Thursday, September 30, 2010


Usually when I get a batch of chicks from McMurray's they include a few extras (to cover for the possible deaths in transit I think) PLUS an exotic chick or two sometimes. When the box of zombie chicks arrived there was one that was not like the others in the box. It was a darker chick with stripes and I just assumed she was a layer or maybe a different meat breed. After a few weeks, she was still looking really small, however she looked healthy and she sure was active; she ran circles around those fat zombies. But they all got along so I kept the flock together and chose not to think about what I would do with the little one when the zombies went to the slaughterhouse heaven....

Some folks down the road have a bunch of chickens, including bantam chickens that skitter all over the place and after about 6 weeks I realized that she looked just like one of them. McMurray's added a bantam chicken to a flock of meaties!

And by the time I had to take the zombies in, I was more than a little ticked of about getting a bantam chick. Why couldn't they have just given me another meat chicken? What was I going to do with her???? I thought about taking her over to the neighbors to let her blend in with their flock of bantams but then Ginger named her Stella so that was it. We don't normally name our chickens as I have a hard enough time remembering HUMAN'S names, let alone 55 chicken names as well!

So once she got a name the other option was to put her in with one of the two flocks I have. Finally, I very reluctantly decided to put her in with the new layer flock. I put her in their coop one night and supposedly she was going to just mix right into the flock the next day. Um, but maybe not so well when one doesn't look like the others. I went out to the hen house the next morning and poor Stella was being chased constantly by at least twenty salivating hens and two roosters with a bad evil look in their eyes. I took her out right away and decided to try the much smaller flock of old hens and put her in with them that night. She immediately snuggled right in and then climbed onto the back of one of the hens, who looked a bit nervous but did not actually complain. Things were ok the next morning although she mostly stayed inside for the next week or so and the old ladies were not very generous with their scratch. She did go outside when it was time to free range though and came back in at night too. One night when she didn't go back in at dusk, we looked around for her and found her in the dog kennel where we had kept the zombie chickens. I felt a bit teary about that, she missed her zombies!

So it turns out that Stella is wonderful! Bantam chickens are very personable and friendly and she is no exception. She comes right up to me when I say her name, and she lets us hold her and carry her around. She is such a tiny little thing though and I worry about her free ranging but have just decided to let nature takes its course on that one. She was out of the hen house one morning when I went out there (we close the coop up at night and I guess she hadn't gone back in) and Doug and I joked about her being a tramp, but she survived a night out in the jungle that is upstate NY so she has our full admiration!

PS. And now Doug and I always imitate Marlon Brando when we say her name, just so the kids will look at us as if we are deranged. Good times!

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Zombie Chicken Summer

Note: If you are a vegetarian please be aware that I am going to talk about raising MEAT chickens here, so if that will bother you please skip reading this post. And if you feel the need to suggest a vegetarian diet to me, save your energy. I was a vegetarian for 7 years at one point and I am well aware of the environmental, health and humane issues concerning raising meat for human consumption. However our family has now settled on eating minimal amounts of animal protein, raised in a natural and humane manner as much as possible; this whole project is about having more control over that.

Almost five years ago I very impulsively decided that we should get layer chickens. Friends of ours had them, they seemed rather easy to raise, not too time consuming and the idea of having our own supply of fresh eggs was VERY appealing.

Within weeks of getting those first little chicks I was hooked and was plotting to get more; more chickens, more livestock for our empty farm, more everything. I got bit by the self-sustaining-and-cute-little-farm-animals bug. Pigs, sheep, goats, turkeys, ducks; almost every farm animal has been on my list at one time or another in the last several years.

Unfortunately I have been foiled at nearly every turn. Proper fencing and shelter is not in our budget, neither is fixing up our barn which needs a lot of work for it to be safe for animals (the lower level where the cows used to be is filled with falling down ceiling tiles, which are surely made of asbestos). We COULD possibly build some things ourselves, but both of us are already overbooked between work, Doug's business traveling schedule, the kid's activities and just regular stuff like cleaning the house. We (well Doug, mostly) have managed to put together a few things for the chickens but it always takes FOREVER to finish the project.

However, one thing that seemed remotely possible was raising meat chickens. Again, I have several friends who have raised some for their own families and I was encouraged by that. And even though I am not a vegetarian any longer, I have continued to be concerned about the quality of meat that comes from factory farm, not to mention all the genetically modified ingredients that seem to be in every.single.thing we eat now. We are certainly not perfect in avoiding all that 'cause it is damn hard, but I do what I can to buy most of our food from the local farmer's market and it feels good to support farmers who DO have good fencing and barns. However, I still have this self sufficient urge so I decided on raising meat chickens this summer.

So Doug became my reluctant builder again. He built a large wooden box with a screen on the bottom to house the chicks while they were small. He altered the outdoor dog kennel so that the chickens could outside as they got larger. All this while he had been plugging away at building a new coop and run for the 40 additional layers I also got earlier last summer.

But that is a story for another post.

After reading up on meat breeds I decided on Cornish Cross chickens. They are bred specifically to grow reallyreally fast, hatchery to table in 8 weeks; this is the breed most commonly raised in the chicken 'factories' and are pumped up with steroids, antibiotics and who knows what else. I decided mine would be all natural, no medications, and fed only organic feed. Even with a different diet, I knew their meat would be the most similar to the kind of chickens we are used to eating. Other meat breeds have a different flavor and chewier texture, especially if they free range and I didn't want to totally freak out the kids right away. Baby steps here.

43 chicks arrived in a box via the USPS at the end of June. Actually a mail carrier came to our house with them on a Sunday morning, gotta love small town post offices. They were cute chicks, everyone (well just my 11 year old daughter actually) squealed over them and she helped me settle them in.

In about a week they were quite a bit larger and nearly all of them had runny, disgusting smelly poop stuck all over their butts. Since a plugged up butt can kill a chick fast, I cleaned off ALL of their butts with a washcloth and warm water several times a day for almost 2 weeks. Finally that lovely condition passed just in time for me to see that they had outgrown the box already and needed to go outside into the dog kennel. They were about 3 weeks old here:
We had kind of a crazy set up outside for them, a HUGE tarp to cover the roof and to also pull down over the sides in case it was windy or chilly at night. We also partitioned off a section of the kennel each night so that they wouldn't be quite so vulnerable to critters. Each night I would go out, shoo them all in, pull down the tarp and weight it down with large stones. No light back there either and I got stuck having to do this more than a few times in the pitch black night. (NEVER a working flashlight around when ya need one) Then I had to put the tarp up each morning so they could go out into the sun and move around a bit.

Not that they really wanted to move; most of the chickens parked near or IN the food bins and just ate all the time. When they were around 2 weeks old I started taking their food away at night to slow down their growth (that is recommended). They were still under the lights at that point and would just eat all night if the food was there. Later on when they were in the kennel, I just covered the bins at night, they would not eat in the dark, unless of course they were still actually sitting in the bin: The amount of food they ate was stunning. When they were around 4 weeks they really ramped up and were eating a 50lb bag of grains every 3 days or so. All together they ate seven 50lb bags, plus two 50lb bags of crushed corn in 8 weeks. I had to go out 3x per day to refill all the bins and oy, the water! I carried so many buckets of water out there every day that I thought my arms were going to fall off! They probably drank 10 gallons of water each day.

As they approached 8 weeks, their feed consumption slowed down a bit. Between about 6 and 8 weeks I gave them mostly crushed corn to "finish" them, meaning they would gain some fat and add more flavor to their meat. By the last week or so, they were huge, they had big thick legs, and could only walk a few steps before sitting down. Some of the smaller ones ran around flapping their wings but then they would have to sit down to rest too. Their rapid growth is very stressful on their bodies and I had heard they might just drop dead, especially in the last week or so. I only had two deaths; one died within a few days of moving out in the kennel and one died at about 7 weeks. I just came in one morning and found her on the ground. naturally Doug was out of town that morning and I had to pick up the dead body, ewww.

The other very notable thing about these chickens was that they smelled worse than I ever thought possible. Their poop was all soft and mushy and everywhere! I tried to keep the bottom of their box clean and had to change the bedding almost every day. Still though, the chickens spent so much time sitting in their muck that they had bare spots on their bellies where they had contact. Yuck. When they were out in the kennel it was impossible to keep that cleaned up and the area area the water container was so disgusting and did I mention the smell?????

And after a month or so we began to call them Zombie Chickens. They had little to no distinctive personalities especially in comparison to my very personable layer hens. A few of the Zombie Chickens would sort of jump up at me when I fed them but otherwise they all seemed pretty interchangeable. That certainly helped when it came time to get them "processed". I can safely say that I was in no way upset to take them in to get them butchered. In fact I was pretty glad to be finished with the whole thing, as it was so much more work than I had expected. And did I mention how BAD they smelled????? Yikes.

The day we took them in to the local poultry processing plant was interesting. I had bought a bunch of big plastic bins to transport them. Doug and I rounded them up one at a time, real fun (!) and put each bin in the car. There were holes in the lids but it was a hot day, I was worried they would smother (um, on the way to be slaughtered), and they were all panting; I lifted the lids up a little but then they started jumping around and then I was worried about them getting loose in the car. So I just drove super fast, kept the windows open for some airflow and everyone was ok but I will need to get some proper cages for transporting them next time. And when I got to the processor plant they helped me transfer all of one, one at a time, into some poultry cages and most of the chickens flapped their wings when I picked them up, splattering the poo stuck on their feathers ALL over me. That was like the icing on the cake, heh. I was very proud though, when I went back to pick them up and the guys there said they were good looking chickens and a good weight, most of them were about 4-5lbs a few were even larger.

And the ultimate connoisseurs (my kids) gave our first zombie chicken dinner a thumbs up! We have had several discussions about how we were going to be raising chickens for us to eat, and while they don't really want to actually HELP much with the chickens and gardens, they do appreciate the importance of knowing where our food comes from.
So, I accomplished my goal. I raised enough chickens for our family to eat for the coming year. They were fed high quality local organic feed (they were offered greens, garden scraps etc but were NOT interested), plenty of clean water and they were raised in a very humane manner. I might even say they were pampered, I spent a lot of time making sure the temperature in their box was just right when they were chicks and I went out in the middle of the night more than a few times to pull down the tarp if it was rainy or too cold and windy. I also talked and sang to them whenever I went in to care for them although it is entirely possible that my singing could be considered inhumane treatment. Hehe.

Plans are being made to do this again next year, but with a few changes. We are going to make the dog kennel into a more permanent meat chicken raising structure so we can do away with the butt ugly tarps. I will probably raise some more Cornish Cross but will add some other meat breeds that will be free ranging in order to get away from the whole grain fed thing. I am also considering raising a few turkeys but will have to convince my husband to do some more building. Wonder if I can sneak in a few goats without him noticing??????

Monday, September 20, 2010

The One Where I Try To Avoid the TV Cameras

Well, I had quite a weekend! The Harvest Festival was wonderful and VERY well attended. The Beekman Boys estimated that there were at least 5000 visitors to their little town in the last few days. I don't think they ALL came by my booth but I sure did have a lot of people stopping by.

So last week was totally crazy getting ready for the festival, but I managed to get almost everything finished. Julien (my son and assistant):
and I got up at the ungodly hour of 5am on a Saturday morning to get ready, finish loading up the car and get over to Sharon Springs by 7am. Set up actually went quite smoothly; he carried everything and I told him what to do. It was perfect. Heh.

I went with VERY simple for the booth. I had tried to figure out a way to build some sort of easel on the table so that I could hang all the small paintings on that, but it seemed too complicated and then time was running short so I put that idea aside. Anyway, I kept thinking that they always look so appealing in my flat file drawer:
so I thought that just laying all the paintings down flat on a table would be the best way to display them.
I had also planned to hang a few larger panels on the walls, but after we Julien put up the back wall, the organizers told us that no one was allowed to have walls up on their booths because they wanted the whole area to feel very open, which made perfect sense. So I just settled on putting one large painting on an easel at the front corner of the booth and a medium sized piece on a tabletop easel. I had an area where I put out a sign up sheet for my mailing list, a pile of postcards that I had printed up (image on one side, my contact and gallery representation info on the other) and my book that contains info about me such as my resume, statement, bio and a few articles that have been written about some of my shows.

Things were kind of quiet for the first few hours so we had time to settle in and go over writing up sales receipts and things like that. Soon though, things picked up and by early afternoon it was fairly hectic. It got even busier when The Beekman Boys (Josh and Brent) came through surrounded by cameras and a crowd of people who were watching the taping.

They stopped at several booths and talked to the vendors and while they were doing that I was totally panicking. Even though I certainly wanted my work to (possibly) be seen on their show, ultimately my natural self-conscious-ness won out and although I had spruced up my make up and hair just in case, I started to wish for them to NOT come to my booth. I even had an escape route all planned out! I was both relieved and disappointed (but mostly relieved) when they didn't come by my booth.....

But. At the end of the day, Julien and I had started to pack up the paintings (didn't want to leave them there overnight) and I looked up and there was Rosie O'Donnell standing in front of my table. I squeaked out her name in surprise, even though I had heard rumors that she was up for the event, I was still completely shocked to actually see her. And suddenly there was a camera on my face. Sigh. She and her girlfriend asked me about my process (they both paint and I could tell that based on their questions) and luckily I hadn't had enough time to get nervous so I managed to do ok, no stumbling over my words and I managed to stop myself from babbling. Unfortunately though, the camera eventually got me flustered and they left before I could remember to give them a card (I had given a card to every single other person who stopped by my booth). I had no idea how I did during the exchange, but Julien said I was fine and that as they walked away, Rosie said "they are beautiful". I didn't hear her say that because I was internally flipping out by that time!

Sunday was much quieter, it was overcast, but no rain at least. There were not as many visitors so I had more time to walk around and meet some of the other vendors. The people across from us were selling logs that grow mushrooms and I heard them explaining it so many times that I am now an expert at growing mushrooms too, heh. I learned more about growing garlic from my next door neighbors and I also discussed buying my next batch of meat chicks from them as well, as they have a small chicken hatchery. I met Austin who makes the absolute best chocolate that I have ever had in my entire life and I talked to him for quite awhile. I bought some beautiful yarn from a couple who raise sheep and I made some excellent trades with Suellen a glass artist

and a and Sierra, a fiber artist who makes boiled wool accessories like hats and purses.

And a few of my real life friends came by too so there was much chatting. It was also really nice to spent both days with my son, we had fun playing pool and some strange game involving archery on his iPod. And a big thank you to Karen who loaned me her tent, it was SO nice not to have to buy one.

Oh! I also met Doug and Garth, the owners of The American Hotel who were actually very happy to meet ME! They had 'won' one of my paintings in a fundraiser in Cooperstown about a year ago and someone had stopped by my booth on Saturday and told me that they were that couple, which I had not known. Doug and Garth logged a lot of time in front of the cameras on Saturday as they play a strong supporting role in the Beekman's tv show but I was happy to be able to chat with them while the cameras were NOT around and plus I can still recall our conversations quite clearly. Heh.

I sold eleven paintings in all (certain people bought THREE, thanks Brian!) and I am very pleased with that, it definitely covered my expenses. But more than that, it was a really fun and social weekend and I was able to be involved in an event that supports local farms and craftspeople and that also brought a lot of attention, enthusiasm and revenue to a charming upstate town. Josh and Brent have done a really wonderful thing for the area and I am very happy to have been a small part of it.

PS. I think I may have lost Rosie to the alpacas. It is tough to compete with alpacas who snuggle with each other, heh.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Earlier this summer, I came across a NY Times article about The Fabulous Beekman Boys. Their story sounded familiar (city folks plunking down on a money pit/farm in upstate NY) and it turned out that they live in a nearby town, which practically makes them our next door neighbors in rural terms.

I checked out their website, bought Josh's books (funny and yet poignant, both of them) and then decided I needed their goat cheese. So one day Ginger and I drove up to their shop in Sharon Springs and Brent was behind the counter. While Ginger played out front with two of the most adorable baby goats ever, I hung around until a few of the customers left (ok, yes, stalker-ish behavior, I know it and I totally admit it!). Eventually, Brent and I started talking, comparing notes on farming, gardens, weeds, their TV show which was in the midst of airing on Planet Green at the time, friends in common; he knew a college friend of mine when he worked with Martha Stewart, and other local silliness.

At one point we were talking about the 2nd Annual Harvest Festival that he and Josh were organizing to bring attention to the food grown by local farmers, and Brent invited me to have a booth; most people sell their farm produce but several booths sell art and crafts sort of items. I told him that I don't do events like that but on the drive home, I started thinking, why not? I could do this event. I could show my small little landscape paintings, and help support something I strongly believe in as well. I have experience doing trade shows and so I am familiar enough with showing and selling my work to the public, even if I usually prefer not to do it. Plus, since I was in the midst of preparing for my solo show I really thought I needed MORE to do!

I worked on some new paintings at some point on July I think (not sure, this last summer is a bit of a blur to me now) and with those in addition to the ones I already had in my painting drawer (see above), I currently have 26 finished paintings. I have about 10 that are half finished and last week I was able to spend a few days to start even more new ones. So altogether I have 43 in progress, and my goal of to finish all those by Saturday, plus maybe a dozen more small Black Paintings. Ahem. Ok......

However, they ARE all very small (5x7 and smaller) so it is possible, I guess. But I will have to be really disciplined in order to finish them up, PLUS photograph and document all of them, PLUS prepare for the rest of the event, not to mention regular real life kid/pets/chicken related stuff that you know is going to interrupt me every other minute. Luckily though, a friend of mine loaned me a tent so I don't have to buy one, the cards are already at the printers, and besides painting, all I have left is to organize all the other stuff; bags, sales books, tools, maybe lighting, etc., so I think I will be able to get that part of it together in an afternoon or so. Heh.

Maybe I will post each day's tally of finished paintings here. Good excuse to be here every day, right????

And PS. The Beekman goat cheese AND the soap too, is AWESOME! I have gone back several times to buy more cheese, can't hardly live without it now!

PPS. The gallery reception on Saturday night was wonderful, more on that in another post, because now I must go paint!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Gallery Reception Tomorrow! Yikes! I Mean Yayy!

Cotton Candy Updo, 16x12, Oil on Birch Panel, 2010

I am very busy today with work for an event coming up next weekend, more on that in another post, but I am also beginning to simultaneously stress out AND look forward to the opening reception for my show at The Main Street Gallery tomorrow. I like going to the openings, it's always nice to talk to real live people who are not delivering the mail or packages to our house. heh. And while it is always nice to discuss my work with interested folks, I do tend to stress about all that ahead of time: I have a whole slew of notes to self; to not babble on and on, spray spit while talking, wear comfortable and dressy but not TOO dressy shoes and clothes (black is always the best option there), take a few pictures of the exhibit and also keep an eye on Doug. Still not letting him off the hook for the excessive drinking he did at one of my openings about 4 years ago. He has a strict 2 drink limit for these sorts of events now, hehe.

Anyway, at the risk of inundating all of you who visit my Facebook pages and have surely seen ALL these links many times, I am going to put them up again here for those of you who do not do FB.

So the gallery link is above, and this morning I posted all the images that will be in the show on my public Facebook page. You can view them here and if you are on FB, go ahead and 'like' me if don't already; that is the page where all my art talk and exhibition updates are. There have already been a few newspaper mentions, one here and one here. The second one is a longer article written by a nice fellow who called me the other day. As is often the case when I get holed up here on the farm, I worried that I talked the poor guy's ear off, but he did a wonderful job of accurately conveying what I told him about my work, so I guess I wasn't too boring. He asked good questions too which is always nice.

So I am off to make underpaintings today, have a good weekend all, and if you are in the Ithaca/Syracuse area, it's a short drive to Groton which is right off 11. Just so you know......

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Wallet Size#2, 40"x30", Oil on Birch Panel, 2010

Well, it was crazy here last week. I was swamped trying to finish up all the work for my show at The Main Street Gallery. Actually I thought I had it under control; nearly all the work was finished and I just had one large painting to do and a smaller one to finish up and almost two weeks seemed like plenty of time. HA! Shows what I know!

The large painting was the third of a series within a series, and yes, I am beginning to find all these series to be confusing. Not sure how else to categorize them though and since I like to have categories, there will continue to be series until I can figure out something else, hehe.

So. A little background first. The 'People You Know' project is inspired by found family photos; photographs and other memorabilia that I come across on ebay, at yard sales, auctions and that sort of thing. Often in the photo lots, there are bunches of school photos and since I don't do portraits of kids, I have set them all aside. But for the last several months I have found myself looking through the school photo pile, feeling certain that there was a concept there and trying to figure out what it was. Eventually I realized that the appeal to me was the multiple images of the same person I was looking at. Doug and I had several discussions about that and he said he thought the interesting thing about a painting of multiples would be how each painting would be different, yet the same.

Still stressing about the validity and direction of this whole thing, I thought I should try painting a few and eventually picked out some pictures that I liked, kids at an awkward age and details like big collars, dorky glasses and dated hairstyles. I decided to do three panels and thought they might be a good addition to the show at The Main Street Gallery, which was already going to include the portraits that I painted last winter at the Vermont Studio Center.

These paintings required much more planning than I usually do, even for a portrait, which needs WAY more planning than a landscape. I realized that I would have to do the underpaintings in two parts, at least. I sectioned off the grids, taped the edges of the "active" portrait area and started there. At first I thought I would work on the portraits simultaneously; forming all of the images at the same time so that they would be the same. HAHAHA! Doing just two took longer than I expected, the paint began to set up just enough to be irritating and I also learned that I was possibly going to go crazy if I couldn't get each portrait to be EXACTLY THE SAME as the other one.

The first underpainting I did was this one:

And this is the finished painting:
Wallet Size#1, 24"x36", Oil on Birch Panel, 2010

Kinda creepy because it is only two up, it evokes all kinds of weird twin things. However, I do not view that as a negative.

The next one was a four up and this is where I really understood just how difficult it was going to be to paint the same image multiple times. While getting two to look the same was almost possible, more than two was reallyreally hard and also completely not possible. Even though the differences are the key here, every single fiber of my being wants each face to look exactly the same. I also decided to do each portrait one at a time rather than moving back and forth between two. I won't say which face was the first one, but in all the paintings, I thought the first one was the best one and I was so irritated when the others looked so different.

Even though I was mostly pleased with how the 4up underpainting turned out (I thought I could fix all the differences when I got to the color, haha!), it also got me really feeling the fear about the third one, which was going to be a six up. I dawdled and procrastinated about starting that one until the very last minute. Was I sensing that this one could send me over the bend???? I did two of the portraits, and started the third even though doing more than two in one session is very stressful (but I was feeling the looming deadline) which I could NOT do. It looked awful. I was frustrated, it was late at night, bugs were flying around under my easel lights and landing on me and in the paint and finally I did something that I NEVER do; I wiped off the third underpainting entirely and thought I would try again the next day. Then I want downstairs and had a complete breakdown in front of Doug, poor guy. After going through all my problems with this project, waaaaaaa, he finally said maybe I shouldn't pursue this project, that it was making me crazy. I accused him of practicing reverse psychology without a license and then went to sleep.

Sleep makes me feel optimistic and so I got back to it the next day, did two more of the portraits and did two more the next day. This painting holds the record by far for how long it took to do the underpainting-four days! SO unheard of for me.

Unfortunately, using up four days really left me scrambling for time, and after a few days drying time and the first glaze, I had exactly one day to add the color to ALL the portraits. I prepared for that day like I was an athlete; a full night's sleep, a good breakfast, a quick walk in the morning to get my energy up. And then I just did it. ALL those faces in one day, plus the border.
Wallet Size#3, 40"x46", Oil on Birch Panel, 2010

Doug liked Wallet Size #3 the best of all three, the gallery liked the series and included them in the show, so I decided to like them too. I am fickle that way. And now that these are done, all is forgiven and I am thinking about which one to do next. Heh.

Total crazyville here, I tell you.

PS. And sorry, the jpegs suck, these are incredibly difficult to photograph and I just don't have a good set up for such large panels. Also Doug came up with the titles; Wallet Size and in a burst of amazing creativity (NOT) I numbered them, starting with um, #1. So sick of titles, I am.