How I Raise Spring Chickens

Every year, new chickens come into our lives between February and April. If you don’t have chickens you might not know that they actually arrive from the hatchery in the mail.

These little characters came to me through a friend who ordered something like a 100 chicks. The picture shows their final ride home. I say “final” because my chickens usually start off life traveling from hatchery to store to the house, all in the first couple days of their lives.

But once they get home, they stay there. They aren’t allowed to leave the yard for the rest of their lives.

A newly hatched baby chick looks a lot like an egg-shaped cotton ball with legs and a beak. They grow very fast. In the first few days I check on them frequently and often find a cage full of exhausted chicks sprawled out in the pine shavings, asleep.

It’s exhausting being a baby.

A Tale of a Disabled Chick

Most of the time they all grow up with no problems, but this year one little chick had trouble standing and walking. I fretted for days as I watched her progress. While the others were running around like cotton balls blowing around the cage, she would rest under the lamp, alert and watching, but not joining them.

Would she be able to walk as an adult? Or would I have to cull her? I tried putting a brace on her as one does for splay leg, but she was so miserable I took it off again.

The chick was doing fine with her cohort of chicks, but what would she do when I put her out with the big chickens? They hate new birds and try mightily to kill them until they get used to them. Would she be able to get away?

A Visit to the Doctor

Finally, desperate, I took her to Dr. Melanie Marsden at Pikes Peak Veterinary Clinic. We have a rule in the house, “No Animal Experimentation”, which means that I don’t like to use advice from the internet without checking with a real expert. I don’t always take sick birds to the vet, but if I think we can help her and I can learn something then I’ll make an appointment.

“Will she be able to walk as an adult? I don’t mind putting a diaper on her and making her a house chicken, but if she can’t walk at all then that’s no way to live,” I told Dr. M.

The good doctor told me she had probably just been in a weird position in the egg and her right leg was slightly twisted inward, making it hard for her to walk.

“Will she be winning any chicken races?”, replied Dr. Marsden. “Probably not. But she should be able to get around.”

They gave her some sort of magic laser treatment and she is worlds better! I don’t think she’ll have to be a house chicken after all! And I think she is relieved too. No chicken really wants to wear a diaper.

When Chickens Bloom in the Widow’s Garden: Back Cover Text

Can I show you the amazing and beautiful cover of my book yet?

No.

We don’t have all the licenses yet.

Glowworm Chicken is disappointed, but we will all have to wait.

What can I show you?

The text on the back. Here it is!

“Many people turn to something destructive to deal with grief, like drugs or alcohol,” a grief counselor said to me. “But not you. You turned an obsession with chickens into a way of dealing with loss.”

I was a 39-year-old corporate systems analyst when my 45-year-old husband suddenly got Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia and passed away within 6 weeks, sending me on a confusing journey of trying to understand life and death. 

We hardly ever encounter death in our modern, urban world; but that changes when you invite a flock of chickens to live in the backyard. For all that we think we’re in charge, they come and go on their own time. They live and die without ever asking permission from the people who feed them.

My hilarious flock of yard birds taught me everything I ever wanted to know about life and death, but that’s not all. Those chickens also taught me what I needed to know… if Dave is gone then why am I still here?

***

“Oh my goodness Girlfriend. That story is incredibly uplifting, deeply moving, thought provoking and humbling. Who knew chickens could help us see the intricacies of life? Well, besides you & Gary?”  -Marilan L.

“As another widow, I can relate and have a unique understanding of the experiences only those of us in “the club” can grasp. But I also think you are sharing life’s truths that apply to all of us.” Lori B.

I’m aiming to publish it in May so stand by…

Should I Quit After a Rough Year?

I’ll admit, I’m a little restless. The pandemic for me has been a wall that I crashed into, stopping with heartbreaking suddenness the growth of my business.

My business was humming along and I was meeting my goals when the pandemic began and suddenly I went from selling three cars a month to selling one every two months.

“But Bonnie,” you say, “I thought car sales were up! I see new cars all over the place.”

You’re right. Car sales are up. Just not for me. I’ve been watching my mentor sell car after car, but he’s been in the business for more than 20 years. I’ve been in it for just over two and unlike dealerships, clients don’t just wander into our office looking for a car. People have to know they can come to me. It takes time to build up that kind of clientele.

I know better than to say the pandemic ruined my career. I’ve spent the year trying to find new ways to find clients that work better in a socially distanced world and I’ve had some success. But it sure is disheartening to feel like I’m starting all over again.

Times like this always make me want to move on. I start asking myself questions and wondering if the grass is greener somewhere else.

Should I quit and do something else? Should I find myself a quiet little homestead on the plains and eke out a frugal living selling eggs and space to camp? It would be so much more peaceful and I could stay home with my animals more. Selling cars is hard.

Why am I doing this?

Well, that’s a good question. Why am I doing this? Let’s answer it.

Very well. I won’t quit.

But I might still buy a homestead. I want a rooster and money can buy roosters.

I’m not the only one who wants a rooster. This hen does too.

What do Chickens Do in the Spring?

You might think that my lunatic chickens are still enjoying a respite from the frenetic egg-laying of spring.

I thought so too, but that’s not how it is.

We have something like seven inches of snow out there this morning. I looked at the cat and said, “Oh, I don’t think they’ll want to come out. We don’t have to go outside.”

“Oh, good,” he replied. “It’s so comfortable in this box.”

But when we looked out the window, there they were… pecking frantically on the coop door.

“Let us out!!”, they shouted in their best Distressed Chicken voices.

Patience the Cat stayed in the house while I shoveled a path from the house to the coop. The Rhode Island Reds tumbled out of the coop and made a beeline for their favorite nest.

That’s when the fight began.

“Me first!”

“No, I’m first!”

“Hey, get out of the way! This is MY nest!”

And so on.

Curly Toe Chicken did not get first dibs so she shouted at the door to be let in. “I DEMAND CAT FOOD!”, she said over and over.

The other chickens patiently waited until the combatants were out of the way.

“Is it time for snacks yet?”

And that, friends, is how I know that spring has begun.

***

In other news, if you’re in Colorado Springs, check out the Homesteading Realtor! She specializes in helping people find land where they can keep their own lunatic chickens and build a little piece of self-reliance.

Read An Excerpt from my book

We have a Title!

I did a poll and we have a title!

“What?”, you ask. “Why do a poll for a title?”

Because I wanted to know what people would pick up off a shelf. After all, a book isn’t much good if no one reads it.

It will be called (trumpets please):

Setting the Wastebasket on Fire: When Chickens Bloom in the Widow’s Garden

Very Cold Days

Here is a timely excerpt, considering the subzero weather we just lived through.

Blog: January 2, 2011 – “Very Cold Days” 

Very cold day #1 

Everyone survived the night pretty well, including the baked sweet potato I put in the coop to add warmth. The chickens did not eat it, suggesting it was a welcome companion. 

They also seemed to appreciate that I covered their run in plastic sheeting to keep out wind and snow. That made it easier this morning, when it was 0 degrees, to eat their morning oatmeal. I have to crawl into the coop now to open & close the inner door, but honestly, it’s more comfortable messing with the latch with some shelter from the wind. 

In sum, they survived the night, ate breakfast and went right back to bed. Today is forecast to be around 10 degrees with overnight temps below zero. I wonder if chickens get cabin (coop) fever. 

Very Cold Day #2 

It was minus something (maybe -9°) last night and didn’t quite make it to 20 degrees today. The sweet potato has been mauled. It appears to have been demoted from Companion status to Food status. Chickens can be ruthless. 

The birds seem thirsty. I bring out water every few hours, which freezes before the next watering time. They all stand around and drink as if delaying the next leg of a race. Specklehead has transferred her determination to eat hardware to a determination to eat ice. She picks up chips, bashes them on the ground and eats the shards. I even saw her plunge one unfortunate chip of ice into the water bowl, where she pecked at it until it came apart. Ruthless, I tell you. 

No one knows how the chicken brain works. After the sun set, all the other chickens had gone to bed but she was still pecking away at the halffrozen water bowl. I have no idea why she has decided it’s a good idea to eat ice on the coldest day she’s ever seen. When she put her foot in the water to improve her aim, I finally picked her up and sent her to bed with an admonishment to avoid encasing her feet in ice. This is the problem with having been hatched in an incubator. Her mother never had a chance to tell her to keep her feet dry. 

Everyone seems to be handling the cold temperatures well. Someone even laid an egg! It’s supposed to be zero again tonight but will warm up to 39° tomorrow. We’re all looking forward to that! 

And Another Announcement

I ran into an interesting problem while thinking about how to market this book.

  1. The book does include a lot of stories about widowhood and the accompanying grief, which may make people want to talk about grief;
  2. Though I may be an expert in living with the Chickens of Iniquity, I am not an expert in dealing with grief and won’t have anything useful to say.

Luckily, I am acquainted with an expert in grief. Lana Paul of Lighting the Way Grief Recovery has agreed to work with me on marketing. We are going to start a group on Facebook to discuss using chickens as a positive way to recover.

Lana says people often sink into bad habits to deal with grief, like drugs or alcohol. She likes my story of using livestock instead, and we thought readers might like that too. Lana will be available to help readers deal with their own grief, since I can only help them deal with their own chickens.

Stay tuned for more.

When Bonnie Wrote a Book

I wrote a book! Yes, really. It’s taken me more than two years because sitting still is so difficult when you live someplace as sunny as I do.

I expect to get it all put together and published later this year. It’s made up of blog posts I wrote over the course of time after my late husband died, interspersed with stories and thoughts I never wrote about.

I thought you all might enjoy reading some of the original posts and I’ll publish them here.

This one begins the book. It’s the obituary I wrote for Dave on the morning after he passed away.

Blog: September 19, 2008 – “Widow”

“Look, Bonnie”, Dave said, pointing at a day lily bud last summer.  ”A tomorrow lily.” 

David E. F–, 45, of Cleveland Heights passed on yesterday afternoon, surrounded by family and friends.  He would probably say he went over the Rainbow Bridge, ratcheting down the tension and drama with typical skill.  His beloved Kitty was present when he crossed and his adoring wife went as far as she could with him. 

“Can I walk her down the jetway?”, Dave asked the gate attendant at the airport when I was too afraid to get on the plane alone a few years ago.  ”I’m sorry sir,” replied the attendant.  ”Ticketed passengers only.” 

In addition to the widow, Dave is survived by both parents, a sister, a brother, both parents-in-law, a brother-in-law, 2 nieces, 3 nephews, 3 cats, and the many friends he loved. 

“It’ll be alright, sweetie”, I told him before the medical staff removed the life-support tubes.  ”You have your challenge to meet and I have mine.  We can do this.” 

Dave was the bravest man I ever knew.  He knew what he believed, but heard challenges with an open mind.  He wasn’t afraid to be who he was, even when that meant going against expectations.  He valued his relationships and would work mightily to do things that were important to those he loved.  He treated everyone with kindness and respect, and approached life with an unmatched sense of good humor.  I seldom saw him get angry.  He knew how to accept life for what it was and he could accept other people as is, with all their flaws. 

That’s a good thing, because I have plenty of flaws.  In the 12 years we were married, Dave taught me how to be calm.  He was my anchor, showing me how to let things be as they were without feeling that a catastrophe was on the horizon.  And even after he got sick, which qualifies as a real catastrophe, he didn’t lose his equanimity, kindness or humor.  If we handled this situation with dignity and grace, it was only because I followed Dave’s lead.  He had an uncommon ability to accept whatever came his way without anger or blame. 

“It’s alright”, I said and kissed his forehead.  He stopped the futile gasping for breath and his family and I watched his heart rate drop on the monitor.  The morphine protected him from pain, but my heart pounded enough for us both. 

Dave met his challenge yesterday and today I must meet mine, even if all it can mean right now is continuing to breathe.  I only hope I can match the courageous humility with which Dave met his. 

The funeral will probably be on Sunday.  I will post the time and place here later today.  Please come if you can.  I want Dave to be able to look down at us and see how many people cared that he was here.  These things mattered to Dave.  Five years ago I held a 40th birthday party for him.  He was surprised and delighted that just about everyone invited showed up.  If he can see us now, I know he would be just as delighted to see people attend another event in his honor. 

“Death doesn’t end relationships,” said the rabbi at Dave’s bedside.  ”It changes them, but it doesn’t end them.”  I’ll carry Dave with me, from here on out.  My life is better for having known him and I wouldn’t have traded those 12 years for anything. 

Title and Cover Coming Soon

Lisa Pence of Plume Graphic Design is working on the cover for me. Stay tuned to see what glorious images she comes up with. Lisa is a very talented print designer!

Be Kind Online: How to Make Social Media Better

If you ask me, we’re all acting like stone-throwing monkeys on social media.

That sounds really critical, and it is, but I’m no different. I’ve gotten in my share of arguments, even fights, online. I’m throwing stones along with everyone else, but I am going to put down my weapons.

I think we do this because we’re afraid.

We’re angry and afraid for our own reasons and the bitter political divide has either become the outlet for our anger or the cause of our fear. I’m not sure which is more accurate, but I am sure that social media is amplifying all of this misery.

In fact, it’s so loud that I frequently hear stories of families who have stopped talking to each other because of interactions that either took place on social media or are made worse by social media.

I don’t want to live in a world where grandparents aren’t allowed to see their grandchildren or brothers and sisters aren’t invited to Thanksgiving because of shouting about abstract issues.

Do you?

What should we do about it?

Digital Kindness

I’m not the only person thinking about drama of social media. Lauren Hug wrote a book about it called Digital Kindness: Being Human in a Hyper-Connected World.

I love talking with Lauren. We don’t always agree on everything and we have different viewpoints on many issues, but she listens carefully and responds thoughtfully.

We discussed several questions in an interview on the Autosearch USA Facebook page, including two points that I want to write about here.

Relationship or Right?

Pop quiz! Which sounds more like you?

A.) My relationships take precedence over my perspective. I am willing to ignore differences of opinion or even change my opinion to maintain my relationships.

B.) I find it difficult to have relationships with people who don’t share my perspective. I love and value my friends, but my view of right and wrong is informed by higher principles (secular or religious) that I must stick to.

I’m not going to suggest there is a right answer to that question. Both are valid perspectives and have been explored in other contexts.

For example, Rabbi Ethan Tucker wrote a series of essays entitled “Pluralism, Integrity and Community” for the Jewish community. We struggle with the balance between different perspectives on Jewish law and the very high importance placed on relationships by our tradition.

Rabbi Tucker argues that these are actually three points on a triangle, pluralism, integrity and community. Since it’s a triangle, we can’t have all three at maximum strength.

I would argue that this is the same problem we are seeing on social media and it’s exacerbated by fear of the future.

We won’t solve it by winning everyone over to one side or another. We will solve it by agreeing to settle somewhere on the triangle.

The Reduction of Social Media to Politics

During the interview, I told the story of how if I post about nothing but chickens and urban homesteading then I find myself in awkward situations.

For some reason, people would make an assumption that my love of poultry meant that I held a particular political perspective. I wouldn’t have cared except that sometimes someone would send me a mean meme or vent about a conversation while assuming I was going to agree with them.

How embarrassing for everyone!

When I told Lauren this story, she responded with a comment I hadn’t expected!

“The reduction of social media to politics is making it far less vibrant!”, she said. “We need to stop assuming everything is political.”

She’s right! I’ve been focused on the bitterness and the division of our country as expressed on social media and I completely forgot about all the wonderful things going on online.

For example, I must belong to several hundred groups devoted to everything from newborn baby lambs to encouraging others on their entrepreneurial journeys. Like most people, I’ve encountered life-changing ideas posted by others online.

People do everything online that they do in person, including good things like collaborating on projects and exploring the nature of humanity.

Experience Instead of Opinion

Lauren suggests that we could make much better use of social media by talking about our experiences instead of our opinions. We have a lot of experiences that would bring us together as people and we have the power to share them.

“We have agency,” she explains. “We blame the platforms for dividing us, but the algorithms are only giving us more of what we are putting out there!”

She’s right. We are not powerless and we do have the ability to shape our online interactions by changing what we ourselves are posting.

So before you make your next post or comment online, think about whether what you are about to say is going to enhance your experience online and your interactions with others. Is it going to give you more of what you want in your life?

Or is it going to disrupt your life?

I know this isn’t new to you because it’s the same process we go through when talking to someone in person. We filter what we say to shape the interaction.

We all have the power to shape our lives and if we use it online as well as offline our lives will be better.

Why You Need to Develop Sales Skills Right Now

Did you hear what I heard yesterday? United Airlines is planning to lay off half its staff!

What an insane time to be alive!

In a few minutes, I have a phone call with a friend of mine who was laid off in Seattle. Thank God, she was able to get another job here, but she got some interesting feedback in one interview.

“The person who conducted the Zoom interview felt I could have done a better job of ‘selling myself’,” she texted in response to my inquiry.

Develop Sales Skills Before You Need Them

I hear people say all the time, “I don’t think of myself as a salesman, I’m just sharing what I love.”

I don’t care what you call it, but you need the skills of a good salesperson to do a lot of things.

You need to be able to:

  • Listen
  • Solve problems
  • Communicate the benefits of the solution

Sometimes that solution is a good shampoo and sometimes that solution is to hire you! It makes no difference if you’re a network marketer or a job seeker. You need to be able to determine if and how what you have will solve the problem of the person in front of you.

Practice Selling Before You Need a Job

You’ll need to be confident about your ability to solve problems and you know where that comes from?

Practice.

It doesn’t matter how you develop these skills. I’m a fan of studying and training with a good network marketing company because you make money while following a structured program; but you can do it by volunteering for a fundraising committee, taking a retail job or in many other ways.

Just be sure to do it. Why? Imagine if you were one of those 36,000 United employees knowing you were likely to lose your job in October, especially if that was your only source of income.

Practice makes perfect, but practice also makes options.

She Trusts Me! … Can I Follow Through?

I knew something wasn’t right. The delightful client on the other side of my desk gave me her credit card and signed the purchase agreement, but I wasn’t comfortable.

I gave the purchase order to R, my boss and mentor.

“What payment does she want on this vehicle?”, he asked.

I blushed. I didn’t know. I only knew that she had budgeted $30,000 and that she wanted a loan for some of it.

“Ok. I see she wants a three row minivan. Does she need captains chairs in the middle?”

This time I sat down, defeated. Again, I didn’t know.

R chuckled. He is always straight with me, but never mean.

“You’re so good at getting people to like and trust you that they’ll just sign the agreement without even knowing what they’re going to pay for the vehicle!”

I Know Enough to be Dangerous … to Myself

This wasn’t the first time that week that I’d been uncomfortable. In fact, I had been running around with tense shoulders and sleeping fitfully for several weeks.

Why?

If you want to be really good at something, you have to work hard at it. In this particular case, I had been focusing on the elements at the top of my priority list.

  • Build good relationships
  • Behave with integrity
  • Be as transparent in the sales process as possible

Not only are these qualities important to me as a person, but they are also important in an industry where people have been trained to mistrust salespeople.

And I’m getting good at it. My clients like me and they trust me to do the best job for them.

Uh oh… can I do the best job for them?

I’m a broker in an industry with 1700 different car models available at any given time. Each vehicle comes in a variety of trim levels. They have hundreds of features and new ones are coming out all the time.

Not only that, but there are many financial arrangements to acquire these vehicles.

People are trusting me to do the best job for them. What if I let them down?

Sales is Very Hard, but Not the Way You Thought

The resolution to this particular problem is for me to stop thinking I am ready to do this on my own. I still need R to mentor me and catch my mistakes before they affect my clients.

This isn’t always easy for people. Grownups like to be self-sufficient. In fact, we used to have another salesperson who insisted he didn’t need to be mentored or follow the system R set out for us. That salesperson is gone, thus making my point that we cannot learn difficult skill sets on our own.

A salesperson in another industry recently said to me, “Sales makes you face every insecurity you’ve ever had a trace of,” and she is right.

If you want to be good at something, and I don’t think it’s just sales, you have to face a lot of fears. Sometimes it’s fears you didn’t even know you had. What if I am letting people down? What if I am encouraging them to trust me with all the good intentions in the world and then letting them down?

The first step is recognizing the fear. The second step is making a plan, just like my dad taught me.

The third step is consistent action. And the fourth step is repeating this process next time an uncomfortable fear comes up.

I can do this. But don’t ever try to tell me it was easy. The only people who believe it’s easy to become extraordinary are people who have never tried it.

 

 

Learning to be a Salesperson – Year Two

Congratulations to me! I had an anniversary at my place of employment. It’s been one year of working in a situation where I’m being mentored.

It’s been good. I think I’ll stick with it another year.

I learned a lot in this first year. Want to know what it was? Let me tell you.

The Importance of Building Relationships

I got it into my head that I wanted to be a master salesperson about two years ago. Luckily, I am already good at one element of that process… making friends.

In another part of my life, I had joined a business networking group in 2016 to promote my freelance content business. I got tired of writing other people’s content, but I don’t regret a second of my involvement in the group.

Why?

Because not only is that how I made the connection that got me hired on as a salesperson in a place I wanted to work, but I also built relationships with other business people. When the people I knew learned I’d gotten into sales, they started sending me referrals. They already knew me and trusted me, so it was natural to send me people who need my product.

I was surprised! I had no idea I was going to get into sales when I joined that group. In fact, I had sworn I’d never take another job again.

The moral of this story is that you never know where life will take you. Fundamentals, like building relationships and developing good people skills, will take you places you don’t even know you want to go yet.

You Must do the Same Thing Over and Over

“You and me,” lamented R, my mentor. “We’re going to drown in opportunity.”

Like R, I’m an “idea person”. On a good day I have several good ideas every hour. This is great fun.

You know what it is not? It is not a great way to get anything done. All those ideas get started and never finished.

I learned this year that the key to finding customers is to do the same thing over and over. Make calls. Send notes. Write blogs.

Do whatever the strategy is, but do it consistently.

Sometime in the fall of 2019, R got the idea to use a system a lot of realtors use. We started making a certain number of phone calls, writing a fixed number of notes and stopping by a given number of homes to drop off little gifts we made.

(“Gifts? Really?”, you say. Yes. We made a video of ourselves making candles and then gave away the candles. Next, I made little bags woven from strips of old clothes and put oranges in them. But that’s another blog.)

The results of all this consistency were a bit shocking. After six weeks of trying to figure out who to call and what to say, the number of referrals coming my way suddenly doubled. I’m not saying I sold any more cars in that period, but I sure did have the opportunity!

The moral of this story? Consistent effort works, but it also may show you the other skills you need to work on.

What will Year Two Bring?

I don’t know what comes next, but I’m sure it will be more hard work. That’s ok. I like to work and it’s very satisfying when I make sales and get paid.

I’ll just keep pecking away at it, like a chicken in a lettuce garden, and take the new lessons as they come.