Sunday, November 28, 2021

Joint Custody, Minnesota Style


About 2 years ago I decided it was time to start a flock of chickens once again. We had chickens years ago when we had horses and goats around and had a farm going. But as time moved on and horses and goats left the farm I gave up on having chickens as it seemed like a lot of work to keep them safe and taken care of. We had a few attacks on them from a fox and a weasel and our flock was eventually wiped out. There is nothing worse than coming down to the coop and seeing feathers blown all over and no chickens. Or worse yet pieces of your flock scattered around the barnyard.

We would be starting the flock from ground zero as I had given the insulated coop to our daughter and son-in-law for their farm when they were starting out a few years ago. It was a 4x8 barn shed you can get at Fleet Farm. I got it years ago at an auction. It worked great for all those years and it is currently housing several laying hens over at our daughter’s now.

I decided to get a variety of baby chicks at the local Mill and from a friend of my son’s who was hatching some eggs. We wound up with a mix of about 25 baby chicks. It was early May and still too cold for them to be kept outside. So for the first week or two they were in a bin with heat lamps over them in my office. Eventually they wound up in the barn in a kids plastic swimming pool with heat lamps over it. That is where they would stay until I could get a chicken coop figured out. 

I went scoping the metal shed,near the garden, which we had originally used to store saddles and other tack for the horses. It was  about a 6 x 8 feet metal shed. We have two sheds that are side by side. The other is a garden tool shed. Taking the path of less work, I decided the old tack shed would do the trick, so I set out to clean it. It had a lot of junk in there and lots of electric fencing supplies. So in order for it all to fit in the smaller garden shed, I had to clean out the garden shed. I just wanted to get the coop made and here I was having to do all this extra work just to get the space opened up. But finally after a couple days of intense cleaning I had a clean and orderly garden shed and a completely empty shed to make the chicken coop the way I wanted it. My main goal was to fence in half of the shed with a gate to go in and out when it needed cleaning and new shavings on the floor. The other plan was to make it easy so the eggs could be gathered without walking into the fenced in part. 

 Off I went to Fleet Farm to get some stuff I would need to partition the area off. For the most part we had scraps of lumber lying around the place, so I only needed a few things like hinges and a few 2x4’s. I was excited it would be a pretty cheap project, especially since I have never really constructed anything like a hen house.

Over the next few days my grand-daughter hung out with me and together we  got the partition up from the floor to ceiling so no birds could get out or critters get in. When it came time to figure out the nesting boxes we made a big plywood box with a hinged door that opened from the top and put legs beneath it. We cut the fence inside the henhouse to slip the box in and there we had it. A nesting box that we could reach from outside the pen. It was genius and I will never again have to wade through chicken manure to get the eggs. I put a little step stool next to the nesting boxes for the shorter grandkids to be able to get the eggs. My son and Best Half wired some outlets inside the hen house and heat lamps were put in there along with the chicks. I let the younger grandkids decorate it and they hung a sign at the door saying , “Old Mother’s Hen House”. To this day I am not sure if it was an error in where they put the apostrophe. I am hoping instead of Old Mother’s Hen House they were meaning Old Mother Hen’s House. Since I was afraid of the answer, I never questioned the placement of that apostrophe.

Eventually the chicks were big enough to be let outside so we put up some 8 foot high fencing and cut a little door in the shed where they could come and go. And they grew and grew. One morning I went out and realized there were 3 missing. There were some feathers outside the pen, so I figured something got into the pen at night and hauled them off. I made a vow that this wasn’t going to happen again. Not on my watch. It looked like the work of a fox.

Once again my grand-daughter and I got to work on turning the coop into Fort Knox, or “Fort Fox '' as she called it. I got out the electric fencer we had used for the horses years ago. We strung wire from the bottom to the top of the fence,four strands worth of it. We also strung up Bright Christmas lights we had had on the horse paddock years ago. Surprisingly they still worked. We put those on a timer to go on at dusk. By the time we were done, the only thing missing were sentry guards at each corner of the pen. Nothing was going to get in there.

That night, as I was drifting off to sleep I heard a yelp out by the barn, and then another. And then it was quiet. I got up and walked down to the coop to see if something was in the pen or something had gotten the chickens. I looked inside the henhouse and all the chickens were perched on the long swings I had made them. Nothing had been disturbed. I guess Fort Fox was going to work, something had been shocked that night and hasn't ever returned. Or at least broken the barricade. Word is out in the fields of critters, you don’t mess with this “Old Mother’s” henhouse.

After giving a few chickens and the roosters away, we still have 10 hens that give us eggs daily. It is more eggs than we will ever use, so my Best Half takes the extras to work and sells them. And we give our neighbors down the road some every week. By selling the eggs,the chickens pay for their own feed and give me a sense of still living in the country and living on a farm. Unfortunately our rooster died a few months back, so we don’t get the early morning crows anymore.

With our plans to travel for weeks at a time, once we are both retired, I had contemplated giving away the flock and giving up having chickens. I couldn’t figure out, now that all the kids are moved out and away, how we would care for them daily when we were gone. 

We have neighbors about a half mile down the road from us that are good friends also. When we went camping for a few days, they agreed to take care of the chickens. They pretty much just had to get the eggs. I have the food and water system set up to go almost a week before needing to do anything. While we were gone, our flock got the royal treatment. Fresh garden produce was chopped up for them to peck at, and bread crumbs were scattered. Our neighbors are animal lovers more than any other people I know. The chickens were spoiled rotten by the time we got home a few days later. They would meet me at the fence and cackle and cluck waiting for their treat to be tossed over the fence. It wasn’t pretty if I didn’t have something for them.

My neighbor and I were talking after we got home and I was telling her that we probably more than likely would be relocating them to some other farm when winter is near. After explaining that it is more work in the winter hauling water because it freezes and I couldn’t find someone to do that, she begged to differ. She offered to do it over the weeks we may be gone in the winter. She told me she likes the chickens and watching them and getting the eggs. So she told me to not be too hasty about sending them down the road. So I agreed to see if it will work out for them to help out over winter.

A week or so ago, they dropped off a 50 lb bag of cracked corn for the girls in the coop. A treat for them now that the garden produce is done for the season. Every day I toss them their cracked corn and if I don’t, they make a scene, a very loud scene as a reminder that they like the neighbors way better. Basically, we have established a sort of shared joint custody of the chickens with our neighbor’s, at least for the time being. The girls give them eggs a few times a week and they get to stay here on the farm. When winter comes and we may be gone, the neighbors will come down and water the chickens and get whatever eggs they are laying in the cold and dark.

We are fortunate to have neighbors that are true friends living down the road from us. Ones that are willing to share joint custody of the girls, Minnesota style. Ones that will help you out when needed and frequently text you with a chicken joke…

 Q.Why does a chicken coop only have two doors? 

 A.  Because if it had four doors, it would be a chicken sedan!

Thursday, November 25, 2021

2021 Happy Thankgiving

Hi this is Sue from Solid Rock Minnesota. Happy Thanksgiving to all of the listeners and blog followers here in the US. And to anyone that is out of the country and celebrates Thanksgiving. I hope you are having a great day. Today is pretty much my favorite holiday. We are together with family, at least the family that is near us and we get to eat. Two of my favorite things. 

This year will be quite different than last year when we had at least ½ the family home and gathered around the table. We won’t need two turkeys and 18 pies. It will be a pretty quiet day with just a few of the family together. While it won’t be like the traditional Thanksgivings of the past, I have made my peace with that and am grateful for those who will be gathered with us around the table. 

Here is hoping you all can celebrate and be grateful for the people in your life. Have a great day!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Grandpa and the Engström Rooster Gene

In my extended family we have a FaceBook group called the Engström Rooster Gene. It was created several years ago by family members who have inherited the ability to consistently wake up at the crack of dawn without any alarm and be ready to greet the day ahead. Right now there are about 31 members there consisting of a sibling, nieces and nephews, my kids, my cousins and their kids. And a few of the spouses of true early awakeners. Each of us have claimed to have inherited that Rooster Gene from my Grandpa.

Grandpa was a pretty quiet guy, at least from what I remember. He loved to tell you a joke or bounce the little kids on his knee singing Turkey in the Straw, or try to scare you by popping his dentures out at you. He never scared anyone, in fact that became the favorite request of the young ones, to ask him to pop out his dentures. When sitting at the table with the adults, he’d quietly sit there while my dad and uncles would talk politics or religion, and sip on his coffee and eat some sweet treat like a cookie, or donut, or a piece of apple pie with ice cream. He did love his sweets. 

Many of my family members, mostly cousins and my brother, had the great fortune to live with my grandparents over the years. Sometimes it was while building a house, or finishing college, and sometimes it was because someone just needed a place for a short time. Grandma and Grandpa never refused  opening their home to someone who was in need. Even at Thanksgiving, there would be many friends of family members who had nowhere to go. Grandma and Grandpa always made sure there was a place for all at their table.

Even in times when they had little, they always had enough to share with others who maybe had less. I remember them telling me the story of when they lived up North on the farm during the depression years. They lived not far from the railroad tracks and many homeless weary drifters, looking for work, would hike up the path to their house looking for work or food. My Grandparents never refused a person in need. They never left a person walking back down that trail to the tracks hungry. While they couldn’t hire them for a job, they did always give them something to eat. They would share what they had, they always had something. They told us that back then when so many were riding the rails and looking for work, the drifters would tie a red bandana near a trail up to a house. This was a sign that the house ahead was safe and those there would share food if they could, even if it was just a piece of bread with some jam on it. I remember once when I was older and talking to my Grandma,asking if she ever wanted to tear down the red bandana? Grandma said,”Never. As long as we had food to share and others didn’t, we shared”. 

It wasn’t long after that I remember my Dad and Grandpa talking one day. By this time Grandpa had some dementia and forgetfulness of current things. But he could remember anything years back. My Dad was talking to him about it being the time of year they had jumped on the train heading West to look for work. Him and Grandpa reminisced about hopping the trains out to South Dakota, where my Grandpa had been born in a tiny town called Kennebec. It was the county seat for Lyman county thanks to his uncles and his Dad going into another town in the dead of the night. They removed all the vital records and such from the courthouse there and brought them back to Kennebec. Kennebec officially became the county seat at that time.

Grandpa was always an early riser. I guess from living on the farm and then working the early shift once they lived in the Cities, he just developed an internal alarm clock. His internal alarm clock was set for 5 AM even long after he retired. He would be up and ready to greet the day by 5 AM. Grandma, on the other hand, she was the night owl. She would be up late watching Johnny Carson until midnight, or reading a book. She always read the end of the book first to see if it was worth taking the time to start the book. I guess she figured life was short, no use wasting your time on a book you aren’t going to like.

For all those that had the chance of living with Grandma and Grandpa, there was an added bonus. They had an official live human alarm clock. You just would tell Grandpa what time you needed to be up and he would be by your bedside waking you at that time. The amazing thing was, he never, himself, used an alarm. Even if it was before 5AM, Grandpa’s internal alarm would go off in time to get you going.

If that wasn’t the best thing ever, he’d have fresh brewed coffee from the glass percolator on the stove and a bowl and a spoon set out with different types of cereal on the table. Even as the years passed and the dementia worsened, his internal alarm never failed him. You could always count on stopping by early in the morning and Grandpa would be at the door to greet you with the smell of fresh brewed coffee. 

I’m not sure when it started, but years ago one of the family posted on FaceBook how no matter how hard they tried to sleep in, they would always be up at 5 AM, even on weekends. Comment after comment started rolling in from family about how it is the same thing for them. No matter how late they go to bed they are up by 5 AM. And then a niece sent an article describing how whether you are a night owl or early riser it is genetic and can be inherited, it’s not just by environment. The study talked about 100’s of genes that play a role in whether or not you are a night owl or an early riser. And it was shortly after that the Engström Rooster Gene group was established.

All of us affected by this genetic phenomenon are members. And so are a few of the spouses of the family members as they have been just as affected. Many upon marriage no longer have the luxury of sleeping past 7 AM. Anything after that is considered sleeping in and missing much of the day. There are afterall, things to do, places to go and people to see. I can speak to this personally regarding my Best Half. While he is still sleeping and I have been up for 2 hours, I will start getting antsy to get the day going. So I will go into the bedroom and silently stare at him until he “feels my presence”. He will be sleeping in bed and without opening his eyes will mumble something unintelligible and say  “I guess we’re up”. I’m thinking with his retirement a few weeks away, I may need to give him a little extra time for a few days. Maybe 7:30 will be his new wake up time.

We have inherited so many things from our family of origin. Things like our ethnicity, our holiday traditions, even our desire to help those in need. But to be honest, the Engström Rooster gene is probably my favorite. It adds hours to my day and over the years I have seen so many beautiful sunrises that I would have otherwise missed. It has been awesome to watch and see which of the grandkids have this inheritance. So far it seems to be 50-50, but teenagers I think for a few years are ok to be exempt. They are on a totally different alarm clock that most of us don’t understand.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Red Buffalo Plaid and a Minnesota Fall Day

Fall is officially here in Minnesota.The maple trees are on fire with bright orange and red leaves starting to drop, the birch trees are aglow with their bright yellow-gold leaves contrasting with their white bark. Put that with the deep forest green pines mingled in with them and it is a Fall sight to behold.

With leaves turning color and starting to drop to the ground and the overnight temperatures dropping to the upper 20’s-30’s, it is also time to pull out the Red Buffalo plaid shirts, blankets,caps and travel mugs. It’s Fall in Minnesota and what better indicator that Fall is here and Winter is near than spottings of Red Buffalo plaid out of storage and all over town.  While it was never too far away or thrown way back in the closet, Red Buffalo plaid  has been a stranger for the past 4-5 months for most Minnesotans. While flip flops and shorts are still close at hand hanging on the chair in the bedroom, it will most likely now be accentuated in the mornings with the Red Buffalo plaid shirt over a short sleeve shirt. Something that can quickly be shed when the afternoon temps get in the 40’s and 50’s.

A few days ago when I was at Fleet Farm and The Kwik Trip getting gas, I couldn’t help but smile as I watched all the old timers right on down to a newborn in the cart...they all were sporting Red Buffalo plaid shirts or hats or even baby socks. It was such a classic early MInnesota Fall day sighting. I suddenly realized how much I have missed these sightings over the past several months.

There is something about that Red Buffalo plaid that brings me to kind of a reflective moment in life. I’m not sure why. But when the weather starts getting cooler and I start seeing the Red Buffalo plaid coming out, I start to think of how the Summer was just here for such a fleeting moment, and how now it will be getting towards winter for several months. The cold and early darkness will be here and my time will be spent planning for the coming Spring and Summer. It is such a circle of life watching the seasons pass. Some may get more melancholy as Winter approaches, but for me I use it more as a time to plan and do some indoor things I didn’t make time for in the Summer. I do a lot of machine knitting and make hats to donate to the medical clinics in the Cities and people who need them. So many are here from other countries and don't have winter gear. The clinics will give them warm winter stuff as they are able. So they have bags and bags of warm knit hats to hand out. It is fun when down in the Cities at times when I will see someone wearing one of the hats I knit.

In a few weeks we will be starting a new thing called, “Both of us retired”.  What will it bring, I am not sure. Possibly a  couple winter trips South a few weeks at a time. Hopefully it will help make Winter not seem like the 5-6 months that it can be. It will be different not spending the entire Winter here. I have to wonder if it will mess with my seasonal cycle?

But for right now, I am sitting here sipping on a mug of tea wearing my Red Buffalo plaid fleece shirt. I am warm and cozy and looking out at the trees and leaves blowing around. We are in for some rain and cool weather over the next few days. Today I will start my knitting and get the hats sent out to the clinics in the next 2 weeks or so. Yep it is Fall and it is exciting to have come through another circle of seasons this past year. Here’s to Red Buffalo plaid and the seasons it brings.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Tai Chi, Yah You Betcha

Over the past several months I have had some pretty painful back and leg issues going on from a canoe episode near the BWCA several years ago. I had an accident and was injured, and over time arthritis has set in and at times, will flare up with a vengeance. It will require a few trips to the medicine cabinet for Ibuprofen and a few visits with the chiropractor to get everything aligned and loosened up once again. And with each ache and pain that happens it always makes me  think back to the day it happened. 

We were camping up near the BWCA. It is one of our favorite places to go for some solitude and paddling and some good fishing, usually. It was early morning and as usual I was awake and ready to go fishing before daylight. I let my Best Half sleep and headed with my fishing gear and paddle down to the lake where my solo canoe rested on the shore. While I love to fish from my kayak, my little 33 lb solo canoe also ranks up there for some good times fishing. It is half the weight of my kayak and much easier to pick up and haul if needed. But also more tippy.

I got all my rods and tackle situated and was in the canoe paddling out to a spot about a mile from our campsite. The day was breaking and I could see the dark clouds in the West. The lake was calm so I figured I had time before the rain came. There was a fog just above the lake and was beginning to lift. An absolutely beautiful morning. I cast my line and trolled to the spot I wanted to try out. I caught a tree stump and a small sunfish. I got to the spot and cast out from my ultra-light rod looking for some crappies. Second cast and I had a small perch on my line. Just as I was reeling it in, a huge Northern grabbed the perch. I let out my line and reeled it in and played with the Northern back and forth for a few minutes, although it seemed like an hour. And just as I was getting the tuckered out fish up near the canoe the line snapped and off went the Northern.

I paddled over to shore to restring my line and let the adrenaline stop pumping. As I sat there I noticed big splashes coming from this little pond about 10 feet from the shore where I was. I got out of the canoe and flipped my line in there a few times to see what was there. I caught several small sunfish and thought maybe to portage over with the canoe and try it out. But just as I was going back to the canoe it started to rain, and then downpour. The temperature had cooled down a lot and I decided it was time to hop in the canoe and paddle back to camp.

As I was getting ready to get in the canoe, I slipped on a big wet rock. Trying to catch my balance, my right leg went out in front of me way further than it should have and I heard a loud pop coming from the back of my leg. To this day I swear it was a loud enough pop that it echoed off the lake and it was in surround sound. I lost my balance completely, grabbed the canoe hoping to keep upright and proceeded to tip the canoe and fill it with water. I was now sitting on the rock next to the canoe in the water watching all my fishing gear exit the canoe to the water. It was only about 2-3 feet of water and it all started to sink.

I was frantically trying to gather all my gear and throw it to shore until I could empty all the water from the canoe. It was still downpouring and now I was completely soaked to the skin and getting cold. I crawled out of the water to the muddy shoreline and sat down. My leg was killing me with sharp piercing pain. I can honestly say I saw stars when it happened and thought for a moment I would pass out. I started doing the breathing techniques you use in the end stages of childbirth to try to not think about the pain. I was a mile from the camp and needed to get back to the other side of the lake. Continuing to do my Hee Hee Paw Paw breathing, I stood up, but only on one leg. The right one wasn’t going to let me put any weight on it without me screaming out in pain. I hobbled to the water filled  canoe and tried to lift it to empty. It wasn’t going to happen. I sat down and started to bail the water out with the empty travel mug I had. I was shivering, really hurting and the rain was coming down in buckets now compared to my little travel mug. I finally tried again to stand and empty the canoe. I got up and pulled it as best I could with it full of water, closer to shore, to see if I could lean it over and empty it. I was able to do just that. Most of the water emptied and I could now load my gear and get home. I got everything in the canoe, except me. This was going to be a sight, trying to hop on one leg and get in a canoe. I couldn’t do it on shore so I went out in the water a few feet. I took a deep breath and pretty much stood on both legs and lunged into the canoe and immediately saw stars again, but managed to steady myself so I didn’t tip over. I heard and felt another pop in the back of my leg, but not as bad as the first time.

It took what seemed like hours to paddle back to shore. With each stroke of the paddle there was a sharp pain in my leg. It took me a few minutes of paddling to realize the moaning I heard was coming from me. I got back to shore and my Best Half was there waiting for me. He had seen me coming back. I’m not sure if he heard my moans too, but I was just glad he was there. He helped me out of the canoe and I gimped back to the campsite on one leg and with him hauling me.

Once back to camp and changing into dry clothes, I was able to do a full nursing assessment on my injury. It was starting to swell behind my thigh. It still hurt pretty bad. My best guess was that I had torn my hamstring. I drugged myself with Ibuprofen and cold compresses. Meanwhile, this was the day we were to go home, so I did the best I could to gimp around and help pack up to go home. 

We made the 4 hour trip home with many stops along the way to grab some ice and let me rearrange my leg to get comfortable. Over the next few days, I kept icing and resting it as that was about all I imagined could be done. I now had a bruise from my upper thigh into my ankle and a pretty good size bulge on the back of my leg. But I was able to hobble on it when needed.

After a week of resting and icing, I decided to go to the Chiropractor to see if there were any adjustments to be done. I figured going to the MD would be pointless since they would just tell me to rest, ice and elevate it which I was doing. When I got to the Chiropractor, he looked at it, pressed a few spots gently and said it needed more time to heal and lose the swelling. He did confirm that I had torn the hamstring muscle and probably a few other ligaments. He sent me home with instructions to rest, ice, and elevate for 2-3 more weeks. Then I was to go to Physical Therapy and they would give me strengthening stuff to do.

So off I went for another 3 weeks of home treatment. After that, I made an appointment with the PT people and went in. By now I was walking and the pain was tolerable. I got there and walked in, pretty much on display as the PT person was watching how I walked. She had me lie on my stomach to work on my leg. She took one look and said it was still too bruised and swollen. This was now almost 6 weeks since the injury. The bruising was still there but all yellow and old and mostly just behind my upper leg. She suggested another 2-3 weeks of resting it before PT. I went home. I eventually went back and finally got some treatment and exercises to do to strengthen it. That was about 10 years ago.

My leg and back healed eventually after about 6 months. But as the years have gone by and I’ve gotten older, time has settled into my bones, and I have gotten arthritis in that area. There have been days, I have cussed out that fateful morning in the canoe. The lingering and ongoing effects have caused pain over the years and made me...pity myself some. 

This Summer I had a flare up pretty bad and I was barely walking once again. There is nothing more obnoxious than me in pain that I can’t fix and moping around feeling sorry for myself. After several people telling me to get it checked out, I finally went to a new Chiropractor. She did massage, pressure points, and some adjustments every week for about 2 months. She also, along with my niece, the Yoga instructor, showed me some yoga stretches and moves with a foam roller. I was to do them to help stretch and loosen the joints and muscles. I attempted to do them and about broke my whole body flailing off the foam roller onto the ground. I was finding myself sprawled face first on the ground more than I was in the Yoga poses. I have no balance. And getting off the floor once in my “face plant” pose was really hard if Max ,the dog, wasn't there to lean against getting up. I needed to find another way to keep my legs and back loose and stretched out. I pictured myself spending way more time sprawled out on the floor than I wanted to be.

Over the past month I think I may have found the key to keeping my arthritic body from screaming out in pain. I have discovered Tai Ch through YouTube. There are many teachers doing 15-20 minute instructions. I have found a few videos and every morning when I wake up I am facing East and the TV and doing my Tai Chi movements for 20 minutes before I do anything else. Not only has it helped keep my back and legs pain free and stretched out but it also has given me more calm and mental and physical balance with the deep breathing that goes along with it. And it works the whole body and all those other up and coming arthritic areas. While I dreaded getting on the floor with the Yoga moves and the rolling foam pad, I am enjoying starting my day doing this routine and being free of pain in the mornings and throughout the day. 

Tai Chi Yah You works.