Day 399: Brooding

It’s 1:15 in the morning and I’ve been trying to get some sleep for a couple of hours without success – so here I am. I took a bath, watched Jimmy Carter on the Daily Show talk about eradicating a parasitic worm in a dozen countries, and now I get to see if typing this posting is any good as a sedative.

old-brooder1It turns out I made the same mistake with the ducklings we bought a couple of weeks ago that I made the first time I made a brooder for the cute little baby chicks we brought home a few years ago: they don’t stay little very long! The ducklings have grown from little tennis balls with bills to foot-high eating machines determined to swallow as much of the planet as they can. They’ve outgrown the clever little two storage box brooder I created for them and I’ve been feverishly building a six foot by two by two home for them until the weather is warm enough for us to move them to the chicken yard.

new-brooder3Having designed several brooders over the last few years I’m getting better at things like trapping the edges (so no one gets cut ) of the half-inch metal screen that makes up the sides. I used an air stapler to build my very first brooder and the staples came out with enough force to cut the wire they were trying to hold. The result was metal fabric flapping in the breeze and weeks of re-stapling before I realized what was happening. Now the edges are securely sandwiched between two boards.

I’ve tried being clever with sliding access doors (that warped and became impossible to open), hinged doors (that sagged just enough to make the sliding locks seize), and a dozen other innovations that seemed like good ideas at the time. In the end this creativity is what drives me forward – but barely one idea in three survives the test of time.

About a quarter of our back yard is still snow covered. The ground is still mostly frozen making digging impossible. But soon, soon! There’s a garden to be tilled, a duck pond to be built in the chicken yard, some drain pipes to be buried, acres of freshly fallen limbs and trees to be hauled up the back hill by zip line, and cutting, splitting, and stacking to be done to be ready for next winter.

milo-woodKeeping warm on a cold winter night is a wonderful hobby! It starts in the spring and goes all the way through to fall. And there’s nothing like standing on top of a pile of freshly cut wood. Just ask Milo.

While some people are turning their oil and gas fired furnaces down to 65° or 62°so they can afford next week’s trip to the supermarket we’re putting another chunk of firewood in the stove to treat our bones to a toasty 80°, 83° – even 86° when the old arthritis kicks in. And our fuel is just out back lying on the ground waiting for us to shoo away the cat and be pressed into service.

Yawn! Maybe it’s time to give sleep another try now.

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Day 406: Swollen ducks.

I went to the doctor today to follow up on my successful diuretic-inspired fluid loss. I’ve lost twenty-six pounds of fluid (over ten-percent of my body weight) in seventeen days. That’s what I call a diet! Actually, the best part was there was no particular diet involved. My body just decided with the help of a little white pill that I wasn’t part camel and had no need to store fluid for a walk across the desert.

We’re down to only a foot of snow in the backyard. The shed roof is at last snow-free. Visions of gardens and flowers and cleared trails are dancing in our heads – hurry up Mother Nature! Hurry, hurry! I think it’s called Spring fever. Wonder if there’s a pill for that?

ducks406The ducklings are doing great in the plastic brooder we cobbled together. I hadn’t seen them in a couple of days (Delphine has been feeding and cleaning) and was shocked last night to see that they had doubled in size in the five days since we brought them home. As opposed to the baby chicks we first brought home a few years ago, the ducklings are friendly and trusting and perfectly happy being picked up these huge featherless apes (us). They usually sleep piled up in a scrum in a corner of their brooder. Last night they each snuggled down around the circular poultry fountain resting their chin on the outer ridge and passing time dipping the tips of their beaks in the water and then tilting their heads back to swallow. Dip, tilt, swallow, repeat. It looked a bit like some kind of plastic geegaw you might find in a gift shop at Times Square.

I just got an email sent from Delphine’s phone that said:

Waiting for script at drugstore for client.  How did your doc visit go?  What’s for supper?? Delphine

I replied: Went fine. The doctor seems to be very thorough – a good guy. Says he’s sixty-one and gave up his private practice because the admin burden got too much. He has me cutting the diuretics in half and wants to see me again in 4 weeks “to check potassium levels”. I’ve lost all the fluid weight. He also wants us to walk the dogs twice a day (no, really!). I think Chase may be giving him a little action on the side. The giveaway was when he prescribed five treats a day for the dogs and said the rat bastard cats don’t need any.

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Day 410: Night on the town.

We had just finished a nice dinner of chicken and cashews at our favorite Chinese restaurant and were driving back home. The conversation went something like:

(me) – When I stopped by the Tractor Supply Store to look at their barn door tracks I saw they had ducklings again.
(Delphine) – That’s why I took so long in there the other day when I was picking up the seed block.
(me) – They are so damned cute.
(Delphine) – We could keep them in the hen house.
(me) – Do you…?
(Delphine) – Yes!

One U turn and thirty minutes later we had a little cardboard box in the car making peeping sounds.

new-guys-tallLast time we had ducklings we made the mistake of keeping them with chicks in a brooder with a screen floor that was supposed to pass poop down to a metal tray. The ducklings grew much faster than the chicks, pooped mightily, fouled the catch tray, and hogged the water. Still, they were the happiest creatures either of us had ever seen – preening their new feathers, their first swim, flapping their powerful wings, and their first liftoffs and hilarious landings.

ducklings-2This time our six ducklings get their own solid-bottom brooder with wood shavings to help keep things tidy. Cleaning time we move them to a second brooder, haul the dirty one outside, and hose it down.

If the snow ever goes away, they’ll share the chicken yard with the hens and our Sheltie, Chase, will herd them into the hen house at night for protection. Experience!

We set up the brooder in the basement near the pellet stove, hung the heat lamp, dropped in the water dispenser and feed holder, and introduced the ducklings to their new nursery. They began eating and drinking almost immediately.

new-guys-allEowyn (little black and white feline ball of mischief) spent her time examining the brooder trying to figure out how to open it (why we held the top screen down with four clamps). Dove (mild mannered kitty) and Dolce (backwoods huntress) simply sat and stared. Chase practiced lunging to see the flock run to the far side of the brooder and clever Kendall sought reassurance from Delphine that he wouldn’t have to share any cookies with the newcomers.

Some people go out for an evening on the town to entertain themselves. We buy livestock.

Simple pleasures.

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Day 416: Jean and Jon.

The diuretics seem to be doing their job. I’ve lost about a pound of fluid a day from my legs for the last six days and my energy level is coming up a bit. All that notwithstanding, there are chores that need doing that don’t much seem to care about my state of health.

Six days ago we decided to run an ad in Craigslist to see if we could find someone with a strong back who was looking for a little extra work helping haul and chop and shovel. We were surprised that in six days we got not a single reply. Funny thing. Gmail has been hiding the Craigslist ad responses in a folder called Spam which it then hides in something called More. Neither of us thought to look there until today.

Turns out thirteen folks would be more than happy to lend us a hand now and then for $10 an hour. Some of them even live in Greenville. Wonderful.

jonWe called Jean and Jon. The economy has put both their careers on hold so they’re trying to get a local handyman business off the ground. We had them haul 400 pounds of pellets into the basement, chop some ice between the hay room and the chicken yard, and chatted about our fantasy of extending our dirt road a bit further down our back hill to get at more fallen trees for cordwood. They seem like two enthusiastic hard workers that we’ll be calling on for all sorts of chores. Jean is an experienced heavy equipment operator and Jon lifeguards at the town pool. They have a Facebook page here.

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Day 423: Gonna need a bigger skin.

The black stool problem of two weeks ago seems to have settled down. But the next chapter in this medical adventure seems to have begun. I’m getting bigger – much bigger.

In the movies when something important is about to happen the background music gets louder. Someone’s going to die, there’s a monster behind that door, she doesn’t love him anymore and the orchestra lets you know. In real life there’s no music.

I’ve been getting winded putting on my socks. It’s been hard hauling firewood around. My sweaters seem to have shrunk. My leather belt has run out of holes. The steering wheel in my car seems to have moved forward and is now rubbing my belly when I turn it. I can’t eat more than a few spoonfuls of anything without feeling stuffed. As they say on Twitter, WTF!

It finally occurred to me over the weekend that maybe I was the problem. I stopped by the doctor’s office this morning on the way to work and told the receptionist I thought I was exploding. She got me in to see a doctor a few minutes later. I got weighed. In ten days I’ve gained twenty-eight pounds. Twenty-eight pounds in ten days! That’s not from a couple of years of over eating. That’s having four tablespoons of soup as my dinner, going to a Mexican restaurant and eating half of Delphine’s side order of rice as my meal, calling a pear lunch.

pufferFluid. It turns out something called ascites is fluid build-up in the abdominal cavity caused by fluid leaks from the surface of the liver. Is this what I have? Nobody knows. But maybe. In any case, I do have fluid build-up. Twenty-eight pounds of fluid build-up in just ten days. Enough fluid build-up to make bending over impossible. I’m turning into a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon. They’re going to have to tie ropes around my wrists and ankles to drag me down Broadway next November.

Spironolactone (where do they get these names???) to the rescue. It’s a diuretic that prevents aldosterone from entering the principal cells. Hopefully it’s also a pill that will let me pee away twenty-eight pounds that’s making it hard to turn my steering wheel.

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