Monday, July 28, 2014

End of a Dream?

I was smart. I didn't think of my chickens as pets. They were livestock. I wanted them to have the best possible long and healthy, and PRODUCTIVE, life I could give them. We didn't even name all of them. I didn't spend a lot of time snuggling or trying to tame them. I didn't take a whole lot of pictures of them.
This is a good picture, though.

But oh, I sure did love having them.

They were better than tv. My very favorite thing to do in the morning was go outside and open the coop door, and watch their mad fluttering rush for the open air. I liked sitting and watching them, in all their multicolored nervously tame interactions and explorations. No longer fluffly little chicks, I could tell most of them apart by both coloring and personality. I was pretty sure I knew which ones were roosters and which were hens. Only two and a half more months and we'd be getting our first eggs. Sitting out there, watching them so content in their homemade coop and run, eating, drinking, getting larger, was the only peaceful and yet exciting part of my day.
A couple of weeks ago

Did you notice that was all past tense? Yeah.

I knew we had raccoons in the area. I made my coop raccoon-proof, I thought. I knew we had unleashed neighbor dogs. They didn't come over much, and could be chased away and they couldn't get into the coop. I locked my chickens up at night. I thought we were pretty safe. I thought, if we were going to have a predator problem, we'd have some sort of warning. Like just one or two chickens missing or dead in the morning. That would be sad and bad but fixable. Somehow, though, I was stupid (yes, stupid...I knew better. Plenty of blogs and books told me so.) and I thought it was unlikely.
not safe

It only took a couple of hours in one night. I locked up the fourteen chickens and 4 guineas myself. Shut the coop door firmly. Three of my little five week olds had ended up missing over the past week so instead of trusting the loose latches I added a bit of wire and tied the door shut tight. I wonder if I hadn't, if the next morning there would have been just one more missing and that was all. Probably not?

My daughters were awake when they shouldn't have been, night owls they are, but it didn't help. They only heard one scream from a guinea. They investigated, and then crashed into my room at 1 am screaming and crying. I dressed as quickly as I could and ran outside.

It was a massacre. All over my run, chicken corpses. Their coop door was still shut tight; I had to look carefully to find the little place in the raccoon-proof pvc coated chicken wire, where the carefully placed patch over a small rip had been torn off. The run, made from hardware cloth, zip ties and T-posts was torn completely down in three places. I checked a dead body...this was Aeryn Sun, our oldest, largest hen. Was so ugly at one point growing up I teased my husband that we were raising a turkey vulture and he looked at her and believed me. She'd gotten handsome lately. She didn't look so good with her head twisted and backward. Her body was still warm. So were several of the others, but others were stone cold. There were 9 bodies in the run. All whole and bloodless, and very dead. We found two other bodies nearby, Daylight and Moonlight. My pale yellow Brahma mix without a speck of darker color on her, and her best friend Moonlight, mostly a shiny black with a few white sprinkles. They were almost always together, and here they were again, but Moonlight's head was about 5 feet away from the rest of her body. That was the only injury we found that night. The only live birds we could find were my five very freaked out 5 week olds, still wired up tight, three guineas, and one Amerucana. 9 birds out of 23. We later found another body far across the yard, and one wing. The next night my single Lavender guinea, named Chiana, was taken.
Aeryn Sun, still in her awkward phase

I think I can patch the coop with what I have. I'm a little worried, though, because I thought it was solid before. Now I want to patch any spot that could possibly maybe be an access point to anything stronger than a grasshopper. My coop is made out of a lot of old salvaged materials stapled and nailed to an old rickety shed. I'm not sure I can make it raccoon/dog/snake proof. I'm scared to try and fail again.

Even  if I did fix up my coop, my run needs a complete overhaul. Hardware cloth and T-stakes held together with zip ties aren't going to cut it. I feel stupid for ever thinking they would. If I'm going to keep these kind of predators out, I'll need a real fence. Something that will keep dogs out. I don't have the materials for that, I don't have the know-how for that.

Even if I could and did, I can't afford to replace the chickens. To replace them with similar chickens of the same age, would cost a minimum of $165. I don't really want to start from eggs or day-olds again. I can't imagine enjoying it at this point.

Obviously I'm being negative. That's not my norm. I should patch that coop, scavenge craiglist and the old fallen down privacy fence on my land and design and build a new better fence, and then keep an eye out for free/cheap chickens on craigslist. Start small and take my time. Do it right.
Doin' it right.

I thought I did it right last time. My heart just isn't in "trying again" right now. I'll get my heart back, I think. I usually do. Obviously, this isn't the first time following a dream has gotten me a kick in the teeth. The person I try to be grins bloodily and keeps moving forward. The person I am...I need a breather right now.

Anyway, if anyone local would like a 14 week old Amerucana hen (named Lucki) and 5 five week old chicks (three Rhode Island Reds, one Barred Rock, and one Ideal 236), plus a mostly full 50 lb bag of Purina starter/grower feed for $50, let me know. I don't have anywhere safe to keep them at the moment.

All dead now.
Edited to add: My hero is Jenna Woginrich. This is her blog: This is the blog post she wrote for ME!!! Keep Raising Chickens I'm feeling a little better now. A little. I might go outside, take a look-see at the coop, figure out where I need to start. Still though, if you want my birds, let me know. It would be awful to have them slaughtered by some other animal while I'm still trying to fix their place.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sleeping in late ruins my day

I watched a lot of tv yesterday. Television is not one of my favorite things, but it is one of the most effective ways of shutting off my brain...if not the only way. I can't think of another right now, but hey, my brain was shut off for hours yesterday. It's still rebooting.

The worst thing about taking a day off from life, is that life goes on without you and it takes another two days just to catch up. My older kids were awesome and checked off almost everything on their chore list yesterday. My younger kids, who obviously need a lot more help and supervision, did not. Neither did I. My chore chart, in fact, is the worst looking one on the wall. (Yes, I have my own posted chore chart. Don't you?) The house is pretty clean, even with the refrigerator sitting in the middle of the kitchen, but my garden needs attention and my kids summer school and planning this upcoming year's school and of course, the one and only worst thing about having a large family: the laundry.

I truly hate laundry. If I ever win the lottery I will continue to be a stay-at-home mom and cook meals and clean house but the laundry will be sent out to be done by someone else and brought back all nice and clean and folded, AND this same service will make sure the clothes actually get put in the proper drawers and closets. Oh yeah.

So, after watching a whole lot of tv yesterday, I know am sore from not moving and have a headache and don't really want to do anything to catch up. So I'm blogging. Yay me!

My older children have gotten to the point where they keep the house mostly picked up and clean-ish on their own. They do the dishes and vacuuming and their own laundry and their bathroom, and that is a HUGE HUGE HUGE blessing. They'll take care of the dog, cat, and chickens, too. But it certainly doesn't mean that there isn't anything for me to do. One of the most important chores I am currently avoiding is planning school for next year. We school year round, but we still start in August, 'cause that really makes things easier. We are mostly wrapped up for last year. The older kids are finishing up math and I'm working on getting my little boys reading. My nine year old can't read yet. I'm not worried because he is a lot like his older sister, who I worked with for years and she couldn't read and couldn't read and couldn't and wouldn't read until all of a sudden I caught her reading. At age 10. I'm still not quite sure how that happened...

Warrior-boy HATED when I tried to teach him to read. So Right Hand Girl tried it. He goofed off too much. So finally, despite it's success with three of my older children, I ditched Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and replaced it with The Reading Lesson Book. We've only done it 3 days so far but he seems to like it much better. So do Sweetheart and Little Big Boy, though the latter keeps insisting on adding a whole lot of other consonants whenever we try to blend the letters. Octavia just wants to eat it.

There are a lot of different ways to homeschool. I am eclectic with leanings toward Charlotte Mason and unschooling, very literature based and I also want my kids to be familiar with the classics and have lots of hands on opportunities. Basically, I want to do it all. Timberdoodle is my all time favorite homeschool store. If they have it, I want it. I LOVE their curriculum packages, especially how flexible they are. (They aren't paying me to say this; in fact I doubt they have any knowledge at all of this piddly little blog.) If I tried to get a basic curriculum package for each of my kids, even with those in the same grade sharing, it would cost me $1315. That's not even counting anything for Octavia, or any literature or electives. Or the things I would have to double up for more than one kid. I am not ragging on Timberdoodle's prices. They are actually really great. It's just expensive to use brand-new stuff for each of 8 children. Duh. The good thing is I don't need to have a fresh curriculum package every year for every kid. This year I am using Timberdoodle 8th grade as a guide to purchase used books for my two oldests, and getting Five in a Row and Beyond Five in a Row for the others, along with Life of Fred and Teaching Textbooks for math. That's the plan, anyhow. I'm hoping I can find all that I need under $600, so all I have to do is come up with about that much money. I don't have to get it all at once; I can work on it from August to December.

Meanwhile, I need to set up the course descriptions, attendance sheets, assignment sheets, and everything else in 5 binders, one for me and each of the four oldest. has a lot of great free printables, and I'm using several of them, but I am enough of a control freak that I have to make my own pages so that they will be JUST right. Which is what I should be doing right now. Or painting the other chair in my garden, or making a supper meal plan, or thinning out our laundry (ptooie!), or exercising, or fixing the knobs on my kitchen cabinets, or doing the reading lessons with the boys, or letting one of the kids use the computer for math...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Due date

5 months ago, I knew what I would be doing today.

I would be resting, in bed or on the couch, reading the newest Dresden file book, breastfeeding my brand-new daughter. I don't have the book yet, though I suppose I will get it someday. My daughter is in the front yard, buried under a sick apple tree. It has a fungus or something.

Her first and second name together means Divine Stranger. Could we have named her better? Her name was picked out before we knew she was dead. It was some chromosomal issue, the kind of thing that just happens and can't be prevented or helped. That's what I was told, anyhow.

She was conceived on October 22nd, the day we closed on this house and our 14th wedding anniversary. I knew the very moment, and I knew she was a girl. The first is somewhat normal for me, knowing the gender isn't, but I had no doubt. We were so happy, this baby, number 9, was the symbol of our success. The Ninja Time Lord had a good job, one with benefits and a future. We had a house, a house we owned, with LAND we could mess with and improve and play around on. Our kids were all happy and healthy and so were we. The future would be bright and easy, at least comparatively. Pretty silly, I know, but it felt that way, even if this is the first time I tried to put that feeling into words.

We didn't tell people right away. We knew some would disapprove, and we were tired of dealing with that, and we ashamed in some stupid way to tell our friends and family who were dealing with infertility and miscarriages. We knew they would be happy for us, it just felt uncomfortable somehow to point out that we were having number 9 while they were having difficulties themselves. So the news broke unevenly and awkwardly, and I wish it hadn't, because the one thing I didn't want anyone to think, not for a minute, is that she wasn't wanted. She was wanted from the moment I knew we had made her. There was no regret or sighing over adding another couple of years to our diaper time or homeschooling years or anything. We didn't wish her away for even a second.

My pregnancies have, for the most part, been non-eventful. As such, I felt no urge to make a midwife's appointment. My first one was in late February. I was almost 5 months along, about 19 weeks. I looked pregnant and I'd felt her move once or twice, but not much. It had been a weird pregnancy, a fact which I discussed at length with my midwife before she went looking for, and couldn't find, the heartbeat. It had felt different, my mood was different, but I had no real cause for concern. I mentioned that I'd put on a lot of weight very fast after having lost a bit before October. She said it was normal for someone working out and losing weight to put it all back on fast after getting pregnant...the body tells you that you must stop starving yourself and fatten up for the baby's sake. Oh well. Then she looked for the heartbeat. I asked her how long the trying should go before I got nervous.

The next morning, first thing, I had an ultrasound. My husbad went with me. The technician was a very kind 6 foot tall lady named Kelly. I told her that my oldest daughter was expected to be so tall. We were able to watch the picture on a computer screen placed up in the ceiling corner. She didn't have to give us the news. There was definitely a baby. And there was definitely no life. That was February 27th. I took my daughters to Joann's to pick out material to make a tiny blanket and pillow for the casket. We bought pink, even though I had no confirmation she was a girl.

Blanket knitted by my Right Hand Girl, pillow made by Intensity, baptismal cross, and a braid of my husband's and my hair.
The next day we went to the doctor to hear what we were supposed to do. I had some silly idea of outright refusing a D&C. What if they, we, everyone, was wrong? And even if they weren't, I didn't want to go through that. I didn't want my baby to go through that, even if she wouldn't know. I was sent to the hospital for an induction. I should go straight there, so to be sure to have a "non-hostile to midwives" ob on call. That's what the doctor said. If I waited a day or so, I'd have an ob who disapproved of midwives. We went straight there, mostly...we went by the house for some stuff and then by Joy of Tokyo to eat first. It'd been a while since I had a baby in the hospital, but I clearly remembered how they don't let you eat.

I waited almost an hour after being given the medication to actually take it. Taking that tiny pill was one of the  hardest things I've ever done. Nothing happened for a long time. My husband works third shift, so he mostly slept on the couch. I watched one of my favorite tv shows, Leverage, which was marathon-ing on tv and fiddled with my laptop till it broke. My priest visited and we discussed the technical meaning of the word "hoohah" and how amused I was by dried seaweed sticks being one of the medical options listed on the paperwork. After my computer broke, around 9:30 pm, one of my best friends and godmother sat with me and we talked and laughed (and listened to a very talkative nurse) till 12:30 am, when she left to go to bed. I woke my husband and took a bath, my first one since moving into my house with no bathtub. After I got out, my husband went down the hall to use the restroom, as he didn't want to stink up my room. While he was gone I bled on the bed, and the nurses wanted to change the sheets immediately, so I ended up having my daughter sitting in a chair.

It was fast. I didn't have time to catch her, but she didn't go far, and I held her while the nurses finished the bed. My husband came back in as I was moving back to the bed. The doctor and the nurses checked us out...she measured 20 weeks but the doctor wrote down 18 weeks on the paperwork so I would have no issues taking her with us when we left the hospital. They looked at the placenta and the cord to make sure everything was there, and doctor went digging inside me to make sure all was out. That was the most physically painful part. The cord and placenta were strong, whole, and healthy. My body hadn't stopped trying to keep her alive till those pills made it. The nurses brought us saline solution and a container to keep her in until her burial. Then they left.

You know those pictures of they are strange and alien looking, and you are surprised they end up looking human? It's because they don't photograph well. She looked human. Tiny and unfinished, most definitely a girl, and you could tell her head didn't have quite the skull or brain it was supposed to looked a little like a tiny water balloon, but her face, ears, fingers, toes, elbows, knees, eyebrows....all perfect and perfectly human. She even resembled her siblings. She had her dad's monkey toes. I didn't like putting her in the cold saltwater and sticking her in the fridge, but it's not like I could hold her while I slept. She was born on March 1st. We aren't sure when she died.

Her service was March 4th, a Tuesday. My husband and Firstborn dug the grave in our front yard. My godfather made the casket. All of my children contributed something to put in it. Tavi looked at her and said "Baby," the first time she ever said that. A friend with a great camera and some skill came and took pictures over the weekend and at the service, so we have pictures of her. It was a nice service. A lot of people came for a morning weekday service, including my parents, who drove from Memphis. Everyone was very nice.

And then it was over. The pregnancy, the birth, the service, the plans and expectations.

We planted an apple tree over her a week later. It promptly caught cedar rust and has been looking poorly, but surviving, ever since. I've planted a few flowers under, but right now it looks like a bunch of lush weeds. There is a little crooked white picket fence around it.

We want a marker but haven't been able to afford it yet, so maybe on her birthday. My kids talk to her sometimes, especially my Right Hand Girl and Big Little Boy. Big Little Boy still asks me when God is going to make her back alive. We'll never stop missing her.

I wish she were here, with me now, enjoying this beautiful cool-for-South-Carolina-in-July weather and the chirping of the chickens. I wonder how my garden and chickens would be different if I had done all this while pregnant, or if I even would have. God is still good, life is still good, even if it isn't all bright and easy. This past month and a half has been really hard for many reasons, and I don't expect anything to become easy anytime soon. But I have an expectation of joy. I still have a wonderful husband and 8 healthy happy wonderful kids, and in February, 1 week exactly before my Divine Stranger's birthday, baby #10 is due.