July 14, 2022

On Lily

I'm not really sure where to start. The last week has kicked my ass. I mean, I could say the last year or two or four have kicked my ass, but I think it's all finally caught up with me. Let me start from the beginning.

I've never really been a cat person. I mean, I like them okay, but I don't want pets who require me to clean their toilets and refuse to have much to do with me. But about five and a half years ago, I'd just lost my beloved dog, Gabby. My mom had just started dialysis for kidney failure. My grandfather and uncle and my parents' dog had died in the year or two leading up to it. I'd moved back in with my parents. We all moved into my grandfather's house. It was a lot, and I just wanted something young and fun around the house, so I ended up adopting two kittens.

It took me a while to adopt these kittens. Every Saturday for a month or so, I'd go hang out at PetSmart and see what the rescue groups bought, but none of them ever really jumped out at me, and I wasn't even 100% committed to this task anyway. A couple of days before Christmas, I was actually out shopping with my mom when a rescue group posted a list of the kittens they'd have in the store that day. I was sitting in the car, waiting for my mom to finish up whatever she was doing, and that's when I saw the cat I wanted on the list. I ran back into the store and told her to hurry up because we were going to PetSmart. We had groceries that would ruin, but I didn't care. I had to have that cat.

We got to PetSmart, and the kitten I wanted wasn't there yet. So, we waited. And waited. And the lady who was running the adoptions kept calling the person who was supposed to bring her. I was determined that I would have this cat and no one else would. Finally, she showed up, and they took her out of her little carrier and handed her to me, and I was ready to take her home.

"You can't take her by herself," my mom said as I held onto this little kitten for dear life. And she was right. Because inside that little carrier from which they had pulled my cat was another, smaller, more fragile-looking kitten who was quite obviously scared to death and sad without her sister. And that's how I ended up with two cats: My Annie Cat that I just had to have from the moment I saw her on Facebook and the other one.

Little did I know that "the other one" would turn my world upside down.

I named them Annie and Lily. Annie for the Edgar Allan Poe poem "Annabel Lee" and Lily for one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts." Annie was going to be my baby, and I told my mom she could have Lily.

When I got the kittens home, they did some kind of personality reversal. Annie, who was so sweet and playful and outgoing in PetSmart, wouldn't let anyone come near her. She hid. She totally disappeared for days at a time. You'd think she was feral if you came to visit. Her only motivation is food. I don't call her Little Fat Annie Cat for nothing. And socks. Annie steals socks any chance she gets. It's some kind of weird fetish she has. I literally have to hide my good Nike socks from her or she will find them, and I'll wake up and find socks all over the house. On the other hand, Lily, who had tricked us into thinking she was so pitiful and lonely so that we'd take her home, was the life of the party.

Lily was the more dominant of the two, which I think had a lot to do with Annie's personality. She groomed her and took care of her and made sure she ate. She also ran up and attacked her from behind, leaving marks all over her, but that was Lily.

Lily loved everyone here: dog, cat, human. Duck. She wanted more attention than my dog does. She fetched. She sat when you told her. She seemed to understand every word you said. She greeted me every time I left and returned, whether it was to go grab something to eat or leave the country for a week. She was especially clingy when I would go out of town. She wanted to be with me 24/7, and when I was home, she was. Cleaning? Lily will help and then get into the empty box afterwards. Working? Lily was on my desk, chair, or shoulder watching me type. Cooking? She sat at the stove and begged for food that she would almost never eat. One time I left the kitchen for a few minutes and came back to find her on the counter throwing raw bacon down for Annie. Every time I laid in bed to read or watch TV, she joined me. When I woke up in the mornings, she'd come join me again if she hadn't slept with me that night, and we'd play. I got some nasty bite marks and scratches because it got pretty rough, but we both loved every single minute of it. If I so much as sneezed or sniffled, she'd run to me and start patting me with her paws or rubbing her head on my arm.

My point is that if I was home and in the house, Lily was right there with me 90% of the time. I can't lie and say it didn't annoy me at times, but she could read my moods and would back off when I asked her to. Most of the time. We just had that kind bond that I've really only ever had with one other pet, my late dog Gabby who I mentioned above.

It's been about 10 months since my mom died, and times have been tough since then. It seems like a lot of weird, unusual things have happened that have made my life a little more difficult, but even worse, I've had to navigate them without my main support system. My mom was my bestie. I consulted with her on everything, even if we were mad at each other and even when I didn't necessarily agree with her advice. Just having her around to talk through life's difficult moments is something that is hard to learn to live without.

That's not to say I don't have a support system now. My dad would do anything I asked him to. I have a few assorted friends and family members who have been great. But I have sought a lot of comfort in my animals over these past few months, particularly the ones in the house: Annie, Lily, and Sadie, my dog. Those three are my little dream team, even silly shy little Annie.

Last week, I was pretty stressed out for a number of reasons, so I probably didn't give any of them the attention they deserved. If I could go back in time…

On Thursday morning, I woke up, and Annie and Sadie were in my bedroom, but Lilly was missing. I called and called and called her, and she finally came up and drank some water and laid down by the water bowl I keep in there. This wasn't really like her, but I didn't think much of it at first. Lily has always been a little sickly. While Annie is robust and a little chunky, Lily has always been smaller. She gets cold easily. She has allergy issues. She had a little neurological thing. I've had to take her to the vet for issues with her eyes that she's had since birth and treat that on and off since I've had her. As a matter of fact, her eye looked pretty rough that day, so I just assumed her allergies had her down and treated it as such. I fed Annie some treats, and Lily ate a few, so I figure as long as she's eating and drinking, there isn't much to worry about. And later that day, she perked up. She was chasing some kind of flying bug that got into the house.

On Friday, she seemed a bit down again, so I went out and got her some meds and some brothy food, which I figured would help if she had a sore throat. I called my vet to make an appointment for her, but they couldn't see me until Tuesday. I called several other vets in every county north, south, and west of Atlanta. They couldn't see me until Tuesday. I asked Lily why she couldn't do this on a Monday rather than a holiday weekend. She did not respond.

On Saturday, she didn't seem any better or worse. I called a local emergency vet, and they seemed overwhelmed. They told me that as long as she was drinking water, not having trouble breathing, and not having seizures that she should be okay until Tuesday, but that didn't sit right with me. A friend of mine suggested another vet that is open 365 days a year, and I called and was thankfully able to get an appointment for Sunday afternoon.

By Saturday evening, I was a wreck. She seemed weaker, and she wasn't really eating. She was still drinking water, though, which felt like a good sign, but by now, I knew something was up. I got her into my bed that night and wrapped her in my soft robe, and we snuggled and watched TV for a few hours. I'm so grateful for that time.

At some point in the night, she got down from my bed. I slept terribly, but I had this intense dream that my mom appeared to me, and we were in this beautiful place that was lush with plants and flowers. I can't even describe it. My mom poured some cat food in a bowl, and Lily and this other cat I'd neer seen went to eat it, and they were so happy and healthy. I told her to let Annie get some too, but she told me it was not time for Annie.

I woke up in a panic. I just knew I'd find Lily dead somewhere. I looked all over the house and finally found her under my bed, alive and looking at me like I was disturbing her. She came out and drank some water and laid down outside my bedroom door. I tried to feed her again, but she wasn't having it, so we got ready and headed out to the vet.

The trip to the office was actually quite a drive because I didn't want to get on the expressway and for some reason, my GPS took me through a gazillion backroads. I prayed and prayed the entire way there. Lily meowed and tried to figure a way out of her carrier. She doesn't like car rides. I tried to pet her and talk to her and navigate the way, all while shaking with nerves that were absolutely shot. We got to the stripmall where the vet's office was supposed to be. I unloaded Lily who was in a heavy awkward large dog crate because my cat carrier is broken. It was 92 degrees. Parking was a mess because Atlanta. I finally got her up to the door, and it was locked. I asked someone next door where the vet's office was now, and they told me it had moved across the street. So, I loaded her back up, and it took about 15 minutes to get across the street because Atlanta, and I unloaded her again and took her into the new building.

She seemed okay, and I was still praying. She hissed at a dog who came and sniffed through her little windows, and she was still meowing. I got a tickle in my throat, which led to a five-minute coughing fit which probably led to everyone in the building thinking I had COVID. When they took us to a room, a tech came right in, and he looked just like Ben Folds with darker hair, and I felt like this had to be a good sign. It wasn't, but he was nice.

The vet came in, and she was also nice. They asked many questions. Went over their plans for testing her. Gave me some ideas of what could be wrong with her. They did an exam, drew some blood, etc. I kept praying and shaking and petting Lily and talking to her. In the back of my mind, I knew how this would end.

When the vet came back into the room, the look on her face was enough to confirm it. Lily was severely anemic. Like severely. She knew that before the test results even came back because she said she'd never seen blood so thin. We went over a million potential causes, but none of the testing revealed any of that. Her organs were working. No parasites. Negative for common cat diseases. I won't go into all the details, but we went around and around trying to come up with a solution, and as we did, Lily was fading. I kept scratching her under chin and behind her ears like she likes, and I do believe she enjoyed it. She purred and moved closer to me, but she also kept doing other things that weren't great signs, and her fear of being away from home had gone out the window. She didn't care who handled her or what they did to her. Honestly, the last couple of times I've seen that sort of behavior, I was watching my mother and a chicken die.

I had to make the decision as to whether or not I wanted to put her through emergency care. There was a big chance that she wouldn't even survive long enough to receive it. There was also a pretty big chance that the emergency care (blood transfusions, etc.) was more of a bandage than an actual solution. There was a small chance she'd get it and be fine, some sort of freak thing, but there was no way to know. And I'd like to say money didn't play a role, but I was already racking up quite a bill with all the testing, and we were talking thousands of dollars more just for the first night. Not that she's not worth it. There was just so much more to it than I can even type here.

A few friends and relatives checked in on me while the vet and tech were going back and forth delivering test results. She kept asking me if I wanted them to do this test and that and telling me how much each one cost. The vet never mentioned euthanizing, but I could tell it was on the tip of her tongue. She kept telling me that she was "very sick" and needed "lots of care." Now that I think about it, it reminded me a lot of my mom's last hospital stay, but this lady had a much better bedside manner than much of the ICU staff. Go figure.

I really didn't know what to do. I've never had to put an animal down before. As an adult, my pets have all died from old age. I did take a cat for my mom once, but I didn't even live with it and had no real attachment to it, so it wasn't the same. Anyway, my point is that it's just not a decision I've ever had to make. And it's not an easy decision to make. You have to weigh the vet's advice with your gut instinct and the probability of good and bad outcomes if you opt for the treatment and what the quality of life will be for that animal if they do survive the treatment and so on. I used to see death as a very black and white issue, but after all I went through with my mom and some of the issues I've had raising livestock, you start to learn there's a good bit of grey area.

And no matter what decision I came to, I felt like a failure. Lily was only 5 years old. She was supposed to be with me forever. I just assumed, took it for granted that she'd be one of those cats that lived to be 25 or something. I know in my heart that I did the right things for her in the end, but that "what if" game can mess with your head.

And this is where I realized that in the past, I could have called my mom. I could have asked her what to do. She'd tell me. I may not have followed her advice, but she'd help me see the situation more clearly. Even if I didn't make the right decision, she'd support me afterwards. We'd talk it through. We'd talk about Lily for days to come. We'd repeat ourselves, but it would bring comfort. She'd be just as emotionally involved with the situation as I was no matter what else was going on in her life. She knew me the way I knew Lily and knew what I would need to get through this difficult little period of life. My God, that's hard to live without.

So, at this point, I've been at the office for a couple of hours, and the vet came in and sat with me for a bit. She let me know they were closing soon and we needed to figure things out, but she wasn't pushy. She talked to me on a human level. I told her that I just didn't think I could go through with the emergency services for a number of reasons, and I laid them out and she didn't agree or disagree, just supported me. It wasn't anything close to what my mom would have done, but it was what I needed. I could have hugged that woman if I were a person who likes to hug people and we weren't post-pandemic and it had been a more appropriate situation.

"So, are you saying definitely that you want to euthanize her?" she asked finally using the word we'd both danced around for a bit. I told her I guess I did, and she alluded to the fact that she thought I was making the right decision given her expeirence with these types of situations. My dad also texted me and told me I was making the right decision.

And here is where I just lost it. I don't think I've cried in public since I was a toddler. I remember sitting at my grandmother's funeral and pinching my leg and threatening myself when I was on the verge. I barely cry in private, but I sat in that little room and just started bawling. Tears were flowing. Snot was flying. I was apologizing to poor Lily who had no idea what was going on. I kept telling the vet I don't even cry and my mom had just died and she was anemic too and I didn't know what's wrong with me. She probably thought I was crazy as she tried to discuss postmortem options — burial, cremation, etc. — and the Ben Folds-looking guy brought me a box of tissues. I guess I was crying for Lily, but I was crying for my mom and myself too. I was crying because I had to make that decision alone. I was crying because of every bad thing that has happened over the last year. I was crying over work, which has been awful lately. I was crying because I've been so overwhelmed over the last few months. I cried for all of it.

Ben Folds told me I could stay with her as long as I needed before they did the deed, but I told him to go ahead and do it. I'd been sitting there petting her and saying "Oh, Lily," for a few hours now and I didn't see the point of prolonging anything. I know they wanted to get home. It was well past closing time, and nothing was going to change if I sat there for 20 or 30 more minutes. The vet asked me if I wanted to be with her when it happened, and I really wasn't sure about that. I've watched animals die. It wasn't that.

If she had been visibly upset, I would have gone with her. But she was barely awake. And if she became more animated right before they did it, I probably would have second-guessed myself. And I was so tired. I didn't even want to get up off the little bench to go home. Part of me wanted to curl up and sleep there, and part of me wanted to get the hell out and never look back. And then the vet told me a very good story about something that happened to her as a teenager that made me decide not to watch. So, they explained what they would do, step by step, and took her back, and she was so sleepy and out of it anyway that she didn't even care. Ben Folds kept her wrapped in her little blanket I'd brought, and I sat and waited and texted with my dad and a few other people to let them know what was going on.

After it was all over, I loaded up my car with the carrier and Lily, who they were kind enough to put into a box for me, still wrapped in her blanket that she loved. She looked so peaceful. I decided to take the expressway home, and traffic was minimal. I brought her inside, and let Annie and Sadie sniff her to know she was gone. Annie even climbed in the box with her. Afterwards, she went from room to room, looking for her, and then she came back and sniffed the box again as if she had decided that it was true and she was saying goodbye. I also cut a few locks of Lily's hair, which sounds creepy to type out. About that time, my dad texted me and told me he had the grave ready. Looking back, I kind of wish I'd had her cremated as I usually do with my dogs, but it's too late now. We buried her in our pet graveyard where all my childhood dogs and a few other assorted animals are buried. That night and the next day, I really didn't know what to do with myself. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I was exhausted and starving though. It was the 4th of July but I could have cared less about any of it. I'm pretty sure I spent most of that day sitting on the sofa, watching King of the Hill and going through some of my mom's craft supplies.

It's been a week now since Lily first began showing signs of something being wrong. I'm not ashamed to rank it as one of the worst weeks of my life. I still feel like I've been hit by a truck. I'm devastated. I miss her. I still can't process how quickly it all happened. I still can't process the decision I had to make. I know people make it every day, but it was a first for me. In many ways. And it will probably take me a while to get over it.

But at the same time, it might have been the kick in the pants I needed to make some changes. To quit putting things off. Live in the moment. I can't go into much detail here because some of it is work-related, but I really feel like there are some big changes ahead. They might not be easy, but they should be worth it. And Lily taught me that you can't take life for granted. If I could go back to last Tuesday and let her climb all over me while I watched Jeopardy that evening instead of telling her I wasn't feeling it, I would.

I know what you're thinking. All of this over a cat. And a few years ago, I'd be right there with you. But Lily wasn't just a cat. She was my little buddy. We were in sync in a way that's rare. I bond with all my animals, but this was just different. I can't explain it. I had it with my dog Gabby, and I had it with Lily, and if I'm lucky enough, I'll have it again one day. Someone told me recently that they don't have pets because they couldn't deal with losing them. I told her she was right; it will shatter your world and make you question your existence and whether life is worth living. But it's worth it and you just pick up and do it all over again.

I will probably adopt another kitten soon. Most likely after some traveling I'm doing in a few weeks. Honestly, I'm getting it more for Annie to have a companion than I am for myself, but it will be nice to have something young and fun around the house again.

*Note: I wrote this last week on July 7, 2022.

June 01, 2022

A Tale of Two Roosters

The last year has been a bit of a learning curve for me for multiple reasons, and one thing I learned a lot about is roosters. And one thing I learned about roosters is that they can be quite stressful, but you can also love them anyway.

So, last July, I ordered 20 female chicks from a hatchery. I opted in for a "bonus exotic breed," not knowing that they were almost always roosters. But I figured it woudln't be so bad to have one rooster. What I ended up with was a box of 22 chicks, four of whom ended up being males. Two of them I knew were boys from the moment I got them, so how the hatchery made this mistake, I don't know. I don't know how any of that works. Anyway, a couple of weeks after I got the chicks, my mom went into the hospital where she spent nearly a month and never came home, so I was trying to take care of these chicks while dealing with all of that. I do remember telling my mom that I thought I had three roosters — it was one of the last conversations she and I had — and she said "uh-oh, you better hope not." Oh, how right she was.

My initial plan was to keep them all in the flock, but after a couple of months, it became abundantly clear that four boys with 18 girls wasn't going to work. So, I decided I would build a "bachelor pad" for my two more assertive roosters. Well, that didn't work either because the last thing I had time to do was build something. It took me forever to get those chickens outside in the first place. And one of the two boys I planed to separate actually tried to fight with my dog one day. She's 12 years old. She would never hurt a fly. I'll put up with a lot of things from animals but not that. Luckily, I was able to re-home those guys.

That left me with Rudy and Leppo. Rudy was a giant Cochin who was supposed to be a hen, and the only reason I knew he was a rooster was his size and markings. He didn't crow for a long time and was actually like a big teddy bear. Leppo was a little Hamburg who was super nervous and anxious and a little weird, but he and I bonded early on because he was the first one to figure out how to get out of the brooder.

After I rehomed the other two boys, things were pretty peaceful for about a month. But one day my dad was out with the chickens while I was working, and I heard a horrible noise. He later told me that Leppo had attacked Rudy. Over the next few weeks, it happened a couple of more times. Rudy was five times Leppo's size, but he didn't really fight back. One day, I intervened by removing Leppo from the flock for a short period of time, and when I let him back in, Rudy started attacking him. And when I say "attack," I don't mean anything terrible, just some pushing and shoving and hurt feelings. I would have intervened otherwise.

But it got to the point that I wasn't comfortable having them both with the flock. I actually think they injured one of my hens earlier this year, which led to her death. They also seemed to be in competition for mating — I watched Leppo hop on the same girl nine times in half an hour. So, right after that, I ordered one of those awful little prefab chicken coops, and that became Leppo's new home. He hated it initially, but I didn't know what else to do.

And then Rudy became a bit on the aggressive side with my dad. I've heard terrible stories about mean roosters, and he was nothing like that at all, but my dad walks around with a bamboo walking stick sometimes outside, and Rudy would attack it. I researched how to stop this behavior, and my dad "felt bad for him" and wouldn't do it. That really made me uncomfortale. The last thing I wanted was to have to watch my back every time I'm outside. He was also pretty rough with the girls. He wasn't as wild as Leppo, but he'd stand on their backs for a long time after mating, was ripping their feathers out, and grabbing them by the necks and swinging them around. Rudy made me realize that I am not a rooster person.

After talking it over with some friends and some kind people with more experience, I decided Rudy had to go. I couldn't have him attacking my dad or mistreating my hens. I didn't want him attacking anyone else who visited either. I placed ads online. Spread the word among people I know. Contacted farms and rescues. In the end, I actually found some great options for him. One would have been a better life for him than I ever could have given him for sure. But I couldn't do it. I could not get rid of him. All I could think about was how terrible it would be drive him up to the mountains and abandon him (at this really great place). Would they buy his him favorite sunflower seeds? Would they call him by his name that he knew really well? Would he miss us?

I made a donation to the place that was willing to take him, and thanked them and told them I had decided to keep him. Plus, I know roosters are treated so horribly and abandonded, and these people are so kind to take them in that I didn't want to use up their resouces. If all of these animal rescues and charities can keep unwanted roosters on hand, I could too.

First, that meant that I had to stop being afraid of him. I'll admit it. He scared me a little bit. I don't like animals that make sudden movements (see: frogs). So, while he never really tried to attack me, I decided I was going to show him I was dominant. I started chasing him every day. If he even looked at me funny or crowed in my driection, I'd run after him for 20 minutes with a shovel in hand until we both got tired. I also started squirting him lightly with a water hose when he'd do things I didn't like, like get too close to me, try to fight with Leppo through his cage, or mistreat one of the hens. Some people do terrible things to assert their dominance over a jerk of a rooster, so don't come at me saying any of this sounds cruel. It actually worked. I became less scared of him, and he learened to respect me when I was in his space. I learned a great deal about roosters through all of this.

But even though we'd learend to live with each other, Rudy was still super rough on the girls. Some of it was just his immaturity, and some of it was his size. My cousin came over one day and saw him and said, "That's the biggest chicken I've ever seen." He'd never fit in a pre-fab coop like Leppo, so I bought a larger dog kennel for him. It took me a while to get it set up, and then my dad was nice enough to cover it in hardware cloth to keep predators and Leppo out. Once we were done, I moved him to it. He actually seemed to like it. I think Rudy was never meant to be the head of a flock. He seemed overwhelmed all the time, and when we had issues with hawks earlier this year, he would run and hide, but Leppo would try to fight them. Long story a little shorter, Rudy actually seemed to enjoy his bachelorhood. Some roosters are fine being on their own, and some aren't.

We got Rudy moved on a weekend, and by the end of that week, I was prepared to start letting him out for free time. As a matter of fact, that Thursday night, I told my dad I'd let him out the next day for a few hours. Later that night, around midnight, I was watching TV, and I thought I heard something, but between the TV and the air conditioning and all my fans, I coudln't be sure and didn't think anything of it. The next morning, my dad called and told me he'd gone to let the hens out of their house, and Rudy was dead.

I felt awful. Guilty. I immediately figured out how a predactor got into the dog kennel, a place with some give that I had missed. I failed that poor boy. Based on the way we found his body, I was fairly certain it was a raccoon. Later in the week, a neighbor had spotted a raccoon on her porch, and another night, I'd taken my dog out around 1 a.m. and heard one in the woods, which adds to the idea that this is what it was. My dad and I both mourned that poor boy. My dad buried him and cleaned up the mess in the scorching heat since I had to work and was also treating a duck injury. It was a dark day around here.

We decided to let Leppo out with the girls that evening to see how he did. If he was okay, we'd move him back into the big house with them. I feel like they're pretty safe in there unless raccoons know how to use keys. But Leppo was a litle overzealous with the girls, and he actually wanted to go back into his little coop at the end of the day. So, we let him. And we spent a good hour or so trying to make sure nothing could get into it. I drilled doors shut. We stacked cement blocks in front of the doors we couldn't drill. I felt condident he was safe.

After I got over the sadness of losing Rudy, I felt a little better about the situation. Leppo is very sweet. He has never tried to attack any humans. As a matter of fact, if he was out of his pen and I came outside, he'd run across the yard to greet me. He was great at alerting the girls to predators. I often let him out with the ducks, and my drakes would go run him off, but he never tried to fight back. He was good with my dog. If he didn't literally fly and land on a hen or try to mate with them backwards, he would have been perfect. My plan was to slowly reintegrate him with the girls. I was hoping after he got to be a year old and we made it through mating season and chicken puberty, he might calm down a little bit.

But I would never get that chance. A few days ago, about a week and a half after Rudy, I was sound asleep, and my phone rang. It was my dad. Nothing good comes from my dad calling me and waking me up early in the morning. The last time he did it was when Rudy died, and the time before that was when the hospital had called him and told him we needed to get up there with my mom. Well, there was another time when he thought someone had stolen my car, but I'd just parked it in a different place. Anyway, he told me something had gotten Leppo.

We went over every inch of his coop and couldn't figure out how or what did it. We finally decided it had to be a human because whatever else it was would have had to move cement blocks and then move them back. And we're still not 100% sure, but I've decided it must have been a raccoon. The same raccoon probably. You see, they can reach their arms in and do bad things. Leppo hadn't been eaten at like Rudy, but he was decapitated. Raccoons are known to snap a chicken's head off. And since he hadn't been eaten at, it leads me to believe the creature couldn't get into the pen with him. On the back of the coop, there's a built-in nesting box, and Leppo actually slept in it rather than on the roost. I'd drilled the top down with four screws, but it's entirely possible that it was pried up enough for a little raccoon arm to reach in and grab him. That wood is cheap.

I hate it. If I'm being honest, I miss those boys, especially Leppo. I stil don't think I'm a rooster person, and taking care of my girls on their own is so much less stressful. Those boys cost me so much time, money, and anxiety over the last seven or eight months. But I have no regrets. They taught me so much about roosters and nature and farm life and even life in general. If I do ever end up with another one... or two or four, I feel more confident handling the situation. For now, I'm good with just my girls and my ducks though.

April 12, 2022

(College) Life Ain't Easy

If I'm being totally honest, I've never been a great student. I get bored. I'm a little lazy. I learned early on that I could do enough to get by and make great grades and get into good colleges without putting in much effort. But since I've been back at UGA over the last 10 months, I've been trying to do better. I'm actually studying topics that interest me now, and, well, when you're paying thousands of dollars a semester yourself, you want to try to get something out of it.

The first semester I was doing pretty well until my mom ended up in the ICU for nearly a month and never left the hospital. I had an A in the class, but I missed a project, so that took me down to a B. I think I did pretty well during the fall semester, especially considering my super-heavy workload. I made an A and a B in my two classes. This spring semester, I'm taking two classes that are pretty interesting but also pretty light. No exams or anything like that, which is good because my brain has been fried for the last month or two. But I knew that towards the end of the semester, I'd have to read a book, watch a documentary about the author of the book, and write three short essays on it. No big deal. I like to read. The book is one I've wanted to read anyway. I can churn out six pages of essays pretty quickly.

The closer to the due date we came, the less enthusiastic I became. A week out, I had read exactly one chapter of the book. My first inclination was to phone it in. Revert back to those high school days when I'd rather drive all over Atlanta to find the video version of a book I had to read for English rather than actually read the book. I had so much other stuff to do. But sometime during the last week, something clicked inside me, and I decided to give it my all.

I carried that book everywhere and read while I sat out with the chickens in the evenings. Eventually, I downloaded the audio version and played it while I worked. I did extra research. I made notes. I underlined the parts I liked. The essays were due this last Sunday, and I stayed up late Saturday night watching the documentary. I actually tried instead of taking the easy way out.

On Sunday, after I did all of my animal chores, I came inside and began writing. I spent most of the day writing those essays, combing through the book, organizing my notes, and re-reading it over and over again to ensure every word was perfect. By the time I finished, it was late afternoon, and I was pretty darn proud of myself. Six pages of what was probably the best essay I'd ever written for school at any age. I read it all over once more, and was in a hurry to get it submitted, both because I was excited about the work I'd put in and because I was anxious to get outside and do some things before it got dark. I saved it. Twice. I converted it to a PDF as my professor requested. I went to the class site to upload it...

It wasn't there.

At first I thought nothing of it. I probably just didn't notice where I'd saved it to. But the more places I looked, the sicker I felt. I tend to work in Google Docs these days and haven't even used Word in years, so I thought maybe there was something I was missing. A few hours of searching, lots of advice from more tech-oriented friends, and plenty of nausea later, I realized that the file had just disappeared when I converted it to a PDF. A friend of mine told me she has that problem when creating PDFs sometimes. The thing is I didn't back it up. I was so proud of all the work I'd done and anxious to get it submitted that I didn't even think about it.

I spent the rest of the night ready to give up on pretty much everything. Honestly, I had to meet with my advisor a couple of weeks ago, and I left the meeting feeling kind of down about the whole college situation. It wasn't especially bad — just awkward. I'm not there to get a job. I'm not there to get a degeree in a hurry. I just want to do this at my pace and have fun with it, and I left that meeting feeling like that's not acceptable. I thought about everything from changing my major to English to quitting completely, but I got over it. This little disappearing essay situation didn't help though.

Despite my frustration, I got up early yesterday and worked for a few hours, did my animal chores, and sat down to rewrite everything. Again, it took most of the day. I'm not sure the second version was as good as the first, but I tried my best, and I saved it all in four different places before converting it to a PDF, which was successful this time. Thankfully, my professor was nice enough to give me an extension.

There are only a couple of weeks left in this semester, and they should be pretty easy. This summer, I'm signed up for two classes, but one of them is precalculus, and I'm thinking about cutting it down to one because, well, one is precalculus. Apparently, the math class I took back in the day isn't acceptable for my degree choice. I'm not sure what I'll do in the fall. I've been doing most everything online so far, and I know I'll have to start attending classes in person soon. There's also the issue that my work is kind of frustrating right now. I've cut back, but I'm thinkig about cutting back even more this summer to start working on some personal writing projects. There's a lot to consider, but I've decided to stop trying to plan ahead and just go with the flow. That's the best I can do for now.

January 26, 2022

Oh, Butters

Despite having a ton of stuff to do today, I decided to go run errands instead. I really don't get out a lot lately, so when I'm in the mood, I figure I better take advantage of it, even if it's just to go buy chicken feed and toilet cleaner. Anyway, before I left, I put the ducks up and let the chickens out — a little early but that's our normal routine. My dad and I both check on them when they're out, and sometimes, we'll sit out and read or do yardwork.

So, about an hour and a half after I'd left, I had this weird feeling about the chickens and predators. It could have been the general anxiety I have about everything, or it could have been a premonition, who knows, but a few minutes later my dad called and said "Well, Butters is dead."

Oh, Butters. Let me tell you about Butters.

Back when I ordered my chicks from the hatchery, my mom said, "Why don't get some of those little ones with the feathers on their head? I love those." Polishes. She followed some people on Instagram and YouTube who had farms and raised them and just loved them. So, I did. Because at that time I was in the mode to do whatever I could to bring her a little bit of joy.

If you've never seen a Polish chicken, they're tiny little things with a big poof of feathers on top of their heads. They can't see to save their lives. I ordered a white one and a black one, but they were out of black ones, so they sent me two golden-laced ones instead. They were the color of peanut butter when they arrived, and before I had names for anyone, I would call them the Peanut Butters. Fast forward, and that's what I ended up naming them: Peanut and Butters. I also chose Butters because of the South Park character. Their personalities aligned.

So, my mom ended up with three Polish chicks that she never really got to enjoy, which means I ended up with three Polish chicks. After dealing with my mom's lengthy hospital stay and death, my dad helped me finally move all the chicks outside in September, and I noticed right away that something wasn't right with Butters. She laid down a lot, even to eat. She had absolutely no tail feathers. She stayed hovereing in a corner most of the time. The next day, I saw another chicken go after her and then I saw bloody spots, so I brought her back in the house.

Butters spent a couple of nights on the porch to rest and cover. I doctored her up with some stuff to prevent infection and gave her lots of protein. She perked up a bit and seemed really lonely, so we decided to take her back out and see how she'd do with the others. I sprayed some some stuff on her that will help keep the others from pecking at her, and I trimmed the feathers on her head, hoping it'd help her see a little better.

She was so happy to be back with the flock, and she required a little extra help in the weeks after that, but she really started to flourish after a while. Maybe a little too much. Butters became quite feisty and confident. If anyone pecked her, she pecked them right back. Her tail feathers grew back, and soon, she was bigger than Peanut who is kind of a weirdo too. Even so, she still seemed to have something not quite right going on with her. At first, we thought maybe she was actually blind, but then we started researching and decided it was possibly some kind of neurological thing. Either way, she was thriving, despite her disabilities, and everyone stopped picking on her for the most part.

Butters was hesitant when I first started letting them out for free-range time. While everyone else roamed, she stuck close to the coop and run. To be honest, for a while, I debated keeping the Polishes in their own coop. They're not super compatible with free-range time because something can sneak up on them oh so easily. Even trimming their head feathers didn't do much to help with their sight. But I also made up my mind a few years ago when I first had chickens that I'd rather them have short happy lives than spend years cooped up, literally, in a cage. I'll do everything I can for them and anything that I believe is in their best interest, but at the end of the day, God and nature will decide. I did a ton of researching and soul searching, and this is just how I feel about the circle of the life. I think if you ever want to invest your money, time, or heart into livestock, unless you just want to keep a couple as little pets, it's important to decide what mentality about death you're willing to develop because it's an unavoidable part of it... but that's a post for another day.

Back around the end of November, my two roosters got into a bit of a squirmisth. Again, this is another post for another day, but this left my big guy, Rudy, a bit beat up and with some hurt feelings. He sat and moped under their coop for a couple of days, and Butters stayed by his side. For about a week, she followed him everywhere he went. Until recently, Rudy had been one of the lowest on the pecking order, even though he's a guy and easily two to three times as big as the rest of the chickens, and I think Butters understood that and knew he needed a friend. Then again, Butters loves having friends. Anytime she spotted one of the other chickens sprawled out in the sun, she'd run over and plop down beside them. She was just a social little lady who wanted to belong so badly.

Well, over the last week or two, Butters has become quite adventurous. She has a tendency to wander off on her own, but the other two Polishes do that too. I kind of think they don't realize they're doing it. Anyway, we did so much to help her build her confidence, and maybe we did a little too much because she thought she was invincible. Last night, she was halfway into the woods, and I told my dad as went over to herd her back, "That girl isn't long for this world."

I had no idea just how right I was. We're not entirely sure what happened, but it was most likely a hawk or an owl. I've never lost a chicken to an aerial predator. Foxes and coyotes, yes, but the local hawks have never been successful. What seems unusual is that only one of my other chickens seemed scared or acted like she knew something was amiss. We actually thought it had gotten her too until we found her hiding somewhere. The others were all business as usual, even my two roosters who are actually really great at keeping an eye out for predators. But, like I said, Butters liked to wander off by herself, and the boys and the other girls were probably off somewhere else when it happened.

My poor dad is having a hard time with it. Mr. "I don't care anything about farm animals" has become quite the farmhand over the last few months. With my mom gone, him retired and recovered from his health issues, COVID sticking around, and me working so much, he has taken over many of my animal duties. And Butters was his favorite little feathered friend. My chickens aren't crazy about being handled, but he had Butters trained so that he could just pick her up and hold her without much a fuss. He buried her, and I'm pretty sure he didn't eat supper tonight. I told him that my mom had wanted these Polish chickens, so maybe she's finally getting to spend time with one of them now.

So, that's the story of Butters — the mightly little chicken whose 7 months on this planet made quite an impression on my family. We'll probably cut out free range time for a little while, and when they do go back out, it will be mostly supervised. After this weekend, the weather is supposed to warm up a bit, it's about time for fox and coyote mating season, and that hawk or whatever it was will likely return. We'll figure out our balance again and move on. That's just what you have to do.

RIP, sweet Butters.

Follow me on Instagram for more pictures and videos of Butters

December 30, 2021

I don't know about you, but I'm 2021'd out.

It's been a crappy year for many people, so I'm not going to dive into that. We all know it. 

And it's been a crappy year for me. I'd say the worst year of my life. I pretty much spent eight to nine months of it losing my mom. She died in August, and it's been incredibly surreal, especially after spending years taking care of her.  

But I don't necessarily want to get into that either.  

My initial plan was to write something to reflect on all of this, but I have a different idea. Even though this year was absolutely horrid, I'm going to try to come up with 10 positive things that happened to me. I might have to stretch a bit, but luckily, I have a great imagination.  

1. I became a UGA student. Again.  

As the story goes, I dropped out of UGA several years ago to study acting, and I dabbled in college at Georgia State for a while, but I spent much of my time there watching Ludacris and Jermaine Dupri filming music videos among other things. I think I've been trying to go back to UGA since I left, but the timing never worked for whatever reason. 

I've also got this newfound interest in farming and agriculture. As I stated, this has been a terrible year, and I woke up one morning back in March, and I was depressed. I was trying to think of what I could do to pull myself out of it, and "Driver 8" by R.E.M. came on my phone. I started thinking about Athens and UGA, and later that day, I sent in my application. 

Long story short, they accepted me back despite my 1.66 GPA, oops, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it, even if I'm almost old enough to be some of my classmates' mother.  My major right now is biological sciences, but I'm thinking of switching to agriscience or animal science. It's almost like I'm having the experience now that I should have had when I was 18, except I'm paying for it myself, I have to keep up with a full-time career and a household, and I probably shouldn't hang out at the Tate Center looking for cute guys.    

2. Darius Rucker serenaded me. On Twitter. With text. But still.     

Speaking of R.E.M... This is a silly one, but it's a fun one. If you know me at all, you know I've been a huge Hootie & the Blowfish fan since I was a girl coming of age in the 1990s, but I have had terrible luck with it. Essentially, every single time in my life I've managed to get tickets to see the band live, something has happened where I couldn't go. I've had friends around the country trying to make it happen for me, but it just never does. It's become a running joke with some of my circle. I even bought virtual tickets to watch them online one time, and my mom happened to be in the hospital, and she called me about 20 minutes into the show, and I missed most of the rest of it.    

So, I've never seen them live, but I could listen to Darius Rucker sing all day long every day and be just fine, and I love to hear him cover R.E.M. The Hootie & the Blowfish version of "Driver 8" is something I listen to almost daily.  My favorite R.E.M. song just happens to be "You Are the Everything," which isn't one of their most popular songs, but one day this fall I got it into my head that a Darius Rucker version of it would be the best thing to ever happen to the world. 

I tweeted him about it once or twice because why not? I didn't expect a response. Dude has millions of fans and followers and probably doesn't even read that stuff, right? Well, imagine my surprise when he responded with some lyrics from the song. I know it's dumb, but it made my day. My week. Maybe even my month. 

But I'd still kill to hear him sing it for real. Just saying.  

3. I became the proud owner of six ducks. 

I was planning to get more chickens this year, but I started trying to think of ways to cheer my mom up. Something that would give her a sense of purpose as her mental and physical health declined. She's always wanted ducks, so in late March, I went to a local feed store and got six ducklings. Unfortunately, she never got to spend much time with them because they spent a lot of time in places she wasn't physically able to get to. And the last time she went into the hospital, we spent most of that time busting our asses to finish their pen so that when she did get home she could finally hang out with them anytime she wanted, but sadly, she never came home.  

All of that said, I love those stupid ducks. I do have too many drakes, and I have a feeling that's gonna be a problem come springtime — they already squabble over the girls a bit. I'm actually thinking about ordering some more ladies, but they're just so much fun. I can sit down on the ground, and they come running up like little puppies, and they eat out of my hands. I never thought I'd be so gaga over birds. 

P.S. The great Southern writer Flannery O'Connor had ducks. I learned that in a documentary the other day. Just sayin'. 

Flannery O'Conner had ducks too

4. Work has been going extremely well for me.  

I won't say much here because it's pretty boring, but my writing career has been going well. I had a little rough patch this summer, but otherwise, things are going in a good direction. And I'm hoping to start expanding into even more writing endeavors next year. Even if I could just spend some time writing what I want to write — more fiction, farm/garden/ag stuff, etc. — I'd be happy. 

5. I spent a week in Turks & Caicos.  

Back in 2019, after I spent the first half of the year taking care of my mom who'd been in an accident that left her with several injuries, and the second half of the year taking care of my dad who nearly died from sepsis and had to have open-heart surgery, I told a friend of mine I needed a nice tropical vacation. We planned a trip to Turks & Caicos for 2020. Shortly before we were about to leave, we had to stay home and flatten the curve or whatever, and leaving the country was out of the question. 

We rescheduled. Reschedule again. Rescheduled again. I had to line up about 8,000 people to take care of my mom while I was gone, and she was not at all happy with me leaving.

Anyway, we finally made it in June of this year, and it was nice to feel like a part of the world again after a year and some months of laying low. I hadn't even been outside of Georgia since August 2019.  And while it wasn't the trip we originally planned or hoped for, it was nice to go somewhere new. It was nice to spend a week drinking margaritas and swimming in the Caribbean waters. It was nice just to have a minute to myself. The trip home was a whole different story, but you can go read about that in my post about Fort Lauderdale.  

6. Football.  That's all.  

I love football. I love sports in general, but I love football the most. If it weren't for football, I'm not even sure I would have survived the last few years. It's beautiful. It's a great escape. This football season has been extra special. My dad and I have sat in his living room and watched many games together, both of us worn out and thankful for it after everything we went through with my mom. 

But it's not just that. My Bulldogs have had an amazing season. Yeah, that Alabama game hurt like hell, but I'm pumped up for Michigan later this week and, hopefully, the championship game in January. And as most people on the planet know, I'm a huge Peyton Manning fan and have been for about as long as I've loved Hootie & the Blowfish, and having him on Monday nights has been incredible. My fantasy team leaves me with a lot to be desired, but I've been enjoying this season so much that I don't even care.  

 7. I discovered The Last Kingdom

This is another silly one, but I told you I had to stretch. Sometime around the end of last year or the start of this one, my mom was in the hospital, and I was in bed, exhausted, playing around on Netflix, and on a whim, I started watching a random show called The Last Kingdom. I'd never heard of it before, and it wasn't something I'd normally pick, but I'm so glad I did. It is, without a doubt, one of the best shows I've ever seen. With the exception of one character, the casting is wonderful. The scenery is gorgeous. The storyline and the way it intertwines with history is intriguing. 

I don't have a ton of time to binge-watch shows, but I may or may not have watched it four times all the way through this year. I managed to get a friend of mine hooked on it too, and before you know it, we're listening to podcasts on it and buying the books on which it's based and having these lengthy discussions about the plot and the characters like we're in some kind of comparative literature class.  I was a little familiar with Alexander Dreymon, the star of the show, from a season of American Horror Story, but the rest of the cast is new to me. I was going to list my favorites, but it's hard to choose because they're all so good. I will say Arnas Fedaravicius (who plays Sihtric) really stands out. I've heard a few interviews with him, and he seems like a fascinating guy. I can't wait to see what kind of roles he gets in the future. Heck, he's even inspired my own writing lately.  

8. I'm setting up a cool office.   

I'm really stretching here, but as I've mentioned, my mom had some hoarding tendencies. It wasn't like she kept dead cats and empty food wrappers or anything like that, but she's accumulated a ton of stuff over the years — two houses full! The week after she died, I started sorting through it, though I've had to put that on hold for a few months due to a work situation. I'm starting back on it next weekend.  Anyway, in one house, there's a formal living room that I'm pretty sure no one has used since my grandmother had her church friends over circa the early to mid-1990s. It's a fairly big room, and it's got bookshelves and my grandparents' piano, and I was working in there and thinking that it's a shame that it goes to waste. 

That's when I decided it will become my office for now. I don't know what my plans are for where I'll live in the future, but I do know that I'd like to have a nice comfortable place to work for now. And after living out of boxes for years, it'll be nice to have a space that feels like my own again. I've got some cool plans for it that I'll start on in January, and I'm really excited about it, and I'm excited that I'll finally have time in the new year to start going through all my mom's stuff again. It's like a bittersweet treasure hunt in a way. We had actually planned to do it this fall anyway, but we were going to do it together.   

Cool Outkast artwork for the office.

9. Some good things happened to some of my best friends.  

Because this list is totally self-indulgent, I decided to mention something that isn't about me at all. Well, I am genuinely happy about these things, but you get the point. I've had some friends have some really great things happen to them this year. Some have made career changes that really suited them. Some have beat cancer. Some have had babies. Some have gotten engaged or married. Some have spent time with loved ones they haven't seen since the pandemic started. Some have moved. Some have gotten books published. It really is great to witness the people in your life having some wonderful experiences.   

10. Last but not least, I learned a lot of lessons.  

If there was ever year for learning lessons, this was it. For me anyway. Many of them were hard. Many of them hurt. I learned an awful lot about people, both good and bad. I learned a lot about myself. I learned that life without your mother can be both terrifying and liberating. I learned that no one will ever have my back like she did. I learned that even so, I'll probably be okay. 

We weren't allowed to see my mom much when she was in the hospital because of the whole pandemic situation, but one day, they brought us in to discuss some unpleasant things, and I remember my father telling the lady who was running the show, "I guess I'm just a pessimist."  The lady who probably wasn't my biggest fan looked at him and said, "It's a good thing your daughter is an optimist."  

And I guess I am. Sure, I'm sarcastic and cynical and often joke that I'm dead inside, but I am forever optimistic. And even though 2021 was this shittiest of years in a series of rough years, I still look to 2022 with unwavering hope.   

September 26, 2021

Chicken Drama


Confession: Up until this past Wednesday, I hadn't left the house in about two weeks. Well, I've left the house, but I guess I should say I haven't left the property.  There are a few reasons for this. Last week, I worked 80+ hours, plus I haven't really had the need to go anywhere. I have all of my groceries and food delivered anyway. I've also been laying low because the whole COVID thing seems to be ramping up again. And for the last week, I've been in a bit of a funk. It just feels like nothing is going quite right lately. It's almost like I'm re-learning life and what I want and don't want and what I'm willing to put up with and what I'm not. Those are tough lessons on top of grieving my mom, but as my mom herself used to say, life doesn't stop just because someone dies.  

While there are many reasons I've been in said funk, some of it has to do with my chickens. Back in July, I ordered 22 chickens. Well, I ordered 20, but the hatchery sent me a couple of bonuses. I ordered all hens, but one of the bonuses was unsexed, so I knew it was possible that it would be a he. Having one rooster might be fun, I thought. Maybe I could hatch a few chicks. Maybe I could sell chicks. He could also help with predator control. 

Well, that unsexed chick did indeed turn out to be a rooster. A rare breed, apparently — a golden penciled Hamburg. I'd never even heard of them. He's a tiny little guy, and he moves at full speed 24/7. I've named him Leppo, and I kind of feel bad for him because the hens beat up on him, but he's so quick, it doesn't seem to bother him.   

Leppo is the black and orange one in the middle.

I ordered four Cochin hens, and they've turned out to be my favorite breed so far. They're unique in that they have feathers up and down their legs, and they look like big fluffy bears. They're supposed to be gentle and fairly easy to handle. Of course, I noticed right away that one of those four had a much redder comb than the other three. It's hard to get a great picture of him, but meet Rudy, my second rooster. He's actually my favorite of the four and one I definitely want to keep. 

Rudy, the Cochin rooster 

I also ordered four barred rock hens. In my last flock of chickens, I had one barred rock, and she was my absolute favorite. I just knew I wanted more of them. What I didn't know is that two of my four hens would turn out to be roosters. To be honest, I haven't named these guys because I didn't really want to keep them. 18 hens to 4 roosters isn't a great ratio. There's already some tension in my flock because they spent so much time cooped up together due to issues beyond my control. So, now I have to figure out what to do with these guys. I'm okay with keeping two roosters, but I can't keep four, and I've kind of bonded with the other two. But I also feel guilty just giving these guys up because they're males. 

These two need a new home. 

Some people start a rooster-only flock, a bachelor pad.  At first, I was against this idea. The last thing I want is yet another construction project. The duck pen turned into way more than I had planned for it to be, and it soured me on being ready to start something new anytime soon. My dad was creative enough to build the chickens a temporary run out of my mom's old greenhouse frame and my grandfather's old tomato cages, but it won't hold them forever. They need more space and something safer. I plan to build them a more permanent one at some point before the end of the year. Just not today and not this month. 

I do know someone who will take the roosters, but they'll be butchered immediately for a meal. I have no problem with this. No judgment from me.  I eat chicken every other day probably.  But again, I hate for them to lose their lives and for their purpose to change just because of their sex and because the hatchery mistook them for girls. This is the grey area where me and farming part ways. My dad is worse than I am, and he's currently my farmhand, so we talked it out last night. We've decided to work on the bachelor pad after all unless I find someone who wants them in the meantime. We have 8+ acres. Plenty of space. Why not give them a space where they can just chill for the rest of their lives, however long that may be? That will probably be an October project.    

But that hasn't even been my biggest issue with the chickens. Have you ever seen a Polish chicken? They're smaller than the average chicken and have big bushy feathers on top of their heads. They lay eggs, but they're more for show than anything. My mom became kind of obsessed with them because someone she followed on Instagram had them, so I ordered two with my flock for her benefit. I didn't research them well. I also ended up with three because the hatchery sent me an extra. 

They're cute and they're fun, but I don't personally recommend them for a bigger flock full of mixed breeds. (I know many people do successfully keep them together with standard chickens, and that's great, but I would never get more of them.)    

So, now I have these three Polishes: Lola, Butters, and Peanut. This is Butters. Not the best picture, and she's a little beat up and recently got a haircut, but you get the idea.  

Butters hasn't had an easy life so far. 

Before I moved them outside, I noticed Butters laid around in the brooder/on the porch a lot, but I figured it was out of boredom. After I got them outside, I noticed she was almost always cowering in a corner when I went out to feed them. I also noticed her laying around, even when she ate, and one day, I noticed she was missing several tail feathers.  

On the first day in the new run, she never came outside with the others. We brought her in and examined her a bit, and I noticed she'd been pecked a lot and had a few bald spots on her back. So, she spent a couple of days by herself on the back porch. That's why I finally left the house — to go to Tractor Supply to get her some medication. She was okay on the porch, but chickens are not creatures who like to be alone and she got a little depressed. Plus, the longer they're away from the main flock, the harder it is to reintegrate them. So, on Friday, I sprayed her down with this stuff called Blu-Kote. It's an antiseptic for animals that tastes gross and camouflages her bald spots so the others will leave her alone. I also cut some of her crest feathers because Polishes tend to have bad lines of sight.  

We put her back out with the rest of the flock, and she seemed to do okay, but by the end of the day, they were pecking her again. That night before they went up for the night, my dad helped me catch her, and we put more Blu-Kote on her. Yesterday, she did pretty well and held her own with the other chickens. Today, she spent more time inside the coop, but when I went to put them up for the night, I noticed she was eating and pecking at some of the others and holding her own for now. We're beginning to think something might be wrong with her —something neurological or some partial blindness based on the way she acts. She isn't really steady on her feet. Or it could just be weakness from not getting much food or exercise when the others were bullying her. We'll have to wait and see how it plays out. But I'm not certain about keeping her with the main flock forever. If there is something permanently wrong with her, they won't be nice to her. Survival of the fittest, I guess.  

Also, I'll probably let the chickens free range in the near future, and those little Polish chicks are free food for hawks. As a matter of fact, once got loose today, and I was able to sneak right up on her and catch her.  

So, I'm probably going to end up separating the Polish chicks into their own little coop and run at some point soon. This is not exactly what I had planned — three separate groups of chickens — but once I take responsibility for an animal, I just feel that I should do everything in my power to make sure it has a good life, even if it's not exactly what I had in mind. 

And that's okay. I'll get it worked out. I have a few weeks before everyone matures, so I can get it all together. It'll cost more than I planned, and I'll have to give up a few more days to build some new homes, but hopefully, everyone will be happy and healthy once I'm done. To be honest, it took me a few days to wrap my head around it all. I just wanted to keep my little flock together and for everyone to get along. But it was more about me being selfish. I didn't want to have to put in more effort than I had to, but I realized this weekend that this is just lazy and not fair to these little lives that I'm responsible for.  

So, now that I've recommitted myself to these guys and girls, I think that will help me out of my funk a little bit. Being busy this week will help too. I have a carload of stuff to take to the antique shop; a big exam in, of all things, my bird biology class; a big work project; my other regular work; and I need to get back to fixing up my downstairs office and cleaning up the porch from its chicken invasion. I'm even making some plans for some day trips in the weeks to come.          

September 03, 2021

I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way...

My mom died. 

It still feels weird to say that, but it doesn't stab me in the heart to say it like I always thought it would. I think I always pictured myself dressed in all black à la Scarlett O'Hara, spending endless days in bed in a deep depression. That's not to say that's not a possibility in the future, but I think I've handled it pretty well so far. Having 31 little mouths to feed also keeps me going each day, especially when 22 of them have turned the back porch into a chicken coop...but that's a story for another day.    

A couple of days after she died, I sat here and wrote it all down. My intention was a blog post, but it turned into a 10,000+ word saga that was pretty personal, so I'm not sure if I'll publish it or not. It'll need some editing before I do. But it helped me work it all out, and I went from questioning everything to feeling at peace with most of it.  

Admittedly, I've struggled more over the last few days than I did in the beginning. Maybe it's because those first days are filled with friends and family reaching out, a mailbox full of cards and notes, and meals and gift cards arriving every other day? After a while, everyone moves on, and you're left thinking what the hell do I do now? Especially when you don't have a husband, kids, or siblings to lean on... I do have my dad, of course, but as I told a friend of mine last night, I'm just a 70-year-old heart patient away from being alone in the world. That can be an overwhelming thought, even for an introverted only child like myself.  

So, that's what I'm focusing on. What the hell do I do now? I've been taking care of my mom for years in some way or another. Probably longer than anyone knows. I've got to relearn how to live my life for me.  

Well, first there's work. Over the last few years, I've more or less had to work part-time. That's been a struggle for me — to cut back when I know I could have been making so much more. I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, and I know I complained often, but looking back, I'm glad my work was flexible enough that I was able to be there for my parents. 

So, you'd think I'd be ready to kick it up and work full-time now...but you'd be wrong. Not only am I not doing that, but I stepped back from one of my jobs. That had more to do with poor management than it had to do with anything going on in my life. I still have plenty of work — so much that I'm having to turn things down — but I really don't want to live my entire life at a computer.  

Another reason why I'm not ramping up my workload is that I want to take some time to write what I want to write. I don't know what exactly that is right now, but I've got some projects started or swirling around in my head. I'm working on turning the formal living room in the front of the house into a nice cozy office where I can work on these things.  

I'm also back in school. Not because I need to be. I'm doing just fine career-wise, and I don't have any big plans for a career change. But because I want to be. I'm actually learning things and studying topics I want to know more about. It's a different and more fulfilling experience than it is when you're 18 or 20.    

One of my biggest regrets in life has always been not finishing my degree at UGA. It's hard to explain why, and I've thought about going back often, but there was never a right moment. This last spring was kind of a dark time in my life, and I woke up one morning and thought I'm going back to school. Thanks to COVID, there seemed to be more classes offered online, and I'm at a place where I can afford to pay for my own tuition. Why not? I knew it wouldn't be easy, working, going to school, taking care of my mom, and starting other ventures, but I managed to do it through the summer. Well, most of the summer. I didn't want to be the weird older student who asked for special privileges, but there I was at the end of the semester, telling my professor I couldn't finish up a project because my mom died. Luckily, she was accommodating.  Anyway, I'm taking two agriculture classes this fall, and I absolutely love it. 

Speaking of agriculture, I'm also starting a small farm. My goal is to ultimately try to make some money with it — going back to that whole "I don't want to live my life at a computer" thing — but if it's just a hobby, I'm okay with that too. It's a healthy and fulfilling hobby to have. I've currently got six ducks and 22 chickens and plans for a huge garden do-over next year.  More animals to follow at some point. Right now, I'm just focused on getting these birds into their permanent housing.  

Well, permanent for now. Anyone who knows me knows I hate the city where I live. I've always dreamed of moving elsewhere in Georgia or maybe to northern Florida or coastal South Carolina. The mountains or the Lowcountry — somewhere I love. Somewhere with more land. Maybe even the Athens area. Without my mom here, I don't even like to drive through town to get anywhere anymore. I dread having to run errands and have most things delivered or shop in neighboring towns. Last night, I had to look something local up on Google Maps, and I shuddered at the sight of it. This place is not for me anymore. I have no doubt about that. 

The problem is I don't want to give up the property we have now — it's been in my family for ages and holds so many memories of my mom and grandparents. I know every inch of it, and it has so many resources for what I want to do. And I'm not sure my dad would ever leave, so if I could figure out a way to keep it (at least for now  — until I make a home somewhere else) and buy something else, I'm all for it. Right now I'm saving for that and waiting for this crazy real estate bubble to bust and competition to die down before I really explore my options.  

I also have a lot to clean out before I could even think about moving. My mom had a lot of stuff. I don't want to use the "hoarder" word because she'd come back and haunt me, but the woman liked stuff. She and I had plans to start cleaning it all out this year, but her health really stood in the way of that happening. I've already started on some of it. I've got a pile of things priced to take to our antique booths, and I revived her old eBay account. I'll probably have an estate sale or two next spring. May as well try to make some money on it to go towards my moving fund... 

So far, it's actually been kind of fun going through it all, but it's also sad because I think back on all the times she wanted us to do it together but I just didn't have time or she didn't feel well enough. And I keep finding things that I know she was looking for as recently as the week before she went to the hospital. On top of her stuff, we bought out our neighbor's estate sale two years ago and have been storing most of that. Plus, at one point in time, I did actually live in my own home, and I've got a whole household of my own stuff to go through. Basically, I have two houses packed full, a huge storage building, a garage, a basement, and two attics full of things to clear out. That should keep me busy for a while. 

I'll be working on some other projects around here too. I'd still like to fix up my parents' old house. There are some things I'd like to do to this house and the property around it. I started re-doing the landscaping at the pool a couple of years ago and would like to finish that. I want to prep some garden beds for next year. 

Other than that, I have no idea what my future holds. I'd like to travel more, but I'm gonna have to wait until this whole pandemic thing calms down again to do that. I've got friends in other parts of the country who are always wanting me to come visit, so I'd like to take some time to do that. I haven't ruled out having my own family at some point. I'm thinking about getting a puppy. I'd like to spend more time reading. I'd like to spend more time swimming for exercise. If it weren't for this whole COVID thing, I'd probably have some bigger plans, but I'm just going to wait and see what happens for now.   

And more than anything, I just want to enjoy some drama-free peace and quiet. Life has been a challenge for the last few years. I need some easy living.  

July 26, 2021

Stranded in Ft. Lauderdale

It's been over a year since I posted, and so much has happened in that year. Much of it has to do with my mom's health — she's currently in the hospital facing a major battle. I don't want to talk much about it, but I slept half of the day away and can't sleep now, so I am going to do some writing to keep myself busy. 

So, last month, I went to Turks and Caicos. It was a trip that had been postponed twice, mostly due to the lovely pandemic we've been dealing with for the last year and a half. The weeks leading up it were tough for me at home, but I made it. The trip was fine. It wasn't exactly what I wanted it to be when I planned it, but that couldn't really be helped, and I'm positive I'll go back one day. I did have a good time. Got a stamp on my passport and all of that.  

The trip home didn't go as smoothly. I've never flown anything but Delta in my life, and there was a Delta flight straight home to Atlanta from the Providenciales airport at 3 pm on the day I left. There was also a Jet Blue flight about an hour later that would take me to Fort Lauderdale. It was cheaper. And for some reason, I got the bright idea that I'd add a little road trip to my itinerary and drive home from there. I'd probably stop and spend the night in the Jacksonville area since I know it so well. It was going to be my 24 hours or so to have some alone time that I never get to have and prepare myself for everything I had going on when I returned home — taking care of my mom, starting classes at UGA again, adding 22 chickens to the little farm I'm trying to build, getting back to work, expanding my garden, working on the duck pen I'm building, working on the pool, etc. 

If I could go back in time, I'd just take that damn Delta flight.  

Getting out of Turks and Caicos was fine. Several people had issues, including the friend who accompanied me on the trip. I did not. Everything went so smoothly. I should have known better. I arrived at Ft. Lauderdale, went through customs, got my bags, walked forever, and finally found a place to sit down so I could take a breather. I called my mom to let her know I was back on US soil. I grabbed a Diet Coke. I looked up how to get to the rental car place. For some reason, I thought I could walk to it, but you had to take a bus. I had no interest in taking the bus. I don't like taking the bus. When I went to UGA the first time around, friends would make fun of me because I'd literally walk miles to classes every day because I didn't want to take buses. But I finally worked up the nerve and energy to walk to the bus stop — in the rain, might I add — and get on so I could start my next adventure. I had it all planned out so well. 

I got to the car rental center, and the company I used, which was the only company I could find with availability, was the furthest away, so I had to walk another mile it seemed, and then I had to stand in line and listen to some guy talk about how the COVID vaccine paralyzed his wife. When I finally made it to the counter, I was so excited to be getting out of there. There's some depressing about that airport. I can't really explain it, but every friend I've talked to who has been there knew exactly what I was talking about. I had no idea that I wasn't going anywhere until the next day.  

"M'am, I'm afraid we can't honor your reservation."   


"Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah."  

"Huh? Please, no."  

"The only way to get around it is to do this and that and this and that." 

"Okay, fine. Do it. Whatever it takes. I'll pay whatever. I just want to go home."  

"Then you have to do this and this and this and this and this."  

"Huh? That doesn't even make sense."  

That's basically how my conversation with the guy behind the counter went. I still can't figure out exactly what went wrong. I'd contacted the car rental place three times the week before to make sure the reservation was legit. But apparently, their policies changed in that short timeframe. Something to do with a pandemic-induced car shortage, a reduction in one-way car rentals, me booking with a debit card instead of a credit card, and me not having a return flight ticket to Ft. Lauderdale. It was all so convoluted. And his solution was to buy a bunch of plane tickets and trick another car rental company. No.  

I'll admit, I lost it. I went into the nearest bathroom and sat in a stall and cried. I'm not a person who does a lot of crying, but this did me in. The few weeks leading up to the trip were very emotional, and I just felt so defeated. I texted my parents to let them know what was going on. I asked my aunt who travels to that area often if she could come up with anything. I remembered there was one more Delta flight back to Atlanta that night, and I could probably just make it if I hurried, but it was all booked up. The next one was at 8 am. It was almost booked, and the price had skyrocketed since I'd last looked. I ended up paying almost three times what I would have paid for the car to get the next to the last seat on that flight.      

By this time, it was around 8 pm. I had 12 hours to kill. There was no sense in trying to get a hotel. I'll just spend the night at the airport. People do it all the time. I've been in the Atlanta airport in the middle of the night, and it's buzzing and busy, and it'll be fine. I'll blend in with everyone. Grab some food. Play on my phone.  

Ft. Lauderdale is no Atlanta. 

First, I realized that the car rental center was a long way from the terminal where Delta flights come and go. I wasn't getting back on that bus, so I decided I'd get something to eat as I hadn't had anything since breakfast. It's 8 pm on  Saturday night, so I would think the restaurants in a decently-sized airport would be open. I would be wrong. Everything I encountered was closed. Starbucks, Burger King. I couldn't even find the Chilis that was on the map. I finally walked to Terminal One and saw a couple of vending machines, got some M&Ms and water, and found a quiet little corner with four benches tucked away from most of the foot traffic. Big mistake.   

On the first bench, a lady was sprawled across it, sleeping. On the one across from her, a guy was sitting there charging his phone. He looked okay — not someone I'd want to approach if I didn't have to, but okay. On the third one, a lady was sitting in her pajamas, looking miserable, and the fourth one just across from her was empty. I opted for the empty one. My plan was to sit down, figure out where I needed to go, eat my M&Ms, and get there quickly.  As soon as I sat down, the lady in her pajamas started coughing. Not like an "I swallowed my water wrong" kind of cough, but like a nasty, sick, congested, "I'm miserable and probably have COVID" kind of cough. It took me a minute to remember we are still kind of pandemic-y after a week of lounging around in paradise and not thinking twice about it. I got up and moved to the bench with the guy charging his phone and washed myself down with hand sanitizer. 

About five minutes after I moved to that seat, this other guy who does not look like someone I want anything to do with walks up to us. He asks the guy charging his phone, in some kind of slang terms, if he wants to buy drugs. The guy is like "huh?" He asks him again. "Naw, man. I don't mess with that stuff. Go on." He says. After that, drug selling guy looks at me and says "You?" I shake my head, but he sits down next to me anyway. I picked up my phone, pretended to make a call, and then pretended to ask the person on the other end where they were at the airport. "Oh, you're over there. I thought you were coming here. Well, I'm going to have to get up and go over to where you are then. I'll see you in a second." I guess I didn't want to hurt the drug dealer guy's feelings if I just got up right after he sat down?   

So, I walked to the other end of the terminal and down to the lowest floor. I found some more seats where a few people were just hanging out, and they all looked decent enough, so I sat there. I knew I actually needed to be in another terminal for my flight, and I was trying to figure out exactly how I could get there because, for some reason, the two buildings do not connect indoors? As a matter of fact, most of the buildings in this stinking airport don't connect at all in any way. I was so tired from walking so much already too, but I was not getting back on a bus either. As I'm sitting there, flights are coming, and I realize most of the people I'm sitting with are merely waiting for other people to arrive so they can take them home. The place empties out pretty quickly. 

As I'm sitting there, alone now, a guy approaches me. I don't pay much attention to him, but he has some sort of badge around his neck, and I stupidly assumed he's an airport employee. He starts asking me if I'm okay because I don't look okay. I tell him what's happened — the whole ordeal about the rental car and how I'm not sure how to get to the right terminal.  He tells me that I can walk to it, but it's gonna take me a little while, and it's all outside. And then he tells me he thinks I need a friend and his name is such and such and he would be glad to be my friend. At this point, an alarm goes off and I look at his badge and realize he is not an airport employee and the name he gives me doesn't match the name on the badge and OMG why do strange men keep approaching me I just want to go home?  

Suddenly, I make up a story about how I am about to meet my friend at the other terminal and I better get going. Apparently, I'm trying to avoid hurting weirdos' feelings on this night. Anyway, I grab my bags that I'm really sick of hauling around — I've been on the go for about 13-14 hours at this point — and start my journey towards the next terminal. 

The walk to the next terminal is indeed outside. It's not as long as I thought it would be, but it wasn't a quick little jaunt either. And earlier, the sidewalk had been filled with cops and security people, but at this hour, most of them were gone, and it was filled with homeless people, people waiting for transportation, and people asking me to get into their cars and they'd take me where I wanted to go. Meanwhile, there are signs everywhere telling me not to get into cars with anyone who is not clearly a taxi. I guess that's an issue there. It's also dark. It's nasty. And the heat and humidity were awful. But I finally made it to my terminal. 

As soon as I got inside, I saw that there were maybe four people sitting around. One guy was brushing his teeth in the water fountain. He was wearing no shoes and had made one of the sets of seats into a bed, complete with pillows and sheets. One guy went up to a hand sanitizing wipe station and just started pulling out all the wipes and throwing them onto the floor. One guy was sitting off to himself, charging his laptop. He looked okay, but he was also taking up a whole roll of seats with his stuff. Then I saw a girl wearing a Georgia State shirt and decided she was my people. I sat across from her. She wouldn't sell me drugs or make unwanted advances. No. But she would leave about 10 minutes after I sat down because the person she was waiting for arrived and was ready to go. Of course. 

At this point, the place was practically empty except for the rogue employee who walked through. Apparently, Ft. Lauderdale doesn't see many overnight flights. For some reason, I started googling the airport around this time. I guess I was looking for some kind of hope that I would not be sitting by myself all night with Guy Who Apparently Lives at the Airport and Crazy Guy Who Throws Wipes All Over the Floor. I completely forgot that there had been a shooting at this airport a few years ago. That knowledge added to the whole creepy vibe of the place. Instead of shutting Google down, I clicked on an article about the shooting. I clicked on a video from the shooting. I realized I was literally sitting in the exact spot in the exact terminal where the shooting took place. Like, it literally happened right where I was. Literally. Not dozens of feet away. Not across the room. Right where I was sitting.  I got up and moved. 

At this point, my mom calls me and asks how I am. I told her I was fine, but I was not feeling it.  At all. Maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought it was, but I was so physically and mentally exhausted. I just wanted to get home. To see my dog. To sleep in my bed. To be away from creeps. A friend texted me some podcasts to listen to keep me company. Of course, when I went to get my headphones out of my purse, I realized I left them on the nightstand in Turks and Caicos. Of course.  

It's around 11 pm by now. I finally had a realization. At the opposite end of the room I'm in, there's some sort of security checkpoint. It's where the airport employees check in and out for work. There are a couple of older women in security uniforms sitting there running it. They look bored but they look safe. I walk up and ask them if I can sit with them. One of them shrugs and says sure. 

After about an hour or so, the other one keeps walking wide circles around me, giving me the side-eye. Finally, she approaches. "What exactly are you doing here?" she asks, her Caribbean accent thick and suspicious. "Are you waiting on someone?" No, I'm not, but I explain to her exactly what happened.  Her attitude changes from airport security lady to mother figure, and she takes pity on me. "Stay right here with us," she says. "Try to get some rest. We'll keep an eye on you." She shows me where all the cameras are and asks about my flight details. When I share them, she tells me exactly how to get to where I need to go and what time I should get there. I loved that woman that night. She checked on me every half hour or so. And she went to lunch, she reminded me where to go and when. I felt like a 12-year-old, but you just have no idea how tired I was. It was a long day in a long month in what's been a long year so far. Defeated is the only word I can think to describe it. 

When the time rolls around to head to where I need to go to catch my flight, I do, but there isn't a Delta employee in sight at the counter. We stand for two hours, waiting. The flight is full. People are mad. They are loud. "We're going to miss the flight," they complain. A security guard who passes through assures us that the flight is not going to leave with all of us not on it. Finally, the employees show up. They check us in with great speed. They put us through security with great speed. Until I get there. Of course. 

Apparently, the detector goes off, highlighting at least four parts of my body as suspicious, ranging from my head to my crotch. The security guard let me know I'm about to receive the ultimate patdown and asks if I want a private room. That just seems like more wasted time and walking. "Just do it, " I say. I don't care anymore. And she does. For a long time. I've never had a patdown like that. But I actually felt worse for her because I was so nasty and sweaty at this point, and I'm sure I smelled just peachy.  For what it's worth, the same thing happened to the girl behind me, so I think their system was malfunctioning, but whatever. 

The plane boards pretty quickly, which is fabulous because there's nowhere to sit after I get through security. And thankfully, I paid the extra $50 for Delta Comfort, so I got to go first and sit in front. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep for part of the flight. The girl next to me probably enjoyed me snoring and smelling exactly like I'd spent almost 24 hours sitting on plastic seats in a hot airport, but I didn't care. 

When we arrived in Atlanta, I wanted to kiss the ground. Instead, I had to walk another 2.4 miles - (I measured it - this whole incident gave me the highest number of steps I've ever gotten in the history of counting my steps) - to get my checked bag. And that includes riding the moving sidewalks and the Plane Train for part of the journey. And then I had to get an Uber. Apparently, there's a specific place to get an Uber at the airport. I've never done it before, but I followed the signs and ended up in the exact wrong place. I finally just sat down on a bench. I was hot. I was tired. I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was lightheaded. I was over it. I asked someone who sat down next to me if they knew where the Uber pickup place was, and they did not speak English. I called my mom and told her I was just going to sit there because if I had to move another inch I would likely pass out. She told me to go back inside and get something to eat or drink, but I just didn't have it in me. I wanted to get home. I texted my cousin who lives near the airport and told him I'd pay him to come get me, but he was asleep and didn't respond.   

So, I walked back to the baggage claim area and followed the signs again. I then realized my mistake. I was supposed to downstairs and then go out, not go out and halfway around the world. So, I did. And there was a short walkway and then I was back out on the sidewalk and there were signs that said "Uber" and "Lyft" and I wanted to kiss the ground again. I pulled out my phone, scheduled a ride, and waited about five more minutes before some guy drove up to get me. He wasn't very friendly. At all. And his idea of "cool," per my request, was rolling the front windows down while he weaved in and out of traffic on I-285 on a 90-degree day. He listened to the most awful talk radio that went against all of my political beliefs. But I didn't care. When he pulled into the driveway, I wanted to kiss him...and the ground again. 

I came in, ordered some Chinese food, changed out of my nasty sweaty clothes, and fell asleep for about three hours. Thankfully, my dad offered to feed all my animals for one extra day because I just couldn't move another muscle. I dreamed about being stuck in an airport for exactly two weeks after I got home. 

I know worse things have, do, and will happen, but that whole experience was just awful. Much of it had to do with the state I was already in from dealing with other stuff, I'm sure, but I maintain that that airport is one of the worst I've ever visited, and I have no interest in ever going back. As a matter of fact, I just Googled "worst airports in the United States" and Ft. Lauderdale was on every single list. I feel validated. And if I ever go to South Florida again, I'll drive.