Chicken Scratch

Savoring the States

Jill ClinganI recently read a book called Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness. The author, Sasha Martin, decided to take a different country every week and cook a meal that represented that country. It took her 4 1/2 years to accomplish this culinary feat of cooking something from every country in the world. I am not feeling that ambitious, but her project did inspire me to cook up a project idea of my own: to take a different state every week and cook a meal that represents that state.

I am not a big traveler by any means. These days, with 40 chickens, two ducks, three dogs, two cats, and a ferret that have to be looked after whenever we travel, we find that it’s honestly really hard to get away. But perhaps I can bring into my kitchen the aroma and flavor of states I can’t get away to visit.

Savoring the States 

This is where I need your help. I would love to start a conversation about food. I would love your recipes and your stories of the places that you have lived or visited, places where you have roots, places where you have fallen in love, places where you have adventured-and the foods that capture the flavor of those places.

Would you please join me on this adventure? I will be blogging as I “savor the states,” and I would love to have you travel with me. I would love for you to send me some of your favorite recipes that embody the state they represent, but I would also love the stories behind them: Is your Jello salad recipe one that your grandma brought to every single church pot-luck? If you close your eyes can you conjure up the heat in your mom’s kitchen while she fried chicken? Did you make a Coca Cola Cake to impress the cute guy who eventually became your husband?

I don’t know a lot about the foods from each of the states. But I do know this: I love to eat, I bet you do, too, and there are stories simmered in sauces, crimped in pie crusts, and layered in buttery biscuits.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee, dig through those stained recipe cards, and share with me your recipes and memories at jillclingan@gmail.com. If you have a story or a recipe that you would rather tell me about than write, just ask me for my phone number and we can chat. I am going to cook the states alphabetically, and my plan right now is to start this project the first week in July. Obviously my most urgent need at the moment is for recipes from those “A” states, but I will be collecting recipes and anecdotes for later states, too, so if you have a recipe you want to tell me about from your growing up years in Pennsylvania, don’t feel like you have to wait six months to share.

If anyone wants to join me on this adventure of Savoring the States, I would love to have you along! We are excited about doing this project as a family, and maybe your family would like to join us, too? Whether you decide to participate in this project, send me your recipes, or you are just along for the ride, I want to welcome you on this journey as we “savor the states”!

A Cup of Coffee and a Chat

Jill ClinganLast week I remembered, at practically the last minute, that our town’s farmer’s market was opening that day, so my daughter and I left the dinner cleanup to the boys and headed into town to see if anyone happened to have any vegetables for sale. No one was selling veggies yet, unfortunately, but I did pick up a small pot of fennel and another of chives to add to my garden’s collection of herbs. 

farmers marketAs I meandered among the few vendors who were sitting at their tables of crafts and plants and baked breads, I started talking to a woman who worked in the office at my son’s elementary school. She asked me if I had written on my blog recently. I shook my head and mumbled a sheepish “no.”  “A bobcat killed one of our chickens and ducks recently,” I said, “and I just haven’t really wanted to talk about it.” Her reply surprised me. “Oh, but you should write about it! Your readers will most relate to you when they hear your story.” I told her that I was afraid that the more traditional and stoic of chicken owners would roll their eyes at me and smirk a bit at our emotional attachment to our chickens. She assured me, however, that most of my readers would feel the same way I did, or that they would at least understand how I felt.

So that assurance, dear reader, is what I am counting on.

I forced myself to break out of my writing slump last week when I wrote a scheduled post for a different blog. Most of those readers are not chicken owners, though, so I can count on the reassurance of their chicken inexperience and the relative novelty of the tales of our rural life.

But you, Grit readers, are the professionals. I’m out of my element when I am around you. You are fearless farmers and hardy homesteaders. I have this image of you in my head as completely self-reliant, self-sufficient folk who raise your own food, sew your own clothes, and creatively repurpose discarded materials. You probably slaughter your own chickens, too. 

I fear that I may not live up to your ideals.

spade artWe have a garden, yes, but it isn’t doing so great this year. It has been so wet here that our plants are basically drowning in a tilled up pit of mud and chicken poop. 

If it were up to me to clothe my family, we would all wear trash bags with holes cut out for the head and arms. (I thought about making said trash bag clothing items and taking a photograph of my family modeling them, but thankfully thought better of it.)

I don’t really creatively repurpose discarded materials, either. I’m more likely to call a spade a spade rather than make a craft project out of it. 

And we just can’t kill our chickens. When they stop laying we will open up the Clingan Home for Elderly Hens, and when our chickens die, like Gracie Gold the chicken who was not carried away for lunch thanks to the fit I threw at the bobcat in my front yard, we bury them in our pet graveyard down by the creek. 

Bottom line: I think my insecurity has gotten the best of me, and thus I quit writing. I have this image of you in my head that is probably partly true, but only partly. 

And even if you do grow all of your own food and sew all of your own clothes and make craft projects out of rusty spades and eat your chickens, I bet we have some common ground.

I imagine that we both love that feeling of coming in after working hard outside and admiring the effort represented by the dirt under our nails.

I imagine that we both pause sometimes to examine a new plant or an interesting-looking bug.

chicken sitting 

I imagine that sometimes we both stop mid-sentence as we try to figure out a strange bird song.

I imagine that we both find that our souls untangle after some time spent trekking through the woods or digging in the garden or sipping coffee in the early morning to the serenade of frogs.

I imagine that we both could sit down over a cup of coffee and cake on my back porch and swap stories of our adventures. I bet hours would pass, I bet the coffee would be down to the cold dregs and the cake eaten to crumbs before we stood up to reluctantly say goodbye.

coffee

So, you’ll be hearing more from me again. Grab a cup of coffee. Slice yourself a bit of cake. And let’s edge our chairs closer together for a commiserating chat.

Those Awkward Tweenage Weeks

Jill ClinganEverybody loves the balls of fluff that are newborn chicks. They are so soft. They are so tiny. They peep so quietly. They spend much of their time either piled up with their chick brothers and sisters, sleeping, or conked out face-first in the brooder (or even in the food dish), also sleeping.

We were at that stage of newborn chick adorableness just four short weeks ago.

Eighteen Chicks

Now our chicks have hit the tween weeks. They have reached that stage where they are the slightly more awkward equivalent of what they will look and act like as adult chickens. They run around like maniacs (with no real place to go) on their long, gangly legs. Their fuzz has half-morphed into feathery plumage. They raid the chicken equivalent of the refrigerator – their food dish – at a dizzying rate. They squawk loudly, and often, for no apparent reason. They are also funny and endearing and evolving into their own quirky personalities.

I suppose many people don’t find tweenage or teenage chicks nearly as adorable as their chick counterparts, but I happen to find them equally as lovable and charming. Perhaps, however, these chicks have faces that only their “mother” could love? My husband took these photographs of our tween chicks last week as they posed (or, rather, perched) on my great-grandma’s buffet – I am not so sure what she would think about chickens hopping around with the china!

You decide: cute or awkward (or perhaps a little of both)

Mad White Polish Chicken

Black and White Polish Chicken

Orange Easter Egger

Fluffy Bum

Gold Laced Wyandotte Chick

Fluffy Peek A Boo

Fluffy on Buffet

White Easter Egger

A Perfect Sort of Day

Jill ClinganYesterday was the perfect sort of day. It was a Saturday with no place to go and no people to see, which, for this introvert living on five acres on a gravel road, is pretty much the definition of paradise. 

My wonderful husband made me an omelet for breakfast, which he does every day, actually, but yesterday I could eat my eggs and veggies, sip my bulletproof coffee, and linger over a leisurely breakfast, which was a perfectly lovely way to start my day. 

omelet

Every three hours or so I hung out for a bit with Fluffy, our tiny and cute and perky scissor-beaked chick. I sat with her on the bathroom floor, and she ate her moistened food while I wrote or journaled or read (or, admittedly, scrolled through my Facebook and Instagram feeds). If I got too wrapped up in what I was doing and missed her cues to add more water to her food, she just started flinging it on me. That got my attention rather quickly.

fluffy eating

In between Fluffy feeding sessions, I spent time outside in the garden. We had planted beets, parsnips, carrots and turnips a couple of weeks ago, but very few of the seeds germinated, so I spent hours bent over the garden beds, replanting seeds.    

beets in hand

My cat, Morgan, thought that the string I was using to align my rows made a very fun gardening toy.

Morgan in the garden

My dog, Hans, helped press down the seeds.

hans in the garden

Any day where I spend time in the sunshine getting my hands dirty is a happy, successful day in my book.

dirty fingers

When I needed a break, I sat with Matt on the porch and we talked and dreamed. Our lame chicken, Hoppy, even fell asleep in my lap.

Hoppy napping

Right before the chickens’ bedtime, I decided they needed a layer of clean bedding.  

chickens in coop

The chickens were not quite sure about intruders in their home.

We rounded out the night with a campfire, hot dogs and s’mores. 

v

Tomorrow, the daily grind starts anew, and I have to say I am feeling a little melancholy. I wish I could recreate my Saturday on a Monday. But I am hoping that the rest, the dirt, and the songs around the campfire fed my soul enough to help me live the story of this week with a healing dose of beauty and grace and hope. And, perhaps, I can create moments of beauty and grace and hope even within the moments of my very imperfect days.

Perhaps this week I can journal on my dock, or take an evening walk with Matt, or read more and scroll my Facebook feed less.  

What about you?  What does your perfect day look like? How do you create moments of beauty and grace and hope in the middle of your imperfect days? 

Hope is the Thing With Feathers ... and Scissor Beak

“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all ..."
~Emily Dickinson

Jill ClinganLast night I asked Jack to tell me again how he chose Fluffy when we were buying chicks at the farm store a few weeks ago. We had planned on buying 10 chicks that day (we ended up coming home with 18 …), but all he had eyes for was the brooder where what looked like hundreds of tiny Easter Egger chicks were hopping around. Last year he had especially fallen in love with an Easter Egger he named Fluffy. She was very fluffy and funny and quirky and was quickly a family favorite, but she had died in the fall. He wanted a new Fluffy.

Fluffy

Fluffy, Jack and Chewie

He stood quietly beside the brooder, carefully studying all the hopping little balls of fluff. Then he said to me, “I want that one.” I quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be easy picking out and scooping up the exact ball of fluff that Jack had his eyes on, but I was determined to try. I kept pointing and asking.

“That one?”
“No.”
“This one?”
“No.”

Finally I asked for a little more detail. He replied, “I want that little one over there that all of the other chicks keep knocking over.”

Of course. My eyes welled up and my heart swelled with love for my soft-hearted, compassionate boy as I scooped up the right little chick into our box of peeping babies. We picked out a few other Easter Eggers that looked a bit like Fluffy, too, and I honestly thought they could all be little Fluffies.

But last weekend, when we were holding the chicks, I noticed that one had scissor beak.  Jack took one look at her and said, “That’s Fluffy.”

Fluffy Closeup

Last week I wrote about living in the tension of love for our animals and worry about their safety. I worry about our ducks who refuse to sleep in the coop. I worry about all of our chickens, but especially our little lame Rhode Island Red named Hoppy and now our tiny scissor-beaked Fluffy.

I spent some time last week staring down into the plastic bin and carefully watching Fluffy. Was she eating? Was she drinking? I saw her poke around a long, long time for food, but I had a hard time telling whether or not she was actually getting anything to eat, and I rarely, if ever, saw her dunk her beak into the waterer. I knew I needed to do some research on scissor beak, but quite frankly I was afraid. What if most chicks with scissor beak die? Even if most chicks with scissor beak don’t die, what if we lose my chick? I have this habit of falling in love with my chickens and then being heartbroken when they die. Losing chickens is an occupational hazard of having more than 40 of these birds poking around my yard, but my heart has not received – or has chosen to ignore – that memo. 

Thankfully, my research revealed that there’s a good chance that Fluffy is going to be OK. I piled some pine shavings in the bottom of a small plastic tub, and several times a day I pull her out of the brooder and let her eat some chick food that has been mixed with water. Some days she gets a little scrambled egg mixed in with her food. She is quite a bit smaller than the other chicks, but she is just as perky as the rest of them, so I am trying to calm my worries, take care of her, and enjoy her.

In the meantime, I have fallen head-over-heels in love with little Fluffy. She hops on top of the waterer when she sees me because she knows that I will scoop her up. When I put my hand down in the brooder and all of the other chicks are chirping loudly and flapping all over each other in order to avoid being abducted from their home, Fluffy hops right into my hand. Lately I have been spending a lot of time in the bathroom with her while she eats, and the bathroom floor has become my new “office.” 

Fluffy on my leg

She likes to help me work, too.

Fluffy on my laptop

It’s dangerous falling in love with a chicken. I know that. I have loved all my chickens, but this is the first time a chicken has actually fallen in love with me, too.  

Fluffy selfie

I don’t know what Fluffy’s future looks like. The thing is, I don’t know what my future looks like, either. I like to control minor little details like, well, like the health and well-being and happiness of myself and everyone I love, including my animals. But I can’t control any of that. Not really anyway. But I can spend my days lost in love and wonder and gratitude and the belief that if we can scoop up others when they are knocked down just like my son had me scoop up Fluffy, there is a lot of room for hope in this world. And today, I choose that hope.

Hope is the Thing With Feathers

Jill ClinganThis morning Matt found me standing outside, filling a small pool with water for the chickens and ducks to drink, and crying. He wrapped a sweatshirt around my shoulders and asked me what was wrong. I told him that I couldn’t find another of our three ducks.

After our pond thawed a few weeks ago, our ducks decided that it wasn’t really necessary to waddle to the safety of the coop at night. They now sleep down by the pond, and because we have Hans, our Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shepherd, sleeping up on the porch, I thought – I hoped – they would be OK. But three days ago we woke up to find that one of our drakes had disappeared in the night.

Ducks in the pond 

To be perfectly honest, I hoped for a day or two that he would show up, like maybe he just got lost in the woods or something and would waddle his way back home. But of course that didn’t happen. We don’t know what got to him; there were no feathers, no signs of a struggle.  He just … disappeared.

Sometimes I wonder if I am made of tough enough stuff to handle this life in the country. I worry, a lot, about the safety of our chickens and ducks. We love them. Probably a little too much. They have all been held and doted upon. Some of them have names. Every single one has his or her own quirky, funny personality. But I worry about them.

Amelie and Hoppy

I worry especially about the ones who are most vulnerable. We have a Rhode Island Red hen, aptly named Hoppy, who hops around our yard on her crippled feet.

Hoppy

I just noticed yesterday that one of our Easter Egger chicks, one whom my son has already named Fluffy II (to replace the original Fluffy who died in the fall) has scissor beak. My heart sunk when I saw her hopping around her bin with her crooked little beak. There’s a good chance she will still be OK. But she’s a vulnerable one, too.

Fluffy II

And every one of my chickens and ducks are vulnerable, really. There is an endless parade of predators who could discover them and pick them off one by one. Avian flu or coccidiosis could sweep in and wipe out my flock.

I have this soft, mushy heart that loves little creatures with a big, mushy love, and then when something happens to them my heart also breaks in a big, mushy way.

Two days ago I was standing at my kitchen sink doing dishes when I saw one of our dogs, Luke, standing outside the window with a female cardinal in his mouth. I stood there for a moment, trying to decide what to do. I went outside, told him to drop the bird, and picked her up. She didn’t appear injured, but she was also very still. I carried her inside with a sinking heart. What was I going to do with a bird who was probably going to die anyway? But I felt like I had to help somehow.

I put her in a box in the garage and gave her some food and water. When I went back upstairs to get her some pine shavings to make the box a little more comfortable, I remarked to my friend who was visiting us, “I am not cut out for this life. I am moving to New York. I am going to surround myself with buildings and concrete.”

She asked me later if I meant it – if we were having second thoughts about our life out here in the country. Sometimes, when my heart squeezes hard with worry or sadness, I ask myself why I have chosen to live with and love creatures who peck around so low on the food chain. But still, I told her no, I wouldn’t trade my big sky, peaceful pond, freely roaming chickens and ducks, harmonizing frogs, or still, quiet mornings for anything.

Live Here, Love Here

We have lived in the city. We have lived in the suburbs. But I have never fallen absolutely crazy in love with any space like I have fallen in love here. I wouldn’t trade any of it – even my easily broken heart.

I know this is really silly – and I’m a little embarrassed to admit it – but each night when I lock the chickens in their coop, and every morning when I open the door and let them run, hop, and fly into our yard, I pray my own version of Numbers 6:24-26 to them:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord be gracious to you.
And give you peace.
And keep you safe.
And keep you healthy.

I like to think that they enjoy listening to me whisper that prayer to them as they settle onto their roosts for the night. I like to think that they feel a little more assured when I pronounce that blessing over them in the morning over the flutter of their anxious wings as they scurry out the coop door.

v

I like to think that God smiles a little bit when He hears this peculiar girl in Peculiar, Missouri praying for her chickens.

As I scooped the bedding down for the injured cardinal two days ago, she flew up into the rafters in my garage. My guess is that she had flown into my kitchen window on her way to the bird feeder and just been stunned. I opened my garage door, and she flew away.

As I cried into Matt’s chest this morning, he turned me around and said, “Look. There she is.” And there she was: the missing duck, waddling up from a hidden nest.

Some days, my heart breaks open with heartache.

Some days, my heart breaks open with hope and thankfulness.

“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all ...“
~Emily Dickinson

Chicks, Chicks, and More Chicks

Eighteen Chicks

Jill ClinganHave you ever had those friends who post photographs of their babies constantly? They document their baby’s first bath, first food, first smile, and first runny nose. Every moment is precious and worth sharing with the world because, well, because every moment is precious, and there is something about new life that scrubs away some of this earth's dirt and darkness and makes us see the world as a brighter, shinier and happier place. 

I like to see my friends' babies clogging up my Facebook or Instagram feed. Their pictures make me smile and remind me that there is such good and beauty in this world. I know that some people might get annoyed with the photo overload, but I don’t, really. And it’s a good thing, too, because I am now “that mom.” 

No, we didn’t just welcome a new baby into our home. Last week we welcomed 18 new babies into our home (or, more specifically, into a plastic bin in our bathtub). 

I had carefully studied the list of chicks that were going to be available. We are quite lucky because our local farm supply, Harrisonville Farm and Home Store in Harrisonville, Missouri, had a slew of chicks that arrived last week, and they have another round arriving this week. I can’t find the well-worn paper that I studied so prodigiously, but on Thursday, when we went to pick up our chicks, there were at least a dozen different types of chicks available, and that batch of chick varieties was completely different than the ones arriving the other days of the week. We chose to pick up our chicks on Thursday because they had the three varieties we wanted: Easter Eggers, Gold-Laced Wyandottes, and Polish Chickens. We already have some Easter Eggers and Gold-Laced Wyandottes. We got two Gold-Laced Wyandottes in the fall, and they are just so beautiful, but one of them died a few weeks ago, and I wanted to replace her (although one of her replacements is suspiciously already sporting a bit of a comb …). 

Gold Laced Wyandotte

We fell in love with Easter Eggers last year when we ended up with three: Audrey, Sybil and Fluffy. (We called them Ameraucanas all year, but I think they might be Easter Eggers – if anyone out there can tell from these pictures please let me know!)

Audrey

Sybil

Fluffy, who was a family favorite and the special favorite of my son, met with an untimely death when our Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shepherd puppy, whom we had bought to protect our chickens after the horror of opening my front door one day to find a bobcat with a chicken in his mouth, had not yet learned that chickens were his to protect … not to play with. 

Fluffy and Jack

We chose Polish chicks for pure amusement purposes. 

Polish Chick

It wasn’t until after I had eight of these little gals hopping around their brooder that I thought to look up their usefulness as backyard chickens.

Not so much, really.

First of all, they are easy prey to predators, because that cotton ball fluff on their heads will turn into a mop of feathers that flop around in their faces in such a way that they just won’t be able to see that well. Polish hens also lay small white eggs, just whenever they feel like it, and they are apparently prone to forgetting to go to bed in the coop at night or deciding to roost in trees instead.

So we basically have eight fairly useless baby chicks who have joined their more useful chicken sisters. But we’re OK with that. They will be awfully cute wandering around our yard. (And perhaps now might be a good time to introduce our children to 4-H.)

While my friends with new babies are posting their infant photographs, I am clogging my Facebook and Instagram feed with chick photos. Because, really, what is there not to love about these adorable little fluffy creatures?

We squeeze into the bathroom during reading time and introduce our chicks to great books:

Chick and Narnia Book

We introduce them to the wonders of technology.

Fluffy II on the Computer

We snap photo after photo of them hopping around in their bin.

Chicks in Tub

So far, no one has complained, no one has unfriended me, no one has unfollowed me.

At least, I don't think so anyway.

What about you: Do you have chicks kicking up dust in your bathroom/living room/garage/basement this spring? What are your favorite types of chickens? I’d love to know!