Not exactly a spring chicken.

I’ll be honest. Every morning I go out to open up the coop and half hold my breath wondering if she’ll still be there. She looks a little weary around the eyes these days and she’s slower to come down from her sleeping shelf, preferring to doze a bit while the others fuss and cackle come the morning light.

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But then, perky as ever, she fluffs her mille-fleur feathers and struts out into the pen with her snowshoe feet and finds a choice spot from which to preside over another day. In all the trauma of recent milestones, we completely forgot to mark Pippa’s SEVENTH birthday. Today I will honor her, not with cake and ice cream, but with her idea of a perfect celebration: shredded cheese and dried mealworms.

“How long do chickens live?” I am frequently asked. The conventional answer is 5-7 years but many flock keepers demur at that, having seen far too many hens perish at just under or just over a year old. I had one die suddenly just after point-of-lay, and a few at eighteen months to two years – these were most likely related to egg-binding/internal laying issues, which are a rampant problem in hens.

Pippa hasn’t laid an egg in years, which may be the key to her longevity. “Matilda”, a hen that lived to be sixteen years of age and was once certified as the World’s Oldest Chicken by Guinness World Records, was thought to owe her ripe old age to the fact that she never produced eggs. The current title for oldest living chicken, according to the Guinness site, is held by “Muffy”, who died in 2011 at age twenty-two. Matilda and Muffy may have been older, but I think Pippa is prettier.

Pippa has had a full life, including motherhood when she went stubbornly broody and we indulged her with three baby chicks. She is a bantam and her babies were standard-size, so things got interesting as they grew. Especially when they were the same size as her and still trying to burrow beneath her to sleep at night!

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Pippa leads chicks august 2014

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As the designated old lady of the flock, Pippa is accorded extra treats here there and everywhere and she is allowed the odd peck at June, the youngest hen and the only one Pippa dares to bully. Her advanced age also entitles her to afternoon naps tucked into the CE’s jacket.

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Not a bad life! I hope she has many more years ahead of her. Happy birthday, Pippa, and please don’t kick the bucket!

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Posted in All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Chicken Facts | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

When the soul needs a balloon.

There are old souls and stolid souls and gentle souls. And then there are feeble souls like panicles of dandelion fluff that take a nosedive in a sudden down draft.

Twitter, that hell hole where people routinely spend their days biting off one another’s heads in 280 characters or less, oddly provided a soul-lifting balloon the other day when a well-known pundit shared his pick for “the most spiritual piece of music ever written”. Commenters briefly halted their usual locked-in-political-combat mode and chimed in with their own favorites.

It began with Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, which you might recognize from the film “Master and Commander”:

Several people responded with another Vaughan Williams favorite, The Lark Ascending and others with Tallis’ Spem in Alium and with Samuel Barber’s lush Adagio for Strings. There was a shout-out for Schubert’s Ave Maria, and someone else recommended  this swoon-worthy clip from Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini:

Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess and Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 Lento e Largo “Sorrowful Songs” were new to me, as was the lovely Tchaikovsky Hymn of the Cherubim

Someone suggested Massenet’s familiar “Thais” Meditation to which I’ll counter that I find Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas “Dido’s Lament more compelling:

But each to his or her own. Other submissions included “anything by Beyoncé”, anything by Palestrina, Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark was the Night” Rush’s “Spirit of the Radio” and Buckethead’s “Soothsayer”. Anton Bruckner’s 8th and 9th symphonies were heartily recommended, as was Elgar’s lovely Enigma Variations. Anything by Bach should probably be appended to the list, just because.

Someone mentioned Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, from which the Cantique de Jean Racine is one of my all-time favorites:

And I’ll add one more that wasn’t mentioned but which I think belongs right up there with all the rest: Tomás Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor. You might remember it as the theme song from the film Gallipoli. It sends a feeble spirit soaring:

Yes, listening to sad music can actually make you happier. Enjoy,  and please send me any other suggestions to add to my “soul-soothing” playlist…

Posted in Music/Art/Literature/Culture, Spiritual | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Just one last pat on the head.

She’s been gone almost two weeks, but still, I inexplicably expect her to amble down the hall and thrust that magnificent golden head and mane in my face, looking to comfort me and oh, maybe get a nice little scratch in return, that spot on top of the head where only human paws can reach. How we miss her!

And so do others. She’s had so many tributes – cards, flowers, memorials on social media. Chloe touched a lot of lives, all of them with grace and joy. Many thanks to everyone for their thoughtfulness.

For right now, there’s way too much noise – every room is filled with the crashing sound of her absence. I don’t have words yet, but here are some that a kind neighbor brought us:

Dogs in Our Lives

“We aren’t house proud. If we were, we wouldn’t abide the scratches on the door frame, the holes in the screen, the darkened shine of worn spots on the chair. We would wince at the mottled carpet and fret at the hair clinging to our clothes.

We don’t. If anything, we loves of dogs are a tolerant lot, finding greater value in the unabashed affection of our friends than in immaculate sofas. Shoes can be replaced, but heroic retrievers are timeless.

Without dogs, our houses are cold receptacles for things. Dogs make a fire warmer with their curled presence. They wake us, greet us, protect us, and ultimately carve a place in our hearts and our history. On reflection, our lives are often referenced in parts defined by the all-too-short lives of our dogs.”

                                                                                           — Paul Fersen

 

A sweet portrait of her by artist Hannah Stevens Allen:

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I’ll turn the page next week, I promise…

“Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in. ”  –Mark Twain

 

 

 

 

Posted in All Things Family, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Pain and Misery, Sad, Spoiled Pets | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Chloe.

Yes, she was the family dog. Chloe’s family just happened to include anyone she ever met.

Of course, she was loyal first and foremost to her clan.

But she loved and was loved by so many others. Friends, friends of friends, neighbors and whomever she met on the street that day. Chloe radiated calm and peace and acceptance and joy. So much joy.

 

She was unfailingly gentle with smaller creatures.

She looooooved her toys.

 

She loved her siblings of every species.

Especially the Tart. Soho is lost without her.

We are lost without her, too. She was always on the kitchen step. Always next to our bed. Always in the back seat of the car. Always right next to us. Always.

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The CE called her his wingman. No walk will ever be the same without her.

 

So much sadness. So many tears. She tried, up to the last moment, to be there for us. So much heart. Such a good, good, girl. She will be loved and missed forever.

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“In one of the stars I shall be living

In one of them I shall be laughing

And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing

when you look

at the sky all night”

The Little prince

Antoine de Saint Exupery

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Sad | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Plans, Interrupted.

Abbreviated time in the city. Pressing concerns here.

There, Central Park

Here, trees in the orchard laden with plums

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There, a brilliant and memorable Summer and Smoke with Marin Ireland and Nathan Darrow

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Here, a different kind of show

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There, a sweet waiter at Table d’Hote on the UES gifted me a birthday glass of champagne

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Here, this guy is even better than bubbly

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There, some amazing plumage at the Met’s “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit

 

Here, a different kind of plumage altogether

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There, a blessed gift of a day at the NY Botanical Garden with Daniel

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Here, a small echo of a garden despite the drought

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There, the masters of the universe

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Here, the center of the universe

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Sweet Chloe is very ill. She has been the angel by our side for eleven years. And in this sad season, we will try to be hers.

 

Posted in Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, New York city | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Might as well celebrate.

The last time a birthday brought me to my knees was (about an ice age ago) when I turned 30. The sensation of youth spent and misspent, time lost, world not yet conquered. Then everything seemed to speed up and fast-forward and decades whooshed past. Birthdays faded, mercifully, into the background. Kids born, kids raised, kids gone. Whoa, where did all that time go and why are there now so many candles on my cake?

Birthdays were more fun back in the day:

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I have a trusty little strategy for unpleasantness. In psychological circles it is known as “avoidance coping”.  As this rather distasteful birthday approached, I told the CE I had only one wish –  to just run away. Being the CE, he understood, of course, so we planned my escape. But also being the CE, he willingly partnered in my friend Pamela’s cloak and dagger scheme to surprise me with an exquisitely beautiful luncheon celebration before I departed. It was a week ago and I am still mostly in shock.

I remember these beautiful flowers but the rest of it was like a dream:

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As Pamela reminded me that day in her remarks, we have known one another for more than thirty years. She has, with spectacularly good humor, cheered us on through raising four children and an unrelenting parade of animals.  Her daughter, Alexandra, graciously played older sibling to our boys and in turn, I introduced Pamela to her husband, Kirk.

Pamela and me, back in the day:

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And a bit more recently:

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Alexandra with our boys:

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And at her wedding at our home a few years ago:

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The one consolation of getting frightfully old is that you have the blessing of long-time friends. Pamela gathered some of the most special ones for the luncheon.

Julia, who has been a precious part of our family since her college years:

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And also Elizabeth, Tammy, Marsha and dear, dear Karen, who made her prized Swedish Apple Cake for the birthday dessert:

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Me (in shock!) and Elizabeth:

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The group photo – that’s Pamela in front on the right, looking deservedly pleased with herself for almost giving me a heart attack of surprise:

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They all said incredibly nice things about me in prepared remarks, which it will take me at least another decade to live up to, so there’s a project going forward.

And then I did run away to NYC. But instead of moping around and chanting “Woe is me” as I had originally expected, son Daniel and dear friend, Victoria, joined me for a lovely birthday dinner. Leave it to them to actually make it a happy birthday!

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I will cherish this photo forever:

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That’s a lot of celebrating for a birthday I was trying to escape. I am bedazzled in the wonderment of being held undeservedly dear by so many. This will buoy me through many birthdays to come!

And now you’ll have to excuse me – I have thank you notes to write…

Posted in All Things Family, Friends, Meaningful | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Two broody.

Maybe they saw Mother’s Day on the calendar. Or maybe they heard about the U.S. birth rate hitting a thirty-year low and decided to take matters into their own hands, er, feathers.

I guess it’s no surprise that Bella would want another go at it. She successfully raised June last summer.

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But Pippa?

Pippa is seven years old! Not a spring chicken! When she abandoned her favorite spot in the coop and huddled on the nesting counter last week, we were prepared for the worst, but we were not prepared for a broody!

Dual broodies!

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How can you tell your hen is broody? She won’t leave the nest. She hurls pterodactyl screams at you if you approach. And when you haul her, protesting loudly, off the nest, she swells up like a puffer fish.

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Chaos currently reigns in the coop because if prospective mamas ain’t happy, no one can be happy. And with those two taking up all real estate on the nesting counter, the other hens can’t get an egg in edgewise.

If left to their own devices, they will sit on their non-existent eggs for three weeks or longer, lost in a broody trance. They are aching for babies, but we are at full flock capacity and can’t give either of these girls any baby chicks this summer.

So the plan is to break the broodies by locking them out of the coop for extended periods of time. It’s not the most scientific approach, but maybe we will eventually wear them down.

So far, we have succeeded only in making Bella furious. Nothing but mama drama around the chicken yard these days.

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And we are feeling, I guess you might say, a little hen-pecked…

Posted in All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Annoyances of Life, Chicken Facts, Spoiled Pets | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments