Unpopular opinion.

I’m just gonna say it: I still love NYC.

I know, I know, everyone is leaving. In droves.

And I can’t wait to go back. Every day I have a twinge or two of homesickness for the greatest city in the world.

I know, I know, between COVID and Cuomo and DeBlasio our beautiful city (and our favorite neighborhood!) is in shambles.

Little did I know when I snapped this at MOMA in 2013 it would define NYC in 2020:

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I will have to be patient, because I am afflicted with a condition called topophilia, meaning an attachment to place. Nothing in my childhood or anywhere in my past would have suggested that NYC would ever feel like home, yet somehow it does. There’s a little jolt of excitement every time I see the tip of the Chrysler building in the distance on the way in from JFK. Can’t explain it.

We were hoping to go back in September. Sadly, it looks like that won’t be happening. There’s no place like Manhattan in the fall, and, oh, how we will miss it.

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But I’m compiling a list of the top five “haven’t done” “must-do’s” for when we do return. You think everything will always be there so you put it off til next time or the time after. No more of that!

I hereby decree that we will finally pop for dinner at Restaurant Daniel:

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We will finally take that boat to Ellis Island:

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We will finally make that reservation for high tea at the Baccarat Hotel:

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We’ll finally take that historic walking tour of Lower Manhattan:

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And maybe that will give me some perspective. If you start from the beginning of “New Netherland” on Governor’s Island in 1624, you’ll find plenty of high and low points for NYC along the way. And still so much of that grand city to explore.

Hang on, NYC – we’ll be back as soon as well can!

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Lockdown, Lily-style.

The rest of us would welcome a change at this point.

“But why?” wonders Lily. “Things couldn’t be better!”

Every day begins with new adventures just beyond the gate: an endless array of bunnies, lizards, gophers and squirrels to hunt (and never catch).

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Inside, there’s endless fun with her feline friends.

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As for the compulsory paw-washing, she’ll just take an occasional dip in the fountain.

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She sees no need for social distancing from her buddies.

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Or from humans, for that matter. She had out of town visitors this week, who pretended they were coming to see us, but it was all about Lily.

Chadd learned to love dogs from Chloe way back when.

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Wow! Time flies!

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Lily even had a family reunion this week! We broke protocol and ventured out for dinner one evening and lo and behold, we met Elvis, who turns out to be one of Lily’s littermates!

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If it all gets to be too much, just take a nap.

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Lockdown life is a little easier if you’re living in Lily’s world. Bring on the dog days of summer – she’s loving it!

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Vigil.

I’m not good at many things, but – and yes, I’m just going to brag a little bit here – I believe I could win a medal if they held an Olympics for Avoidance and Denial. No one is better at pretending nothing is happening here when what is really happening is something I don’t want to acknowledge. I can stick my fingers in my ears and shout la-la-la-la-la like nobody’s business.

Which is what I’ve been doing for at least some number of months, four or maybe even five, until the CE said it out loud a few days ago.

“I think something is wrong with Nugget.”

I knew this. I’ve known it ever since the first time I noticed that when I opened the gate of the chicken pen, Nugget didn’t run down the rest of the flock to be first in line for the treats. But I didn’t want to hear it because as soon as the CE said it, it became real. We are losing Nugget.

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To be honest, Nugget has never been our favorite hen. In fact, I think the CE and I would both put her at the very top of the “unfavorite” list. From the get-go she has been brash and bossy. Evie and Viv had accompanied us on the baby chick adoption expedition back in 2016, and within just a few minutes of commencing the drive home from the poultry farm, they were reporting from the back seat that one of the chicks was pecking the others. In the eyes. With what appeared to be murderous intent.

By the way, the girls named the other two chicks, our lovely Buff Orpington, Bella, and the stately Australorp, Ava.

Nugget got her name since that’s what the girls ate for lunch the day we picked out the chicks.

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And we would have immediately volunteered that diabolical chick for the assembly line at Burger King because Nugget didn’t stop pecking the others when we got her home. It just got worse and worse, to the point where we feared for the safety of the other two.

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We finally isolated her from the others for two or three days and things calmed down a bit. But Nugget was never nice. She beat up on all the hens and woe to those at the bottom of the pecking order. She was merciless. And honestly, not all that lovely to look at:

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Nugget is a classic Rhode Island Red. They are popular because they are hardy and excellent layers. Five eggs a week, easy. And that might be the problem.  It is the hens bred for high production that seem to be the most susceptible to an early demise. Since she’s only four and a half years old I’m guessing she has either a reproductive cancer or equally deadly internal laying issue. Neither can be addressed – we’ve been here before.

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Nugget was the flock’s cross to bear. The rest of the hens either avoided her or ran away from her, squawking in fear. But in the past few months Nugget has slowed down, literally. Instead of being first in line for everything, she’s been the last to appear for roll call. And she hasn’t bullied any of the other hens for a long time. In the past few weeks she has been disinterested in treats, a sure sign that something’s wrong.

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Last night she wasn’t able to make it up to her spot on the roost and spent the night on the counter top. I tried to entice her this morning with some mealworms but even that was a no-go.

It’s very hard to imagine the flock without her – even the saltiest soul is missed when they depart. But even a champion of denial like me has to face reality at some point. We are losing her and at this point it will probably be a matter of days. We’ll stand vigil with her, try to keep her hydrated and offer what comfort we can. Wishing her a safe journey to chicken paradise, where she’ll be able to eat all the mealworms she wants and be first in line for everything.

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The never-ending lockdown.

I don’t know about you, but at this point I am so far into the lockdown groove it’s starting to feel more like a trench. A trench that gets a little deeper every week. I know, I know, I have nothing to complain about. Just sayin’ there are moments here and there where I find myself stuck at the corner of those streets called Ennui and Inertia.

132 days since we’ve seen a family member face to face. Who knew that when we hugged Daniel goodbye that day in March that it was the last hug for – who knows how long?

Four trips canceled so far. No New Orleans and Nashville in April. No Hawaii in July. NYC in September looking like a no-go.  Even a proposed jaunt to Newport Beach nipped in the bud when our governor put the brakes on last week. Things have gotten to the point that I’ve almost been forced to contemplate cleaning out a closet. Luckily, crisis averted: we baked instead! 

I can’t remember the last time we were home for four months straight, so for the first time in forever I’ve been paying mind to what goes on in our little orchard. Our latest little stick of a peach tree did its valiant best to produce this year.

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And with all this time on my hands, I decided to to try to outsmart the birds and the snails that usually pick off the peaches before they ripen. I managed to harvest just enough

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for one awesome peach crisp:

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The peaches are done now, though, so that potential closet clean is looming large. Thank goodness the plums are beginning to ripen – anyone have a recipe to share?

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Posted in Gastronomy, Life | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Don’t Blame the Chickens.

These days, it’s all COVID all the time.

Except when it’s salmonella.

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CNN reported it a few weeks back, tying a notable increase in salmonella cases to the pandemic-related uptick in backyard flock-keeping. A lot of people decided that if they’re staying home all day every day, they’d like to do it in the company of chickens. Seems reasonable to me. But some of them apparently failed to read up on the importance of biosecurity and simple hygiene, which is kind of hard to believe in our current pandemic life.

It’s well known that salmonella bacteria live in the digestive tracts of poultry. Even novice cooks know not to leave uncooked chicken sitting about, and the importance of thoroughly washing utensils and surfaces like cutting boards that come in contact with raw chicken.

And the rawest of chickens – the ones with feathers that go squawking around the coop – can excrete salmonella in their droppings. It is so rare for humans to contract salmonella from a backyard flock that it makes headlines when it happens. And after digging a little deeper into the topic, I have a suspicion that it is almost completely avoidable.

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How to stay salmonella-safe?

Wash your hands! (Duh, right?)

First thing I do after being around the hens, whether I’ve handled them directly or not, is to thoroughly wash my hands. And, it turns out, this is even more important for children,  whose immune systems are still developing, and who might not be able to resist nuzzling a downy chick.

Keep a clean coop!

Our current flock of seven hens is the largest we’ve ever had. Back when we had three or four hens, daily clean up took about half an hour; now I spend closer to a full hour every morning cleaning the coop. It might be overkill – I don’t think most people generally take that much time – but I want the inside of our coop to be as pristine as possible. This means gathering all the droppings deposited overnight (hens’ ridiculously high rate of respiration means a LOT of poop) as well as wiping down all surfaces and freshening food, water and litter daily.

Keep a spacious coop!

Rule of thumb guidelines for keeping chickens: a minimum of about 2 to 3 square feet per chicken inside the coop, and 8 to 10 square feet per chicken in an outside run. More square footage is better. The tighter the space, the greater dysfunction in flock dynamics and the greater the likelihood of contamination and communicable illness within the flock.

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Keep a ventilated coop!

In a 2016 article titled Poultry house ventilation part of Salmonella control , Dr. Edward Mallinson states that “high levels of Salmonella were repeatedly found on litter surfaces where air flow or ventilation was negligible or stagnant.” He is referencing large-scale farm or commercial facilities in the article but the same principles hold for small-scale operations. Keep it clean and keep it ventilated.

Practice good biosecurity!

Wear gloves!  Use a separate pair of shoes for working in the coop! Do not mingle birds from an off-site flock with your birds until they have undergone quarantine.

Keep a secure coop!

I found more than one reference to rodents as the source of salmonella in backyard flocks. Mice or rats that have access to poultry food can leave behind infected droppings that can cause a salmonella outbreak.

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Oh, and about those eggs…

Some people refrigerate their eggs immediately. Some don’t. It’s a perennial debate. But one thing for sure is that IF you wash your eggs (and all eggs that come from the grocery or a farmers market will have been washed) they MUST be refrigerated, because washing removes the protective “bloom” from the egg that prevents bacteria from permeating the shell. If you wash eggs from your own backyard flock, use WARM water, not cold, as cold water causes the shell to contract and pulls in any bacteria.

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Reports such as the recent one by CNN can unwittingly contribute to a misconception among many that chickens are inherently “unclean”. Not so! It all comes down to how tidily they are kept by their flock keepers. In eleven years of chicken-keeping, we’ve never had an instance of salmonella or any other communicable disease within or without the flock. Cleanliness is next to henliness – keep a clean space for them and you will have a happy flock of hens. Just resist the urge to kiss them!

Posted in All Things Poultry, Chicken Facts, Life | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Allegiance.

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Wishing a happy 4th of July to all.

” — a Republic, if you can keep it.”Benjamin Franklin

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The hens are having a moment.

There’s been a lot of clucking about chickens lately, what with everyone staying home and envisioning that long longed-for coop. When grocery supply chains threatened to snap, there was even more than the usual pleasure in stepping out to the coop for fresh-laid eggs from our lovely ladies.

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But Willa is having to hide from the paparazzi

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ever since the latest issue of our local neighborhood magazine hit the stands:

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A little history: in 1925, Harold Chase purchased 1,200 acres of land bordering the Pacific Ocean just north of Santa Barbara proper. Lucky for us, his sister, famed civic crusader Pearl Chase, convinced him not to chop the plots into the usual tiny subdivision dice. With every lot an acre or larger, Hope Ranch has ever since been a semi-rural paradise not just for its residents, but for happy hens, horses,

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and other neighbors, like Miss Daisy across the street.  (We share our eggs, but for some reason Daisy doesn’t seem inclined to bring home the bacon).

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Each of the families interviewed for the article echoed the same sentiment about keeping chickens: “It makes me feel so peaceful when I look up and see them there”, said one neighbor. Another refers to his flock as “members of the family”. “They are the happiest addition to the house we’ve ever had”, said a third, who added that with the eggs “they give you a gift every day”.

It was a fun article to write, and according to the publisher, there are already requests for a follow-up to include other neighbors who want to show off their backyard flocks. Hard to find things to smile about these days, but I dare you not to laugh at a chicken. Good for breakfast, and good for the soul.

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Posted in All Things Poultry, Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Mask-arade.

I’m having trouble keeping up. First we were told that masks were of no use in keeping COVID19 at bay; now we have state orders to wear them.

Wha?

Oh, well, as it turns out the “health experts” lied to us in order to hoard the mask supply for medical professionals. Will we ever get a tally of how many of the “little people” died as a result of this misinformation?

Is there a statue of a bureaucrat out there somewhere I could topple?

There seems to be outrage everywhere, but not a peep about this.

And it seems we’re going a bit backwards this week. The “re-opening” is losing steam and turning into a “re-closing” of sorts. With masks on my mind, I decided to lose myself in a book and – wouldn’t you know it – came upon a passage in my latest read about – yes, masks!

The Weight of Ink is a historical novel about, among a plethora of other things, the establishment of a small community of Sephardic Jews in London in the mid seventeenth century following three hundred and some years of expulsion. I know, it doesn’t sound like a beach read, but it’s actually quite interesting. As a central character, Ester Velasquez, walks through a London park, she encounters a woman wearing a mask. The year is 1665 and, I discovered, such masks – known as visards – became popular in the 1500’s.

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Often made of velvet, the masks were worn by wealthy women, presumably to ward off sunburn, but of course they might have come in handy for the occasional clandestine assignation. Interestingly, these masks were kept in place by a bead held between the teeth, which meant one was prevented from speaking while wearing the vizard. Thus, these ladies were neither seen nor heard. Small wonder that The Weight of Ink also explores the role of women in the seventeenth century.

Of course, masks had already been utilized by men for social and business dealings in Venice since the late thirteenth century. In its tight-knit community of merchant wheeler dealers, masks were a way to get things done on the down low in plain view and a way for gamblers to elude their creditors. It was all just a constant carnevale in Venezia back then.

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For the masked character of 1665, however, the plague was just around the corner. So, it seems, everything old is new again, just that in our case, the plague came first. In fact, history seems to be repeating itself so fast that it’s falling all over itself. We’ve got Soviet era state propaganda, the Salem Witch Hunts per cancel culture and made-for-tv Jacobins in Seattle. Most ironically, we have a new civil war enacting itself by destroying the cautionary markers of the last one. No one seems to have read George Santayana. If you’re cheering the mob, you might want to recall that eventually, the mob comes for everyone. If you don’t believe me, go ask Robespierre.

I’ve got a stack of face masks at the ready. But I don’t think I will breathe easier until I have one to cover my eyes because this is all very hard to watch. As Petrarch said of the Dark Ages:

” My fate is to live among varied and confusing storms. But for you perhaps, if as I hope and wish you will live long after me, there will follow a better age. This sleep of forgetfulness will not last forever.”

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Gimme Shelter.

Is it safe to go out yet?

Well, yes and no. In the past week we’ve gone from seeing no one to seeing dozens of people. Encounters with friends, long-postponed appointments, various essential errands. Things are “opening up” we are told, at the same time as increased numbers of cases are reported. “Just a factor of more testing“, say some. But “tell your older loved ones to stay home” cautions Public Health.

Stay home.

Forever?

The allusions to the film 12 Monkeys just keep piling up. Bruce Willis is all of us, in the not-so-distant future, living in underground bunkers and not looking all that happy about it since David Morse (body double for the CCP?) heads to the airport to unleash a virus that quickly goes global. Yes, truth is stranger than science fiction.

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However lovely your bunker may be (and I hear all the billionaires have some worth writing home about) there may come a time when hearth and home start feeling like ball and chain. Which has me thinking about the ways in which our living space defines us for better or for worse. Feel like getting beyond your own four walls? Here are five reads that will free you from your bunker:

1. The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Published in 1851 but one of those classics that is a classic for good reason. A memorable house that stands witness to generations of doings and wrongdoings. “It was itself like a great human heart, with a life of its own, and full of rich and sombre reminiscences.”

2. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

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Another sort of classic, a gothic beach read of sorts. Manderley is the manse and oh how many secrets it holds. Even if you’ve read it once, go for a do-over. Du Maurier will have you at “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley…”

3. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

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Purportedly set in the Hebrides but drawing inspiration from Woolf’s childhood summer home in Cornwall, To the Lighthouse is brilliant and experimental and about many things, one of them being the way a house is inwardly lit by the iconic Mrs. Ramsay and how that light and her family itself is lost after after her death.

4. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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When is a house not a house? When it’s a hotel and you are under house arrest. Everyone has read this book – I’ve read it twice – so if you haven’t , you need to get started. Especially since “house arrest” is something we can now all relate to.

5. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

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The main character in Patchett’s latest and enormously popular novel is a stately 1920’s house on the outskirts of Philadelphia. There is no happily ever after for the family within, and there you have the story, complete with the wickedest stepmother outside a fairy tale. “Our childhood was a fire. There had been four children in the house and only two of them had gotten out.”

So there. Even if you are still feeling like it’s house arrest, as long as you have a book, there are places to go. Hunker down. Bloom where you’re planted. Shelter from the storm. Because there’s no place like home…

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Voluntary confinement.

There are two kinds of people. Those who are itching to jump back in to real life. And then there’s me.

Things are starting to rev up. My blessedly blank calendar has suddenly blown up with entries.  But strangely, I don’t want to put my mask on and go out. I kind of want to put a bag over my head and stay in.

I know what you’re thinking: “But we’ve gotta get going! We lost our whole spring!”

Maybe you did. But I had the best spring ever. Cocooned in, I paid attention to its unfolding like I’ve never done before. Thoreau would be proud of me, I’d like to think.

The snow drops had just begun to bloom in the Park when we left the city. They didn’t know spring had been canceled.

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We arrived home to the vestiges of SoCal winter. At that point my brain was still racing around the rat wheel of the crisis at hand, but I did remember to take one quick snap of the tulip magnolias I love so much.

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And then everything slowed down in a way it never has before. Spring actually unfurled at a pace that felt like several different seasons simply because I was able to really watch it happen at 1x speed instead of the fast forward we usually live by.

There was my beloved wisteria season.

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Then the abundance of citrus season – was this an especially good year for lemons and oranges or have I just never noticed before?

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There was the week of the heron, where he graced us with several sightings – and then disappeared.

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The wisteria faded but never fear – the jacarandas stepped in with a second chorus of purple.

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And some bright astroemeria sang harmony. How is it they’ve eluded me until now?

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The spring winds have been coming up and soon there will be more jacaranda petals on the ground than on the trees. I was thinking, okay, that’s the end of it. That’s Lily’s and my signal to get back in the real life groove.

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But then, this morning, I stepped out the door to discover that gardenia season has begun! Please don’t make me go anywhere while the gardenias are blooming!

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I know it’s sacrilegious, but I don’t really want to go back to fast forwarding through every week just yet. Oh, I’ll get there, I suppose. But in some ways I wouldn’t mind locking in the lockdown. You can all move on to the next news cycle – I’ll stay here on the snooze cycle.

Good luck with it all. Lily and I will be here just watching the clouds go by in the spring night sky…

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