A Brilliant Backyard Idea

Every once in a while I’ll stumble across a business plan that’s so quirky and magnificent that I just have to share it. When people think out of the box and it resonates with me, I just naturally want them to succeed, because, well, the world needs this product or service. That’s how I feel about Rent-A-Chicken.

In a world where we have become more and more skeptical about our food sources, this is an idea whose time has come. Urban farming is becoming increasingly popular. I love the little garden in our back yard. I savor every tomato, strawberry, onion, clove of garlic, etc. that comes from it. I love that we have blackberries and pears and apples in the park that surrounds us. We have also put up a bat house and are planning a bug house and we plant flowers that are good for the bees and hummingbirds. I like the idea of giving back to the planet while also sharing in its abundance. It would be amazing to have fresh eggs, from well-loved chickens, too.

For the price of the chicken rental (the amount of which appears nowhere on the website, and believe you me, I’ve complained to them about that) you get laying hens, a coop, an enclosed run, food, a water dispenser, delivery, training on chicken care, and a help desk. They’ll even house your chicken over the labor-intensive winter for you, and tag it so you can get the same hen back the following year, in case you become attached (which I’m quite sure I would.)

The thought of city-dwelling parents introducing their children to some aspect of farming makes me really happy. I think raising chickens would make the youth of today a lot more aware of where food comes from. It would also make them see how important it is to take care of our environment.

I also love the idea that there are franchises available for farmers. It’s so much harder for them to keep afloat these days that increasing their ability to bring in extra money appeals to me greatly. Currently, I can’t Rent-A-Chicken in the Seattle area, which breaks my heart. So, area farmers, are you listening? We need you to become cluckin’ entrepreneurs!


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Off Limits

There’s nothing on earth that makes me want to do something more than being told I cannot do that thing. Not that I’m going to disobey The Law writ large. I won’t even shout “fire” in a crowded movie theater. Laws are generally put into place for the protection of society. But some arbitrary rules and decisions are just absurd. And some long-standing traditions with no basis in logic could stand to be modernized.

Even as a child, when I would hear that a book was banned by our school district, I’d make it a point to read that book. Fortunately my mother was very supportive of this. She believed we should have access to a variety of points of view, and then form our own opinions. So I read quite a bit.

I once met a man from another culture who was horrified that I was “allowed” to work the graveyard shift. “They let you go out alone at night?” First of all, who is “they”? I’m a 52 year old woman who lives alone.

I experienced that same look of horror when I rented a car in Turkey. They made me drive it around the block to prove I could before they’d let me have it. And sure enough, in the rural areas in particular, I soon noticed that I was the only female driver.

So imagine my thought process when reading about Mount Athos, in Greece. It’s a region that has 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries, and women aren’t allowed on the entire peninsula. And it has been thus for nearly 2,000 years. I’ve never wanted to go somewhere so badly in my entire life.

Their reasons for this ban are very strange. They claim that the Virgin Mary once was on a ship that blew off course, and when she landed on Mount Athos, she liked it so much that she asked her son to let it be her garden. And so it was decreed, somehow, from on high. (As they say, it’s who you know.) And because of that it became out of bounds for other women.


But these monks really take it to the extreme. They won’t even allow female animals there even though they do a lot of farming, so their eggs and milk must be imported. They do make an exception for female bugs and songbirds, because, let’s face it, that would be a bit difficult to control. But they also make an exception for female cats. I’m guessing that has to do with rodent control. (Come to think of it, what keeps out the female rats? It’s a slippery slope!) Who knows what their rationale is.

So I’m lower on the pecking order than a bug. Nice. I’m that big of a danger to their society. Insane.

A few women have made it to Mount Athos, I’m happy to say. A Serbian Emperor once brought his wife there to protect her from the plague, but she wasn’t allowed to touch the ground the whole time she was in residence. Cooties!

One woman, Maryse Choisy, once disguised herself as a man, and lived there for a month. She then wrote a book about it. Good for her! A Greek beauty queen then followed her example in the 50’s, and it was such a scandal that it was written up in Time magazine.

Three women landed there that same year and caused a big controversy. And there have been various movements to allow women in since then, but none of them have taken hold.

It’s not like they are against modernization under certain circumstances, when it suits them. Some of the monks are now taxi drivers, mechanics, and computer IT techs. But women! Gasp! Can’t have that.

But then, they also insist upon maintaining Byzantine time, which commences at sunset each day. That means that their clocks need to be regularly readjusted because sunset isn’t at the same time every day. Talk about stubborn.

And they’re all about doing what’s right for them, and to hell with everyone else. To avoid WWII, they asked Hitler to place them under his protection, and oddly enough, he agreed. So they referred to him as “High Protector of the Holy Mountain”. And that was while he took over the rest of Greece. Wow.

The reason I’d most like to visit, though, is that these monasteries are the repositories of so much medieval art, codices, relics and icons that even though they are trying to catalogue and restore them, they say it will take decades. Such rich history would be a joy to behold.

Men can visit. But only if they have short hair and are over 18 and get all the proper visas, and are preferably, but not necessarily, members of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  That means even Vladimir Putin got to go, but I can’t. (One assumes he had to keep his feminine side strictly under control.)

If this is what faith has to offer, I’ll stick with logic.

mount athos putin

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My Happy Easter Memory

Since I’m not a kid or a Christian, Easter tends to go by without my taking too much notice these days. Like Halloween, it’s kind of a non-holiday holiday for me. But when I was little, I absolutely loved coloring eggs. (Come to think of it, I’d probably still find that fun. Therapeutic, even. )

My mother would put fuzzy pussy willow sprigs in a vase, and we’d glue pastel ribbons onto the eggs and then hang the eggs from the sprigs, so it would sort of be like a spring Christmas tree, with just as many Pagan connotations. I wish we had taken pictures, but I don’t think there is one anywhere in my boxes of photos. It would have been in black and white anyway, so it would have lost much of its charm. I’ll just have to rely on my memories, as long as they last.

I have another amazing memory that always makes me smile at this time of year. One Easter morning I woke up and there was an Easter basket beside my bed. It was empty, except for a note. It was a little poem, along the lines of “roses are red, violets are blue…” and it gave me a clue as to where to go next. At that location, there was a chocolate egg or something, and another note with another clue sending me off on another tangent.

It was all really exciting. It led me throughout the house and yard, and took me ages to work out. At the end my basket was full of peeps and candy. But the best part about it was that my sister Andrea had done this for me. I recognized her handwriting.

It was clear that she put a great deal of effort into this. She’s 9 years older than me, so she must have been about 16 at the time. That made me feel really, really special. It’s that warm feeling that I remember most whenever I think about that day.

The funny thing about it is that Andrea doesn’t remember it at all. All that work, and all the joy it gave me, and it seems not to have remained in her memory banks. That always surprises me. And it kind of makes me sad, because I’d love to thank her, but when I’ve attempted to do so, I think it stressed her out that the memory is lost.

So these days I just smile to myself, and think, “Violets are blue, red is a rose, go to the place where we dry the clothes.”

Thanks, Andrea. I love you.

egg tree

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Quagmire Lays an Egg

Okay everybody, someone is really trying to mess with my head. Not since the movie “Gaslight” has anyone been as manipulated into questioning his or her sanity as I have been lately.

To bring you up to speed, 10 months ago I wrote The Great Banana Mystery, in which I described the antics of my dog Quagmire, who brought me intact bananas on two consecutive days. Bananas from, seemingly, nowhere.

Then, two months later, I wrote The Plot Thickens, about Quagmire bringing me a slice of watermelon, when I had no watermelon in the house.

Three months after that, I wrote Things Get Fruitier, when Quagmire brought me a peach. Again, no peaches on my grocery list.

Now, five months after the peach, I am at the end of my rope. I went outside for two short minutes to put my trash can at the curb for pick up, and when I came back inside, I found an egg, still in its shell, sitting in the middle of my living room floor. I swear I’m not making this up. I can’t even imagine making something like this up.

After a quick inventory of the eggs in my fridge, I discovered that they were all accounted for. So… what the hell????? What… how… I can’t even form an appropriate question.

I actually hesitated to dispose of it for a minute there. For all I knew, it was set to detonate. Or worse, it might disappear in my hand. I’ve watched too many episodes of The Twilight Zone in my lifetime.

Quagmire also brought me half an apple recently. Fortunately, I soon realized that the little monster had stolen the apple from my backpack and must have taken it outside to munch on before showing it off. And that damned apple had cost me $1.99 a pound.

So this dog has a history of food theft, to say the least. Thank heavens his little legs are too short to get him up on the counter, or lord knows what I’d come home to every day.

But… an egg? I mean… No words…

Yeah, Quagmire looks all innocent…

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The Omelet that is My Life

Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate to cook. If it weren’t for the fact that I love to eat, you’d never see me in the kitchen at all. It’s just not one of my things.

But today I had top quality ingredients in the fridge, and I decided to use them to make a bacon and cheese omelet. I could just picture this fluffy work of art on the plate, a yellow half moon oozing with cheesy goodness and crispy thick bacon. Mmmmm…

But as per usual with me, my imagination is gorgeous, but my execution leaves a lot to be desired. Suffice it to say I wound up with a gelatinous pile of scrambled eggs with cheese and bacon mixed in. Somewhat disappointing. But you know what? It still tasted great, and in the end, that’s all that matters.

As I was eating this “omelet” I realized that it is a metaphor for my life. I have high hopes and high expectations, but in the end things usually wind up to be a bit of a mess. But somehow, unexpectedly, they seem to work. Not exactly according to plan, but still… not bad.

My late boyfriend used to say, “We’ll get it done. It may not be pretty, but it’ll be done.” Yup. That’s about the size of it.

[Image credit: bighipslittlehips.com]
[Image credit: bighipslittlehips.com]

Crossing the Rat Man

It all seemed harmless at first. I came home one day and there was a cauliflower and a note on my front porch. “I had an extra one, and I didn’t want it to go to waste. Hope you like cauliflower. Your backyard neighbor, Jim.”

I thought, “How sweet.” The cauliflower looked to be in pristine condition, still in its original packaging. I took it inside and cooked it up with some cheese sauce. It was delicious.

I didn’t know Jim very well. He was a bit of a character, but seemed harmless enough. He lived in the garage apartment behind my house, and was the handyman and rent collector for the two story apartment building next to it. I must admit that he was my motivation for putting up a privacy fence. Every time I’d go into my back yard there he’d be, sitting in his yard. Never causing trouble or making noise. Not staring at me or anything. Just there. Always there.

After that first gift, something would show up on my porch once or twice a week. Always vegetables. I have to give Jim credit for introducing me to parsnips. We never spoke. I’d wave as he rode past on his bicycle, but he’d never stop. I didn’t think too much of it.

In retrospect, this was an amazing amount of trust to put on a total stranger. But this was 20 years ago, and I liked that feeling of small town neighborliness in the midst of a big city. And heaven knows I could always use more veggies in my diet.

But then things started to get a little weird. The quality of the vegetables seemed to deteriorate over time, so slowly that I didn’t really notice at first. Maybe the packaging would be a little sticky. Then it would be closer and closer to being past the point of edibility. Then I began having to just transfer the stuff directly from the porch to the trash can.

Then one day I came home to a paper plate with three eggs resting on it. And the eggs looked dirty. And this was the first time something wasn’t in its original packaging. “Right, then. This has got to stop.” But what to do? I didn’t want to hurt the guys feelings. He was trying to be nice.

That day my bug spray guy stopped by for his quarterly visit, and I mentioned the situation to him. He also happened to have the account for the apartment building. He said that none of the tenants liked Jim. He gave them the creeps. They didn’t know why, other than the fact that he would say strange stuff. But they were trying to get the landlord to get rid of him.

He also told me that Jim liked to dumpster dive behind the grocery stores. When he said that, I nearly vomited. Had this guy been giving me dumpster produce all along? Oh my God.

I figured I had a few days before his next “delivery”, so I decided to come up with some sort of note. Maybe I’d say my doctor had me on a strict diet, and I therefore couldn’t accept any more of his food. Yeah, I admit it. I’m a wimp.

But before I could even leave the note on my porch, I came home to a carton of ice cream. Obviously it had been sitting there for quite some time, because it had melted out, and I was treated to a huge chocolate puddle all over my welcome mat. That was the last straw. I kicked the mess off the porch, mat and all, went inside, wrote the note and taped it to my door.

The next day I received a letter from Jim. It was a long rambling furious rant telling me that I shouldn’t trust my doctor and that I was ungrateful, and that his food was perfectly healthy, etc. Fortunately I never heard from Jim again. But that’s probably because of what happened next.

A few days later I was watching the news and there was Jim. Turns out the absentee landlord had stopped by and discovered that Jim was hoarding hundreds of rats in cages in his little apartment. Jim told the folks at animal control that he was a scientist and that the rats were his friends, and he was conducting benevolent experiments on them for a scholarly paper that he was writing. He was (and I still can’t believe this) ordered to release the rats into the woods outside of the city.

I may have been hypervigilant after that, but I could swear I saw an increase in rats in the neighborhood. What I never saw again was any trace of Jim or his vegetables, and that was just fine with me.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, as the saying goes.


Parsnips. (Image credit: yumsugar.com)

Ospreys as Analogies

We’ve heard the expressions “stubborn as a mule”, “dogged resistance”, markets that are “bullish” and “bearish”, and I really, REALLY would love an explanation for this one: “happy as a clam”. We often use the qualities of various animals to better describe our world. In the past couple of months, I have come to realize that we ought to use the term “osprey-like determination” as well.

I recently wrote a blog entry about the ospreys that have nested near our bridge, and my coworkers and I have been observing them with much anticipation. There’s nothing quite as exciting as watching nature taking its course.

In one nest, the one in the middle of the creek that’s perched upon a channel marker, the more fortunate pair of ospreys performed admirably. Their mating, nesting, hatching and fledging went off like clockwork, although the smallest of the three chicks took several more days to leave the nest than her more adventurous siblings. Still, life went on for this family and it was a delight to observe.

Ah, but there’s always a neighbor who’s less fortunate, isn’t there? The other nesting pair, against all odds, chose to build their home on top of a traffic light. I have never seen the like of this duo. For months, with a permit to back them up, subcontractors for the Florida Department of Transportation would remove this nest on an almost daily basis, and the birds would rebuild it over and over and over again. Were they perplexed by the constant disappearing act of their nest? Impossible to say. But clearly this was their intended locale, and nothing would dissuade them.

Eventually the subcontractors aborted their mission, much to our satisfaction, and the pair settled in, taking turns keeping their eggs safe and warm. I would observe them every morning through binoculars, and they began to seem like part of the family. I came to realize that we have a lot in common.

For the past few years I have been doing everything I possibly could to move my life forward in some positive way, and it has been an enormous struggle. The odds have been against me as well. Some of my efforts have borne fruit, but even more of them have ended in disaster. Despite some really poor choices, I’ve kept trying and kept trying and kept trying, because, really, what’s the alternative? One can only curl up in the fetal position with the sheets over one’s head for so long.

Sometimes, like my osprey friends, I would sit on my figurative nest day in and day out, resigned to reach my goals in spite of the drudgery or sheer boredom required to achieve them. I cannot think of anything more tedious in nature than sitting on a nest for more than a month as ospreys have to do. That’s the epitome of perseverance.

After all this effort, on my part and on theirs, I wish I had a happy ending. This is, after all, an American tale, and we do love and expect our happy endings, don’t we? Unfortunately, we began to notice that these ospreys would abandon their nest for hours at a time. This was not standard behavior, but we continued to hold out hope for a few weeks, because they never went far, and they always came back eventually. But then one day they simply left, and have only been back for brief moments since then. Clearly something went tragically wrong. Their eggs never hatched, and eventually they realized it was time to give up and move on. The nest still stands, all but abandoned and cold.

These ospreys demonstrate the cruelest of life lessons. Sometimes, as much as we may hate to admit it, it’s time to give up and move on. Ironically, that’s exactly where I am in my life. It’s kind of a mourning process, and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. It does not seem natural. It does not seem fair. But it is what it is.

Like the ospreys, I am now faced with trying to figure out where to go from here. What does one do when nature absolutely refuses to take its course despite all efforts? Where does one go, how does one cope? I feel as if I am in free fall, plummeting toward some very, very hard ground. Will I survive? Will I pull up at the last minute and take flight? Nature isn’t particularly sentimental about these things. Some of us are bound to be road kill. If everyone were a resounding success, then would it really feel like success? There are people at both ends of every bell curve.

God knows I’ve tried. I’m beginning to suspect that it really isn’t up to me. Only time will tell. The ospreys will most likely try again next year. Will I? We’ll see.


(Image credit: westernviews.us)


Battle of the Birds

It seems you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting an osprey nest here in Northeast Florida these days, which I happen to think is a wonderful thing. Just a few short years ago, they were a rare occurrence indeed. From where I sit on the drawbridge where I work, I can see 4 nests. They all seem to be occupied and thriving, but I am worried about one of them.

You see, ospreys couldn’t care less about the agendas of mere humans. They choose a nesting site that appeals to them, gives them a great view of the surrounding landscape and allows for easy access to fishing grounds. Once they have chosen a location, they become very attached to it. The nest in question is perched quite prettily on the traffic light that is on my drawbridge. Normally we would tolerate this sort of thing, provided the traffic light doesn’t get obscured, but this bridge is in the early stages of a much needed rehabilitation, and one of the things that will be replaced is, you guessed it, the traffic lights. This places the Florida Department of Transportation in the unfortunate position of waging war against this pair of ospreys.

Never fear, there has been no foul play in this battle of wits. It’s been strictly by the book. The FDOT has gotten a permit from the US Department of Fish and Wildlife. This permit allows them to disassemble the nest provided there are no eggs present. So for weeks now, FDOT has been taking a cherry picker up the bridge and taking down the nest, only to find it rebuilt by this determined pair of raptors the following day. It must be quite confusing, exhausting and frustrating for these birds. They are, after all, only doing what birds do.

Yesterday the birds accelerated this conflict. I saw them mating in the nest all morning. Surely eggs will not be far behind. I hope that FDOT will continue to play fair, and that my nightmares about some unscrupulous person pitching the eggs into the river will not come to pass. I’m rooting for the birds. Once the eggs are laid, it will be 45 days until they hatch, and then another two months before the babies are ready to fly the coop. If we just give them that little gift of time, nature can take its course and then we can have our traffic light back. It seems like a worthy sacrifice to me.

drawbridge nest

Update 4/10/13: It appears that the birds may have won the war! Apparently someone contacted fish and wildlife and told them they saw the workmen knock an egg on the ground (I’ve seen no evidence of this, and I hope it isn’t true), so now the workmen will no longer touch the nest, and our birds have already constructed quite a beautiful home. Go birds!

A Really Bad Day in the Life of a Bridgetender

1:00 – 5:00 am: Dog periodically wakes up, dry heaving, causing me to periodically wake up. He has gotten into the landlady’s compost heap again.

6:15 am: Alarm goes off. I sit up in a fog. Room spins. I feed dogs, one of whom is predictably not hungry. Let the dogs out, watch them head straight to compost heap. Too tired to protest, I go inside and make oatmeal. Drop can on toe. Break toe. Heavy can of stew, not light can of consommé. But fully awake now.

6:30 am: After weeping in agony, I realize I’m not sure toe is broken. But I am known for breaking foot bones without knowing it, so jury is still out. Tape up toe, put on shoe, hobble around kitchen making breakfast.

6:45 am: Get dressed in extremely unattractive uniform. Have breakfast. Spill hot oatmeal down front of shirt. Put bowl in sink with the mound of dishes already residing there. Change uniform. Muttering, attempt to get dogs back inside. They prefer company of compost heap. Cursing, hobble to far corner of yard, pick both dogs up bodily and carry them toward house. Step in hole created by dog. Fall flat on face in a fresh pile of doggy doo. Now ankle hurts. Same foot. Of course. Round up dogs, hobble into house, take off shoes and nasty uniform, take tape off toe, take shower and tape toe and change uniform again.

7:00 am: Leave house for 15 mile commute in rush hour traffic. Within mile of bridge, discover train parked on tracks. Take 2 mile detour. Cannot, but CANNOT be late! Departing bridgetender cannot leave until I arrive.

7:36 am: Limp up bridge, which has doubled in length overnight. If boat traffic is light, plan to get on internet and job hunt.

7:45 am: Arrive on bridge. Offgoing bridgetender assures me, a trifle too stridently, that all is working fine, just fine. Really. Everything is fine.

8:00 am: Offgoing bridgetender departs.

8:25 am: First bridge opening of the shift. Close gates to traffic. Push button to release locks so span can open. Nothing. Attempt to raise gates to let cars back though. Nothing. Extremely annoying gate alarm bell will not shut off. Call FDOT, shout over alarm bells to explain situation. Calls from everyone and his brother and copious amounts of paperwork ensue.

8:51 am: Workmen arrive on bridge. More paperwork. Attempts to do the exact same thing I’ve informed them I’ve already done come to no avail. Alarm still clanging away. Pedestrian knocks on door and suggests that we raise the gates so cars can come through. Slowly counting to ten in my mind, I politely explain that we would love to, but can’t. Pedestrian leaves.

9:15 am: Gates are manually raised, but traffic light will not turn to green. I stand on the sidewalk and flag traffic through with mixed results, and am treated to much cursing and rude gesticulations.

9:34 am: Gate alarms are turned off. Hallelujah. Small sense of sanity returns.

9:34 am to 11:30 am. Hobble around on sidewalk, trying to stay out from under foot as much head scratching by the workmen occurs.

11:30 am: Discover I’ve gotten a sunburn. Go back inside. To hell with being out from under foot.

11:30 am to 12:11 pm: As experts come and go and various people call for status updates, and each visit and call is logged in two places, I long for the day of job hunting that I had envisioned.

12:11 pm: Bridge fixed. Every boat on Eastern Seaboard now wants an opening.

12:37 pm: Workmen leave bridge. Between openings I use the bathroom and realize I’ve forgotten my lunch. Can’t leave the bridge.

2:15 pm: Driver pelts tenderhouse with eggs. Wishing he’d given me the eggs to eat instead, I attempt to wash windows with inadequate supplies.

3:00 pm: I am scheduled to mop floors, but think to myself, “Screw it,” and read a book instead.

3:45 pm: Relief bridgetender arrives. I inform her of my day. She is very critical of the way I did my job, especially in terms of cleaning tenderhouse. I count to ten once again. Then I assure her, a trifle too stridently, that all is working fine now, just fine. Really. Everything is fine.

4:00 pm: I limp back off the bridge to discover someone has let the air out of one of my tires. I call AAA.

5:20 pm: AAA arrives and confirms my suspicions and puts air in tire. I head home. I remember that I planned to make tuna casserole, but think to myself, “Screw it,” and go through the Popeye’s Chicken drive through instead.

5:45 pm: I remember I have to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, and while there I get pain medication for foot.

6:10 pm: I arrive home late, and predictably there is poop-henge on the carpet, fallen pillars and all. Oh, and vomit. I let dogs out. They head straight for compost heap, and I scream, “NO!!!!” Sensing I’m on the ragged edge, they do an abrupt u-turn.

6:20 pm: Carpet cleaned and dogs fed, I eat my now cold chicken and fall into a deep coma-like state until the dogs wake me up at 8:00 pm needing to go out.

8:00 pm: Dogs head for compost heap. I scream, “NO!!!!” and they do an abrupt u-turn yet again as neighbor gives me the hairy eyeball. He has no idea the level of my self-restraint. Ushering the dogs inside, I barely miss the hole that I tripped in this morning.

8:20 pm: I treat my sunburn, take a pain pill, decide that toe is only sprained, not broken, put the can of stew on the lowest shelf in the pantry, give sink full of dirty dishes a passing glance, realize I’m out of uniforms for the next day thanks to the oatmeal and the dog poo, put in a load of laundry, and fall into a deep sleep full of frustration dreams.

10:00 pm: Dog wakes me up with his snoring. Being a dog is hard work. I put the wash in the dryer, then climb back into bed, pull dog close and fall back to sleep.