Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sneaking a New Cat into the Kitten Coop

According to the rules of country living, when a farmer is ready to add new hens to a flock, that farmer is supposed to sneak the new chickens into the coop in the middle of the night while the rest of the girls are asleep—or at least groggy—and the next morning, the old chickens won't even realize there are new members in their gang. Though we haven't yet tried this with our girls, the premise sounds pretty simple. A little sneakeroo and you're done.

Adding a new cat the flock...not so simple.

After our beloved, billion-dollar Monty had to be put to sleep in May, we knew we'd eventually be in the market for another kitty. The trick was knowing how and when to introduce one to our snappy, sixteen-year-old crabcake, Zöe. Her anxiety seemed to skyrocket after Monty's passing, so we wanted to make sure we had her calmed down before trying to sneak in a new flock-mate.

Sitting on Mr. W's lap is a good coping mechanism...

A couple weeks ago, I decided it was time. Mr. W complied with my request to begin the shopping process, likely because he just bought a bunch of parts to build a freaking airplane (YES an actual airplane that he plans to fly). You get a plane, I get a kitten.

We agreed that we wanted to try to find a Monty version 2.0, so our goal was to adopt an all-black, male short-hair that was somewhere between 8 and 12 weeks old. Although there appeared to be lots of contenders online, our first stops at a shelter and a cat rescue facility didn't turn up exactly what we were looking for (but there are tons of cute kitties out there and you should totally go adopt one...)

I was pretty depressed to come home empty-handed after hauling off to the humane society with my cat carrier in hand and a fresh bag of kitten food in my pantry. So last Monday, I talked Mr. W into driving to San Luis Obispo with me to check out some more options.

When we got to the front desk of the Animal Services office, the lady asked us what we were looking for. I told her our criteria and she said, "We have THE cutest black and white kitten in room one. He is absolutely adorable." I blew her off, determined to stick to my shopping list.

And then we went to Cat Room One and this little face pranced back and forth in his cage batting his eyelashes at us and being 10x more lovable than any of the other cats in the running.

He wasn't all black. He wasn't short-haired. But he was a boy and he was only 3 months old. With that face and that charm, he would do just fine.

Mr. W took some convincing, but shortly after meeting him, we were packing up Oliver Montrose Maris and taking him back to his forever home.

His favorite spot is on top of the wine fridges. Boy after my own heart.

The introduction process with Zöe has been a very slow, calculated one with lots of back and forth solitary confinement, some supervised visits, and a fair amount of hissing. I'm hoping one day she'll wake up like a clueless chicken and just think Ollie has been here all along.

In the grand tradition of being a panicked pet parent, I've already worried about Oliver not eating enough, accidentally getting stepped on when he camouflages with the black kitchen rug, swallowing a poisonous spider, and strangling himself with his fishing pole toy (he's not allowed to have it in the middle of the night when we're not there to save him). Needless to say, it is better for the entire world that Mr. W and I did not produce any human children together.

We are happy enough with our little furry flock. Especially this guy whose purr motor runs at high speed every day and turns my heart to a puddle of mush.  

Saturday, July 30, 2016

This Is Not the Life I Ordered

For about the last 8 months, Mr. W has been commuting to LA two days a week for a film project. During the last 5 or 6 weeks, he's only been able to come home on weekends. Though we're no strangers to living apart, after awhile his absence starts to wear on me. Big time. Especially since we've moved, just because the responsibility list is longer in Santa Ynez than it was in Hollywood.

So Monday, when I went to let the chickens out to free range and saw our little Wellsummer hen, Miranda, looking under the weather, my already weakened husbandless constitution began to crumble.

At first, I thought maybe our girl was just overheated. She was panting. Her comb was pale. Her usually perky tail was pointed toward the ground. I led her to a container of water and of course couldn't get her to drink (the saying's not just for horses...). Though it was the middle of my workday, there was no way I was going to leave my ailing chick. So I took to Google and read every blog post and chat thread I could find about her symptoms.

The thing about chickens is that they're really hard to diagnose. Or maybe, when you're a total avian novice like me, they are. I needed Mr. W here to tell me what to do! In between my frantic visits to hen-devoted websites, I was IMing him like mad.

The first thing he told me was that I was forbidden from calling the vet. He was not going to shell out $100 to save a $4 chicken. He told me that if she died, I should just put her in a garbage bag in the garage freezer and he'd deal with her when he got home. Um, not the scenario I hoped would play out. 

Sad chicken soup
I decided to do the only thing I knew how to do: give her the "spa treatment" we'd given Samantha when she got sick. I drew her an Epsom salt bath in a Rubbermaid container, put the container in the master bathtub, then loaded her into the chicken ambulance and brought her in the house.

Desperate to do whatever I could to make Miranda feel better, I decided to try a second step in the "spa treatment" that I hadn't done before. I decided to give her some clean Epsom salt water by mouth. The article I read clearly warned to administer the liquid very slowly so as not to make the chicken aspirate any of it into her lungs. Armed with my syringe, I dripped dots of water along the sides of Miranda's beak and she tiredly gobbled them up. I thought we were making good progress until I noticed a low wheeze starting to build with her breathing.

Thinking she might just have a little chicken phlegm, I gave her some more water. The wheeze turned into a gurgle.


I was sure of it. I'd gotten water into her lungs and that was the nail in the freezer-garbage-bag coffin. My mind ripped back to a familiar place it likes to visit when Mr. W is gone and things feel tough.

"This is NOT the life I ordered," it screamed.

The life I signed up for was one where my husband and I were under one roof, throwing our heads back in synchronized laughter as we expertly remodeled our home. One where we spent warm summer evenings harvesting ripe tomatoes and admiring how tall the corn stalks had grown. One where we grew grapes in our backyard and turned them into delicious vintages which we served to friends at dinner parties.

Nursing a half-dying hen in my master bathtub was never a line item on the order sheet.

I IMed Mr. W and told him I thought I'd just sealed Miranda's fate. He told me to put her out with the rest of the flock and hope for the best.

So, fighting back tears, I did.

About an hour later, I took some apple slices out to the girls and Miranda appeared to have a little more life in her eyes. She pecked at the apples. She drank water from the pan I'd tried to cool her feet in earlier. Her tail was no longer pointing toward the ground.

As my fight-or-flight response began to dissipate, I realized how incredibly stupid it is to even think "This is not the life I ordered." I thought of Elizabeth Gilbert's line from Eat, Pray, Love about how she "had actively participated in every moment" of the creation of her life.

Duh. This was totally the life I had "ordered." Um and by the way—like any of us even have the power to command or control life (okay, well I do believe in The Secret and manifesting and all that jazz so I guess I do...um...but still). Anyone's life can suck at any point—it's all about where you choose to rest your attention.

Telling myself this sad story on top of my already dismal poultry predicament just made the entire situation feel that much worse. Ah, the pity party. I'm really good at throwing them, but they're sure no fun to attend.

I'm happy to say that Miranda is still with us. Her comb is still a smidge pale, but her gurgle is gone and her neurotic nervous cluck is back. I'm also glad to report that Mr. W has returned to town full-time. Having my right-hand guy here always makes me feel better. Though I'm eternally grateful for both of those things, I'm also thankful for the reminder that lopping a sad story onto a stressful situation only makes everything feel 10x worse. Or as a wise farmer somewhere once said, "A resistant, defeatist attitude never kept any chickens out of the freezer." 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

One-Acre Angst

There's nothing quite like having loaded fruit trees in your backyard—where you can just pluck a plum off a branch, polish it on your shirt, and eat it right there at its very freshest. So juicy and delicious. It makes me wish I'd met Mr. W in his 20s when he was all ripe for the pickin'. But I digress...

My point is, I love summertime in our yard. I love that we can harvest peaches and plop them into our caprese salads. (If you haven't done this, you MUST try it. Trust me.) I love that we made fajitas this weekend with an onion we grew. I love that Mr. W and the chickens worked together (he dug the hole and they kicked dirt back into it...) to plant zucchini on Sunday. And I love that the shoulder-high weedfest we had going in our back 40 got mowed down and tilled.


But that also brings me to something that doesn't feel so lovey: having so much freaking land it's like we're Tom Hanks and Wilson the volleyball adrift in an infinite sea. Every time I look at that big swath of acreage in our backyard, I get a little touch of vertigo. It's. Just. Too. Much.

See what I'm sayin'?

Our house is like a child's-sized shoebox up there.

As a registered control freak, it completely stresses me out to have that area growing wild and looking so unkempt. And after Mr. W and I went to a birthday party on a beautifully manicured piece of property recently (think freshly mowed grass and white lights draped from the canopy of a beautiful oak) we're both antsy to get this part of the yard into better shape. So he has put his Sketchup skills to work once again, and has begun drafting ideas for our open space. Behold:

Of course I have grand visions of hosting outdoor yoga and coaching classes down there, followed by micro-farm-to-table dinners. And of course we'll be drinking wine made from our yard's own grapes. While Mr. W plays the fiddle and I sing folk songs. It shall be dreamy.

In the meantime, we'll just have to enjoy what we've accomplished so far—like the fire pit Mr. W installed. It's made of cortex steel like the edging in our front yard planters, so it'll get a cool, rusted patina over time. Mr. W sort of built it himself (someone else bent the metal but he riveted it) so no one else has one exactly like this. Pretty sure if it went up on auction it'd fetch like a mil.

We also got the chicken yard fence all completed. Now those little buggars can't escape and poop all over our back patio. 

Anyway, that's where we are with the yard accomplishments and growing angst. I'm sure I'll be cursing and shoveling gravel back there again at some point in the not too distant future...