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Sour

I’m nursing my oldest hen, Agnetha, who seems to have sour crop, a yeast infection in the pouch where food is stored at the start of a hen’s digestive system. There seems to be ten million different methods on the internet for dealing with this condition, so colour me confused. I love being able to find information online, but, boy oh boy, there can be a lot to wade through.

Agnetha is a bit better today, but she is far from 100%, and this can be fatal. I live in St. Brigid’s parish, and Bridie has many patronages, including poultry keepers, so I have sent her my wish that she hold Aggie’s wing as her human tries to figure out what best to do. Bridie kept me safe when I was a milkmaid* and used to drive by her church on my way to and from the farm, so I expect she’ll do her best for Aggie.

I can’t help but think of the generations of women and men before me who would know exactly what to do, even people I knew well who kept hens but who are long gone. My mother doesn’t remember what they did for sour crop as she last kept hens about 78 years ago. For certain a sick hen back then didn’t spend the night in a dog crate in the laundry room being tempted with treats; it would likely more likely have had a date with the stew pot.

Prue, Agnetha and Rosie.

* I know, I know, I was officially a dairy farm worker, but who can resist having a job title that is mentioned in The Twelve Days of Christmas!?

Wash Day

I have had to wash my “barn” jacket after I put an egg in the pocket and then managed to squish it before I got it into the basket. I know better, but it was going to be there just for a second. A handful of slimy egg and broken shell is an unpleasant discovery, and it was -12C at the time, so it started to freeze on my hand. Yuck.

I told my mother what I had done, and said my first thought was what her grandmother, Eva, would have said if she had witnessed my folly. My mother said I would have been scolded, for an egg in February was a rare thing. Eggs were preserved in a solution called water glass in the fall, and were only used for baking over the winter. I don’t remember people preserving eggs, as by the time I was born in the mid-60s, most people had electricity and refrigerators, and mostly bought their eggs from a store.

I once visited a Second World War exhibition at a museum in Ipswich, England, and they had a section on food on the home front. Unfortunately, the egg preservation experiment hadn’t worked properly and we arrived just after they made that discovery, and the smell of rotten eggs was certainly evocative of another time.

I asked my mother if gathering the eggs was one of her chores as a child, and she said it wasn’t. The hens were Eva’s domain and she probably didn’t trust my mother to not drop the basket. Stuffing eggs in your pocket would have been bad form.

My mother said her chores were looking after her own bedroom, keeping her little brother out of trouble, and sometimes doing the dishes. On the day when The Family Herald arrived, Eva would read all afternoon so that when my mother came home from school, the dishes from the noon meal (called dinner, never lunch – lunch was a meal before bedtime!) would still be on the table waiting for her to wash them.

And how did you wash dishes in rural PEI in the 1920s? In an enamel dishpan at the kitchen table. You took the dishpan off a nail in the pantry, took it to the woodstove, and decanted hot water from the tank on the side of the stove. You would swish a bar of homemade soap in the water to make suds, wash and dry the dishes, and put most of the dishes back on the table for the next meal. The dirty dishwater would be poured down the sink in the pantry in winter, or perhaps out the back door onto a plant at other times. Nothing wasted, ever. Water was pumped by hand from a hand-dug well, so it was precious.

Homemade lye soap, made by my great-uncle Elmer Hardy in the very kitchen in which my mother used to do dishes. Hard on your hands, but cleans like the dickens!

Those water conservation methods have passed down to me through my mother. I don’t use a dishpan every day, but have used a dishpan during very dry summers and poured the dishwater on flower beds. I will throw water from washing floors on the front porch to clean it off, or onto a flowerbed. I don’t have a dishwasher, so when running water to do dishes, I usually collect the cold water that comes first in a watering can for plants, a kettle, or in a jug.

And I moved from using liquid dish detergent back to swishing a bar of soap in the water a few years ago. I don’t see much difference, except for the lack of bubbles, which I have read come from chemicals added to make you feel like the cleaning part of the soap is working. I use a vegetable glycerine soap from Bulk Barn that has no wrapping and almost no scent, and my dishes seem clean enough. I sometimes add slivers of soap from the shower or sink to the glycerine soap in soap shaker I have.

All this rambling from a broken egg.

Modern soap shaker/swisher. You can just hold a bar of soap in your hands, of course, but this makes more bubbles and has a nice rattle.

Mugaza

One of the many things I’ve learned as a Kiva volunteer is that refugee camps aren’t just for short-term temporary lodging. People live their whole lives in refugee camps, go to school, run businesses, get married, have babies. There are an estimated 26 million refugees around the world, and half of them are children.

I edited a Kiva loan today for a man in Kenya named Mugaza. He’s of Somali descent and has lived in at least two Kenyan refugee camps. He is now living with his family in Kakuma camp, operating a grocery store and employing eight people.

UNHCR says the population of Kakuma camp is just over 188,000, meaning there are more people in that one camp than all of PEI. They have schools, medical facilities, and around 2,500 businesses. There are even football teams playing in regional leagues.

I can’t stop thinking about Mugaza, so I went back and made a loan to him. If you want to learn more about Kiva and how to make your first loan, here’s an invite from me.

Weather or Not

I was surprised to see the precipitation observations I report every day as a CoCoRaHS volunteer being taken as gospel by Environment Canada, as per this info box in an article about the latest snowstorm in The Guardian:

The Guardian, February 9, 2021

Later I read that CoCoRaHS volunteers are “Environment Canada-trained” (we aren’t, or at least I’m not) in this CBC PEI article:

It seems the source for all this officialness is an Environment Canada daily weather summary for PEI, and there’s my 12cm in Foxley River once again:

Environment Canada does not operate CoCoRaHS, though they are able to access the data, which is free and open to all. They do say at the bottom of the report that it “may contain preliminary or unofficial information”, and that would be me, the Foxley River unofficial official.

I know that at least a couple of the PEI CoCoRaHS volunteers are highly trained, one a former military meteorologist and another a NAV Canada air traffic controller. I suspect the rest of us are just weather nerds with a little time on our hands.

The CoCoRaHS volunteer training is self-directed, a handbook, articles and videos all available on their website. To be a volunteer, you have to commit to submitting observations every day, ideally at the same time each morning, and you need to purchase a rain gauge from them. If you are going to measure snow, you need a ruler and a snow board to take the measurements from. That’s it.

I have a couple of diaries my great-grandfather Ernest Hardy used as the keeper of the Little Channel Lighthouse. He had to record the time he extinguished and lit the light each day, and he also recorded the weather. He was sort of unofficially-official, too, like me.

Hope

Just placed my annual order with Hope Seeds, a small operation in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia that sells heirloom and open-pollinated seeds grown in Atlantic Canada. I’ve been buying from them for over a decade and like that I can buy small quantities. They will also often throw in a package of seed leftover from previous years for me to try, which is a pretty sweet bonus.

I had given up on growing garlic a few years ago as I never managed to get my act together to plant it in the fall, and spring-sown garlic just doesn’t do well in my yard. I was organized enough to place an order late last summer and chose a rocambole variety called Phillips. The bonus packet Hope Seeds chose to send with that garlic might well have been a coincidence, but I like to think someone just couldn’t resist the temptation to send this combo to me. Small really is better.

Garlic
Me if I were seed.

National Theatre At Home

One of the few gifts of the spring pandemic lockdown was being able to watch plays from the National Theatre on YouTube for free. I don’t miss much about living in a city, but I do miss going to live theatre, and this was a welcome distraction from the simmering panic.

Steven and I have gone to Charlottetown in the past to see the National Theatre Live productions at the movie theatre, but this hasn’t been possible in recent years. When the Live at Home series ended, I wondered why we couldn’t just watch plays at home all the time.

The answer to my prayers arrived today with the new subscription service National Theatre at Home. We haven’t subscribed to any streaming services for some time, but I jumped on this right away. You can sign up for a yearly subscription or rent single shows.

There isn’t a lot on there yet, but they promise to release more each month. There is Medea with Helen McCrory, which we saw at the movie theatre and can’t wait to watch again as it was breathtaking. Amadeus was fantastic as well. And I hope Death of England: Delroy, which streamed on YouTube this past weekend, shows up on NT at Home as it was dense and powerful, a play about Brexit and Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 and so much more, the only play I’ve ever seen that talked about what was happening at the same time I was watching the play.

Radio didn’t kill theatre, movies didn’t kill theatre, television tried to kill theatre and probably came close at times, but theatre adapted, continued on, and the online world will only stretch it more. We still want to be in a space with someone else telling us a story surrounded by others who are listening to the same story. Sitting in your living room watching a play isn’t quite the same, but who knows what virtual reality will make possible?

15 Years of Kiva

Today is Kiva’s 15th Anniversary! Kiva is a microfinance platform that allows people to make small loans to borrowers around the world. I’ve been a Kiva lender since 2007 and a volunteer editor with their 400-strong Review and Translation Program since March 2009.

As of today, I’ve edited 11,787 loans that have enabled 11,206,606 USD in lending activity on the Kiva website. The nifty Kiva editing platform, Viva, also tells me those loans added up to 1,585,796 words. I check each loan over at least twice, so it’s no wonder I now wear reading glasses!

It’s interesting to look back at how my yearly editing totals grew over the years, with the exception of 2015, the year I was diagnosed with hemochromatosis and obviously slept when I should have been editing! This year’s total is certainly a reflection of the global impact of COVID-19, with very few loans being posted for a while as the pandemic raced around the world.

What have I learned after reading about nearly 12,000 people, most of whom live in places I’ve never been and will probably never visit? More than I can ever relay, I’m sure, but here are a couple of examples:

  • a convenience store is called a sari-sari in the Philippines (so when one opened in my area, I knew exactly what it was!)
  • tuk-tuks, boda-bodas, habal-habals, and just plain motorcycles seem to move billions of people every day
  • M-pesa is changing Africa and most of us in Level 4 countries have never heard of it

I was asked to tell my personal Kiva story earlier this week at a Zoom meeting of Kiva staff and volunteers. The rest of the world seems to have spent the entire COVID-19 pandemic on Zoom, but I’ve not been able to join in due to our janky home internet. A kind friend with slightly better internet connection allowed me to set up shop at her house and everything went well! I had hoped to impart some profound wisdom gleaned from a decade of being a Kiva volunteer, but it all ended up being quite simple :

The biggest lesson that is constantly being reinforced for me through my Kiva volunteering is that we all want the same basic things, no matter where we are in the world. Everyone who is caring for children wants them to have a good education, they want clean water and better living conditions, an opportunity to start a new business or improve the one they have. It’s certainly like that here on PEI, and while I imagined it was the same everywhere, I get to see the proof of this in every loan I edit.

PEI is in the Atlantic time zone, 4 hours behind the UK, 4 hours ahead of San Francisco. So, when I’m heading to bed on a dark, snowy Canadian winter night, I sometimes think of the people I’ve met through their loan descriptions, who are 12 hours or more ahead of me in Asia or Africa, starting their morning by opening their store, or preparing food for their restaurant, or walking to the fields, getting their children ready for school, launching their beautiful boats to go fishing. I cheer them on from afar, these new global neighbours, and for me, that’s what this editing journey has been all about. 

I’ve been volunteering for something or other almost my whole life, but my experience as a Kiva volunteer has been the most enjoyable and enriching of anything I have ever done as a volunteer. It remains fun and interesting, and that’s why I’m still doing it (and the fact that I can do it any time, even in my pajamas, is pretty great, too!).

Through Kiva, I get to see the best of the human spirit, and help to make the world a bit better for others. On days when the world seems especially upside down, which seems to be quite often lately, Kiva gives me hope. I’m not sure who I would be now without Kiva.

I happened to notice yesterday I had made a total of 499 loans, so I’m off to make one more in celebration of this milestone and round things off nicely. If you want to join me and nearly two million other lenders, you’ll find more information here.

Stay Safe

This has been a challenging Monday morning, plans abandoned as priorities changed quickly.

I decided to take a few minutes to recalibrate and finsh reading a library book so I could return it tomorrow. I found this little note on the back of a library slip which, by the March 31 due date, means it was likely written just as PEI started to lock down and we searched for ways to express our concern for each other in this new COVID-19 time. I went from feeling resentful and harried to feeling present and calm in the space of a few seconds, the powerful combination of surprise and words bringing me back into my body and helping me to feel peaceful. The twists and turns of life never cease to amaze me.

Twisting Fingers

Our hens spend a lot of time roaming around our yard in the summer, and the little plants that pop up in the  vegetable garden are very tempting treats. Stern warnings and pleading has not deterred those little eating machines, so some sort of physical barrier was in order.

I found some rolls of page wire in our woods a few years ago and dug them out last month. There were four sections, all basically sunk into to the the ground and firmly attached with tree roots. My best guess is that the original fence was built some time in the 1930s and could have been taken down after the 1960 West Prince Forest Fire when what had been farm fields was allowed to grow up into the forest that surrounds us now. The wire is old and rusty, kind of brittle, but good enough for what I need. It was easy to find enough small spruce trees that had blown over in the woods to make the fence posts and so I’m now putting my rickety fence together.

Page wire

The person who rolled up each length of fence made sure that it was well secured, the ends wound around to hold the roll together. I wonder who took the fence down and what they thought would happen to the page wire? I wonder what they would make of using page wire to keep hens out of a vegetable garden (I know the answer: it’s a dumb idea because chickens can go through page wire, which is really meant for cows and horses…I have a plan, though!).

The hooks all broke as I straightened them, but the fence is good enough, and I’m happy the wire is being used after decades of sitting and waiting for me to find a use for it.

Kindness Economy

David Cain’s latest post, How to Get Rich in the Kindness Economy, is a great reminder during a time when many fears and anxieties are pressing on me to soften and spread kindness. During my tai chi practice I try to balance strength with softness, intent with relaxation, grounding myself with letting myself fly. Some days it is easier to do than others, but I keep trying, and that’s the journey.