Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Supporting Cast of Characters – Julian

You know how every Shakespeare play, whether comedy or tragedy, has a character that is there for the purpose of comic relief? Well…I think that is who Julian may be in our household!

We got Julian after our black jaguar of a cat, Fredy, disappeared. We think he became one with the coyote that runs in the field near our house. Fredy actually disappeared 2 days before Farmer Jeff and I married. It was not an easy time. It was hard, at times, to be truly blissfully happy with Fredy gone! After going through a complete meltdown on a daily basis once returning from our honeymoon, I convinced Farmer Jeff we HAD to get a kitten if I were to survive without a perpetual wad of wet Kleenex in my hand and a very red nose.

Off we went to the “kitten fair”. As you might remember from other animal selections, Farmer Jeff picks the cats since I have more of an affinity for them (and I pick the dogs for the same reason…but I think that is changing!) We spotted lots of pretty little puffy kittens, but Farmer Jeff’s eyes locked on a little, sleepy, sneezy gray puff-ball. I didn’t think his markings were that interesting, and because he had a touch of a cold, wasn’t showing a dazzling personality, but rather a slightly drugged one! Well…Farmer Jeff prevailed and off we went with another little being to love.

We set up the kitten’s living quarters in the bathroom for a couple of reasons:
1. He had a cold and I didn’t want him to give it to Ginger
2. Ginger had to get used to him on her terms…and that meant that the kitten had to learn that Ginger was the Queen of the House!

The kitten ended up being sick with a cold/upper respiratory infection for close to 2 months and spent a lot of that time in the bathroom. I would go in there when I was at home, hang out with him, read to him, play with him, give him his medicine…and just enjoy him!

The dogs could not WAIT to get into the bathroom to see him…and when they did, Callebaut was so AFRAID of him! It was pretty funny to watch!!! The kitten just loved having any other animals in the bathroom to play with and after not too long, really bonded with India.

Naming the kitten was a little frustrating. I initially wanted to name him Rocky the flying Squirrel. NO. Then I thought of Sterling…because he is a beautiful, shiny gray color. NO. Farmer Jeff wanted to call him Smokey, but I couldn’t do that because I had a dog growing up named Smokey that no one liked. But “Smokey” gave me an idea. My favorite country community to visit as a child was Julian, in San Diego county. It caught fire on the day we were married… and since he way gray, we decided to name him:
Julian Tozier (after Tozier’s drug store, now long gone, in Julian) Mall. He really can carry off the name.

We wanted to make sure the dogs didn’t intimidate him too much so we tried a training technique we were taught at the animal shelter: tie down. The dog is on a 3 foot leash and the leash is connected to either a very heavy piece of furniture or a ring screwed into the wall. This way the kitten can run around without the dogs chasing after him and they can see that the kitten has permission to do so from ME! It was really affective and Julian is VERY comfortable around the dogs. If they are fighting over a dish of food on the kitchen floor, Julian will just walk between them and stand in the plate of stuff…and start eating! Or he will drink water with the other 2 dogs at the same time! He is fearless!

One of Julian’s nuttiest idiosyncrasies is his love of greens. We first discovered this when he started eating the celery tops off the bunch of celery still in the grocery bag! Since the cats aren’t allowed outside now since the demise of Fredy, I guess he needs his greens! I have caught him eating beet greens, collard greens, celery greens and lettuce. If I don’t fix him his own “salad” before I have fixed one for myself, he will jump up on the counter and walk over to the salad bowl and start eating before I can stop him. (I don’t think Farmer Jeff knows this! Don’t tell him!)

Julian also is very much at home around water. I think it comes from having grown up in the bathroom! He has no fear of the shower and used to get in it when we would go into “his room” to use it! He also will jump up on any sink for a drink out of the faucet, and he will just lay down in the bathtub. Without water…but still! When I do run a bath, he won’t get out of the tub until the water has hit all four paws, and then he just jumps up on the edge of the tub and circles it while I am in it. He does stop occasionally for a swipe at me or the water.

Julian is really not much of a snuggler. He will get up on the bed in the morning and gently put him paw on the side of my face, at which point I am to stop sleeping and begin the stroking and adoration of his majesty. If I don’t wake up or pet him, he will then put his paw on my lips. If I still don’t respond, he then puts his paw on my mouth with claws extended. That ALWAYS works!

He often surprises us by just appearing, much like the Chesire Cat of Alice in Wonderland, in the oddest places. He just likes to watch us! He rarely meows, but really lets out little squeaks. He does purr like a maniac…and has the mellowest personality of any cat I have ever known.

Since we have had him he had acquired several nicknames: Sputnik (because he is gray, as was the first Russian space capsule), J-Boy, Junior, Whacko, The Boy, Water Kitty and Nut-Case. Whatever his name, he is our little character that is always surprising us by doing something we have never seen another cat do…like fling himself on the front door and hang there, or lie down in the bathtub, or eat lettuce, or lounge with wild abandon, or perch high above like Snoopy imitating “the Vulture!” We love him no matter what he does ‘cause he’s our little clown!

Monday, January 30, 2006

I'm not a bad Chicken Mama after all...

I have been suffering with the thought that I was a bad "Chicken Mama", doing something that contributed to the untimely and uncomfortable demise of 4 of my little feathered charges. Yesterday I opened the full report of the necropsy, done by the specialists at UC Davis, and learned that my dear little darlings died from Marek's Disease.

Marek's Disease:(MD) is caused by a herpes virus that may result in death or severe production loss in both layer and meat chickens. Vaccination will reduce the losses. However, in recent years there has been an increase in Marek’s disease, due to new strains of virus and faster growing, more susceptible birds.

So, what does that mean for us? Any of the birds we have that were "home born" could die from this disease. I have done some further research and learned that it is an airborne illness that is carried in the dander of the birds and that the coops should be thoroughly disinfected. I guess I know what I am doing ASAP!!! I put the linoleum down specifically so I could mop it! Now I have to talk Farmer Jeff into helping me to line the inside with FRP - a composite made from fiberglass reinforcement in frp panela plastic (polymer) matrix. FRP is the material used in commercial kitchens because it is easily disinfected. Those birds will be living in a very slick (no pun intended!) enclosure!

I am so relieved that the reason they are dying is not due to my negligence, but rather from being born at home and not being vaccinated. It is a bit of a catch 22 for a back-yard flock because the vaccine must be given in the first 24 hours of the chicks life. The vaccine is only available in doses for 1,000 birds...and it won't last more than 24 hours. This is especially tough if you have no idea whether or not the remaining eggs under the hen will hatch! I am going to need to investigate this further, but it sure makes me hesitant to home hatch any chicks. Until I can get this figured out, I'll be buying my chicks vaccinated!

Rest in peace, sweet Grace, Jasper, Mamma Roux and Domino.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


Farmer Jeff and I are safely home after having spent a heavenly 3 nights/4 days in Yosemite at the Ahwahnee Hotel for the “Chef’s Holidays” series. There was very little snow on the ground when we arrived but then it snowed on Wednesday during the day. It melted right away, but it was pretty magnificent to be standing in the “great room” next to my honey as he was demonstrating…and see it snowing through the very tall windows. It was not until that very moment that I realized I didn’t bring the camera with me!!!

It snowed through Wednesday night and when we awoke the next morning it was snowy…and sunny! We took a 2 hour hike in the snow to Mirror Lake, but must have taken 60 pictures in the 2 hours! It was breath-taking!

The great surprise for me was discovering that we would see my best friend from cooking school (whom I have not seen for 20 years!), Jerry Traunfeld! He is a now famous chef at a place just outside of Seattle, the Herbfarm. He has just published his 2nd book and has quite the following.

One of the other highlights: we were able to meet and hang out with Sondra (from the girl and the fig in Sonoma) and John McReynolds of Café LaHaye in Sonoma and his sweet German wife, Brigitta. We all had dinner together on Wednesday and swapped stories. I discovered connections to both Sondra and John. Too funny!

We drove home through the Central Valley, childhood home of Farmer Jeff, and we able to swing by a Mexican market to pick up some wonderful pork tamales! Once we arrived home we gobbled up the tamales and Farmer Jeff became Carpenter Jeff! I had given him the “go-ahead” to tear up the closet in our bedroom…which he started with gusto!

As I told the folks in Yosemite…Farmer Jeff never stops! Well, maybe every once in a while!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Looking for answers

I feel like I am watching an old movie about a poor family that struggled against all odds to make only to have their only cow run off with the handsome bull next door...and now the family is left with no milk. Heartache follows until the cow comes home with a calf and they all live happily ever after.

Okay, how does all of this relate to me...Chicken Mama...and Eastside Farm. We lost yet another of the flock. Domino died yesterday after having struggled for 2 days. I brought her into the house, as I brought Mama Roux into the house - into the bathroom. She was, at first, on a heating pad and then under a heat lamp. I gave her anti-biotics that were left over from Mama Roux (that did nothing!) but they did nothing for Domino. I heard Domino get up, fall and try to get up. I ran into the bathroom to find her struggling to stand. I picked her up, put her on my lap, stroked her and told her I would find out what was making her sick...and she then rolled on to her side, stretched out and extended her wing...and died.

I wrapped her up in a towel, then a very large plastic bag and put her into the refrigerator. Today, after many calls, talked to a renowned chicken doctor and he thought it could be Marek's disease. None of the birds that have died (I am now counting Grace into this group) were innoculated at birth against it...the damn vaccines are for groups of 1000 birds...and we were told it can only be done in the chicks first 24 hours...and the batch only lasts 24 hours. GREAT. How in the world does a back yard chicken mama deal with this?

At the doctor's suggestion, I packed up Domino in a towel, a plastic bag, 2 zip lock bags, on ice, in a styrofoam chest...and Fed Ex'd her to UC Davis...for free. They pay for the shipping and the necropsy. I have to find out what is going on with my birds. I don't want to lose the whole flock.

Now I will wait for the news from UCDavis...and, as in the imagined movie, life will be sweeter than ever. We'll get more chickens and everyone will live happily ever after.

In the meantime, please light a candle and say a prayer for my little hen, Domino. And then go tell someone you love them!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Chicken Maintenance

After losing not one (Jasper, rooster) but two (Mamma Roux, hen) chickens to an upper respiratory condition, we sought advice on how to better protect the chicken kids and got to work on the various projects.

We yanked off the tarps that I had put up, thinking that the chickens could go outside when it was raining. I did't realize that it also kept the place muddy as the sun could never hit the ground to dry it out! Now the breeze is blowing through the outdoor area and the mud is drying up. Of course, it won't help that it is due to rain this afternoon through tomorrow, or again on Friday. We are in the rainy season and just have to work with it!

We were advised to lay down some sort of cover out in the yard that could be raked or swept up once soiled or wet. We decided upon straw as the easiest and cheapest form. BUT FIRST...Rat Proofing! We are laying down chicken wire and hardware cloth all over the floor of the yard to keep those nasty vermin out of the pen! They can tunnel under it all they want...just as long as they don't get inside the coop!!!

The next thing I want to do is insulate the inside of the coop. I want to put up insulation and then cover it with FRP...a material used in kitchens that can be easily disinfected. Can't let the girls (and boys) get sick and die!!! That is just unacceptable!

I have suggested to a friend that I keep them warm by knitting them little sweaters, but someone has beaten me to the punch with a chicken clothing line. DRAT. Let me know if you think a cute little sweater would look better than this?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Plans for 2006

Farmer Jeff and I have been ambitiously looking at the garden/farm to determine what we are going to attempt to complete this year.

We are going to have some work done on the house, specifically, making our dear little saggy 1946 house level...and shoring up the underside along with getting the house re-wired. We still have bare copper wire wrapped in electrical tape in a few of the rooms! When the electrical is done we will be able to run lights out to the outdoor kitchen AND the all important lights out to the chicken coop!

We are going to run more of our "Melitta Gold" paths around the yard. We started to excavate for one, but then it rained. Now all of our well-laid plans of having the pups with non-muddy feet went right out the door with the rain!

Farmer Jeff wants to build a 2 story dog house complete with individual porches and a dog look out! (I think Farmer Jeff secretly wants to be a carpenter!) He is also going to build another raised bed for herbs out in the far end of the yard.

Before any of the planting gets done, he will first need to re-build his mad scientist laboratory down in the flooded basement garage.(Last year's lab with the tomato babies)

I think that will be a project that he works on in the next few weeks, seeing that we have tomato seed packets starting to arrive!

In the near future, we will need to put an internal gate within the chicken pen/run for better access to Napoleon and his girls, Josephine and Elba. We, this Sunday, need to do a little more rat-proofing 'cause those nasty varmints are just gnawing into the coop. YUK!!!
We are trying a new kind of rat killer...some kind of yummy food that has corn oil in it...and apparently the corn oil interacts with the rats ability to absorb water...and they dehydrate...and die. Not poisonous to any other creature than rats and ground squirrels...and seeing as we don't have the squirrels...more for the rats. The little field mouse living out near the food will not be affected!!!

We are also talking about bringing in sod for the lawn. We are going to be hosting a wedding at the end of September...and want it to look spiffy!

I would like to fix up the rose garden and finally plant the Cecil Brunner tiny pink climbing rose and an Iceburg white climbing rose. We have a bench out in the rose garden that I will trellis these over. Perhaps Farmer Jeff can build a sweet pergola for me over the bench!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Storm Update

These last 2 days have just been nuts. From Friday at 8 am to Saturday at 8 am we received 6.8 inches of rain! IT WAS POURING!!!

We have been keeping an eye on the Russian River (the river that runs through our area) with increasing anxiety, awe and wonder. The "watch" stage is when it hits 15 feet, flood stage is 19 feet. At 7 am on Saturday morning it was at 21.5 feet and rising.

We needed to go to town early Saturday to check on the restaurant, and then decided to take a drive down Eastside Road to look at the accumulated/sitting water. This is what we saw. (You can enlarge the pictures by left-clicking on top of the picture)

When we got home, the winds were whipping up the tarp on the chicken enclosure, the cover on the truck canopy was ripping at its grommets, and the metal roof of the chicken coop was lifting up like a sail. Just at the peek of all this wind, Jeff and I heard a cracking noise...and when I came back in the house, the power was OUT. Farmer Jeff had to go to work and I just went back to bed to both stay warm and read. I ended up falling asleep for 2 hours and then got up and read some more!

At about noon the river crested at 23 feet. I guess there were folks that were evacuated in Healdsburg...and that made it to national news. We hadn't even heard about it until my dad called to ask us about it. I told him that our area was fine and there was no flooding, just lots of wind and no power!

Farmer/Chef Jeff and I had a party to cater last night for 20 and so off we went. It went really well, but we didn't get home until 1 am...at which point we reviewed the highs and lows of 2005. Some of the high points: getting the chickens, the arrival of the kittens and starting my blog site. Low points: a big change at my work, how hard a time Farmer Jeff had at work, and finally, the passing of several dear friends and a beloved cousin that was like a second mother to me...and the losses of our dear pets, Dahlia, the young chickens, Porky, Grace and Jasper.

We still didn't have power when we got up, so...we puttered around the house, all bundled up, and fixed a big breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast, all of which we could still prepare on our gas stove. It is so weird to be without heat, water, electricity for lights, shower, toilets that you don't need to refill manually, and my computer, along with other modern conveniences like the refrigerator! We called up friends and were able to go and use their shower...and then trundled off to 3 parties. The first party was in the area and after we left there, we drove by the house and saw that the lights were on!!! HOORAY!!!

While on the way home from our first party (up the hill from our house) we were able to see what our creek looks like before it gets to us!

We came home from the last party to a heated house, cold refrigerator, lights and electricity, flushing toilets, a functioning answering machine, and wet dogs. You see, we had a break in the rain yesterday from morning to night, but then it started raining with a vengeance again today. Roads in the area are still flooded. I have no idea exactly how I will get to work tomorrow as the little town in which I work has been flooding. Oh well...they will just have to understand if I am late!

The rains have started up again in poor Guerneville but they aren't over head YET. There is yet another flood watch on the Russian River in Healdsburg. Right now the river is at 17.3 feet and is due to go over tomorrow morning, again. The rains aren't over yet...I have no idea what this winter holds for us but I do know this, we are going to buy a generator this week!!!