Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Newcomer to the Coop

Wilson in his hutch.
Friday we brought home a new addition to the chicken compound: Wilson, a 2-year-old English angora rabbit who will be M's 4H project.

Yes, that's a rabbit. Kind of resembles Tom Hank's famous volleyball co-star.

We settled his coop in the back of the chicken run, where he'll be sheltered (and locked up at night) and will be able to watch the chickens for entertainment. So now the chicken run is also a rabbit run.

English angoras are prized for their warm, soft fiber.
English angoras actually originated in Ankara, Turkey, and they're one of the oldest domesticated rabbit breeds. They range from 4 to 7 lbs., but I think Wilson has that beat. We'll have to weigh him and see where he tips the scales. Originally called "Angora Woolies," these rabbits are raised for their luxurious wool. You can pluck, brush, or shear Angoras, and they shed about every four months.

I've not tried spinning angora yet, but it's said to be eight times warmer than sheep wool. I've heard that some spinners can sit at their wheel with the rabbit on their lap, plucking and spinning efficiently. Looking at Wilson, it's hard for me not to think, "Mmm. Yarn."

What the chickens think when they look at Wilson, I'm not sure. Wilson is big. Bigger than a cat, but similar. And they know the cats are easily chased. Violet stared him down like a predator, but he is oblivious. (Omnivorous, the chickens will chase mice. Last summer, Gertie caught and ate one in short order, much to L's shock.)

M and L were outside most of the day yesterday, visiting with the chickens and with Wilson. I looked out the window, and all of the hens, even the teenage Australorps, Betty and Poppy, were outside roaming the yard and exploring the garden. The snow had finally melted, and it was a happy hen scene.

A little while later, M came running in to tell me that Mabel fluffed up her hackles and spread out her (still growing) tail in warning to the large fluff ball that suddenly showed up in her world. Wilson paid her no mind.

I went out to see this bird-bunny interaction myself. M was holding Wilson after brushing him.

Mabel was happily pecking and scratching, with Poppy and Betty standing there behind her like slightly nervous sidekicks. M put Wilson on the ground about 10 feet in front of the hens. He reminded me of the Stay Puft Marshmallow monster in Ghostbusters. Benign, big, and unreal.

I don't think he could see the chickens in front of him with the mop on his head, and he hopped fast, straight toward them. The Australorps scattered as fast as their little scaly feet would carry them, wings spread. Mabel stared, unbelieving, and considered holding her ground for a split second. Then she clucked a combination of indignant and panicked bock bock bocks, threw up her wings, turned, and ran for her life. It was a little undignified.

Wilson was unaware that he'd caused a flurry. He continued hopping happily around the yard. Mabel eyed him from a distance, then turned and chased a pigeon as if to soothe her wounded pride.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Siren Song of Seed Catalogs

Check out the story behind Landreth's at
This year, seed catalogs began arriving before Christmas. I used to wait until January for their green presence in our snowy mailbox, but these have arrived early, harbingers of a season that seems distant in the shadow of my Christmas tree. I put them aside in a stack with a sense of anticipation, looking forward to having time to go through them once the holidays are over.

I love reading seed catalogs. The wind can be blowing snow sideways across my window, and icicles can be hanging from the eaves, but when I'm reading seed catalogs, I've taken a mini vacation to summer. There are juicy tomatoes, deep purple eggplants, and jaunty cabbages. I'm imagining my garden, and where I'll put the beans and the beets, the tomatoes and the tomatilloes.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, "Aside from the garden of Eden, man's great temptation took place when he first received his seed catalog."


My favorite catalog cover so far this year--Shumway's.
Every year, I start out resolute, thinking, "Just the basic stuff this year. Last year I tried too many varieties." And so I pick up a catalog, pen in hand, and begin my list in earnest. And I start out choosing just one pole bean variety, and then a dry bean. But by the time I reach the C's I read prose like, "a rare variety worth trying" or "perfect for pickling" or "no garden should be without..."

I'm lost. I've gone from a well-ordered list to madly scribbling in margins of the catalog, making little stars or symbols to remind me that this tomato is one I really want to try. I have lost all practical, rational sense, and am thinking about trying corn. Again. (I've tried corn, and it wasn't pretty. I cross it off.) But maybe this will be the year I hit my stride with cantaloupe. My resolute self reminds me that I have a small yard, and no room for the space hogs. A crazy gardener pops onto my shoulder, waves her pitchfork enthusiastically and says, "Yes, but what if you tried growing the cantaloupe on a trellis! Vertically! Think what else you could fit in that space!" I banish resolute self and add cantaloupe with a flourish.

It does not help that I also find myself thinking things like... "The chickens really love blueberries. Maybe I need to plant blueberries." Or... "I wonder if they'd like beet greens?" Suddenly, I'm taking my chickens' interests into account when choosing varieties.

This is not the direction I intended to go. I sit back and look at my list of seeds. Too long by half. There are still four catalogs sitting there, waiting. I'll go through them all, eventually, along with the others that are yet to arrive. My list will shrink and grow several more times before I settle on 2012's varieties.

In the meantime, we'll have snows and thaws, the chickens (even the new girls) will all be laying, and my moisture-laden garden soil will begin to warm. Garden catalog surfing will have carried me through January and February into a restless March, when instead of seed catalogs folded into my mailbox, I'll be greeted by the more tangible promise of seed packets. It'll be like Christmas all over again.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pearl's first egg

Pearl's first egg.
I thought maybe Pearl was getting close to laying her first egg. I noticed her fussing around in the nesting box a few days ago, scratching and fluffing busily. Then, when I went to pick her up, she squatted down, wings slightly akimbo. That's a sure sign of a laying hen--a submissive posture meant for a rooster.

This morning, there it was, in a random spot among the shavings on the floor of the coop (did it surprise her?)--a tiny egg. Really tiny. Pearl sized, in fact. It is not that much bigger than a quarter, more like a dove's egg than a chicken egg.

M&L were excited. Pearl is the first of the four new girls to lay. She wasn't exactly chosen for her egg laying potential. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most productive egg layers, d'Uccles rate a 3, and that's fine. She brings more than eggs to the coop.

Belgian d'Uccle chickens are small--they are true Bantams that don't have a full-size counterpart in the big chicken world. (Many breeds of chickens can be found in pint-sized "bantam" sizes, but Belgian d'Uccles are all Bantam sized.) The breed originated in (no surprise) Belgium, in a small municipality called "Uccle" in the 1890s.

d'Uccles are known for being very calm, sweet birds, and Pearl fits that description well. I've never seen her peck at or boss another bird, but no one seems to boss her around either. When the two new baby Australorps showed up in the coop, she cuddled up to them in a motherly way, like the Welcome Wagon hen. She has feathers down to her toes, and stiff feathers on the back of her hocks called "vulture hocks"--which does not sound at all girly and delicate, but she carries it off elegantly. Her cheeks are fluffy, giving her the appearance of a beard. d'Uccles come in several colors, and Pearl is called a Porcelain Belgian d'Uccle. 

L wants to blow out Pearl's first egg to wash it and save it. We seem to be creating a chicken shrine of sorts. L has placed feathers in a small silver-laced glass creamer in the curio. There are Lacey's, Gertie's, Paprika's and Marigold's feathers, soft reminders of birds we lost. She added one of Mabel's feathers the other day, and will want to place Pearl's first egg(shell) there as well.

It's beginning to look like an ornithologist's specimen display. But I like it, her treasury of delicate gatherings from the coop.

Mabel should be next in line, and then Betty and Poppy (who probably won't be laying until February or later). By spring, we should be back up to four to five eggs daily.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Cookies

A coconut forest.
This year, I wanted to add a new cookie to our Christmas repertoire. M made buckeyes (peanut butter dipped in chocolate) and we still had a fair amount of melted chocolate left. I didn't want to throw it away.

I pulled down a cookbook. The plastic binder is losing its grip on some of the pages. It's the "Historical Mackinac Island Cookbook," circa 1975. K and I met on the island, and it is a book I open with memories attached.

I flipped to the cookie section (I'm surprised it doesn't just automatically fall open to that section, as well thumbed as it is) and started reading. Some of the contributors' names are familiar to me, some of the recipes are cookies I've tried from women I've never met. And then I spied one that seemed like a good possibility: Coconut Cones.

I had all the ingredients on hand. Basically, it's a coconut mixture rolled into 1-inch cones, then dipped in chocolate. It was contributed by Betty Brown, who noted at the end of the recipe, "They are marvelous."

Perfect! And a little embellishment would take them from "Coconut cone" to "Christmas conifer".

First, I just made them white, cloaked them in chocolate, dropped a few small silver dragees on them, then sifted a blizzard of confectioner's sugar over them. Halfway through, I decided to add some green food coloring to the coconut, melt some white chocolate, and decorate them. And they taste like a homemade Mounds chocolate candy.

Here's the recipe:

Coconut Conifers
1/4 c. butter
2 1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
3 c. coconut
4 T. evaporated milk
Semi-sweet chocolate, melted (We used 12 oz. choc chips melted with 3/4 slab of paraffin to make it slightly thinner and smoother.)

Melt the butter until just lightly brown. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Butter your hands for easier handling. Roll coconut mixture into 1- to 1.5-inch cones. Set upright on waxed paper that has been sifted lightly with confectioner's sugar. Allow to cool, or refrigerate to allow cones to become firm. Dip in chocolate and return to wax paper, or spoon small amounts of chocolate over the top of the cone. Decorate with colored sugar, silver dragees, and sifted powdered sugar.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In case you wondered...

L is getting ready to start her poultry project in 4H. Pearl is her chicken of choice, and for Christmas (shhh!) I picked up a book for her on showing a chicken in 4H. It's been sitting here waiting for me to wrap it, and I got a little sidetracked reading it. She'll need to know the parts of the chicken, and will have to master holding Pearl in certain ways for showmanship.

Good thing Pearl can't read. She has no idea what's in store for her this summer.

I know L will have to bathe Pearl before showing her, and wondered how you bathe a chicken.

I found myself laughing as I watched this video, and had to share it:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ruffled Feathers

Mabel on her favorite perch.
There were a few ruffled feathers in the coop last night.

It was a warmish day--in the 40s--and K was taking advantage of the mild temperatures to add some insulation to the coop walls, between the studs. Then he covered the insulation batts with beadboard panels. This meant that he was in the coop, hammering and measuring.

This was not the usual routine, and it caused a flurry of chicken consternation.

The run door was open, so the Big Girls ran out into the yard, and Pearl and Mabel were exploring along with them for the first time. I watched Mabel bossily chase away some pigeons, making herself big and important. Then the neighbor's dog scared her and she ran for the coop. Two seconds later she reappeared, on the run, with Violet on her tail. Betty and Poppy were happy to just stay in the run and sun themselves, but Mabel and Pearl were busily dusting and scratching and pecking while trying to avoid the attention of the Big Girls.

I watched them for awhile, finding their busyness entertaining. Oreo, M's little Bantam, clearly needed to lay an egg. She was trying to hop up to the back of the coop where we used to leave the nesting box doors open. She squatted down a little as if gathering herself for the leap, then lost confidence, then readied herself to jump, then gave up. Those doors were closed and she fussed and hemmed and hawed back and forth, wanting to go in and use a nesting box, but unhappy that K was in there making noise and moving around in her coop. She finally seemed to give up trying to get in through the backdoor, and would rush into the run, only to reappear moments later in a huff.

I watched her do this several times, then went back to what I was doing. A little while later, K came in. "Had to take a break," he said. Oreo had finally lost patience with him. She'd tried to jump up in front of him--or on him--as if to say, "Can you see me now?!" He decided to let her lay her egg in peace, and she looked decidedly more content when I saw her wandering in the yard an hour or so later.

Toward dinnertime, as the light faded, I went out to close them all in for the night. K and L had gone over to see the horses. L is planning to show Butters in 4H this year, and wanted to work on showmanship practice, so they'd been gone a while.

I walked into the run, and all seven hens were milling around, confused. It was as if they didn't want to go into the coop, but their usual routine is to be in the coop, up on their roosts before dark. I thought that was odd, and stepped into the small space to see if there was something in there that shouldn't be. I didn't notice anything unusual, but the girls still weren't following me in.

They looked worried. No... not so much worried as annoyed and concerned. I looked in the coop again. And then I finally realized what the problem was. When K was putting the beadboard up, he had taken their roosts down. Not a single place for the girls to perch for the night.

I regarded them with understanding, but I wasn't sure how he'd put them up, or what his plans were, so I couldn't help them. "Sorry girls," I said. "He'll be home soon."

I couldn't convince them to go inside the coop, so I left them in the run, making sure to lock it. They seemed so vulnerable out there in the dark. But even though the coop would be safer, it was as if they were standing at the door to some other chickens' coop by mistake and couldn't figure out where theirs had gone. Their reaction reminded me of the premise for the book, "Who Moved My Cheese?"

K returned home about 15 minutes later, and I told him there were seven unhappy chickens waiting for him to put their house back in order. He quickly reassembled their roosts. There they were, like little old ladies with their hands on their hips and feet tapping as they waited. Fortunately, it didn't take long. With an air of relief, they hopped back into the coop, and on to their roosts, with their world back on its secure axis. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

From Hens to Hems

It's a balmy 34 degrees this morning, the big girls are busily exploring the yard where the snow has finally melted. Before I left them, Betty and Poppy were roosting contentedly in the sun outside the coop door, Pearl was having some yogurt, and Mabel, Miss Curiosity, was pecking at and eating some foam insulation (why?). I removed it, and she looked at me as if I'd taken a toy away, then hopped out of the coop and went to work finding the quinoa I'd scattered in the run.

Pants with potential.
Harmony. Life is good in the coop right now. But there's not much for me to do outside, and I felt a little like a mom whose preschoolers have jumped into play at daycare: like a fifth wheel. I headed back into the house.

Although I've been writing heavily on the "Coop" side of this blog, I decided that today would be a good day to wander over to the "Cottage" side. My knitting, sewing, baking, and painting have been largely ignored lately. But, this is the time of year where I feel compelled to finish UFOs (unfinished objects) before the new year arrives. Out with the old, in with the new, and all that.
A leg with potential.

One project that has been sitting in the "to do" stack since last spring: Giving a pair of pants a new purpose in life. I'd found them at our local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. They were really nice wide-legged linen pants with an embellished hem, and they were languishing away because of what looked like a bleach stain high on one leg.

For the bargain price of $1.50, I took them home and cut them up.

Since we're on the subject of pants, I should mention here that I am a seat-of-my-pants sewer. Apologies to any real sewers out there (Amy, I hope you're not reading my blog today). I get a little impatient with patterns, precision, and measuring. This is why I don't sew clothes. But... repurposing, I like that. In this case most of the sewing and measuring has been done. All I have to do is redirect the item a little bit. And I am pretty good with scissors and straight line seams.

So. I had a bare pillow form that was, in another life, wrapped in flannel as a camp pillow. But it had been stored away, unused. So I pulled it out, stuffed it in a pant leg, and Bob's your uncle, a pillowcase is born. I just had to cut the leg off and stitch it closed.

VoilĂ . From UFO to cute pillowcase. In minutes. Here it is:
A pillow with potential.

Except, now I'm looking at it and thinking it's a bit plain, n'est pas?  I think it needs a little embroidery. Maybe. Just a bit in one corner? Back to being a UFO in a flash.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hen Zen

Pearl, soaking in the sun.
My hens are well-versed in the art of Zen. To them, every day is a good day--they eat, they rest, they tidy their feathers and scratch the earth optimistically.

This is not to suggest that they sit on their roosts meditating. But they definitely live in the moment.

I've always wanted to freelance and have time to write, so pursuing that goal has been a positive change. But even positive changes bring along grasping shadows. Doubt and worry, in my case. I worry about my daughters, or my family; worries about a difficult neighbor or expensive repairs.

This, I know, is human. Am I doing what I'm meant to be doing? Why am I not more disciplined about exercise? I worry that I’m doing a less than stellar job as a mom, or that I tend toward narrowminded-ness even when I strive to be the opposite. I worry about the state of the world, the depth of poverty, the people who need to be fed physically and emotionally. I worry. My faith falters, my human anxieties grow.

I’ve been reading a book by Alice Walker called “The Chicken Chronicles: Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned with My Memories.” In it, she writes to her chickens, addressing them as “My Feathered Mysteries.”

She writes with such clarity:

“Sometimes, sitting on my green stool and lulled by your complete indifference to the consequences of your natural behaviors, I wish we were more like you. More relaxed with our breasts and bellies and our feathers (of whatever sort) and our heights and weights and how we toss our heads back to drink water…
            “You seem so clear about who you are. So certain that you are just right as you are, that for all your intelligence and maybe in spite of it, you never seem to need a second opinion.”

And that strikes a chord with me. I go to the coop wrapped up in myself, with my doubts about who I am, who I should be, how I should be... my worries about a thousand small things. Seeking the second opinions of those around me. Am I doing OK? I carry along the perplexities of life and spirit. And there they are, completely at home with their feathered selves, no doubts about the way they were made, what they are meant to do, how they are meant to be.

They just are

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Front Door Delivery

Violet's new nesting box.
Over Thanksgiving, while my parents and sister were visiting, Violet picked a new nesting spot: The cushy loveseat on the front porch.

My parents would arrive in the morning and there would be a freshly laid egg waiting. Violet was just like the milkman, delivering breakfast to the front door.

Sometimes, she'd appear on the porch and jump onto the swing instead of the loveseat. There she'd sit. If someone walked outside or on the porch, she'd gather herself up in a huff and hurry off as if to say "I really can't lay under these conditions."

But eventually, she'd wander back, hop onto the swing or loveseat, wiggle around, scratch at the fabric, settle down and sit. Then she'd stand up, turn around, scratch, wiggle herself down, and try to get comfortable. Occasionally, she'd reach out with her beak and peck at some imaginary something, or the seat cushion itself.

One day, it was extremely windy. I had the new girls in the coop, separated from the big girls, and Violet muttered unhappily at me when I went out to put something away in an outbuilding. I knew she wanted in to the nesting box. I let her into the coop, and she marched in. Then seeing the new girls, she stopped. If a chicken can purse her lips, that's what she did. She then scattered them out of the way, pecked at Mabel, and hopped in the nesting box. But she just wasn't happy.

Five minutes later she was standing at the run door wanting out. I think I must have spent half my morning letting her in and out, in and out, and decided that a job as a chicken butler wasn't really working out for me (I can't leave the coop door open, because the small birds aren't ready to free range). So I let her back out and went inside.

I was downstairs when I heard a racket on the front porch. A rattling sound. I peeked out, thinking she'd be on the loveseat. Instead, she was inside the nearly empty recycling bin, scratching and trying to find a roosty spot on top of the cereal boxes that were in there. She was sheltered from the wind, at least. A little while later, I saw her in the backyard, finally content. I checked the recycling bin, and there was her egg.

She and I both will be glad when our two mini flocks are fully integrated into one again.

Sub Zero Chickens

Typical teenagers--they don't think it's that cold.
It is below zero outside. It's like a whole body brain freeze. And the chickens live in an unheated coop, so I've been worrying about them. I've been half expecting to see little poultrysicles frozen to their roosts when I open the coop door.

Instead, I'm greeted by their clucks and peeps. They are fluffed up, doing their imitations of Stay Puft marshmallow hens. We have a heat lamp on in one corner, and the coop is well insulated, but I don't think it's doing much good. The water freezes quickly, even under the heat lamp. I've been changing it frequently, filling it with warm water that quickly cools off.

Last night I was >this< close to suggesting we bring them inside. Instead, I sat down and began to Google "how cold is TOO cold for chickens?"

Oreo ventures outside.
I became reassured as I read. is a lifeline for new chicken owners, and there I learned that even at -20, chickens are fine. There are chickens in Canada, you know, I reassured myself. Person after person posted on the forum that it was below zero in their coop, and their chickens were fine. One said hers had the choice of an insulated coop or their outside run, and they chose to sleep outside. Perhaps this reinforces the small chicken brain theory (though I think chickens are smart) but it tells me that they are a lot tougher than I think they are.

I've been imagining how I'd feel in a cold coop, but then I don't have layers of downy feathers from head to toe. (Thankfully.) In fact, many chicken keepers believe a heat lamp will keep their birds from acclimating completely. (Ok, ok. Even so, I'm not ready to go there yet... I've just relaxed about bringing them inside, so give me a little while to think about the idea of no amber light for them.)

This morning I took out kale and cottage cheese (for a little fat), along with a bowl of warm pumpkin puree. I really ought to be eating like my chickens do--I'd be much healthier. They were fine. Happy to see me. I left the coop door open and they hurried outside. Poppy and Betty Boop were wing-to-wing in the nesting box, but then hurried over to see what I'd brought. Pearl and Mabel were in their usual high roost, also wing-to-wing and fluffed up like puffer fish. Violet, Clover, and Oreo, hurried out to see if I'd left anything in the run for them. What's a little sub-zero weather?

All was well. I locked the run door, and hurried back inside where, being human, I stood on the heater vent and marveled at how chickens are engineered.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Poultry Peace

Mabel and Pearl
I should have known better. It was four days before Thanksgiving, and I thought I'd venture out to pick up some groceries, and a few things to prepare for house guests. I reasoned that it was a Monday morning, and it shouldn't be too busy.

It was a zoo. The grocery store was packed. I fought my way to the brussels sprouts, only to find three small shriveled brussels sprouts rolling pitifully in the bin. At the cheese counter, I merged my way to the brie, grabbed a chunk of smoked gouda on my way out, and escaped to the meat section.

An hour later, I reached the checkout stand feeling as if I'd run a gauntlet. "You survived!" commented the clerk. I laughed. "No bruises even!" But my head hurt. I don't do well in crowds.

Poppy and Betty Boop
I loaded up the car, crept out of the packed parking lot, and headed for Bed(lam) Bath and Beyond. There I jousted for parking spaces, avoided a near fender bender with someone who was on her cell phone, and a stopped for fabric at the fabric store.

Traffic was crazy. One last errand--I stopped at my favorite farm/ranch and outdoor store for scratch grains, and then I was done. I just wanted to get home. No doubt, the driver who followed me closely half the way home was just wanting to get home, or somewhere, quickly too.

I was grouchy and feeling pushed around by the time I pulled up in front of the house and unloaded my car. Still on edge, I carried the scratch grains back to the shop where we keep the chicken feed. I passed the coop on the way. Violet, Oreo, and Clover, secured in the run, were happy to see me. In that moment of clucked greeting, my heart rate began to slow, and I let them out, feeling appreciated.

The four teenage pullets were in the coop, and after checking their feed I sat and watched them for a while. 

I've introduced Mabel the Speckled Sussex (she was named Pippa, Cocoa, and Ruby, before the name Mabel just seemed to settle on her); and Pearl, the glamorous Porcelain Belgian d'Uccle. But we've also added two black Australorps who came from a nearby farm. They'll be big black hens, and good layers. Their eyes are as dark and deep. They stick together, the two new kids.

M named hers Poppy and the other chick is named Betty Boop. I think of Betty Boop as my friend Katie's hen. Katie was as sad as I was when we lost the four hens last month, and we brought Betty Boop home in her honor. Betty Boop was the name drawn from four names in a hat (Onyx, Prudence, Minnie, and Betty.) 

They peep and preen, stretching their wings, checking out the chopped lettuce I'd brought for them. With the big girls not there to chase them away, they're leisurely in their movements. Mabel is extremely curious about everything, and the bravest of the four. She often watches me with a cocked head as if trying to read my mind. I like her very much. Her tail feathers are still stubby, but sometimes she makes herself tall when she's feeling worried. Pearl is kind, and I watch her wiggle up next to the two little Australorps and the three of them settled down for a nap. Betty pecks at a stray piece of chicken feed on Pearl's back.

The quiet of the coop settles around me. I realize my shoulders are tight and my jaw has been clenched from my foray into retail chaos. And Christmas shopping hadn't even begun yet.
There is something extremely calming and relaxing about watching chickens. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but it's a balm after my morning spent merging in and out of traffic, grocery aisles, and parking lots.

After awhile, I leave the four young hens to their coop, and watch as Violet rushes up to say hello, then returns to her work. The world has slowed down to a more palatable pace.

As the holiday season begins its mad rush toward Christmas, I make it a point to stop in and watch the hens each day. I take them warm oatmeal, or a handful of green kale. They are simple and easy to please. There's no anger or judgment, no rudeness, and it soothes me to be with them. There is peace in their simplicity, and I am grateful.