Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

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You’ve heard of a stray dog or stray cat, but have you ever seen a stray chicken? My daughter’s dog was chasing a chicken in their yard. They live in a city, not in the country. They’d never seen this chicken before.

A text: My son-in-law Grant caught the chicken.

Ironically, they are keeping the chicken in an outdoor barbecue house giving it water and food, veggies and a breakfast bar. My daughter asked me if I wanted to keep it. My husband said we have enough dependents at the moment, but I can’t help but think of my character Sunshine in the second Blessen book.

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

Chapter One: Missing Egg    

            In the quiet of the morning, before the sun rises, before the barges move down the bayou, even before the school bus rumbles down True Friend Road, I find a miracle waiting for me in the chicken coop.  My best friend is a chicken named Sunshine.  And she lays the most precious light blue eggs.  Every day.

            But not today.

            I gather Sunshine from her nest by placing my cupped hands under her fluffy breast.  I cackle to her in her own language. She says, “bwack!” and fluffs up her feathers.

             “Stop that cursin’, Sunny-girl. Act like a lady. Here you go, come to me.” 

            Sunshine hops up and on to my shoulders.  She paces from one shoulder to the next, tangling my hair up in her feathers.  She trills and shifts.  Tucking her under my arm, I rub her soft golden down hoping to settle her. I’ve never seen her so nervous. 

            When I check her roosting spot, it looks disturbed. Like someone or some thing was digging for her eggs.  A little shiver runs up my spine.  Come to think of it, the latch was hanging, not hooked.  I’m usually careful to fully latch it at night. 

            I think about my chicken, Blue, that I lost to a hawk last year.  Blue was my first-ever pet that I had to take total care of, and I failed.  I left the gate open.  She got out and must’ve looked too tempting for the hovering raptor.  I wonder if a hawk could’ve stolen Sunshine’s eggs.  But that doesn’t make any sense.  A hawk couldn’t get into the coop.  What coulda’ been scavenging around in Sunshine’s bed? Did I fail her, too? What kind of pet owner am I? 

            “Sunshine, did you have a visitor last night?”

            I put her down outside the coop and scatter some seed.  She settles into a focused peck, peck, peck, eating her breakfast.

            I look over toward our neighbor’s house and see the shadow of a child moving across the screened porch.  That’s weird.  I thought the house was empty. The For Sale sign still stands in the front yard. I wonder who could be there.  A new friend?  An egg thief?

Margaret Simon, all rights reserved, from Sunshine, published by Border Press, 2019.

To order Sunshine from Amazon, click here. If you’d like to order a signed copy, let me know in the comments.

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.


It’s summer now. The sun sets more reluctantly than at any other time of the year, and as it slowly drops behind the canopy of live oaks and crepe myrtles, my remaining twelve hens drift nearer and nearer to the coop, pecking and scratching along in a lazy, singular unity.

I feel so strongly about these hens. As oblivious as they are to love and anything else that is neither food nor peril, they seem to carry with knowing authority the solutions to all mysteries, as our solutions are somehow in rosary beads, old pots, and June bugs. If they miss Passion, they don’t show it. Somewhere between earthworms and hawks, they carry on, finding the best spots for dust baths and squabbling over the grapes I feed them from my hand, until they inevitably make it home as the sun sets.

And rather than leave an empty space where Passion once perched on the roost, they will scoot closer to each other and fill it in, knowing that the world goes on and knowing — announcing, maybe, as Mary Oliver would say — their place in the family of things.

–Lisa Meaux, 1956-2016, excerpt from “The Birds: Passion” from Entropymag.org



Lisa Meaux

My friend, Lisa Meaux, loved chickens.  The above excerpt is from a short story she wrote about a friend and a chicken who both had ovarian cancer.  The story is just like Lisa, a mix of the ironic and the tender.

I first met Lisa when I was working on my masters in gifted education.  She was the lead teacher in a summer program in which I interned.  As the years went by, Lisa found her way to the writing project, and our relationship grew around teaching and writing.  Two years ago, she retired and married the love of her life.  Little did any of us know that her life would end so soon.

On Saturday, I attended a beautiful gathering to celebrate her life at the Acadiana Center for the Arts. The stage was set with a portrait of Lisa holding one of her chickens.  Two teacher-writers from her writing group read from a variety of pieces that told the story of Lisa.  Her writing life centered around her love of her home, her animals, and her family. A fitting tribute to her through her own words.

Back in 2009, Lisa, Nettie, and I attended the New Orleans writing marathon.  The marathon focus was fiction.  I felt like such a novice at fiction writing, but the genre was comfortable to Lisa.  I remember she wrote a story about a woman who leaves a piece of her clothing at various places in New Orleans and eventually walks into Lake Pontchartrain completely nude.  It was a brilliantly crafted story.

At that retreat, Lisa gave me a gift of a bracelet of blue beads and thus the name for Blessen’s chicken, Blue.  If it hadn’t been for Lisa, there would not have been a chicken in my story, or, for that matter, a story at all.  She met with me to discuss my book and planted the seed that would become the theme for the book, “Death happens in threes.”

There is an empty space where Lisa lived.  Her friends feel it.  Her husband feels it.  Her students feel it.  Unlike her roosting chickens, I am not quite sure how to fill the space that belonged to her.  I still struggle to know where I belong in the family of things.  But I know this for sure: The world goes on, and I am a better person for having known and loved Lisa Meaux.

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Another week of summer and I am celebrating…

1. A daily walk with Charlie. One of my outside cats, Buzz, likes to come along, but not for my company, for Charlie’s. Here he’s holding onto Charlie’s leash as if to take him for a walk.

Charlie and Buzz

Charlie and Buzz

2. Visits with friends. Jen lives at Bonne Terre Cottage which includes a pond, a farm, and a yard full of chickens. I sat on her back porch and wrote this little ditty about the chickens.

Can you count the chickens in the yard?
Like a kid on the playground,
Black-n-White pecks under the tree,
trots to the birdbath to join his friends.
A treasure of seeds in this dirt?

Here comes Petite Princess
prancing like the queen of the yard,
Spreading the gossip of the group.

These chickens in the yard
make me happy until…
Big Orange decides my toe looks yummy!

3. Judging LA Writes. I coordinate our state writing contest and every year other teachers from our state join me to judge the entries. This year we read 825 poems, stories, and essays to cull each grade level division to 8-10 to send to author judges. I was disappointed in the quality. (Food for another blog post thought.) But spending time with other teachers talking about the craft of teaching and writing is always inspiring and fun.

4. Taking care of myself. I had a sinful facial this week. I say sinful because it feels way too good to be guilt-free. I’m not sure it does anything for my aging face, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Happy Summer, y’all!

white chicken

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  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

I’ve always thought a little romantically about having chickens in my yard. They are so cute, pecking around. My neighbors had a few, so I went by one day and got the tour. I even interviewed them for research on the sequel to Blessen. (She has a pet chicken in both books.) And what is better than farm fresh eggs?

When my daughter was house sitting last week, I went by for a visit. I posted about the horse on Saturday, celebrating his affection. The owners left a long list of chores. They included feeding the dogs, the cats, the ducks, the horses, the bird, and the chickens. The chickens were to be fed at 9:30 PM. I believe this was a tactic for getting them into the coop for the night.

After dinner before I left, Maggie wanted to show me this chicken feeding routine, so we fed them a little early. She showed me the back hatch for collecting the eggs. When she opened the hatch, we were excited to see about 7 eggs. I would be taking some home for breakfast. I reached in to pick up two eggs. As I moved my hand out, I looked to the right and noticed a long black rope. Only, the rope moved.

I have a pathological fear of snakes. I cannot even touch a page in a book with a snake on it. This fear has no basis in logic. When Maggie was 3 years old, my mother and I took her to the zoo. I refused to go into the snake house. Maggie went along with my mother. When they returned, Maggie announced, “Mom, it’s OK. They’re all in cages!”

This moving black rope was in a chicken coop. The very one I had just stuck my hands into. I am proud that I did not drop the eggs or scream and run. I just walked away briskly saying, “That was a snake!” I have decided that I will leave the raising of chickens to friends and neighbors.

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Friday is feedback day at the Teachers Write virtual writing camp. I am now friends with Gae Polisner on Facebook. She is the author of Pull of Gravity, and she hosts the Friday Feedback on her blog. She gave me a heads up about today’s feedback theme, hooking your readers.

The best first line ever written was written by E.B. White in Charlotte’s Web which celebrates 100 years this year. “Where is Papa going with that ax?” Who could put down a book like that? You are invested in knowing what Papa is going to do with that ax.

Here is the first line of Blessen.

Blue is cackling something awful this morning. That’s how she tells me she laid an egg.”

In the Teachers Write Camp a few days ago, we were asked to find an object in our work that has significance. I decided that object would be an egg. Imagine my thrill at reading Kay Ryan’s poem Eggs in this week’s New Yorker. “We turn out as tippy as eggs.” I would love to use her poem as an epigraph for Sunshine. Because here lies the theme: We are tippy as eggs. We are fragile, and we must have love to nurture us and hold us together.

With all this to think about, beginnings, symbols, themes, and the gosh-darn-hard work of crafting a novel, I place here for you to see the possible beginning and end of Chapter one of Sunshine. Does it hook you? Are you ready for another Blessen adventure?

First part:

Sunshine flutters her feathers on my cheek. She doesn’t wriggle or cackle. She’s still and calm, letting me hold her close and feel the warmth of her down. And on her nest, shining like a diamond in the dust is a light blue egg, soft as the clouds above my head on this new day.

According to my momma, chickens don’t like to be held.

“Why you carry your chicken around like that all day, Blessen? Don’t you know chickens are born to roam, not be carried around like a baby doll?”

Last part

A.J. reaches down to gather up my hen. Surveying her like a sculpture, he turns her all the way around.

“This is a fine chicken you have. Guess who knows how to pick ‘em?”

I smile and say, “You have good taste in chicks.” A.J. lets out a loud laugh at the double meaning. Then he crows like a rooster.

“Have you met Tux?” I ask.

“Don’t know that I have. Who’s Tux?”

“Mae Mae’s stray kitty she rescued. He and Sunshine are working on becoming friends.”
“A chicken and a kitten, that’s an unlikely pair.”

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Broody Hen

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

On Friday I went to a pool party celebrating the Teachers Write Virtual Writing Camp. Still wearing my tie-dyed t-shirt from art camp, I sat in my kitchen with my laptop and talked with other teacher authors and read aloud a piece I had written this summer. What a fun party! It has been very rewarding for me to find a community of people like me. The support is valuable. The enthusiasm for the work of writing and the sharing of works in progress has filled my quiet writing world with encouraging voices and clapping hands. I have to thank Kate Messner and all her wonderful guest authors. Thanks also to Gae Polisner and Jen Vincent who led the Spreecast video party.

I read this excerpt from my work in progress, a sequel to Blessen. If you have followed this blog, you read about my chicken research. This chapter resulted from my visit with Harvey and Opal and their brood of hens.

Taking care of a chicken requires some expertise. Mae Mae has been helpful. When she was a little girl growing up in St. Martinville, she ordered 50 chicks of the heritage variety.

“We just went down to the post office and picked up the chicks, newly hatched. These were butchering chickens, grown for food. Of course, as a little girl, I had no idea what went into killing a chicken.”

Mae Mae told me all about caring for her chickens, what she fed them, how she cleaned up their poop, and all about their strange ways of taking a bath in the dust. I listened, all the while knowing my chicken would never be butchered.

Mae Mae said when she came home from school one day, she went out to care for her flock, and they were all gone. Her momma had butchered every one of them and put them in the freezer.
“I told my momma I would never eat another chicken, unless it came from the grocery store.”

Mae Mae raised her fist in the air and turned it up quickly. Snap! Just like that! Chicken for dinner.

Right then and there I decided I would never kill a chicken. I can’t even eat one without thinking about its suffering. Momma says death is a part of life and how would we live without the sacrifice of animals. She says that’s why God made them.

I say that may be why God made cows and pigs, but chickens are just too cute to butcher.

A few weeks ago, A.J. brought me a chicken-raising book from the public library. I am learning all kinds of stuff about Sunshine. For example, do you know how to tell if an egg is fertilized? Well, now I do. And there are illustrations to help.

Candling an egg: (Maybe in the old days they used a candle?) Use a flashlight. Shine it on the egg and look for a dark spot with veins spiraling off of it. A straight line with no black spot means no baby chick. Seeing as how we don’t have a rooster around and knowing what I know about the birds and the bees, there’s not much chance that Sunshine’s eggs have babies in them. But I check anyway.

Sunshine is acting so weird I may need to consult with my resource. I open the coop and call for her. She doesn’t move. She just sits still and makes a strange rumbling growling sound. No clucking, no happy head-bob. Her golden white feathers are fluffed so she’s all full and fat. I decide to give Mae Mae a call.

“Mae Mae, something is wrong with Sunshine!” I cry louder than I expected. Lowering my voice, I describe the symptoms, “She doesn’t want to move off her nest. She’s all fluffed up; her head is tucked down. She seems depressed. I’m really worried.”

Mae Mae is calm. “Blessen, listen carefully. I think Sunshine is broody.”

“Broody? What’s that mean?”

“She wants to nest. It’s her instinct as a woman. You need to pay close attention to her for the next few days.”

“What do I need to do?”

“As often as you can, take her off of the nest and wet her down. Be sure she eats. Give her her favorite foods. She could starve herself if you don’t help her.”

I’m in a panic. I barely take the time to say my thanks to my grandmother and run outside to attend to my ailing hen.

There she is, right on her nest. No egg is under her. I gently grab her on either side and carry her to the water bowl. She’s still growling. Brr, brr…

The water calms her a bit. She jumps out and walks about head bobbing some, but no talking. She finds her way to the coop and starts scratching under it. I grab the bag of feed corn and toss some on the ground, but she’s focused on her scratching.

“Come on, Sunshine. Eat somethin’. Don’t you go dyin’ on me like Blue did. Poor Blue didn’t have a chance against that hawk. But you, you’re my little Sunshine hen. You just gotta make it. You hear me. Now eat some corn here.”

Sunshine looks at me as if she understands. Her head turns this way and that. She bocks in her normal voice, takes about two bites, and hops back up in the chicken coop to roost on her nest.

This is going to be a tough job!

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At dinner last night we were discussing the chicken research I have been doing. See Raising Chickens for Dummies. My daughter said she remembered that a friend in high school raised chickens, and he talked about hypnotizing his chickens. She said, “Google it.” So I did, and I found this funny video of some kids hypnotizing their chicken. Chicken research continues…

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So you published a book, what now? The answer keeps coming to me as “write more.” After 471 free downloads from Kindle when Blessen was free for the 4th of July holiday, I wondered what it may mean for book sales. An author friend said, “Your readers will want more.” This is a tremendous burden. And terrifying! In an attempt to embrace this burden, I decided to do some chicken research.

In Blessen, her chicken Blue dies quickly, attacked by a hawk. In the next book, Sunshine, Blessen’s new life chicken, will not die, I promise. But that means I need to know more about the actual raising of chickens. In our household, we have had fish, cats, and dogs. No chickens. But my neighbors, Harvey and Opal Broussard, in their retirement are raising 6 hens.

As a young girl, Opal participated one year in 4-H. She got 50 chicks to raise. They were of the butchering variety. She didn’t name her chickens, but she cared for them. She fed them, kept their coop clean, and was committed to proper record keeping. She was ready for the Chicken of Tomorrow contest. All 50 of her chickens were ready to go to the LSU Ag Center, but for some reason that she does not remember today, they didn’t go. And sadly, one day when she returned home from school, her mother had butchered all 50 chickens and placed them in the freezer. Opal told her mother she would never again eat chicken out of the freezer.

Needless to say, Harvey and Opal’s brood of 6 hens are laying hens and will die of old age. They each have names and unique personalities. They are Stella, Rhoda, Lacey, Estelle (nicknamed “Big Mama”), Buffy, and Laura.

Opal told me that there is really a “pecking order.” In my opinion, Harvey is on the top rung. The chickens watch and follow him where ever he goes. Stella likes to be held, so she walked up to Harvey, pecked his shoe, and he gently wrapped his hands around her feathered breast and cradled her in his arms. I took this opportunity to pet her. How can I describe this softness? Softer than silk. Softer than my kitten’s fur. The softest thing I have ever felt.

Harvey was most concerned over his Austrolope hen, Laura. She was “broody.” Broody means she wants to nest on an egg. These hens usually lay daily, but there is no rooster around, so their eggs are unfertilized. Instinctual, however, they occasionally want a family of their own. This behavior can be detrimental to the broody hen. She wants to sit on the nest all day, no eating or drinking. Harvey being the careful papa would take Laura off the nest about 15 times a day and put her in a pool of water to cool her off and try to influence her to eat. She did not run around and cluck like the others. With tail feathers poofed out, she stopped and dug in one spot making a rumbling growl. She could not be satisfied until she could rest on her nest. Then here comes Harvey again. She was one miserable momma. I know how she feels.

Broody Laura

I learned a lot about raising chickens and think that at least one chapter may need to be dedicated to the subject. Do you think young readers will enjoy learning about taking care of chickens? Blessen and her author need a copy of Raising Chickens for Dummies.

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