahlias are from our garden, of course!

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I’ve fallen into the late ’60’s and I can’t get up.

I’ve never doubted the power of books to transport the soul. But time travel, that’s something new. A few weeks back I started listening to Sylvie Simmons’ I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen and at about a third of the way through I realize I am currently trapped in the late 1960’s.

I’m not all that big on celebrities- you won’t find me clicking on anything Kardashian – but Leonard Cohen is more icon than celebrity, so I’ve taken the deep dive. I’ve had “Suzanne” on repeat in my head now for at least ten days. Skip the ad and prepare to be gobsmacked:

In the late fifties and early sixties, Cohen was an emerging Canadian poet and novelist of middling note. Then he got serious with his guitar with the encouragement of Judy Collins and others, and the rest is musical history.

I hadn’t realized that Leonard Cohen was part of the Andy Warhol/Patti Smith/Lou Reed scene at the Chelsea Hotel because I was a very young twelve in 1967 and not yet listening to songs like “Chelsea Hotel #2” where Cohen famously celebrated his one-night stand with Janis Joplin. Should you foolishly think it’s no longer relevant, Lana Del Rey did a cover of it in 2014:

And everything old is new again anyway. The Chelsea Hotel – which variously sheltered Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Edith Piaf, Sid Vicious (he stabbed his girlfriend Nancy there), Robert Mapplethorpe and, more recently, Madonna – has recently re-opened for business. Not sure I could sleep there with all the ghosts, but it’s an option for those less faint of heart. By the way, Patti Smith’s autobiography Just Kids is a magnificent survey of the heyday of the Chelsea Hotel.

Musically, we all seem strangely locked in our own generation. Just as I was never to appreciate the “big band” music of my parents’ era, I got a blank stare from a 20-something when I mentioned Leonard Cohen the other day. I should have thought to ask what music she listens to. I know she will remember every word of every song when she’s 70 and no one younger than her has ever heard of her favorite singers.

There’s actually a name for it: “neural nostalgia”. As Mark Joseph Stern wrote in Slate magazine (August 12, 2014) “researchers have uncovered evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults.” Musical nostalgia, he explains, “isn’t just a cultural phenomenon: It’s a neuronic command.”

So, when I hear Leonard Cohen sing about Suzanne feeding him “tea and oranges that come all the way from China”, I get a surge of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and other neurochemicals that transcend the discovery in the book that what the real Suzanne was “feeding” him was a cup of Constant Comment tea. (This also, by the way, explains why certain members of our family have an affection for Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler that borders on obsession 😉 …but I digress…)

For me, the dopest dopamine comes when Joni Mitchell steps on stage, and discovering that she and Leonard Cohen had a thing in the late 60’s is a rush of pleasure, indeed.

If, like me (come on, there must be at least three or four of us weirdos out there…) you’ve memorized every early Joni Mitchell lyric, you’ll remember her lyric in the song “A Case of You”

“I drew a map of Canada,

Oh Canada,

With your face sketched on it twice…”

Guess who’s face she sketched? Yup, Leonard Cohen’s.

And, mystery solved, Leonard Cohen is also the subject of Mitchell’s melodic “Rainy Night House”

Leonard Cohen died in 2016, but of course his music lives on. In fact, even the 20-somethings probably hear it without realizing whose it was – I was standing in an elevator the other day when a Muzak version of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” snaked through the speakers. Maybe not the legacy he would have hoped for, but Leonard, you still give me that dopamine rush and I’m grateful for it.

I like the Jeff Buckley version of it:

I’m afraid I’ve fallen hopelessly back into the late ’60’s. Don’t help me out just yet – I’m enjoying it immensely!

“I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the lord of song

With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah”

– Leonard Cohen “Hallelujah”

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June in NYC: 5 Takeaways

If all Junes are like this June, then I always want to be here in June! What a gift it has been for us – a second glorious week in the city.

Yes, we are dodging the seemingly murderous e-bike and scooter riders who routinely plow through red lights and terrify unsuspecting pedestrians, but walking the city still seems safer than riding the subway, which even some longtime New Yorkers are currently avoiding. There’s work to be done here, but it feels generally safer than the headlines would suggest, and there is (finally!) a joyful buzz to the city.

Five reasons I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it:

1) The light! Okay, maybe it’s not Paris, but there is something about the summer sky in NYC that I cannot resist.

2) The Met! You have until July 11 to see the Winslow Homer “Crosscurrents” exhibit, called “wondrous” by The New York Times and “a knockout” by The Washington Post. I call it positively sublime and not to be missed.

The exhibit and the narrative are organized around Homer’s iconic “Gulf Stream” painting (pictured above), although I was more drawn in by the 1895 “Northeaster”…

and “Undertow”:

and especially “Fox Hunt”, Homer’s single largest format work:

There are seventy-seven paintings in all, so it bears seeing and seeing again. Almost too much to take in in one pass.

3) Also in the “almost too much to take in” category is the signature cheese soufflé at La Grenouille. The dining in general has been superb but this was a special meal in a very special setting. If you go between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. it only costs half a fortune instead of a full fortune. And that soufflé – well, there’s nothing like it anywhere else.

If only we could have smuggled out the peonies…

Arguably the prettiest restaurant in the city…

4) The ABT! June is ballet month and how lucky we were to attend a presentation of “Don Quixote”. So great to be back at Lincoln Center (albeit with masks and vaccination status checks). Such a special evening.

5) And, of course, The Park. Always and forever, in any season but so lush and lovely right now.

Where else can you happen upon something like this on your morning walk?

And then head over to the Boathouse for lunch…

We’ve had a magical time. And hopefully many more going forward…

“New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.”

– Dorothy Parker
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It was worth waiting for.

Nearly a year since we’ve been back to the city.

And, of course, we’ve heard nothing but bad news. Surge upon surge – in virus, in crime, in prices.

All this time we’ve held our breath as to how we would find it upon our return.

And?

It’s positively breathtaking.

NYC has many faces. It’s been wearing one of its prettiest for us these past few days.

The oakleaf hydrangeas are blooming in Central Park.

And the planters along Central Park South are trying to do their part…

Dante Park is prettily edged.

And Lincoln Center is all dressed up for summer.

In general, things are looking pretty sweet.

Broadway is back!

And everyone and their dog is out enjoying the beautiful almost-summer evenings.

Oh to be young in the city…

But never mind, even us oldsters can enjoy being at the center of the universe.

We want to scoop up every morsel of it we can. Especially the Milos Special, enjoyed with a view of The Vessel.

We may be in our sunset years, but the sunsets here are exquisite. How we love this beautiful jewel box of a city. So, so great to be back!

“The lightning spun your garment for the night

of silver filaments with fire shot thru,

A broidery of lamps that lit for you…”

from “The Lights of New York”
– Sara Teasdale
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Family Album: You can go home again.

When you lived your entire childhood in the same house in the same sleepy town with the same boring parents, you can’t wait to move several time zones and a myriad of zip codes away.

But after finishing college and starting a career and then watching the world get turned upside down and inside out by a wannabe plague, heading back west and switching out those 10000 zip codes for the sunny 90000’s doesn’t seem like the worst idea.

In fact, what the heck, maybe bringing friends to visit at home for a weekend could actually be fun! The house is the same except for older and shabbier, and the parents – well, they’re really old and shabby, but even they look better when you get a relaxing, sunny 80-degree weekend. With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, it turns out you actually can go home again.

First stop is always the chicken yard, so everyone figures out right away that they’re not dealing with sophisticated folk here.

“Just us chickens”, says Lily.

Friends Wilson and Will had never been to Santa Barbara before so the challenge was on to compete with Brooklyn and Columbus. Brunch at Scarlett Begonia got us all off to a good start.

And we were joined by very special guests Victoria and Marie-Christine!

Our pool was the place to be that afternoon:

Freddy hung out with Lily…

and with Victoria…

Daniel and Wilson…

And even Peter managed to show up for a cameo appearance:

They tried out some of the new restaurants in town

And Daniel enjoyed a visit with Granny.

And since Daniel will be ten or twelve time zones away for his birthday, we squeezed in an early celebration:

I think they all had a good time…especially Lily, of course!

Best of all, they all promised to come back!

Same time next year?

Happy Birthday, Daniel – love you so! xoxo

All things on earth point home…

– Thomas Wolfe
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