Dispatches from the fog zone.

At first I couldn’t place the sound – what was that humming I heard? I walked down the hall to better hear it – ah, yes, it was the furnace kicking in. The heat had come on. Of course. Because it is June in Santa Barbara.

It’s that trickster month for tourists who show up to sample sunny California and instead get treated to our famous June Gloom. According to the Wikipedia article on the phenomenon, “this weather pattern is relatively rare, and occurs only in a few other parts of the world where climates and conditions are similar.” Tell me where they are so I can avoid them, please.

To be fair, this hasn’t been our worst June. There have been a few glorious summery days and at its worst the sun has at least shone in the afternoons. Polling neighbors on my morning walks, half of them claim to love it: “an excuse to stay in my pajamas all day!” And the rest of us sink into a muffled despair and wait for July…

I’m not sure which camp our cat Dodger is in, but he’s thinking about it. Can you see him?


There are consolations. The neighborhood spiders are hard at work, making necklaces for the shrubbery:


The gardenias are blooming and the air is filled with their perfume.


A pair of mourning doves have moved in to serenade us at dusk, and there are bunnies everywhere!


The remaining baby chick is thriving and her name, chosen by the grandsons is, appropriately, June. Maybe because she’s the color of fog.



Meanwhile, I just add layers for the morning walk. A shirt, a shirt over the shirt, a sweater, a wrap. And don’t forget gloves. Brrrr!

At least baby June knows how to stay warm…






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This Day in History: Another Take on Watergate

If you’re old enough to remember 1972 you may fondly recall the original VW Bugs, bellbottoms, and, on your tinny car radio, the strains of  “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin“.

But you probably didn’t notice a small newspaper item about a June 17 break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington, D.C. At a luxury apartment complex. Called The Watergate. Ring a bell?

It happened forty-five years ago today, and one person who did happen to notice the newspaper report was Jo Haldeman, wife of President Richard Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman. She noted it at the time, and thought it to be peculiar. By 1975, it had become a national conflagration, consuming lives, careers and the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Careers were made, too. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were the whiz kids who introduced what is now a deeply-entrenched practice of the media directing the political narrative.


The human narrative of the Watergate experience has been mostly overlooked, which may be why Jo Haldeman’s just-published reminiscence strikes a chord. Entitled In the Shadow of the White House: A Memoir of the Watergate Years, 1968-78, Jo begins by tracing the moment when her husband, Bob, informs her that his dedication to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign may lead to a position in the West Wing. Because we know what’s coming, the book reads almost like a thriller. The reader wants to warn her:  Don’t do it, Jo! Don’t go! But, of course, she does, pluckily moving her four children and three pug dogs from a secure and staid life in Los Angeles and Newport Beach to the byzantine political rigors of Washington, D.C.

There are White House receptions and family weekends at Camp David. Casual banter with Henry Kissinger and John Erlichman, and floundering exchanges with the socially-awkward Richard Nixon. There is the ever-present phone with its endlessly long cord, the “umbilical cord” between Bob Haldeman and the President. Her classic 50’s marriage – “I don’t interfere”, Jo intones at one point – is challenged, as are her political views when an up-close encounter with Vietnam War protestors leads her to apprehend that shades of gray now color her previously black and white thinking on national issues. And then there is the crucible of Watergate.  And the aftermath, where Jo faithfully prepares weekend picnic lunches to bring to her husband during his eighteen months in prison.


In one of life’s supremely unpredictable twists, Jo Haldeman is my neighbor and my friend. She sat in my living room the other day, chatting graciously about her memoir with members of my book club. My group is all over the place politically – some of them just this side of Kathy Griffin and Antifa, a number of “coastal elites” and maybe one or two alt-rights. While there is little political agreement among us, it was illuminating to see the unanimous enthusiasm for Jo’s book. All of them found it poignant and fascinating. They are a tough crowd; each of them well read and highly discerning. Yet more than one friend confessed that deep and long-held antipathy for H.R. Haldeman had shifted after reading the book. Shades of gray.

I sometimes take neighborhood walks with Jo, and while she is scrupulously circumspect about politics, she said something to me recently that I think will resonate for a long time. “You see these political figures as they are depicted by the press, and you forget that they are real people, with real lives and families.”

We do forget, all of us. I don’t have any idea who Jo Haldeman voted for in the past election, but somehow, she understood the humanity of both candidates. She knows, from personal experience that public service entails private turmoil and that the heroes and monsters served up to us on the nightly news are not quite as one-dimensional as they seem.

Shades of gray. Forty-five years after Watergate, I wonder if anyone else can see them?





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No Fairytale Ending.

I’ve been – so far – quite lucky in love and in life; my heart remains mostly intact. But one small part of it has been frayed and mended, over and over, so that by now it must be patched like a crazy quilt. That is the corner of my heart that I have given over to the sweet animal companions that have brightened my life through the decades. Dogs and cats and one silly cockatiel, and yes, even chickens. And even though I know it is not real grief, each loss sends me reeling.

One of our two baby chicks vanished. Just gone. One moment, browsing with her mama in the bushes; the next morning, no sign of her anywhere. She was the slow one, the one to always take a wrong turn and end up on the wrong side of the gate. Maybe that is what happened. Or possibly something small – a rat? – got into the pen and plucked her. We will never know.

She was a little Blue Cochin, a portly little feather-footed butterball. I’ve long longed for a Cochin. They are stately and docile and I could tell she was going to be a sweetheart. Everything was perfect. Until it wasn’t.


I am haunted by the loss. I searched the bushes and walked up and down the fence line of the pen again and again yesterday, looking for any sign of her. Usually there are tell-tale feathers to confirm a sad story, but this time, nothing. Poof. She is just gone.

It would be easier not to mention it at all. But there are two lessons in it worth sharing. First, a reminder to the veteran flock keeper and a caveat to the inexperienced one: always, always, always do the head count. I had gone into the coop that night to check on the flock. Mama Bella was in her usual place and I could hear peeping beneath her. I chose not to disturb her so it wasn’t until the next morning that I discovered the loss. Far, far too late by then. Always do the head count.

The second lesson comes from Bella herself. She is a fierce mama, and must have been frantic at the loss. Yet she soldiers on, calm and dedicated to her remaining chick. The past is past, no time to dwell. Move forward.


And I will. In time. Another row of stitches on that little corner of my heart. Grateful to every one of God’s creatures that have graced my life, even for the briefest moment.




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Saturday blues.

I’m giving you the day off from chickens. Not, mind you, because they are any less fascinating than they were last week or the week before or the week before that…

Just giving it a pause. And maybe because yesterday morning I was out there cooing over the baby chicks and then came inside to feed the dogs their breakfast, which was – ummm, chicken. Slight moral dilemma to ponder there.

But also because I am dead tired and all out of chicken patter. No one told me that last night was scheduled for a wake fest. As in awake. As in All. Night. Long. From 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. it was the CE’s post-surgical shoulder screaming at him. From 3 a.m. onward it was, (since I can never be outdone) my own symphony of searing nerve pain, like a never-ending caterwaul in the night, like a downed electrical wire that sizzles and growls, like the throbbing hum of a badly tuned electric guitar. (It does not help at this point to read that, according to a study cited in the New York Post, your brain actually may “start to eat itself when you are overtired”).

They say nerve pain is all in your head. Literally. The body’s alarm system going awry, screaming Mayday! Mayday! and etching the signals deep into the neural pathways, belting out a chorus that never ends. Fell into a brief sleep just after I heard the first crow call and briefly dreamed that a hundred guests arrived at my house for a party as I was getting ready to take a shower. Without any pants on.  Yeah, that dream. Woke with a start. Thank God for coffee.

Feeling just a teensy bit sorry for myself – and then I stepped outside. It is that glorious time of year here again when the jacarandas bloom. Once a year is not too often to post these pics, right?




Nothing like it to wash away those morning blues. I feel better already. Happy weekend!



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Happily Ever After.

Last week we were on tenterhooks – would Bella accept her adopted chicks?

She seemed initially stunned by the peeping fluff balls that had materialized beneath her. They knew what to do, stay close to mom, but did she? By mid-morning, I had my answer. I peeked in the coop and watched as the little Ameraucana chick peered up at Bella and then proceeded to grab her lower eyelid in its beak – and pull! Vigorously! Ouch!

I held my breath. Moment of truth. And Bella’s response? She did – absolutely nothing! I knew then that we were home free. The chicks view her as a giant, fluffy jungle gym and climb over, under and around her with glee. She clucks and calls them to her. She goes nowhere they cannot go and keeps them always within her sight. She is a wonderful mother.


The happy trio spent a week up on the nesting counter. “What’s this?” wondered the other hens.

Nugget came close for a peek:


Pippa spent most of a day watching the little family from her “bucket seat” on the wall opposite the nesting counter:


Bella quickly began showing the chicks how and where to peck to find treats.

She seems to understand that I mean her and the chicks no harm. She encourages them to eat treats from my hand:


Then we put her trust to the test two days ago when we scooped the chicks into a shoe box and moved the little family from the counter to the floor.  She paced and squawked but quickly gathered her chicks beneath her. The other hens have shown only mild curiosity and, thankfully, have left Bella and her chicks alone.


Soon, she was taking them on forays from the coop to the outdoor pen:


I found them there this morning, where, in the early morning sunlight, Bella was teaching the chicks to catch bugs:


For the third time, we appear to have been charmed with a successful broody adoption. We’ll still keep a close eye on them all – mostly to make sure the other hens keep their distance – but Bella’s got this covered. Fairy-tale ending!



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Babies for Bella!

It has been a long, sleepless night and this midwife is tired!

Yesterday noon we picked up two darling peeping chicks at the feed store, a Blue Cochin and an Ameraucana.

Cochins are the Asiatic breed fancied by Queen Victoria. Her passion for them set off a spate of “hen fever” that spread from 19th century England to the United States and had enthusiasts bidding hundreds of dollars – up to thousands in today’s currency – for breeding pairs. Eventually the passion cooled; this little one cost me just $5 and that probably included a hefty mark-up from the feed store:


Ameraucanas are popular because they are known to lay a light blue or green egg. Whether this little one is a pure Ameraucana or an “Easter Egger” mutt, I did not bother to ascertain. If she comes through with pretty eggs, I will not inquire too indelicately of her heritage; after all, I, too, am a mutt.


The CE, one-armed since a recent shoulder surgery, somehow managed to rig up a temporary “hotel” for them in an upstairs bathroom: a cardboard box with a heat lamp suspended overhead. First order of business was to make sure the little ones ate and drank. I dipped their beaks in the water and showed them their food. They caught on very quickly! The rocks in the waterer are precautionary. Baby chicks can sometimes topple into a water trough and drown.



We even did an early introduction. Soho heard the peeping and became very concerned, so I let her in on the secret. She promised not to tell the cats.


The afternoon and evening hours wore on. I noticed that the chicks were positioning themselves as far from the heat lamp as the small cardboard box would allow, so I tried raising it, and raising it again. Then I turned it off for a short period of time and returned to find them lodged together in a corner, presumably huddled to keep warm. Heat lamp on; heat lamp off, window open, window closed. It all reminded me of why it is so much better to have a broody hen do the work, because the temperature under her wings is always just right.

Under cover of darkness, around 1 a.m., we crept into the coop with a flashlight and the two chicks, and tucked the little ones beneath Bella. She croaked and shifted, but quickly settled and all seemed well. But I am a worrier, and thus, I had to stay up and check again and again to make sure nothing barbaric had transpired. I have heard tell of broodies changing their minds at the last minute and chicks not surviving to tell the tale.

I finally dozed off for an hour or two, and awoke to the faint light of dawn. Dogs out, coffee started, check on the chicks! The other hens seem to know that something is going on; they had assembled like a Praetorian guard, and Nugget even invaded Bella’s nesting cubicle to lay her morning egg. Bella will have to protect her chicks from this crew:


No sign of the little ones, and I, of course, could not leave well enough alone. I reached under the hotly protesting Bella and scooped them out for a photo op:


She clucked at me angrily, and did peck at them, but it seemed more like “get back where you belong” pecking than infanticidal pecking, so I quickly tucked them back under her wing and left them to it.

Well. Not exactly. I am still checking on them every fifteen minutes…are they eating? Are they drinking? Are they bonding?

I’ve read that when a hen hatches chicks from a clutch of eggs she keeps them under her for a day before introducing them to food and water. This is why, if you are “grafting” chicks to a broody, you need to make sure they are well fed and hydrated before you slip them beneath their adoptive mom. Also important: “adult” layer crumble has too much calcium for baby chicks so any food in the coop that they may access must be switched out to the higher protein, lower calcium balance of chick starter food.

Keeping my fingers crossed that Bella will be a beautiful mama. It’s been fifteen minutes…off to check on them again!








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Countdown to Mother’s Day.

Bella and I are thinking about Mother’s Day.

“It’s the most important thing you will ever do in your life”, I whisper to her. She growls at me and then shrieks as I pull her off her nest. Bella, my Buff Orpington hen, is now two weeks broody, convinced that the golf balls she sits on are potential chicks. She sits and she waits and waits and waits. This is what mothers do. They hand their lives and their hearts over to their children and never look back.

I cannot tell if Bella will be a good mom. I drag her off the nest twice a day to make sure she gets a drink of water and something to eat and she protests loudly, which is a good sign. And she always returns to the nest, which is another good sign. I think she’s lost a bit of weight. She looks tired. Yeah, motherhood can do that.


I’ve had good luck twice before with broody hens. My first Buff Orpington, Hope, and then our little Belgian Mille Fleur d’Uccle, Pippa, each raised the day-old chicks we delivered to them in the middle of the night, convincing them that their “eggs” had hatched. Other breeds known to be avidly broody are Silkies, Cochins, Light Brahmas, Dark Cornish and Cuckoo Marans.

Commercial breeders have attempted to extinguish broodiness because it interferes with egg production. When a hen goes broody, she ceases to lay eggs. But Buff Orpingtons remain famously and stubbornly broody. Hope was a wonderful mom:


And tiny Pippa devotedly raised three standard-sized chicks, all of whom continued to try to nestle beneath her even after they were as big as her!



But you never know who will take to motherhood. I’ve read stories of hens changing their minds at the last minute and abandoning their chicks. Or worse. Some say the key is waiting until a hen has remained broody for three full weeks, as the gestation for hatching eggs is 21 days.

That will be next week. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, Happy Mother’s Day to all you mama hens out there!




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