I aught to have my head examined…..

She is a Belgian Bearded D’Uccles Mille  Fleur
Who knew? Maybe we’ll call her Millie.

It was just a trip to the Farmer’s Market with Mike & Mom, but what do we find there? An old Bantam hen needing a home, having been saved from the fate her flock mates met by her fancy feathers. Never been particularly attracted to fancy feathered hens with feathers on their feet, but feeling sorry for Studdly, I brought her home. Turns out she has a bad leg, was very hungry, wants nothing to do with Studdly, who is smaller than her…….She is calm, but wondering when she can go home……she does have beautiful feathers, orange, black and white, very Halloweenish, guess we’ll have to call her Pumpkin, or Ghoul, or something like that……

She looked like she was going to attack him at one point. He just danced around trying to convince her he may be short, but a good and worthy mate!

I hope it works out for them.  An odd couple indeed!  He’s on the roost tonight, she is nestled down in the corner of the chicken house on fresh straw, wondering where she is.

Getting ready for the trip home
from the market

And I wanted less, not more animals.

Update: She has settled in, likes the digs, but not Studdly. Poor guy, he’s trying hard to impress, but she’s having none of it.  Though I see now they are both on the outside roost…..progress!









2012 update: after laying 3 eggs in the spring, Millie ‘came out’ and started to talk……a lot!  In 35 years of living with chickens, I have never had one carry on as she does, and she doesn’t have a particularly pleasant voice, a sort of whiny squawk.  She learned to beg at the back door, and come in if she didn’t get what she wanted.  She eats just about anything, from cottage cheese to corn on the cob, which she gets rather giddy over.  She can’t always control her energy, and often trips over self when running for a sunflower seed treat, or the promise of some other treat…….in short, she is a character!  Has not laid an egg since those three.  She and Studdly have become buddies though he still is rather dazed by her quirky personality.

Familarless this Halloween…..

Little Red Hen, why have I not written of your demise?  It’s been 2 weeks today the illustrious Little Red Hen of facebook fame, whose quirky face sold more cards than any of my other 60+ designs, was found, by me, dead in the red chicken house she shared with Studdily, her attentive and chivalrous rooster. There was little time to reflect on her death. A few hours later I was told I needed a biopsy to rule out cancer as a cause of a condition of great delicacy on my body.  That little drama over, in my favor, I have let my breath out.

As I watch Studdily wander aimlessly around, without purpose to his life, I too miss the cocky little hen who defied the odds to live as long as she did.  Perhaps because I wrote about her life as she lived it, it seems there is little left to write. She’s gone, story over.  She was indeed remarkable. Curious, smart, willing to be picked up, held and petted, and with a propensity for creating eggs too large for her diminutive body to expel, she lived life on the edge, at times full of hyper-energy, at times standing around in a daze. This is not unlike myself.  She followed me around, stood on the shovel when I dug in the garden, bit my hand if my weeding didn’t produce enough worms to appease her appetite, walked into the house to look around for whatever a chicken might be looking for, and ran up vet bills that rivaled our last dog’s medical expenses.

There were times I off-the-cuff referred to her as my familiar, so in the spirit of the season I thought I would explore this remark.

According to Wikipedia a familiar is a supernatural entity believed to assist witches and cunning folk in their practice of magic.  I’ve never thought of myself as a witch, though I have dressed as one many a Halloween, but I’d like to think I am occasionally cunning, as in ingenious.  This is good.  Here’s what Wikipedia has to say…….

“When they served witches, they were often thought to be malevolent, while when working for cunning-folk they were often thought of as benevolent (although there was some ambiguity in both cases). The former were often categorized as demons, while the latter were more commonly thought of and described as fairies. The main purpose of familiars is to serve the witch or young witch, providing protection for him/her as they come into their new powers.”

Well now this gets interesting.  First, we were told many times Little Red Hen could not live long. As recently as 5 months ago we were encouraged to ‘put her to sleep’ as she had no more than a few more hours, maybe a day to live.  She had a broken egg in her which couldn’t be removed and was causing toxins in her system.  I repeat, that was five months ago. I think defying death might put Little Red Hen in the category of “supernatural entity”, just a suggestion…….
As for the fairy part.  She was certainly elfin in size and impish in personality. The definition of fairies is quite broad, but can include wings, which she had, and the ability to appear and disappear, which she did quite frequently.  I vote yes on the fairy identity.
On to the benevolent pursuits. Certainly the pleasure a child, my aging mom, or anyone received stroking her small warm body of silky feathers, or the smiles her facial expressions brought to the dozens, maybe hundreds, of folks who bought my cards showing her countenance might be thought of as benevolent pursuits.  We certainly teamed up in these pursuits. In a crazy world, these little acts from a little being make a difference.
Now for the helping me to come into my new powers part.  Have I come into these powers, or was I a helpless cause and, giving up, she decided not to stick around through another winter?  I will continue to ponder this aspect of her role as a familiar.  Perhaps she will continue to assist from another realm……..
For now, there is one lonely, aging, but healthy and handsome rooster with a lovely red house looking for a small mate of similar age.  And Little Red Hen’s facebook page has been taken over by Gray Duck, to appease non-feathered friends. I doubt Gray Duck will be as witty. She is not, after all, a familiar. Though there may be a bit of magic in her.

Are you ready for hibernation?

Over the past few months the topic of sleeplessness has come up with several friends, so thought I’d share a bit of my experience…….I’ll try to keep this brief, not going into all the details about neurotransmitters, etc. which can be found all over the internet.

As days shorten and nights get longer, animals naturally begin to sleep more, some hibernating or semi-hibernating.  ‘Our’ resident chipmunks are sleeping more, soon they will be tucked into their dens until spring.  Around November many of us would like to hibernate.  Yet for some, just getting a normal night’s sleep can be a challenge. I’ve been one of those. Insomnia since childhood caused me to read books and try most sleep remedies, even seek  help at sleep clinics.  Rejected at two sleep clinics because I didn’t sleep enough to run the tests, I found help with Dr. Darley at the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine. Although I knew a lot about sleep, and sleeplessness, I learned what unique protocols were necessary for me to normalize sleep patterns.  Like most areas of health, there are new findings about what makes us sleep, or not, as science gains a better understanding of our neurochemistry.  I happen to be a person who has low levels of serotonin. I think I came from a serotoninless planet.

You could stop reading this right now and go to Dr. Darley’s list of archival articles for interesting and helpful information.  Or, you can humor me and read on…..

Lack of sleep has been shown to create in normal healthy people symptoms that mimic ‘syndromes’ such as fibromyalgia ~ acheiness, dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness, etc.  I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia decades ago, a diagnoses I no longer put much ‘stock’ in, believing it to be a label used when allopathic medicine does not understand what is wrong.  (It’s also become big business ~ new drugs, treatments, etc.  How do you create a drug for something you don’t know the cause of ?  But I digress.)  Most people know without sufficient sleep they might feel dizzy, lack the ability to focus, have slower responses physically and mentally, and generally feel tired.  Insomnia has become an epidemic in our society, a high percentage of  people functioning all the time with combinations of these symptoms, others having periods of sleeplessness which interrupt their ability to live optimally.  Most post-menopausal women have increased sleepless nights due to lower estrogen levels which impact the production of serotonin which is needed for sleep.

Ben Franklin suggested eating apples before going to bed for sleeplessness.  I remember trying that.  There’s the warm milk remedy, which has some science behind it.  Milk contains both calcium, which has a sedative effect on the body (I take my calcium supplement at night) and low levels of the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor of the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin, which in turn produces the neurotransmitter melatonin, which puts you to sleep.  Other food recommendations are based on small snacks of complex carbohydrates (not sugar!) combined with protein.  What NOT to eat is just as important. Do not eat heavy meals, high fat foods, spicy foods or refined carbohydrates before bed time.

Melatonin, a hormone produced in the pineal gland, is a neurotransmitter that begins to increase about 2 hours before your customary bedtime, if you are in dim lighting, and peaks about 2 hours later.   It decreases through the night to very low levels during the day.   Bright lights, such as sunshine…or computer screens, television screens, or a brightly lit room, will decrease levels of melatonin significantly, or prevent it from rising.  If you do not get to bed when your melatonin level is peaking you will likely have a sleepless night.  Some people have melatonin rhythms that might be different from the norm, causing them to be sleepy during the day, and/or not sleepy at bedtime.

So to stay awake ~  eat a big rich meal late in the evening in a brightly lit room, stay on the computer late, add a conversation with partner, child, friend, that is stimulating to the brain and emotions, some loud ruckus music, and jump into bed in an over heated, messy room.

For many of us, any one of these factors can throw our brain chemistry off, meaning there will be no melatonin which equals no sleep, or not enough melatonin to get us through a night of sleep.

The trick to improving sleep is to enhance the body’s ability to produce melatonin.  And that begins in the morning.  I was not happy when told by Dr Darley that even if I did not sleep well, or at all, I still needed to get into light early in the morning to turn off the melatonin. Beginning the period of reduced melatonin during the day helps re-set the biological clock.  At first this meant 5:30 and I was miserable!  But it did reset my evening biorhythm. I also wasn’t happy when she said do not stay in bed more than 20 minutes if you can’t sleep, get up, go to another room, read (by dim light) something really boring, go back to bed when sleepy.  I do not always do this. But it may work for you.

I have a routine that enhances my ability to sleep, if I don’t follow it I don’t sleep.  It includes getting ‘in the light’ by 6:30 – 7:00 in the morning, even if I had a terrible night of sleeplessness.  In the evening it means eating dinner no later than 7 p.m., earlier better, getting off the computer by 9:00, earlier better, having the house dimly lit, listening to calming music, not discussing ‘hot’ topics (money, family, projects, etc.), taking a warm bath (yes, this old time remedy works, the warmth relaxes muscles and when the body cools down it induces tiredness), and having a cool bedroom that is only used for sleep. The regularity of a routine is part of telling the brain it is time to sleep – same music, same pre-sleep rituals, whether it’s having the same favorite blanket you wrap yourself in to read  poetry to your partner, or inspiring short stories to yourself ~ maybe it’s the boredom of the routine, but these things trigger the brain to prepare for sleep.

Life does not always lend itself to this protocol, I have periods of poor, even no sleep, but when I get back to the routine my sleep always improves. I can usually tell when I get into bed if the chemistry is there or not to put me to sleep.  I do take an herbal sleep remedy when needed, but I stubbornly  believe it is best to work with the body, and mind, to help it do what it knows how to do, produce the sleep producing chemicals. Dr. Darley explained to me even a small amount of light in a room, from an LED clock or radio, can stop the production of melatonin in some light-senstive people. I’m one of them.  I have a lot of black-out cloth and take it with me when sleeping elsewhere. Most people live in environments that have too much light.  My mother’s house in Seattle is in a quiet neighborhood (except for the not-so-distant trains!) yet through her windows there are glaring lights from as far away as the Port of Seattle.  Eliminate the light and sleep better!

Each of us are unique.  I have shared in a general sense what I find helpful. Experiment with yourself, read Dr Darley’s articles.

Good-night and sweet dreams!

I am envious of the chipmunks who go into semi-hibernation. These furry little friends sleep away the winter, waking every so often to eat from their store of food, which here includes the many sunflower seeds they beg for at our door!