Tag Archives: chickens


imagesDyno-Rod came to unblock the blocked attic loo, which took about 30 seconds. The man then had a go at our washbasin, which was only draining very slowly, but somehow managed to make it worse. The water sat in the basin for a few hours until I decided to have another go with a plunger myself. After several minutes of vigorous plunging, having put in all other plugs and blocked up overflows, triumph, a little whirlpool appeared. A bit sluggish but the water started to drain out. I can cancel tomorrow’s plumber. Further investigations would have involved removing bathroom tiles and other fittings in the only room in the house we have redecorated recently, so glad to be spared that.

That wasn’t the only triumph. I had a planned visit this morning from two women working for the local authority. One is with the post-adoption team and the other works with adopted children via the Virtual School. There is at last some money available for post-adoption support. This meeting was to finalise an application for therapeutic support for Billy and Jo, and discuss what might or might not help. We quickly dismissed another parenting course. Don’t get me wrong, they can be very useful. I do understand that parents are the main resource for bringing up kids and that training the parents is therefore a worthwhile thing to do. There was a general feeling, however,  that there was not much more to be gained by this route. We have attended numerous courses, read a lot, go to support groups, use helplines, tried various therapeutic techniques, some with some success. What is needed now is more direct intervention with the children, especially as they have reached an age at which being a ‘happy family’ together is no longer our goal. We want to keep them apart as much as possible and equip them to go out into the world with basic skills and values. We decided that some sort if mindfulness training would help both children. CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) had recommended this for Jo to help deal with the need to self-harm, and to help her focus on school work. Unfortunately it was up to her to download an App and have a go herself, which she would not do. She is very resistant to letting her parents teach her anything, so nothing happened. The proposal is for the Virtual School worker to visit Jo’s school with me to discuss her lack of academic progress, and alternatives to GCSEs. This could include work experience. We also hope that the school might agree do some group work on mindfulness and meditation. They should jump at it, as the Virtual School would provide a person to teach and the funding.

Billy has a review meeting coming up at his College in a couple of week’s time when we can discuss the best way to deliver something similar for him. Mindfulness and meditation could help him deal with migraines and stress. We have also talked about EMD (eye movement desensitisation) for Billy, as it is supposed to help with trauma. If anyone has had experience of these forms of therapy with adolescents I’d love to hear about it. EMD might be simple enough that Billy would cooperate. Anything too demanding of time or energy is a non-starter. The last thorough two-day assessment that we managed to get him to participate in at Bibic in Somerset was very good at identifying his strengths and weaknesses, and probably helped him get his PIP (personal independence payment) but the suggested therapy was rejected. Bibic are heavily into Johannson Music Therapy, which Billy has tried before when younger after an earlier Bibic assessment, but it requires a high level of commitment on his part and he wasn’t prepared to give it a go. We didn’t push it as it would also have cost several hundred pounds and after paying for the assessment we had run out of money anyway. It was really good to talk to two women who understood what it is like to parent traumatised, troubled teens. It makes a refreshing change as so often we have either had “I don’t know how you cope”, “it must be terrible”, “I couldn’t do it” (not very helpful when you are looking for professional support) or suggestions that our parenting style was the main cause of their problems. We have also come to realise that there are no magic solutions. The kids just have to grow up and make their own way in the world. We can help them with baby steps and try to get as much appropriate support as possible. The rest really will be up to them.

IMG_1066Despite the dark, dreary winter drizzle the chickens are aware of the lengthening days. They are upping the laying and two Silkies have gone broody. I had seven eggs yesterday, and five today. Last year’s chicks are still a bit young to lay, and the little black Pekin bantam is definitely too old. Others like the Cotswold Cream Legbars are very seasonal layers. My little Silkies do, however, keep going throughout the year and only really stop when broody, which they are frequently. I don’t think my Bluebell or Burford Brown hens stopped laying either, nor the two rescued hybrids. They all slowed down a bit but we have never run out of eggs, or not had enough to share with the neighbours.

One of my sisters has sent me a DVD of the Coen brothers version of Fargo, which lasts about 90 minutes. This should just be long enough to make inroads into the ironing. I finally managed to clear the clothes off Jo’s floor, put away her decorations and remake her bed, so all-in-all not a bad day.

Chickens and other musings

My ‘To Do’ list today included jobs that would be more difficult after an operation, like cleaning out the chickens. I put if off until the sun came out mid-morning, then scraped out the old litter, sprinkled liberal amounts of diatomaceous earth around the houses, caught and powdered Daisy, a pretty orange Friesian hen, who was dropping some feathers last night, and spread a new layer of hemp bedding on the floors and in the nest boxes. I also cleaned and refilled their drinkers and added some extra hardwood chippings to areas of the night run that were looking rather bare. All quite satisfying really. I took down Christmas cards that instead of sitting in a pile on the kitchen table for weeks I had actually strung up along the wall. The tree came down, decorations carefully put away for next year. I didn’t try a crib this year. Or last year come to that. I love cribs, and bought several, as they kept getting damaged. I used to try to get the children to help me set them up, as I’d enjoyed doing it as a child. I gave up a few years back when Jo took hold of baby Jesus and delightedly flung the fragile plaster figure down the stairs with a cry of ‘Yo Jesus!’ Or perhaps it was ‘Go Jesus!’ Either way, the effect was the same. I got the message and the crib has stayed in the attic ever since. I even managed to hang the holly wreath back on its hook on the far wall of the shed, which involved some precarious balancing on assorted piles of children’s toys and chicken equipment. I had noted when getting it out that the Styrofoam painted apples appeared to be going mouldy. I tried wiping the mould off, but the paint came off too, reminding me of a weeping Madonna statue. Hopefully an airing will have done it some good. I managed to finish clearing the attic rooms where Edgar and Isaac had been sleeping, ready for a good clean. The loo was completely blocked, again, although neither of them had thought to tell me. If bleach and repeated flushing doesn’t fix it I’ll call the plumber. We have had good value from our Homecare insurance, unblocking that loo alone. Just Jo’s room left to tidy and clean. At the moment all her clothes seem to be heaped on the floor, almost completely hiding the carpet.

imagesAbout 4pm the hospital rang to tell me that my operation on Friday has been cancelled. I had anticipated this, as it was announced yesterday on the national news that the hospital had declared a state of emergency over Accident and Emergency admissions. This generally results in all non-urgent operations being cancelled. It has been rescheduled for the following week, but I won’t hold my breath. Something as simple as a day visit to hospital being rescheduled is like a stone being thrown into a still pond. The ripples are the many people affected by a change of plans. Work commitments that I had anticipated at the end of the month will need to be cancelled or changed, people lined up to help with animals and transport stood down. Each of them will have made arrangements to be here and those changes will also have repercussions. I need to remember my New Year’s resolution, that Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place. I decided to break my self-imposed tea-total de-tox, which had seemed sensible before a general anaesthetic. I was very pleased with myself for going three days without a drink, but another ten days of abstinence is a bit over the top. Tony and I trotted down to one of our local pubs for a beer and some food to celebrate our wedding anniversary and his birthday, which fall at the end of the week. We had assumed that celebrations would have to be put on hold.

When members of the British Government announce, as they have done recently, that our public services are holding up under their austerity cuts, I do wonder which ones they have been trying to access. It is years since we managed to find an NHS dentist. I waited about 18 months for a cataract operation, and after that time received a letter telling me that the service couldn’t cope and there was no likelihood of even getting an initial appointment with the ophthalmologist in the foreseeable future. By that time I’d had to get it done privately or I would no longer be able to drive. Same story when Billy needed a knee operation. The waiting list was so long we paid up as two years in a child’s life is a very long time. Tony has just paid to see an osteopath in a private clinic for his hip, as it takes three weeks to get a GP appointment, and then he would need to wait for the referral. The adolescent mental health services are in such a state of crisis that when we did get a referral the poor woman I saw was in tears. She said she was taking early retirement, as she was so dispirited. They could no longer offer a service to the children who needed it, and even the most desperate and urgent cases were not receiving a proper service. We did manage to get both children a therapist, but they have been signed off again. The education welfare officers have gone. Life at the sharp end is certainly getting harder. I wanted to end on a positive note – but perhaps it is not what happens but how we deal with it that matters. This little dog’s face just about sums it up. Keep smiling!



Things that keep me awake at night

In the small hours of the morning my mind seems to work with unaccustomed clarity. The house was quiet when I went to bed around midnight and it looked as if the children were all asleep. I was woken about 3am by the sounds of Billy moving around in his room directly above ours. He must have been turning in from an X Box session in Edgar’s room next door. Eventually he settled down, but by then my thoughts were running away with me. Yesterday Billy had arranged for a couple of friends from college to come over with a car. One of them, Mark, at 17, is the proud possessor of his own set of wheels. The plan was for Billy, Edgar and two col2004_Proton-GEN-2_2004-06lege friends, Mark and James, to go off together to a nearby town to hang out, or shop, or do whatever teenagers do. Billy was keen to show off his new friends to Edgar and having someone with a car obviously carries prestige. They should have been at our house about 2pm, but then it was delayed till 3.00, and then delayed again, and again. Eventually a car arrived about 6.30pm, by which time it was pitch dark and too late to have an outing. Billy’s friend James, who had stayed with us before, came into the house but Mark, the driver, who we have never met, stayed in the car. Then they all disappeared to visit Ewan, Billy’s one remaining  friend from primary school who lives locally. They were back about 10 minutes later as apparently Ewan was about to have supper. The car and its passengers left. Billy seemed a bit deflated. I asked whether his friends had got lost, but apparently James and Mark had detoured to pick up another lad, Ellis, who we hadn’t met or heard of before. They had to leave to drop him home, wherever that was. Billy had been anxious about how much money he had in his account, and said he had to pay for the petrol. He had £30 as I had transferred it as contingency money for his trip to his birth mother’s last week. The only reason the money was unspent was that Billy had lost his bank card, which I found in the pocket of a pair of jeans as I was about to stuff them into the washing machine.

imagesLast night Tony and I just felt bad for Billy that his social plans hadn’t worked out. The lads were disorganised, as teenage boys can be, and Billy’s chance to display his new life to Edgar had fallen rather flat. But in the clarity of the night my mind was racing, putting two and two together, and perhaps making five. The anxiety about money made me uneasy as I’m usually picking up Billy’s nervousness about it. I remember in primary school when he kept saying he needed £1, but wouldn’t say what for. It eventually emerged that he had kicked or thrown a ball belonging to another child into a hedge, and the boy was demanding that he pay for it. We told the school staff who had a word with the child about extorting money from other children. In Year 9 I remember a parents’ evening when Billy kept nagging me for £20. It turned out he owed money to some Russian kid who had probably been supplying him with alcohol or drugs. We never go to the bottom of it, but the anxiety about needing money and the sense that he could be in trouble was familiar.

So as I lay there in bed it seemed possible that the unknown third person in the car, Ellis, had been supplying drugs, which Billy needed the money for. The visit was less about going out together than gaining access to a supply of ‘weed’. I asked Billy this morning whether he had paid for petrol, and he told me he had given James £20, or they couldn’t have got home. This seemed totally unreasonable for a 5-minute car ride, and an afternoon kept waiting. I said as much, and checked with Edgar whether the third lad in the car was also at college with Billy, but I didn’t want to put Edgar in a spot by asking him to split on his friend, the worse crime a child that age can commit apparently.

Billy admits to smoking weed, but we have never found it on him or learnt where he gets it. I’ve no doubt it is easy enough to get a supply. It was in our day, growing up in the 70s, and things don’t seem to have changed in that respect.

I had wanted to go out and see the boys (I didn’t know at that point that two of them had remained in the car). Tony persuaded me not to, that the last thing a teenage boy wants is to introduce his friends to his mother. I wish I’d listed to my instincts. I feel much safer if I know who comes and goes, and can make my own judgment as to the kind of people Billy is mixing with. I was still going round in what seemed like increasingly probable circles in my mind when the remaining little Barbu d’Anver bantam cockerel decided to start crowing at 5.18. Fortunately he only made about half a dozen strangled cries, otherwise he would have been despatched like his even noisier brother. I eventually got to sleep after 6am, shortly before Tony got up and the dogs started barking, but dozed till about 10.00.

On a happier note, I had a good evening with Jo last night. She had wanted me to watch a film with her on the iPad the day before, and I’d suggested we watch it together yesterday. We settled down in front of the TV, and with numerous stoppages to cook meals for people, we did laugh our way through Tammy. I though it was being streamed for free, but Jo did admit she’d just gone to Box Office, so we will be billed for it. At least we enjoyed the film, as there are generally long lists of Box Office downloads that they haven’t even bothered to watch, many of which we have anyway on DVD. It will be good when both children are earning their own money and are a little less profligate when it comes to spending ours. I just hope tonight is more restful. At the end of the day Billy is growing up and there are limits to what we can do other than be here, and try to put some sort of rules and values in place. He is a mixture of secrecy, deception, dependence and naïve vulnerability, which I find makes it hard for me to detach from him. There’s not much relevance to this last photo – other than that its pretty high on the cute scale and I love animals.


So Far So Good!


All mothers have to be project managers, but never more so than with adopted children. There are so many potential minefields. We have made it to Christmas morning. The ex-battery hens, rescued from the churchyard where they had survived in the wild for some weeks, came in to inspect  the Christmas tree. Ok, one did poo on the carpet, but who cares! Billy thought he would try to stay awake all day on Christmas Eve, having been awake all the previous night as well. He requested an energy drink when I went to do some last minute shopping. By 4pm he was fast asleep and Jo, who had made a bed on the floor next to him, had consumed the energy drink, so was high as a kite. Billy woke briefly about 8pm and they both requested a  melatonin capsule to help them sleep. No bust-ups, all reasonably quiet. They were dozing rather than asleep when I did my Mummy Christmas bit with stockings on the end of their beds at 1am after the Midnight Mass Christmas service. I knew to expect rustling sounds while I lay in the bath. They made it through till about 6am when loud footsteps signalled a trip downstairs to see what was under the tree. They knew exactly what they would find as the gifts had been requested and Jo had helped me wrap them and put them under the tree (XBox Ones, identical to avoid squabbles if at all possible). Billy had wanted to have his left in his room but I objected that I didn’t want him gaming all night, then be too tired to go to my Sister-in-Law and family Christmas Day. He accepted this, and they made it to 6am before setting them up. Peace is still the order of the day at 9.30am. Tony thought that Billy might refuse to leave the house today, and that Jo wouldn’t want to go without him, but there are no signs of that so far. They do have a history of refusal and have spent many family occasions, as well as Jo’s last school carol service, and  a family walk in the summer, sitting in the car. Where possible we make minimum fuss and just leave them to it as they are too big to compel to do anything and bribes and threats generally fail. But so far so good. We anticipate a family outing shortly. So I wish all you adoptive families out there (and the rest of my readers) a very peaceful Christmas.

Chicken Sandwich


I love my chickens. Any hobby chicken-keeper will tell you that they are all so different, in character as well as appearance. There is friendship and altruism as well as rivalry. My two large fluffy orange Buff Orpingtons allow the little old black Pekin bantam to sleep between them, perched on the roof of the chicken coop like the filling in a sandwich. What I don’t enjoy is rat control. I hate having to kill animals. I tolerate the grey squirrels eating the chicken food as I can’t do much about it. The reappearance of rat runs, however, necessitates stuffing poison down the holes, then covering them carefully to prevent the chickens or wild birds eating the poison. I read that Lady Murial Dowding (wife of the WWII bomber command veteran, Sir Hugh Dowding), would talk to the rats, asking them to leave, which they did. Hugh Dowding observed them himself, streaming over the garden wall. I have tried something similar, but without success. And so both the nurturing and the poisoning continue.

OK, its not an exact analogy, but it did prompt musings on the balance between the enjoyment of just seeing the children live, and grow, and managing the negatives in our lives. What are the things that can and do jeopardise the generally positive relationships we try to nurture?

The trigger points include:
(1) Lying – they are brilliant at it. We can seldom tell who did what unless we find conclusive evidence. Who emptied the Pimms bottle? And the whisky? Well beer cans concealed in a room are a clue as to where the beer went. We don’t have a strong-room the kids can’t access to hide things in, and going tea-total isn’t an attractive option. When Billy was small I would perform a reality triangulation check (“we haven’t got any homework this week”, “Simon stole my blazer”, or whatever it might be) by asking “Would your teacher say the same thing if I asked her?” The usual response was, “No, please don’t say anything”. Jo has an imaginative take on the difference between fact and fantasy. We wouldn’t call it lying, more trying to make sense of the world by putting herself in a situation she has heard about. Since Billy dislocated his knee on the rugby field we have had years of her ‘bones popping out’, to which we nod sympathetically.

(2) Stealing – or helping yourself to what you need. Money disappearing from my purse or Tony’s wallet is pretty destructive of a relationship of trust. Finding your computer or phone charger has vanished is extremely annoying. They get through industrial quantities of earphones and headphones as their own never seem to work or are broken. All the jewellery I inherited disappeared, one or two broken bits turning up years later. We know it was Jo’s magpie tendencies but what happened to it remains a mystery. Even now she can’t or won’t say, other than that Billy suggested they could use the precious stones to decorate light sabres, Ben Ten rings, or whatever else their creative imaginations had dreamt up.

(3) Lack of empathy. It’s a funny one – they are not unaffectionate or completely uncaring, but have an inability, or reduced ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. This is common with children who have suffered early trauma. It’s a neurological rather than a moral failing, although the extent to which they are willing to learn and adjust may have an element of choice. Abraham Maslow talked about a hierarchy of needs. Towards the bottom of the triangle are survival needs such as food, shelter and security. One could add that receiving – as opposed to giving – love is the most basic need of all. Without it babies fail to thrive. I see that many versions of Maslow’s diagram on the Internet have inserted ‘Wifi’ at the base, signs of our times. Higher skills are only learnt when basic needs are met. Life in mid-teens for our two is still about learning to feel safe and not quite trusting that their needs will be met. Thinking of other people and how they might feel is hard. It just doesn’t come naturally. They can by loyal to friends. At Billy’s former school not telling on your mates seemed to be the number-one rule, although they shopped him quite happily, so he tended to take the rap for everyone else’s misdemeanours as well as his own. Being in with your mates is far more important to Billy’s survival than academic progress or adult approval.


Here are some positives, and they are many.
(1) Every negative has its flip-side. When they lie, and we have calmed down sufficiently to have a civilized conversation, we can use it as an excuse to talk about values and find out what’s going on in their lives. When Billy fixed up what looked like a drug-deal, under the guise of going to the cinema, we were able to have conversations that revealed how much he knew about drugs and how and where to obtain them. Frighteningly easy it seems, even without money. We could talk about the dangers of associating with ‘friends’ who give you things for free. We could make some new house-rules. All friends are welcome but with the caveat that we must be introduced to them, and that no drug-dealing is to go on from the house. It is their home but our house and we say who comes and goes. So far they have complied. There is a balance to be struck between freedom and boundaries. The latter are in place not because we hate them or don’t trust them (which we don’t), but because we love them and care about them. When we wouldn’t allow a school friend of Jo’s who came for the weekend meet a man she had met on Facebook her surprising response was “Your are the best parents ever!” Nice to have some endorsement.

(2) Stealing: I take this as an opportunity for spiritual advancement. Buddhism extols detachment from worldly goods, and Jesus seemed to think poverty was easier to handle than riches. When the things that are broken or disappear have sentimental rather than monetary value, I remind myself that we don’t take any of it to the grave and that the sentiments aren’t destroyed with the objects that embodied them. If money vanishes we do have conversations about trust. We have not yet called in the police, but in serious cases of theft or violence we would rely on the community police officers to put in a word of warning. We live in a consumer society and it is tempting to think that emotional needs can be filled by material objects. It’s a chance to remind the children as well as ourselves that just being together and enjoying each other’s company is what really makes us feel secure and happy. Jo was awake and ready to start her day at midnight, and invited me to watch a film with her, streamed from her iPad to the TV. It wasn’t really suitable for a 14 year-old, and raunchier than I would normally watch, but it was a comedy and we laughed and relaxed together. Precious moments.

(3) Empathy: I remember years ago watching a TV series about adoption. I was worried at the time by an adoptive mother, who was evidently quite needy, complaining that she didn’t think one of her adopted children loved her. It’s not about the children loving us but us loving them. We were lucky enough to be filled up with love as children and have some, hopefully plenty, to give to others. If their holes never get filled to the point that they can overflow in return, that’s their business, not ours. Parenting is not about being loved but about deep moments of connection, of making a positive difference to someone’s life. The sense of having love to give and not having children to give it to was emotionally far more painful and disturbing than the physical and emotional exhaustion of therapeutic adoptive parenting. Being a family of ‘strangers’, opens you up to others. The only members of our extended household who have a close genetic connection to another member are some of the chickens. And not many of them are actually close kin as I often geimagest the hatching eggs from EBay, or buy pullets from a garden centre, so as not to have cockerels mating their mothers and sisters. A family doesn’t have to be mum and dad and two biological children in order to work as a family. We may be pretty dysfunctional at times, but it kind of works for us. To get back to the chicken analogy with which I started, we feel a bit like the orange chickens buffering the more vulnerable members of the family from the elements. That’s our privilege.

Tech-saavy kids

We all know that our children are likely to have a better grasp of the latest gadgets than their parents. Unfortunately they don’t always know or care where their technical prowess might lead. Last night (while writing my first blog post) Jo (aged 14) came into my study clutching her iPhone to demonstrate that if she asked Siri, the voice-controlled guide, what her name was, it gave a funny answer. They had obviously spent a great deal of time at her boarding school that week taking each other’s phones and adding embarrassing names. At that point she grabbed my phone and ran off with it, despite my protestations to come back. She did a few minutes later, accompanied by Billy (16). Both kids were still in their night clothes having emerged like bats to forage at dusk. When pressing the button to activate Siri to ask ‘What is my name?’, Siri replied, ‘Your nwarrior chickename is Ann but you wish to be known as “chicken warrior”‘ (which I didn’t, but not a bad avatar name if I’m looking for one). Billy assured me that Jo’s version of my name had been something unrepeatable, which I can well imagine. I didn’t worry too much about it as I don’t generally go around asking Siri my name. This morning, however, when using my iPad to check emails, I noticed to my dismay that they were all sent to and from “Chicken Warrior”, including those from work. I went into my email accounts and tried to change it, but they displayed my name correctly. I went to moan at Tony, my husband, only to discover that he had been present when the changes had been made. There is form here – ‘letting’ or rather not being able to prevent, Jo from doing things she shouldn’t, so I couldn’t stop myself letting out a a ‘why did you let her do it’ cry of exasperation. I do know, to be fair, how quick she is and how hard it is to stop her. The wonder of Apple products is they way they sync across platforms, but it is a serious glitch if its possible to change someone’s email profiles across all accounts and devices simply by giving Siri a voice instruction, which didn’t require my passcode to get into the phone. I had a few more moans, and when Billy eventually appeared for food Tony got him to change it back to something resembling my name via the Contacts address book. I don’t really mind being a “chicken warrior” but trying to preserve some sense of professional credibility isn’t enhanced by the epithet.