Tuesday, August 25, 2015


I have the world's greatest job for a late-in-life-career-change-psychiatric-nurse.  That said, the past several (nine) months have been fraught with challenges: I was nudged into a "charge nurse" position when my hero charge nurse took time to help with the Ebola crisis in Liberia, worked with float nurses (they don't, nor should they, know "psych" well) and travel nurses (they don't, nor could they, know the policies and procedures in my hospital because they come from other states) in his absence, and took the charge position permanently when, shortly after his return, he was offered a position with a World Health Organization partner and left for the third world.  I trust that he will make a monumental difference in the lives of those he serves there, because he made a monumental difference in mine.

I'm not a stranger to being in charge.  Having been an executive in my past life I know a little bit about responsibility, accountability, workplace politics and smiling through corporate disasters.  Even so, being in charge of protecting the very lives of people who are at horrifically vulnerable points of crisis in their lives is different than overseeing and guiding  a group of talented and creative salespeople.

This whole "life and death" element is sobering, stressful, and sometimes downright terrifying.  Apparently I was "ready" for the challenge as I haven't made any unforgivable mistakes, but I realize now that I've been operating on DEFCOM Level 5 (scale: 1-5) stress for months.  I have learned, after many years of facing life's curve balls and countless drama queen boomerangs I've thrown at myself that I usually decompress (or decompensate) a couple of weeks after the adrenaline stops coursing through my veins.

I was just about to begin researching how to live on minimum wage or raise alpacas or start a vineyard when the Universe delivered me two signs that help was on the way.  The first sign is the travel nurse with whom I began working about a month ago.  The night I met her, I looked into her eyes and saw humor, humility, intelligence, and a particularly attractive form of openness.  We have shared so much since then I'm amazed that she could have grown up the way she did and become the competent, funny, loving, adventurous, responsible, excellent nurse that she is, but I am extremely grateful that she has.  She is a godsend and I believe that we will be lifetime friends.  Her irreverence and honesty match my own.  Working with her is a burst of joy.  My professional life is, once again, deeply satisfying.  Thank you, Alexis.

My personal life has improved exponentially through the second sign. Just over two weeks ago the men in my household finished construction on a first class chicken coop and I took the poultry plunge.  My girls.  I can sit for hours watching them chase each other, take dust baths, leap into the air for no apparent reason, scratch, peck and peep.  I watch them make their way into their coop at night and marvel at their intelligence, despite the fact that my husband insists that "they have brains the size of pencil erasers".  I don't care that they're dirty girls who poop indiscriminately and don't want me to pick them up to cuddle them.  I don't care that they're still too young to give me eggs.  They are like a soothing, utterly absorbing film and I can sit in a plastic chair just outside their run and feel more relaxed than I ever remember feeling because they are natural, funny, and fascinating.  Every day I notice something new about them.  Yesterday, I heard one of them utter a muffled cluck as opposed to a childlike peep.  Today, after I cleaned their cage and sat while they ate mealworms out of my hand, they followed me to the gate that leads into the coop.  Although I felt a swell of maternal instinct at the time and was sure that they are growing to love me, I suspect that them following me has more to do with the mealworms than emotion, but it was delightful just the same.

I have received my gifts from the Universe.  The ultimate antiburnout recipe.  Thank you, Universe.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A rose by any other name...

Eight days ago my six chickens came to live with us.  They have all been named - in spite of dire warnings from people who eat their chickens after they stop laying eggs.  "Don't name them or you won't be able to eat them", they said.  I named three of them that first day.  Within a week, they all had monikers based on appearance, personality, or personal request from friends.  None of them will be eaten.  I'll have to open a chicken hospice at some point, because nobody is going to eat my chickens.

Mamba is the dominant.  She calls the shots.  She is the smallest of the bunch, has one toe that is crooked, is black with some lovely dark brick colored markings, and can control the others with a couple of rapid pecks to a head or neck.  Shiela is the least dominant.  She is solid blonde, very pretty, and named after my boss.  I'm not sure how my boss would feel knowing I have named a chicken after her and can only hope that she doesn't spend time reading blogs or facebook and find out that way.  I might have some explaining to do.  One of my two pretty Americauna breed chickens is named Marge, after my mother.  Marge screamed bloody murder the first time I picked her up.  This chicken has a set of lungs on her.  My mother could astonish her two daughters with the decibel levels of her admonishments, so it seemed only right that she be remembered, and honored, this way.  One of my Rhode Island Reds is named Rhoda.  The other Red is named Mary Jane at the request of a friend at work (whose name is Mary Jane).  The second Americauna is named Winnie after Winnie the Pooh.  My sister chose that name.

I love my chickens.  After two nights of being carried to their coop (after much chasing, peeping, pooping, squawking and wing flapping) and three nights of being restricted to their condo, they now know where they are supposed to sleep.  They do not file sedately up the ramp to the door of the coop.  They wander in and out, pecking at each other and pushing each other out until they finally settle down.  The peeping and jostling for position ceases after 15 minutes or so and then I unplug the overhead light in the coop so my girls can get some sleep.  They need their beauty rest for days spent pecking, scratching, grooming, digging, leaping straight up into the air, chasing each other and pooping everywhere.  They're delightfully entertaining.

And now, it's time for bed.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Bucket List

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to raise chickens.  It wasn't practical (or possible) when I lived in southern California (36 years).  Either I lived at the beach - no chickens allowed - or in the mountains in houses perched on the sides of steep drop-offs.  No room, or time, for chickens.  I lived in Alaska for five years after leaving California. Nursing school and sub zero temps prohibited me from interacting with any chickens other than those I found in the meat section at the local grocery store.

Now I live on my sister and brother-in-law's property in the greater Seattle area.  My husband and I parked our 34 foot motor home behind their house over a year ago and we haven't moved it since. Linda, my sister, and Art, her husband, have a house on a nice sized chunk of land.  They have created a large garden where once was grass and this summer I have taken care of the fruits and vegetables growing here.

Several weeks ago, we began to "talk chickens".  The people next door and those who live across the street have chickens.  I say God bless the zoning laws in this area.

Art and my great-nephew Kyle tore down an old play area in the yard and began the arduous task of constructing a coop.  They used the wood that had been a sort of playhouse to build the coop.  Art can build ANYTHING, eyeballing the space and imagining the finished project.  They worked tirelessly on 90 degree days, hammering and sawing and, occasionally, swearing.  On the final few days of construction my husband stepped in and helped.  Two days ago I knew that what has grown to be"a deluxe chicken townhouse" would be ready for occupancy today.

I drove home from work this morning and realized that I was very, very nervous.  A dear friend and I had made a date to drive to "the chicken store", and she and I left at 10am.  When we returned home at noon, we had 50 pounds of special feed, a bag of "grit" that chickens need to digest their food, a large plastic contraption to hold water for chickens, a bag of probiotics to add to the water, a large bale of chicken bedding, a block of something that actually smells good and is a concoction that serves as "chicken treats", and a special feeding container.  We also had six three-month-old chickens tucked into a large cat carrier.
I had planned to purchase breeds of chickens that are good egg-layers.  I was going to buy two of each of two breeds.  I ended up buying those four and two that were too pretty to pass up.

My chickens spent the day getting used to their surroundings and digging up items including a very, very old empty pack of cigarettes.  They pecked and chatted with each other and dug and rolled in dirt and ate and drank with great vigor.  Then it came time for me to introduce my girls to their coop - an insulated (thank you, Art) haven at the top of a long steep ramp.  My chickens were not amused.  They were perfectly happy digging for cigarette packages.  There was considerable chasing and dodging involved, but I managed to get all six chickens into the coop where they paced and pecked at the walls, wide-eyed and skittish.  I stood at the coop opening and talked to them in a low voice until they settled down and then I began to pet them.  One of my Rhode Island Reds actually fell asleep with her head on my hand as I gently stroked the feathers on her back.  It's dark now, but I'm fairly certain they're all asleep now, perhaps dreaming of the eggs they will lay in that coop.

And I have placed a check mark next to one of the items on my bucket list, one that I was pretty sure I'd never achieve.  Life is full of surprises, and some are wonderful.