Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring planting and someone's turning 3!

We did in fact do our main spring planting this past weekend - kale, spinach, lettuce, chard, beets, sugar snap peas, hull peas and snow peas are all in the ground.  And they are currently being snowed upon!  It is now officially spring and the ground is white and snow still coming down. It's to be in the 60's by the weekend so we'll hope for good germination. Time will tell!  But the weekend felt like the promise of things to come. And I even got outside to join in the fun for a few hours on Saturday, thanks to a friend taking the girls on a little birthday outing.

Here's what it looks like outside today - two days after we were busy putting seeds in the ground!

In the meantime, the excitement in this house is palpable.  There is one and only one link left on Alida's birthday chain and she is excited!!! The little pile of presents building up in the dining room is tantalizing but she is actually displaying more patience than I might have expected. I've been the one to initiate an occasional present interlude, as I can imagine it being a little overwhelming to open them all at one time. The most fun to date has been had by opening envelopes that have arrived in the mail. Yesterday there were 3 pieces of mail ALL for Alida and all a little heavier than your average envelope.  Thanks grandparents!!

In the video below she is opening the first of three.  Yes, our daughter is a little obsessed with money, which might concern me if it wasn't so absolutely adorable and if she wasn't also completely generous and unattached to it - she tries to give it away to me sometimes, which I try to accept even if it feels odd for my daughter to give me money (at this stage in life anyway).  She is very excited for our next trip to the Friendly City Food Co-op since her little purse is getting quite heavy!  Last night she was going to buy 4 more boxes of mac and cheese and then she upped it to something like 20 boxes.  So hopefully a few more envelopes with three 1 dollar bills are on the way!  She is currently chomping on some YumEarth Organics gummybears which she opened, expressed complete enthusiasm about and then said, "what are they?"  Is it so about the process for her and we are enjoying watching her!

One final sweet note: a few days ago the girls showed up at our side door with a small bouquet of daffodils.  They were coming up for a vase for them.  They had three little yellow flowers that they had picked from Nora's garden...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Chicks in three weeks...and another snowstorm!

For the first time ever, I got my full work day in here at home.  I was able to work 9 hours (a very productive 9 hours I must say) in my pajamas, in our recliner, tucked under a blanket, looking out our big picture window.  Not complaining!  I even got in some games of mastermind, reading stories with Alida, and some other family breaks - ending the day with a snow walk down the lane and a delicious crockpot dinner made by Jason.  I felt bad for the cardinal I spotted at the bird feeder in search of food - it's been on our to do list to take the feeder down since we went through our 50 lb bag of sunflower seeds (our allotment for the year).

As you might be able to tell, I'm trying to see all the positives in the most recent dumping of snow! It really is pretty, but it is St. Patrick's Day and there is not much green visible outside. This year more than any previous one, Jason and I planned out our big gardening weekends ahead of time. This coming weekend is dubbed the big "spring planting" one.  Hmmm, that is seeming doubtful! Tomorrow was to be ground preparation for peas, but we can't get to the ground to do anything with it.  So we'll see if peas, kale, spinach, lettuce, chard, cilantro, etc... get in the ground around the first day of spring. Right now my vote is for us needing to adjust our schedule.  For now we are focusing on what we can do inside.  As of today we've got our sweet potatoes started and more wheat grass sown and are tending to the little seedlings poking out of the ground (the first peppers have emerged!).  There is much to be grateful for, including the snow which Alida has reminded us repeatedly that she is NOT tired of!  Kali, of all people, was heating water to pour on the snow to melt it...

We enjoyed a fun weekend in D.C. with the snow starting when we were about an hour from home. The previous day Kali was walking around the city in short sleeves with a sun hat.  We took in the Museum of Natural History, the American Indian Museum, the United States Botanic Garden, and the Hirshhorn Art Museum, and Alida would like me to add that she and Kali road the carousel on the mall on our way back to our car to head home.  We were hosted royally by Jason's aunt and uncle and I enjoyed crashing on their couch both evenings, falling asleep to the sound of fun all around me and no responsibilities to think about.  Jason and I are both disoriented and quickly exhausted by time in the city, so going in with folks who knew their way around was super helpful - but we were still quite ready for Keezletown!  It felt so very good to be home, and I didn't even feel annoyed when I heard Cookie Dough and Oreo bleating as we unloaded the car - and that is definitely unusual!

So here we are, with 8 plus inches of new snow and eggs freshly placed in the incubator today.  So the hope of baby chicks set to arrive 3 weeks  from today is in the air.  Alida was running around peeping and talking about how she is going to catch and hold one.  Could be an interesting time brooding them indoors this year...

Friday, March 14, 2014

Three yellow flowers and other random tidbits!

It might be a wiser use of time to be folding laundry, getting our supper packed and getting a shower so we can all be ready to head to D.C. for a weekend of galavanting around with a bunch of family folks we are meeting up with there.  But Alida is just "coming to" from her nap and enjoying a little mama milk pick-me-up so I'll see if I can get a few things noted here that may be of interest.

Most importantly, spring is coming (despite more snow in the forecast).  The other day I noticed that the spot where we normally see the first bunch of 3 yellow flowers was mulched last fall and just one had made it through. I was a little sad to know we had probably contributed to the clump not making it through as easily. Tuesday I was spreading chipped up mulch on garden paths and look what I found!  I passed it over and over with my loads of mulch and felt grateful to the memories of our time with Nora that those little flowers always evoke!  There is green poking up in Nora's garden too and here is the first blooming flower (love that it is purple and orange).  We thought about Nora a lot last night too as Jason and I enjoyed a date night at Court Square Theater enjoying a Valley Playhouse production of Steel Magnolias.  If you are a local and can get to it, do it!  I laughed a lot and did a fair share of crying too!

For the rest of these, I'll just make comments on the pictures...

Someone is enjoying her birthday chain immensely - as the chain shortens the excitement builds!
All our windowsills are full of seeds sprouting - so exciting!!  
Here is the aforementioned stove.  I'm getting used to it...
Jason has been eager to plant these posts for years!
It's happening!  I need to get another picture now as the grape and kiwi trellises are almost complete and they look great!!
Despite the fact that it seems there is a bit more contention between these two, there are also lots of harmonious moments.  We've loved having a few nice days to all be outside playing and working together!
Jason got the wire installed on the kitchen garden trellises.  We are getting ready for the season!
Yes, this is a LARGE squash!  The chickens ended up getting a little bit of it as I had let it go just a hair too long. They were not disappointed to get a share of it...
The rest made a delicious creamed Hubbard squash soup with onions and garlic sauteed in coconut oil and then cooked in chicken broth. Yum!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stove shopping is not for the faint of heart

The rain chased Jason in for a second blog entry of the week. Warning: it's long!

Ok, so this shouldn't be so hard, right?  Here in the land of the sacred consumer, purchasing a stove should not be a complicated experience.  Don't get me wrong...it's easy enough to say "I want that one, please, as soon as you can get it to me!" and hand them your credit card.  It's getting to that point that has proven challenging.

Perhaps if I start at the beginning this will be less confusing.  When we first built the kitchen in our home, we decided that we'd prefer electricity-fueled cooking, since we were both nervous about gas in the house, had only ever used electric before, and the installation was something I could do on my own, saving us some cash.  But of course I couldn't make the stove itself, so as is our bent we did some diligent research before making that major purchase.  Not knowing what else to do, we borrowed Janelle's parents' access to Consumer Reports reviews and went from there.  They surprised me by recommending that the best value for the money was a relatively inexpensive coil-top model, and recommended a few other features such as enclosed baking element and self-cleaning oven, but nothing fancy.  Janelle's parents had also generously offered to buy the stove for us, and we were happy to report the news when we found a Kenmore at the Sears in town that seemed to fit the bill for $500.

We then proceeded to use it pretty durn-spankin' hard for the following 5 years or so.  As I recall, at that time one or two of the burners we used the most seemed to be flagging.  We purchased replacement elements, I think.  But something still didn't seem right, and soon those burners began making little buzzing or pinging or snapping noises occasionally, then consistently.  Then one day Janelle was using the "Simmer Select" feature and without warning (other than what I just mentioned) the stove made a very loud "BANG!" and promptly shut off.  It didn't take long to figure out that the breaker had tripped, and an inspection of the burner coil revealed evidence of an intense electrical event:  welded metal of a few kinds, charred plastic surrounds, etc.  We didn't use that burner anymore, but were unsure what else to do.  I think the warranty had just run out.  Time flies, of course, so to us the stove still seemed new, and it was hard to believe it could be fizzling out already.

I suppose we could have called a repairperson, but then we might never understand the problem...just pay to have it fixed (not necessarily solved...key distinction).  Also, we happened to have just blundered into an even better option, as a bright young electrical engineer had just joined our family in the form of my sister's brand new husband!  Together we discussed things and decided that probably the long run of wire between the electric panel and the stove ought not to be causing this kind of malfunction; that there was not a basic functional problem with the setup but that rather we had probably just worn out the burners or the plug-in blocks or both, and the resulting arcing had allowed for a short over time.  I called and priced out the replacement parts needed, including replacing all the plug blocks, and the rusted-out splash pans and the big pan below that, which amounted to around $200.  Cheaper than replacing the stove, so we bought in.

It is now a little over a year later, and we have "burned" our way through three of the four burners again.  The buzzing and arcing is present in all but one little back burner, which itself doesn't work on the 'high' setting.  We are, for all practical purposes, down to cooking on a hot plate in our main kitchen.  Fortunately, there is the tired little stove in the old kitchen that is bridging us through, but it has its own set of problems.

Both of us entirely lacked motivation for fixing this Kenmore again.  Maybe we're just abusive cooks (certainly I know we cook way more food than the average family) but clearly there is a mismatch here.  We need something more durable.

So one day after checking with a multi-meter for voltage drop problems at the plug and coming up empty, I went looking.  I started my search at Ferguson enterprises in Harrisonburg, where I poured out my tale of woe.  The salesperson was, I think, not used to my kind of customer (they seemed to mostly have pretty swanky stuff in their showroom, and I was pretty scruffy and dressed like a scarecrow), but she was cordial and sympathetic, and began the refrain I was to hear all afternoon:  You guys need gas.  I thought she was going to say that.  Shoot.  Should have done that in the first place, probably.  But just in case I had her price out a few likely-looking models in coil-top electric (I was pretty convinced this was a bad idea), glass top electric, and gas stoves.  Also, I had heard that gas is more efficient for stove top and electric is better for ovens and that there are some units that are made to use both that way, which turned out to be true, so she priced out a few different "dual-fuel" ranges, of which there was none under $2000.  The one I was most tempted by was the Frigidaire 40 inch "Professional" dual-fuel for $2500.  If we removed the small cabinet to the left of our stove, we'd have a 40 inch space available, centered better under our range hood, and then we'd have five burners, including one little simmering burner, the burner controls are front and center on the range surface itself and there are actually two ovens:  a smallish but relatively normal electric convection oven on the right and teeny little bread oven on the left with separate controls.  This seemed to offer the features we would most enjoy, in a size that happened to fit our unusual space at a price that blew me out of the water!  In a bad way.

Home Depot: same story, less swanky.  One tidbit:  the lady there told me that really you shouldn't use the 'high' setting on an electric stove top.  I'll accept this as fact, and declare it the most idiotic design flaw I can think to plan into a consumer product.  Unless, of course, your goal is not so much to create a durable product as to sell another one to the same person as soon as possible...

At Lowes the guy was very helpful.  Another tidbit:  he stated categorically that you shouldn't use a full canner on a glass top electric stove.  The weight combined with the heat might very well crack the glass.  If it doesn't at first, he said, it eventually probably will.  Good to know, and also highly annoying.  He also recommended gas, and directed me to a nice Whirlpool that was made for a 30 inch opening (standard...like we already have), had cast iron pot supports that touched in the middle to make a solid plane over the whole surface (for sliding pots around), had good variability of burner output, would look good in our space, and cost $800.  I had, to paraphrase Allison Krauss, a new favorite.  He could also order in the Frigidaire if we wanted that, but neither he nor the Ferguson lady nor I am any big fans of Frigidaire (though their reputation is ironically not as bad for stoves as for fridges).

Upon returning home my wallet was still just as full, but I felt spent.  In the intervening weeks we've researched and discussed and considered sporadically, we've talked with folks we know who cook with gas to hear their experiences, and I've made calls and visits to local propane outfits and learned that we can expect to spend at least $500 to get started with propane for a stove, but that eventually it would probably pay off, especially if we go with two 100 lb. tanks and are willing to drag them in to town ourselves to get them filled.  The propane is apparently even way cheaper if you get a large tank placed and they come and fill it in bulk, but for them to run out with a delivery truck with little replacement tanks is pricier.

All told, we had the hunch that we were moving in a gas kind of direction.  Easier on the carbon footprint, more durable...seemed like the better fit.  And with our experiences with the Kenmore, we were not convinced that electric cooking was any safer.  Not that we feel totally at ease with either choice, but of the options readily available, it seemed the likeliest.  With that in mind, Janelle and I decided to spend one of our precious "date nights" (when my sister and the aforementioned husband take the kids for the evening) on a trip to Lowe's to make a final decision and get this off our "to do" list.

We spent about two hours there, talking to the same guy who had helped me a few weeks back.  Janelle agreed with my assessment of the snappy Whirlpool gas stove, but was tripped up a bit by those front-mounted burner knobs...little eyes can see them, little fingers can reach them.  It had an electronic control lock, but that's as much an indication of a problem as it is a solution.  We quickly ruled out pretty much everything else on the sales floor, so the guy jumped online to help us look more in-depth at the 40 inch Frigidaire and any other dual-fuel options he might come up with.  A few things were comforting about this episode of the search: 1)  Janelle, like me, was also strongly attracted to the Frigidaire, in theory, if one ignored the price  2)  The Lowe's guy who does this for a living was unable to come up with any option I hadn't already found online  3)  Janelle and I never feel more like two of a kind than in that sort of setting  4) Confirmed that our place is not within consumer culture.

We were pretty close to trying to make a final decision between two dual-fuel stoves:  one 30 inch Bosch and the 40 inch Frigidaire.  But we couldn't quite get ourselves over that last hump.  Something about not being able to open the door with my actual hand and look inside, maybe?  No organized or reliable reviews of the products at our fingertips?  Hating to spend over $2000 on a kitchen stove?  Too little actual knowledge of the options and what they would mean for us?  We were hung up.  Suddenly Janelle had an inspiration.  It is the same inspiration she usually has in these situations, and it usually works which is why she keeps having it:  She should call and talk it over with her parents!  I kept the sales guy busy with some more peculiar, specific, and nerdy questions about stove/oven performance and features while she snuck off and placed the call.

Her parents graciously paused their movie and listened to the story, asking wise and helpful questions now and again.  This is just what my extrovert-processor wife needed to gain access to her second inspiration, and once it had hit her, she says, she just pretty much knew that this is what we would probably do, and she was able to let them get back to their movie.  When she presented it to me, I also knew almost right away that this was right, whether I liked it or not.  We approached the sales guy with our decision, which was to buy the cheapest, most basic coil-top electric stove in the entire store.

Didn't see that coming, did you?

So why did we do this?  Besides the fact that our kitchen is already set up for this unit (so this will be a plug-and-play event) and we already know how to cook this way, we have a decent excuse for this "punt":  We've been wanting to replace the cheapo in the old kitchen sometime anyway.  So this buys us some time, and when we've made a decision about what we want to do in the long run, we'll relegate this new stove to secondary cooking projects in the back room.

It is far from a satisfactory choice, and once again we have, through this process, been reminded of the frustrating reality that none of the available choices in this consumer society seems well-suited to our particular needs.  Despite our modest income, we'd be willing to drop the heavier chunk of change for an option we could have confidence in.  I want to scream and holler sometimes to the manufacturers of these items, "IT'S NOT ABOUT THE FEATURES!"  It's about knowing that the product will work efficiently, effectively, and reliably FOR US, for a long, long time.  Once we have met that basic standard, we can have a conversation about features, and about price.  "Honestly," the guy at Lowe's said, "none of the electric stoves in here can be expected to last more than about 6 or 8 years without a repair that's going to cost at least half of the purchase price."
That makes my eyes bug out.  Are you kidding me?  I've seen electric stoves from the 60s that are still going strong!  Have we learned nothing in five decades?  And that's when I remember:  Yes, the marketers and manufacturers have learned plenty about just where the balance point is between making something well enough that people will not be too disappointed in it too early and poorly enough that they'll need to buy another one soon.  And they've learned that for most people, features are what sell the product.  And if replacement parts are expensive, all the better so that fixing it doesn't seem quite worthwhile and they'll show up on the sales floor again 'just to check out the options before sinking more money into the old one.'

Well, pardon the pun but I don't buy it.  I am a disaffected, disgruntled consumer.  Not of a particular brand, but of the whole damned business, and I do not use that word flippantly.  I do believe it is a damned way to make a living in that it is against sound ethics and it is destined for destruction in the end.  It is foolishness.  And I want out.

So that's the direction we want to head, really.  Out.  We want to cook our vittles with integrity, just like we want to grow them.  None of the prevailing options really suits us at all.  Even if we do buy and install a gas stove, we'll do so taking the long view that it is one step on the ladder out of this pit of dependency and complicity, and any next choice we make will be evaluated not just on whether we like it better or it makes nicer food, or it's marginally safer or more efficient or whatever, but on whether it gets us closer to establishing a more resilient and sustainable home economic system.

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?  But what does that mean, really, for the way we cook our food?  Will we move, as some have, to cooking outdoors much of the year over "rocket" stoves made of metal pipe and fueled by little chunks of wood?  Will we install an indoor wood cookstove?  Masonry heater with incorporated rocket burners?  Outdoor pizza oven?  Solar oven?  Raw, dried, or fermented only?  State-of the art induction range?  Pedal-powered microwave?  Tinfoil dinners in the woodstove coals?  Restaurant-grade propane unit from an auction?  Biogas burner?  Biochar secondary burn?  Three rocks and a few dried cow patties?  We'll consider anything.  Ideas, links, and responses are welcome!

So, no, it shouldn't be this hard.  For most people, it isn't.  Nothing would be easier than accepting the status quo and blithely spending on ephemera with features.  But we seem to be ruined for that system, and more alienated from it all the time.  It's dawning on us that we are so marginal to our society that nobody's even bothering to market to us anymore.  So for us it's hard to buy things, and sometimes that's exhausting.  But for the sake of our children's children...bring it on.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Birthday month!

Alida is more than excited to have a birthday later this month!  She has picked out her clothes for her birthday multiple times.  She is beside herself with enthusiasm for the doll cake she is making with Grandma for her birthday - the colors of icing keep changing, but it will definitely be colors.  She is hoping to make a birthday chain today, which I think will help all of us communicate to her the amount of time remaining until that special, long awaited day!  I can't get her to tell me anything she wants for presents, as she always just states things she already has or that she wants two stuffed dogs (that is because her big sister has them so I need to navigate that request rather carefully since her big sister is not always enthusiastic about Alida's interest in following in her footsteps - maybe Kali would like to get them for her so she has some say in what they look like?!).  It's fun to see her excitement not be dominated by her hopes for new "stuff."  I think she is eager for the fun of a birthday celebration with the people she loves most - how fitting that it falls on a Tangly Woods night and that one set of grandparents will be in town!

It doesn't look like egg hatching will coincide exactly with Alida's birthday but her birthday will likely kick off the season of celebrating new life springing forth all around us!  Jason is collecting hatching eggs for multiple breeding projects, and the most exciting news is that after a long hiatus, Kali's ducks have started laying again.  They have also gotten over their intense fear of their new plastic nest box and one of them even dared to lay her egg in it today.  Kali takes after her father in her passion for breeding her feathered friends, and she also has some very specific ideas of the combination she is looking for.  So I don't think the right duck has started laying yet, the one she hopes to hatch offspring from.  But there are hopeful signs that she might be able to raise some ducklings this year after all.

It's hard not to feel excited for spring when our windowsills start being jammed packed with seed starts.  We've got onions, shallots, cilantro, parsley, and wheat grass (and whatever else Jason planted that I don't know about) sprouting.  It looks like we are going to need to restrain ourselves for awhile longer before moving anything outdoors as yet another winter storm is on its way bringing snow and subzero temperatures.  It seems fitting that Jason has spent the last few days restocking our woodshed.  It's not time to pack away the fire gate and clean the woodstove up, that's for sure!

Jason's been having a lot of fun spending time up in the garage filling seed "orders" for friends who are happy to use some of the extra Jason has stored up.  There is no way we can plant all that he has saved and so it is very satisfying to share from our abundance and contribute to more of it being used for its intended purposes!

We are also excited to have our first ripe lemon on our lemon tree (thanks, Anna and Mark!) and some other starting to turn.  We are trying to decide what is the most special way we could use our very first lemon!  Suggestions?

Well, I must be on vacation to get two blog posts up in two days.  I don't expect it will continue, but it is nice to know that what doesn't get done today can easily be pushed off to tomorrow.  So the coming week will be another staycation, with a little family jaunt to Staunton for one day.  I've got more ideas than I'll need to fill the space this time out of the office will provide, and am looking forward to soaking up some extra time with the girls and Jason.  I know that one of the things I must do is go through Alida's clothes and weed out all the 2T (and probably most of the 3T) clothing. She's not letting up on growth yet!  She's also enjoying hanging out with all the kids we have enjoying having in our home this past month with the Keezletown potlucks. The picture here was one very sweet (and about the only calm) moment at our last potluck of the month.

Jason plays with his new rooster

Yesterday, Kali and I trekked across the hill to our neighbors' home to inspect their roosters.  Coming from 99.958 % of the population of this country, the above sentence would certainly be attributed to AutoCorrect.  Coming from me, there is no real surprise here.

The cockerels in question are the offspring of some of my own chickens...one of last summer's matings in the Shenandoah project.  I hadn't seen these chickens since last July when they were eggs, I believe, or at least since they were very small.  They are not small anymore.  The pullets have just begun to lay green-tinted eggs and the cockerels are large, vigorous, strong, alert birds with good evasion instincts and quick reactions.

I know this because I had to catch them.  In order to select a good breeder, there is no substitute for getting your hands on the bird.  In this case, easier said than done!  This is actually a good thing for this line of chickens, since I'm targeting them to an open-country free-range niche--these birds must be able to sense danger and avoid it.  They sensed me as danger immediately and avoid me they did.  The moment I began closing in on them they knew exactly what was going on and bolted for cover.  Lacking cover, they chose the next best option which was to keep moving, bouncing off of every surface of their coop, including the full-height ceiling.  Who'd have thought an eight pound cockerel could do that?  When I did get my hands on any of them, they proved very strong and much slipperier than such an angular creature seems like it ought to be.

In the end, I was victorious, and went home happy with my new breeding male.  He has white feet (a minus...I'd have preferred yellow or green) but his feather color is a nice assemblage of golds, reds and browns, he has a neat enough comb, a massive appearance with a high, black tail--the feathers edged in gold, and most impressively of all, his frame is deep and broad and long, with substantial meat on those rangy bones.  He is perky and athletic; your average hawk is going to have to think twice before making an attempt at this guy!

Upon returning home I had planned to weigh him before releasing him into the coop with the hens I want to breed him to, but a few seconds after I had done so, I realized I'd forgotten that step.  No matter, I thought, I'll just pop up to the shed for the scale, then come back and nab him again for weighing.

Did I mention this guy was fast, strong, and oddly slippery?  Quicker than I could perceive the motions, he had eluded my grasp and squirted out the door beside my leg.  The next thing I did was something I've never done before in my memory:  I accidentally and spontaneously uttered the expletive that crassly describes what I would have had to dive onto if I had been quick enough in my reactions to have any chance at preventing this avian athlete's escape.  I did this because I knew what was coming.  I knew what the next half hour or so of my life was going to be like, because I've chased and caught many chickens, and none have put up more of a challenge than this guy had earlier, plus he didn't know me from a chimpanzee and was expressly not oriented to our farm as his home.  That's three strikes, and I was, I knew, "out" of luck.

I looked up for a moment from my position on all fours on the manure-spangled turf and watched as my new prize rooster jogged briskly off across the yard.  I took a breath, arose, and gave chase.

It surely would have been excellent entertainment to watch the out-of-shape pony-tail guy sprinting around his yard trying to corner the wily brown rooster...against the house, the garden fence, in a brush pile, I tried it all.  I even tried opening the garage door and cleverly slipping the wireless door closer in my coat pocket so that I could chase him into the garage and then smugly stand there and push the magic button.  No luck.  This guy wouldn't let me within twenty feet of him, unless he was making a break for it, and he could sense when he was being cornered way before any chicken I've ever chased.  I pursued him all the way around our house at least once, and I have no idea how many times we crisscrossed our six-acre homestead:  through the garlic patch, across the potato and onion patch, around the garden a few times...it was beginning to feel hopeless; I thought I had perhaps met my match.  One time I thought I had lost him when he disappeared into the autumn olive thicket.  I walked out into the open, thinking I'd just have to wait and see what would happen when I saw him slinking (slinking!) over into our neighbor's yard.  Did I mention this guy is smart? 'Ah,' I thought, 'but I am smarter!,' as I remembered that I own a fish landing net!

At first it seemed that it wouldn't help much, as he wouldn't let me close enough even for that.  But I had a hunch that if I could chase him into the nook between the in-law quarters and our main house, perhaps he could be forced to take to the air to escape, in which situation his ability to change course quickly would be compromised and I might swipe the net over him and be done with this circus.  To my delight, I managed to chase him into the perfect position; for once he didn't sense the trap from a distance of forty feet and dash for the gap with that ground-covering stride of his.  I raised the net and slowly advanced.  Suddenly he put the situation together and launched into the air, flying fast and aiming for escape through the ten-foot gap between my right shoulder and our side porch post.  This was the moment of truth:  all those hours of honing my eye-hand coordination and snap judgment at the ping-pong table were either going to pay off or not.  In one languageless instant I lunged into the empty space.  Almost in slow motion, and mostly in my peripheral vision, I saw the flapping rooster shooting through the air and the net rising to meet his trajectory perfectly; felt the pole jerk with the heft of the bird slamming into the nylon mesh bag; felt the first blush of relief begin to relax my sweat-beaded brow.

And then the net broke.

Onlookers would have observed a stunned pony-tail guy holding a useless aluminum net handle while a large, panting, befuddled rooster kicked his way out of a decapitated fish net and loped off down the hill.

For her part, Janelle joined this story by glancing out from the living room through the door glass just in time to see me lunge through the field of view, then disappear.  Understandably, she came to the door to inquire as to what was going on.  I think I said something intelligent like, "The net broke.  I had him, but he got away.  The rooster."  This didn't help much.  She didn't yet know about the rooster, you see, much less the net.  Her best theory up to that point to explain the behavior she had observed through the window had been that I was, for some reason, taking the goats for some kind of walk.  It's an interesting life, folks, that we live here at Tangly Woods.  That it would have even occurred to her to think I might be lunging around behind the goats in the middle of a Friday afternoon is, I think, indicative.

Gratefully, I accepted her offer of help in rounding up the recalcitrant rooster.  In the end, I think he just wore out before I did.  Flying is, truthfully, a hard thing for a chicken to do.  With Janelle blocking his escape route (fortunately he didn't realize that if he had run towards Janelle she probably would have turned on her heels and fled) I was able to pin him against the wire mesh of the garden fence, and it was over.  I sat, slumped, on the ground by the fence while he and I both caught our breath for a few minutes.  I knew I was ready to get up and move on with my day when I started laughing.

Before returning him safely to his coop, I did (you better believe it) weigh him.  7 pounds 12 ounces.  At seven months old.  He's going to be a big chicken, all right.  I look forward to seeing and handling his offspring (if I can catch them) next winter.