Monthly Archives: December 2011

My Backyard Chickens & The Last Chicken Standing

I am grateful for many things, as I wrote in this post 6 months ago.  But what I am most thankful for was somewhat of a surprise for some people.  It was a chicken.

My chicken.  Lucia or Lucy  as she is known affectionately.

It’s Lucy of the flashing red feathers and bright golden eyes who brings a smile to my face this holiday season. She has brought great joy to our lives for almost 4 years. She is a New Hampshire Red chicken. And she is or was the last chicken standing.

Lucia died in the wee hours of Sunday morning, July 8th, 2012, age and heat catching up with her.  But she is still here, in my heart.

She and her sisters arrived in May of 2008, just one day old.  The packing box they where shipped in weighed more than the 4 of them, combined.  Tiny, soft, fluffy and so vulnerable, they quickly grew into big, beautiful birds, each with her own personality.

My chickens moved out into the real world at just a week old.

Lucia was the smallest, the quietest and always the last one to get to the food.  Even as a chick, her nature was gentle. Today, she sweeps out of her Eglu Go – Green – Chicken House each morning to feast on a mixture of barley, wild rice and brown rice with a nice topping of shredded cheddar cheese.

Then she patrols her pen, always on the lookout for some wayward bug or hapless spider who entered her house while she was sleeping.

Born with a set number of eggs to lay in her life time, Lucy delivered the last of her 230 or so about 6 months ago.  She is now fully retired.  And she is alone.  Her sisters, Heathcliff, Gertrude and Squeaky Ethel left her behind.

Squeaky Ethel, the most intense of all of them and the one who tried to escape every time the door opened, died first, simply laying down one afternoon and not getting up.  Tall, elegant Heathcliff was the next to go.  She laid the biggest eggs, popped out of the Eglu like she was being shot out of a cannon and generally enjoyed just being a chicken.  She, too, just went to sleep one night.

Gertrude had a stroke.  That’s the only way I can describe it.  I found her lying in front of the Eglu one spring afternoon.  Thinking she was dead, I bent down and picked her up gently and she looked at me.  Her body was rigid; she couldn’t move but she was warm and she was alive.

I took her to the patio, sat on the glider and held her in my lap under the afternoon sun, stroking her and telling her how beautiful she was.  An hour later, she died in my arms.

All three lie in small graves in my garden, giving back to my soil and to me.  Lucy will lie there one day but I hope not too soon.

Yes, I know Lucy’s days are numbered.  And I want to make them the best that I can.  So I put fresh straw in the Eglu, feed her blueberries and yogurt for an afternoon snack and give her all the love this small, beautiful red-headed chicken deserves until she draws her last breath.

She will be buried with great dignity in the garden she loved to scratch in and I will know my girls are out there gardening with me.

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Filed under Death & Dying, Gardening, Home Ec on Acid, Life & Death

What Really Makes A Christian?

Before you read this post:

I do believe in God – no, not the guy with the beard and the staff who writes down everything I do and intends to make me atone for all of it.  I believe in what Julia Cameron, in her book, The Artist’s Way called, “Good Orderly Design” or Benedict de Spinoza wrote, “God is extant in nature.”

I believe that the spirit of the driving force of the universe lives in every heart.  How big or little that spirit is depends on you.

Now, on to my thoughts on God,  religion and…oh yes, Christianity.

It is that time of year… the holidays, when Jesus gets dusted off and put out there as the reason we all spend a ton of money on gifts and good cheer.

It’s also the time of year when people all over the country come crawling out of the woodwork, declaring their “Christianity” and condemning anyone who says otherwise.

Born again Christians, conservative Christians, moderates, bible thumpers and all the noisy Christians in between proclaim their faith at the top of their lungs to anyone who will listen.

You know them.  They’re the ones that tell the rest of us we are going to hell because we don’t believe in the same things they do.

DISCLAIMER:  Not all “Christians” are bad.  I even have some friends who are Christians.  It’s the ones who preach at you one day and try to run over you with their car on the highway the next day that I have trouble with.  They are the ones who think their opinions are facts — the ones who will shout down anything and anybody they disagree with…in the name of the Lord.

They usually show up in church every Sunday then, on the other 6 days live their lives like the hedonistic, selfish folks they are when you scrape off the veneer and look right down into their souls.

They are the ones Garrison Keillor, humorist and author of A Prairie Home Christmas (and about 50 more books) probably had in mind when he said, “Anyone who thinks sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.”

There are a whole lot of “cars” out there…roaming the streets and offices of this country who think they are going to heaven and you, whoever you are, whatever you believe, are going to hell.

I think Joseph Campbell really had a handle on why Christianity and religions that proclaim themselves to be the one, the chosen, are, how I can put this, wrong.

“Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically,” said Joseph Campbell in his wonderful book, The Power of Myth.  But he adds that religion today is in trouble because it is, “…stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts.”

Campbell had even harsher words for the bible.  “It’s the most over-advertised book in the world. It’s very pretentious to claim it to be the word of God, or accept it as such and perpetuate this tribal mythology, justifying all kinds of violence to people who are not members of the tribe.”

Before you blow a gasket, suspend your conviction that the bible is the “holy word of your God” and I am just another “heathen” and take a look around.  There are hundreds of examples of atrocities committed in the name of God and of a religion, any religion.  Is that really how Christianity wants to be seen?  As the excuse for murder?  Destruction?  Dictatorship?

Campbell sees the bible as, “…a dead weight. It’s pulling us back because it belongs to an earlier period. We can’t break loose and move into a modern theology.”

Maybe that’s what we need to do.  Come up with a new theology, an inclusive theology, one that allows for our differences and celebrates them, builds on them to create a more tolerant, more loving world.  It could just be the world that Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha all envisioned in their philosophies.

Is that too much to ask for this holiday season?

 

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Five Favorite Holiday Movies That Make Great Gifts

If you’re stumped for a gift for your grandparents, grand aunt or just some grand “older” friends, holiday movies might be the answer.  They are inexpensive, will bring back memories (or maybe create some new ones) and are perfect for people who already have just about everything.

There are about a dozen movies I like that fall into the holiday category but the 5 listed below are at the top of my all-time favorites list.

A Christmas Carol
George C. Scott is my favorite Scrooge. I love his portrayal and I think Charles Dickens would have, too.  A solid script, good acting by all of the other players and a superb performance from Scott make this a favorite.  The costumes and the cinematography are also exceptional.  And some of the visual effects combined with the sound effects make for a few scary scenes.  All in all, a good story, well done.

Holiday Inn
The dancing of Fred Astaire, the singing of Bing Crosby and the romantic rivalry between the two make this a fun film to watch over and over again.  One of the things I love best about Holiday Inn is the music which is tied to a lot of the major holidays of the year.  In fact, Irving Berlin created or reused a number of songs with holiday themes including Washington’s Birthday, Easter Parade and what would become one of the bestselling recordings of all time, White Christmas.  I love this film and watch it at least 4 times a year!

The Bishop’s Wife
When an angel (Cary Grant) comes down from heaven to help a Bishop (David Niven), some not so heavenly sparks fly in this romantic, holiday comedy as the angel falls for the…Bishop’s wife (Loretta Young).  Toss in Monty Woolley and the Mitchell Boys Choir and you get a heavenly film for the holidays.   This is the original version and only available as an MGM set (with 2 other holiday movies) or as a download at Amazon.  But you can buy it from Turner Classic Movies for $12.99.

Holiday Affair
This  romantic comedy has a well-known cast of actors including Robert Mitchum,  Wendell Corey and, in the female lead, none other than Jamie Lee Curtis’s mother, Janet Leigh (also of Psycho fame).  Leigh plays a war widow who can’t afford to buy her son a toy train for Christmas. Mitchum buys the train and that’s when things get complicated.  Watch for Harry Morgan of MASH fame who is hilarious as a night-court judge who tries to get a handle on who is really in love with whom and who stole the salt and pepper shakers.   The movie is out of stock at Barnes & Noble but you can download this one at Amazon or or buy it in a set of with 3 other holiday movies for under $10.00.

Christmas In Connecticut
Barbara Stanwyck did some fine comedies in her career and this movie was one of the best. Stanwyck writes a food column for a very upscale magazine (think Gourmet) but she can’t cook.  It wouldn’t have mattered except her publisher decides to send her a war hero for her and her husband (which she doesn’t have) to entertain over the holidays. Stanwyck has to line up a husband, a baby and a chef who “helps out” in the kitchen to cover all the fibs she told to get the job. The result is hilarious.

I also love (and own) Love Actually

and The Psych holiday episodes, (Gus’s Dad May Have Killed Some Guy and Christmas Joy).

I own every one of these movies and sometimes I watch them in July!  But since it is the holiday season, it looks like it’s time to pop some popcorn, light a fire in the fireplace and settle in to a night of watching these holiday favorites with my favorite guy.

Happy holidays everyone!

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Filed under Gifts, Love and Marriage, Saving Money

Five Favorite, Frugal Gardening Gifts

If you have a gardener in your life (or you are the gardener in your life), there are 5 great gifts that you can give them this holiday season and not break the bank doing it.  The least expensive one is under $10.00 and the most expensive one is just over $50.00.  All of these gifts will bring years of gardening pleasure, too.

Fiskars 7079 Big Grip Garden Knife
Under $10 and without a doubt the handiest tool I have in my shed.  The grip is comfortable – that means the knife takes a beating, not your hands.  I use it for digging, planting, weeding, and transplanting. The serrated edge cuts through the ground like butter.  The middle of the blade has a slight indention for transplanting.  And the knife has a notched tip that helps cut through tap roots of dandelions and burdock.  The metal blade is also coated with a rust-resistant material, and the handle features a large hang hole for easy storage.  I bought one of these for all of my brothers and sisters.

Fiskars 3 Piece Soft Touch Garden Tool Set
Fiskars wins again with this tool set.   Easy on the hands and the wallet (under $15.00), the three tools that come in this set make handwork in the garden so much better.   The tools are lightweight and balanced.  Made of rust-resistant polished aluminum, each one has an over-sized, soft grip that is ergonomically designed to keep wrists in a neutral position.  The set includes a trowel, transplanter, and cultivator and comes with a lifetime warranty.

Flexrake 1000A Hula Hoe
if you have to weed, this is the tool you want in your arsenal.  An old standby that has been upgraded, this stirrup hoe has an aluminum handle making it easier on your hands and the blade of the hoe makes it easier on your back.  The self-sharpening Hula-Ho blade works beneath the surface of the soil.  Back and forth “hula” motion cuts weeds at the roots and leaves them to mulch in the garden.  This one is a bargain at just over $23.00.

Mintcraft Folding Garden Stool
For all you gardeners of “a certain age” there is no question that this stool qualifies as a tool!    Bending over is fine if you are under forty.  It’s pretty uncomfortable if you’re older or have a hinky back.  So I love this gardening tool.  And I love being able to pack all my other tools into the canvas pockets and take them with me, wherever I go in the garden.  Buy the gardening stool for just $27.99.  Or take advantage of the great deal Amazon put together.  Buy this stool with the Fiskars Soft Touch Garden Tool Set and get them both for only $37.00.

Felco Classic Manual Pruners
I got a pair of these for my anniversary and I was so excited.  I had been hacking my fruit trees, blackberry and blueberry bushes and ornamentals with loppers.  No finesse there and a lot of hacked up bushes.  The Felco pruners make it so easy to reach into a shrub, bush or fruit tree and only remove dead wood or crossed branches.  I don’t have a lot of upper arm strength so I love the fact that this pruner literally cuts through smaller branches like a warm knife through butter.  This is the most expensive garden gift – $59.00 – but well worth the cost.

Anyone of these tools will make gardeners’ eyes light up, bring a smile to their faces and make them want to run right out and start turning soil.

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Filed under Gardening, Gifts, Healthcare, Home Ec on Acid, Life & Death, Love and Marriage

The Last, Best Gift

What is the last, best gift you will ever give someone you love?

A new car?  A diamond ring?  A Mediterranean cruise?

Sure, those would be nice.  But that’s not exactly what I had in mind.  In fact, the last, best gift you will ever give someone you love is practically free but it comes with this warning:  this gift may make a lot of you uncomfortable. 

This gift is an end of life plan.

Wait!  Please don’t hit the back button yet.  Take a minute to imagine how much easier those last few weeks, days, moments of your life will be for everyone if you give them this gift.

An end of life plan ensures that no one has to make any of those terrible decisions — intubate, put in a feeding tube, unplug. the ventilator.  No one has the responsibility for deciding how you live  or if you live or if you die.

Your final gift makes all that clear.  If you have a couple of hundred dollars, let a lawyer put the package together for you.  If you don’t, there are a few simple forms that you can download from the Internet, fill out  and make it so much easier for those you leave behind.

So, what’s in an end of life plan?

  1. Advance Directives ensure that patients have more control over their care and families are spared the guilt of trying to guess what their loved one’s last wishes might have been.
  2. A Living Will is one of the most critical pieces of an end of life plan.  This document lets you appoint someone to speak for you when you can’t.  That person is not making life or death decisions for you; they are simply verifying your wishes and honoring your last request.
  3. A Last Will & Testament – every adult should have one of these.  It clearly delineates who gets what when you die.  Without a will, you die “in testate” and the state usually gets more than its fair share of anything you owned including bank accounts, homes, insurance.
  4. An Executor – this person is pivotal to seeing that your wishes are carried out and that your will is executed as written.
  5. A Durable Power of Attorney – less common but a truly powerful document that allows the person you appoint to have legal and financial standing for you and stays in effect after your are disabled or unable to speak for yourself.

All these documents lay the groundwork for ensuring that your end of life wishes are granted.  But there is one more thing that has to take place to make sure this happens.  This may just be the hardest part of creating an end of life plan.

You have to talk to your spouse, your parents and even your children about how you feel about the end of life and what you want.

Sharing your wishes with your family in a face to face conversation is not easy but it is necessary.  Don’t think you will be able to handle the talk?  Need some tips on getting started?  This is just one of the things that a hospice can help with.

Some hospices have classes and provide education for caregivers and patients.  Some even have one-on-one meetings to help people get their affairs in order.  Many of the forms and resources needed to help families discuss and document their preferences regarding end of life care are available on hospice websites like Caring Connections.

Creating an end of life plan is not easy but it may just be the most important plan we undertake.

So, this year, if you really want to give the last, best gift, put down the travel brochures, stop looking at diamond rings and resolve to let a caterer cook your holiday feast.  Make this one, last plan and give your loved ones the last, best gift — peace of mind.

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