Sunday, July 19, 2015

Summer's bountiful harvest

Angie takes a break from gardening work.
Some thumbs are definitely greener than others. My thumbs have been greener than normal this summer.

I love gardening. I love digging in the dirt and getting it underneath my fingernails. I also love to sweat and get my clothes dirty. These are probably undesirable characteristics most women would not want; however, I'm not one of those women.

I love my work boots and old ratty clothes that I wear outside to work in my garden. I love my old baseball cap that adorns my scalp so it can breath in 100-degree temperatures. There isn't really anything about working outside that I don't like. Well, there might be one exception to that rule – mosquitoes. I would rather be outside playing in my garden and working in my chicken house than any place on Earth. I hate sitting in my house. The outside beckons me like a mother calling a lost calf.

I have been an avid gardener for the past eight years. My garden started out insanely large at a ¼ of an acre. I grew everything – green beans, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon, cantaloupe, peppers, acorn and butternut squash and Lima beans. I could make a whole meal just from produce from my garden. I never bought anything in the store except meat and personal necessities. It has always been very satisfying knowing that the food on my plate came from hard work, determination and sweat from my brow. Plus, I had farm-fresh eggs from my chickens.
Angie's potatoes from her garden. 

This year I decided to scale down my garden a little bit. Since my ground is very sandy, my husband decided to bring in some cow manure to give it a much-needed boost. We also stirred in chicken manure and a compost pile. Let's just say my garden is thriving and may be one the best ones yet.

This is one of Angie's biggest potatoes.
I decided to dig up one of my potato plants yesterday. It was just like being a kid on Christmas morning. I love discovering a surprise underneath the ground. I screamed when I uncovered the treasure hiding underground. I'm surprised my neighbors didn't hear me yell for joy. I unearthed six potatoes the size of softballs. I couldn't believe it; I was in shock. So, naturally I had to keep digging to see if this unbelievable phenomenon was a trend. And, to my amazement, it was. Each plant yielded six to seven potatoes the size of softballs or bigger. After digging up 25 plants, I harvested about 70 pounds of potatoes. I can hardly wait to see what the next 25 plants have in store for me. My neighbors might just need some earplugs.

For me, gardening is a very cheap form of entertainment. It brings me more joy than going to the mall and spending a lot of money on clothes or trinkets that I don't really need. I'm happy in my garden; I'm happy watching my chickens cluck in their pen. I've made a wonderful world right where I live. I thank God for my piece of Heaven on Earth and all the joy it has given to me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Commercials leave lasting impression

What do a screaming goat, a chicken riding the rails and a talking camel have in common?

Well, the answer is simple – Geico. If you haven't stumbled upon these brilliant commercials for car insurance, you have to get online and check them out. I wish I had been the mastermind behind these catchy works of art. Every time I see a goat, I think of Geico. Every time I hear someone scream, I think of Geico. So, somebody did his or her job right.

There aren't too many commercials I intentionally look for. Nine times out of 10 I flip to a different channel if a commercial comes on. But, these are different. They have comedic timing and wacky animals. Since I love animals, that is a plus.

The chicken commercial is my favorite since I have my own backyard flock. I can be in the kitchen fixing supper or in the bedroom folding laundry and hear the words, “I'll ride the highway, I'm going my way. I leave the story untold,” and know that my free range chicken is on TV. I literally take off like a bolt of lightning toward the TV; it puts a a smile on my face. And face it, there aren't too many commercials that can achieve that kind of success.

I love seeing this little chicken embark on her journey sitting in a restaurant next to a guy who is eating eggs, telling stories by the campfire, riding the rails and finally sending selfies back home. Now, that is an awesome chicken. However, I think my hen, Chickamina, could give her a run for her money. Chickamina has become one of the most domesticated chickens I have ever known. I clap my hands, call her name and she comes running toward me like a dog.

I think Chickamina should star in some commercials of her own. I think she should start off with milk commercials. Why milk? Well, Chickamina has a talent for chasing after me when I'm carrying milk jugs of water out to the coop at night to fill the waterer. She loves drinking fresh water out of a milk jug - go figure. It's a hoot. And it's really funny when she drinks a little too much, too fast and gets a chicken brain freeze. She closes her eyes for a few seconds until the feeling subsides.

I think having Chickamina pose with a milk jug and a milk mustache on her beak would be a brilliant idea. Everyone would remember the “Got Milk?” poster with the chicken. I would be more than happy to represent Chickamina if any milk executives would like to contact me. Her schedule, and mine, is wide open.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Chicken memories for life

Emma Lasko pets Chickamina.
The girls and I have had a busy week.

There is always a lot of fanfare when the new little girls come to Klucker Farms. Who can pass up seeing a cute chick? My friends Scott and Christina Levine brought their two children, Phoebe, and Emmett, out to the see the girls a week ago. Phoebe was a seasoned veteran. She had been here two years ago. And Emmett, well, he was still in the womb.
I took the kids out back and had them greet the older chickens first. I asked Phoebe if she remembered coming two years ago and, sure enough, she did. I said, “These are those same chicks all grown up.” It's amazing how time flies.

I showed the kids how much the girls love eating grass. So, we threw in a bunch for them to eat. Emmett got a huge kick out of the chickens. What an awesome little chicken farmer he would be.
After saying “Hi” to the old girls, we proceeded into the new coop to see the chicks. The girls did really well since the only visitors have been me, my parents and husband. I put some feed in the palm of my hand to get the girls' attention, which helped get them a little closer to me and the kids. The girls ate right out of Phoebe's hand. I also managed to catch a few to have them pet. Chicks are so fuzzy and cute; therefore, making them irresistible. I am sure Phoebe will remember this visit for years to come.

My friends, Niki and Vic Lasko, came by Friday night with their children to visit the chicks on the last leg of their vacation before returning home. I took the kids over to see the older chickens first. This time I had some wonderful meal worms for the girls to eat. I told my friends' daughter, Emma, to hold out her hand and throw them through the fence to the girls. She was ecstatic with the girls' response to the worms. Meal worms are like candy to chickens. I don't think they sat there 10 seconds before they scooped them up. Emma was having the time of her life and making some of her first chicken memories.
We then proceeded to the main attraction – the little girls. The looks on the kids' faces were priceless. I grabbed some chicks for them to pet, which was the icing on the cake for them. I was amazed when one of my Red Stars stood by Emma to be petted. You didn't have to coax this chick with food; she loved the attention. Talk about a neat experience for Emma to take back home with her.

Before they left, I had to bring out Chickamina, my one and only truly domesticated chicken. Chickamina is unbelievable. I swear she is more like a dog than a chicken. Every night I let her out of the coop to follow me around in the yard. It is absolutely hilarious. This little chicken loves me. I have conditioned Chickamina to run after me to get a cold drink of water from the hose. She will drink right out of the hose if I let her. I also fill a gallon milk jug, which she drinks out of too. This is one spoiled chicken.
I wanted Emma to see this so I went through our nightly routine. Chickamina didn't mind the kids at all. On the contrary, she loved the attention and being petted. Niki and Vic couldn't believe how tame this little 4-pound chicken was. I guess I just have a way with animals – a little like Dr. Doolittle.

Not only was this a busy week, but we had a big first too. It was monumental enough to put in their baby book. Mothers document their child's first steps; I document my girls' first time roosting. A few of my leghorns advanced to the top of the flock by flying up and resting on their roost. It is almost hard to believe something that small could fly so high.
To wrap up the week, my husband installed a camera in the coop so I could watch them from the comfort of my bedroom. I can lay in bed at night and watch my chicks. Who needs cable TV? I sure don't. This still blows my mind.

We made a lot of memories over the last two weeks at Klucker Farms. Four little kids left with some wonderful memories. Memories, that I hope, will last for years to come.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A whole lotta cheeping going on

Angie Gabriel bonds with her Red Star chick.
 The waiting is finally over.

My new chicks came into my life last Wednesday with a phone call from the U.S. Postal Service. When I get chicks, I always have the same mixed feelings of anxiousness and excitement. I'm anxious to get them home as soon as possible and I'm excited, because well, their lives are just beginning. And, to tell you honestly, I can't think of a better place than Klucker Farms for their journey to begin.

When I welcomed my first chicks six years ago, I didn't know what to expect. Like any new mother, I was so afraid of doing something wrong or, more importantly, I didn't want to hurt them. Chicks are a bit intimidating. They fit in the palm of your hand and are extremely fragile. If you drop one or accidentally hold it wrong, you could kill it or injure a wing. So, needless to say, when I have children visit Klucker Farms, I am always holding the chick.

These little girls received the celebrity treatment. In response to the blog I wrote a few weeks ago about a chick registry, my cousin, Cheri, made sure these little gals started off on the right foot. She sent the girls a hanging feeder, gallon waterer, a stylish pink feed scoop, chick starter/grower, scratch grains, Happy Hen treats and an egg basket. Cheri has chickens too, which makes our cousin bond that more special. And, I also look forward to our chicken chats on Facebook.
My mom rode along with me to pick up my chicks last Wednesday afternoon. It's always nice to have someone along who can hold the box. The little chicks move around quite a bit and it's nice, I think, for someone to hold it and keep the box as still as possible. The last thing I want to do is slam on the brakes and have 58 chicks flying through the air.

Picking up my chicks always puts a smile on my face. Nothing can top the love I feel for them at that moment. I feel like the Grinch when his heart grew bigger and bigger with love for the people in Whoville.

So, after the post master handed my cheeping chicks over to me, I carefully placed the box on my mother's lap. Since chicks have to stay nice and warm, we turned off the air conditioning. I try to go above and beyond for my girls. My needs and wants come second. They are only babies; their lives are in my hands.

Since we turned off the air conditioning, I made an executive decision to take a little different route home. I am a sucker for ice cream – especially Whitey's ice cream, which is based out of the Quad-Cities. I also wanted to see what kind of a reaction I would get from the employees there.

When I pulled up to the drive-up window, the young boy looked a bit startled when he heard loud cheeps coming from the box on my mother's lap. To assure him that I wasn't smuggling something illegal or had exotic chicks from outer space stuffed in there I said, “I just picked up my baby chicks.” However, he still looked at me like I had just come from the funny farm.

The ice cream helped cool me off on the way home, but I could have used some later after placing them under the heat lamp. When we finally arrived at Klucker Farms, I had to take each chick out individually and dip their beaks in the water and feed. Since their mother wasn't there to show them what to do, it was my job to step in and show them the way. I think I sweated off 10 pounds under those heat lamps, but it was worth it.

My girls are a week old now and flourishing. They are running around, perching on top of their cardboard brooder and exploring their new surroundings. I love to pick them up and talk to them. I tell them what good girls they are and how much I love them.

My chickens have become such a big part of my life. I waited my whole life to raise them. I wanted to be a farmer as a young girl and it took me 33 years to get to this point. There isn't a day that goes by that I take them for granted or the valuable lessons they have taught me in return. No matter where I go or what I do, I will always be the chicken lady.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Five forever

In my mind they will be 5-years-old forever.

The years will pass, milestones will occur and inevitably they will probably forget all about me, but I will always remember them. Their faces will forever be etched in my memory as 5-year-olds running through the playground and sliding down the slide.

I worked at a preschool for the majority of the school year as a paraeducator until I took another position. I had never worked in a school setting before. My previous job had been as a newspaper editor with a daily newspaper for 11 ½ years – that's all I really knew or so I thought. There were good days and bad days – periods of adjustment for me and for them.

I will never forget greeting them for the first time when they came off the school bus. They looked so small, but ready to take on the world with their new backpacks and shiny shoes.

I never went to preschool – it wasn't very popular back in 1980 when I was 4-years-old. My first introduction to school was a half day of kindergarten in a small class that met in the afternoon. My teacher was Mrs. Mattan, who I ironically had again in second grade.

I don't remember too much about kindergarten except show-and-tell. I brought my ceramic kitty that my mother made for me. Unfortunately, it was dropped by one of my classmates. I was devastated. I was even more devastated for my mother who made it. Mrs. Mattan felt bad too. So bad, in fact, that she took the kitty home and glued her back together – talk about an awesome teacher. And for that act of kindness, I have never forgotten Mrs. Mattan. I still have the kitty wrapped up and stored away with the rest of my childhood toys.

So, as the year progressed, I wanted to spread a little bit of Mrs. Mattan's kindness on to my own preschoolers. I enjoyed making snowmen out of Playdough complete with a hat, scarf and smile on his face. It may have been a little over the top in September, but who cares.

One of my favorite units involved puppets. We had shadow puppets, which I cut out, and regular puppets. For example, there were character puppets for “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” and “The Three Little Pigs.” I loved playing the troll from “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” and I think the kids did too. I lowered my voice and called the kids by name, which they thought was hilarious. This brought back fond memories from my childhood when my dad played with me. I had a Miss Piggy and Ernie puppet. After supper, my dad would sit in his recliner and talk to me through the puppets.

I will never forget the last day of preschool. I wanted to memorize each child's face so I would always remember them. And, I hoped deep down inside, that maybe just maybe, they would remember me too. So, I made it a point to put their graduation date on my calendar.

When I walked into the church that day, I couldn't believe how much bigger and older they were compared to that first day I welcomed them off the bus. One little girl spotted me right away and waved, “Oh, Ms. Angie I just knew you would come.” It took every ounce of my being not to cry.

As I sat in the pew and watched each child walk up the aisle in their cap and gown, I was overcome with emotion. I was so proud of everything they had accomplished and a little sad I had not been there until the end.

After the ceremony, there was a reception for the kids and their families. I stood off to the side, but a group of them saw me and yelled, “Ms. Angie, Ms. Angie – there she is.” And with that, one little girl ran over to me and hugged my legs saying how she much she missed me. It was very difficult not to start crying when I bent over to hug her.

As I left, another little girl reached out and grabbed me after she had her picture taken with her Mom. “Oh Ms. Angie I missed you. I want my picture with Ms. Angie.” So, I picked her up and smiled for the camera. I told her how proud I was of her and how much I missed her too.

I guess I made more of an impression on the kids than I thought – they didn't forget me after all. As the years pass, maybe one or two will remember me like I remember Mrs. Mattan. It's hard to say. But, in the end, I will never forget the preschool class of 2015.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Color me blonde

In some ways I'm a late bloomer.

For example, I started drinking coffee in my mid-30s. That is pretty impressive considering I never liked the smell or taste up until that point. Coffee wasn't the cool thing to drink until recently. Now, you see drive-up coffee stations everywhere. They dot the landscape just like fast-food restaurants.

I limit myself to one ice-coffee drink a week or every two weeks. I really got hooked on them the day before my wedding. My husband's aunt, Sandy, my good friend, Niki, and I were doing some last-minute shopping that day and decided to have a late lunch at McDonald's. It was on that fateful day, two years ago to be exact, that I fell madly in love with an ice-coffee drink. And it was all purely by accident. A customer decided he or she didn't want the drink for some reason and one of the employees was trying to give it away. Needless to say, I took it and the rest is history.

For my 39th birthday, I decided to try something that I'd never tried before. As the days neared, it was very tempting to chicken out of the whole thing, but I didn't. I finally decided, after many years, to take the plunge and get my hair highlighted. See, I'm the epitome of a late bloomer.

The one thing I always liked about myself was my blonde hair. I never wanted it to change. Blonde hair is a bit of an oddity in my family. My mother has brown hair and my dad has black. Both, have brown eyes. Me, on the other hand, I have blonde hair and blue eyes. When I looked at family pictures, I often wondered if I was mixed up at the hospital.

I am convinced that my blonde hair originated from my Swedish roots, pardon the hair pun. My great-grandfather was from Sweden and he had blonde hair and blue eyes. I liked being special; I liked being different.

As the years have rolled by, I've asked my hairdresser countless times if she has seen any gray hairs. Fortunately, the answer has always been “no.” But, I made up my mind a long time ago that I would do whatever I could to keep it.

I'm getting older – things are shifting in places I didn't know they could shift. I have love handles and my crows feet are a little more pronounced on the sides of my face than they used to be. I don't look the same as I did 20 or even 10 years ago. So, as the trend keeps going, I wanted to keep one thing that reminded me of “me” and that was my hair.

So, this was the golden opportunity. It was go big or go home. It was now or never. As I sat in the hairdresser's chair, I felt like a real rebel – a little James Deanish if you know what I mean. I was beyond excited as my hair was being folded into foil. This was a bit bizarre since the only thing I have seen wrapped in foil has been food.

I decided to get my hair highlighted enough that people would notice and to knock off at least five years of my actual age. As my hairdresser took my hair out of the foil, washed and dried my locks, I couldn't believe my eyes. Why didn't I do this years ago? My hair hadn't been this light since high school. I felt like a new me; I felt transformed. I felt like I could take on the world like Mary Tyler Moore and throw my hat up into the air. I felt rejuvenated. I felt alive. For heaven's sake, I felt 34 again. A new hair day had finally dawned and I was going to keep it that way.

You're never too old to try new things. However, I don't think I'll ever color my hair white and put a red streak down the middle to resemble my chickens – just saying.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

New moms need chick registry

I am going to be a new mother in a few weeks, but not in the traditional sense of the word. My babies are going to fit in the palm of my hand, cheep and arrive in a box from the U.S. Postal Service. This delivery won't even require a dramatic entrance into an emergency room or me screaming for an epidural.

Unfortunately, I have not been blessed with children of my own. I have only been a mother to those who are a little on the furry side and have feathers. Some would say that I'm not a mother, but I would disagree. Like other mothers, I would do anything for my children. I have taken care of them when they're sick, comforted them when they're scared and most of all, loved them. So, you see, I am a mother too.

I bought a baby gift recently, which got me thinking. Why aren't there baby registries for every mother out there? Come on, doesn't a chick registry sound unbelievably cute?

I think this would be an awesome idea for farm-supply stores. Soon-to-be chick parents could use a scanner and pick out everything imaginable they would need for their new brood. Why shouldn't all mothers join in the fun? We get the nesting feeling too.

First and foremost on my list would be heat lamps. Instead of soft, warm baby blankets, my chicks would need nice warm heat lamps to keep them cozy and warm.

And instead of a crib, my chicks would need a brooder. A brooder simply consists of a cardboard wall encircling these yellow balls of fluff under the heat lamp. So, I would need one or two cardboard boxes wrapped up in a pretty pink package.

Another gift I could use would be a small thermometer, which would be placed inside the brooder. You have to watch the temperature very carefully when using the heat lamps. You want the chicks warm – not fried.

In addition to these items, I would also need a bale or two of pinewood shavings to cover the floor inside the brooder. Little chicks need to feel comfortable too. Just think of this as the mattress inside a real crib.

Since most new mothers get a multitude of bottles, I would definitely mark down a 1-gallon waterer for my chicks. Well, let's splurge a little bit and ask for two. Heh, it's not like I'm asking for a breast pump or anything.

Instead of formula or the inevitable breast pump, I would need some chick starter, which is like baby food for chicks, and Quik Chik, which is like formula. Quik Chik is a powder, which is rich in electrolytes and vitamins. Every mother wants her chick to get off to the right start.

A chick registry list would not be complete without a few oddball items such as a radio and maybe a few storybooks. A radio comes in very handy. Not only does it help keep critters away at night, but it can be very soothing for them and for me. Since I spend a lot of time in the coop just looking at my chicks the first week, the radio is nice for me to listen to. As far as the storybooks go, well, that would be on my baby registry list if I had a baby. I will just have to read “Goodnight Moon” to my chicks until that day comes.

Now that I have all of my gifts picked out for my chick registry, I think a really cool chick shower would be the next best thing. I can see it now – pink streamers, pink plastic eggs decorating the tables and deviled eggs for appetizers. Now, that would be an awesome party for a new chicken mom.