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.

goatbabes 002

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

Saving the skunks, one slashed yogurt cup at a time

It’s probably unfair to single out Yoplait, since every single serving of yogurt comes in a plastic container that could get lodged on a small animal’s head. But watch this, and you may never buy Yoplait again.

It’s a police-cam video that could be heartwarming — policeman saves cute skunk from agonizing death! — but for the fact that you just know if it happened to this little guy on a city street, it’s happening to hundreds of others out of sight who won’t be rescued.

That cuts a dozen w’s off my awwwww.

I wrote about this, and other environmental atrocities,  in a column you can find here. Yup, you can be a conservative and still hate plastic and what it’s doing to the planet.

Here’s a Facebook page about the Yoplait cups, and here’s a petition asking for a redesign.

Here’s the sly, smart video about the majestic plastic bag’s inspiring journey to the sea. (“Our bag manages to escape the Yorkie’s talons!”)

Check your toothpaste for the microscrubbers.  Mine had them, as did some of my daughter’s exfoliating cleansers.   With all the natural grainy stuff available out there – sugar, ground nuts, cornmeal, grits for that matter — I still can’t wrap my mind around some capitalist deviant thinking, “Hey!  Here’s a great idea!  Let’s put tiny bits of plastic in our children’s toothpaste!”

So slash through your yogurt cups before you put them in the trash, please.  And because you can’t take the South out of the girl, here’s the greatest homemade scrub ever:  grits and honey.

The other Weiner

Newspapers usually verify the identity of people who write letters to the editor, but one today had me thinking the fact-checker had the day off.

Behold, in today’s Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), a slam on incumbent US Rep. Mark Sanford, signed by someone who claims to be the cousin of former US Rep. Anthony Weiner, and whose name is — wait for it — Smoky Weiner. Capturesmoky

He sounds like a character in a Dave Barry novel,  but apparently it’s true, and it gets better.  Mr. Weiner, a resident of Bowen’s Island, SC (a suburb of Folly Beach, as it were) is an electrician and also the leader of a band called Smoky Weiner and the Hot Links.

In military terms, this is a great example of “embracing the suck,” making the best of a bad situation, or in this case, a potentially troublesome name.

As for Anthony Weiner, Smoky (whose real name is apparently Andrew) wrote, “By the way, New York, that most hated state, at least had the brains to throw my infamous cousin out on his rump just for taking a couple of stupid pictures.”

Mr. Weiner, the musician, plays the harmonica, according to this profile of him in The Charleston City Paper. He suggests that South Carolinians write in Dimitri Cherny instead of voting for Sanford.  I suggest voting for Smoky instead.



Who wants to be an invertebrate?

I compost, therefore I have worms.

Too many, actually.

I have grown intimate of earthworms over the past few years, in worrisome fashion that consumes way too much of my time. For one thing, my old, socially appropriate habit of ignoring them when I encounter them on pavement has given way to new manifestation of mental illness: a compulsive need to deposit them in my garden or compost pile.

It provides a strange satisfaction to see a worm, which had been dejectedly trying to burrow into pavement all night, nuzzle its way into moist ground. We think they are not sentient, but they know which way is up; they always right themselves when I lay them down wrong side up. And for true joy, deposit one dejected earthworm in soil, atop another.

Not my personal worm.  Image via, great small-farming blog.

Not my personal worm. (Image via, great small-farming blog.)

So yes, on any given morning, I can be found collecting earthworms from the driveway. (How do they get there?  Birds? Amtrak?) And then, dispatching them to the garden, a.k.a. Worm Disneyland.  This affords me the soothing pleasure of benevolence, and is a get-into-heaven-free card if we’re wrong about this whole made-in-our-own-image thing and God turns out to be a giant worm.

I envy the inhabitants of Worm Disney, not just because they can eat up to a third of their body weight in a day, but because when it gets cold, they go to sleep and don’t wake up again until spring.  This is every mother’s fantasy.  I generally like having a spine, and wouldn’t give it up for a long winter’s nap, but there are some appealing aspects of being an invertebrate.

Like most creatures that hibernate, earthworms only go dormant when it turns cold. Their heart rate and body temperature drops, breathing slows, and metabolism ramps down to that of a post-menopausal woman.  In running jargon, they’re middle-of-the-pack hibernators. Chipmunks are back-of-the-packers; like toddlers, they get up repeatedly for snacks and potty breaks.

The champion of hibernators, my idol and hero, is the Woolly Bear caterpillar.

Love these guys.  (Image via Wikipedia.)

Love these guys. (Image via Wikipedia.)

This is the little furry guy you see courageously inching across the road every fall.  He has two black segments and one that is cinnamon colored.  He’s looking for a crevice in which to hide before the snow starts. (Or, for you lucky people in the South, let’s say, before temperatures plunge below 40.)

The Woolly Bear not only hibernates, but, for all practical purposes, dies.  His heart doesn’t just slow; it stops beating. His blood freezes solid, then his whole body.  In the spring, he will thaw and self-publish a book about his near-death experience.  Later, he will spin a cocoon and emerge as a lovely, lemon-colored Isabella moth.

This is important to know, not only because humans need constant reminding that we’re not the only astonishing creatures on the planet, but in case in you come across a curled-up, motionless Woolly Bear in your yard, like I did while raking this past week.


Do not mourn him, toss him across the yard, or worse, stomp on the poor little guy.   He’s just already gone zombie for the winter. Please just tuck him back into bed, preferably between rocks or under some inaccessible leaves.  Let him sleep.

And parents, if your kids ever bring a Woolly Bear inside and say, please can we keep him, the answer is no, you may not.  Or if you must, in winter, put him the freezer.

Alas, I’m not kidding.  People do this. (No friends of mine.) Also, if you’re so inclined, you can freeze ladybugs and release them in the spring.  I’m not sure why I know all this, but I do one thing:

If God is a ladybug, I’m all set.

The preciousness of the mundane

Wednesday was the kind of day I dread for days in advance.  The kind of day when I growl, “For this I went to college?” and wonder if I am violating some sort of Massachusetts law by not having a chauffer’s license.

Drive one kid to school, another to work. (His car’s in the shop.) A music book that absolutely, positively had to be acquired by tomorrow only exists in a store 30 minutes away.  A kid home from work, then ferry to college.  Another pick-up at school.  Soccer at 4:30.  Traffic backed up on Main Street, the faint scream of sirens. Home finally, out of hay. The feed store closes in 30 minutes.  Soccer ends at 6.  College class out, 20 minutes away. Return kid home. Change clothes, unload hay,  back to middle school. Curriculum night.  Grumpy. Tired. Late.

Later than I think. The parking lot’s almost empty.

Hurrying in, pass a teacher.  “It’s been canceled; didn’t you hear?”  Relief.

But then, ominously, “I’m not at liberty to tell you why.”

Back home, check the news, looking for a bomb threat, fire, gas leak.

There. Oh dear God. Car-bike collision.  After school.

A ghost bike in Berlin. (Image via Wikipedia.)

A ghost bike in Berlin. (Image via Wikipedia.)

Hands fly to face.   The sirens, the traffic, my trifling annoyance.

Oh no, oh no, oh no.

The phone starts to ring.

Oh no, oh no, oh no.

Hopkinton is a small town hiding in the skirts of a big city. We talk a big game on Marathon Day, but when the last runner crosses over into Ashland, we pick up the trash, and go back to being a small town again.

On days when school lets out early, children roam the town like strays. They go to the library, the town square, the pizza shop. They sit on stone walls.  Ride their bikes on sidewalks and streets.  We maneuver around them, smiling and waving.  Even kids we don’t know are familiar. That one, we saw in the school play. This one came trick-or-treating. I wasn’t around in the ‘50s, but I have this idea that the way the town is now is much like it was then.

“Hopkinton is a small town,” one resident tells a newspaper reporter. “Everyone’s kids are everyone’s kids.”

Which is why we’re all in mourning for a child who wasn’t ours, but is.

Sometimes I talk jocularly about “Scary Bike News,” and it’s a wonder my kids even have bikes, given the amount of preaching I do on the topic.  I can discuss, with alarming detail, car-bike fatalities that occurred a thousand miles away. (Have I told you about the one on the James Island Connector?) And the hits, they just keep coming, like this one a few years ago, or this one, earlier today. Each time, I grouse that I’m not sure which should be outlawed, cars or bikes.

This is a serious problem for someone who believes in the greatest amount of liberty for the greatest number of people.  And for someone who loves bicycles.  And cars.

Have you ever seen a ghost bike?  They’re bikes painted white, silver or gray, locked to a street sign or post near a fatal crash. They are, according to a website that tracks them all over the world, “reminders of the tragedy that took place on an otherwise anonymous street corner, and as quiet statements in support of cyclists’ right to safe travel.”

Safe travel, yes:  we need bike lanes and paths. But do cyclists have the right to travel on busy two-lane roads with negligible shoulders?

I think not, every time I pass one, and my throat seizes up in fear.  No matter how slow I go, no matter how careful she’s being, I know a bump or hole could throw her into my path. And that a blink of inattention could propel me into hers.

Many years ago, when we lived in Charleston, I passed the aftermath of a car-bike accident on Harbor View Road. I didn’t see the cyclist, who was already loaded into the ambulance, but I saw the driver of the car, sitting on the side of the road, hands covering his face, grief-stricken.  I won’t soon forget it.

Nor the “terrible” day I had Wednesday, which turned out not to be a terrible day at all, at least not for me, because every single one of my kids came home — what a miracle, that —  and I got to hug them, and touch their faces and smooth their hair, even as they squirmed and protested.  They live to hear me preach another day, about the preciousness of the mundane.

And, when enough time has passed, again about Scary Bike News.

The family has requested that contributions in honor of Shayne go to “The Sky’s the Limit,” a courtyard project at Hopkinton Middle School. Checks may be payable to the school, 88 Hayden Rowe St., Hopkinton, MA 01748.