Every Night is Spa Night

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone ❤

I have once again emerged from my hibernation! As I write this I am perched on my couch as close as possible to the pellet stove. I keep stealing resentful glances at Far From the Madding Crowd, a copy of which is next to my elbow, daring me to read another chapter. Per usual, I waited until the very last minute to read it- and now it mocks me with its yellowed pages and old-book-smell.

I thought I should give you an update about life here on the micro-farm, since I haven’t written in far too long. Nearing the end of August I read an article online about dealing with bumblefoot in chickens. For my non-chicken-keeping peeps, bumblefoot is an infection below the skin on a chicken’s foot. It is marked by lots of hot swelling and a dark, circular scab. I dread it so because, left unattended, it could cause sepsis (as with any infection left untended), but to fix it you have to surgically remove the scab and the “kernel” of infection deep in the pad of the foot. Look it up on Google images if you want to be thoroughly disturbed. I tend to avoid this type of article, since it makes me feel guilty and neglectful when it recommends giving daily foot checks to prevent the infection from occurring- which I have never done. Before you make a tsk-tsk noise, it’s hard to catch a chicken that would rather not be caught. It involves lots of running in a bent over position, lots of feathers, lots of screeching, and lots of stress. Then, once one has the chicken, I had no idea how to go about looking at its feet. It is no small matter to turn a struggling chicken upside down.

But this particular night I felt inspired by that insidious anxiety that only comes with the realization of neglect. I snatched Mabel off of the roost after dark, and flipped her over before she could squeak out a squawk. My headlight shined onto the bottom of her foot and- sure enough- a circular black scab adorned the center of her footpad. Numbly I replaced her on the roost, and returned inside to strategize.

Step one was to calm myself down- she clearly had lived with this infection for quite a while and was unlikely to drop dead in the middle of the night. But what I found on the internet was not promising. Every solution pointed to cutting into her little foot to remove the scab and pus (gross, I’m sorry if you just ate. Maybe don’t look it up on Google Images after all)- needless to say, I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of having an upside-down and bloody chicken in my sink with her foot cut open and lacking anesthesia. Nope.

In the morning, I called and made an appointment with my chicken vet for the last day of summer (what a way to end vacation!). When the day came I wrangled poor Mabel into Boris’s old dog crate, put her in the trunk of my car, and drove us to the clinic myself (an interesting experience, considering I’m not the most confident person behind the wheel). But with help of Mabel’s occasional squawk we were able to make our way there and back without gliding into a ditch or into an unfortunate tree.

I entered the office with some trepidation, worried that my bank account would be swiped clean with an expensive foot surgery. Instead, however, The Chicken Doctor told me to change my roost. Apparently the little 2×4 we had them on was giving her a pressure-sore that wouldn’t get better unless we gave her a roost with more surface variability. He also said to check my other hens, guaranteeing that they, too, would have the infection. Then he gave me a tube of foot cream (for the hen, not me). My instructions: rub this into her feet every night for eight weeks.

I’m pretty sure my widened eyes clearly expressed my thoughts, which generally consisted of: Whaaaaaaattttt???? And then: How?????

And so, my friends, every night I picked each hen off of their new roost (because you know all three of them had it) and gave them a nice foot massage. For the first six weeks, it seemed like nothing was happening- but then, one night, I picked up Mabel and Mary and their scabs were no where to be seen. I’m still working on Cora, though.

The lesson you should take away from this, chicken-keeping friends, is that picking up your hen for weekly foot checks might be a hassle- but it’s certainly less of a hassle than giving them a foot massage every night for two months. And if you do have hens that suffer from bumblefoot, and aren’t comfortable with cutting into their feet, I will happily share with you the name of the foot cream my vet sold me (because it actually works!)



Part 2: Welcome to Thurso

It was early morning when my alarm rang, signaling the start to a day full of travel. We got on a train in London that took us to Luton Airport, and then boarded a bus to the correct terminal. After checking in at the Easy Jet Airline desk and watching our luggage slowly edge away on the conveyor belt, we departed in search of breakfast. I dined on a latté and Pain Au Chocolat (or something…) before walking to the busy security check point. My heart was racing, as it always does when going through security, and it didn’t help matters when, as I stepped through the metal detector threshold, alarm bells started singing. They pointed to the side, and there I stood, my entire body visibly shaking until they found the time to do a body search. All I had on my person was a pair of leggings (without pockets), underclothes, and a shirt. There was literally no where that I could possibly conceal anything. Of course they had to choose me though.

I survived, and after an hour of waiting we climbed up the stairs to the plane and took our seats. It was about forty minutes of flying through white clouds until we landed in Inverness. I was struck by the large expanse of blue waters, the emerald green landscape, the mountains still capped with snow. As we grew closer to the ground

I saw the small city of Inverness, pastures with sheep and cows, patches of gorse and heather. The sun was out in Scotland. We climbed down the metal staircase onto the runway, grabbed our luggage from the first room we walked into, and stumbled out into the sun with feet weary from a day’s traveling. It was a long stroll through a large long-term parking lot but eventually we reached my uncle’s car. The two hour drive up to Thurso was beyond words. The landscape outside my window shifted from rolling hills to jagged mountains dotted with spongy heather and flocks of sheep. Every few minutes was a ruin of an old stone barn. The coastline revealed white sand beaches, dramatic cliffs, clear blue water. The sky changed about five times on that drive- from sunny, to partial clouds, to rain, to sun, to clouds again. We stopped for a late lunch at a small café overlooking the ocean. They were serving hot tea, hearty stew and warm cheese scones with butter. The atmosphere was so warm, the people welcoming. I just sat there and enjoyed the sound of lilting Scottish accents.

Thurso, the northernmost town on mainland Scotland, is within the county Caithness. It lies beside the River Thurso, right where its mouth meets the Atlantic Ocean. At its center are a few charity shops, a clothing store or two, a museum, hotel, and some lovely restaurants. The road leads right to the ocean, where a fishmonger thrives on the sale of fresh seafood, and a café serves delicious lunches. The summer temperature gets up to a blistering 60 degrees Fahrenheit, while the winter has been known to cause wind so severe that everyone is advised to stay at home. It’s a hearty place, with hearty food, and hearty people.

As I looked on at this unfamiliar place, I felt an inexplicable sense of belonging.

To be continued…

I’m back! Part One…

I returned back home to America on Thursday after two very long days of traveling. I thought I’d dedicate a few posts to my trip, to let you know what I did, etc…

July 9th My father and I woke up in a Boston hotel and took a shuttle to the airport. We walked around for a little bit, then I hopped on the plane. I was so nervous about flying- my hands would not stop trembling!

I spent six and a half hours reading, as the little TV wouldn’t work. Finally I arrived in Heathrow, the airport in London.Photo Jul 09, 2 31 08 PM A staff member of British Airways guided me through the building as we retrieved my luggage and went through immigration (where they interrogated me as if I had done something extremely illegal). I figured out that I really dislike airports… Especially the part where they ask you questions. My hands and voice shake violently and I probably look extremely shifty.

Eventually I found my aunt and uncle, patiently waiting for my arrival. We boarded the Heathrow Express train, and suddenly I was standing on the lamplit streets of London. This was rather shocking, as the only city I have ever seen is Boston. The Tube Strike was occurring as well, so everyone was milling about, attempting to find their way home. Each double-decker bus was full of impatient commuters and confused tourists, and we spent a long time just trying to find a bus with enough space to stand.

Once we got on one, my aunt sent me up the stairs, promising to follow after my uncle boarded. I obediently climbed the stairs of the fast moving vehicle and sat down right as I heard the shouting of two fighting men. One fellow pushed the other down the stairs- this guy then threw himself on the other, and a few attempted punches later they separated. Meanwhile I was trying to make myself as small as possible in the seat next to this commotion. My uncle appeared and brought me back down where we waited for forty minutes to get to the hotel.

It was around 9 or 10 when we sat down to eat at an Italian restaurant, and I was very grateful to lie down on my pull-out mattress in the hotel across the street.

July 10th We woke up and after grabbing some coffee and porridge, took the Tube down to Trafalgar Square. It was gorgeous out- hot and sunny! We wandered down the street and found ourselves in St. James’s Park, strolling through the quiet gardens (a relief after the busy traffic filled streets).

When we emerged from the park we decided to check out Buckingham Palace, and noticed a large crowd gathering outside its gates. The red cloth was showing underneath the balcony, which means that something is going to happen. Impulsively we found ourselves searching for a good view point, and settled down on the sidewalk to wait. Thirty minutes later a marching band arrived and disappeared behind the fence and shrubbery. Ten minutes later, mounted policemen and women appeared, and shooed away the people in the middle of the road.

Twenty minutes later the doors swung open and I held my breath as the Queen herself stepped out into the daylight. Out followed other members of the royal family, waving to us commoners… They looked to the sky as Spitfires soared past, in memory of the Battle of Britain. After a time they disappeared behind the curtain doors, and I was left in complete awe of what had just happened. I mean… I saw the Queen!

After this spectacle we joined a bus tour and rode to the Tower of London, where we ate lunch and took a ferry ride down the Thames (river) and disembarked by the Parliament buildings and Big Ben. We then got back on the bus tour and rode up to Trafalgar square again, and poked around the National Gallery before grabbing some dinner at Pizza Express.

July 11th We woke up a bit later due to my annoying jet lag, and made our way back to the Tower of London. We spent all morning and afternoon taking a Beefeater tour (a fascinating and entertaining tour led by a retired member of the Royal Army) and looking at the museum, which was full of interesting stories, armor, and weaponry. This experience was one of my favorites in London- especially since I am an avid historical fiction reader, and many scenes from my books took place within these very walls!

We took another bus tour down to the Parliament buildings, and also visited Covent Garden (sort of like the British version of Fanuell Hall in Boston). It is a street lined with a multitude of shops, restaurants, and buskers who entertain everyone with music and performances.

July 12th We began the day by taking the Tube down to Westminster Cathedral, a truly magnificent building that is still being completed. There were several side chapels, each with splendid golden mosaic patterns. Sound reverberated throughout the building, and the delicate smell of incense wafted down the aisles. Marble columns and arched windows led the way to the altar. It was a very peaceful start to a busy day.

Another Tube ride took us to the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) which is a museum filled with just about everything you can think of. A beautiful fashion exhibit, bits and pieces of old buildings, sculptures, epitaphs, jewelry, theatre, and in the center of it all, a lovely tea room.

We poked around the National History Museum- a little less enjoyable thanks to the hundreds of children running around- but still fascinating.

We then took another ride on the subway and a very long walk to the Globe Theatre, a replica of the theatre from  William Shakespeare’s time. As we made our way across the Millennium footbridge the sun hid behind the clouds and it began to drizzle. We found ourselves some dinner and took a short walk across the street to the Globe. Our seats were on the very top and directly overlooked the gilded stage below. The thatched roof just barely sheltered us from the damp precipitation. The actors took their places on the soaking wet stage, and the two hour showing of Richard II began with a flourish. It was amazing. The actors and actresses were the best I’ve ever seen, the music was wonderful, and I was thoroughly engrossed in the events happening below me. This was by far my favorite part of London!

July 13th We spent our last day in London within the British Museum, thoroughly exploring its multiple rooms and exhibits. We began with the Rosetta Stone, then worked our way through Assyrian carvings, Roman and Greek sculptures, essentially taking a walk through history. It was very cool, though I think I preferred the Victoria and Albert Museum.

I was browsing through a gallery full of old books and tomes when I noticed someone standing really close to me. I saw in the corner of my eye that it was a young man holding up his phone on front-facing camera, shooting a video of me. I was extremely confused and started to panic a bit so I tried to step away from him but he got in front of me again and started aggressively telling me to “say hello!” in some sort of accent (not American or British). Now that I think on it- he was probably just messing with me- but at the time I had a whole mental panic attack. My thoughts literally consisted of: OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD MUST GET OUT MUST GET OUT MUST GET OUT. It’s nice to know I can rely on keeping my cool in tough situations….

Anyways, he wouldn’t leave me alone so I finally said “hello?” and he chuckled and exited the room. Of course this happens to me- a socially awkward, timid, shy teenager from America. Needless to say, I was glad to get up to Scotland after this…

Check back for Part Two of my adventure!