Take-your-chicken-to-work day

So, I’m heading down the road to feed the donkeys. (Yes, I live on an 8-acre farm, but the donkeys live 10 minutes away, on another farm, in one of the many perplexities of my current life.)

From the backseat, I hear a rustling.

I keep driving.

On any given day, my vehicle is a stunt-double for the pickup Lamont drove on “Sanford and Son,” so there’s always trash congealing , grass growing through the carpet, or year-old French fries mutating into another life form. This can get noisy sometimes.

In another half mile, I hear movement again

All right. One of the kids decided to come along, and slipped into the backseat without me knowing. I turn around to let them know I’m in on the joke.

There, perched on the back seat, is a chicken.

She sits calmly, expectantly, and looks me boldly in the eye, like Jessica Tandy with feathers.

Hoke, I need to be at the beauty parlor in half an hour!

Hoke, could you please drive a little slower?

Hoke, eat more cattle!

It was take-your-chicken-to-work day, and I didn’t know it. chickpic

I slowed down, and started looking for a place that I could turn around,  drive home and deposit Miss Maizey in the driveway where she belonged.  Then I realized, with great alarm, that a large man in a small car had pulled over next to me.

I rolled down my window.  He smiled benevolently.

“Yes?” I said. “Can I help you?”

“You looked like you were lost and needed directions.”

“No,” I said. “I’m not lost. There’s just a chicken in my back seat.”

And with that, I turned around and took the hen home, more interested in keeping the back seat free of chicken manure than in seeing this kind man’s response.

I realized immediately, of course, what had happened.   Earlier, I had loaded a bale of hay in the back of the Jeep, and left the hatch open for a few minutes.  My passenger, showing extraordinary chutzpah for a chicken, had climbed in.  The back seat of my car is a good place for a chicken. Warm. Plenty of crumbs.

So  Meals on Wheels, the Donkey Edition, hit the road again.  Just another day in the life. No harm, no fowl.

Never own a chicken with better hair than you (and other farm lessons)

There’s a great video on the web called “The Hazards of Backyard Hens.”  It explains how chickens are a gateway livestock.

First, you get a few hens for the fresh eggs. Then you decide you need fresh feta, requiring a goat or two or four, then “one day, on your way home from work, you’ll stop and pick yourself up a cow.”

We can vouch for that, after more than a year of life on the Maxwell-Thompson Family Farm, home to goats, pigs, ducks,  the occasional cow, and more chickens than we can count.  (Thus, also the occasional coyote.)

Several of the chickens have better hair than I do, which can be tough on the ego some mornings.  Who knew that chickens can have ‘fros?puffjunk 001


And that backyard chickens mean Easter eggs all year long, no dye required?jan2016 024

We’ve learned other things.

The best garbage disposals aren’t in your sink. They’re pigs.

Footprints in the snow are much more interesting on a farm than in a city.jan2016 006

You can have roosters, or you can have friendly neighbors. Not both.

The best gift tags come from the feed store, not Hallmark.

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Goats stink.  Literally. Which may be why there’s no video called “The Hazards of Backyard Goats.”

But they make adorable babies.

No Valentine’s Day delivery this year, but it’s twins!  Four hours old, below. Two more moms yet to deliver.

goatbabes 021

Valentine for a best friend

snowheart 005

The thing I wish most for my children – besides health – is a best friend.

Fewer adults have one these days, even though they make us happier and healthier. A few years ago, this piece in The New York Times even dared to posit that having a best friend is unhealthy for children.


Mine, outside of my family, is the truest thing in my life.

She is not a rock, but a boulder I throw myself on when I need love, assurance and support.  She is a gift I didn’t seek and don’t deserve, the Charlotte to my Wilbur.

She’s the one who shows up when everyone else walks out. The one who always buys or makes just the right gift because she makes the effort to know my wants and needs. The one I call when I’m bawling because I know I’ll be smiling when we hang up.

She’s the person who says, “I think it makes perfect sense to trailer two donkeys from Boston to South Carolina” – not because it does, but because she knows that’s what I need to hear.

She’s the person who says, five months later, “I think it makes perfect sense to trailer two donkeys from Charleston to Pittsburgh.”*

She’s the only person I know who could find a donkey cookie cutter. jan2016 001

She, I should mention, has no affinity for donkeys, but knows that that I do.

She is a Democrat. I am not. This never matters, something I wrote about here.

Not that we haven’t had our troubles.

Once, we had a savage falling-out and didn’t speak for months. It took a while, but we fixed it.

There are no visible scars.

Love heals what honey won’t.

This is my Valentine for my friend, Diane.

I wish a best friend for you, too.

If you don’t have one, find one. If you can’t find one, be one.

If you used to have one, and the two of you burst asunder, find a way to fix it.

Can you imagine, no love, pride, deep fried chicken,

Your best friend always sticking up for you,

Even when I know you’re wrong?

If you can, you’re blessed.

*  Confirmation bias notwithstanding, the donkeys love Pittsburgh. They really do.




For that most despicable of holidays, here are 7 of the happiest singles

In honor of the holiday weekend (you know I mean Singles Awareness Day, right?), here are seven outstanding role models for singles:  people (and the occasional rabbit) who demonstrate that the recipe of the good life does not call for wildly overpriced cards written by strangers for strangers, and boxes of poor quality milk chocolate.

Jean Valjean.  All the passion, none of the neediness, of that simpering Mario fellow. les-miserables-poster-hugh-jackman

The farmer in Eric Carle’s classic “Dream Snow.” A cup of peppermint tea, bread with honey, a barn of animals, not thou.

Pope Francis. Contagium of joy.

52 Hertz.   The famous solitary whale, wrongly dubbed “The Loneliest Whale in the World” by people who view the world through the dark lens of tragedy.  (Am I the only person who thinks the whale may sing because he’s happy?)

Jane Austen: devoted to family, married to work, intelligent and adorably acidic. (Quote: “I was as civil to them as their bad breath would allow.”

the-country-bunny-imageMother Cottontail in the second best* children’s book ever, “The Country Bunny.” Where was the father of those 21 well-behaved baby bunnies? She, while outrunning the long-legged jacks to become the fifth Easter bunny, didn’t seem to care.

And, finally, in honor of the real reason Feb. 14 is important this year:

Daryl Dixon, the ultimate lone wolf. That thing with Beth wouldn’t have lasted even if she had lived. daryl-dixon-bow-and-arrow-meme  Happy Return of The Walking Dead Day.

*”Charlotte’s Web” of course is first.




How to lovingly poison your kids

A few years ago, I read Dee McCaffrey’s enlightening book “The Science of Skinny,” which forever ruined store-bought angel-food cake for me.

In her former life, McCaffrey was an overweight chemist who loved angel-food cake and was making one from a mix when she happened to glance at the list of ingredients and realized that one of them – sodium lauryl sulfate – was something she used in her laboratory as a degreaser. In large concentrations, it’s used as a garage-floor cleaner. clangelfood

This would be distressing news to my late, saintly grandmother, whose go-to repertoire of desserts included a version of Angel Bavarian –  angel-food cake, Jell-O vanilla pudding and Cool Whip, with a toxic splash of artificial almond flavoring.

It was distressing enough to learn my grandmother had been trying to poison me for decades (where’s the royal taster when you need one?), worse that I’ve been doing the same to my kids, thinking I was serving a “healthy” dessert because it’s  relatively low-calorie, using sugar-free pudding mix and fat-free Cool Whip.

Upon closer inspection, here’s what my grandmother and I were feeding our families:

In the cake: mononitrate, monocalcium phosphate, fumaric acid, sodium lauryl sulfate (whoomp, there it is – justified on the label as a “whipping aid”).

In the pudding: polysorbate 60 (prevents scorching), and yellow dyes No. 5 and 6.

In the Cool Whip: Let’s not even go there.  My college kid once told me whipped toppings are naturally gray before coloring is added, and although I’ve been unable to verify this, I haven’t bought it since.

Lessons learned:

First, if, on a food label, the company goes to the trouble to explain why it’s using an ingredient, it must be really bad stuff.

Second, no more Angel Bavarian the easy way.

Here’s a recipe for homemade angel-food cake. (Dee would not approve, because she doesn’t do sugar, but I’m not as far down the healthy eating path as she is.)

Here’s a nice custard. (You, the cook, must prevent scorching. Suck it up and stand there. You can stretch out your calves.)

And everyone knows how to make real whipped cream, right?

I bring this up, not just so you will run screaming from a supermarket angel-food cake, but also to explain why I’m having so much fun in my new job as a health and wellness writer for the national edition of The Deseret News.

It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, not only because it’s a remote position that enables me to be home when my kids get home from school in these last precious years,  but also because the older I get, the more I become a Ben Wyatt-like geek about optimal health.

And, of course, unlike so much of what passes for news these days, this stuff really matters in the lives of our families.

I’ve been posting links to  some of my stories on social media, but if you’re not on Twitter or Facebook, you can read secrets of people who never get colds here, what healthy people buy for a blizzard, and whether designer condiments are worth their salt.

Yes, we’re still in Pittsburgh, for now.  Farm news coming soon, as we’re on Baby Watch in the goat barn.